Hi everyone! Today we are introducing you to 10 off-the-beaten-track anime titles! We can all tell apart Japanese animation from Western because of the unique character designs. But what if we told you that there are anime out there that don’t belong to any category? They have backgrounds that look like living paintings, inspired by traditional Japanese scrolls, stop-motion, even animation traced after live acting.
We rate our picks based on different art styles and originality. You will notice that certain studios are more inclined to produce wacky anime, like Madhouse, and you will get to meet Masaaki Yuasa, responsible for many unconventional animation choices. Let’s dive in!~
10. Sekkou Boys (Sekko Boys)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2016 - March 2016
If you’ve been an art student, you will relate with Miki Ishimoto; fresh out of college and ready for her first adult job! Having to draw images of statues throughout art school, Miki is ready to embark on a new career. Imagine her surprise when the hot new idol group she’ll be managing turns out to be...a group of marble busts! They are Sekko Boys (The Rockies!), Saint Giorgio, Medici, Hermes, and Mars. As Miki’s boss explained “We used to work with humans but got tired of it. These guys, on the other hand, have profiles set in stone.” Sounds...reasonable?
The animation is overall normal but this anime still deserves a spot on our list because of how different techniques blend together. The realistic busts stand out in each scene and the attempts to show emotion on their faces are hilarious. Sekko Boys is a parody of idol craze and reverse harem anime. If you’re watching the currently airing Hypnosis Mic and want to try a weird show that pokes fun at boy bands, Sekko Boys is a must!
9. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2007 - September 2007
Itoshiki Nozomu is the iconic teacher with a rope around his neck, ready to give an end to his life. His favorite phrase is “Zetsuboshita!” (I’m in despair!) as every little thing can lead him to an existential crisis. In the first episode of the series, his complete opposite, super optimistic student Kafuka Fuura finds him trying to hang himself in a sakura tree field. Zetsubou Sensei - so nicknamed because the characters of his name resemble the word zetsubou (despair)- is Kafuka’s new teacher. Several other characters are introduced, each one with their quirks.
Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei is one of a kind on many levels. It has constant references to literature: Itoshiki is based on Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human, Kafuka’s name is a reference to Franz Kafka. Each of the students is related to a societal problem of Japan, phone addiction, perfectionism, and so on. The backgrounds are zany: secret messages are scribbled on the classroom board that appear and disappear suddenly. It’s fun to pause and read them, as they are messages from the creator. The head of a bald man pops up at random moments, making funny expressions as if judging what’s happening on the screen. This is a smart satirical show that is truly funny and random!
8. Bessatsu Olympia Kyklos (Extra Olympia Kyklos)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2020 - November 2020
Demetrios is a kind but comically ungifted vase painter in ancient Greece. The village mayor asks Demetrios to come up with new games for their athletes to compete in. Out of the blue, one of Demetrios’ vases turns out to be a portal to modern Japan. Our hero ends up in Tokyo, during the 1964 summer Olympics. There he meets Asakichi Iwaya and his family, who takes him to watch the games. This is how Demetrios keeps returning to 1964 Japan and brings back to his village wacky ideas for new sports.
Extra Olympia Kyklos’ creator Mari Yamazaki has a knack for stories taking place in ancient times. Her other animated work, Thermae Romae is set in ancient Rome and includes time travel like Kyklos. Made in stop motion technique, each episode of Kyklos is quite short and ends with a different original song. Scenes sets in Japan are made in a different animation technique, looking more like cutouts. Extra Olympia Kyklos’ humor is an acquired taste for some, while the wackiest part is the different original song at the ending titles of each episode. Mixing Stock photos, stop motion, and early Internet typography, the songs are about real facts of ancient Greece but with a meme quality. Watch if you like vaporwave and hangout at Reddit meme pages!
7. Devilman: Crybaby
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: January 2018
Devilman: Crybaby is Masaaki Yuasa’s take on the cult classic by Go Nagai. Akira Fudou has been a crybaby since childhood, while his friend Ryou Asuka is ruthless and ambitious. After a long separation, Ryou reunites with Akira and shares the dark secret he came upon while in the Amazon: devils exist on earth for millennia. They survive by finding hosts in animals and now, humans. Ryou calculates that if a human survives merging with a devil, they would become the strongest creature on the planet. Attempting to summon a demon at a wild party, Ryou ends up turning Akira into Devilman.
Animation and music are absolutely nuts in Devilman: Crybaby. Go Nagai’s style is retained to an extent. This is a prime example of an alternative animation style in service of gore, sex, and drugs, the whole shebang. The scene where Akira turns into Devilman and wrecks havoc at the club is one of the most intense body horror experiences. Clubbers turn into horrifying bloodthirsty monsters with elongated limbs and breasts that spit out sharp teeth. This is an anime for people who enjoyed anime like Parasyte - the maxim - but wished it was far darker.
6. Gankutsuou (Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2004 - March 2005
Gankutsuou is a spin-off of Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo set in the distant future. The story is well known so no spoiler alert is needed. The Count of Monte Cristo seeks revenge from the people who wronged them in the past, depriving him of the love of his life and family. Albert is a naive young man who happens to be the son of General Albert Morcerf. Albert befriends the Count during the Luna carnival and introduces him to high society circles. His friend Baron Franz warns him but Albert is taken by his new friend’s wealth and charm. Little does he know that he is being used by the mysterious Count in his revenge plot.
Gankutsuou is a masterpiece of animation. Studio Gonzo produced many well-made anime in the 2000s, like Last Exile and Hellsing, or the more recent 7 Seeds. All had great art styles but the artistic uniqueness of Gankutsuou is incomparable. It is not just the backgrounds that look like tapestries; character designs have ever-changing details similar to a kaleidoscopic effect. Background blends with the characters creating an immersive experience. Sci-fi futuristic settings meet high fashion. Gankutsuou holds strong after all these years, with a compelling story and a morally ambiguous protagonist.
5. Ping Pong The Animation
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: April 2014 - June 2014
Yutaka, who goes by Peco, and Makoto, also known as Smile, are best friends and ping pong players in their local team. Peco is energetic and ambitious, while Smile is holding back his true capabilities. Together, they compete against strong opponents, laugh it out, improve their skills, and grow as athletes and people. Ping Pong The Animation is a memorable coming-of-age story with extremely relatable characters.
The unique visual style is one of this anime's strongest suits. Even though it might seem simplistic, with its minimal wobbly lines, it does manage to make ping pong matches look exciting, with unlikely angles, speed, and well-timed contrasts. The excellent sound effects complete the experience. Peco and Smile’s personalities and playing styles come through strongly. This is another gem by director Masaaki Yuaka, who dares to bring avant-garde titles to a larger audience. You will enjoy Ping Pong The Animation if you are into series like Haikkyuu!! or Ahiru no Sora but have gotten tired of the usual sports anime tropes.
4. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: April 2010 - July 2010
The Tatami Galaxy is based on Tomihiko Morimi’s novel of the same title. It follows Watashi, a college student who feels he missed out on the opportunities of youth for love and friendship. Watashi gets obsessed with the idea of joining the best club at college to become popular and find a mate, but unfortunately, he ends up stuck with demon-like Ozu, the depraved friend he didn’t ask for. After a fateful meeting with a fortune teller, Watashi is given another chance to start over: after each failure, he travels back in time and joins yet another club to do it all over again.
Produced by studio Madhouse, The Tatami Galaxy serves surreal animation and verbose fast-paced dialogue. Getting through the first episode might be challenging because Watashi speaks fast as if catching up with his inner monologue but, stick to it, this zany storytelling starts making sense in its own way. This is a different take on the classic “disillusioned youth tries to make the most of his college days” with a surreal art style. If you liked Tatami Galaxy, and want to watch something set in the same universe but even weirder, check the more recent movie Night Is Short, Walk on Girl from 2017.
3. Kuuchuu Buranko (Welcome to Irabu’s Office)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: October 2009 - December 2009
Doctor Ichiro Irabu runs a psychiatric clinic that serves patients from all walks of life. We meet a trapeze artist, a phone-addicted high school student, and a yakuza boss, to name a few. They all deal with real psychological issues and they get nonsensical advice from Irabu, that works! Irabu takes on three different forms, a green bear, a child, and a handsome youth, standing for his id, ego, and superego.
Welcome to Irabu’s Office uses different media such as collage, live-action, moving cutouts - usually the background characters or in memories -, and a puppet-like psychiatry representative. Sexy nurse Mayumi is the only character fully animated in rotoscoping, a technique where scenes with real people are traced and animated to give a realistic effect. Welcome to Irabu’s Office uses the latter effectively, in a way that doesn’t feel overdone, in Mayumi’s case, and to show specific emotions of the patients. This experimental anime is unexpectedly accurate in its depiction of mental health issues, and there’s a clear sense of catharsis by the end of each case.
2. Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2013 - June 2013
Takao Kasuka is a literary bookworm. He spends most of his time being obsessed with Baudelaire and his famous poetry collection Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil) and thinking of his crush, his classmate Nanako Saeki. One day, Kasuka steals Saeki’s gym clothes but is seen by another student, loner Nakamura. Nakamura starts blackmailing Kasuka by forming a contract with him: she believes that she is the only one who can bring forth Kasuka’s true, dark side. This is why Nakamura’s requests get more daring, putting Kasuka in uncomfortable situations, where he is forced to face his true yearnings.
Flowers of Evil divided fans of the original manga. Rumors have it that it didn’t get a second season because of the animation style; frankly, so many people hated the rotoscoping technique used throughout. Its mangaka Shuzo Oshimi liked it, though, and agreed with the director’s intention to create a realistic feel. But also many fans loved it! Criticism towards the adaptation is that the missing details in the facial expressions make it challenging to get into. It’s best to watch Flowers of Evil and form your own opinion!
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2007 - September 2007
Mononoke is the sequel of Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror. This time, the protagonist is a character appearing in Ayakashi’s last episode, the Medicine Seller (Kusuriuri). The series includes five different stories set in feudal Japan and the 1920s that we can describe as horror mysteries. Kusuriuri is a traveling medicine seller with a fox-life appearance. He downplays his true powers on purpose: he can exorcise the mononoke, evil spirits, by finding out their Form, Truth, and Regret. Kusuriuri traces them with his special scales and performs a Buddhist exorcism on them with his enchanted sword.
Mononoke was produced by Toei Animation and the result is stunning, with dazzling details, flowing kaleidoscopic patterns, extreme maximalism, and a rich, jewel color palette. The animation is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese patterns in the first stories, while the last one accurately reflects a turn of the century style. Color is used strategically to create a certain atmosphere. For example, in the last story, everything is grey and when the mystery starts unraveling, the setting turns back to color. Mononoke has a premise with depth: one turns into a mononoke by repressing a certain truth about themselves. We dare you to watch the Umibozu story (episodes 3 -5) and answer the question: what is it that you fear most?
Experimental animation techniques might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we picked something for everyone: stories from Japan, sports anime, gore, even twisted romance. All titles combine interesting plots with wacky stylistic choices in bold ways.
Are you ready to try something different? Do you know any other anime with experimental animation? Let’s discuss in the comments below!