Cowboy Bebop: Top Ten Essential Episodes

Vicious and Spike's rooftop showdown.
Vicious and Spike’s rooftop showdown.

Cowboy Bebop is widely regarded as one of the most popular and influential anime series in the West. It takes place in a future in which an eclectic group of bounty hunters chase down dangerous criminals across the galaxy. The series made a huge impression with American audiences in the early 2000’s, helping to usher anime further into the mainstream as a legitimate medium for mature storytelling. It fuses unique character designs, fluid animation and a very jazz influenced soundtrack. The series had a powerful atmosphere and explored tropes ranging from anywhere between film noir to exploitation. Here we shall discuss which episodes best exemplify what makes this series both unique and iconic.

 10. Asteroid Blues

Cowboy Bebop

This episode is the first of the series and does an excellent job of establishing who are characters are right away. We have Spike Spiegel, a laid back wisecracking bounty hunter with a mysterious past who serves as the main protagonist. Then we meet his partner Jet, a former cop with a tough exterior but a gentle demeanor within. Here the audience learns the status of this world in which criminals often run free. Jet and Spike hunt down a crazed drug runner who is willing to murder his own men to achieve wealth and power. This episode makes distinctive visual use of the drug sold by the dealer. A spray is used and injected into the eye. The leads the reddening of the eye. Hence the nickname of the narcotic. It’s know as the “red eye”. On a side note, the villain is named after one of the most famous writers in science fiction, Issac Asimov. It’s a simple story, but it’s fast paced while still touching on some classic crime thriller tropes.

9. The Ballad of Fallen Angels

Cowboy Bebop

Episode five is the first to touch upon the main plot in a mostly episodic series. Namely, the secret truth of Spike’s past. While pursuing a bounty for a member of a major crime syndicate, the crew becomes involved in coup within the organization. Most importantly, this episode introduces the audience to the main villain of the series, Vicious. Vicious is shown to have a major grudge against Spike for reasons only hinted at here. When Faye Valentine, an additional member of the crew, encounters Vicious, we learn everything we need to know about the man as he casually observes vicious murder. We also are first introduced the love triangle between Vicious, Spike and Julia. The character of Julia is only revealed through flashback. However, proper use of editing and music establish her importance very quickly. The concluding battle in a church provides some of the series most diverse and emotional action sequences.

8. Jamming With Edward

Cowboy Bebop

This outing is important for one primary reason, the introduction of it’s most divisive character. That would be Edward. When the Spike and the gang attempt to catch a hacker who has been using satellites to cause destruction on the surface of the long abandoned Earth, they enlist the help of this eccentric young girl. We are allowed to see the importance this character could serve plot wise while adding a true comic relief character to the roster. The most interesting aspect of this session is the actual suspense to build up who Edward is. The payoff also leads to some excellent humor towards the end of the episode. This is easily one of the better examples of the comedic components of Bebop. Whether you like or dislike Ed, you should know by the ending of this episode.

7. Toys in the Attic

Cowboy Bebop

This story is an example of how despite a very well balanced tone, Bebop could tackle radically different stories and styles with each episode. Here it explores a parody of sorts of the horror genre, blending both comedy and genuine thrills. Modeling itself after such classics as Ridley Scott’s Alien and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Spike and Ed must team up to catch a strange creature which has infiltrated the ship. Some examples of this include specific scenes where Spike must hunt the creature in ventilation shafts with his primary weapon being a flamethrower. This is a classic throwback the sequence that occurred in Alien. The utilization of classical music while the ship is on autopilot is a reference to several sequences to Space Odyssey. The creature itself is a reference to the monster in John Carpenters sci-f comedy, Dark Star. Even an homage to 1980’s action films are references here. This entire episode is essentially a massive homage to the classics of genre films. With the rest of the crew out of the action, there are many good moments of tension here all leading to a strangely comic climax.

6. Mushroom Samba

Cowboy Bebop

Another example of how eclectic this show can be, this episode is easily one of the most discussed among fans. This is simply due to how ridiculous it is. After crash landing on a planet, the crew find themselves running low on fuel and water. Interestingly, they send Ed and Ein, their super intelligent dog, out to search for the necessary items. Ed then stumbles across a bounty named Domino Walker, who seems to smuggling hallucinogenic mushrooms of all things. What ensues involves frantic psychedelic imagery and an obvious reference to exploitation films of the 1970’s. A notable aspect of the session is that we are able to observe the power of the hallucinations from the perspective of three different characters. In a fascinating sequence, the whole sequence takes place in the same area. Images show the same basic events occurs, but with Faye, Spike and Jet experiences something unique to them. This is mostly impressive due to showcasing the strengths of the animation Bebop often excels at.

5. Jupiter Jazz

Cowboy Bebop

Faye runs off with the crew’s loot at the beginning of this episode, prompting the others to search for her. She flees to one of moons of Jupiter. As fate would have it, Spike learns of a possible lead regarding his former love Julia. It seems Vicious has business that brings him there as well, leading to a another confrontation between the two. This two part plot is essentially the second act of the story involving Spike and Vicious. The most interesting aspect here is when Faye encounters a strange man named Gren. Gren seems to have a history with Vicious as well. This gives us some more back story and motivations for who the main villain is, possibly hinting at a sense of honor one might not think he retains.

A very strong component of the session is within the brief flashback sequence of Gren and Vicious. The little that is mentioned about a major war implies that the foundation of this future was rooted in much more massive conflicts. Much like the rest of the series itself, the audience is witnessing the aftermath of something much grander. The mystery provides more intrigue, allowing the viewer to ponder the specifics. We are given hints of Vicious and his past, but are then sold primarily through atmosphere and character interaction. Gren himself is damaged and complex. However, much like Spike, we only scratch the surface. We can only really judge the characters by who they are in the present. This is a must see since it greatly furthers the relationship between the crew and gives the audience more information regarding Spike’s origins.

4. Pierrot Le Fou

Cowboy Bebop

Though the main plot of Bebop is very intriguing, the stand alone episodes are what make up the bulk of the show and provide it with it’s clearest identity. Ironic, considering how diverse these stories often are. Here, this is an example of a fairly straight forward story executed flawlessly. Easily one of the darker outings, Spike stumbling upon a vicious assassin murdering his targets. This alone prompts the man to hunt down Spike and end his life.

This is essentially a game of cat and mouse but it flows by with bright and fluid animation, concluding in a hectic battle reminiscent of the final scenes of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. In a notable reference to superhero comics, the villain here is actually a blend of three different Batman villains. His gleeful smile and crazed demeanor are reflective of the Joker. His attire and and shape are modeled after the Penguin. In a more subtle reference, his top hat and assassin background are a reference to a less popular villain known as the Tally Man.

3. Hard Luck Woman

Cowboy Bebop

With the series ending fast approaching at this point, the writers had to essentially resolve the character arcs of the rest of the crew before focusing on the finale with Spike and Vicious. Both Faye Valentine and Ed get some closure by the end of this episode. Faye decides to return to Earth to re-explore old landmarks she found on video she recorded as a child. This leads them to an orphanage Ed had stayed in when she was young. Here she learns that her father has been looking for her for some time. In a shocking twist, it is revealed that the crew’s most recent bounty is actually Ed’s father. This leads to a major inner conflict for Edward, resulting in a truly powerful conclusion for the character. Though the focus is primarily on Edward, Faye is allowed to have resolution as well. This is mainly done through flashbacks, however Valentine reaches the crescendo of her development by learning to overcome her tragic past. Her realization is reflective of the primary idea of the series and foreshadows the inevitable conclusion all these characters must reach.

2-1. The Real Folk Blues (Part 1 and 2)

Cowboy Bebop

No list of Cowboy Bebop would be complete without the final two episodes. This final part is the last act of the dual between Spike and Vicious. Early on it is revealed that Vicious has finally taken control of his crime syndicate. In a final attempt to assert his power, Vicious is planning to destroy everyone connected to his previous life. This prompts Spike to find his former love Julia and protect her from his wrath. Death and destruction do indeed follow, concluding with the final bloody battle between these two men.

This episode has some of the most memorable quotes and exchanges in the entire story. The main theme of death being a constant aspect of life is at the forefront here. Interestingly, the concept of acceptance and embracing the future intertwines with Spikes journey at this point. The past always haunts our characters as they constantly try to outrun it. Still, our past choices do define us. It’s only how we choose to reconcile our sins that we can truly grow as individuals. The ending here is sad and slightly controversial. However, most would agree it is rather fitting indeed.

Virtually every episode of Bebop offers something different for each viewer. This series is so successful due to the diversity it holds. Though the overall tone of the show is unique, each individual episode provides a very different type of storytelling. It is rather possible that a viewer may prefer the main plot episodes, the darker somber stories or even the crazed comedic ones. Overall, this series continues to stand as a classic due to it’s characters, stories, animation and music. Bepop wasn’t afraid to be too dark or too crazy. It could be tender and tear jerking or side splitting hilarious. In any case, may this serve as a guide to getting just a taste of all this classic anime has to offer. See you later space cowboys…

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Aaron Hatch

    When anyone asks what is a good anime for newcomers, and I always say Cowboy Bebop. It story telling is simple but beautiful in presentation, and it has one of the greatest anime soundtracks of all time. Fantastic article.

  2. Favorite episodes in no particular order Asteroid Blues Jupiter Jazz (Part 1&2) Hard Luck Woman Speak Like A Child Ganymede Elegy Brain Scratch The Real Folk Blues (Part 1&2) Cowboy Funk Ballad of Fallen Angels Pierrot Le Fou.

  3. Ep 5 is my favorite, and Mushroom Samba has my favorite music in the entire show.

  4. I freaking love this show to the teeth the opening is amazing and the ending is such a shocker to me left a hole in my otaku

  5. I can’t remember the exact title or session, but one of my fave episodes, even if in low-tier, is the one in which they are hunting down “Chess Master X”, and during the majority of the episode Ed is playing against this chess master online.

  6. Noble Fur

    I love Cowboy bebop so much that I find it very difficult to think about just which episodes I like the most. Why? Because, quite honestly, I love them all.

  7. I really liked the first episode – Astroid Blues.

  8. Greco-Ross

    I like Boogie Woogie Feng Shui, because it is pointless..and by pointless I mean it doesnt have a point.

  9. MaoAdler

    1. Ganymede Elegy. 2. Honky Tonk Women. 3. Ballad of Fallen Angels. 4. Sympathy for the Devil. 5. Heavy Metal Queen. 6. Jupiter Jazz (part 2). 7. Bohemian Rhapsody 8. Mushroom Samba 9. Cowboy Funk 10. The Real Folk Blues (part2).

  10. Redding

    One thing about this show for me is that there are so many good episodes I find it easier to list the ones I don’t like.

  11. Bringbob

    Jets my favorite character. He seems the grittiest and almost the most real character from the series.

    • Jet in my opinion is one of the best written characters on the show, while mostly supporting he does have an interesting history and the episodes showing his history are the best… he’s a good dramatic character. Ed on the other hand is perfect comedy relief, and when she’s absent the show gets much darker like the last two episodes. When you don’t see Ed you know all hell is going to break loose in the worst way.

  12. If someone asked me wich episode was my favorite, I would tell them “The one with the mushrooms!”

  13. K.W. Colyard

    Kind of disappointed to not see Sympathy for the Devil on this list, but thank you for including Peirrot Le Fou. That episode scared the crap out of me as a kid, haha.

  14. Jupiter Jazz takes the #1 spot for me, hands down. The music, characters, location, and atmosphere, it’s the perfect episode IMO.

  15. Nice list. My least favorite is probably Gateway Shuffle, which is still a good episode, just sort of un-interesting for Bebop’s standards.

  16. climite

    i love HARD LUCK WOMAN episode. this episode makes me cry when i hear the song call me, call me..

  17. Speak Like a Child is definitely one of my favorites, if only for the very end of it.

  18. Seriously enjoyed this list. Thanks for putting this together.

  19. YerDietz

    i see a little bit of each character in myself. i share a birthday with faye, i practice jeet kune do, i have bonsai trees and feel good advice is valuable, and… well ed is the inner wild child in all of us i think.

  20. This is great! I would have made the same list of episodes, and so glad you included Toys in the Attic, its my personal favorite.
    After reading this, I have to rewatch this fantastic show again and remind myself why I have the theme as my ringtone.

  21. I love anime and cowboy bebop was definitely one of the major factors for this, because the show was unlike any other and it’s still unique in it’s own way now. I just wish they’d made more episodes.

  22. 1 Ballad of the Fallen Angels 2 Real Folk Blues 3 Perroit le Fou 4 Jupiter Jazz 5 Toys in the Attic 6 Black Dog Serenade 7 Hard Luck Woman 8 Brain Scratch 9 Ganymede Elegy 10 Walz with Venus

  23. Neda Rainheart

    Ballad of the Fallen Angel is one of my favorites!

  24. Although I’ve only seen Asteroid Blues, Cowboy bebop is on the top of my list for animes to watch.

  25. Cowboy Bebop is one of my favorite animes, and I’m glad to see you handle it right. Seeing the juxtaposition of plot and filler in this list truly brings out the power of this show and what makes it a classic. It also helps to see Pierrot le Fou here, seeing as it’s one of my top three. 😉

  26. I like the series as a whole, one of my faves being another low-tier -my opinion- episode called “Session 11: Toys in the Attic”.

  27. The Writer Sits in the Back

    When I watched Bebop for the first time, I was amazed at how the director has woven a clear cut story, with scenes that are at times minimalist and leaves you guessing for more.

  28. Sunbro

    I really can’t argue with this list! What a great breakdown of some of the more iconic episodes of a great TV show

  29. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. If you watch all these episodes you only need a few more to finish the whole series. Why would anyone stop at ten?

    Also cowboy been while good is incredibly overrated when compared to the authors overly underestimate work “Michiko e Hatchin”.

  30. Spike..Bang!

    It is one of the no bs animes which we rarely find
    The show has depth, values and plot whixh makes sense and it doesn’t feel like kids show
    I was 5 when it originally aired but I watched it when I am 21..this gives me a total different perspective of watching it from the eyes of viewer who is been watching animes since childhood
    It’s in true sense is a classic
    Luckily I binge watched death note and cowboy bebop..which gives me a great pleasure to see legendary series and their status
    No matter what happens, cowboy bebop will remain classic in anime history and not many series can make such impact on viewer
    It might be few of those sites which I might watch later in my life again

  31. CriticalOtaku

    Really interesting article. I tried watching the first episode a little while ago (the one dealing with “red eye”) and I wasn’t a huge fan, but I’ll probably give the show another try because I had no idea Bebop was so steeped in intertextuality.

  32. Cowboy Bebop was the first anime I watched as a teenager. I absolutely love this article for bringing me back memories of binge watching all through the night and all the emotions I felt as I was watching.

  33. As a child I always got super bummed out in the final episode.

  34. Dandylion

    Pierrot le Fou is my favourite episode of Cowboy Bebop. It is different from what we see normally, but it is so interesting to watch. I really enjoy the movie as well. It is like on long episode that is also a good introduction to the series for anyone who has not watched the series before.

  35. Would it really make sense missing Faye and Ein’s introduction episodes? I mean if you just skipped to episode 5 wouldn’t you be confused to where the girl and dog came from?

  36. Cowboy Bebop is definitely a must watch, however, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t finished it yet! I heard the movie was really good too.

  37. Cowbyo Bebop has the most style of any show I know, and Spike’s arc is simply stunning. I like to say that these character’s just BREATHE development, even as this show does it’s stand alone episodes we often learn more about the main characters.
    It’s absolutely amazing!

  38. Joseph

    I’ glad to see ‘Toys in the Attic’ here. Not merely because it is a good episode, but because it is, so to speak, a ‘filler episode,’ done correctly.

  39. joncarlos3rd

    I have to say, I agree with your top ten must see episodes. To me one of the brilliant things about cowboy bebop is that is does filler right. Every episode either expands on the universe we live in, show us more about the characters we love, or both. These episodes are the epitome of this, great list bud!

  40. I have to agree, Cowboy Bebop is one of the legends in animation that definitely deserves its title. While it may “look” dated, with the 3d animation looking not up to par with what we have now, the story stays strong; a lone space cowboy and his posse trying to survive in the space age time of crime and politics. It really is something to behold.

    See you later, Space Cowboy.

  41. Lacoran

    I agree with your list but I would add 1 more. By counting Real folk blues 1&2 as one episode, like you did with Jupiter jazz, you could add “Gateway Shuffle” which is a fun episode does a good job of introducing Faye. Has some fun with Spike and Faye running around. You actually get to see them catch a bounty, only to have not be a bounty anymore, but it least it show that a they do catch someone every now and then. Finally, it show off that it is the future by the advance science that is going on. Make you feel like at least things are improving somewhere in the science world so maybe the world is not all bad.

  42. The creators favourite episodes are Asteroid Blues, Ballad of Fallen Angels and Wild Horses…

  43. I just finished the series, and I’m still reeling from how beautiful the cinematography is. Every shot is so diverse, with each episode showing a different perspective of the hangar when the gang is hanging out. Cowboy Bebop is now my go to recommendation for people new to anime.

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