They defined childhoods, made friendships and gave karaoke sessions a major shot in the arm. Here’s our selection of the finest musical efforts – known as ‘anisongs’ by aficionados – which opened classic shows, from the 1970s to the present day.
‘Moonlight Densetsu (Sailor Moon Season 1)’
An earworm so potent it almost requires quarantine, the show’s iconic theme perfectly soundtracks Usagi Tsukino in her daily struggle to save the Universe, woo Tuxedo Mask and get her homework done. Like many anime of the 80s, the song has an equally era-defining English-language-version. Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva delivered a show-stopping routine – complete with Moon Prism Power transformation – to the show’s soundtrack at the Tokyo World Team Trophy Exhibition in 2017, thereby sending her skating into the hearts of otaku across the globe.
‘Ai o Torimodose (Hokuto no Ken Season 1)’
Artist: Crystal King
Crystal King vocalist Monsieur Yoshiaki gives his vocal chords a serious workout for the theme to the show we know in the West as Fist Of The North Star. The song became an instant classic thanks to a memorable refrain (“You wa SHOCK!”) and inspired many impressionable youngsters, one of whom would grow up to become former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, who used the tune as his entrance theme before doing battle.
‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis (Neon Genesis Evangelion)’
Artist: Yoko Takahashi
Originally, Evangelion mastermind Hideaki Anno had no intention of using a conventional theme for his 90s masterpiece. His first choice was Alexander Borovdin’s Polovetsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor. The station which would broadcast the show, TV Tokyo, felt such a choice could risk confusing viewers, and thus ordered him to come back with something a bit more catchy. The rest is history. A reasonable argument can be made for this being the greatest anime song of all time, somehow managing to perfectly fit the show’s dark themes (apocalypse, depression, incest, Oedipal complexes and massive robots) despite being, at heart, a disco banger.
‘Rupan Sansei no Tēmu (Lupin The 3rd)’
Artist: Yoji Ohno
Yoji Ohno’s music for the long-running show, which first debuted in 1971, is unique among anime soundtracks in that it works even if you have no interest whatsoever in the source material (or, for that, anime itself). The soundtrack was recently re-released on vinyl in Japan and its lush cinematic mix of funk, disco and jazz now sounds more like the sort of thing you could stick on at a cocktail party and instantly make the evening more glamorous and sophisticated.
‘Guren no Yamiya (Attack On Titan Season 1)’
Artist: Linked Horizon
Epic, delirious and overwhelming. Linked Horizon’s prog-metal assault evokes the kind of emotions you would expect from a show about skyscraper-sized giants devouring people. The mood is one of frantic, survive-at-all-costs action, accompanied by one of the all-time great opening sequences, as the brave souls of the Scout Regiment zoom over rooftops while struggling to bring down the nightmarish colossi. A fan favourite, it has numerous cover versions on YouTube, from acapella renditions to an impressive effort utilising bagpipes.
‘Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato)’
Artist: Isao Sasaki
Distinguished voice actor and singer Isao Sasaki is a legend in anime. Not only has he performed the themes to a number of classic shows, he also performed voice work and is held in such high esteem that he was even chosen to be the voice of Superman in the Japanese dub of the Christopher Reeve-era movies. His warm, venerable baritone is put to unforgettable use in the opening to the iconic space opera, a work so stirring that even the Japanese navy paid tribute to it.
‘Kiss You (Silver Spoon Season 1)’
Every bit as life-affirming and feel-good as its source material. Japanese singer/actress Miwa’s upbeat vocals are the ideal fit for the slice-of-life anime, which deserves special mention for the quality of all its opening and closing songs, particularly the ultra-genki ending theme to Season 2, which will keep our spirits up while fans hope and pray for an elusive third season.
‘Tank! (Cowboy Bebop)’
Artist: The Seatbelts
Arguably the greatest opening sequence of all-time, with a song that sits alongside A Cruel Angels’s Thesis for coveted No.1 spot. Composer Yoko Kanno concocted a superb mix of blues, jazz, swing and pop, all topped-off with a contemporary twist, which became an instant classic on release. In the early 2000s, the show’s music got the remix treatment from a number of acclaimed EDM musicians.
‘Cha-La Head-Cha-La (Dragon Ball Z)’
Artist: Hironobu Kageyama
If you’re going to punch a baddie so hard that they puncture an entire mountain from the force of the blow, then you’re going to need the right kind of song. Enter Hironobu Kigeyama, former member of the J-rock outfit Lazy, and his enjoyably-overwrought slice of anthemic gusto. Another fan favourite subject to a whole host of cover versions, it appears regularly in the wild, even popping up in talent shows in Southeast Asia.
‘We Are! (One Piece episodes 1 to 47)’
Artist: Hiroshi Kitadani
A planet-conquering phenomenon with more than 800 episodes aired, One Piece has a whopping 19 different opening themes across its many seasons. Of these, it’s the original which is still considered the best. Every bit as swashbuckling and uplifting as protagonist Munky B. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates. The song is also a showcase for the JAM Project, an anisong supergroup which records regularly and performs spectacular concerts to adoring fans.
‘Battlecry (Samurai Champloo)’
Artist: Nujabes and Shing02
The legendary Japanese producer Nujabes was one of the most distinctive voices in Asian hip-hop until his tragic death in 2010. He left behind a game-changing body of work, including the theme to Shinichiro Watanabe’s acclaimed samurai epic, with beats that Flying Lotus would kill for. Like Lupin the Third, the show’s soundtrack works as a fantastic listen in its own right.
‘Pokemon Theme (Pokemon Season 1)’
Artist: Jason Paige
This one may be breaking the rules a little bit as it’s for the English dub of the show, but it would impossible not to include it on this list as it’s a song that defined an entire era. In the late 90s, millions of kids emptied their pockets (or those of their parents) en masse for the cultural juggernaut and so beloved is the theme that mass singalongs in public still happen to this day. South Park memorably, and brilliantly, satirised both the franchise and its song during its third season. If you’re curious, here’s what Japanese audiences were listening to.