The 50 Best Anime Series of All Time

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The 50 Best Anime Series of All Time

I’ve watched a lot of anime.

I’ve been a fan of the medium (not genre, no, more than that) since about age 8. One morning, after getting ready for school, eating my cereal and flipping through our three available channels for something to watch, I landed on something called Star Blazers. I had never seen an animated story where people fought wars and died, where they fell in (and out of!) love, and where characters had philosophical arguments about right and wrong. And, insanely, everything wasn’t reset by the next episode. The story actually built on itself. Nothing was the same for me after that. Many years later, I find myself writing about the best anime series of all time, as a producer and broadcaster of anime, one who’s met several of my heroes in the field and had the chance to work with some of them. Life is a trip.

When thinking about “the best anime series of all time,” what were the criteria by which we judged the work? How did we arrive at this exact list? When thinking about what makes an anime great, we focused on a few key points: Did it break new ground? Is it timeless—do people still discuss it today? Did it have an impact—in other words, did it influence other creators, either because of its success or its impact on the anime community? Beyond these considerations, the most important question was: Did it move us? Did it say something?

The group of writers assembled here, along with myself, each made our own lists. Those lists were collated, and the picks with the most votes rose to the top. Occasionally, there would be a tiebreaker, and in each case, the group voted what belonged where. That’s how we arrived at the list you’re about to read.

Does it have every show I’d like to see on it, and are they ranked perfectly? Of course not. Every fan will have their own “perfect” list. This is merely an overview of important work in the medium by people who know their stuff. It reflects that we are Americans, for sure. Our number one show is, I’d wager, not the show most Japanese consumers of anime would choose as the best of all time. It’s a strange thing to be a fan of, and identify so strongly with, something your own culture didn’t even produce. That’s one of the amazing things about anime—the breadth of the storytelling is as wide as the imagination. You’re not going to be seeing a U.S.-based ice skating toon drama anytime soon! Which is a shame, because if I’ve learned anything from watching thousands of hours of anime, it’s that animation can, and should, be used to tell any kind of story. The limits we place on the art form are self-imposed, and in some other countries, those limits don’t exist. Which is what makes watching anime, and talking about it, so very exciting.

I hope you enjoy the list. I hope you go off and make your own. And I hope it’s got something on it we haven’t even heard of. And that you’ll show it to me. —Jason DeMarco

50. Berserk
Original run: 1997


Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is one of the most critically-acclaimed action series of the 1980s. Spanning 40 volumes and counting, the long-running manga, which follows Guts the Black Swordsman’s Sisyphean quest for revenge across the blighted plains of Midland, has spawned legions of fans over the series’ almost 30-year history. There’s been a handful of anime adaptations in that time, some more risible than others.The 1997 anime, produced by OLM, directed by Naohito Takahashi, and written by Yasuhiro Imagawa, is to this day widely regarded as the finest adaptation of Berserk ever made and considered a major contributing factor to the series’ ongoing popularity. With an iconic soundtrack by Susumu Hirasawa, intense battles, engrossing characters, and an ending that will shake you to your core, Berserk is a harrowing yet highly recommended plunge into a world fraught with feudal strife and cosmic cruelty. —Toussaint Egan

49. Fate/Zero
Original run: 2006-2007


The second anime adaptation of Type-Moon’s Fate franchise of light novels, this 25-episode seinen, directed by Ei Aoki, follows a group of mages as they compete in a battle royale called the Fourth Holy Grail War over a mythical chalice (decidedly not the Cup of Christ, but sharing its name) capable of granting the wish of its possessor. Three families of mages have traditionally fought for control the Grail, but each war is waged between seven mages, called Masters, who summon Servants, immensely powerful figures of legend and world history, to fight as their representatives in the conflict—meaning that adrenaline junkie history buffs who have always wondered who would win in a battle between King Arthur (again, it’s really not that Holy Grail) and Alexander the Great will find this show plentifully rewarding. The somewhat bananas premise is counterbalanced by a gorgeous animation style, complexity of character, and legitimately heartrending plot twists. —John Maher

48. Bleach
Original run: 2004-2012

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One of the greatest fantasy action anime tropes of all is the BFS—that is, the “big fucking sword.” That’s true of Naruto, Claymore, Berserk, Rurouni Kenshin, and Inuyasha—and it’s true of Bleach. Our protagonist, Ichigo, has plenty more going on than his giant sword, of course; he’s compassionate, brave, and as a “Soul Reaper” he is responsible for defending humanity from evil spirits. But let’s not kid ourselves. Bleach is all about the sword. Like, it’s not as if Netflix skipped the sword when they made a live-action Bleach movie. It’s not like this would have run for eight years, 366 episodes, and even more pages of manga without kick-ass action with a big fucking sword. His sword is a zanpakuto named Zangetsu, and it’s awesome. —Eric Vilas-Boas

47. Ping Pong The Animation
Original run: 2014


It’s wrong to call Ping Pong “realistic,” per se, but it certainly finds realism where other anime set in high school don’t. The students’ game is table tennis, pure and simple, and that means Ping Pong gets lots of mileage out of the internal angst of its protagonists and extreme camera angles of lunges. In a tight 11 episodes, it captures the tension and pain of learning that you are, in fact, not the talented wizard you thought you were. That’s a recognizable feeling to anyone who’s come of age, and it’s one that director Masaaki Yuasa (recently responsible for Devilman Crybaby, which used a similarly wonky art style) captures perfectly. —Eric Vilas-Boas

46. Steins;Gate
Original run: 2011


What would happen if you invented time travel? Steins;Gate is the answer to that question. The television anime adaptation of the 2009 visual novel game of the same name, Steins;Gate follows the story of Rintaro Okabe, an 18-year-old self-professed “mad scientist,” and his friends at the “Future Gadget Laboratory,” a hobbyist club devoted to researching “super science” located on the second floor of a television store. When Rintaro and co. accidentally stumble upon a rudimentary form of time travel coinciding with a mysterious murder, the group is ensnared in the machinations of SERN, a sinister organization bent on world domination. As Rintaro probes deeper at the discovery of a lifetime, he is forced to contend not only with SERN, but also with the mounting mortal consequences of his temporal dalliance. Steins;Gate is slow to start, but builds into an enthralling sci-fi mystery with tight plotting, memorable characters, and a genuinely novel twist on the iterative process of time travel. —Toussaint Egan

45. Fullmetal Alchemist
Original run: 2003-2004

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Despite not having a completed manga to rely on and completely milking the finale to tie into a movie—for what it’s worth, The Conqueror of Shamballa ain’t bad—2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist makes it work. Here, there’s far more insight on the Ishvalan Civil War and its effect on refugees, as well as deeper characterization. We also get more time with Maes Hughes, the most wholesome character in existence. Most importantly, it portrays Edward and Alphonse Elric as what they are: Children tangled in a corrupt regime. —Sarra Sedghi

44. Pokémon
Original run: 1997-present


If a higher-ranked anime on this list didn’t introduce you to the genre, then Pokémon likely did. To the joy of ’90s kids everywhere, Pokémon helped solidify anime (and, hopefully, good punnery) in the West: Pikachu still hovers over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and a certain mobile game was possibly the only good thing about 2016. Pokémon may not be high artistry (because, you know, it’s for children), but the show’s pervasiveness is a testament to the power of nostalgia. —Sarra Sedghi

43. Megazone 23
Original run: 1985-1989


Ah, the ’80s—when motorcycles were fast, hairstyles were huge, and globalization was everywhere, from the uncensored McDonald’s logos in the world of Megazone 23 to the series’ video-store distribution here in the States. Megazone, which takes place in a future when Earth has become uninhabitable, is a pretty fun ride, the fast and loose story of a rebellious teen named Shogo who comes across a motorcycle that changes into a robot. In Parts 1 and 2, he eventually unearths a conspiracy and exposes the Megazone civilization for the dystopia it is, while Part 3 ties up loose threads in a new story set centuries later. Shogo’s episodes were later chopped up and used as footage for Robotech: The Movie, which otherwise had… absolutely nothing to do with Megazone 23. Globalization! —Eric Vilas-Boas

42. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Original run: 2004-2005


The Count of Monte Cristo... in space. This is, not coincidentally, exactly how one might describe Alfred Bester’s proto-cyberpunk touchstone The Stars My Destination—which makes sense, as this 24-episode seinen, directed by Mahiro Maeda, was initially intended as an adaptation of Bester’s novel. Yet Alexandre Dumas’s classic revenge tale, while interpreted more literally than in Bester’s novel—the titular count is, in fact, Edmond Dantès, here spelled Edmund Dantes, and Paris, France, remains a central location—takes an even weirder turn here. Instead of sinister mega-corporations and personal teleportation, Maeda’s universe is peopled with alien empires and demonic forces. The art style is unique, almost overwhelmingly so, taking its cues from 19th century art movements in both Europe and Japan, and the main themes were composed by Jean-Jacques Burnel, bassist from English post-punk band the Stranglers. It’s not for everyone, but there really is no other anime quite like it. —John Maher

41. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Original run: 2006-2007


If you like dystopian alternate histories, robot battles, and literally meme-worthy acrobatic kicks, Code Geass will probably make you very happy. It’s the story of Lelouch vi Britannia, the brilliant deposed scion of a repressive autocratic ruling family. After he is unexpectedly gifted with the power to control minds, he starts a rebellion against his relatives in the Holy Britannian Empire (a stand-in for the USA). That may sound over-the-top—and it totally is!—but it’s also very Shakespearean. Code Geass is a bit like Game of Thrones, except the dragons are giant robots and Littlefinger is sort of a good guy and also happens to be a teenager. It’s a bloody revenge tale with plenty geopolitical intrigue, and it’s never, ever dull. —Eric Vilas-Boas

40. Gurren Lagann
Original run: 2007


Up until to the release of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Gainax had always been a studio perilously skirting the line between disaster and success. The runaway success of Neon Genesis Evangelion had buoyed the studio from the brink of disaster, and in the intervening years Gainax found itself again in need of another boon. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s directorial television debut, a “hot-blooded” and “unconventional” super robot anime that functioned as a spiritual successor to the studio’s prior works like Gunbuster and Evangelion. With boundless charisma, meteoric stakes, and exponential heaps of absurd spectacle that laugh in the face of sensibility, Gurren Lagann delivered Gainax another cult classic and became the launchpad for the studio’s own successor, Trigger. On the height of Gurren Lagann’s success, Imaishi and co. pierced through the heavens and showed the world just who the hell they were. —Toussaint Egan

39. My Hero Academia
Original run: 2016-present


It’s not too soon to liken My Hero Academia to quintessential shonen, because the show is heavy on what the genre does best: Protagonist Izuku Midoriya is refreshingly emotional (so, of course, he helps his classmates open up enough to alter their lives), and villains are undergoing a renaissance thanks to the fumbles of hero society. It’s a fresh spin on a genre that’s laden with tropes, and the fights are very good. —Sarra Sedghi

38. The Vision of Escaflowne
Original run: 1996


The Vision of Escaflowne is just about the full fantasy package. It’s got dragons, an alternate Earth rent asunder by war, steampunky robots, gorgeous sword-duel animation, tarot cards, and a rad symphonic soundtrack masterminded by the legendary Yoko Kanno. The elements may all be recognizable, but the chemistry works perfectly. Escaflowne’s still a blast to watch, but it’s probably most notable for the murderers’ row of names behind it. Shoji Kawamori (Macross franchise mastermind) created the series; Ryota Yamaguchi (One Piece, Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon) wrote much of it; Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) did storyboards; Kanno (also Bebop) did the music; Hiroshi Osaka (cofounder of the anime studio BONES) directed animation; and Yasuhiro Irie (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) co-directed an episode. Its visionary legacy lived on. —Eric Vilas-Boas

37. Wolf’s Rain
Original run: 2003


Four lone wolves wander through a shattered world in which their kind was hunted to extinction by humans centuries ago—or so the humans thought. These wolves survive by hiding beneath illusory glamours that make them appear human as they attempt to sniff out a refuge simply known as Paradise, which only wolves can find. Directed by Tensai Okamura, written by Cowboy Bebop scribe Keiko Nobumoto, and with—who else?—Yoko Kanno on board as music director, this mystical post-apocalyptic seinen is distinguished by a focus on non-human leads (glamours be damned) and winsome visuals that find a balance between high-tech cityscapes and the barren beauty of ruined lands. Superb voice acting—this is another where the dub is absolutely worth a go—brings added resonance to the four leads who, in spite of their archetypical builds, grow compellingly by the show’s end. The original 26-episode run didn’t quite wrap up the story, so a four-episode OVA was tacked on to bring the series to its bittersweet finale. —John Maher

36. Death Note
Original run: 2006-2007

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Light Yagami is a bored honor student with a god complex—which only escalates when he discovers a Shinigami’s, or god of death’s, notebook, one that will kill anyone whose name is written inside. However, he’s not the only character who’s morally compromised; even the hero/antagonist L isn’t above deception, no matter how many tiny cakes he eats. Funnily enough, it’s the Shinigami community that’s most endearing, especially once Death Note starts unraveling. —Sarra Sedghi

35. Devilman Crybaby
Original run: 2018


To put it lightly, Go Nagai is a man with a reputation. Aside from being one of the forefathers of the “Super Robo”’ subgenre of mecha for his creation Mazinger Z, he is also known for creating works that pushed taboos and prompted the anime industry’s shift from children-oriented fare to darker and more sexually-charged subject matter. Case in point: Devilman. Masaaki Yuasa’s contemporary reprise of Akira Fudo and Ryo Asuka’s “love” story is as orgiastically violent and unflinchingly risqué as Nagai’s original manga, a fitting tribute to both the creator’s oeuvre and the character’s storied legacy. Devilman’s influence can be seen everywhere from the Luciferian beauty of Berserk’s Griffith to the apocalyptic loneliness of Neon Genesis Evangelion. For all these reasons and more, Devilman Crybaby positions itself not only as one of the best series in recent memory, but one that will stand the test of time in the years to come. —Toussaint Egan

34. Monster
Original run: 2004

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Naoki Urasawa is one of the most critically-acclaimed manga writers of his time, adored by the literary community both within and outside of Japan and the author of some of the most densely plotted, character-driven, and experimental manga ever published. So it’s only natural that Monster, Urasawa’s fifth serialized manga and one of his best known outside of Japan, would translate into one of the greatest anime series ever put to the screen. Spanning 74 episodes, the show’s premise unspools in the way only the finest crime-thriller should: patiently, yet purposefully. Dr. Kenzo Tenma’s fall from esteemed brain surgeon to disgraced murder suspect on the run, and his frenzied search for the man who framed him, is a riveting saga from start to finish, darting from one corner of Europe to the next in a deadly contest of wills. If you ever have the chance to watch this series, jump at the opportunity. —Toussaint Egan

33. Kids on the Slope
Original run: 2012


Yes, this is the third show on this list with Shinichiro Watanabe at its helm—but despite its stunning jazz soundtrack and the return of the brilliant Yoko Kanno as musical director, this josei, adapted from the manga by Yuki Kodama, has almost nothing in common with the director’s action-heavy other works. Set in the summer of 1966, on the second-smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Kyushu, this touching tale of three very different high schoolers becoming friends, falling for one another, and playing music together delightfully traffics in teen romance tropes (moody nerd befriends bad boy, falls for shy girl, awkward sentimentality ensues) is a veritable love letter to jazz music. Each episode is named after a standard, from Duke Ellington’s seminal “In a Sentimental Mood” to Bill Evans’s broodingly gentle reinterpretation of Disney’s Snow White centerpiece, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Slightly shorter, at 13 episodes, than Your Lie In April, for which it somewhat set the stage (pun vaguely intended), it’s also less gut-wrenching while still managing to pack plenty of pathos. —John Maher

32. Ranma ½
Original run: 1989


It’s important to contextualize Ranma ½, a show with a male protagonist who “becomes a girl” due to a magic hot spring. To put it mildly, the concept has not aged well in the three decades since the manga first appeared and the anime hit the airwaves; as a society, we’re a lot more aware of trans-inclusivity or cisnormative ideas, as we should be. Still, Ranma is a wildly influential franchise with hundreds of episodes and volumes, and as problematic as it is, it’s a cultural artifact worth talking about. Trans and queer writers in particular have written smarter pieces than I ever could examining the franchise’s positives and negatives. It’s clear today that this concept was played for laughs—clunky at best and transphobic at worst—but hopefully we can learn from it. —Eric Vilas-Boas

31. Ouran High School Host Club
Original run: 2006


Ouran High School Host Club masterfully parodies Shojo anime as the club in question caters companionship to girls who have too much money and too much time on their hands: Is there anything better than making fun of rich people? “Commoner” Haruhi Fujioka is pretty much the only voice of reason here, with a snappy wit that’s just as hilarious as her (shh!) fellow club members’ loose grasp on life outside the elite sphere. Tamaki Suoh is pretty much a puppy, and the relationship between Honey and Mori is so goddamn adorable that these characters aren’t all bad, anyway. Sometimes, blackmail can be a good thing. —Sarra Sedghi

30. Your Lie In April
Original run: 2014-2015


Junior high musical prodigies with lots of feelings are at the center of this resplendent yet melancholic 22-episode anime. Billed as shonen but having more in common with josei, director Kyohei Ishiguro’s adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa’s manga pulls none of the source material’s gut-wrenching punches, and the addition of the sweeping classical music, performed by the traumatized pianist protagonist Kosei Arima and his crush, the free-spirited violinist Kaori Miyazono, only adds to the atmosphere. (An original score by Masaru Yokoyama tugs at the heartstrings plenty, too.) Have a box of tissues on hand for this one, especially as the finale looms. —John Maher

29. Serial Experiments Lain
Original run: 1998


If you took every heady, philosophical cyberpunk thriller of the late 1980s and 1990s, filtered them through The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, and then deliberately chopped and screwed the timeline, you would be left with this psychological head-scratcher of a seinen. At its center is Lain Iwakura, a shy teenage girl whose personality morphs both online and off as she becomes more and more involved with the Wired, a virtual reality world comprising, simultaneously, every communication method known to humanity. Director Ryutaro Nakamura manages to cram an extraordinary amount of metaphysical musing into the show’s brief 13-episode run, which, despite being anything but an easy watch, is exceptionally rewarding for those willing plug into its world with an open mind. —John Maher

28. Kill la Kill
Original run: 2013-2014


There’s nothing anime loves more than making fun of anime, which explains why Kill la Kill protagonist Ryuko Matoi teams up with a sentient sailor uniform to get to the bottom of her father’s death and challenge the dictatorial hierarchy that is Honnouji Academy and Satsuki Kiriyun, its iron-fisted student council president. Fan service aside, it’s visually hypnotic, the measures Kill la Kill takes to justify all its nudity are impressive, and the magical-girl action comedy ends up more thought-provoking than you’d expect. One-Punch Man isn’t the only good parody out there, y’all! —Sarra Sedghi

27. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Original run: 2002

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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a must-watch, not only for being the first television anime adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s landmark cyberpunk manga of the same name, but also for being the first anime adaptation of the series to have not been directed by Mamoru Oshii. Set in an alternate continuity from the original manga and 1995 film, Kenji Kamiyama reimagined Ghost in the Shell as something more akin to a police procedural, with each ‘stand alone’ episode devoted to broadening the scope of the original’s philosophical questions about transhumanism to encompass the totality of the series’ far-future Japan. Stand Alone Complex combines the best of both Shirow and Oshii’s sensibilities, arguably positioning itself as not only one of the best anime series of its time but also one of the best iterations, if not the best iteration, of Ghost in the Shell to date. —Toussaint Egan

26. Now and Then, Here and There
Original run: 1999-2000


Not a lot about Now and Then, Here and There is particularly subtle. Its primary setting is a roving battleship named Hellywood, a seat of power in a brutal alternate reality. Its most arresting visual metaphor is the face of a murdered cat framed prominently in front of the body of a beaten and tortured child—Shu, our protagonist. Many of its episodes, watched in sequence, feel relentless, punctuated by another beating, another rape, another mass killing, another resigned snippet of dialogue from child soldiers lamenting their situation. But there are so many anime series that have failed to play out the tolls that such abuses would take on their characters hearts and minds. By contrast, Now and Then, Here and There does justice to the trauma it portrays, no matter how hard it gets to watch. —Eric Vilas-Boas

25. The Big O
Original run: 1999-2000


In a world where Batman: The Animated Series and the Gundam franchise could fall in love, this detective noir-meets-mecha seinen, directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama, would be their progeny. Set in Paradigm City, a burg whose citizens collectively suffer from a mysterious amnesia, The Big O follows Bruce Wayne-esque protagonist Roger Smith, who serves as a freelance Negotiator—something of a cross between private investigator and lawyer—when he’s not piloting the titular megadeus (read: giant robot) Big O. Roger is assisted in his job by an Alfred Pennyworth-like butler, Norman Burg, and the android R. Dorothy Wayneright, whose very existence as part-human, part-robot highlights, as does Paradigm City’s amnesiac population, the show’s central question: What is it, exactly, that makes us human? The cult favorite starts as an episodic anime but goes full serial in its second season—released three years after its first, and bringing the show to a full 26 episodes—as Smith finds an archvillain in Alex Rosewater, the power-hungry chairman of the all-powerful Paradigm Corporation and a maniacal one-percenter dedicated to keeping the rich rich and the poor destitute—at any cost. —John Maher

24. Mushishi
Original run: 2005-2006

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If you’re one of those people who “isn’t really into anime, just Ghibli,” Mushishi will change your stance. Its episodic nature means you don’t have to commit to an entire season to understand its message: Mushishi simply re-narrates Japanese folklore in a captivating, more contemporary medium, using super-likable protagonist Ginko as a vehicle to explore old tales and superstitions. —Sarra Sedghi

23. Violet Evergarden
Original run: 2018


The key to Violet Evergarden is that it’s about the future. Violet, a former child soldier who survived a war and lost both her arms, has to face that future, and she can’t help but look backward. Her day job has her ghostwriting clients’ thoughts and memories. She endures PTSD-fueled echoes of her own past constantly. She yearns for her beloved superior officer who (we think?) died. And throughout, she struggles, both physically, with her prosthetic hands, and socially, with everyone she meets. So much anime, including many titles on this list, focuses on conflicts during wartime; it’s rare to see one go all in on the conflicts that come with peace. Violet Evergarden’s argument—that those aftereffects are surmountable—is a compelling, important one. —Eric Vilas-Boas

22. Samurai Champloo
Original run: 2004-2005


If Cowboy Bebop married space cowboys and jazz, Samurai Champloo, also directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, did the same with samurai and hip-hop. Champloo’s story, detailing how a ragtag trio searches for “samurai who smells of sunflowers,” is fine and dandy. Watanabe’s direction is brilliant. Its duels and characters are beautifully animated. But Champloo’s music is scary good. American hip-hop endorsed anime long before the art form went mainstream, but Champloo’s soundtrack—anchored by Fat Jon, Watanabe collaborator Tsutchie, and the late Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes—did the reverse. No hip-hop anime soundtrack has topped it since. —Eric Vilas-Boas

21. Trigun
Original run: 1998

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Nearly every character in Trigun has an almost comically badass name, minor and major players alike. Midvalley the Hornfreak. Hoppered the Gauntlet. Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a.k.a. Nicholas the Punisher. Meryl Stryfe. Millions Knives. (Seriously!) And, of course, Vash the Stampede, a.k.a the Humanoid Typhoon. Trigun, a cyber-Western seinen directed by Satoshi Nishimura and adapted from the manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, is drenched in the tropes of American Westerns and nods to Christian mythology. The 26-episode series follows the amnesiac Vash as he travels the world of Gunsmoke trying to save the lives of innocents without killing anyone while being pursued by an increasingly intense assemblage of rogues and reprobates seeking the $$60 billion (that’s 60 billion double dollars) bounty that’s been slapped on his head for the ruination he brought upon the city of July—an event he barely recalls. This is another show where the English dub is pretty much equal to the Japanese original, making it an easy entry for American genre fans. —John Maher

20. Inuyasha
Original run: 2000-2004


Thanks to Adult Swim, everyone has at least heard of Inuyasha. Inuyasha has a little bit of everything—folklore, love triangles, anachronism, demon racism, villains that are just as relatable as protagonists (mostly Kagure, who will wreck your heart)—and nicely wraps it up in an intricately detailed story. There’s a lot to take in, especially if you watch all this and 2009’s Inuyasha: The Final Act, but it’s hardly a waste of time. —Sarra Sedghi

19. One Piece
Original run: 1999-present


Easily the longest-running anime on this list—although somehow not even close to the longest-running anime of all time—this almost absurdly unwieldy shonen, adapted from the manga by Eiichiro Oda, will see its 856th episode air in Japan this Sunday, October 7, 2018. It is, to put it mildly, difficult to describe, let alone summarize, oozing as it is with colorful characters and immeasurable subplots and, you know, a stupid number of episodes. The gist is this: A crew of corsairs called the Straw Hat Pirates, led by their intrepid 17-year-old captain, Monkey D. Luffy (yes, that is his actual name), sails a world dominated by oceans in search of “One Piece,” the legendary treasure trove of the infamous King of the Pirates, in order to claim his title. Luffy, whose body has become extraordinarily stretchy (think Mr. Incredible) after digesting a magical foodstuff called a Devil Fruit, is challenged constantly by fellow would-be pirate kings, all the while picking up new crewmates—including an anthropomorphic reindeer doctor and an afro-sporting skeleton who plays violin. It’s totally bonkers, but all kinds of fun, and it’ll keep you busy for a long, long time. —John Maher

18. Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Original run: 1992


Yasuhiro Imagawa is a director known for an affinity for nostalgia, a torchbearer whose body of work hearkens back to the formative years of super robot mecha anime while imbuing it with a contemporary sense of gravitas and style. So when Imagawa was approached to produce a direct-to-video adaptation of Giant Robo, the other famous giant robot created by his hero Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the answer was an unequivocal “Yes.” Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still is an unapologetic send-up not only of Yokoyama’s creation, but of the entirety of the author’s oeuvre. A seven-episode epic over six years in the making, Giant Robo is a labor of love the likes of which is rarely seen in modern anime and a requisite watch for any avowed mecha fan. For a more exhaustive breakdown of Giant Robo’s history and significance, check out my essay celebrating the OVA’s 25th anniversary. —Toussaint Egan

17. Tetsujin 28
Original run: 1963


There is no genre more quintessential to anime than mecha. From the medium’s nascency in the late 1950’s, the origins and popularity of mecha has always been firmly rooted in postwar Japan’s embrace of industrialized automation as a surrogate means of reclaiming and revitalizing its cultural identity. Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Tetsujin 28, translated as “Iron Man #28” and aired in the States under the name Gigantor, is acknowledged as the definitive ur-text of the mecha genre. Set in the aftermath of World War II, the series follows the adventures of Shotaro Kaneda, a ten-year-old boy detective who is bequeathed the titular giant robot by his super scientist father, Dr. Kaneda. Tetsujin 28 sparked the imagination of an entire generation of Japanese anime directors, including Mamoru Oshii and Katsuhiro Otomo, as well as Hollywood auteurs like Guillermo Del Toro. It’s not an overstatement to say that, in the taxonomy of giant robots, Tetsujin 28-go casts a shadow that few others could hope to eclipse. —Toussaint Egan

16. Yu Yu Hakusho
Original run: 1992-1994


Noriyuki Abe’s adaptation of the early 1990s shonen manga phenomenon from Yoshihiro Togashi—who would go on to write the manga adapted for Hunter x Hunter—turns every shonen cliché in the book up to 10 (if not quite 11). Teenage street tough turned revived ghost and demon-slaying hero? Check. Adamantly denied schoolyard crush (replete with inappropriate “flirting”) blossoming into a full-fledged epic romance? For sure. Magical baby? Oh, yeah. Superpowered sidekick with ridiculous conical hair and a literal third eye? 100%. An apparently endless slew of tournament-style battles? You’d better believe it. And yet, while Yu Yu Hakusho is pretty much everything people who avoid anime because they watched one episode of a Dragon Ball property and didn’t like it would assume it to be, it’s also, quietly, an extraordinarily sensitive show. Social commentaries on the effects of alcoholic parents on children and subtle meditations on Buddhist philosophy sit side by side with, uh, a castle made of mazes and filled with eyeballs with bat wings. You really can’t go wrong. —John Maher

15. Kaiba
Original run: 2008


Kaiba is a love story tangled in a universe where memories rule and bodies are interchangeable commodities. And for a character with no memories and a handful of hints, it’s both difficult and enlightening to navigate. Beautiful pastel animation contrasts sad stories in a wretched galaxy, which Warp explores in search of Neyro—a terrorist organization’s strongest fighter—and answers. Along the way, Warp experiences firsthand the plight of the poor that he’s responsible for and learns what’s necessary to create a better world. —Sarra Sedghi

14. Sailor Moon
Original run: 1992-1997

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Sailor Moon taught so many girls that they can be saccharine saviors, and that kindness is the ultimate weapon. Usagi Tsukino never sheds her more unseemly traits, but experiences tremendous growth over Sailor Moon’s five-season span. The plot cycle can get a little repetitive, but Sailor Moon features some really strong lady characters, including all of the Outer Guardians and villains like Black Lady (Chibi-Usa’s evil, grown-up persona) and Queen Nehelnia, whose childhood loneliness spawns true evil. Make sure to watch every season for even more statements on gender and sexuality! —Sarra Sedghi

13. Lupin III
Original run: 1971-1972


Lupin III is anime’s most iconic gentleman thief—a rakish criminal genius who first showed up in manga runs from the late ’60s while Sean Connery was defining James Bond. Lupin’s approach is similar: He fights, he fucks, he steals things, and he’s the grandson of the OG gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin. Lupin III’s adventures now span a half-century franchise, but what’s more notable is how many anime series claim the character, originally created as contract work, as an influence. Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel flat-out wouldn’t exist without Lupin’s character as a model. Hayao Miyazaki wouldn’t have had his first shot at directing features without the intricately detailed movie The Castle of Cagliostro. “At the end of that three months, it became popular and I continued drawing it for 10 years,” the creator Monkey Punch has said. The rest is history. —Eric Vilas-Boas

12 .Hunter x Hunter
Original run: 2011-2014


Hunter x Hunter is weird, even by anime standards. It’s also one of the best. Hunter takes motives like revenge, wanting to make lots of money, and straight-up sadism and weighs them against morality, which often gets muddled amid the chaos that professional Hunter-dom entails. Its grim compass is juxtaposed against some very random plots, including (but not limited to) visiting a family of assassins, fighting a superspecies known as Chimera Ants, and secretly using mob ties to avenge genocide. —Sarra Sedghi

11. Paranoia Agent
Original run: 2004


The great Satoshi Kon’s only television series—excepting his 1993 OVA adaptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure—was released six years before his death, of pancreatic cancer, at age 46. While it may not be as widely lauded as his final feature film, the experimental masterpiece Paprika, released two years later, or even his first feature film as director, 1997’s Perfect Blue, it’s every bit the sublime exercise in psychological thriller as either. In this tight, 13-episode shonen/seinen, Kon’s knack for cerebral, postmodern storytelling is in full effect. The story of visual designer Tsukiko Sagi, who invents a pink dog character called Maromi that takes Japan by storm, entwines mysteriously with that of Shonen Batto (Li’l Slugger in the English dub), a mysterious elementary schooler on inline skates who attacks her with a bent golden baseball bat. Two police detectives take the case, while Batto’s singular attack soon becomes a streak and the distinction between the real and the surreal becomes harder and harder to discern for everyone involved. —John Maher

10. Rurouni Kenshin
Original run: 1996-1998

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There was a moment, in 2003, when seemingly one in every three middle schoolers in America whose home boasted a cable television wanted to learn kendo—a martial art descended from kenjustu, the traditional Japanese art of swordplay. That would be thanks to Rurouni Kenshin, a shonen set during Japan’s Meiji Restoration whose protagonist, a scarred former assassin turned wanderer, pledges himself to protecting the innocent without ever killing again by wielding his reverse-bladed sword against all comers. The depiction of protagonist Himura Kenshin’s penance and a struggle to maintain control in the face of a reflexive return to past wrongs is perhaps the best redemption tale in any anime. The show’s second season, the “Legend of Kyoto” arc, is rightly revered in particular as an example of a near-perfect adaptation from manga to anime, with its original storylines fitting neatly beside those from the manga. A caveat: The property is deeply tainted by the actions of its author, Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was charged with possession of child pornography last fall. His involvement with the anime, however, was limited—and Kenshin’s own values, so centered on selflessly safeguarding those who need protection most at any cost to himself, serve as a resounding condemnation of his creator’s moral failures. —John Maher

9. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Original run: 1997


For those unfamiliar with the series, Revolutionary Girl Utena is often characterized as the “Evangelion of Shojo anime.” But that description, while apt in some respects, is insufficient to grasp what sets Kunihiko Ikuhara’s magnum opus apart. Revolutionary Girl Utena is the story of a girl who dared to become a prince and was told her whole life, “No.” It’s the story of that same girl’s loss of innocence, and her subsequent growth into a confident and heroic young woman. And finally, it is the story of a love between two women who each, in her own way, rescues the other from the depths of despair, hardship, and abuse. That the series manages this while being one of the most visually sumptuous and allegorically dense character studies of the late 1990s is no small feat. Revolutionary Girl Utena envisioned adolescence as one’s own personal apocalypse, with the end of one world signifying the beginning of something new—and, hopefully, better. —Toussaint Egan

8. Space Battleship Yamato
Original run: 1974


When it comes to anime’s stylistic maturation, it’s not a stretch to say that there’s a definitive line: before Space Battleship Yamato and after Space Battleship Yamato. The brainchild of Leiji Matsumoto, Yamato was the first animated space opera series to air on Japanese television, heralding the rise of “manly” space adventurism as the genre du jour. Set in the year 2199, the series follows the crew of the Yamato, now resurrected as a mighty starship, as they embark on a desperate voyage to the planet Iscandar in search of the means to save the Earth from the invasive, militaristic extraterrestrials known as the Gamillans. As much a work of allegorical postwar fantasy as it was a rollicking space drama, Space Battleship Yamato is one of the most influential anime series of all time, and Matsumoto is one of the medium’s brightest luminaries. —Toussaint Egan

7. Dragon Ball Z
Original run: 1989


In every practical sense, Akira Toriyama’s status as one of anime’s greatest creators was all but secured with Dragon Ball. Loosely inspired by the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, the manga and subsequent anime series of Son Goku’s misadventures to collect all seven of the mythical dragon balls inspired whole generations of manga artists and animators in Japan. The original series was a classic, but it was Dragon Ball Z that marked the series’ transition from a national treasure into a worldwide phenomenon. With hyper-kinetic violence, flashy energy attacks, dizzying spectacles of mass destruction, and tense moments of serial escalation, Dragon Ball Z is a singularly important installment in the canon of martial arts action anime and an enduring entry point for newcomers to the medium to this day. —Toussaint Egan

6. Astro Boy
Original run: 1963


What would anime be now, were it not for Astro Boy? Certainly not the global phenomenon it is today. Adapted from Osamu Tezuka’s long-running manga of the same name, Astro Boy, better known in its native Japan as Tetsuwan Atomu, or “Mighty Atom,” depicted the adventures of the show’s titular boy robot. Shunned by his creator and rescued from captivity by his adoptive father, Dr. Ochanomizu, Astro would soon grow into his role as a savior of the planet Earth, defending humans and robot-kind alike from evil-doers bent on nefarious ends. At 193 episodes, Japan’s first animated television series would become Tezuka’s magnum opus, a landmark work which would inform an entire medium’s aesthetic and thematic trajectory for decades to come. From 1963 to now, make no mistake: We owe it all to Tezuka’s little boy robot. —Toussaint Egan

5. Mobile Suit Gundam
Original run: 1981-1982


In 2018, it’s easy to forget—considering the countless spinoff series, films, manga, and model kits—that this legendary 1979 mecha anime was… really, really freakin’ good. The animation may look dated. The mechanical designs and character models may not move with the consistency of the later series. And the implications of its world-building, in which a separatist faction of humans abandons Earth for space colonies, hadn’t been perfectly fine-tuned. Nonetheless, Mobile Suit Gundam’s core arguments hold up four decades later: The people we ask to fight for us—often before they can maturely engage with the world—come back broken or don’t come back at all; Nazis and Nazi-lookalikes are bad; and giant robots are compulsively watchable. —Eric Vilas-Boas

4. FLCL
Original run: 2000-2001


FLCL was intended to feel unlike anything else you’ve ever watched, anime or otherwise. It’s got an incredible Japanese alt-rock soundtrack from the band The Pillows. Its editing is frenetic. Its characters interact in extremes of manic, moody, or forlorn. Its plot—in which robots pop out of a young boy’s swollen, injured head, heralding the return of a powerful extraterrestrial being—kinda doesn’t matter. None of that stuff matters, according to series director Kazuya Tsurumaki. “Difficulty in comprehension should not be an important factor in FLCL,” he once wrote in a comment thread for Production IG. “I believe the ‘rock guitar’ vibe playing throughout the show is a shortcut on the road to understanding it.” Rock on, brother. —Eric Vilas-Boas

3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Original run: 2009-2010

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There’s a reason Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sits so high on anime fans’ list of favorites. It’s compelling and gets dark fast, like half an episode in, and being scarred by early and ultimate episodes alike is a universal experience in the anime community. There are plenty of silly, wiggily animated moments and endearing characters (like Alex Louis Armstrong, the most positive body of all time) to balance out that tension and tragedy, which is good, because hoooo boy, we need them. Also, all five theme songs are bona fide jams. —Sarra Sedghi

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Original run: 1995-1996


Is it a psychodrama about growing up? Is it a giant robot action show about the apocalypse? Is it an allegory for how humans are doomed and can’t communicate? If Neon Genesis Evangelion seems like a figurative roller coaster, guess what: it has an actual VR roller coaster, too. The thing is, Evangelion does manage to find treasure in all its complex digging into those questions, and it never feels bloated or boring in the process. Series director Hideaki Anno frames his characters’ traumas through horror imagery; crucifixion, sexual misconduct, child abuse, and the literal melting of humankind are all ideas he visually worked into this crazy, decades-spanning franchise. In the hands of someone else, it’d probably fall apart completely. Evangelion, however, is beautiful enough to use a cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” as its credits track and make it all work. —Eric Vilas-Boas

1. Cowboy Bebop
Original run: 1997-1998


Every debate over whether or not Cowboy Bebop—Shinichir? Watanabe’s science-fiction masterpiece, which turned 20 this April—is the pinnacle of anime is a semantic one. It is, full stop. Its particular blend of cyberpunk intrigue, Western atmosphere, martial arts action, and noir cool in seinen form is unmatched and widely appealing. Its existential and traumatic themes are universally relatable. Its characters are complex and flawed, yet still ooze cool. The future it presents is ethnically diverse and eerily prescient. Its English dub, boasting some of America’s greatest full-time voiceover talents, somehow equals the subtitled Japanese-language original. Its 26-episode run was near-perfect, and episodes that might have served as filler in another series are tight, taut, and serve the show’s thesis even as they do not distract from its overarching plot, which is compelling but not overbearing. It’s accessible to new hands and still rewards old-timers with every repeated watch. Yoko Kanno’s magnificent, jazz-heavy soundtrack and score stand on their own. Its opening credits are immaculate. It’s an original property, not an adaptation. It feels like a magnum opus produced at the pinnacle of a long career despite being, almost unbelievably, Watanabe’s first series as a director. It is a masterwork that should justly rank among the best works of television of all time, let alone anime. We eagerly await a rival. We’re not holding our breath. —John Maher

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