Unlike Western cartoon theme songs, which are usually about as intoxicating and catchy as a caffeine infused Twenty One Pilots song, anime openings are used as more of a platform by J-Rock artists to promote upcoming singles and albums. It’s quite a clever marketing tool when you think about it.
Ever since Hinobu Kageyama graced people’s ears with the now infamous “Cha La Head Cha La” for Dragonball Z in 1989, the concept of the anime opening has grown to both serve as a summary of the series and simultaneously put out some awesome music!
Now this list will purely be looking at anime openings from the last decade, making 2006 the cut-off point. So nothing from Cowboy Bebop, Dragonball Z or the original Digimon series here. BUT this list just goes to show how great and varied anime opening tunes have gotten since!
10. – What’s Up People?! by Maximum the Hormone (Death Note, 2006)
Maximum the Hormone are what would happen if you took Slipknot, Pantera and Lamb of God, put them in a blender, and sprinkled the resulting sludge with the largest dose of octane imaginable. As a metalhead, I’ve definitely become a Maximum the Hormone fan, and that all started with “What’s Up People?!” It’s eclectic, ecstatic and extremely likely to have you bouncing off of walls before the episode has even started (I ran out of e-words….sue me). The sporadic time changes, combined with brilliant blast beats from the drums serve to effectively sum up protagonist Light Yagami’s desire to play God and his subsequent fall from grace, without giving too much away. That and the ending sequence left me in such a sense of bewilderment I kind of had to walk it off and calm down before continuing (keep in mind this was in 2006, so 14 year old me had way too much energy)
9. – HOWLING by Abingdon Boys School (Darker Than Black, 2007)
Darker than Black was intriguing as I was coming into my own as a budding otaku. It involved a miserable looking man in mask swinging around a city on a zipline and his best friend was a talking cat. What wasn’t to love? What made this even better however, was Darker Than Black‘s first opening theme song “Howling.” Played by anime theme veterans Abingdon Boys School (see series like D. Gray Man) “Howling” perfectly represents lead character Hei’s descent into darkness, as well as establishing the industrial, almost cyber-punk feel to post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Then Hell’s Gate and Heaven’s Gate get involved, and everything goes a little pear shaped from there.
8. – Stand Proud by Jin Hashimoto (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, 2014)
When a series is written to take the piss out of hyper masculinity in anime, you know it’s going to be more over the top than the screams on Dragonball Z (okay, I’ll stop talking about Dragonball Z…over 9000). Explaining the premise of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure would take an entire post in itself (and stay tuned…) but possibly the series’ finest opening effort to date comes from its third season, Stardust Crusaders. Next to sounding like an 80s hair metal band, Stardust Crusaders provides possibly one of the heaviest anime openings to date (well…as heavy as you can get without being Maximum the Hormone). With pounding double bass drums and ripping guitar melodies, “Stand Proud” sets the tone for series chocked full of combat, turmoil and wacky out of place comedy.
Displaying each Stand (I see what they did there) used by the central protagonists (Stands are kind of like battle spirits that are also a person’s soul, and each of them is different and got really cool powers and…..I knew this would get confusing) as well as the looming threat of central villain, DIO, “Stand Proud” provides enough outline and just the right amount of foreshadowing to rope people in.
7. – Papermoon by Tommy Heavenly (Soul Eater, 2008)
Both of Soul Eater’s opening themes are great, but Tommy Heavenly’s “Papermoon” wins the crown on this occasion. The morose tone set by the song’s intro, followed by the immediate rocky pump to the chorus, much like an RKO, comes out of nowhere. Watching lead characters Maka, Black Star and Death the Kid (no, those are their actual names) display their abilities before diving down a demon hunting hole honestly gets me psyched every time I listen to it. The final frame of Maka and Soul acts as a dangerous bit of foreshadowing, and the introduction of LOADS of new characters makes “Papermoon” feel like a real breath of fresh soul reaping.
6. – One Day by The Rootless (One Piece, 2010)
One Piece is one of the longest running anime of the modern era. Starting its original run in 1999, the series has aired over 600 episodes as of 2016, and that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. However, arguably, the series’ best and most heart-hitting theme song comes from it’s 2010 season, “One Day” by The Rootless. The sombre tone of the pre-timeskip Marineford arc concludes the first half of the series, in which the Straw Hat pirates invade the naval base of Marineford to rescue lead character Luffy’s brother, Ace, resulting in an epic battle to end all epic battles. The song sees us say goodbye to some pretty iconic characters and an entire saga of Luffy’s quest to become King of the Pirates. It’s a heart-warming, slow rock number, that’s sure to bring tears to anybody that knows the context.
Once again, giving each major character of the story arc a chance to show off their otherworldly abilities, from Whitebeard’s earthquake to Kizaru’s light bending, “One Day” serves as a testament to the epic and incredible journey that One Piece had taken us on, and closed out the (incredibly long) first chapter of the series, before embarking on the second half of Luffy and crew’s journey to The Grand Line.
5. – Sorairo Days (trans. Sky Blue Days) by Shoko Nakagawa (Gurren Lagann, 2007)
Gurren Lagann‘s structure for opening sequences was extremely clever for its time. Whilst most anime would use different theme songs altogether for varying parts of their respective runs, Gurren Lagann used different verses of the SAME SONG for the first and second halves of the series respectively, truly making it the story’s signature tune. Literally, it’s everywhere. Every major transformation and most key character building moments, you can be guaranteed that this song’ll have a refrain in somewhere.
Given that Gurren Lagann basically started as an OTT piss-take on the ridiculousness of the mecha genre (personally, I don’t see what’s so ridiculous about people piloting giant robots, but that’s just me) it ended up as one of the most beloved and heavily praised series of the last decade. “Sorairo Days” was a key part of this, effectively introducing each character and acting as a precursor to various transformations throughout the series. Now say it with me:
“JUST WHO IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE?!”
4. – Guren No Yumiya (trans. “Crimson Bow and Arrow”)/ Die Flügel der Freiheit (trans. “The Wings of Freedom”) by Linked Horizon (Attack On Titan, 2013)
So Attack On Titan has had 2 opening themes, and both have made this list. Why? Because I’m an indecisive bastard at the best of times and I can’t pick just one. Both songs being played by the same band probably had something to do with this, as Linked Horizon absolutely smash it with both tunes. “Guren no Yumiya” spotlights the first half of the series perfectly, zoning in on the titan hunter aspect of the early story, whilst “Die Flügel der Freiheit” (aside from being a song featuring a seamless combination of Japanese and German) strongly highlights the second half of the series where things get weirder than that convoluted Suicide Squad ending (that’s as much as I can say without spoiling it).
Storytelling aside, both songs bring a symphonic rock/neo-classical edge, really enhancing the semi-steampunk fantasy setting of the series, and seamlessly blends into the rest of the symphony-infused rock soundtrack.
3. – Sign by FLOW (Naruto Shippuden, 2009)
Naruto has had some awesome opening theme songs over the years. Only 3 of which have been sung by now iconic J-Rock band, FLOW. Many would expect the original series’ fourth opening jam, “GO! We Are Fighting Dreamers” to be on this list instead, but Naruto Shippuden‘s sixth opening, “Sign“, strikes more of an emotional chord than the former fighting anthem. The song sums up the now iconic bout between Uchiha Sasuke and his brother Itachi as well as Jiraiya’s stand against the Six Paths of Pain, and what better way to do that than with an emotionally charged, fast-paced rock song.
“Sign” is a song that invokes sentiment, awesome pace and momentarily pulls the focus from titular character Naruto, to focus on other integral characters in the shinobi world.
2. – Raise Your Flag by Man with a Mission (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, 2015)
Man with a Mission have been enjoying quite a run of dominance in the opening theme song department. They provided “database” for Log Horizon in 2013 and “Seven Deadly Sins” for The Seven Deadly Sins in 2015. However, it was 2015’s “Raise Your Flag” that truly showed the otakuverse what Man with a Mission were capable of. One of the most versatile bands to come out of Japan, Man with a Mission have made a conscious effort to change up their brand of nu-metal infused rock, all whilst wearing wolf masks (look them up). Pure badassery.
“Raise Your Flag” is pretty much what it says on the tin, an anthem of rebellion, reflecting the struggle of the agents of Tekkadan, the group of former child-soldiers which the series is centered around. The resounding pump of the chorus coupled with the darting images of various robots flaring across a star-filled sky bring a refreshing take to the Gundam mythos (a series that was built on giant robots flying across starry skies…but normally with Man with a Mission blaring behind them!).
1.- The Hero!! by JAM Project (One Punch Man, 2015)
C’mon. It was always going to be this one. Take five iconic J-Rock singers ( Masaaki Endoh, Hinobu Kageyama, Hiroshi Kitadani, Masami Okui and Yoshiki Fukuyuma) all of whom have sung for various mainstream anime in the past. Add a bunch of heavy guitars and quite possibly THE most over the top anime concept since Gurren Lagann, and you have”The Hero!!” (those two exclamation marks are important). Unlike some of the other entries on this list, “The Hero!!” doesn’t really sum up the story of One Punch Man, but rather the powers and abilities of lead character Saitama (aka One Punch Man).
Basically, set to this awesome heavy tune, Saitama runs around smashing up cliffsides, chasms and monsters with a single punch, effectively summing up pretty much every fight in the series (no spoiler there….the series is called One Punch Man….you can figure it out). The song has received the cover treatment by numerous artists, including YouTube’s own Jonathan Young (look him up!) and was the undisputed anime anthem of 2015/2016.
So there’s the list. Do you agree? Do you not? Do you just wish I’d stop making lists and do something useful with my life? Feel free to let me know/send me your own lists. I’d be interested to see what you come up with!