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Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

Check out photos from Anime Expo 2009 in Shannon Cottrell's slideshow "Anime Madness: Cosplay Characters at Anime Expo '09."

This Thursday, tens of thousands of anime fans will head downtown to the Los Angeles

Convention Center for Anime Expo. The largest anime con in the U.S., AX will feature four days of panels, concerts, screenings and cosplay.

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo
Shannon Cottrell

If you're looking for an anime fix before you head out to the convention, check out the list below. This isn't meant to be a list of the best animes ever created, it's simply a compilation of series that I tend to recommend to people (many of the titles were, likewise, recommended to me by other fans). Nearly all of the titles here came out within the last decade.

10. Witch Hunter Robin

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

Robin Sena is a teenage witch hunter with the international SOLOMON organization who uses her own talent of starting fires (called a "craft") to destroy genetic witches before their talents become too powerful. Yes, it's as ironic of a situation as it sounds.

Soon enough, our young firestarter begins to question her work and the organization, which will inevitably lead to far greater problems.

9. Samurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo is Shinichiro Watanabe's follow-up to Cowboy Bebop. While Cowboy Bebop is one of those series that even your non-anime obsessed friends have probably seen, Samurai Champloo remains less well-known. The series is an Edo Period/hip-hop mash-up that follows the adventures of three unlikely travel companions on a quest for a samurai who smells like sunflowers. The past and the present collide against a beautiful score created in a large part by late Japanese DJ Nujabes.

My own favorite episode is "Artistic Anarchy," which features punk yakuza, ukiyo-e paintings and somehow makes a connection to Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

8. Chobits

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

In the Chobits world, just about everyone has a persocom, a computer that appears human. Hideki Motosuwa cannot afford a persacom, but soon he stumbles upon a beautiful, abandoned one that he names Chi.

There are a lot of layers to this series. It's a slapstick comedy with a mystery (who is Chi?) embedded within it. At the same time, though, Chobits asks an important question about technology. At what point do computers become so engrained in our lives that they stand in the way of interpersonal relationships?

Chobits was created by Clamp, an all-female collective of artists and writers who have done some great work over the years. Check out Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles and xxxholic if you have a chance too.

7. Eureka 7

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

It was easy to get hooked on Eureka 7. The first episode, titled "Blue Monday" (as in the best dance song ever) opens with a kid named Renton (yes, like Trainspotting) complaining about how much everything "sucks." Then a giant robot piloted by a blue-haired girl crashes into his home, forever changing his life. There are tons of references to surf culture and music peppering the show. Beastie Boys fans will crack a big grin upon hearing the name of Renton's father, Adroc.

Eureka 7 does a great job of mixing battles with an exploration of the characters' relationships. Renton and Eureka, the girl who crashed into his room, have a sweet story of first love that balances the action of the series.

6. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo
Shannon Cottrell

Think back to your high school years and try to recall how intensely boring they really were. Now imagine what life would have been like if all the characters you wish you had met, the time travelers, espers and aliens, were real. That, in a nutshell, is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Read more in "The Fandom of Haruhi Suzumiya."

5. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

Gankutsuou is a drastic retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo set in the distant future. It's a beautifully animated series, with dramatic colors and patterns layered to create an unusual, futuristic take on 19th century France.

Even though Gankutsuou takes place in the 51st century, much of the look, and story, retains the setting of the original. Spaceships are juxtaposed with carriages. The class system is still intact and plays a huge part in the drama. The costumes, which were designed by Anna Sui, mix 19th and 20th century references.

4. Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most confusing, yet rewarding, anime series I've seen. Had I seen this in 1998, when it was initially released, it might have made less sense. Fortunately, the times have caught up with Lain.

The series begins when a group of junior high students receive an email from a girl who recently committed suicide, which sends young heroine Lain on an intense scientific and psychological journey.

To try and explain this without giving away too much of the plot, The Wired, which is similar to our world wide web, connects everyone in the show. Lain challenges our perceptions of reality. Is the version of you who exists in cyberspace the same person who resides in the physical world? In the era of social networking and self-branding, that question is perhaps more important now than it was twelve years ago.

3. Death Note

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

Light Yagami is a student who stumbles upon a Death Note, a notebook once belonging to a Shinigami (death god) that has the power to take out anyone whose name is scrawled in it. Light, a teenager who strives for a better tomorrow, decides that he will use the book to eliminate criminals. But, godlike powers corrupt pretty quickly. Meanwhile, L, a young detective believed to be the greatest in his field, is on Light's tail. An intense game of cat and mouse ensues.

Death Note is riveting, the sort of show that will cause you to have a fit if you miss an episode. Light quickly morphs from an idealistic, if not misguided, young man to a cold killer. L is arguably the scene-stealer in the anime. He's secretive and uses his outward eccentricities, a grungy appearance and addiction to junk food, as a way of masking his genius. Like Light, he's motivated by justice, but his tactics are different.

2. Paranoia Agent

Satoshi Kon is the critically-acclaimed director of feature-length animes Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika. Paranoia Agent was his foray into television and it's amazing.

Like much of Kon's work, Paranoia Agent blurs the line between reality and figments of the characters' imaginations. The plot revolves around a series of brutal attacks alleged to be the work of a young baseball bat-wielding, rollerblade-wearing boy. Each episode takes a different turn, though, as we enter the world of the victims and the detectives on the case.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist/Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before Anime Expo

Should you ever decide to take up alchemy, remember that it's probably not a good idea to try to raise the dead. Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric who did just that. It cost Ed an arm and a leg, while Al lost his whole body. Soon, Ed becomes a State Alchemist and the brothers set off on a journey to restore their bodies.

FMA is based on an incredibly popular manga of the same name. Though the original series deters from the plot of the manga, the recently-released reboot Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (which is currently airing on Adult Swim) is more faithful to the source material.

Both FMA and FMA: Brotherhood are among the strongest anime series I've seen. There's nearly tearjerking moments of drama mixed with some off-the-wall comedy and, in both instances, the story ties into the philosophy of Equivalent Exchange, which holds that you cannot gain something without giving up something of equal value.