We're not going to give you an objective ranking of the best anime, since this is totally up to you. What is sure is that anime are now part of the global culture and some characters like Goku have become icons recognised worldwide. So whether you are a neophyte or a Shonen addict, here is a list that will help you take stock and maybe make you want to watch them again. Here are some great classics, forgotten gems and new productions. We apologise in advance for the many excellent anime that will not be mentioned here. This includes Evangelion, Samurai Champloo, Saint Seiya, Trigun, Kenshin and many others, don't hesitate to talk about them and let others discover them in the comments.
Manga: The 20 Best Anime Series' Of All Time
As in literature and cinema, there are ‘classics’ in anime. These are adaptations of manga that you owe it to yourself to watch if you are a fan of the genre. Here is a little reminder to see if you missed one of these anthologies.
We start slowly with the legend from Akira Toriyama and the continuing adventures of Goku. With Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT (yes even this one) and lately Dragon Ball Super. Not to mention the numerous FVOs and the Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie released more recently. You know the story of Goku, an alien of the Saiyan race who is sent to Earth; monsters and fighters from all over the universe then take their turn to come and get their asses kicked by the hero. Kamehamehas and transformations galore.
Now a classic, created by the great Eiichiro Oda, which will soon have a live-action adaptation on Netflix. One Piece is a masterpiece centred on the character of Monkey D. Luffy, a pirate in a straw hat. Where Goku only wants to fight, Luffy has a specific goal, to become the King of Pirates. An exceptional universe made up of travels, fights and strong emotions to help build up each character. A master class in storytelling with many historical references, magnificent fights and originality. We know that 921 episodes to catch up on is a bit scary, but we assure you that it's worth it, just skip the fillers.
It is now one of the best-selling manga books of all time. Written by Hajime Isayama, the animated adaptation of Shingeki no Kyojin is a huge production acclaimed by fans and critics alike. It portrays a dystopian world where technologically limited humans live locked behind the walls of their cities in fear of the Titans, giant humanoids whose only desire is to eat humans. The action centres around the young Eren Jaeger. After seeing his mother devoured by one of these monsters, Eren joins the military. Elite soldiers who come out of the enclaves to try to limit, if not eradicate the Titan threat. An anime that mixes fighting, a totally crazy scenario, a dark universe from which transpires reflections on history, politics, human relations, death ... all with meticulously done animation.
FMA is the crazy story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, in search of the philosopher's stone; the story was created by Hiromu Arakawa. In this animated story, it is the power of alchemy that governs the world. After their mother's death, it is thanks to this power that the heroes try to bring her back, despite the formal prohibition to do this kind of thing. Obviously it doesn't work and they pay the price. Edward loses his leg and his little brother his whole body; the latter will then be sealed in massive armour by Edward who finally sacrifices his right arm to save his brother. This is where their quest begins. What can we say, except that it's an excellent anime, gripping, funny and dark at the same time. Great art direction, well-developed characters whether we're talking about the Fullmetal Alchemist series or FMA Brotherhood, which shouldn’t take too long to watch.
Released in 1988, Akira, written by Katsuhiro Otomo is quite simply THE reference of the genre for many manga fans, and has contributed to the entry of manga into world popular culture. The cult animated film is a pillar in the history of animation, with a colossal budget of almost £7 million. In an alternative future, we follow a gang of bikers in a Neo-Tokyo including Shotaro Kaneda and Testsuo Shima. The latter finds himself after an accident involved in a mysterious army program aimed at developing psychic powers. At the same time the mysterious name of ‘Akira’ resonates in Japanese society, a messiah for some, or a menace with immense powers for others. Testuo will go in search of Akira after his escape in order to understand the powers that consume him. A very good SF movie to see not only for its action scenes and its incessant revelations, not to mention the revolutionary animation for the time, but also for the historical imprint it leaves on the manga, and the many references that will be made to it afterwards.
Written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeishi Obata. Death Note is a breathless psychological thriller. The fascinating man in this anime is Light Yagami, a genius in high school who by chance discovers Death Note, a book with supernatural power. All you have to do is write a name for this person to die. The story follows Light's megalomaniacal quest to purge the world of individuals he considers morally unworthy in order to create his utopian world. A game of cat and mouse follows, or rather a game of chess with the Japanese police force, especially the mysterious detective L, the only one who seems to be able to stop Light. You can also discover for free a new original chapter released recently.
Berserk is Kentaro Miura's creation, a manga with beautiful and disturbing illustrations in a world of utter violence. The story follows Guts and Griffith, a mercenary and an ambitious swordsman, mercenaries in the pay of the kingdom of Midland. We follow the adventures of this duo with complex relationships and their troupe in the middle of a cruel and war-torn world where nothing is spared: massacres, rape, paedophilia, monsters, sex... A magnificent and raw highlighting of human relationships, vices and hopes of humanity.
Cowboy Bebop is a Space-Western of unparalleled quality created by Hajime Yatate. A reference in the genre of science fiction, the action takes place in 2071 about ten years after a serious accident that made the planet Earth uninhabitable, and mankind turned to the remains of the planets and moons of the solar system. To ensure justice in this new setting, institutions recruit bounty hunters called ‘Cowboys.’ We therefore share the point of view of a team of bounty hunters, crew of the spacecraft Bepop, including Spike Spiegel, a former member of a criminal organisation whose path he will cross again. The series is honestly better than most SF movies today, with great depth in the characters and their relationships, a visual style that still holds up and very good dialogue.
A manga and an adaptation that is rather little known by the general public released in 1992, Yu Yu, inspired by Dragon Ball, inspired successors like Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, Bleach, etc...
Yuyu Hakusho is the adventure of a rather turbulent 14 year old teenager named Yusuke Urameshi who dies saving the life of a little boy. Bad luck for Yusuke, he wasn't supposed to die so early and there's no place for him in heaven or hell. For his good deed, a proposal is made to him, the possibility of regaining his body after a series of tests. Then, once resurrected, to become a detective of the spiritual world, in charge of tracking and hunting down the entities that interfere with the human world, with his new powers. We then witness the evolution and the powering up of the hero. A scenario which is therefore nothing groundbreaking, and an animation which now looks a little old, but there are still stylish fights and a lot of action.
Jojo's is the story of several characters at several different times whose acronym is JoJo. They mainly confront Dio Brando, the antagonist of the series. He appears in the first season against Jonathan Joestar in England at the end of the 19th century. After being taken in by the Joestar family, Dio tries to take JoJo's place as heir of the family. After the failure of his plan, Dio resolves to use a magic mask that will turn him into a vampire. It is from this moment that Jonathan Joestar and his descendants will fight against Dio's dreams of domination. Hirohiko Araki's manga is incredible for its unique character designs, its offbeat humour, its fights and its numerous references to western pop culture. Don't be discouraged by Season 1 which can sometimes seem a little weak. And you will finally understand all those jojo memes that are swarming the internet.
Hunter x Hunter, or ‘hanta hanta' as the Japanese will tell you, is the shonen people tend to miss, and what a mistake! The manga by Yoshihiro Togashi is a gem in the genre just like the anime. In this story, we follow Gon Freecs, a 12-year-old child who wants at all costs to become a ‘Hunter,’ an outstanding adventurer who excels by his powers or exceptional abilities in combat and other areas. Gon wants to find his father whom he never knew and who might be one of the greatest hunters of all time. So this is a great and totally original adventure whose characters you'll love and which only gets better, don't let the beginning discourage you. Fights, a well constructed universe, suspense, what more do you need?
Naruto cannot be missed, THE manga of the 2000s and worthy successor to Dragon Ball, Masahi Kishimoto's manga has become legendary since schoolchildren all over the world had fun making Rasengan in their playgrounds. Naruto is the story of the eponymous character in a traditional Japanese world dominated by clans of ninjas with incredible fighting techniques. Here then is the classic tale of surpassing oneself towards an almost unattainable goal. Here Naruto Uzumaki, a child from the hidden village of Konoha, never stops growing stronger in order to become Hokage, the chief and protector of his village. We will follow the many adventures that lead him to face increasingly powerful ninjas and dark organisations threatening the world. It's all about surpassing yourself, friends, difficult family relationships, and the fights are very stylish.
If Naruto is the successor of Dragon Ball, then My Hero Academia is certainly Naruto's heir. Created by Kohei Horikishi and Hirofumi Neda, My Hero Academia is the new Shonen heavyweight. It is placed in a contemporary world where the majority of humans are endowed with extraordinary powers, in the genre of the X-Men. The best of them are destined to become heroes, fighting for justice and opposing humans who have powers but are not very nice. The central character of this Shonen is Midoriya Izuku or Deku, an ordinary child born without any power. But his fighting spirit, his insatiable desire for justice and his boundless admiration for All-Might, the number one hero, leads him to make an encounter that will change his life and make his dream of becoming the greatest hero possible. It's cute, beautiful, full of good intentions and good characters.
This is the latest of the Shonens made by the Shueisha. Demon Slayer tells the story of Tanjiro in Japan during the Taisho era. The nicest guy in the world who then sees his whole family slaughtered by a demon except his sister who is herself transformed into a demon. Then begins a quest for Tanjiro to heal his little sister Nezuko and make her human again. He soon meets the demon slayers, a caste of swordsmen who devote their lives to fighting and killing demons, and that's when his learning begins. A classic Shônen, but with a very neat animation, where you can let yourself be carried away by the story.
One Punch Man is a breath of fresh air in the world of manga. As in My Hero Academia, the universe is dominated by heroes, humans with incredible powers who fight this time against an incessant tidal wave of monsters. From the mind of the author of ONE, here, Saitama, the bald hero of the series, already seems to be the final boss, as the most powerful being that exists, and settles all his fights with a single punch. So we follow the comic adventures of a completely blasé character who gets pissed off more than anything else during his many battles that present no challenge. The situations and monsters are often ridiculous and the series itself is hilarious, the idea is great, the animation of some fights is beautiful. So many good reasons to start watching One Punch Man immediately.
If you're tired of anime that's all about fighting and surpassing yourself with magical powers, rush to GTO if you haven't already. Toru Fujisawa will make you laugh and maybe cry with the story of Ekichi Onizuka, a young teacher with a mysterious past in modern Japan. Onizuka stands out with his teaching methods which are totally out of the framework imposed by Japanese society. He is entrusted with a class whose specialty is to make each new teacher break. GTO uses his humour, his physical abilities and his extraordinary personality to win over his students. A reflection on standards in teaching and society and those who conform to them, wrapped in a lot of humour and a little action, a perfect mix.
Recently adapted for the big screen, with mixed reviews, starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Ghost in the Shell is above all excellent animated films and a very good series (Stand Alone Complex) created by Masamune Shirow. In a cyber future, we are spectators of a team of Japanese special forces, Section 9, which has to solve many criminal cases in this futuristic society where cyborgs, robots, androids and unmodified humans live side by side. The Major, the main character and team leader of Section 9, is a woman who is almost totally cybernetic. The action is gripping and the characters are both mysterious and charismatic, but it is above all the ethical reflections that each episode raises on the future, robots, cybernetics, the individual, the soul, love, etc... In short, everything that makes and defines the human being. Think of it as an early Black Mirror.
It's hard to tell you much about Kaiu Shirai's manga without spoiling the surprise. It tells the story of an orphanage which seems perfect in 2045, and more particularly 3 very intelligent children, Emma, Norman and Ray. Everything seems to go well in this orphanage, the children live there happy but cut off from the outside world by huge walls and doors. They are maintained and pampered by a person in charge called ‘Mommy.’ But one night after one of the children is ‘adopted’, Emma and her friends find out the truth about their situation. Only one season for the moment, but a series with a lot of potential, and above all a very good management of the tension and dramatic intensity. The series proves again that you can make a thriller without a lot of action but based on psychology.
Fights completely exaggerated by powers are often one of the prerequisites of manga, Hajime no Ippo returns to the essence of combat. In this creation by George Morikawa, we follow the evolution of Ippo Makunouchi, a shy high school student always helping his mother at work, in the world of boxing. The scenario is simple but solid, the characters, especially Ippo's boxing friends, are very endearing, and humour is very present in the series. The fights and their stakes are extremely well staged and there is a real discovery of the professional world of boxing with historical references and techniques that can be seen throughout the manga, which is still in progress even though it started in 1989. One of the best animations in the theme of sport.
A direct competitor of Naruto in the 2000s, you'll at least have heard of Bleach, created by Tite Kubo. As in almost every Shonen, we follow the adventures of a teenager Ichigo Kurosaki, who is able to see ghosts and spirits. Quickly he meets Rukia, a shinigami, a fighter who protects humans by confronting evil spirits: the ‘hollows.’ Following this meeting, Ichigo will develop his own powers and take part in the defense of the human world, but also of the Soul Society, the parallel world where the souls of the dead and the shinigamis live. From there it's off to the fights, served by good animation and ever more stylish power-ups.