Top 15 Best Anime Rivalries of All Time

Some anime pairs are more iconic than the rest, which is why they make our list of the top 15 best anime rivalries of all time.

For every great anime character who aims to reach the top of their world, there is another who is right at their heels with the same goals. Whether it’s to become the de facto leader, defend their beliefs and philosophies or become the strongest in the world, these characters compete with each other tooth and nail to prove they’re the dominant party. Some of these pairs are more iconic than the rest though, which is why they make our list of the top 15 best anime rivalries of all time.

Midoriya Izuku and Katsuki Bakugo (My Hero Academia)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Bones

Midoriya and Bakugo’s race to the top of the hero world in My Hero Academia is one which easily contends with some of the more established anime rivalries on this list.

From an early age, the two shared the same dream of becoming a hero on par with their idol All Might, but only Bakugo was lucky enough to be blessed with a quirk and the talent to use it. Shortly before entering high school though, Midoriya was granted the power of One for All and set to work on catching up to his rival post haste.

And catch up he has. In the first few seasons alone, Midoriya competed with Bakugo directly in their school’s Olympics-level sports festival, come out on top in a mock-combat training exercise, and ran to Bakugo’s rescue after he was taken by the League of Villains. Paired with his telling Bakugo how he received his quirk, this has all proven he had the potential to take Bakugo on all along, and that he sees their competition as driven by their spirits instead of their quirks.

To his credit, Bakugo is of the same mindset. He has started to respect Midoriya as an equal and is looking to make amends for his past cruelty, but is determined not to lose to the one person he sees as worth admitting is an equal. After all, there can be only one top hero, and he has no intention of sharing the honor with anyone.

Yami Yugi and Seto Kaiba (Yu-Gi-Oh!)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Studio Gallop via Prime Video

Across multiple years and several high stakes card-based competitions, Yugi and Kaiba’s drive to surpass each other as duelists remains one of the best anime rivalries out there.

Constantly flipping with one overcoming the other, their contests are fairly even in terms of wins and losses, with each win typically matched by a decisive loss down the road.

That said, the two have come a long way from their first confrontation and could even be considered allies by the series’ end. Where once Yugi had to crush Kaiba as revenge for his stealing a prized card from his grandfather, the two eventually throw down for no other reason than wanting to prove who is better, even teaming up to take down otherworldly threats to clear the way for their battles.

It may not be a conventional friendship, but it’s certainly one of the more entertaining dynamics among anime characters.

Ichigo and Grimmjow (Bleach)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Pierrot via Crunchyroll

While Ichigo may take on a slew of different opponents during his stint as a Soul Reaper in Bleach, Grimmjow stands as one who he holds one of the best anime rivalries with.

A hot-headed Arrancar with a desire to be the strongest of his kind, Grimmjow also holds a code of honor which restricts him from fighting dirty. This code even leads him to protect or assist Ichigo and his friends several times, ensuring the Soul Reaper who mortally wounded him isn’t taken out by anyone else’s schemes before they can clash again. As such, he is a perfect match for Ichigo, whose blind drive to protect those he holds dear.

The two clash several times before arriving at a climactic battle within the world of Hollows. Though it’s full of flashy attacks, transformations and bursts of violence, each blow is delivered honorably and for no other reason than to prove who is stronger.

Even when Ichigo proves victorious, the two still hold each other in high enough regard to protect one another from a seperate Arrancar’s attack. As a result, they’re able to establish the base of a begrudging friendship that would prove useful later on in the manga.

Aang and Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Nickelodeon Animation Studios via Netflix

While Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Aang and Zuko eventually become close friends, the road to get there is filled with more than a few clashes and conflicts.

Both seek to achieve a goal more dear to them than their lives. Aang wishes to master the four elements and save the world, while Zuko is dead-set on capturing the Avatar to restore his standing among his family and homeland. This puts them at odds with each other almost immediately, and results in a drawn out game of cat and mouse with world-level stakes.

In time though, the two slowly realize that their quest to regain what they’ve lost is intertwined in ways they initially didn’t realize. They each discover that one can’t truly succeed without the other, and the only true way for them to come out on top is by growing stronger together.

It’s a fantastic story of a friendship emerging from initial conflict, and stands among the best anime rivalries of all time as a result.

Testuo and Kaneda (Akira)

Best Anime Rivalries

Image Credit: Tokyo Movie Shinsa via Funimation

Memes about endlessly screaming at each other aside, the dynamic between Akira‘s Tetsuo and Kaneda is a picturesque image of what the best anime rivalries around should look like.

Childhood friends who stuck together through the crime and squalor of post-apocalypse Japan, a resentment of Kaneda always rested just below the surface for Tetsuo. He never had a way to act on it though, resulting in his following after Kaneda out of convenience.

Unfortunately, this all changed when an encounter with a psychic test subject awakened Tetsuo’s telekinetic powers and allowed him to take out his frustrations on the world. In response, Kaneda attempted to bring his friend to his senses several times, only to realize their camaraderie had always been one-sided. With no other choice, the two are forced to fight it out, ending with Tetsuo’s powers going berserk and Kaneda having to put his mutated friend out of his misery.

Tragic as it may end up, it exemplified the complicated relationship of friendly rivals and their relationship is a big part of what drives the landmark film. No matter what the two go through, and even after they try to kill each other, they still hold a special place in each other’s lives that leaves the victor understandably shaken when its finally over.

Heiwajima Shizuo and Orihara Izaya (Durarara!!)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Brain’s Base via Funimation

It would be an understatement to say that among the best rivalries in anime, the one between Durarara!!‘s most iconic pair is driven by the most hate.

First meeting in high school and then immediately trying to kill one another, Shizuo and Izaya’s disdain for one another and ensuing fights only escalate with time. They regularly brawl in the streets of Ikebukuro, leaving a trail of collateral damage and chaos in their wake. Neither shows much remorse though, as both understand their relationship can only end when the other is in the ground.

At the core of it though, the two fight to prove the worth of their differing ideologies. Shizuo abhors violence, desperately wants to maintain control of his aggressive tendencies and keep the city where he lives at peace. Izaya, meanwhile, would love nothing more than to sow chaos into everything he touches, watching with glee as people rip each other to shreds.

Though they may not ever reach the point of becoming friends, the wild ride that comes from watching the two clash is a joy, if a little bloody and brutal by the end.

Kogami Shinya and Makashima Shogo (Psycho-Pass)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Production I.G

In a world where order is upheld to a dystopian degree, it’s only right that a hard-boiled detective’s greatest adversary would be someone capable of abusing and manipulating that system.

Such is the case in Psycho-Pass. Kogami Shinya, an enforcer for the crime surveillance system Sibyl, aims to maintain the system in a way that protects people, even as it marks him as a dangerous element. The psychopathic Makashima Shogo, on the other hand, uses his ability to commit any crime without detection by the system as a way of tearing society down.

When Shinya is assigned to catch and detain Shogo, these differing viewpoints quickly clash with one another. As the hunt goes on, it becomes clear the two were always meant to come at odds, battling ideologically and physically until only one is left alive.

It doesn’t help that by the end, both have been irreparably changed by their meeting, unable to go back to the lives they once knew as a result. It’s a bit tragic, but still easily one of the best anime rivalries to witness to completion.

Emiya Kiritsugu vs. Kotomine Kirei (Fate/Zero)

Best Anime Rivalries

Image Credit: ufotable via Crunchyroll

Among the many reasons Fate series fans hold Fate/Zero in high regard, the dynamic between Kiritsugu and Kirei ranks near the top.

Two of the front runners to win their Holy Grail War, each have their own reasons they must succeed at all costs. As a result, both come at each other with a ruthless drive for victory, taking any path they can to a victory so long as it means they’ll emerge on top.

This culminates not only in a phenomenal final battle, but also several dilemmas which rock both characters to their core. They’re forced to ask themselves if their way of thinking is right, whether their past sins can ever be repented for and even whether they deserve to be alive at all. Even after the dust settles, these dilemmas remain, with each forced to overcome them or crumble beneath them in despair.

It’s a relationship that feels both heady and impactful by the end, and one that won’t disappoint even the most discerning connoisseur of the best anime rivalries.

Goku and Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Toei Animation via Funimation

For many, the endless competition for superiority between Goku and Vegeta in Dragon Ball is THE image that comes to mind for one of the best anime rivalries.

Two of the last pure-blooded Saiyans in the universe as well as its strongest fighters, the question of who is better hovers over both of them long after their first confrontation.

Sometimes, it’s for the worse, pushing the two into earth-shaking battles when they should be defending it from looming threats. Other times, it takes them both to greater heights, with the prospect of another fight helping the two to become even more powerful and discover new techniques. In other times still, it’s what allows them to trust in one another and work together toward battling a threat they could never take down alone.

This all goes to foster a begrudging friendship between the Prince of Saiyans and the Defender of Earth. By their journey’s end in Dragon Ball Z, they each respect each other as the best of the best, assured that they’ll always have an ally in the battles to come. It makes for one of the most entertaining pairs within and without of a Shonen anime.

Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke (Naruto)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Pierrot via Crunchyroll

Though it may not have started out as the core of the series, the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke was unarguably what drew people in and kept them there by its conclusion.

Starting off as a school yard pissing contest before taking on the weight of their philosophical differences, the dynamic formed between the two aspiring shinobi is as thoroughly explored as it is engrossing. Naruto sees teamwork and a joint approach to problems as the best solution, gathering allies whenever possible to reach a change and progress they arrived at together. Sasuke, meanwhile, believes that might makes right, and aims to impose his solutions on those around him through any means necessary.

Fans were just as eager to see the characters exchange words and opinions as they were to see them exchange blows. By the series’ end, they’d done those very things plenty of times, and each encounter was more engrossing than the last. It all culminates in their final battle, which makes for one of the best anime fights of all time thanks to the emotional stakes provided by their rivalry.

One can’t help but feel content once the dust settles and the two have accepted their differences either. It’s a hallmark in how to create one of the best anime rivalries around, and gives credence to why people still point to Naruto and Sasuke as THE anime rivalry even today.

Makunouchi Ippo and Miyata Ichirō (Hajime no Ippo)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of All Time
Image Credit: Madhouse via Crunchyroll

One fight, one rematch and one promise to fight again.

That’s all it took for the Hajime no Ippo series to hook fans with Makunouchi Ippo and Miyata Ichiro’s rivalry. It didn’t waste time establishing this contest between the two characters either. As soon as the series starts, it introduces both as naturally opposing forces: Miyata is a natural boxer gifted with immense talent, while Ippo is a novice who must build himself up from the ground up.

This results in a pair of unofficial matches between the two, with Miyata winning one and Ippo winning the other. They’re then left in a stalemate, promising to settle the score in an official match after they’ve both established themselves.

On paper, it’s a cookie-cutter approach to establishing a rivalry. And yet, as the series progresses, it’s hard not to become enthralled by the idea of their potential clash. Every move up the ranks that they make, and setback they encounter, hits so much harder knowing that it’s leading up to their eventual match. Likewise, their ability to set their impending confrontation aside to assist in each other’s growth proves there’s plenty of friendship to go along with the conflict.

It’s the epitome of what a sports anime rivalry should look like, and settles comfortably onto any list of the best anime rivalries.

Light Yagami and L (Deathnote)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of all Time
Image Credit: Madhouse via Netflix

This wouldn’t be a proper list of the best anime rivalries without a slot dedicated to Death Note‘s Light Yagami and L.

As Light dons the Kira moniker and enacts his plan to kill every criminal, L is the only person who can face him down undaunted. He matches every genius play Light can come up with, laying trap after trap for the maniacal murderer in an attempt to bring Kira’s true identity into the public eye.

This is to say nothing of their personal interactions. Equal parts nerve-wracking and absurd, they constantly find themselves in contests of intellect, physicality and kayfabe that are absolutely bonkers. Sometimes this means eating potato chips as convincingly as possible to cover up the use of the Death Note; other times, it means duking it out in a game of tennis or beating the tar out of each other while handcuffed.

And yet, no matter how goofy their interactions become, it’s hard not to be caught up in their relationship. Seeing which one will emerge victorious becomes the driving force of the show, and plays a major part in what makes the series as legendary as it has become.

This is also why it’s no surprise that the show loses steam after this contest is decided. Light and L’s rivalry is a major part of the series’ appeal, and without it there’s so much less to enjoy.

Lelouch Lamperouge and Kururugi Suzaku (Code Geass)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of all Time
Image Credit: Sunrise via Netflix

For all of Code Geass‘ over the top drama and high stakes battles, nothing can compare to Lelouch and Suzaku’s moral clashes.

Each out to change the world in their own way, the two friends are opposite sides of the same coin. Lelouch seeks to force peace on the world through the destruction of his former homeland Britannia. Suzaku, on the other hand, aims to reshape Britannia from the inside out, reforming the invader of his home country of Japan through noble deeds and peaceful compromises.

As a result, both are forced to wrestle with each others methods on a regular basis. More often than not, they come up against each other in order to ensure their method is the one used to sort out a conflict. However, the two begin working together as time goes on, even joining forces by the series end to enact the best possible solution they could come up with for the many issues caused by Britannia’s rule.

It’s a masterclass in how to create one of the best anime rivalries around, and is easily the main factor in why many still hold the series in such high regard.

Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak (Pokémon)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of all Time
Image Credit: OLM, Inc. via Netflix

Likely one of the first anime rivalries many western anime fans experienced, the conflict between Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak in Pokémon undeniably iconic.

Both leaving their home town to go on a Pokémon adventure simultaneously, they’re destined to butt heads at several points in their journey. One will always be a step ahead of the other, and only one of the aspiring trainers can be crowned the better by the time they’re finished participating in the Pokémon Championships.

It doesn’t help matters that the two get along like cats and dogs. If Ash isn’t making boisterous declarations at Gary, then Gary is almost certainly acting like a spoiled rich kid with everything Ash could want.

And yet, all of this only sells their rivalry better than most shows could hope to. It’s an earnest, innocent and straight-forward competition between two childhood friends who are destined to cross paths thanks to their dreams. They couldn’t get rid of each other if they tried, and as such have no choice but to embrace the competition.

Guts and Griffin (Berserk)

Best Anime Rivalries

Best Anime Rivalries of all Time
Image Credit: Studio 4°C via Netflix

The rivalry between Guts and Griffith of Berserk is just as enthralling as it is heartbreaking.

Both forced onto the battlefield in order to survive and achieve their desires, the two find a kinship in one another after Guts loses to Griffith in a duel. They gain a natural understanding of one another, and are willing to brave threats both tangible and supernatural for the other’s safety.

However, this bond proves to be their downfall. As Guts shifts his focus from taking Griffith’s orders to pursuing his own path, the two face off to determine who is stronger. Guts emerges victorious and heads out on his own journey, but Griffith is scarred by the loss of someone he could never live without. The end result is Griffith losing everything he worked for, blaming Guts and eventually doing the unthinkable to get it back at the cost of everything Guts cherishes.

From then on, the two are at constant odds with each other. For one to achieve their ultimate dream, the other must be snuffed out, and neither can rest so long as the other draws breath.

It’s one of the darkest anime rivalries around, but also one of the most carefully crafted. One could seldom hope to find a more tragic tale of rivals in any medium, and will undoubtably be drawn into their conflict until the bitter-sweet end.

About the author

Keenan McCall

Keenan has been a nerd from an early age, watching anime and playing games for as long as I can remember. Since obtaining a bachelor's degree in journalism back in 2017, he has written thousands of articles covering gaming, animation, and entertainment topics galore.