This cult-followed science fiction show was developed by Brian Henson (Jim Henson's son). While on TV, it was one of my favorites, and I recently re-watched the entire series with my fiancee Rachel. The show combines puppetry, computer effects, and extremely creative writing to produce one of the most original shows I've ever seen. An astronaut is hurled through a wormhole where he befriends a group of escaped alien convicts aboard a living ship.
As the series progressed, the writers pushed every boundary, never fearing to break the fourth wall, or even to mock other sci-fi shows. Many of the episodes focused on what was within the character's minds. Impressively, at the end of the entire series both the protagonist and the antagonist achieve all their goals! That in itself is an extremely rare feat. The biggest inspiration was the idea that our universe is entirely open, anything we dream can exist. One of my works-in-progress is an adult science fiction novel, and it does begin on a prison ship.
I'm putting this under TV, though I considered doing a separate anime entry. Naruto is one of the most popular anime/manga series in production with nine motion pictures, hundreds of anime episodes, toys, and a massive merchandising franchise. For me, the character development in this series is some of the most complex in any show on television. I've watched both Naruto series (subbed, not dubbed for the true otakus reading this), beginning when I was young myself, and continuing to this day. Every character in the series is given a wonderfully layered back-story, a goal and a set of obstacles. The young ninjas develop not just their skills as fighters, but as human beings, coping with life, love, and death.
Uzumaki Naruto, the central figure of the anime is a boy who spends his life confronting an inner demon- a nine tailed fox with immense power who was implanted inside Naruto as a child. This makes Naruto isolated, feared, ridiculed, yet ultimately powerful. I drew on those themes when crafting School of Deaths. Suzie is ridiculed and isolated because she is a female, alone in a world of men. Ultimately, her ridicule turns to courage, when she realizes that being different isn't bad.
3. Avatar: the Last Airbender
The movie was terrible, and completely let me down. However, the television series, which some have called "American Anime" was brilliantly crafted and extremely inventive. For any adult who insists that children's shows cannot have good writing (and admittedly they often do not), I recommend watching this series. While the character development isn't as detailed as a series like Naruto, the world-building is masterfully done.
In School of Deaths, there is a race enslaved by the Deaths called Elementals or 'Mentals for short. Each has an ability to manipulate an element. This idea was directly inspired by Avatar, where different nations "bend" different elements in nature. In my story, I expand the principle beyond the four elements of nature, to include things such as thought. As I work on the sequel to School of Deaths, the role of 'Mentals in the Word of the Dead is one of the most vital questions to the series as a whole.
Don't forget to pre-order SCHOOL OF DEATHS!