The popularity of anime has exploded in the West in recent years, with streaming services like Crunchyroll and Netflix having helped to introduce viewers to some of the many great hidden gems that the medium has to offer. This includes classic anime series as well, many of which were never broadcast in the West despite their overwhelming popularity in Japan.
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At this point, however, the seemingly unlimited supply of anime can feel a little overwhelming at times, with more and more series being introduced with each new anime season. The very best anime series of all time will always be worth watching though and have helped to inspire countless others in the years since making their debuts.
Updated May 24, 2023, by Tom Bowen: There's never been a better time to be an anime fan, with a near-endless supply of series available with just the push of a few buttons. That said, the unprecedented level of choice given to viewers these days can have a few drawbacks, most notably when it comes to finding the best anime series of all time. With such a large number to choose from and almost as many "Top 10 Best Anime" lists popping up online, those looking for the best anime might have to do quite a bit of digging. Ranking the best anime is obviously highly subjective, too, though there are certain series that are undeniably excellent and have had a profound impact on the medium as a whole; either by inspiring other anime creators or by helping to attract new people to the wider anime fandom.
12 Attack on Titan
Though its plot has become a little convoluted over the years, Attack on Titan is still a great anime with a fantastic cast of characters and some wonderful story threads. The visuals are top-notch too, though those with an aversion to violence may wish to give this one a miss, as it's an incredibly gritty and gory affair right from the get-go.
The story centers around Eren Jaeger, who lives in a world in which humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction by a race of giant human-eating creatures known as Titans. After his hometown is destroyed and his mother eaten, Eren joins the Survey Corps and vows to rid the world of Titans. However, things quickly become more complicated as the story begins to unfold.
11 Slam Dunk
Though the anime never quite reached the same lofty heights as the best-selling manga, Slam Dunk is still an incredibly well-put-together series and a must-watch for any serious sports anime fan. It tells the story of a delinquent high schooler named Hanamichi Sakuragi, who takes up basketball in the hopes of getting closer to a girl.
However, it soon becomes clear that Sakuragi is a natural athlete and a skilled baller to boot, and, together with several other misfits and oddballs, he helps to transform the Shohoku basketball team into one of the very best teams in Japan. With Sakuragi as their unstoppable power forward, they even begin to dream of winning the national championship.
10 Demon Slayer
Demon Slayer may be relatively new, but that doesn't mean that it can't still be included in conversations surrounding the best anime series of all time. After all, it's been able to generate around $10 billion in revenue in the six years or so since its creation, which is around the same as more established media franchises such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Sesame Street; both of which have been around for well over half a century.
There are many reasons for Demon Slayer's phenomenal success, from its fantastic plot to its interesting cast of characters. The animation is outstanding too, helping to bring the source material to life in a way that very few other Shonen anime series have been able to. With more still to come, there's really no telling just how much higher Demon Slayer can climb, both in terms of its incredible commercial success and its widespread critical acclaim.
9 Death Note
Similar to the likes of Sword Art Online and the Fate series, Death Note is seen as something of a gateway anime. As a result, some seasoned anime fans seem to enjoy going out of their way to pick holes in its plot and pointing out all of the shows which are supposedly better than it. However, there's a very good reason why so many people are advised to try Death Note when first dipping their toes into the vast anime waters.
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For better or worse, Death Note is an incredibly accessible anime with an easy-to-follow plot and a compelling cast of characters. The cat-and-mouse game that's being played between Light and L throughout the first part of the anime is wonderful to watch and very difficult to predict. While the series does still adhere to some anime tropes, it's nowhere near as over-the-top as the majority of its peers and can thus be enjoyed by a much broader demographic than some of the other great anime series of the era.
8 Naruto Shippuden
Like Dragon Ball, Naruto started life in the Japanese publication Weekly Shōnen Jump. Following its successful debut in 1999, it was eventually adapted into an anime in late 2002. The resulting series ran for 220 episodes, with the first 135 following the first part of the manga and the rest telling their own original story using unused plot elements from creator Masashi Kishimoto's original ideas.
The series explores a variety of themes while also incorporating elements from Asian mythology. At its heart though, it tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming the leader of his village and his journey to becoming one of the greatest ninjas of all time. For those who just can't get enough, Boruto follows the story of Naruto's son and is set in the same world, but the original series arguably makes for a much better watch.
7 Jojo's Bizarre Adventure
It's difficult to single out a single volume of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure because they're all pretty damn good. For fans of the popular seinen manga, the decision to create an anime adaptation to celebrate the series' 25th anniversary was met with some trepidation, yet the resulting series has thus far proven to be every bit as good as the source material. What's more, it has helped to introduce the world of JoJo to a whole new generation in the process.
The first five seasons of the show cover the first six parts of the manga, meaning that there are likely at least two more seasons still to come. After the conclusion of Stone Ocean, fans still have Steel Ball Run and Jojolion to look forward to. By that point, JOJOLANDS will likely have arrived and be nearing its climax too, potentially allowing both the show and the long-running manga to conclude at around the same time.
Pokemon took the world by storm when it arrived on the scene in the mid-to-late nineties, with the TCG, video games, and anime all becoming incredibly popular almost overnight. Initially, many saw the anime as little more than a marketing tool to help garner interest in the wider Pokemon franchise. Over time, though, it grew and developed into one of the best anime series of all time.
Granted, on the surface, it may seem like a fairly shallow series, but over the course of more than a quarter of a century, the show has explored a wide array of themes and ideas, offering up interesting takes and positive life messages to viewers in the process. The popularity of the Pokemon anime spans multiple generations too, with millions of people having grown up watching the creature-collecting series.
5 Cowboy Bebop
People sometimes complain that Cowboy Bebop is put up on a pedestal, and this may well be true to a certain degree. It's certainly not the perfect anime series, yet to ignore the impact that it's had on the medium would be an act of sheer folly. It's inspired countless other anime and manga series over the years, not to mention several Western movies and television shows.
At its core, it's a neo-noir sci-fi series that follows the exploits of a group of bounty hunters as they travel through outer space. The way that it blends together elements from multiple genres is incredibly impressive though and is a big part of the reason why so many people hold the popular shojo anime series in such high regard. It may not be the best anime series of all time, but it's definitely right up there.
As far as adaptations go, they don't come much more faithful than Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Across its 64 episodes, it manages to remain remarkably true to the manga both in terms of the storylines that it covers and the look and feel of the visuals. Granted, as with pretty much all anime adaptations, there is a little bit of filler here and there, but it never once disrupts the narrative flow.
The relationship between Edward and Alphonse is arguably the highlight of the series, but the plot and the unexpected twists and turns that it takes are definitely a close second. After the mixed reception to the original series, most Fullmetal Alchemist fans were thrilled with the way that Brotherhood turned out and that the studio behind it had chosen to listen to earlier criticism regarding changes to the source material.
3 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Mecha anime has been popular since the sixties and seventies, but it wasn't until the nineties that the genre really blew up. There were plenty of great mecha anime series unveiled throughout the decade, but none have proven to be anywhere near as popular nor quite as enduring as Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion and its various spin-offs and big-screen adaptations.
From wonderfully crafted storylines to stunning set-piece showdowns, the series managed to cram an awful lot into its initial 26-episode run and still holds up incredibly well today. Most of what's followed has been equally excellent too, though finding the best order in which to watch it all can be a little tricky and has at times sparked fierce debate among Evangelion fans over the years.
2 One Piece
It took a little longer for One Piece to establish itself in the West than it did for some of the other great Shonen anime series. Once it did though, it's never once struggled to keep Western audiences engaged. The same could be said of its popularity in Japan, with several generations having now grown up with the popular manga and anime series.
The former actually holds a Guinness World Record for the number of copies published by a single author and was the best-selling manga for eleven consecutive years between 2008 and 2018. The anime adaptation has proven to be equally successful though, and, save for the occasional small changes, has largely remained true to the source material - much to the delight of series fans.
1 Dragon Ball
When it comes to longevity, few IPs can compete with Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball, which has managed to remain popular for almost four decades now. Granted, there were some dark periods during that time such as the 18-year window between the end of Dragon Ball Z and the beginning of Dragon Ball Super. Likewise, it would be foolish to try and argue that every arc or episode of Dragon Ball has been of the highest quality. Even so, the franchise has still managed to remain hugely popular both in Japan and in the West.
At its very best, there aren't many anime series that can come close to matching Dragon Ball in terms of entertainment, nor can many claim to have had such an emphatic impact when it comes to the popularization of anime in the West. For this last reason alone, many feel that Dragon Ball is one of the most important anime series ever made. Combine this with its fantastic storylines, incredible villains, and high-octane action scenes, and there's a very strong argument to be made for it being one of the best anime series of all time, if not the very best.
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