Fantasy is a type of fiction that allows the viewer to experience characters starring in remarkable stories set in different, but familiar worlds. It offers fun escapism and anime is one of the best mediums to showcase those fantastical characters, stories, and worlds in motion. There are so many good fantasy anime out, so it was extra hard picking only the best 10 for this list. I had to narrow it down by excluding movies so expect a separate article for those. You can watch the video summary here.
10. Natsume’s Book of Friends
Plot Summary: Takashi Natsume has always been able to see Youkai (spirits), but he never knew why, that is until one day he inherits a strange book from his late grandmother and finally finds out the reason that spirits are drawn to him. It turns out his grandmother has collected the names of hundreds of spirits into her book as a binding contract and the spirits who want their names back would often mistake Natsume for his grandmother. After finding out the true nature of the book, Natsume promises to free all the names that it contains.
Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends is a slice of life fantasy that highlights the adventures of Takashi Natsume and his spirit-cat bodyguard who he calls Nyanko-sensei. The show follows an episodic formula that features a different Youkai (spirit) every episode. There isn’t much world building as most of the story center around Natsume’s home or in a secluded forest. However, the imaginative and sometimes terrifying spirit designs make up for it. Every episode with a different spirit is like a small new chapter in a grand fantasy book. Although this formula can be straightforward and repetitive at times, the emotional self contained stories and the dynamic character interactions make this anime fantastic. There’s a lot of tears to be shed, both happy and sad. It’s mainly happy tears though, Natsume’s Book of Friends is a really heartwarming fantasy anime.
Plot Summary: Seven mages with the ability to summon a combat familiar are chosen to participate in a secret battle royale. The victor is able to obtain the Holy Grail, a mystical relic that can grant any wish.
Review: Fate/Zero is a prequel to Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works and the first anime you should watch in the Fate series. It’s a great introduction to an epic fantasy that details the conflicts of different mages and their powerful Servants through many wars, generations, and timelines. On the surface, Fate/Zero might seem like an action-orientated battle royale, but it’s actually a really dialogue heavy anime that focuses more on character interaction and emotional conflicts. Don’t get me wrong though, the well choreographed and animated action scenes are extremely enjoyable, and there’s quite a bit of it, but the backstories and goals of the diverse characters are what keeps the story entertaining.
Plot Summary: A mysterious man known only as the “Medicine Seller”, travels across feudal Japan to exorcise mononoke, a type of malevolent spirit. However, in order to perform the exorcism, he must first learn the mononoke’s Form, Truth, and Reason, only then can he draw his sword to slay them.
Review: Mononoke is a collection of 5 different horror stories, with each featuring a different supernatural spirit and setting. At first glance, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that Mononoke is a horror anime, let alone a psychological horror. Its brightly distorted setting is surreal and bizarre to say the least, but the colorful blend of saturated art and exaggerated animation is beautiful to see in motion. Don’t let the cover fool you though, Mononoke’s vivid surreal art is completely different from its dark story and mature themes. It might sound like a contradiction and a weird recipe for disaster, but somehow the contrasting art and story blends perfectly. I highly recommend this dark fantasy for anyone that loves psychological horror, especially if you want to watch something new and experience something different.
Alternative Names: Kenpuu Denki Berserk
Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Military, Romance, Supernatural
Where to Watch: DVD
Plot Summary: Born from the corpse of his lynched mother and left to die in a pool of blood, the mercenary known as Guts knows only the battlefield as his way of survival. Talented for his skills and ferocity, he leads a path of carnage and bloodshed. Having seen his ability on the battlefield, a mercenary group called the Band of Hawks recruits him. Finally finding a place in the world, Guts begins to find purpose in life as well.
Review: The first thing I have to mention is that this is mostly a review of the 1997 Kenpuu Denki Berserk anime as the new 2016 sequel is a huge drop in quality from the original. Even though the new 2016 Berserk follows the manga closely, the anime’s sporadic camera movements and rigid cgi animation make it not so enjoyable to watch. However, the world building of the twisted Berserk universe and the stories of the resilient characters are so horrifyingly interesting that it would be a crime not to put this series as a whole into the top 10 list.
The second thing I want to talk about is how dark this anime is. If you read the plot summary then you know this anime is not for the faint of heart. Berserk tells a gritty story that is full of blood, gore, nudity, and death. It’s a somber tale that follows Guts’s constant struggles through the unforgiving world of Berserk, but it’s also an engaging tale. The dramatic story will keep you at the edge of your seats and the fleshed out characters will make you emotional.
When the universe seems to go against you and you’ve lost everything, what are you still living for? That’s the main question that Berserk tries to answer. It’s an emotional bittersweet answer full of love, hate, and guilt. Even though the world looks grim and the future seem out of reach, the protagonist struggles on for the sake of these emotions. There’s so much character and world development in Berserk that the story is not really about the destination, but the journey. A journey full of action, adventure, drama, and twists. It’s one of the most engaging stories ever told.
6. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Plot Summary: The Star Readers of the Shin Yogo Empire predicts a catastrophic drought will cause a widespread famine. They say the first emperor avoided this drought by slaying the water demon. However, the current demon resides inside the body of the new emperor’s son, Prince Chagum. The story follows a mercenary named Balsa, who was tasked by the Prince’s mother to protect her son from assassins of the empire.
Review: Guardian of the Spirit is based on Nahoko Uehashi’s popular Moribito novel series and animated by Production I.G. It’s got gorgeous animation and an inspiring story that stayed true to the source, a criminally underrated show for how polished the production was.
This anime aired in 2007, but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell from it’s fantastic animated and well choreographed fight scenes. Not only do the action and drama look fluid, they feel realistic. It’s a grounded fantasy that’s emotionally engaging and visually captivating throughout all 26 episodes. The main character, Balsa, especially is a genuinely wonderful person to watch. Her struggles are moving and her personality is relatable. In fact, all the characters feel real, even the enemies are well-developed with their own goals and backstories. There’s no clear antagonist either, the enemies in this show are often just misguided or misinformed. Not all conflicts are resolved through violence and this show just oozes maturity. However, that means the anime can be slow at times and the ending might feel anticlimactic. Those are small problems that can be overlooked by its great cast of characters, breathtaking animation, incredible music, and engaging story. It’s one of my favorite anime, but it’s unfortunately underrated. Please go check out Guardian of the Spirit if you love a mature and grounded fantasy anime.
Plot Summary: Mushi is a term used to describe supernatural spirit-like beings that are more primitive in design and nature than any other creatures. Only a few humans, known as Mushishi, are capable of seeing these entities. Ginko is one of those Mushishi who travels from place to place hoping to investigate and understand these creatures.
Review: Mushishi is an episodic supernatural fantasy anime that’s surprisingly down-to-earth. Each episode features a new character and a different story. Unfortunately, that means not all the character get much screen-time for development. Mushishi is an anime that focuses on the overall journey rather than any particular person or event. It’s a relaxing mature fantasy that excels in building meaningful atmosphere and enjoyable stories. And even though Mushishi doesn’t have much action or character building, it’s still an engaging and entertaining anime throughout. To me, it’s one of those great classic shows that are watched and talked about even after decades.
4. Attack on Titan
Plot Summary: Several hundred years ago, humans were almost completely exterminated by man-eating titans. The remaining few built extremely high, 50 meter walls to keep the titans out. Those walls have kept the people safe for hundreds of years, that is until a 60 meter tall colossal titan shows up in front of the outer wall and breaks it open. Countless titans storm the city and centuries of peace was shattered in a single moment. The story follows Eren Yeager, a boy who was behind the broken wall on that fateful day. After witnessing the horrific tragedies caused by the titans, he vows to eradicate every single one of them from existence.
Review: Attack on Titan is one of those mainstream shows that you can bring up even with casual anime watchers, but why is it so popular? The simple answer is that it’s just that good. The anime’s excellent storytelling, dynamic fight scenes, and vast world-building are all presented through incredible animations and breathtaking soundtracks. It’s so great to see such a promising epic fantasy given the care it needs to become something special. The first episode alone is enough to cement this show as one of my favorite fantasy anime. Attack on Titan is a solid introduction for anyone that likes action. However, don’t expect constant battles because the show also focuses on deep political and psychological elements. For some it could mean slow episodes, but for others that enjoy dialogue it’s a treat. Also keep in mind that this show is full of gore, violence, and mature themes so it’s definitely not for everybody, but if you can stomach that and you love a good action fantasy with deep storylines then definitely check out Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin).
3. Made in Abyss
Genres: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Psychological, Drama, Fantasy
Where to Watch: Amazon Video
Plot Summary: The Abyss is a multilayered chasm that extends to the depth of the earth. It’s a place of mystery, discovery, and unimaginable horrors. Adventurers looking to solve the mystery of the giant hole would delve deep into the Abyss, knowing full well of its dangers and risks. One particular orphaned cave diver named Riko hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps and explore the lowest layer of the Abyss.
Review: Made in Abyss has one of the best first episodes of any anime. With the breathtaking music and gorgeous animation highlighting the mysterious story and loveable characters, the first episode really sets up the show to be an epic fantasy adventure. Don’t be fooled by the young characters and the show’s stylized designs, Made in Abyss is definitely an anime for adults. Even though most of the show features the light-hearted adventures and character interactions of adorable children, the anime does explore mature psychological themes and the story does introduce horrifying monsters. From light adventures and fantasy to dark psychological themes, the show has got a bit of everything. It’s definitely my favorite anime this season and having read the manga, I can safely say that there are deeper, darker, and even more interesting stories to be told.
2. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Plot Summary: Hunter x Hunter is set in a fictional world full of dangerous creatures and people with superhuman abilities. In this world, the exceptionally strong become Hunters, licensed professionals who specialize in dangerous tasks such as treasure hunting, exploring uncharted territories, or capturing criminals. However, the process for becoming a Hunter is extremely rigorous and challenging. The story follows a 12 year old boy named Gon Freecss whose life goal is to become a Hunter following his dads footsteps.
Review: Out of the hundreds of anime produced in a year, only one or two are masterpieces. Personally, I think Hunter x Hunter (2011) goes even beyond that and is currently one of the best anime this decade has to offer. Hunter x Hunter (2011) is a reboot of the original cult classic anime from 1999. The new remake covers more of the story and offers drastic improvements in the animation department. You don’t need to watch the original to see this one because the 2011 show also starts from the beginning.
The story, world-building, and characters are what makes this anime so special. Despite having 148 episodes, Hunter x Hunter (2011) manages to pace itself extremely well. Unlike other popular long running anime series like One Piece, Bleach, or Naruto, Hunter x Hunter (2011) follows the source material closely and doesn’t add unnecessary padding to the episodes. There’s no drop off in animation quality and the story continues to impress. So much care was given to creating such a believable and interesting fantasy world. Seeing this world presented through such beautiful art and animation really brings it to life. Although the story and world-building make Hunter x Hunter a great fantasy anime, the characters are what elevate the show to be a masterpiece. The main cast might seem like a group of cliche fantasy characters at first, but their well-written backstories, constant developments, and grand overarching goals make them extremely likeable and relatable. All the characters, including the villains, have their own stories to follow. And when the story, world-building, and characters come together, they create something really special.
Hunter x Hunter (2011) is one of my favorite anime of all time. There’s so much development in the story, characters, and world that despite already being a masterpiece, it has the potential to be even more. The only problem is that the show’s story is far from over and the manga is progressing at a snail’s pace, we can only hope that there isn’t anymore hiatus.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Alternative Names: FMA, FMA Brotherhood, Fullmetal Alchemist (2009), Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
Genres: Action, Military, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Magic, Fantasy
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu, Blu-ray/DVD
Plot Summary: When performed skillfully, Alchemy has the ability to turn lead into gold. However, Alchemy is not a form of magic that produces miracles, it’s an advance scientific technique that’s governed by the Law of Equivalent Exchange: “In order to obtain something, something of equal value must be lost.” It’s a law that the two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, fail to acknowledge during their attempt of human transmutation, an act that’s often viewed as taboo in the world of alchemy. As a result of their transgression, Edward loses his left leg and is forced to watch as his brother dissipates before his eyes. Feeling helpless and in a desperation to at least save Alphonse, Edward performs alchemy once more and sacrifices his right arm to bind the soul of his brother to a suit of armor, hoping one day to return him to his original body.
Review: Currently the highest rated show on MyAnimeList and AnimeNewsNetwork, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood gets an enormous amount of praise from the community and is often regarded as the best anime ever made. With how amazing the original story is and how high the production value was, most of the praise is definitely warranted and the number one spot is well-deserved. However, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not perfect. There are some minor pacing issues and the story can be cliche at times, but despite all of these small criticism, it’s definitely the most complete anime out and the closest to a perfect series.
Unlike the original 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has no fillers and follows the manga more closely. It offers a dark and gritty story full of action, drama, and adventure, a surprisingly thought-provoking and realistic depiction of an otherwise fantastical world. It’s an incredible story all the way through with the exceptions of a few pacing issues in the beginning episodes, but those are just personal nitpicks and they don’t really make the story any less incredible.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has one of the largest cast of supporting characters in any anime under 64 episodes, it’s a testament to how expansive the world is and how interlocked the characters are. Everyone has their backstories as well as motivations and It’s easy to get attached to these diverse and realistic characters. Not only that, the characters are well-acted and their storylines are great. I find myself emotionally invested in almost every character, including the antagonists.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an epic fantasy that I’ve watched several times over, with each time feeling just as emotional and enjoyable as the last. The expansive world-building, realistic characters, incredible story, and inspiring music really elevate this anime above others. It’s one of (if not) the best anime of all time and I plan on re-watching it several more times in the future.