Anime movies have a distinctive style that sets them apart from conventional animated movies and cartoons. While it may seem targeted at the young audience, the anime genre has something for everyone. The best action anime movies, in particular, have gripping storylines, graphics, and characters that will enthrall even the most demanding viewer.
This best action anime film list consists of adventure films, shounen films, and combat films among others. The action sub-genre of anime is known for films with fast-paced and thrilling storylines that often keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Top action anime movies
Which is the best action anime? We take a look at the 15 best action anime movies of all time, their storylines, and main characters.
15. Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007)
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance follows the adventures of Colin MacLeod in his search for vengeance. He travels with the witty ghost, Amergan, searching for an immortal despot named Marcus Octavius.
Octavius was responsible for the murder of Colin’s lover years ago. In his search for Marcus, Colin discovers that the city of New York is now submerged, and only one tower stands out above the water.
MacLeod is torn between saving those who survived the submersion and pursuing his perennial enemy, Octavius. In addition to this, Colin is haunted by the fact that he has never defeated Marcus in a one-on-one duel.
Will Colin follow his thirst for revenge or choose to save the people of New York? The film was directed by the renowned Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who is also known for other high-grossing films such as Wicked City and Ninja Scroll.
14. Appleseed (2004)
Appleseed was directed by Shinji Aramaki and is based on a similarly-titled manga produced by Masamune Shirow. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world and explores the themes of human-technology fusion and war.
Appleseed follows the story of Deunen Knute, a female warrior who discovers that her former lover, Briareos, is nothing close to the man he once was. He is now a hybrid creature, part human and part robot.
As the two travel to Olympus, they encounter Hitomi, an intelligent, genetically-engineered human whose clan has taken over the city. Hitomi, Deunen, and Brirareos join forces to defend Olympus from rebel attacks.
Later, Deunen realizes that her alliance lies more with those who wish to take over the city than those defending it. Appleseed combines conventional Japanese pen-and-ink illustrations with modern digital animation.
Appleseed is undoubtedly a good action anime, especially if you are just getting started on the genre.
13. Fist of the North Star (1986)
Fist of the North Star is a top action anime adapted from a manga by the same name. The film was produced by Toei Animation at a time when a similarly-named television series was airing. The cast and crew were the same for both the film and the series.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the strong survivors prey on the weak ones. The plot tells the story of Kenshiro, the 64th successor of the Divine Fist of the North Star (Hokuto Shin Ken).
The Divine Fist of the North Star is a style of martial arts that allows its practitioner to destroy an opponent by attacking their secret internal channeling points. Kenshiro uses this power to protect the weak against the villains who threaten their survival.
In 2007, the film was the 7th best-selling shounen anime of all time.
12. Paprika (2006)
The 2006 film, Paprika, is based on a 1993 manga by the same name. It follows the story of a psychologist who encounters a device that allows its holder to access other people’s dreams. Yasutaka Tsutsui directed and co-wrote Paprika.
A group of scientists from the Foundation for Psychiatric Research discovers a device known as the D.C. Mini, which gives people the ability to record their dreams and watch them later. The inventors fail to secure the machine, and it ends up in the hands of a thief who uses it to distract people with their own dreams while they are awake.
The inventors, Shima, Tokita, and Chiba, seek assistance from a sprite known as Paprika as they try to get the device back while warding off the thief’s attacks. Dreams and reality begin to merge as the main characters start to question the limits of science and those of their invention.
11. The End of Evangelion (1997)
Shinji Ikari is part of the Evangelion units, which are, essentially, cyborgs created to fight evil entities called angels. After the final angel is defeated, Shinji becomes distressed because of his friend’s death in battle.
The obscure committee, SEELE, then sends the Japanese Strategic Self-Defense Force to attack NERV, the organization in charge of Evangelion units. Shinji is pushed to his limits as he tries to make a choice
10. Steamboy (2004)
Steamboy is arguably the best shonen anime by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film follows the adventures of Rei, a young inventor living in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century.
Right before the World Expo takes place, Rei receives an extraordinary device known as a Steam Ball from his grandfather. At the same time, the reprehensible O’Hara Foundation sends its people to steal the device and use it to nefarious ends.
9. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
After a terrorist bombing in 2071, someone releases a terrifying virus on the residents of Mars. The government responds by issuing a 300-million woo-long reward to whoever captures the culprit behind the virus.
Ed, Faye, Spike, and Jet are members of the bounty hunter crew in a spaceship known as Bebop. They embark on a mission to capture the villain and cash in on the bounty.
The crew members soon discover that they are not the only ones looking for Vincent, the man behind the virus. Besides this, the crew of four soon finds itself being pursued by terrifying people known as Electra who will go to any lengths to cover up the truth.
As the crew hunts for Vincent, the line between dreams and reality begins to get blurry.
8. Akira (1998)
Akira is set in 2019 Tokyo and follows the adventures of Shotaro Kaneda, the leader of a bike gang. His long-time friend, Tetsuo Shima, gets amazing telekinetic abilities after a bike accident.
Tetsuo then chooses to use his new-found abilities for evil purposes. This threatens Tokyo since Tetsuo’s powers are similar to those of Akira, the force that destroyed Tokyo 31 years ago.
Kaneda attempts to save his friend but runs into a group of inept scientists, greedy politicians, military leaders, and anti-government activists. This confrontation sets off a chain of events leading up to the final in the Tokyo Olympiad, the same arena where the government buried Akira’s secrets.
While most of the film’s settings and character designs were adapted from the similarly-named manga, the plot differs significantly between the two. Akira is one of the best anime action films, especially in terms of the engaging storyline.
7. Princess Mononoke (1997)
This film follows the adventures of Ashitaka, the last Emishi Prince, as he attempts to bring peace between the humans of Irontown and the creatures that live in a nearby forest.
Ashitaka departs from his village to the land of a demon that injured him. While searching for a cure for the Tatarigami curse, he gets caught in a battle between a mining colony, and the forest gods.
6. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
The film is set in 2029 at a time when the world is vastly interconnected via a massive electronic network. Tokyo’s Section Nine security is charged with arresting the Puppet Master, a conniving hacker.
The operation’s leader is Motoko Kusanagi, an enhanced cyborg officer. As the events in the film unfold, Kusanagi begins to question her reality and discovers that there is only one person who may know the answers, the Puppet Master.
As Kusanagi confronts her reality, she begins to search for the ghost (her essence) in the shell (her cyborg body). Unknown to her, the Puppet Master seeks her as much as she seeks him.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
The film is the brainchild of the renowned animation director Hayao Miyazaki. One of his other famous works is the 2001 film Spirited Away. Howl’s Moving Castle follows the story of Sophie, a teenager who works at her late father’s hat shop.
One day, Sophie is befriended by Howl, a gaudy wizard whose home travels on its own power. As Sophie and Howl get closer, their friendship angers the Witch of the Waste, who turns Sophie into an old, ugly hag.
Sophie takes refuge in Howl’s castle and tries to reverse the spell with the help of Markl and a fire demon known as Calcifer. In America, the film was released by Walt Disney and distributed in Japanese and English versions.
4. Redline (2009)
Redline was created by the same studio that produced Summer Wars, Paprika, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Redline tells the story of JP, a dare-devil racecar driver in his search for fame in the world’s biggest and deadliest racing tournament.
Materialistic governments and organized crime groups also have a stake in the tournament and want to use it for their gain. JP chooses the beautiful Sonoshee as his racing partner. Will his choice be his undoing, or can the duo’s budding romance survive the tournament?
3. Summer Wars (2009)
Summer Wars tells the story of Kenji, a mathematics genius who gets recruited by his crush, Natsuki, to be her four-day boyfriend. Kenji then receives a math riddle on his phone through which he unknowingly breaches the security of Oz, a vast virtual world.
A malevolent artificial intelligence program known as the Love Machine begins to hijack Oz accounts, leaving destruction and chaos in its wake.
2. Sword of the Stranger (2007)
Sword of the Stranger was produced by the same studio that gave viewers Cowboy Bebop. The film is set in medieval Japan, a welcome departure from the futuristic sets in most action anime films.
The film follows the two main characters, a young boy known as a Kotaro and his faithful dog, Tobimaru. Kotaro is on the run and is trying to make a living in a deserted temple. Much to his annoyance, he encounters another squatter known as Nanashi (loosely translated to ‘No Name’).
Kotaro distrusts Nanashi from the beginning, but this soon changes when soldiers invade the temple in search of Kotaro. Sword of the Stranger is arguably the best adventure action anime.
1. Ninja Scroll (1994)
While most Japanese anime films are set in futuristic environments, Ninja Scroll takes a different approach. Its events take place in a ‘sorcery and swords’ epic set in Japan. It follows the adventures of Jubei Kipagami as he travels the Japanese countryside in search of employment.
He encounters a female ninja known as Kagero and rescues her from a rock-like creature called Tessai. Jubei and Kagero later discover that Tessai is one of the Eight Devils of Kimon.
The developing attraction between Jubei and Kagero is fascinating, as is the samurai-inspired swordplay in the film’s action sequences. Ninja Scroll is arguably the best action anime of all time.
The best action anime films listed are bound to raise your interest in the previously less-known genre. While most of the action anime films are set in the future, the hugely diverse storylines, themes, and characters make each film unique. Which movie’s storyline did you find most exciting?