There is no anime more responsible for a love of space bounty hunters (and an ill-advised love of jazz) than Cowboy Bebop. The seminal series has been beloved for so long, and with the Netflix adaptation on the way now’s as good a time as any to dive in and see if Bebop is a jam session you can jive with. Here are our recommendations for the best episodes across the animated series (also available on Netflix) that highlight what can make it so special.
Asteroid Blues (Episode 1)
Bebop’s opening episode is less a simple pilot and more like being thrown in at the deep end (at times). Tonally, narratively, textually, it’s a rapid-fire introduction to both the sci-fi world the animated series inhabits and a key thematic element the show will revisit time and time again: the certain kind of tragedy that comes from tempting fate.
Ballad of Fallen Angels (Episode 5)
There are plenty of standalone episodes, several of which we’ll touch on later, but if you’re looking for an idea of the bigger picture the show eventually becomes about, look no further than this early episode. It’s also the first of another familiar trope Bebop often plays with, a flashback backstory-filler that details just who Spike Spiegel was before he became a laid-back bounty hunter, giving us a taste of one of the series’ biggest villains, Vicious.
Jupiter Jazz (Episodes 12 and 13)
Speaking of backstory episodes! This two-parter is more of a follow up to Spike’s backstory, as a despondent Faye makes off with whatever she can carry from the crew in a wake of self-doubt — jetting off to the moons of Jupiter with a chance encounter that lifts the lid on Spike and Vicious’ past relationship even more. If you like this, then it’s also worth checking out “Ganymede Elegy” and “Speak Like a Child,” major expository episodes for Jet and Faye, respectively.
Waltz for Venus (Episode 8)
Bebop isn’t all serialized storytelling, however. Some of its best episodes are entirely standalone adventures that ask you to invest in a small slice of the anime’s world… and, more often than not, ask you to break your heart a little by the end of its 2o-odd-minute runtime. “Waltz for Venus” is no exception to this rule, a bittersweet story that further explores what the moral murkiness of Bebop’s world can do to good people.
Jamming With Edward (Episode 9)
The Netflix series has done a lot of focusing on Spike, Jet, and Faye (with an occasional reminder that Ein the Dog is there, too), but there is another member of team Bebop that it’s essential to get to know, especially as the live-action adaptation is being very coy about how they’ll fit into the series. “Jamming with Edward” introduces us and our heroes to the ace hacker Radical Ed, who brings a much-needed jolt of youthful levity to the series’ world and its older protagonists.
Toys in the Attic (Episode 11)
Another standalone that serves as a reminder that not everything about the series is quite so melancholic. A zany Alien-esque comedy-horror riff, this episode sees the Bebop crew go a little bonkers as they’re chased around the ship by a mutated lobster that they had, at some point, intended to be dinner. Hilarity and egregious uses of a flamethrower ensue.
Pierrot Le Fou (Episode 20)
… and then a standalone that reminds you that actually, sometimes Bebop can just be full-on horror in its twisty-turny approaches to genre. “Pierrot Le Fou” follows Spike as he finds himself the target of the titular, almost supernatural killer. If “Toys in the Attic” pulled Bebop’s examination of sci-fi to a more light-hearted side, this slickly animated episode is a much darker mirror, delivering something quite unlike anything else Bebop does in its 26 episode run. Plus, the live-action show’s title sequence gives us a brief glimpse of the villain, so it’ll be interesting to see just how it handles the series’ big tonal switch too.
Gateway Shuffle (Episode 4)
For more clues into what the live-action series will pick-and-choose from when it comes to the original series, Netflix’s opening titles give us a glimpse of Maria Murdock and her animal-rights-activist henchmen from this episode. For more than just an introduction to another intriguing one-off villain, this episode lets you best appreciate a rare translation of the show’s usual penchant for smooth, slick action on the ground into a thrilling space sequence where Spike and Faye have to stop a barrage of viral missiles. It’s one of the series’ best action highlights.
Hard Luck Woman (Episode 24)
If the actual finale of the series — the two-parter “The Real Folk Blues” — is a sendoff to Spike and Jet, this penultimate episode about the dissolution of the Bebop team as we’ve come to know them across the series is important for shining the spotlight on Faye and Ed primarily. It’s fitting as a farewell to the team at large as the two characters reckon with their pasts to forge a future beyond their connection as members of the Bebop’s crew, and an equally fittingly bittersweet paean to the show’s embrace of the found family trope. But it’s also another important reminder of Cowboy Bebop’s melancholic heart — and that not all confrontations with your past are necessarily going to play out well for you.