This 1997 anime adapted from Kentaro Miura's manga is a fantasy-based war story showcasing the mercenary commander Griffith aspiring to rule a kingdom. The anime covering the manga’s prologue masterfully portrays Griffith's rise to power, descent into madness and the resulting tragedy. Griffith and series protagonist Guts become unlikely friends over the course of several episodes.
Their friendship alters their lives and the world, ending in an iconically brutal and tragic ending. Berserk develops and paces this rather than rush it last minute in a tightly-paced epilogue. Also, there's plenty of nudity for those who miss that.
While not all entries in this franchise may be worth the time, there are many worthwhile entries, and Fate/Zero is the best place to start coming to it after Game of Thrones. Fate/Zero by Gen Urobuchi is a prequel to the visual novel that started it all and arguably one of the best adaptations of the franchise. It’s a battle royale series involving mages summoning heroic spirits to clash to obtain the wish-granting "Holy Grail". While much of the war occurs within the series, it introduces the larger story perfectly, to extend to other anime, battle games, a mobile game, and light novels.
Missing Game of Thrones’ political drama? Well most stories fail to handle political drama as well as this title expanding through one-hundred-ten twenty-five minute episodes and several movies. And while shorter than Game of Thrones, it makes exceptional use of its time.
This is a space opera showcasing a young man rising from nothing to overthrow a dynasty via ingenious political maneuvering, with political intrigue spanning across space in a series which took almost ten years to create. It nails perspective and consequences while achieving the rare accomplishment of being a long-running series that retained its quality all the way.
Lelouch vi Britannia, Code Geass’ protagonist, is a deliciously clever and manipulative character who genuinely believes in the cause he fights for. However, his power risks corruption, meaning a war with madness. This makes him the perfect cross between Daenarys Targaryen and Petyr Baelish: a cunning man who utilizes his world's resources and magnificent subterfuge to break the wheel on his own terms.
And his journey ends not in violence flimsily excused by vague foreshadowing, but in one last grand act of both cunning and sacrifice that is the perfect and logical culmination of his arc.
Arslan Senki centers around Prince Arslan of Pars. Arslan’s royal father doubts his merit, causing Arslan considerable self-doubt. One day the Kingdom of Lusitania invades and seizes Pars, with Arslan's father defeated and imprisoned. Isolated, Arslan gathers the faithful and moves to liberate his kingdom.
Arslan's arc is like Robb Stark's. After the fall of their father, they're forced to go their own way and defend their fathers’ legacies, forced to navigate the moral and political landscape around them. His war isn't just about winning battles, but about mediating between what is right for his kingdom and acceptable morality.
Attack on Titan is about a society separated from the outside world and murderous Titans. A trio of young warriors train and grow while their society retreats inward as the Titans breach the wall that has protected humanity.
Good humans fighting evil Titans is oversimplifying the actual conflict stretching beyond. The main characters journey into the wilderness for long-buried answers to dangerous questions while rich snobs sit away from lower-society burdens. The conflict gains more light and isn’t shafted off to a gradually later point.
These shows center on somewhat realistic worlds where humanity's actions define the narrative. Many characters are morally gray and are thrown together into situations that bring out their worst.
Moribito takes place in a particularly feudal version of Japan with a fantastical twist. It follows a warrior named Balsa protecting the young Prince Chagun from sects who believe a demon resides in him. The supernatural entity is real, but its nature is a mystery. Basically, think Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
One of Moribito's strengths is the relationship between Balsa and Chagun. Balsa is experienced and skilled enough to fight for the young prince, demonstrating this in several incredible fight scenes. Chagun develops beautifully from spoiled brat to an incredible leader. Their chemistry is the crux of this twenty-six-episode series.
Dorothy and Toto are not in the Seven Kingdoms anymore. Originally a series of novels written by Japanese novelist Fuyumi Ono, The Twelve Kingdoms share many similarities with George R.R. Martin's dark fantasy epic. Both series contain massive worldbuilding and more than one main character, exploring various perspectives in the same universe.
A Japanese schoolgirl named Youko enters a fantasy world and meets an entity claiming she is a queen. From there, her journey forces her to evolve from bashful young girl to the queen her kingdom needs. However, her story is not the only one this narrative concerns. Multiple characters and inter-world travelers showcase themselves in this expansive worldbuilding, all within their own generations of time.
As a more somber comparison, the novels are still ongoing, with its last entry published a long while ago. Fortunately the anime never went to finish the story on its own with disappointing and rushed results. All the same, anyone who checks out the anime or the novels will have a stellar journey.
Proof that great characters can be more than enough, here's an anime about, well, Tanya the Evil. Tanya is a prodigious commander in a fantastical war. Too capable for her own good, Tanya is cold-hearted and vindictive, but can also go in over her head. While a devious tactician most of the time, she also loses when defeat is the logical outcome for her, making her feel more real as an imperfect character.
This diminutive psychopath is someone to root for: an adorable but astonishingly cool badass with no restraints and style that the White Walkers would anti-climatically shatter at.
Xin and Piao are orphans from China’s lower classes. One day Piao is mysteriously abducted, isolating Xin in a peasant village. Months later, Piao returns and sends Xin to another village before dying. There he meets King Ying Zheng of Qin, for whom Piao had died as a body double of. From there, Xin enters a struggle for the fate of China.
Both shows involve a multi-factional conflict exploring war's effects, strategies and tactics. Xin feels like a George R.R. Martin character: not someone who can singlehandedly win a battle, but one piece in a grander strategic vision.