For many, Pokemon was the gateway into anime. As a 90s kid, nothing beat waking up and hearing “Gotta Catch Em’ All” to start the day.
Like the games, and thanks in large part to them, the Pokemon anime caught on like wildfire when it debuted back in 1997, following the adventures of Ash Ketchum as he journeyed to become a Pokemon master.
To this day, the series holds the record for the highest lifetime-grossing anime movie of all time, earning a lifetime gross of $85,744,662 at the time of writing this. Pokémon the Movie 2000 isn’t too far behind that mark either, sitting in third place with a $43,758,684 lifetime gross.
And while it might not be nearly as popular as it was back then, the series is still going strong today, featuring over 1000 episodes that continue to be one of the most-watched shows on Netflix.
For anyone in the West, seeing Doraemon on this list might be a headscratcher, as most of its notoriety is due to its success overseas. However, the anime is so popular in India, China, and Japan, that it makes up for not having much of a presence in the West.
Doraemon revolves around an earless robotic cat that travels back in time from the 22nd century to aid a fifth-grade student named Nobita Nobi. The show is all about conquering life’s tough obstacles while also understanding it’s ok to make mistakes.
Alongside being one of the longest-running anime series, airing 1787 episodes from 1973 to 2005, Doraemon’s movies have dominated the box office. As of 2020, the Doraemon franchise has grossed $1.7 billion worldwide across 41 movies.
18. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
If you’ve ever paid a handful of visits to Twitter, there is a good chance you’ve seen the HxH or HunterxHunter tag trending. That’s because, despite last airing in 2014, Hunter x Hunter (2011) still remains one of the most popular shows in the genre.
Hunter x Hunter (2011) follows Gon Freecs, a young boy who wants to become a pro hunter just like his father, who he can barely remember. What follows is a magnificent journey, full of friendship, wonder, and hardship, as the talented child learns what it takes to truly be a pro hunter in this dangerous world.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an anime that is more beloved by those who have seen it in the genre. Its stories and characters are often cited when people talk about their favorites amongst the medium.
The Chimera Ant arc is often referred to as a masterpiece, and Gon, Killua, and Hisoka are constantly topping popularity polls.
17. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Series)
If you’ve ever watched a mecha anime and thought it was a banger, there is a good chance that it’s because of just how popular Neon Genesis Evangelion was… and still is. The show depicts the difficult life of Shinji Ikari – a teenager forced to wield a giant mech to stop an alien invasion.
While that may sound like a pretty straightforward premise, the plot is rich with deep themes, exploring psychology, environmentalism, and gender roles, to name a few. Thanks to this, many find Neon Genesis Evangelion more relatable and thus more accessible.
You’ll constantly find this show and its subsequent movies on the Netflix trending list, as even casual anime fans can’t get enough of the psychological themes and mech fights it brings to the table.
16. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
“Is that a JoJo’s reference?” has become synonymous with anime, as, like The Simpsons, it seems like the show has managed to make it so that its content is always able to be tied back to pop culture. Thanks to this, it’s managed to grab a foothold on both sides of the globe, becoming a big part of the entertainment scene.
Since debuting in 2012, the series has become one of the hottest series in anime around, as it tells the bizarre stories of the JoStar family and the many gifts they bear. Across six different parts, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure follows a different member of the family as they take down supernatural foes using unique powers known as Stands.
The show has become so popular in the US that demand for it has actually surpassed that of Japan. According to Parrot Analytics, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s demand is 20.2 times that of the average TV series in the United States in the last 30 days.
15. One Punch Man
One Punch Man is easily the most interesting show on this list in terms of popularity. Originally starting out as a webcomic back in 2012, the series was arguable the hottest anime of the last few years when it was adapted back in 2015.
The show followed Saitama, a superhero who has grown bored due to how powerful he’s become — with each of his fights ending in just one punch. This premise results in a lot of comedy while also satirizing the shonen genre and its over-the-top fight scenes.
Fans simply couldn’t get enough of this unique satire on shonen anime, praising its animation, humor, characters, and surprisingly detailed fight scenes. The show got so popular that fans actually started comparing it to other big names in terms of animation and characters. You’ll still be hard-pressed to find a site that talks about power scaling that doesn’t have an argument about Goku and Saitama.
The reason it isn’t a bit higher on the list despite those comparisons is that season two was disappointing. After a long wait, four years to be exact, fans were met with crude animation and a lackluster storyline, with fights taking too many shortcuts that severely affected the impact of the stories that were being told.
Even with this, fans are still eagerly awaiting the third season, hoping that it’ll bring the show back to prominence once again.
14. Death Note
Death Note is the show that everyone points to as the best anime where the protagonist was actually the villain. Alongside this, it’s often referred to as one of the best shows to help introduce people to anime, as its story and characters are really easy to get invested in.
That story follows Light Yagami, a teenage genius who discovers a mysterious notebook known as the Death Note. It isn’t long till he realizes — thanks to the help of the Shinigami Ryuk — that this item grants its user the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it.
While his intentions seem noble at first, wielding this power corrupts Light, creating a god-complex that results in mayhem, murder, and a whole bunch of covering his trail. It’s a quick but fascinating tale that anyone who loves mystery can get into.
Death Note is actually so popular that it’s had four Japanese movies and two American (with one currently in the works) films. The Japanese live-action adaptations for Death Note earned over $41 million, while the American Netflix adaptation was considered to be a sizeable success by the platform, prompting a sequel that is currently in development.
When you think about the most important anime of all time, Akira is often mentioned in the number one spot. While more subtle than some on this list, the film’s impact is still felt throughout the industry today, as its influence on pop culture paved the way for the growth of anime and entertainment in the West.
Unheard-of shows like Fist of the North Star, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Dirty Pair all got more recognition in the US thanks to Akira, as the premise prompted fans to expand their anime horizons. Its unique sci-fi setting, visuals, and animation influenced future media like The Matrix, Stranger Things, and so much more — most of which even pay homage to it in one way or another.
Since its release in 1988, the film has grossed $80 million worldwide in home video sales and has become a cult classic.
Related: Best Anime From Every Decade on The Mary Sue
12. Cowboy Bebop
When you’re looking for an anime that stands the test of time, Cowboy Bebop is usually one of the first that comes to mind. Despite coming out in 1997 and only airing for 26 episodes and a movie, this show is still one of the most popular and beloved anime around, thanks to its genre-defining stories, character, themes, and music.
Taking place in the year 2071, Cowboy Bebop follows the lives of a crew of delinquent bounty hunters, showcasing the many different adventures they go on. While some are linear, each story incorporates other genres into its unique style, combining sci-fi, western, and noir tropes into its outer space setting while also exploring themes of loneliness, existentialism, and grief.
Due to these unique concepts and stories, Cowboy Bebop has received multiple awards for Best Anime and Best Voice acting, including ones from the Seiun Awards and the Anime Grand Prix (multiple).
11. My Hero Academia
Since 2016, My Hero Academia has been one of the biggest mainstream anime successes in the world. Whether it’s the mainline TV show or the three spinoff movies, just about everything the series touches does crazy numbers.
A lot of that popularity has to do with the story of My Hero Academia, which takes place in a world where around 80% of the world population has a unique superpower, known as a Quirk. The series focuses on one of the few people who doesn’t have powers, Izuku Midoriya.
Eventually, he ends up inheriting the strongest Quirk that’s ever existed, One For All. With this newfound power, he must figure out how to become the greatest hero of all time. The premise is simple but interesting, as it takes the usual idea of only a few people having powers and flips it on its head.
Combine this with awesome character designs, quirks, and plenty of underlying themes, and it’s not hard to see why this has become one of the biggest anime in the world.
If you need further proof of this success, just take a look at how well each of the My Hero Academia movies has done. In total, the film franchise has garnered a worldwide box office of $98,380,147, all since 2018.
10. Howl’s Moving Castle
Studio Ghibli is an absolute titan when it comes to popular anime, as just about every one of its movies is popular enough to be on this list. When it comes down to it, though, few are as beloved as Howl’s Moving Castle.
Originally released in 2004, this Hayao Miyazaki classic is set in a kingdom where magic and early 20th-century technology are common. Set against the backdrop of a war with another kingdom, it tells the story of Sophie, a young milliner who is turned into an old woman by a witch.
In order to lift the curse, she must trust a Wizard named Howl, exploring the world via his magnificent moving castle, which is fueled by magic. What follows is a tale of life, love, loyalty, and sorrow, as the film really dives into the destructive effects of living amidst a war.
To this day, Howl’s Moving Castle remains one of the most successful anime films of all time, ranking fourth with a total of $236,269,142 earned worldwide.
Alongside box office acclaim, Howl’s Moving Castle also received plenty of awards, including four Tokyo Anime Awards, a Nebula Award for Best Script, and a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.
9. Fullmetal Alchemist (Series)
Whenever someone that doesn’t watch anime asks, “What should my first series be?” 9/10 times, Fullmetal Alchemist is the answer. That’s because the show is just so accessible to casual and hardcore viewers alike.
Split into two different series, Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, FMA follows the story of two brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. After losing their bodies in a failed attempt to bring their mother back using Alchemy, the two must find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone to set things right.
It’s a classic adventure that features plenty of great action and storytelling, and is probably the best depiction of the Seven Deadly Sins (sorry Nakaba Suzuki) in the genre. Thanks to this, both series are still among the most-watched shows on Netflix today.
Proof of the show’s dominance and popularity can be found back in 2006 when the Japanese television network TV Asahi conducted two different Top 100 online polls to see what the most popular anime series was. The original Fullmetal Alchemist ranked first both times. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is also one of the few anime on Rotten Tomatoes that has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes across 14 different critics.
Despite the fact that it’s often the red-headed step-child of The Big Three, it goes without saying that Bleach is one of the most popular anime of all time. The story follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenager who acquires the power of Soul Reaping that is now tasked with defending humans from evil spirits and guiding departed souls to the afterlife.
The story that follows is one that places a large emphasis on rebellion and friendship, as a slew of new characters and storylines are introduced that really resonate with viewers. Bleach also became popular for its amazing fights, as scenes like Ichigo versus Byakuya Kuchiki are still discussed today.
It definitely should be noted that Bleach fell off near the end of its original run, as the storylines and writing became almost as bad as the show’s comedy, which is why it’s a bit lower on this list. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still widely popular.
One of the most impressive things about this anime is that despite a decade hiatus, the recent Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War has not only delivered an amazing story but has also been one of the most popular animes currently air. That’s no small feat considering it’s going against current juggernauts like Spy x Family, My Hero Academia, and Chainsaw Man.
7. Spirited Away
Another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, Spirited Away still holds up as one of the best anime films of all time, even though it was released back in 2001. The film tells the story of a sullen 10-year-old girl who, amidst her family’s move to the suburbs, stumbles into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits where humans are changed into beasts.
While magical at first, things soon turn dire, as the girl is trapped by a witch and forced to work. She must now find a way to get back to her mundane but comfortable life in the real world by any means necessary.
Spirited Away encapsulated its audience when it was released more than two decades ago, smashing box office records by earning $355,725,195 worldwide.
For 19 years, Spirited Away held the title of the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. In that time, it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was voted the fourth-best film of the 21st century by BBC, proving that its acclaim and popularity spread even beyond dedicated anime filmgoers.
6. Your Name
Your Name is another one of those movies that has to be in the conversation when it comes to putting anime on the map, despite coming out more recently. The film depicts the story of a high school boy and girl that inexplicably begin to swap bodies.
As they start to understand what is going on, each makes rules and gives advice on how to live one another’s lives in order to make sure nothing chaotic happens. What follows is a heartwarming tale of mystery and tragedy, fueled by emotional and detailed writing, music, and animation.
While it may be one of the newer entries on this list, released in 2016, the numbers simply don’t lie. In total, Your Name earned $357,986,087 worldwide at the box office.
The film also won Best Animated Feature at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, 49th Sitges Film Festival, and the 71st Mainichi Film Awards, and was nominated for Best Animation of the Year at the 40th Japan Academy Prize. Paramount is also making a live-action American remake of the film as we speak.
5. Naruto (Series)
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.
4. Demon Slayer
Another one of the newer anime to make this list, Demon Slayer, is so high up simply due to how big of an impact the series has managed to make. Despite only being around since 2019, the series is one of the most talked-about anime of all time, thanks in large part to the insanely detailed fight scenes and animation Ufotable has produced.
Demon Slayer follows Tanjiro Kamado, a teenager looking to avenge the death of his family and turn his sister back into a human by becoming a Demon Slayer. Along his journey, he meets many like-minded friends, some treacherous demons, and even a few misunderstood enemies.
Fans have latched on to this new series, as the show has insanely high satisfaction ratios (almost 50%) and has managed to break box office records. To be exact, the Demon Slayer – Kimetsu No Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train film made over $503 million from more than 41 million tickets sold, making it the highest-grossing film of 2020 as well as the highest-grossing anime and Japanese film of all time.
Alongside breaking box office records, the Demon Slayer franchise has an estimated annual sales revenue of $8.75 billion. This figure includes all of its merchandise and makes it one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
3. One Piece
As the undisputed king of The Big Three, it goes without saying that One Piece is one of the most popular anime of all time through sheer force of will. With over 1,000 episodes and counting, this anime tells the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a boy with a body that has the property of rubber, which he gained after unintentionally eating a Devil Fruit.
Alongside a merry crew of pirate misfits, this rubber boy uses his newfound powers to find the world’s ultimate treasure, the One Piece, in order to become King of the Pirates. Viewers and critics alike have praised the series for its storytelling, art, characterization, and humor.
One Piece has had such an impact on culture that there has even been a fruit fly gene named after it, called Baramicin. The series is popular in both the east and the west, dominated polls when it comes to “what is your favorite anime” and “who is your favorite anime character.”
As an entire franchise, One Piece is worth around $14.5 billion thanks in large part to the merchandise and video games that were spun off from the anime.
2. Attack on Titan
When it comes to the most talked about and popular anime currently airing, it’s pretty hard to beat the fever that is Attack on Titan. Every week, each episode is a water cooler event, with fans talking about the latest twist or turn that the series has taken.
Since debuting back in 2013, the anime has quickly gained traction for its storytelling, as it’s set in a world where humanity is driven to the brink of extinction after the emergence of giants called Titans. The story follows Eren Yeager, a victim of one of these Titan attacks, as he and his friends try to uncover the secrets surrounding the mysterious creatures.
With over 60% votes of an overall 10/10 amidst 300,000 voters, Attack on Titan is the highest-rated anime of all time on IMDB. With nine episodes getting at least 9.9 ratings (and one getting a perfect 10), it isn’t hard to see why the series is rated in first place.
Alongside acclaim from fans, Attack on Titan is also popular amongst mainstream media, appearing in everything from The Simpsons to Snickers commercials. Before the start of the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers game in 2019, the Colossal Titan mascot even performed the ceremonial first pitch before taking a photo-op with Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda who sported the Colossal Titan baseball glove.
Only time will tell if Attack on Titan will end up as the most popular anime of all time when it finally ends, as no anime has come close when it comes to matching the hype surrounding this franchise each week.
1. Dragon Ball (Series)
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.
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