Anime has become incredibly popular worldwide over the past few decades. The unique art style, engaging stories, and dynamic characters draw fans into these Japanese animated series. Some anime have stood the test of time and are considered classics that every fan should watch. Here are the top 10 most popular and influential anime of all time that you must see if you want to call yourself an anime fan.
1. Dragon Ball
Why it’s popular: Dragon Ball is considered by many to be the gateway anime that launched the popularity of Japanese animation worldwide. It introduced millions outside of Japan to the action-packed world of shounen anime. The series follows the adventures of Son Goku from childhood into adulthood as he trains in martial arts and explores the world in search of the seven mystical Dragon Balls.
Dragon Ball combines martial arts, comedy, sci-fi, and fantasy elements to create an addictive formula. The anime spawned a multimedia franchise of sequels, films, video games, and merchandise. Several famous manga artists credit Dragon Ball as an inspiration, and many tropes found in shounen can be traced back to this series.
Why you should watch: Beyond nostalgia, Dragon Ball holds up as an excellent anime for those new to the genre. The tournaments feature intense fights as Goku constantly strives to better himself and overcome new threats. Fun characters like the shapeshifting pig Oolong and desert bandit Yamcha keep the story fresh and entertaining outside of the action.
2. One Piece
Seasons: 20+ (ongoing)
Episodes: 1026+ (ongoing)
Why it’s popular: As one of the “Big Three” anime franchises, One Piece has captivated viewers for over two decades and become a core part of anime culture. It holds the mantle of highest-selling manga series of all time with over 500 million copies sold worldwide. Fans are drawn into the swashbuckling adventures of the eccentric Straw Hat Pirates as they pursue their dreams on the high seas.
With its massive cast of unique characters and imaginative worldbuilding, One Piece creates an unforgettable atmosphere. The charming art style and emotive animation bring the pirate adventures to life. Devoted fans eagerly await each new chapter and episode.
Why you should watch: It may seem intimidating to start a 1000+ episode series, but once you’re hooked, you’ll be glad there’s so much One Piece to enjoy. The early East Blue Saga does an excellent job introducing the lovable characters and mythical Devil Fruits. Your investment in the Straw Hats’ journeys will pay off during spectacular arcs like Enies Lobby and Marineford. If you love fun, experimental shonen anime, set sail with One Piece.
Seasons: 23+ (ongoing)
Episodes: 1192+ (ongoing)
Why it’s popular: Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, but it originated as an anime in 1997. The adventures of young Pokémon trainer Satoshi (Ash) and his electric mouse partner Pikachu made Pokémon a global phenomenon. Kids caught the fever as they bought mountains of video games, cards, toys, and other merchandise.
The concept of collecting cute monsters to battle resonated strongly with fans. Each new region and set of games introduced more Pokémon to catch. Matching the games’ worldwide popularity, the fun, lighthearted anime reached audiences of all ages in over 100 countries. Pokémon persists as a nostalgic juggernaut decades later.
Why you should watch: The Indigo League season does a stellar job introducing audiences to the world of Pokémon training and the techniques of catching and battling. Pikachu’s reluctant friendship with Ash creates an endearing dynamic. As they travel across regions and meet eccentric gym leaders with specialized teams, you’ll be tempted to go out and catch Pokémon yourself IRL.
Seasons: 5 seasons of original Naruto, 21 seasons of Naruto: Shippuden, 1 season of Boruto (ongoing)
Episodes: 220 episodes of original Naruto, 500 episodes of Naruto: Shippuden, over 100 episodes of Boruto (ongoing)
Why it’s popular: As part of the new “Big Three Shōnen” anime, Naruto attracted millions hungry for ninja action. Its popularity in the West helped launch anime into mainstream pop culture. Naruto himself resonated as an underdog ninja who never gives up on his dreams of becoming Hokage and gaining respect.
The ninjutsu battles provided visually spectacular fights, while the plot built up emotional investment through backstories and relationships. Naruto also inspired a generation with its themes of friendship, perseverance, and destiny. The extensive cast allowed fans to choose their favorite characters and couples.
Why you should watch: If you want to experience quintessential shonen anime, Naruto is a must-watch. Epic ninja battles, shadow clones, giant toads and fox demons, rivalries, and plot twists galore. It’s easy to get invested in the lore and growth of the characters. And Naruto’s final fight with Sasuke is simply iconic for any anime fan.
5. Death Note
Why it’s popular: Death Note upended assumptions about anime by bringing a morally ambiguous antihero and cerebral cat-and-mouse game to the forefront. The compelling story spans just 37 episodes but left a huge impact. The show’s dark examination of justice and ethics sparked endless debates among fans. It also helped dispel Western misconceptions of anime as childish cartoons.
The rivalry between genius high school student Light and quirky detective L as they use the Death Note to pursue their ideologies helped redefine what anime could be. Psychological thriller elements paired with Shinigami and the Death Note notebook made the show a riveting global hit.
Why you should watch: If you think anime is just style without substance, Death Note will prove you very wrong. The sharp writing and complex moral dilemmas will keep you enthralled and uncertain about which side to support. With clever plot twists and master plans, Light and L’s face-off is one of anime’s greatest intellectual battles.
6. Detective Conan
Seasons: 30+ (ongoing)
Episodes: 1046+ (ongoing)
Why it’s popular: Detective Conan (or Case Closed) has gained a loyal following as one of the longest-running anime series to date. For over 25 years, new cases have continually premiered. The child genius detective Conan Edogawa has become a beloved character, especially in Japan.
Viewers love following Conan as he solves mystifying crimes too difficult for the police. The episodic formula combines detective drama and intrigue with fun humor and endearing characters. Fans try to solve the cases along with Conan and watch in suspense as he reveals the killer.
Why you should watch: Detective Conan is perfect for mystery lovers. If you enjoy shows like Sherlock or CSI, you’ll similarly love watching Conan piece together crime scene clues and motives. He implements clever tricks and gadgets, making the revelations at the end very rewarding. It’s also fun seeing a pint-sized Conan running circles around clueless adults.
7. Attack on Titan
Why it’s popular: Attack on Titan became an international blockbuster by subverting common anime tropes and diving into dark, intense storylines. The titular Titans, massive mindless humanoids who devour people, create suspense and highlight human fragility. After the Fall of Wall Maria, no one feels safe.
The anime generates mysteries that keep viewers engaged while exploring thought-provoking themes about human nature through its complex characters. Heroes become villains. Right and wrong blur. Hard choices must be made for survival. Backstories and plot twists keep ramping up the stakes. The top-tier animation during 3D maneuver gear battles also awes fans.
Why you should watch: Are you interested in gripping post-apocalyptic tales? Attack on Titan will immediately suck you into its harsh, unforgiving world with its jaw-dropping opening episode. Loyalties will be divided and morals questioned as the three-dimensional characters wrestle with inner demons while fighting the external monstrous Titans.
8. Sailor Moon
Why it’s popular: As one of the most famous “magical girl” anime, Sailor Moon inspired generations of viewers with its themes of friendship, empowerment, and good vs evil. Usagi and her fellow Sailor Guardians taught fans to be strong and believe in themselves.
The series also broke ground with an almost entirely female cast and greater diversity of characters compared to contemporaries. Sailor Moon attracted both male and female fans with its expressive art, humor, romance, and action. When aired abroad, it gained fame as one of the first anime to crossover to the West.
Why you should watch: Sailor Moon blends cute fashion and powerful magic for perfect fantasy escapism.
9. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Why it’s popular: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is considered one of the greatest anime series ever made. It delivers an emotionally moving story along with epic fantasy action and in-depth worldbuilding. The anime follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric who attempt to restore their bodies after a failed human transmutation.
Fans connected with the brothers’ tragic backstory and watched eagerly as they sought redemption by helping others with their alchemy skills. Exciting plot twists and lovable characters helped boost Fullmetal Alchemist to enormous popularity worldwide.
Why you should watch: If you want a complete anime experience, look no further than Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It showcases intricate philosophies on life, death, loyalty, and morality through a sprawling story. Alongside the thoughtful themes is expertly crafted action and inventive alchemy powers during fights.
10. Sword Art Online
Why it’s popular: Sword Art Online struck a chord by portraying characters trapped inside an immersive video game where dying in-game meant death in real life. Fans loved following Kirito and Asuna’s relationship while watching the fantasy world’s mechanics influence the strategic battles.
The life-or-death stakes and increasingly dangerous game floors constantly kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Sword Art Online was also one of the first anime adapted from a light novel rather than manga, helping boost light novels’ popularity. The sci-fi animation and romance elements expanded the isekai and harem demographics.
Why you should watch: Sword Art Online provides an addictive blend of virtual reality and fantasy adventure. If you love RPG games, the mechanics and strategy involved in boss battles will be a blast. As the risks intensify and Kirito faces game-controlled killers, you’ll race to see what happens next in this thrilling saga.
This list covers the most influential, popular, and highly-rated anime that often top fan polls and drive conversation. From the classics that built the anime industry to recent series that redefined genres, these anime showcase the best the medium has to offer. Their engaging stories, lovable characters, captivating worlds, andPLUS emotional moments have earned them a special status in anime fandom.
There are many other excellent anime series out there worth watching of course. However, the works above have withstood the test of time to become must-see anime. If you consider yourself an anime fan, make sure to check out these amazing series! Seeing what captivates millions of viewers worldwide will help you appreciate the creativity and storytelling that goes into anime. To read more article like this visit GamerGems.com
So what are your thoughts after reading about these most popular anime? Have you watched all of them already or did some peak your interest to add to your watch list? Share your top anime picks in the comments! I’d love to hear your favorites.
Frequently Asked Questions About Popular Anime
What makes an anime popular and mainstream?
There are a few key factors that allow certain anime to break through to large mainstream audiences:
Engaging premise and storytelling: A compelling premise hooks viewers from the start. Well-paced storytelling with cliffhangers and escalating conflicts keeps people watching.
Appealing visual aesthetic: Stylized animation and character designs attract fans. Action series wow audiences with dynamic fight scenes.
Relatable characters: Viewers become invested when they relate to and care about the characters. Interesting backstories and character development help.
Cross-media promotions: Anime adapted from popular manga or light novels brings over existing fans. Multi-media franchises (games, films, music) boost exposure.
Memes and viral content: Scenes, characters, or lines from an anime spike in popularity when they become viral internet memes.
Mainstream accessibility: Series that avoid alienating new viewers and offer easy entry points help anime break mainstream barriers.
What are the “Big Three” anime franchises?
The “Big Three” refers to the three mega-franchise anime series that achieved incredible popularity and commercial success from the early 2000s to mid 2010s: Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece. They aired together and led the global anime craze.
What studios produce the most popular anime?
Studios with the most hit anime include Toei Animation (Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon), Sunrise (Gundam, Code Geass), Bones (My Hero Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist), and ufotable (Demon Slayer, Fate series). But many studios have produced mainstream hits.
What is a gateway anime for beginners?
Some widely recommended gateway anime for beginners are Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, and Sword Art Online. They offer accessible plots and themes involving genres like action, psychological thriller, and adventure.
What makes a character popular and iconic?
Traits of popular iconic anime characters include unique designs, signature moves/catchphrases, complex backstories, and character development arcs. They have distinctive personalities and reflect ideals viewers root for. Popular characters are also often “shipping” favorites.