Although it comes from the other side of the world, Japanese animation or anime has managed to make a huge impact internationally, which is growing stronger and stronger over the years. Conventions dedicated to the genre travel the world every year, and fans of many of these series show enormous devotion to them, creating powerful communities.
Animators, artists, otakus, fans… whether you are already an expert in cartoons or you are new to the genre, here is the list of the best animated series in history, whether for their importance in the world of entertainment or for the impressive reception they received from the public.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
After the 2003 anime adaptation, which ended up being completely separated from the original manga, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was created as a more faithful reinterpretation of the story than its predecessor.
In this anime, two brothers search for the Philosopher’s Stone after trying to bring their mother back to life and losing too much in the attempt. In this universe inspired by early 20th century Europe, alchemy exists, key to the development of history.
The story is distinguished by its powerful characters, built to look like real, independent people. From main characters to supporting characters, the series makes sure you get to know them all and their motivations (and break your heart on more than one occasion). From dynamic alchemy-based combat to a dark atmosphere that keeps us glued to the screen, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood honors the manga it’s based on and deserves this spot. His mixture of comedy and tragedy will leave a mark in your memory if you decide to immerse yourself in his universe.
2. Attack on Titan (2013)
When you think of the most popular anime series, Attack on Titan comes to mind. Inspired by Europe at the turn of the last century, the setting is a fictional world in which humanity is threatened by immense beings called titans. Humans must take shelter in large walls and learn to fight against these gigantic monsters in order to survive.
Through its perfectly constructed characters, this anime deals with social issues such as racism/classism, war refugees, human nature, and the force behind belief. Best of all, Attack on Titan’s animation style brings us battle scenes that will have us sticking to our chairs, and a thicker outline that gives it a striking aesthetic to go along with the rawness of the plot. The third part of the final season will be released in 2023, so you have time to catch up.
3. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Hunter x Hunter (2011) is everything the 1999 anime wanted to be. It’s more faithful to the original story, and the overall quality is much higher.
This incredible example of Shonen (action and touches of humor, usually about a group of protagonists fighting against increasingly stronger enemies) gives us a lot of well-built characters. This anime stands out for taking clichés from Japanese animation and giving them a twist, creating recognizable and unique results.
On top of that, Hunter x Hunter’s soundtrack blows us away and beautifully complements the dynamic animation with every fight. If Shonen is your thing, you can’t miss it.
4. Death Note (2006)
Deathnote is an adaptation of the manga that debuted in 2003 and is one of the best known anime for those less familiar with the anime genre.
Like the original product, the series became so famous after its premiere that it now has four feature film adaptations (some better than others), two novels, and several video games released for the Nintendo DS. This anime is the choice of many (myself included) to introduce them to the world of anime. It’s not particularly long, and the thrilling plot, accompanied by a dark and gloomy aesthetic, draws you in from the first moment.
In the series, we will accompany Light Yagami, an outstanding student who one day finds a blank notebook with the word DEATHNOTE written on the cover. He soon discovers that every name he writes in this notebook will cause that person’s death.
5. Code Geass (2006)
Code Geass – Hangyaku no Lelouch is a 2006 anime created by Sunrise, an animation studio responsible for critically acclaimed works of the magnitude of InuYasha. This series is known for having one of the most compelling and surprising stories of its kind, filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns.
The plot takes place in a Japan conquered by the Britannia Empire, where the Japanese have lost their freedom and their rights. Exiled Prince Lelouch comes into contact with the Geass, a supernatural power that will help him free his nation and build a new world.
As in Deathnote, the protagonist is a tactician who must act through complex plans. Even though this is an anime in which mechas (giant robots) play an important role, the plot is mainly political and based on the relationship between the characters. We recommend checking it out if you want to see a story that has inspired many others.
6. Stein’s; Gate (2011)
Based on a visual novel for Xbox 360, this anime is the greatest exponent of science fiction in the anime genre. It delves into the complex world of time travel, specifically parallel timelines.
that of Stein; Gate tells the story of a scientist who, after several failed attempts, manages to send a banana through time using a microwave. He soon discovers, along with his curious lab partners, that he can use the device and a cellphone to send messages to the past.
At the most confusing and craziest moments, the quality of characterization keeps us hooked on the narrative. The time jumps this story consistently and successfully makes will blow your mind.
7. Berserk (1997)
The first anime adaptation of this 1989 manga surpasses the later ones for a variety of reasons. It’s the most faithful to the original, both in plot and thanks to its old-school animation style, which doesn’t fail to capture the raw and ominous atmosphere of the story.
The story of Berserk is set in a fantasy world with the aesthetics of medieval Europe, in which Guts, an orphan mercenary, devotes himself to hunting demonic beings with the elf Puck.
It is very important to mention that without manga we would not have video game sagas like Dark Souls or Bloodborne as we know them. Although they were all based on dark medieval fantasy books, Hidetaka Miyazaki himself, creator of the Souls franchise, commented in an interview that he asked his artists to create designs specifically inspired by Berserk.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Neon Genesis Evangelion takes us to a futuristic world in which humanity must defend itself against supernatural beings called angels. The military organization NERV sends young people (“the children”) to fight them using EVAs, giant robots with which they establish a neural link.
The unique appeal of this anime is in the way it evolves, seeing the characters mature with apocalypse-related trauma. The plot, which becomes more and more psychological, is based on the personal experiences of Hideaki Anno, the director and screenwriter.
This anime has one of the best designs ever, and it’s equally impressive in terms of photographic direction. Being a post-apocalyptic future, the world creates the possibility of hosting architecture of gigantic proportions which plagues this series of jaw-dropping visuals.
9. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Another production from studio Sunrise, Cowboy Bebop takes us to 2071, in a future in which a group of bounty hunters travel the solar system to experience adventure and tragedy.
Cowboy Bebop is a particular mix of genres, from space western to drama, through action, adventure and many others. It deals with deep themes such as loneliness, the emptiness of existentialism and the impact of the past. If you’re looking for an anime that reminds you that Japanese animation is an art, don’t hesitate to dive into it.
This anime also shines with its soundtrack. The opener is a prime example, with the song “Tank!” of The Seatbelts, considered one of the most remarkable in the world of the genre. The accompanying animation isn’t short, a striking composition of colorful pop-style shots that reflects many of the influences of ’50s film noir.
10. Musshishi (2005)
Although lesser known than others on this list, this anime is one of the most award-winning anime in Japan and even spawned a video game for the Nintendo DS (Mushishi: Amefuru Sato).
In Mushishi we accompany Ginko, a mushi expert who travels the world to help people negatively affected by these creatures. Mushis are beings few can see who live parasitically through humans, granting abilities to those they infest in return.
Mushishi is an episodic series, each chapter dedicated to a different case. Therefore, it does not have a continuous narrative to follow and develop. It belongs to the slice-of-life genre which, together with the fantastical atmosphere created by the animation style, generates a very human, extraordinarily relaxing and beautiful end product. No wonder it won a Tokyo Anime Award for Best Art Direction in 2006.
11. One Piece
Of course, One Piece, one of the greatest anime in history and certainly one of the most popular franchises of recent decades, could not be missed. This animated series tells the adventures of a pirate crew in search of a treasure called the One Piece. He has one of the most personality driven styles ever seen in an anime (and that’s saying a lot).
A 1997 manga by Eiichiro Oda with over 1000 chapters and 14 movies, specials and shorts. But, in what order should we watch the main One Piece movies and at what time should we do it in relation to the anime series? At Meristation, we’ve got you covered.
Bonus track | Honorable mentions
For the most nostalgic, we have reserved this small space for those animation classics that have shaped, in one way or another, a turning point in the history of Anime.
Going back to the subject of Shonen, this demographic group would not be as we know it today, without their existence. Toei Animation, one of the best animation studios in the world, introduced us to Dragon Ball, probably the most important anime series in history which made anime popular and known all over the world.
How not to mention one of the longest anime of all time. Over 20 movies, miniseries, novels, manga, collectibles, events, merchandising, cosplays and of course, the origin of this franchise: video games.
The endless Pokémon saga is already much more than an animated series, created by Satoshi Tajiri, Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori.
Kimetsu No Yaiba
The second season of Kimetsu No Yaiba left us just as in awe as the first, and the animation of the hunter vs. demon fight scenes will make you want to watch them on the big screen.