I don’t get the opportunity to talk about it much around these parts but I’m a pretty big anime fan. I was sucked into the world of Japanese animation back in the early ’90s, when the Sci-Fi Network would occasionally air mind-bending movies like Macross and Akira on weekends. The animation was always astounding and the plots were so captivating that they stuck with you long after the shows ended.
Another thing that always stuck was the music.
Anime theme songs have always so diverse and dynamic — rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop and even classical themes have set the scene for unforgettable confrontations, climatic battles and tear-jerking moments.
Let’s look back at 20 of the best intro themes in anime history. Oh, and before y’all start catfighting in the comments, remember, this is just a list of intro themes only, not outros or in-series tunes. Also, only one theme per series was eligible for this list, so shows with a half-dozen themes only had one shot here (I’m looking at you Naruto…).
These songs are just as memorable as the series they precede.
Honorable Mentions: Hellsing, “Logos Naki World”; Soul Eater, “Resonance”; Outlaw Star, “Through the Night”; Sword Art Online, “Crossing Field’; One Piece, “We Are!”
20. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, “Bōken Desho Desho”
This series has gained a bit of infamy in recent years, courtesy of the endless amount of memes it has spawned. Its best contribution, though, is easily this addictive song.
19. Vision of Escaflowne, “Yakusoku wa Iranai”
Escaflowne is one of the first anime series I truly fell in love with, and the theme played a big part in that. It’s as epic and captivating as the world it describes.
18. One-Punch Man, “The Hero!! Set Fire to the Furious Fist”
The premise of One-Punch Man is pretty simple — a guy who can kill monsters with one punch gets bored with life and wanders around looking for stronger competition. This song is the perfect theme for a wandering superhero.
17. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, “Colors”
A theme that really lives up to its name, “Colors” is an explosion of energy that is equally addictive and inviting. It expertly captures the range of emotions scattered across the series.
16. Death Note, “The World”
A crazed and frantic rock song wouldn’t be my first pick to open up such a psychological series but this works very well regardless, capsulizing the chaos of a world where a teen develops a severe God complex.
15. Naruto Shippuden, “Blue Bird”
Naruto has tons of great themes with “Blue Bird” and “Sign” being the biggest standouts. In the end, the former slightly edges out its competition simply because it’s much more fun, bursting with energy and optimism.
14. Dragon Ball Z, “Cha-La Head-Cha-La”
Nah, this isn’t the goofy “Rock the Dragon” version American audiences are so familiar with. The Japanese theme is vastly superior, oozing with over-the-top ’80s goodness.
13. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, “Inner Universe”
Performed by the late Russian singer Origa, “Inner Universe” is a mix of beauty and intrigue, a perfect representation of the cybernetic crime drama.
12. Durarara, “Complication”
I love this theme mainly because it sounds like an intro for a ’90s NBC sitcom, which I guess, is a bit intentional. This series is very character-driven, as you can tell from the fantastic opening sequence.
11. Baccano, “Guns & Roses”
Those horns! Baccano is (mostly) set in the Prohibition Era and its theme song flawlessly captures the spirit of that time period.
10. Guilty Crown, “My Dearest”
Guilty Crown is one of many series on my “Need to Watch ASAP” list, and that’s largely due to this sprawling theme. It’s J-pop at its finest.
9. Angel Beats, “My Soul, Your Beats”
The fact that I still haven’t watched this series yet know this song is a credit to its appeal. “My Soul, Your Beats” is a better mixture of pop and R&B than most of the albums I’ve reviewed in 2016.
8. Elfen Lied, “Lilium”
“Lilium” is a brilliant theme molded in the style of Gregorian chants and incorporates biblical passages sung in Latin. Don’t be fooled, though: The serenity of “Lilium” masks a notoriously gory — but engrossing — anime.
7. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, “Moonlight Densetsu”
My favorite Sailor Moon theme by FAR is “Makenai” (from the infamously scandalous season five that never made it to America) but I can’t overlook the cultural impact the original theme has made worldwide. Don’t be turned off by the corny Americanized lyrics of the dub — the original song is still insanely catchy and resonates with fans across both hemispheres.
6. Samurai Champloo, “Battlecry”
It’s not often than an anime song becomes more famous than the show itself, but that’s the case for “Battlecry,” a rap track that’s harder than whatever your favorite rapper is currently mumbling on the radio. Its mix of hip-hop and samurai sensibility has become one of the most beloved themes in all of anime.
5. Pokemon, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”
This is the lone American entry on the list, which I’m sure will make anime purists scoff. Hating on dubbed anime is one of the 10 Geek Commandments, you know. But even the biggest critic will have trouble finding fault with this track — vocalist Jason Paige sings like his life depends on it, creating arguably the most addictive song on this list.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “Again”
Much like the Naruto series, Fullmetal Alchemist and its successor, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood boast several awesome intro themes. But none come close to the pulse-racing “Again,” which has become one of the most recognized songs in anime.
3. Cowboy Bebop, “Tank”
“OK, 3, 2, 1, let’s jam.” “Tank” is one of the most celebrated songs in anime history, thanks to a infectious cocktail of jazz and (duh) bebop. Music plays a huge role in the series, and “Tank” has remained the standard-bearer.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”
This is as ’90s as it gets. The series director originally wanted a more classical melody to launch the show before he was convinced to go in a more J-pop direction. The result is an instantly familiar, upbeat tune that belies the bleak, heart-wrenching themes of the anime. In Eva’s hopelessly depressing world, this song is the only bright spot.
1. Attack on Titan, “Guren no Yumiya”
Plain and simple, this is fight music in its purest, most frantic form — 10 seconds in and you’ll have the urge to run down the street kicking over parking meters and headbutting stop signs. In short order, it has become one of the most beloved themes in anime history and the perfect entry point for Attack on Titan’s edge-of-your-seat thrills. If there’s a better intro theme out there, I’ve yet to hear it.
What are your favorite Anna-Maye intro themes? Let us know in the comments.