Best anime series. Photo: KnowInsiders
Best anime series. Photo: KnowInsiders

There are a lot of genres in modern anime, and some renowned anime series and anime films come under less known categories that only anime freaks recognize.

To evidence its sheer popularity quite plainly, there are thousands of thousands of anime out there — even some that come from video games, so there’s likely a lot that even the most die-hard of anime fanatics will miss over the course of their fandom. Regardless, these are the ones that seem to be the most widely beloved and manage to separate themselves from the pack, whether it's through their unique concept, well-executed story, or larger-than-life characters.

Which are the 20 Most Popular Anime Series of All Time?

1. Naruto

2. Dragon Ball

3. Steins;Gate

4. Tokyo Ghoul

5. Inuyasha

6. Bleach

7. Sword Art Online

8. Fairy Tail

9. Neon Genesis Evangelion

10. Cowboy Bebop

11. No Game No Life

12. Darker Than Black

13. Black Butler

14. Samurai Champloo

15. Noragami

16. Fullmetal Alchemist

17. Sailor Moon

18. The Monogatari

19. Monster

20. The Seven Deadly Sins

Top 20 Most Popular Anime Series of All Time

1. Naruto

Photo: Shop Mô Hình
Photo: Shop Mô Hình

We’ve finally cracked the portion of the list where you could walk down the street and ask someone if they’ve heard of this series and they’d at least probably be aware of it. As such, it only seems fitting that the series about everyone’s favorite knucklehead ninja, Naruto, is leading the charge.

Naruto tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who seeks recognition from his village and dreams of becoming its leader, known as the Hokage. Considering he’s the village outcast, and that he has a deadly monster inside of him, that is no small task.

Since its debut in 2002, Naruto has etched its name on the Mount Rushmore of anime when it comes to pop culture, as people even have a meme surrounding running like they do in the show, calling it the Naruto run. The series was so popular that it managed to be named one of The Big Three: the three most popular running series during their golden age in Shonen Jump’s mid-2000s period.

Despite not getting the same worldwide marketing and releases as something like Demon Slayer, the nine Naruto movies also put in a respectable number, earning a combined gross of $35,094,962.

As an entire franchise, Naruto is worth around $4.35 billion, thanks in large part to the merchandise and video games that were spun off from the anime.

2. Dragon Ball

Photo: Game4V
Photo: Game4V

Oh, Dragon Ball. Where would anime be without you? Regardless of your opinions on its plot, structures, or characters compared to the anime of today, there is simply no denying that Akira Toriyama struck gold when he debuted the series in 1986.

Inspired by the classic novel Journey to the West, Dragon Ball follows Son Goku’s life, as he grows from a young alien boy, known as a Saiyan, who crash lands on earth to one of the most powerful fighters in the galaxy. Fans get to see these powers grow across multiple series, featuring a handful of unique villains, friends, and magical powers that other anime use as the basis for their own structure to this day.

While its more recent iterations might not be as popular as Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, the fanfare and popularity around those two series alone are more than enough to make up for it.

If you asked someone who doesn’t know anything about the genre at all to name an anime, Dragon Ball — more than likely, Dragon Ball Z to be exact — would be the answer. The same can be said for Goku as an anime character, as he’s easily the most recognizable face and name in the industry.

As an entire franchise, Dragon Ball is worth around $30 billion. And while a lot of that has to do with other sales, such as manga and other merchandise, that still doesn’t discount that the Dragon Ball series is the highest-grossing media in all of anime.

3. Steins;Gate

Photo: Amazon UK
Photo: Amazon UK

Steins;Gate is in the top 10 highest ranked anime series of all time across many of the rating platforms. This isn’t the only reason it deserves its spot on my list. Its sci-fi and time-travel themes are one of the best around, across TV and film. The show takes place in Akihabara, Tokyo, which is a location for many fans to visit.

Rintaro Okabe, a university student, discovers time travel, and along with his fellow co-workers at Future Gadget Laboratory, must try to prevent an evil corporation from fulfilling its plans. There are a number of plot twists and surprise moments to keep you tuned in episode after episode.

4. Tokyo Ghoul

Photo: Amazon.com
Photo: Amazon.com

This alternate world where ghouls hide in the shadows. Creatures that resemble humans but can only survive by eating human flesh. Ghouls have quite a few powers including highly regenerative abilities, impenetrable skin, and a predatory organ called the Kagune. These Kagune manifest while combat, other distinctive features of ghouls is that their eyes turn black and red due to hunger or excitement. A half-ghoul is stronger than an average ghoul since it was either be born a ghoul or made by transplanting organs and is very rare. The success rate of the survival of a half-ghoul is very low.

But when Kaneki Ken survives a ghoul attack he gets a ghoul organ transplant and successfully becomes a half-ghoul. Disgusted by human flesh he decides not to feast on humans, but his hunger seems stronger than his morals. The first season simply follows Kaneki getting in terms with his current state and accepting his ghoul side. He meets Touka, a full ghoul, and Kaneki finds a safe spot and slowly gets deeper and deeper into the world of Ghouls. The following seasons are called Tokyo Ghoul √A. Tokyo Ghoul: Re and Tokyo Ghoul: Re Season 2. The visualization and animation are beautiful yet gory and dark. The plot is very interesting and the characters are intriguing.

5. Inuyasha

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

In Inuyasha anime, Kagome who is a quite modern girl from the capital of Japan, Tokyo who unintentionally by accident finds a portal that eventually leads her to medieval japan. There in the portal she meets the half-demon Inuyasha. over there, she decides to help the boy find him the magic crystal and also to fight along the evil demon Naraku.

The anime series has some blend of romance, comedy, action, adventure, fantasy and horror. In the manga Inuyasha has been successfully able to manage and gain millions of fans worldwide and is also considered the best classic in the anime series. Don’t forget to watch it.

6. Bleach

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

With a staggering 366 episodes, this is one of the lengthiest anime series on our list. It was aired from 2004 to 2012 and gathered a serious fan following during the years.

The story revolves around a high school student called Kurosaki Ichigo, who can see ghosts. He receives this special power after an accident in the hollow of a tree. During the incident, when he and his family gets attacked by the Hollow, a Soul Reaper named Rukia Kuchiki rushes to save Ichigo and his family and gets injured while protecting them.

Ichigo promises to take Rukia’s powers in order to save his family, and as a result, the young boy begins training to be a Soul Reaper (Shinigami). The plot is quite similar to that of Sixth Sense, so if you enjoyed that movie, you will most probably like Bleach as well.

Ichigo then proceeds to hunt down all hollows which attack the people. He is joined by his classmate buddies Yasutora Sado, Orihime Inoue, and Uryuu Ishida who also have unique abilities.

The Bleach TV series is an adaptation of Tite Kubo’s manga series of the same name. The director of the series is Noriyuki Abe.

This is a wonderful adventure anime series that will keep you wanting to watch more and more, even though many anime fans find that the series tends to get tedious after the first 60 or so episodes, but if you are a true fan, you will enjoy every single one of them from episode 1 to episode 366.

7. Sword Art Online

Photo: LVGames.net
Photo: LVGames.net

Sword Art Online a.k.a. S.A.O. has a huge fan base. It is a beautifully drawn animation series with incredible music and sound. The fans of massively multiplayer online games (MMO) will love this anime series.

The plot involves several gamers who, in 2022, are part of the worldwide gamers for the launch of Sword Art Online MMORPG game, which connects players into a virtual reality world with the help of special Nerve Gear helmets.

Kirito is one of these eager gamers who is one of the first to log into the game and quickly becomes close friends with Klein, who is a newbie warrior.

The gamers use their thoughts to control their avatars in the virtual world of Ainca, where they get access to various medieval weapons and meet gruesome monsters and fight bosses.

The gamers though pretty soon realize that they are unable to log out of the game and that they are being held by the creator of the game until they are able to complete all levels of the game. The worse part of this situation is that if you die in the game, you actually die in real life too.

So, you can imagine the excitement and adventure which this anime series provides. Its 25 episodes aired in 2012, and are based on the light novels by Reki Kawahara. The books have also become very popular around the world, and some anime fans even prefer them because of the proper pacing and writing, which is lacking in certain parts of the series.

People who love MMO games and anime will definitely have a treat with the Sword Art Online series!

8. Fairy Tail

Photo: Next Episode
Photo: Next Episode

This beautiful long-running anime series makes it to the top 10 list because it combines great animation, interesting characters, and an arc-like structure of the series.

Some may find that Fairy Tale gets repetitive at some point, but for true fans of shounen anime – this is a heaven-sent series.

Lucy Heartfilia has a dream of becoming a powerful full-fledged wizard, which is why she is searching for celestial keys. During her pursuit, she meets Natsu Dragneel and Happy, who are looking for the dragon Igneel – Natsu’s foster father.

Natsu is a wizard and a member of Fairy Tale and saves Lucy during an attempt for abduction. He offers her to join them.

Somewhere along the way, the group meets magic swordsman Erza Scarlet and the ice wizard Gray Fullbuster who join them on their quest.

Together they battle the evil and end up in countless adventures, which makes this series so much fun to watch.

The series aired from 2009 to 2013, and during that period, won a number of anime awards, including the best Japanese Anime Award in the 19th Anime and Manga Grand Prix in 2012. It was based on the popular manga series of the same name written by Hiro Mashima.

A second series premiered in Japan from 2014 to 2016, and a third series is expected to be released in the fall of 2018, so make sure you are ready for the new series and take the time to watch and enjoy these fantastic 175 episodes of the first Fairy Tale series.

9. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Photo: The Dot and Line
Photo: The Dot and Line

By now, most people have at least a cursory awareness of Neon Genesis Evangelion, whether it be from the overwhelming amount of branded merchandise or the consistent references in popular media. But for a show as ingrained in the animation canon as Evangelion, how we discuss it is in constant flux. Initially touted as a meaningful deconstruction of the mecha popularized by Gundam and Macross, the franchise later became bloated and rife with superfluous content much like the melodramas-as-merchandise they lampooned years before.

Nevertheless, Evangelion’s influence is palpable with a cultural overlay that can be seen anywhere from Persona 3 to Gurren Lagann, becoming a phenomenon that seems to exceed the show’s literal text. Much like Star Wars, its original creator Hideaki Anno has lost control of the franchise’s growth and has since augured the end of anime as we know it, once saying Japan’s animation world is “moving by inertia.” —Austin Jones

10. Cowboy Bebop

Photo: The Nerd Stash
Photo: The Nerd Stash

If you've seen the live-action adaptation of the classic anime "Cowboy Bebop," you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. The now-canceled Netflix remake failed to capture the swagger of the original show, a richly textured, genre-blending space saga set in the year 2071. It follows the exploits of former hitman Spike Spiegel and one-time ISSP (Inter Solar System Police) officer Jet Black, bounty hunters who travel from planet to planet on their spaceship, the Bebop. Their crew grows as the series progresses, much to Spike's annoyance. The truth, however, is that he needs all the help he can get — he's on the run from the Red Dragon Syndicate, his former employers.

Fans of sci-fi and Westerns cannot afford to miss this seminal show (it holds a perfect 100% on the Tomatometer), which is just as enthralling today as it was in the 1990s. When the team that brought the show to life appeared together on a panel at New York Comic-Con in 2018, they revealed that they were inspired by American cinema as well as their own particular tastes in films. "Director [Shinichiro] Watanabe's rhetoric was, 'Let's make something we want to see,'" screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto said (via the Anime News Network). "Our target audience was not kids, but ourselves and our peers. The truth is that kids want to watch what adults are watching. And so, that was perhaps one of the reasons why it attracted a broad audience."

11. No Game No Life

Photo: YouTube
Photo: YouTube

No Game No Life is an anime that you will binge watch once you start seeing it. This anime is one such anime that will be very addictive for the gamers as it has a distinctive plot and the concept is of a fantasy world which is also the reason why you are going to love it the most. In the world, everything is under the order and control of the particular rules which one should follow every time.

In the story, the two lead characters are siblings whose names are Shiro and Sora and somehow violently transported to a different world that is mostly controlled by the games and not only that, they are supposed to also do everything to transform their lifestyle to survive in a world where games are definitely not cool and full of innocence as it is usually portrayed.

12. Darker Than Black

Photo: Madman Entertainment
Photo: Madman Entertainment

A decade ago, a mysterious anomaly known as Heaven’s Gate appeared over the majority of South America. Soon after, another of these appeared in Tokyo, known as Hell’s Gate, which altered the sky and wreaked havoc on the surrounding area. As a result of this, the stars in the sky disappeared, replaced with fake stars. Each of these fake stars is linked to people who possess special abilities, known as Contractors.

These Contractors have been found and trained by various governments to utilise as spies and assassins. However, whenever they use their abilities, they have to “pay the price”, which comes in various forms, eating excessively, doing self-harm, changing their bodies and the like. The powers come at the cost of their humanity, murdering through objectives and rationale, suppressing any emotional and other human hindrances to stop them from achieving their goals.

Darker Than Black is one of my all-time favourite anime series. It’s highly rated by many but doesn’t often appear on many lists, unfortunately. I love the show and it requires at least two series watches to appreciate all the details and meaning extracted from the show. It may be a relatively short span of episodes, but isn’t an easy watch, especially for any new anime fans. Despite the Contractor’s lack of humanity, Hei, the lead character, is a slight contradiction of this, battling against other Contractors through a group known as the Syndicate.

13. Black Butler

Photo: WallpaperSafari
Photo: WallpaperSafari

Ciel Phantomhive, a thirteen-year-old is the head of the aristocratic Phantomhive family. This family is also known as the Queen’s Guard-dog. Ciel is given the task of solving crimes in the underworld in London. Ciel’s life wasn’t a normal one, he was once kidnapped and tortured his captors. One night, during a sacrificial ceremony a demon is summoned, but the demon states that Ciel was the one who summoned him and will only form a contract with him. So, Ciel makes a deal with the devil named Sebastian to seek revenge. Revenge against those who tortured and then murdered his parents and made his life miserable. Sebastian is a demon in a man’s skin working as a butler. A loyal butler, Sebastian is supposed to serve and protect his master. In exchange for his service, Sebastian will devour Ciel’s soul.

14. Samurai Champloo

Photo: Hulu
Photo: Hulu

After a chance encounter, Fuu, a teenage waitress working in a teahouse, rescues two master swordsmen, Mugen and Jin, who have been arrested by the Japanese police after their battle inadvertently result in the death of a son of the local magistrate. At the time, the son was harassing Fuu, who saves the duo as a result of assisting her. She asks the two to accompany her across Japan in pursuit of the Samurai who smells of sunflowers, and this is where the adventure really begins.

The show takes place in Edo-era Japan. What’s great about that is that Samurai Champloo attempts to be historically accurate with the time period, not just in the lifestyles, but also the events that take place, which the characters happen to be indirectly involved in.

It’s an easy-going anime series that’s funny and, at times, over-the-top. But its art style and comedic elements make it an easy watch for first time anime watchers.

Samurai Champloo is also only one of three anime shows my fiancé has indevoured to watch through its entirety. The hip-hop music themes are also relatable, bringing a unique style along with it, to accompany the great sword battles throughout the series.

15. Noragami

Photo: DeviantArt
Photo: DeviantArt

Hiyori Iki’s life changes when she tries to save a stranger from an accident. The accident causes her soul to momentarily slip away from her body, Hiyori is now aware of the existence of a parallel world. The two Parallel worlds: Near Shore, a place for regular creatures and humans, and Far Shore, a place where demons and lost human souls wander. Her soul meets a stranger, a nameless god, Yato. He is a god without a shrine and is set on making name for himself. He plans to grant wishes for 5 yen, and even fixes Hiyori’s body for her. With his weapon, made from a dead human’s soul and named by the god, Yukine, The three of them embark on an adventure filled with struggles, friendship, and identity.

Besides Season 1 with 21 episodes, 2 additional episodes were released. The second season consists of 12 episodes in total with 2 OVA. The title Noragami literally translates to the ‘Stray God’ so for Yato to find his identity among 8 million gods, this God’s unique story is loved by numerous anime fans around the world. The unique storyline, the action, emotions, and rawness of the anime makes it one of the Best Anime of all time for me!

16. Fullmetal Alchemist

Photo: EveDonusFilm
Photo: EveDonusFilm

The anime series is split into two series, Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The series is based on a manga series, which both shows follow fairly closely at the start. The former, however, proceeded to its end without the manga series having concluded, much the same as Game of Thrones. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is based on the entirety of the completed manga.

After an attempt to revive their deceased mother using alchemy, two brothers are badly inflicted when it goes horribly wrong. The older brother, Edward, loses his arm, while his younger brother, Alphonse, loses his entire body, and takes the form of metal armour to save him from death. Reviving someone from the dead is a huge taboo in the world of alchemy, with serious consequences, as the results prove. They set out in search of the Philosopher’s Stone in an attempt to right their wrongs.

But this is just the start of a wild adventure for the duo. As they leave their small home town, they’re thrust into a world much bigger than them, having to overcome quite a lot of challenges and also to prevent an evil group from also finding the Philosopher’s Stone to achieve their goals.

17. Sailor Moon

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

Like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon was the introductory anime to many fans that got them hooked for life.This series is greater than the sum of its already fantastic parts, with gorgeous animation, an empowering story of friendship and love with a rich mythology, and characters who felt real, with flaws, goals and heartbreak to humanize them against a larger-than-life fantastical backdrop. You didn’t keep watching each monster-of-the-week episode to see how the Sailor Scouts would take him down; you kept watching because you wanted to see the chemistry between Usagi, Rei, Ami, Makoto and Minako in everything from playing in the arcade to learning the secrets of their Moon Kingdom heritage.

Sailor Moon has stood the test of time as a seminal anime that many modern classics have evolved from and been inspired by, from the way it helped cement the mahou shoujo genre to its incredibly progressive presentation of well-rounded LGBT characters. Plus, those outfits were amazing. –Terri Schwartz

18. The Monogatari

Photo: Amino Apps
Photo: Amino Apps

The Monogatari Series has 14 distinct arcs spread across three seasons, giving any newcomer lots to chew on and digest. While there are many ways one could describe the appeal of this series, nothing really does this supernatural, psychological drama justice. While the random instances of fanservice or extreme depictions of gore will turn some away, the characters and intriguing plot will suck many in and won't let go.

Aside from Evangelion, Monogatari is the best-selling anime/manga series of the 21st century, and that doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that watched it. Furthermore, the music in this series is top-notch and adds so much to every scene and emotionally driven moment. Monogatari is a therapy session with incredibly weird and wild concepts that will evoke a wide range of emotions from you each session. And that's why we love it so much.

19. Monster

Photo: Pathofex
Photo: Pathofex

Next up is Monster, a classic by Naoki Urasawa, a truly iconic mangaka behind series such as 20th Century Boys, Pluto, and Billy Bat. Monster, funnily enough, is probably one of his least out-there settings and follows the story of Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese Surgeon living in Germany who ends up chasing a former patient and serial killer, Johan Liebert.

The story of Monster deals with a lot of moral quandaries, goes all over Europe (a place rarely seen in Anime), and deals with a lot of different characters. The anime, in particular, is faithful to the source material, managing to replicate Urasawa’s unique artistic style almost perfectly. And the villain of the story, Johan Liebert, is one of the most interesting and engaging villains in recent memory. But if Monster doesn't seem to be your cup of tea, at the very least try 20th Century Boys. That's one you'll have to read, as the live-action adaptation movies don't have the best reputation.

20. The Seven Deadly Sins

Photo: ComicBook
Photo: ComicBook

If you love adventure and fantasy, you will be thrilled by The Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu no Taizai) anime series. The story is set in the region of Britannia which is very similar to a European Middle Age setting.

It is about seven knights who represent the seven deadly sins. The group of knights originally plotted an overthrow of the Liones Kingdom but failed because of the Holy Knights and disbanded.

But after 10 years, the Holy Knights manages to capture the king and proceed to become tyrannical rulers. As a result, Princess Elizabeth starts her journey to Seven Deadly Sins in an attempt to win back the lost kingdom and to find the long-lost justice in the world.

The hugely popular best-selling manga series was adapted into an anime series that aired from 2014 to 2015 and consists of 24 episodes and 2 OVAs. It is directed by Tensai Okamura, written by Shotaro Suga from A-1 Pictures studio.

There was a second season made which aired from January to June 2018 and was followed by a successful anime film that was released in August 2018. There is also a light novel and games based on The Seven Deadly Sins.

Today, Netflix holds the exclusive streaming rights for the English language version, and Funimation holds the home video rights.

Overall, The Seven Deadly Sins is a strong recommendation for anybody who wants to watch an exciting and considerably light Shonen anime show with all the action, fun, and great music.

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