Originating back in 1917, and later becoming an unstoppable international phenomenon in the ’80s, anime is a Japanese art form that truly is like no other. It is a genre that celebrates visual storytelling, and puts creativity at its forefront – constantly sparking imagination and amazing viewers with unique and colourful stories. But, what is really the best anime series of all time?
From cute characters, action-packed fighting sequences, to darker psychological stories, anime is a medium that has given us a well of amazing content over the years that literally everyone can enjoy. But with a century’s worth of shows, and tons of different sub-genres floating around, let’s be honest, finding the best anime of all time is a daunting task, and not everyone is going to agree.
Thankfully, we here at the Digital Fix are up for the challenge, ready to battle our way through all the filler episodes and eat a few Senzu beans as we find out what the best anime series of all time are – for all your TV watching convenience. We’ve included something for everyone. Whether you like Shounen anime or prefer some feel good, and light-hearted Shojo picks, they are all here.
What are the best anime series of all time:
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- One Piece
- Parasyte: The Maxim
- Cowboy Bebop
- Ouran High School Host Club
- Death Note
- One Punch Man
- Dragon Ball Z
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 – 1996)
An iconic show whose deep and meaningful story is as action-packed as it is profound, you’ll struggle to find a better piece of storytelling than Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Trying to explain the amazing story for this anime briefly is tricky due to how deep, and meaningful its plot truly goes. But the main gist is that in a dystopian version of Tokyo, a young boy, Shinji, must pilot a bio-mech named Evangelion, and battle destructive beings called Angels, who are hell-bent on destroying humanity.
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Besides being wildly entertaining with all its mass destruction, Evangelion is also a powerfully personal reflection of mental health. The series shows how depression manifests and (depending on which of the show’s two endings you decide to latch onto) how it feels to overcome the difficult journey to self-acceptance. There’s also giant mechs fighting some bizarre looking monsters every other episode, so what more could you want?
One Piece (1999 – Present)
You knew that we couldn’t talk about the best anime series without mentioning the aspiring king of the pirates. One Piece is widely considered one of the best animes of all time, and for good reason. Telling the story of a rubber-limbed Captain Monkey D. Luffy and his zany crew, The Straw Hat Pirates, the show revolves around Luffy’s seemingly never-ending mission to find Gol D. Roger’s treasure (The One Piece), and have his name go down in history as the next Pirate King.
It’s a story that never gets stale, and builds up a gripping and imaginative world that captures a sense of adventure and fun, making it an easy watch for both anime newbies and veterans alike. It’s a show full of comedy, drama, and as all its new episodes prove, it is also a series that just keeps getting better over time.
Parasyte: The Maxim (2014 – 2015)
Based on Hitishi Iwaaki’s manga, here is a horror anime that is recognised as one of the best spooky series you can find. Shinichi Izumi is your typical high school student until alien parasitic creatures (aptly named Parasites) invade the earth. One night Izumi prevents a flesh-eating parasite from taking over his brain, causing the alien to gain control of his hand instead. The two strike a deal agreeing to share Izumi’s body, and go about killing fully formed parasites before more innocent civilians fall victim to the otherworldly beings.
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The anime is violent, super existential, and has a banging score. By the end of its season-long runtime, it makes us question, who are the true parasites? Seeing Izumi’s character development is also one of the best narrative payoffs you can witness. Starting as a weak character, we see his thought process shift, and his experiences affect him on a deep level, seamlessly crafting a complex emotional journey, intertwined with enjoyable scares and gore.
Cowboy Bebop (1998 – 1999)
Who doesn’t love a good old Western set in space? A noir-esque, intergalactic, action-driven show, Cowboy Bebop is a beautifully animated series, full of intriguing characters, and touching storylines. It is moody, full of genuinely funny jokes, and also has one of the best soundtracks you will hear in any anime, period. Set in 2071, where crime rates are rising, and space travel is the norm, we follow a group of bounty hunters led by Spike Spiegel, an exiled hitman with a mysterious past.
Besides fast-paced adventures, the series has strong themes surrounding loss, which every crew member in the cast has gone through in some capacity. This interpersonal drama, paired with Cowboy Bebop’s high flying action scenes, make the anime fun but weirdly relatable at the same time. There is also a cute corgi among the ranks of the bounty hunting gang (Ine is the bestest boy), which is always a plus in our books.
Ouran High School Host Club (2006)
Sometimes you just want a wholesome and fun anime that is guaranteed to make you smile. This romance series is charmingly ridiculous, taking every Shojo stereotype you can think of and amping it up to 100. It follows the misadventures of the Ouran Host Club, a group of the most handsome students in school who have too much free time on their hands, and serve their female classmates for a price.
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Haruhi Fujioka, a scholarship student, accidentally discovers the club, and accidentally breaks a priceless vase, and is forced to join the club as a host to repay her debt. The series is hilarious, delightfully absurd, and pokes fun at otaku culture. Every episode is more elaborate than the next, and in terms of an enduring satire that makes fun of overused romance manga tropes, it’s an anime that you just can’t beat.
Death Note (2006 – 2007)
The saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, has never applied to anything as perfectly as it applies to the anime Death Note. A psychological thriller, Death Note is a beloved series that intertwines crime, supernatural forces, and hyper focuses on a tense battle of wits between two geniuses. Light Yagami finds a Death Note, a book held by Death Gods (Shinigami) that causes people to die when their names are written down on it. He decides to use the book to target criminals, becoming a supernatural vigilante from afar.
As people start dropping like flies, the media dubs him Kira, and eventually, a task force, led by an eccentric detective called L, begins to hunt him down. The writing in the series has plenty of twists and turns, making you question your own moral standpoints, and brings a fresh new take on the thriller genre, as it shows fantasy elements of Death Gods, an intricate tug of war between Light and L, and eventually Light’s mental descent as overwhelming power begins to consume him.
One Punch Man (2015 – Present)
People who don’t like anime usually give the following reasons: the fight scenes are too crazy, the characters are too dramatic, and everything just looks too bizarre. Well, One Punch Man has all of those qualities, and really makes a point of it in the best possible way, giving us one of the funniest and most self-aware anime out there right now.
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Saitama is a bald superhero who can beat any opponent with just one punch. While that sounds amazing on paper, it has caused the hero to feel immensely bored, and desperate to find a worthy opponent that can give him a proper fight. For any fans of the Shounen genre, One Punch Man lovingly makes hilarious jabs at every trope in the book. From over the top speeches, silly obsessions with power levels, and a chaotic art style, it is a superhero story that we have never seen before.
Dragon Ball Z (1989 – 1996)
Speaking about Shounen, you have to mention the king of that subgenre, Dragon Ball Z. Although we had a tough time picking which Dragon Ball series to put on this list, as we love them all (except GT, sorry monkey fans), you just can’t beat the general kookiness of Dragon Ball Z. For many of us the series was our gateway into anime in general.
Set in a dystopian world, there are seven dragon balls that, once gathered, can summon the all-mighty dragon Shenron, who will grant whoever called him a wish. The immense power of the dragon balls attracts evil forces on the regular. Goku, a Saiyan who is obsessed with food and fighting, must act as Earth’s protector, engaging in epic battles, exploding a few planets, and ends up constantly training to save the world again and again. The series is full of action and enduring characters that’ll make you invested in the entire story – even the filler episodes.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009 – 2010)
Nothing beats a well-crafted story, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood knows how to keep viewers engaged. Everything in the anime works together to build a detailed fantasy world, mixing heart-racing fight sequences with intricate storylines. The show’s structure makes viewers really care about all the character’s fates and futures – also, the magic system in the anime is pretty sick.
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A faithful adaptation that directly follows the events from Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist manga, the anime centres around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who both have an affinity for alchemy. After failing to bring back their dead mother, Al’s body is obliterated, and Edward sacrifices his arm to bring back his brother’s soul. To regain their bodies, the two begin a quest to find the Philosopher’s stone, uncovering secrets and conspiracies along the way. The series has some striking moments and depicts a world that feels alive, full of history and subtext, informing all the characters’ decisions. Truly a great piece of storytelling, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a must-watch.
Pokemon (1997 – Present)
The most successful videogame adaption of all time, Pokémon is an adorable classic about perseverance and friendship. It is also full of the cutest critters you’ll ever see in any form of media, animated or not (shout out to all the Bulbasaurs). Set in the colourful world seen in each video game, the anime is full of childlike wonder, has a beautiful innocence to it, and is generally smile-inducing.
The show centres around aspiring Pokémon master Ash and Pikachu, travelling around the globe – on a mission to battle their way to the top and catch all the wild Pokémon they can find. The duo are joined by a rotating cast of wacky companions, and face Team Rocket’s enduring evil schemes during their adventures. From its whimsical art to Team Rocket’s iconic catchphrase, and featuring some of the best character designs you’ll ever see, Pokémon is an unforgettable series.
For more animated magic be sure to read our list of the best anime movies of all time. Or if you are wondering how you can find some classics, read our guide on where to watch Pokemon, One Piece, and Dragon Ball.
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