Top 20 Anime of All Time
1. Cowboy Bebop
Trailer video: Watch the “Cowboy Bebop” trailer now!
Originally aired in 1998, every argument about whether Cowboy Bebop, Shinichiro Watanabe’s science-fiction masterwork, is the apex of anime is just semantic. Its unique combination of cyberpunk intrigue, Western atmosphere, martial arts action, and noir cool in seinen form is unrivaled and universally attractive. Its existential and painful themes are universal. Its characters are complicated and imperfect, yet they nonetheless exude coolness.
It depicts an ethnically diversified and foreboding future. Its 26-episode run was near-perfect, and episodes that would have been filler in another series are compact, taut, and support the show’s thesis while not distracting from its main storyline, which is engaging but not oppressive. It’s approachable for newcomers while also rewarding old-timers with each subsequent viewing.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Trailer video: Watch the “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” trailer now!
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the necessary anime experience for many, and it’s simple to see why. Brotherhood, a more authentic translation of Hiromu Arakawa’s mega-popular manga series than the previous adaption, deals with loss, sorrow, war, racism, and ethics in mature and creative ways that are well ahead of their time in practically every regard.
Furthermore, the program is precisely timed, with neatly wrapped arcs that lead into each other and contribute to a larger global story on selected subjects. Brotherhood is just the correct length, never overstaying its welcome and demonstrating how adaptable and pliable shounen anime tropes can be. Originally aired in 2009-2010.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
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Originally aired in 1995-1996, most individuals have at least a passing knowledge of Neon Genesis Evangelion, whether from the abundance of branded items or the many mentions in popular culture. But, for a program as embedded in the animation canon as Evangelion, the way we talk about it is always changing. Originally billed as a serious critique of the mecha popularized by Gundam and Macross, the genre eventually grew bloated and riddled with extraneous material, much like the melodramas-as-merchandise, they mocked years before.
Evangelion’s effect, however, is evident, with a cultural overlay that can be observed, creating a phenomenon that appears to outstrip the show’s literal content. Much like Star Wars, its original creator, Hideaki Anno, has lost control over the franchise’s expansion and has subsequently predicted the end of anime as we know it, stating that Japan’s animation sector is “moving by inertia.”
4. Revolutionary Girl Utena
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Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s masterwork, is a blazing light for the shoujo genre, with a mental incision on adolescence. Utena is a post-structural exploration of lesbian identity and generational trauma observed through a surrealist perspective and gorgeous, heart-warming surroundings, influenced by Riyoko Ikeda’s foundational works and the legendary all-female theater company Takarazuka Revue.
The show follows Utena Tenjou, a middle schooler obsessed with becoming a royal so she may meet the prince who saved her as a child. She defies her school’s gender norms (which may be a Grecoroman city-state with its own all-powerful student council and interweaving governmental institutions) and enchants the female student population with her unwavering devotion to safeguarding other women. Originally aired in 1997.
Trailer video: Watch the “FLCL” trailer now!
Originally aired from 2001-to 2018, FLCL was designed to feel, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, anime or otherwise. It has outstanding Japanese alt-rock music by The Pillows. The editing is frantic. Its characters communicate in frenzied, gloomy, or sad states. Its narrative, in which robots emerge from a little boy’s bloated, damaged skull, signaling the return of a strong alien creature, is kind of pointless.
According to series director Kazuya Tsurumaki, none of that matters. “Difficulty in comprehending should not be an essential issue in FLCL,” he previously stated in a Production IG comment thread. “I feel that the ‘rock guitar’ vibe that plays throughout the event is a shortcut to comprehending it.
6. Tatami Galaxy
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Almost any of Masaaki Yuasa’s films could make this list, but Tatami Galaxy, released in 2010, is the director’s most iconic work: the characters speak at breakneck speed, making Aaron Sorkin blush; the style is lovingly surreal, and the material delightfully mundane; and the content is as cerebral as it is immediately relatable.
The primary idea of Tatami Galaxy is around our protagonist (who remains anonymous) as he starts college, progressively grows disillusioned, then meets a girl and boy whose fate is inextricably linked to, and something dreadful happens, culminating in the reset of his college life. Tatami Galaxy is for fans of Haruki Murakami’s dismal magical realism, anyone who has suffered bone-deep boredom, or anyone who simply appreciates gorgeous animation. Originally aired in 2010.
7. Aku no Hana
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Originally aired in 2013, you’re not going to enjoy Aku No Hana. Well, at least not the first time you see it. The program is proudly wicked, making frequent allusions to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (from whence it gets its name) as well as his contemporary Rimbaud. Among his Romantic contemporaries, Baudelaire was the most afflicted, suffering from drinking, mounting debts, and syphilitic lunacy.
In modern-day Japan, a young middle schooler called Kasuga found him sympathetic. Sensing Kasuga’s outsider inclinations, a fellow outcast called Nakamura blackmails him into a twisted relationship after catching him giving in to his filthy fantasies. Aku No Hana, on the other hand, is a sickeningly awful bildungsroman about adolescent inability to conform and our disconnects between personal needs and social expectations.
8. Dragon Ball Z
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In every practical sense, Dragon Ball cemented Akira Toriyama’s place as one of anime’s finest producers. The manga and later anime series about Son Goku’s exploits to acquire all seven fabled dragon balls, loosely based on the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West, influenced whole generations of manga artists and animators in Japan.
The first series was a masterpiece, but it was Dragon Ball Z that catapulted it from a national treasure to a global sensation. Dragon Ball Z is a particularly essential addition to the canon of martial arts action anime, with hyperkinetic violence, showy energy strikes, dizzying spectacles of mass devastation, and suspenseful moments of serial escalation. Originally aired in 1989-1996.
Trailer video: Watch the “Monster” trailer now!
Originally aired in 2004-2005, Naoki Urasawa is a highly recognized manga writer of his generation, beloved by the literary world both inside and outside of Japan, and the author of some of the most elaborately structured, character-driven, and experimental comics ever produced. So it’s only inevitable that Monster, Urasawa’s fifth serialized manga and one of his most well-known outside of Japan, would be adapted into one of the finest anime series ever made.
The show’s idea unfolds over the course of 74 episodes in the manner that only the best crime-thriller should: slowly, yet methodically. From start to finish, Dr. Kenzo Tenma’s journey from acclaimed brain surgeon to discredited murder suspect on the run, and his frantic quest for the man who framed him, is a compelling drama.
10. Michiko and Hatchin
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Michiko and Hatchin have everything it takes to become an instant animation classic: a cross-country road trip, an irresistible spirit of adventure, funky samba music by Brazilian musician Alexandre Kassin, and two anime’s finest leads. The program’s true strength is Sayo Yamamoto’s directing style, with each picture flawlessly conveying the terrible allure of South America.
Michiko Malandro, a felon, escapes from prison in quest of her presumably slain boyfriend Hiroshi. Hana, their daughter who resides in an awful foster family, is her only point of contact. After riding their motorbike down to their residence, the duo goes across the country in quest of the one shared link they have. Originally aired in 2008-2009.
11. Sailor Moon
Trailer video: Watch the “Sailor Moon” trailer now!
Originally aired in 1992-1997, Sailor Moon influenced a generation of young girls to feel that they, too, could be charming saviors and that the most powerful weapon is kindness. Despite developing dramatically throughout the course of Sailor Moon’s five seasons, Usagi Tsukino never loses her more disagreeable traits.
The story cycle is tedious, but Sailor Moon features some extremely powerful female characters, including all of the Outer Guardians and villains such as Black Lady (Chibi-usa’s evil adult persona, Wicked Lady in the North American official launch) and Queen Nehelnia, whose childhood solitude breeds pure evil.
12. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
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At first look, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is particularly unsettling. It’s an anime full of men constructed like classical sculptures talking as loudly as they can about psychic fights they’re having, presumably in molasses-slow time. In JJBA’s reality, what feels like hours spans barely more than a minute. JJBA is much more than that.
It’s a journey that spans a century and obliterates the rules of how to tell a traditional adventure story. Drawing liberally from Indiana Jones, Versace, classic rock, and any other passing interest of mangaka Hirohiko Araki to create an explosive hodgepodge of fast-paced absurdity, a language you’ll quickly pick up on and soon find cozier than Sailor Moon. Originally aired in 2005.
13. Galaxy Express 999
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Originally aired in 1978-1981, Galaxy Express 999, a space opera classic, is an excellent starting place for any anime lover looking to delve into the apparently impenetrable realm of 1970s animation. Leiji Matsumoto is well-known for his sci-fi masterpieces such as Space Battleship Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, which all take place in the same world, but Galaxy Express 999’s somber slow-burn shines as his greatest accomplishment.
The anime is primarily episodic, following an impoverished Earth youngster called Tetsuro as he joins the titular train, which reportedly journeys to the Andromeda Galaxy. There, even the destitute can get machine bodies, which are symbols of riches for the wealthy and a source of immense longing for the lower rungs of galactic society.
14. Paranoia Agent
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Satoshi Kon’s lone television series was released six years before he died at the age of 46 from pancreatic cancer. It’s every bit as good a psychological thriller as any of them. Kon’s talent for sophisticated, postmodern storytelling is on full display in this 13-episode shonen/seinen.
Tsukiko Sagi’s narrative, in which she creates a pink dog character named Maromi that sweeps Japan by storm, is inexplicably intertwined with that of Shonen Batto (Li’l Slugger in the English dub), a mystery elementary schooler on inline skates who assaults her with a bent golden baseball bat. Two police investigators are assigned to the investigation, and as Batto’s lone attack becomes a streak, the line between the real and the unreal becomes more difficult to distinguish for everyone involved. Originally aired in 2004.
15. Mobile Suit Gundam
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Originally aired in 1979-1980, with innumerable offshoot series, films, comics, and model kits, it’s easy to forget that this renowned 1979 mecha anime was really excellent. The animation may appear out of date. The mechanical designs and character models may not be consistent with the subsequent series. And the ramifications of its world-building, in which a separatist party of humanity abandons Earth for space colonies, weren’t completely ironed out.
Nonetheless, the essential ideas of Mobile Suit Gundam remain valid four decades later: People we urge to fight for us, frequently before they are grown enough to connect with the world, return shattered or do not return at all; Nazis and Nazi-lookalikes are evil; yet enormous robots are addictively watchable.
16. Hunter X Hunter
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Several shonen anime revolves around a group of young people who utilize their magical abilities and deductive reasoning to solve difficulties. Hunter x Hunter is an uncommon finding within this homogenized pattern due to its attention to detail and emotional devotion. This anime is plenty of humorous subplots that don’t always end with an important event but show you that the characters in this universe existed before you started watching them.
Hunter x Hunter begins with Gon Freecss on his quest to become a Hunter. He’s your typical shonen savior-figure protagonist, but thankfully he keeps the annoying, repetitive mantras to himself. His commitment to seeing the best in people becomes a series theme, and his devotion to others propels the storyline. He befriends a little child from an assassin’s family, and their polarizing dynamic forms a bond that makes the narrative inspirational. Originally aired in 2011-2014.
17. Mob Psycho 100
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Originally aired in 2016-2019, Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is an undeniably gifted psychic. Unfortunately, that’s about all he has going on in terms of talents. Mob Psycho 100, based on One’s online comic, is a trippy combination of coming-of-age cliches and Ghost Adventures, following Mob and his false mentor Reigen as they tackle otherworldly problems in Seasoning City.
The show’s animation, thanks to Bones, retains film-quality action sequences and a bizarre, technicolor appearance throughout, but what actually distinguishes it is its almost forgotten star. Mob starts off as a typical young man who just wants to be normal. His determination to live each day to the fullest is contagious, and by the end, he’s acquired a vast circle of confidants and friends. The wackiness of Mob Psycho 100 will pull you in, but its moments of emotional clarity will have you coming back for more.
18. Serial Experiments Lain
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You’d get this psychological head-scratcher of a seinen if you took every cerebral, philosophical cyberpunk thriller from the late 1980s and 1990s, ran it through The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, and then purposely sliced and screwed up the narrative.
Lain Iwakura is a timid young girl whose demeanor shifts both online and offline as she becomes more involved with the Wired, a virtual reality environment that encompasses every human communication form. Ryutaro Nakamura, the show’s director, manages to cram an astounding amount of philosophical pondering into the show’s brief 13-episode run, which, while not easy to watch, is very rewarding for anybody willing to enter its cosmos with an open mind. Originally aired in 1998.
Trailer video: Watch the “Kuragehime” trailer now!
Originally Aired in 2010, Kuragehime depicts men and women in ways that are rarely seen on television. Tsukimi Kurashita has been infatuated with jellyfish since she visited an aquarium with her dying mother as a child, an obsession she has kept into adulthood to feel linked to her mother’s memories. She finally relocates to Tokyo with the aim of establishing herself as an artist. Unfortunately, Tsukimi is a very apprehensive person, especially when she is around those who blend perfectly into ordinary life. She ends up residing in an apartment complex with other female renters, each of whom has a different passion.
Tsukimi’s life is drastically changed when she meets Kuranosuke, a nice drag queen. Kuragehime is a conventional romcom on the surface, but the story’s heart resides in its representation of female relationships and less visible groups supporting one another. Tsukimi, who considers herself ordinary and unimpressive, develops a special affinity with the unconventional and carefree Kuranosuke. It’s a smart reversal of the overused Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, and it serves as the setting for Akiko Hagashimura’s touching narrative.
20. The Big O
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Kazuyoshi Katayama’s detective noir-meets-mecha seinen would be the spawn of a love affair between Batman: The Animated Series and the Gundam series. The Big O takes place in Paradigm Metropolis, a city whose inhabitants suffer from an unusual forgetfulness.
It follows the protagonist, Bruce Wayne-like Roger Smith, who works as a freelance Negotiator—a cross between a private investigator and a lawyer—when he isn’t piloting the namesake Megadeus (giant robot) Big O. Roger is assisted in his responsibilities by Norman Burg, an Alfred Pennyworth-like butler, and the android R. Dorothy Wayneright, whose existence as part-human, part-robot emphasizes the show’s central question, as does Paradigm City’s amnesiac population. Originally aired in 1999-2000.