Cowboys, outlaws, lawmen – They are all iconic to the long-gone lawless days of the Wild West. While cattle drives and saloon towns have been replaced by starbucks runs and spa towns in many of those once-lawless areas, media still keeps it alive. While few anime series can be compared to true Western movies and novels, they can often capture the same spirit. If you are interested in seeing what cowboy-feel anime can capture, then try any one of these great series.
A more distinctly Western anime you will never find. While many other series have some Western themes, Trigun fully embraces melding sci-fi, space, and the Wild West into a very successful setting. Not only is it set on the desert planet that highly resembles the idea of the Wild West in everything from the desert to the saloon towns, but you also follow the outlaw with a heart of gold main character. While the plot travels into more sci-fi territory at times, much of it is Vash seeking to settle things with his brother and fighting those that seek to kill him in epic gun fights.
This series is particularly unique. It is an alternate setting of the Space Pirate Captain Harlock universe in which Captain Harlock is not a space captain, but a ship captain. He heads to the United States with Tochiro, his samurai friend, and they tear up the Wild West looking for lost Japanese Immigrants. If you are into Wild West stereotypes, this is one for the books.
El Cazador de la Bruja
Although the setting looks somewhat Western, El Cazador de la Bruja actually takes place in Mexico with a world that is relatively technically advanced. However, its south of the border setting pairs perfectly with the Wild West themes it presents. The story follows a bounty hunter who, instead of capturing her charge and turning her in, decides to protect her amnesiac ward as they travel to find the thing they are looking for. There’s danger abound on the open road, though, especially with others seeking them out.
Anime has a certain penchant for the genre of “space westerns,” and Cowboy Bebop is one of the quintessential ones. Despite happening in a universe where humans travel space as they please, it is presented as the “new” Wild West. A frontier rife with lawlessness. Enter the Bebop Crew, a crew of ragtag bounty hunters brought together through circumstance and constantly chasing criminals to put meat on the table. Spike is certainly as cool as a cowboy of old, and the rest of the crew also displays some classic Western character tropes as well.
This series is a unique one. It simultaneous combines space opera, pirate, and Western themes into a tidy, lovable package. It follows a young man that wants to someday have a space ship of his own. To follow this dream, he takes on a series of odd jobs, but one of them actually ends up with him being on the run with a treasure-hunting outlaw. From there, this skyrockets the crew in to a universe full of adventure.
Coyote Ragtime Show
While Cowboy Bebop and Trigun both rose to great popularity, Coyote Ragtime Show remains quite underrated. However, it shares a lot of the same Western themes primarily due to the fact that it follows a few outlaws on a good, old-fashioned treasure hunt. While it has a few other themes and the Western theme plays a lesser part, the gun play and the hard-fightin’ main character give you that great Wild West vibe.
Gun x Sword
This series is what I like to call a “samurai western”. In it, you have a lone swordsman on a quest for vengeance, but like any good Western story, he happens across a girl that needs his help. Initially he declines, but after a run-in with bandits, he agrees to help since they ticked him off enough. Gruff loner? Innocent girl? Story of vengeance against a man only identified by one characteristic? It is a classic Western story mix, they just replaced the guns with swords.
While cheesy as hell in terms of plot, Grenadier is technically a Western-themed anime with a female gunslinger as the main character. Although she is an expert with a gun, instead of fighting, she goes around taking away people’s will to fight with a smile. Of course, when that fails, as it often does, she uses fan service and bullets!
This series is post-apocalypse meets Western. After the world ended, what was left reverted to very much how the Wild West was. You have good guys and bad guys, but mostly you have morally ambiguous people that work in shades of grey. Furthermore, this time, not unlike the Wild West, is a time where you can take odd jobs to make ends meet. No need for a dedicated profession when you can be literally everything.
You may think we picked this one purely because Grave wears a cowboy hat in the future, but you’d wrong! We actually picked Gungrave because the first part of the anime heavily mirrors a lot of Western themes despite being in a somewhat modern world. It focuses on a group of criminals, not unlike your average outlaws, that end up mixed with a mafia family. While this is happening, you witness a lawless and almost hopeless city where you never see police and the only violence comes from other gangs. While the future arc changes to more sci-fi tones, you still get yourself a classic Western-esque plot line of revenge.
In truth, there aren’t a lot of Western-themed anime series, just like there aren’t a lot of good samurai movies made by Hollywood. For now, these will have to hold you over until Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure anime reaches the Steel Ball Run portion. Now that will be one fun Western-themed ride. Anyway, on the off chance we missed one or you think another series embraces the themes of old school Westerns, let us know in the comments below.