Domestic debut: April 1, 2001
It's tempting to dismiss all the big '-mon' franchises as cash-grab marketing for toys, especially considering how gutless and pointless Pokémon is—but hear me out. While Pokémon is the bigger franchise, for sure, Digimon is a different beast that's generally better respected as a strong anime drama with real plot development, emotional resonance, and character depth. As far as cartoons for preteen audiences go, Digimon is as good as it gets.
Digimon Tamers is season three of the overall Digimon franchise. Following the international success of Digimon's original, two-season Adventure arc from 1999 through 2000, Toei Animation recruited screenwriter Chiaki J. Konaka, who'd previously worked on Serial Experiments Lain—an anime series about existentialism, techno-utopianism, and preteen suicide—to work as the lead writer for series sequel Digimon Tamers. It's a divisive season, to say the least. Tamers replaces the original series' lead characters with Digimon trainers Takato, Rika, and Henry, who struggle to defend the dissolving barrier between the Digital World and the Real World. Digimon's original Adventure arc is mostly confined to just the Digital World. In Tamers, the stakes are higher, more interesting, and more in line with the dramatic elements that you'd find in other monster-fueled anime beyond the Fox Kids lineup. —Justin Charity