Top 5 + Guest: 5 Best Popular Anime Series

There’s a not-so-invisible chasm on the Internet between folks who tend to mostly watch popular series – such as those that air on American television – and viewers who...
Light feeling majestic, like a divine conductor, as he writes down more names and kills his way toward "a new world" (ep 26).

There’s a not-so-invisible chasm on the Internet between folks who tend to mostly watch popular series – such as those that air on American television – and viewers who watch a wider slate of shows.  Unfortunately, I think the latter group sometimes comes off as snobby (oh, your favorite series is Naruto, huh?), even though both sides are equally avid about their hobby.  Further, there are a lot of anime that are both popular and excellent.  And that’s what we’re focused on today – popular anime series that we also consider to be very, very good.

Our guest for today’s column is Anime Reporter, who over the past year and a half has developed a terrific aniblog with a huge index of anime reviews covering series old and new, popular and niche.  Check out his site – the Anime Reporter puts a lot of work into his excellent reviews!  And he also put a lot of work into his contribution below – one much lengthier than those we normally post from guests, but it’s worth the read (and maybe somehow appropriate when we’re talking about some series that have 10+ seasons in the books!).

Anime Reporter’s Picks

  1. Death Note
  2. One Piece
  3. Pokémon
  4. Attack on Titan
  5. Naruto

death note 1For me, a good anime is a good story, or at least one that resonates with the viewer personally. While each of my choices on this list were chosen primarily as top examples of popular anime series, each of them also ranks highly on my overall list of anime. Here’s why: Death Note is the immediate go-to when I want to draw a non-anime fan into the wonderful world of Japanese animation. Death Note is dark and driven, it’s twisted and tragic and it has exactly the right mix of psychological thriller and supernatural suspense to draw in viewers who are used to seeing the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead on Western television. Death Note is the top of this list because it’s not only a phenomenal example of a popular anime, but an exemplary piece of storytelling. Full stop.

One Piece is next on my list because it’s a great piece of anime in exactly the areas that Death Note isn’t. In all respects, it meets the criteria to be a pretty traditional Shonen. It’s got the virtuous, though not too bright hero, the seemingly impossible quest that makes up his life-goal and a series of intense, escalating battles. What sets it apart from other series is the blend of sheer hilarity, dysfunctional but deeply likeable characters and an acute awareness of exactly how and when to take itself seriously. The One Piece story spans years, even decades and it’s still very much the simple tale it was at its beginning but its characters and their goals have been allowed to grow and develop without dragging the story back. Good clean fun and a story that grows over the years, what more could you want?

Next on my list possibly seems to be a strange one, partly because it’s basically just there to sell video games and Pikachu merchandise, but also because it’s one that I haven’t actually watched in years. Pokémon makes the list because it was probably the first anime that I really became a big-time fan of. Pokémon was a story of a kid who was kind of a loser, but he made friends with some pretty amazing animals that helped him do great things. I guess something in that must have hit home for me as a kid (hint, it’s not the superpowered animals or the great acheievements), but I genuinely couldn’t get enough of the early series of Pokémon. Every morning I watched Ash bond with his Pokémon, triumph against inept villains and often help someone else out. It was cheesy, but it meant the world to me and so it has to get its place here, even seventeen years later.

cleaning leviNow, Attack on Titan is easily the newest anime on this list. Like Death Note, it carries with it darker tones and a grittier approach to storytelling than any of the other series. Characters feel loss and pain from the moment this anime gets started and they never really stop taking beatings from life. What makes it Top 5 worthy has to be its animation. As characters fly around on complicated mechanisms, the effect is a little like Spider-man on drugs and it really is, overall, a very visually impressive anime, creating an immersive and heart-pounding viewing experience. For this reason, it’s also one of the few instances where I’d undoubtedly recommend the anime over the manga.

Finally, we come to Naruto (both the original series and Shippuuden). Naruto, like Pokémon, takes a young boy who is, by all accounts, a little bit of a loser and it gives him the determination, (and a near unlimited power source growing inside him), that he needs and he slowly, agonisingly, over hundreds of episodes, manages to claw his way towards respect, confidence and friendship. Naruto as a series is pretty comparable to One Piece, though it takes on a much more serious tone as it progresses, it grows and develops, as do its characters and their relationships. The only reason Naruto isn’t a wee bit higher on this list is that it has a tendency to rely a little too much on filler seasons which grind the story to a halt from time to time. It’s nonetheless moving and entertaining to see how Naruto, and so many of the people in his life, find purpose, find strength and find each other. That’s all there is from me, though I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting. (I might have almost risked the fury of the internet by daring to put Avatar the Last Airbender on this list, but I’m not that brave.)

Annalyn’s Picks

  1. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  3. Attack on Titan
  4. Naruto and Naruto Shippuden
  5. Hetalia (both Axis Powers and World Series)

hunter x hunter 1 copyI didn’t take Hunter x Hunter seriously at first, although I enjoyed it. But as the story built and the characters developed, I was increasingly impressed. And HxH only has three recap episodes, and no other fillers to distract from the story. It’s 148 episodes long. Just let that sink in a moment. Now, about the others on my list: FMAB’s characters, stories, and themes grab me, but it’s not fresh in my mind. I need to re-watch it, this time without taking a long break between episodes. I like the art in Attack on Titan, and I’m a bit intrigued by how the Titans work. Naruto brought me into anime fandom, so it’s special to me. Now, I’m over a year behind on Shippuden. Thanks to the fillers, I forgot to be excited about the next episode, so I stopped watching in the middle of an epic fight. But I still care a lot about the characters, and I appreciate how they struggle with big topics like the meaning of peace. Finally, I’m including Hetalia because, while I don’t obsess over it as much as some fans, it has enriched my view of the world. If a text mentions interactions between countries, I think of Hetalia characters. Also, that show introduced me to Sealand, the smallest and oddest country I know. It’s a fun series of five-minute episodes that happens to be somewhat educational.

Zeroe4’s Picks

  1. One Piece 
  2. Code Geass
  3. Fairy Tail
  4. Psycho-Pass
  5. Sword Art Online (arc 1 and 4)

Putra Belitung One Piece Episode 511One Piece is amazing, the only real complaint I have with the show is that it is such a commitment to catch-up, that is why I tend to focus more on the manga. Code Geass is one of my personal favorites, but the show is wonderful as well as really messed up at parts. Fairy Tail is basically Alternate Universe One Piece, with a very wide range of characters and lovable flying cats. I love Psycho-Pass!!! It can be hard to watch though, because of many horrific scenes. Sword Art Online has some amazing stories and story arches, my only complaint is so of the messed up and creepy scenes that ruined arcs 2 and 3 for me.

Samuru’s Picks

  1. Bleach
  2. One Piece
  3. Steins;Gate
  4. Sword Art Online
  5. Naruto

bleach 2I started out as the typical anime fan that most seasoned fans would sneer at. You know, the one that says Dragonball Z or Attack on Titan as the “greatest anime ever!”. That was me, and I did not know any better! To be honest, I’m still a big fan of those more mainstream anime’s than I am of the lesser known ones, like One Piece and Bleach which I religiously read the latest chapter of every week (when will One Piece ever end!). Steins;Gate I had the privilege of watching thanks to Beneath The Tangles mentioning it and it quickly became one of my favorites, as well as Sword Art Online (except the arc where they are fairies….meh). Now, Naruto is a little different as I am not a big fan of the series, but I have watched enough of it where I do appreciate it enough to make the list. The new manga of his son is a good one too.

Lynna’s Picks

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  2. Spirited Away
  3. Steins; Gate
  4. Ouran High School Host Club
  5. Soul Eater

fma 3aFullmetal Alchemist: brotherhood was huge. Sometimes it’s the only anime I and a more casual fan will have both watched. It deserved every ounce of it’s popularity, and it was so good it actually made me dissatisfied with lots of other anime for a while because it had raised my expectations way too high. Spirited Away was a movie I noticed long before I knew what anime was, and when I was finally able to watch it a few years ago, I was enchanted by its beautiful art and intriguing Alice-in-Wonderland-type story. Steins; Gate was an anime that took me very much by surprise. While I expected and enjoyed the time-travel aspect, I was really impressed by how heart-breaking it was, and the main couple is one of my favorites. I watched Ouran High School Host Club years ago, but I still remember laughing really, really hard, and it was one of the first anime that I finished in under a week. Soul Eater is an anime I’ve been watching recently, and funnily enough, I actually hated the first few episodes, but now I love it. Most of the characters are somehow both archetypical and either unique or well-written, which I find pretty impressive, and the plot and action scenes are very intense and gripping.

Read more of our Top 5 + Guest columns and be sure to visit Anime Reporter for reviews of current and past anime, as well as editorials about other geek media.

Otaku. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Meg Ryan movies. Self-anointed sushi chef. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Forever stuck in the 90's. Thinks the 80's was better than it was. Jesus is King.
16 Comments on this post.
  • JekoJeko
    5 June 2015 at 3:15 pm

    I’d put Attack on Titan higher up on my list because of its visceral attention-seeking factor that no doubt boosted the profile of anime and manga upon its release. Couple that with style and characters I can’t find fault in, and it might just be at the top for me.

    I think Bleach and Naruto work great as manga, but if you get addicted to the powers of pacing you can find in shorter, snappier shows, the effect is lessened considerably.

    Still need to watch Code Geass and finish Steins;Gate. Also glad to see someone hailing the brilliance of Soul Eater, minus the fanservice in the first few episodes.

  • Jamie
    5 June 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Death Note is amazing. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is also amazing. Attack on Titan, outside of a few story issues, was also excellent. I’ve only ever heard good things about Hunter x Hunter, I need to watch that some time. Psycho-Pass was one of my first anime series and it was very good too.

    The snob part is sadly true, though I’ve met snobs on the other side as well. I became a seasonal viewer very quickly in my anime journey and I don’t have time to catch up with long running shows, so I dislike it when I’m told I’m not a true anime fan if I haven’t seen Bleach or SAO.

    Great post topic!

    • TWWK
      11 June 2015 at 8:31 am

      I think I would be frustrated to no end if, for instance, someone told me I wasn’t a true anime fan because I hadn’t seen “One Piece.”

  • El Goopo
    5 June 2015 at 5:20 pm

    >And HxH only has three recap episodes, and no other fillers to distract from the story.

    Arguably about a quarter to a third of the HxH “story” might as well be filler for all it really adds to the story, but if you enjoy it, who cares?

    That said, I’d strongly urge people to start with the 1999 version, and then switch over to the 2011 one at the end of the Yorkshin arc. It’s just a much more skillful adaptation until you hit the Greed Island stuff, at which point even the manga takes a bit of a dump until nearer the end of the Chimera Ant arc.

    • Annalyn
      6 June 2015 at 1:11 am

      I watched the 1999 version in my first year of anime-viewing, back when I binge-watched. I didn’t think very much about the anime I watched, let alone remember details. So when the newer version came on Crunchyroll, I thought, “Oh, they got Hunter x Hunter!” It took an episode or two before I realized it was a new version. -_-;; I no longer remember the first running. I’d like to retry it someday.

      I can’t say much in defense of the 2011 version’s first couple dozen episodes, since it’s been over three years since I watched them. I just remember that they were really fun, and that characters’ abilities and relationships were strengthened. I do admit that several episodes in the 110s started to drag on. That almost cost HxH its 5-star rating from me (my star rating is largely based on personal enjoyment and excitement). But for the most part, the last third of Hunter x Hunter was awesome. The visuals, the themes, the character development… I fangirled about it almost as much as I do about Kuroko’s Basketball, and that’s saying something.

      • El Goopo
        6 June 2015 at 11:07 am

        Yeah, I’m not saying HxH 2011 is outright bad or anything, and I’m quite glad they managed to continue the story… but when I compare the parts that were in both anime it’s clear that the ’99 version had more actual thought and effort put into it. In fact, if I hadn’t watched the ’99 version, the ’11 one might have never caught me long enough to actually get to the good stuff nearer the end. It just feels so emotionally flat compared to the ’99 version, that’s all. Maybe if Madhouse had adapted it to less than 148 bloody episodes they could have trimmed the fat and found some directors willing to tackle it who could bring out the best of the material. HxH is a story that deserves a more attentive adaptation, but I’m glad it still got one at all.

  • Samuru
    6 June 2015 at 11:25 am

    Wow, that guy Samuru has some awesome recommendations. He’s great….going to follow his blog 🙂 Kidding, but yeah, everyone had some great stuff here, will be checking out some of them. Though, I can’t get behind HxH, wayyyy too long of a series…my body isn’t ready for another LONG anime…

  • Tommy
    6 June 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Hard to tell what’s exactly “popular” or not. Do Evangelion and Madoka count? I’m going to say they don’t. So here’s mine:

    1. InuYasha
    2. Bleach
    3. FMA (first anime aka not Brotherhood)
    4. Death Note
    5. Hetalia

    • TWWK
      6 June 2015 at 10:20 pm

      We had to talk about this question, actually – what constitutes popular? Very vaguely, it means series that the average anime fan (those who might watch 1-2 series a week?) should be expected to have watched or at least know a ton about. Evangelion would count, then; Madoka might (though I told our writers I wouldn’t count it). All of your selections fit the bill.

      I also referred them to AP’s list of “top” anime, with the cut-off around 60:
      http://myanimelist.net/topanime.php?type=bypopularity

  • stardf29
    8 June 2015 at 6:07 am

    I admittedly don’t watch a whole lot of popular shows, even though there are a number of them I really should get to. If I had to pick a favorite popular anime, though, I’d have to say Fruits Basket. I know it was really popular back then and even now, some 10+ years after it originally aired, it’s well up there on Hulu’s “Popular” anime listing. And the show itself is a perfect blend of great comedy and solid character drama that keeps an overall positive tone and encourages you to view the world in new ways.

    Other popular favorites are Ouran High School Host Club and Free! (for some reason, the popular stuff I love tend to be aimed at girls…).

  • nlnrose
    8 June 2015 at 12:07 pm

    well given that it’s my favorite of all time #1 is steins gate #2 Clannad #3 its old but good Trigun #4 SAO #5 does Kenshin count? if not then fruits basket. while not overly popular (at least not as big as nauruto, DBZ, or one piece) most of these are considered series that you have to see if you enjoy any kind of anime thus I think this list is pretty good.

    • TWWK
      11 June 2015 at 8:37 am

      What constitutes a series being considered “popular” is an interesting question. I think that a lot of series that were “popular” 10-15 years ago (Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Kenshin) might not qualify now, as 1) the amount of anime fans has grown so much and so few of them were watching anime (other than, say, Pokemon) back then and 2) there are so many available series now that older ones are rarely viewed by new fans. Clannad might not even count from your list, as it’s sooo five years ago!

      • nlnrose
        17 June 2015 at 5:10 pm

        That’s debatable. While there are some people who really don’t like old style animation, I was referred to these when i first started. The first anime i watched all the way through was fruits basket which i watched with friends, Trigun and Bebop are still considered some of the best of all time as well (IGN lists bebop as #1 on their 100 best all time list and Trigun made it into the top 25.).The thing is the world of anime is soooo big that if someone wants to get any deeper than Nauruto, One Piece, and Bleach then they are probably going to be going to people who’ve seen a lot of anime. That’s how I found out about every single anime on that list because each one came very highly recommended. If I were to toss in another 2 more popular anime it’d be Attack on Titan and One Piece(though I haven’t seen nor do i plan on seeing past the Arlong arc).

  • Mark
    13 July 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Naruto stopped being good a while back, IMO, and if you’ve read the manga, you know it’s only going to get worse.

  • Cicero
    11 January 2016 at 11:51 pm

    Huh… I always find yop anime lists interesting, since my first anime was… Starblazers aka Space Battleship Yamato. Yes… that old. So my top 5 is usually a bit different from other lists:

    1: Maison Ikkoku
    2: Space Battleship Yamato 2199
    3: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
    4: Cross Game
    5: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

    Or something like that… it’s actually pretty hard for me once I get past the first three. I mean, how about Crest of the Stars? How can I not mention that one somewhere?

    And what about Evangleion?

    I find it easier to respond to request for specific types of stories than just a list of anime.

    • Japesland
      12 January 2016 at 4:59 pm

      Oh man, Maison Ikkoku is one of the best pieces of art anime I’ve seen, easily! I’m not sure I’d consider it “popular anime” like those listed in the article, though. I think I can count the people I know who have seen it on one hand! 😛

      I feel your pain, though. Crest of the Stars is another anime I always want to fit into my lists but just barely gets squeezed out.

    Get Social!
    Facebook By Weblizar Powered By Weblizar
    Recent Comments
    %d bloggers like this: