Japanese anime has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It has been translated into most major languages and has captured the hearts of thousands, if not millions of fans around the world.
Through its beautiful storytelling, exquisite artistry, and captivating plots, anime has rightfully earned its place as one of the most entertaining mediums in the world. Many people also watch anime to learn Japanese.
With so many amazing anime out there, it’s hard to choose the “best” 20 of all time. However, the anime included on this list are consistently revered by fans around the world.
20. Monogatari Series (2009 – 2012)
We start off this list with one of the most well-known franchises in the anime world.
Monogatari is a series of “stories” that focuses on the mystical life of a normal high school student named Koyomi Araragi and how he deals with problematic spiritual events after he was attacked by a vampire girl and survived.
Araragi-kun proceeds to face many types of hardships while befriending different kinds of apparitions.
These apparitions vary from a ghost of a fifth grader to a devil monkey’s left arm to a nekomata (monster cat). While heavy on dialogue, it is highly entertaining.
While its random humor is polarizing and even controversial in some aspects to its fans, many still laud Monogatari for being a cerebral comedy.
It makes it users think, incorporates “smart” humor, and has masterful artwork that is a testament to the advancement of the digital media as a whole. Not for the faint of heart, but an intelligent anime that you need to check out.
The DVD is available for purchase on Amazon: Bakemonogatari Blu-ray Complete Set Limited Edition
19. Hajime no Ippo (2000 – 2002)
Cowardly pipsqueak Ippo Makunochi only wanted two things in life: a normal high school life without getting bullied and to help his mother manage their boat rental business. The first one doesn’t happen.
Professional boxer Mamoru Takamura doesn’t accept that Ippo is being bullied. When he discovers Ippo getting beaten up one day, he immediately brings him to the gym to teach him boxing.
Little did Takamura know that Ippo was hiding an incredible amount of power behind his fists and tons of potential.
Among sports anime and manga, only a few other series has been as long running as Hajime no Ippo. The anime is action packed frame by frame and has likable character development.
Amazing art and narration of each boxing match make Hajime no Ippo a strong “pound for pound” anime, even if story quality drops during scenes not involving Ippo.
The DVDs can be found on Amazon here: HAJIME NO IPPO SEASON 1 – 3 – COMPLETE TV SERIES DVD BOX SET ( 1-127 EPISODES + MOVIE + OVA )
18. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011)
It’s always hard to cope with the death of a beloved friend. Now imagine how it would feel if you believe that you are the cause of their death.
Jinta and his friends seem to think so, and they brought the guilt into their adolescence lives. Their friendship changed, and they went their separate ways.
One fateful day, Menma, the friend who died in the accident, appeared to Jinta. Why did she come back all of a sudden? Jinta tries to bring back the old gang and help his best friend find her peace.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai or Anohana, to its fans, is a drama anime that takes on loss, friendship, adolescence, and acceptance, and beautifully touches your heart through them.
Even the most stone-hearted or technically jaded audience will be brought to tears with its heart-breaking story. Grab some tissues and prepare to cry your heart out. Anohana is the love that your soul wants you to feel.
The movie version of this anime can be found on Amazon: AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day- The Movie (Standard Edition) [Blu-ray]
17. One-Punch Man (2015)
Saitama is an everyday salaryman in a world constantly attacked by monsters of all types. He feels useless since he can’t do anything to help. So one day he decides to train to be a superhero.
Saitama did what any decent hero in training will: 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and running 10km every day. And of course, eating a banana for nutrition.
After 3 years of arduous training, he became so strong that he beats anyone with one punch. A gigantic sea king? One punch! Mutant animals? One punch! An alien invader who destroys worlds? You guessed it, one punch!
One Punch Man is one of the biggest breakthrough anime of the new decade and a lovable one at that.
The mix of comedy and action is very entertaining, while keeping itself a parody of the shounen genre as a whole. It’s a nostalgic callback to our childhood and a comedic sucker punch at that. One Punch Man is a classic in the making.
The DVDs are available on Amazon: One Punch Man (TV 1 – 12 End) 2 Discs DVD Japan Japanese Anime / English Subtitles
16. Digimon (1999)
A group of middle school students trying to make friends at summer camp sounds completely normal, but not in the world of anime where things go crazy in a split second. Everything was going great until they see snow falling in the summer.
With their curious minds, they wander in the forest and receive devices through beams of light that created portals to the “Digital World” – a parallel world with interesting creatures formed by 1s and 0s, or bits of digital data.
This world is dangerous and oppressive, filled with monsters of all kinds. These evil monsters have a cute and lovable “good monster” version called Digimon.
The adventure to find home starts within these chosen children and their Digimon friends.
The Digimon franchise spans two generations of audiences and is a very mature take on the monster breeder genre. Its more famous counterpart, Pokemon, might be the superior game and franchise overall, but Digimon is a famous classic anime about courage, friendship, teamwork and the value of a kind heart.
You can find the DVDs on Amazon here: Digimon: Digital Monsters – The Official First Season
15. Ergo Proxy (2006)
Humanity has destroyed the world, and an ecological disaster has left it in ruins. From these ruins, humanity decided to make a utopian technological world. In this futuristic world, humans and androids live as one, but a computer virus that gives androids self-awareness is becoming an underlying threat to this peace.
While everything seems perfect, there are mysterious experimental entities called Proxy. They look like humans, and since they come from the government, they are lauded as gods and the future of humanity…. But are they?
Ergo Proxy is an intelligent cyberpunk anime that pulls you in with the drama and the suspense of the beautifully written plot.
The visuals are top class and deserving of the status as among the elite anime for the thinking person, though the story itself is not entirely immersive. Ergo Proxy is a philosophical day trip and is a wild, ultra spiritual experience for fans to enjoy.
You can check out the DVD’s at Amazon here: Ergo Proxy: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
14. Slam Dunk (1993)
Hanamichi Sakuragi is the punk of all punks. Brash, idiotic and acts without thinking, all this high school freshman wants is a girlfriend. Enter Haruko Akagi – a basketball fan who catches Sakuragi’s attention.
In his quest to make Haruko like him, he accidentally involves himself with the unpopular basketball team of his school, Shohoku High.
With zero experience and the presence of Kaede Rukawa, Haruko’s crush and ace basketball player, Sakuragi walks the path of the basketball player and helps his team to its goal: the inter-high national games.
Slam Dunk is among the most influential anime of the 90’s. It has inspired a whole generation of Japanese children to take up on basketball. Slam Dunk is a great series for people of all ages and interest in anime.
With its hand-drawn and realistic art, real-world scenarios, and informative basketball scenes, this family-friendly anime is a must watch.
The first season is available on DVD from Amazon: Slam Dunk: Season 1, Vol. 1
13. Hellsing (2001)
In an England surrounded by darkness and bleak living, creatures of the night have started popping out of the world once more. The Neo-Nazi group, Millennium, has infused themselves with the evil powers of the undead.
The country and the queen are threatened by the escalating strength of the evil group and intend to resurrect the Third Reich.
In their hour of need, only one man is powerful enough to fight back –a vampire and monster hunter named Alucard. Assisted by his two handguns and plenty of ammo, he’s ready to destroy evil and put them back from whence they came.
Welcome to Hellsing!
This anime is packed with action and excitement that will make your blood boil.
It’s the type of anime that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Smooth action sequences, stellar animation quality and overpowered characters that will keep the adrenaline pumping. Hellsing will fill you with adrenaline. For any action anime fan, this is what an action film is all about.
Check out the DVDs on Amazon here: Hellsing Ultimate: Volumes 1-4 Collection [Blu-ray/DVD Combo]
12. Shingeki no Kyojin (2013)
In a world where humanity is at the brink of extinction, they have barricaded themselves behind the protection of 50-meter walls from man-eating giant humanoids called Titans.
Needing no food or air and being able to regenerate at will, the Titans’ only goal is to exterminate humanity.
The last few million people are living in peace and harmony behind the walls, until one day it gets damaged by a Titan bigger than anything they’ve ever seen.
On that day, a wise man said, “humanity received an ill reminder – that they lived in fear of these Titans and are disgraced to live in the cages they call walls.”
What will become humanity? Will they all perish, or will they be able to stop the Titans? Stop waiting and check out this anime right now to find out!
Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on Titan as it’s known to its western audience, has become enormously popular.
Not for the faint of heart, Shingeki no Kyojin and its mature tone, unforgiving nature and unpredictable twists have die-hard fans asking for more. Unparalleled storytelling and relatable characters… your eyes will be glued to your TV.
The DVDs can be found on Amazon: Attack on Titan, Part 1 (Blu-ray / DVD Combo)
11. Code Geass (2006)
War, no matter when or where it happens, always leads to destruction.
The world just recently finished a war where it was divided by three mega powers, the strongest of which is the Holy Empire of Britannia.
Using mecha technology called Knightmare Frame, the Britannian Army has conquered Japan and dehumanized its citizens, calling the country Area 11.
Enter Lelouch Lamperouge – genius level intellect, master strategist and also, in secret, the exiled prince of the Holy Britannian Empire.
The Prince harbors hostility for his father and has mercy for the Area 11, whom he believes are still Japanese.
During a life and death situation, he meets C.C., a green-haired young woman who promises to give him the power of kings; the power of the Geass.
Code Geass is among the best anime ever produced by Sunrise, who has refined the mecha (robot anime) genre for decades.
Amazing character development, marvelous storylines, and superb visuals prove that this anime is a must-watch. Gripping action and intelligent character interactions make Code Geass an anime must-watch for any scrutinizing anime fan out there.
The DVDs are available on Amazon: Code Geass: Lelouch of Rebellion Season One [Blu-ray]
10. Steins; Gate (2011)
Okabe Rintarou is a college level mad scientist who performs unusual experiments in his lab. Apart from his friends in his Future Gadget Laboratory, most people would call him a crazy guy who believes in conspiracy theories.
During an academic lecture where the discussion of time machines come up, he witnesses the death of a red-haired girl named Kurisu Makise. Through a series of weird events, he learns that the same dead girl from this morning is actually alive. What’s happening?
Steins; Gate is not your usual anime. It delves into the mystery sci-fi and explains it brilliantly.
It allows its audience to relate to the characters and enjoy their antics while they’re finding out the intricacies of the weird world that they’re in. You will find yourself being drawn into their adventures and their heartbreaks. Only when you see what’s behind Steins; Gate will you understand.
The DVDs can be found at Amazon: Steins Gate: Complete Series Classic [Blu-ray]
9. Samurai Champloo (2004)
Tea shop waitress Fuu is happily doing her job, serving the usual tea and dumplings to their patrons, until a small band of samurai make a ruckus and try to abuse her.
A mysterious rogue nobody has seen before promises to help her for a small bribe.
It all seemed bleak until she agreed and the hot-blooded man exhibited his fierce swordsmanship, intimidating the arrogant lackeys.
Once he got tired of the goons, he immediately wanted to fight with Jin, the ronin who also helped Fuu by killing three other samurai outside.
Incidents later led to both men being presented for execution, as the one of the samurai was the son of the local governor. Fuu, as a way of thanking both, try to rescue them and enlist both swordsmen in an adventure with one goal: find the “samurai who smells like sunflowers”.
Samurai Champloo is a stylized take on the Edo Period of Japan, and the misadventures of life living as a vagrant in its brutal world. The standout animation emphasized with beautiful inking makes Samurai Champloo a piece of modern art, while the characterization is nothing short of amazing.
The flow of action scene by scene is superb, and you will find yourself in constant awe. Samurai Champloo is your quintessential samurai anime and is just one hell of a fun anime to watch.
The DVDs can be bought on Amazon here: Samurai Champloo: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
8. One Piece (1999)
The vast expanse of the world is full of sea and adventure, and the only way to see it is by becoming a pirate.
Fame, power, and fortune await those who sails the seas and lives to tell the tale. Across the Grand Line lies a mysterious treasure that is coveted by all, but has been buried by the Pirate King Gol D. Roger.
Before he dies, Gol D. Roger challenges everyone to see who can find the One Piece treasure. Monkey D. Luffy, a teenager who accidentally swallowed a forbidden fruit that allows him to stretch like rubber, wants this treasure and he’s willing to sail the across the seas to find it.
One Piece is currently the most popular shonen anime franchise and rightfully so.
Unlike its peers Naruto and Bleach, the world of One Piece is filled with colorful adventure, childlike wonder, and likable characters. Lively, relatable and can be enjoyed by anyone, what One Piece lacks in its art style is made up for by its multidimensional characters. You will love everyone, heroes and villains alike.
You can check out the DVD’s here: One Piece: Collection One
7. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
On a peaceful island, orphan boy Gon Freecss has grown into a fine young man.
Believing that his dad was dead, Gon was told by a mysterious man named Kite that his father, Ging Freecss, is alive and is a well decorated “Hunter” – a class of people who have passed the arduous Hunter Exams and amassed great power, glory and fortune around the world.
To follow in his father’s footsteps, Gon leaves his home and sets out to take the Hunter Exam, where he meets all types of people from all walks of life. Some of these interesting characters are Leorio, Kurapika and a silver haired boy named Killua.
They work their way through the exams, training and seeing the world and searching for their purpose in lives.
Hunter Hunter, stylized as Hunter x Hunter, is an immersive anime experience that brings out your adventurous spirit. Praised for its spectacular setting, stylized battles, and multifaceted characters, each element of Hunter x Hunter adds mystery and excitement to every episode.
Even the smallest details contribute to the plot puzzle that draws you in to solve it for yourself.
The storytelling of master manga-ka (manga artist) Yoshihiro Togashi puts the audience into the characters’ shoes and helps them understand each character’s motivation behind their actions. Hunter x Hunter is a crazy adventure and watching it is one beautiful ride.
The DVDs have become available on Amazon: Hunter x Hunter, Vol. 1
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
In a world devastated by a global catastrophe called Second Impact, nothing can be found for miles except for the poisoned the waters of what remained.
Gigantic monsters called Angels are on its way to the new Tokyo-3 city and there’s no way to stop it.
The government’s military is useless. Its nukes are ineffective.
The only hope of defeating this monster lies in a weak, cowardly, and lonely child named Ikari Shinji. He needs to control the mecha Unit-01, a powerful robot that can go toe-to-toe with the indestructible Angel. There’s only one problem. Shinji isn’t ready.
Lauded as one of the four revolutions of the anime industry, Neon Genesis Evangelion saved a lackluster anime industry single-handedly. Filled with Abrahamic and Kabalaic references together with a good chunk of sci-fi mixed in it, Evangelion is a spiritual experience.
It immerses the audience in a philosophical journey that never fails to impress. Its social commentary and dark undertones make Evangelion a generational art piece that will surely captivate you till the end.
The Platinum Collection DVDs can be found on Amazon here: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection
5. Dragon Ball (1986)
Son Goku is a young martial artist who trains himself to be strong so he can help his friends and family.
Friendly, naïve and always has a huge appetite, he stumbles upon quite a magnificent adventure.
Training under the tutelage of a world class martial artist in Master Roshi, he fights against different martial artists and eventually saves the entire world from extra-terrestrial invaders with tremendous strength.
Dragon Ball is nothing short of iconic. Anime fan or not, it is one of the most recognized anime of all time, spanning at least two to three generations of fans and a cultural phenomenon around the world.
Dragon Ball may not be as “intellectual” as other top level anime, but it’s unadulterated, no-nonsense action packed scenes makes it fun to watch anytime.
The DVDs can be purchased on Amazon: Dragon Ball: Season 1
4. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
In the year 0079 (on the Gundam calendar) in the Universal Century, where people live in space colonies, a war has broken out between the Earth Federation and an independent group of colonies called the Principality of Zeon.
Zeon attacks with full force and decimates the Earth Federation using their newly developed humanoid arms platform called mobile suits, continuing to kill half of the human population with dubious methods.
In the months that followed, the Earth Federation has produced their own technological weapons: A new warship and an advanced prototype of the mobile suits called Gundam.
Mobile Suit Gundam is known to have created the Real Robot genre and has been influential in increasing the interest in aerospace and military technology amongst Japanese.
Its impact on the culture is so wide that it has influenced many real world industries. Critics take specific note that its success lies on its characters and how relatable and incredible they are.
The anime also takes pride of its proper use of science when it created its colony orbits and using real life colony designs. Overall Mobile Suit Gundam is nothing short of a classic that any fan should binge watch.
The DVDs are available on Amazon: Mobile Suit Gundam (First Gundam) Part 1 Blu-ray Collection
3. Death Note (2006)
The world has always been filled with bad things. Murderers, burglars, corrupt politicians,… all sorts of bad people that ruins the society as a whole.
Genius high school student Light Yagami is dissatisfied and wants a world of good and justice.
One day, he stumbles upon the “Death Note” notebook and discovers that any person whose name is written on its pages dies. He then meets the original owner of the notebook, Shinigami Ryuk who, out of boredom, dropped the notebook in the world.
He resolves to himself that he will free the world from criminals, and save people who he deems morally worthy. He becomes publicly known as Kira (meaning killer) and has “L,” a world famous detective, trying to find out who he really is.
Death Note is full of tension and suspense. The anime has been praised for its gripping story, detailed, high-quality artwork, and characters that are captivating to watch. In a story where there’s no black or white but only gray, Death Note stands out amongst its peers. That being said, this anime can be a little dark, so younger viewers might want to skip it.
You can find the DVDs on Amazon here: Death Note – Vol. 1
2. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (2009)
In a world where alchemy, transmutation, and destruction is at large, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are two of the most famous alchemists sanctioned by the state government.
Edward was even dubbed as the “Fullmetal Alchemist.” The brothers eventually discover the true nature of alchemy and the powerful Philosopher’s Stone.
In this discovery, they dig deep enough to find an entrenched government conspiracy, which flashes back to their origins as alchemists and their accidental discovery during their youth.
A remake of the original 2003 version and a 1:1 adaptation of the source material, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is memorable for its characters and how they develop their humanity, or lack of it, as they delve further and further into the world that they actually live in.
Action-packed, highly dramatic with spellbinding plotlines that branch onto each other, FMA Brotherhood is a sci-fi masterpiece that deserves to stand among best anime in the world.
Recommended for all anime fans, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is outstanding in every way imaginable.
You can check out the DVDs on Amazon here: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Complete Collection One [Blu-ray]
1. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
A hyperspace gateway accident has made Earth uninhabitable. Interplanetary travel is commonplace, and humanity has colonized most of the solar system. Even in space, crime is so widespread that bounty hunters are thriving.
Out comes the ragtag crew of the spaceship Bebop, with former hitman Spike Spiegel, former law enforcement officer Jet Black, a prodigy hacker, an amnesiac con artist and a genetically modified Corgi.
As they move through space going from job to job, misadventures always come, where we learn more about who the Bebop’s crew really is.
Cowboy Bebop is internationally acclaimed and noted to be the most respected anime in history, transcending genre and having characters that are lovable, engaging and deeply relatable.
Each element of the anime, from its stellar animation, intelligent plot, and strong cast, is just plain cool. Jazz music for both its opening and closing themes seals the deal for this anime to be at number 1. Cowboy Bebop is nothing but pure anime bliss.
The DVDs can be purchase on Amazon here: Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series – Amazon Exclusive Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
What’s your favorite anime?
This top 20 list may not be something that everyone can agree with, considering it’s missing fan favorites like Naruto, Bleach, Ghost in the Shell, .hack// and Vision of Escaflowne that revitalized the anime industry.
Popularity and quality don’t always go hand in hand but I assure you, each anime in this list is in a league of its own. Some will pump you up; some will make you cry; some will make you smile and see the world with wonder and awe.
What’s your top 20? Which anime do you think we missed, or shouldn’t be on this list?
Let us know in the comments below!
See you later, space cowboys!