Top 30 Anime Series of All Time

Yep, I’ve finally put together a top shows list. As I hopefully made clear in part one and part two of my critical biases post, this is obviously my list – it represents the things I think are most valuable in stories in the way I think they’ve best been articulated. It’s also just a list of shows I enjoy – there’s no hard criteria here, so I wouldn’t stress the numbers too much. Also, it’s a bit front-loaded – I only started watching anime seasonally about two years ago, so the last couple years are disproportionately represented. Incidentally, I’m not including movies here either – I think direct comparisons between shows and films are a bit of a stretch, but if they were included, this list would certainly be somewhat different. And finally, I’m absolutely (and thankfully) certain this list will change over time – there are still piles of widely beloved shows I’ve never seen, so I’m sure the current rankings will be filled out in the years to come. So with that all said, let’s get to the list – Bobduh’s Top 30 Anime of All Time.

-edit- I have now created a Top Shows Addendum for shows that have either fallen off or just barely missed this list. Please enjoy these additional almost-top shows!

30. Baccano!

Baccano!

People have described Baccano as the anime version of a Tarantino movie, which to me seems like kind of an insult to Tarantino. Not because Baccano is bad, but because the things the two share – a penchant for non-linear structure and a love of ultraviolence – are basically the least interesting things about Tarantino movies. And Baccano itself is impressive in all sorts of other ways – ridiculous and fun and breathless and breezy, it juggles time periods, endless characters, and rampant subplots with an ease resembling controlled madness, coming off as a slight, entertaining crime caper in spite of all its ridiculous convolution. The end result is closer to Guy Ritchie than Tarantino, but Baccano is ultimately its own thing – an entertaining ride well worth the ticket.

Baccano is available on Amazon.

29. Mawaru Penguindrum

Mawaru Penguindrum

Though I don’t find it as compelling as Utena, Penguindrum is still stuffed with all the brilliant Ikuhara-ness that makes that show shine. Vibrant characters, plentiful visual inventiveness, a rich mix of ideas (this time concerning family, childhood, the nature of society, fate, and all sorts of other stuff I’d rather not spoil)… Ikuhara shows are busy, but Penguindrum manages to tie all this substance to a fast-paced, compelling central drama. What would you do to save the people you love? What composes your identity, and what is your identity really worth? The show is wild and absurd, but it stays grounded by virtue of the resonant issues it grapples with, along with the passionate, flawed, endlessly endearing family at the center of its spin.

Penguindrum is available on Amazon.

28. Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass

This show’s pretty textbook Urobuchi – one part compelling fantasy setting (a thoughtcrime-obsessed dystopian cyber-future), one part fun tweak on a classic genre (crime procedural by way of Bladerunner), and one part cynical yet optimistic attack on the inhumanity of utilitarianism, as well as the poignance of human nature. It’s fun as a straight crime drama, it works as a sharp-edged exploration of how society always creates friction with the individual, and its aesthetic is all kinds of stylish. Not Urobuchi’s best work, but standard Urobuchi is much better than most anime out there.

Psycho-Pass is available on Amazon.

27. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann is absolutely Not My Kind of Show, but it’s just so good at what it does that I have to love it anyway. The energy, the enthusiasm, the soundtrack, the fantastic visuals – it’s an exuberant love letter to mechs, hyperbole, and hot-blooded enthusiasm, and you’ll either absolutely hate it or end up swept away. It’s also pretty funny (though this is mixed with plenty of stuff that’s pretty not funny), has a broad and endearing cast, and even has one point of actual intelligence – Rossiu, whose arc and conflict possess a depth bizarrely out of whack with everything else the show is doing. Rossiu’s existence is probably the tipping point that knocks this show onto this list, but if you’re in the mood for pure, silly entertainment, Gurren Lagann is happy to entertain.

Gurren Lagann is available on Amazon.

26. Suisei no Gargantia

Gargantia

Gargantia is both the most complex exploration of Urobuchi’s ideas he’s yet attempted and likely the most deliberately personal story of any of his works. By tying his usual ideas about utilitarianism and human nature to the story of one young man finding purpose in a new, unfamiliar society, he turns Gargantia into both a positive story about the rewards of embracing adulthood and an exploration of the purpose of society in the first place. Gargantia’s also just an enjoyable show to spend time with – the world of Gargantia is rich and beautiful, and the way the show shifts between full genres throughout its run does a great service to both Ledo’s journey and the impact of Gargantia as a setting. It’s fun, pretty, and possibly the most unassumingly thoughtful of all of Urobuchi’s shows.

Here’s my review of Gargantia.

Gargantia is not yet available outside of Japan.

25. Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman’s a goddamn busy show – in the course of a 12-episode run, it covers everything from internet culture to crowdsourcing to the necessity of leadership to social responsibility to human nature to… well, you get the idea. And it explores all these ideas while also staying remarkably light and breezy – you could enjoy the show purely as a fun, visually interesting, musically brilliant adventure without even thinking about how identity is constructed in the digital age, or whatnot. And when you combine these two strengths, you get a show that proves you don’t have to be dry to be smart – you can make awesome points about how the internet will change the world without ever giving up a sense of fun and moment-to-moment excitement. Brain food and comfort food at the same time.

Here’s my review of Gatchaman Crowds.

Gatchaman Crowds is available on Amazon.

24. Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate

Half witty, endearing slice of life, half thrilling time-travel drama, Steins;Gate is a strange mixture of elements, but the end result has a lot going for it. The story is really compelling, for one thing – the tension it slowly builds is released in a thrilling second half, full of twists, turns, and all the quirks a good time-travel story should have. The humor is surprisingly sharp, too – this was a show I actually picked up in the first few episodes, and the pitch that sold me on it was “it’s like an anime comedy, but good!” And underlying both of these strengths is the great cast – in the midst of all the scifi shenanigans and episodic tangents, Steins;Gate finds the time to also tell one of the better love stories in anime, featuring a couple that are compelling independently but completely adorable together.

Steins;Gate is available on Amazon.

23. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai

Chuunibyou

Considering how much I’m disliking the second season, I’m probably gonna have to revisit my feelings on this show at some point, but for now, all I’ve got are incredibly positive memories. The first season of Chuunibyou has focus – though it’s comedy-heavy, almost every episode of its first half is indispensable in setting up its cast’s personalities and dynamics. And once the die is cast, it tears out of the gate, covering more romantic drama in six episodes than most shows manage in a season. It’s also a great example of all the things KyoAni really does well – it’s full of small character moments and beautiful colors, and its sense of comedic timing is best in class. Tie it all together with a legitimately thoughtful thematic center, and you’ve got a pretty impressive romantic comedy.

Chuunibyou is available on Amazon.

22. Spice and Wolf

Spice and Wolf

It may not be apparent from this list, but it turns out I’m an incredible sucker for romance. Chemistry, banter, moments of sacrifice for the one you love – all it really takes is one great couple to get me through a show. Unfortunately, most anime is really bad at portraying romance – it flounders in cliches, it creates artificial drama, and it doesn’t understand actual rapport. Standing as one of the premier counterexamples to this sad trend, Spice and Wolf is about as endearing and well-drawn of a romance as you could hope for. Its characters are distinctive and bounce off each other well, its dialogue displays great personality and chemistry, and it’s apparent again and again how much its protagonists care for each other. Though I also am a great fan of its aesthetic and economic focus, the thing that makes Spice and Wolf a top show for me is the fantastic romance at its center.

Spice and Wolf is available on Amazon.

21. Hunter x Hunter 2011

Hunter x Hunter 2011

As the only long-running shounen on my list, HxH’s a bit of an outlier. But HxH is not your typical shounen – directed by Madhouse (likely my pick for the best studio of all time) and adapted from a source by the writer of Yu Yu Hakusho, Hunter x Hunter is basically a master class in what makes adventure entertaining. Though it starts off “only” demonstrating it knows how to make challenge-based television entertaining (in lieu of actual fights, it generally sets up compelling puzzles of all shapes and sizes for its heroes), it ends up jumping from genre to genre, dabbling in crime thriller, tournament shounen, and even war drama. And through it all, the show’s fantastic aesthetics elevate it above almost everything out there – in direction, in sound design, in pacing, in animation, in basically every relevant aesthetic metric, Hunter x Hunter triumphs. That it’s been maintaining this level of quality for well over a hundred episodes is nothing short of astonishing – in fact, I’d say Hunter x Hunter has only gotten better over time.

Here’s a critical breakdown of HxH episode 116, and here’s an essay on the recently concluded (and breathtaking) Chimera Ant arc.

Hunter x Hunter 2011 has not received a western release.

1,004 thoughts on “Top 30 Anime Series of All Time

  1. Thumbs up for sure! And I’m so glad you give Magica what it deserves, such a brilliant piece of art and a story to back it up in the fullest. My list would “as givin” very but not much. top 1 for sure I’m not a Nge fan at all never captured me, in replace bebop Im a 90’s kid who grew up watching bebop outlaw star yu yu. And yes even dbz… Stopped after buu sad day what happened to an entertainment my anime. However, have you seen yumekui Merry? I think you may enjoy it. One thing I know is that making a top “30” is damn hard when you have seen the plethora of amines that I and assume you have a top “100” list suites it better but that’s a big blog ehh. Well just wanted to comment on how I appreciate what you are giving to the newcomers of anime. I’m just so tired of the usual blasphemie to anime people say is the “best”. Oh also I love Afro samurai its a true story of indignation with trials of care and deep motions. Anyhooooo. Love the list!

  2. Just stumbled across your list and I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this out. I’ve taken a few years off from watching anime, but recently I’ve felt the pressures of adulthood and confusions of being a part of this universe, and so I wanted to find some shows that would make me feel better, and thanks to you I have about six new series’ to find and watch.

  3. Thanks for sharing a nice list! But no deathnote, well I haven’t seen any anime movie with the same style, farceless confidence, and plot as that one!!

    • To be honest I really liked death not until the end, I grew attached to L and Kira (can’t remember anime names I’m sorry you can kill me later if you must) so when the end came I just kinda died inside ya know? (I won’t go any further to prevent a ramble and spoiling it so watch and see for yourself if your that curious) anyways so what I’m saying is I think death not is one of those animes where you like it or you hate it, me on the other hand it’s a love hate thing, I laugh at the funny stuff remember the normal stuff and cry at the other stuff lol

  4. Quite simple: Your list is awesome!! :)
    I actually haven’t seen all the shows that are on ur list but after reading your reviews, I think I’ll give them a go. I like the way you review anime and how you seperate ur own feelings and general facts. Excellent reasoning! My fav happens to be also NGE and as much as I love the show it has it’s own problems. Nothing is perfect. I could go on and on about the show, but I especially liked how you reviewed that!

  5. No FMA: Brotherhood?!
    No Code Geass?!
    No Death Note?!
    No Attack On Titan?!

    You Fail!!!

    Stines;Gate and Psycho Pass are way too far up on your list.
    Worst List I’ve ever seen.

    • i love all of em .
      first of all , Stein gate are masterpiece , it come slow , and POFF , too much complexity really original . same goes for pyscho pass .

      anyway the author like oregairu and monogatari .

      im sure hot headed character are a no no . hence attack on titan .
      deathnote are pretty much author cup of tea but i respect him for not showing that , i mean , most peoples know them ready .
      code geass ? ..

      i think you like deadly anime .
      . _ . tragic anime ..

    • I’m pretty sure this was done on purpose by the authors so that readers may find animes they haven’t already watched; as much as I love the shows you mentioned, I think we all know them.

  6. This is a practically perfect list. I notice you’re watching Fullmetal Alchemist though, when you really should be watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. They cover the same events, but FMA goes off of the manga and brings up random stuff with Dante and things with Hoenheim make absolutely NO sense. Watch brotherhood. I can tell you care a lot about good characters, and FMA-B has characters in spades.

  7. Thank you very much for this list! I greatly appreciate the fact that you left out known animes (attack on titan, death note, code geass) so that the readers may for once actually find series they haven’t already seen.
    Secondly, I commend you for the fine little descriptions you made for each show: instead of just explaining the plot, you gave us a feeling for the “kind” of anime it is and for what is to be expected of it.
    Finally, thank you ever so much for your eloquent and subtle writing that made reading a pleasure (you may as well be a professional critic!).
    Many thanks for taking the time to do this, it’s been very helpful :)

  8. Fooly cooly, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!!
    Favourite show ever. I understand why most people think it’s just a bunch of schizophrenic frantic ridiculousness… but that’s because it’s spending most of it’s time setting up tropes just to subvert them, all whilst carefully (and I mean VERY carefully) crafting a young male coming of age story of surprising depth. It’s a show that is very divisive; you either love it or hate it.

  9. Please ignore all the comments above that entail whining about why their sub-par anime did not make a list which is clearly personal preference and serves as a suggestion to others , which also clearly contains suggestions as to why you feel these animes deserve the recognition they do. (One can also tell by their suggestions that they are young and lack the years necessary to develop their anime pallet; not having the time to ingest a significant amount of anime to come to any solid conclusion of what high caliber anime consist of)

    Many of you clearly have obtained your anime preferences from what Netflix’s has to offer, I would highly suggest to those individuals to look into crunchyroll.com, baka bit-torrent, and the plethora of sites that have every anime selection your can imagine streaming at all times. Use your computers for something other than bias comments and facebook.

    I can tell you why most your animes are not on this list:
    Shingeki no Kyojin (Advancing Giants, aka Attack on Titan (American ver) though one of my new favorites it’s NOT COMPLETE, why would you suggest an anime that is not complete, that gets ppl pi**ed off. Trust me this will be on many- ah list to come in the future I’m sure, but at least let them finish it first.
    Same goes for Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (The Irregular at Magic High School) ; it’s not completed; An the manga is better, I’d suggest reading it. But it is by no means the best of its genre, time, or on the same level as any of the animes listed in this list. Its good, but not amazing or great by any measure.
    Fairy Tale, really, if one thinks this belongs on any top anime list I say stop watching anime all together, it doesnt even deserve more wording than this, other than its cute, its alright, but Bleach and Naruto/ Naruto Shippuden kind of dominate this genre. (and screams I only watch anime on Netflix’s)
    Code Geass & Proxy both really great animes that I love, I agree a must watch for everyone, but lack that je ne sais quoi so to speak in terms of being the top of their genres. Same goes for Fullmetal Alchemist (Brotherhood or otherwise, but I like brotherhood, more juicy details), great great anime, but not the pinnacle of must watch animes for a number of reasons as well. It doesnt mean your choices are bad, there is just better out there for a magnitude of reasons.

    I love this list as I feel it entails animes that may be over looked by people who are new to watching anime or animes that did not receive the recognition they deserve. They also are the creme-de-la creme of their genres or the best of all time most certainly. There is not an anime on this list I would not suggest and often forward this list to people who ask me for suggestions. Thank you for the time and effort you put forth with this list, it’s greatly appreciated by those who have a true enthusiasm for quality anime.
    ( An please, if you haven’t watched Maruwa Pengunidrum by now I suggest you do immediately, one of the all time best and most under watched animes I feel)

    • I think it is interesting that YOU are telling us why certain animes are not on the OPs list. Its likely that he/she has not seen some of them according to their not watched list. All points you have made are still an opinion weather the anime is on Netflix or not. I discovered Psycho Pass through Netflix and it is now one of my favorites…even though it is technically not over (Psycho Pass is on the list btw which debunks your theory.)

      I would like to agree however that there are pretty ridiculous suggestions.

      P.s I do like the list very much.

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