The 21 Best Anime List of 2018

Narrowing down the best 10, or 20, or even 100 anime series or movies is an almost impossible task. There are so many great anime out there, in literally dozens of genres, subgenres, and metagenres, that comparing one against the other is almost meaningless. There are standouts in every genre though, titles that rise above the rest, in various ways.

We've compiled some of the very best anime series and movies, across 21 different categories, and included a handful of honorable mentions for each. The best anime in each category rises above its genre in one way or another, inspired radical changes in its genre, or otherwise stands out due to a particularly fantastic story or characters, great animation, voice work, and other factors.

Note: Links to stream the series or movie are included, where available, along with age ratings. It's important to note that most of the TV-MA series in this list are rated that way due to violence and blood, although some also include nudity.

01
of 21

Best Action Anime - Attack on Titan

attack on titan high flying action
Screenshot / Hulu

Where you can watch it:Hulu, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-MA
Honorable mentions: Trigun, Black Lagoon, Berserk

Why it's the best
Attack on Titan is horrifying, but it isn't really a horror anime. If you can stomach the grotesque, inside-out appearance of the titular titans, and the brutal finality of the way they devour their victims, you'll find an action anime that's also heavy on plot, character development, and atmosphere.

While there are probably more great action anime than any other genre, Attack on Titan is the best because the virtual lack of plot armor means nobody is ever truly safe, and the stakes are always very real.

02
of 21

Best Fighting Anime - Dragon Ball (Z, GT, Super)

Dragon Ball Z epic fight anime
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Funimation
Rated: TV-14 (Dragon Ball), TV-PG (Dragon Ball Z, GT and Super)
Honorable mentions: One Punch Man, Bleach, Naruto

Why it's the best
The various Dragon Ball series, which follow the adventures of Son Goku and his friends, have been the subject of a lot of parodies, jokes and memes. But without Dragon Ball, the fighting anime genre, as we know it today, probably wouldn't exist.

Dragon Ball started out as a mostly lighthearted take on the ancient Journey to the West, but by the time Dragon Ball Z came out it had fully transformed into the archetype of the genre that influenced so much of what would come after.

It's fine to joke about Goku and his foes spending entire episodes charging up their ultimate attacks, and maybe that isn't for everyone, but that's what the official abridged version Dragon Ball Kai, is for.

Also, the moon gets blown up. More than once.

03
of 21

Best Samurai Anime - Samurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo action scene
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ Funimation, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-MA
Honorable mentions: Rurouni Kenshin, Basilisk

Why it's the best:
Samurai Champloo isn't your typical samurai anime, which is what makes it the best, most stand-out title in the genre. You don't have to like samurai anime for Samurai Champloo to hook you with its undeniable sense of style, slick visuals, fantastic dub, and hip hop aesthetic.

Fans of the genre are more likely to get the anachronistic gags, and appreciate the alternate history version of the Edo period portrayed in the show. But a deep knowledge of the genre really isn't a prerequisite to enjoying Samurai Champloo.

04
of 21

Best Fantasy Anime - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist fantasy adventure anime
Screenshot / Hulu

Where you can watch it:Hulu, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Slayers, Fairy Tale, Log Horizon, Magi

Why it's the best:
The reason that Fullmetal Alchemist is the best fantasy anime of all time is that it paints a fully realized, unique fantasy world with internally consistent rules that have very real consequences. Building on that foundation, Fullmetal Alchemist delivers a story about two brothers that is as grounded as the setting is fantastic.

There's no question about whether the story of the Elric brothers belongs on any list of the best anime of all time. The more contentious issue is whether to choose Fullmetal Alchemist or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

For the uninitiated, Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are based on the same manga. The difference is that the former was produced while the manga itself was still in production, so the end of the show has nothing to do with the manga. Brotherhood came later, and it faithfully adapts the entire manga. Both have great animation, engaging stories, and fantastic dubs.

Brotherhood is a good choice if you prefer a faster pace, more action, and more humor, while the original has a more even pace and more drama.

 

05
of 21

Best Supernatural Anime - Shin Sekai Yori

shin sekai yori fantastic supernatural world
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Bleach, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Mushishi

Why it's the best
A lot of fantasy and supernatural anime incorporate fantastic elements into real world settings, like shinigami descending on Karakura Town in Bleach. And that can make for a fun and engaging show, but the best supernatural anime take it a step further.

Shin Sekai Yori, or From the New World, takes it to a whole new level. The series starts with a slow burn, but that's mainly because the first several episodes are focused on establishing the characters and the fascinating supernatural world they live in.

That attention to detail, and the complex themes explored throughout the series, make Shin Sekai Yori the best supernatural anime around and a legitimately great work of speculative fiction.

06
of 21

Best Magical Girl Anime - Madoka Magica

Madoka Magica magical girl anime
Screenshot / Netflix

Where you can watch it:​ Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Yuuki Yuuna, Little Witch Academia, Mai Hime, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

Why it's the best
The magical girl genre has been around for a long time, and it has a lot of well established tropes. The basic idea is that a young girl, or a group of girls, discover the ability to transform and use magic to fight some type of adversary. In the west, Sailor Moon is one of the most well-known examples of the magical girl genre.

While a lot of series in this genre are aimed exclusively at kids, and specifically at girls, the best ones have broader appeal and feature a wider range of themes.

Magoka Magica is the best magical girl anime because kids, or at least young teens, can still enjoy it, but it's dark enough, and mature enough, to appeal to a much wider audience. Madoka Magica is solidly rooted in the magical girl genre, but with a darker approach, and subversion of many genre tropes, it delivers an emotional payload that elevates it to a new level.

07
of 21

Best Horror Anime - When They Cry (Higurashi)

higarushi when they cry anime
Screenshot / Hulu

Where you can watch it: Hulu
Rated: TV-MA
Honorable mentions: Boogiepop Phantom, Elfin Lied, High School of the Dead

Why it's the best
Most anime horror series are referred to as horror only because they have monsters in them, like High School of the Dead. They tend to be somewhat light on what western audiences think of as horror, but When They Cry effectively straddles the line.

When They Cry has a tremendously creepy atmosphere, which should satisfy fans of Japanese horror, but it also has more than a little touch of mystery, psychological horror, and the type of gore that most western horror fans expect.

08
of 21

Best Science Fiction Anime - Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate time travel sci-fi anime
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ HuluFunimation
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Psycho Pass, Sword Art Online, Noein

Why it's the best
No medium does sci-fi technobabble quite like anime, but there are also a ton of real gems that explore interesting themes and concepts. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a worthy companion to the movie, Psycho Pass is a disturbing crime thriller inspired by Blade Runner, and Noein is a fascinating look at quantum physics, just to name a few.

Steins;Gate revolves around time travel, but it doesn't just use time travel as a plot device. It explores the concept in a fascinating way, establishes internally consistent rules as to how time travel works, and features a tight time loop plot that's a cut above the rest.

09
of 21

Best Mecha/Giant Robot Anime - Gurren Lagann

Screenshot / Netflix

Where you can watch it:Hulu, Netflix, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Gundam, Eureka Seven, Evangelion

Why it's the best
In a genre known for excess, Gurren Lagann takes things to a whole different level with a wink, a nod, and a shouted admonishment to believe in yourself.

Viewers who aren't really into the giant robot anime genre might be turned off by a mecha wearing giant sunglasses, but what seems like it should be an embarrassing mess works so much better than it has any right to.

Gurren Lagann is fun, but it also packs an emotional punch strong enough to pierce the heavens.

10
of 21

Best Slice of Life Anime - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

the melancholy of haruhi suzumiya
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Crunchyroll, Funimation
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Azumanga Daioh, Beck, Hanasaku Iroha, K-On!

Why it's the best
Slice of life is a genre devoted to the mundane, and if you want a quintessential anime that's about nothing in particular, then Azumanga Daioh is probably going to be your jam.

Anime is well known for mixing genres though, which is how you get shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. While Haruhi is a slice of life anime on a superficial level, there's a lot more weirdness going on there. The show elevates itself beyond genre limitations, with elements of mystery and science fiction, which is what makes it the best slice of life anime.

11
of 21

Best Romance Anime - Toradora!

toradora romance anime
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Spice and Wolf, Clannad, Ai Yori Aoshi

Why it's the best
There are a lot of great romance anime series out there, but Toradora! takes the top spot primarily because of the characters. Good romance stories are inherently character driven, and all of the characters in Toradora! have their own motivations and reasons for behaving the way they do.

Unlike a harem anime, the mystery in Toradora! isn't who the main character is going to end up with. An observant viewer will figure that out pretty early on, and then the story really becomes about the characters growing and learning what love is.

12
of 21

Best Drama Anime - Your Lie in April

your lie in april dramatic anime
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:Hulu, Netflix, Crunchyroll
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Clannad, Nana, Angel Beats!

Why it's the best
The best dramas are emotionally manipulative, and Your Lie in April fits the bill. If you have any feelings left to feel, there's a good chance that this show will tease them out, along with plenty of tears that can't be easily explained away by the chopping of onions or a nasty case of hay fever.

What really drives it home, and makes Your Lie in April the best drama anime, is the ending. Instead of just petering out, or leaving things hanging, the end wraps things up in an emotionally impactful way.

13
of 21

Best Harem Anime - High School DxD

high school dxd supernatural harem anime
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimaton
Rated: TV-MA
Honorable mentions: Date a Live, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Trinity Seven

Why it's the best
High School DxD is a harem anime with heavy fantasy elements, some romantic beats, and a tremendous amount of fan service. This show earned its TV-MA rating with an endless stream of both violence and nudity, so it absolutely isn't for children.

That said, High School DxD takes the title of best harem anime because it doesn't shy away from what fans of the genre want. It doesn't really get too deep into the harem aspect until after the first season, but it does carry you through with a legitimately interesting plot and story.

14
of 21

Best Comedy Anime - Gintama

gintama hilarious parody anime
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Crunchyroll, Funimation
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: The Devil is a Part Timer, Space Brothers, Ghost Stories (Dub)

Why it's the best
Comedy can be a hard nut to crack when it comes to anime. A lot of the funniest anime out there rely heavily on Japanese puns that just don't translate. A prime example is Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, which western audiences know for its surrealist, nonsensical humor. In the original Japanese, the humor was primarily based around puns and double-talk.

Ghost Story is another example where the humor was introduced almost entirely in the dub. The original played its material straight, while the dub is one of the most hilarious anime series of all time.

Gintama straddles a fine line where some jokes are probably lost on western audiences, but the show still manages to be legitimately funny, which is why it takes the title of best comedy anime. Some of that comes from jokes that land despite the language barrier, but the show also has a lot of absurdist humor and sight gags that work regardless of your frame of reference.

15
of 21

Best Sports Anime - Major

Major epic baseball sports anime
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ Not currently available online
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Hungry Heart Wild Striker, Slam Dunk, Eyeshield 21

Why it's the best
Sports anime is a huge genre that often focuses on an outsider, or group of outsiders, doing their best to win against all odds. Some sports anime play a lot like fighting anime, just with the fights replaced by games.

Major is somewhat unique in that the series spans a number of seasons and iterations, which allows the story to have a much larger impact than a typical sports anime.

It starts off as the story of a young boy who, having just lost his father, resolves to follow in his footsteps as a baseball player. He grows up over subsequent seasons, and the most recent iteration follows his son's own debut on the baseball diamond.

16
of 21

Best Dubbed Anime: Cowboy Bebop

cowboy bebop best dubbed anime ever
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation
Rated: TV-MA
Honorable mentions: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Berserk, Baccano!

Why it's the best
Some purists will only watch anime in Japanese based on the logic that Japanese voice acting is superior to the English voice acting featured in anime dubs. There is some truth to that, as there are a lot of really awful dubs out there, but other shows feature truly fantastic English voice work.

The best anime dub of all time is Cowboy Bebop. Although the Japanese voice acting is also top notch, the English cast really knocked it out of the park. This was one of the first really great anime dubs, coming in a time where most dubs were pretty mediocre.

While all of the main voice actors did great work, Steve Blum's Spike, in particularly, really fit the character perfectly. See you, space cowboy.

17
of 21

Best Anime Series - Death Note

death note best anime of all time
Screenshot / Hulu

Where you can watch it:Hulu, Viz
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Fullmetal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop, Code Geass

Why it's the best
Selecting the best anime series of all time is inherently subjective, even more so than selecting the best series in a particular genre, because there are so many radically different shows that are all excellent in their own right.

Death Note tops the list for so many people because of its dark themes, interesting premise, and a complicated protagonist that's more of a villain than a hero, depending on your point of view. It's a complicated story that asks tough questions, which resonates with a lot of viewers.

18
of 21

Best Anime Movie - Akira

Akira best anime movie
Screenshot / Hulu

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Funimation
Rated: R
Honorable mentions: Ghost in the Shell, Paprika, Jin-Roh

Why it's the best
Akira isn't just a great anime movie, and it isn't just great animation, even though it's both of those. It's just a great movie, full stop, end of sentence.

There are a ton of great anime movies, and more come out every year, but Akira still stands as a high water mark. It's a beautiful film to watch, with tremendous attention to detail, a cool story, and some truly fantastic, action-packed animation sequences.

19
of 21

Best Anime Kids Movie - My Neighbor Totoro

my neighbor totoro best kids anime anyone can watch
Screenshot / YouTube

Where you can watch it:​ Not available to stream
Rated: G
Honorable mentions: Ponyo, Spirited Away, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, Pokemon: The First Movie

Why it's the best
Anime has a reputation for being kid stuff, mostly because of the connection between animation and kids cartoons in the west. The truth is that most anime really isn't for kids, as evidenced by all the TV-14, TV-MA and R ratings on this list.

If you're looking for a great anime kids movie though, the best place to start is Studio Ghibli. Ponyo, Spirited Away, and several others are all fantastic, beautiful, entertaining movies that tweens, teens and adults can all enjoy together.

My Neighbor Totoro, which is also a Studio Ghibli film, is the best kids anime because literally anyone can watch it. It gets the nod for best anime kids movie because it's a legitimately good movie, but it's also rated G, so it's a great introduction to anime for kids of all ages.

20
of 21

Best Anime World - One Piece

one piece amazingly detailed anime world
Screenshot / Crunchyroll

Where you can watch it:​ Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, Viz
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Shin Sekai Yori, Fullmetal Alchemist, the Fate franchise

Why it's the best
Anime is a fantastic medium for world building, and some of the most interesting fictional worlds have come from anime and manga.

One Piece is a shounen anime, which is a genre aimed squarely at kids, so it might seem like a strange choice to get the nod for best world building. Especially since so many anime series do such a great job at constructing fictional worlds.

The fact is that One Piece has been on the air for almost 20 years, and creator Eiichiro Oda hasn't ever taken his foot off the gas. Every single island in the world of One Piece has its own history, culture, and other little tidbits to help make the world more fully realized.

21
of 21

Coolest Anime - FLCL

flcl coolest anime
Screenshot / Funimation

Where you can watch it:​ Funimation, Hulu
Rated: TV-14
Honorable mentions: Cowboy Bebop, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Space Dandy

Why it's the best
There are a lot of really slick anime series and movies, so pinning down the coolest anime is tough. FLCL gets the nod because it's short, sweet, visually beautiful, and somehow still extremely relatable.

FLCL only got six episodes, but that actually plays to its benefit. Each episode is jam packed with no sagging in the middle, and the whole thing blasts forward to the tune of a fantastic soundtrack from The Pillows.

One of the best things about FLCL is you can shotgun the whole thing in a day without feeling too guilty. It's a concentrated shot of cool that's easy to come back to over and over again.