The core lineup of anime series has aged exceptionally well, thanks to popular and classic offerings like Fullmetal Alchemist or Neon Genesis Evangelion. The adult staple has been instrumental in bringing a new generation of millennials and Gen Z into anime fandom. Adult Prime’s influence on the anime scene extends into the modern day with the revamped Toonami block, helping the latest hits gain larger fanbases.
For many Western anime fans, her first exposure to the medium was Cartoon Network’s Adult Main Block, an action-oriented anime series that aired late night, six days a week in some locations. Adult Core offerings are often the most popular and classic series of their era, meaning that the Adult Core lineup has aged exceptionally well.
Adult Swim not only helped these popular series gain a foothold in the West, but also successfully brought a new generation of millennials (and later Gen Z) into anime fandom. Many of these series have been running on the network for years, helping them become staples and fan favorites. Adult Main’s influence on the anime scene extends into the modern day with the revamped Toonami block, which has helped recent hits gain a large following.
10 My Hero Academia – one of today’s biggest hits
Made of Bones based on the manga by Kohei Horikoshi.
My Hero Academia is a modern-day series with new episodes released on adult streaming since 2018. My Hero Academia follows Izuku Midoriya, a young boy with no powers, born into a world where almost everyone has some kind of special ability. Midoriya meets his favorite superhero, and while inheriting his powers, he is determined to become the next great hero the world will be proud of. From there, the story transitions into a good vs. evil saga, following Midoriya’s entire class of hero school as they face a dangerous threat that could erode the very fabric of society.
9 Made in the Abyss – A mature adventure that pulls no punches
Produced by Kinema Citrus, based on Akihito Tsukushi’s manga.
Produced by Abyss, it’s a dark fantasy drama series that follows Rico, a young girl who dreams of becoming a “cave raider”, a type of adventure that explores a dangerous underground area called the Abyss. After meeting a robot boy named Rico, she decides it’s time to strike out and start the adventure she’s been waiting for her whole life. Made by Abyss is a brutal series to watch at times, showing no mercy to its child-aged characters as they plunge into the deadly depths. Still, this serves to make for an incredibly compelling watch, with each moment leaving the audience unsure if they’ll make it to the next.
8 Outlaw Star – A 90’s classic given new life
Produced by Sunrise, based on the manga by Takehiko Ito.
Outlaw Star is a sci-fi anime series based on the sein (young adult male) manga of the same name. The series is very ’90s in terms of production values, but there’s a certain charm to a series like this that hand-drawn ’90s series don’t always translate to new series with digital animation. Outlaw Star’s manga only lasted 21 chapters, so the anime helped breathe new life into what would otherwise have been a forgotten series. It was one of the first anime to hit mainstream, and its late-night episodes helped the series gain the fan base it still enjoys today – prompting the return of Outlaw Star to the block in 2017.
7 Dragon Ball Z Kai – the rebirth of the anime classic
Produced by Toei Animation based on Akira Toriyama’s manga.
The original Dragon Ball Z was Tonami’s mainstay, so when Tonami went from being a regular Cartoon Network fan to adult entertainment, Dragon Ball came along with its latest iteration. Kai removes a lot of filler and padding from the series for a streamlined experience closer to the original manga, cutting the original 291 episodes down to just 167. Kai has been on the air for six years as an adult master Tonami and always draws well. Levels despite his age.
6 Death note – a thriller suitable for late-night
Produced by Madhouse, based on the manga by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata.
Death Note tells the story of young light Yagami, a senior high school student who discovers a notebook called Death Note that gives him the power to kill anyone whose name is written on it. Light decides to use his Death Note to rid the world of crime and in the process arouses the suspicion of the world’s greatest detective, L. Light must evade L’s investigation as he tries to impose a new world order, but who is right and who is wrong? It’s not very clear. The serious tone of the series made it a nightly heart-throb, and quickly found a fan base in adult swimming.
5 Neon Genesis Evangelion – the most twisted mecha anime of all time
Created by Hideaki Anno, produced by Gainax.
Neon Genesis Evangelion debuted on adult mainstream in 2005, at which point the series was already considered a 90s anime classic. In the pre-streaming era, however, this airing on adult streaming was the first opportunity for many teenagers at the time to see the series for themselves. Evangelion follows Shinji Ikari, who is recruited by his father as the pilot of EVA Unit 01 as he fights to save Earth from invading angels. Shinji refuses to participate and has mixed feelings about his father, but eventually agrees to end the suffering of the other pilot, Rai. It’s impossible to sum up all of Evangelion’s craziness in one paragraph, but series viewers will be amazed every week as the story world slowly unravels.
4 Trigun – a pacifist hero unlike any other
Produced by Madhouse, based on the manga by Yasuhiro Nightow.
Trigun is another 90s anime series that is well known to Western fans mainly because of its exposure to adult mainstream. Set in a desert world farthest from Earth, Trigun follows two insurance adjusters, Meryl and Millie, in the “Human Typhoon”, also known as Vash the Stampede. Vash turns out to be a different figure than they expected, but not a destructive force, but a peaceful seeker who is constantly targeted by evil forces that want to rid this world of its inhabitants. Vash is one of the main characters in all of anime, and Genius helped introduce the main character to the world.
Based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, it is produced by Bones.
Both Fullmetal Alchemist and its counterpart series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are excellent anime fantasy adventures, and were already garnering some buzz in the West even before they debuted in adult mainstream. Both series follow Edward Elric and his younger brother Alphonse as they struggle to restore their bodies before attempting to bring their mother back from the dead. While many fans these days recommend just watching Brotherhood, the original 2003 anime should not be overlooked as it goes in a different direction with its own merits.
2 Ghost in the Shell: A Standalone Complex – The Perfect Expansion of the Movie
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirou, produced by I.G.
In the year The series follows Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team from Public Security Division 9 as they investigate a complex case known as the Laughing Man Incident. With deep discussions about everything from politics to philosophy, it accurately reflects a world where people are constantly connected to the internet, making this show a real thinker. It also features one of the greatest dubs of all time, capturing the intricacies of the characters and their dialogues perfectly.
1 Cowboy Bebop – Describing the main occupation of adults
Created by Shinichiro Watanabe, produced by Sunrise.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the best animations of all time, but maybe, if it wasn’t for the adult prime time, it wouldn’t have the same recognition. Cowboy Bebop follows a ragtag gang on adventures catching criminals, often with no income (or not enough to cover the losses). Spike Spiegel is a martial arts expert and one of the original cast members, but it’s his backstory that slowly unravels over the course of the series that really makes him interesting. Cowboy Bebop helped define adult mainstream just as adult mainstream helped bring cowboy bebop to the world.