Adult, but not "Adult".
February 15, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find manga and/or anime that has a story that would appeal to a mature audience, but without "mature" content.

It's another recommend-things-to-me-filter, and my question is kinda long. Sorry!

I like manga and anime. At least, I like them in theory. But in practice, I find it's often
very hard to find material that I actually want to view. It seems to me that most manga and anime fall
into one of two categories:

Teen manga:

Characters in these stories are usually 12-17 years old. Stories often emphasize
feelings of being unsure of oneself, awkward social situations, the experience of growing up or
coming of age, and incredibly simplistic ideals and politics. Frequently the protaganist is a "chosen one" or
special character of some kind such that they are extremely vital in some way.

Romantic stories often involve a lot of very contrived awkward situations - getting locked in the shower with someone of the
opposite sex. Boys going to the girl's locker room by accident or when they think nobody will be there,
tripping and falling into someone, not having the nerve to say the right thing when the opportunity is
handed to you on a silver platter, etc.

Stories that involve fighting generally involve few people dying, if any. But violence manages to
solve everyone's problems. Bad guys who are beaten and then subjected to a short inspirational speech
come to see things from the hero's point of view.

Almost invariably, the characters in these stories are pretty one dimensional. That bad guys are REALLY bad.
The good guys are REALLY good. Everyone has one personality trait that makes both makes them completely
unique and also defines them as a person. The main characters can do things everyone else has found impossible
by sheer determination. The physics stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

I'm somewhat tired of these sort of stories. They feel like they lack depth to me, and after a while, they
all tend to read about the same.

Adult manga:

These stories often feature characters that are much more mature and well-rounded. Less awkwardness.
More depth. The stories usually seem much more plausible. There may be many subtle layers to situations.
More shades of gray. At times the good guys may seem like bad guys, and vice-versa. The plot is harder to
predict. When people get hurt, they don't miraculously heal all their wounds by the end of the week. When
people fight to the death, somebody usually gets killed. When the story is romantic, the relationship
feels much more natural, and more human.

This is the sort of story I'd like to read. However...

The more mature manga tend to have much more explicit content as well. Suggestive or sexual activity,
explicit nudity, blood and gore, horror-type scenes that would give children nightmares. This is
not what I'm looking for.

So, getting to the point (sorry, it always takes me a while to do this):

I want manga and/or anime that has the depth and character development of a more "adult" story, but
I don't want any content that isn't PG/PG-13. I want a kid-safe story that an adult would enjoy. It's hard to

Two anime I found that are pretty close to my "sweet spot": Fullmetal Alchemist and Trigun. Neither of these
are perfect, but pretty decent. Trigun felt a little too child-like and silly for the first half, but I felt
it got better toward the end. FMA's main characters felt a little one-dimensional, but the rest of the cast
made up for it, for the most part.

I am looking for all genres, but no ghosts/demons/oni/vampires/werewolves/occult stuff/etc. Aliens are ok.
I know, I'm picky.

If you know of anything that meets this narrow criteria, won't you please let me know? Thanks!
posted by Vorteks to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (35 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Death Note is a great anime + manga. It does involve some occult/religious stuff (which sets up the plot), but really it's a psychological thriller of the highest order. I think of it as being on par with Ender's Game in terms of tightly written psychological thrillers that are just outside the realm of what's humanly possible - the characters are superhumanly smart and the whole thing feels like an intense game of chess between two grand masters.

Skip the live action movies & go for the Manga and/or Anime.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2010

Cowboy Bebop might be borderline for you. It features well-developed characters with lots of subtle psychological issues, and their relationships are pretty complex. It does have it's fair share of punchin' and shootin', but probably proportionally less than Trigun, though the violence is more graphic. I'm not sure if I would call it "kid safe" exactly, but I can attest that 12-15 year olds love the shit out of that show.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 2:34 PM on February 15, 2010

What about Western comics? It seems like a lot of the popular ones (Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, Gaiman's stuff, etc) would appeal to you.
posted by NoraReed at 2:36 PM on February 15, 2010

Best answer: I'd highly recommend the anime of Planetes (I haven't read the manga, so I can't comment on it). It's about garbage collectors in space in the near future (it's much more interesting than it sounds), and is probably one of the most realistic examples of sci-fi anime/manga you're likely to find. The tone is quite sitcom-ish at the start (although not in a bad way, as the writing is genuinely funny) but it gradually becomes much darker and more dramatic throughout the series.

There is plenty of thematic depth and genuinely likeable, realistic characters who undergo a great deal of growth throughout the episodes. The story does deal with a lot of mature themes (suicide, terrorism and so on) but there's not actually much explicit content shown on screen.

Crest of the Stars and its sequel series are character-driven sci-fi that I'd recommend also. They can get a bit talky in parts, however.

Cowboy Bebop is an absolute classic. It is pretty violent in parts, although if Fullmetal Alchemist was okay for you than this should be too.

The better Gundam series (War in the Pocket, The 08th MS Team etc) tend to do a great job telling complex stories about war and moving past standard anime cliches.
posted by fearthehat at 2:39 PM on February 15, 2010

Ghost in the Shell?
I think you'd like Princess Mononoke, even if it doesn't quite fit your requirements...
posted by demagogue at 2:39 PM on February 15, 2010

Antique Bakery! Three 30-something men involved in running a gourmet dessert shop - it's delightful.
posted by cadge at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Planetes is pretty excellent.

You might dig Haibane Renmei, which deals with some pretty intense issues, but without violence, gore, or sex. There's some implied violence in the characters' backstories, but almost none onscreen.
posted by Alterscape at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2010

Best answer: Tekkon Kinkreet and The Sky Crawlers are so good it's silly.
posted by monocultured at 2:55 PM on February 15, 2010

REAL. It is still on going and it deals with youths who have to overcome mental/physcial obstacles thru sports (basketball and wheelchair basketball). The author/mangaka is a very experienced artist. He also has Vagabond going as well, but I think that one is a little too violent/graphical at times. Memail if you have problem finding the manga.
posted by jstarlee at 2:56 PM on February 15, 2010

How about Mushishi? I can't comment on the manga, but the anime was pretty great.
posted by pilibeen at 2:56 PM on February 15, 2010

Also, Grave of Fireflies might not fit your bill of being a kids movie, but it's good anime…
posted by monocultured at 2:57 PM on February 15, 2010

It kind of breaks your no ghosts rule, but otherwise Mushishi fits your requirements. Although it follows the general "occult detective" formula, the actual subject matter has more new-agey mysticism than the scare-focused monster of the week of something like the X-Files. I've only seen the anime series, but the manga is also highly regarded.

Generally the episodes focus on introducing a new character, exploring their back story (which is usually tragic in some way), and eventually reaching some sort of catharsis through the Mushi. For example, one episode is about someone who is trying to catch a rainbow to save his dying father. It's hard to explain without actually seeing it, but it's all done in a very interesting and low-key way that makes it stand out from similar series.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:58 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Death Note and Monster. Both well thought out and adult. Without excessive nudity or anything like that.
posted by lakerk at 3:15 PM on February 15, 2010

I came in here to recommend Death Note, so I guess I'm seconding.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 3:15 PM on February 15, 2010

Serial Experiments Lain

It's PG13 the same way that Twin Peaks is PG13. Nothing explicit takes place, but the whole series has a very uncomfortable edge to it. The protagonist might be a 14 year old girl, but the show deals with very adult themes: isolation, technology, communication, the nature of reality, theology and mental illness. The series is 10 years old, but still feels relevant.

And yeah, Cowboy Bebop, in spite of its showy scifi-action exterior is actually a show about lonely and lost people looking for meaning and redemption in their lives. (Samurai Champloo explores some of the same themes, but is in general a bit more light-hearted and deliberately anarchronistic.)

And you have seen everything Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli has made, right? Or at least Porco Rosso which is one of the most romantic and nostalgic films I have ever seen.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:39 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Planetes manga is really terrific.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2010

Since no one has mentioned this one, Black Lagoon might be of interest to you. I have only watched the anime but the link is for the manga. Note that there is a bit of blood and gore in the anime..
posted by Danniman at 3:52 PM on February 15, 2010

I wholeheartedly agree with the above recommendations for Planetes and Mushishi. I will also suggest Seirei no Moribito, which has an amazing story and is really quite beautiful in both the scenery and action.
posted by phredgreen at 4:13 PM on February 15, 2010

The term for the kind of show you're looking for is "seinen".

Nthing all the Planetes, Cowboy Bebop, and Mushishi recommendations.

The Films of Satoshi Kon. I'd specifically recommend Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, but they're all good. His TV series, Paranoia Agent is also worth watching, but is probably too supernatural for your tastes.

Mobile Police Patlabor is a long-running franchise based around the exploits of the B-team of a near-future Tokyo police department that deals with giant robot based crime. Despite that description, it's very character based and the characters are all adults. It also has wildly varying tone from slapstick comedy to political thriller depending on what part of the series you're watching. If you can handle a slightly older series (the original 6-episode series was made in 1988) then check this one out.

Kaze no Yojimbo is a 25-episode remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" in a modern setting. All the main players are adults and there's plenty of moral ambiguity.
posted by Aznable at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2010

One of my favourite manga's is 人間交差点, or Ningen Kosaten, which means "Human Intersections". The title was originally called "Human Scramble" in English (after a 'traffic scramble'), but has recently been translated as "Human Crossing".

Apparently there is an anime series (I've never seen it) that has been translated into English and is available on DVD.

I've only ever read the Japanese manga (you can probably find it at a Japanese book store in any large city in North America - Book Off in Vancouver carries it used).

Anyway, the stories deal with the lives of ordinary Japanese people. The drawing style is very realistic, and the themes deal with love, betrayal, ageing, revenge, redemption - the works. It can be melodramatic at times (but this suits Japanese sensibilities), and there is often sex (an quite a bit of domestic violence), but you'll get no better snapshot of regular Japanese life.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:33 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Like many people here, I also loved 'Death Note' - it's the only multi-book manga series that I've finished. But thousands upon thousands of people die in it -- most of them are unseen people in prison or other 'bad guys' who die non-graphically, offscreen, but it's a huge amount. And many of the characters we get to know and like also die. There's very little blood -- generally people just drop dead due to a god's order -- but it's very psychologically tense and all death, all the time. Hence the title. I don't know this disqualifies it for your purposes; if this question is seeking mature stuff for mature kids, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone younger than 16. Though it's great.)
posted by lisa g at 4:45 PM on February 15, 2010

I couldn't get into 'Death Note' at all. I got that it was spoofing those nasty lists that teenagers like to pass around with names of people they don't like on it, but the arbitrary imposition of whom-you-can-kill rules (again, more chain-letter-ish spoof) just seemed rickety and manipulative.

I don't know if they count as anime because they've become mainstream and been co-opted by Disney, but Hayao Miyazake's films usually feature children, but tend to have relatively adult themes without any "adult" content at all. For example, 'Spirited Away' is a coming-of-age story that is deeply compelling, sex and gore-free, but full of ghostly and bizarre characters and creepy as heck. I also love 'Howl's Moving Castle.'
posted by mneekadon at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2010

Black Lagoon is good, but I'd definitely say it falls into the R-rated category, manga or anime. A lot of good mature manga is R-rated without falling into gore or borderline porn, or supernatural, so you are limiting yourself.

Kurosagi - The Black Swindler might be a good manga. It's about a swindler who preys on his fellow conmen. Tense, but no violence.

Eternal Sabbath - A well done manga about an psychic who escaped from a lab and is trying to fit into human society. Some violence near the end, but within the PG-13 category.

Please Save My Earth - about "seven teenagers who share common dreams about their past lives as alien scientists who observed the Earth from the Moon". It's definitely more feminine than Trigun or FMA, but still good.
posted by dragoon at 6:04 PM on February 15, 2010

Best answer: DEFINITELY Urusawa, though I think Monster may be too grisly for you. 20th Century Boys and Pluto are both AMAZING. Pluto was one of ALA's top picks for teens this year too, so no inappropriate content or anything like that (but it's a mystery about something killing the world's most advanced robots--based on an Astro Boy story but so much better--so it's not particularly teen-oriented per your definition). Seriously, I work at a comic book store and both of these series were on my best of 2009 list.
posted by leesh at 6:28 PM on February 15, 2010

Ga-Rei Zero is pretty fantastic all around, and I think there is a sequel series coming out.

Shikabane Hime was also rather good and is thematically similar.

I am going to assume you are aware of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:18 PM on February 15, 2010

I'm not sure that I agree about The Sky Crawlers -- I watched it a few months ago and was mostly unimpressed. I understand that it's a nihilistic commentary on the commodification of war, and it's intended to seem pointless and repetitive, but it just didn't work for me. Also, it's pretty brutally violent in parts.
posted by Alterscape at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2010

I think the Planetes anime is the best animated series I've ever seen.
I also recommend Lone Wolf and Cub. Although it's quite violent, it's a manga classic and worth trying.
posted by demiurge at 1:01 AM on February 16, 2010

An older manga I likes was 2001 Nights by Yukinobu Hoshino. It's old, and hard to find, but I liked it. I'm gonna say PlanetES is in the vein of 2001 Nights, since the reverse wouldn't be accurate.

The Venus Wars manga was also pretty good, or at least I thought so when I first read it way back when. It's pretty much a straight-up war story, but the characters have that subtlety that you're talking about.

Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix stories are all incredible. When he does epic, he does it like, Tolkien well, but without the long interludes where everyone sits around having dinner and reading poetry. In that vein, Buddha is also really good.

I would recommend perennial fan-favorite Evangelion, which is a favorite for a good reason, but there's plenty of nightmare material towards the end.

Another one I enjoyed way back when was Escaflowne. Goofy-assed name, and on the surface, looks like the worst of both Shonen, and Shojo mashed together, which is sorta is, but after about 5-6 episodes in, it picks up this Indiana Jones, how the hell are they gonna get out of THIS situation-style vibe that's really entertaining. If you watch it in the same way as you would an old Black and White Flash Gordon serial, you'll wind up liking it a lot.

I tried watching the original Macross not too long ago, and I really think it hasn't aged well. I wound up getting really bored pretty quickly, but if you've never seen it, it might be okay. Macross Plus, however is way better, has transforming robots is a non-silly context, and is semi-based on the competition between Lockheed, and Northrop/McDonnell Douglas to create the next fighter plane for the US Air force.


From what I'm recommending, it may look like I stopped paying attention to Anime and Manga about 10 years ago, and you'd be right. I really feel like much of what's being produced today falls squarely into the category of what you're trying to avoid.
posted by fnerg at 1:57 AM on February 16, 2010

The following are defintiely series that... orbit teen sensibilities, but I think they're definitely enjoyable by adults.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Laggan is one of my favourite series in this genre. Yeah, it's about kids, giant mechas and saving the universe, but... well, it's difficult to even explain what's so brilliant about it. It's self-aware, moving, with a surprising amount of depth and subtlety beneath the hectic, funny, beautifully-produced surface. Gainax, who made it, are masters of their craft and strike exactly the right balance between self-parody and sheer, heartfelt, genuine awesomeness.

They also made Gunbuster II (aka Diebuster, aka Aim For The Top 2), which is brilliant in similar ways, as well as being one of the most beautiful anime ever made.

It's a sequel to a fairly old, 'classic anime' sci-fi series (Gunbuster) that is also well-worth watching.

FLCL is even more over-the-top and parodic (without ever being *just* a parody -- it's overflowing with great action and character stuff). It does have quite a lot of brief, but relatively risqué stuff in it, though.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, a slightly-older series, is sort of the dark side of all that. It's the same sort of concept as the other series -- take a classic formula and flesh it out with depth, characterization and self-awareness, and animate it beautifully -- but given to a depressive, obsessive auteur with intermittent budget problems. As it progresses and the simple setup starts to warp and peel apart, expect gore, death, misery, betrayal, conspiracy, and world-tearing psychosis to emerge. Not for everyone, especially not kids. But still, worth watching, even if it doesn't necessarily hit every target it aims for.

So leaving Gainax aside, what else?

Anything by Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli, natch -- Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, all that.

Mushi-Shi -- It is, sort of, about the occult and supernatural, but believe me, you will not regret giving it a try. One of the best and most perfectly atmospheric anime I've seen.

xxxHOLiC -- Again, even if you don't like occult stuff, I think this one is worth a try. It's got a unique style and a light, but poignant take on Japanese-mythology in the modern world.

Dennou Coil -- Kids playing in a VR world overlaid over the real world. Not especially deep, but never stupid, and very nice-looking.

Planetes -- Near future hard-scifi that starts lighthearted and trivial and then moves on to a more serious storyline. Occasional triteness is more than balanced by loving production and sweet characters.

Wings of Honneamise -- Wonderfully-produced 'classic anime' sci-fi about idealism, technology, tenacity, and the space race.

Rideback -- Surprisingly compelling story about a prima ballerina trying to recapture the freedom and magic of being on-stage, draped over a backdrop of terrorism and coming-of-age drama.

Yakitate! Japan -- Okay, this is partly a joke entry, but I think you'll like it. It's shounen anime ("teen manga") taken lovingly, stupidly, brilliantly, hilariously to its most ridiculous extremes. The tapestry across which the epic battles, hopeless fights and fiery fighting-spirit play out is... bread-making. And it works. And it's lovely.

That's all that occurs to me for now, I may add a few more when I get home. :P
posted by Drexen at 4:35 AM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: My man and I were just discussing this the other day... what anime series that we enjoy as adults could we also watch with future spawn?

Depending on the age of the kid, Kino's Travels (sometimes called Kino's Journey) is a great series that might fit the bill -- the protagonist is relatively young, but definitely more mature issues/themes (along the lines of Mushishi). No occult, but a little violence, although I don't recall it being graphic. Definitely no more violent/graphic than Cowboy Bebop.

Kamichu is about a middle schooler who finds out she's a god. Although it is a coming-of-age story, it's handled beautifully and I think would definitely have the depth you're looking for.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 deals with the aftermath of a huge earthquake in Tokyo. Main characters are an adult woman and a young pair of siblings who meet and are trying to make their way home. Not gory, although there is obviously death given the subject matter. Extremely well done series, appropriate for older kids.

If you like music, Nodame Cantabile (about a music conservatory), Nana (about adult rock bands), and K-ON! (about a high school rock band) are all series that might work, again, depending on the age of the kids. None have violence, but Nodame and Nana maybe have a little bit of suggestive dialogue (Nana more than Nodame). Although K-ON! is a high school show, it doesn't include the cloying situations you describe above -- they just want to make music. Of the three, K-ON! is probably the most youth-appropriate, then Nodame Cantabile, then Nana.

Scrapped Princess might also work -- Two (adult) siblings attempt to protect their adopted sister (now a teen) who, according to prophecy, will destry the world. There is mild violence as they protect the princess, but it's not graphic.

Also wanted to emphatically nth Mushishi, xxxHOLiC, and Yakitate! Japan (who knew a series about bread could be so great?). But be advised that xxxHOLiC probably fits your definition of "occult stuff."

I didn't see where you told us the age of the kid(s), so some of these recs skew older than others.

I think a kid would need to be pretty mature to get Evangelion. And I personally had a hard time getting into Planetes, although I might have to try again given all the recs here.
posted by somanyamys at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions everyone. Planetes seems so highly recommended that I've put the DVD set in my cart, sight-unseen. I'm also going to check out 20th Century Boys.

I should say (and probably should have said at the beginning) that I have seen Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, and found both of them to be too explicit at parts. I haven't seen Akira, but from what I've gathered I'd definitely find that too intense.

I'm aware of Death Note, xxxHOLiC, and Spirited Away, but I'm afraid these don't meet my "no occult" requirements. I'd imagine the same applies to Mushi-Shi.

I did watch the first 3 episodes of Cowboy Bebop a looong time ago (~10 years?), and I didn't really feel into it, so I stopped. A friend of mine later insisted that if I had stuck with it longer I would have been impressed. I didn't believe him, but after reading this thread maybe I'll give it another shot.

I've marked a few answers as "best", but if I haven't marked your answer yet, that doesn't mean I won't! I haven't had time to look into every suggestion yet, and I will continue to check them out. I appreciate everyone's suggestions.

@somanyamys - Sorry if I misled you. I am looking for kid-safe manga/anime, but there are no kids involved. I'm looking solely for my own enjoyment. I just don't want to see anything myself that I wouldn't be comfortable showing to a 14-year-old. Kino's Travels and Scrapped Princess sound interesting. I'll check them out when I get home from work. Thanks!
posted by Vorteks at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2010

Liar Game Nao Kanzaki, an honest and naive college student, receives 100 million yen (about $1,000,000) and an invitation to participate in the "Liar Game Tournament". The aim of the game is to trick the other players out of their hundred million yen. At the end, the winner gets the hundred million and the loser is a hundred million yen in debt

Team Medical Dragon This manga is about Japanese medical care. It focuses on many problems prevalent in modern Japan medicine, such as medical malpractice, drug trial, and the stagnancy of reform for the troubled health care system.

IS It stand for intersexual(s) and the story follows the pain and troubles such people go through in their lives, such as gaining acceptance for who they are and their inability to reproduce.


Seconding Lone Wolf and Cub. This is one of few mangas that bought tear to my eye as I read the ending. It might be too violent since it accurately depicts Edo period Japan.

OYASUMI PUNPUN by Inio Asano. The character is depicted as a tiny, caricatured bird in an otherwise normal human setting - as he copes with his dysfunctional family and friends, his love interest, his oncoming adolescence and his hyperactive mind. This is one of few manga that I actually care about the main character. 99% of manga is safe to show to a 14 years old, but there are two chapters depict the main character having sex; which is very very shocking even to the reader.
posted by Carius at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2010

My productivity over the last 2 days has completely gone to zero since reading cadge's recommendation of Antique Bakery the other day. So, so good.

Also nthing recs for Nodame Cantabile and Nana.
posted by emeiji at 9:59 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Still working through the recommendations here. The Pluto manga turned out to be AWESOME. I'm really happy with that one.
posted by Vorteks at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2010

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