When you first start watching anime, you’ll notice an interesting phenomenon: even though the songs that play over the ending credits are usually downright solemn, the opening songs are designed to hype you up like a bowl full of cereal drowned in sugar instead of milk. These are the songs good enough to stay on your Spotify playlist, and we decided to dive through decades of anime history to do the impossible: pick our favorite opening songs. Time to hold onto your Dragon Balls, because here’s the definitive breakdown of the best anime opening theme songs of all time.
10. Samurai Champloo – “Battlecry”
Samurai Champloo is a great early example of an anime that is an entire vibe unto itself, and the opening song is a perfect reflection of this show’s funky fresh aesthetic. The song itself is what you get if a shopping cart full of hip-hop crashes into another shopping cart filled with lo-fi, and the result is a very mellow vibe you can’t help but dance to the rhythm of.
At the end of the day, what we love best about Samurai Champloo’s “Battlecry” is that this anime opening sounds a bit like how watching anime feels. It’s like someone perfectly bottled what it felt like to watch this style of animation for the first time, and we just can’t stop chugging that bottle.
9. Tokyo Ghoul – “Unravel”
Another consistent feature of anime is that we often get opening songs that seem completely at odds with the subject matter. Someone streaming Tokyo Ghoul for the first time, for example, should rightfully expect a series filled with spooky monsters, but the opening song is a poppy bop that barely hints at the horrors awaiting the series protagonist.
Adding further weirdness to this delightful opening, though, is that the translated lyrics bring us to a kind of existential terror of someone worrying they are becoming a ghost haunting their own lives. And it’s tough for that not to resonate with the average nerd as they sit in the dark watching colorful cartoons and trying to remember what it was like to feel something.
8. Jujutsu Kaisen – “Kaikai Kiten”
When it comes to what makes for a great anime opening, there are different schools of thought. For example, some fans prefer a song that perfectly prepares them for what the show will be like, and other fans prefer one that merely hints at weirdness to come. We kind of prefer the latter, and that’s probably why we love the opening song to Jujutsu Kaisen so much.
This song starts out with gentle instrumental music before segueing into slightly peppier vocals. The whole thing slowly ratchets up in intensity, alternating between epic melodic moments and recursive pop beats. The end result is a song that leaves you endlessly wondering what the actual show is about, which is the perfect tease for an interesting show.
7. Sailor Moon – “Moonlight Densetsu”
Sailor Moon is such a revered anime classic that describing its opening song is no small task: it’s a bit like describing the Mona Lisa’s smile, or maybe convincing a Dragon Ball Z fan that anybody else could ever beat Goku. But if we had to sum this killer theme song up, we’d say that “Moonlight Densetsu” is a nearly perfect theme because it transforms simple exposition into a tart slice of sonic goodness.
Think about it: even if you’ve never even heard of Sailor Moon, this anime’s opening song gives you all the info you need to understand who is doing what. At the same time, the song is the best kind of earworm…the kind you’ll be singing long after the episode is over. In the name of the moon, you’re definitely punishing yourself if you don’t crank the volume when this song comes on.
6. Fate/Zero – “Oath Sign”
Needless to say, there is plenty of crossover culture between anime aesthetics and JRPG video games, and we can hear a bit of this in the Fate/Zero opening song, “Oath Sign.” Just listen to it with your eyes closed, and you can imagine that you just defeated the inevitable third form of a particularly annoying Final Fantasy boss, and you’re vibing out while the music plays over the credits.
We also love that this anime apparently didn’t get the memo that its opening song needs to start slow and then ramp up in intensity. Instead, it flies out of the gate at breakneck speed, and when it does slow down, it comes back twice as fierce moments later. This is pure, infectious fun, and just playing this song for them will be enough to get your anime-loving friends to give this show a chance.
5. Attack On Titan – “Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen”
If you use Spotify long enough, you can’t help but just plug random adjectives into your searches to see what kind of music users have been curating. For example, if you search for “epic” on Spotify, you’ll find playlists that sound like somebody dipped your workout playlist into the bin containing your dad’s favorite rock music. And that’s the entire vibe of Attack on Titan’s opening theme, and we freakin’ love it for this.
Unlike many anime opening songs, Attack on Titan perfectly matches the vibe of the song with the vibe of the show. After all, this is a show about child soldiers using weird steampunk technology to fight giants even as they uncover they live on an island of lies and mysteries. Honestly, the fact that the theme song was what that emo kid in your class blasted on his first visit to the gym means the writers and singers of this song fully understood the assignment.
4. Cowboy Bebop – “Tank”
Pop quiz: when is an anime opening song also an RPG? Simple: when it’s the opening to Cowboy Bebop. In addition to being a jazzy bop of its very own, this opening song perfectly puts us into the mindset of series protagonist Spike Siegel, and we were already dreaming of pulling off heists and finding our fortune in the stars by the time the first episode started.
It’s also worth noting that while the anime’s opening song is obviously jazz-inspired, it doesn’t quite sound like anything else, making it unique even for music lovers. You can go stream all the smooth jazz you can find, and it won’t capture this frenetic vibe. The solution, then, is simple: to hear more, you just need to watch more episodes of this seminal series.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion – “Cruel Angel’s Thesis”
While we might not have the background or (ahem) the build of The Winter Soldier, there is one thing old anime fans have in common with this Marvel hero: all it takes is the right words to turn us into someone else entirely. For example, if you know an old anime fan, all you have to do is play the iconic opening to Neon Genesis Evangelion to make that old-timer feel and even act like a teenager again.
It’s another example of an opening that is far brighter and boppier than the depressing life of series protagonist Shinji Ikari, but that’s the point. The sugary saturation of this song may make you think this will be a lighthearted story about teenagers fighting monsters using robots, which makes the revelations about the real monsters of the series hit that much harder.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – “Again”
Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if you could condense an entire album worth of different songs and styles into a single song? Well, wonder no longer: that’s exactly what we are getting in the anime Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood’s opening song, “Again.” It begins with some rock chords that make it sound like a power ballad throwback before almost instantly transitioning into the soft vocals you’d expect from your favorite indie band.
Don’t get too comfortable, though: from there, we transition into sped-up vocals that soon bring us back into the warm blanket of some alternative rock. Just be warned that the name of this song is somewhat prophetic, as you will certainly listen to “Again” repeatedly before you can put this anime’s opening theme down.
1. Pokemon – “Gotta Catch’Em All”
Pokemon is anime royalty at this point, and it’s only fitting that this show has the king of all opening songs. “Gotta Catch’Em All” is another song that gives new fans a brief taste of what the show is all about, but it does so through timeless beats and lyrics. And we mean that quite literally: this song is simultaneously rooted in the aural influences of the ‘90s while still being something that literally generations of fans can appreciate.
The best anime openings are those that leave you insanely excited for what’s next, and nobody has done it better than Pokemon. In fact, we’re so hyped that we simply had to save this song for last…after all, who can listen to these killer beats without pulling their old Game Boy for a “super effective” way of killing an afternoon?