Action and adventure
Superheroes can be a little boring, can’t they? Does anybody really doubt, when a bank robber comes face-to-face with Superman, that the ensuing fight can go any way but one? One-Punch Man takes the one-sided nature of superheroes to its extreme conclusion, following Saitama (Makoto Furukawa), a hero so powerful he can defeat any foe with a single punch. Being unstoppable leads Saitama to a profound sense of ennui, however, and he must seek out stronger and stronger opponents in order to feel alive. One-Punch Man is a hilarious parody for fans of superheroes or anime, and it doesn’t hurt that the action is rendered in smooth, colorful animation.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
The second adaptation of the popular manga, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood hews much more closely to the original story. The show, set in the fantasy setting of Amestris, follows the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, sons of a famed alchemist. After their father disappears and their mother dies, the boys take up the mystical art of alchemy, but a failed attempt at a forbidden ritual comes at a price: Edward loses an arm and a leg, while Alphonse loses his whole body, his soul trapped in a suit of armor. The boys seek work as military alchemists, hoping to use the government’s resources to research the legendary Philosopher’s Stone and find a way to restore their bodies. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood stands out in the vast field of anime thanks to its distinct setting, complex characters, and inventive action sequences.
Though it originally aired on Cartoon Network, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack is not merely kid’s fare. The show follows an unnamed samurai prince (Phil LaMarr), who attempts to liberate his kingdom from the reign of the demon lord Aku (Mako Iwamatsu). Although the samurai overpowers Aku, the demon tears open a portal through time, flinging him into the distant future, where Aku rules the world and beyond. In the future, the samurai — dubbed “Jack” by some locals — must wander, seeking a way to return to the past and vanquish Aku. Jack’s quest takes him to many strange places, and the show frequently plays with form and genre. One episode, a riff on film noir, follows a robotic P.I. trying to track Jack. The show’s gorgeous visuals and understated storytelling make it one of the greatest animated series ever made.
History (the network) melds historic accuracy with epic action in Vikings, a dramatized recounting of a prolific figure in Scandinavian lore, Ragnar Lodbrok. Vikings follows the exploits of the cunning Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as he becomes the most powerful ruler of Europe’s Viking Age, or at least, the one the history books and Nordic sagas remember him as. The show has received much acclaim during its run thus far — and without the gratuitous nudity common to most cable epics — earning it numerous Emmy nominations for both effects and design.
Gravity Falls could be summed up as “The X-Files for kids,” but that might be selling it a bit short. The show follows twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal), two kids spending summer break living with their great uncle — or “Grunkle” — Stan (Alex Hirsch) in the small town of Gravity Falls, nestled in the woods of Eastern Oregon. For most kids, summer in a town in the middle of nowhere would seem like a dreadful exile from fun, but Gravity Falls is no ordinary town; it’s home to paranormal phenomena, conspiracies, and monsters, among other things. Some episodes have self-contained stories, while others feed into the larger, surprisingly dense mythology of the town. Gravity Falls is a weird and witty adventure story, built around a cast of charming characters.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon’s horror/fantasy/comedy/coming-of-age series was one of the defining shows of the ’90s, a teen drama with a healthy dose of humor and also monsters. The show begins with teenager Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) starting school in her new hometown: Sunnydale, California. It’s a quaint town, a perfect place to raise a family — if you can look past all the vampires, demons, and other creatures haunting the town. Luckily for the people of Sunnydale, Buffy is no ordinary teen; she’s a “Slayer,” a demon-fighting warrior blessed with superhuman powers. Along with her friends Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan), as well as her mentor, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy hunts monsters and tries to pass her classes. Although the early episodes are rough, Buffy the Vampire Slayer grew into one of the smartest shows on television in its day, a series that used its fantasy elements as metaphors for the travails of growing up and finding one’s place in the world. It doesn’t hurt that it had a sharp, self-aware sense of humor.
Before he was the mastermind behind Marvel’s cinematic universe, Joss Whedon was known for creating memorable television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. While the latter only lasted for one season before it was ultimately canceled and later revived with the film Serenity, it has garnered a rabid cult following. The sci-fi series is set just after an interplanetary civil war between the populated inner system planets and the outer planets, where life resembles the American West. The series is well known for its cast of likable characters, including Nathan Fillion’s Mal Reynolds, who captains the titular ship, and is arguably the coolest space criminal since Han Solo.
Anime is often labeled as a niche genre, but like with all forms of media, there are breakout examples that transcend the genre, crossing over in appeal. Cowboy Bebop is a prime example. Set in the early era of humanity’s colonization of the solar system, a ragtag group of bounty hunters led by Spike Spiegel (Steven Blum) makes ends meet by taking in wanted criminals, while simultaneously trying to avoid the law and powerful criminal organizations. This space-western has been lauded as one of the best anime series ever made, with a memorable cast and compelling story, and featuring one of the most iconic final scenes ever.
Based on the acclaimed comic series by Garth Ennis, Preacher follows the story of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a former criminal working as a preacher in Texas. His faith shaky, Jesse’s life is changed when an otherworldly entity possesses him, granting him supernatural powers. Soon, Jesse teams up with his ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and an Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), as he tries to master his new powers and deal with a host of enemies, including a powerful and corrupt businessman, Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley). The show benefits from excellent direction, thanks to showrunner Sam Catlin (who previously worked on Breaking Bad). Bloody, violent, and set against the sun-parched backdrop of Texas, Preacher evokes classic Westerns, but the supernatural elements and bizarre characters will appeal to viewers of modern genre shows like Game of Thrones.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
For those bored with the derivative artwork and mindless action of many anime, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a ludicrous shot in the arm. The long-running franchise, which takes place over the course of generations, follows various members of the “Joestar” family, adventurers who use their magic powers and quick wits to battle a variety of outlandish foes, including the family’s nigh immortal nemesis, the vampire Dio Brando. JBA’s garish character designs and the inventive fight scenes make it a timeless story, one that even someone with a cautious interest in anime could enjoy.