The Best Anime Shows of All Time: Top 5 Picks to Watch Next
Figuring out the best anime of all time is quite a tall order. In the first place, the genre of anime has hundreds of shows, some of which have hundreds of episodes. To thoroughly examine each one would be a Magnum Opus for even the most dedicated fan of the genre. Not only that but in all things, the taste and desires of the audience play very heavily into the anime field.
There are some stellar anime that never saw more than one season because it didn’t have enough initial viewers, or the studio was too busy with other “bigger” anime. An example of this might be an anime like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It is a show that had a good premise, fantastic character development, and really had a more gritty dive into the whole “Isekai” theme.
However, the same studio that made Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash also made Sword Art Online. Needless to say, the studio chose Sword Art Online as the main breadwinner, and the second season of Grimgar is a long wait if it happens at all.
However, there are categories and criteria that make it a little easier to determine what is the “best” anime. One criteria would be the duration of an anime. If a show has a lot of seasons or a lot of episodes, it should be pretty obvious that it has a dedicated and loyal fanbase. Some shows have been around for long enough that parents are able to show their children the show while new episodes of the show, or episodes of a spin-off, are currently in the making.
Another key criteria would be overall longevity. Anime has arguably been around since the 1950’s, with the first ever anime being Astroboy. Now, while the genre has developed quite a bit — both in storytelling and the technical aspects — viewers should by no means throw the older anime to the side.
Indeed, a lot of interviews with storyboard artists and with content creators for anime find their linspiration closely tied to not only manga, but other anime like Astroboy slowly but surely paved the way to modern classics like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto.
Finally, a show should also be judged by how well it fits within the its specific type of anime. Comparing an action adventure anime against a classic romance anime is a difficult task, as the range of emotions and the intent of the show is very different. However, with that being the case, each subdivision of anime, such as “Isekai,” “shonen,” or “shojo” all have some popular forerunners.
In short, a good way to find out the best anime is to start by looking at the “top hits,” both past and present, of various anime the viewer already enjoys. What follows are a few key suggestions of anime that might be considered the “best” anime shows of all time.
My Hero Academia
One of the best anime around currently is My Hero Academia. For all intents and purposes, it has become almost like the Japanese Marvel or DC, in that it is the most popular of the superhero anime at the current time. However, those who aren’t a fan of superhero shows should certainly give this one a peek.
There are multiple compelling elements about the show beside the fact that it has superheroes. To begin with, the overall premise of My Hero Academia is that the story follows Izuku Midoriya. The world he lives in is a world where everyone is born with a “Quirk,” which is some sort of power or mutation.
Some Quirks are silly or rather unimportant, while other Quirks allow individuals to harness unbelievable amounts of power. Within a few years’ time, this allowed for a superhero society to develop, so that licensed heroes could protect civilians with their powers.
Izuku Midoriya’s goal is to become the strongest hero ever, and to become something like his all-time hero, All Might. There’s just one problem, though… Izuku has no Quirk. Without spoiling too much, Izuku does eventually gain a quirk, and the show follows him as he goes into UA, the most prestigious of all “superhero” schools.
What makes this anime particularly engaging is the dynamic world people find themselves watching, the character development of not only the protagonist, but secondary and tertiary characters, and the way the show doesn’t cut corners with the overall story development or speed.
Superheroes are hardly a novel concept, and that makes it difficult for a show to really showcase heroes without having to resort to the same stale powers that are seen in shows and comics from years earlier. My Hero Academia does this well because it either finds unique spins on classic powers, or it introduces entirely unusual powers into play.
For example, the show does have the trope character of “someone super-fast,” but that character is fast because he has literal mini engines in his calves. This means that he can overheat, only go so fast to start with, and gives him realistic limitations while also making him seem like a hero.
The same goes for another character who has powers over heat and ice. If he uses too much of one power, his body begins to get frostbite or burned. In this way, the heroes don’t seem to overpowered.
In addition, the introduction of “mutation” based powers (such as people who have the power of a frog, or someone who has the strength of a rhino) offers a unique appearance and spin on superpowers. It leaves the audience always in the “wow” state of mind when meeting a new character or, at the very least, wondering “what’s the flaw or weakness to this power.”
Without spoiling too much of the narrative, Izuku is an underdog. Even when he gets his Quirk, it is a Quirk that he doesn’t know how to control, and he has spent every episode of the 4 seasons of the show getting slowly but surely more strong. Oftentimes, with shows like these, characters haven the tendency to quickly spiral into an overpowered monster in a 14-year old’s body.
For example, over the course of 20 or so episodes of Naruto, Naruto goes from a kid who can use some basic ninjutsu to a kid who can seemingly take on various masters.
This isn’t true with Midoriya. Even in the fourth season, he only has the ability to control a fraction of the power he has, and is not — by far — the best hero in the school. However, this makes every physical or mental breakthrough that Midoriya experiences a huge satisfaction to the audience. In addition, these breakthroughs often come with the help of one of Midoriya’s classmates, giving them more screen time, while treating them as something more that simple “plot drivers.”
Even in the latest season, the show continues to flush out not only Midoriya’s fellow classmates at UA, but the heroes that they all look up to. In this way, each episode makes for a deep experience that really gives viewers a satisfactory feeling when progress is made, even if it is slow.
Attack on Titan
This anime is super popular, but despite that, Attack on Titan is an anime where you either love it or hate it. It is a super loaded anime that many, many people enjoy, but that others simply can’t get behind.
Personally, it is an anime we can’t handle for reasons that will be discussed further, but overall should certainly be considered for one of the best anime out there. What really makes this anime enjoyable for many is the unpredictable plot twists, the unique world, and the lack of plot armor for characters.
The overall premise of Attack on Titan is that it is a sort of dystopian, where the remaining vestiges of humanity live in walled-in cities to protect themselves from Titans, large humanoid creatures that eat humans. The story follows Eren Yeager, who vows to exterminate the Titans after they kill his mother and destroy his home.
Right off the bat, this anime is super serious and a little disturbing. Many viewers either find the Titans to be too creepy to handle (such as, admittedly, ourselves) or to be the most engaging aspect of the show.
Without hardly being introduced to the world, the viewer is plunged into terror as the Titans break through Wall Maria, the outermost wall of the city where Eren Yeager lives. The viewer watches as Eren flees the Titans, who consume, stomp, or tear apart countless civilians.
From the first episode, the show shows how unpredictable the universe is and how surprising things can be. However, since the show is now in its fourth and final season, one thing that people could expect would be plot twists.
Shows that rely heavily on plot twists sometimes run the risk of becoming sloppy with their twists, or making them downright Ex Machina moments where something that was never foreshadowed happens, and the creators expect the audience to swallow it.
However, viewers watching Attack on Titan claim that the show has the same level of integrity when it comes to the plot twists in the later seasons that it did in the first season. True, more is known about the Titans and the mysteries they hold by season 2 or 3, but ultimately, the thirst for knowledge about these monsters is something that keeps people coming back.
At the heart of some of these twists is the fact that no one is safe. Indeed, not to spoil too much, but at one point early in the show Eren Yeager is eaten by a Titan, which comes as a huge blow to the viewers who have been following him. (He does survive, just so you know.
That said, we won’t explain how, but he makes it out alive.) Eren is just the first of many key characters who can be snuffed out like a candle. To put this in comparison, this show is like an anime Game of Thrones in that anyone can bite it at any time, and no one is inherently safe just because they’re a “key character.”
Shows that leave their characters exposed like this always draw in huge crowds and for good reason. Not only that but in a show as serious as this, it has ways of adding levity or lightness without making it seem like a joke. It takes the heavy moments seriously but adds some levity so as not to absolutely depress the viewers.
Overall, Attack on Titan served, and continues to serve, as a fantastic gateway into anime. It has become this generation’s Dragon Ball Z or Cowboy Bebop. The only real reason to avoid this anime would be if you, as a viewer, can’t handle violence or gore. The show can do many things, but having a bloodless show about gigantic monsters that eat people is beyond most animation studio’s ability.
KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World
An anime doesn’t have to be super serious or heavy to gain a solid following, and KonoSuba proves that. At first, it seems like a stereotypical Isekai. An Isekai is a genre of anime where someone gets transported from one world to another. In this genre, the person who comes from the other world usually has the knowledge, power, or some sort of skill that makes them like a god.
Very quickly, however, viewers realize this won’t be like other Isekai anime, and by that point, they’re too busy holding their sides with laughter to escape. The overall premise of KonoSuba follows Kazuma, a boy sent from Japan to a fantasy world, where he forms a dysfunctional group with a goddess, a paladin, and a wizard.
The humor of KonoSuba is both accessible, but unique to the kind of comedies that frequent anime. Very quickly, the audience is introduced to a few people with very strong personalities. To briefly describe them, the Goddess, Aqua, wants people to worship her, but her powers and abilities typically serve for little more than party tricks.
Darkness is a female paladin, who is built like a tank and can take a huge amount of damage, but who cannot hit a target to save her life (and she gives off very blatant vibes of wanting to be “dominated”). Finally there is Megumin, a demon wizard who can command the great destruction magic “explosion!” However, she can’t use it more than once, it is the only spell she knows, and after using it she basically passes out.
These are the members Kazuma is stuck with. As such, it leaves Kazuma and the gang doing relatively simple missions, but that are almost impossible because of the groups incompetence. The gang struggles to kill beginner enemies, which is numerous to the audience.
In addition, as the show progresses, the audience becomes very familiar with each character’s traits and ways, and that leaves the viewer able to predict what is going to happen, hold their breath, and then laugh over and over as it happens. Explaining it doesn’t truly do the show justice, but don’t doubt its popularity.
The show has two seasons, has been dubbed in a handful of different languages (which shows international interest in the anime) and even has a movie to boot. All this to say, if you are looking for one of the best comedy anime out there, you won’t get too far without hearing about KonoSuba.
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World
One thing that a lot of anime struggle to do is handle dark topics. Some anime try to do this by adding levity through certain characters or events, but this can come off as babying the audience or watering down the story.
On the other hand, some anime go “gung-ho” with the darkness, which can lead to really gory, violent, or disturbing anime that lose the story and seem to exist only for the sake of violence. However, Re:Zero avoids these pitfalls and presents a dark story that does justice to both the characters and the setting.
The story of Re: Zero follows Subaru Natsuki, a shut-in who does nothing but play video games. One day, when returning from the convenience store, he is teleported to a different world. The “darkness” of the show becomes apparent when viewers find out that Natsuki has the ability to fix his mistakes in this new world and rewind time… but only by dying over and over again.
One thing that Re:Zero does to break the mold is that it introduces a protagonist who seems to be in this world for no express purpose and who has no superpowers or overpowered abilities. A lot of the Isekai genre, of which Re:Zero is a part, focuses on protagonists who are the “chosen one” or who have insane abilities.
While this does have its place in the genre, the issue with this is that it leads to flat or bland protagonists. Natsuki is the opposite, being a completely plain guy with no special reason to be where he is. The only “special” thing about Natsuki is that he can return to certain points in time by dying, which in and of itself is not the best of skills.
In fact, a lot of the show itself deals with the psychological impact and trauma that comes from dying over and over again. A lot of other shows in the genre, such as Sword Art Online, Konosuba, and Rise of the Shield Hero, have an overarching sense of optimism and hopefulness as the show continues, but Re: Zero doesn’t necessarily let the audience have that.
By watching Natsuki die over and over again, they are reminded of the character’s weaknesses, frailty, and overall mortality. Doesn’t make for the best mind space, and viewers can see that as Natsuki over and over again has to deal with not only the risks of death, but the consequences of previous deaths.
One of the best aspects of Re:Zero though is the overall payoff for the show. Right off the bat, there are a lot of mysteries that are not definitively answered in the first season.
Usually, it is common to have someone blast the audience with some sort of prophecy or plot to explain what the protagonist is doing or why they are significant, but Re:Zero doesn’t, which leaves the audience questioning why certain characters are the way they are and why they are important at all.
In addition, despite his somewhat irritating nature early on in the show, Natsuki undergoes a complete character overhaul by the end of the first season, which makes bearing with the first few frustrating episodes worth it.
Natsuki not only undergoes an overhaul, but in doing so, impacts some of the other major characters of the show, which makes it even more satisfying. So overall, for those who enjoy other worlds, but want a more grim take on it, Re:Zero makes for a fantastic watch and probably the best anime in that category, if not the best anime overall.
Writer’s Choice: Hunter x Hunter
There is a whole lot to like about Hunter x Hunter and very little to dislike. Hunter x Hunter makes for a quality show that can appeal to a lot of people for different reasons, and that is just one of the reasons that it is an endearing show.
Some of the reasons that Hunter x Hunter is the best anime is because it has diverse narrative arcs, it has compelling and deep characters, and that it really forces the audience to deal with moral issues like the nature of good and evil, right and wrong.
The story of Hunter x Hunter follows the young protagonist Gon Freecss as he searches for his father, Ging. Ging is part of a powerful group of people known as hunters, and Gon, journeys to become a hunter and meet his father. One of the first things about the show that is endearing and enjoyable is the unique world it creates.
The whole show travels all over the place, and audiences get to see scenery such as lush jungles, busy cities, and dry deserts. In all these places, we see Gon looking for traces of his father, and having to overcome hurdles in trying to find his father, which is no small feat.
The first time the audience should have reason to question Gon’s journey is when Gon tries to complete the Hunter Exam. The Hunter Exam is made up of hundreds of competitors, some of which are complete psychos. Indeed, there is a lot of killing and bloodshed before the end of the exam.
While the average father would be at the very least concerned about the risk, Gon seems to basically say, “Well, if my dad did it and I can’t, I don’t deserve to meet him.” Not only that, but there are occasions in the show where Gon thanks serial killers and murderers for the lessons they teach him.
Gon’s moral compass, as the audience watches, seems to progressively get more and more hard to discern, which means the audience finds it hard to figure out how he will react. The narrative arcs of the show help give the audience a break from all this action, while at the same time creating depth to the friends Gon makes along the way and who accompany him on his journey.
These arches change the overall feel of the show. For example, there is an arch that takes place in a large, New York City facsimile, that has a lot of subterfuge, stealth, and darkness to it. Right after this arch, though, the viewers transition to an arc that really allows Gon and one of his companions, Killua, to get stronger and more powerful.
One of the best parts of the anime, though, is the moral flip of the two main characters, Gon and Killua. While Gon undergoes a sort of journey of darkness, gradually losing more and more of his innocence and perspective, Killua counterbalances it with a journey of redemption, rising out of that same darkness. In such a way, the two characters make for the best of friends.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: The Hunter x Hunter anime is on a long-term hiatus, if not completely done. The show has finished the most recent arc, but can’t go further because the source material is not up to speed. Sadly, the creator of Hunter x Hunter struggles frequently with mental health. So, for more of the story, turn to the manga that has yet to be adapted.
Answer: Attack on Titan is currently in the middle of the fourth and, proclaimed, final season. The manga is currently in what would be called the “fifth season,” but if there are plans to turn the mangas into further episodes, that seems unlikely at the moment. However, for the time being, the show is still in production.
Answer: The anime ended at the end of the second season, in addition to a movie being released sometime during that span of time. At the moment, there is no more source material to adapt to make another KonoSuba season, but the author of the manga does plan to come back and write more, so there might be more seasons of KonoSuba in the future.
Question: Is Re:Zero Finished?
Answer: Like many of the above anime, Re:Zero has come to the end of current source material. Unlike the others, however, the light novels for Re:Zero are nowhere near done and have a lot more to go. However, writing manga takes a while and there needs to be a considerable amount of source material before the studio would consider making another season, so for the present, it is likely that Re:Zero will be waiting for a bit before it receives another season.
Answer: Just because a show is popular doesn’t make it the best show. That might seem like a ridiculous answer, but shows like One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto are very loaded in dealing with. To start with, all of those shows are shows that have a TON of filler episodes. As such, a lot of people are turned off by the amount of fluff in some of them.
In addition, there is also the fact that they have become “word of mouth” anime among the American populace. There are many school kids who would say they are “anime fans” but only watch Naruto or Dragon Ball Z. (Note: I am in no way trying to gatekeep anime from a wider audience, but we think you should certainly try out unfamiliar anime that haven’t been translated or that aren’t American staples.) As such, dealing with any one of these could have been an article itself, but none of them strike as necessarily the “Best Anime of All-Time”
Answer: The bottom line is that storytelling and the animation itself has come a long way. Sure, some streaming services offer older anime for nostalgia or other reasons, but the style itself wouldn’t win awards in the modern-day. That is not to say that older anime aren’t good, but it is just objectively true that modern animation style is going to be better because it takes its improvements from the older versions.
Check out more popular anime series we have contrasted and reviewed: