Streaming platforms like Crunchyroll and Netflix have contributed to the explosion of anime’s popularity in the West in recent years, introducing new audiences to some of the medium’s many underappreciated jewels. This also applies to older anime shows that were huge hits in Japan but never made it outside of the country.
The apparently endless supply of anime, with more and more series being introduced with each new anime season, can feel a little daunting at this point. The greatest anime of all time, however, will always be entertaining, and they have served as models for numerous others.
1. Dragon Ball
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball is one of the rare intellectual properties (IPs) to survive and thrive for nearly four decades. Of course, there were sometimes lulls in the action, such as the 18 years that passed between the conclusion of Dragon Ball Z and the premiere of Dragon Ball Super.
It would be as naive to claim that every Dragon Ball story arc or episode has been of the utmost caliber. Despite this, the series continues to enjoy massive success, both in Japan and abroad.
When it comes to pure entertainment value, few anime series can compare to Dragon Ball, and even fewer can lay claim to having had such a profound effect on the growth of anime’s popularity in the West.
This last point is why many people consider Dragon Ball to be among the most influential anime series of all time. This, together with its excellent plots, unforgettable antagonists, and nail-biting action sequences, makes it a compelling case for being considered among the very finest anime series ever made.
2. One Piece
One Piece’s western popularity took a little longer to grow than that of other renowned shonen anime series. Yet, once it did, it has never failed to hold the attention of viewers in the West. Similarly, many Japanese people, including entire generations, have grown up with manga and anime adaptations.
The former has been the best-selling manga for a staggering eleven years (2008–2018) and holds the Guinness World Record for the most copies released by a single author. However, the anime adaptation has been just as popular, and fans will be happy to know that, with a few exceptions, it stays pretty close to the original.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Although mecha anime was well-liked in the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the genre truly took off. While the decade saw the introduction of many excellent mecha anime series, none have proven to be as popular or as long-lasting as Neon Genesis Evangelion, created by Hideaki Anno, and its numerous spin-offs and big-screen adaptations.
The first 26 episodes of the show were jam-packed with fantastically written narratives and breathtaking set-piece showdowns, and they hold up remarkably well even now. Even while most of what came after was also great, deciding in what sequence to watch it has sometimes been difficult and caused heated disagreement among Evangelion fans over the years.
4. FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is as faithful an adaptation as you’re likely to find. In all of its 64 episodes, the anime stays fairly faithful to the manga in terms of the stories it tells and the visual style it employs. Of course, there is some padding here and there, but unlike in some other anime adaptations, it doesn’t get in the way of the story at all.
Even if Edward and Alphonse’s love is the most compelling aspect of the series, the plot and the surprising turns it takes are not far behind. Fans of Fullmetal Alchemist, who had a love/hate relationship with the original series, were overjoyed with the final product of Brotherhood and the studio’s decision to address their concerns about deviating from the source material.
5. Cowboy Bebop
There is some truth to the criticism that Cowboy Bebop is held in exalted esteem by some. It’s hardly the best anime series ever, but it would be foolish to discount the influence it’s had on the genre. Numerous other anime and manga series, as well as several western films and TV episodes, have been influenced by it throughout the years.
6. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures
All of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure volumes are excellent, so picking a favorite is tough. Fans of the iconic seinen manga were initially skeptical of the plan to create an anime adaptation in honor of the series’ silver anniversary, but the show has so far lived up to their high expectations. Also, it has helped bring JoJo’s universe to a whole new audience.
Considering the first five seasons adapt the first six volumes of the manga, it’s safe to assume that there will be at least two more. Fans will still have Steel Ball Run and Jojolion to look forward to once Stone Ocean ends. Soon after that, JOJOLANDS will have premiered and be entering its final stretch, making it possible for the show and the lengthy manga to wrap up simultaneously.
7. Naruto: Shippuden
Weekly Shonen Jump, the same Japanese magazine that gave birth to Dragon Ball, also gave birth to Naruto. The anime version premiered in late 2002 after a successful debut in 1999. The resulting 220 episodes followed the first half of the manga in the first 135 episodes, but the remaining episodes told their own story based on Masashi Kishimoto’s scrapped ideas.
The show delves into a wide range of topics and incorporates mythological motifs from Asia. But, the story is really about a little boy who wants to grow up to be the leader of his tribe and become one of the best ninjas ever.
Boruto, which is based on the same universe and tells the narrative of Naruto’s kid, is available for those who can’t get enough, but the original series is generally considered to be superior.
8. Death Note
Just to Sword Art Online and the Fate series, Death Note is often considered an entry point for newcomers to the anime genre.
As a result, there are some seasoned anime viewers who take great pleasure in finding fault with the show’s premise and listing all the series they consider to be superior to it. Yet there’s a solid reason why so many people are told to start with Death Note when exploring the world of anime.
9. Demon Slayer
Although Demon Slayer is not yet as old as some of the other great anime series, it doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed alongside them. After all, in the six years or so since its inception, it has generated roughly $10 billion in income, which is about the same as more established media brands like Thomas the Tank Engine and Sesame Street, both of which have been around for well over half a century.
The fascinating plot and interesting cast of characters are just two of the many reasons for Demon Slayer’s enormous success.
As a bonus, the animation is superb, bringing the story to life in a manner that few other shonen anime series have. There’s still more to come, but it’s impossible to predict how much higher Demon Slayer can go in terms of its already unprecedented economic success and universal critical acclaim.
10. The Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is a brilliant anime with a fantastic cast of characters and some wonderful story threads, despite the fact that its plot has become a touch confusing over the years. Even while the visuals are excellent, individuals who are easily disturbed by graphic violence should probably go elsewhere, as this is a dark and violent story from the very beginning.
The protagonist, Eren Jaeger, lives on a planet where a species of huge, man-eating monsters called Titans has nearly exterminated humanity.
Following the destruction of his hometown and the death of his mother at the hands of a Titan, Eren enlists in the Survey Corps with the intention of destroying all Titans. As the story progresses, though, things gradually grow more convoluted.
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