For many Westerners, Dragon Ball Z was the first anime they fell in love with, or at the very least, this was an introduction into the medium. What was amazing about the show in the mid 90s was the violence. See, many may not realize this, but censors were pretty crazy about what cartoons could and could not show. Let’s look at Batman: The Animated series. It still holds up tremendously well and yes there is action, but I urge you to watch it again knowing this now. They have some really weird practices in regards to how Batman could react to villains in terms of direct contact. Point is, even with Dragon Ball Z also getting censored, it was way crazier than Batman, again, just for an example.
Personally, this was not my first anime. That award goes to Pokémon, followed by Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z close behind thanks to Toonami. Point is, they were all clumped together in my head as something new and foreign, literally. I wanted more, and now it's so easy for people to get into thanks to streaming services like Crunchyroll and even Netflix. This is the golden age of anime, but here's the dilemma. What shows are good and which should you avoid? Well, with this list, I put together a bunch of action anime similar to Dragon Ball Z in terms of style and energy. If you liked that as a kid, these picks are even better. I also threw in some duds for good measure.
25 Better: Tiger And Bunny
When you get right down to it, manga and Western comics are very different. Comics sort of idealize superheroes while manga rarely does in the traditional form.
Tiger and Bunny seemed like the first manga/anime to buck the Japanese trend in favor of real superheroes. It stars the unlikely pair of both the new and old guard trying to get along all while saving their city from certain destruction. There's plenty of action, along with a lot of heart, too.
24 Aren’t: Black Clover
I'm always looking for the next big Shonen hit. My friend had talked up the Black Clover manga for a while, so when it was announced that there was going to be an anime adaptation, I was in to finally get started.
I know a lot of the medium can be derived from other stuff, but even with familiar tropes, I can find the good in the originality. This is just another weak kid who wants to be the very best. It's just so bland.
23 Better: Soul Eater
What if Tim Burton made anime? I'm talking about peak 90s and early 2000s Tim Burton and not his current form. Well, that's what Soul Eater feels like. It's about a school of grim reapers, more or less, in training.
The visuals are unlike anything out still to this day and it's very manageable at a mere 51 episodes. It kind of got rushed toward the end, but overall, it's a gorgeous and imaginative world.
22 Aren’t: Bleach
I feel bad for putting Bleach on here. It wasn't the first manga I read, but it was the first series I started buying for myself. It's also about grim reapers in their eternal war with lost souls transformed into monsters called Hollows.
Well, that's the initial pitch, and then it goes complete Dragon Ball Z wherein much like Goku, Ichigo Kurosaki, the main character, is seemingly the only one that can save the day. It started off so good and then fell into familiar territory. It was so bad that the anime was canceled just before the manga’s final arc.
21 Better: Fooly Cooly
Putting Fooly Cooly, or FLCL, on this list may seem like a stretch. The original series was only six episodes and while it had action, that wasn't really the main focus akin to a Shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z.
I wanted to put it on here because it does have that chaotic, random energy. That, and it's just one of the best shows ever produced. Yes, it's only in a 4:3 ratio, but the Blu-ray is still gorgeous despite that flaw. This is a must watch.
20 Aren’t: Hunter X Hunter
If you read my piece on the video games that copied Dragon Ball, then this entry may not come as a surprise. Like a lot of these other shows, Hunter x Hunter started off super strong in one of the best ways possible: a tournament arc.
After that, it was still good even though the main four split up. Then, it got to the Chimera Ant arc, which featured a rip-off of Cell. It was all over the place probably because the creator, Yoshihiro Togashi, has gone in and out of hiatus. It’s so bad that fans even made a chart.
19 Better: One Piece
Okay, and now it's time for an obvious pick. There's been a lot of Shonen anime since Dragon Ball ended, the first time, but there's been none more popular in Japan than One Piece. It's been going steady since 1997! That's over twenty years of solid stuff.
The thing I like most about One Piece is the whimsy and adventurous nature of the series. Yes, there is plenty of action, but there's also a lot of comedy and intrigue, too. Eiichiro Oda, the author, is a top-notch power and character; his designs never cease to amaze me.
18 Aren’t: Fairy Tail
I have a friend, the same one that likes Black Clover by the way, that refuses to watch One Piece because it looks like a copycat of this anime, Fairy Tail. It's useless to explain to him that One Piece came first. He's one of those stubborn types.
Anyway I do, or I should say, I did like Fairy Tail, but it too succumbed to tedious and repetitive story arcs where action seemed to happen for no reason. And then the time jump happened, which broke me.
17 Better: Castlevania
The Castlevania anime on Netflix is probably the best video game adaptation in any medium. It does its own thing while borrowing elements from the source, specifically the third game.
The first season, if you can call four episodes a season, is slow, but once you get into season two, it's full steam ahead until the very end. It's dark, gory, and faithful to the source. Best of all, it has something to say while not coming across as preachy.
16 Aren’t: Inuyasha
Dragon Ball Z and Inuyasha have a lot in common in terms of their status in Western- localized anime. Dragon Ball Z was one of the first to hit Cartoon Network's Toonami block and then later on, Inuyasha was one of the first to usher in the Adult Swim era on the channel.
They were also overly repeated with years going on before new episodes were finally brought in. I got so bored the fourth time through reruns that I didn't even care to finish it. Is that the anime's fault? I guess not, but I still don’t care.
15 Better: Naruto
Naruto is also an obvious choice for this list. While One Piece hasn't made as big a splash in the West as it has in Japan, Naruto sure has. I guess that stems from the fact that pirates aren't as fantastical as ninjas since the West has pirates in history, but not ninjas.
That's just a theory. Whatever the case may be Naruto is huge and has just as much cache as Dragon Ball here. It's finally done too, so good luck with those 720 episodes before moving on to Boruto.
14 Aren’t: Tokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul wants so hard to be edgy and it is. I will give it that, but it's not in an entertaining way. I find the idea of consuming humans, like a cannibal, so unnerving.
That, and the fact that it switches perspectives with the main character a lot that it was really hard to sympathize with him. With each season, it reset the status quo, but not in a good way.
13 Better: Magi: The Labyrinth Of Magic
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is a great show I discovered in college that no one has seemed to have seen. It's also one in limbo right now, seeing as it premiered in 2012 with the last season airing in 2014.
It left off on a big cliffhanger and I've been waiting ever since. The manga finished in 2017, so I’m still crossing my fingers it’s being worked on. That was kind of a downer intro, but let me easily sell you on this. Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is like anime Aladdin.
12 Aren’t: The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins was the first Netflix anime that really sold me on their service, at least in terms of providing new anime. It was a cool twist on the concept of the Biblical sins with tons of cool magic, comedy, and fan service. Er, maybe a little too much fan service.
I was hooked until last year's season 2 premiered, which introduced the concept of power levels and a magical device that could scan people. Talk about ripping off something. It made the show worse and I was so bummed.
11 Better: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist is a great show for numerous reasons. First of all, not many shows get reboots. See, the original anime was loosely based on the manga for the beginning and then, because the manga wasn't done, the anime had to fill in the rest for some weird revelations.
The reboot, Brotherhood, is a more faithful translation and the better of the two for good reason. It's an easily-digestible, 64-episode run that you won't want to put down.
10 Aren’t: Mobile Fighter G Gundam
This is the franchise's answer to Dragon Ball Z, straight up. Most series in this giant pantheon are about war, but you get to see both sides of the equitation. It's not all black and white, which makes these individual series so good above other mech anime.
Then, there was Mobile Fighter G Gundam, which was about a world tournament to determine who ruled the world. I put it on the bad list because it defeats the purpose of the series. It’s also kind of hilarious, in a bad way.
9 Better: Attack On Titan
Attack on Titan is the Game of Thrones of anime. That is to say, no one is safe. Oh, you like that character? Too bad, he's toast in the most embarrassing way possible.
That may be a negative for some, but in shows like this, it keeps the stakes high and when numbers dwindle, it means something. I was a little put back by the monster designs, which still look ridiculous, but I'm past that now because the story and action is so good!
8 Aren’t: Saiyuki
Did you know that Dragon Ball is based on almost a five-hundred-year-old novel? It's true! Journey to the West is thought to have been written as far back as 1592. I should add that it's very loosely based on the novel.
Another anime that's a bit more literal is Saiyuki. It's basically a show for girls as it's about four men traveling together who look like models straight out of TigerBeat. So yeah, it's not for me.
7 Better: Big O
What if Batman took place in Japan, and instead of a Batmobile, he piloted a giant, and I mean giant, mech? That's basically Big O in a nutshell. It might be older like Fooly Cooly, but it still beats a lot of other shows.
If you think too hard about the plot, wherein an entire city loses its memories, it starts to fall apart. Come for the silly characters and titanic metal action and you won't be disappointed. Let's go Megadeus!
6 Better: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
“Hey Tristan, you should read JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure since you like vampires.” That's what a friend tried to force on me at Barnes and Noble back in high school once. It looked old, so I ignored it. Flash-forward about a decade later when an anime finally got off the ground and now I'm hooked.
If you thought Dragon Ball was the manliest anime out, you have not seen JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Even though it has rippling heroes duke it out, fights are a lot smarter. It takes brains, not just brawn.
5 Better: Gurren Lagann
I'm not sure what has more machismo actually. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, or Gurren Lagann? It's certainly the most manly mech show out there. The Fooly Cooly studio, Gainax, also does it so the animation is top notch.
It's also on the shorter side, but way more than six episodes at a good 27. I caught this on SyFy, funnily enough, back when they showed anime and before the name swap. It'll get your heart pumping that's for sure.
4 Aren’t: Ranma ½
Ranma ½ is almost as old as Dragon Ball. The manga premiered in 1987 compared to Dragon Ball in 1984. Both start off as wacky martial arts comedies with Dragon Ball, but in the later years, it becomes more serious.
Ranma ½ never gave up on it's wacky concept of people falling into magic pools in China and turning into random things. Ranma gets turned into a girl when splashed with cold water and his father gets transformed into a panda. It's a funny concept that lasts way too long.
3 Better: My Hero Academia
Tiger and Bunny may have been the first to Marvel up the anime world, but My Hero Academia perfected it. Seriously, what can I say about it? I have the feeling it's the new Naruto in terms of popularity in the West.
Before season one came out in 2016, I was kind of in an anime slump. This was so good that it reawakened my love in the medium and now I’m back in baby. How could I not include it on this list then?
2 Better: One Punch Man
One Punch Man is basically a parody of Dragon Ball Z. For that matter, it's a farce of a lot of action anime. The thing that people tend to watch these types of anime for is heroes getting out of fantastical situations.
How is “blank” going to get out of this one? In this show, it's more like how long is Saitama going to play around with the enemy before ending things with literally one punch. Ah, it's so good!
1 Better: Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill is also a parody of sorts, only this anime is aimed at taking down magical girl shows. You know, like Sailor Moon, wherein pretty girls get to dress up and fight bad guys.
Ryuko gets a Sailor suit as well, but it's a bit more out there. It may seem like blatant fan service, which it can be, but you'll start to learn that it's a statement on fashion in general. It's the girl version of Dragon Ball I guess is my pitch.