The word “anime” is short for the Japanese word “Animēshon.” This sort of sounds like a word we might know in English, “animation.” It is widely assumed anime is just a Japanese thing, but anime in the West is huge too!
Anime is a style strongly influenced by manga and often features stories with science-fiction, powerful fight scenes, adventure, romance, and fantasy themes. Anime styles can vary widely from artist to artist and show to show. In general, anime characters tend to have common features such as large eyes, small features, and colorful hair.
Over the years, anime began to receive love from across the world.
Modern anime began in the early 1900s and found lasting success in 1961 with the establishment of Mushi Productions by Osamu Tezuka, a leading figure in the modern manga. The dense, novelistic Japanese comic book style contributed greatly to the aesthetic of anime.
Anime such as Miyazaki Hayao’s Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away were pioneer success stories. Spirited Away enjoyed a global box office gross of $274 million and is recognized as a true classic. It was even voted the fourth best film of the 21st century by a BBC panel of 177 film critics. The complex and captivating plot helps it engage with a diverse audience.
Another route into mainstream success outside of Japan is via a recognizable franchise. That’s a key factor in the success of the Pokemon, Naruto, and Dragon Ball series of shows. Each is among the highest-grossing anime franchises of all time.
Thanks to research conducted by Parrot Analytics we can safely say the USA is anime’s second home. By normalizing for the population of each country, we can apply true cross-country analysis to the demand for anime. The dominance of anime in the west is clear by this data.
The USA easily tops this list with more than double the demand of the country with the next highest demand North America is represented again in this list due to the inclusion of Canada. They are the ninth-best market for anime in the world. The sole European entry in the top ten countries for anime demand is the nation of France. Which should say a lot.
Best In The WestWe now know that anime is becoming an art form for a global market. It is finally time to give a shoutout to the ones that stood out in the West. It’s true a few of these shows’ popularity may have passed, but they couldn’t be ignored due to monumental success, influence, and popularity.
Others are still fairly recent but have been very popular over a short period of time. They’re still ongoing so the long-term popularity of these shows may still be in question. We all know how the end often defines most series. For anime in the west, some might prefer subtitles with the Japanese language used. Yet many more prefer English dubbing.
The type of fan a person happens to be will differ, yet many of the shows below have both formats.
- Genre: Sci-fi, Thriller, Action, Adventure
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 26
Cowboy Bebop is known for converting more than a few skeptics into fans. The show appealed to a wider audience than most. It’s credited for its believable adult characters, gangster feel, and inspired jazz score. It is tough to get non-fans to care about anime in the west, so Bebop had to connect using western themes found in North America. It clearly worked!
The series focuses on bounty hunters who chase down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. They’ll save the world but only for the right price. The only negative seems to be the number of episodes.
The Sessions, produced by Sunrise, aired in Japan on TV Tokyo from April 3, 1998, to June 26, 1998. Due to the controversial content, only 12 out of the 26 episodes (plus a special) aired. The totality of the episodes aired on the satellite channel WOWOW from October 24, 1998, to April 24, 1999.
Cowboy Bebop has gained widespread critical and commercial success both in Japan and internationally. The series has won numerous awards in the field of animation and science fiction. It has been recognized for its style, characters, plot, dubbing, animation, and soundtrack.
Over the years the series has unfolded as a masterpiece of Japanese animation, and many critics consider it one of the best anime of all time. Look out for a live-action Netflix adaptation coming soon.
- Genre: Supernatural, Adventure, Action
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 366
While Bleach did get snubbed by Shonen Jump, it has certainly gained popularity. It has also one of the more notable series of anime in the west. Before its downfall, Bleach was known as one of the big three of anime, along with Dragon Ball Z and One Piece at the time.
Bleach was the underachiever of the three. While the other two might’ve been more popular, this dark horse captured a more mature audience. The cast was large and diverse so even if a viewer didn’t like the main characters, the rich cast made up for it.
Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15-year-old-boy who has the ability to see ghosts/spirits. Due to this ability, he is able to meet a female death god, or Shinigami, named Rukia Kuchiki. To save his family and friends from unwanted soul-eating spirits (Hollows), Rukia transfers her Shinigami powers to Ichigo. Rukia takes on a human shell and together they solve mysteries involving spirits and Hollows.
Two other Shinigami arrive from the spirit world and explain that it’s illegal to transfer Shinigami powers to humans, and Rukia had exceeded the time limit to stay in the human world. After they sentence her to death for breaking the law,
Ichigo snaps. He swears to everyone he will retrieve Rukia by breaking into the spirit world.
Add a story like that to the stunning visuals and you have an anime classic.
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- Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller, Supernatural Thriller
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 37
If you want to see a really unique and compelling story, you should try Death Note. It holds the viewer in suspense and keeps them thinking. You will be forced to wonder what you would’ve done if you were in the protagonist’s place. Truly one of the most gripping anime out there. This likely also allowed it to become a popular anime in the west too. Everyone loves a good thriller.
Full Metal Alchemist
- Genre: Adventure, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 51
If you’re talking popular anime, you have to talk about Full Metal Alchemist. It is not just a huge anime in the west but also in the entire world!
Edward Elric, a young, brilliant alchemist, has lost much in his twelve-year life. He and his brother Alphonse try to resurrect their mother through the forbidden act of human transmutation. Edward loses his brother as well as two of his limbs while attempting this. With his supreme alchemy skills, Edward binds Alphonse’s soul to a large suit of armor.
A year later, Edward, now promoted to the Full Metal Alchemist of the state, embarks on a journey with his younger brother to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone. The fabled mythical object is rumored to be capable of amplifying an alchemist’s abilities by leaps and bounds. It would allow them to override the fundamental law of alchemy.
Yet the laws of alchemy state that to gain something, an alchemist must sacrifice something of equal value.
Edward hopes to access the military’s resources to find the fabled stone and restore his and Alphonse’s bodies to normal. However, the Elric brothers soon discover that there is more to the legendary stone than meets the eye. They are led to the epicenter of a far darker battle than they could have ever imagined.
My Hero Academia
- Genre: Superhero Fiction, Action, Comedy, Science Fantasy
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 113 & Counting
According to Parrot Analytics, this very popular anime series was the second most-watched series during the lockdown in the Spring of 2020. Although it is still a recent series, My Hero Academia has shown no signs of slowing down. Season 5 is currently airing on the Toonami block of Adult Swim, and on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
There are a lot of superhero tv shows out there, which is great. However, if you’re tired of the superhero trope, you should know that My Hero Academia doesn’t fall into that redundant category of shows and movies.
My Hero Academia is one of the most popular anime series of all time, making it one of the biggest anime in the west too. It began airing on May 5, 2018, on Adult Swim’s Toonami channel. The anime has exploded into popularity and is one of the highest-selling series ever.
The series follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya on his journey to become the #1 hero – the only problem is he doesn’t have a Quirk. A “Quirk” is what gives the population their supernatural abilities. Just about every superhero on the planet has a Quirk, but it is possible to never obtain one.
My Hero Academia shows viewers Midoriya’s journey to becoming a hero even without a Quirk. It is another series with an extremely wide cast that contributes greatly to its success.
Dragon Ball Z
- Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Martial Arts
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 291
The sequel to Dragon Ball from 1986, Dragon Ball Z is one of the greatest and most influential anime of all time. Obviously, when it comes to anime in the west, even non-fans know about this series.
While the show has a large fanbase, it’s also loved by other creators too. Thus, many shows wind up inspired by Dragon Ball Z in some way. Many Shonen tropes came directly from this series, and most of the main characters in other Shonen-type series are based on the protagonist, Goku.
Produced by Toei Animation and written by Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z continues the adventures of Goku. Along with his companions from the prequel series, they defend the Earth against villainous beings. Those villains range from aliens like Frieza and androids like Cell to magical creatures like Majin Buu.
While the original anime followed Goku from childhood to early adulthood, Dragon Ball Z is a continuation of his adult life. The anime also parallels the life of his son, Gohan, and his popular rival Vegeta.
There have been several sequels to this series produced afterward like Dragon Ball GT & Dragon Ball Super. Dragon Ball Z is the core of the entire Dragon Ball universe. With over 200 episodes, the series has some of the most unique and notable scenes in anime. This includes stuff like Goku’s transformation to becoming a Super Saiyan, and the Cell Games.
If you’re just starting to get into anime in the west, this is a must-see. Especially if you love fast-paced action! Even if some fight scenes last about three to four episodes at a time. It’s gripping, entertaining, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
- Genre: Adventure, Action, Fantasy, Drama
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 981 & Counting
The most famous and top-selling ongoing manga and anime is One Piece. The manga series was listed in Guinness World Records as the most published comic series by a single author. As of July 2021, One Piece had over 490 million copies in circulation in 58 countries and regions worldwide.
Today, it is officially the best-selling manga series in history and the best-selling comic series printed in a book volume. It is also one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
The first volume of the manga was published in 1997, and there are now over 90 volumes sold around the world. The very popular anime adaption began two years later after the first manga was released. Over 900 episodes have been aired since then. Don’t worry, beginners can enjoy it no matter where they start. This is one thing most of the popular anime in the west have in common.
The series focuses on Monkey D. Luffy, a young man who, inspired by his childhood idol and powerful pirate “Red-Haired” Shanks. They set off on a journey from the East Blue Sea to find the titular treasure and proclaim himself the King of the Pirates and the King of the West.
It proceeds with the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew in the pirate world. They set sail in search of the ultimate treasure called “One Piece”. There are Devil Fruits in the world of One Piece, which grant a superpower to whoever eats it.
This does take away that individual’s ability to swim in return, an inconvenience in the world of pirates. Powerful fight scenes infused with deep emotional context promises to be no less than stunning.
Attack On Titan
- Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Drama, Thriller, Action
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 75 & Counting
There is no doubt about it, Attack on Titan is the biggest and most popular anime in the world right now. Millions of people have watched the series and millions more know about it. That is something very few franchises are lucky enough to experience.
Maybe one big contributor to the popularity of the series is the lack of fillers. Every moment in this anime counts. Due to its global success, Attack on Titan is the newest series to enter “the best-selling manga of all-time” list.
The storyline and setting are phenomenal. At its core, Attack on Titan has a simple plot that can be easily explained. Humanity now resides within three gigantic walls after nearly being wiped out from existence by monstrous creatures called Titans. That’s the basis for the entire show.
Obviously, things get more complicated but this provides a foundation for a deeper and politically-driven plotline to develop.
It follows Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert. These three teenagers join the Scout Regiment, an elite group of soldiers who fight against the Titans after the beasts destroy their hometown. This anime is one of the most demanded shows in the United States as of now.
In fact, the show is so popular that it made showrunner Hajime Isayama change his mind about killing all the characters. There are some shows this happens to in the West, but very few anime in the west have that much impact. AOT does though!
- Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 1,115 & Counting
Pokémon is easily one of the most successful video games in the world today. Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue made their debut in 1996. Of course, these games can be grouped into 8 generations.
The Pokémon show was meant to parallel the games. We follow Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in the Japanese version, named for the franchise’s creator, Satoshi Tajiri). Ash is a kid who receives his first pocket monster (or pokémon) and earns gym badges. That is when he’s not battling a bumbling team of villains.
He constantly finds himself one step behind his rival, Gary (Shigeru). Over the course of the series, he meets new friends, learns to temper his brashness, and becomes a skilled trainer. He eventually enters a grand tournament and ends up fighting…himself.
In the original season, Ash encounters a trainer named Richie who is basically his doppelganger. Ash’s Charizard fails to obey him and gets him disqualified. It’s a surprisingly bittersweet ending for a kid’s show – particularly one as upbeat as Pokémon. The reason for this decision becomes clear soon enough though: Ash’s journey isn’t over.
He still has another 800 or more episodes and 23 movies worth of adventures!
The show proved so popular that it actually influenced the games. In 1998, Nintendo released Pokémon Yellow in Japan – a special edition featuring Pikachu that was a direct nod to the popular anime. Pikachu would be the only monster in the game to say its own name as a battle cry. Pokémon Yellow served to highlight their symbiotic relationship. The popularity of one fueled the other.
Officially Europe’s favorite anime, Pokémon is a giant franchise today. The recent games are still successful, but the anime has faded a bit.
- Genre: Adventure fiction, Action, Fantasy comedy
- (Current) No. Of Episodes: 220
“I’m going to be Hokage one day – believe it!” is a line you must have heard before.
If not, you’re probably unfamiliar with anime altogether. They’re the words repeatedly said by the young shinobi Naruto Uzumaki. Now a massively popular anime, Naruto began as a Japanese manga series, written by Masashi Kishimoto. It was adapted as an anime series in 2002.
Protagonist Naruto was orphaned by the attack of the Nine-Tailed Fox on his village. The beast was eventually stored inside his infant body as he was the only one capable of handling it. Naruto was shunned by the villagers, who out of fear and anger, viewed him as the Nine-Tailed monster.
However, the Third Hokage (Leader of the village) outlawed speaking about that night.
The children — taking cues from their parents — inherited the same resentment towards Naruto. In his thirst to be acknowledged, Naruto vowed he would one day become the greatest Hokage the village has ever seen.
While the narrative is typical of a story about ninjas, the plot rapidly changes to showcase the evil forces at work. Naruto’s transformation, from being a brat to an inspirational character, is worth watching. The series also includes the darkness that builds within his best friend Sasuke Uchiha, who has a rather interesting backstory himself.
This world has innumerable relevant characters to the storyline. Most of the characters develop tremendously as well. How could they not? The series features some of the best senseis to ever exist. Naruto is a cult classic much like others on the list. North America and the majority in the West favor Naruto and the captivating shinobi world over the rest.