1. Darker than Black (Tensai Okamura, 2007)
The premise of Darker than Black sounds like a combination of X-Men and Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 Russian sci-fi film: Ten years before the series’ start, the mysterious “Hell’s Gate” descended on Tokyo, changing the patterns of the stars above the city and transforming those caught within the Gate’s zone into “Contractors,” humans with miraculous, mutant-like powers. Unlike X-Men, however, Contractors must pay a price whenever they use their powers. For example, Jean can teleport matter, but must obsessively arrange small objects into straight lines after he does.
Darker than Black’s protagonist is a Contractor named Hei, also known as the Black Reaper, who can manipulate electricity and alter objects at the molecular level. Unlike the rest of the Contractors, Hei can exercise his abilities without paying a price (how and why he can do so is one of the show’s central mysteries, and the payoff does not disappoint). While Hei is the main character, Darker than Black also features a large suppprting cast, sometimes devoting entire episodes to peripheral storylines, such as when we follow Gai Kurasawa, a bumbling, Columbo-esque private eye, on his investigations. The Kurasawa episodes are much lighter in tone and more humorous than the rest of the series, which, as its title implies, tends to be rather grim.
The world of Darker than Black expands and deepens with nearly every episode, introducing new characters and storylines at a pace that can be difficult to keep up with, so you might need to consult a wiki or character list in order to keep everything straight. Sticking with the series is worth the effort, though. It ties its disparate threads together as it progresses, building to one of the most satisfying (and coherent) climaxes I’ve enjoyed in an anime series. — Tyler J. Petty
Note: Darker than Black is currently streaming on Hulu and Netflix.