‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ Is the Best ’90s Anime You Haven’t Seen

The Big Picture

  • Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the most influential and underrated anime ever created, with unique aesthetics and exciting narratives.
  • The series had a significant impact on the genre, influencing subsequent anime through character design, storytelling, and fight choreography.
  • The English dub of Yu Yu Hakusho is considered one of the best in the genre, with standout voice acting performances that enhance the characters’ authenticity.


Don’t let the lack of mainstream attention deceive you, Yoshihiro Togashi‘s Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the greatest and most influential anime ever created. This supernatural shōnen adventure featured second-to-none characterization, unique and memorable aesthetics, and some of the most exciting narratives that continue to influence the genre today. The underrated series aired in the early 1990s and was a contemporary of the massively popular Dragon Ball, with the two being staple stories on both the pages of Shōnen Jump and on the televisions of audiences. Following the success of Netflix’s One Piece, the streaming service is introducing a new live-action adaptation of Yu Yu Hakusho, which means now is the perfect time to look back at one of the most influential, underrated, and downright enjoyable anime ever produced.

yu-yu-hakusho-poster

Yu Yu Hakusho

The story revolves around Yusuke Urameshi, a delinquent junior high school student who spends his days getting into fights. He dies after saving a child in a car accident, and gets resurrected to serve as an investigator of the supernatural.

Release Date
December 14, 2023

Cast
Takumi Kitamura , Shuhei Uesugi , Jun Shison , Kanata Hongô

Seasons
1

Streaming Service(s)
Netflix


‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ is a Revolutionary Shōnen That Influenced Future Generations

The premise of Yu Yu Hakusho is deceptively simple, but the story grows in complexity and intrigue in such a way that it makes the series incredibly bingeable. Opening with “Smile Bomb,” one of the catchiest anime themes ever, audiences are soon introduced to Yusuke Urameshi, a delinquent 14-year-old boy who dies while saving a child from getting struck by a car. Now dead, Yusuke meets Botan, an unexpectedly cheerful and friendly guide to the underworld, who reveals that the Spirit World wasn’t expecting him to die at that moment, so they offer him a chance to return to life if he passes a series of trials that prove he is worthy of being resurrected. On his journey, he is also assigned the title of Spirit Detective, a responsibility given to humans to protect their world from supernatural threats from the spirit and demon worlds. Though this original summary of Yu Yu Hakusho’s story is straightforward, the series continuously transforms and ensures that the stakes continue to escalate, and the fulfilling character development becomes significantly more satisfying.

It’s no understatement to say that Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the most influential anime of the time. First premiering in the early 1990s, the series included countless creative decisions that went on to become anime tradition. The series pushed action choreography and character design into new frontiers, bringing vivid colors and striking visual effects that are utterly beautiful. The term “tournament arc” may have been popularized by Dragon Ball, but Yu Yu Hakusho’s Dark Tournament Arc is a strong contender for the best execution of that iconic story format. Even Togashi himself would take design and narrative inspiration from Yu Yu when creating Hunter x Hunter, one of the best-selling manga of all time. Jujutsu Kaisen is a perfect example of a modern anime that feels like it is carrying the torch first ignited by Yu Yu Hakusho with its story centered around occult spirits, but advancements in animation and storytelling that build upon earlier shows. From character personality types and aesthetic choices to villain ideologies and fight choreography, fans of modern anime can easily see how Yu Yu Hakusho paved the way for subsequent generations.

Unlike the vast majority of other anime, Yu Yu Hakusho‘s English Dub is not just considered one of the best in the genre but considered by many fans to be the premier way to watch the series. The voice cast is stacked with household names in the voice acting industry, with many of them finding their first successes when voicing for characters in this show. Justin Cook as Yusuke is one of the best voice acting performances in all anime, whether it be subbed or dubbed. His voice exudes the sheer audacity of the character, dropping incredible improvised lines (more specifically, insults and quips) that make Yusuke one of the most hilarious and unapologetic trash talkers in any series. Keiko, Yusuke’s childhood friend, is presented as the perfect girl-next-door thanks to Laura Bailey‘s voice acting talents, while Kuwabara, Yusuke’s first rival-turned-friend, is brought to life in all his bombastic lovability thanks to Christopher Sabat‘s excellent characterization.

Yusuke Urameshi Is the Most Underrated Anime Protagonist

One of the biggest things Yu Yu Hakusho gets right is that Yusuke Urameshi is in contention for the best shōnen protagonist, ever. Yusuke checks off all the major boxes: he’s brave, loyal, kindhearted but strong-willed. And, most importantly, he’s a certifiable jerkass. What makes Yusuke stand out from other anime protagonists is his sheer audacity and unapologetic authenticity, which is only highlighted by his delinquent nature. When he’s first introduced, he is immediately seen as admirable and good because of how he sacrificed his life to save a child from getting struck by a car. Yet just moments prior, he yells at the kid in such a hilarious way that it makes him feel like a more realistic character rather than some archetype. His endlessly snarky quips make him far more relatable than the pure-of-heart protagonists like Goku, who often feel too good to be real. Yusuke is a jackass who readily insults even the most fearsome opponents. He remains asleep during a tournament full of bloodthirsty demons and is perpetually ready to throw hands with anyone that is combative towards him or his friends.

Even his signature technique, the Spirit Gun, feels more rebellious than classic attacks like the Kamehameha. However, that doesn’t mean Yusuke doesn’t possess a heart-of-gold. Despite his loud mouth and his attitude, he makes friends easily and earns the respect of even his most formidable enemies. Yusuke matures as the series progresses, learning how to fulfill his responsibilities without ever losing his confident attitude. Though his difficult upbringing could have led him on a path of villainy, Yusuke’s inherently good nature and desire to protect his friends (and ultimately all of humanity) makes him the premier anime protagonist, capable of inspiring bravery and laughter at the same time.

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‘Yu Yu Hakusho’s Side Characters and Villains Are Incredibly Compelling

The Toguro brothers from 'Yu Yu Hakusho'
Image via Crunchyroll

Not to be outdone by the superstar qualities of the series’ protagonist, Yu Yu Hakusho also boasts a diverse array of side characters and villains that feature iconic designs and thematically significant storylines masterfully intertwined with the overarching conflicts of the show. Despite his brash attitude, or maybe because of it, Yusuke amasses a motley crew of friends that aren’t just endlessly endearing, but are some of the most fashionable and well-designed characters in anime. The main crew consists of Yusuke, Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei, each of whom play an integral role in Team Urameshi, each leaving notable legacies that influenced future anime characters.

Kuwabara is Yusuke’s oldest rival and closest friend, having developed a kinship and respect after years of fighting one another before becoming staunch allies against malicious spirits. Kuwabara exemplifies the ideals of honor and loyalty, willing to make immense sacrifices in order to protect his friends. His intrinsic protectiveness makes his weapon, the Spirit Sword, the perfect thematic visualization of his ideals, as he embodies knighthood levels of chivalry. Kurama is a demonic fox spirit (no not that one), that fled the demon world by taking on a human form. Growing up with a kind human mother permanently changed Kurama’s disposition, making him a kind and peace-loving individual — but his niceties are not without limit, as he remains cold, calculating, and ruthless in battle. Hiei is the predecessor to the angsty side character archetype, and not even Sasuke manages to pull it off with the same level of swagger. A fire demon born to a family of ice spirits, Hiei was abandoned as a child, forcing him to grow into a vicious and deadly fighter, capable of striking down fearsome enemies in the blink of an eye.

Yu Yu Hakusho also features complex villains that serve as poignant narrative foils for the heroes. Toguro was the looming threat casting an imposing shadow on Yusuke throughout the Dark Tournament, but his raw power never compromised his interesting philosophies. Having sacrificed his humanity in order to gain demonic strength, Toguro represents all the lines that Yusuke refuses to cross in order to become more powerful. An even more critical juxtaposition to Yusuke was Sensui, the talented Spirit Detective that was appointed before him. Sensui became disillusioned with humanity and sought their extermination, illustrating the importance of Yusuke’s resilience and belief in humanity. While Toguro and Sensui are the most iconic antagonists of the show, each of the aforementioned side characters also receive thematic opposition in the same way that Yusuke does, making each conflict feel personal from fight to fight.

‘Yu Yu Hakusho’s Narrative and Spectacle Evolve With the Series

The main characters from 'Yu Yu Hakusho'
Image via Crunchyroll

Yu Yu Hakusho’s most underrated aspect is its constant evolution as a series while remaining true to its core themes and ideas. Togashi evolves as a writer, demonstrating unmatched creativity as the manga expanded in scale in both its story and eye-catching action. Though it started out with small-scale episodic challenges, the show evolved to feature long-lasting conflicts that take up entire seasons due to their complexity and spectacle. The first episode feels incredibly different from the action-packed sequences of the Dark Tournament, which in turn feel unique compared to the mystery of the Chapter Black saga and the political lore during the Three Kings arc. However, thanks to the consistent characterization of its main cast, Yu Yu Hakusho remains steadily enjoyable no matter which genre it dips into. Yu Yu Hakusho may not be the most recognizable anime from the ’90s, but it deserves immense amounts of praise for its one-of-a-kind storytelling and immeasurable contributions to anime for decades to come.

The live-action adaptation of Yu Yu Hakusho is streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

Watch on Netflix

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