What separates anime from manga is motion, colors, and, of course, sound; anime not only gives voice to characters and sound effects but also gives the animated realm style and substance, unlocking a new sensory experience. Audiences don’t always pay attention to the musical score, but when the music is right, it electrifies the visuals and hits right home, making us anxious or pumped up, scream with excitement, or cry our eyes out.
Some of those OSTs stay with us long after the anime ends, reigniting emotions from certain scenes, reverberating within viewers, and gaining new, personal meanings. These soundtracks are the soul of their anime, capturing the essence of their world and the story, and giving them life far beyond the video screen.
Updated on September 13, 2023, by Soniya Hinduja: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
17 Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
After a terrorist attack leaves Japan in devastation, the authorities and locals have nothing but the letters “VON” painted in red at a nuclear facility. Months go by, and investigations lead to nothing until a strange video makes it to the internet. In it, two teenage boys who address themselves as “Sphinx” openly challenge the police and promise that they will soon begin wrecking Tokyo. The people are in a frenzy and caught in the chaos is Detective Kenjirou Shibazaki.
Terror in Resonance is an ambitious psycho-drama that shook the industry by abandoning zany ‘90s tropes for a deconstruction of teen angst, terrorism, and the feeling of loneliness. Naturally, a show this introspective needs a soundtrack that elevates it. Recorded exclusively in Iceland by the team, the anime features music from Yoko Kanno.
16 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Any die-hard anime fan knows just how influential and pioneering Gainax’s mecha drama was for the industry. The series is demented and mysterious to the very end. Its premise goes something like this: Tokyo (now Tokyo-3) has just managed to recover from the Second Impact when another threat in the form of monstrous intergalactic “Angels” looms overhead. Within NERV’s walls, there are giant mechas known as “Evangelion” designed specifically to battle these apocalyptic Angels. But the fate of humanity lies in the hands of 14-year-old Shinji and his friends.
The series explores trauma, existential dread, and the need for human connection in the face of adversity. The amazing soundtrack by composer Shiro Sagisu complements every plot twist and introspective moment. From piano to choruses, every beat solidifies Neon Genesis Evangelion as a masterpiece.
15 Houseki no Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)
Created by Studio Orange. Houseki no Kuni is a gorgeously animated gem that is perfect for people who are new to anime. It introduces the audience to a strange future where genderless crystalline “gems” have replaced humans. These gems have the ability to battle Lunarians, a species that seeks gems to break them and use them for decoration.
Phosphophyllite is a shy gem, who doesn’t really have combat skills so she is tasked with indoor work. After meeting the sweet and intelligent Cinnabar, she wishes to become stronger. Fujisawa Yoshiaki, who has worked on GATE and Love Life before, provides a melodic soundtrack filled with violins, strings, chiles, and piano to accentuate Phos’ uplifting journey.
14 Darker than Black
Created and directed by Tensai Okamura, Darker Than Black combines elements of a warped reality and supernatural presence into a well-structured series. Set in Tokyo where the night sky is blanketed by Hell’s Gate, a mysterious pathway that opened up a decade ago, the anime follows an infamous contractor named Hei, who possesses special abilities and often performs shadowy missions for the syndicate with his two partners in crime, Mao and Yin. Soon he finds himself at odds with Section 4 Chief Misaki Kirihara.
From the very first episode, this haunting OP showcases steely precision and immersive plotlines. To further enhance this vibe, the series features a hop and jazz-infused soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno. The beats pump up the action while Latin-tinged mellow tones accompany Hei’s journey.
13 Yuru Camp (Laid-Back Camp)
Based on the manga illustrated and written by Afro, this little slice-of-life anime follows high school girl Rin Shima in her adventures in the great outdoors. As a girl obsessed with nature and content with her own company, she often camps at Mount Fuji. She collects firewood and pitches tents all on her own and loves it that way.
Until he bumps into Nadeshiko Kagamihara, a fellow camper who is lost and seeks refuge. From exploring scenic sports to lying under starry skies, the laidback friendship between Rin and Nadeshiko is the very definition of relaxation. To match the heartwarming tone of the series Laid Back Camp, the soundtrack features acoustic guitar strumming and lo-fi music. Songs like “Solo Camp” and “Yuru Camp Theme” enhance the coziness and prove that even simple pleasures can bring long-lasting joy.
12 Your Lie in April
Music is central to Your Lie in April, and the use of its soundtrack is intentional and sincerely emotional. This slice-of-life anime is about young musicians, who are trying to make sense of their lives and feelings.
The show brings color back into the classical genre, giving Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy an earnest adolescent flourish. Where words are not nearly enough to express everything bubbling up in their chests, it is music that can help express their feelings.
11 Made in Abyss
The soundtrack can make an otherwise lovely but regular show stand out, as is the case with Made in Abyss. Kevin Penkin’s experimental, ethereal ambient music is truly world-building. This distinct use of sounds elevates Made in Abyss to new mind-boggling levels.
He notes in an interview that his play with tempo, use of stretched samples of string orchestras, and distorted vocals aim to create a foreign feel, sometimes even mechanized, to juxtapose the familiar and the strange, the starting point, and how far the characters have come.
10 Death Parade
While the overall jazzy soundtrack of Death Parade is without a doubt stunning and compliments the story and the characters beautifully, it is the opening that piques the most interest. Ditching smooth saxophones, episodes of Death Parade start with the buoyant pop song Flyers by Bradio.
The disco motifs and the sheer grooviness of it all don’t seem to fit the tone of the anime. The drop between the opening and the actual show adds up to a message that death can be sudden and comes when you least expect it.
Once belonging to The Shounen Giants, Bleach is a nostalgia juggernaut and an apotheosis of early-2000s aesthetics. From one-of-a-kind character designs and their unprecedented trendy clothes to the use of colors and music, Bleach gave off an effortlessly cool vibe.
It veered from rap-rock to pop to metal, mixing classic rock guitar solos with Flamenco and experimental synths. Fans are hoping the music department will continue to deliver in the final arc.
8 Death Note
The ultimate psychological thriller anime, Death Note has reflected another side of the cultural zeitgeist of the early 2000s: the height of public obsession with antiheroes and heroes’ descent into power-hungry villainy, the intense mind games, and fetishization of Christian symbols.
The mysterious, gloomy Latin chanting throughout the intense orchestral themes has become Death Note’s famous trait, and with a clever addition of electronic pieces, it creates a spine-tingling suspenseful atmosphere.
7 Wolf’s Rain
The soundtrack of Wolf’s Rain consists of lush and melancholic themes that never fail to pull you in emotionally. This music gem from the wonderful composer Yoko Kanno is often overlooked in favor of her more well-known works (like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop) but Wolf’s Rain is mesmerizing in its own right.
Her music tugs all of our heartstrings, it is dramatic but does not hit you on your head with it, rather creeping up on the viewer with feels. There is also an ’80s throwback done Kanno style, with the opening, sung by Steve Conte, his voice adding to the rawness and a bittersweet feeling.
FLCL is an unexpectedly stylish and wonderful coming-of-age story of Naoto, a 12-year-old boy from a small town, whose life is irrevocably changed by a Vespa-riding, bass guitar-wielding menace in the form of a teenage girl Haruko.
The score is provided by alternative rock band The Pillows, giving the show its punk edge. This is a pure teenage angst fest: not fitting in, struggling for independence, and the realization that the world is much larger than your small towns — all packed in languid J-pop songs with a psychedelic quirk.
5 Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo features ambient tunes and slick beats by the amazing Nujabes, who has been recognized as a pioneer of lo-fi hip-hop music that proceeded to grow a vast following on YouTube.
It was a risky and astonishingly inventive stylistic decision to modernize the Edo period with funky hip-hop, but it turned out to work extremely well, making Samurai Champloo a one-of-a-kind anime that tells a story of something that happened long ago — but truly reflecting the dynamic non-monolithic culture of today.
4 Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure seals its supremacy in modern pop culture by not taking itself too seriously and embracing its distinguished meme-maker status. This anime adaptation takes inspiration from classic pop music and rock, incorporating music into every aspect of its world.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure references artists’ names and titles of albums or particular songs through the characters or powers. Even character designs of ordinary teenagers, chic, highly detailed, and alluding to high fashion, seem like something a stylish ’70s rock-n-roll star would wear.
3 Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan’s bombastic soundtrack revels in its grandeur. Opposite from humble and playful, the score brilliantly compliments this epic tragedy with the adrenaline-fuelled crescendo of its ambitious and loud themes.
The openings include a righteous rage-ridden choir chant that drops into an electric guitar solo, resembling a surrealist national anthem or a blood-pumping recruiting song that speaks to the viewer’s inner urges to shout, break free, and ‘tatakae’. Music is another thing that distinguishes Attack on Titan from others and makes it one of the best shows to recommend to an anime rookie.
2 Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is by right one of the cultural staples of the 90s, a dynamic western in space with a beautiful smoky, groovy, and sometimes melancholic accompaniment. The show’s composer Yoko Kanno creates a never-boring musical masterpiece by adding modern elements to classic early jazz.
Kanno mixes saxophone and drums with synth, transmitting the chaotic marriage of genres that is Cowboy Bebop: from noir to action, from spy thriller to sci-fi, with some wacky comedy woven between them all.
1 Devilman Crybaby
Devilman Crybaby is not only an amazingly dark and edgy re-imagination of a classic anime that has some of the most emotional scenes in horror; this series also completely knocks it out of the park with its dark synth EBM soundtrack.
Ranging from sinister choral chanting, reverberated wailing noises, and mysterious orchestras to neoclassical darkwave electronic tracks so hypnotically ominous, pulse-pounding, and addicting, it’s like these songs were made to dance your soul away.