Anime isn’t a new phenomenon. Maybe it was back in the early 00s, but even then, you had popular names from the 90s like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and Pokémon airing that were semi-household names. When you think of the most-watched anime in history, you’d likely think of one of those but apparently, that’s not the case. A lot of the most popular anime by sheer viewership are fairly recent!
But what makes these specific anime so widespread? What gives them the edge that makes them a cut above the rest? I think it’s a combination of factors, not just one trait. I mean, an anime with stellar animation but no story is vapid eye-candy at best. An anime should be both visually enjoyable and have a great storyline for it to reach that top 10 most-watched rank.
I also think that these kinds of rankings shouldn’t matter when choosing your favorite anime, but when you look at viewership statistics? There is a pattern there. It’s no surprise that a good chunk of these entries tends to be Shonen giants from Weekly Shonen Jump. Shonen anime has been some of the biggest anime of recent years, the long episode counts and flashy action making them extremely binge-able. But there are some wild cards there, who gained notoriety solely based on their exceptionally well-written plots. For those anime to become breakouts in the mainstream is a feat unheard of.
If you’re an old anime fan, a lot of these names are going to be no surprise to you. But if you’ve recently joined the weeb train, you can’t miss out on experiencing these franchises at least once. Here are the top 10 most-watched anime of all time!
Note: This list assumes you already know about the big three (Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball Series), and is hence focused on providing you more niche tastes!
10. Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter is one of those most-watched anime that you always heard being brought up when talking about the Weekly Jump ‘Big 3’ that consisted of One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto. And I think I finally understand the hype.
We follow Gon Freecss, our protagonist, who learns of his estranged father’s legacy of being a famous Hunter, known worldwide for his pursuits. A Hunter in this world is a professional who is skilled in finding unnamed or rare species, works in treasure hunting, and even dabbles in a bit of bounty hunting. And so, Gon is motivated to become a Hunter himself, embarking on a journey where he secretly hopes to meet his father again. On this path, he encounters many Hunters, not unlike himself, and fantastical creatures he never dreamt of.
The synopsis doesn’t do this incredible show justice. This is a Shonen Hall of Fame inductee, for sure.
9. Kimetsu No Yaiba (Demon Slayer)
Demon Slayer going from 0 to 100 in the span of half a decade is absolutely mind-boggling, but it’s easy to see the hype.
The protagonist of this epic tale is Tanjirou Kamado, the sole breadwinner of his family living by a mountain. One day, he returns from selling charcoal to the worst tragedy – his entire family is slaughtered by flesh-eating monsters, leaving his sister Nezuko as the sole survivor of the massacre. But Nezuko herself is slowly turning into a blood-thirsty demon. Angered and heartbroken, Tanjirou vows to take revenge while protecting what remains of his sister’s humanity. And it’s at this point he encounters the Demon Slayer Corps, a mysterious organization that reveals to him a way to slay the demons that destroyed his life.
It isn’t one of the highest-grossing media franchises for no reason.
Ah Naruto, is the first-ever Shonen that I got obsessed with. And that obsession has not waned, believe it!
You already know the story of Naruto Uzumaki, the host to a fearsome nine-tailed fox demon known as the Kyuubi. This story is more than just his dream to become the Hokage of a village that has only ever shunned him. This is about the people he meets on his journey to become the best, the sacrifices of the ones before him, and how one friendship comes to change the landscape of the entire Shinobi world.
Part of the Big 3, it remains one of my favorite and most-watched anime of all time. You just can’t beat the hype that was Shippuden!
7. Tokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul came in and whooped us right in the first with one of the best openings of its era. That’s how you knew this was going to be a hit.
Meet Ken Kaneki, a high schooler who gets asked out on a date by a beautiful girl named Rize Kamishiro. Of course, Rize reveals herself to be a ghoul, a sort of monster that survives on human flesh and tries to attack him. He survives but realizes that his emergency surgery upon rescuing has turned him half-ghoul. Distraught, he stumbles upon Anteiku, a coffee shop run by ghouls, who take him under their wing and mentor him through his new life. What follows are his struggles to live in this limbo between humanity and monster, hiding away from everyone, even his closest friend, Hideyoshi Nagachika.
Armed with a stellar soundtrack and almost creepy vibe, Tokyo Ghoul had everyone hooked when it aired!
6. Boku No Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
Have you ever missed Hogwarts, but instead of magic (and the transphobia), you wish it was about superheroes?
I’m not going to lie; I didn’t get into My Hero Academia until very late into the game. But I ended up loving it all the same! This is the story of Deku, an underdog, and his adventures at UA Academy. Alongside a ragtag team of friends just trying to make it in a world where heroes and villains are a job occupation for the best.
I’m oversimplifying this because likely, you’ve already watched this show. And you know just how good it gets.
5. Sword Art Online
This is arguably what started the Isekai craze.
The story revolves are Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya and Asuna Yuuki, who is among many players that put on their virtual helmets for a game that was recently launched, only to never wake up. Turns out, they get trapped in the MMPORG world known as Sword Art Online. And until they complete all 1000 floors and defeat the final boss, they can’t get out.
This was not my favorite show, but I understand the appeal that made it become one of the most-watched anime.
4. One Punch Man
Imagine your favorite Shonen hero, the most powerful of the powerful. And then slowly realize that they would never stand a chance against One Punch Man.
Saitama is your average day salaryman with a fun pastime: being a superhero! He trained for years, and lost his hair to this cause but can finally defeat every enemy with a single punch. And when Genos, a cyborg asks to be his disciple, hilarity ensues.
This is one giant meme of a show with surprisingly good writing!
3. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Get your tissue boxes ready, newcomers. This is not for the faint of heart!
The anime revolves around Edward and Alphonse Elric, two alchemists and brothers who are trying to restore their bodies after they are left convoluted at the hands of a spell gone wrong. A spell that was meant to revive their mother.
It isn’t just called one of the best most-watched anime of all time for the show, you know?
2. Death Note
Remember that age in your weeb life where you became an emo teen who only wants to watch ‘real, mature’ anime? For a lot of us, Death Note was that edgy show that tipped the scales!
Imagine having the power to enact justice right in your hands. That is what happens to Light Yagami, who gains the power of the mysterious Death Note, thanks to a Shinigami (death god) known as Ryuk. But power corrupts, and Light is left reeling when his morals start bleeding into real-life consequences.
It’s got great characters and an ingenious plot. What’s not to love here?
1. Shingeki No Kyojin (Attack On Titan)
I’m not surprised this is number 1, not by a long shot. Another one of those shows where, by the opening alone, you knew you were in for the story of a lifetime.
Set in a world where humanity has been pushed into hiding from giant man-eating monsters name Titans, this is where we find our protagonist, Eren Yeager. Eren, along with his childhood friends, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlelt, pledge to exterminate the Titans that are the cause of so much suffering, including his own when his mother is killed by one of them in front of him. Of course, not all is what it seems. Especially after the three are inducted into the Scout Regiment, a task force that goes beyond the protective walls to fight these monsters.
Attack On Titan reigns supreme, even 9 years later after its pilot aired. That says a lot about its longevity and hold over the anime community.
So, have you watched each show from this list before? Or are they on your bucket list? Let us know down below!