In my opinion, Anime openings are the unsung heroes when it comes to gauging how popular a show will be initially, as well as how long it’ll be remembered.
As something that viewers watch every single time they put on the show, it’s absolutely imperative to create an opening that embodies the essence of the show.
While a series’ opening won’t make or break its overall quality, a good opening does give the show another dimension of quality when compared to others. So naturally, some have stood out over time and are loved by fans around the world.
This obviously includes me. In order to celebrate some of the greater title sequences, I’ve put together this list of my Top 20 Anime Opening of All Time.
Given how some series have mastered the formula of great openings and thus have produced multiple notable ones per series, I’m going to stray from the common “one per series” rule. I think that if an opening is great, then it’s great and shouldn’t be penalized.
The decision and ranking of each opening was decided by quality of the visuals and music, the sequences’ thematic alignment with the actual show, and any significance the opening might have to myself or the Anime world as a whole.
In any case, I’m excited to finally present this. Let’s get to it!
Pokemon: Master Quest Theme
I’m willing to admit that I’ve watched this many seasons of Pokemon in order to feature this song. Others who have also stuck by Ash and Pikachu this long are well aware that the series has produced some surprisingly decent openings.
From a purely objective standpoint, I think that the opening from Pokemon’s fifth series, “Master Quest”, earns the distinction as being the best.
If that isn’t enough, the song gets a fair amount of assistance from nostalgia as well. Coming home from class and turning on Kids WB to the tune of this opening is one of my most cherished childhood memories. For what it’s worth, anyway.
“Jiyuu no Tsubasa” – Attack on Titan Opening 2
Yes, yes, I know: Everyone hates this theme song because it’s not the first opening (more on that later).
However, I firmly believe that the few people who get over their longing for the first opening will realize that Attack on Titan’s second theme song isn’t so terrible after all.
The beginning moments are admittedly a bit awkward, but those who stick through it are treated to some excellent visuals and a chorus that’s 75% as epic as the first opening. And buddy, that’s pretty freaking epic.
“World End”- Code Geass: R2 Opening 2
Here’s something you might want to know: the Japanese band FLOW is responsible for about 99.7% of the Anime theme songs that you’ll ever hear.
From what I’ve seen, the band has a “Midas touch” when it comes to the shows they make songs for, because every series I’ve ever seen featuring FLOW in one way or another turns out to be a pretty good Anime.
This was obviously the case for Code Geass, which—as some of you might now—is one of the Animes that I consider to be the best ever. This opening from the show’s second season, “R2”, does a great job including all the new characters that the series introduces with appropriately upbeat music.
This definitely won’t be the last time that you see FLOW—or Code Geass—on this list.
“GO!!!”- Naruto Opening 2
Well, it sure didn’t take long for FLOW to appear on the list again, did it? I told ya so.
This time, the masters of Anime music helped match the awesome comic book visuals of the opening with an equally dynamite song.
In terms of embodying the tone and themes that Naruto is all about, no other opening from the series did a better job than this one.
The only thing that kept it from being on the main list was the greater quality of other Naruto openings and my attempts at limiting of how many themes from a single franchise I’d include.
Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni
If you’ve never seen this show before—which is perfectly understandable—I’ll quickly fill you in by describing the series as “strange”.
It ranks right up there with Lain and Evangelion with shows that leave you scratching your head while being unable to decide if the series was good, bad, overly intelligent, or overly stupid.
Higurashi is a very enigmatic show, and this is an equally enigmatic opening to put you in the proper mood to experience such a dense series.
Okay. With that out of the way, let’s get started…
20. Paranoia Agent Opening
Speaking of strangely confusing shows, how about the only Anime show directed by the master of “wait…what?”, Satoshi Kon.
One of the many things that Kon mastered during his tragically short life was the art of “re-watch material”. What I mean by this impromptu term is how most people really need to give his works a second viewing to fully understand the events and themes.
Upon first glance, this opening seems arbitrary, confusing, and oddly eerie. While continuing to watch the show won’t necessarily dissolve any of those, it will give you more insight into why these seemingly random people are scattered around the world while laughing.
A show that is so beautifully layered and open to interpretation demands an opening that serves as a primer. As always, Kon delivers with this one.
19. “Sorairo Days”- Gurren Lagann
Gurren Lagann is a show that takes the “David and Goliath” narrative and (literally) elevates it to an astronomical level.
I say it all the time, but my favorite part of this show is its genuine ability to make you believe in yourself against the greatest of odds.
(…or maybe this is just how it affects me? I take this stuff very seriously, ya know.)
Anyway, if you don’t immediately like this opening, don’t fret: it’s the only opening of the entire show and will undoubtedly grow on you as the series progresses. This is especially true since it plays during the Anime’s most epic and triumphant battles.
Hopefully, by the end of the series, you’ll form as strong of a connection to this opening as I clearly have.
18. “Cha-La Head-Cha-La”- Dragon Ball Z
I’m sure that some of you were expecting Dragon Ball Z’s American opening to be featured on the list at some point.
I agree that the American DBZ opening is pretty catchy and somewhat universally recognized. However, I originally started watching the series in Spanish, which featured the original Japanese opening (how confusing is that?). So, this version gets the edge in the “nostalgia” category.
Again, while I like the American theme, I think the Japanese version does a much better job of capturing the fantasy aspect of DBZ that is often overlooked.
17. “Colors”- Code Geass Opening 1
Hey, look! It’s FLOW! Again! And guess what? This still won’t be the last time we see them on this list!
While the visuals of this opening definitely don’t quite match up to others of the series, the accompanying song helps by demonstrating what a quintessential opening theme should sound like.
It’s almost as if the band members of FLOW sat down and said, “Okay guys, we’re going to record the opening of Code Geass now”.
I’m not sure if that’s how these things are dealt with in the Anime industry, but this particular opening has an eerily perfect synthesis between the song’s tone and that of the show’s earlier episodes.
And this is still, somehow, not the best opening that FLOW has produced.
16. “Duvet”- Serial Experiments Lain
Remember earlier when I said that avant-garde shows should have equally deviant openings? Well, Serial Experiments Lain is one of the best—if not the best—examples of this.
Not only do the visuals carry and understated sense of uneasiness, but the creators decided to use a completely English song by the British band Bôa to further disorient viewers.
It’s all done in a flawlessly appropriate fashion. After all, Lain is all about understated and layered themes. You’re not going to be spoon-fed any themes in this series, and the opening does a good job of maintaining the enigmatic ambiance.
15. “Sign”- Naruto Shippuden Opening 6
Okay, this is the last time we’ll see FLOW on this list. Promise.
Anime’s “good luck charm” of a band saved their best for last, with this fantastic opening for Naruto Shippuden.
Most Naruto enthusiasts will point to the on-screen deaths of Jiraiya and Itachi as the catalysts for a major change in tonality within the show.
The series’ 6th opening perfectly captures this darker transition, through strikingly dramatic images and an equally urgent accompanying song. It also helps bring the thematic parallel between Naruto and Sasuke to the forefront of the story.
While I’m glad that the rest of the list helps rebuff the belief that I have a huge crush on FLOW, I’m equally sad that I have to stop joking about them being everywhere now.
14. “The World”- Death Note Opening 1
One word to describe the first half of Death Note: dramatic.
One word to describe this opening: dramatic.
While showing clips of Light and L in various dramatic settings—such as standing on opposite skyscrapers and staring each other down in a long tunnel—might seem a bit over-the-top at first, it actually turns out to be quite appropriate given the immense tension that the series portrays between the two geniuses.
But who are we kidding—the first half of Death Note creates a tone so epic that it becomes quite humorous at various points of the show. And guess what? We love it.
The show wouldn’t be as immensely popular as it still is today if it didn’t have a unique ability to entrance viewers amidst all its drama that borderlines on goofiness.
Oh- and the song is great, too.
And how about that last shot of Light? That’s awesome.
13. “Küsö Mesorogiwi”- Mirai Nikki Opening 1
This opening is so good that I put it on the list without ever watching a single episode of the actual show.
I have no clue what Mirai Nikki is about, and I doubt that I’m going to find out anytime soon.
What I do know, though (rhyme!), is that this opening skillfully combined elements of an opening that I’ve always been a sucker for: orchestras and evangelical choirs, over an up-tempo song.
The images are quite intriguing, too. This might be the first show that I ever end up watching solely based off the strength of its opening. With such a great way to kick off the show, I hope that the actual series can match the quality.
Because we know how well that has worked out in the past.
12. “The Trigun Opening”- Trigun
Trigun was an absolute trendsetter when it came to popularizing Anime in the west. I give a large portion of that to its opening, which features impossibly stylish visuals set to an awesome guitar track to create an experience that would still blow most modern Anime sequences out of the water.
Part of the fun with Trigun is realizing that the main character, a wanted gunman named Vash the Stampede, is actually just a kind-hearted goofball with an inescapable reputation.
The opening does a great job of setting you up for this realization by strictly showing the badass side of Vash. It works out pretty well, because many of us would have loved to see more of that Vash during the series, and the opening helped keep us satisfied.
11. “What’s Up People?”- Death Note Opening 2
Those of us who stood by Death Note through the snooze fest “Yotsuba Group” arc know very well that the series completely flies off the rails shortly afterwards.
The plot gets ridiculous, Light’s paranoia gets downright hilarious, and the overall vibe is a lot more frantic and puzzling when compared to the convincing drama of the first half.
For some reason, I actually enjoyed how frenzied the series gets. This might be due to the show’s second opening, which excellently sets the tone for the madness that follows.
You don’t know what exactly just hit you when you first watch this sequence (I thought it was a joke), and that’s the exact same feeling you get when watching the show’s final 10 episodes. It’s almost as if the creators knew what they were doing with the show, which I suppose can serve as a redeeming quality of sorts.
This opening also led me to discover Maximum the Hormone, which has become one of my favorite foreign bands.
10. “Black Paper Moon”- Soul Eater Opening 2
Introducing a new opening for an Anime might be a good idea if the plot is currently going through a major tonal transition. This was absolutely the case for Soul Eater, which goes through a much darker arc during the second half.
The noticeably more mature visuals, set to the fantastic song “Black Paper Moon”, both mimic the dismal vibe of the show’s latter half. I think the shift in plot severity helped push Soul Eater from just another Shonen Anime to one of the best Anime of the past 10 years.
A byproduct of all this was this opening, which is also one of the best of the past decade.
9. “Again”- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Opening 1
It’s a little surprising that it took Fullmetal Allchemist—considered a quintessential Anime—this long to finally produce a decent opening.
…almost as long as it took for me to ever consider watching FMA.
I just started Fullmetal Alchemist recently– mostly so I can stop having my credibility as an Anime enthusiast come into question for not having seen it previously.
While I haven’t gotten around to watching the show’s second incarnation, Brotherhood, I hope that it (as well as the original series) ends up matching the quality of this opening. Which is f*cking amazing.
I’ll probably have a lot more to say about the visuals once I finish both series, but for now, the quality of the song alone is enough to push this opening into the Top 10.
8. “Hacking to the Gate”- Steins;Gate Opening 1
Steins;Gate is a show that bravely takes on the task of telling an engaging story centered around the too-often-attempted concept of time travel.
I have yet to finish the show (much less make it past the 5th episode), but an opening theme like this will certainly have me coming back for more in the near future.
Heh… “future”, get it? No? Alright.
Honestly, with perfectly relevant visuals and a flawless accompanying song, the only think that’s holding this song back from a higher ranking is my own lack of personal connection with it.
The visuals are engaging, and the song will NEVER leave your head once you hear it. The opening as a whole makes the that much more motivated to finish the series. You should be, too.
7. “The Pokemon Theme Song”- Pokemon
Oh, come on: you knew this was coming eventually.
There was no way that I was going to let the iconic anime of Pokemon– which was most likely the first anime for about 80% of us—not be on this list.
I really don’t have to say much, since simply singing “I want to be the very best” will get most of you belting out the rest of the song in a nostalgic frenzy.
It’s an opening known by even non-Anime fans, and has a special place in the hearts of millennials around the world. And now, it has a very special place on this list.
6. “Hero’s Come Back!!- Naruto Shippuden Opening 1
Post-timeskip openings are tricky. Creators want the show the show to appear new and fresh while still being recognizable to fans.
No opening walked the line between refreshed and familiar better than the first sequence from Naruto Shippuden.
The edgy visuals, inclusion of new characters, and unique song choice combined to create everything that a post-timeskip opening is supposed to be. Also- that Akatsuki panorama shot is badass.
The creators of Shippuden struck it out of the park by confidently declaring that the second series was going to be a completely new experience.
Also—what’s not to like about Japanese Hip-Hop?
…don’t answer that.
5. “Guns & Roses”- Baccano!
The opening for the frenzy-in-a-can known as Baccano! is great in a multidimensional fashion that few anime openings are.
For one, the silky-smooth ambush of jazz within the song is effective enough to make the sequence great all on its own.
However, the inclusion of character introductions which transition as seamlessly as the show’s non-linear narrative helps push the opening into the stratosphere of all-time greats.
Baccano!, after all, is a show that’s all about wacky fun. This sequence effortlessly bottles up the madness that the series is all about.
It’s also a great way to brush up on the names of all 2,000 characters in the show.
4. “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”- Neon Genesis Evangelion
You knew it was going to rear its head eventually, and some of you are probably pretty annoyed, but sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that this opening—much like the show—is an absolute staple that is going to be around forever.
Also similar to the show is the fact that it’s quite difficult to identify one single aspect that explains its popularity.
The catchy chorus comes to mind immediately. And we’re not talking about some “stuck in your head for two weeks” catchy—this opening has been considered a classic for nearly twenty years.
Or, for you visual types, it’s the jarring and seemingly nonsensical images that flash during the iconic chorus.
For me, it’s the very first 15 seconds that makes the entire opening so memorable. It emits a strange sense of holy omnipotence, as if the otherwise upbeat remainder of the song is just curtain dressing to mask a deeper meaning which was smeared in your face from the very beginning.
3. “Resonance” Soul Eater Opening 1
Openings serve a bevy of purposes. They can remind you of the main characters, give you a refresh of major plot points, or get you in the right mood to watch the show.
The first opening of Soul Eater delivers on all of the above, and in a flawlessly stylish manner. The initial crawl the screen takes through Death City, with various characters scattered around, is one of the absolute coolest sequences in Anime that I have ever seen.
And how about that song? It’s hard to make someone excited to watch a show that’s already this dynamic, but this opening…does that. (Sorry—I’m about 3,000 words into this thing. Give me a break.)
I think the qualities of this opening are aligned with the qualities of the show. It doesn’t do anything new or reinvent the wheel: it just did what openings were supposed to do, but did it better than most ever have.
2. “Tank!”- Cowboy Bebop
I know what you’re thinking: “What!? But you LOVE Cowboy Bebop! How can you rank it at number TWO??”
Yeah, it’s true. Although I consider Cowboy Bebop to be the absolute greatest Anime in history, I can’t quite say the same for the opening.
That’s not to take away from the quality of Bebop’s iconic opening, set to Yoko Kanno’s composed masterpiece, “Tank!”, performed by the Seatbelts, though.
In fact, the opening’s combination of cold-as-ice visuals and lusciously jazzy music to create such an effortless sense of “cool” was great enough to reign supreme among opening sequences for a little over 10 years.
For a show that was iconic for its superb quality which took Anime to entirely new heights, it was only behooving that an equally groundbreaking opening accompany it. In terms of historical significance, “Tank!” might never see a day when it is dethroned.
However, in terms of sheer quality, I’m actually quite pleased to say that it’s been surpassed. I say this because, although Bebop has set the gold standard in several aspects for Anime, any new series that comes along and tops Bebop in any category is just good for Anime as a whole.
It shows that Anime is continuing to improve, and get better. Which, of course, leads me to Number 1….
Let’s be real: you saw this one coming…
1. “Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen”- Attack on Titan Opening 1
In today’s modern landscape of Anime, with so many different genres available, and with our choices of series no longer limited to whatever Toonami decides to feature, it’s particularly difficult for one show to take the entire Anime world by storm.
However, in 2013, Attack on Titan was able to do just that. By being a show that legitimately lived up to its own hype, AOT was able to cement its status as a series that would go down in history and a show that rejuvenated Anime popularity in the West.
Even people who are a little bit interested in Anime have heard of AOT in some capacity. Because of its popularity, the series has helped rake in legions of new Anime fans by serving as a gateway.
What helped sparked this pandemonium was an opening that reached new heights by being debatably better than the actual show. I think it’s still a bit early to make that stretch, but the AOT opening sequence will get you excited to watch the show in a way that has never been done before.
The triumphant trumpets, perfectly urgent choir voices, and high-speed visuals helped give Attack on Titan one more epic aspect for every Anime fan to drool over.
…and we were all very upset when the show decided to change it midseason.
Bonus: Detective Conan Opening
While I doubt many will consider the Detective Conan (or “Case Closed”, whatever) opening to be one of the all-time greats, it’s definitely as timeless as it is catchy. I think everyone should hear it at least once, so here you go!
And there we have it!
Thanks to everyone who stuck it out to the end. I really appreciate it.
If you feel that there’s a specific opening that I might have missed, please comment and let me know! I’d love to hear your opinion.