It’s never been a more exciting time to be a fan of anime thanks to the wealth of streaming services and the unprecedented accessibility of content that’s currently available. Not only are there more places to consume anime than ever before, but there is also an abundance of storytelling genres that make sure that there’s an anime out there for every possible person.
Anime loves to indulge in hyperbolized battles and over the top fantasy, but it’s also a great place to find subversive spins on noir narratives. Anime can embrace noir tropes in enlightening ways, which has led to some especially unique crime and detective series.
10/10 Gungrave Is A Cold Crime Caper Of Corruption
Much like how Yasuhiro Nightow’s Trigun helped reinvent the western genre through exaggerated action and science fiction, Gungrave is Nightow’s send-up of film noir and gritty crime drama. The excessive anime juxtaposes the corruption of two former friends who allow arbitrary wealth and power to cloud what’s really important.
There’s such a satisfying rivalry between Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, but the inherent tragedy of their lots in life is very appropriate for the noir genre. Gungrave pushes a noir mindset, but looks completely different from the texts that inspire it.
9/10 Baccano! Is An Outlandish Anime Look At The Prohibition Era
Baccano! is the ideal anime for both history buffs and those who want to escape in outlandish animated fleets of fancy. Baccano! is set in Chicago during the Prohibition Era, yet the anime does something unique with this grounded period of rampant crime.
Powerful magic users and brilliant martial artists turn territory that’s typically suited for detectives and mafioso into a playground for shonen heroes. The power scaling leaves a little to be desired for noir purists. However, Baccano! is one of many examples of how anime tackles neo-noir storytelling.
8/10 Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine Is Stylized Femme Fatale Joy
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
Monkey Punch’s iconic gentleman thief action-adventure heist franchise, Lupin the Third, has taken many shapes and sizes over its lengthy 50-year run. There are basic noir trappings in each Lupin the Third series, but they frequently prioritize action and adventure over atmosphere.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a 13-episode stylized spin-off that’s told through the perspective of femme fatale Fujiko Mine. Directed by Sayo Yamamoto, the artistic approach for this retelling of the series embraces intense lighting, shadow, and other noir conventions, which the series subverts through its femme fatale filter.
7/10 The Big O Turns To Noir Tropes for Its Giant Robot Rampages
The Big O
A lot of American animation is inspired by certain anime tropes, but The Big O is a sublime blend of Eastern and Western sensibilities that was appropriately co-produced by Cartoon Network for its Toonami anime block. Set in the gritty Gotham-esque Paradigm City, Roger “Negotiator” Smith pilots a massive mecha alongside a friendly robot and his butler, Norman.
The Big O lovingly leans into mecha, kaiju, and tokusatsu tropes of the 1950s and ’60s, but it’s all presented with a heavy noir flair and an emphasis on detective storytelling. It’s a unique action series that’s set to satisfy both noir and giant robot fans alike.
6/10 91 Days Is An Emotional Onslaught Of Revenge & Redemption
Set in 1930s America during the height of Prohibition, 91 Days gets into a gripping revenge story that’s as much The Godfather as it is The Departed. Angelo Lagusa indoctrinates the Zenetti crime family, but his growing stock within this unscrupulous organization has him occasionally question where he belongs and what’s the best use of his life.
At only 12 episodes, 91 Days doesn’t belabor its story, but the characters and mystery become quite enthralling. The anime’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t slow down its pace and deliver 91 episodes, one for each day of Angelo’s intensive subterfuge.
5/10 Ergo Proxy Looks At Questions Of Control & Identity In An Ever-Changing World
Taking a page out of Ghost in the Shell‘s book, Ergo Proxy digs into a future dystopia where humanity’s helper androids suddenly gain self-awareness and turn on their masters. Ergo Proxy begins in familiar territory for anyone who’s well-versed with cyberpunk thrillers, but it quickly forges its own path.
Ergo Proxy is one of the rare anime in which the answers it holds off giving the audience are genuinely satisfying when they’re finally revealed. Ergo Proxy looks gorgeous and includes some gripping sci-fi setpieces, but it’s a series where its ideas and storytelling are its greatest asset.
4/10 Darker Than Black Applies A Critical Noir Sensibility To A Supernatural Hellmouth
Darker Than Black
There is no shortage of grounded noir anime out there, but some of the most celebrated series are the ones that mix this hard-boiled framework with the typical supernatural and fantasy impulses that anime thrives upon. The central mystery in Darker Than Black examines two contrasting gateways that have opened at opposite corners of the world — the Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate.
The Hell’s Gate has ravaged Tokyo and turned it into a hotbed of unpredictable phenomena. Darker Than Black‘s noir sensibilities are most apparent with its tone and characters, but there’s also enough action-packed chaos to keep anyone entertained.
3/10 Psycho-Pass Is Immersed In A Futuristic Dystopia Where Tech Is More Important Than Instinct
Psycho-Pass is an acclaimed crime series that feels like the type of anime that Philip K. Dick would create. The Sibyl System is a complex database and morality barometer that’s able to pre-judge whether individuals are conditioned to commit crimes or become unstable.
Many of the cops in Psycho-Pass are already too far gone, but the anime is experienced through the eyes of Akane Tsunomori, a wide-eyed rookie. Admittedly, there are diminishing returns on Psycho-Pass‘ seasons, but its first year is neo-noir science fiction at its finest and there’s still a lot to appreciate in how the subsequent seasons flesh out this futuristic world.
2/10 Monster Engages In A Cat-And-Mouse Game Between Genius & Killer
At 74 episodes, Monster initially seems like it requires too much of a commitment, yet by the end of the series the audience will leave frustrated that there’s not twice as many episodes to explore. Monster is a mature, contemplative morality play that’s both peak horror and noir fiction.
Famed surgeon Kenzo Tenma finds himself in a bizarre twist on the Frankenstein’s Monster story when one of his past patients has grown into an infamous serial killer. Monster has the courage to ask difficult questions that most anime won’t and the dedicated, serialized mystery that compliments it all is impressive.
1/10 Cowboy Bebop Uses The Noir Framework For Elegant Outcast Adventures Through Space
Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop is considered to be one of the greatest anime series of all-time, noir or otherwise. Cowboy Bebop begins in shockingly familiar territory as Spike Spiegel and the rest of his team of misfit bounty hunters try their best to pull in a big score, but most of the time can barely scrap together gas money.
Cowboy Bebop flies through space with sprawling operatic glee, yet its exceptional jazz soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. The soundtrack perfectly sets the table for a genre mash-up that seamlessly nails horror, comedy, sci-fi, and westerns, yet these hard-boiled archetypes and the moody visuals are pure noir to the bitter end.
NEXT: 10 Anime Where It Pays To Be Bad