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9 anime that flopped but became a cult classic later (Image via Shueisha)

9 anime that flopped but became a cult classic later

One of the most interesting aspects of the production and release of an anime series is how said production is viewed both at the time of its release and years later. Often seen are cases where a series is relatively underrated or ignored during its contemporary release, only to become considered a cult classic years later.

Intriguingly, many titles from the late 1990s and early 2000s often fit this criterion, whether it be for one reason or another. There are several notable examples of anime series that were considered flops at the time of their release, but eventually grew in popularity.


Early 2000s and late 1990s anime flops that later become staples of the medium

1) Gantz


Upon its initial release in April 2004, fans were overwhelmingly excited about the Gantz television anime adaptation. However, the second season greatly altered this perception, especially with the decision to have the final episodes of the second season to both be filler and pit protagonist Kei Kurono as a target for the Gantz players.


While DVD sales for the series were nevertheless strong for the first season and first portion of the second season, it seems that this filler mishap left a poor taste in fans’ mouths. Although the series has only grown in popularity in recent years, this initial flop led to a premature stop on production of the television anime adaptation.

2) Inuyasha


The television anime adaptation of author and illustrator Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha manga series was always a bridesmaid but never a bride back when it was released. Despite constantly being highly ranked, it never seemed to be able to bring home a truly noteworthy award or title, resulting in many calling it a flop initially.

While this is somewhat debatable, the series has grown immensely in popularity from these so-called “flop” origins. The sequel series, Yashahime, was incredibly successful as an anime series and is still being serialized as a manga. In addition to this, recent years have seen exciting milestones hit for the series, such as Viz Media selling 2 million home video units for Inuyasha in 2016.

3) No Game No Life


Upon initially releasing, No Game No Life divided viewers, with even review sites seeing writers publish wildly different opinions on the production. Responses ranged from praising the overall dynamic of the protagonists and the setting to outwardly saying that the series is no good.

However, in the years since, No Game No Life has become a true cult classic anime series, with modern viewers seemingly confused on why it never got a second season.

4) Blue Exorcist


While Blue Exorcist is a beloved anime series now, it can be argued as being a flop due to its relatively low reach in terms of Western audiences. At the time of its airing, Western fans’ opinions on the series ranged from loving it and heaping praise over it to never even having heard of the franchise before.

While the sequel series, which came out years later, helped to remedy this lack of Western presence, the original anime series can likely still be called a flop. However, with the passage of time and assistance from a second season, the series has most definitely become a cult classic.

5) Mushishi


While Mushishi received critical acclaim upon release, its original DVD sales and fan reception was incredibly lacking. At the time of its weekly airing, there simply wasn’t much interest from fans in tuning in to a weekly anthology anime series. While the second season did help to boost this attention, it nevertheless remains an issue for the first outing.

Since originally airing, however, the series has found a home in the wake of the success of shows such as Death Parade and Durarara. With anthology series now held in high regard, Mushishi has undoubtedly risen to cult classic status as one of the best in the genre.

6) D.Gray-man

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While the D.Gray-man adaptation series was very well received in Japan upon its release, it flopped in Western and general international territories. Interestingly, the manga was seemingly much more popular in the Americas than the anime series was, being consistently ranked on Nielsen BookScan and New York Times best seller lists.

However, the anime lacked popularity outside of Japan, often being called unoriginal and somewhat boring in its early stages by reviewers at the time. Thankfully, the years since have been kind to the series, with the blessings of streaming and having a full series readily available for binging turning it into a true cult classic.

7) Fullmetal Alchemist


Fullmetal Alchemist is a particularly interesting case to assess in terms of whether or not it could be called a flop. While still generally popular, many fans panned it for its original ending, and instead switched to the series’ manga to find out the canonical conclusion.

Although it’s hard to say whether this alone merits its inclusion in the list of flops, what’s certain is that fans at the time suggested that prospective audiences read the manga instead. While many have come to love the series once more thanks to its nostalgia, it’s still very arguable that the initial release can be considered a non-canon flop.

8) Hellsing


Like Fullmetal Alchemist, the original Hellsing adaptation is included for its lack of canonicity in the later stages of its production. However, Hellsing lacks the popularity that Fullmetal Alchemist had upon its initial debut, with the anime lacking attention internationally.

Combined with an original ending which is not true to the manga’s canonical conclusion, this anime is another flop which has become a cult classic thanks to the nostalgia it offers.

9) Magi


Magi is a special case on this list, as the series' first season was tremendously helpful in growing the manga series’ sales. However, the second season seemed to lack a similar effect, instead being met with a mediocre response from anime and manga fans alike.

While the manga series seemingly took the first season's popularity and ran with it, the second season couldn’t create similar levels of success. Although the series overall and the second season specifically has grown to cult classic popularity since, it was at the time a massive flop relative to the first season.

Be sure to keep up with all anime, manga, film, and live-action news as 2023 progresses.

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Edited by
Upasya Bhowal
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