Top 10 Cult Hit Anime [Best Recommendations]

Everybody around the world knows of Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Naruto. These animes became popular at the right time for the right reasons out of the hundreds of thousands of anime out there. In addition to these mainstream titles, there are still some anime that may be small in numbers but high in their passion within their fanbase. So it is with great pleasure to give to you, Honey’s Top 10 Cult Hit Anime.

10. FLCL

  • Episodes: 6
  • Aired: Apr 26, 2000 – Mar 16, 2001

Fooly Cooly, or FLCL for short, has managed to maintain its fan base and slowly expand it since its debut. And after many years of demand, it’s finally getting a sequel on Cartoon Network in 2018. Like some of Gainax’s other hits such as Evangelion, FLCL is probably one of the most unorthodox coming-of-age stories one could ever see. Even if fans tried to explain FLCL to a non-anime fan, nobody would follow. FLCL is a classic example of you have to see it to believe it, and it’s one of those animes that doesn’t work as a gateway anime. You really need time and exposure to anime as a whole to really appreciate FLCL.

A certain portion of what makes FLCL a cult classic is that it is unorthodox beyond both imagination and definition. The series is full of pop culture spoofs like Family Guy, so if you know Japanese pop culture and old school anime, you’re going to get a kick out of this. In addition to its presentation, another portion of what dedicated viewers love about FLCL is the soundtrack provided by The Pillows, a Japanese rock band. While the songs don’t capture its edgy comedy, it does a wonderful job of representing Naoto’s pre-teen angst but still gives an optimistic message.

9. Hajime no Ippo (Fighting Spirit)

  • Episodes: 75
  • Aired: Oct 4, 2000 – Mar 27, 2002

Though a great percentage of anime fans can’t get into the sports genre, for those who can, one of their top favorites is Hajime no Ippo, based on the undisputed champion of sports mangas. Fans primarily enjoy this series because it’s realistic on every front you can think of in relation to the sweet science. It shows that you don’t need super fireballs or power up transformations to make excellent fights. Just like in real life boxing, styles make fights and Hajime no Ippo does a great job of demonstrating that quality, along with how Ippo prepares for that.

In some instances, he has to fight a power puncher who specializes in hooks, a guy who hits and hugs to squeeze out a decision, or worst yet, somebody who flies like a butterfly and stings like a bee. When Ippo trains, him and his team take what they need into account and shows that the real fight is fought in the gym. Viewers learn about Ippo’s daily life, where his work ethic comes from, and why he sets goals for himself. When you see Ippo push himself, it inspires viewers to go out and want to achieve their goals. For those who enjoy boxing or have experience in any kind of martial art, they find the experiences portrayed in Hajime no Ippo to be very relatable, which is why it attracts a niche fan base.

8. Ghost in the Shell

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Nov 18, 1995

Long before the recent controversial live-action feature film and the more popular Stand Alone Complex TV series, there was the original movie that popularized Mamoru Ishii and Masamune Shirow’s names. What makes Ghost in the Shell a cult classic beyond its gritty cyberpunk setting and edgy action is that it foretold the future as we presently live it. Upon its original release, the Internet existed mostly through our phone lines with a select number of households, and running speeds would take a month to load a YouTube trailer.

However, Ghost in the Shell foreshadowed that one day, our daily lives would be running through the Internet as well as other technological wireless advancements. When you watch this movie with this understanding in mind in relation to its original premiere, it’s really mind-blowing to see that this anime foretold we what know the world as it is today. Not only does it explore the benefits of being interconnected, the movie does a great job of demonstrating many of its consequences to both the individual, and to society as a whole.

7. Serial Experiments Lain

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Jul 6, 1998 – Sept 28, 1998

Serial Experiments Lain debuted in a time when broadband Internet was progressively becoming available in American households, and society started to recognize its universal value. For its time, Lain was considered cerebrally unorthodox and yet captivating. It was an anime ahead of its time, which is primarily why it is considered a cult classic. The anime was essentially critiquing the mainstreaming of the Internet long before we recognized the consequences through memes and medical publications.

For some of you readers out there, how often do you go to a restaurant or a Starbucks and see a group of three to five friends sitting together and all they’re doing is looking at their phones, or other Internet-connected devices without talking to each other? Whenever you see that, what are your thoughts? That we are more connected than ever? Or are we really losing connection? The fact that Lain addresses these very themes during a time long before Internet technology and usage to what it is now is why it captures a distinct audience. When you watch it the first time back in the 1990’s, you think to yourself it could happen but can it? But when you watch it now, you realized it’s finally happened.

6. Mushishi

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: Oct 23, 2005 – Jun 19, 2006

Despite being popular in its native Japan, Mushishi has only managed to capture a small audience in the West. Though a large portion of anime tends to be serialized, Mushishi in comparison is episodic so that quality alone makes it easy to get into. Mushishi really challenges viewers on how we view life around us to a subatomic level letting us know that without small things, we truly cannot live. It also demonstrates that there are some aspects of life we have yet to truly discover and if we do discover these things, while fear might be the first reaction, we must understand their nature and in what ways they contribute to the order or balance to everything as a whole.

Despite the nature of Ginko’s role as the main character, he is still relatable and yet idealistic at the same time. When you watch this anime, you truly feel like you’re on a journey questioning life in numerous ways, but likely come to some sort of positive outcome.

5. Initial D

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: Apr 19, 1998 – Dec 6, 1998

Long before The Fast and the Furious popularized street racing in pop culture (in addition to the RX-7 FD model), anime already had the jump start with Initial D. Like Hajime no Ippo with boxing, Initial D is contextually realistic in relation to its theme of street racing in the mountains where they tackle corners with death-defying drifts. The series takes into account how a certain car has to be tuned, or how a racer can improvise based on their familiarity with the course conditions and the vehicle they’re driving to gain the lead in unexpected moments. Whenever a character performs a drift, when necessary, a character who is an expert provides a detailed explanation of how the driver did it.

If you’re into cars, Initial D is about as educational as it can get in that regard and can be full of unique surprises, which is why fans enjoy this series but could be difficult for those who have little to no interest in cars. But if you have an interest in racing or cars, Initial D is the perfect getaway anime for you! In addition to its exciting races, another quality that fans love about the Initial D franchise is its appropriately fast-paced Eurobeat soundtrack. Just like how the jazz of Cowboy Bebop is the soul of that series, the Eurobeat is the soul for Initial D.

4. Paprika

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Nov 25, 2006

Many of you know Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but to a group of anime fans, they think of it as nothing more as a live-action adaptation (with some going as far as saying rip-off) to this hit by the late great Satoshi Kon, Paprika. Paprika is considered to be one of the most psychological animes of modern times, which you can say with Kon’s other films, but Paprika takes it to a new direction in comparison to Perfect Blue or Millennium Actress. With the magic of animation, you can take the notion of dreams and crank it up to the max since this movie contains psychedelic visuals to represent the themes of the subconscious.

It also challenges our notions of how people identify themselves with reality and what they want in their fantasies. Or in some instances, to accomplish a certain task, you may have to accommodate to your environments and the people that surround you, but at what point do you lose the distinction between reality and fantasy? The fact that this movie explores these very questions is what makes it truly stand out.

3. Akira

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Jul 16, 1988

If there is one original cult classic in the Western fandom of anime, it certainly has to be Akira. For many Generation X anime fans, Akira is the movie that made them one. The reason why it remains beloved to this day is that its animation quality, even after 30 years, still stands against the test of time. It showed non-Japanese audiences that animation isn’t exclusively for children with its cerebral story, intense soundtrack, and exciting action sequences. When you look at the original VHS cover with Kaneda on his motorcycle while browsing at a video store in 1995, it just captures potential viewers in a way that if they watch it, they’re in for something they’ve probably never seen before and when they do, it just blows their mind away. Whether you’re into motorcycles or not, you can’t lie to yourself that it would be cool to have one just like Kaneda’s.

While the movie was meant to be a critique of post-World War II Japan, many of the themes portrayed are still relevant to this very day in Japanese society and possibly a number of other nations. One significant issue Akira demonstrates is the controversy of Japan’s military prowess in context to both World War II and today. In the movie, the military has a lot of power and for the past decade, the Japanese government has been pushing to restructure their military despite possible violations to Article 9 of their constitution, which stipulates they can’t have one a full-scale military. In addition, it also portrays the bottom of the barrel youth in Japan’s society as outcasts, and that they have nothing to do but partake in gang activity due to a poor support system, which has been true since the end of the war. And on one last note, this movie magically predicted that the 2020 Olympics would take place in Tokyo.

2. Now and Then, Here and There (Ima, Soko Ni Iru Boku)

Serial-Experiment-Lain-crunchyroll Top 10 Cult Hit Anime [Best Recommendations]

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Oct 14, 1999 – Jan 20, 2000

If you have read every list of what is considered the most underrated animes out there, we’re pretty sure that Now and There, Here and There tends to pop up on the top 5. Considering that many people consider this underrated, it’s instantly conclusive that it qualifies as a cult classic. The character designs may not stand out but what makes up for it is its moving story and a strong cast of characters. What this anime does an excellent job of is showing many sides to how people deal with war, especially in regards to female victims. With Shu, the main character, no matter how bad a situation is, he always maintains his optimism and does all he can to find a solution.

Through Sara, you see a more negative outlook and through her experiences, you can understand why she has hostile feelings towards Lala-Ru. The reason why it has managed to capture an audience is because it doesn’t shy away from pushing the envelope in regards to its setting not just for the sake of pushing the envelope, but for exposing us to a new side of war that hasn’t really been touched upon in regards to Sara’s story, which you rarely see in just about any form of media that tackles war. While numerous anime such as the mecha genre have always dealt with war-related themes, Now and There, Here and There just takes it to a new direction that you have to see to really understand and appreciate.

1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes (Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu)

  • Episodes: 110
  • Aired: Jan 9, 1988 – Mar 17, 1997

Space operas in just about every medium you can think of beyond anime are a dime a dozen. What makes Legend of the Galactic Heroes distinct is that Yang WenLi, one of the main co-leads, once said that some wars are not between good vs. evil, but one good vs. another, and relates accurately to the nature of the show. Legend of the Galactic Heroes presents that both sides are full of good and bad people so viewers get an equal exploration of the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire from just about every perspective. The driving forces of this series are the two main leads, Yang WenLi of the Free Planets Alliance, and Reinhardt Von Musel of the Galactic Empire. Despite being enemies, they have a profound respect for one another to the point they acknowledge to themselves they could have been best friends if they met under different circumstances.

WenLi admires Reinhardt’s way of appealing to the masses, while Reinhardt respects WenLi’s tactical prowess of turning an impossible situation into a complete victory. The series is the ultimate metaphor of war and politics, and with the recent political climate is not just in the US, but many other countries, a lot of the themes presented are now more relevant than ever. Ultimately, the series does an excellent job of portraying that if there are any true losers in war, it is the innocents who are stuck in the crossfire or subjected to the greed of the government who take away their homes and food for their own personal gain. Even though the series takes place in a galaxy far, far away in the distant future, it presents a realistic viewpoint on whether or not humanity can ever evolve beyond its conflicted nature and lust for power.

Final Thoughts

Last, we would like to make some honorable mentions to Revolutionary Girl Utena, Saint Seiya, Fist of the North Star, Little Witch Academia, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. We’re not afraid to admit that putting together and making these lists are both difficult and very argumentative. So if you disagree with our list, we’re cool with that. You are free to give us your thoughts on what other quality anime we have may missed that hit cult status.

Serial-Experiment-Lain-crunchyroll Top 10 Cult Hit Anime [Best Recommendations]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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