30 of the Most Popular Anime Series of All Time

Here in the U.S., comics are now big business. But, despite the mainstream success, they are still frowned upon if you’re a grown man reading them. That’s not the case in Japan.

Manga, a Japanese term meaning both comics and cartooning, are so vital to the country’s culture and history that people of all ages enjoy manga series. What else would you expect from an art form that can be traced back to 1798 with Santō Kyōden’s picture-book Shiji no yukikai?

Today, manga has become approximately a $5.5 billion dollar business in Japan. And, it’s becoming increasingly popular across all corners of the world. For example, in the U.S. and Canada, the manga market was valued at $175 million in 2008.

With such a popular, and profitable, enterprise, it’s not surprising that manga has expanded into other entertainment formats, mainly anime series. Over the years, there have been hundreds of successful anime series. Here are the 30 most popular anime series of all time.

But, before you read on, just remember that this list contains the most popular series, not necessarily the best anime series. There’s a big difference between the two.


One Piece


Eiichiro Oda has been writing and illustrating One Piece since August 4, 1997 in the Weekly Shōnen Jump. An anime series based on the manga chapters premiered in Japan on Fuji Television on October 20, 1999. An English version finally premiered in the United States on September 18, 2004 on the Fox network as part of the Fox Box block. It later aired on Cartoon Network in the Toonami block in April 2005, where it will return on May 18, 2013. Despite having almost 600 episodes, One Piece is still going strong. The series has not only become the highest-circulating manga series in history, it also spawned eleven animated feature films, an Original video animation (OVA), five television specials, trading cards and numerous video games.



This series was based off of a one-shot comic written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto that was published in the August 1997 issue of Akamaru Jump. The manga went on to be published by Shueisha in 1999 in Japan’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine. The anime adventures of adolescent ninja Naruto Uzumaki premiered in Japan on the TV Tokyo network and the anime satellite television network Animax on October 3, 2002 with 220 episodes. The English adaptation of Naruto didn’t begin airing until September 10, 2005.

Naruto Shippuden


The sequel to Naruto, has been airing since February 15, 2007 on TV Tokyo. It’s also been airing weekly on Disney XD since October 2009. TV Tokyo also streams episodes directly to monthly subscribers, which are available online within an hour of its Japanese premiere. And yes, it includes English subtitles.

Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X)


This series written and illustrated by Nobuhiro Watsuki and first appeared in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump on April 11, 1994. The anime series was later developed by Studio Gallop, Studio Deen, and SPE Visual Works in 1996. This popular series was aired on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and has spawned numerous video games, books and even a live-action film.

Dragon Ball


Goku and his friends first appeared in 1984 in Weekly Shōnen Jump. The series, which was inspired by the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West, became an anime series in 1986. Akira Toriyama’s creation has since become one of the most profitable and recognized anime series in the world, for example the manga’s 42 volumes have sold over 230 million copies worldwide. The series has also had feature films, including a live-action flick, several companion books, and a lot of video games.

Dragon Ball Z


After the original series ended, Toei Animation rapidly released a second anime series. Dragon Ball Z had 291 episodes from April 26, 1989 – January 31, 1996. U.S. viewers enjoyed English dubbed episodes from September 13, 1999 to April 7, 2003 on Cartoon Network.

Dragon Ball GT


Dragon Ball GT is a “side story” that was not based on the original Akira Toriyama Dragon Ball manga. The 64 episodes were on Fuji TV from February 2, 1996 -November 19, 1997. In the U.S., Cartoon Network aired the series from November 14, 2003 to April 16, 2005.

Sailor Moon


Naoko Takeuchi first debuted Sailor Moon as a manga series in 1991. The anime series, which included 200 episodes, began airing in Japan on March 7, 1992 and ended on February 8, 1997. Although the series hasn’t appeared in any English-speaking countries since 2004 because of lapsed licenses, fans can hopefully catch the new anime adaptation in the Summer of 2013.



Doraemon first appeared in December 1969 as a manga series. The first anime series began in 1973 on Nippon Television, but because it was so unpopular, Doraemon stayed mainly in manga. In 1979, animation studio Shin-Ei Animation (now owned by TV Asahi) released a successful anime series. A new Doraemon series aired on TV Asahi on April 15, 2005 with new voice actors and staff, and updated character designs. It’s said that back in the ‘80s, Ted Turner bought the rights for a planned English-language release, however, the mogul backed out without explanation. Regardless, the character was named an “Asian Hero” in Time Magazine in 2002.



Pokemon, which means “Pocket Monsters,” was first released as a Nintendo video game in 1996. This successful franchise, which was created by Satoshi Tajiri, began airing in April 1997 on TV Tokyo and mainly Cartoon Network in the U.S.. The series, which is still ongoing, has produced over 750 episodes between all the series (Pocket Monsters, Advanced Generation, Diamond & Pearl and Best Wishes!). The anime series has also had 15 movies and numerous specials.



Since August 2001, Tite Kubo’s Bleach has been a serialized manga series in Weekly Shōnen Jump. from 2004 to 2012, the anime series was produced by Studio Pierrot in Japan. It arrived in America on September 9, 2006 on Adult Swim. The anime series was named the fourth most popular in Japan in 2006, and, it even became one of the top ten anime series in the United States from 2006 to 2008.



The manga series, written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi, premiered in Weekly Shōnen Sunday on November 13, 1996. The first InuYasha anime adaptation aired in Japan on Animax from October 16, 2000 to September 13, 2004. The English dub version was broadcast on Adult Swim from August 31, 2002 through October 27, 2006. A second series, called InuYasha: The Final Act, debuted on October October 3, 2009.

Detective Conan


The detective manga series launched on January 19, 1994 in the Weekly Shōnen Sunday. The anime adaptation of Meitantei Conan premiered on January 8, 1996. After 600 episodes, it has become the sixteenth longest anime series. Because of legal considerations, Meitantei Conan was renamed Case Closed and debuted on Adult Swim on May 24, 2004.

Fullmetal Alchemist


From August 2001 and ending June 2010, Hiromu Arakawa’s European Industrial Revolution influenced manga ran in Square Enix’s Monthly Shōnen Gangan magazine. The anime series premiered on Mainichi Broadcasting System, TBS, and Animax in Japan from October 4, 2003 through October 2, 2004. The English dubbed version debuted on Adult Swim on November 6, 2004. The series sequel, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, also ran on Adult Swim from February 13, 2010 to September 25, 2011.

Cardcaptor Sakura


Originally, Cardcaptor Sakura began as serialized series in Nakayoshi from May 1996 to June 2000. The anime version had a run from April 7, 1998 – March 21, 2000, where it won the Animage Grand Prix award for Best Anime in 1999. The series was retitled Cardcaptors and first aired in the United States on Kids’ WB on June 17, 2000. The heavily edited English version concluded on December 14, 2001

Fushigi Yuugi


Fushigi Yuugi began as a manga series in May 1992. The series became popular enough for an anime series that ran from April 6, 1995 – March 28, 1996. The first season arrived on DVD on June 19, 2012, while season 2 was released on February 12, 2013.

Ranma ½


This manga series ran from September 1987 – March 1996. The original anime series was canceled due to low ratings after only 18 episodes in 1989. It was quickly retitled Ranma ½ Nettōhen and had a successful run from October 20, 1989 – September 25, 1992. Since the conclusion of the series, Ranma ½ has branched out into a franchise that includes films, audio cds, video games, and a live-action TV special.

Flame of Recca


Flame of Recca was another manga series that had its run from 1995 to 2002. The anime version debuted on July 19, 1997 with 42e pisodes airing on Fuji Television. Fans in North America didn’t catch the series until it was released into 10 separate DVD volumes from October 26, 2004 – January 9, 2007.

YuYu Hakusho (Ghost Fighter)


The original manga series ran from December 1990 – July 1994. It was adapted into an anime series from October 10, 1992 – December 17, 1994, and it was awarded the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize for best anime in 1994 and 1995.

Code Geass


Created by the production studio, Sunrise, Code Geass was an anime series that first ran in Japan on the Mainichi Broadcasting System from October 5, 2006, to July 28, 2007. Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2, the series sequel, also ran on MBS from April 6, 2008 to September 28, 2008. In December 2007, Cartoon Network began airing the English version.

Lupin III


Lupin 111–written and illustrated by Kazuhiko Kato under his pen name, Monkey Punch–first appeared in Weekly Manga Action on August 10, 1967. The manga series has since expanded into four anime television series, five animated feature films, a live-action film, three OVAs, yearly television specials (since 1989), music CDs, video games, and even a musical. The first anime series began October 24, 1971 on YTV. Since then, the popular character Arsène Lupin III has had new series in 1977, 1984, and 2012.

Voltes V


Unlike the majority of anime series on this list, Voltes V wasn’t based off a manga series. The anime series premiered on TV Asahi on June 4, 1977 and only lasted for 40 episodes. Americans got their first glimpse of Voltes V with Mattel’s Shogun Warriors line of import toys in the late 1970s. However, an English-dubbed version was released in North America in 1983 by 3B Productions as Voltus 5.

Hunter X Hunter


This manga series has been going strong since 1998. The anime series was broadcast on Fuji Television from October 16, 1999 to March 31, 2001. It didn’t begin airing in the U.S. until 2009.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (The Wallflower)


This ongoing manga series had a short anime run from October 3, 2006 – March 27, 2007 with 25 episodes on TV Tokyo, TV Aichi.

Slam Dunk


The manga series Slam Dunk had a run in Japan from 1990 to 1996. The anime series’ original run was from October 16, 1993 – March 23, 1996 with 101 episodes. Writer and illustrator Takehiko Inoue is said to have helped popularize basketball in Japan because of his series.

Prince of Tennis


The manga series Tennis Prince was unveiled in July 1999. The 178 episodes of the anime series ran from October 10, 2001 – March 30, 2005. American viewers caught the show on Cartoon Network. A sequel entitled The New Prince of Tennis will be on its way.



Yu-Gi-Oh! had a serialized manga series from September 30, 1996 through June 2004. The first Yu-Gi-Oh! anime adaptation, produced by Toei Animation and aired on TV Asahi, ran between April 4, 1998 and October 10, 1998. The second series, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, premiered on April 18, 2000 and featured 224 episodes. Kids’ WB! aired the series between September 29, 2001 and June 10, 2006 in North America.



Digimon, short for “Digital Monsters,”, is a well-known Japanese media franchise that includes digital toys, anime, manga, video games, and videos. The anime series first aired on Fuji TV in Japan on March 7, 1999, with an August 14, 1999 premiere in the U.S. on Fox Kids.

Shaman King


Written by Hiroyuki Takei as manga in 1998, the anime series debuted on Animax, TV Tokyo on July 4, 2001. North Americans caught the series in 2003 via 4Kids Entertainment.

Yakitate!! Ja-pan


The anime adaptation, which translates into meaning “Freshly Baked!! Japan,” of this manga ran from October 12, 2004 – March 14, 2006 on TV Tokyo, Animax. The 69 episodes were distributed in North America through VIZ Media.

Images Via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Comment