Anime today is full of vibrant colors, immaculately flowing animation, and detail reminicent of fine art. However, its foundation lies in the elegance and stylistic integrity of black and white. While they may be dated, some of these titles were so impactful that they received modern interpretation. Others would go on to influence entire genres of anime. Here are our top 10:
10. Tetsujin 28
A milestone of the mecha genre, it chronicles the tale of a boy and his control over a giant robot inherited from his father. Together, they embark on various adventures shaped by the boy’s intellect and the robot’s advanced capabilities. Like much of the media produced in the aftermath of WWII, it is a profound reflection on post-war Japan’s relationship with technology and the ethical implications of weapons of mass destruction.
9. Big X
A tale of superhuman feats and a test of humanity’s ethical boundaries. The story follows Akira, a young boy transformed into a superhuman by his scientist father. Years later he fights against the tyranny of the invading Axis powers during WWII. As Akira grapples with his powers and the responsibilities that come with them, viewers are left to contemplate the complexities of power, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be a hero.
8. Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales
One of the earliest detective series in the anime world, “Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales” was an exciting amalgamation of action, drama, and mystery. Set in the Edo period, the narrative revolves around Sabu, a clever young investigator, and Ichi, a blind master swordsman. The duo’s unique blend of traditional sleuthing and martial arts, presented in beautiful grayscale, keeps the viewer engaged and on the edge of their seat.
7. Yuusei Kamen
This anime pioneered the space superhero trope in anime and would influence everything from power rangers to pro wrestling in japan. It follows the journey of Comet Mask, a mysterious hero from another planet who defends Earth against various alien threats. The black and white animation elegantly accentuates the vastness of the cosmos, the loneliness of space, and the palpable tension of intergalactic conflict.
6. Kaizoku Ouji
Captivating audiences with a romanticized and thrilling depiction of pirate adventures, the story follows the story of the prince of pirates. After the death of his adoptive father, he learns that he is the son of a great pirate who ruled the seven seas and sets out on a journey to discover his legacy. While he battles the oppressors who seek his true father’s title, the narrative explores the dichotomy of good an evil in classic anime style.
5. 8 Man
Japan’s answer to the American superhero genre as it mimics the American comic book aesthetics while maintaining its distinctively Japanese storytelling. Here we see the story of a police officer murdered in the line of duty and resurrected as the cyborg, 8 Man. He battles against crime and prejudice in a society grappling with technology. His moral and existential quandaries emphasize the blur between man and machine. This post-human consideration explores themes of identity, humanity, and justice in a rapidly changing world.
4. GeGeGe no Kitarou
A delightful immersion into the realm of Yokai, traditional Japanese ghosts, and monsters. This series charts the adventures of Kitarou, a boy born in a graveyard and the last living member of the Ghost Tribe. The mystery, charm, and occasional horror of these supernatural beings heighten the viewers’ sense of unease and fascination. GeGeGe no Kitarou reflects on societal issues and human nature through its supernatural lens.
Memorable and haunting, this story traces the harrowing journey of the ronin Hyakkimaru and the scrappy orphan thief, Dororo. Robbed of 48 body parts at birth in a pact between his father and demos, Hyakkimaru seeks to retrieve his humanity. The story’s poignant messages of resilience, combined with its stark visuals, firmly place “Dororo” among the most iconic classics.
2. Cyborg 009
This groundbreaking series centers around nine individuals who, kidnapped by the nefarious Black Ghost organization, are transformed into cyborgs for warfare. However, they are united by their shared predicament. They rebel against their captors, vowing to thwart their war-mongering plans. With its nine protagonists from different national backgrounds, it offered diverse perspectives rarely seen in the era.
1. Astro Boy
Regarded as the progenitor of anime, Astro Boy is the most iconic anime in history. Astro Boy is a powerful robot created by Dr. Tenma to replace his deceased son. With advanced artificial intelligence and high-tech capabilities, Astro Boy navigates a world where robots coexist with humans. The influence of early Disney animation is evident in its design, embodying an era where East met West in animation.
The limitations of black and white animation led to some incredible creativity. Narrative and characterization were king, and visual simplicity left more room for the viewer’s imagination. These ten anime, through their grayscale lenses, continue to shape our understanding of the art form’s timeless allure.