Most Popular Anime of All Time

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Globally famous and extremely popular, Anime is a word derived from English noun: ‘Animation’, although this etymology is somewhat contested.

It is an umbrella term which encapsulates all Japanese works of on-screen animation, either way.

In Japan, the word is actually used more generally than outside; everywhere else it is used specifically for Japanese works of animation, of which there are literally thousands!

Most popular anime in the world
Most Popular Anime of All Time

Over four hundred producers of Anime exist across Japan today and they produce more than 50% of the world’s overall animated entertainment.

Here, we will explore the most popular Anime of all time, but this is not so simple to determine.

What to Expect? We will focus on the most popular, top-rated movies and television series from this genre, providing a little bit of history along the way.  

What exactly is Anime?

Anime refers to any Japanese animation which adheres to specific traditions.

Western animation tends to focus a lot of detail in individual character design and the detail of them and their movements; making them increasingly more lifelike over time.

Japanese animation, on the other hand, focuses more on the background environment in this way.

What is anime explained
What exactly is Anime?

Characters are often much more simplistic in comparison and more emphasis is placed on the camera movements (panning/zooming etc.) to create a more emotive tone.

Time slowing techniques, for example, are often a major characteristic of Japanese animation, something Hollywood film makers have since pioneered in live action movies like The Matrix (1999).

Eyes of characters can also be quite large and are exaggeratively expressive for this reason.

Often famous Manga (Japanese comics) are adapted from books to screen. As well as famous video games and other characters from movies or even legend.

What is the History behind Anime?

The journey began in 1917, when the first Japanese animation was created and displayed publicly.

‘Namakura Gatana’ (Blunt Sword) was apparently the first ever but this is a part of Japanese history which is contested by some.

Contemporary Anime works, as we know them now, have roots in the mid-20th century and are attributed to pioneer: Manga producer Osamu Tezuka – who reportedly adopted techniques from western animators, like Disney, but simplified them, scaling them down a lot in order to reduce production time, effort and overall costs.

Since the first ever anime movie was shown on television (‘Three Tales’ in 1960), this artform has flourished and grown immensely in popularity.

From the classic Astro Boy (1963) to the intensely popular Dragonball Z (1989-2018) Japanese animated entertainment has become a global sensation and an industry worth billions.

What is the most popular anime of all time?

A heavily disputed and everchanging category, crowning the king of Anime is something a number of sources have tried to do.

Manga girl Japan
Manga girl

The more you research, the more correlations can be made, but number 1 changes from list to list.

Most focus on anime series, while listing a number of popular publications and ranking them from 1 to 10 or the top 100.

Although the number one spot is still somewhat up for grabs, the top ten has some solid members which appear in every list there is.

We will cover 7 of the most popular, a combination of both series and movies, based on a few factors including:

  • online rankings
  • merchandise
  • financial accomplishments
  • and global reach

Dragon Ball Z

Beginning its life as a Manga comic, DBZ (as it is widely abbreviated) first hit the screens in the mid-1980s and has grown in popularity alongside rivals like Pokemon, ever since.

Son Goku in Dragon Ball Z funny quotes
Dragon Ball Goku

An English dubbed version arrived in the west a decade later. It has run, since then and a number of variations were televised right up until 2018.

A fantasy-adventure narrative with battling characters performing hyperbolic acts of martial arts, this cartoon series has since become a whole multi-billion dollar industry, with a worldwide merchandise market including video games, playing cards, toys, costumes and much more.

At the height of its popularity (around 2012) merchandise alone was worth in excess of five billion dollars.  


A household name in the west, this anime series has transcended its original video game debut in 1996 and has taken the entire globe by storm.

Pokemon Center Osaka

Adapted and used to produce, series after series, like DBZ, this one has even made it to the BIG screen – albeit an arguable disaster in comparison to what was expected.

Nevertheless, Detective Pikachu made it to Hollywood and failed to do any damage to the industry’s global reputation.

Still very much popular today, many versions of Pokemon exist as cartoons and video games, toys, mobile phone apps, and even dedicated shops in Japan.

If popularity was measured on global reach, then Pokemon would be a hot contender.  


The only anime series to find characters adapted into skins on Epic Games’ popular Battle Royale game: Fortnite, Naruto is arguably one of the most popular anime series of all time.

Funny anime quotes naruto

Its origins can be found in Manga, a story of a young ninja who dreams of one day becoming the leader of his home village.

This popular series has been adapted for the big screen a number of times and exists as a series of books, as well as other merchandise similar to that of its rivals.

Sailor Moon

Another popular anime which was adapted from a Manga serial, Sailor Moon has been referenced in the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory, and is mentioned more than once.

Sailor Moon girl
Sailor Moon

This rather controversial series features taboo subjects, for the 1990s, and faced censorship across the globe.  

This was due to the fact that characters are less than heteronormative or even gender fluid. The latter being a term which, today, is fast becoming part of everyday life.

Despite this limiting censorship, Sailor Moon thrived across the world and is still very popular to this day.  

Attack on Titan

Relatively new in the world of Anime, this series had its first run in 2009 and plans exist to take it into 2023.

Attack on Titan popular anime
Attack on Titan

Nevertheless, it still appears as one of the most popular of all time and began, like most, from a Manga series of which there are over 100 million in print.

Not just a series but also a film released in 2015, Attack on Titan holds its rightful place, with a large merchandise market and a number of spin-offs, novels, and video games to boot.

A masterpiece of artwork, according to critics, this is one of the best animations ever made.

Spirited Away

One of the top grossing anime movies of all time, Spirited Away is even listed by some sources as the most popular that there is or ever has been.

Spirited Away popular anime
Spirited Away

This 2001 fantasy cartoon won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, as well as a number of others in its wake.

It is the only movie of its kind to win this award and is arguable one of the most popular works of anime ever made.

Talking in terms of just movies, this is rivalled only by one other in anime history, which didn’t come along until 19 years later.

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train

Discussing the most popular anime of all time, wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of this record-breaking anime movie masterpiece.

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train anime Mugen Train

In 2020, the record for the highest-grossing anime movie of all time, was smashed by this sequel to a popular anime series, which made it to the big screen and grossed over $500 million at the box office.

Partly owed to the fact that it was released in the middle of a global pandemic, its popularity was mind-blowing and it was watched by millions on international streaming services.

Rated as one of the most popular works of anime in history, even Rotten Tomatoes didn’t rip it apart, seeing it gain 98% positive reviews.

Final Thoughts

There is a great deal to consider, when trying to evaluate popular anime creations.

If we base it on just one factor, then each time we change that particular factor then the ranking changes.

If you look at general reach, then Pokemon takes the top spot. Should we only take into account the awards won, the different types of merchandise, sales, or even global box office takings, we are still left with a decision to make.

There are even a vast number of popular series and films which are not mentioned here; which some people may argue should have been.

So, what is the most popular anime of all time? All we can do is offer the information for you to come to your own conclusions.

One thing is for sure, however: there are many rivals for the number one spot. Which would you crown king?     

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