In a sense, it’s a moot point to imagine there’s something else to watch after finishing Cowboy Bebop. If what you’re in pursuit of is a film or TV show with a comparable vibe or level of artistry, you won’t find it. Bebop the anime series is a singular accomplishment, one of the great pieces of art of the 20th century regardless of medium. It is the rare genre mash-up/homage that is more than the sum of its parts, so much so that it’s gone on to influence imitators of its own (you will not find Firefly on this list).
Still, with the anime’s full series now streaming on Netflix (perhaps the most accessible platform of its streaming run) alongside the service’s highly anticipated live-action adaptation, it’s a good time to dive into the film and television that influenced the original show and those that were influenced by it after its run. From nameless drifters to existential lawmen, it’s not a total lost cause to find something that taps into the alchemy of Cowboy Bebop.
A couple of years before Bebop aired, Outlaw Star was the name of the game when it came to space westerns in anime and manga. Adapted from a three-volume comic by manga-ka Takehiko Ito, the show spans 26 episodes and follows the exploits of the space outlaws who pilot the titular spaceship. The Outlaw Star is a state-of-the-art ship designed with one purpose in mind: find the Galactic Leyline, a legendary treasure said to hold the ultimate power in the universe. Headed up by Gene Starwind, an underrated scowly ’90s Anime Boyfriend, it’s full of the sort of rogues and rascals Bebop specializes in. The show served as a crucial piece of Toonami’s ’90s run, and while its legacy isn’t quite as sterling as that of some of its peers, it’s a fun space romp for anyone craving a fix after finishing Bebop.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Look, realistically speaking, you probably don’t need to be told to watch The Mandalorian. Still, in terms of modern live-action television, there are few shows that tap into the storytelling of Bebop quite like this one. The show’s episodic nature feels of a piece with Bebop’s; guns for hire drifting between planets looking for the next gig and maybe something resembling peace. Again, statistically speaking, if you’re a person who watches television, you’ve probably already watched at least an episode or two of Mando. Still, even if you’re familiar with the universe, it’s worth revisiting through the lens of Bebop’s influence, which feels significant over the course of the show’s run.
Where to Watch: Disney+
If what you’re looking for is something similar to Cowboy Bebop not so much in narrative but in vibe, you’ll dig Samurai Champloo, another acclaimed series from Shinichiro Watanabe. Champloo features a stripped-down narrative that takes place in Japan’s Edo era. It follows a 15-year-old girl and the pair of swordsmen she’s roped into escorting her across the country on the hunt for a fabled samurai who smells of sunflowers. Like Bebop’s jazz soundtrack, Champloo features an anachronistic score, setting a period piece to modern hip-hop beats. It’s an impeccable vibe, one inextricable from its era (the show was a mainstay of Adult Swim in the mid-aughts) in the best way.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Another space western that leans heavily into the “western” of it all, Trigun remains one of the definitive anime of the early Adult Swim era. Taking place on the planet Gunsmoke (subtle), it depicts a 31st century that’s simultaneously futuristic and deeply resembling the vibe and aesthetic of classic Hollywood westerns. The show follows the exploits of Vash the Stampede, an amnesiac drifter with a 60 billion double-dollar bounty on his head as he roams from town to town trying to avoid bounty hunters and do a little bit of good whenever he can. The show’s raucous rock-and-roll soundtrack and hyperstylized visuals made it a hit in American syndication, and Johnny Yong-Bosch’s English dub of Vash is one of the more beloved anime dubs of all time.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Miami Vice (2006)
The enigmatic Spike Spiegel is the heart of Cowboy Bebop, but his right-hand man Jet Black is its soul. Jet is a former lawman with a cybernetic arm, a lost love, and a partner who sold him out. He plays like he keeps it together more than his cohort, plagued with whimsical and melancholic ennui, but at his core, Jet’s nursing a broken heart that never quite healed.
Michael Mann’s recently reappraised (by Vulture’s own Bilge Ebiri, at that!) film adaptation of an ’80s cop show might seem like an odd leap from an anime space western, but it’s far more compatible with the heart of Bebop than one might think at first. Mann’s film is a lyrical take on the cop movie, more concerned with exploring heartbreak and loneliness than the inner workings of the Miami drug trade. Its portrait of two men trapped in the confines of a brutal system trying to escape with their souls intact is closer in tone to Cowboy Bebop than many of the latter’s imitators.
Where to Watch: Starz
The Man With No Name Trilogy
By Shinichiro Watanabe’s own admission, at its core Cowboy Bebop is chasing Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Their iconic Man With No Name trilogy remains the framework for the western as we understand it today, and even if its influence on film and TV is vast, it’s especially prevalent in Bebop. If you’re looking to find something to watch after finishing Cowboy Bebop, you could do a lot worse than going back to the basics.
Where to Watch: Available to rent on Amazon
The Long Goodbye
Sad, lyrical, and whimsical, Robert Altman’s adaptation of the most well known of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels proved deeply misunderstood upon its release in 1973. Ostensibly an L.A.-set neo-noir, the film glides from genre to genre as Elliott Gould’s Marlowe drifts around the city trying to solve an increasingly convoluted case. The film drips with ennui as Marlowe becomes more and more jaded with the decay and class disparity of L.A.’s early ’70s — an ennui that feels of a piece with that of Bebop’s Spike.
Where to Watch: Tubi
Lupin the 3rd
There’s a world of difference in tone and execution between Bebop and the vast library of Lupin the 3rd shows and movies produced over the last few decades. Still, if what you ultimately want after watching the former is an anime about a bunch of cool weirdos banding together to hunt down loot and, to invoke heist-movie lingo, “do a job” together, Lupin is the move. The titular thief is part Bugs Bunny, part Danny Ocean, and his frenemy flame Fujiko Mine is reminiscent of Bebop’s Faye Valentine. The gang is rounded out with Jigen, a gangster gunman, and Goemon, a slick swordsman.
Lupin has been a reliable staple of the anime world for ages now with several different series and films making up the franchise. The most famous installment is the film The Castle of Cagliostro, the directorial debut of the master Hayao Miyazaki. It’s also the most accessible — these days, you can stream it on Netflix.
Where to Watch: Netflix
There’s no Bebop without Yokko Kano and Seatbelts, the artists responsible for the soundtrack that elevates the show from great to legendary. Their fusion of jazz, blues, and Ennio Morricone is synonymous with the show, neither existing as they do now without the other. There’s no show or movie with a comparable soundtrack, but if after Bebop you find yourself in a jazz mood, there’s always Damien Chazelle’s 2014 banger Whiplash. Effectively a two-man show, the film tells the story of a hotheaded and ambitious (to a fault) young jazz drummer played by Miles Teller and the complicated relationship he develops with his college-band conductor played by JK Simmons (who won a well-deserved Oscar for the performance). Be warned: You will find none of Bebop’s laid-back vibes here. Whiplash will make you feel like a rubber band being stretched to its breaking point. Still, it’s a great movie about art and artists set to a killer jazz soundtrack.
Where to Watch: Starz
Much of Bebop is watching Shinichiro Watanabe and his crew attempt to take the visual language of live-action cinema and translate it to the medium of anime. Their influences are vast, but it feels safe to say that Le Samoraï was on their proverbial Pinterest boards when making the show. The 1967 French neo-noir follows Alain Delon as a hit man experiencing a crisis of self. Cool as ice and timelessly stylish, it is an attempt at translation in the same way Bebop is. Director Jean-Pierre Melville used samurai films and specifically the archetype of the ronin in constructing the film’s story and visual language. There’s obviously quite a lot of Delon’s Jef Costello in Spike, to be sure, but the whole crew of the Bebop feel like spiritual companions to his weary gunslinger.
Where to Watch: HBO Max