Over a century has passed since Japanese animation began churning out some of the trippiest, most visually stunning works of art. Here are some of the best trippy anime to watch high. They are best served with an ice-cold hit.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022)
Based on the game Cyberpunk 2077, this stunning Polish-Japanese anime lives up to its name – and namesake – in every way. It draws on everything that makes the game and a cyberpunk anime series great. From making full use of its futuristic dystopian world to its gorgeous animation and music, this is a show you absolutely must watch high to fully appreciate.
Japanese animation dates back to 1907’s “Katsudō Shashin.” The earliest known anime broadcast on television is the 1960 short film “Three Tales.” The industry has come a long way since then, and Redline is perhaps one of the best examples of its growth. It is also, sadly, one of the best examples of passion and skill being criminally underrated.
The anime’s premise is built around an underground car race in a futuristic world. What makes Redline stand out is its gorgeous and highly stylized animation, which remains an inspiration to animators and artists over a decade later. The studio behind it, Madhouse, is no stranger to creating visual masterpieces that sadly don’t make bank. But many, such as Claymore and, of course, Redline, have gone on to acquire cult followings.
Most of the trippiest anime tend to be sci-fi marvels set in technologically advanced cities and dystopian futures. And this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, these are the tales that allow animators to truly flex their skills.
Paprika, or Atsuko, is a therapist by day and a detective by night. Her weapon of choice: a tool that allows her to enter patients’ dreams. When the device is stolen, she must recover it before it falls into the wrong hands.
This anime has been described as everything from eerie and surreal to a full-blown acid trip. Paired with its premise, it offers a pretty wild ride.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
The Ghost in the Shell franchise has spawned several gems, including the original 1995 film that would reshape the sci-fin genre. But one of its most underrated – and frequently criticized – films is the second film, “Innocence.”
The sequel to the original, it follows Section 9 operatives Batou and Togusa who attempt to uncover a case pertaining to malfunctioning gynoids – or futuristic sex robots – all while trying to figure out what happened to the Major.
The film’s deeply philosophical themes and seemingly convoluted plot weren’t particularly a hit. While some critics praised it for these very reasons, others found it numbing and ultimately pointless in the overall franchise. But its extremely trippy visuals, especially its most philosophical sequence set in a house of mysteries, make it one of the most intriguing and original anime of our time.
Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
There is a lot to unpack in this cyberpunk anime, ranging from philosophy, literature, and conspiracies to concepts like reality and identity. It follows Lain Iwakura and her fight against a global communications network called The Wired.
The core concept isn’t novel in and of itself, even for its time. What makes this show groundbreaking, however, is its use of abstract symbolism and surrealism to convey its message. Serial Experiments Lain is a stunning audiovisual experience and a trip that’s worth taking several times over.
Paranoia Agent (2004)
An elementary school child terrorizes a town in a series of crimes that leave him dubbed the “bat bot” or “Lil’ Slugger.” None of his victims can recall his face. Yet they do remember his baseball cap, inline skates, and weapon of choice: a bent golden baseball bat.
Paranoia Agent is a crime thriller on the surface. But beneath that thin veil is a psychological and philosophical meditation on the human condition.
The anime foregoes a standard straightforward narrative style. Instead, it offers a disturbingly strange approach, one that will have you questioning your own reality by the end.
The Tatami Galaxy (2010)
Madhouse struck gold yet again with Tatami Galaxy. The story revolves around an unnamed university student who bemoans the state of his life. Each episode follows a parallel universe where he joins a different student society, and each ends with his optimism dashed and his hope destroyed.
The show’s selling points are definitely its stunning and unique art paired with its witty script full of wordplay. But its take on human emotions and the meaning of life make it the kind of anime that will linger in the back of your mind for a long time.
Adam by Eve: A Live in Animation (2022)
Anime is nothing if not experimental. Singer-songwriter and Vocaloid producer Eve is behind this bit of innovative artistry. One that blends anime with live-action and music, essentially producing a trippy sonic dreamscape that is part music video part psychedelic trip.
Millennium Actress (2001)
Unlike other trippy anime to watch high, Millennium Actress begins innocuously enough: as an animated documentary of a retired acting legend. Yet, as she recounts her life from childhood to fame, the lines between reality and cinema start to blur.
But despite its seemingly unsettling plot, this anime is not designed to leave you feeling ungrounded. On the contrary, it leaves you feeling whole. And while there may be a wealth of questions left unanswered, you find that it doesn’t really matter at all.
Perfect Blue (1997)
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the psychological thriller Perfect Blue, unsettling from start to finish and harrowing in every way imaginable.
The story follows Mima, a Japanese idol who decides to leave behind the glam of her idol life in favor of pursuing an acting career. As her worlds collide, she begins to lose her grip on reality. It remains one of the most terrifying animes ever created, and its uniquely exaggerated and stylized art is definitely one of the reasons for this legacy.
Cat Soup (2001)
All things trippy require multiple viewings to truly appreciate their beauty and depth. Others, like Cat Soup, demand your full attention because the moment you blink, you miss a wealth of subtext.
The short experimental film revolves around an anthropomorphic kitten seeking the land of the dead to save his sister’s soul. Creepy horror and soul-stirring surrealism blend in jarring ways in this piece. Yet, in the end, it all comes together in a way that will have you hitting the “play from beginning” button over and over.
Dead Leaves (2004)
This sci-fi begins with two individuals who awaken naked and with no memories. They discover they have superior physical abilities and do what any sane person would: embark on a devastating crime spree to secure basic necessities. Their inevitable subsequent arrest sends them to Dead Leaves, a prison on a half-destroyed moon.
What begins as a totally wacky sci-fi devolves into utter insanity, with an art and animation style to match. If you pick just one trippy anime to watch high, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop
There are many different ways anime can heighten a trip. And its use of color is definitely one of the most mesmerizing ways.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a heart-warming slice of life, the kind that invokes a deep nostalgia for youthful summers and simpler times. But beyond its plot, the anime uses bright, vivid colors to tell its story. This backdrop simply adds to the vibe, making your heart call out for a time and place you’ve long forgotten.
And it also makes for a wonderfully magical trip.
Fooly Cooly (FLCL) (2000)
Coming-of-age and colors are a match made in heaven, and Fooly Fooly (or “Furi Kuri”) is another anime that shows mastery over this blend. But where movies Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop uses color to tell its vibrant summery tale of daily life, FLCL uses color to tell a zany tale of one boy’s search for meaning and identity.
When a regular boy meets a maniacal girl who causes strange things to grow out of his head, his world ends up upside down. And soon, he finds himself in the middle of an intergalactic battle.
Unlike the general attempts to make animation fluid and seamless common in most of the trippy anime to watch high listed here, FLCL leans into its surreal, idiosyncratic storyline and goes for a more erratic style. Alongside its pastel color schemes and a stunning soundtrack crafted entirely by The Pillows, this style works in the best way possible.
Let’s be honest – you could probably trip on any of the films in the Studio Ghibli catalog. But Spirited Away definitely takes the cake as one of their most psychedelic. This is, of course, in part due to the colors and animation style. But it owes much of its trippiness to its plot, characters, and concept art.
A Dream is Just The Internet on Acid
Art is the ability to express the deepest darkest microcosms of our souls. Anime, however, is the ability to bring to life aspects of the human mind that have never seen the light of day.
If there’s one thing to take away from these trippy anime to watch high, it’s that there is always a deeper level of understanding beneath what we think we know. You just need to look a little harder. Or, perhaps, you need to allow the thought to deconstruct into fragments of animated genius. Either way, it’s a trip you won’t forget.
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