You can almost always see the biggest shows of the season coming in advance – adaptations of the hottest manga and light novels, original works by renowned studios, and additional seasons of already popular shows are pretty much guaranteed success. But what about those shows that appear out of nowhere to become smash hits? Or those rare English dubs from back in the day that revived failing anime through sheer creativity and marketing prowess? Today, let’s check out five of our favorite underestimated anime!
5. Gakkou no Kaidan (Ghost Stories)
- Episodes: 19
October 2000 - March 2001
Gakkou no Kaidan is a boring, forgettable children’s horror show that completely tanked in Japan. So, desperate to salvage something from the project, the original studio handed it to the English licensing company ADV Films and told them to do whatever they wanted with the anime as long as it would sell well. And thus the greatest gag dub of all time was born – the script was filled with racy jokes, Monica Rial played a borderline yandere Christian girl, there were constant jabs at Bush-era pop culture, and even background characters got hilarious lines that we can still quote to this day. Also check out Samurai Pizza Cats for a similar take on the concept!
4. Zombieland Saga
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2018 – December 2018
This anime-original show about zombie idols trying to reinvigorate tourism for the faltering Saga district sounds like a hot mess, which is probably what got people to watch it in the first place, but Zombieland Saga quickly proved itself to be more than the sum of its parts. The endlessly entertaining manager, catchy musical numbers, and surprisingly deep exploration of these girls’ struggles and regrets charmed the anime community so much that even non-idol fans paid attention. We’re so psyched for season 2!
- Episodes: 85
- Aired: March 1985 – June 1985
Before the ‘90s anime boom, most Americans didn’t know that Japanese cartoons could be more than just Speed Racer and Astro Boy. Robotech was one of the first shows that introduced US audiences to more mature anime by combining Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada into a multi-generational space adventure that was both long enough for American TV syndication and fed into the sci-fi craze of the time. It seems barbaric now to mash together three different shows like that, but without Robotech, we may never have gotten faithful mature anime adaptations at all!
2. Kemono Friends
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2017 – March 2017
This one is weird. Kemono Friends is a multimedia franchise about cute animal/human hybrid girls that was on its last legs – its mobile game had been canned just a month before the anime was released and a tie-in manga only lasted two volumes – but once the anime came out, the franchise skyrocketed in popularity like never before. Even though it was made on a shoestring budget, viewers loved the cute characters, the joyful tone, and the unexpected mystery elements lying underneath it all. Kemono Friends almost died again when some huge production drama unfolded later in 2017, but after a successful season 2, it’s back on its feet and ready for more!
1. Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer:Kimetsu no Yaiba)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2019 – September 2019
Demon Slayer was already pretty popular in its own right – the manga was running toe to toe with Boku no Hero Academia in the pages of Weekly Shounen Jump, and the anime was seeing steady viewership due to its fantastic animation and intriguing story. However, once episode 19 exploded onto the scene, Demon Slayer went from a solid shounen show to one of the highest regarded anime of the decade. Tanjiro and Nezuko’s combination attack against the spider demon Rui, with its gorgeous visuals, heart-pounding music, and raw emotion packed into every shot, was so perfectly executed that it dominated the seasonal discussion completely. Sometimes, all it takes is one moment to take an anime from good to great!
We also can’t forget how Mobile Suit Gundam’s surprising success led to the biggest mecha franchise ever made, how Osomatsu-san updated an ancient gag show into a smart comedy for the modern age, and how Deadman Wonderland’s lukewarm reception in Japan turned into a Toonami hit in America.
What did you think of our list? What are your favorite underestimated anime? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!