You might have noticed that the vast majority of anime series were originally manga series. While these shows make up some of the best anime of all time, their storytelling styles can be quite similar due to the nature of weekly or monthly manga production. If you’re looking for a story with a different tempo, we recommend these best anime not based on manga.
Many of these are original stories made just for anime. Some, meanwhile, are adapted from other mediums, such as light novels, which provide a different style of plot and worldbuilding.
One of the masters of the original anime is Shinichiro Wantanabe, a prolific anime director and creator in the 1990s. By far his most recognisable hit is Cowboy Bebop, for which he was director and wrote the script.
Cowboy Bebop is a sci-fi anime following a makeshift crew of bounty hunters as they travel to various planets in search of their next paycheck. The series excellently balances delivering exciting stories every episode while also feeding a larger narrative as we learn more about the lead character Spike’s unfinished history.
If you enjoy this series, then you should definitely check out some of Wantanabe’s other works including Samurai Champloo and the more recent Terror in Resonance.
The Devil is a Part-Timer
One of the most popular anime comedies in recent years is actually based on a light novel series with over 20 volumes so far!
The story revolves around the Demon Lord Satan who is about to be finally killed by the hero Emilia. In a last-ditch move, the devil opens a portal and escapes to Earth. Now powerless and with no clear way to return home, the devil takes on the guise of a human being and begins to make a living, working in McDonald’s (ahem, MgRonald's) when he changes his plans and decides to try to conquer Earth instead.
The light novels go way beyond what’s been seen in the anime so far. However, with The Devil is a Part-Timer Season 2 finally on the horizon, there is more to look forward to for anime viewers.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
One of the most famous genre-bending anime of all time, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an original series created by a team known as Magica Quartet.
The story follows Madoka Kaname who, along with her friend Sayaka Miki, accidentally discover the world of magical girls when they cross paths with a magical cat named Kyuubey. The magical being promises to grant any one wish they have if, in return, they agree to become magical girls and fight witches. However, when they meet other magical girls that tell them never to accept, they discover a dark side to the seemingly innocent fairytale.
Many of the creators involved in Puella Magi Madoka Magica went on to create another series in this list, Psycho-Pass, which again shows their expertise for psychological thrillers.
Yuri on Ice
One of the most popular series in recent years, Yuri on Ice is an original anime created by a woman, Sayo Yamamoto.
Yuri Katsuki is a promising young Japanese figure skater. However, after another crushing defeat, he returns home unsure about whether he wants to skate again. When a video of him performing a famous routine by legendary world champion Victor Nikiforov goes viral, it reaches the iconic skater, who offers to be Yuri’s mentor and help him reach his true potential.
The story was hugely praised by both viewers and critics, particularly for its large cast of developed characters and deep yet nuanced emotional moments in comparison to other sports series.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
The Fate series is one of the most recognisable in anime but it has its roots in visual novels, text-based video games. Unlimited Blade Works adapts one of the story paths and alternate endings available in the Fate/Stay Night game and has become one of the most popular action fantasy anime of all time.
The series revolves around the Fifth Holy Grail War, a battle-royale in which seven magi (magic-users) form bonds with Heroic Spirits that fight on their behalf, and the last one standing wins the Grail and its ability to grant any wish. The story follows Rin Toosaka, who has been training her whole life for this moment, and her friend Emiya Shirou, who finds himself entering the dangerous battle by accident.
Fate/Stay Night: UBW delivers excellent fantasy action scenes and a storyline that gets deeper as the series progresses, making it a gripping watch.
Kill la Kill
This classic anime was an original anime created by the director and writer behind another great original anime in Gurren Lagann.
The story follows Ryuuko Matoi, a young girl searching for her father’s killer. She is transferred into the prestigious but dangerous Honnouji Academy where she believes the powerful student council president is connected with her father’s death. However, she is heavily protected by people who wear special clothes that grant the wearer powerful abilities.
Ryuuko stumbles across special clothes of her own left by her father, which she uses to take on the council and uncover the truth of his death.
If you’re a fan of psychological anime, this original series by the scriptwriter for Madoka Magica is a must-watch.
Psycho-Pass takes place in a world where a technology known as Sibyl System is used to monitor people’s threat levels and potential for criminal intent, stopping crimes before they’re committed. The story follows Akane Tsunemori, an intelligent and aspiring graduate that joins the enforcement system only to discover that justice might not be as straightforward as it seems on the outside.
A Place Further Than the Universe
Not all great anime need an overly dramatic plot, as this touching original anime by prominent female director Atsuko Ishizuka shows.
Mari Tamaki, like many other high-schoolers, has big dreams of exploring the world outside of her town. However, when it comes to taking action, her fear and anxiety about the unknown stop her ambitions. Still, she’s determined not to let her youth go to waste. Then, a chance encounter with the unsociable Shirase Kobuchizawa, whose saving for a trip to Antarctica in search of her mother, puts into motion the journey of a lifetime.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Code Geass remains a real favourite with many anime fans. The series is an original anime created by Gorou Taniguchi, who previously worked on storyboards for the original Yu-Gi-Oh anime, among other shows.
The story takes place in a world where Brittania is the dominant military nation, conquering many other lands including Japan, which has been renamed Area 11. Lelouch Lamperouge is a bright Brittanian student who finds himself caught up in a rebel attack where he crosses paths with CC, who gives him a power known as Geass that forces anyone that looks into his eye to obey his orders. With his newfound power, he starts a double-life as Zero, a vigilante that leads the rebel movement against Brittania.
Code Geass is a fantastic sci-fi anime with an excellent plot filled with tension. Lelouch has to shoulder a nation’s hopes despite still living as an affluent Brittanian, while his Japan-born best friend becomes a key part of the military he’s fighting against!
Baccano was originally a series of award-winning light novels by Ryohgo Narita, who also wrote the original Durarara novels!
Baccano comprises of three stories taking palace in prohibition America, plus another story taking place more than 200 years earlier.
In 1930’s Manhattan, a goose chase is on to find bottles that have gone missing and may contain more than just alcohol. Meanwhile, in 1932, a young girl looking for her older brother finds herself in the middle of a mafia war. In between, in 1931, a transcontinental train heading for New York is coincidentally filled with all manner of crooks, criminals and potentially monsters. Yet, all stories can be traced back to events aboard the ship Advenna Avis in 1711.
What’s interesting here is that the anime not only adapts the first four light novels but also changes the story’s layout. While the Baccano light novels tell this story one timeline per novel, the anime combines them into a unique time-hopping experience.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Arguably the most iconic original anime of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion is the brainchild of Hideaki Anno.
The original TV series, first aired in 1995, follows teenager Shinji Ikari who is called by his estranged father to join him at NERV, a military force fighting for the United Nations against giant, Earth-threatening monsters called Angels. Shinji, along with a few other kids the same age, is tasked with piloting Evangelion, giant robots that connect to the nervous system of the pilot.
As the series progresses, the insecure Shinji tries to come to terms with himself, his relationships with other characters and his responsibility as humanity’s shield against destruction. Meanwhile, shadowy figures behind the scenes show that NERV might not be the single-minded organisation it first seems.
Despite ending in slightly controversial circumstances, the original TV series garnered so much interest that it has since spawned a handful of films, along with books, manga and videogames!
If you’re looking for a unique, experimental anime, then Bakemonogatari has to be high on your list. The series is adapted from the Monogatari series of light novels, written by the hugely popular NISIOISIN who also wrote the light novel prequel to Death Note.
Bakemonogatari follows third-year high-school student Koyomi Araragi, who barely survives a vampire attack thanks to an old man named Meme but is left with certain special powers. One day at school, classmate Hitagi falls into his arms and he discovers that she weighs almost nothing. After helping her with her situation, she convinces him to help other girls with similar oddities.
Despite not necessarily being a mainstream success, Bakemonogatari has been praised for an almost timeless style of narrative and direction that makes it still feel current over a decade since its release. Various other Monogatari stories have been adapted into anime since, such as Nisemonogatari and Koyomimonogatari.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
A wonderfully emotional and satisfying 11-episode series, Anohana was an original anime created in 2011.
The story of Anohana follows Jinta Yadomi, a reclusive teenager who, one summer, is greeted by the ghost of a friend who died years before. Pestering him to grant a forgotten wish, Jinja meets up with his old childhood friends who grew apart after their friend died.
The story of Anohana is incredibly touching, but there are still some wonderful teenage slice-of-life elements. Unsurprising, given that the director and scriptwriter previously combined to create the hit comedy Toradora!
If this list isn’t enough for you, why not check out our favourite original anime series worth watching?