Anime’s unexpected growth in popularity in recent years has led to many series getting Western live-action adaptations. Unfortunately, these adaptations typically aren’t as well received as their Japanese counterparts. Yet there is another Western creation that is a hit with anime fans: cartoons, especially the anime-inspired ones. Several series animated in the West have managed to capture the spirit of Japanese animation, including its aesthetics, immersive plots, and character types — like the ones on this list. Here are five cartoons to watch if you’re an anime fan.
Samurai Jack follows an unnamed Japanese samurai who’s on the verge of beating the shape-shifting demon “Aku.” However, before he can strike the final blow, Aku sends the young man to a retrofuturistic Earth where the creature rules with an iron fist. Now, with the new nickname Jack, the young samurai must travel back in time and defeat Aku before it takes over the world.
But Jack’s journey won’t be that easy. The Earth he once knew has changed, with aliens, robots, talking animals, and everything in between inhabiting the planet — and many of them work for Aku. Add the bounty on Jack’s head to the equation, and the samurai’s attempt to get back home becomes even trickier. Luckily, Jack will make new friends who will help him along the way.
Drawing influence from samurai culture — including the Bushido code — Samurai Jack is a cartoon that samurai anime fans will love. Jack’s personality and actions, along with the dystopian setting, will feel familiar to fans of anime greats like Samurai 7.
Voltron: Legendary Defender
Praised by critics and fans alike, Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender has been a resounding success for the streaming giant. The cartoon takes place in the distant future where the Galra Empire has enslaved many races and destroyed countless civilizations for nearly 1,000 years. The only one who can stop it is Voltron, a giant robot comprised of five lion mechas piloted by five Paladins. But before they can form Voltron, they must learn to work together to stand a chance against the Galra.
The reboot of an 80’s cartoon — which itself is an edited version of the anime Beast King GoLion — Voltron: Legendary Defender is a must-see for anime fans. It uses an anime-influenced animation style to breathe life into its various characters, outer-space backgrounds, and settings. The series’ main leads bring with them a plethora of emotions and personalities, the result of their varying circumstances and shared dark past. Also, like some of today’s most popular anime series, Voltron: Legendary Defender features a complex storyline full of strong arcs that continue to build with each new season.
Often mistaken for an anime, RWBY is actually an American cartoon from media and entertainment company Rooster Teeth. The series owes its anime-like animation style to its creator, the late Monty Oum. In RWBY, mysterious creatures, known as “Creatures of Grimm,” wreak havoc in the world of Remnant. Fortunately for humans, there exists a mysterious element, called “Dust,” that can help them fight these monsters.
The cartoon follows four girls — Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang — who together form team RWBY. They study at the Beacon Academy where they train to fight the Grimm with weapons powered by Dust, but defeating them won’t be easy.
RWBY‘s breath-taking fight sequences will surely hook fans of action anime. Each strike of the girls’ unique weapons highlights the level of detail the animators put into the show’s fight scenes. To top it all off, the plot features many magical creatures, such as fairies, and also tackles serious themes like gender roles and inequality.
Possibly one of the most popular cartoons in the West, sci-fi comedy Steven Universe is a coming-of-age tale about a young boy, Steven, who lives with the Gems, a race of magical humanoid aliens. Steven, who’s half-gem, goes on adventures with his friends and helps the Gems protect the world from those who seek to ruin it.
After premiering in the fall of 2013, the show quickly gained popularity with adults and anime fans. The series pays homage to many anime favorites, like Sailor Moon, which Steven owns, and Dragon Ball Z. The show is even put together like an anime. Its episodic structure allows the series to explore complex topics, such as gender barriers, in a way similar to Revolutionary Girl Utena. The transformation sequences and battle scenes in Steven Universe also pay homage to the oft-praised LGBTQ anime. But like most anime, some dark moments lie beneath the surface of the cartoon’s cutesy art style.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world where people can manipulate the elements — water, earth, fire, and air — using a martial arts technique known as “bending.” The series focuses on Aang, a twelve-year-old boy who’s the human embodiment of light and peace, aka the Avatar. Aang is destined to bring harmony and unity to a world ravaged by war and destruction. But he won’t have to do it alone. With the help of his friends, Aang sets off on his quest to save the world.
The inspiration for Avatar: The Last Airbender came from the creators’ — Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko — love of anime. By combining Japanese and American art styles with East and South Asian influences, they created an immersive fantasy world for the acclaimed cartoon. Despite its cool bending movements, colorful personalities, and rich cultural world, Avatar is still mistaken for a kids’ cartoon — a problem that anime shares. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Throughout the show, we see Aang struggle with his decisions, which often lead to anger and sadness but also strength and willpower — themes commonly found in anime like My Hero Academia.