In recent years, hundreds of new anime have been produced annually and released worldwide. The majority of these are adaptations based on manga, light novels, video games, and the like. This is commercially viable from a creator’s perspective, as there’s a guaranteed viewership from the existing fans of the original manga or light novel.
On the other hand, while taking risks, some original anime, which aren’t based on any pre-existing work, have been produced. Some of these have reached astonishing levels of quality, becoming tales passed down for generations. The potential of original anime, entirely new and unique creations, is immeasurable.
In this article, I’ve listed the best original anime of all time, which consists of both old masterpieces and new hit titles. Let’s immerse ourselves in the world of genuine anime!
15. Just Because! (2017)
Just Because! is an original anime series, airing in 2017. Unlike most anime, it isn’t an adaptation from a manga, light novel, or game. The slice-of-life and romance anime is produced by Pine Jam and directed by Atsushi Kobayashi with an original script from Hajime Kamoshida, who is also famous as the author of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. It gained attention for its realistic portrayal of youth and the complexities of transitioning from high school to adulthood.
As winter semester nears its end, high school students grapple with the anxiety and anticipation of graduation, transitioning to college, and the unknown future. The narrative takes a turn when Eita Izumi, a transfer student, returns to his hometown after four years. His re-entry into the lives of his former classmates rekindles old friendships, ignites forgotten feelings, and even sparks new relationships. Just Because! intricately explores the web of teenage relationships, love, and the bittersweet challenges of youth.
Studio: Pine Jam
14. Psycho-Pass (2012-)
Psycho-Pass, an original anime series first aired from 2012 to 2013, has since cemented its reputation as one of the most globally renowned cyberpunk anime. The inaugural 22-episode season, crafted by Production I.G, was succeeded by a second season in 2014, produced by Tatsunoko Production. Production I.G resumed the reins for the third season. The series expanded its universe with a 2015 film, Psycho-Pass: The Movie. 2019 saw the release of the Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System trilogy. In 2023, marking its 10th anniversary, Psycho-Pass Providence premiered.
Set in a future dystopian Japan, society relies on the Sibyl System to measure its citizens’ psychological states and predict their propensity to commit crimes. The resulting Psycho-Pass determines an individual’s fate, and enforcers mete out justice accordingly. Akane Tsunemori, a young Inspector, grapples with the morality of this system. Alongside her Enforcers, including the brooding Shinya Kogami, they confront criminals and the moral dilemmas of a world where one’s mental state dictates their freedom or imprisonment.
Aired: 2012-2013 (Season 1)/2014 (Season 4)/2019 (Season 3)
Episodes: 22 (Season 1)/11 (Season 4)/8 (Season 3)
Released (Movies): 2015 (Psycho-Pass: The Movie)/2019 (Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System)/2020 (Psycho-Pass 3: First Inspector)/2023 (Psycho-Pass: Providence)
Studio: Production I.G (Season 1, 3)/Tatsunoko Production (Season 2)
13. Angel Beats! (2010)
Angel Beats! is one of the most popular original anime aired in 2010, renowned for its unique blend of high-energy action, humor, and profound emotional moments. Created by Jun Maeda from Key and animated by P.A. Works, this 13-episode series set itself apart with its riveting music, endearing characters, and deep philosophical undertones about life, death, and purpose. Charlotte, produced in 2015 by Key represented by Jun Maeda, is their second original anime series and is also highly popular.
Yuzuru Otonashi awakens in the afterlife, only to find himself amidst a battle between a band of students and a mysterious girl named Angel. With no memories of his past, Otonashi joins the SSS Brigade, a group resisting Angel and the enigmatic rules of this purgatorial realm. As they clash, each member confronts their earthly regrets and seeks a way to find peace. Beyond the battles lies a story of redemption, unfulfilled dreams, and the pursuit of life’s meaning.
Studio: P.A. Works
12. FLCL (2000-2001)
An original anime that has been loved by advanced anime fans all over the world since it was released in 2000-2001, FLCL (フリクリ), which means Fooly Cooly is an avant-garde anime produced by the esteemed studio Gainax and Production I.G. Spanning just six episodes, this OVA is lauded for its unique animation style, energetic rock soundtrack by The Pillows, and its unconventional storytelling. While its compact length might suggest simplicity, the series is a complex coming-of-age story packed with symbolism, surreal imagery, and references to pop culture. It is also known as the directorial debut of Kazuya Tsurumaki, who served as the assistant director for Neon Genesis Evangelion. As sequels, two anime movies, FLCL Alternative (フリクリ オルタナ) and FLCL Progressive (フリクリ プログレ), were produced in 2018 by the director Katsuyuki Motohiro with Kazuya Tsurumaki as the supervisor.
In a quiet Japanese town, 12-year-old Naota’s mundane life is interrupted when Haruko Haruhara, a mysterious, eccentric woman, runs him over with her Vespa and hits him on the head with a bass guitar. This incident spawns a horn-like protrusion on Naota’s head, from which robots emerge. Haruko claims to be an alien investigator seeking the “Pirate King,” and her chaotic presence spirals Naota’s life out of control. FLCL delves deep into the confusion of adolescence, blending emotions, robots, and rock music in a psychedelic, frenzied experience.
Studio: Production I.G, Gainax
11. Shirobako (2014-2015)
Shirobako is an original anime series offering viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the anime industry. Following the 2011 anime Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako was created as the second title in the Working Girls series of P.A. Works. Premiering in 2014, the series delves into the intricacies of the anime production process. It stands out for its meta-narrative, Spanning 24 episodes, Shirobako combines humor, drama, and educational elements, providing insights into challenges anime creators face. The sequel anime movie Shirobako: The Movie was released in 2020. The series was lauded for its authenticity and has since become a must-watch for anime enthusiasts.
Five high school friends, Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa, and Midori, vow to produce an anime together. As they step into the professional world, Shirobako follows their journey navigating the anime industry. Aoi works as a production assistant at an animation studio, encountering various hurdles like tight schedules and artist disputes. While managing these challenges, she and her friends discover the complexities of bringing a show to life. Through their experiences, the anime celebrates passion, persistence, and the collaborative spirit required to create an animated series.
Studio: P.A. Works
10. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (2022-2023)
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (機動戦士ガンダム 水星の魔女) is a recent part of the legendary Mobile Suit Gundam series, which holds an iconic status among anime fans and has played a pivotal role in establishing the mecha anime genre. The series, an original creation by Yoshiyuki Tomino and produced by Sunrise, started its journey with the first installation broadcasted from 1979 to 1980. Since then, it has become a long-running franchise with numerous follow-up series. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, aired in two seasons in 2022 and 2023, is one of the recent masterpieces from the Gundam series. Notably, even those unfamiliar with mecha anime or Gundam can appreciate and enjoy this particular installment. How about trying it out as your first Gundam experience?
In an era of corporate expansion into space, the conflict between the space immigrant Spacians and the Earth-dwelling Earthians is intensifying. Suletta Mercury, who grew up on Mercury, is transferred to the Asticassia School of Technology, an educational institution run by the giant Benerit Group, at the urging of her mother. Suletta meets Miorine Rembran, the only daughter of the company’s president, and gets to know other students. Dueling using Mobile Suits, conspiracies and subterfuge by adults, and mysteries related to the Gundam. This is the story of Suletta and her friends, who love Gundam and believe in its hope, against adults who consider Gundam dangerous.
Aired: 2022 (Season 1)/2023 (Season 2)
Episodes: 12 (Season 1)/12 (Season 2)
9. Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea (2013-2014)
P.A. Works has made a lot of quality original anime with ambition, and Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, (凪のあすから) also known as Nagi no Asukara, is one of their masterpieces aired in 2013-2014. Directed by Toshiya Shinohara and scripted by Mari Okada, this coming-of-age story beautifully intertwines elements of fantasy and romance, enhanced by its captivating visuals and emotional depth. Set in a world where humans lived beneath the ocean and on land, it touches upon themes of love, change, and cultural clashes.
In a world where some humans live beneath the ocean and others on land, the two societies coexisted but with growing estrangement. Four childhood friends from the sea village – Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname – are forced to attend school on the surface after their school closes. As they grapple with their identity and changing relationships, a larger natural phenomenon looms, threatening to change their world forever. Through heartbreak and discovery, the friends confront the divide between the sea and the surface.
Studio: P.A. Works
8. A Place Further than the Universe (2018)
A Place Further than the Universe (宇宙よりも遠い場所), also known as Yorimoi in Japanese, is a good original anime series that aired in 2018. Produced by Madhouse and directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, the coming-of-age drama series has garnered critical acclaim for its compelling storytelling, character development, and emotional depth. A Place Further than the Universe was also listed in the New York Times’ Best TV Shows of 2018. It follows the journey of four high-school girls who set out on an expedition to Antarctica, shattering their personal limitations and defying societal norms along the way.
Mari Tamaki is a high school student who craves adventure but is held back by her own fear. She meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl determined to find her missing mother in Antarctica. Joined by two more friends, Yuzuki and Hinata, they embark on a daring expedition to the frozen continent. Through struggles, laughter, and tears, they not only face the challenges of the icy wasteland but also confront their own insecurities, forging a bond and achieving a feat that changes their lives forever.
7. Code Geass (2006-2019)
Code Geass (コードギアス) is a masterpiece of original anime that masterfully blends mecha and dark fantasy elements. The series initially debuted in 2006 with Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (コードギアス 反逆のルルーシュ), followed by its second season, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2, which aired in 2008. Directed by Goro Taniguchi, who is also known for directing One Piece Film: Red in 2022, the anime has garnered a massive following. A spin-off set in the same world, Code Geass: Akito the Exiled (コードギアス 亡国のアキト), was released as a five-part anime film series from 2012 to 2016. Additionally, the original two seasons were compiled into a movie trilogy: Episode I Initiation, Episode II Transgression, and Episode III Glorification. A sequel film, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection (コードギアス 復活のルルーシュ), was released in 2019.
In an alternate future, the Holy Britannian Empire has conquered Japan and renamed it Area 11. Lelouch vi Britannia, a former prince in exile, gains a mysterious power known as Geass from a mysterious girl named C.C. Armed with the ability to command anyone to obey him, Lelouch adopts the alter-ego “Zero” and leads a rebellion against Britannia to seek justice for his sister and revenge against the empire. As he navigates a complex web of loyalties, friendships, and enemies, Lelouch is forced to confront the ethical dilemmas tied to his newfound power.
Aired: 2006-2007 (Season 1)/2008 (Season 2)
Episodes: 25 (Season 1)/25 (Season 2)
Released: 2012-2016 (Code Geass: Akito the Exiled)/2019 (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection)
6. Gurren Lagann (2007)
A classic anime studio Gainax completed a renowned original mecha anime series Gurren Lagann (天元突破グレンラガン), directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi in 2007. The 27 episodes in the series were followed by two anime movies Gurren Lagann the Movie: Childhood’s End in 2008 and Gurren Lagann the Movie: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars in 2009. While the series is considered a legendary anime among fans, its age might make younger viewers hesitant to dive in. However, the 15th-anniversary project for Gurren Lagann The Movie has been launched, and revival screenings for the two-part films have been announced. Gurren Lagann is set to be reinvigorated for a new generation.
In a subterranean future, humans live in isolated underground villages, unaware of the world above. Simon, a shy digger, and Kamina, a fearless leader, discover a mysterious robot called Lagann. They team up with Yoko, a skilled sniper from the surface, to fight oppressive beastmen and their mechas. Their journey becomes a symbol of rising against adversity as they aim to pierce the heavens with their drill, challenging not just tyrannical rulers but also the fundamental laws of the universe itself.
Released: 2008 (Gurren Lagann the Movie: Childhood’s End)/2009 (Gurren Lagann the Movie: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars)
5. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ), one of the best original anime ever, is considered one of the masterpieces of Studio Shaft, directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. The screenplay is by the renowned Gen Urobuchi. Despite being a magical girl anime, it has captivated a broad audience, including both veteran and starter anime fans. The series originally aired in 2011 with 12 episodes. Following two compilation films, Beginnings and Eternal, a sequel film titled Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion was released in 2013. Furthermore, a new film, Walpurgisnacht: Rising, is slated for release, further expanding the franchise.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, middle school students Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki encounter a mysterious creature named Kyubey who offers to grant them a wish in exchange for becoming magical girls. However, as they dive deeper into this seemingly idyllic world, they discover the harsh realities and moral dilemmas that come with the magical girl lifestyle. The series explores themes of hope, despair, and sacrifice, as the girls grapple with the consequences of their choices and the cyclical nature of suffering.
Released: 2012 (Beginnings and Eternal)/2013 (Rebellion)/TBA (Walpurgisnacht: Rising)
4. Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)
One of the most popular original anime series worldwide is this one. Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ) is a groundbreaking anime series directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and produced by Sunrise. Premiering in 1998-1999, the show is considered a milestone in the anime genre, blending elements of science fiction, westerns, and noir. Its 26-episode run was accompanied by a critically acclaimed jazz-infused soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. The show was so impactful that it received a movie adaptation, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (カウボーイビバップ 天国の扉), released in 2001. Cowboy Bebop continues to enjoy global popularity, and a live-action television series was produced in 2021.
Set in 2071, Cowboy Bebop follows a group of bounty hunters—Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, and Edward Wong—as they traverse the galaxy in their spaceship, the Bebop, hunting down criminals for rewards. Each member has a haunting past that slowly unravels, contributing to the series’ dark, complex narrative. The show delves into existential themes, loneliness, and the ambiguity of morality, all wrapped in stylish action and compelling storytelling.
Released: 2001 (Cowboy Bebop: The Movie)
3. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011)
Many anime fans would likely agree with the high ranking of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (あの日見た花の名前を僕達はまだ知らない。) in the list of best original anime. It is renowned as one of the most emotional anime, and it’s a series that even casual viewers who don’t often watch anime have become engrossed in. Produced by A-1 Pictures, the series was written by Mari Okada and directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, who are also known as members of Super Peace Busters and famous for the Toradora! series and an anime movie The Anthem of the Heart. Spanning 11 episodes, Anohana quickly garnered a strong emotional response from viewers, cementing its place as a modern classic. In 2012, the series was adapted into a manga, and in 2013, an anime film was released that featured both a sequel and previously untold episodes from the TV series. Furthermore, a live-action drama adaptation was aired in 2015. The series has spawned a variety of adaptations over the years.
The story revolves around a group of childhood friends who have grown apart after the tragic death of one of their members, Menma. Jinta Yadomi, the former leader of the group, starts to see visions of Menma and believes that her spirit has returned to ask for a wish to be fulfilled. Initially skeptical, the group eventually reunites to help Menma move on to the afterlife, navigating a complicated web of emotions, unresolved issues, and heart-wrenching revelations. The anime delves deep into themes of friendship, loss, and the struggles of coming to terms with the past.
Studio: A-1 Pictures
2. Lycoris Recoil (2022)
Lycoris Recoil (リコリス・リコイル) is one of the most successful original anime in recent times, known for its captivating action sequences and endearing heroines. Aired in 2022, a year already crowded with quality works, it has been hailed as one of the best anime of that year. The series was produced by A-1 Pictures and consists of 13 episodes. It marks the directorial debut of Shingo Adachi, who has been known for his role as a character designer and chief animation director in various popular series such as Working!! and the Sword Art Online series. While the anime series concluded with 13 episodes, a new animation project has also been confirmed.
In Japan, known for having the world’s best public safety, a top-secret organization called DA works behind the scenes to maintain order by covertly assassinating criminals. The organization trains orphaned girls, known as Lycoris, in the art of killing. These girls go undercover as high school students and are activated to eliminate targets as needed. In Tokyo, a café named LycoReco serves as a DA front, employing Chisato Nishikigi, a cheerful girl known as the most formidable Lycoris ever. One day, another Lycoris agent, Takina Inoue, is transferred to the café. Takina had been demoted for disobeying orders while pursuing arms traffickers, choosing to kill a perpetrator to save a hostage comrade. Initially focused on redeeming herself to return to headquarters, Takina’s perspective shifts as she bonds with Chisato. Through their friendship, she learns to appreciate life beyond being a Lycoris agent, deepening her connection with Chisato.
Studio: A-1 Pictures
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Despite being one of the greatest anime series in history, Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン) is an original anime with no source material. It is a masterpiece born from the unique vision of director Hideaki Anno, originally aired in 1995-1996. Created by Hideaki Anno and produced by Gainax and Tatsunoko Production, it redefined the mecha genre, infusing it with psychological depth and existential dread. There are 26 episodes in the TV anime series.
In 1997, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン劇場版 シト新生) was released in two parts. The Death part serves as a recap of the TV series, while the Rebirth part consists of entirely new material that corresponds to the first half of Episode 25. The same year saw the release of a theatrical version that provides an alternate ending to the TV series, titled The End of Evangelion (Air/まごころを、君に), which covers Episodes 25 and 26. These were later compiled into Revival of Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン劇場版 DEATH (TRUE)2 / Air / まごころを、君に) in 1998.
For newer anime fans, Evangelion is also known for its Rebuild film series called Rebuild of Evangelion. The first film, Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:序), was released in 2007, followed by Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:破) in 2009, Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:Q) in 2012, and the final installment, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版), in 2021.
In the year 2015, the world is still recovering from a cataclysmic event known as the Second Impact, which wiped out half of humanity. NERV, a secretive organization, is tasked with defending Earth from enigmatic, near-invincible beings known as Angels. To fight the Angels, NERV uses bio-mechanical mechs called Evangelions, piloted by emotionally fragile teenagers.
Shinji Ikari, a shy, introverted boy, is recruited as the pilot for Evangelion Unit-01 and becomes the focal point of this apocalyptic struggle. However, as the series progresses, it delves deeper into the emotional and psychological states of its main characters, revealing haunting pasts, deep-seated fears, and complicated motivations. As the last line of defense against the impending apocalypse, Shinji must confront not only the Angels but also his own crippling fears and insecurities. Alongside fellow pilots Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu, Shinji grapples with the enormity of his task, coming to terms with his humanity in a world teetering on the brink of oblivion.
Here I would like to conclude that Neon Genesis Evangelion is the best original anime of all time.
Released: 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2021 (Rebuild of Evangelion)
Studio: Gainax, Tatsunoko Production (Neon Genesis Evangelion)/Studio Khara (Rebuild of Evangelion)
You may already be familiar with many of the titles I’ve introduced so far, but all of them are original anime. I’ve included both recent trends and old classics, so there might be some you haven’t checked out yet. I highly recommend experiencing the essence of original anime.
For more anime recommendations, please refer to the lists below.
▽Check out the list of best new anime series and movies released in 2023, too!▽
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