Updated February 5, 2023
Most Popular Anime in Japan: A Guide 
Anime is arguably one of the most well-known staples of Japanese culture.
It’s not just popular in Japan, either. The anime culture is so huge that it’s been a well-documented and well-memed phenomenon all around the world since, well, forever.
Anime series can have some of the longest-running franchises that span across decades, and the sheer popularity of the genre has even caused a whole subculture to form around it. Nowadays, anime is more than just good TV — it’s a whole lifestyle.
The influence of anime can be seen in music, fashion, and even in culinary culture. People of all ages and from all backgrounds enjoy well-known anime series such as One Piece or Pokemon, but that’s barely scratching the surface.
Anime series are also a great tool for many non-Japanese speakers to learn Japanese for everyday life. Just look at our post on popular anime phrases, and you’ll agree.
While there are so many long-running anime series with huge fanbases that you probably haven’t even heard of, new series with newfound followings are popping up every season as well.
In today’s post, I’ll talk about these new anime series and tell you what the most popular anime in Japan currently are. I’ll also talk about the most popular anime series of all time as well. First, let’s briefly explain what anime is and isn’t.
What Is Anime? (And What Isn’t)
Simply put, anime means “animation”. However, the definition and what constitutes anime and what doesn’t depends on where you are in the world. Let me explain.
Essentially, for everywhere that isn’t Japan, anime refers to hand-drawn animation work that originates from Japan. This means that even if the art style might be similar, a series that’s drawn and produced in the US will not be considered “anime.”
However, in Japan, the word “anime” refers to all animations because that’s just what it means.
This differentiation regarding an anime’s country of origin is simply a nuance that’s adopted by non-Japanese people. Over time, this fact has been embraced by non-Japanese anime fans and is now effectively being used as a way to differentiate Japanese-made animation from the rest.
Now, with a clear understanding of what anime is, let’s take a look at the most popular anime in Japan.
What Is the Most Popular Anime in Japan?
Since I’m aware that writing about the most popular anime of all time on the internet is akin to writing your name on the Death Note, I’d like to start with a disclaimer and state that this post isn’t perfect. I tried to go by objective criteria such as online votes, total revenue, and streaming ratings as much as possible, as well as my subjective opinion, so the results may not be perfect.
With this in mind, according to the data collected from the top streaming services around the world, the most popular anime in 2022 was — bar none — Demon Slayer.
Despite being a relatively new series, the show was the number one most-watched anime for five consecutive months in 2022, and it became the most watched overall.
If we’re talking about the most popular anime series of all time, however, that’s a whole different story.
According to the research conducted by Diamond Lobby, the most popular anime series of all time — in the whole wide world — is Naruto, which comes as no surprise, of course.
The cultural significance of the show is so prominent that even non-anime fans are familiar with the show’s characters and the concept of “Naruto running,” thanks to a slew of internet memes.
However, while this is the case for the rest of the world, the most popular anime shows in Japan are a little different. According to the biggest ranking website in Japan Goo Ranking, the best anime series in Japan of all time is currently Attack on Titan.
There are multiple ways to decide which anime is the most popular, of course. While this result is from a voting-based website, it can also be argued that the highest-grossing or most-watched anime is the most popular.
I choose not to get lost in the semantics, as there’s no way to determine the true “number 1”, so let’s get on with our selections — in no particular order.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
This mecha-infused classic is a favorite for many, and rightfully so. You could argue that Neon Genesis Evangelion single-handedly saved the fate of anime in Japan in the ‘90s, and no one who’s in the know would disagree.
The series came during a time when the anime landscape was dry and barren and in desperate need of a revival. The top-notch animation and the staggeringly interesting story of the series made Neon Genesis Evangelion a huge success, and it’s still highly regarded today as one of the best anime ever.
The series follows a boy named Shinji, who’s tasked with fighting beasts that are called “angels” by operating a mecha-giant called “Evangelion.” This is pretty much all you need to know to get started, apart from the fact that the series had only 26 episodes, which is a bummer.
The series ran through 1995 and 1996, and it grossed 16.6 billion USD worldwide in total revenue.
It’s no surprise that One Piece would end up on a list like this. After all, it’s one of the most well-known anime of all time. The series has been on air since 1997, along with a manga series accompanying the show ever since as well.
The story mainly follows protagonist Luffy in his pirate-themed journey for the legendary treasure along with his crew of friends, which has changed a lot since the show started. However, the show has never lost its charm, thanks to the cleverly written plot and the twists that happen along the way.
The show is a must-watch for all anime fans, and it’s also a good starting point for beginners, too. The series has grossed 20.9 billion USD overall since its inception and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.
This one’s definitely one for the books, as Sazae-san holds the record for the longest-running animated series, according to the Guinness World Records. It originally began airing in 1969, and the series has been running for a whopping 53 years.
The Japanese public has been getting their nostalgia fix from Sazae-san nearly every week, except for that one dreadful week during the pandemic when the show had to break its long-running streak.
The show follows the stories of Sazae and her family in their daily lives, providing the viewers with a slice of life each week. The show is so beloved that it even inspired a pop-culture phenomenon called “Sazae-san syndrome,” which refers to the depression felt after an episode ends on Sunday night, which also signals the end of the weekend.
Source: Episode Ninja
Originating from a manga that dates back to 1969, Doraemon is the anime series component of a giant franchise of toys, games, books, and movies. The series has grossed over 7.2 billion USD worldwide.
Although the series ended in 2005, the franchise still releases movies and shorts for Doraemon, who is a robotic cat that came from the future. The series follows the friendship and adventures of the main character Nobita Nobi and Doraemon and has over 1700 episodes.
Thanks to Doraemon’s futuristic gadgets that can virtually solve almost every problem in Nobita’s life, the series is no short of funny antics, and the easy-to-follow plotline makes Doraemon a true classic with a high rewatch value.
Dragon Ball is another franchise that spans multiple media platforms, and the anime is definitely one of the most popular shonen (action-focused animation) of all time.
The recognizable characters are embedded into pop culture, and the fact that it originated from one of the highest-selling mangas in history further solidifies the ever-lasting popularity of the series.
The plot is simple and familiar enough to follow easily. You have the protagonist, Goku, on the hunt for a certain precious collectible, namely, the Dragon Balls. The continuation of the series follows Goku and his team called “Z Warriors,” seeking dragons out and releasing them to rid the world of evil.
The franchise has grossed 27 billion USD overall, making Dragon Ball one of the highest-grossing franchises I’ve covered here today. The original series premiered in 1986 and has 153 episodes, but the latest version Dragon Ball Z has 291 more episodes for fans to binge and rewatch.
One of the earlier anime franchises to spread the anime craze to the Western audience, Slam Dunk is another classic that garnered huge popularity in Japan. The series has also single-handedly paved the way for other sports anime to become popular and is still considered the best in its genre.
The story follows the main protagonist Sakuragi, whose life changes when he joins a high school basketball team and becomes a key team member.
Although the series wasn’t that popular in the West, it became an instant hit in Japan. The manga-turned-anime lasted 101 episodes and aired between 1993-1996.
This one needs no introduction, as it’s the best-selling media franchise in the world. Although the show first aired in 1997, the fact that it’s virtually impossible to find someone who doesn’t recognize the name Pokemon or the beloved mascot of the franchise, Pikachu, today is telling of the series’ insane popularity.
A craze that started back in 1996 with the first Pokemon game on the original Gameboy immediately carried its anime counterpart to great success. The franchise led the monster-collecting craze of the late ‘90s and also “inspired” other successful series like Digimon, among many others.
In a world inhabited by creatures or “pocket monsters” called Pokemon, the anime follows Ash, an ambitious young boy who aspires to be the very best Pokemon trainer by battling his way through several regions for the championship.
The series grossed 99 billion USD overall and has over 1200 episodes. It was recently announced that the series is finally retiring Ash as the protagonist, but the anime will continue with a reboot and a new protagonist in 2023.
No anime list is complete without Naruto, which ended in 2017 after a long run of 15 years but still lives in the hearts of many. The story spans two series, namely Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, set in a ninja-themed universe.
The series is about a boy named Naruto, a trainee ninja, who strives to become the next “Hokage (village leader).” Naruto and his friends use their Chakra energy to battle in the action-packed shonen series.
Similar to many others on this post, the success of Naruto also sparked a huge franchise of toys, video games, movies, and more, all contributing to the 10 billion revenue it garnered over the years.
The first episode of the original series aired in 2007, and the two series combined have 720 episodes in total.
It’s not easy to get placed among decade-long series with only 64 episodes, but that just goes to show you how iconic Fullmetal Alchemist truly was and still is.
The series originates from the manga with the same name, and it’s made up of two series, Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Although the first series was inspired by the critically acclaimed manga, it steered off the plot of the manga midway through its run.
The second series Brotherhood is much more loyal to the original story told in the manga and is highly regarded as a must-watch by the fans.
The series is set during the industrial revolution and is about two siblings who try to bring their mother back using alchemy, which results in their bodies becoming damaged. The series follows their pursuit of the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies.
Fullmetal Alchemist began airing in 2003 and concluded its story in 2010.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure also got its beginnings in manga form in 1987, and the anime has spanned across several series since then.
The original manga has eight different series, and the first two series was first turned into anime in the first season of the show in 2012. The later seasons continued to cover the later manga series, with the last one being the 6th part, which was released in 2021.
The series doesn’t have a single main protagonist throughout the seasons, as each story is focused on a different member of the Joestar family across generations who are set to use their supernatural powers to stop evil forces. Each one of the protagonists’ names can be abbreviated to “JoJo,” hence the title of the show.
The series has reached a total revenue of 9.8 billion USD, and it currently consists of 190 episodes and six seasons.
The Most Popular Anime in Japan 2022-2023
We’ve pretty much covered the all-stars of the anime world, but one question is still left unanswered, which is “what’s the most popular anime in Japan right now?”.
The series I mentioned so far have all garnered great success and are considered true classics, but there are some newer shows on air that are absolutely crushing right now, and this post wouldn’t be complete without them.
Let’s now take a look at a few of the most popular anime series in 2022 as we wrap up.
The smashing hit of 2019, Demon Slayer has quickly managed to gain popularity and become the most popular anime series all over the world.
The animation quality of the show went above and beyond expectations when the show first aired, and the captivating story still has fans yearning for more, as the story is still unraveling with each new season.
Demon Slayer is set in the Taisho period of Japan in the early 1900s when demons existed among humans. The series tells the story of Tanjiro Kamado, aiming to avenge his family who’s been attacked by demons and save her demon-turned sister.
After the first series came to a conclusion, the show was immediately renewed. There are currently only 44 episodes, but a third season is already in the works and set to release in 2023.
Attack on Titan (Final Season Part 2)
The post-apocalyptic series Attack on Titan was originally released as a manga all the way back in 2009. After its huge success on paper, the series was adapted into an anime series in 2013.
Even though the story of the manga was finished in 2021, the final chapter of the anime series is yet to air, with a release date of 2023. The series arguably delivered its best episodes yet in the half-season that aired in 2022 and topped the charts of anime streaming services like CrunchyRoll.
Attack on Titan is set in a world where humanity is under attack by giant creatures called Titans. The series follows Eren and his friends in their journey to uncover the mystery of these Titans.
The show is known for its dark fantasy theme and the emotional twists that captivate its audience.
Chainsaw Man is the brand new hit of 2022, and it also stems from its manga counterpart.
Basically, the series tells the story of a teenager, Denji, who has the power to transform into — you guessed it — a chainsaw-like demon who fights devils. Although the title of the show gives away the wacky plot instantly, the show offers a lot more complexity.
In addition to the action-packed story, you get to take a peek at the daily lives of the characters, which adds great depth to the show.
The dark fantasy/action series is produced by the famous anime studio Mappa and became an instant classic with just 12 episodes when it aired in October 2022. A second season is expected to follow in 2023, but there’s no confirmation as of yet.
Spy x Family
Last but definitely not least, another show that made a big splash in 2022 was no other than Spy x Family.
Released in April 2022, the series quickly garnered a big audience, which led to the recent announcement of a second season, as well as a movie, both set to air in 2023.
The comedy-action series tells the story of a pretend-family made up of spies, each with a different skill and ability. The show currently has 26 episodes in total.
The series became a big hit due to its clever and funny writing, as well as its top-notch animation. It was adapted from a manga series that started in 2019 and is one of the best-selling manga series, with over 29 million copies currently in circulation.
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