The word “gang” has certain societal connotations, especially in Japan, and this is reflected perfectly in the wide variety of gang-related anime available. But it’s a broad term that can refer to many things. Of course, shadowy brotherhoods like the mafia or the yakuza, who engage in illicit activity with a penchant for violence, but there are also less aggressive collectives: biker gangs, school gangs, and other groups that come together because, as individuals, they rest on the fringes of social expectations, and find comfort in comradery. We’ll explore them all, with our list of Top 10 Gang Anime.
10. Cromartie High School/Sakigake!! Kuromati Kōkō
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2003 – March 2004
Cromartie High School follows the everyday life of high schooler Takashi Kamiyama. His struggles are a bit more severe than normal high school woes, because he attends Cromartie, a high school famous for its bizarre student body, populated mostly by gangs of hooligans and delinquents. He doesn’t simply need to navigate the social minefield of high school; he has to do it without getting on the wrong side of gangs and thugs who eat wimps like him for breakfast.
The show itself is a uniquely hilarious lampooning of Japanese yankii culture, which spread its cultural roots in the 70s and 80s, and is still seen in pockets today. Most of the comedy comes from the larger-than-life cast; whether it's Takashi, and his aspirations to become a comedian, potential robot delinquent Shinichi Mechazawa, Freddie, who bears a striking resemblance to a world-famous rock legend, or Gorilla, who is…well…a gorilla. It’s a daffy, interesting exploration of high school life and school gang culture, and requires viewing to be understood.
9. Great Teacher Onizuka
- Episodes: 43
- Aired: June 1999 – September 2000
While not known for having the greatest track record with its previous teachers, Holy Forest Academy attempts to turn its reputation around with the arrival of unorthodox teacher Eikichi Onizuka, a former gang member who managed to get his teaching certificate by the skin of his teeth. Located in the Tokyo suburb Kichijoji, Holy Forest is home to rather mischievous student body, to say the least.
Although Onizuka’s motivations for becoming a teacher initially are quite suspect, he has the right mix of street smarts from his experiences in a gang, and a surprisingly firm moral compass. While his methods are somewhat unorthodox, he has the best interests of his students at heart, and will go to anything length to teach them valuable life lessons, and help them view the world in a different way.
The way he interacts with his students’ lonely mothers, is a different issue altogether.
- Episodes: 16
- Aired: July 2007 – November 2007
The story of Baccano! blends the supernatural and ganster seamlessly, and begins when a group of alchemists summon a demon who teaches them how to make an elixir of immortality, at the expense of the souls of others. When a power-hungry member of their order begins to murder them for his own designs, the surviving members scatter around the globe in fear for their lives.
The plot of Baccano! is a winding one indeed. The story takes place in the U.S. in the 1930s, which saw a huge rise and consolidation of power by gangs in major cities, thanks in large part to prohibition. It centers around the exploits of a low-level thug named Dallas, the Mafioso Gandor brothers, a couple of foolish, down on their luck thieves, a powerful family, and of course, alchemists. The musical score is as much a star as the cast, and it perfectly captures the mix of nostalgia and fear associated with 30s gang culture.
7. KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple / Shijō Saikyō no Deshi: Kenichi
- Episodes: 50
- Aired: October 2006 – September 2007
Kenichi Shirahama is a 16-year-old high school student who is subject to a very prevalent problem: high school bullying. After a fateful run-in with the enchanting transfer student, Miu, Kenichi followers her to her grandfather’s dojo, where he begins to learn the basics of martial arts.
The show does a great job of balancing displays of the regimented discipline required to master martial arts studied in the Ryōzanpaku dojo and the daily struggles of the all-too-real problem of high school bullies. After besting a member of the school’s karate club, he becomes the target of a malicious gang of delinquents, Ragnarok, who alternately attack and try to recruit him. The conflict of the school eventually bleeds into the goings-on at the dojo, making for an incredibly dramatic conclusion.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015 – September 2015
No list would be complete without the inclusion of 2015’s hit, Gangsta.. It takes place in the gritty, rough and tumble town of Ergastulum, where crime is the bread and butter of all too many of its inhabitants, and the “wrong side” is whichever side puts you in front of the barrel of a gun.
The story follows a pair of deadly handymen, Worick, a gigolo with a dark family history, and Nicolas, a deaf mercenary/bodyguard with superhuman abilities from prolonged use of a super drug, and revs up after they save Alex, a former prostitute. The show is as hard-hitting as the setting, painting a grim landscape of moral ambiguity and hard choices whose consequences are measured in the bodies that hit the ground.
5. Dogs: Bullets and Carnage
- Episodes: 4 episode OVA
- Aired: May 2009 - July 2009
Dogs takes place in a dystopian, crime-ridden European city where violence, genetic manipulation, and criminal syndicates are the name of the game. It centers around four anti-hero protagonists whose stories intertwine in unexpected and insidious ways, as they seek to resolve issues from their tragic, complicated pasts.
While criminal and gangster activity is front and center in the show, the real star is its ensemble cast, especially its morally ambiguous protagonists. Whether it’s Heine, an albino gunman with an incredibly violent alternate persona caused by genetic experimentation, nicotine-addicted information broker with a penchant for violence, Badou, orphaned, amnesiac swordswoman Naoto, or grizzled assassin Mihai, their complex past is explored in a rich gangster setting, making it a must-watch for any fan of the genre.
4. Black Lagoon
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2006 – June 2006
Black Lagoon follows the exploits of the Lagoon company, a fast-gunning, hard-hitting group of pirate-mercenaries that will take on any job, no matter how dangerous, for the right price. The status quo of the gang is shaken up quite a bit when average Japanese salaryman, Rokuro “Rock” Okajima, is taken hostage during one of their missions, and eventually joins up after discovering his company cut all ties with him in an attempt to cover up their involvement in illicit smuggling.
The home base of the Lagoon company is Roanapur harbor, home to vicious chapters of organized criminals from around the world, as well as no goodnicks from all walks of life. Roanapur has just as much personality as the rest of the cast, because its seedy underbelly is filled with clandestine illegal dealings and more violence than you can shake a stick at. Following Rock and the badass members of the Lagoon company as they scour the high seas for the perfect payday, getting in increasingly over their heads, will have viewers on the edge of their seats.
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 2010 – June 2010
Durarara!! takes place in the Tokyo neighborhood of Ikebukuro, and relies on a stellar cast of characters, changing viewpoints each episode to create a cohesive story that explores the complicated, sometimes daffy intersection of their lives.
After Mikado moves to Tokyo to experience the excitement of city life and attend a prestigious school, he runs into his more streetwise childhood friend, Masaomi, who warns him that the alluring veneer of the city hides a sinister, gang-filled underbelly. The narrative style of this show definitely sets it apart from other entries on their list, and the inner monologue of the episodes’ narrators, who navigate their violent world with their own motivations, will keep you hooked from episode to episode. Fortunately, there is a follow-up series, Durarara!! x2, once you’ve blazed through the first series.
2. Tekkon Kinkreet
- Episodes: Movie
- Aired: December 2006
Who says a great gang-related anime has to be a series? Tekkon Kinkreet is set in the Asian metropolis of Takaramachi (literally, Treasure City), a crumbling shadow of its former prosperity. It follows the exploits of two orphans, Shiro and Kuro (White and Black), a duo that calls themselves “The Cats,” as they attempt to navigate the perils of gang-controlled slum life, and keep the city in a modicum of order.
Danger is part and parcel of the daily lives of Kuro and Shiro. When they run afoul of a gang boss with plans to turn the town into an amusement park, events spiral out of control, and Kuro begins to lose his tenuous grip on reality. The film has a lot of creative license thanks to the Kuro’s interesting view of reality, and is incredibly animated. It explores the nature of friendship and violence from multiple perspectives, making it a one of a kind viewing experience unlike any other in the genre.
- Episodes: Movie
- Aired: July 1998
Akira is the legendary film that is partly responsible for turning anime into the cultural juggernaut it is today. The events of the film take place in 2019, in Neo Tokyo, a dystopian metropolis rebuilt on the ruins of the former city after a psychic explosion leveled the area and started World War III. The city is under martial law, due to the frequency of anti-government activity and delinquent gang violence.
Shōtarō Kaneda is one such delinquent, a mostly good-hearted high schooler who leads his own bōsōzoku biker gang, the Capsules, who have a fierce rivalry with the Clowns that leaves a swath of damage and destruction throughout the city. When Kaneda’s best friend Tetsuo encounters a psychic who escaped from the clutches of the government, his gang becomes entangled in a conflict that engulfs the city’s warring factions in violence, and threatens to repeat history. The true pinnacle of cinematic anime, Akira is a sci-fi, gangland staple that belongs in the collection of any true fan.
And with that, our list of top 10 gang anime comes to a close. What do you think of the selections? Are there any gangs that weren’t featured on our list, that you’d go through any initiation ritual to be a part of? Let us know in the comments below!