Top 10 Anime of All-Time
Today, I’ll be combining two passions of mine into one: my love of anime, and my love of ranking things.
Please try to keep in mind that any given Top 10 list is going to be fairly subjective, and mine is no exception. However, i’ll try my best to explain why I think a show is among the best ever. And hopefully, this list will persuade some of you to go out and watch one of these shows if you haven’t before.
Along with why I think a show deserves to be on the list will be whether I think the show is better dubbed or subbed.
I know that the “sub vs. dub” topic is a HUGE can of worms to open up, I really think the choice should depend on which show it is, as some shows are just plain better when subbed or dubbed.
I should also mention that this list will probably, definitely have a good amount of SPOILERS.
Okay, introduction. Let’s get to it:
Before I unveil Number 10, here’s a few honorable mentions:
Attack on Titan
Don’t get me wrong: this show is f*cking amazing. In fact, I would say that it’s one of the best first seasons that I’ve ever seen. But that’s also the main problem: it’s only been one season. The fact that the first 26 episodes have only grazed the source material make me pretty worried that AOT will turn into another Sword Art Online. Also-I think the revelation that humans can become titans opened a can of worms that I don’t see the show recovering from. The whole mystery surrounding where the titans came from is pretty much gone now, since anyone can potentially be a titan in hiding.
That being said, I consider this one of the shows that has “saved” anime. Whether they’re a hardcore anime fan or not, just about EVERYONE has seen this damn show. I think many will look back to AOT as a gateway anime someday.
What!?!? A Digimon series!?!?
Hell yeah, a Digimon series.
For anyone who’s seen the third series of Digimon, they’ll be aware that it was a dramatic departure from prior series. It was much darker, with death being a prominent factor, and villains like the D-Reaper who were actually pretty scary.
Don’t knock it unless you’ve watched it. I wonder sometimes why Fox Kids allowed it to be aired in its entirety, because it gets pretty intense at times.
What Soul Eater really has going for it is how it differs from traditional Shonen Anime. For one, it’s not ridiculously long, hovering around only 53 episodes.
While each character is more or less a carbon copy of characters from other series (Black Star = Naruto), the show does a good job of putting just enough of a unique spin on each person that we don’t get bored.
The concept is unique, the art style is charming, and the action is among the best you’ll find.
A major knock on the show: the ending. It’s awful and unsatisfying. While I appreciate shorter shows that can concisely tell a story, I wouldn’t have minded if the series was a bit longer so the ending didn’t seem so rushed.
Still, it has one of the best openings EVER.
10. Death Note
Death Note struck it out of the park by introducing two of the best characters in anime while somehow doing both of them justice. While the protagonist Light gets considerably more screen time, the fact that he’s constantly evading L’s suspicion gives L a sort of omnipotent presence that the audience is fully aware of. The way that every move each character makes is an attempt to trump the other (sometimes in too-dramatic fashion) turns Death Note into one of the most engaging battle of whits that you could ever find.
Neither character is the all-too-common boy next door hero, so the viewer has his or her pick over who to root for. This, along with how both of them are in such close proximity with one another, creates one of the best rivalries in anime history.
Of course, as I’m sure many of you are aware of, the show falls flat on its face when this rivalry dissolves. While I wasn’t entirely turned off by the latter half of the show (I actually kinda enjoyed how ridiculous it got), I will say that the plot certainly becomes a lot less engaging.
If you take away the last 10 episodes of the show, then this easily becomes one of the best series of all time. However, we still have a pretty good show that’s worth the watch. The pacing, music, and constant tension make for a ride that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Sub or Dub?
Easy- sub all the way. I think the dub voices were mixed too loudly, and drown out the important background music. Also- both Light and L (the two most important characters) sound borderline ridiculous in the dub.
Speaking of great duos, the show Trigun gives us one of the first great ones with Vash and Wolfwood. Again, what makes this show great is the relationship between the two, which is basically what you get when you give Goku and Vegeta revolvers.
Vash’s strict refusal to kill others, in contrast with Wolfwood’s willingness to do so creates a unique friendship between two while revealing a major theme of the show.
Vash’s personal philosophy is a major point of the series in itself. He’s a gentle, tortured soul who can’t help the destruction and death that seems to follow wherever he goes. The fact that he refuses to kill his most murderous foes (including Wolfwood) while being more-than-able to do so has made Vash one of the most liked characters in anime history. All the guy wants to do is have a good time and eat some donuts, but we can’t help who we are sometimes–or at least, who people want us to be.
Throw in character design and gun fights that are WAY ahead of their time, and it’s easy to see why Trigun is considered a quintessential anime.
Sub or Dub?
Both are great, but Johnny Yong Bosch as Vash in the english dub is a match made in heaven, so I side with the dub here.
8. Code Geass
Those who don’t agree that one character can carry an entire series have clearly never seen Code Geass. Lelouch’s intelligence, charisma, and ultimately noble motive of giving his sister a better life make the audience fall in love with him and root for him for the entire series. For a guy who isn’t above using his mind-controlling Geass on those closest to him to get what he wants, that’s tough to do.
This is where the series goes from good to great. Having Lelouch strive to overthrow an entire empire makes us forget that he’s kind of a dick. This is probably because the plot has so many situations where he has to be kind of a jerk in order to survive.
Which leads to one of the show’s main themes: the loneliness and loss of humanity that are required for one to attain power. Lelouch’s rise to power was not without its costs, and he ultimately has his obsession with power come back to haunt him at various points in the show.
HEAVY SPOILER ALERT
What I love most about this show was how Lealouch’s biggest influence was achieved without the power of Geass. Most shows would have the protagonist save the world through some sort of super power. Lelouch, on the other hand, did it by sacrificing himself in one of the most beautiful ending in anime. At the end of the day, Geass took a backseat to Lelouch’s own selflessness in order to change the world.
A true masterpiece, this show is a must-watch for ANYONE.
Sub or Dub?
Sub. Something about the show’s dub just sounds…awkward. Also, Lelouch’s japanese voice is incredible.
7. Gurren Lagann (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann)
One word to describe Gurren Lagann: Epic.
A bunch of humans using robots to fight aliens might not sound epic at first. This is because, well, it isn’t. However, the scale of this show keeps building and growing larger until, at one point, gigantic robots are hurling entire galaxies at one another. No, seriously. It gets THAT big.
And that’s one of the best parts of the series: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s goofy, over-the-top, testosterone-filled madness. Now, this describes a fairly large amount of shitty anime, but it flat-out “works” for Gurren Lagann.
The reason why is because the show has so much heart. The abstract concept of “spiral energy”, which is where the heroes get their power from, roughly translates to fighting spirit. That’s it. No god-like gifts or anything. Rather, the characters Kamina and Simon are able to overcome astronomical odds simply because they believe they can. It sounds silly, but like I said earlier, the entire show is silly, so it’s best to just relax and accept it.
I really can’t say enough good things about this show. If you’re in the proper, goofy mindset, then the pre-battle speeches in this show will have you on the edge of your seat with excitement. The characters in the show do a great job of inspiring the viewer during the show, to the point where it’s pretty sad when the show concludes.
It seems daunting at first to watch a show that’s so goofy, but the incredible scale of the action scenes are worth it.
Sub or Dub?
Dub. Kamina’s english voice is dramatically more motivating and bearable than his Japanese counterpart. Also- Steve Blum as a trans-gender male is too great to pass up.
6. Paranoia Agent
If you’re looking for something that’ll really make you think, then Paranoia Agent is for you.
This is the first (and unfortunately the only) anime series by the late Satoshi Kon, who I consider to be the greatest anime director in history. His thought-provoking psychoanalytical films include masterpieces like “Paprika” and “Perfect Blue”.
Paranoia Agent is basically what you would get if you condensed several Kon movies into several connected television episodes.
The general plot involves several people getting attacked by a bat-wielding, roller-skating boy known as “Lil’ Slugger”. However, it quickly becomes discovered that these people were “saved” from their desolate lives by Lil’ Slugger, as their situations improve following the attacks.
The series does an excellent job of portraying how the media spreads phenomena (or, paranoia) such as Lil’ Slugger and creates panic out of small incidents. It also exposes how people like to rely on external things to make their lives better, instead of taking responsibility for their own situations.
Each episode focuses on different people who have been affected by Lil’ Slugger, to the point where we as the viewer start to analyze our own lives, and our own coping methods. This is especially because, although Lil’ Slugger does “save people”, their stories are hardly happy endings. Couple with the eventual revelation of who Lil Slugger really is, and you have a show that might change the way you think forever.
It’s a real shame that Satoshi Kon has passed away, but shows like Paranoia Agent, which transcend the themes of traditional anime, solidify his legacy as one of the best to ever do it.
Sub or Dub?
I’ve actually only ever seen the dub, but it was flawless. So, I side with the dub by default.
5. Neon Genesis: Evangelion + The End of Evangelion
Continuing the theme of thought-provoking shows is of the most heavily-layered, and even more heavily-debated series of all-time.
The reason for this is because the show is what you’d consider to be “deep”. It doesn’t shove all its themes and meanings down your throat, and allows you to find meaning by yourself. However, this often results in most of the content sailing right over people’s heads, which is why the show receives a bit of criticism.
That’s okay, though. You probably won’t completely understand the show after watching it the first time. Most people don’t (I sure didn’t). But that’s why the show’s subtle nature works so well, because such complex concepts are portrayed so subtly.
There’s one single explanation to this: the characters. Evangelion is so character-dominated that you can often times forget that the series is set in a post-apocalyptic world with an incredible sense of impending doom because you’re too entranced by the individual characters. Each person in the series is so broken, human, and relatable the we see a bit of ourselves in each of them. There are no crazy super powers, or inhuman amounts of courage here. Instead, we have people with very real problems who are just trying to maintain our sanity.
That’s the main reason why I consider Shinji to be a great anime character. In all honesty, most of us would react just like Shinji does in most of the show’s situations. He shows fear, apprehension, and self-doubt that I’m sure anyone would if they were forced to fight alien creatures on a daily basis.
As amazing as the original series is, I’ll only rank this at #5 if the final two episodes are substituted with the movie “The End of Evangelion”. This is because the company originally ran out of funds during the show’s original run, which led to a quickly slapped together pseudo-thematic ending that was really disappointing. The End of Evangelion is how the show was meant to end, and so I think it should be viewed accordingly.
If you like anime, and haven’t seen this show, then you should watch it immediately. It’s pretty much regarded as a big strike against your credibility as a fan if you haven’t seen it, because of how groundbreaking of a show it was.
Oh yeah, and the catchiest opening ever.
Sub or Dub?
Evangelion was dubbed during Anime’s Western infant stages. Thus the voice acting is, well, terrible. I’m sure the actors tried their best, but they just flat-out had no idea what they were doing, and it shows. Sub, forever.
What happens when you put three plot lines, about 100 characters, and gore that would make Quentin Tarantino queasy all into a blender? You get Baccano!
What makes Baccano! great is how it’s able to balance so much madness that would normally fill 50 episodes and condense it into 16.
The fact that there’s no actual main character allows the plot to seamlessly navigate a non-linear structure. It also gives each of its great characters an equal amount of screen time, so you never feel short-changed if you pick a favorite.
Much like the train that the show takes place on, “The Flying Pussyfoot”, the events of the show take off an never slow down. There’s so much plot and character development going on at any given time that anything less than full attention will lead to you getting completely lost. But that shouldn’t be much of a problem, because the series refuses to let go of your attention span once it has it.
The reason why I love Baccano! so much is because it represents what anime should be in its truest form: fun. In fact, the show was so much fun that I was pretty sad when it ended, because it left me wanting more.
It’s pretty hard to explain much more of this show without giving too much away, so I’ll just advise you to see it for yourself. Now. Like, RIGHT NOW. Trust me, you’ll be hooked after the opening.
Sub or Dub?
Dub, easily. Imagine Japanese voice actors trying to do New York accents. That should be all I have to say, but the dub is also the second-best that I’ve ever heard.
3. Dragonball Z
While it’s certainly debatable whether DBZ was a great show or not (it’s even debatable if it was “good”), what isn’t controversial is how influential it was.
After all, only that would explain why it’s been copied so many times. Practically every popular-long running show today (One Piece, Naruto, Bleach) has achieved its fame by following in the footsteps of Goku and his friends. In an era when many anime heroes were stoic and hyper-masculine, Goku changed the game with his goofy demeanor and his dedication to protect those closest to him.
It didn’t stop with just Goku, though. Characters like Vegeta, the classic anti-hero, and the reluctant hero Gohan were among the first of their kind, and remain staples today.
DBZ (along with the Gundam series) was also a pioneer of what I like to call “power equalization”. As the villains in the show grew stronger, so did the heroes. However, every villain was just a bit stronger, which led to the characters tapping into hidden potential and finding new techniques to win battles. It sounds like a simple concept, but it’s one of the many things in a show that Dragonball Z doesn’t get enough credit for.
For a show that was many people’s first (like mine), it couldn’t have gotten much better. It combined great action scenes, charismatic characters, and a sense of fantasy in order to really set the bar for years to come.
That’s what makes a show great, man. The lasting legacy that it leaves, and the endless pursuit by many to emulate it.
Sub or Dub?
Either, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the english dub.
2. Fooly Cooly (FLCL)
Sometimes, it takes an especially wacky series in order to tell a proper coming-of-age-story.
Fooly Cooly is a show that masterfully conveys all the melodramatic elements that come with simply growing up into six episodes.
Throughout the show, many of the characters speak of what it truly means to be a grownup. The only thing, though, is that none of these characters have the slightest clue as to what they’re talking about. And that’s a main theme of the show: there is no defining factor of being an adult, and we all grow up at our own pace.
Haruko is the best representation of this, as she is a twenty-something year old woman who acts like a complete child. However, she ends up looking like the most mature character in the entire show, because she doesn’t feel the need to validate herself and doesn’t care what people think about her. Yeah, your mind DID just get blown.
Her relationship with Naota is much like an internal struggle that we have all experienced between letting loose and wanting to look mature by being too cool to do anything.
Many people-like me-will point to the show’s soundtrack as one of the best aspects of the series. There’s a song in nearly every scene of the series, which perfectly walk the line between appropriate and overpowering. It’s hard to even notice that a song is playing unless it’s pointed out, which adds to how seamlessly the songs fit the mood of each scene.
Fooly Cooly is a roller coaster ride to the moon that teaches a valuable lesson about maturity without taking itself too seriously.
Sub or Dub?
Another easy choice here. If you don’t watch the dub of this show, then you’re really going to miss a lot of its charm (and even more pop culture references).
1. Cowboy Bebop
This is one of the rare occasions when what I think is the best and what I think is my favorite end up being the same thing.
Cowboy Bebop is about as close to the perfect anime as there ever will be, and this is because it IS the perfect anime.
The dialogue is spectacular, the characters are unique and relatable, and the series carries a sense of “cool” that has yet to be duplicated.
While it’s clear from the get-go that Spike is the center of the plot, the other three crew members each have their own distinct story lines and individual episodes that gives the show something for just about everyone to like.
Another thing that makes the show so well balanced is how it it uses this motley crew of characters to combine several different genres into one show. It simultaneously switches between western, sci-fi, crime drama, romance, and more, often times within the same episode.
Speaking of Spike, it’s no surprise that he’s considered one of the best anime characters in history. His effortless aura of cool, supplemented by his engaging plot and badass combat skills have led to a frenzy by anime makers to create the next Spike. Of course, all of which fall flat, because Spike doesn’t have to try to be cool. He just is.
Along with the flawless synthesis of genre and character development, Bebop features what I consider to be the best anime soundtrack of all time. Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts put together an OST that would blow modern film scores out of the water. The music really helps create a proper tone to give life to the show’s themes of existentialism, loneliness, and personal freedom.
As one of my favorite anime authorities, GR Arkada says, “The only people who don’t like Bebop have never watched Bebop. Or, they’re the type of people who dislike things that everyone likes just for the sake of being different”.
What makes this show so widely acclaimed is how it has so much better “____ ” than any other series. Better action, better dialogue, better characters. You name it.
Cowboy Bebop took the bar of how great anime could be, threw it in the sky, and shot it to pieces. Appropriately so, because nothing has come close.
Sub or Dub?
If you’re a dub-hater, then don’t bother watching Bebop. You simply won’t understand why people think it’s so good, and it’ll only be because of your inability to give the dub a chance. The dub isn’t only as good as the sub: it’s worlds better. To this day, Bebop has the most talented group of english voice actors to ever be put on an anime. This isn’t to disrespect the Japanese cast, but it WAS a show created to appeal to western audiences. Bebop marked a turning point in terrible dubbing, and has since become a show that almost everyone agrees is better in english.
So, give the english version a chance. If not, then you’re most likely wasting your time.
Thanks for Reading!
I’ve been wanting to do a list like this for over a year, and had a lot of fun doing it. Let me know what you think in the comments section, and be on the lookout for more Top 10 lists (anime-themed or otherwise) coming soon!
Originally published at www.shaynepearson.com.