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The Ultimate List of the Most Popular Anime in Japan

by Louise W. Rice

The anime scene has dominated the Japanese market for ages. Since the first animated movie came out, sometime before the Second World War, people fell in love with the genre. Naturally, with this love for anime, the market for them greatly developed in Japan. Below, I’ve listed the most popular anime in Japan so that you can get familiar with the genre or simply enjoy some amazing series.

1. Dragon Ball

I’ll kick this list off with Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series. The show follows the adventures of Son Goku, a young alien of the Saiyan race. His parents send him to Earth on a spaceship to destroy the planet, but things take a different turn when he loses his memories. As a result, the anime is full of action-filled battles and iconic scenes.

If you want to start watching Dragon Ball, I suggest you watch the episodes in this order:

• Dragon Ball (1986)
• Dragon Ball Z (1989)
• Dragon Ball GT (1996 – created by Toei Animation)
• Dragon Ball Kai (2009; 2014)
• Dragon Ball Super (2015)
• Super Dragon Ball Heroes (2018 – created by Toei Animation)

2. One Piece

One Piece is a super-entertaining anime if you have a lot of time to catch up with the thousands of episodes. The story follows Monkey D. Luffy, a boy who sets off on a journey to become the King of the Pirates. The series is funny, full of action and adventure, not to mention (unbelievably) slow-paced. If you like extensive fight scenes, you’ll find this anime absolutely smashing!

3. Code Geass

Code Geass, one of the most popular anime in Japan, is a bit of an interesting choice. The story follows Lelouch, who uses the Geass power obtained from CC to lead a rebellion.

You might not expect the anime to surprise you with (very exciting and entertaining) mecha battles and rivalries, but it will. Furthermore, Code Geass has an alluring appeal due to the conflicts between the characters and the moral questions that arise.

4. Samurai Champloo

The story in Samurai Champloo is pretty simple: it follows three strangers, Fuu, Jin, and Mugen. All three of them share the same path for a while, and eventually part ways once achieving their goal.

The anime delivers their story in a unique way, though, and it’s packed with good quality animations and music. That’s what makes it one of my favorite anime of all time!

5. Naruto

Naruto is one of the most popular anime in Japan — and outside of it too. It tells the story of Uzumaki Naruto, a young boy who wants to become Hokage. In the anime, the story follows Naruto on his adventures and trials, underlining his ambition to follow his dream despite all the odds being against him.

With tons of episodes still getting released on a weekly basis, there are hundreds of Naruto episodes and movies you can watch. If you want to start right now, though, I suggest you watch the episodes in this order:

• Naruto
• Naruto Shippuuden
• Boruto (follows the adventures of Naruto’s son)

6. Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic anime that follows the story of a cyber-enhanced human, Major. Major fights the most dangerous criminals in the world, and using her abilities, she can even hack into people’s minds. As a result, all the events that happen in the show make for a very compelling story. That has also made Ghost in the Shell one of the most popular anime in Japan to this day.

7. Bleach

With amazing fight scenes and character design, Bleach is an all-time top anime. Kurosaki Ichigo is the protagonist, who, through multiple fights, becomes one of the strongest Shinigami in Soul Society. He has to face Hollows, other Shinigami, and all kinds of other enemies, but he is not alone. Ichigo has a trusty group of friends who help him every step of the way.

If you are an anime fan but haven’t watched Bleach yet, I strongly suggest you go and check it out right now. This anime is entertaining, offers a carousel of emotions, and makes you unexpectedly empathize with some characters. Better still, the way love and hate are drawn makes the story of Bleach one of the greatest of all time.

8. Kakegurui

This crazy anime has stories of compulsive gambling, addiction, and other tough topics. After all, ‘kakegurui’ literally means ‘crazy.’

The plot revolves around students who attend a school for the richest and privileged, Hyakkaou Private Academy. With a social hierarchy determined by gambling (where the winner takes everything), this anime is a must-watch.

9. Berserk

Berserk is another anime that’s been on my favorites list for ages (I also collected most of the mangas). However, it’s not for the faint of heart. It has plenty of violence, blood, gore, and nudity. Still, the quality of the story is top-notch and able to keep you entertained for hours on end.

The story follows Guts, the Black Swordsman, and his journey through a world filled with war and violence. Betrayal and lost love also pave Guts’ way through Hell and back. All of these trials make him one of the toughest characters in any anime I’ve ever watched.

10. Pokémon

You’ve probably heard of Pokémon Go — the game that everyone’s been so obsessed with a couple of years back. But did you know that there’s also an anime?

The anime Pokémon tells the story of Ash Ketchum, a Pokémon trainer. Ash aspires to become the ultimate Pokémon Master. However, to do that, he has to fight in various Pokémon tournaments.

Along the way, Ash befriends Misty and Brock, who are also Pokémon trainers. All three of them travel together and challenge various opponents, some of which you may know as Team Rocket.

With tons of fun dialogues and suspense-driven scenes, you’ll definitely find watching Pokémon even more entertaining than Pokémon Go!

11. Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online (or SAO) is an anime based around video games. The protagonists play an online MMORPG called Sword Art Online, which can be accessed through a special headset that stimulates the user’s senses. This helmet also lets players control their characters with their minds only, without any other controls.

However, due to the nature of the game, all the players end up locked inside. To escape, they need to beat all hundred floors of a castle — and dying in the game means dying in real life. With such a unique story approach, SAO has a huge appeal, especially for anime viewers who also play video games.

12. Baki

Baki is a unique anime, and that’s probably why it is one of the most popular anime in Japan. In short, Baki Hanma is a strong fighter who can take on anyone, so many seek to challenge him. His goal is to become the strongest man on Earth, so he’s always in a challenge accepted mode.

However, the unique part of the anime comes from the rather cringy animations and over-the-top character expressions. I would argue that if you’re up for some unexpected anime, you should definitely watch Baki.

13. Shingeki no Kyojin

Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on Titan, is rightfully one of the most popular anime in Japan. The quality of the animation is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and the story is just as good. Eren Yeager is the protagonist, and the plot follows his story as he tries to save humanity from human-eating titans.

14. Bakuman

Bakuman is an amazing anime that shows the life of a mangaka in Japan. Mashiro Moritaka is an aspiring mangaka who gets a taste of the competitive manga industry. This fun slice-of-life anime shows the struggle, failure, and eventual massive success of the protagonist.

15. Saint Seiya

The story of Saint Seiya revolves around a 13-year-old orphan called Seiya. The boy becomes a protector of Athena, alongside other knights.

The many trials that await Seiya shape him into the strongest Knight of the Zodiac. Soon enough, he becomes one of the most powerful among all the guardians of Athena.

16. Kill la Kill

I’ll start off by saying that the animation in Kill la Kill is simply amazing. However, the story is good as well, as it follows Ryuko Matoi on her search for her father’s killer.

After taking a good beating from one of her opponents, she comes in contact with a Kamui. The Kamui gives her immense power, enabling her to fight stronger enemies.

17. Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass is an anime that takes place in the 22nd century. In the future, Japan implemented a system that can determine a person’s intent. The Sybil System, as it is called, is used mainly by inspectors enforcing the law.

However, the Sybil System is not perfect. In fact, a young inspector discovers some flaws that make her question the true meaning of justice.

18. Fullmetal Alchemist

In Fullmetal Alchemist, the plot revolves around two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric. The brothers embark on a journey after an alchemical experiment, meant to resurrect their mother, goes wrong and leaves their bodies damaged.

Fullmetal Alchemist has some extremely interesting features that make it one of the most popular anime in Japan for both hardcore anime fans and beginners. For instance, the way that the narrative portrays a connection between every single thing in this world, no matter how small, is truly fascinating.

19. Shokugeki no Soma

If you’re looking for a truly addictive anime, Shokugeki no Soma is the answer. Food Wars, as it is also called, tells the story of Yukihira Soma, a young cook with a passion for cooking good food. Soma attends a tough cooking school, which is famous for its shokugeki (food wars).

Competing against other students, Soma gets a chance to enhance his culinary abilities and show what he’s really made of. He’ll make dish after dish, mixing all sorts of ingredients and discovering new exciting flavors. I can guarantee that once you start watching this anime, it will leave you craving some delicious food.

20. Fate/ Series

An action-packed series with amazing graphics and animations, the Fate/ series is definitely a must-watch anime. It follows various battles between Masters, which take place every several years. These battles are called the Holy Grail Wars, and the grand prize is the Holy Grail.

If you are not sure about the order in which to start watching the Fate/ series, you can see the complete list with all the mangas, movies, and anime here.

21. Deca-Dence

As an anime that just started airing recently, Deca-Dence quickly became one of the most popular anime in Japan. It’s an interesting ongoing series that follows the story of Natsume, who is a Tanker girl. She dreams of becoming a Gear warrior, and under Kaburagi’s lead, she learns to fight and discovers some interesting things along the way. Simply put (and without spoiling a big plot twist), the story you’ve seen up to the second episode will change once you hit the third one!

22. Death Note

If you haven’t heard of Death Note, chances are you know someone who has. It is one of the most popular anime in Japan, not to mention one of the best of all time.

The anime tells a unique story, where a high schooler called Yagami Light discovers a notebook that kills anyone whose name he writes down in it. Because Light casually starts playing God, killing people he considers unrighteous, the police have to intervene. So, they call L, a world-famous (and unusual) detective, to try and stop Light’s crimes.

23. Crayon Shin-Chan

This old anime first started airing in 1992, after appearing in a magazine in 1990. It’s a fairly simple and funny anime that captured the hearts of many throughout the years.

With no underlying crazy plot, it is a fairly lighthearted anime meant to put a smile on your face. It has a unique way of showcasing its humor, so if you’re looking for an easy-to-watch series, this is the one to go for.

24. Gintama

Gintama is another popular anime that Japanese people simply love. And although it starts off pretty slowly, once the action sets in, there will be lots of epic moments.

The story is pretty simple: aliens invade feudal Japan, and a samurai called Gintoki Sakata has to deal with some of the problems caused by them. With its exciting battles and fun interactions between the characters, the anime is guaranteed to captivate you.

25. Re:Zero

This fascinating anime has some very interesting and charismatic characters. Subaru Natsuki is the protagonist, and he is a gamer. One night, when he visits a store, he is summoned to another world.

Once there, Subaru meets a girl named Satella, whom he befriends. Soon after, they are both killed. However, that’s when the anime gets really interesting! Upon dying, Subaru discovers that he’s able to reverse time — by dying.

Intrigued? Re:Zero is definitely a must-see — if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you add it to your list.

26. Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is an oldie, but a goodie. This anime takes place in 2071, in a universe that left Earth uninhabitable. Humanity colonized other planets, and in order to keep the peace within the Solar System, the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP) was created. Spike Spiegel is a registered bounty hunter working with the ISSP and tasked with bringing various criminals to justice.

27. My Hero Academia

Boku no Hero Academia has been one of the most popular anime in Japan ever since it first started airing back in 2016. The protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, dreams of becoming a hero, despite appearing to have no Quirks (which are basically superpowers). Eventually, Midoriya inherits the “One For All” Quirk from the strongest hero, All Might, which puts him on the path to becoming a Hero himself.

28. Inuyasha

Inuyasha is an incredible anime that both beginners and avid anime watchers would enjoy. It follows the story of Kagome, a girl who’s been transported to the past. There, she meets a half-dog boy called Inuyasha, and together, they try to complete the Shikon Jewel.

However, the Shikon Jewel is desired by many, as it can grant its owner any wish. Naturally, there are many enemies that want to get their hands on it. It is up to Kagome and Inuyasha to beat them to it!

29. Steins Gate

In my opinion, this is one of the best anime ever created — and it seems like I am not alone in my belief. Steins Gate became one of the most popular anime in Japan not long after its release, and it still maintains its top spot almost ten years later.

The story revolves around Rintaro Okabe and the other Future Gadget Laboratory members, who successfully create a time machine. Due to the addictive time loop plots and love triangles, you might end up binging all 24 episodes in one go!

30. Tokyo Ghoul

A slightly more dark-themed anime, Tokyo Ghoul tells the story of Ghouls, who live among humans in secrecy. With half-ghoul Kaneki Ken as the protagonist, this anime follows his life and all the dangers he has to face. Proving his strength time and time again when challenged by others, Kaneki becomes one of the most powerful Ghouls.

31. Clannad

Clannad is a slice-of-life anime that is relaxing for both veteran anime fans and beginners alike. While it has neither sci-fi nor crazy action, it perfectly shows the simple elements of everyday life. With a pretty dramatic plot and amazing animation quality, it is easily one of the most popular anime in Japan.

32. One-Punch Man

This action superhero anime became a popular choice in Japan quickly after it started airing in 2015.

The protagonist, Saitama, is a superhero who has the ability to defeat any opponent with a single punch. However, due to this power, Saitama finds it difficult to find a worthy opponent. Simply one-punching everybody can become boring!

If you’re looking for an action anime that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, One-Punch Man is the one. After all, Saitama’s face is the epitome of comedy on its own.

33. Ergo Proxy

Ergo Proxy is a cyberpunk anime that is set in the future where humans and androids coexist. One day, a virus begins infecting androids, giving them self-awareness and causing them to start committing murders. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the government is conducting experiments on a mysterious life form called Proxy, which is believed to hold the key to human survival.

34. Case Closed (Detective Conan)

Jimmy Kudo is a high schooler who offers his help to the police in order to solve cases. But after investigating a mysterious organization, Jimmy Kudo is transformed into a child. As a result, he adopts the name Conan Edogawa and starts solving cases in secret, giving all the credit to the private detective Richard.

Final Thoughts

While some of these most popular anime in Japan have been around for decades, others have only come out more recently. The Japanese anime scene is always changing and evolving, and with it, new stories spring to life. Hopefully, I’ve shared at least one title that is new to you. Otherwise, if you are a complete newcomer to the anime world, you could use this list to get started!

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