People in the West – at least those who have never watched it – recognize anime by its characters' large eyes, their colorful and stylized hair, and the shows' elaborate, fantastical plotlines.
This is the distinctive art style we recognize in animes – from things like Pokémon to Dragon Ball, Spirited Away to Death Note. And, in our country, we associate this particular genre with Japanese culture – thinking that this precisely is what defines Japanese popular culture. And that this is what Japanese animation is like.
We'd be right and wrong in our assessment here. Because whilst anime makes up a huge proportion of the Japanese film and television market – and indeed much of the world's animated shows – that style that is so recognizable to us is not the extent of Japanese anime.
In fact, many of the anime shows that we know are not necessarily so popular in Japan. Just as there are many more anime series in Japan that we just don't know over here.
So, What, Then, Is Anime?
Anime is really just short for animation, surprisingly enough. Whilst in English, the term has come to specifically designate Japanese animation techniques, in Japan, it refers to animated productions from all over the world, non-Japanese as much as Japanese.
Given this, it's hard to say that anime really constitutes a genre as such – and the style we see as specifically anime here is not really so clearly defined. It isn't all big eyes and wacky hair.
Rather, there are as many different styles of anime as there are animators, artists, and animation studios. You'll probably know studios like Studio Ghibli, Toei Animation, Kyoto Animation, and Gainax – and, if you do, you'll know that their styles are quite significantly different. And if you are anime fans, you'll easily spot the difference between Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki.
This fact also complicates the questions, 'what's the best anime in Japan?', or 'what are the most popular anime movies?'. It's a tricky question because, in Japan, anime can be for everyone – and different anime characters are made for different audiences.
Gundam, for example, was aimed originally at boys, whilst Cowboy Bebop, with more sophisticated themes, was aimed at adult audiences. Meanwhile, Fruits Basket was intended for a young female audience.
Find out more about Japan's culture of anime!
What Is The Best Anime Series?
All of this means that it is hard to define the best series or the most favorite ones even. However, we have given it a go. And, like with any best-of list, we know that we might upset part of the anime fandom.
Some of these, you'll find, are bigger with an international audience than they necessarily are with a Japanese one. But this is a testament to the massive global appeal of this style of art.
So, from full-length films to fantasy series, here are some of the most popular anime series around.
Read about the best characters in anime here!
Tiger And Bunny
According to a poll in Japan, the Tiger and Bunny franchise came out as the most popular anime production of all time. The characters came from an original manga, were made into an animated series, video games, a stage play, and live-action films.
Generally, then, we can say that it is pretty popular as a franchise.
It takes place in a futuristic New York City in which superheroes are sponsored by companies, and they compete to be the 'King of Heroes' – as their heroism is broadcast on television.
It's been available subbed on Netflix, by the way, if you want to check it out.
Love Live! School Idol Project
Another of the most popular franchises in Japan is known as Long Live! – which has, again, spawned a whole range of different media projects too. Beyond the original anime and manga, you've now got CDs, music videos, and video games. It became something of a cultural sensation.
Rather than the fantasy anime we are familiar with, however, this is a simple story of a high school student and her friends who become 'idols' – young singer celebrities – to save their Japanese school.
We told you that anime is a lot more than we initially assume.
One of the massively successful anime from the late nineties is Cardcaptor Sakura – or, in the heavily criticized American version, Cardcaptors.
Recognized as one of the best shoujo manga series – or a manga aimed at young girls – this was transformed into a seventy-part anime series. It also won a hell of a lot of awards.
The story revolves around a girl called Sakura, who receives magical powers after releasing into the world a pack of magical cards. The series focuses on her retrieving these cards.
It's a great example of the famous genre of anime known as 'magical girl,' which features, surprisingly enough, a girl who can use magic.
The seventy episodes in the series were cut to around forty for the American version, which were dubbed and criticized for making the plot unintelligible.
The Manga, Gin Tama, is one of the bestselling series in Japan – and, as is the trend, this has been made into everything from a live-action film, Gintama, to a light novel.
The series is set in the Edo period – the years from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century in Japan – but one in which the country is occupied by aliens. Gintoki Sakata is the main character, a samurai who fights against the aliens and helps to rescue their prisoners.
It's known for its comedy and its social themes, and it has been hugely influential.
Digimon was seen by Anglophone audiences as, essentially, a rip-off of the hugely successful Pokémon. However, whilst Pokémon's plot arc was perhaps a little limited, Digimon became much more popular and much more critically acclaimed.
Its characters are known as 'digital monsters,' which populate a digital world into which some children are transported. Realizing that they are destined to be the saviors of this world, the children embark on a quest to do exactly that.
One of the bestselling, highest-grossing, and critically acclaimed anime and Manga in Japan is Fullmetal Alchemist.
This is a series that tells the story of the Elric brothers' pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone. Set in the Industrial Revolution, these characters had tried, through alchemy, to bring their mother back to life by using parts of their bodies. However, the experiment didn't work, and they became permanently damaged.
The series sold over seventy million copies worldwide.
Dragon Ball Z
An enduringly popular franchise, Dragon Ball is one of the most recognizable products of the Japanese anime culture. Its films have made nearly a billion dollars across the world – with only the live-action American-made movie flopping at the box office – and the multimedia franchise as a whole raking in over twenty billion dollars.
It's a simple plot: Son Goku, throughout his life, travels the world in search of the Dragon Balls, objects that release dragons and grant wishes. Simultaneously, a wide variety of villains pursue them too.
Dragon Ball is also the second-highest selling series of manga in history.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
If it wasn't for Neon Genesis Evangelion, anime might not be as popular as it is today. Owing to a financial crisis in Japan during the eighties and nineties, people weren't producing as much as they were, and the cultural industries were stagnating.
Neon Genesis Evangelion intervened into this landscape, offering a sophisticated, original, and ultimately hugely popular development in the world of anime.
After a global disaster, Shinji, a teenager, is called to fight the Angels by piloting an Evangelion, a 'mecha' or human-controlled robot. It was these figures of the Evangelions that made the series so influential – and you only need to look at its grossing to see the franchise's global popularity.
Take Japanese lessons on Superprof now.
Princess Mononoke is the highest-grossing anime film in the world. It was also the highest-grossing film in Japan ever, until Hayao Miyazaki, the director, made Spirited Away, which overtook it.
It's a wonderful film essentially about the environment. Based somewhere between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, the film depicts a prince's involvement in a struggle between the spirits of the forest and those who plunder that forest's resources.
The film has won a whole heap of awards since its release in 1997 – and it cemented the place of Studio Ghibli among the big anime studios of Japan.
It has also been a massive influence on the world of anime, computer games, and manga – with its complex moral message and its powerful characterization.
If you are an anime fan or know anything about anime, you must have come across One Piece. It is amongst the most-watched animes, and it still airs on many television platforms.
Being on-air since 1998, the show is now 970 episodes into our heros' journey to the Grand Line!
The story is crowned as the best-selling manga globally. It has been entertaining anime lovers for ages, and it is still not going anywhere, with new and exciting episodes coming in regularly.
All credit goes to the author Eiichiro Oda. It was his testament and genius that the show is still winning hearts after all these years.
One Piece follows Monkey D. Luffy, whose goal is to achieve the pirate king's mantle and conquer a legendary treasure.
Of course, the story is like any other treasure story, full of action, mysteries, and unforgettable characters. Still, what makes it fantastic is how a unique and captivating world Oda has built around it.
Luffy, the protagonist, gathers a bunch of other misfits and anti-heroes to help him achieve his goal. This team of unique and different characters sticks together and faces different challenges and hurdles.
The team, called the Strawhat Pirates, has seen many main characters leave and then be replaced by others throughout the seasons. However, the charm has remained, and each new character gives the story a twist!
Luffy's character faces tremendous development. He builds alliances and makes enemies along the way. The story is terrific, the action is exciting, the characters are interesting, and there is a lot of humor on top of it. After all, what is Japanese anime without a bit of comedy?
Overall, One Piece is a must-watch for any anime lover or someone starting to develop an interest in watching anime.
Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Anime
Anime is one of the few entertainment mediums that never got old. There was a time when we used to wait for Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z after school.
We didn't have many options at that time, and to be honest, we didn't need any. The enormous worlds and gripping storylines were enough to keep us going.
However, in today's world, where kids have lots of options and alternatives to choose from, anime may find it difficult to get attention.
To relive childhood memories and get a hit of nostalgia, we believe that anime is an excellent source of entertainment.
To prove our point, we have compiled all the reasons why everyone should start watching anime again:
1. Anime Is Rarely Canceled
Most of the Netflix and Disney+ fans would agree to this. There's nothing more infuriating than getting invested in a show only to find out that there may not be a "next season."
However, if you are an anime fan, this feeling might be alien to you. As there are no real-life actors or locations, no scheduling conflicts, payment conflicts, or other extraneous variables, there is rarely a reason to cancel shows.
There are only two conditions when an anime show is canceled:
- If the story ends as it happened with Fullmetal Alchemist
- If it continues to include more storylines until the show is completely changed
Even if the show got canceled somehow, you can always find manga and keep going with your favorite show.
2. Unique And Interesting Characters
Anime is always known for its vibrant and diversified characters. Characters in anime are designed to be as close to real people.
They have real personalities, natural flaws and imperfections, dreams and goals, and more than that. There is so much variety in the way character models are designed.
In fact, there is more ethnic diversity on animes than there is in Hollywood!
Anime can make you fall in love with a demon, a vampire, a detective, a warrior, or a high school student. The list is endless.
3. Characters Are Not Immune To Death
We know that sometimes when the characters feel too godly to die, the show becomes a little boring. The reason being, the stakes are not accurate anymore.
However, in anime, despite the love and popularity of the character, the stakes are real, and characters die.
The plot does not save anime characters. Characters can die even if they have been a massive part of the plot.
And if that isn't the case, the reasons are well-explained, such as in the story of One-Punch Man, Saitama. The man can kill anything with one punch; who's going to kill him?
However, there aren't any perfect characters or critical role players that can't die. Therefore, in anime, you can expect the unexpected.
4. Anime Is Easy To Relate
We can relate to anime. Not because of the magical storylines but the personalities of popular anime characters, their dilemmas, challenges, and morals.
Just because these shows are animated and not performed by real people doesn't mean they are not relatable or realistic.
Most of the animes are equipped with serious moral dilemmas and ideologies taken from real-life situations.
Moreover, sentiments like loss, sadness, determination, decision making, the ability to overcome failure, and a lot more make the anime highly relatable.
5. Possibilities Are Limitless
Think of a random story with the strangest plot; now multiply it three times. That's what some of the more "larger-than-life" animes provide viewers.
With anime, there is nothing too much; anything is possible. They also have this outstanding quality of making the weirdest of stories into something extraordinary.
Take One Piece as an example. The first season starts with a human world where pirates are looking for treasure. By the 7th season, they find underwater worlds, fish people, Clown bosses, power-giving fruits, and a lot more!
Therefore, with anime, there are endless possibilities. A school of gamblers, a universe in which humans live with demons and angels, a boy who eats fruit and tries to become the pirate king.
You get the idea. With anime, the concept could be the most bizarre, but it will still hit you right in the feels.
Thanks to easy animations, anime producers can work with astounding ideas, making one masterpiece after the other.
6. Learn About Japanese Culture
Of course, anime is usually back-dropped by Japanese culture because most shows come from Japan. As a result, Japanese culture has infiltrated our lives through TV and computer screens.
People learn a lot from their traditions just by watching some anime shows.
Every anime will always have something to teach about Japanese culture: slang and common phrases, traditions and customs, myths, folk law, and the list goes on.
7. Strong Female Characters
Most people have made a stereotype about the way women are portrayed in Japanese anime culture. For example, women are shown pretty, naïve, weak, and dependent.
To some degree, older animes were guilty of doing this. However, with time, that culture has changed. The new Dota 2 anime, for example, has three main female characters shown to be the opposite of every trait mentioned above.
Ignoring their physical appearances, female characters now have significant roles in anime stories. They are no longer there to please male fans with their beauty.
Instead, most famous anime characters are now strong, independent females with inspiring backstories and significant responsibilities.
Furthermore, when it comes to action sequences, women and men are equal, and all the ladies go toe-to-toe with men. The fighting scenes are super cool and always keep you on your toes.
8. Amazing Action Sequences
Talking about the fighting scenes, one of the biggest reasons to watch anime is their fantastic action sequences. The action is so well established that you'll have to watch it over and over again.
Other than that, the fight sequences are exceptionally well written. The way the writers include these situations in the storyline without burdening the rest of the story is just too good.
Even the filler episodes don't feel like fillers and give the viewers something to think about. Moreover, there are so many emotions involved in every fighting scene that it never allows you to get bored.
In addition, the use of animation makes them limitless, and anything can be shown with little effort. No stuntmen are required.
9. You Can Binge Watch It
Streaming platforms have found that releasing a show together gives it more of a chance to succeed, an ideology followed by Netflix. This also explains the popularity of Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty.
We start watching it from the beginning but can't wait to find out the ending. Hence, we binge-watch. However, there are many shows that you can't binge-watch because of their weekly episodic release.
Rejoice! With anime, you don't have to wait an entire week for a new episode. Most of the shows are available to watch with full seasons already uploaded so that you can binge-watch them in one go.
The anime production houses work tirelessly to produce content for anime fans. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, you don't have to wait forever for the next episode.
Depending on the anime you watch, there is a chance that new episodes and seasons are released before you have watched all the existing episodes.
10. It's Super Entertaining!
This one is the most basic and arguably the most important reason to watch anime. Anime is nothing if not utterly entertaining.
The storylines, the characters, the action, the comedy, everything is on point and captivating enough to make the viewer fall in love with it.
Moreover, they keep the viewer intrigued with fast-paced, unique, and thought-provoking writing. All of this, combined with stunning action sequences and emotional scenes, make the experience memorable.
Anime can throw in just enough drama to keep the storyline dynamic and full of attention-grabbing elements.
Become An Animator With The Help Of An Expert
Well, here it is. We hope these reasons are compelling enough to make you an anime fanatic, and if not, we hope they make you want to watch an episode.
And if by any chance you are already an anime fan, then we recommend you to check out Superprof and learn cool and exciting things about anime and how anime is created.
You can even learn how to draw anime from Superprof and start making your own characters and stories. Give it a try. You never know. You might create the next Goku.
All you have to do is sign up, look for a drawing tutor near you – specifically one that excels at anime – and start your first lesson!
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