12 Great Anime That Felt Ahead Of Their TimeThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Have you ever searched up the release date of an anime you watched and been shocked by the year it aired?
Or noticed that the animation or art wasn’t standard for its time?
Or maybe some of the subject matters were a bit… touchy at the time of release?
Maybe this anime even showed off some ideas that picked up & became trendier later on in the decade.
What’s that? You haven’t seen any anime like that?
….Well, not to worry, I’ll give you some great options here so you don’t feel left out!
12. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Usually you’re able to tell an anime’s approximate age from its art style.
But in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, the art, the humor, the fights, and the soundtrack are all timeless.
Many elements commonly found in anime were started in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – like the yandere trope when Yukako Yamagishi was introduced in Part 4.
Disregarding David Production’s adaptation released in the mid-to-late 2010’s, the original manga ran from the late 80’s to the late 90’s.
All those wacky moments and memorable quotes that all came from Araki’s head cannot be defined by a standard in any time period.
11. Cowboy Bebop
As a show that TV Tokyo deemed too mature and only aired half of its episodes, Cowboy Bebop definitely fits the moniker of an anime that was ahead of its time.
It incorporated a mix of several different influences from jazz music to fights in outer space to—you guessed it, cowboys, hunting bounties across the galaxy.
This is a unique and well-written show that would’ve been a hidden gem if not for the amount of exposure it got on Adult Swim.
It’ll remain a classic whose story can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Preferably in a future where there aren’t monsters that try to kill you after you leave a lobster in the fridge for too long.
Psycho-Pass draws you into its dark dystopian futuristic world that tackles the unique concept of tagging people with indicators of their potential criminal activity.
It was a rare concept that was very well executed.
The special effects of the various technologies exhibited in the anime felt new and creative.
Likewise, the clean art and dynamic animation can easily pass as anime made in recent years, when it was actually released in 2012.
To put it into perspective, this was the same year that Apple released their iPhone 5.
Pushing over a decade ago now.
One other anime with a similar concept but executed in a wholly different way is ID: Invaded.
If you like sci-fi and haven’t checked either of these two out, I promise you won’t regret it.
9. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Let’s talk about Lelouch for a second here.
A sophisticated, two-faced, charismatic intellect whose ambition is to create a better world with a Machiavellian principle.
Lelouch is a memorable yet controversial character who influenced future anime protagonists like Light Yagami.
But other than Lelouch, there are other influential characters in the anime too. Like Nunnally and Michella Watch, Nina Einstein and the yandere trope, etc.
It’s a great anime to get comfortable with the mecha genre too, if you’re willing to widen your palette.
Code Geass covers many different themes and is decorated with a wide variety of different character types.
Not to mention the nuanced plot and politics.
But if there’s one thing that Code Geass has that no other anime does, it’s C.C.
And that’s all it needed to make it on this list.
Erased, aka The Town Where Only I Am Missing, deals in time travel with a heaping dose of nostalgia and a touch of melancholy.
This mystery thriller paved the way for the bestselling manga hit series Tokyo Revengers with a similar time travel plot feature.
And although most of the anime takes place in 1988, you don’t have to grow up in the 80s to taste the bittersweetness of childhood memories.
Because who wouldn’t want to return to their childhood and fix all their mistakes?
That sounds fantastic!
My only gripe is that there’s a lack of anime that lets you return to an earlier version of yourself and redo your life.
Wait a second….
7. No Game No Life
Here’s a series with one of the most unique art styles on this list, and possibly in anime ever.
The influences it had are clear to see in Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song when Vivy visits the Archive in her mind, or when you meet Featherine in the recent Higurashi reboot.
The art style helps this anime age better than most, as it’s not tied by any normalities typically seen in 2014.
Sadly, the anime may not return for a second season.
But the mark it left behind is certainly pleasing to see.
6. Mob Psycho 100
2016 was a turning point in our culture of everything.
And I like to believe Mob Psycho 100 had a small part to play in that.
The story about an adolescent young boy figuring out life (and himself) seemed to be relatable to everyone who watched it.
The direction and cinematography felt like a movie.
The action, comedy, art, music, everything came together beautifully and was simply a refreshing anime to experience.
And the second season held up just as well – and judging by the official Mob Psycho twitter counting upwards, we may get a season 3 announcement soon (as of this writing).
5. Wonder Egg Priority
This gorgeous show has character designs and direction akin to Naoko Yamada of KyoAni.
Anime that revolves around themes of suicide and abuse are few and far apart.
Especially the slice of life moments (when the main girls are on break doing magical girl fights of course).
These themes, however, are not easily talked about in Japan’s society.
So Wonder Egg Priority is a great step forward into helping break the stigma.
4. Violet Evergarden
In an anime where every episode seemed like its own full length dramatic movie, Violet Evergarden has one of the best art and sakuga in all of anime.
Animation sequences that move like water, scenes that look like paintings, characters from all walks of life whose stories we can’t help but connect with.
When I watched the paper fly out the window and through the sky in the first episode, I had to pause to make sure I didn’t accidentally watch the 2019 movie release.
2018 is fairly recent, but this was the first time I had ever seen such effort put into the art of any scene.
But the most amazing part was that the quality was consistent throughout the entire show.
Episode 10 especially….
Go watch Violet Evergarden right now if you haven’t, and renew your soul.
After Sword Art Online popularized the Isekai genre in 2012, KonoSuba was there only two years later to poke fun at the traditional plotline of a Demon King killing quest.
The jokes and comedic bits still work, even to this day where generic isekais are more common than ever.
In fact, I’d even venture to say that KonoSuba would be more fitting in today’s Isekai climate than when it was released in 2014 – or even when the web novel was written in 2012-2013.
I guess Natsume Akatsuki is just a cultured visionary who sees things ahead of his time.
2. Sword Art Online
SAO is a pioneer in the anime industry, and a great influential figure in the shaping of otaku culture.
SAO would single handedly start an era of isekai anime, light novels, and manga.
Besides the immense impact it had, the quality of the show itself was nothing to scoff at either.
The animation was no joke. And the sequels and spinoffs continue its legacy.
Sword Art Online will forever be etched into the history of anime. So it would be foolish not to include such an innovative and revolutionizing show in this list.
Ever since K-On! aired in… hm?
What’s this, am I reading this correctly?
“A 13-episode anime television series adaptation by Kyoto Animation aired in Japan between April and June 2009.”
I swear there’s a glitch in the matrix, because K-On! does not look or feel like an anime that was created back in 2009.
Maybe it’s because of KyoAni’s relaxed animation and storytelling that doesn’t reveal its age.
Or perhaps it’s the backgrounds that had a little more effort put into them than your average Slice of Life anime.
Or maybe it’s that the happy cutesy vibe of the series as a whole doesn’t fit with my personal view of what the 2000s, especially in anime, represented.
I don’t know what Naoko Yamada did to make such a timeless anime that didn’t fit the era at all.
But I’m certainly grateful for it.
And it’s not even her best work. Arguably.