As a writer, one of the key pieces of advice you get is to “write what you know.” Using places you have been to and things you have seen, you can paint a clearer picture of it with your words. I imagine it is the same with manga artists and anime creators. For this reason, it is obvious why so many anime series take place in Japan. The culture is familiar, they can animate real life locations or at least ones that look like they belong in Japan, and they can create something people can relate to. However, finding anime series outside of Japan isn’t completely uncommon. While the different locales might not be so true to life, a globetrotting story is always exciting.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
If you are truly looking for a jet-setting, globetrotting experience, then Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is the show to watch. While they go all over the world, sometimes you see a few Japanese trappings accidentally put in, like bowing as a greeting when they are English characters in England. Despite that, aside from a few arcs that take place exclusively in Japan, you get to see a variety of world locales shown off and eccentric characters from those places introduced.
Emma is a historical romance about a Victorian maid and a rich gentlemen. It is one of those star-crossed lovers loving above (or below) their station sort of series that sweeps you off your feet. However, while Japan has a passion for Victorian maid costumes, the only natural setting for this series is in London. Thankfully, this series does a very decent job of capturing the culture of it all.
Set in London primarily, when you create a series about English soldiers and vampires fighting Nazi vampires and zombies you get a little more creative license in terms of presenting the culture. Of course, while the setting is believably shown off, Hellsing is a series that is mostly built on stereotypes. You have the French love manslut, the tea-drinking, cigar smoking aristocratic Brit, the seemingly more ignorant cockney Brit, and the egomaniacal German villain. Still, stereotypes aren’t terrible when you have some interesting action to back it up, and Hellsing Ultimate has that.
This, like Hellsing, is another series set in London and laced with some supernatural themes. However, Black Butler is more focused around the Victorian era of London and shows off the lavish life of nobles rather than anyone else in the country. While it travels outside of Ciel’s estate often, there really isn’t anything particularly notable about any of the other locations.
Although still close to home, Kingdom actually takes place in China during its own warring states period. Of course, it focuses on a fictional era within that time period, but you get to see more Chinese culture, characters, and locales. Seeing as China influenced Japan’s own culture in a few ways, it is a way of creating a story outside of Japan that is still probably pretty familiar to the creator.
Michiko and Hatchin
As expected from the mind that made Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, Michiko and Hatchin throws a wrench in the anime scene by not only having a main character with dark skin, but by having the series take place in Latin America. While they seem to think Latin America is all dusty lonely roads and shady favelas, it is a better attempt than other shows that never tried a Latin setting.
Aside from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Baccano is probably the most famous anime series that takes place outside of Japan. Although laced with a bit of an alchemy supernatural element to it, the series takes place in Prohibition era America in both Chicago and New York. The well-built characters and story line kind of take away attention from the setting a bit, but the characters are all believably western.
Spice and Wolf
Although taking place in a fictional world where Gods are present, Spice and Wolf strongly resembles medieval Europe from everything from the locations to the economics of it all. Better yet, Spice and Wolf does a wonderful job of painting a believable story that has elements of the historical adoption of Christianity and the move away from Pagan beliefs.
Monster primarily takes place in Germany, but some arcs of it take place in other locations in the world as well. It is perhaps one of the best representations of western cultures in anime because, well, watching Monster feels exactly like watching an international thriller movie. However, while it has some Japanese characters, it has a number of other ethnicities as well.
Black Lagoon takes place, for the most part, in a fictional city that is geographically set in Southeast Asia, which, like any region, has its fair share of similarly shady cities. What really sets it apart is the main cast has such a great amount of ethnic diversity that is befitting of a group of mercenaries.
Tiger & Bunny
This one can be debated. Tiger and Bunny takes place in a series of fictional locales, and they could be considered parallels of Tokyo. However, what sets it apart is both the western super hero theme and the cast. Any major North American city has the same rainbow of ethnicities in it that Tiger and Bunny’s cast does, which makes it seem more obvious that it was based on somewhere in North America.
Not completely unlike Black Lagoon, Jormungand also features a gang of gun runners that end up travelling the world and encompasses a diverse, though stereotypical cast. You know what they say, crime can take you all over the world, and it really does in this series.
Phantom of the Requiem
While the show hops back to Japan at times, the majority of it takes place in America where they topple everything from Mafia bosses to Navy SEALS. As an assassin, you never know where you need to go and who you need to kill, right? Of course, this series does utilize the popular “Japanese tourist goes abroad and gets in over their head” trope that is widely used in series set abroad.
The majority of Gunslinger Girl is set in Italy following a group of assassins. What is truly special about the series is, if I remember right, there really aren’t any Japanese characters in it. Typically they are included for reliability, but most of the characters are distinctly western in origin.
Although it takes a lot of creative license and uses some supernatural elements, Gankutsuou is based on the Count of Monte Cristo. As such, it is only natural for it to be set in France. While if you are a fan of the original story, this one might be a bit off, it does a fair amount of justice to the setting and the culture.
Do you have any more anime recommendations set outside of Japan? Tell us about them in the comments section below.