Anime has been a mainstream phenomenon thanks to specific shows, movies, and OVA specials. With programs like Toonami and the power of the internet, getting your hands on a show has never been easier. That said, many western animation studios have done their best to pay homage to classic anime series and films within their works.
For our ongoing series of articles depicting the best anime, our attention this time turns to the best anime references in Western Cartoons. From the child-like spy cartoon Codename: Kids Next Door to The Simpsons, there are many shows that weren’t afraid to showcase their admiration for all things anime.
Of course, if we’ve missed any of your favorites, feel free to comment below and we’ll get them added on!
Codename: Kids Next Door (Dragon Ball Z Reference)
Codename: Kids Next Door was a popular Cartoon Network show from the mid-2000s. This cartoon was about rebellious kids defending the world from adult tyranny. We follow numbers 1-5, 5 children who are a part of the notorious team called Sector V. It features wonderful humor, great subplots, and some fun action segments.
It’s one of the best shows on the network and still holds up well. Anyway, this show’s Dragon Ball Z reference appeared in the episode titled “Codename: R.E.P.O.R.T.” In it, each protagonist explained their reasons for failing an important mission. While each kid shared a diverse reason for their failure, anime fans may find Number 4’s explanation the most endearing.
In it, Number 4’s portrayed as Goku, while the sector’s arch enemies, The Delightful Children From Down the Lane are Frieza. Both characters square off in typical Dragon Ball fashion. Number 4 uses a gumball-based Kamehameha attack while the Delightful Children power up to their final form. It’s a parodic take on Dragon Ball Z, but it’s one that many fans’ appreciate today.
The Simpsons (Death Note Reference)
The Simpsons have been airing since the late ’80s. This show follows our traditional nonsensical family who gets into all types of mischief despite living mundane lives. Over the years, The Simpsons have released countless specials, crossovers, and more to keep people returning to their show. One of these includes the famed Treehouse of Horror episodes.
These episodes are entirely horror themed and are meant to satisfy viewers who need something spooky to watch during Halloween. While last year’s Treehouse of Horror segment didn’t appeal to everyone, many anime fans got a kick out of it. Titled “Treehouse of Horror XXXIII,” this episode contains a parody of one of Studio Madhouse’s most magnificent thriller series.
In it, we follow the series protagonist, Lisa Simpson. She’s no longer boasting her trademark cartoon style but one of an anime fashion. She discovers a book called Death Tome. With the Death Tome, she can murder anyone she wishes but can’t have others die in the same fashion. This leads Lisa down a horrid and slightly hilarious path. It’s a neat nod to Death Note. However, it’s a segment that may not appeal to a large audience of non-anime enthusiasts.
Ben 10 (Naruto Reference)
Ben 10 is another trademark CartoonNetwork property. Unlike Codename: Kids Next Door, this series continues thriving. However, it’s not to the extent fans’ would like. It’s sought multiple reboots and its latest venture doesn’t strike the same itch fans had for the original series. Regardless, it’s a show many kids from the mid-2000s era cherish for its colorful cast, epic battles, and rich plot.
Funnily enough, Naruto was starting to pick up steam around the time Ben 10 was released. Both characters resemble each other in personality and undergo severe growth in their respective sequel series. Anyway, it came as a surprise to many Ben 10 and Naruto fans when the former made a slight reference to a couple of Naruto’s childlike companions.
This Naruto reference can be spotted in the Ben 10 episode titled “Merry Christmas.” This was the 4th episode of its third season and had Ben and his relatives stop an evil major named Mr. Jingles. Afterward, Ben and his allies meet an elf named Elsgood and three other kids. The three kids are wearing outfits that resemble Konohamaru, Moegi, and Udon’s clothing from Naruto. It’s a quick reference, but a neat one, considering how small of a role those three characters play in Naruto’s plot.
Bob’s Burgers (My Neighbor Totoro Reference)
Bob’s Burgers is one of those new sitcom series that’s gained a decent following. This series examines the lives of a relaxed restaurant owner and his family who get into some amusing situations. Their lives are never dull despite looking the part. The parents struggle consistently in the show and their children don’t make their lives any easier.
Like most adult sitcoms, this one eventually had to take a crack at an anime reference. However, this one went for the jugular and poked fun at the well-acclaimed anime studio, Studio Ghibli. In the episode titled “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” we follow the show’s male protagonist Bob as he seeks a normal Thanksgiving feast for his family.
Unfortunately, Bob’s hopes are crushed when he drinks an excessive amount of absinthe. This forces Bob into a dream-like realm and shows him traverse a world full of nonsensical and fantastical imagery. One of the characters he spots takes the form of a large turkey creature. The turkey adopts a similar persona to Studio Ghibli’s Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. It’s a wacky roller coaster that gets stranger the more you watch.
Rick & Morty (Akira Reference)
Rick & Morty is an adult animated sitcom with a worldwide following. Many people enjoy the show for its hilarious jokes, shenanigans, and protagonists, Rick Sanchez and Morty Smith. These two get into all types of mischief from the mundane to the interdimensional. This show has spawned numerous seasons and maintains high praise from its strong fanbase.
Like most popular properties, this one likes to poke fun at multiple genres, mediums, and concepts. Anime is one of these mediums that couldn’t escape Rick and Morty’s wrath. While most of its episodes feel heavily inspired by anime, there’s one episode that decided to tackle one of the most well-acclaimed anime projects out there, Akira.
The largest reference to Akira occurred in the episode “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat.” This episode has Morty undergo an Akira-style like killing spree while armed with Rick’s gadgets. The whole episode gives off Akira vibes from its implementation of a soundtrack that sounds identical to Kaneda’s theme to Morty’s parallel with Tetsuo regarding his quarrel enforcement. It’s one of the series’s best episodes and one that many anime fans may wind up loving.
Regular Show (Neon Genesis Evangelion Reference)
Regular Show was a beloved modern cartoon from CartoonNetwork. It’s anything but regular regarding what its protagonists Mordecai and Rigby get into. From fighting party-goer unicorns to combating forces of nature itself, these two have their work cut out for them in this wacky universe. Like other CartoonNetwork properties, Regular Show offers a slight nod to anime.
In one of their season’s specials titled Brilliant Century Duck Crisis, the show paid homage to many franchises from Transformers to Cowboy Bebop. However, its strongest reference was to Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Evangelion Unit 01 is replaced by a duck-inspired mecha and Rigby strikes a pose similar to that show’s protagonist Shinji Ikari.
As with other Regular Show episodes, this one contains some bizarre action sequences that’ll make you question what you watched. If you’ve never watched Regular Show before, give it a shot.
The Amazing World of Gumball (Dragon Ball Z Reference)
The Amazing World of Gumball (Gumball) is another beloved modern cartoon from CartoonNetwork’s library. This cartoon follows an anthropomorphic cat named Gumball and follows his daily life in Elmore with his family and friends. This world is creative, immersive, and full of life and has had unique crossovers with independent creators and big names alike.
This cartoon contains great comedy that will make you chuckle. From some clever jokes to parodies, you’re in for a treat with this cartoon. Although Gumball referenced numerous RPGs, tv shows, and anime in the past. There was even a full-fledged anime fight scene between Gumball’s mother Nichole and her adversary Yuki.
One of its best references was when Gumball transforms into a super saiyan in the episode titled “The Pest.” It was a brief but genius nod to Dragon Ball Z. If you’re looking for a hilarious cartoon with great charm, check out The Amazing World of Gumball.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (Dragon Ball Z Reference)
The early to mid-2000s felt like a renaissance for CartoonNetwork. The network pushed out many great cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls, Ed Eddn’ Eddy, and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. The latter filled the void left behind by other spookier cartoons like Courage the Cowardly Dog and Scooby Doo. This cartoon balances humor and horror exceptionally well and has a great cast.
It follows two children named Billy and Mandy who win a bet against the Grim Reaper named Grim. Forced to be their friend forever, Grim must endure endless suffering and chaos at Billy and Mandy’s hands. It’s a goofy premise that leads to many bizarre situations. One worth noting in this list would be the episode called “Chicken Ball Z.”
As one can tell, this serves as a parody of Dragon Ball Z. Billy and Mandy enter a tournament to hopefully obtain a wonderful cash prize. They display many supernatural and martial arts techniques in this episode. From the episode’s camera work to its hilarious action scenes, you’ll feel like you’re watching a strange spin-off of Dragon Ball.
Steven Universe (End of Evangelion)
Steven Universe is a well-beloved modern cartoon with a cult-like following. This show has pleased many audiences with its fantastical setting, likable characters, and stellar storytelling. It takes place in a fictional society called Beach City, Delmarva. It houses Crystal Gems that protect humanity from monsters and other threats.
At the center is a half-gem boy named Steven. He lives with the Crystal Gems and embarks on multiple adventures in hopes of protecting his universe from danger. It’s a series with a deep plot and a well-developed cast. Steven and his friends will get into all types of trouble but have enough courage to persevere.
On that note, Steven Universe isn’t a stranger to referencing other works. The show’s creators have discussed several anime that influenced them from well-known titles like Sailor Moon to the forgotten Revolutionary Girl Utena. One of the series’s quick yet best references was shown in the episode “Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service,” which is a reference to Studio Ghibli’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.
As shown in the image, Steven and Kiki sit next to each other on a beach. They gaze at two large pizza slices standing out of the water. This scene is a direct reference to the End of Evangelion’s final scene between Shinji Ikari and Asuka Soryu. It’s a great nod to a critically-acclaimed work and should be acknowledged.
The Boondocks (Ninja Scroll)
The Boondocks is a hilarious adult cartoon. It tackles mature subjects like drugs, alcohol, and gang violence. It can be intensely profane at times too. This cartoon isn’t for the faint of heart, but those who love crude cartoons like South Park will get a kick out of this one. This cartoon is based on a banned comic strip and details the adventures of two African American brothers named Huey and Riley.
They get into all types of mischief but are safely monitored by their grandfather, Robert. While humor is its strong suit, The Boondocks can deliver some touching scenarios that’ll pull at your heartstrings. Some fans will adore its handling of politics too. As with the other shows on this list, The Boondocks wasn’t afraid to reference anime.
In the episode titled, “Granddad’s Fight,” Huey dreams up a scenario where he’s fighting a blind samurai warrior. The atmosphere, misty terrain, and tension are a direct parallel to several bouts found in Ninja Scroll. One worth noting is Juubei’s fight with Utsutsu Mujuro in the film. Considering Ninja Scroll’s incredible bouts and protagonist, it’s not too farfetched to see The Boondocks reference it.
So, there we have it, our picks for the best anime references inserted in western cartoons!
What do you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!
2 thoughts on “The Best Anime References In Western Cartoons | TheReviewGeek Recommends”
Thanks, Joshua. I made the corrections. It does look identical to Juubei’s fight with Mujuro in the movie than the fights the protagonists in Champloo get into.
That Boondocks scene wasn’t a reference to Samurai Champloo, but an anime movie called Ninja Scroll.