5 Anime as Deep as a Philosophy Book

Looking for deeper anime? Something to change your perspective on the way you view the world? It’s time for you to take a look at the heavier side of anime.  Ranging from the abstract to the concrete, give yourself the chance to really think.

5. Kino’s Journey キノの旅  (13 Episodes)
Japanese Level: ☆

kino

This anime is a frame story that follows the world travels of Kino and her sentient motorcycle Hermes.  They have set off to learn about the world and in almost every episode they meet new staggeringly different kinds of people and places.  For example, one town is made up of only telepathic people who never see each other because they can read each others’ thoughts. What kind of society does this build? Kino and Hermes only have one golden rule: Never stay more than 3 days, no matter what.

Why it’ll get you thinking:

Each episode is a different kind of philosophical mediation on such diverse topics as tradition, freedom, machines, war and even life.  The topics are expressed through the people, customs, and cultures of the areas where they visit.  The audience travels with Kino who represents the neutral 3rd party observer.  The anime is slow and there is no real plot, but the slice of life style and the interesting themes it has to explore will certainly make you reflect on things.

4. Mushi-Shi  蟲師 (26 Episodes)
Japanese Level: ☆☆

Mushishi

The world is filled with pervasive creatures called Mushi.  Mushi are primal, pure expressions of life force.  While most people are not sensitive enough to see them, trouble and conflict often arises when Mushi and humans interact.  Ginko is a Mushi-Shi or Mushi-Master, who travels across the land to study Mushi and help resolve the problems.

Why it’ll get you thinking:

As the series name suggests, this anime centers around examining and probing what Mushi really are.  These creatures do not take one shape, but manifest in many shapes with various abilities and life styles.  They are often beautiful, while at times benign towards humans and other times debilitating and possibly deadly. They have the power to reshape the world.  A large appeal of this show is enjoying the creature design and delving deeper in to their mystery.

On the other hand, the human cast feels transient and almost accidentally within the show.  Part of the original tone of the show stems from this dichotomy of the ever vibrant and detailed Mushi compared to the less developed people.  Moreover a lot of the focus  is not on Ginko himself even, but rather the world; we are not so much watching the story of Ginko, but exploring the world with him.

Ginko himself is a bit other worldly with his white hair and green eyes.  He does deeply care about and wants to help the people he meets, but he always stresses that Mushi are not evil or malicious, just trying to survive and live, like anyone else.  Ginko has a deep fascination with Mushi and the show follows his journey walking between the two worlds.  Between the very contemplative, multi-layer stories and the mystery of the creatures, Mushi-shi is an interesting watch.

3. Habane Renmei 灰羽連盟  (13 Episodes) (一番おすすめアニメ)
Japanese Level: ☆

Haibane Renmei

In the town Gile, there is a mystery group of people called Haibane, the Grey Feathers. No one is sure what they are or even where they really come from.  The main character is the newest Haibane in Old Home.  Just before she is born from her cocoon, she has a dream of falling, which prompts her newly given name “Rakka.” Soon after being born, two charcoal feather wings emerge from her back and she is given a halo that floats above her head. The other Haibane take her in and teach her a new way to live.

There are many rules to learn: 1) Haibane may not leave Gile, 2) may not touch money 3) can only live in places or posses things thrown away by people 4) are obligated to work in the town that hosts them.  The rest of the story follow as Rakka learns about the Haibane and how to live her new life. The main tension is over the Day of Flight which is an event that comes to all “good” Haibane, when they can finally leave the city.

Why it’ll get you thinking:

Rakka knows that before this life she was someone else.  She marvels how she can remember how to ride a bike, but can’t even remember her name.  The anime has a very dream like feel to it, as we follow Rakka to whom almost everything becomes a new experience, as she must learn how to live again. If Haibane cannot learn to accept their new lives or harbor guilt left over from their previous then they forget their cocoon dream and become failed Haibane or sin bound. This anime explores the interrelationship between guilt, forgiveness, and friendship.

Until you forgive and accept yourself nothing else can happen”

For another look try this trailer.

2. Wolf’s Rain ウルフズレイン  (30 Episodes)
Japanese Level:☆☆

Wolves Rain

The world is dying and civilization long ago reached its height and has been deteriorating.  The red moon has appeared signaling ending times and according to legend, in the twilight of this world, the path to a new world, a paradise, can be found. Only the wolves can open it with the help of the flower maiden, but they were hunted to extinction more than 200 years ago… Freeze is a northern city plagued by poverty and hardship: here in the most unlikely place of all there is hope—a few wolves live.

Why it’ll get you thinking:

This is an enormous story filled with ambition, beautiful animation, and a huge cast of characters. The analogy of an opera is helpful in terms of scope and movement. This show is characterized by many constantly moving pieces and the viewer is shown only parts of many stories and must build an overall picture themselves.

For example, there are the 5 main wolves who form a reluctant pack, the flower maiden, the Nobles who rule the world and have their own plans for Paradise, the wolf hunter Quent Yaiden and his dog blue who believe that wolves still live and need to be killed, the report who seeks to understand, and the scientist who no longer knows what is the right to do. A large draw of this show is the myriad of strong characters contending and playing off each other.  This show explores: Just what is paradise? What does it look like? Who is allowed to go there? Is it real? Does it matter? For love, is any price really acceptable?

1. Psycho Pass  サイコパス (22 Episodes)
Japanese Level: ☆☆☆

psycho-pass
In the not too distance future, a functioning orderly and peaceful society has been achieved thanks to the Sybil System.  The Sybil System is able to instantaneously measure a person’s mental state (emotion, desire, and intention)  to assess their criminal coefficient.  The story follows Akane Tsunemori, the newest edition to the police force charged with maintaining public order, which uses “Dominators,”  guns connected to Sybil which are able to be jury, judge, and if needed executioner  Akane is a part of the supervisory division who oversee the Enforcers, people who are latent criminal themselves and charged with stopping other like them.


Why it’ll get you thinking
:

What happens to a society when you completely remove stress?  Can “perfect” justice be created, and if so, is it desirable ?  Does removing human decision making and bias make something more fair?  Which is more important stability: truth or justice? Could you throw away everything to do what you felt was right? Is corruption the only outcome when innocence is no longer naive?

 

 

What are some other deep anime that made you really think?

 



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A writer for Japanese Level up and a 4th Year JET. Has the ability to consume anime and J-dramas at an alarming pace and may be too in love with kanji.

Comments

5 Anime as Deep as a Philosophy Book — 56 Comments

    • Hey there, Thanks for the comment. I am not familiar with Moryo no Hako. The art looks really nice though. If possible, could you tell me how it made you think?

  1. First three are my top favorite anime. I re-listen to them in the car all the time. Definitely on spot recommendations for deeper, philosophical anime.

    I watched Wolf’s Rain when I was younger, and don’t remember much of the plot, but remember liking it. Perhaps I should give it another watch!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the anime for Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. It’s relatively long, but quite engaging and thought-provoking.

  3. I’m about halfway through Mushi-Shi at the moment and I completely agree with everything you wrote. In addition there seems to be a recurring theme of people’s relation to the past; there are a number of characters who are unable to move on from past events, and a few (spoiler, paste into rot13.com to decode) vapyhqvat Tvaxb uvzfrys who have had their memories of the past taken from them. I understand there’s a live-action film that adapts several episodes of the anime. I’m skeptical, but will probably check it out sometime.

    (As a side note, the kanji 蟲 seems interesting. At least according to jisho.org it’s an uncommon character which on its own means ‘insect’, same as the more common 虫, but the only word jisho lists with this character is 蟲惑 meaning “fascination; glamour; glamor; enchantment; seduction”, which also seems relevant…)

    As another entry to this list I’d like to nominate “Mawaru Penguindrum.” It’s core theme is family; what defines a family, what are the members’ obligations to each other, how far can/should one go to fulfill these obligations, and to what extent are members responsible for the actions of other members. The series also raises questions about fate, whether there is such a thing and how various characters relate to the concept. The way the story is told is at least as thought-provoking as what it’s saying. It weaves together the mundane, the supernatural, and characters’ delusions, along with lots of symbolism. I suspect that where viewers draw the lines between these elements will inform how they interpret the series. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but I think even where it’s flawed it’s at least flawed in interesting ways.

  4. What about Now and Then, Here and There. A boy follows a strange girl to another world (time?) where a crazy dictator is fighting an unknown enemy for water. If you want anything happy to happen you are probably out of luck. Children in the military, rape, whatever else you got.

  5. habane renmei and kino’s journey are fucking awesome. however, serial experiments lain isn’t on here but it should be at the top of the list. also, i second ‘now and then, here and there’ and ‘monster’.

    • serial experiments lain is a def. It is a hall mark of the genre. This list was never meant to be the end all be all, but a combination of some more well known and less know animes that represent the genre well. Thanks for adding Lain. Monster and now and then, here and there are great additions as well. I will be adding monster to a different list in the future. Stay tuned.

  6. Haay,

    the first three animes are literally masterpieces. Wolf’s rain is great as well.
    Although to put Psycho Pass on this list is an insult. Psycho Pass is a mindless run and shoot anime with zero depth and no creativity …

    • Psycho Pass is a really deep anime, however it is hidden behind the front of “a mindless shoot and run”. I assume you haven’t watched the series in its entirety, as the first few episodes definitely help lend to that impression. Honestly the last episode gave more stimulation for both thought and emotion than I have seen in quite a while in the world of anime. There were points I expected Psycho Pass to sink to cliches of the anime medium, but rather they used these to reel you in and ‘punch you in the face with realism’ so to speak. Additionally, while I agree that Serial Experiments Lain should be on here, I am hesitant to put “Now and Then, Here and There” and “Monster” on here. While they are very good anime, I don’t see them as on the same level as Mushishi or Kino’s Journey. If we are to consider those of the criteria for this list however, might I also recommend One Outs, Paranoia Agent, and Ghost in the Shell?

  7. Zetsuen no Tempest and both Ghost in the Shell TV series all make you think a LOT. Personally, I loved Zetsuen no Tempest because you can never guess what actually happens. Steins;Gate is also good in it makes you think about the different timelines throughout the series.

    • I’d also like to add Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi to my list. What would the world be like if everyone stopped dying? What if your deepest wish was granted? It’s a world where God has given up and left humanity to their own whims.

      Another show, which is absolutely essential to this list, is called Shin Sekai Yori. It takes place 1000 years after humans begin developing psychokinetic abilities. It span across the lives of a group of children and their knowledge of the world as they grow older. It is a very, very deep series which touches on things that might make some people uncomfortable. I didn’t like it overall but I respect the hell out of the themes it covered and can recommend it to anyone looking for a deep anime.

  8. I have not seen Zetsuen no Tempest, but I have seen Ghost in the Shell, which is a great for making you think. I will look into Zetsuen later on. Thanks for the recs.

  9. Just watched all 13 episodes of Kino’s journey in a row, truly inspiring, will definitely check the rest of the list

    • In a row….that`s great. I love it when a story really catches your interest and thrusts you through the story. It is a great feeling. Hope you are feeling accomplished! Good luck with the rest!

  10. Although a romantic film, Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm Per Second has some philosophical themes such as destiny, predestination, what’s “meant to be” and the power of love when faced with distance and estrangement.

  11. I just finished watching Kokoro Connect.
    I think it’s a perfect answer to your question :)
    You should really try watching it.

    • I second the vote for “Kokoro Connect”! Brilliant and brilliantly-constructed series that dives very deeply into the psychology of several characters and raises many thought-provoking questions about identity. Not to mention one of the most genuinely creepy and unsettling antagonists I’ve ever seen in anime (although you can argue whether he really is an antagonist).

      • Kokoro Connect is my favourite anime! It is very interesting exploring all the characters in such depth and it was amusing too. I really feel quite annoyed that I am yet to find another series like it. They also did a very small thing with the production to make it very addictive; they put the preview before the closing credits, meaning you have no time to skip/miss them before you’re drawn in. It’s probably been done in other anime but I’ve never seen it before.

        I’m rather sad that because of that childish scandal that went on with the series that the show was cut so short. I hope to read the light novels in the future.

  12. I know it’s a little obvious to mention but both the Ghost In The Shell series are staggeringly deep. It explores consciousness, AI as an evolutionary step and the phenomena that emerge when lots of the human race is connected to cyberspace via an artificial cyber-brain — all while being insanely entertaining.

    • A classic indeed, worldofsleepers. It is a wonderful watch and well deserved on this rec page. Thanks.

  13. Honey and Clover. You could pretty much say that it is a about the different philosophies of love. If you want something that is consistently deep then you better watch Ghibli movies, most of them are deep :)

  14. Not that I’ve seen any anime that really touched the beauty of Plato’s Symposium or the sheer brutality of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature but I will say there are several anime that do a good job of being deep without being pretentious or preachy.
    In spite of the foolishness of Japanese “school comic relief” and the massive “mecha” fighting that surrounds it, Code Geass is brilliant in fleshing out many philosophical dialogues in a way anyone can stomach and even enjoy.
    Where most people, for some reason, tend to be drawn to Phcyo-Pass I would say over all it was disappointing to me and only because you had to wait until 15 episodes for it to get past that “we are deep b/c of gruesome deaths and strange bad guy spouting off random quotes” to the true question begging to be asked “what is justice” that they seem to just ignore… Still, some find it worth the watch.
    DeathNote I never could really get past episode 8, but it had some good questions posed on justice and power. Nothing against the anime, I just “knew where it was going” after ep 8. Kinda a bummer.
    Where it is over the top, silly and down right crass BlackLagoon posses some great question not just with story and situations, but their characters are literally a question to the audience. Really a surprising gem and one of the few anime that makes me love it for how I hate the violence in it.
    If you haven’t seen ErgoProxy, just do yourself a favor and do it. Good depth all around including beautiful drawing style.
    Monster is a good deep anime all around as well.
    The one I’ve been kinda impressed with lately is Steins;Gate. Seems like your typical happy buddy adventure until about episode 8. You get slapped in the face and a harsh dose of WTF. They do a great job in almost drowning you in time theories but letting you stay just above water to enjoy the next 15 episodes.
    And I save this one for last because you won’t believe me unless you saw at least one or two above you could agree with (cause I was the same way, but Princess Tutu might be the deepest anime I have ever taken the time to watch. Masterfully crafted from each character to episode based on a famous or influential ballet to the over all story arch. Really… masterful. Questions of the psyche, good and evil, free will, the internal battle of man, the power, influence and mystery of love… the list goes on and all handled with care and balance.

  15. Wow, talk of deep anime without mentioning Evangelion… I applaud the originality, but it’s not just hot air when people talk about the mind-expanding effects of the show.

  16. i have a habit. if i read a praising comment on sg, i can easily ignore that persons all anime critics. it is a personal choice of me of course. i prefer watching good animes and reading good mangas. both with art style and story. basicly; sg is a commercial product, produced to support the game itself. unlike “good derived” animes, which born after their manga, sg manga was written after the game and anime. my personal deep list is like; space brothers (space&art documentary), kaiji (darkness of humankind), animatrix (tribute to some written and visual distophia products on sci-fi grounded existentialism), nana (emotions), redline (art), slam dunk (purpose to teach), hikaru no go (purpose to teach), kuroko no basket (tribute to real nba players) etc. of course these animes may not enter to the “depth” qualification area which shall be following “philosophy books”. but, i dont see why animes shall be following “philosophy books” to be “deep”. either way, sg does not fit the description. since, it has no philosophy in it, only some science and rumour hoaxes (because the game created that way), which was way better drawn in a dean koontz book.
    other than that, i saw some other comments and i agree that evangelion and ergo proxy deserve this pages label. but wolfs rain? well, if so, lets put claymore and snk to this list also. darker than black, even van helsing..and since they can enter, why not add bleach and naruto too? i may sound harsh, but seeing “deep” always taken in animes as “questioning of being, loneliness, power, good and evil, love and hate bla bla bla” is a really bad joke.

  17. You should definitely give Shin Sekai Yori a watch hauntingly good. One of the unknown gems floating around in the recent anime seasons!

  18. Psycho Pass is the only one I’ve seen and it’s amazing!! Psyched for season 2 coming out :3 I’d personally include Angel Beats and Durarara as well, maybe FMA Brotherhood.

    • For an anime about gambling, Kaiji is actually incredibly deep. A lot of life messages, character building, and analyzing human thinking.

      While I don’t know how realistic the underground empire is, the story is more grounded in reality than others!

  19. みなさん、こんにちは!
    I have just ordered the complete set of Haibane Renmei. Unfortunately, while it comes with English and Japanese language and English subtitles, it does not have Japanese subtitles. I have attempted to search the web, using both English and Japanese keywords, to try to find the Japanese subtitles or transcript, but no such luck. I am about level 10, so I definitely need some assistance in understanding the spoken Japanese. I would much prefer to struggle with the Japanese subtitles rather than turn on the English subtitles, so does anyone know the web location of any Japanese subtitles or transcripts for this series?
    Thanking you in advance.

    • Unfortunately it can be very hard to find Japanese subtitles for many anime series. They often aren’t included even on the Japanese disc. This is why a lot of people like learning with J-Drama as it is much easier to find scripts.

    • Google “Old Home Bulletin Board” which is the HR fan forum. Within the Clock Tower you will find scripts, in Japanese and English. You will also meet lovers of the show there.

  20. David,

    Go to the Old Home Bulletin Board at:

    http://cff.ssw.net/forum/index.php

    . . . Where you will find, in the ‘Clocktower’ section, some very careful and thoughtful translations of many episodes.

    Also much discussion in the rest of the forum on the ideas and meanings of a work that to me seems to go through anime and out into something else.

  21. >anime as deep as a philosophy book
    it’s like you’ve never actually opened a philosophy book
    I recommend Schopenhauer, Deleuze, Husserl for starters.

  22. For me, nothing beats Monster so far. It explores the concept of good and evil. Very realistic in portraying every character. It will immerse the viewer to the uncomfortable dark realities of life. I will check out your list though.

  23. I think Shinsekai Yori would also fit this theme. It really makes you think about their world and themes such as peace. One of my favorite quotes is when Squealer/Yakomaru says, “We are humans!”

  24. I’d recommend “Yahare ore no Seishun wa Love-Come machigateirru” (“Oregairu”, for short) for something to make you think. It’s not supernatural or ‘larger than life’ (it’s “school life” as a matter of fact) like most of the other ones, but it definitely makes you think of the aspects of everyday life that seem common, or acceptable, and expose them for what they represent.
    The main character’s a pessimistic loner that’s forced to help people out against his will (just as an introduction).

  25. Finally, I found this kind of website. I’m not so good at English, but this is easy to read .

    Thanks you

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