In the world of anime, there are few studios as big or as recognizable as Sunrise. The home of most of your childhood favorites, and an absolute giant in the industry, Sunrise has produced well over a hundred shows, including some of the most influential shows in modern anime history!
It all starts at the origin of anime itself. Sunrise was founded by members of Mushi Production, the studio of Osamu Tezuka, the “father of manga,” who created such classics as Astro Boy, and Kimba the White Lion.
Sunrise, in turn, went on to produce modern classics and long-running franchises like Gundam and Gintama, legendary adventures like Cowboy Bebop, and also just plain, fun anime series with size-able fanbases like Love Live! Sunshine!! and Tiger & Bunny.
Most of Sunrise’s work consists of original titles, usually credited to one Hajime Yatate, a collective pseudonym for the studio’s staff. And boy, have the studio’s original not disappointed.
It’s time to take a look at just some of the works that turned Sunrise into a legendary production studio. Starting with…
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
The father of the “real robot” genre, it’s hard to really picture how big of an impact the Gundam franchise has had on anime. Sunrise had already worked on several projects before the first Mobile Suit Gundam came out, but it was with this show that the studio found its first huge success.
Taking the most popular genre of the time, especially one aimed at children, and turning it into a shockingly realistic approach to war, packed with human antagonists instead of aliens, didn’t prove particularly popular when the first Gundam series premiered.
Director Yoshiyuki Tomino and designers Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and Kunio Okawara did for mecha anime what Christopher Nolan did for Batman, grounding the genre and giving us realistic portrayals of children being involved in war, with complex characters and plots that would spark dozens of imitators.
This series showed Sunrise was not only able to come up with interesting, original content, but present them ith smooth animation and striking fight scenes. It’s no brainer that turned the Gundam franchise into a pop culture phenomenon and worldwide smash hit.
Watch Mobile Suit Gundam on Funimation!
City Hunter (1987)
A private eye who works to keep Tokyo free of crime, Ryo Saeba is one of those anime protagonists that are instantly iconic. He’s a womanizer with a cool gun, who is forced to take care of his dead partner’s little sister, who becomes his new partner.
The show is mostly episodic, following Ryo as he takes new cases week by week, usually from a female client he then tries to hit on.
City Hunter was directed by Kenji Kodama, who had already made a name for himself working on another crime-centric show you may have heard of, Lupin III Part III. The show combines the best of the action-thriller genre with some solid detective work and great humor.
City Hunter showed Sunrise was more than the house of mecha, and even though this wasn’t an original anime, it heavily influenced many Sunrise shows like Cowboy Bebop with its episodic format, rogueish protagonist and unique style of humor. The show even spawned several films and spin-offs, including one film starring Jackie Chan!
Cowboy Bebop (1998)
At this point, is there anything left to be said about Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop? Well…yes…always. It’s that good.
Though the series was a success in Japan, it truly became a cultural phenomenon in the United States, where it introduced anime to a whole new generation of fans that may have cast it off before.
Watanabe drew heavily from Western pop culture, particularly Western cinema, neo-noir, and films like Blade Runner to create a series so easily accessible by anyone no matter how familiar they were with anime. But it was also deep, packed with imagery and subtlety. These characters felt alive, relate-able and bursting with emotion. And the music? Unmatched.
With Cowboy Bebop, Sunrise delivered a show that dove deep into culture and created a multi-genre supergroup of cyberpunk aesthetics. Cowboy Bebop remains a unique visual experience that is a must-watch for, well, anyone.
Watch Cowboy Bebop on Funimation!
By the turn of the century, Sunrise had already shown it could deliver huge successes with both original content and adaptations, and after Cowboy Bebop helped open the floodgates to new anime airing in the West, the public was ready for a new show to obsess over.
For many ’90s kids, Inuyasha was that show.
Adapted from Rumiko Takahashi’s manga of the same name, the series was isekai before the genre dominated the market. Teenager Kagome accidentally gets transported from modern-day Japan to a parallel Feudal Japan, where she teams up with the half-demon Inuyasha to gather the pieces of a gem before it falls into evil hands.
Unlike Cowboy Bebop, but more akin to some of Sunrise’s earlier work, Inuyasha is a little light on comedy in favor of a darker, more serious tone that doesn’t shy away from displaying some serious violence, betrayal and politics.
It even gave ’90s kids one of their earliest unique anime romances! The show was incredibly popular, and fans are finally able to return to the world of Inuyasha now that Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon is here to tell a new story in the same universe. But more on that in a second. You know we’ve got to talk about…
Watch Inuyasha on Funimation!
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006)
As mentioned, Sunrise is no stranger to turning original concepts into massive successes, and that tradition continued with the blockbuster franchise Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, a return to the mecha genre that made Sunrise a household name.
Set in an alternate timeline where the Holy Empire of Britannia took over Japan with the use of mobile suits, a young boy receives extraordinary powers he decides to use to free his people from the rule of the empire.
The show was, in many ways, a continuation of Sunrise’s work on the Gundam franchise. Not just in its use of mecha tropes, but its exploration of morality, politics, and extremism.
Viewers encountered a world where characters had moral complexity and deep motivations, and a fast-paced action show that still had many twists and turns. Plus, you know, pizza.
Watch Code Geass on Funimation!
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (2020)
Two decades after the release of Inuyasha, Sunrise returns to alternate feudal Japan and the world of half-demon princesses. Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon actually starts shortly after the ending of the original show and has plenty of nostalgia goodies for fans of the franchise.
Of course, we also have a brand new cast of exciting characters led by Towa Higurashi, her twin sister, Setsuna, and Moroha, the daughter of Inuyasha and Kagome.
There’s a missing sibling, lost memories and plenty of young women kicking all sorts of ass, all wrapped up in an intriguing mystery. Whether you’re new to the franchise and planning to work backward, or you’re here for the nostalgia of seeing everyone’s favorite half-demon, Yashahime checks off every dream box for ’90s kids. Seriously.
Sunrise has given us some of the biggest and most acclaimed anime franchises ever, and they continue to reinvent and expand on what they’ve previously worked on.
Now that we have a new story in the world of Inuyasha, the future is wide open for Sunrise, and even brighter for the fans who get to experience these shows! And you can experience many of these and more, right here on Funimation.
Watch Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon on Funimation!