Best old anime: Why Naoki Urasawa’s Monster anime is still worth a watch even 18 years later

Monster classic old anime
The Monster anime is one of the best classic anime of the 21st century. Pic credit: Studio Madhouse

Naoki Urasawa’s original anime Monster is one of the classic anime that fans and critics both agree to be amazing, even 18 years later. It was voted as the best anime of 2004.

The anime Monster explores themes like obsession and paranoia amidst a gripping story of crime and suspense. April 2022 marks 18 years since the first episode premiered, but the series is still worth revisiting.

We look back at this best old anime, what makes it so special, and why it’s worth rewatching today?

What sets the classic Monster anime apart?

Monster is one of the most acclaimed anime in the world. Many people think of it as a classic, but they’re unsure if it’s still worth watching today.

While it was definitely made at a different time in anime history, it presents stories and themes that are still eternally relevant. It’s easy to see why people say Monster brought new depth and realism to storytelling in anime, and it’s also easy to argue that Monster still holds up today.

It’s got a gripping story and great characters, beautiful but realistic art style, and it leaves you wanting more.

Here is a list of 8 reasons why you should think about watching the classic old anime Monster:

1. The animation is excellent and still holds up 18 years after its initial release

The animation style of Monster has been described as both realistic and haunting. The art style is different from most popular anime today because it was created at a time when most anime was 2D.

The art style also emphasized facial expressions more than some anime that came later. Cyberpunk movies and anime often explore similar themes, but Urasawa’s use of color and shading sets apart his work.

Urasawa’s art style is an excellent fit for the anime and manga medium.

2. It will keep you on the edge of your seat

Monster offers a fresh look, unlike those typical Shōnen anime stories, where the protagonist starts off weak and grows stronger as the series progresses. Instead, it follows Dr. Kenzo Tenma, from the beginning as an already morally strong character who must decide on a moral dilemma and protect those he cares about while also trying to understand himself more. He chooses to save the life of a little orphaned boy instead of a city’s official, which becomes the catalyst for a falling series of dominoes throughout the series.

The plot unfolds layer upon layer of plot twists and mysteries. The main plot twist is that Dr. Kenzo’s decision to save the child ended up backfiring in a major way. Nine years later he finds out that Johan Liebert (the orphan) is a serial killer with a nihilist approach to life. He tortures his victims not only to the brink of human suffering and pain but to the point where they kill themselves to end the torment.

Monster is an anime that is both grounded and unflinching in the face of moral greyness and ambiguity that surrounds Dr. Kenzo’s decision. While the show may be praised for its character-building so much, its Eisner Award-winning author will leave you pondering the philosophical nature of right and wrong.

Inspector Heinrich Lunge
Inspector Heinrich Lunge was investigating Johan’s case. Pic credit: Studio Madhouse

3. It has a great storyline

Monster is a mystery story that was made into an anime before being adapted into the critically acclaimed Monster manga. There are plenty of mystery and suspense stories from talented mangaka the world over, but few can capture the quiet and thoughtful eeriness of Monster whose appeal has lasted more than a decade.

It explores the nature of ‘good vs evil’ and the inherent flaws that exist in all human beings. It truly tells a good story without hinging its story beats on comical bits or over-the-top action scenes to keep viewers engaged. The story covers a lot of ground, but at its heart, it’s an emotional story about trust.

Set in Germany, surrounding the story of Doctor Tenma, a renowned young neurosurgeon begins to question both his humanity and professional judgment when confronted with a hard choice where the surgeon’s oath of “do no harm” is impossible to keep.

This is only one of many intriguing facets of this series, which dives into topics such as social psychology, government corruption, along with what it means to be a doctor or have a profession where life and death are at the touch of your fingertips. The colorful characters are diverse and distinct, yet somehow unified under common ideals, whether scientific or moral.

4. It has strong characters

The characters created in Monster are well written and resemble everyday people that populate everyday life both good and bad.

The author uses archetypes in order to represent different people throughout the world. The story itself highlights how these archetypes (or stereotypes) can influence us in our everyday life. Urasawa, when asked in an interview – why he always creates such grown-up characters, said:

“Even when I was a child, I didn’t like manga for children. So whenever adults around me tried to show me something aimed at children, I always thought: “They’re not taking me seriously!” So that’s why I really want children who are like me, if they exist in today’s world, to read my stories.”

The villain is just as complex as the protagonist, which makes the plot more interesting. Johan Liebert is a skillful manipulator that can use his extraordinary intelligence and other people’s weakness to his advantage. The story is not just about one messed-up accident of saving a life of a future villain, it has a great deal to do with human psychology especially when you go deep into darker levels.

Monster Dieter
Dieter, a child Dr. Tenma saved from an abusive home. Pic credit: Studio Madhouse

5. This anime touches on a lot of real-world issues that people face every day

It is an anime that explores many real-world issues, ranging from the moral dilemma of if it’s right to kill someone to save many, to the social issue of a society letting criminals go free in order to protect their families. These are things we face every day, and they contribute to the depth and realism of Monster.

6. It is respectful to the viewer’s time; it is not too long and has a fast pace

Despite being such a long show, there’s no filler or wasted time in Monster. If you are a true lover of the crime/mystery genre with a psychological twist you would be hard-pressed to find a boring moment. It’s filled with a slow simmering build-up that keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

What makes Monster so special is that the show doesn’t go on for too long. The anime adapts the manga, which means that 80 or so chapters are covered in about 75 episodes. Even though it’s a long series, it’s able to maintain high levels of tension throughout.

Dr. Kenzo Tenma Johan serial killer animated gif
Johan pointing to his forehead as if inviting Dr. Kenzo Tenma to shoot him. Pic credit: Studio Madhouse

7. The Monster OST music soundtrack is excellent

The first thing that struck you about Monster is the opening theme, “Grain. The song is composed by Kuniaki Haishima who has done a splendid job because it complements the visuals perfectly.

This anime drama doesn’t feel like a Japanese product from the early 2000’s simply because the music production is top-notch, to say the least. The excellent use of sound creates such mood and tension.

8. It’s just plain enjoyable

Monster is a suspense/thriller anime that depicts the life of Dr. Kenzo Tenma who, after saving a child, makes it his mission to find the evil mastermind behind the murders that have sent the whole country into panic.

The series is fleshed out by its well-thought-out characters with depth, gruesome gore that really gets under the skin in an imaginative way, and a visual style that you will either love or it will scare you to death.

Monster anime characters
Dr. Kenzo Tenma watching over Johan Liebert. Pic credit: Studio Madhouse

You should watch Monster anime because…

Monster is more than a classic anime. It’s a work of art, one that you should watch if you’re into mysteries with complex characters, all set in a realistic world that feels like your own, but has a supernatural twist to it.

There are very few animes that have stuck around and continue to be appreciated by new and old fans alike, even after all this time. The anime has done an excellent job of encapsulating everything that made the series so special and memorable; there’s no doubt in my mind that the experience will be both thrilling and rewarding.

Beautiful writing, a solid plot that doesn’t rely on cheap twists and turns, high-quality animation, and impressive voice acting make this series worth rewatching years after it was first released as one of the best old anime.

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