Most of the time, you can get a pretty good idea of the plot and scope of an anime from watching just the first few episodes. If a show sets itself up to be a high school rom-com or a simplistic action thrill ride or a perpetual tournament arc, it’ll probably stay that way. But these anime defy expectations by expanding their worlds, delving into deeper themes, and sometimes even changing genres along the way. Here are five anime that get way more complex later on!
This psychological character drama is all about the tense interplay between carnivores and herbivores in a world where both sets of species need to peacefully coexist. It starts out as a small-scale affair, focusing on a high school drama club that’s reeling from the sudden death of one of their herbivore members, but slowly grows into a wider exploration of the politics and black-market meat dealings of this world. And then our gangly wolf protagonist has to infiltrate a mafia hideout to save his kidnapped lady love and it’s like a scene straight out of Cowboy Bebop! The manga gets even more insane after that, so we’re eagerly counting down the days until season 2.
4. Hunter x Hunter 2011
Most long-running shounen series naturally grow in complexity over time, from Dragon Ball Z to Dr. Stone to Katekyo Hitman Reborn and more. Hunter x Hunter follows a similar trajectory, beginning with the Hunter Exam arc that introduces most of the cast and moving on to larger challenges after that, but it’s especially notable for how deeply it delves into its characters’ minds. Gon looks like a bubbly kid hero on the outside, but later arcs show that his boundless determination is self-destructive and the psychological abuse he suffers from Hisoka eats away at his soul. Killua, Kurapika, Leorio, and many others are also much more complicated than they seem at first, which gives Hunter x Hunter an unusual depth for its genre.
3. Fruits Basket 2019
When you hear the premise for Fruits Basket - a down-on-her-luck, but peppy teen brightens the lives of a family cursed to turn into Zodiac animals when they hug a member of the opposite sex - it sounds like a fun romantic comedy with some heartwarming moments sprinkled in. And that’s pretty much how the 2001 anime treated the story, since it only adapted about 1/3 of the manga. But later on, Fruits Basket delves much deeper into the Souma family’s trauma from childhood abuse and touch starvation, fleshing out characters like Shigure and Akito who were relatively one-note before. Luckily, the new 2019 anime is set to adapt the entire manga, so everyone will be able to enjoy the complex drama Fruits Basket has to offer!
2. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
The first season of Attack on Titan is presented as a pure rollercoaster ride through a medieval-esque world ravaged by humanoid monsters called Titans. It has a fantastic setting chock full of well thought out details like mechanisms to lift horses over the walls and gas-powered flight equipment, but the plot itself feels underwhelmingly standard. That is, of course, until the later seasons take the show to an entirely new level with explorations of politics, conspiracies, supernatural connections, and character growth that most viewers didn’t think Attack on Titan was capable of. Comparing season 1 to the trailer for season 4, it almost doesn’t seem like the same anime anymore – but somehow, it works.
1. Kami no Tou (Tower of God)
Tower of God cribs quite a few notes from Hunter x Hunter for its opening arc, introducing members of the cast through a more-or-less standard tournament arc that takes place in a massive tower ruled by the mysterious King Jahad. But, as webcomic readers know, things quickly escalate from there. Shifting alliances, shadowy organizations, and jaw-dropping revelations about the world in which Tower of God takes place are but a few of the surprises waiting just past the first season of the anime. We can’t wait to get there!
We also can’t forget Land of the Lustrous’ increasingly insane ride on the suffer train, Mob Psycho 100’s deep lore concerning Mob’s psychic powers, and the escalating ridiculousness of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise. But did we forget any of your favorite complex anime series? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!