The Best Anime Artists Of All Time

twine thumbnail best anime artists of all time: from 1987 til now

Animation is an art form that has evolved way beyond what it originally was conceived as. We see this every day with commercials, animated cartoons, and every other type of animations. However, one form of animation that has exploded in popularity and quality since its conception, is anime.

Today we’ll be looking at the best anime artists of all time: those who have created something that has transcended its genre and even its’ country of origin. These are the minds behind some of the most popularized anime, people who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the field.

Being an anime artist is a great career for anyone who’s artistic and a fan of anime. It’s fairly easy to do as a digital nomad, a freelancer, or even a stay-at-home mom

Here’s a brief overview of the landscape before we get into our top picks.

Note: If you’re looking to hire animators or illustrators with years of experience in anime, you can find them right here on Twine.

What Are Anime And Manga?

Japanese animation, or anime, is a style of animation specific to Japan. It’s the same as an animated cartoon but drawn in a specific manner that Japanese people are used to watching. Nowadays, anime has been popularized worldwide and has shown how much quality and innovation can be put into animation as a whole.

For this reason, we want to recognize who the best anime artists of all time are, and what they’ve done to deserve a title like that.

However, we can’t talk about anime without mentioning manga! Most anime stories come from an original manga, a Japanese comic book, that is then animated and turned into anime. So when we’re talking about the best anime artists, we’re going to be referring to the original creators, who may or may have not taken part in the animation of their creations.

With that out of the way, here are our top picks for the best anime artists of all time, in no particular order:

Hayao Miyazaki

portrait of Hayao Miyazaki waving at camera

Hayao Miyazaki is one of, if not the most influential anime artist today. He’s the man behind Studio Ghibli, which has produced over 22 movies since its conception back in 1985.

Miyazaki has worked on several movies in positions like animator-in-chief, illustrator, writer, and director. Such is his importance in Ghibli and the impact that his movies have had that he’s considered the father of modern anime.

Very few reach Miyazaki’s level of prestige, but those that run a studio of their own often have the benefit of earning royalties on their work, freeing them up to work on other projects while earning passive income. This is worth discussing any time you hire an animator, because the intellectual property itself can become quite a valuable asset, especially if you’re working on an especially large project.

Under the tutelage of Miyazaki, Ghibli has earned recognition and multiple awards, both nationally and internationally. Of the ten highest-grossing animated films in Japan, half are productions of Studio Ghibli, including films like:

Spirited Away

2001 ‧ Family/Fantasy ‧ 2h 5m ‧ Box office: $383.4 million

Howl’s Moving Castle

 2004 ‧ Fantasy/Adventure ‧ 1h 59m ‧ Box office: $236 million

Ponyo

2008 ‧ Fantasy/Family ‧ 1h 43m ‧ Box office: $203.2 million

Princess Mononoke

1997 ‧ Fantasy/Adventure ‧ 2h 14m ‧ Box office: $169.7 million

The Secret World of Arrietty

2010 ‧ Family/Anime ‧ 1h 35m ‧ Box office: $146 million

Through these movies, Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki have been able to position themselves exactly where they wanted: in viewers’ hearts. This, coupled with Ghibli’s dreamy art style, has elevated the impact that this studio, along with Miyazaki himself, has had on animation as a whole.

Miyazaki decided to retire back in 2013 after he had been animating for Ghibli for almost 30 years. However, he came back into his working position in 2017 to make his final film, which is scheduled to come out in 2023.

After working previously both as a mangaka and an animator, co-creating an animation studio, and working for more than 30 years in the medium, Hayao Miyazaki is undeniable, one of – if not, the – best anime artists of all time.

Katsuhiro Otomo

portrait of Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo is both a mangaka and an incredibly influential anime artist. Otomo created both the manga while directing and animating part of the animation of Akira. This film is considered to be one of the most genre-defining pieces of art in anime and science fiction.

Otomo single-handedly, at the same time, created the manga and the animation for what would be the most expensive animated movie to make back in 1988. Since then, Akira has turned into a film that every animation enthusiast recognizes. It also popularized “Neo Tokyo” as a futuristic science fiction setting that’s still used to this day.

Here’s a look into an extract of the film:

Akira

1988 ‧ Sci-fi/Action ‧ 2h 6m ‧ Box office: $25 million

It has even been referenced by many other series, long before the film aired.

Take a look at all the recreations of this particular scene, the first one being the original, in multiple recent animations:

Although Otomo kept working in both animation and manga, his other films weren’t as famous as Akira was. However, Akira still holds a quintessential position in the science-fiction genre and as one of the best-animated films internationally.

It’s safe to say that Katsuhiro Otomo only needed to make a single movie to be regarded as one of the best anime artists of all time. Pretty impressive, if we do say so ourselves…

Akira Toriyama

portrait of Akira Toriyama

While the previous artists we’ve mentioned have evolved the medium in some kind of way, Akira Toriyama is famous for another reason. He’s regarded as one of the best anime artists of all time for breaking the boundaries of Japan and creating one of the most popular animated series in the world, Dragon Ball.

Toriyama has been active since 1978 as a mangaka. He first created an original manga called Dr. Slump that was regarded as a great piece at the time. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that he hit gold by creating Dragon Ball. An animation studio called Toei Animation quickly approached him and turned the manga into an animated series.

Dragon Ball rapidly became a national hit, but the real impact took place when Dragon Ball aired internationally. To this day, it’s safe to say that Dragon Ball is probably the most famous and recognizable anime series out there in the world.

Dragon Ball

1984 ‧ Manga series ‧ 5 seasons

Toriyama stopped producing the Dragon Ball manga after nine years of serialization because he wanted to focus on other projects. However, in 2013, he went into production for two new movies called Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, and in 2015, The Resurrection of F. These were then followed by a new animated saga called Dragon Ball Super in the same year.

Dragon Ball and Toriyama had already made a huge impact back in the day, but the revival of Dragon Ball is what solidified his spot as one of the most recognizable and best anime artists of all time.

Satoshi Kon

portrait of Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon was one of the few anime artists that didn’t work as a mangaka. This means that he was an artist that dedicated himself purely to animation, which showed. He started working as an animator in 1997 with the release of Perfect Blue, a film that quickly gained cult status.

During his lifetime as an active animator, Kon worked on several other movies and animated series. His work focused on complicated shots with very fluid animation, which showed his expertise in the medium. Here are some showcases of his films so you can get a feeling of what they looked like:

Perfect Blue

1997 ‧ Mystery/Thriller ‧ 1h 30m

Millennium Actress

2001 ‧ Fantasy/Drama ‧ 1h 27m

Tokyo Godfathers

2003 ‧ Drama/Adventure ‧ 1h 37m

Paprika: (This movie is often mentioned as one of the inspirations for Christopher Nolan’s Inception)

2006 ‧ Sci-fi/Adventure ‧ 1h 30m

Kon always took a dreamy and reality-bending approach to his films. That paired up with top-notch animation merged into some of the most unique films to ever come out of Japanese animation.

Sadly, Satoshi Kon passed away in 2010, but his films have left an everlasting impact in the animated film industry, way beyond the barriers of Japan. That’s why Satoshi Kon is another top pick for one of the best anime artists of all time.

Eiichiro Oda

portrait of Eiichiro Oda

Eiichiro Oda is one of those names that’s almost as famous as Akira Toriyama’s. He’s mainly known for being the creator and mangaka of One Piece, the current highest-selling manga in Japan.

Serialization for One Piece started back in 1997, quickly finding a fanbase between manga readers at the time. Two years later, Oda was approached by Toei Animation, the same studio that approached Toriyama, and One Piece started airing in that same year.

What’s probably Oda’s biggest achievement is being able to run such a long series like One Piece for such a long time without any major hiccups. Today One Piece has over 900 episodes in an animated form and just short of over a thousand in manga—all of this without counting One Piece’s 14 films.

One Piece

1997 ‧ Manga series ‧ 23 seasons

While One Piece might not necessarily be as recognized internationally as something like Dragon Ball, in Japan, they’re certainly titans of the same height. Out of the top 50 highest-grossing anime movies in Japan, 4 One Piece movies take spots 16, 18, 24, and 32.

The sheer track record that One Piece alone has set is enough to regard Eiichiro Oda as one of the best anime artists of all time.

Hideaki Anno

portrait of Hideaki Anno

Hideaki Anno’s most iconic work has to be Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, before getting to that point, some of his first endeavours were actually with Studio Ghibli. He worked as an animator in Ghibli’s first movie called Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1984. Later he worked yet again for Ghibli, this time for a movie called the Grave of the Fireflies.

That same year, Anno founded an animation studio called Gainax, which went on to produce several other films. In 1995 Gainax produced Neon Genesis Evangelion in-house, which aired that same year and was met with an impact no one in the studio ever imagined.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

1995 ‧ Action fiction ‧ 1 season

Very quickly, Evangelion became a cult hit – not only in Japan but internationally as well. It’s also been regarded as one of the most important pieces of anime to ever exist. Evangelion broke the concept of bland characters and brought characters that felt real: characters that weren’t always good or noble.

Just after the release of Evangelion, fans wanted more, which Anno responded with two movies. However, ten years later, in 2007, Anno started a project to rebuild Evangelion from the ground up with four different movies. These movies have come out since then in 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2021, respectively with his newfound animation studio, Studio Khara.

Having a single series impact a medium in such a strong way is why we consider Hideaki Anno as our final best anime artist of all time. However, there are a lot of other influential artists I haven’t talked about, so I’d like to make some honorable mentions as a conclusion.

Honorable Mentions

Ken Sugimori

portrait of Ken Sugimori

Ken Sugimori’s importance can simply be resumed in one word: Pokémon. He’s been the lead designer for the franchise since it started and has been working on it to this day. He’s still at the helm in terms of designing new pokémons for every generation.

Pokémon is another one of those franchises that have exploded beyond the barriers of Japan and have seeped into the animation industry in all possible forms.

It should also be mentioned that Pokémon made it’s way into the video game industry too, with notable success coming from the developed mobile app Pokémon Go.

Pokémon

1997 ‧ Manga series ‧ 24 seasons

Rumiko Takahashi

portrait of Rumiko Takahashi

Rumiko Takahashi is the creator of Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, both animated series that took the world by storm, especially for the female public. These series weren’t as famous as something like Dragon Ball, but they still managed to get ahold the hearts of the public that watched them.

Ranma ½

1996 ‧ Manga series ‧ 1 season

Kentaro Miura

portrait of Kentaro Miura

Kentaro Miura can be considered as one of the best mangakas in the history of the medium. His most famous manga is Berserk, a series he had been running since 1987. Even though he ran into some bumps, he was still developing Berserk’s dark fantasy as of 2021.

Berserk

1997 ‧ Manga series ‧ 1 season

Berserk was one of those series that influenced many other forms of art, including anime and manga. From the incredible development that the story had to the quality of the art that Miura offered.

However, as of May 2021, Miura has passed away. It’s sad to see that Berserk never saw an animation adaptation that made justice to the whole series, but either way, Miura will always be remembered fondly.

Hiromu Arakawa

portrait of Hiromu Arakawa

Hiromu Arakawa has only created a single series that has caught the attention of the public, Full Metal Alchemist. This series helped popularize anime as a mainstream medium that anyone could watch, regardless of where they live.

Today, according to the general public, Full Metal Alchemist is regarded as one of the best-written and developed stories in the complete history of anime.

Full Metal Alchemist

2003 ‧ Manga series ‧ 1 season

Shinichiro Watanabe

portrait of Shinichiro Watanabe

Shinichiro Watanabe is one of those creators that appears once in a lifetime, makes something great, and then disappears. His most prolific creations are Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.

Both of these series are well-known in the animation industry due to the innovation they brought into anime for the style of animation and its well-written characters and story.

Cowboy Bebop

#cowboy bebop from gifkage

1998 ‧ Manga series ‧ 1 season

Koyoharu Gotouge

Koyoharu Gotouge is a relatively new artist on the block, with her main source of fame being an anime called Kimetsu no Yaiba. Kimetsu no Yaiba, or Demon Slayer, started airing back in 2019 to critical acclaim by both long-time and new anime fans.

However, the crucial thing to mention here is that in 2020 the anime got a movie released that continued the plot. In less than a year, this movie has become the single highest-grossing anime film in the world, surpassing all of the other films by Miyazaki, Oda, and that of Toriyama’s as well.

Kimetsu no Yaiba

2019 ‧ Manga series ‧ 1 season

Gotouge might not be near to be called the best anime artist of all time, but she has certainly made an impact early in her career.

Conclusion

Animation as a whole—and especially anime—is a medium that touches its viewers’ emotions. It’s a place where artists can communicate words, feelings, and ideas through a channel unique to them. 

Not only is it prolific to consume, anime is also an exciting career path that offers both a high level of creative challenge and a satisfying level of purpose. If you’re looking to hire animators or illustrators with years of experience in anime, you can find them right here on Twine.


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Jordan Bishop

Jordan Bishop

Jordan Bishop is the founder of Yore Oyster and How I Travel, two sites to help you optimize your finances while living an international life. He recently published his first book, Unperfect, an exploration of problem-solving.