Top Ten Greatest Anime of All Time
Anime has been around for a long time, entertaining young and old for almost 60 years! I've been writing about anime on several different websites for almost six years now, and could you believe that in all this time I've never done one of these "All Time Top Tens?"
Now, my ranking is based on several things. I'll be factoring in overall popularity, historical contribution to anime, and of course, personal opinion - which will be the largest factor. So if you're one of those folks that may be allergic to opinions you disagree with, than consider this your warning.
Now sit back and get ready for some old-fashioned clickbaity goodness!
Before we get to the proper top ten, I'm going to throw some recognition towards some great anime that may have not made the list. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, though not a personal favorite, is still one of the most popular contemporary series to this day, with some of the world's most recognized and talented anime voice actors in both Japanese and English. Combined with deep themes of existential philosophy and the validity of religion, this show is always discussion worthy.
Completely unrelated, Fullmetal Panic did an amazing job of combining ruthless action, dramatic continuity and comedy into one series. Part action, part sitcom, this series was even parodied in Amagi Brilliant Park with Moffle being referred to as a "walking copyright infringement" for his uncanny appearance to Banta-kun. Subverted of course, as the two shows shared an animation team.
Love, Eighth Grade Sickness, and Other Delusions is probably one of the more popular romantic series targeting a male audience and Beyond the Boundary took it another step further adding in fantasy elements to the story.
While the 'Yandere' character archetype has been around for years (and well get to more on that) Future Diaries perfected it with Yuno Gasai, who has become known as the "Queen of the Yanderes" and still not yet dethroned.
Back in 1967, a little show you may have heard of called Speed Racer began airing in North America, just months after it debuted on Japanese TV, bringing international attention to "Japanimation" as it was called back in the day. It would still be years before anime was popularized in the west, but we'll also get to that later.
Capitalizing on the popularity of recent Japanese cartoons, Saban licensed a series known as Samurai Pizza Cats. This was my personal nostalgia series as it was the first anime I ever watched, and I was obsessed. Rumor has it that all the dubs were improvised as Saban was never sent English scripts, this proving that on occasion, a dubbed version can be better than subtitles, by simply making up it's own plot.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the show with the huge cult following Kill la Kill. Reading the synopsis sounded exactly like a typical high school action series. Kill la Kill was anything but typical. Taking a more old-fashioned hand drawn animation style reminiscent of the 80s and early 90s, it took every single possible anime trope, and dialed them up to the point of parody. I thought I'd like it based on the summary. Thought I'd hate it based on the first two minutes. Then I couldn't stop watching it.
So these are the series that deserve some recognition without making the list, and so on to the rest of the bait!
10. Elfen Lied
Elfen Lied opens this list at number ten. This is an anime that has almost everything. It has romance. It has fanservice. It has drama. It has private armies. Science fiction and fantasy. And blood. Tons of blood.
Yes, Yuno Gasai may be the Queen, but Lucy was the one who made Yandere's popular. She might not be the first, but she was the one who made everybody in North America google "What is a Yandere?"
The story, which centers around a new species of Human, the Diclonius (pl. Diclonii). The Diclonius are born with two small horns protruding from their head and once they reach a certain age, the develop the use of invisible arms known as "vectors." The vectors not only are able to grab things, but are also able to cut through things with ease.
Diclonius are fully capable of human intelligence, but have violent tendencies and as such are treated as monsters by the rest of mankind. Infants are often terminated at birth, and those that fly under the radar are usually sent to a science lab to be researched on. And the research is extremely cruel.
Focusing on one Diclonius in particular, Lucy, she loses her memory after escaping a labratory and with that, she also loses her violent tendencies and the ability to use her vectors. Under bouts of extreme stress, usually forced by scientists trying to kidnap her, she will temporarily get her vectors back, along with her memory - including the memories of how she was treated at the lab. And she's not very forgiving.
An absolute sweetheart who's cute as a button when her amnesia is in effect, she goes back and forth between that and violently cruel. But as soon as her best friend shows up, her amnesia returns and she goes back to her sweet self, popularizing the Yandere style of character years before Future Diaries did it.
The series discusses some very heavy topics, but most heavy of all is the feeling the viewer is left with that the possibility was that maybe the Diclonii weren't the monsters at all, but rather, that humans were.
This entry is less about any contributions to anime, and more about the fact I don't really like Mecha anime, but love this series.
The series takes place in the far future, and Earth has started to colonize other planets. In particular, one planet is entirely female, and another is entirely male. Centuries after these two planets are colonized war breaks out between the two. They no longer even recognize the other as human as the current generation is mostly made of people who have never seen the opposite gender up close.
After a battle between the two sides, a male, Hibiki, smuggles aboard the female ship, and is then taken prisoner. After being transported randomly by their ships sentient drive, Hibiki, along with a few other males are taken prisoner, and assigned jobs on the ship to earn their keep long enough to find their way home. They begrudgingly agree to work together until a new threat arrives, forcing the men and women to put aside their differences for the sake of survival - and possibly romance.
I personally just really enjoyed this anime, and the character growth that arose over two seasons, as characters went from hating one another, to slowly realizing that at one time, before modern scientific advancements, their species depended on each other for survival, to becoming friends, and in a few cases, lovers. It was a 26 episode slow build, but it's definitely not boring and I absolutely recommend this series to anyone.
Of course Pokémon would be on this list. It's been airing since 1998 and as long as Nintendo keeps pumping out games, they'll be pumping out episodes of this series.
I'm including everything in this, except maybe the whole Black and White story arc. While I loved the Black and White story in the video game, it just didn't translate well into the anime. But even the XY story picked up, bringing in a new generation of kids to fall in love with the series.
I'm kind of a purist who prefers the first few seasons, and a lot of people my age are in the same boat. However, later series are in no way inferior as even my niece, who's six years old, loves watching XY. Her favorite pokémon is Fenniken by the way. Like the eleven year old protagonist Ash, this series is both timeless and ageless, always finding ways to bring in new viewers who weren't even born when the series started. Say what you like about the show needing a reboot (which is a surprisingly popular opinion in the internet) but the evidence speaks for itself and it's saying "I've always stayed fresh and relevant."
7. Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam. This is probably the first entry where I'm trying to ignore my personal feelings. Mobile Suit Gundam is, without a doubt, a classic. It is hard for me to be objective though as I stated earlier, I'm not a fan of mecha. There are some series out there that do Mecha very well. The previously mentioned Vandread and Crosse Ange are all great shows in their own rights. And the genre itself is quite popular. But Gundam is where it all began.
I remember watching it late at night because their was nothing else on TV. I never understood it - I was just a kid - and episodes never aired here chronologically, so I could never follow the plot, but there's one thing I do know: Without Mobile Suit Gundam, there would be no Vandread, Crosse Ange, Evangelion, or Escaflowne.
Mobile Suit Gundam certainly wasn't the first Mecha Anime. Grendizer and Brave Raideen debuted four years earlier, but Mobile Suit Gundam defined a genre and the tropes associated with it. Mobile Suit Gundam also gave way to pushing more of these shows in the west. It wasn't until over 15 years after the series debuted in Japan that it was adapted for American audiences as an experiment, airing at almost midnight in some time zones. Even if the genre survived in Japan, there's almost no way Escaflowne would have been adapted for an American audience without the Gundam experiment being a success.
6. Fist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star is an 80's action anime. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland kind of reminiscent of Mad Max, Kenshiro travels from town to town, defeating the gangs and thugs that have taken over the cities and liberating the citizenry, while gathering information and allies to help him defeat some demons from his own questionable past.
This anime has a cult following in the west, notorious for it's gory details even by today's standards. Kenshiro is a master of the "Hakuto Shinken," a pressure point based fighting style. Kenshiro would often strike multiple pressure points on his opponents, which were almost painless at the time he'd strike, before leaving him with his meme-famous line "You are already dead," as his opponents would laugh before often exploding or even fall apart in pieces.
But this isn't just a simple bloodfest. Kenshiro is a strong character in his own right, as his motivations and history slowly catch up to him in each town, with amazing hand-animated landscapes that really help one see the despair left behind in the wasteland. Certainly not for everyone, this cult classic has certainly left it's mark on this top ten list.
5. Lucky Star
This is one of the most popular series in both Japan and in the west. It is a slice of life series, with only loose continuity and lots of parody and references. It's basically, at it's core, an anime about anime. I mean, it's about friendship too, but dropping references to Street Fighter, Initial D, Jojo's Bizarre Adventures, and Haruhi Suzumiya (there's lots of Haruhi Suzumiya in there), outright acknowledging it's tropes such as "moe points" and the "Obligatory Beach Episode," this series hilariously is self aware that it's just a series.
And while the series is usually played for laughs, there are some serious moments about it. The central character Konata, late in the series, has a conversation with her father about her late mother, and the reasons they fell in love. Presented from the perspective of the ghost of Konata's mother watching the conversation unfold, it's ten minutes of absolute seriousness that will leave you in tears, and moments like this provide a much needed break in the constant comedy if you're planning to marathon the series.
If you're someone who likes inside jokes, fourth wall breaks, and not a whole lot of storyline, then this is a must see for any anime fan.
4. Astro Boy
Do I really need to say anything about this series? I know a lot of people claim that you're not a "real fan of anime" if you haven't seen or heard of whatever their favorite anime is (I'm looking at you Naruto and Dragonball Z fanboys). Well, in the case of Astro Boy that's probably true. I'm not saying watch the whole series. But you should probably watch one episode. And do it with a prayerful heart and reflection upon all things holy in the Anime World.
Osamu Tezuka is called "The Grandfather of Anime" for a reason. Influenced by Disney and Betty Boop, he had taken an interest in drawing in early elementary school and published his first work shortly after the war ended.
Heavily influenced by the events during the Second World War - notably the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - he came to put even greater devotion to his arts, with the belief that if he were skilled enough, he could bring peace to earth. Among his early projects were licensed Japanese manga adaptation of Disney Movies, and of course Astro Boy, a project birthed from the belief that nuclear power need not be a tool for destruction, but rather for good.
Astro Boy was a sensation, and though not Tezuka's first work, nor his first anime adaptation, it was certainly the most influential and it was from these projects, and his many others, that Japanese animation began to be defined by, and ultimately, compared to. It might not look like much today, but back in the 1953, this work would soon shake the world, and without it, we never could have the many shows and movies we currently know and love.
3. Dragonball Series and Sailor Moon Classic (Tie)
Firstly, I want to state that I'm not a fan of either of these series. But there is no denying that they are among the most popular and memorable series of all time. While the original Dragonball was aired in North America, it didn't gain popularity until Dragonball Z was released and was wildly popular. Then many Dragonball Z fans went back to watch the first series and it began to get replay through syndication on many networks.
Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon were contemporaries of each other and both gained massive cult success, in part because of each other. They were often marketed together, with the idea that Dragonball Z was the boy's anime and Sailor Moon was the girl's anime (90's marketing, eh?) While both were heavily censored in the west because of violence and sexual themes, Sailor Moon's censorship was also in part due to time restraints, as America and Canada often ran more commercials than it's Japanese counterparts as well as between show programming (In Canada, where the series was translated, it aired as part of a longer program called "The Zone" on YTV, which featured a program jockey and guests talking to the audience and responding to fan mail). Further editing was also done to make room for a segment called "Sailor Moon says" where the heroine would teach lessons about friendship and responsibility... Funny coming from a character who was a lousy, lazy, unmotivated popular girl who bullied the nerds in her class.
I want to clarify, this refers to the original series as it aired in North America - though the Japanese version is no less important. The new franchise reboot, Sailor Moon Crystal is much better in almost every way, staying closer to the source material and having much better animation that also better reflects the source material's original art. However, the original runs of both series had a much stronger impact on popular culture and how anime was perceived in the west and have earned their spot in this list over their more recent counterparts.
2. Angel Beats
Get ready for maximum overfeels. I know, that's not a real word, but Angel Beats is a supernatural drama that wavers between comedy and tearful heartbreaking moments.
Not your ordinary high school anime, it takes place in a high school that sits in a world between Earth and Heaven. The best western comparison is purgatory, though depending on who you ask in this world, it's either more painful, or less painful than purgatory (it certainly seems more painful for our protagonist Otonashi).
In this school, you participate in activities until you've become ready to let go of your lingering resentment towards your life. I could go into more detail in another article sometime, because there is a lot of thought and philosophy that went into this series. But while often played for laughs or action, as the background of each characters Earthly life becomes known, and as characters begin to move on, there are moments that will leave you in tears.
1. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Okay. This is where personal bias comes into play heavily. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is my personal favorite anime of all time. Admittedly, it's not an easy watch. The first season was intentionally broadcast out of order, though you can choose to watch it in the proper order if you wish. The second season was all the episodes of the first season, plus twelve new episodes, broadcast in chronological order, but there was a story arc that was pretty much the same episode repeated eight times with tiny differences.
In this series, Kyon, a High School Student becomes friends with a girl named Haruhi, a girl who comes across as having "Eighth Grade Sickness" (when a young person essentially substitutes their reality with a fantasy world, pretending to be a hero of sorts, accusing others of working for some fantasy villain, etc.) though is in fact quite rational, albeit completely unreasonable. However, this girl also has the ability to bend reality to her will, although she doesn't know it. As such, on the first day of school, she wishes to meet aliens, time travelers, and espers and forms a club to seek them out, not realizing that the members of her club, aside from Kyon, make up an alien, Yuki Nagato; a time traveller, Mikuru Asahina; and an Esper working for a top secret agency, Itsuki Koizumi.
Haruhi, wanting to meet these beings, but also completely convinced that they could not possibly exists, does not know the secrets of her club members, who have their own objectives: Observe Haruhi Suzumiya due to her ability to make her wishes reality, Ensure she never finds out about her own powers, and to keep her from getting bored, so that she never wishes for the world to end.
I've written about this series before. Based on a series of Light Novels - short novellas for young adults - this series takes anime in a different direction than it had previously. Beforehand, the characters were a device to move the plot forward. Now, the plot is a device to move the characters forward. The premise is almost in the background for much of the series. It's rather about how the characters react to the situation and circumstances they find themselves in.
While not the first series to be adapted from light novels, it's still one of the most popular, and was one of the first to have it's source novels receive an English Language release, something that is beginning to happen more and more lately.
On top of being all around enjoyable, this series was a cultural phenomenon around the globe that still persists to this day, and has earned the top spot as the greatest anime of all time!