So you watched all 26 episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and the End of Evangelion movies on Netflix, but now you aren’t sure what to watch next. The good news is that in the more than 20 years since Evangelion originally aired, it’s become a seminal work of anime, and it inspired a lot of different animators, writers, and directors. They’ve built off what the series did, finding different ways to explore similar ideas in their own works.
One of Evangelion’s strongest themes is about people making connections with each other. So much of the series is about the characters talking to each other but not really communicating. They struggle to convey what they’re feeling in meaningful ways and to be open with each other. (The series’s AT fields are physical manifestations of the barriers that keep people separated.) This ends up causing many characters’ downfalls and explaining why others are pursuing the Human Instrumentality Project to begin with.
The difficulty of connection has been explored in a lot of different shows before and since. But here are some more recent shows that took it up in ways both more and less fantastical. They’re worth watching for people who are interested in Evangelion’s themes and how they explore the human condition.
Sarazanmai (2019, 11 episodes)
Coincidentally wrapping up just as Evangelion hit Netflix, Sarazanmai is the latest series from acclaimed director Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon). The series is about three middle school boys who run afoul of a mythical Japanese creature called a Kappa. The Kappa turns them into Kappas and offers to make them human again only after they defeat a “kappa zombie” that is magically stealing things from people in the city.
The show is a purposefully eccentric, confusing spectacle at the start. But over the course of the series, it begins to hone the importance of connections between people. It touches on the ways people can do terrible things to themselves and others because they feel like that’s the only way to stay connected.
SSSS.Gridman (2018, 12 episodes)
SSSS.Gridman is about Yuta, a high schooler in a fictional Japanese city, who one day wakes up with no memories. He’s found by Rikka, a girl in his class, who takes him to her home where he sees visions in a computer of a strange robot who says that once he finishes his mission, he can return Yuta’s memories. That involves transforming Yuta into the giant superhero Gridman to fight kaiju that attack the city. Yuta, Rikka, and Yuta’s friend Sho start seeing giant kaiju that are frozen around their city, seemingly invisible to everyone else.
Most of the drama in each episode doesn’t have to do with fighting giant monsters. It’s more about the interpersonal relationships that develop as the characters learn more about why their world is the way it is. Like Sarazanmai, the show slowly reveals what it’s really about: how to connect with and rely on other people.
Kiznaiver (2016, 12 episodes)
Set in a fictional future Japanese city, the story follows seven high schoolers who are linked by something called the Kizna System, which runs throughout the city. The system makes it so that they each feel the physical and emotional pain the others experience. The makers of the system hope it can help people — even those with very different lives — empathize and bond.
The series was written by Mari Okada (Anohana, Toradora, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans) whose work frequently touches on themes of connecting and opening up. Like SSSS.Gridman, Kiznaiver was animated at studio Trigger. But unlike Gridman and the other series on this list, Kiznaiver makes this theme part of the show’s text, rather than the subtext. That lets Okada explore it differently. She’s able to more explicitly show how trying not to connect or holding something painful in can hurt other people as much as it hurts the person who’s holding back.
Streaming dubbed and subtitled on Crunchyroll.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie (2017, 11 episodes)
Moriko is 30 and an incredibly successful career woman, but she quits her overly stressful job suddenly to spend her life living alone and playing video games. She starts playing an MMORPG where she makes a male character and befriends a high-level female character named Lily who invites her to join her guild. In the real world, Moriko keeps running into a young businessman named Yuta, who, unknown to her, is Lily’s player.
MMO Junkie is a rom-com with much of the humor and drama coming from the duality of identity both online and in person. But it also uses those moments to explore how connections to people online aren’t any more or less real than in-person interactions, especially as the lines separating characters from players start to blur.
Streaming dubbed and subtitled on Crunchyroll.
My Roommate is a Cat (2019, 12 episodes)
Subaru is a 23-year-old reclusive writer who lives alone in his family home after his parents died in an accident while traveling. While he’s visiting their graves, he happens upon a small stray cat that he ends up taking home with him and naming Haru. Unsure of how to take care of Haru, he ends up relying more on the people in his life and befriending new ones.
At first blush, this series seems like it’s just going to be a cute show about a guy and his new cat. While it has moments like that, it’s actually about Subaru and Haru helping each other work through their own trauma and anxieties. While they don’t fully understand each other, their connection helps Subaru connect and open up more with the people around him.
After the Rain (2018, 12 episodes)
Akira was a star of the high school track team until a leg injury sidelined her, which causes her to fall into a depression. After a doctor’s appointment, she visits a family restaurant to wait out a rainstorm, and the store manager, middle-aged divorcee Masami, gives her some coffee on the house while she waits. This act of kindness causes her to develop a crush on him, and she gets a job working at the restaurant part-time to get close to him.
While this sort of age difference in relationships can be problematic in the real world, here, it never develops beyond a one-sided longing. Even so, Akira and Masami’s connection helps both of them get out of the ruts they’ve fallen into and pushes them to start reconnecting with people they’ve neglected. Akira starts seeing a life beyond track and her injury, while Masami gets back the confidence and self-worth he lost after his divorce.
Streaming subtitled on Amazon Prime.
A Silent Voice (2017)
When Shoya was in elementary school, a deaf girl named Shoko joined his class. Shoya and some of the other kids bullied her, which eventually reaches the principal. Shoya becomes the class scapegoat, his peers ostracize him, and he isolates himself out of guilt. This continues into high school when he happens upon Shoko again. Having learned some sign language since elementary school, he tries to make amends.
A Silent Voice explores connecting with other people through nonverbal communication, most of which goes beyond sign language. To quote from a review I wrote when A Silent Voice came to North American theaters, “It also comes across in the way characters change their hairstyles to be more confident and more appealing to their crushes. Or the way Shoko’s younger sister takes pictures of dead animals and puts them up all over their shared apartment. That initially just seems like a weird personality quirk. But it brings across something she’s trying to communicate to Shoko without actually coming out and saying it.” The movie shows that connecting with other people can be hard because communicating is difficult at the best of times.
Streaming dubbed and subtitled on Netflix.