For a medium as diverse and wide-spanning as Anime, it can be difficult ranking the best anime series of all time. Looking at the wide range of metrics fans use to judge the quality of any individual anime makes the ranking even tougher.

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

Though no metric is necessarily wrong, ultimately this list used things such as animation quality, industry impact, direction, atmosphere, and consistency to quantify how to rank each anime. Unfortunately, that last point disqualifies some notable fan favorites. While Naruto and Bleach are both incredible series that have reshaped the Shonen genre around themselves, their abundance of poor filler eliminates them from ranking. This list will also not contain any currently ongoing series. So while One Piece, Spy x Family, Ranking of Kings, and Kaguya-Sama are all masterpieces in their own right, it’s impossible to rank them without knowing their endings.

30 Fist of the North Star

Kenshiro Fist of the North Star

Year Released

1984

Number of Episodes

109

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll

Running from 1984 to 1987 and based on the manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara, Toei Animation’s Fist of the North Star is a series whose influence is wide-reaching. Fist of the North Star is about a martial artist named Kenshiro who fights against the warlords and bandits who have risen in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse.

Perhaps the definitive anime of the 1980s, Fist of the North Star ushered in a new era of gritty and violent anime that defined the medium for more than a decade. The series’ legacy can still be felt today, as it’s not only been referenced by countless other anime and manga, it served as an inspiration for masterpieces like Berserk and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. As if its legacy wasn’t enough, Fist of the North Star is just a blood-pumping good time even outside of its historical context.

29 Death Note

Death Note Light Yagami

Year Released

2006

Number of Episodes

37

Where to Stream it

Youtube Premium, Pluto TV, Tubi, Peacock, Roku, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime

Death Note completely rewrote the book on what was possible in a shonen series. Far from the high-octane battles of a series like Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, Death Note’s ‘battles’ are far more cerebral. Few other series make a psychological game of cat and mouse as fascinating as Death Note.

Related: Death Note’s Artist Puts His Spin on Comedy in New Manga Show-Ha Shoten!

The art design and direction are what make this anime series truly stand out though. Anime fans might have made a meme out of Light’s infamous potato chip scene, but it’s a brilliant little moment that uses strong direction and sound design to suck viewers into Light’s twisted perspective. Yes, the series’ commitment to being edgy can sometimes come across as a touch goofy, but that often adds to its charm in a way that many lesser series have failed to replicate. Though its controversial second part knocks it down a few ranks, Death Note is essential viewing for any anime fan.

28 Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

Jinta and friends in Anohana

Year Released

2011

Number of Episodes

11

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day follows a young hikikimori named Jinta who suddenly starts seeing the ghost of his former best friend, Menma. What follows is a heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming journey that sees Jinta reconnect with his old friend group so they can all fully process Menma’s death.

With an anime industry so focused on an idealized view of high school, Anohana‘s more grounded take on themes of trauma and growth will resonate with anime fans wanting something a little more mature out of their coming-of-age anime. Though it might rank low compared to some anime, that speaks more to the strength of the other entries than any flaw inherent with Anohana’s beautiful and gripping story.

27 Nichijou – My Ordinary Life

The cast of characters in the anime Nichijou.

Year Released

2011

Number of Episodes

26

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation

Based on the manga by Keiichi Arawi, Nichijou – My Ordinary Life is a 2011 anime from Kyoto Animation. This good-natured slice-of-life story follows high school students Yūko, Mio, Mai, and Nano and the increasingly absurd events of their day-to-day lives. Comedy is often difficult to translate across cultural lines, but that barrier never stops Nichijou from being uproariously funny. This is a series that always puts the maximum amount of effort into making its jokes land, often using animation and art direction to enhance gags instead of just relying on clever dialogue. Adapting gag-manga is notoriously hit or miss, but with Nichijou, it’s all hits.

26 Wolf’s Rain

Wolf's Rain Cast

Year Released

2003

Number of Episodes

26 + 4 OVAs

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation

Few anime are quite as much of an emotional gut-punch as Wolf’s Rain. The anime takes place in a dystopian future on the verge of collapse. At the end of the world, four wolves with the ability to take human form seek out the Flower Maiden so that she can lead them to paradise. Wolf’s Rain was ahead of its time in many ways as its plot had a large focus on the emotional fallout of living in a world doomed by man-made climate change. Each character’s response to the impending end of the world shows the psychological toll of being burdened with saving a doomed world. As if the deep themes weren’t enough, the series is also gorgeous with beautiful visuals and an absolutely haunting soundtrack from the legend herself, Yoko Kanno. Wolf’s Rain does have its missteps, but none of them are enough to damage this profound anime.

25 Your Lie in April

Kousei and Kaori in Your Lie in April

Year Released

2014

Number of Episodes

22

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga, Your Lie in April is a 2014 anime produced by A-1 Pictures. Your Lie in April is about former piano prodigy Kōsei and his relationship to the free-spirited violinist Kaori.

Though the manga the series is based on is interesting in its own right, Your Lie In April is the rare anime that actually improves on its source material. The series’ music is exquisite and the art direction gives this tragedy-tinted series a bright edge that makes its darker moments stick out all the more. Most importantly, Your Lie In April’s characters are its main strength. The dynamic between the reserved Kōsei and the free-spirited Kaori has been done a thousand times before, but rarely has this type of romance been as moving or as heartfelt as it is in Your Lie in April.

24 Megalobox

Joe on his bike.

Year Released

2018

Number of Episodes

26

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Hulu, Pluto TV, Peacock, Tubi

Made in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the incredibly influential Tomorrow’s Joe, is a gritty sci-fi boxing series that doesn’t pull its punches. The story is simple as Megalobox follows a young man known only as Junk Dog (later given the name Joe) as he rises through the ranks of Megaloboxing. Like boxing but with added cybernetic exoskeletons, Megalobox is a deadly sport that can have life-altering consequences for its combatants. Megalobox is one of the greatest sports anime of all time, with fluid animation, and bouts that are just as tense as the best boxing matches in the real world. Beyond all the incredible technical details that make the series really shine, there’s just something undeniably cool about it that earns it a spot among the best anime ever.

23 Neon Genesis Evangelion

The cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion wearing their suits in anime key art.

Year Released

1995

Number of Episodes

26

Where to Stream it

Netflix

Despite its controversial nature, Neon Genesis Evangelion was a landmark series that changed anime forever. Mech anime are a staple of the medium, but Evangelion’s take on it is still unique even with a tide of imitators rising in its wake. Though some have labeled it pretentious, the series’ unique mech/monster designs and memorable characters more than earn this series its mythic status.

Evangelion is a story about the depths of depression and the psychological trauma of living in a world on the brink of collapse. Shinji might come across as whiny to many, but a closer look paints a much more nuanced portrait than the series’ critics give it credit for. In the real world, young adults are frequently told that they’re the future and that responsibility for saving the planet is on their shoulders, but the psychological effects of that burden are made abundantly clear in Evangelion.

Teenaged heroes like Shinji, Asuka, and Rei are not the cause of the world’s sorry state, powerful people like Gendo are, and yet the burden for fixing that mess too often lies with the children. Each young adult illustrates a different response to that burden. Rei is cold and emotionless, Asuka’s perfectionism and need to feel valued makes her quick to anger, and Shinji is psychologically broken by his father’s neglect.

Related: Neon Genesis Evangelion’s 17 Original Angels Explained

Unfortunately, Evangelion ultimately loses ranking for its philosophically interesting, but plot-devoid finale. Given the last few episodes had to be rewritten due to unintended similarities to the 1995 sarin gas attacks, these faults are understandable, but worth mentioning. Evangelion also suffers from having a better version of its story exist with the Rebuild films. Given all this, Neon Genesis Evangelion should probably rank lower… but sorry Your Lie In April, A Cruel Angel’s Thesis just slaps too hard.

22 Ouran High School Host Club

Haruhi and the characters from Ouran High School Host Club

Year Released

2006

Number of Episodes

26

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, Netflix, Tubi

Based on the manga by Bisco Hatori, Ouran High School Host Club is a 2006 anime series produced by Studio Bones. The series follows a young woman named Haruhi who is forced to pay off a massive debt by pretending to be a male and working for the titular Host Club. With a great premise that artfully plays with gender, Ouran seemed destined to be a hit from its first episode. More than just a great premise though, the series wonderfully skewers popular anime tropes in a way that’s always fresh and hilarious.

Ouran also deserves applause for its wide-ranging influence. While far from the first anime centered on a woman’s relationship to a series of attractive young men, the anime helped codify many tropes that make this unique brand of wish fulfillment what it is today. The series’ portrayal of gender and gender roles is also a fascinating topic that is handled well. Given all this, Ouran High School Host Club is a no-brainer for ranking in the top twenty of best anime series.

21 Gurren Lagann

Three of Gurren Lagann's most important characters.

Year Released

2007

Number of Episodes

27

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Gurren Lagann is a 2007 anime produced by Gainax. This mech anime is initially about a young man named Simon and his older brother figure Kamina as they fight in the titular Lagann against the oppressive Spiral King and his army of Beastmen. Not content to redefine the mecha anime genre once with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gainax did it again with Gurren Lagann, and the result is just so over-the-top that it’s hard not to love.

Under its ridiculous surface though, Lagann is a deeply thoughtful series with a lot to say about human nature and freedom. Few other anime have had fans crying as many tears of joy and tears of sadness as this one. Even beyond its original 26 episodes though, Gurren Lagann has had a massive effect on the industry. A great deal of the crew that worked on Lagann went on to found Studio Trigger. There’s a reason Lagann looks so similar to later anime hits like Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia. Gurren Lagann might not be the highest-ranked mech anime on this list, but its earnestness and historical importance makes it an obvious pick for ranking in the top 20.

20 Hunter x Hunter

Gon in Hunter x Hunter key art featuring members of the supporting cast behind him.

Year Released

2011

Number of Episodes

148

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Netflix, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Peacock

Based on the beloved manga by Yu Yu Hakusho creator Yoshihiro Togashi, Hunter x Hunter is a shonen battle anime produced by Madhouse that ran from 2011 to 2014. The series begins with a boy named Gon Freces who’s on a quest to find his dad, one of the series’ enigmatic Hunters. Along the way, Gon is joined by a young man named Kurapika looking to avenge his murdered clan, a man named Leorio who wants to be a hunter to pay for medical school, and a boy Gon’s age named Killua who is part of a family of notorious assassins.

Related: Hunter X Hunter’s Creator Confirms The Series’ Return (Again)

What makes Hunter x Hunter so special is how much it distills everything that makes classic shonen battle anime so compelling. Gon might be a stereotypical shonen hero in many ways, but his enthusiasm and energy make him easy to love. Nen isn’t just another shonen power system, it’s so intricate and well-thought-out that it comes close to being the genre’s best. More than just refining classic Shonen tropes though, Hunter x Hunter uses those tropes to say something meaningful about the pursuit of dreams and the cost of violence. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hunter x Hunter is peak shonen, earning it a solid rank.

19 Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man (2005)

Year Released

2002

Number of Episodes

52

Where to Stream it

Sling TV, Funimation

Inspired by Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a 2002 anime created by Production I.G. The cyberpunk series follows Major Makoto Kusanagi and her team of Public Security Section 9 as they investigate a mysterious cyber-terrorist known as The Laughing Man.

Though not as historically important as the groundbreaking 1995 film that launched the franchise into the global spotlight, Stand Alone Complex is a seminal work of cyberpunk that is actually better than its more famous movie counterpart in many ways. With the added breathing room a TV series affords, Stand Alone Complex can actually dive deeper into the characters, world, and themes inherent to Ghost in The Shell.

Related: Ghost in the Shell Fuses Afrofuturism & Cyberpunk in Underrated Sequel

Strangely enough, one of the best aspects of the series is its structure. Each episode is labeled as Stand Alone or Complex, marking whether an episode is its own story or whether it’s contributing to the overall plot. This simple addition of labeling each episode appropriately sets viewer expectations and leads to the story being quite easy to follow. With its interesting structure, compelling characters, and fascinating themes, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of the best cyberpunk anime ever made.

18 Space Dandy

Space Dandy posing from the opening credits

Year Released

2014

Number of Episodes

26

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation, Tubi, Hulu

Though not as well known as creator Shinichiro Watanabe’s other big sci-fi series, Space Dandy is a goofy series with a lot on its mind. The anime follows a ridiculous goofball of a man named Dandy, his robot companion QT, and their companion Meow as they travel through space in search of new alien species. If the series stuck to that basic premise, it’d probably make for a fine if forgettable episodic show. Instead, Space Dandy chooses to do something a lot more weird and wonderful.

The big twist of Space Dandy is that each episode takes place in a slightly different continuity from the last. 8 years before Everything, Everywhere, All at Once explored the existential dread of living in a multiverse of infinite possibilities, Space Dandy showed that multiverses could be so much more than just a cynical excuse for franchise crossovers. The result is an experimental show that pushes animation to its absolute limit. Space Dandy is one of the best anime for its animation alone, but much like Dandy himself, it’s the genuine heart underneath that makes it the anime an all-time great.

17 Monster

Kenzo Tenma being surprised by a bird in Monster anime

Year Released

2004

Number of Episodes

74

Where to Stream it

Netflix

Based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa, Mosnter follows a surgeon named Kenzo Tenma who feels personally responsible for saving the life of serial killer Johan Liebert. What follows is one of anime’s best thrillers as Tenma deals with the guilt of saving a mass murderer, inevitably going to extraordinary lengths to rectify what he feels was his biggest mistake. Perhaps the most un-anime anime series, it’s not impossible to look at Monster’s premise and see it easily given the prestige of an HBO series like True Detective (and indeed it almost was an HBO series). Like all good anime though, any potential live-action adaptation would miss out on what makes Monster so special. The series’ atmosphere and tension would be completely lost without the beautiful animation coming from Studio Madhouse is just on a completely different level.

16 Fruits Basket

Fruits Basket Official Art

Year Released

2019

Number of Episodes

63

Where to Stream it

Funimation, Hulu

Fruits Basket is one of the most beloved Shojo series of all time for good reason. The series follows a young woman named Tohru who comes to live with the Sohma family after the loss of her mother. Though the family is divided in many aspects, what unites them is the shared curse that turns them into one of the Chinese Zodiac animals when they’re under duress. What follows is a story about trauma and healing as Tohru helps the Sohmas reconnect with one another and become a true family.

What makes Fruits Basket such an incredible anime is how it refines so much of what makes Shojo such a compelling genre. Without flashy battles or action scenes, drama series like Fruits Basket need to pay extra attention to things like characterization and theme. All the series’ characters are trying to process loss in their own way, and that thematic consistency allows the series to examine the theme of grief from many different angles. As one of the most well-loved Shojo series of all time, Fruits Basket more than earns its rank among the best anime series ever made.

15 Mushi-Shi

Ginko laid out in the grass in Mushi-Shi: Next Passage.

Year Released

2005

Number of Episodes

46 + 2 Specials

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Based on the manga of the same name by Yuki Urushibara, Mushishi is a supernatural anime series by Artland that ran from 2005 to 2006 before getting a second season in 2014. The series follows a man named Ginko who helps people deal with mysterious spirits known as Mushi. Ginko makes for a suitably mellow protagonist and it’s consistently delightful to watch his process for working with each Mushi. Ginko’s respect for these mysterious creatures ultimately fits so well with the series’ themes about man’s relationship with nature that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else filling his role.

What stands out most about the series though is its quietly beautiful depiction of Edo-era Japan. Fitting for a series so concerned with nature, Mushishi’s atmosphere is its real star. Like a lullaby, the soundtrack and art direction beautifully harmonize to imbue every scene with quiet terror or wonder. Serene, poignant, and dripping with atmosphere, Mushishi is the perfect anime to watch right before bed.

14 Cyberpunk Edgerunners

David and Lucy from Cyberpunk Edgerunners standing back to back

Year Released

2022

Number of Episodes

10

Where to Stream it

Netflix

Inspired by the tabletop roleplaying game series by Mike Pondsmith, Cyberpunk Edgerunners is Studio Trigger’s 2022 anime prequel to Cyberpunk 2077. Edgerunners is about a young man named David who is forced into cybernetic crime after a tragedy upends his life. The series was famously well received, with Edgerunners even winning Crunchyroll’s anime of the year 2022, beating out massive cultural phenomena like Attack on Titan and Spy x Family.

Edgerunners is partially so remarkable because of how it improves upon its source material. Though many game critics found Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City to be a bland mishmash of cyberpunk tropes, Edgerunner’s version of the same city pulses and thrives with an intoxicating sense of real life. Whereas 2077’s cybernetic augments are just a path to better stats, Edgerunners turns those same augments into a hideous reminder of how much humanity each character is willing to trade in exchange for power. It’s telling that while 2077 was immediately panned upon release, Edgerunners was so well received that it actually revitalized interest in the game.

Related: Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Stuns in Epic New Official Music Video

Beyond its status as a prequel that improves the original though, Edgerunners‘ strongest feature is its characters. From David, to Lucy, to Maine, to Rebecca, every one of the series’ characters is beautiful and tragic in their own right. All of these characters ache for and deserve so much more, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Night City forces them to become something monstrous just to stay afloat. If this were a list ranking best anime tearjerkers, there’s no doubt that Edgerunners would rank at the very top.

13 Odd Taxi

Odd Taxi Main Cast.

Year Released

2021

Number of Episodes

13

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll

Odd Taxi is an anime series produced by O.L.M. that aired from 2021 to 2022. The series follows a walrus taxi driver named Odokawa as he gets tangled in a criminal conspiracy that runs deep throughout Tokyo. The series instantly earned critical acclaim upon release, and it’s not hard to see why even at a glance. The series has a unique art style and uses its cast of animal characters in clever ways. The standout among these characters is naturally Odokawa himself. Being a slightly overweight middle-aged man with no notable fighting skills or incredible talents makes Odokawa one of the most refreshing anime protagonists in recent years.

As the main character, it’s Odokawa’s outlook on life that colors the world. His laid back attitude often gives this anime the kind of lofi atmosphere that makes it such a comforting watch even in its tensest moments. The series also has a great mystery at its core that makes each episode and plot development more compelling than the last. Odd Taxi is one of the most unique anime on this list, easily earning it a high rank.

12 Penguindrum

Poster depicting Penguindrum's main characters.

Year Released

2011

Number of Episodes

24

Where to Stream it

HiDive

Penguindrum is a 2011 Anime created by Brain Base and Sailor Moon director Kunihiko Ikuhara. Though it might not have as much notoriety or impact as some of its contemporaries on this list, Penguindrum ranks so highly for the beauty of its animation and its heartbreakingly strange story. On its surface, Penguindrum is about two brothers attempting to save their terminally ill sister with the aid of three mysterious penguins. Wonderfully weird, the story is filled with poignant moments that raise interesting questions about a wide range of topics such as childhood and the psychological consequences of abuse. All of that is just on the surface.

Looking deeper though, Penguindrum is really about the fallout of the sarin gas attacks that rocked Japan in 1995. With that bit of context, so much else about the series that previously seemed inexplicable snaps into place. The constant visual motifs evoke subway systems. Even the logo hints at this with a circled 95 and a train sign. The anime’s young heroes have had their lives shaped by how their parents reacted to that one horrific event. Those parents completely overreacted, their concerns about preventing the next tragedy turning into an abusive obsession. While the circumstances might be specific to Japan, the thematic weight is relatable to any millennial who grew up in the shadow of 9/11. As the quintessential millennial anime, Penguindrum is a masterpiece that deserves more recognition.

11 Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z key art with Goku and the supporting cast of the anime.

Year Released

1989

Number of Episodes

291

Where to Stream it

Crunchyroll, Funimation

Dragon Ball Z is one of the most recognizable and influential anime ever made for good reason. Goku’s seemingly never-ending quest to protect his friends and collect the titular Dragon Balls basically created the modern shonen landscape as fans know it. Everything from Naruto to One Piece to more modern hits like My Hero Academia and Jujutsu Kaisen all borrow from this one massive series. While some modern anime fans might write the series off as brainless, that’s not giving it nearly enough credit. Dragon Ball Z’s fights are dynamic, revealing character and advancing plot in a way that hasn’t been topped in the handful of decades since it first aired.

Related: Goku Didn’t Understand the Kamehameha’s True Purpose Until GT

Goku is emblematic of Dragon Ball Z’s hidden depths. Despite his reputation as a meat-headed fighter, there are simple nuances to Goku’s character that make him more interesting than many anime fans give him credit for. Goku is relentlessly kind even to his worst enemies. There’s a popular joke in the fandom that half of Goku’s friends by the end of Dragon Ball Z are former enemies and that’s part of what makes Goku so interesting. Yes, Goku is powerful, but taking a closer look at Dragon Ball Z, it’s Goku’s kindness that secretly explains how he got so strong. Every time Goku unlocks a new Super Saiyan form, it’s to protect his friends or those he cares about. That’s the real reason Goku is consistently one step ahead of Vegeta. In the modern anime-landscape, there’s nothing particularly unique about any of this, but when the anime first released, these elements of Goku were an absolute revelation.

Unfortunately, what keeps Dragon Ball Z out of the top 10 for this list though is that it’s merely a pale shadow of the original manga. Dragon Ball Z is a safe adaptation, meaning it rarely uses animation’s unique strengths to enhance what was already on the page. Though certain aspects unique to the anime such as Piccolo’s driving test have become essential parts of the Dragon Ball franchise, these positive additions are few and far between. The anime also introduces a few pacing issues not present in the manga. While some of these were fixed with Dragon Ball Z Kai, that reedited series had its own problems, especially starting around the Buu arc. None of this makes the anime series bad, but comparing it to Akira Toriyama’s original masterpiece isn’t even a competition. Still, Dragon Ball Z deserves all the credit it gets for being one of the greatest action anime of all time and changing anime history forever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *