Best rated anime series 2021
Anime sucks you into a seemingly imaginary world but often leaves you with profound questions about life. If you’ve never seen an anime series or movie, perhaps the constant fight sequences, unrealistic female anime characters and other cliches about the genre first come to mind. That’s why we’ve curated a list of the 10 best anime series of all time so that you can come to know anime as it was intended: for its powerful themes, complex storylines and rich characters against the backdrop of stunning visuals.
It’s also worth noting that anime has brought to focus what’s often been overlooked in mainstream television including LGBTQ, PTSD, depression and social anxiety, among other topics. Whether it’s the beautiful life lessons, the darker truths or the thought provoking themes, there’s surely something that will resonate with you.
Feature photo source: Unsplash
Cowboy Bebop (if you like space cowboys)
If you’re wondering if Cowboy Bebop is worth watching, you may even need to watch it twice. Weaving seemingly incompatible themes with a wild mix of plotlines, larger than life characters, conflicting philosophies and space cowboy bounty hunters, you’ll absolutely adore this anime cocktail. This is one of the best short anime series, only one season spanning 26 episodes. It’s a unique gem that sets itself apart with its cyberpunk intrigue, noir appeal and off-beat humor.
The series is set in the year 2071. Our Solar System is now a large interconnected network making it hard for the police to effectively catch criminals. With the spike in crime a new system of bounty hunters has taken over. The name “Bebop” actually comes from the starship which is manned by a motley crew. It includes a former “bad cop”, a capricious woman, a kid hacker, a mysterious man and a cute Corgi.
While there is tons of action as well, fans love this one for the engaging ragtag characters and superior character development compared to other top anime series. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in each character the way you would watching The Wire or Breaking Bad. If you are looking for a new experience different from any other anime series you’ve ever seen in a setting that blends realism with artistic elements, then this one’s for you.
- Where to watch? Netflix, Hulu, Adult Swim, Sling TV
- Original run: 1998-1998
Death Note (if you like thriller detective series)
Based on the manga by Tsugumi Ohba, Death Note is a thriller anime series about young high schooler, Yagami Light, who finds a notebook with the power to kill. All he has to do is write down the name, picture the victim’s face and the person will die of a heart attack by default if the cause of death goes unspecified. Early on he acts cautiously, but as the idea that he can rid the world of evil pervades and he goes on a killing spree. He start to play God by choosing who lives and who dies. Although he believes he’s acting as a force of justice since he only kills criminals, as the pile of victims gets higher detective Kira begins searching for this new killer on the loose.
How does the series differs from the manga? Manga enthusiasts seem to agree that illustrator Takeshi Obata’s art style was well-maintained in the show’s adaptation but that the plot was rushed in the second half of the series. Additionally, the completed anime series has a slightly different ending from the original manga. Critics say this did not feel as impactful.
That aside, the central theme of the complexity behind the dichotomy of good vs evil with undercurrents of hypocrisy, ego, reality, righteousness and integrity makes for a fascinating series that will more than likely shake your entire being, in the best way possible. In essence, “the human who uses this note can either go to heaven or hell.”
- Where to watch? Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu
- Original run: 2003 – 2006
Monsutâ (Monster) (if you like dark detective series)
Based on Naoki Urasawa’s manga, Monster is particularly riveting because it feels very real. If you like true crime documentaries or detective series like True Detective, Mind Hunter or the Ted Bundy docuseries then this show will be your first pick.
The morbid story set in West Germany centers around a highly commended young neurosurgeon that is in the middle of performing life-saving brain surgery when he gets a call from the hospital director. He’s told to immediately direct his attention to the famous performer who is saved but the original immigrant worker patient dies. Neurosurgeon Dr. Kenzou Tenma is devastated and deeply questions his own morality.
Again, Tenma must decide when two new patients are brought in. Instead of saving the town’s mayor, he performs surgery on a young boy. While the boy survives the mayor dies and neurosurgeon Dr. Kenzou Tenma loses his standing at the hospital. In a mysterious series of events the hospital director and the two most prominent neurosurgeons are killed. Tenma subsequently becomes director. Nearly a decade passes and the boy he once saved has become a high profile murderer, and so the plotline thickens.
- Where to watch? Amazon Prime
- Original run: 1994-2001
Attack of the Titans (if you like Zombie apocalypse series)
Although the premise of Attack of the Titans seems weak at first glance – the fight for survival as skinless red humanoid giants attack the city – it likens to a Zombie apocalypse where humans have to fight for survival by their wits. The story is about teenager Eren and his adopted sister Mikasa who watch in agony as their mother is eaten alive by one of these monsters. As a member of the Survey Corps, the branch of the military in direct combat with the Titan giants, Eren’s thirst for revenge and hatred deepens after his mother’s violent death.
The graphic violence and bleak storyline are not for the faint of heart but if you’re in the camp “no pain, no game” then this one is for you. The central themes are overwhelmingly heavy including the cost of war, death, political power struggles, vengeance, devastation, hopelessness, patriotism, comradery and PTSD. Throughout the completed anime series, the characters grapple with the idea of whether the brave souls fighting for their freedom died for nothing.
The sense of hopeless desperation against the action packed scenes may be too jarring for some people. However, the courageousness of Eren and other characters gives respite from some of the more depressing themes. If you like graphic violence pitted against unlikely odds, then this is an engrossing series worth your while.
- Where to watch? Crunchyroll, Hulu, Adult Swim, YouTube TV
- Original run: 2009-2021
Neon Genesis Evangelion (if you like futuristic giant robots)
Hideaki Anno’s sci-fi adventure centers around the threat posed by giant robots to the futuristic city of Tokyo-3. This gloomy, cerebral anime series has beautifully animated fight scenes, psychologically complex characters and unforgettable horror scenes.
As the plot goes, nearly 15 years ago, half of the world’s population was decimated. “Angel” invaders attack the city once again but this time around, humanity has created a weapon called the “Evangelion” which is essentially a giant robot manned and operated by the minds of children. Teenage boy Shinji, son of the director of the Nerv paramilitary force, begrudgingly pilots the machine.
Shinji meets pilots Rei and Asuka who are teenage girls that much like Shinji, also battle with emotional trauma, mental illness and the turmoil of adolescence throughout the series. It’s pretty clear that this is not your normal apocalyptic anime series, as it covers complex emotional themes against the backdrop of intense fight sequences. Although fans seem to rightfully complain that the new English subtitles are much too literal than the more nuanced dub from the early 2000s, the rich narrative and visuals of this coming of age anime series make it absolutely binge-worthy, regardless.
- Where to watch? Netflix
- Original run: 1995-1996
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (if you like alchemy)
If you’ve ever lost anyone in your life, wouldn’t you try to bring them back if you had the power to? The premise of Hiroma Arakawa’s manga series, Fullmetal Alchemist, follows two brothers whose mother dies from an epidemic. In an attempt to resurrect her, they use taboo alchemy which goes terribly awry. They cannot resurrect her, one son loses his leg while the other loses his entire body.
Edward, the older of the brothers, tries to save his younger brother Alphonse. In sacrificing his right arm, he is able to get back his brother’s soul and place it within an armor suit. In the meantime, Edward retrieves metal limbs to temporarily replace Alphonse’s true limbs until they can return to their original bodies with the help of the Philosopher’s Stone.
Thankfully, the adaptation stays true to the shounen anime style with its spectacular fight scenes. That combined with it’s amazing storytelling, incredible voice acting, shockingly good villains and parallels with the real world give it engrossing depth. There is also an earlier version of the completed anime series from 2003 by the same name but without “Brotherhood”, frequently abbreviated FMA. Generally, fans seem to argue that they like the first better for its richer character development but that the second version did well staying faithful to Arakawa’s original manga and has more humor than the first.
On the other hand, critics also make the point that since Brotherhood was produced in 2009, the graphics, animation and colors are more engaging than in the first adaptation. It’s worth noting that viewers may also get more confused while watching Brotherhood since it’s more fast paced and cuts out some of the original scenes to include more developed action scenes. This may have been because the creators assumed most would have already seen the original FMA.
- Where to watch? Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu
- Original run: 2009-2010
One Piece (if you like pirates)
An anime on pirates hunting for treasure? Yes, please! Adapted from Oda Eiichiro’s manga, One Piece blends comedy, heavy emotional scenes and stunning fight sequences tightly within its thickening plot line. It also happens to be the longest anime series on this list with over 900 episodes and counting, which may sound overwhelming to many. If you’re looking for a short anime series, try Cowboy Bebop instead.
This anime series may initially put you off, as some of the characters can come across obnoxious and downright weird but it’s best to stick with it as the plot line develops, weaving in dark themes of betrayal, torture, slavery and death. Around episode ten, a switch will flip, the pace will start to pick up and you’ll be addicted before you know it. You will likely feel the full range of emotions from heart wrenching sadness to warmth to hysterical laughter. The character development is also rich and evolving too, especially as the universe expands and new personalities appear.
In brief, legendary pirate God D. Roger leaves behind a treasure called One Piece since he knows he’s about to die from an incurable disease. Whoever finds the fortune will become the “Pirate King” so the young and ambitious Monkey D. Luffy puts together a ragtag group of comrades to help him on his search. In effect, the treasure sparks the Golden Age of piracy. Along the way, the crew meet fishmen, merfolk, giants, dwarves and chimeras across the dangerous and unpredictable seas.
- Where to watch? Crunchyroll, Amazon
- Original run: 1997 – present
Steins;Gate (if you like time travel series)
If you are particularly fascinated with time travel, the sci-fi thriller Steins;Gate may be your top anime series pick. Although the show starts off slowly it picks up around episode eight. People tend to be on the fence about it either proclaiming it as one of the best animes ever made or contrarily, predictable with one-dimensional cliche characters.
Character development aside, it’s a suspenseful adaptation from the original visual novel about a group of friends that have converted their microwave into a kind of time travel machine that allows them to send messages into the past. However, a secret research organization which has also been working towards time travel with malicious intent has detected the group’s experiments. Now, the group is on the run. Just 24 episodes long, this is one of the best short anime series to binge.
- Where to watch? Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix
- Original run: 2011 – 2011
Samurai Champloo (if you’re in it for the laughs)
Although Samurai Champloo may seem like a departure from the rest of the list, it’s one of the funniest anime series ever made; perfect if all you want to do is get stoned and laugh. Set in Japan during the Edo-era, roughly 1603-1868, the story follows three main characters: Mugen, Jin and Fuu. Mugen is a swordsman, Jin a stoic samurai and Fuu a young waitress. Their paths intertwine when the two men get into a sword fight and Fuu intervenes. They decide to accompany her on her journey to find a samurai “who smells sunflowers”.
This refreshing anime has striking elements that make it distinct, perhaps most notably its music. The music blends hip-hop, classical and funky beats composed by an artist lineup that includes Fat Jon and Nujabes. “Champloo” from the title of the series actually means “something mixed” which the unique mix of characters, cultures and music styles perfectly embodies. While some argue that it is not the best anime for action, the badass main characters, intriguing non-linear screenplay and episodic nature of the series, may make it more entertaining for people looking for a downright fun and upbeat anime.
- Where to watch? Hulu, Amazon Prime, Funimation
- Original run: 2004-2005
Honorable anime series mentions
- One-Man Punch
- Naruto: Shippûden
- Knights of the Zodiac
- Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2
- Paranoia agent
- Fate anime series
- Dragon Ball Z
Top anime series to watch high
It’s clear, you don’t have to be a manga enthusiast to love anime. Watching anime stoned only enhances the epic visuals and dramatic impact of the plot line’s twists and turns. Behind the vibrant landscapes, horrific monsters and intense battle scenes is an imaginary world where realism and provocative themes are unearthed and brought to light. At heart, good anime is rich in the art of storytelling, character development and breathtaking, out of this world animation.
Be sure to also check out the best stoner cartoons if you’re looking more for laughs!