List: Anime That Are Not Stupid

An updated list of anime for grown ups

I am writing this article for those people who decided that they “don’t like anime” because they found them too… stupid. Well, I can’t blame you.

If you have reached intellectual adulthood, then most anime are indeed too stupid for you.

The truth is that a lot of Japanese animation is pretty lame, having:

  • sterile intellectualism disguised as cleverness,
  • characters that possess the depth of a koi pond,
  • over-kawaiified girls with fake high-pitched voices that are impossible to listen to for more than 3 consecutive seconds.

宮崎 駿 Hayao Miyazaki once said:



But still, I often get frustrated, for instance by the lack of a sense of presence in the voice acting. Especially girls, they all speak with voices that sound like “I am so cute, am I not?” I find that unbearable.

And that’s all fine! Most anime are only supposed to entertain, and most people only want to be entertained.

But suppose you want something a little more challenging, a show that even a based Westerner could enjoy. This is where a list like this one might help!

This list is obviously a reflection of my personal tastes and will be updated accordingly.

As of 13 April 2021, the following is the list of anime that are not stupid.

One-Punch Man (2015-2019)

One-Punch Man (ワンパンマン): Genos and Saitama
Genos and Saitama
  • Japanese title: ワンパンマン
  • Transliteration: Wanpanman
  • Genre: action, gag comedy, superhero
  • Manga written by: ONE
  • Episodes: 24 + 12 OVAs

This anime is the anti-Dragon-Ball: fast paced, never too serious, fun to watch. One-Punch Man won’t force you to endure monologues that last three episodes before action finally happens.

You’ll be shocked to learn that stand-up comedian Bill Burr said that he loves this show.

Ping Pong the Animation (2014)

Ping Pong the Animation (ピンポン)
月本 誠 Makoto Tsukimoto, aka スマイル ‘Smile’
  • Japanese title: ピンポン
  • Transliteration: Pinpon
  • Genre: coming of age, psychological, sports
  • Directed by: 湯浅 政明 Masaaki Yuasa
  • Manga written by: 松本 大洋 Taiyō Matsumoto
  • Episodes: 11

From the same guy who did 鉄コン筋クリート Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong the Animation is an incredible anime. If you are thinking “who wants to watch an entire anime about ping pong?” I fully empathise, but give it a go, it’s really great.

Eleven episodes of youthful enthusiasm and passion. You’ll fall in love with 松本 大洋 Taiyō Matsumoto’s unorthodox drawing style before the first episode is over.

Kids on the Slope (2012)

Kids on the Slope (坂道のアポロン): bus ride to the sea.
迎 律子 Ritsuko Mukae, 西見 薫 Kaoru Nishimi, 川渕 千太郎 Sentarō Kawabuchi
  • Japanese title: 坂道のアポロン
  • Transliteration: Sakamichi no Aporon
  • Genre: coming of age, romance
  • Directed by: 渡辺 信一郎 Shin’ichirō Watanabe
  • Manga written by: 小玉 ユキ Yuki Kodama
  • Episodes: 12

Another masterpiece directed by 渡辺 信一郎 Shin’ichirō Watanabe (the other one being Cowboy Bebop, also on this list).

Only two words to describe Kids on the Slope: jazz music and love!

Beautifully animated, especially the playing of instruments where the rotoscoping animation technique was used. An absolute pleasure to watch. This could be the best music anime ever made.

Hyouge Mono (2011-2012)

Hyouge Mono (へうげもの): 古田 左介 Furuta Sasuke.
古田 左介 Furuta Sasuke
  • Japanese title: へうげもの
  • Transliteration: Heugemono (read Hyōgemono)
  • Genre: historical
  • Directed by: 真下 耕一 Kouichi Mashimo
  • Manga written by: 山田 芳裕 Yoshihiro Yamada
  • Episodes: 39

ひょうげ者 Hyōgemono is a Japanese word meaning ‘Jocular Fellow’. The rhythm of this anime beats between the blatantly facetious and the deadly serious. Almost psychopathic!

Wars, loyalty & betrayal, 武士道 bushidō, tea ceremonies, 侘寂 wabi sabi, and pottery, a lot of pottery. An exquisite taste of Japan.

Hyouge Mono captures something of the Nipponic spirit that no other anime has.

Mononoke (2007)

Mononoke (モノノ怪): Medicine Seller.
Medicine Seller
  • Japanese title: モノノ怪
  • Transliteration: Mononoke
  • Genre: ghost story, mystery, psychological horror
  • Directed by: 中村 健治 Kenji Nakamura
  • Episodes: 12

Psychedelic. Hypnotic. Mononoke could never be separated from its unique drawing and narrating style.

We follow the adventures of a fellow known as the Medicine Seller. The world is populated… not just by humans, but also アヤカシ ayakashi, spirits who hold “shape, truth, and reason”.

And these ayakashi may cause problems that need to be resolved by someone. A perfect pretext for a great anime.

Mushishi (2005-2006)

Mushishi (蟲師): ギンコ Ginko.
ギンコ Ginko
  • Japanese title: 蟲師
  • Transliteration: Mushishi
  • Genre: adventure, supernatural
  • Directed by: 長濱 博史 Hiroshi Nagahama
  • Manga written by: 漆原 友紀 Yuki Urushibara
  • Episodes: 26

If the soul of Japan could magically materialise and become shapes and colours, it would closely resemble this anime.

A mushi-shi is a ‘bug master’, he who can see what normal people can’t: the 蟲 mushi.

A bug master’s job is to render the mushi innocuous when they create problems. He is also a healer and a medium.

The kanji for ‘bug’ (as in ‘insect’) is 虫 mushi. But here we are dealing with 蟲 mushi, creatures of an ethereal kind, evanescent entities, tangible at times, small spirits or gigantic demons.

You might find something truly real in this anime, something that will accompany you through life.

MONSTER (2004-2005)

MONSTER: Dr Kenzo Tenma and Anna Liebert.
Dr Kenzo Tenma and Anna Liebert
  • Japanese title: モンスター
  • Transliteration: Monsutā
  • Genre: crime, mystery, psychological thriller
  • Directed by: 小島 正幸 Masayuki Kojima
  • Manga written by: 浦沢 直樹 Naoki Urasawa
  • Episodes: 74

Birthed by 浦沢 直樹 Naoki Urasawa’s prolific mind, MONSTER will present you with the abyss of the human soul. As I watched this anime, I felt at times the presence of the devil. If you decide to venture into it: have faith!

The story takes place in Germany, following brain surgeon 天満 健三 Kenzou Tenma. He saves a child, a little boy, who was shot in the head.

Is doing the right thing always the right thing? MONSTER could be seen as a moral riddle.

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ): Spike and Jet.
Spike and Jet
  • Japanese title: カウボーイビバップ
  • Transliteration: Kaubōi Bibappu
  • Genre: neo-noir, space western
  • Directed by: 渡辺 信一郎 Shin’ichirō Watanabe
  • Episodes: 26

Some believe this to be the greatest anime of all time; Cowboy Bebop is certainly a shining milestone of all animation.

Highly entertaining and profound, this is the anime that introduced Japanese animation to millions of Western viewers back in the early 2000s.

Often referred to as a space Western, Cowboy Bebop is a blend of dystopian science fiction, detective story, action, noir, thriller and comedy.

It is AD 2071 and planet Earth has long been uninhabitable. Having lost its native planet, the human race expanded throughout the Solar System, colonising it almost completely.

But when fresh frontiers abound, criminals proliferate. In order to keep space criminality under control, licensed bounty hunters hunt criminals and bring them to justice.

Cowboy Bebop is where the stories of bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black meet those of bounty head Faye Valentine, child prodigy Ed, and Ein the dog, to create a true classic of Japanese animation.

All films made by the Studio Ghibli (1985 to today)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ)

There should be a special place in your heart for anything Studio Ghibli. It’s like home, the place where you return after you wandered far and wide.

I’ll spare the words and let these anime films speak for themselves.

Here’s the list of my favourite Studio Ghibli films. (Nausicaä is technically not Studio Ghibli, but it doesn’t matter.)

  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ Kaze no Tani no Naushika)
  • Laputa: Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta)
  • Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓 Hotaru no Haka)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ Tonari no Totoro)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便 Majo no Takkyūbin)
  • Porco Rosso (紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta)
  • Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 Mononoke Hime)
  • Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
  • Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ Karigurashi no Arietti)
  • The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ Kaze Tachinu)

A final note

Of course there are many more anime that are worth watching. If I missed something, please let me know in the comments. But please spare me the Evangelions and the Code;Geasses. :D

See You Space Cowboy!