The summer always feels like the best time to catch up on some of the best anime from the past few years. But it’s hard to know where to begin. Whether your backlog is heaving or you’re looking to dip your toe into animated waters for the first time, there are always several series that many say you simply have to watch.
Simply put, it can be a bit overwhelming – especially as everyone’s tastes are different. With that in mind, we’ve curated an eclectic list of the best anime from multiple genres – including sports, slice-of-life and shonen – so you have the freedom to choose something that suits you best.
A word of warning: this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some of your favorites might not make the cut. The world of anime is so wonderfully varied that it’s impossible to include every single one of the top anime picks.
What this list does do, however, is introduce you to some of the best anime ever made, as well as some of the greatest shows in the medium’s various sub-genres. Death Note, Attack on Titan, Cowboy Bebop and many, many more make the cut. You never know, you might just discover your new favorite anime.
The 15 best anime shows
Attack on Titan
Based on a manga series started in 2009 by Hajime Isayama, Attack on Titan’s initial premise revolves around humanity’s perpetual war against the monstrous Titans that lurk just outside the walls of civilization.
Following the death of his mother at a Titan’s hands (and jaws), a boy named Eren decides to fight back. What follows is an anime series that is filled with heart-pounding action, nerve-jangling moments of horror, and a body count that would make Game of Thrones blush.
It stands taller than most anime for its continued ability to metamorphosize amid some truly shocking twists. What began as a seemingly standard ‘man vs. monster’ anime has transformed into a deeper exploration of morality, revenge, and whether someone should be defined by their history’s sins. Essential viewing for all anime fans, especially ahead of its final episodes in 2023.
Read more: Our guide to the Attack on Titan season 4 return date.
The short-lived Netflix live-action series may have soured some on the property, but there’s a reason why Cowboy Bebop is almost always seen as shorthand for ‘classic anime.’
The show’s legendary 26-episode run fuses creator Hajime Yatate’s effortless eye for action with composer Yoko Kanno’s kinetic jazz soundtrack. The end result? As the show puts it, in tongue-in-cheek fashion: “The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called… Cowboy Bebop.”
It has every right to be that confident. The story follows Spike Spiegel and his motley crew of bounty hunters as they attempt to snare some of the galaxy’s most wanted criminals in the hope of some woolongs and a warm meal.
Each episode explodes in a burst of color and chaos as Spike, the stoic Jet, hair-trigger Faye, energetic Ed, and uber-smart dog Ein move towards their next target in frenetic fashion. Beneath it all, it’s tinged with a sense of melancholy, each member of the Bebop crew trapped by their tragic pasts. There’s never been a show quite like this. Many have tried to replicate its sense of coolness and charm. All have failed.
If you’re a newcomer to anime and don’t know where to begin, start with Death Note. Not only is the English dub just as good as the subtitled version (a real rarity), it’s got one of the most recognizable and ‘Western’ of arcs: good-guy-turned-bad, in the vein of Breaking Bad or Ozark.
Light Yagami is a teenager who happens across the titular ‘Death Note’, a notebook that allows its user to kill anyone anonymously just by writing down their name. Light uses this power to bump off some of Japan’s most hardened criminals and, inevitably, starts to dream a little bigger.
As the net closes in on Light, a compelling cat-and-mouse game between himself and master detective L ensues. A breathless drama that will have you hooked until its very last scene, Death Note deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as some of television’s most talked-about prestige dramas.
Demon Slayer is the most popular anime on the planet right now – and for good reason: it boasts some of the most exciting and hard-hitting fight scenes ever committed to screen. Animation studio Ufotable has always been renowned for its mastery of action, but it soars past its own lofty standards here.
In the hit anime, Tanjiro seeks revenge for his family’s death at the hands of demons, leading him down a path to become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Throughout Tanjiro’s journey, he butts heads with fearsome demons from the Demon Moon clan.
Like most of the best anime, Demon Slayer juggles its intensity with a sprinkling of genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Tanjiro’s companions Zenitsu (a cowardly warrior who can only fight when he’s asleep) and Inosuke (a hot-headed boy who wears the head of a boar) are always on hand to keep things from ever getting too maudlin. The real highlight here is the show’s brutal and balletic demon-versus-demon-slayer showdowns. They’re worth the price of admission alone.
Read more: Our guide to Demon Slayer season 3.
The Fate/stay night series is a sprawling universe that centers around the Holy Grail, a mythical object that allows whoever obtains it to have their wishes fulfilled. But it’s not that easy. Every few generations, magic users – known as Masters – clash in a battle royale-style conflict to get their hands on the Grail. They’re aided in that crusade by Servants, legendary warriors pulled from the pages of real-world history and legends, such as Gilgamesh and King Arthur.
Fate/Zero is the perfect starting point for the series. Acting as a prequel to the Fate/stay night anime, the Fourth Holy Grail War features mage assassin Kiritsigu waging war against his fellow Masters. It all culminates in a breakneck rush of entertaining action and plot twists that almost demand the show be binged in one sitting. The best thing? If you like it, there are several movies and series in the Fate series for you to dive into next.
After the passing of her mother, teenager Tohru is given a second chance at life by the Sohma family. Tohru soon discovers the Sohma curse, an affliction that sees members of the family turn into animals from the Chinese Zodiac.
As a premise, it’s pretty goofy – but belies the heart of Fruits Basket. Tohru is a compassionate soul, dedicated to helping fix the broken Sohma family. The slow, measured pace of this slice-of-life anime often takes some sharp turns, too, and will have you reaching for the tissues as it reaches its conclusion.
We’d also recommend picking the 2019 remake over the original as it’s a more definitive take on the source material.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Possibly the greatest anime of all time? It’s not hard to see why Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is so revered thanks to its pitch-perfect blend of world-building, fantasy, action, and drama.
After a ritual to bring back their dead mother goes wrong, Edward’s younger brother, Alphonse, loses his body and his soul is trapped inside a suit of armor. As they search for the Philosopher’s Stone, they are dragged into a mystic war waged across nations – and a conspiracy that leads to the very heart of their nation’s government.
FMA: Brotherhood’s greatest strength lies in its impeccable pacing. It starts off pretty low-key – including that infamous Nina episode – and soon spirals out into epic battles as the seven Homunculus and the mysterious Father stand in Edward’s way. It’s all wrapped up in final act that is so inherently bombastic and entertaining that it could only be brought to life in anime.
Haikyu follows the trials and tribulations of Hinata, a pint-sized volleyball player at Karasuno High harboring lofty ambitions to be the world’s best. The magic of Haikyu, though, is that you don’t need to be a fan of volleyball – or sport at all, really – to enjoy it. The show slowly builds up your understanding of the game alongside Hinata, and each season usually climaxes in epic matches that stand alongside any shonen anime in terms of raw emotion.
As Haikyu wears on, you’ll laugh, cheer, and gasp as Karasuno’s eclectic squad – including the miserly perfectionist setter Kageyama and nervous wallflower Sugawara – suffer through the highs and lows of high school volleyball. This is the perfect entry point for those who want to dip their toes into the waters of sports anime for the first time.
Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter – the ‘X’ is silent – has been a perennial favorite among anime fans for over a decade now. The 2011 series sees Gon discover his previously-thought-dead father is actually alive and well as a ‘Hunter’, a member of the upper echelons of humanity.
What starts out as a pretty light slice of anime soon transforms into a shonen spectacle, a dark and intense tale that opens up as Gon finds his feet as a Hunter. It’s also a rarity in anime in that it refuses to play to type with a ‘strong’ protagonist. Instead, the appeal of Gon failing, reflecting, and overcoming personal struggles is far more mature than what we’re accustomed to. All told, it’s what makes the show worth watching over most of its peers.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a phenomenon. The anime has already spanned a decade – and continues to this day with Stone Ocean on Netflix. The show is an anthology-of-sorts, with each new series telling the tale of another member of the Joestar family, a group imbued with supernatural powers that protect them in their seemingly eternal war against series villain Dio and his many, many disciples.
The driving appeal behind JoJo’s is its constant ability to reinvent itself. From its first series, through to Stardust Crusaders, and beyond – each season feels like a fresh new anime waiting to be devoured.
It’s also loud and garish, harkening back to a time where anime was perhaps a little less subdued. As a celebration of the weird and wonderful, with some outright absurd fights thrown in for good measure, you could do a lot worse than JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Mob Psycho 100
Anime is so often filled with strong leads, defined by their sense of destiny. Not so with Mob Psycho 100, a shonen anime that throws out the medium’s most overused trope.
The show features Mob, a shy, timid boy who is one of the world’s most powerful psychics. But there’s a catch. He doesn’t want to use his powers, instead repressing his abilities and emotions.
Mob’s dynamic with Reigen, a conman who uses Mob to trick the world’s ‘espers’ into believing he’s a powerful psychic, is a joy to see develop across the initial episodes. The crux of the show’s appeal comes with Mob then slowly discovering himself as his emotions spill out – all while battling increasingly nefarious groups and organizations in stunning battles directed by accomplished studio Bones.
Thanks to anime’s proclivity for licensing issues, Monster has failed to take as much acclaim as it so richly deserves. No, Monster is not available to stream anywhere but, if you can seek it out, you’re in for a treat. This is a psychological thriller that burrows its way into your brain and won’t leave until long after you’ve finished the 70-plus episode run.
Monster sees brain surgeon Kenzo Tenma ostracized after performing a hospital procedure on a young boy instead of the city’s mayor. Soon, bodies start piling up and Tenma is the prime suspect. Years later, Tenma discovers that the boy he operated on is, in fact, a serial killer. The series deals with Tenma attempting to overcome the fact he has (inadvertently) created a monster – and what he must do to stop him.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
On the surface, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime about a 14-year-old boy named Shinji piloting a ‘Eva’ mech to save the world from alien threats. Yet, it’s far, far deeper than that.
What starts as a mecha show soon unravels into an exploration of teenage loneliness, parental abandonment, and mental health issues. Fellow pilots Rei and Asuka also act as in-points for Neon Genesis Evangelion’s more mature and introspective themes, with director Hideaki Anno never shying away from the unflinching truths of growing up. That even overruns into the very material itself – its final few episodes, famously, transcend the very boundaries of what you should expect from an anime.
If you thought anime was all about big battles with very little substance, the 1990s classic is here to prove you very wrong. It’s a daring, experimental series at a time when the medium was unwilling to take risks.
Run with the Wind
Run with the Wind is an anime about running. No, wait, come back! It’s really, really good. The adaptation of a 2006 novel by Shion Miura tells the story of Kakeru, a down-on-his-luck ex-runner who attempts to conquer the Hakone Ekiden relay marathon with his roommates – who are almost all beginners.
As the show wears on, the hopeless group of runners soon find their rhythm, overcoming personal hurdles in the process. The final stretch of the 23-episode run is among the most tense and gripping on this list, with some genuinely touching moments to boot. An anime about friendship, chasing your dreams, and never giving up, Run with the Wind is a true hidden gem that should appeal to sports and non-sports fans alike.
From its very first moments, Steins;Gate grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. After finding the body of a dead researcher at a time travel conference, ‘mad scientist’ Rintaro Okabe soon discovers he can send text messages back in time. Unfortunately for Rintaro, this draws the attention of shadowy organizations – who would kill to get their hands on Rintato’s ‘D-Mail’ device.
What starts as a goofy time travel adventure soon evolves into a fraught, nail-biting drama that’s filled with gut punch after gut punch. As the net closes in on Rintaro, he must make an impossible choice to save those close to him.
If you enjoy Steins;Gate, there’s also the sequel series – Steins;Gate 0 – which is just as brilliant.
Anime also has an exciting future waiting for you to discover. Check out our guide to Jujutsu Kaisen season 2 for more on another brilliant anime series worth checking out. We’ve also got the best anime for beginners if you’re trying to get a friend into it.