Whether you are or you aren’t a fan of anime, you probably know that the worlds of Japanese animation are, usually, considered to be very different, if not strange when compared to traditional Western animation. The basic idea is the same, but anime reflects Japanese cultural, historical, and societal values and traditions that are different from Western ones. Anime can definitely be described as being avant-garde and in this article, we are going to bring you a list of the 18 best avant-garde anime titles.
1. Serial experiments lain
If it’s avant-garde you’re looking for, Serial experiments Lain is probably the best thing you’ll find. It’s philosophically challenging and visually stunning, which is why we highly recommend you check out this cyberpunk masterpiece.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
The watching order of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series might not be the easiest one to comprehend, but luckily for you, there are more than enough guides online. Eva, as it is called, is yet another anime classic and from our perspective a work you definitely need to see.
3. Paranoia Agent
An anime that is more disturbing than not, Paranoia Agent is basically everything you’re looking for if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, strange, and avant-garde. Like the other two, it is a futuristic show which combines science with the macabre.
Mononoke, which is not affiliated with the similarly-titled Ghibli movie, looks like something someone animated while on some hallucinogenic opiate. The colors are vivid, and the animation is quite strange, but regardless of everything, Mononoke is still a work that definitely deserves your attention.
5. DEVILMAN crybaby
Another semi-horror title on the list, DEVILMAN crybaby is a title that will attract you both with its visuals and its quite compelling story. It might not be the mainstream title you’re looking for, but it will provide you with more than enough entertainment.
Paprika is actually a movie, but a movie that looks like it’s been animated by art nouveau artists like Klimt or Tiffany. It’s a truly intriguing tale that will keep you in your seats from start to finish but do prepare yourselves for a very odd experience overall.
Another lesser-known title for sure, Penguindrum is a series that has it all – drama, mystery, humor – and is, of course, avant-garde in its approach to the plot. It has only 24 episodes and finished years ago, so it should be an enjoyable experience for you overall.
8. Perfect Blue
Another classic movie, Perfect Blue is a movie you absolutely have to see, regardless of your preferences. It has one of the best stories you’ll find, it has a very artistic approach and beautifully crafted characters (both in their beauty and their ugliness) that you’ll simply love.
9. Angel’s Egg
The Japanese are known for providing us with vividly strange experiences and Angel’s Egg is one such example. This 71-minute OVA was released back in 1971 and has since become a cult classic that is talked about among anime fans, which is why we ultimately decided to include it on our list as well.
10. Boogiepop and Others
Somewhat reminiscent of lain, but not as sophisticated, Boogiepop is a deeply philosophical work that will challenge your perception of time, existence, and the role of humans in such a world. It is a masterfully crafted psychological work that you absolutely have to see if you like avant-garde anime.
11. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
The whole When They Cry franchise, which includes a lot of different titles, has some truly compelling stories and characters. Although all of them stand on the border between real and surreal, Higurashi brings out the best of the balanced approach of this franchise and is a title you absolutely have to see.
Well, Ito-sama’s works usually speak for themselves and although Uzumaki is a title that has yet to be released (it is expected to premiere in 2023), we’re certain that it is going to fit in this category which is why we have included it in this list already. Ito-sama rarely disappoints and if Uzumaki is going to be anything like the manga, we’re in for an absolute treat.
13. Umineko no Naku Koro ni
This anime borders more on fantasy than actual avant-garde, but it has more than enough elements of the latter to earn a place on this list. It is short, it is intellectually challenging, and it is weird enough for fans of this genre to enjoy it.
14. Shin Sekai Yori
One of the most melancholic and depressing tales yours truly has ever seen, Shin Sekai Yori is a futuristic story where everything seems both normal and odd at the same time, as you follow the protagonists who, on their journey of self-exploration, discover the grim secrets of the world that supposedly seems quite idealistic and flawless.
15. Mind Game
Mind Game is just what you’d expect – a mind game. This movie will keep you focused to the very end, as you’ll need to be like that in order to follow the shifts in the narrative that the movie presents. On top of that, it is a visual spectacle, so we definitely recommend it.
16. Cat Soup
Cat Soup is both outright weird and quite intriguing. It is a story about life, death, and siblings, shown from the perspective of Nyatto, the feline protagonist of the series. It has something for everyone, so definitely check it out.
17. Belladonna of Sadness
This 1973 movie is also an avant-garde classic, similar in style to some titles we have already listed here. Anime fans will surely know of it and if you like such work, this is a truly great time to explore this visual masterpiece for yourselves.
With numerous iterations, the FLCL series is just what you need if you’re looking for a longer series to watch. It has a lot of mecha and sci-fi elements, but if you’re into that genre, the FLCL series is probably one of the best places to look.