So, because Irina made an article about lists and I’ve already established 25% of my articles are thanks to her posts, here’s another post to bump up that statistic. This was originally a Friday Funsy, but I realized this list was gonna take WAY too long to finish on a whim.
Today, we’ll be looking at the top 11 most popular anime from the years 2008 to 2018. The primary list is based off the highest number of MAL members, not rating. Once that is curated, we’ll rank that list based on their respective critical ratings. I will also NOT be counting second seasons of an anime, and will instead look for the show with the most members that isn’t a second season.
I’ll then talk about my personal feelings on the show, or if I’ve even watched it already.
Here are the most popular anime on MAL by year, along with their respective popularity ranking overall.
- 2008 – Toradora! (#13)
- 2009 – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (#4)
- 2010 – Angel Beats (#10)
- 2011 – Stein;s Gate ( #7 )
- 2012 – Sword Art Online ( #3 )
- 2013 – Attack on Titan (#2 )
- 2014 – Tokyo Ghoul ( #6 )
- 2015 – One Punch Man ( #5 )
- 2016 – My Hero Academia ( #14 )
- 2017 – Made In Abyss (#107)
- 2018 – Violet Evergarden (#94)
Curating this list was fascinating, and confirmed a lot of my suspicions on what the anime community at large loves to watch. This list is by no means the end-all, be-all of popularity lists. However, it is proof that enough people cared to make a MAL account just to show how much they love these shows.
Now here is the semi-official top 11 anime of the past decade based on popularity and critical rating from MyAnimeList.
I also just realized halfway through writing this that 2008-2018 actually makes 11 anime and not the clean top 10 most people like. I’ve already written too much to delete anything, so LET’S GO ANYWAY.
11. Sword Art Online (7.56)
Oh, SAO, you pandering, Isekai-birthing, cliche-ridden, highly entertaining show, you.
It was no surprise to me that SAO is at the bottom of this list, from a critical standpoint. Even though it ranks at 3rd most popular show overall. Heck, in the top 50, it’s actually the 4th worst show, lagging behind Highschool of the Dead (7.31), Tokyo Ghoul √A (7.36), and the worst show in the Top 50 is-
Sword Art Online II with a critical score of 7.14. Despite that, SAO II: Elf-lectric Boogaloo is still in the top 20 most popular shows of all time.
I enjoyed my time with the first season of SAO. Aincrad was a legitimately scary but majestic place. I could see why some people would want to escape from reality with it. At the same time, I can also see why people want to escape from it. It’s terrifying to have the world you wanted to escape your sad reality from become your worst nightmare. Aincrad showed us the depths people can go to when they believe all hope is lost, and what terrible things some people do if they think it’s all just a game.
The best episode of SAO by a long mile is the 3rd episode, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.This episode is what I wanted out of SAO.
It had the most character-building moments for Kirito and legitimate stakes. Kirito joining the Black Cats but purposefully hiding his true self, as well as the massive guilt he feels for failing to save even one of them are some of the bleakest things SAO has to offer.
Basically, this was the closest Kirito came close to being like another, certain Black Swordsman who had all his friends die.
Whether you like SAO or not, it’s a fact that it is one of the most popular and influential shows of the modern decade. The anime landscape would be very different indeed if SAO had not been adapted that year.
No, I am not talking about the Elf-lectric Boogaloo parts.
10. Tokyo Ghoul (7.96)
I wasn’t able to find another blogger who watched Tokyo Ghoul, but I did watch it once kind of the whole way through. Tokyo Ghoul was fascinating at first to me with the urban grunge style it went for. It built an interesting underworld and lore for the ghouls, exploring the differences between humans and ghouls and how they manage to co-exist despite the craving for human flesh.
However, I just didn’t get into it. Something about the story simply didn’t click with me. It felt like I’ve watched this kind of anime about not-humans who feed on other humans before with Parasyte: The Maxim, which I enjoyed a lot more. Ghouls, in all honesty, just aren’t as interesting to me as other flesh-eating monsters in fiction. The way they’re portrayed in Tokyo Ghoul, it just ends up making them vampires without the daylight weakness. Tokyo Ghoul as a whole just felt uninspired to me.
Of course, if you liked it, please let me know in the comments. There’s gotta be something I might’ve missed.
9. Angel Beats (8.27)
Okay, not gonna lie, this one? Kinda surprised me that it’s so high on this list.
I’ve already shared my thoughts on Angel Beats here, but I’ll just reiterate them a bit shorter here.
Angel Beats is a flawed and rushed show. Many characters were barely give characterization. It relied heavily on a lot of cliches or melodrama. The designs are uninspired. Finally, it tried to be a lot deeper than it was. I should really not like it.
But damn it, I cried pretty hard while watching it.
Maybe it’s just a combination of me being a sap, and sad equals deep, but Angel Beats is good at what it set out to do. That being, making me cry like a child.
I think it’s a combination of being easier to digest than it’s spiritual predecessor, Clannad. The 12 episode format made it easy for even casual anime watchers, while still having some of the impact of something more long-form like After Story, at the cost of character development.
It’s popular for being the de-facto sad anime that isn’t Clannad or Your Lie In April. It came a year after the heels of Clannad: After Story, which likely helped a lot to its popularity. It is definitely no After Story, but despite it’s flaws, I still really enjoyed crying to it.
We’re all just saps, aren’t we?
8. Toradora (8.37)
Toradora! is the quintessential romance comedy. A self-contained story, a romance that actually goes somewhere, fleshed out characters, and of course, that catchy opening theme.
It doesn’t do anything new with the romcom genre, but what it does do is refine all the elements for a good romcom to a fine sheen. The characters are the best part of the show. They all feel like individual people as opposed to plot devices. It also subverts a lot of tropes with each of them, and is a good case of “don’t judge a character by their cliche”.
Taiga might be a popular tsundere, but she’s also extremely abrasive and rude. She has almost no friends aside from our main cast. Ryuuji looks scary and is a bit neurotic, but he’s actually extremely hard-working and reliable. The genki girl, Minori, is always 100% on at all times to distract herself from her own thoughts. Ami, the alpha bitch, turns out to be a pretty normal teenage girl who has her own fears and insecurities. Kitamura, the straight A’s student who is kind and reliable,is also a major goofball.
Add to that a story that maximizes the potential for each of those characters, and you’ve got yourself a classic.
So in conclusion, it’s a great show for being a captivating, heartwarming and funny anime that was competently acted, animated and written.
Who’da thunk it?
7. My Hero Academia (8.41)
Speaking of quintessential genre anime, here is the shounen genre’s Toradora!
Much like my reasoning above, it’s a captivating show with an extremely likable and unique cast of characters wrapped in competent acting, animation and writing. Plus, it also subverts certain shounen tropes or reconstructs them to give itself a unique flavor despite being pretty “unoriginal” in concept. It edges out Toradora in both popularity and ranking by virtue of being a shounen, meaning it reaches a lot more people.
I could talk about why I love My Hero Academia and copypaste the same reasoning onto other shounens that I love like the first Naruto or Dragonball Z. It’s a fun show to watch every week with a compelling narrative supported by it’s interesting and quirky cast of characters.
Not to mention the plethora of husbandos and waifus to choose from.
This is definitely going to be this generation’s Naruto, and I personally can’t wait for the 4th season to come out this October.
6. Attack on Titan (8.48)
Talk about a cultural phenomenon. If ever there was list of anime that recaptured the hearts of the mainstream audience, Attack on Titan is definitely higher on that list. This is the darkest story on this list so far. It’s a bleak setting where almost any character can die, with horribly gruesome deaths to boot.
Humanity has become passive and regressed, separated by literal walls, dictated by their social class. The villains are uncanny caricatures of human beings with faces etched in one permanent emotion. Finally, the “heroes” are all hopelessly flawed and unprepared to fight against these titanic threats.
Except for Levi.
Honestly, I can’t think of any other anime on this list with a better establishing first episode. The ominous shadow engulfing the town. The massive, horrifying silhouette of a skinless, humanoid monster who promptly kicks a hole through the only defense your tiny town has.
On that day, mankind received a grim reminder-
The Titans are here, and humanity is fucked.
Attack on Titan was such a massive risk. It had a plot that didn’t adhere to any trend at the time, and also constantly put popular characters at risk of dying. It was extremely gory and depressing, and the first season ends with no real victory achieved.
People loved it. From almost any standpoint, despite any personal hangups you might have with the story or its characters, you can’t deny that Attack On Titan took risks, and those risks paid off!
Now, we’re getting a season of AOT almost every year after a 4 year hiatus. The hype train has started rolling again, and I’m ready to ride it till the end.
5. Violet Evergarden (8.62)
Lumi doesn’t watch Fate/Stay Night /s. Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews will be handling this one. I really gotta get around to watching more shows.
What makes Violet Evergarden such a highly regarded series? While I don’t like lessening or reducing a show down to just look at its barest elements usually, Violet Evergarden is somewhat easy to do that with. Especially since it’s a Kyoto Animation production. Bam, instant fan base and praise right there. Not that it’s undeserved in this case, but there is so much to this series that makes audiences go wild then that.
The first thing that can be brought up are the visuals. Violet Evergarden is such a stunningly beautiful series. Don’t believe me? Look at the following pictures and you will see what I mean.
It’s so beautiful, right? Such great lighting and scenery shots with solid and well detailed character designs. There is so much detail here that you can’t find a bad shot to look at in this television series anywhere. It’s amazing. I’m going to make the argument that this is the best-looking television anime from Kyoto Animation and I doubt anyone can make a strong argument against that.
That’s not all to Violet Evergarden though. Just talking about this anime’s visuals would be too shallow. The second reason that people have fallen in love with this anime are the feels. Strong feels that you can’t get out of your mind no matter what you do. Violet Evergarden’s story is about finding a heart and redemption about Violet’s past deeds.
Violet is a war orphan who was used as a secret weapon for a war that recently ended and the officer that cared for her died. Someone she loved if she only figured out who that is. Working as an Auto Memory Doll, a person who writes letters and works to understand people’s true feelings, Violet slowly understands what love means. How? From visiting other people and seeing what loves means to them while suffering through untold amounts of PTSD. *tears* Don’t mind me, I’ve just got something stuck in my eye.
So yes, Violet Evergarden hits audiences with its visual appeal and emotional appeal. I think that it’s still a very clunky series because it goes from being story based to episodic to being story based again with no good transitions between them, but I can’t deny that I really like Violet Evergarden too. It’s very strong and confident in what it sets out to.
4. One Punch Man (8.71)
Sure, it’s a hilarious show with gags that poke fun at the ridiculous genre of shounen. Sure, it manages to keep the premise of “guy who beats things in one punch” fresh for 12 episodes. And hell, that is one kickass opening.
But you all know why this is so high on this list.
HYPE HYPE HYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYPEE!
Seriously, this show is pure, unfiltered hype. A single episode could put any shounen fan into a coma from the sakuga high. The animation is so fluid, thanks to Mad House’s masterful adaptation of Murata’s amazing and dynamic artwork. The storyboarding was practically done for them.
It’s one of the best action anime ever made in history, let alone the decade. If there was any issue with it, it would be that it was only animated by Mad House for 12 episodes.
3. Made In Abyss (8.86)
Fun fact: This was the first popular 2017 show I came across that wasn’t a second season on MAL. It is technically outranked by the second seasons of both My Hero Academia ( #34 ) and Attack on Titan( #37). I think that fact alone makes it abundantly clear that 2017 was a really subdued year for anime.
But we’re not here to talk about those two shows. We’re going to be talking about Made In Abyss.
From the cold open to a beautifully new, fantastical land greets us in the first few minutes, then immediately followed by the smoothest transition into exposition I’ve seen.
The way the creatures and ideas are introduced without much prior buildup from dialogue, means that the show is not interested in feeding you information forcefully. You watch, and you don’t understand quite everything yet at the same rate the characters do, but you also aren’t completely lost.
But then, the music, by an artist that I had to look up because it reminded me a bit of Porter Robinson’s music,(The artist is actually Kevin Penkin, who I will now follow) , swells up and starts with an English song. With that, the show immediately establishes that they are not afraid of breaking the norm, and is quite literally ripping apart the mold that anime has been in for a while, at least for me.
Above all, it’s just such a charming show, the same way a Miyazaki film pulls you into its world, so does this show with it’s colorful world. It’s just a refreshingly different show than anything I’ve seen the past few years. This is how you establish a show as a great one.
Also, it’s got that depressing and bleak perspective on death and the depths that humanity can sink to in pursuit of a higher purpose theme going on, and I’m always down for that.
2. Stein;s Gate
Lumi hasn’t watched this one, so he’ll be handing over the reigns to Irina from Drunken Anime Blog, who you 100% know if you’ve been in the WordPress community for more than a few months.
It’s become a running gag for me to literally never finish Stein;s Gate at this point, so show me what I’m missing out on, Irina!
Ahhh Steins Gate, what can I really say that has not been said before? Nothing, it’s all said already. Or will have been already said soon? Linear time is loose suggestions at best after all…
In the 10 years since Steins Gate first hit the small screen, it’s enjoyed pretty unwavering popularity and is possibly one of the most successful video game adaptations ever. Visual novels count as video games!
And there’s good reason for that. I know Lumi’s entries have been balanced and rational. Giving you a fair overview of the series along with its popular impact on viewers. But hey, if he wanted to continue that trend, he shouldn’t have asked me to talk about Steins Gate. I’m a completely unapologetic fangirl and Steins Gate and I still suspect it was created entirely and specifically for me. And a lot of people feel that way too.
The series had some nice pseudoscience that was grounded in enough actual real-world math to make all the little amateur mad scientists out there almost taste the possibilities. The characters were diverse enough that anyone could relate and each had an important role, playing well off the rest. But to me, Steins Gate’s biggest strength is its faith in the audience. The narrative is both complex and complicated but it never talks down to the viewers. There’s enough information given to find out all the details IF you do your own research and Steins Gate believe its viewers have both the drive and capacity to find and do just that.
The series wasn’t just a show about an intelligent if a little quirky and awkward wanna be mad scientist, it was written for an audience exactly like its own hero. Kids with a thirst for science and a willingness to accept a wild story with brutal implications that takes place almost entirely in a shabby little apartment with an assortment of likeable but ultimately fairly normal misfits. It trades eye candy for theoretical physics and breakneck action for fast comebacks…and the audience ate it up!
They responded with genuine interest and devotion. This series spouted a million theories and think pieces. It remains popular with fans because that same respect still resonates.
And I hate to be one of those guys. I really do….But the game was so much better. It just was…not my fault…
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
And here we are, the top 1, and this probably comes as no surprise to literally anybody.
FMA:B has everything going for it. It’s gotten old enough in years to be considered a classic. It has 64 episodes worth of plot to develop our characters. It has a completed source manga, as well as the hindsight of it’s first incarnation to know which parts worked and which parts didn’t.
FMA:B was MY gateway drug into anime. If I wanted to get a non-anime fan to watch anime, this was how I was going to do it. The show is the most solid anime I have ever watched. The story is intriguing and action-packed, the characters are all likeable and unique, and it had a lot of thought-provoking moments about the importance of human life. The show is a masterpiece, and I honestly can’t find anything even wrong with it. It delivered on all the right things at the right time.
This was a nice trip down memory lane. I haven’t even thought about some of these shows in a while, and it’s nice to refresh myself with some of the absolute best stories that anime has to offer. Before I leave, here is my own personal rankings of these shows, and 10 words summarizing them.
Again, big thanks to both Scott and Irina for helping me fill out the PROBABLY REALLY GOOD anime I didn’t watch.
Until the next post!
|1. Made in Abyss – Girls’ Last Tour didn’t make the list, so I’m settling.|
|2. Toradora – It’s not like I like this show or anything, baka.|
|3. FMA:B – Ten out of ten, would totally resurrect dead mom again|
|4. My Hero Academia – Gee, I can’t wait for Todoroki to murder his clan.|
|5. One Punch Man – “Am I the main villain? Saitam: Eh, probably not. *punch*|
|6. Angel Beats – It was a bad idea watching this on Graduation day.|
|7. Attack on Titan – Oh my god, that’s my favorite character- aaaaaand, she’s dead.|
|8. Violet Evergarden – What if we put Saber’s design on a good character?|
|9. Stein;s Gate – All this science, and they can’t even use apostrophes right.|
|10. Tokyo Ghoul – You know what Parasyte REALLY needed? Preppy goth zombie teenagers.|
|11. Sword Art Online – This isn’t even an isekai, how did this spawn isekai?!|