The most memorable scenes of any anime are usually amplified by an amazing soundtrack. These pulse pounding tracks are the first thing that comes to mind when trying to picture those scenes and I can’t imagine these shows without them. This list will only consist of original compositions made for the anime featured. Sadly, the soundtracks for shows, such as FLCL and Initial D, that use preexisting music were not considered when making this list. With that said, here are my top 10 anime original scores of all time.
10. My Hero Academia
“You Say Run” is probably one of the most played single pieces from an anime score, and it is easy to understand why. My Hero Academia‘s composer, Yuki Hayashi, excels at triumphant operatic tracks, like “You Say Run.” Everything from the drums to the guitar is used to build excitement. It is the perfect theme for a shonen, and it fits nearly every heroic moment throughout the series due to its versatility. “You Say Run” is far from the only piece of Hayashi’s score that does this, as the main theme “My Hero Academia” does the exact same thing, incorporating hard hitting instruments with a woodwind swell that encapsulates the essential of My Hero Academia, perseverance. However, the piece where it is most prominent is All Might’s theme, “I Am Here!,” serving as a triumphant fulfillment of that perseverance. This piece has heroic rescue written all over it and it brings a smile to my face everytime it plays. The whole score features uplifting pieces that feel right at home in this superpowered shonen series.
9. Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World
One of the first things I think of when it comes to Re:Zero is the horrific “Call of the Witch.” Everytime I hear it, I feel chills down my back and get an unsettling feeling in my stomach. Re:Zero‘s composer, Kenichiro Suehiro, perfectly amplifies the horror elements of Re:Zero with his frightening score. His use of vocals within the score, particularly in the main theme “Rondo of Love and Darkness,” brings this sense of dread. The main theme is meant to be Subaru’s theme yet it feels everything but heroic, much like Subaru himself throughout most of the first season. However, my favorite piece of the score so far is “Hymn of Despair and Atonement,” or Petelgeuse’s theme. As pointed out in Kyle Robes’ Death in Music, “Hymn of Despair and Atonement” uses elements of Mozart’s Dies Irae to create unease. Suehiro’s score is bone chilling, matching Re:Zero‘s tone perfectly.
8. Gurren Lagann
Taku Iwasaki captures the feeling of true triumph and excitement with his score for Gurren Lagann. “With Your Drill, Pierce the Heavens!!” always manages to bring a huge grin to my face, and maybe even a few tears if I start to get too emotional. This one piece of the larger-than-life score perfectly encapsulates Simon’s journey throughout the show. The main theme, “No Way! Only 1m20 to Do it,” is a pure hype thriller of a piece when it first plays with the formation of Team Dai-Gurren. However, after Kamina’s death, it is not until Simon takes his rightful place as the team’s new leader that it plays again. The way the score enfuses these loud exciting pieces with raw emotion is absolutely brilliant. My Hero Academia‘s score does something similar, but it is Iwasaki’s use of genre within the score, such as a beautiful opera and rap combination with “Libera Me From Hell,” that puts it higher up on this list. It may be a rather simple score, but it packs a solid punch to the ear drums.
7. The Rising of the Shield Hero
Kevin Penkin’s score for The Rising of the Shield Hero perfectly captures the whimsy of fantasy, while maintaining a deep emotional core. “Sunshine with Shields,” “Fermentation” and “Filo” capture the fantastical of The Rising of the Shield Hero‘s world with their use of woodwind instruments and piano. The quieter sweet melody gives off this calm countryside feel. However, as a fantasy isekai, it is only natural for Kevin Penkin to incorporate some more traditionally medieval music and “Resonance of the Church” fills that role perfectly. The heavy strings feel triumphant, especially once they begin to be associated with Naofumi. Speaking of Naofumi, his main theme is probably the best piece of the entire score. “The Rising of the Shield Hero” uses a similar build up as My Hero Academia‘s “You Say Run,” except the use of string instruments builds tension instead of triumph. This tension is then released with the bass and drums, similar to how this main theme is used during most of Naofumi’s intense emotion-heavy scenes in the show.
Durarara!!‘s greatest strength is how it leaves viewers in the moment. Composer Makoto Yoshimori’s score is integral to this and I cannot imagine the series without it. “Ikebukuro West Exit Five-Way Intersection” is a strange combination of jazz and Italian folk music, giving Ikebukuro this unique identity. This identity is further accentuated in Simon’s theme, “Russian Bodyguard” and Shizuo’s theme, “The Legend of the Strongest Man in Ikebukuro,” each making Ikebukuro feel lively and larger-than-life. Yoshimori also nails unsettling ambience with “Voiceless Scream,” until he goes full horror with Saika’s theme, “Words of Love to Bind a Heart.” However, the more calm parts of the score, like “Their Aspirations,” “Bottled Angel” and “The Sought-After Extraordinary,” leave you in the moment. The entire score feels built on making Ikebukuro feel alive and to make you feel as if you are there, watching the events of Durarara!! unfold in real time.
5. Cowboy Bebop
Yoko Kanno has some of the best range of any composer I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. The craziness of her score for Cowboy Bebop perfectly fits the episodic nature of the show, with her changing up the genre nearly every single episode in order to fit the tone. She goes from sensational jazz music with “Tank!” and “Rush,” to a soft countryside feel with “Spokey Dokey” in the span of only two episodes, which is a change that would likely feel out of place in any other show. Cowboy Bebop‘s blend of new and old within its space western genre makes Kanno’s score feel right at home among the space cowboys. She even incorporates cyber-punk style synth work with a little bit of jazz mixed in with “Pot City” to further flesh out the futuristic high rises found on what once was Earth. The whole score is so varied, yet perfect at the same time, a feeling only Kanno can make seem so effortless. She may have composed some amazing scores afterward, but Bebop will forever be her best.
4. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind
It was hard for me to choose which of Yugo Kanno’s scores for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to put on this list, but ultimately it had to be Golden Wind‘s. It seems if your last name is Kanno, you are destined to be a brilliant composer. I have already talked at length about this specific score in my article about Golden Wind, which you can find here, but it still amazes me just how unique every single character’s themes are and how consistently they are reused throughout the part. It is crazy how characters with limited screen time, like Risotto, Polnareff and Pesci, have such amazing themes. I also love how Kanno incorporates their Stand abilities within the characters’ themes, such as the score rewinding during Abbachio’s (“Riproduzione”) or the unzipping of zippers during Bruno’s (“Nella Cerniera”). However, it is when the score is used to increase the drama of a scene that it is truly exceptional, such as Bruno’s theme being overtaken by Diavolo’s in “Lotta Feroce.” The way the themes intertwine with each other throughout Kanno’s score is fantastic. Because of this, Giorno’s theme, “Il Vento D’oro,” has become one of the most well-known character themes among the anime community in recent memory. It is safe to say Kanno is one of my favorite anime composers.
3. Code Geass
Code Geass‘s score is an enigma. The operatic symphony with acoustic guitars should not match this political drama with mecha robots. Somehow, composers Hirkou Shimizu, Masahi Kohata and Hideo Negi, make it seem like a match made in heaven with their theme for the Black Knights. Code Geass heavily benefits from having such a wide range of musical talent handling the score. However, Kotaro Nakagawa handles most of the score. Nakagawa’s style is very orchestral. Thus, it is crazy how well Hitomi Kuroishi’s softer, electronic and guitar reliant pieces flow with Nakagawa’s intense cinematic themes. When listened to separately, their parts of the score sound as if they are from two completely different shows, yet when put together, it creates a beautiful symphony of sound that could never be replicated.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Akira Senju’s score for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood captures the tragedy that eventually led to the Elric Brothers’ triumph within a single piece of music. The main theme begins with a dramatic orchestral tone that leads into a sad choirric melody. This eb and flow between drama and depression perfectly fits the brothers’ struggles throughout the show. It eventually ends with a fulfilling operatic finale, perfectly matching Edward’s feelings upon rescuing Alphonse from the Portal of Truth. Senju’s score can fill you with dread in pieces like “Lurking” and “Laws of Alchemy.” He even incorporates a clever thematic double edge sword with “Next Chapter,” a triumphant heroic-sounding melody, that belongs to one of the most intimidating villains in anime history, Wrath. That is not to say there are no “simple” themes for our heroes to relish in as Senju delivers exactly that with Major Armstrong’s theme (“Amestris Military March”) and Ling’s theme (“Xing Symphony”), each of which give me goosebumps whenever I hear them. Senju’s score is absolutely masterful in how well it plays with the audience’s emotions.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
This is probably the only time you’ll see Neon Genesis Evangelion at the top of one of my anime lists. While the series has many pitfalls for me, Shiro Sagisu’s incredible score is not one of them. The power of each theme and how they represent the personality of each character is amazing. Shinji’s theme, “I. Shinji” feels desperate, much like Shinji’s situation in Evangelion, always trying to find a way to ditch the world. While similar in musical concept, each of Rei Ayanami’s themes represent the opposite. “Rei 1” and “Rei 2” each show a sense of purpose, albeit loosely defined. “Rei 2” has a completely different feel, showcasing the confusion in Ayanami’s mind upon her widening viewpoint. “Rei 3” then echoes the melody of “Rei 1” in composition, but with a dramatic intensity, representing Ayanami’s decision to leave the world behind, a decision Shinji was always too afraid to make himself. The entire score handles emotion incredibly well and it is why it is my favorite original anime score of all time.
Is there an anime score that you absolutely love that didn’t make my list? Comment below!