10 Episodes of the 'Cowboy Bebop' Anime to Watch Before the Netflix Show

These episodes of the original anime provide direct reference points for Netflix's live-action series.

cowboy bebop anime

Netflix's adaptation of one of the greatest TV shows of all time is here at last, and whether you're a new Cowboy Bebop fan or an old one, you'll probably get a hankering to watch the original anime (which is also streaming on Netflix). If you're not quite ready to watch the saga of four spacefaring bounty hunter pals front to back (though it's only 26 half-hour episodes, so not a huge time commitment), we've gathered a list of the 10 episodes to watch before (or during, or after) diving into the live-action version starring John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda. Most of these episodes—or "sessions" as they're called in the jazz-infused world of the show—are either the direct basis for storylines in the live-action adaptation, or introduce characters that you'll see in the new version.

Episode 1: "Asteroid Blues"

Bounty hunter partners Spike Spiegel and Jet Black land their ship, the Bebop, on the surface of asteroid colony Tijuana in search of a wanted criminal named Asimov Solensan and his supply of the illegal drug Bloody-Eye. Spike's concern for the safety of Asimov's partner, an apparently pregnant woman named Katerina, complicates the hunt, and the episode's tragic ending sets the tone for the rest of the show. The first episode of the live-action adaptation is a direct translation of this episode, with some filler added to expand the narrative.

Episode 2: "Stray Dog Strut"

If you know anything about Cowboy Bebop, you probably know that the fifth member of the Bebop's crew is the adorable Welsh corgi named Ein, an illegal "data dog" experiment who is a little too smart for his own good. This episode introduces Ein onto the scene, as well as enormously tall face-changing martial artist Abdul Hakim, one of the series' best antagonists (who shares, with Spike, some of the show's best fight scenes).

Episode 3: "Honky Tonk Women"

While Faye Valentine goes ahead and shows up in the very first episode of the Netflix series, in the original show she wasn't introduced until the third, which riffs on casino-set heist films. Amnesiac Faye agrees to pose as a poker dealer to complete a deal for a mob boss, and due to a case of mistaken identity crosses paths with Spike and Jet, who attempt to turn her in to the police and collect the bounty on her head. 

Episode 4: "Gateway Shuffle"

After escaping from Spike and Jet and eluding her enemies in the criminal underworld, Faye is adrift with no fuel, yet somehow stumbles upon the Bebop crew again while helping them take down Maria Murdock, monomaniacal matriarch of the Space Warriors ecoterrorist group. Maria and her "kids" show up in the fourth episode of the Netflix show, as does their frankly terrifying ecological weapon.

cowboy bebop, vicious vs spike

Episode 5: "Ballad of Fallen Angels"

While Spike's first confrontation with his criminal nemesis Vicious happens at the climax of the final episode (for now) of the Netflix show, their iconic duel within the walls of an abandoned cathedral (drama!!!) happens in the fifth episode of the original series, introducing Vicious and the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate as the shadowy antagonists for the rest of the show, as well as revealing bits and pieces of Spike's former life.

Episodes 12 and 13: "Jupiter Jazz"

The "Jupiter Jazz" two-parter closes out the first half of the show, cementing the tentative camaraderie between Spike, Jet, and Faye, delving deeper into Vicious's past, and introducing Gren, an old friend of Vicious's who is hunting down the gangster after he sold Gren out to the authorities. The character of Gren, deeply important to the show, is remixed in the live-action version (with an updated understanding of gender identity), but their significance to Spike and Vicious's past remains the same. 

Episode 18: "Speak Like a Child"

When Faye woke up from her cryosleep, she'd been under too long and the ice had erased all memories of her former life. In this episode, while Faye succumbs to her gambling problem, Spike and Jet hunt down a Betamax player—an artifact as ancient nowadays as it is in the show—so that they can watch a tape that was mailed to Faye from an unknown sender. It's one of the more freewheeling and fun episodes, yet still ends on a downer message about the futility and transience of memory.

Episode 20: "Pierrot le Fou"

Besides Vicious, the clown-like serial killer who calls himself "Mad Pierrot" is arguably Cowboy Bebop's most terrifying villain, able to float around in the shadows of the night and resist even point-blank gunfire. The eighth episode of the live-action show draws heavily from this one, adding in a backstory narrative that connects Mad Pierrot to the Syndicate and Vicious.

Episode 23: "Brain Scratch"

The sixth episode of the Netflix show riffs on this one, a dystopian cyberpunk vision of the far future in which humans upload their consciousnesses into computers to escape the drudgery of mortal life. When Faye joins a cult led by a mysterious "Dr. Londes" to get rid of her gambling debts by transferring her mind into virtual reality, Spike and Jet decide to hunt down the cult leader and collect the bounty. In the live-action version, this episode also contains a small reference to Radical Ed, the computer hacker who becomes a major fan-favorite character in the anime.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.