Quick question: what makes an anime memorable? You might say it’s the characters, the plot, the epic moments, or perhaps the incredible fight sequences. However, a forgotten (but nonetheless profoundly important!) aspect of any good anime is none other than its soundtrack.
Today, we’re exploring some of the best scores among some of the most incredible anime soundtracks that are nothing short of complete masterpieces. Put on your headphones, friends – and be prepared to have your ears blessed with my top recommendations!
My Bottom Line Up Front
Asking me to choose the best anime soundtrack of all time is not unlike asking a parent which one of their kids is their favorite. However, that said, I’d have to say that Cowboy Bebop holds that honor.
Other great picks, though, are:
What Makes an Anime Soundtrack Great?
An anime soundtrack isn’t simply about the tunes. It’s also all about how it brings a simple piece of animation to life, and at the same time, is fundamentally tied to the core of the movie. The music should have an amazing vibe all on its own, but pairing it with the anime’s visuals and storyline should create a more profound and cohesive experience.
A great anime soundtrack allows us to be completely immersed in the world the series is set in and is memorable to the point where hearing it evokes the feeling of watching the anime all over again. It also ties the entire series or movie together, invoking a sense of nostalgia for where I started when I began watching.
It could be a shounen with some adrenaline-inducing beats following each fight sequence closely or perhaps a gut-wrenchingly romantic tune playing as the main couple is separated from each other in a shoujo. It could even be a chilling background score that gives you goosebumps in a thriller.
What’s so special when the score is paired with the anime’s visuals? Well, it manages to create a whole new league of a viewing experience.
My Selection Criteria
With my definition of a great anime soundtrack somewhat fine-tuned, you might be wondering what went through my mind while I was trying to select my favorites from amongst the countless soundtracks out there.
- My first, and obviously the most important criteria, was the quality of the music itself. I wasn’t simply looking for a few catchy tunes here and there, but instead, I wanted the whole album to be top tier. Obviously, extra points were given to iconic tracks that stood out to me!
- I also checked in to see how the music compliments the anime and pushes it forward. Was the music itself background noise, or did it heighten and elevate the moment it was played in?
- Finally, what I also considered was how the tunes made me feel as I listened to them. A good song is evocative, even without lyrics. Did it make me feel tense? Serene? Happy? These all mattered when picking out my top favorite soundtracks of all time.
At the end of the day, all of this is purely based on my personal preferences. Just see this list as a compilation of some mind-blowingly good music that I put together for you to enjoy.
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
This beautifully futuristic anime is an underrated gem that’s amazing in its execution in every possible way. From its characters to its themes and the intriguing storyline that will keep you on your toes, the anime has a lot to offer.
And being a product of WIT studio famous for animating the first couple of seasons of Attack on Titan, you can expect the animation to be breathtaking as well. Having the word “Song” in its title, there’s simply no way the anime’s music would be subpar, either.
The vocal performances were consistently a highlight and the music was a refreshing blend of intriguing futuristic, mechanical notes and soulful melodies. The music paired extremely well with the show’s aim of exploring human emotions and showcasing character growth, as well as the spectacular action and the constant tension built through each passing episode.
Many people have compared Vivy with Violet Evergarden, since both of these anime deal with some heartfelt themes of understanding human emotions. The music captures the essence of this through its melodies perfectly, all the while letting us take a glimpse into the world of androids and the war between man and machine.
My personal favorites were:
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song tells the story of Vivy, an AI robot who is asked to recreate human music by “singing from the heart” at the opening of a theme park. However, the inciting incident occurs when another AI from the future appears with some shocking news – 100 years into the future, humanity will be eradicated by AI.
The robot wishes to prevent this from happening and teams up with Vivy to save humanity, and in a way, help her learn what singing from one’s heart truly means. Overall, this anime has one of the strongest background scores and singles that are bound to stick with you long after you’ve finished watching the series.
Arguably the best anime soundtrack of all time, Cowboy Bebop’s jazz fusion sound revitalized music in anime. Most noteworthy for its electrifying action sequences, multi-dimensional characters who will stick with you, and the music that pulls everything together while still maintaining its unique identity, Cowboy Bebop came out way back in 1997. However, its musical quality is still unrivaled in the entire industry.
A lot of it can be credited to Yoko Kanno’s sheer love for jazz and her musical prowess, and Shinichiro Watanabe’s direction.
Kanno formed the band Seatbelts specifically to create the music for the anime and the band’s musical identity became completely intertwined with the show. Netflix’s live adaptation’s creators specifically reached out to them to work their magic once again, knowing very well that the series will be incomplete without it.
The anime’s opening number, TANK!, is the perfect way to summarize Cowboy Bebop’s music, and as Kanno described it, it is “music that shook your soul, made your blood boil, and made you lose it.” Some other fan-favorite tracks include:
- Gotta Knock A Little Harder
- Jupiter Jazz 2
- Space Lion
Cowboy Bebop tells a futuristic sci-fi story set in 2071 about a group of bounty hunters with their own eccentricities and tragic backstories. The bounty hunters travel through different planets and moons looking for wanted criminals and fugitives, but their shadowy pasts follow them throughout. If you’ve missed out on this 90s classic, now’s the perfect time to watch it!
An eerie anime that will have you hooked not just because of the premise and characters, but also the sheer amount of soul that has been put into it, is the classic known as Tokyo Ghoul. There is hardly any anime fan who hasn’t watched the series, and even after the last episode that aired way back in 2018, fans can’t stop raving about it.
Say what you will about the anime’s lackluster aspects, but one thing that nobody can deny is that it was basically a cultural reset – and that its music will forever remain iconic. You’ve probably heard Unravel and Asphyxia since they were the openings of the series, but those weren’t the only pieces.
The other additions to the soundtrack composed by Yutaka Yamada were also some masterpieces that essentially brought the thrilling anime to life. Unravel is one noteworthy performance by Toru Kitajima that features some super high-pitched male tones and introduced anime lovers to a new sound that will be remembered for years to come.
Asphyxia, on the other hand, features some dizzying chord progressions that would make the listener feel almost breathless and nauseated, much like the song’s title. Some other highlights are:
If you haven’t watched Tokyo Ghoul yet, it’s a story set in a world where ghouls, creatures who resemble humans but prey on human flesh exist. Ghouls have heightened physical abilities and hide their true nature in order to evade persecution, only slipping away into the night to hunt for unsuspecting humans to survive.
Amid all this is Kaneki Ken, a young man who gets turned into a ghoul against his will when a girl he was going out on a date with turns out to be a ghoul. The rest of the story follows Kaneki assuming his new identity as a ghoul and learning to live in the strange new world that he has been thrust into.
The music of Tokyo Ghoul is a consistent highlight, and if you’re looking out for something creepy and majestic? Here’s your cue to binge the entire OST… because no doubt, it’s absolutely worth it.
My Hero Academia
Yuki Hayashi is one of Japan’s greatest musical talents of this age, and his range is unprecedented. In the iconic shounen My Hero Academia, we get to hear his pumping beats with a sprinkle of an emotional touch that set the stage for an emotionally-driven fight of pure brains and brawn that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The soundtrack especially has a gripping feel to it that brings an action comic book to life and gives you goosebumps at the very same time. If you’re looking for a playlist to hype up your next game or just give you the strength to keep going, there’s nowhere else you should be.
If there’s an odd chance that you haven’t seen My Hero Academia yet, the story is set in a world where almost everyone has a special power called a “quirk.” Some quirks are more powerful than others. People with powerful quirks go on to become superheroes who protect civilians from villains, evil people who cause harm through their quirks.
We follow the story from the perspective of Izuku Midoriya, a young boy without a quirk who desperately wishes to become a superhero and looks up to All Might, the #1 hero. Through a series of events, Izuku gets to meet his hero.
All Might is deeply impressed by Izuku’s bravery and conviction and allows him to inherit his power. We then see Izuku join other kids with powerful quirks at U.A. High School and learn to control his newfound powers, all while fighting the looming threats and supervillains who seem to grow stronger every day.
My Hero Academia is sure to fill the hole in any shounen lover’s heart, and its story and powerful music serve as a combination to inspire you and push you to your limits.
The anime adaptation of Asato Asato’s light novel series is indeed one of the best series of 2021. 86 boasts of some stunning visuals and an amazing storyline and characters that will make you cry, laugh, and stay at the edge of your seat all the same time. With its sci-fi mixed with a war setting, you can expect the show to be a spectacle and the music doesn’t falter at all.
Composed by Hiroyuki Sawano – the man behind the sound of Attack on Titan, Mobile Suit Gundam, Blue Exorcist and Kill la Kill – you can only expect the soundtrack to be quite majestic.
For 86, Sawano takes the sci-fi themes into consideration and mixes synthesizers for many songs to set the stage for a war set far into the future, where science has advanced far beyond any comprehension.
However, the soundtrack still manages to retain Sawano’s emotional quality and can definitely make you feel some type of way with each new track. The music truly sets up each new scene as the episodes go on, and every track gives you a sense of how the next moment that plays out will make you feel. Of course, it doesn’t give away too much either.
86’s beautiful musicality can also be attributed to the director Toshimasa Ishii’s choices of using certain pieces during certain scenes to evoke newfound emotions from the viewers. Overall, 86’s music is a refreshing blend of sci-fi beats and emotional tunes that will set your heart alight.
Some of the more fan-favorite tunes include:
If you haven’t checked it out yet, 86 tells the story of two countries fighting a war using squads of drones to prevent casualties. We follow Commander Lena, commander of a squad of drones called 86, as she finds out about the secrets of the war that both nations seem to be hiding.
The anime deals with the themes of discrimination, conflict, and what it ultimately means to be human. Between its soundtrack and the key elements in it, it’s definitely a must-watch.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan (AoT) is one show with a humongous scope, and to translate that in every possible way, the show’s soundtrack would also have to replicate this vast epicness. Hiroyuki Sawano has got his hands on this one, too – so you know it’s going to be completely emotional and absolutely unique.
Sawano also incorporated a sense of dread into the soundtrack, perfectly capturing AoT’s gloom. It basks in the fast-paced action and the constant surge of events that fire up your neural cells.
Attack on Titan’s soundtrack is primarily orchestral to capture the grand scheme of events. It is also paired up with EDM to set up a creepy atmosphere, but without sounding like it’s trying too hard to do that.
The chanting on some of the tracks, paired with the orchestra, amps up the creepy factor and the impending doom that awaits the characters. However, somehow it also manages to have this element of optimism and strength attached to it.
Two of my favorite tracks include:
This is a lovely track performed and composed by alternative rock band cinema staff, and the two tracks perfectly show the variety that Attack on Titan has to offer. Even if you were to listen to the soundtrack as someone who has never watched the anime, you’ll definitely be shaken up by just how awesome the anime’s music is.
And on that note, if you haven’t followed the masses and given Attack on Titan a shot, take my word for it and watch it right now. AoT follows the story of Eren Yeager, a young boy who wants to leave his fortified city and explore the world.
Things take an ugly turn, however, when the walls around their safe domain are breached by Titans, mysterious giant creatures who devour humans. The Titans destroy his town, forcing everyone to evacuate, and Eren’s mother is eaten by a Titan as he escapes.
Horrified and crushed to his core, Eren swears that he will end every Titan out there. This begins his journey as a scout to find out the mysterious origins of the Titans and get his revenge, finding his true freedom in the process.
Haikyuu is fundamentally a sports anime, so you’ll be sure to find some tunes to hype you up for just about anything in its soundtrack. With Yuki Hayashi behind the wheel for the show’s music production, you know that your ears are in for a treat.
Haikyuu’s sound has been created to motivate you. You’ll probably find yourself comparing it with My Hero Academia’s soundtrack quite often, which is a given since both shows have the same music director. What sets Haikyuu apart, however, is that its sounds are probably a little mellower than MHA, but enough to help you feel inspired nonetheless.
Haikyuu has fast-paced beats accentuated by slow parts that build up for a “burst” of musical emotions, perfect to make you tag along as the squad goes through every new match and training session. Other than its sports theme, though, Haikyuu is also known for its humor and character progressions – and the soundtrack definitely accentuates that, too.
While some of the tracks sound pretty tense and designed to back up an epic clash, the soundtrack also features tracks fit for a laid-back afternoon with your friends. Pairing Haikyuu and My Hero Academia will make for the ultimate motivation playlist since both of these shows have a lot of noteworthy hype tracks. My favorite tracks include:
If you’ve seen one of those viral Haikyuu moments in a YouTube compilation and are wondering if the show’s going to meet your expectations, I’ll definitely say that it’s worth a watch! Even if you’re not an avid volleyball fan, the show is filled with charming characters who will absolutely win you over.
Sword Art Online
The huge surge in popularity for isekai anime in the last decade can mostly be attributed to Sword Art Online. Love it or hate it, but SAO’s impact can’t be undermined, and it’s truly helped to establish isekai anime as a genre of its own.
If you haven’t given isekai a try yet, it’s essentially a shounen subgenre. Most isekais start with an inciting incident where our main protagonist is reincarnated or transported to a world vastly different from the one they used to live in. From there, they must do all that they can to survive in it.
What makes Sword Art Online special is the show’s unique visuals layered with the music to create a new experience for its viewers. Being an action-focused anime, SAO offered something new with its flawless combination of mixing 3D graphics with hand-drawn visuals, which was quite rare at the time of its initial release.
This helped the show gain attention quite quickly, but another reason why the viewers were so hooked was the amazing music sung by the shounen favorite, LiSA. LiSA sang every single opening for SAO (other than the Underworld Arc), and her first opening for the anime Crossing Field truly boosted the singer’s popularity to a new high.
The music director for the anime, Yuki Kajiura, truly designed SAO’s music to mesh perfectly with the anime. They make the fight scenes look cinematic and establish a sense of dread and the high-stakes during any fight scene. Some fan-favorite singles from the soundtrack include:
If you’re yet to get on the hype train for isekai anime, Sword Art Online could be the perfect start for you. It starts out with 10,000 players, including two teenagers Kirito and Asuna entering the world of Sword Art Online, a virtual reality MMORPG.
Things take a turn for the worse, however, when the players realize that they are unable to log out. In order to escape SAO, they must beat all 100 levels of the game.
Kimi No Na Wa
Kimi No Na Wa’s music is one of the reasons behind the unprecedented heights of popularity the movie managed to reach. Composed entirely by the Japanese band Radwimps, it manages to encapsulate the movie’s blend of ethereal themes and human emotions perfectly.
,The soft vocals of Yojiro Noda paired with the rock instrumentals are an absolute treat for the ears and truly help you establish a bond with both Taki and Mitsuha. While the movie mostly deals with Taki and Mitsuha’s relationship, it also focuses on the themes of being separated by factors larger than us – things like time, space, and even the gods.
The sound of these external factors is definitely starkly different from that of the music resounding from a human’s heart. However, the Radwimps still manage to make them fit into the world the story is set in. Zenzenzense is quite obviously the fan-favorite OST, but my personal picks also include:
If you haven’t checked out the cultural phenomenon that was Your Name, the story focuses on two high-schoolers. These main characters are a girl living in a small rural town named Mitsuha, and a city boy from Tokyo named Taki. Their paths cross when the two unexpectedly start switching bodies.
These indirect exchanges between them eventually cause the two to fall in love with each other. With its stunning visuals, an intricate plot brimming with Japanese cultural elements, and two beautiful characters living in an equally beautiful world, Your Name is a must for just about anyone.
Death Note’s OST is hauntingly beautiful yet eerie at the same time, establishing the anime’s themes and atmosphere perfectly. Most of Death Note’s character themes are loops of the same notes played over and over with some harmonies joining in at times. This establishes them as a character’s distinct sound.
The music in Death Note also works as a storytelling device, with certain instruments representing certain characters. Their harmonies in the OSTs foreshadow plot points or showcase character dynamics more thoroughly. My favorite tracks are obviously:
If you’ve missed out on the anime that has defined the 21st century, you’re not too late to witness its glory. Death Note tells the tale of two intellectual titans and a battle of wits. Light, a popular and extremely intelligent high-schooler, finds a book called the Death Note. This book allows him to kill any person whose name he writes on it.
Light decides to use the Death Note’s powers to eradicate crime from the world, but this quickly alarms the police, as well as a genius detective named L in particular. With the police and L hot on his trail, Light must find a way to evade them, while successfully carrying out his plans.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: An anime’s Original Sound Track (OST) refers to the music used in the show. It’s an umbrella term that refers to the:
• Background music
• Mood music
• Incidental music
• Opening and ending theme songs of a series
Most anime OSTs are composed specifically for the show at hand. That said, some shows also feature songs composed by other artists unrelated to the show.
Answer: Although everyone has different tastes, it has been widely agreed upon that Cowboy Bebop has the best anime soundtrack of all time. It was essentially the blueprint for a lot of the modern shounen anime soundtracks.
Plus, its jazz themes have received international acclaim for non-fans too. If you’re a fan of jazz or enjoy listening to fast-paced hype songs that will rile you up for some action, Cowboy Bebop’s music won’t miss the mark.
Answer: The current most viewed anime OST is the theme song from the anime movie Fireworks, “Uchiage Hanabi.” Performed by DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu, the music video currently has 479 million views on YouTube.
However, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint the true most-viewed anime song. This is because of YouTube’s ever-changing policy and songs getting removed all the time, which influences the total accumulated views.
Answer: “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” from Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered the best anime opening out there, period. The song is soothing and sets the stage for the characters perfectly. The serene visuals and familiar tune also invoke a sense of nostalgia within the viewers, which definitely adds to the opening’s likability.
Answer: “Unravel” from Tokyo Ghoul is probably the most popular anime intro out there. The song is definitely catchy, but Toru Kitajima’s vocals really made the track stand out amongst other anime opening contenders. Since it came out, Unravel essentially went viral and is still relevant and iconic to this day.
Answer: “Roundabout” from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures definitely takes the cake for being one of the best anime outros. The song was composed by progressive rock band Yes back in 1971.
The anime’s director Naokatsu Tsuda confirmed that he used Roundabout because it was one of the songs Jojo’s creator, mangaka Hirohiko Araki, would frequently listen to while working on the series.
Answer: The soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop was composed by Yoko Kanno. Kanno created a jazz band that went by the name of Seatbelts specifically for the production of Cowboy Bebop’s music. The band also produced the music for Cowboy Bebop’s Netflix live-action adaptation.
Answer: Unravel was sung by Toru “TK” Kitajima of the Japanese rock band Ling tosite Sigure.
Answer: The trophy for the most iconic anime song would probably have to go to either “Unravel” from Tokyo Ghoul or “Shinzou wo Sasageyo” from Attack On Titan. The Spirited Away of the new generation, Kimi No Na Wa’s theme song “Zenzenzense” is also an extremely iconic track that deserves a mention here.
Every anime’s OST adds a new layer of meaning to it and brings its world and characters to life by giving them a new sensory dimension. If I had to pick the best anime OST though, it would definitely be Yoko Kanno’s score for Cowboy Bebop.
With the amount of pure love and musical talent that went into its creation, the score’s quite amazing all on its own. Add in the factor of nostalgia and the sheer star-power of Cowboy Bebop in itself, and its score truly becomes immortal.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that our music tastes fluctuate greatly depending on our mood and our surroundings. I sincerely hope that my list can give you a neat collection of OSTs to serve as the perfect background score for you – no matter where you are listening to it!