HBO and Prime Video are certainly leading the charge right now when it comes to live-action fantasy juggernauts, but the genre also has an impressive level of depth in the anime space. It’s an incredibly versatile genre that can be tastefully meshed with other ones and unique settings, and that’s led to some immersive worlds, stories, and characters.
Anime like Jujutsu Kaisen do a stylish job of weaving dark fantasy with a modern-day setting, but there’s still something special about being transported into fantastical alternate histories. The likes of Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood both do excellent jobs of adapting different styles of European-inspired fantasy, while shounen juggernaut Demon Slayer sets Japan against a visually stunning backdrop.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is often regarded as one of the greatest anime to ever air, and certainly among the best shounen series. Animated by veteran studio Bones, this was a second anime adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, only this time with the added appeal of being a faithful adaptation from start to finish. Similar to what Attack on Titan would do later, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood crafts an enticing cocktail of European-inspired fantasy, political turmoil, and steampunk aesthetics to make a world that feels entirely like its own.
It follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who become state-sanctioned alchemists as they attempt to find the Philosopher’s Stone to undo their troubled past of dabbling in dark arts. The series has been widely acclaimed for its captivating worldbuilding and emotionally rewarding character arcs, all punctuated by some thrillingly animated action.
In terms of mainstream impact, few other anime can compare to the adaptation of writer Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. Having enjoyed an incredible run at the hands of animations studios Wit (seasons 1-3) and MAPPA (season 4), Attack on Titan creatively blends elements of dark fantasy, Germanic and Japanese histories, and a moodily slick steampunk-inspired setting. It follows the story of Eren Jaeger and company living within a city-state closed off from the world to protect themselves from the mysterious and menacing Titans outside.
Following a sudden chaotic attack, Eren sees his mother eaten by a Titan and becomes fueled by vengeance to become a member of the city’s Scout Regiment. Attack on Titan had a unique impact as its atmosphere of dark fantasy, mystery, and political intrigue arguably gives it a similar appeal to Game of Thrones.
Fans around the world mourned the loss of Kentaro Miura, whose manga Berserk is often regarded as the most revered manga ever written. Over a year later, many are now overjoyed that Miura’s team and friends are now continuing the manga in his image to honor his legacy, however, Berserk‘s anime adaptations have been even more scarce than new manga chapters. It takes place in a classical medieval dark fantasy world, centering around the mercenary Guts, who is on a quest for vengeance for the reprehensible betrayal of a former friend and comrade.
As relentlessly harrowing as the series can be, it eventually evolves into an inspiring tale of healing that showcases humanity’s indomitable will. Punctuated by fantasy monsters, cathartic fights, and rich worldbuilding, The Golden Age Arc — Memorial Edition is the current TV version of Studio 4°C’s anime movie trilogy.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc — Memorial Edition is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Claymore is another anime adaptation of a well-regarded dark fantasy manga. Set during the Middle Ages, humanity is living in perpetual fear of being slaughtered by monstrous, man-eating creatures known as Yoma that have the ability to shapeshift into their victims. Mankind’s only collective hope is the titular human/Yoma hybrid warriors known as Claymore. Lad protagonist Clare illustrates the struggle of quelling their inner Yoma hunger and retaining their sense of humanity.
Madhouse’s anime is a solid take on Norihiro Yagi’s manga, with Claymore boasting a healthy mix of spectacle-level action and an increasingly tense story. Fans who enjoy a dose of Berserk-esque horror in their fantasy worlds should find themselves suitably engaged as well.
Changing the pace to feudal-era Japan, studios MAPPA and Tezuka Productions’ adaptation of the classic manga Dororo is an excellent series for fans who want a samurai story with their fantasy. Dororo takes the alternate history route with its setting, as it takes place in a version of the Sengoku period where demons are commonplace threats throughout the countryside.
It focuses on the ronin Hyakkimaru, along with his companion Dororo, who goes on a quest to regain the human body that his lord father sacrificed. The series is a perfect marriage of history with dark fantasy, with Dororo tapping into nuanced themes of the downfall of cultish religious fanaticism, the horrors of war, societal inequality, and what makes someone human.
Dororo is available to stream now on Prime Video.
It’s been a long wait for the anime to roll out, but Kinema Citrus’ adaptation of Made in Abyss has earned an impressive level of acclaim in its two seasons so far. Made in Abyss is a clever mix of science fiction and fantasy elements, revolving around the young orphan girl Riko, who befriends a robotic humanoid she dubs Reg and explores the depths of this world’s titular Abyss.
She seeks to follow in the footsteps of her legendary Diver mother, who’s also gone missing. The story has been praised for its excellent balance of a colorful sense of adventure and air of mystery surrounding the Abyss’ many layers. But despite its charming character designs, Made in Abyss also delves into an intimate, even dark level of character development.
Made in Abyss is available to stream on HIDIVE.
Eiichiro Oda’s shounen icon is certainly among the most colorful and inventive fantasy series out there. Spanning over 1,000 chapters in the manga and over 1,000 episodes of the anime, Luffy’s ambitious quest to become an elite pirate sailing the Grand Line has been fleshed out into so much more.
The Straw Hat pirate crew makes up some of the most beloved characters in anime, and the series has maintained an astonishingly consistent level of high quality for a series that’s been actively running since the late 1990s. It takes vibrant high fantasy and gives it a nautical, pirate-themed twist in a sweeping tale that’s been acclaimed for its meticulously written story arcs, attention to detail in world-building, and thoroughly rewarding character-driven storytelling throughout its odyssey-level adventures.
On its surface, there’s nothing particularly novel about Demon Slayer, as its core premise is rather standard shounen fanfare. But what makes the manga and anime series, in particular, so special is how studio Ufotable brings to life its colorful cast of characters and jaw-dropping fights. Young Tanjiro takes up the role his late father left behind in helping provide for his family until tragedy strikes when a demon murders his entire family except for his little sister.
However, Nezuko survives because she has turned into a demon herself, leading Tanjiro on a mission to avenge his family and protect the only other surviving member by becoming a member of the Demon Slayer corps. Demon Slayer’s dark Eastern fantasy rendition of an early 1900s Japan setting is wonderfully atmospheric, the cast has its respective set of charms, and the action sequences the story is punctuated with serve as a true feast for the eyes.
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