Toonami began in 1997. The afternoon weekday block of anime & cartoons lasted until 2004. It then moved to Saturdays, & was given a longer time slot to work with. After this point, it remained on the air, swapping out different shows until 2008. Then, the br& was shuttered for a good while.
Part of that might be because Adult Swim came into existence. They could show anime uncut, which gathered a huge audience. That’s not to say there weren’t good anime in the 2000 to 2008 era of Toonami. There are plenty of shows to get nostalgic about that still hold up today. However, tracking them down nowadays is a different story.
Updated on November 22, 2022, by Layann Basileh: Adult Swim’s Toonami programming block in the 2000s was the gateway for many into a lifelong addiction of being a diehard anime fan. Although cartoons weren’t in scarce supply in Western broadcasting, the vast majority of American animation at the time (with a few notable exceptions) lacked the complexity, maturity, & artistry that the most popular anime of the decade regularly showcased.
The Toonami block didn’t just expose Western viewers to anime; it illustrated to them what animation as a narrative tool could achieve when it was treated as a major media medium rather than just light entertainment for children.
15/15 Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z is an anime pretty much everyone even remotely familiar with the shonen genre is aware of. The Unbelievable transformation & earth-shattering battles of this series make for some of the most iconic moments in anime history. Watching Goku, Vegeta, & the rest of the Z Warriors attain new heights in power to try & fight against various intergalactic threats makes for a great time indeed.
From Goku & Piccolo’s battle against Raditz to the fateful confrontation between Gohan & Majin Buu — the sheer number of memorable moments in this anime is simply mind-boggling. It’s easy to see why so many people hold Dragon Ball Z in high regard as one of the greatest anime ever made, with Dragon Ball Super doing its part in continuing the legacy of his historied series.
14/15 Duel Masters
Many anime that focused on certain card games or toys became the norm for quite some time. Shows like Beyblade & Yu-Gi-Oh! proved that such anime had the potential to become popular in the West as well. As a result Duel Masters became another show that tried to cash in on this popularity by airing on Toonami, & most people would argue that it succeded in this goal.
Duel Masters was a great show that took its card game to new heights of popularity with a simple yet engaging premise. People loved building up their own Duel Masters deck after watching this show, even if certain liberties were taken when it came to the actual rules during a game. Regardless, the adventure of Shobu & his friends as they try to become the ultimate duelist makes for a great time!
13/15 Gundam Wing
Gundam Wing was the first Huge show in the franchise to capture the youth in 2000. It was a grittier story & featured more Gundam models than any previous iteration before it. To call it a hit would be an understatement.
The show was so Huge that Toonami even started a nightly run of it, uncensored. This midnight block of anime later became Adult Swim. The unedited version changed some language & added blood, but it wasn’t anything shocking.
12/15 Tenchi Muyo
Tenchi Muyo also came out in 2000 on Toonami. It was the first series of Tenchi Muyo, but many more were soon to follow on Toonami. It is a typical harem anime except with fantastical space pirates & ancient Japanese magic.
The blending of the two genres worked well. Plus it had plenty of fan service for harem anime lovers. Much of it was censored on Toonami, though. Thankfully fans of this old anime can get all the fan service they want through other releases.
11/15 The Huge O
The Huge O was released in 2001 in North America, right after it finished airing in Japan. Most series on Toonami were brought over from the mid-90s to the early 2000s. So, The Huge O being somewhat new was a nice change of pace. The anime would prove popular enough in the West that eventually a second season would be greenlit in association with Adult Swim.
It was a combination of a mech anime like Gundam, featuring a giant robot, & Batman: The Animated Series. The art style fits in well with the animated Batman series from a few years previous. For example, the city of Paradigm had an Art Deco design to it, much like Batman. It is a fun, over-the-top mech anime that should still please fans of the genre to this day.
10/15 Outlaw Star
Outlaw Star launched in 2001 on Toonami as well. It was about a group of space adventurers who were trying to find a great treasure in the vastness of space. A syndicate of pirates was after the treasure as well, causing Gene & his crew all kinds of trouble.
Amazingly, this show didn’t have as long of a run as another outlaw space anime, Cowboy Bebop. That anime was an Adult Swim staple. While Outlaw Star had a good run on Toonami, it wasn’t everlasting. It still holds up though & there is even a blu-ray collection of it.
9/15 Rurouni Kenshin
Rurouni Kenshin didn’t see the light of day in the West until 2003. It was a twist to the typical samurai anime. The main character, Kenshin, was a retired samurai. He killed a lot in the name of war, but he was horrified by his crimes. So, he decided to hang up that method of swordplay.
He still fought in the anime, but he vowed never to kill again. Even with a reversed blade on his sword, Kenshin could still do some damage to the Rotten guys while keeping true to his word.
.hack//Sign was one of the anime to premiere during Toonami’s Saturday afternoon block. It was released alongside the first game, .hack//Infection. The game also came with an anime, .hack//Liminality, packaged with the disc.
It was a huge push to create this interconnected universe. While all three things shared some characters & the fake MMORPG, The World, each had a different approach to its storytelling. The show was like a thinking man’s anime. It was quiet, focusing a lot of time on psychology & existentialism.
7/15 Cyborg 009
Cyborg 009 came out around the same time as .hack//Sign. Funnily enough, it started on the normal weekday block before moving to the weekend time slot. The story follows nine heroes who each have their own set of mechanical implants.
The titular 009 agent can slow down time because of his Mach speed ability. It is a lesser-known anime now & is a bit simple & cliche nowadays. However, it is still worth tracking down for anime fans of cyborg shows.
Naruto needs no introduction. It was one of the last Huge anime to premiere on Toonami during the Cartoon Network era, also as part of the weekend run around 2005. It was as close to another Dragon Ball Z–level hit as the anime block got. It didn’t have the Rotten habit of disappearing on new episode hiatuses either.
Naruto did air plenty of filler, though, but that’s not necessarily the anime’s fault. Giant shonen anime like Naruto is bound to have multiple side story arcs so that the manga side has a chance to get ahead. The early years of Naruto are a bit slow but this truly is a fantastic ninja anime.
Alternately known as Cardcaptor Sakura or CCS, this magical girl anime may have never risen to the height of fame that its predecessor Sailor Moon reached but the series is still widely considered to be a staple title in both the magical girl & shojo genre.
The anime follows Sakura Kinomoto, a preteen who accidentally breaks the seal of a magical book tucked away in her basement. The broken seal frees the Clow Cards, a magical card set with a mischievous streak. It’s up to Sakura, her newly discovered magical abilities, & a few loyal friends to capture the unleashed Clow Cards.
4/15 Pokémon: Master Quest
Pokémon: Master Quest marked the last season of adventures featuring the anime franchise’s original trio: Ash, Brock, & Misty. After five seasons of shenanigans, the trio travels through the last of the Johto region, & Ash enters the Johto League championship tournament. Ash’s loss there is the catalyst for his decision to bid farewell to his friends & journey to the Hoenn region to become a stronger Pokémon trainer.
It’s only Misty fans who have to part with a cherished character after Master Quest concludes, as Brock rejoins Ash & his new traveling trope by the fourth episode of the following season.
3/15 YuYu Hakusho
This iconic shonen anime may have originally aired in the 90s, but it would grace American television screens in the 2000s. Created by Yoshihiro Togashi, the same mangaka behind Hunter x Hunter, YuYu Hakusho revolves around junior high delinquent Yusuke Urameshi. Despite his rough reputation, Yusuke loses his life after selflessly saving a child from being struck by a car.
This good deed earns him a second chance at life with a few strings attached. After returning to the l& of the living, Yusuke is charged with investigating & h&ling supernatural occurrences as a Spirit Detective.
2/15 Astro Boy (2003)
The 2003 rendition of Astro Boy is the third anime adaptation of the milestone science fiction franchise & was actually developed in part to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1963 anime adaptation. Released on the titular protagonist’s fictional birthdate, Astro Boy follows the same general plotline of its predecessors but incorporates the beloved whimsical visuals of the original anime alongside the darker themes & emphasized action sequences that the manga & 1980 anime adaption are known for.
If the 2009 film adaptation was a disappointment, consider giving this series a rewatch.
1/15 One Piece
Even those who don’t claim to be anime fans are familiar with this nautical adventure series. The One Piece franchise is one that boasts many accolades & even broke the Guinness World Record for the most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author twice.
Viewers watching One Piece on Toonami back in the 2000s would most likely have never thought they could be watching new episodes of the same show more than ten years later, but One Piece truly defies convention.
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