While many anime series are adaptations of established manga series, some original anime series have touched the ranks of extreme popularity and success. These include timeless masterpieces such as Cowboy Bebop as well as more recent original anime series like Darling in the Franxx.
Although the quality of original anime shows varies widely, there are some whose quality meets, if not exceeds, their popularity. Original anime series such as Psycho-Pass and FLCL are living proof of this claim.
Here are the top ten original anime series of all time.
Samurai Champloo and 9 other timeless classics of all time
10) Angel Beats!
Kicking off this well curated list is Angel Beats!, a series which is set in a supernatural high school, serving as a limbo of sorts. The only individuals entering this purgatory, however, are those with trauma or hardship which they must overcome and reconcile with before moving on and reincarnating.
The series follows Yuzuru Otonashi, a boy with amnesia who awakens here to find himself thrust into a conflict between two groups, initially choosing a side in the fight. The series follows their adventures throughout this conflict and beyond, making for an incredibly touching original anime series which is praised by many fans.
9) Darling in the Franxx
Darling in the Franxx is one of the more recent and popular entries on this list, thanks to the praise it received from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian. The series follows protagonist Hiro, an artificially made teenager referred to as a “parasite,” whose sole purpose in life is to pilot mechas known as Franxx.
However, the one-time prodigy fails due to being unable to synchronize with his partner, before meeting Zero Two, known as the “partner killer,” and supposedly matching well with her. The original anime series then follows the two on their adventures to combat the klaxosaurs, underground dwelling giant creatures which serve as the series' adversaries for most of the time.
Meant to be pronounced as “fooly cooly,” FLCL has been described by its viewers as more of a fever dream than an original anime series. The story follows protagonist Naota Nandaba, a 12-year old boy who lives with his widowed father and grandfather. His life is somewhat normal until he runs into, or rather is run into by, Haruko Haruhara.
From this moment on, Naota's life totally changes, ushering in a brief but highly dense string of episodes recounting his adventures with Haruko. The series known for its complex and intricate plot but is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and captivating anime series of all time.
7) Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo is a cult-classic original anime series that has risen in popularity over the years. Fuu, a teahouse waitress, embarks on an adventure to find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers," accompanied by her hired bodyguard Mugen and ronin Jin.
The latter two initially disliked each other, wanting to duel to death, but Fuu said they’ll let a coin flip decide. If it lands on heads, the two can finish their battle, but if it lands on tails, they must help her in her quest. Expectedly, the coin lands on tails, and the three begin their long journey, becoming friends and experiencing the wonders of life along the way.
6) Gurren Lagann
Gurren Lagann is an anime original series set in an alternate version of Earth where the Spiral King Lordgenome forces mankind to dwell in subterranean villages. The series follows Simon, a meek young digger who unearths a Gunmen which is later named Gurren by his older brother figure, Kamina.
However, Gurren's discovery sets in motion a chain of events that sees Simon and Kamina freeing themselves from their subterranean prison, and then eventually all of Earth. Ultimately, an unforeseen consequence of this liberation comes forth, sparking an interstellar struggle that spans the entire cosmos.
5) Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill is an action-packed, high-octane original anime series boasting incredible fight choreography and animation, as well as solid character and plot development. The series follows Ryuko Matoi, a high school girl who transfers to Honnouji Academy to find the killer of her father, who possesses the other half of her scissor blade.
She suspects the student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, of being complicit in the murder. Matoi then proceeds to challenge Kiryuin on the first day but loses. She then discovers Senketsu, a superpowered piece of clothing that grants her the power to challenge Satsuki and the whole of Honnouji Academy to avenge her father's death.
Psycho-Pass is a cyberpunk crime thriller which sees a futuristic Japan governed by the Sibyl System, which can read citizens' brain waves for a number of effects. The most relevant one is the creation of a Crime Coefficient for the citizen, showing how likely they are to commit a crime with the threshold for proactive arrest being 100.
The series centers around and is seen through the eyes of rookie detective Akane Tsunemori, paired with enforcer Shinya Kogami. The original anime series follows the two as they pursue the Criminally Asymptomatic Shogo Makishima, meaning that the two can’t use their weapons on him since his Crime Coefficient is below 100.
3) Code Geass
Code Geass is arguably one of the most well-known original anime series on this list, with many fans citing it as one of their first anime series ever. The story follows Lelouch vi Britannia, an exiled prince of the Britannian empire who was sent to live in Japan, alongside his blind, and wheelchair-bound sister Nunnally and best friend Suzaku Kururugi.
Lelouch’s goals are to obliterate Britannia and his father in an act of vengeance for the latter's abandonment of his two children.The series follows his journey towards this goal, featuring supernatural and mysterious powers and elements along the way. It is widely recognized as one of the most interesting and suspenseful anime of the century.
2) Neon Genesis Evangelion
A quintessential sci-fi mecha hybrid anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an original anime series which follows Shinji Ikari. The series is set in 2015, 15 years after a cataclysmic event called the Second Impact. It follows Shinji’s journey as an Evangelion pilot battling aliens known as Angels.
If the fifteen Angels are not defeated, the Earth will be destroyed in a Third Impact, emphasising the importance of Shinji's efforts and contributions. Along the way, he befriends several other Evangelion pilots and embarks on an incredibly emotional journey that contributes to the series' long-standing appeal and unique essence.
1) Cowboy Bebop
Finally, Cowboy Bebop is without a doubt the most popular original anime series of all time. Like Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop transcended the anime medium, becoming an enjoyable series for any and all viewers around the world, anime fans or not. It follows protagonist Spike Siegel and the other crew on the spaceship Bebop, who work as bounty hunters in an intergalactic 2071.
The show is mainly episodic in nature, but features an overarching story featuring Spike combating his old associate, Vicious, who now runs a crime syndicate. It's an extraordinarily engaging plot with a likeable, well-rounded cast, and it's recognized not only as one of the most popular original anime series of all time, but also as one of the most popular anime of all time.