It was time we updated this damn thing. Back in 2012 when Shinmaru and Inushinde joined the blog, we came together to draft our joint top 30 anime of all time. It’s been four years since then and the list was looking increasingly dated. So we came together again to draft a whole new best anime list. 13 new anime have been added to the list in that time, although only 2.5 of those aired within those intervening years (the “half” being a certain long-running anime). Mostly it was just us watching older anime and discovering or rediscovering some true greats and making even greater cases for them being included.
Note that this isn’t any attempt to come up with an “objective” best list, as dumb as that concept may be. It’s not arguing the biggest or most influential. It’s simply a collection of our 3 collective tastes for what we think are the best anime ever. If you want our individual lists you can view them here:
30: Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket – 1989
War in Pocket likes to look at our childhood and criticise the war hero dreams that we had. It takes our childlike wonder of weaponry and crushes it definitively. It all occurs through the eyes of one young kid with a full set of war machine action figures, whose eyes light up when he first catches sight of an enemy mecha, so oblivious to its dangers that he reacts in excitement when its pilot points the business end of a gun at him. It’s a phenomenally well directed series, each detail working towards a powerful message about the futility of war. Plenty of anime have tried to concoct this message, not least of all the entire Gundam franchise, but none of them have delivered it in as emphatic fashion as War in the Pocket did.
29: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood – 2009
While the original Full Metal Alchemist was great (the writers on this staff have wildly different opinions on the merit of the original), when Bones returned to the manga to adapt the entire thing from start to finish, what you got was one of the most complete shounen adventure epics of all time. The feeling of progression through the story, as characters grow and learn more about their world, is truly fantastic. The characters are wonderfully varied, capable of being cartoonish and yet still be full of depth as they develop throughout the show. The story tackles multiple themes from colonialism to tampering with godly powers. The action is exhilarating, managing to time those moments when the heroes or villains make that crucial comeback so it hits that much harder. It’s just an all round good anime at pretty much everything it does, and that’s about as glowing praise as you can give any piece of entertainment.
28: Spice and Wolf – 2008
Back in the olden days of not-actually-that-long-ago, light novels were a medium where anime producers could pick up exciting gems about all sorts of interesting and unique stories. Stories about a medieval trader travelling with a wolf goddess as they form a strong bond based off mutual teasing sessions and the occasional brush with death or, worse, bankruptcy. People were brought in by the wolf girl, were intrigued by the economics, but ultimately left with the memories of an endearing couple and how their fear of failure and loneliness brought them together. It’s Horo and Lawrence’s conversations over pints of mead that made this show.
27: Rose of Versailles – 1979
Rose of Versailles is one of the early series that set aesthetic standards for anime, but it’s not just an influential series — it’s a great story that still holds up today. Oscar Francois de Jarjayes’ growth from an honorable but naive noble to someone who fights the corruption she unknowingly protected is incredibly engaging, as is Oscar’s struggle to be who she wants and feel what she wants amid the court’s assumptions about the way she conducts herself. Pre-revolution France also provides a fantastic setting for petty court squabbles, intrigue, and romance forever doomed to fail. Rose of Versailles is worth watching not merely to get an idea of the historical evolution of anime, but also because it is a strong story that stands the test of time.
26: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – 2002
If you’re looking for just full on cyberpunk goodness, it’s hard to go wrong with Stand Alone Complex. It took the police procedural format and set it in the cyborg future where they have to solve crimes relating to the important issues of that era. Issues such as how much of your ideas and thoughts are your own and how are the government looking at your thoughts and…wait a second here. Yup, like any great science fiction, some of the stuff predicted in Stand Alone Complex aren’t so far-fetched. So sometime in the future we’ll get usb ports in the back of our necks, which is scary. However that also means we will get the Major in the future too, so maybe the future won’t be so bad after all.
25: Watamote – No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular – 2013
Someone forgot to tell the author of Watamote that people expected their comedies to be light entertainment, unchallenging and easy. Instead we got a comedy that forces us to sit down and confront our beliefs about our loser selves and how we perceive our issues as being the fault of other people. It’s the most cringe-inducing comedy that makes it difficult to watch, making you laugh but then having your laugh peter out as you realise how depressing the reality of what you just laughed at seeps in. And yet Watamote isn’t laughing at our main character. It paints an unflinching yet sympathetic view of someone so crippled by social anxiety they can’t function in a world where they’ve been told by fiction their teenage years will be full of hot guys and jealous girls. It’s tough to watch but massively rewarding to do so.
24: Eureka Seven – 2005
Yo. Giant robots surfboarding in the sky. I could probably just end this right here because that is so awesome by itself. But Eureka Seven has so much going on in its world. The story of a kid finding his surrogate family, struggling with his newfound responsibilities, finding love, all to this backdrop of the most colourful world-ending events. It’s got a brilliant cast of characters, some truly mind-bogglingly weird episodes, and again, giant robots surfing in the sky.
23: Revolutionary Girl Utena – 1997
Despite all the abstraction, symbolism, seeming non sequiturs, and slapstick humor, Revolutionary Girl Utena works because it has a strong heart beneath all the artifice and pretense. The characters in Revolutionary Girl Utena aren’t different from any others: they want things like love, respect, peace, power, to not be chased by giant elephants while searching for a rare spice so that the spirits of two people they hate will go back into their proper bodies. They simply express themselves in the most melodramatic ways via sword duels in the student council tower. Isn’t that what high school is all about? It’s a messy as hell time where people who have the potential to be great when they grow up maybe don’t make the best choices or act on misguided ideas on what it is to be an adult or a man or a woman or whatever. Utena is one of the best series at throwing inner turmoil everywhere in all its ugliness and saying “have at it, try to understand.” But the hidden secret of Utena is also that it’s also one of the funniest anime of all time. Its pitch-perfect, profoundly bizarre physical comedy always comes at the right time to offset drama, even when it seems like it doesn’t. It’s truly an experience.
22: Akira – 1988
With one notable exception that we’ll get to later, Akira is the best anime from a visual standpoint. There’s an incredible level of detail right down to the tiniest details, such as how mouths move naturally when people talk instead of just flap open and shut lifelessly. But it also looks incredible in a much broader sense. The city-scape shots of Neo Tokyo will take your breath away. The dramatic framing of characters when the finale hits is astonishing, pounding on that heavy drums music as the city is torn apart and villains stand there with their capes billowing out behind them as they emerge from the smoke. It all helps bring together this story about a younger generation, angry at how their parents have destroyed their hopes for the future and how they strike out in frustration. It’s also about a kid incredibly jealous of his brother’s cool motorbike and gets crazy psychic powers because of that. And also giant mutant babies.
21: Time of Eve – 2008
Who could have thought that this little indie project, released on the web back in 2008 when anime companies simply didn’t do that, would be one of the best anime released in the past decade? It’s a heavily Asimov-inspired story about a cafe in which androids don’t have to show their glowing, Sims-style halo above their head. Its cinematography is unlike anything else, zooming through sets, swooping through buildings as each character interrupts each other as they talk, like normal conversations happen. In this little cafe we meet a variety of people each with their own interesting story to tell, with the question of whether they’re human or robot hanging over their heads. Although arguably the best episode was with the one guy who was clearly a robot. We won’t forget you Nameless!
20: Millennium Actress – 2002
Out of all Satoshi Kon’s movies, Millennium Actress is probably his most complete in terms of signifying his brilliant style. It tells the story of an old actress who had worked in the industry since just after World War 2 and in telling her story also weaves in the story of Japan’s history and different people she encountered along the way. Its genius lies in how it is forever swapping between history and the movies she starred in, making the changes seamless to the point that you’re never quite sure which parts are real. The rebirth of various characters between each changing storyline brings together this cohesive theme in each of their lives, and in doing so tells us so much more about each person as we see them in each scenario. It’s a masterpiece in every sense, and it’s incredibly depressing how few movies we got to see from him before he passed away.
19: Redline – 2010
Remember in the Akira section where I mentioned there was maybe one anime that could claim to look even better than that iconic movie? Goddamn Redline is incredible. The story is about an intergalactic car race that the organisers set on the robot planet version of North Korea for the rather brilliant reason that all the chaos it would induce would be a real boon for their TV ratings. This is all the backdrop for the most exhilarating race scenes, explosions, banned biological superweapons going berserk as cars speed through the wreckage of the planet, and much more besides. The detail put into each little minor character, who all evidently have their own nonsensical backstory, makes each scene its own fun story. Combine with a soundtrack that you probably shouldn’t play while you’re driving so you won’t get pinged by every speed camera you drive by, and you’re left with a movie that will have you feeling drained through sheer thrill by the end.
18: Kaiji – 2007
Kaiji is the best anime about rock-paper-scissors, walking on a tightrope, and rock-paper-scissors but edgelord cards. This series understands that even the simplest games can be terrifying given sufficient stakes — Kaiji’s a sad sack and a pathetic punk, for sure, but he’s got a heart buried deep beneath all his greed, and that makes his failures and near-misses hurt all the more. Kaiji spends his every waking moment scraping, clawing, hoping beyond hope that this next game will be the one that springs him from this hell. (Sorry, buddy, but you’re destined to be a metaphor none of us wants to think about too hard lest we apply it to our own sad lives.) The anime is over the top for sure — try getting the narrator’s voice out of your head the next time you’re doing something mundane that could be dramatically amplified — but it earns that melodramatic release by putting its shitty hero through the emotional grinder.
17: Hunter x Hunter – 2011
Hunter x Hunter is an anime that’s unafraid to cast off everything viewers have come to expect and go in a completely different direction. One of the most brilliant aspects of Hunter x Hunter is that it sidesteps the problem of burning out in the middle of a long fighting anime adventure by switching everything up and tackling a story in an entirely different genre. It starts off as a typical (albeit well executed) tournament-style fighting show, turns into a crime thriller, then becomes one of those en vogue “we’re in a video game stories!” (pre-dating a lot of those series in the actual manga), then turns into a brutal war story, and concludes as a political thriller. That’s a lot of ground for one show to cover; it would never work if the audience couldn’t connect to the main pair of Gon and Killua, two kids who get stronger in ways typical of fighting anime adventures and in ways that are atypical for these types of stories. It’s a long show, but absolutely worth it if you have any predilection for a good adventure.
16: Shiki – 2010
Good horror is difficult to find in anime. It seems to work best when a story goes for a psychological attack before the visceral assault. That’s what Shiki does — it stirs the pot ever so gently so that the villagers get freaked out, slowly pulls back the curtain, and then lets everything explode once the pressure is at its maximum. Shiki works with old standbys of horror — vampires, intense fear of the unknown and outsiders, science vs. faith, etc. — but executes it incredibly well, with characters who fight to preserve the status quo or wholeheartedly embrace their new lives, for better or worse. When it’s at its height, Shiki offers some of the most chilling images and moments in anime, whether it’s a certain scientific experiment or an angry spate of revenge upon someone who just wanted to escape. Shiki is horror done right.
15: Cowboy Bebop – 1998
Cowboy Bebop has such a reputation as this cooler than cool gateway anime for people who eventually fall out of the scene because there isn’t much like Cowboy Bebop that it’s easy to forget how delightfully strange it is. There’s certainly a serious current to the series; Spike, Jet, and Faye all have their own arcs that play out through the course of the show. But just as those characters are bits and pieces of archetypes cobbled together to make people distinct and memorable, so too does the series riff on genres, movies, and all manner of things — film noir, westerns, blaxploitation, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Batman: The Animated Series, to name a few — to weave its own type of story, “the work which has become a genre unto itself” as the Bebop eyecatch so cheekily phrased it. Cowboy Bebop knows what people like about the things it loves, and it also knows enough to twist them in amusing ways (the crew getting high on mushrooms, the slime that kills everyone, etc.). It should never be forgotten that Bebop is a hilarious show always ready to undercut its cast, particularly cooler than cool Spike. Bebop will be forever beloved because it’s simply classic entertainment.
14: Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 2011
While maybe not quite as original as many of its fans made it out to be, Madoka Magica’s clever twist on the childlike wonder of the magical girl genre, turning into a dark horror story about the pressure of accepting power, caught the anime world by storm. The combination of cutesy character designs with an Shaft’s unsettling warping of their world really helped drive home a story about the scary other side of power. It’s wrapped around this tight script that is perfectly paced throughout, and has that value of effective foreshadowing where every twist feels incredibly obvious in retrospect but blindsides you at the time. Even asides from the early twist that most people who haven’t seen the show know about by now, some of the later twists about the nature of Kyubey’s immovable grin are just as fantastic. That grin of his really starts to take on a whole new feel as the visuals start to change around his appearances. The whole thing is such a tight, expertly put-together package that tells its story in exactly the time and way it needs to.
13: Death Note – 2006
Death Note gives us two uber-geniuses and pits them together in a battle of wits for our entertainment. The constant dramatic cuts, knowing looks, and shock twists as these two try to out-think each other in their cat and mouse battle is relentlessly entertaining. Meanwhile in the background there’s this constant hum of a difficult moral question, challenging you to really consider the value of human life. With its incredibly carefully constructed rules, it allows us to both follow the mind wars between the two main characters and actually understand their logic without it feeling like total ass-pulls, while also giving us no leeway in debating the loopholes in its moral quandary. Judging by the amount of people watching the show who sided with the serial murderer Light, it’s safe to say Death Note managed to hit on a nerve many people didn’t even realise was a nerve.
12: Legend of the Galactic Heroes – 1988
Have you ever been one of those people who find themselves debating the effectiveness of various political systems amongst Europe’s largest powers throughout history? If so then boy do we have the anime for you. If not, then watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes will turn you into that person. This space opera epic pits rival political powers against each other, showing us the destructive capabilities of a broken democracy, the fear of a well-meaning military coup, the forthright power of a benevolent dictator, and many more systems of governance besides. It does this by following the stories of the two most important military generals on either side of this inter-planetary conflict and how their beliefs shape the course of their respective empires, whether willingly or not. It’s a bit like reading a history book, albeit the greatest history book of all time. In space.
11: Perfect Blue – 1997
The idol industry can be something of a horror show and who better to show us that than Satoshi Kon. Indeed Perfect Blue is best described as a horror movie as an ex-idol turned actress and gravure model slowly loses her mind as the messages from around her make her feel like she’s somehow betrayed herself. Mysterious figures follow her around, making her feel uncomfortable in her own body, haunting her dreams and calling her a dirty slut for moving away from the pristine cutesy world of the music idol. It’s tough to watch and genuinely stomach-churning at times, swinging its critical bat from all parts of the media, from fans to producers to critics. Yet it still seems to come from a place of genuine concern. From one who wants this industry to stop treating its people like this so they won’t feel such intense guilt over their decisions, pouring extreme scorn on those who try to shame them. It’s a movie that sticks with you and makes you view the industry and its fans in a different light from now on.
10: Gankutsuou – 2005
In a weird way, The Count of Monte Cristo is a perfect story for anime — the tale of a man grievously wronged in life who vows to seek revenge at any cost is dripping with melodrama, which plays well into anime’s strengths. Whether one likes the aesthetic or not, Gonzo certainly went all the way in making its vision of the story its own, with 19th century France reimagined as a sleek future version of that era of France, playing into the opulence and greed of several of the characters. If it looks overly artificial, well, that’s because it is. Those displays of wealth and power mask deep betrayals and innumerable skeletons in the closet for the Count to exploit. Although much of the series concerns the slow growth of the naive children, it is indeed the Count who carries much of the anime. His dark charisma draws as much attention as the visuals as he plants the seeds for his machinations. Even if everything else in Gankutsuou stunk, the show would be worth watching for The Count of Monte Cristo.
9: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – 2007
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is about robots getting bigger, men getting manlier, explosions getting larger, bonds growing stronger, and everything getting generally bigger and bigger until you can barely contain yourself. It starts deep underground with a society who don’t even know the sky exists and follows their dreams to strive higher and higher against greater and greater threats, pushing them into larger and larger robots until they are throwing galaxies as shurikens against the powers that govern the universe itself. It’s about constantly punching above those who are trying to stop you from moving forward. It’s about believing in yourself and always being able to push further than you ever have. It’s the fist-pumping, heart-thumping tale of one kid as his drill that will pierce the heavens. Who the hell do you think we are!
8: Black Lagoon – 2006
Black Lagoon makes the dark world of modern pirating look like it would be the most fun way to disappoint your parents if you don’t feel like buying a motorbike. You get to launch speedboats into the air off the back of sunken cruisers to shoot torpedoes into the face of helicopter pilots. You get to be in a chase with a terminator maid who stores rocket launchers under her dress. But then you get to Second Raid and start to discover that being in a lawless world means you are forced to meet the most fucked up people who have had to escape from the law to do these things, and you start to see that this world is truly fucked up. By following the story of the Japanese salaryman who got tired of being told what to do, it manages to both capture our desire to rebel against civilised society while also making no qualms about the consequences of a world where that is the case. Most of all, Black Lagoon is just a fucking cool show that makes you want to down vodka, swear profusely, then tuck yourself into bed and feel relieved that at least you can just live out that dream through this Japanese cartoon.
7: Planetes – 2003
Planetes is among the realest of anime, because it shows that even in space we cannot escape the drudgery of office life and watching helplessly as our dreams float away, replaced by compromise. The first half of the series is a brilliant, hilarious look at how people manage while doing the dirty work, the stuff that most of society believes it’s too good to do. It’s a great snapshot of that period when people first enter the working world and get a real taste of what it’s like, for better or worse. The second half is a bit more serious, a dual look at the sacrifice and obsession of fulfilling one’s dreams and the serious economic disparity of the world and what it leads people to do (though that arc is at least floating in the background through most of the series). Whatever it’s focusing on, Planetes is sharp as a needle and really digs deep into its characters.
6: Mushishi – 2005
Mushishi is probably the most relaxing horror story around. Following the trails of Ginko, our resident expert on these bacteria-like phenomenon called mushi, he stumbles into the lives of people for whom nature has decided to mess with in some very peculiar, and occasionally slightly horrific ways. A person sucked into an alternate dimension trapped inside a silkworm cocoon. Or those for whom the stench of death on their bodies cling to them in the form of plants growing up their arms and legs. Or a creature that steals your sight and you only realise what lives behind your eyes when the doctor coaxes out the horrific green gunk that resides there. Because of how the stories feature such natural objects and phenomenon such as reflections or pillows, combined with fundamental emotions and timeless stories of love, hate, jealousy and regret, the stories stick with you and change your perception of the world around you. At the very least you’ll find yourself taking much better care of your pillow from now on.
5: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – 2012
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure gives the viewer exactly what the title advertises. The appeal of JoJo is that it believes wholeheartedly in its strange universe and characters and goes all in without a trace of irony or winking self-deprecation. Is it goofy that the first JoJo’s martial arts teacher demonstrates his power by punching a frog — and leave it unscathed? Sure it is, but JoJo’s presents it as the most natural thing in the world. It’s that sense of doing anything and everything just because it’s cool as hell — and going way over the top with a distinct style to make it look cool as hell — is a big part of JoJo’s appeal. The show revels in and is unashamed of its utter pulpiness. Any show this confident in its sense of style and ability to make all its drama the most important, melodramatic drama in the universe needs to be seen.
4: Baccano – 2007
Baccano is a story that normally wouldn’t work unless it had absolutely fantastic character writing. The story is set in 1930’s gangland America in which a series of eccentric people bump off each other as mafia warfare and centuries-old struggles between immortal demons clash. The characters are the most wonderfully brilliant bunch and the way the story jumps between them keeps this train of entertainment chugging along continuously. In doing so it challenges everything we think about what good storytelling is. It almost comes across as the author was given a challenge to prove to the world that a story didn’t need some basic factors like a beginning or and ending. It doesn’t need a main character, a central theme, natural rising and falling arcs, or anything along those lines. Life doesn’t have those. The level to which Baccano succeeds while throwing aside these conventions makes you wonder why more stories don’t try this, until you realise just how bad basically every other story would be without it. That makes Baccano’s success even more amazing.
3: Detroit Metal City – 2008
It’s a show in which a crowd of heavy metal fans sing along with an excited little girl “we’re only interested in the bottom half” and an opening song that implores its audience to murder their parents. It’s also one of the most brilliant pieces of social satire, that scene being amongst the examples. An illustration of just how torn from the reality of what they’re saying death metal often is features heavily on the agenda of Detroit Metal City, its skewers of the entire music culture industry right down to the most banal of cutesy romantic pop songs. While a lot of blue comedy just shocks for its own sake, sometimes it requires the crudest language to make the most salient points, which is where Detroit Metal City excels. It’s one of those comedies that make you laugh originally, but when you think about what they’re saying with the jokes that its genius becomes that much more apparent. That’s some praise for a show that has a dude make love to the Tokyo Tower.
2: Neon Genesis Evangelion – 1995
Over 2 decades later and the waves of Evangelion are still being felt (even if its not always in ways the original creators intended). It takes these broken teenagers, struggling with various forms of self-worth, anxiety and depression, and gives them the responsibility of saving the world. By doing so it allows us to push their fears to their limits and explore everything that makes them tick through the medium of barely controllable, seemingly animal giant robots. It’s not just the teen pilots themselves though. Each character, from kids to adults, struggles with their identity and self-worth, with the show constantly challenging them to reassess themselves. It’s tough to watch these characters dig themselves out of holes only to be shoved back in again by the cruel world they’re facing in this post-apocalypse. It’s an intense character study that, even while all 3 of the writers here have issues with, left massive impacts on each of us and it would be impossible not to recognise that here.
1: Code Geass – 2006
Hey, you didn’t think it was going to be anything else, did you? This whole website is named after this wonderfully bonkers, massively entertaining, dramatic trainwreck of a series. Code Geass knows its ridiculous and revels in it. It knows that its story is a barely believable string of political thriller nonsense and tells its story with a skip in its step and a wink in its eye. It has so much fun with its storytelling that you find yourself getting wrapped up in the whole frenzy. You live every dramatic speech, spoken as though they were standing in front of an auditorium of thousands at a political rally. You feel every twist in your stomach as brilliant minds concoct elaborate strategies and bask in their brilliance until the best great twist, never far from the fingers of the Code Geass writers, spins around the corner and changes the whole picture yet again. It is from top to bottom pure entertainment, which is why after all this time we’re still happy with calling it the greatest anime of all time. Yeah. Code Geass. We’re serious.