Action figure of Sun Goku from “Dragon Ball Z”

Action figure of Sun Goku from "Dragon Ball Z" (Photo by Krikkiat on Shutterstock)

Once called Japanimation, anime is a worldwide phenomenon and a celebration of animated storytelling. First arriving in the 1960s, Toei Animation was responsible for several of the first animated series that were available in the United States. Since that time, anime has been adopted fully by American viewers as a major genre on broadcast television and, later, on modern streaming platforms. We turned to our sources to learn about the best anime shows of all time to list some of the most popular series ever made. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

1. “Dragon Ball” (1986)

Shonen is a genre of Japanese comics and animated films aimed primarily at a young male audience, typically characterized by action-filled plots. “Expect a lot of fighting and humor! You shouldn’t expect a grand story from a fighting shounen(sic). The fights are not ludicrously long here, so it’s not boring to watch. Actually, it’s very exciting! I have to admit that the animation and art are not the best here in comparison to modern anime. However, there’s some charm in the old art style. Dragonball is a must-watch for anyone who likes anime. Give this remarkable classic a try!” says Reel Rundown.

“Dragon Ball” is a cultural juggernaut, people everywhere know who lead character Goku is, and going “Super-Saiyan” has become a popular term meaning to “power up” in the face of a rage-inducing challenge. “When it comes to longevity, few IPs can compete with Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, which has managed to remain popular for almost four decades now. Granted, there were some dark periods during that time such as the 18-year window between the end of Dragon Ball Z and the beginning of Dragon Ball Super. Likewise, it would be foolish to try and argue that every arc or episode of Dragon Ball has been of the highest quality. Even so, the franchise has still managed to remain hugely popular both in Japan and in the West,” adds GameRant.

As one of the longest-running anime, Goku and the Dragon Ball gang have spawned a massive multi-media franchise. “Few anime characters have become as iconic as Dragon Ball Z’s protagonist, Goku. He’s a Saiyan warrior and the planet’s strongest fighter, and he leads the Z-fighters on their quest to obtain the Dragon Balls and defend the planet against various enemies. The series is a continuation of Dragon Ball, and it expands upon the series’ universe in innovative ways,” adds CBR.

2. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (2009)

“Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is the second time that the “Fullmetal Alchemist” manga series was adapted as an animated series. “’Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ is a classic anime that almost everyone has undoubtedly heard about, anime fan or otherwise. The anime follows Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who use alchemy to revive their mother. Unfortunately, the experiment went horribly wrong, and Edward lost a limb, while Alphonse almost died, but his soul remained on Earth after being bound to a suit of armor. After that, the brothers go on their journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone, and soon find themselves in a deadly world of schemes, homunculi, and political intrigue,” explains CBR.

This series is considered to be one of the most richly-detailed worlds that have ever been animated.  “We understand why the Elric brothers would practice forbidden alchemy in an attempt to resurrect their dead mother at the cost of their physical bodies. And yet despite divine intervention slapping them in the face, telling them no, they continue on their quest. And that quest to resurrect their mother paves the way for motivation that guides them through a world of monsters, government conspiracy, and divinity. And despite all this elegance, ‘FMA: Brotherhood’ also knows when to lay it all bare in unforgettable moments that will leave you standing in front of your TV cheering for the Elric brothers,” says IGN.

If not for the considerable impact of “Dragon Ball,” “FMA: Brotherhood” would have taken the number one spot. “This second iteration is considered by many to be the best anime series of all time (it holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is the number one ranked show on MyAnimeList), and we have to agree. It’s fun, full of heart, and boasts numerous memorable characters — especially the female ones. Part of that is because creator Hiromu Arakawa grew up on a farm, where the chores were neverending. ‘Everyone has to work hard to make ends meet, including women and kids,’ she said (via The Mary Sue). ‘That’s the reason there are so many working women in ‘Fullmetal,'” writes Looper.

3. “Mob Psycho 100” (2016)

Mob Psycho is aging well as a great adaptation from 2016. “’Mob Psycho 100′ has consistently delivered viewers an undeniably catchy trio of opening theme songs, a dazzling display of fluid action sequences, and an emotionally rich and satisfying coming-of-age-story with its main character, Shigeo ‘Mob’ Kageyama. ‘Mob Psycho 100’s’ story is a beautifully mature yet bizarrely comedic tale that only an anime can articulate. All of this earns it the title of anime of the decade,” raves Kotaku.

Highly-praised by several of our sources, “Mob Psycho 100″ is a top-rated series. “’Mob Psycho 100′ is the best anime series released as of 2023. Everything that’s good about anime is contained in Mob. It tells a wholly unique story that couldn’t be told in any other medium. Mob makes juggling horror, humor, action, and romance seem like the most natural thing in the world. Its art direction and animation are consistently gorgeous, perfectly adapting ONE’s genius art style in a way that’s often mind-blowing. At the end of the day, few series look or sound as good as ‘Mob Psycho 100.’ Every single one of its three openings is a certified classic that never fails to get viewers pumped for upcoming episodes,” mentions ScreenRant.

“’Mob Psycho 100′ is simply the best action series of the past several years, thanks to the peerless animation of Studio BONES, imaginative characters, and a whole lot of heart. Mob is a middle school kid who happens to have incredible psychic powers, and he inevitably uses them to fight other psychics in outlandish battles. But ‘Mob Psycho 100’ deviates from most series of its kind by being a surprisingly deep character study, especially in its second season,” writes Tech Radar.

4. “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” (2019)

This hugely popular might be the newest entry on the list, but from the very first episode it is plainly obvious that “Demon Slayer” is something unique.  “The advent of a shockingly quality anime surprised experienced fans all over the world in 2019. ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’ (鬼滅の刃) is adapted into an anime from the manga by Koyoharu Gotoge, which was serialized on the Weekly Shonen Jump from 2016. The first season of ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’ with 26 episodes was welcomed by both fans of the manga and people who had not read it,” states JW.

Strong characterization is part of this show’s appeal. “The plot isn’t deep, but the sibling bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko gives the whole series a strong backbone. Tanjiro in particular is a truly likeable character, the kind of pure-hearted boy you wouldn’t expect in a largely unforgiving series. ‘Kimetsu no Yaiba’ somehow manages to imbue a well-used setting with new life and boasts great production values all around, from the animation to voice acting and music,” says Tech Radar.

This series has also spawned a large media franchise complete with merchandise including apparel, games, and food tie-ins. “The record-breaking ‘Demon Slayer’ has blown up tremendously in the last few years and it’s not too surprising to those that have followed the series up until now. Every single episode of ‘Demon Slayer’ is consistently impressive with smooth animation that never compromises its gorgeous art, incredible visual effects that bring the spectacular battles to life, and an amazing soundtrack that punctuates its many emotional high points. Not only that, ‘Demon Slayer’ will make you laugh out loud thanks to the over-the-top absurdity of characters like Zentisu and Inosuke, and it’ll just as easily make you tear up with its heavy themes of loss and family,” adds IGN.

5. “Cowboy Bebop” (1998)

Some of our sources claim that Cowboy Bebop is the greatest anime of all time, and they are prepared to defend their position with all the fervent passion that can be found in a fandom. “Every debate over whether or not ‘Cowboy Bebop’—Shinichiro Watanabe’s science-fiction masterpiece—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,” says Paste.

Although this series is only 26 episodes long, it is still considered one of the most impactful anime series of all time. “It’s hard to believe ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is over 20 years old because of how well it still holds up, both in its conception and its execution. The space western that introduced the world to Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed and of course Ein still looks gorgeous, with a resonant story, strong characters and one heck of a soundtrack that ensures it remains one of the best anime ever made. Cowboy Bebop has had an indelible impact that reaches far beyond anime; everyone from Orson Scott Card to Rian Johnson to Robin Williams have praised the series and cited its influence on their work. ‘Cowboy Bebop’ still works so well because of the continually relatable story at the heart of its genre-bending 26-episode run,” writes IGN.

“The Bebop’s crew might be likable, but they’re also tragic characters who can’t help but make the same mistakes over and over. Part of that is down to the failures of their society. Jet’s history with corrupt police, Faye’s medical debt, and the multiple criminal enterprises which keep on interfering with Spike’s attempt to reclaim his life all hold these heroes back. The other part though is something far more personal. Few other series have heroes as beautifully flawed as ‘Cowboy Bebop,’” adds ScreenRant.

Sources used to create this consensus list

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Alan Corona

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