The 2000s era was a vibrant period for anime, marked by a diverse range of genres that expanded the medium's global reach and pushed the boundaries of animation storytelling. This decade saw the consolidation of anime as a cultural phenomenon outside Japan, with series exploring complex themes, deep character development, and innovative animation techniques.
The list of must-watch anime from this time reflects a tapestry of narratives that cater to a wide array of tastes—from adrenaline-pumping action and profound philosophical inquiries to heartwarming slice-of-life stories and dark, psychological thrillers. Each series brought something unique to the table, whether it was through groundbreaking visuals, compelling characters, or storytelling that resonated with audiences worldwide.
Here are ten anime series from the 2000s that not only defined the decade but also left an indelible mark on the medium and its fans.
Overview of Anime in the 2000s Era
The 2000s era in anime is often characterized by its substantial growth in both production and international popularity. During this time, the anime industry experienced a boom in creativity and innovation, partly driven by the increasing ease of digital animation techniques which allowed for more detailed and dynamic visuals. This was also the period when the internet began to play a significant role in shaping fandoms, with online communities providing platforms for fans to discuss, share, and even distribute anime globally.
Anime series from the 2000s continued the tradition of genre diversity seen in previous decades, offering everything from shonen action to shojo romance, mecha sci-fi epics, and psychological dramas. The narratives became more complex, often weaving intricate plots that challenged viewers with philosophical and ethical questions, or exploring themes of personal growth, societal pressures, and the human condition.
This decade also saw the rise of late-night anime, targeting adult audiences with more mature content, which further diversified the kinds of stories being told. Simultaneously, long-running series that began in the late '90s reached new heights of popularity, and franchises established in this era are still influential today.
The global reach of anime expanded significantly during the 2000s, with many series being licensed for release outside Japan, dubbed in various languages, and broadcast on television. This international exposure helped to solidify anime's place in global pop culture and contributed to the growing acceptance and appreciation of Japanese animation as a serious art form.
Overall, the 2000s were a transformative period for anime, setting the stage for the next decade's trends and continuing to influence creators and fans alike.
Must-Watch Anime #1: Naruto
Why We Loved Naruto
Based on the hit manga by Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto follows a young ninja named Naruto Uzumaki who dreams of becoming the village leader, known as the Hokage. Despite being shunned by the villagers, Naruto stays upbeat and trains to master the art of ninjutsu.
With its blend of ninja action, mythological elements, and coming-of-age story, Naruto struck a chord with viewers. Fans loved watching Naruto's growth from a goofy kid to a powerful ninja leader. His rivalry with Sasuke Uchiha became iconic. The extensive cast of vivid characters was another highlight.
Naruto set trends with its "shonen" style action animation and epic fight sequences. The story gradually expands in scope to incorporate more history and world-building. Naruto remains one of the most influential anime of the 2000s that paved the way for new generations of action anime.
Must-Watch Anime #2: Bleach
The Magic of Bleach
Bleach takes viewers into the world of spirits and soul reapers. Protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki gains powers allowing him to take on supernatural enemies, guide lost souls, and defend humanity. He joins ranks with other soul reapers like Rukia Kuchiki and Renji Abarai.
With its paranormal elements, stylish sword fights, and ensemble cast, Bleach carved out a special place among supernatural action anime. Ichigo's giant cleaver-like Zanpakuto sword set a distinctive visual tone. The story gradually expands to cover the intricate politics and history of Soul Society.
Bleach also introduced memorable villains like the devious Aizen Sosuke. Fans loved the camaraderie between Ichigo and his fellow soul reapers. The anime adaptation featured slick animation and an energizing soundtrack. For many 2000s anime fans, Bleach was a gateway into the action genre.
Must-Watch Anime #3: One Piece
What Made One Piece Stand Out
Based on Eiichiro Oda's long-running manga, One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his ragtag crew of pirates. Luffy has the power to stretch his body like rubber, which he uses creatively in battle. But his greatest strength is his loyalty toward friends like Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji.
With over 900 anime episodes and counting, One Piece has built up an incredibly rich world with diverse settings and characters. From Alabasta to Dressrosa, each island provides new mysteries and adventures. Fans love Luffy's carefree attitude, as well as the camaraderie of the Straw Hat crew.
One Piece set itself apart with creative powers, quirky humor, and emotional storytelling. The anime's bright, cartoony animation matches the story's lighthearted spirit. For longtime viewers, it's a treat watching Luffy and his friends gradually become more powerful on their quest for the ultimate treasure.
Must-Watch Anime #4: Fullmetal Alchemist
The Brilliance of Fullmetal Alchemist
Fullmetal Alchemist masterfully blends fantasy and steampunk elements in its story of two brothers searching for the Philosopher's Stone. After losing their mother, Edward and Alphonse Elric attempt to use alchemy to resurrect her. This fails catastrophically, costing Ed his arm and leg while Al loses his entire body.
To regain what they've lost, the brothers become State Alchemists to gain access to secret research. Along the way, they uncover dark conspiracies testing their resolve. Fullmetal Alchemist tackles thoughtful themes like science vs. faith and the ethics of human transmutation.
Fans loved the complex, magic-like alchemy system. The anime boasts meticulous worldbuilding and action-packed plots. Ed and Al make for sympathetic leads as they learn the costs of arrogance. With well-crafted characters and smart commentary, Fullmetal Alchemist became a modern classic.
Must-Watch Anime #5: Death Note
The Intrigue and Mystery of Death Note
Death Note tells the twisted cat-and-mouse story between genius high school student Light Yagami and enigmatic detective L. Light obtains a supernatural notebook allowing him to kill anyone by writing their name. Believing he's cleansing the world of evil, Light adopts the persona "Kira" to carry out his vigilante murders.
The anime hooked fans with its psychological games between Light and L. It also raised thought-provoking questions about crime, justice, and the nature of good and evil. The stylish Shinigami gods of death added to the paranormal intrigue. With its cerebral plots and moral dilemmas, Death Note kept viewers guessing.
Many consider Death Note a modern classic that transcended typical anime tropes. Its tense pacing and complex characters like Light and L elevated the crime thriller genre. Death Note showed the storytelling heights anime could reach.
Must-Watch Anime #6: Code Geass
Why Code Geass Left Us Hooked
In an alternate world ruled by the Holy Britannian Empire, exiled prince Lelouch Lamperouge gains the power of absolute obedience. With his Geass power, he becomes the masked vigilante Zero to lead a rebellion against the empire that destroyed his family. But he soon finds himself walking a fine line in his quest for justice.
With its mecha battles and political intrigue, Code Geass masterfully blended the war and psychological thriller genres. Lelouch made for a compelling antihero as we see how power corrupts his motives. The anime is known for its shocking plot twists and high-stakes drama.
Fans loved the rivalry between Lelouch and his former friend Suzaku Kururugi. Their philosophies clash as they aim to change the world through different means. Code Geass also featured innovative mecha designs and slick action animation. With its cerebral storytelling and complex characters, Code Geass redefined what anime could achieve.
Must-Watch Anime #7: Samurai Champloo
The Unique Charm of Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo takes viewers on an anachronistic journey through Edo period Japan. The story follows Mugen, Jin, and Fuu - three strangers brought together by fate. Mugen is a wild and unpredictable vagabond fighter, while Jin comes from a more disciplined samurai upbringing. Fuu recruits them as her bodyguards on a quest to find a mysterious samurai.
Blending samurai action with hip-hop aesthetics, Samurai Champloo created a one-of-a-kind vibe. The contrasting personalities and philosophies of Mugen and Jin made for entertaining odd-couple chemistry. Each episode provides a new offbeat adventure across feudal Japan punctuated by stylized swordfights.
Samurai Champloo's singular style and soundtrack earned it a dedicated fan following. Its blend of historical fiction, comedy, and anachronisms was unlike anything seen in anime before. Samurai Champloo demonstrated how anime could push creative boundaries.
Must-Watch Anime #8: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
The Futuristic Appeal of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Set in a cyberpunk future, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows Public Security Section 9, an elite counter-cyberterrorism task force. Led by the Major, Section 9 tracks down hackers, technological threats, and corruption in a world where technology has blurred the line between human and machine.
With its complex plots and futuristic setting, Ghost in the Shell: SAC was a cerebral sci-fi thriller. The Major made for an intriguing protagonist as a cyborg uncertain of her humanity. Each case explored technological and ethical dilemmas. The series blended gorgeous CGI animation with traditional techniques.
Ghost in the Shell: SAC built upon themes from the original 1995 film. Its stand-alone episodic cases and overarching storylines satisfied fans. Section 9's exploits cemented Ghost in the Shell as one of the most influential cyberpunk anime franchises.
Must-Watch Anime #9: Inuyasha
The Timeless Adventure of Inuyasha
Inuyasha follows modern schoolgirl Kagome who gets transported to feudal era Japan. There she joins forces with Inuyasha, a hot-headed half-demon, to reclaim the shattered Shikon Jewel. In their quest, they face countless demons and evil spirits across medieval Japan. But the jewel's power has a dark side that tests Inuyasha and Kagome's relationship.
Blending fantasy, action, and romance, Inuyasha captured viewers' hearts. The chemistry between stubborn Inuyasha and compassionate Kagome made for entertaining character dynamics. Their growing feelings added a romantic subplot. The anime brought ancient Japan to life through its setting and folklore-inspired supernatural elements.
For many 2000s anime fans, Inuyasha was their first foray into the fantasy adventure genre. Its mix of relatable characters, demon battles, and overarching plot provided endless entertainment.
Must-Watch Anime #10: Dragon Ball Z
The Epic Saga of Dragon Ball Z
The massively popular Dragon Ball Z needs no introduction. Picking up where the original Dragon Ball left off, DBZ cranks up the action and scale. Goku and his allies defend Earth against increasingly powerful villains and threats, taking them across the galaxy and even to the afterlife.
Dragon Ball Z redefined action anime with its fast-paced battles and ever-escalating stakes. Fans loved watching Goku and Vegeta push their powers to new super Saiyan levels. The anime's martial arts choreography and beam/energy attack effects set the standard for shonen anime. The series introduced iconic villains like Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu.
Spanning nearly 300 episodes, Dragon Ball Z is the quintessential action anime. It captured the viewer's attention with its "beat the next big bad" formula. The anime also further developed the original series' characters, world, and lore. For many, DBZ was the gateway into anime fandom.
A Wrap-Up of Our 2000s Anime Journey
The 2000s marked an evolution of anime into more varied and experimental storytelling. Series like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece carried on the action legacy. Psychological thrillers like Death Note and Code Geass gained critical acclaim. Samurai Champloo and Ghost in the Shell: SAC pioneered new aesthetics and genres.
And classics like Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha, and Dragon Ball Z introduced countless viewers to anime fandom. The decade represented a creative expansion beyond the established genres and styles of the 90s. Anime was firmly going global, bringing new perspectives to the medium.
The 2000s laid the groundwork for the anime boom we see today. These series showed the storytelling possibilities of anime and inspired new generations of creators. Their influences continue to be felt across action, fantasy, sci-fi, and other genres. Reliving these 2000s favorites is sure to spark nostalgia for many anime fans!