It can be hard to come up with a list of the best anime series of all time and not remain indecisive with your choices especially since you love most of what you’ve watched. It’s a daunting task, to say the least since you can end up being subjective and pick those that satisfy your personal preferences.
What you think is a perfect binge-watch anime series may not be worth a watch for others. There’s always bound to be a comparison. But you don’t hear anime lovers argue about it or fight over which of their favorite show is the best. I bet that Japanese audiences even have a different set of what they consider as best anime shows.
Regardless of the differences, what’s amazing with anime is that it connects people. You don’t have to be Japanese to enjoy a good anime series or film.
Anyone of age, race, and gender can enjoy a show or two and talk about it with a fellow anime lover and they’ll be going at it for hours. It’s one of the best things about anime, it lets you identify strongly with it even though it’s from a foreign country.
And don’t take these type of shows lightly. They may look like cartoons but they have all the elements that make a good story. Animes are as much engrossing as your favorite live-action movies or series. They have a plot that entertains, intrigue, and perplex. They can convey and elicit as many emotions as they can.
Anime shows can tell any kind of story that the mind can conjure. Take Slum Dunk, for instance, which is a classic series that revolves entirely around basketball. Can you imagine an American show, or any other country for that matter beside Japan, that can create a highly entertaining and addicting series that focuses solely on the sport?
Then there’s Dragon Ball, a show that tackles everything from leadership, teamwork, friendship, good vs. evil, and so on. But you’d never believe these lessons to come from an anime series full of intense fighting and nonsensical comedy.
Suffice to say that when it comes to anime, the extent of the storytelling, premise, or concept is as wide as the imagination. And so with all these said, we thought we’d dig into the best anime series of all time that truly delivers in quality, and by this, we mean the impact these shows have.
Did they influence other creators because of its success or impact on the anime community? Are they timeless or do people still talk about them even if they’re already decades old?
Best of all, are these affective shows? Did they move us to tears, to laughter, to madness, or made us lose control over our emotions? Below you will find a list of the best anime series of all time, the ones that really made an impact and spoke to viewers.
Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai (1996-1999)
“Be still my beating heart” is probably the best line to describe the emotions of the female audience when they watch this anime classic. Who would think that a Battousai would make girls swoon so much just at the mere sight of his signature scar? Even boys are jealous of his abilities and uncanny good looks.
To think that this show debuted in 1996, a time when high-definition graphics and animation were merely an idea of invention, yet it enthralled the international audience, so much so, that a need for sequels was demanded. The series spawned several seasons and even live-action remakes.
Known as Samurai X in other countries, this anime series follows the adventures of a young wandering samurai named Kenshin Himura. Kenshin is a lost soul who wanders the Earth in search of repentance. He carries a reverse blade in his vow to never kill or harm anyone again.
Thus, he goes about helping innocent people in order to fulfill his quest to leave his past behind. His life is never the same again after he stumbles upon an old dojo and meets its owner, Kaoru, and befriends her colorful acquaintances.
However, his past as an assassin always manages to haunt him and manifests in certain events that test his will to live a righteous life. The events prompt him to question his ideal way of living and challenge his resolve to remain his grip on his reverse blade and not let go.
This show has all the elements that make a memorable and timeless anime series: a compelling story, loveable and interesting characters with equal amounts of character development, and enough bloodshed and action. It also has a touch of romance and drama.
Directors: Kazuhiro Furuhashi, Yûji Mitsuya, Kaeko Sakamoto – Screenplay: Richard Epcar – Cast: Mayo Suzukaze, Richard Cansino, Dorothy Elias-Fahn – Run Time: 24m
Dragon Ball Series (1986-2015)
Never has a Shonen series been more successful than Dragon Ball. This show has more episodes than I can remember and even has several movies under its name although they are non-canon.
The original ran from 1986-1989 and should come first if you plan to binge-watch the entirety of the Dragon Ball series. It marks the start of the adventures of the renowned fighter Son Gokû as he searches for seven Dragon Balls, magical crystals that can grant wishes.
Nothing beats watching your fave anime in its native tongue but for the sake of international viewers, an English version of the original became available sometime from the late 1980s to early 2000.
The series continues with a couple of Dragon Ball Z series, which introduces Goku’s new friends and reveals his alien origin. Then you have a series of other titles: Dragon Ball GT, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, and lastly, Dragon Ball Super, which streamed from 2015-2018. A new film Dragon Ball Super: Broly aired in theaters in January 2019, which is more adult than it seems and definitely geared to please fans of the series.
When you watch Dragon Ball you become invested in Gokû’s life, his adventures, fights, and growth from a young kid to a family man and to ultimately become a Super Saiyan God.
Once you start, you can’t stop. The action is out of this world and the humor at times nonsensical but all for the sake of a good laugh.
Directors: Daisuke Nishio, Minoru Okazaki – Screenplay: Akira Toriyama – Cast: Masako Nozawa, Jôji Yanami, Brice Armstrong, Naoki Tatsuta, Ryô Horikawa – Run Time: 24m
Gurren Lagann (2007-2008)
If you want action, adventure, and loads of comedy then this anime series is top notch. It also has a few emotional moments that make even the toughest guy cry.
The series takes place in a future, where humanity is forced to live in isolated underground villages in fear of what lies on the surface: the ruthless Spiral King, Lordgenome, who commands the death of every human that sets foot on his ground.
The story follows the adventures of a meek digger named Simon who finds a Core Drill during one of his digs. Using the powers of his find, he agrees with his only friend, the eccentric Kamina, to escape their confined shelter and explore the surface.
They join forces with a mysterious girl named Yoko and Kamina’s gang called Team Gurren. The team risks their lives in order to reclaim their rightful place on the surface world.
This show starts out slow that you may be prompted to just drop it, but if you were among those who decided to continue then I bet you didn’t regret your decision. This is one of the best mecha animes to have come out.
It makes you laugh, cry, scream, and feel cool about yourself just from watching the fight scenes. The epic fight sequence at the end is one that you should not miss. The story makes you cheer for your favorite characters and wish death on all those you hate.
Gurren Lagann boasts a simple storyline and even the technical aspects aren’t even that astounding. But what it delivers is endless thrill and energy that grips. It’s one of those shows that have depth and heart without being too melodramatic.
This show turns boys into men. It inspires one to be great, to be brave and step out of their comfort zone. It highlights the humble beginnings of a dream and its fantastic end.
This series is not for everyone though as some may find it too exaggerated or an overkill. That’s the beauty of it though. You don’t have to watch it with a critical mind. You just have to enjoy it for what it is. You either love or hate it.
Directors: Hiroyuki Imaishi, Tony Oliver – Screenplay: Kazuki Nakashima, Tony Oliver – Cast: Yuri Lowenthal, Kana Asumi, Tetsuya Kakihara, Katsuyuki Konishi, Yukair Fukui – Run Time: 24m
Fullmetal Alchemist (2003-2004)
Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most beloved and well-known anime series of our regeneration. This show has been talked about to death, so much so that even those who haven’t seen it somehow already knows about it.
This series is actually complex than what it lets on. It explores alchemy and its governing law of equivalent exchange through the story of the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, who use a blend of magic and science to try to bring their mother back from the dead.
Of course, things don’t go as simply as they expect and given the conditions of the law, they have to make a sacrifice. Edward loses an arm and a leg while Alphonse loses his entire body and his soul becomes bonded to a suit of armor. Thankfully, their childhood friend Winery is passionate about machines so she customizes an arm and leg for Ed.
The brothers then go on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to defy the laws of alchemy and allow the process of human transmutation. Ed joins the military to better their chances in finding the stone. Along the way, the brothers meet people who challenge their morals and test their strength: corrupt government officials, chimeras, homunculi, and more.
Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the shounen animes with a fantastic storyline and with enough plotlines to back up ten different anime series. It not only focuses on the mission to find the stone. There’s also the military subplot and the exploration into the brothers’ backstories as they face off evil forces from their past.
All these may seem convoluted for a single show but on the contrary, the story is tight, well written, and perfectly paced. For a battle shounen, it packs every genre you can think off: action, adventure, comedy, drama, romance, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, and more.
Directors: Seiji Mizushima, Norimitsu Suzuki – Screenplay: Shô Aikawa, Hiromu Arakawa – Cast: Vic Mignogna, Aaron Dismuke, Romi Pak, Rie Kugimiya, Megumi Toyoguchi – Run Time: 24m
Naruto (2002-2007) and Naruto: Shippûden (2007-2017)
Naruto and Naruto: Shippûden are probably one of the shows that got people to love anime. They’re one of the most hyped up series in 2000 and continue to have their appeal on today’s younger generation. It’s one of Japan’s longest running anime series.
These shows are by no means flawless. Anime fans love it but they also point out its obvious flaw – the filler episodes that took up most of the series. Although they were enjoyable, they did not support the plot. Thus, the pacing of the series comes out slow.
Regardless, this series is an interesting and engaging watch mostly because of the characters that drive the story forward. You get to follow Naruto Uzumaki in his search for approval and recognition and his quest to become the next Hokage in his village. You become invested in his plight to protect his family and friends from danger.
And being a Shounen series, expect lots of extreme action and adventure. It features all fighting styles from hand-to-hand combat, tactical combat, jujitsu battles, and more. Hiroyuki Yamashita’s work on the battle scenes pushes the animation, style, and choreography to its maximum.
Naruto is not just an anime series, it’s a community. Its lore is so vast that you never ran out of things to discuss about it.
Directors: Hayato Date, Kiyomu Fukuda – Screenplay: Masashi Kishimoto – Cast: Junko Takeuchi, Kazuhiko Inoue, Noriaki Sugiyama – Run Time: 24m
Part of the draw in this series is its unique concept about the relationship between humans, hollows, and death gods or shinigamis. The story revolves around Ichigo, an ordinary student who becomes a Soul Reaper in order to save his family and his village from the Hollows, corrupt spirit that devour human souls.
His daunting task teams him up with his friends who each have their unique abilities. However, they soon learn that the hollows are not the only threat to the human world.
Bleach lacks the wow factor in terms of action despite it being a battle series. The action sequences aren’t so memorable and some people even as far as called this show a wannabe Dragon Ball.
It has its other flaws: the cliché moments, flat characters with poor to little developments, and the enormous amount of fillers. Yet it maintains its appeal to some viewers to the extent that a real-live adaptation happened.
While Shounen lovers call this show mediocre, some find it inspiring since it teaches us about life. It tells the message of what it means to be human. The essence of the series is not about the swords and the fights, but more of the human values. It explores what it means to have compassion, to feel pain and suffering, to develop friendships and overcome weaknesses in order to protect those we love.
Directors: Wendee Lee, Noriyuki Abe – Screenplay: Tite Kubo, Jessica Renslow – Cast: Masakazu Morita, Johnny Yong Bosch, Michelle Ruff, Stephanie Sheh – Run Time: 24m
Using the concept of time as a premise in a film or TV show is nothing new, but what matters is the execution or how it’s explored. In Steins; Gate, you get to explore the boundaries of time in relation to the future.
If you’re a fan of Doctor Who and other time-traveling tales, then this anime series doesn’t disappoint. The hard work put into the story to make it stand out definitely pays off. It’s one of the best-executed time travel anime series with a storyline that intrigues, challenges, perplexes, and excites.
The story revolves around three friends whose hobby involves tinkering around with time. Their contraption – a modified kitchen appliance called the “Phone Microwave” that can morph bananas into a green gel.
The three pass the time trying to find a way to manipulate the future and gets their breakthrough when they discover that their device can send emails to the past, thus it alters the flow of history.
The show starts out slow and uneventful so you might be tempted to skip it. However, I advise you to stick around because once the breakthrough happens then the thrill, mystery, and adventure never stops.
This time-traveling anime series is a masterpiece. It has a complex premise that can be easy to mess up with but this doesn’t happen in the show,
Instead, the storytelling is paced properly so it’s not convoluted and confusing. It ties up loose ends well so you finish the entire show contented and happy.
Moreover, the characters are all likable and their backstories are well developed. You feel drawn to their emotions and goals.
This series has everything that makes a good conversation starter. It has sci-fi, romance, mystery, and a captivating plot that drives the story. Of course, a bestselling anime series is nothing without the good laugh and Steins; Gate supplies a good dose of comedy to balance the serious mood.
Directors: Kazuhiro Ozawa, Hamasaki, Hiroshi – Screenplay: Jukki Hanada – Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Asami Imai, Kana Hanazawa – Run Time: 24m
Hunter X Hunter (1999-2001)
If you enjoyed Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin, and Fullmetal Alchemist, then you’ll like this one too. It’s one of those “don’t judge the book by its cover” type of anime because it has a premise that is generic and overly done – father abandons his son and son tries to find him.
However, the narrative is deeper than that and the plot becomes twisted and complex. This show has a classic Shounen storyline that explores the lives of four aspiring hunters; one of them is the 12-year-old Gon Freecss, who takes the Hunter exam in the hopes of finding his dad.
The exam is by no means an easy one since it only has a very low success rate. Regardless, the payoff is worth it: access to unavailable funds and information and increase skills in a variety of fields not limited to cooking and treasure hunting. The story follows these four hunters as they embark on a deadly adventure in order to fulfill their dreams.
As for pacing, it starts out slow and the intricate plot develops gradually. It becomes tense and filled with mystery, action, and adventure once it picks up momentum.
This series may seem like a seinen to some instead of a shounen because it lacks fighting scenes. However, these are purposely scarce and short to make them memorable.
What’s especially amazing about this series is that all the characters are interesting in their own way: both protagonists and antagonists. Although the story mostly revolves around Gon, the others also bring something astounding and special to the story arc. You’ll find it hard to hate the villains.
Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi– Screenplay: Angelo Eidse, Yoshihiro Togashi – Cast: Kanako Mitsuhashi, Junko TakeuchiYuki, Kaida, Hozumi Gouda – Run Time: 23m
Death Note (2006-2007)
Another series that deals with shinigamis but tells a different story than Bleach. The narrative follows Light Yagami, a high school prodigy who stumbles upon a Death Note, a notebook that grants death wishes to whose name is on the pages. Ryuk, a bored shinigami, purposely drops the notebook on the human realm just to see how they use it.
Soon Light goes on a killing spree after he finds out the divine powers of the Death Note. He aims to eradicate all the criminals so he can build a new world where there are no crimes and people see him as a god.
However, the police will not stop until they find out the culprit behind these massive killings and so they seek the expertise of the young and eccentric detective named L.
This series has a unique concept that’s based on morals and justice. It challenges viewers on their perception of right and wrong. Is it right and justifiable to kill criminals?
The narrative follows these two people as they go about their own way of upholding justice. It especially focuses on Light’s transformation after he cracks under the pressure of his desire to achieve his dream.
He changes drastically from someone who’s calm and calculated into a demented person. Then there’s L, who is equally likable despite his queer antics.
By the end of the film, you’ll want to ponder what you would do if you were in Light’s shoes. What will you do if you have the Death Note?
Director: Tetsurô Araki – Screenplay: Takeshi Obata, Tsugumi Ôba, Toshiki Inoue – Cast: Kappei Yamaguchi, Mamoru Miyano, Shidô Nakamura – Run Time: 24m
The story follows a young boy who wishes to become a Pokémon (peculiar creatures with different appearances and abilities) trainer and master and he gets the chance to fulfill his dream on his 10th birthday. However, he joined too late, as the remaining Pokémon left to train is the reluctant Pikachu.
However, this chance encounter is what leads them to many great adventures together where they hunt for other Pokémons while evading dangers from the infamous Team Rocket, who steal these creatures through evil means.
There’s nothing really spectacular about the Pokémon series compared to other shounen series. The characters are two-dimensional, the story arc predictable and repetitive, and even the fighting stunts and animation are lackluster. Worse, the characters all act the same even though they range in age between 11 and 15.
But why does this series appeal so much to viewers, so much so, that it has developed into a community? Probably because we (I mean those born in the 1980s) can relate so much with these characters. We were born in a time when the fun, excitement, and adventure happen with friends who do silly things together. We take the fun outdoors instead of indoors.
And this is why this anime series appeals not just to the older generation but also to the younger generation of today. It’s a harmless and enjoyable show full of lessons about friendship, loyalty, and trust.
Directors: Kunihiko Yuyama, Norihiko Sutô – Screenplay: Junichi Masuda, Ken Sugimori, Satoshi Tajiri– Cast: Ikue Ootani, Rica Matsumoto, Yuji Ueda, Mayumi Iizuka, Satomi Koorogi, Tomokazu Seki – Run Time: 24m
Slam Dunk (1993 - 1996)
Basketball first got into anime in 1981 with Dash Kappei but the concept of the sport as an anime series didn’t catch traction until 1993 when Slam Dunk became a craze. It was regarded as the most epic and legendary basketball anime ever.
Basketball aficionados and anime lovers alike bonded over this entertaining series that tells the story about the colorful characters of a basketball team. The narrative though focuses on high school student Hanamichi Sakuragi, who hates basketball but decides to join his school’s basketball team anyway for a personal reason.
He wants to get the affection of the girl he likes, who happens to be the sister of the team’s captain. However, as time passes he grows to love the camaraderie and competition of the sport. He eventually dedicates his time to becoming a good player so he can help bring his team to the nationals.
Slam Dunk has everything you could ask for from an entertaining classic anime series. Character development is obvious as each of the characters are given time to shine and contribute to the story arc.
It has comedy, romance, action, tensions, tragic moments, inspiring speeches, witty jokes, and more. This show leaves a valuable lesson about perseverance, sportsmanship, and camaraderie. Slam Dunk imparts knowledge about the rules of basketball and even pays tribute to the 90s’ main NBA teams with the design of the jerseys.
Director: Nobutaka Nishizawa – Screenplay: Takehiko Inoue– Cast: Takeshi Kusao, Hikaru Midorikawa, Ryotaro Okiayu, Yoku Shioya, Kiyoyuki Yanada – Run Time: 22m
Ranma ½ (1989 - 1992)
Anyone with a weakness for pandas, enjoys the Monty Python series, and has a sense of humor, then Ranma ½ will entertain you. This series is something that you can’t really put a single description on because it covers almost every genre you can think of. It has comedy, extreme action involving physical combat and explosives, romance, drama, and more.
These are paced evenly in the episodes so you don’t really know what to expect next (although at times certain situations make you think that you already know what’s going to happen). Then you get a surprising twist that blows you away.
The premise is simple: it follows the attempts of Ranma Saotome to undo a curse he and his father got when they fell into a cursed spring in China. The curse turns Ranma, a top-class martial artist, into a girl and his father into a cuddly giant panda when splashed with cold water and only hot water can return them to normal.
Making his transition complicated is his engagement to Akane who is notorious for her hatred toward men. As the two find ways to anger each other, Ranma continues to find means to end his predicament.
This show strives to make each episode interesting and entertaining although don’t expect much in terms of complexity and depth in the storytelling. It’s simply a comedy series with lots of memorable moments that you can bond over with fellow anime lovers.
Likewise, Ranma ½ doesn’t try to be ecchi even though it serves plenty of boob shows every time Ranma accidentally turns into a girl. There’s no malice since the scenes are purely unadulterated (unlike ecchi series of today that do eccentric boob close-ups).
Directors: Tomomi Mochizuki, Junji Nishimura, Tsutomu Shibayama –Screenplay: Rumiko Takahashi – Cast: Kouichi Yamadera, Noriko Hidaka, Megumi Hayashibara – Run Time: 30m
Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (April 2007 - Sept. 2007)
This show is not for the general viewing public. Only a true anime lover can appreciate and enjoy Darker Than Black because it has depth and complexity that requires deep thinking. It’s part sci-fi, thriller, mystery, drama, and action with a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure to break up the suspense.
The story is set in the near future where two gates appeared, Hell’s Gate and Heaven’s Gate. Their appearance brought the Contractors, humans with supernatural abilities to do missions for the ruthless Syndicate.
Their skills come at a price. They have to give back each time they use their powers. It could be through writing a poem, smoking a cigarette, or doing the worse and painful thing imaginable like breaking a bone or cutting a finger.
Although the show talks about these special people, the focus falls on Hei or the “Black Reaper,” as he tries to uncover an evil plot that could destroy the existence of Contractors.
Darker Than Black starts out slow but gets fun, intriguing, and the tension picks up the pace with one event leading to another. So if you have patience then you’ll understand how everything falls into place neatly and interestingly and you’ll find yourself completely enjoying the show.
Directors: Tomomi Mochizuki, Junji Nishimura, Tsutomu Shibayama –Screenplay: Rumiko Takahashi – Cast: Kouichi Yamadera, Noriko Hidaka, Megumi Hayashibara – Run Time: 30m
Detective Conan (1996 –)
Another timeless anime classic is Detective Conan, which has been replayed countless times than I can remember on TV. Its allure is so contagious that it has birthed several films since its debut in 1996.
If you Google the show you’ll find several movies under its name and there’s even one made in 2019. This is probably because the manga is still ongoing.
Albeit suffice to say, that this anime series always manages to serve its purpose of engaging the viewers’ critical thinking and in bringing out their inner detective. It continues to delight, excite, and thrill that you might want to rethink on skipping watching CSI once you’ve watched Detective Conan.
What makes this show appealing other than its episodic case-open-and-case-close storyline is its lead- the charming high school student Shinichi Kudou, who cracks cases like peanut shells. He does it so effortlessly and neatly.
If only he wasn’t trapped in the body of a seven-year-old boy then people would actually take him seriously every time he offers his detective expertise. Shinichi unfortunately transformed after he witnessed a crime and doused with an experimental drug by the perpetrators.
The only thing that takes getting used to is the artwork: barely-there noses, round eyes, and other oddities you can compare with modern animation. Regardless, Detective Conan keeps you on your toes and best critical mind. The twists and turns are clever and brilliantly laid out, and each episode always has something new to deduce over.
Directors: Yasuichirô Yamamoto, Shizuno Koubun – Screenplay: Gosho Aoyama – Cast: Minami Takayama, Megumi Hayashibara, Wakana Yamazaki, Rikiya Koyama, Kenichi Ogata – Run Time: 25m
For some, Inuyasha opened their eyes to the wonders of anime and for this, it deserves a place among the timeless classic shounen. This show is not without its flaws though. It has a weak story and is abundant in fillers.
Yet, anime lovers still adore this series outside of its plot arcs. The characters and their relationship with each other help drive the story’s interest. You have Kagome, whose normal life is upended the moment a demon in search for a wish-granting jewel drags her into a cursed well and she ends up 500 years in the past during the violent Sengoku period.
With the jewel reborn inside her then accidentally shattered, she enlists the help of Inuyasha, a hybrid dog-demon/human to collect the pieces that have spread across feudal Japan. They meet colorful characters in their quest including a demon slayer, a monk, and a fox-demon.
If you enjoy watching extended anime series with comedy, adventure, romance, and action, then Inuyasha should be on your binge-watch list.
Directors: Megumi Yamamoto – Screenplay: Rumiko Takahashi – Cast: Kappei Yamaguchi, Satsuki Yukino, Houko Kuwashima, Motoki Takagi, Kumiko Watanabe – Run Time: 24m
Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)
For those who love a good Western story and tales about the adventures of bounty hunters (add in a little sci-fi) then you have Cowboy Bebob, a series that is set in the far future and follows protagonists who jump from galaxy to galaxy in search of a priced outlaw to bag.
The narrative tracks the adventures of the easygoing Spike Spiegel and his best friend and partner Jet Black, called “Cowboys” instead of bounty hunters in the year 2071. They board a ship called Bebop where they team up with other likable characters including a computer whiz kid, a femme fatale named Faye Valentine and a genetically engineered smart Welsh Corgi.
The story simply follows the conquests of this ragtag group of people as they go chasing wanted criminals for money and help maintain the peace across all galaxies in the process. This plot may seem repetitive and boring but the content and plot make it so that each of the 26 episodes has something new to offer.
Each episode brings about a new bounty and with it comes the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next. So there’s that feeling of thrill and excitement each time you proceed.
Best of all, character development is timely paced and backstories are told through flashbacks. You learn about the characters’ past and dark secrets along the way, instead of having them as one lump sum in a single episode. An episode of Cowboy Bebop can rival an entire season of another show because it packs more punch; more action, comedy, drama, adventure, and more.
Directors: Shinichiro Watanabe – Screenplay: Keiko Nobumoto, Hajime Yatate – Cast: Kouichi Yamadera, Aoi Tada, Megumi Hayashibara, Unshou Ishizuka – Run Time: 24m
Lupin III (1971 - 1972)
Anime wasn’t such a big hit internationally during the 1970s albeit a few notable titles caught people’s attention because of its knack for action like Speed Racer and Mobile Suit Gundam. But any old school anime lover knows that Lupin III (Lupin The Third) also caught quite a stir then because of its concept.
It was the first anime series to focus on criminals and the first to feature such gritty scenes of violence and gun action. It was realistic in its interpretation of these characters and their world of danger, sex, weapons, cars, and more.
Suffice to say, that it was ahead of its time then, which makes it a joy to watch even now. It’s legendary, to say the least, given that it influenced director Shinichiro Watanabe to create Cowboy Bebop. This testament to its greatness alone should be enough to convince you to watch the series.
The show centers on the high-profile thief Lupin III and his many exploits, which attracts the attention of rival criminals and an inspector who’s bent on taking him down. He and his gunman partner Daisuke go about achieving their dream of owning the world one valuable bit at a time.
On a side note, Lupin III is a long-running anime that boasts other different installments so you might get baffled on the sequence if you plan to get into the series.
The good thing is that almost all of the stories in this franchise are independent of the others so there’s no order to follow. It really depends on which suits you best and it matters to know the characters so you know how to follow their story.
Directors: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata – Screenplay: Seiji Matsuoka, Seiji Matsuoka – Cast: Yasuo Yamada, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Yukiko Nikaido – Run Time: 23m
Clannad Series (2007-2009)
If you think watching poetry in motion through anime is boring, or if you’re simply not a fan of poetry, then this show is not for you. Clannad is a slice of life anime series that touches on relationships, love, friendships, family, and so on.
The story is meant to relate to real life and tugs at your heartstrings. In short, it turns you into a soppy mess, which Clannad manages to do successfully. You’ll be doing lots of ugly cry with this show.
It brings out your inner moe fan, which you may not even know you have. This series is poignant, heartbreaking, and compelling although it did receive some flak for being too cute or unrealistic with its representation of girls behavior or most of the characters for that matters. However, if you watch it without skepticism then you’ll find that it’s memorable.
This show is told in two parts: Clannad and Clannad: After Story. The first tells the friendship that develops between the shy girl Nagisa Furukawa and the delinquent Tomoya Okazaki. Meeting Nagisa changes Tomoya’s initial perception of his boring life. Through her, he also becomes a good person, who helps girls with their respective problems.
Meanwhile, the sequel continues the story of our two lead characters, this time as a couple who enters a new level of intimacy and who dreams of starting their own family while going through the hurdles of school. In this story, Tomoya begins to understand the meaning and importance of family and learns about heartbreak in the most tragic way.
Clannad is not everyone’s cup of tea but one thing it does successfully is surprise your emotions. One moment you’re crying happy tears and next thing you know, you’re wailing in misery. You’ll be an emotional wreck by the time you finish the chapter of Tomoya and Nagisa’s story.
Director: Tatsuya Ishihara – Screenplay: Fumihiko Shimo, Jun Maeda – Cast: Yûichi Nakamura, David Matranga, Mai Nakahara – Run Time: 30m
Sword Art Online (July 2012 - Dec. 2012)
The premise: It’s the year 2022 and a virtual game filled with gruesome monsters and medieval weapons called Sword Art Online has the young generation hooked (literally). This MMO game lets the players control their avatars using only their thoughts.
However, in an unexpected twist of fate, thousands of players realized that the game creator has trapped them in the virtual world. The only way to escape is to finish all levels and fight for their lives. An avatar death spells the same for its owner in the real world.
Sword Art Online may have been one of the popular anime series in 2012 but this doesn’t mean it gets to bath in praises. Far from it, since it received mixed reviews. On the bad, some called the storytelling convoluted and rushed, because of the time skips and that it had poor character development.
On the good side, it has lots of amazing MMO-style action and its sci-fi concept is unique and imaginative. The animation is also really well done.
However, reviews can be subjective and who says a good anime always never has its flaw? Even other viewers accused Pokémon and Naruto of using fillers to extend the series.
What matters is the enjoyment and the endless conversations the series brings to anime lovers and Sword Art Online definitely fulfills both. It keeps you interested and entertained (this series especially appeals to the MMORPG community).
Directors: Tomohiko Itô, Manabu Ono – Screenplay: Reki Kawahara, Alexander Von David – Cast: Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Bryce Papenbrook, Haruka Tomatsu – Run Time: 24m
Ghost Fighter/ Yu Yu Hakusho: The Ghost Files (1992 - 1995)
The story revolves around the 14-year-old delinquent and ill-tempered Yusuke Urameshi who becomes a Spirit Detective after he dies from pushing a child out of oncoming traffic. He sacrificed himself, which baffles the Spirit World.
The realm gives him a chance to regain his life if he completes certain tasks that range from fighting criminals, defeating demons, competing in tournaments, or investigating criminal cases. A shinigami, his ex-rival, and two demons guide Yusuke on his venture.
Ghost Fighter is one of the best classic shounen series and one that’s all too familiar to anime fans. It still comes out of anime lovers’ mouth every now and then when they reminisce about their favorite childhood shows.
This show has nothing to boast when it comes to animation since the art isn’t special compared to other animes released during its time. The action sequences also lack in visual effects although it makes up for it with the unique fighting methods of each character.
Upon the first watch, this series may come out as another Dragon Ball clone that relies heavily on the action and rarely on the plot and character buildup. On the contrary, Ghost Fighter always entertains and excites since it delivers something new per episode. The characters are also not flat and they contribute to the story arc.
Directors: Noriyuki Abe, Akiyuki Shinbo – Screenplay: Hiroshi Hashimoto, Yukiyoshi Ohashi, Shinichi Ohnishi, Katsuyuki Sumizawa– Cast: Nozomu Sasaki, Sanae Miyuki, Mayumi Tanaka, Megumi Ogata, Shigeru Chiba – Run Time: 24m
Attack on Titan/ Shingeki no Kyojin (April 2013 - Sept. 2013)
The story takes place in a world where humans are nearly extinct save for a few who lives in fear behind a giant wall that protects them from monstrous humanoid creatures called titans. These titans crave for human flesh not born out of hunger but for sheer pleasure.
It’s been a hundred years since these people manage to avoid these monsters but one colossal titan manages to break the supposedly impregnable outer wall. Chaos ensues as the people fight for their lives with an elite military unit called the Survey Corps taking the lead in combatting these abominations.
This anime series hooks you from the first episode to the last: from the opening to the ending sequence. It’s awesome in every way: from the animation, graphics, storytelling, character development and the music, which accentuates the fear, suspense, and lets you feel all the intense emotional scenes. This show is not all action though since you also get a few moments of comedy relief.
Attack on Titan is a masterpiece and one that you will not regret watching. It’s got all the elements that make a compelling story about a world of dystopia and it’s got characters that are relatable and likeable.
Directors: Tetsurô Araki, Masashi Koizuka – Screenplay: Hajime Isayama, Yasuko Kobayashi – Cast: Marina Inoue, Yûki Kaji, Yui Ishikawa, Trina Nishimura – Run Time: 24m
One Punch Man (2015– )
You either love it or hate it. This best describes One Punch Man, a superhero anime series about Saitama, a seemingly ordinary boy whose childhood dream is to become everyone’s hero. So he goes through all the rigorous trainings to achieve his dream but lost all his hair in the process.
He becomes so strong that it only takes one punch to take down his enemies. Saitama eventually got bored and longs for more challenge. He meets a cyborg who encourages him to join the Hero Association and Saitama eagerly agrees to gain society’s recognition.
The narrative simply follows his adventures as he seeks for strong enemies to fight with so he can regain the excitement he once felt and to become popular.
One Punch Man is a good watch for those boring Friday nights or Sunday afternoons because it packs hilarious comedy outside of the epic action. It revels in stupidity and makes no effort in denying that the show is simply just about that.
It’s a fairly easy show to follow since its premise isn’t complex and the plot predictable. With this anime series, you can loosen up your thinking cap and leave behind any analytical scrutiny. You just have to enjoy the ride.
Director: Shingo Natsume – Screenplay: Tomohiro Suzuki – Cast: Makoto Furukawa, Kaito Ishikawa, Yôji Ueda – Run Time: 24m
Psycho Pass (2012 - 2019)
This series is a must-watch for those who love detective and police stories and those who enjoy keeping their brains active. Suffice to say, this show moves at a leisurely pace to build up the story.
This show is set in a futuristic world where a computerized, precognitive system called the Sibyl System dictates the ways of the people.
Imagine having to answer to this machine and not having the freedom to do what you want. It supersedes any moral judgment and is the bases of almost anything: your job, your life, and it analyzes if your present state of mind can lead you to commit a crime in the future and the results are kept on the individual’s file called Psycho-Pass.
Our protagonist, Akane Tsunemori, doesn’t solely rely on Sibyl and puts her own sense of justice first. However, her skills are put to the test and she starts to question the system when she meets a criminal mastermind who can elude the supposedly “perfect” system.
Violent, bloody, disturbing, heartbreaking. These best describe Psycho-Pass, a series that’s not for the faint of heart. Yet it’s host of interesting characters and intriguing cases are enough to keep you on your screens until you realize that you’ve finished the entire run.
Directors: Naoyoshi Shiotani, Katsuyuki Motohiro– Screenplay: Gen Urobuchi – Cast: Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Seki, Shizuka Itô, Kenji Nojima, Miyuki Sawashiro – Run Time: 25m
Fairy Tail (2009 - 2013)
The story takes place in the fantasy land of Fiore where magic is part of life. The narrative revolves around the adventures of the members of the Fairy Tail wizard guild, as they go about defeating evil and keeping the peace in their land.
This shounen was among the popular animes during its time despite its mixed reviews. Some criticized it for the poor characters, predictable plot, and weak or boring storytelling.
Then there are those who enjoyed the episodes and laud it as one of the best action and comedy adventure series. Emotional, funny, exhilarating, stunning, and exciting, are just some of the superlatives that came out from those who enjoyed the series. The allure is probably on the premise of magic: magic guilds, magical activity, mage, celestial gate keys, wizards, and more.
Directors: Shinji Ishihira – Screenplay: Hiro Mashima, Masashi Sogo – Cast: Tetsuya Kakihara, Sayaka Ohara, Eri Kitamura, Rie Kugimiya, Satomi Sato, Yui Horie – Run Time: 24m
My Hero Academia/ Boku no Hero Academia (2016 –)
Set in a world populated with superhumans, Izuku Midoriya stands out because he doesn’t inherit superpowers. However, his love for superheroes convinces him to enroll in a prestigious hero academy where he learns what it truly means to be a hero.
This show may not appeal to adults, as the story can seem childish. This is not The Umbrella Academy, a Netflix original series that’s geared for mature viewers, although these two shows share one similarity: the concept of babies born with superhuman strength.
Naturally, the villains appear and where there are villains there are superheroes, one which our protagonist wants to be. He eventually inherits ultimate strength, speed, and endurance from one of the greatest hero All Might. Here on out, the story follows how he physically and mentally adjusts to becoming a superhero and realizes that it isn’t as grand and easy as it may seem to be.
For a shounen, My Hero Academia is an engaging watch with all the right action that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It has comedy to lighten the mood and the characters are fun to watch especially when they display their powers or “quirks.”
Directors: Kenji Nagasaki – Screenplay: Kôhei Horikoshi, Yôsuke Kuroda – Cast: Daiki Yamashita, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Kaito Ishikawa Yûki Kaji, Jun’ichi Suwabe – Run Time: 24m
Card Captor Sakura/Kadokyaputa Sakura (1998 - 2000)
Sakura stumbles upon the mysterious book of Clow Cards and unintentionally scatters the cards all over the world. She also unleashes the mystical creature Keroberos/Kero-chan from the book who tells her that she must collect all the cards because they are no ordinary playthings.
Each of the cards has their unique traits and can act independently and cause chaos, which is why the sorcerer Clow Reed trapped them inside the book. With the guidance of Kero-chan and with the help of her best friend Tomoyo, Sakura embarks on a magical adventure to capture the cards while juggling problems that come with being a ten-year-old involving family, school, and love.
Cardcaptor Sakura is a series that anyone can enjoy regardless of age and gender. It’s more than a classic mahout shoujo anime since the plot also has romance, drama, and comedy.
It’s episodic in nature and follows the basic formula of introducing and capturing a new card every time and Sakura uses said card for her next mission. This may seem repetitive and boring, which is not what the show is.
Instead, the series seamlessly uses each episode to develop the characters so you learn something new every time. Every episode builds upon the last so there’s always something interesting to look forward to.
Likewise, you see how the characters slowly develop relationships with one another as the story progresses. Card Captor Sakura has a lot of enjoyment to offer that you forget you’re watching a series about capturing cards.
Directors: Morio Asaka – Screenplay: Clamp, Nanase Okawa – Cast: Sakura Tange, Junko Iwao, Aya Hisakawa, Tomokazu Seki, Megumi Ogata – Run Time: 30m
Kill La Kill (2013 - 2014)
Ryuuko Matoi demands answers about her father’s murder and her search leads her to a high school like no other, the prestigious Honnouji Academy. There she meets its cold-hearted student council president Satsuki Kiryuuin and her underlings called the Elite Four.
Satsuki grants those at the top special clothes that give its wearer superhuman skills and Ryuuko falls victim to one of these students. After beaten in a fight, she returns home bloodied and encounters a rare God Clothes that latches onto her and gives her immense power to defeat the Elite Four and continue her quest of finding the culprit behind her father’s murder.
Kill La Kill has everything you can expect from the makers of Gurren Lagann. Everything is done as fanservice from the plot, the fluid and exciting fights, catchy songs, and hilarious comedy. The series itself is an obvious parody to the overused tropes in anime: oversexualized clothing, revenge story, super-powered humans, and more. The plot actually relies on these tropes for entertainment.
However, something you don’t see often in other anime shows that Kill La Kill offers is having a strong female lead that has the energy and bravery of a man. Ryuuko not only stands up for herself but also against bullies and the male counterparts. Storywise, this anime series comes out bizarre but insanely fun and easy to follow.
Directors: Akira Amemiya, Hiroyuki Imaishi – Screenplay: Kazuki Nakashima – Cast: Ami Koshimizu, Aya Suzaki, Toshihiko Seki, Shin’ichirô Miki, Tetsu Inada, Nobuyuki Hiyama – Run Time: 25m
This series is highly addicting with a plot that leaves you anticipating for the next episodes. There are enough twists and turns to keep you excited and intrigued and the pacing in itself is neither drawn out nor rushed.
Code Geass may be a mecha but it also has elements that make it into a shoujo and shounen series, which is why it appeals to all viewers. It has amazing action sequences, smart dialogues, and impressive visuals and because of these, it deserves to be among the best anime series of all time.
Some see some similarities with this series to Death Note because it’s an anime about moral decisions, It tackles questions about right and wrong. Although the storytelling in this series and execution are done differently to give the viewers a plot so good that you just want to see what happens next right away.
This series employs several characters but their appearance helps bolster the narrative. The story allows for small subplots that relate to the main plot, thus making for an interesting show that is neither messy nor confusing. Instead, everything is well thought-out and wonderfully executed.
The premise is simple: The story is set in 2010 and a tyrannical nation has invaded Japan and showed dominance over the country. The story follows a Britannian high school student named Lelouch Lamperouge who finds himself caught in the crossfire between this military nation and the rebels who are fighting to regain independence.
He manages to escape thanks to the appearance of a mysterious girl named CC, who bequeaths him Geass. The story follows and the decisions LeLouch makes whether they are right or wrong after he inherits the “Power of Kings” that gives him the “power of absolute obedience.”
The series treks his new destiny as a masked vigilante who goes by the name of Zero, as he leads a merciless rebellion against The Holy Empire of Britannia to help Japan regain freedom.
A friendly reminder: the first episode may come as underwhelming enough to prompt you to stop watching this series. But carry on with the second episode and soon you’ll find yourself surprisingly hooked, intrigued, then satisfied.
Director: Gorô Taniguchi – Screenplay: Clamp, Gorô Taniguchi, Ichirô Ôkouchi – Cast: Yuri Lowenthal, Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai, Kikuko Inoue, Fumiko Orikasa, Yukuna, Ami Koshimizu – Run Time: 25m
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
This slice of life series follows six childhood friends who have grown apart following the death of one of them, Menma. But an unexpected request brings the gang back together several years after.
Jintan, the “leader” of the group who spends his days playing video games instead of going to school, gets a surprise visit from his departed friend who asks him to fulfill one forgotten wish. Jintan tells his friends of Menma’s appearance. Together, they must overcome guilt, pain and gather the strength to help their dead friend move on and in the process heal themselves.
This show may not be for everyone who hates melodrama and sentimentalities but truth be told, the story speaks for everyone. We all have our ways of dealing with grief but adults do better at it than teenagers or children, which is what this series tackles.
Instead of coming together to help each other move on, the friends lost touch as if Menma’s presence was the only thing that tied them all together. Throughout the story, you will learn through flashbacks how the friends were before Menma’s death and subsequently how they try to cope with the grief of losing her and how her passing changed them.
This anime series brings out so much realism about death and despair and thus makes you sympathized and empathized with each character. It also boasts a simple premise so the story is easy to follow.
The only problem is the lack of character development since it tries to be episodic in introducing each character. Regardless, if you’re looking to get away from the action for a while and want to see a heartfelt anime, then Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day should be on your watch list.
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai – Screenplay: Chouheiwa Busters, Mari Okada, Patrick Seitz – Cast: Miyu Irino, Haruka Tomatsu, Takahiro Sakurai, Saori Hayami, Takayuki Kondô, Ai Kayano– Run Time: 23m
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Saving the best of all for the last is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Now, this is what you can truly call THE anime. It boasts all the genres you can think of: drama, action, sci-fi, comedy, suspense, mystery, and more.
This series is way ahead of its time and boasts a uniquely wonderful premise that is experimental but nonetheless a success. The plot may seem simple but it gets dark and complicated as the story unfolds.
Premise: Shinji, a 14-year-old boy gets a surprise order from his estranged father, whom he has not seen in years, to pilot a massive robotic machine called Evangelion Unit- 01 and use it to fight against monsters that threaten to wipe out all of humanity.
These monsters, called Angels, are seemingly invincible and indestructible, even traditional weaponry abundant in 2015 has no effect on them. Shinji’s average life is never the same again once he embarks on his new destiny where the fate of humanity lies on his shoulders.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a mecha series that has been called a masterpiece by anime lovers and rightfully so. It is by no means an easy watch since it contains metaphors.
It requires deep thinking since it contains several thought-provoking situations and serious aspects that were not considered entertainment back in the 90s but prove influential nevertheless. It has religious symbolism and psychoanalysis, with the latter highly influenced by the writer, Hideaki Anno’s depression.
The characters are the highlight of the series. You have our hero, Shinji, who is as real as anyone who is struggling through a mental dilemma while trying to face hurdles with a smile on his face but fails to do so. Then you have Asuka, Rei, Gendo, three characters who can’t be more opposite of each other.
Throughout the series, you see these characters develop gradually so you have time to invest in their story and understand their motivations. Character growth is so deep in the show that you feel strongly for them. Shinji, Asuka, Gendo, and Rei all “tick,” which make them memorable and relatable characters in anime.
Suffice to say, that Neon Genesis Evangelion employs some of the most human characters in an animated series. It shows us that not all heroes in anime are brave, strong, and both mentally and physically capable of control over their lives.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is by far one of the strongest and influential animes to have ever come out on TV. So much so, that even today people are still trying to understand the meaning behind the symbolisms. Anime lovers still pore over every detail and discuss about the series as if it only aired recently.
Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki – Screenplay: Hideaki Anno –Cast: Yuko, Miyamura, Megumi Hayashibara, Megumi Ogata, Kotono Mitsuishi, Akira Ishida – Run Time: 24m