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Top 10 Serious Anime With an Intense Storyline

By Evanshi Mavani / August 10, 2021

While there are various types of anime people can enjoy, fewer "serious" anime are coming out these past few years. Now, the word "serious" can be subjective to each individual - for some, it might mean mysterious or dark, while others would consider it synonymous with psychological. In this article, by serious anime, we mean shows that have an intense atmosphere. However, this doesn't mean that every single episode has to be dark in nature, but that there should be an ongoing sense of crisis or development in the story.

Even under these strict specifications, there are a lot of diverse serious anime that have been covered in this list. Most of these shows have made a name for themselves in the community and are highly rated by their audience. So with that said, let's take a look at the top 10 serious anime with an intense storyline!

10. Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Mobile Suit Gundam is set in a distant future where the complete depletion of fossil fuels led to an energy crisis unlike any other. Here, humanity was divided into two parts - factions that could access a solar power generator, giving them limitless energy, and countries that were plunged into poverty and warfare due to their former dependency on the sale of fossil fuels.

Amid this ensuing chaos, an organization identifying itself as "Celestial Being" appeared with mysterious and technologically advanced Mobile Suits known as Gundams. Mobile Suit Gundam 00 follows the story of Celestial Being's Gundam Meisters Setsuna F. Seiei, Lockon Stratos, Allelujah Haptism, and Tieria Erde as they dive into battle, aiming to end warfare and change the world.

This series gives us a view into the politics of this world, focusing on why things are the way they are. The factions and their goals are explored in-depth and criticized. The characters are also very self-aware, making the series more realistic and closer to a version of Earth's future.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is a serious anime with an intense storyline, and it should be high on your to-watch list.

9. Code Geass

Lelouch from Code Geass

Code Geass is set in an alternate reality in which Britain conquered the rest of America. Thus, the Holy Britannian Empire became the world's largest superpower, covering 1/3 of the world. The story follows Lelouch Lamperouge, the eleventh prince of the Empire, who develops a hatred for the emperor of Britannia and the entire imperial establishment. 

After an encounter with a mysterious young woman named C.C., Lelouch gains the power of Geass, granting him the ability to force anyone to do what he wishes. With this ability, Lelouch finally has enough power to begin his battle against the Britannian Empire.

As the story hops along with an arc to arc system, a sense of mystery slowly develops. Furthermore, there are enough twists and turns involved to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. The pacing and the progression up to the conclusion, in particular, are exceptionally brilliant.

Despite a few comedic relief episodes, an ongoing sense of crisis keeps developing in the anime. With great characters, blood-pumping soundtracks, political intrigue, action, drama, and strong moral themes, Code Geass is a serious anime we had to put on this list.

8. Mushishi

Mushishi

Mushishi is a series of short stories styled after East Asian legends and folktales. However, instead of gods, demons, and spirits, here we deal with "Mushi": the most basic life forms in the world. They exist without any goals or purposes and are beyond the shackles of the words "good" and "evil."

It is the work of Ginko, a "Mushishi," to deal with these lifeforms. He wanders from town to town, looking for interesting cases, and lends a helping hand to those affected by mushi.

Since Mushishi is episodic in nature and is not bound by an overarching plot, every episode is intense. The self-contained stories vary in theme but are always skillfully crafted and connected with Ginko at the center. The episodes deal with human drama and familiar emotions infused with an element of the natural and alien world.

Despite each story's briefness, the tales are original, powerful, and gripping. With its rich writing, enchanting audio, and visuals, Mushishi is a serious anime that’s truly worth a try.

7. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

One can never go wrong with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu! Set some time after WWII, the anime takes place during Japan's rapidly changing social landscape. The series follows a freshly-released prisoner who is fixated on learning the ways of Rakugo, a traditional Japanese form of comedic storytelling. But, inspired by the performance of Yakumo Yuurakutei, he manages to get taken under his wing. 

As Yotarou eagerly begins his training, he meets Konatsu, a young woman who has been under Yakumo's care ever since her father, Sukeroku Yuurakutei, passed away. Through her passion, Yotarou is drawn to Sukeroku's unique style of Rakugo. The story often changes focus from the present tale of the apprentice to a narrative of the past concerning Yakumo and his deceased friend Sukeroku. 

At its core, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a story about the art of Rakugo, of friendship and family, and of sacrificing everything to reach one's potential. Still, notably, it is a story about life — the lives of two talented, troubled, and yet ordinary men.

While the premise may seem a little daunting and tedious, nothing is farther from the truth. Despite lacking flashy fights, gratuitous fanservice, and overpowered heroes, the anime offers a compelling, evocative experience with a laudable handle on its ambitions. The pacing is well-balanced, and everything progresses with clear direction.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is truly an intense anime where greater comfort is found in showing its story rather than telling it.

6. Steins;Gate

Steins Gate

Steins;Gate tells the story of Okabe Rintaro, a self-proclaimed mad scientist, and his colleagues at the Future Gadget Laboratory, Hashida Itaru, and Shiina Mayuri. Okabe spends his days indulging in his habit of inventing prospective "future gadgets," the strangest of which is a "Phone Microwave" — a device that does nothing more than turn bananas into a green, jelly-like substance.

At least, that is what the trio thinks until they are spurred into action by a string of mysterious happenings. Their saving grace? The Phone Microwave can send emails to the past, altering the flow of history.

Steins;Gate takes Okabe through the depths of scientific theory and practicality. Now forced across the past and present, he must shoulder the burdens that come with holding the key to the realm of time.

Steins;Gate is a very entertaining series that isn't afraid to play around with various scientific concepts. However, at the same time, it clearly avoids tackling specific significant issues related to time travel, which is acceptable considering its fictional status.

Since it doesn’t get too bogged down in technicalities, Steins;Gate focuses the better part of its energy on the story, making it one of the best serious anime, particularly of the sci-fi genre, to appear in the last few years.

5. Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is set in 2071, when the space is full of bandits, people with dreams of a brighter future, and treasure seekers. With such people venturing into space, the Bebop crew is a bounty crew that enforces the law. Spike Spiegel, one of the Bebop members, works alongside his partner, Jet Black, to take down bounties. However, Spike's past haunts him and inches closer than ever.

Filled with action, Cowboy Bebop entertains its audience with every episode. The series constantly builds up the tension and ends with a chilling and beautiful resolution that many fans think back to even today. Cowboy Bebop is pretty much perfect from a narrative standpoint and should be a must-watch for everyone, especially those who favor serious anime.

4. Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan is often used as an example of why anime is not only for kids, and well, understandably so. While the series is filled with man-eating monsters, with blood and gore everywhere, the story and the characters themselves are dark and intense enough to scare children away.

Attack on Titan has an interesting premise. One hundred years before the start of the anime, humanity has been on the bridge of extinction due to monstrous humanoids called Titans that devour humans. These giants are truly terrifying because their taste for human flesh is not born out of hunger but pleasure.

Now, in the present, the remaining small population of humanity lives confined within 3 "heavenly" walls, resulting in one hundred years without a single titan encounter. However, that calm is soon shattered when a titan manages to breach the outer wall and initiates a massacre.

During this tragedy, our main character, Eren Yeager, witnesses his mother's horrific death and vows to exterminate all titans one day. To do so, he enlists into the Survey Corps, an elite military unit that combats the titans outside the protection of the walls. Along with his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman and his childhood friend Armin Arlert, they join the brutal war against the titans and race to discover a way of defeating them before the last walls are breached.

Attack on Titan has an expansive story, with epic fights, gore, and lots of intense dialogue. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best serious anime out in recent years.

3. Berserk

Berserk

Berserk is a legendary anime that is set in a medieval world of strife. The story follows Guts, a young mercenary who embraces the battlefield as his only means of survival. He puts his life on the line just to make enough to get by as he moves from one bloodshed to the next.

After a run-in with the Band of the Hawk, a formidable troop of mercenaries, he is recruited by their charismatic leader Griffith. Guts quickly climbs the ranks, becomes the head of the offensive faction, and takes Midland by storm. However, he slowly realizes that the world is not as black-and-white as he once assumed during this time.

This gritty tale follows one man's struggle to find his own path while supporting another's lust for power and the unimaginable tragedy that unravels.

There are very few anime as intense as Berserk. I mean, the show literally brims with violent battles and head-to-head confrontations, resulting in a lot of gore and action. The world of Berserk is full of evil and brutality, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

2. Aoi Bungaku

Aoi Bungaku

Aoi Bungaku features six short standalone stories adapted from classic Japanese tales, all of which are considered to be masterpieces in Japan. From direction to the art design to even the music choice, every episode is unique and helps the individual stories stand on their own.

The anime explores dark and realistic themes such as the nature of humanity, love, trust, betrayal, depression, and morality. These stories are often reflections of what the original writer struggled with and shed new light on the Japanese Imperial history. While each arc is different, the series manages to keep a consistent feeling of intensity. Aoi Bungaku is morbid and depressing, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

This anime is a nice break from all the action, moe, and magical girl themes. If you’re in the mood for a gripping and serious anime that highlights the world’s cruelty, Aoi Bungaku is the show for you.

1. Monster

Monster

Monster is the poster boy for dark and serious shows. While it is recommended by almost every self-proclaimed intellectual type and is easy to discount as overhyped, the show is deserving of placing first on this list.

Monster's story revolves around Dr. Tenma, a man who owes the world a lot just because he saved the life of a boy nine years ago. However, while the anime might have started off as the tale of a doctor who tries to redeem himself by trying to put a stop to the killer's machinations, it is so more than just that. At its core, the series delves deep into our psyche and raises the question of whether a monster lurks in every one of us.

Monster is a truly psychological and dark anime that leaves a feeling of dread in the audience. While the series has little to no action, it is the complex storyline and the intensity of the characters that make Monster a serious anime.



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