Popularity doesn't always match up with quality and there are plenty of anime series' that this is true of. Now, when we say "overrated," we don't necessarily mean a show is poor in quality. Most shows that strike a chord with a large audience have a lot to offer in terms of action, characterization, drama and general entertainment. They're good watches, but perhaps not great ones. And when their goodness falls short of how well-known they are, they become seen as over-hyped. Again, this doesn't mean it's a waste of your time to watch one of them, but they might not be the very best that the medium has to offer.
Nostalgia naturally plays a key role in how some shows gain such towering reputations. The anime boom of the '90s in the West introduced entire generations to mega franchises like Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon and Pokemon. As such, these shows became gateways to popular genres and tropes that have since become staples in their successors. (More recent examples include Death Note, Naruto, Attack on Titan and Yuri on Ice!!!.) While repeated tropes are important in establishing genres, it's meant that there's an awful lot of copycat storytelling in the industry, which fans become more and more tired of as they consume more and more anime. There are only so many trapped-in-a-video-game premises, long-winded fight scenes and harem romances that we can take before there aren't any surprises left. And, unfortunately, shows that break tried-and-tested molds are easily swept under the rug.
25 OVERLOOKED: THE BIG O
If you're a fan of sci-fi, film noir, mechs and Batman, The Big O was tailor-made for you. Set in the retro-future Paradigm City, the show's main protagonist, Roger Smith, is Japan's answer to Bruce Wayne (he even has a butler) who pilots a giant robot: Big O.
Its reference points are clear, perhaps derivatively so, but it's hard not to fall for Roger's charm and get lost in the show's smooth blend of melancholy and mystery. While its trippy conclusion didn't sit well with some critics at the time, it's since earned a reputation as a stylish, unmissable classic.
24 OVERRATED: SWORD ART ONLINE
RPG video game-based stories are plentiful in manga/anime, but that doesn't mean newer entries shouldn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. Unfortunately, Sword Art Online isn't that reinvention. What it does do well is dazzle viewers with blisteringly quick action and stunning rendered visuals.
These do a good job at distracting from the nuts-and-bolts plot: characters are trapped in a video game fantasy world and have to climb the ranks as players to survive. Even worse are its overwrought stories and mishandling of female characters. Despite this, SAO has spawned a hugely successful franchise.
23 OVERRATED: NARUTO
Naruto is a property that many can't stand, while others swear by it. The manga that the series -- and its spinoffs -- are based on is the third best-selling in history and has drawn plenty of praise for its use of Japanese folklore and strong storytelling. By comparison, the massively popular adaptation falls short.
The show suffers from plot changes and filler arcs that interrupt the story's flow, while both the manga and anime have been criticized for overindulgent fight scenes, a problem that plagues most in the shonen genre. Boruto, however, comes more highly recommended.
22 OVERLOOKED: SOUL EATER
If you're looking for a shonen series that breaks with convention, look no further than Soul Eater. The criminally short-lived series follows the students of a school for budding teen heroes, pairing up "weapon meisters" with those who could transform into weapons.
This co-operative set-up taps into the familiar theme of friendship trumping evil, but the show's faithful translation of mangaka, Atsushi Ōkubo's unique art style, its hip-hop influenced soundtrack and wacky characters are a breath of fresh air in the saturated dark-fantasy subgenre.
21 OVERRATED: YU-GI-OH!
In 2018, Yu-Gi-Oh! officially entered the record books as one of the biggest earning media franchises. This empire began with Kazuki Takahashi's manga, the premise of which was empowering teenagers to become heroes using games instead of weapons. Making the Duel Monsters game he invented a marketable reality was a no-brainer.
While the original Japanese anime started fairly strong, its neutered English dub and subsequent seasons have led to the show having little merit beyond just selling more cards. Because of this, the anime is fun for those familiar with the game, but a confusing and slow slog for anyone else.
20 OVERRATED: BLEACH
The first 100 episodes or so of the Bleach anime are a perfectly contained story that sees layabout teenager, Ichigo go from zero to hero as he journeys from Earth to the spiritual Soul Society realm to rescue his supernatural mentor. He battles his way through an ever-strengthening pack of foes, achieves his goal and finds renewed purpose in life.
The problem is, the show keeps going...and going. Bleach is far from bad; it's filled with memorable characters, great action sequences and cool music. However, these cosmetic differences are all that set it apart from its direct competitors.
19 OVERLOOKED: JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE
While JoJo does have a strong following, it deserves the name recognition that the likes of Naruto and Bleach do. You might know it only from the many memes it's sparked, signifying its surge in popularity in the West after decades of relative obscurity outside of Japan.
The story follows each generation of the Joestar family, who are fated to use their inherited power to battle supernatural forces. As well as its signature bizarreness, its hyper-stylized art and more grounded approach to its fight choreography help it stand out from the shonen pack.
18 OVERRATED: THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya revolves around high school student Kyon and his dealings with a peculiar girl, the titular Haruchi. Together, they found the "SOS Brigade," a club dedicated to investigating the paranormal. The novels on which it was based were monster hits in Japan and the series was also well-received.
While there's a lot to love about it, Haruhi has become famous for its gimmick: the episodes were aired out of order -- a weird decision that, depending on how you feel towards the show, is either really smart or trying to be really smart.
17 OVERRATED: ONE PIECE
Considered to be the only viable successor to the Dragon Ball juggernaut, One Piece is a sprawling nautical adventure close to the hearts of millions of fans. And it's easy to see why. Bouncing between Tex Avery-esque slapstick and gut-wrenchingly emotional climaxes, it's one of few stories worthy of the over-used "epic" label.
The one big hindrance to One Piece being an all-time great is the sheer amount of it. We're approaching the 1,000 episode mark and not even close to an ending, which wouldn't be so bad if the series wasn't bogged down by predictable story arcs, slow pacing and (sometimes) tedious filler.
16 OVERLOOKED: EDEN OF THE EAST
Despite its noted similarities to The Bourne Identity, 2009's Eden of the East is an acclaimed series that deserves more mainstream attention. The story unfolds with college graduate Saki travelling to the US after a series of missiles hit Japan, where she discovers naked amnesiac, Takizawa outside of the White House.
Takizawa has no clue as to his real identity other than 8 billion yen in digital currency and the knowledge that he's part of a group of 12 contestants tasked with saving Japan. What follows is a sweet and beautifully animated drama that stands apart from the grim and gritty fare of the survival genre.
15 OVERRATED: SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Powered by a very lucrative manga series, Seven Deadly Sins' recent jump to anime greatly increased its international fanbase. It takes place in a fantastical version of medieval Europe where the titular "Sins" are seven uniquely-powered outlaws.
Although not without some interesting characters and entertaining brawls, the show is pretty generically formulated. It's also peppered with cheap ecchi gags that feel entirely unnecessary, particularly when the underdeveloped main female character, Elizabeth is the subject of them.
14 OVERRATED: GUNDAM WING
Though the iconic Gundam franchise has existed since 1979, Western audiences only became familiar with the property in the mid '90s, and it's all thanks to Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. While the series was shrugged off by Japanese fans, uninitiated foreign viewers lapped it up.
Wing is still very fondly remembered, but some fans have pointed out that the lofty place it holds is probably tainted by nostalgia, as most of its themes and storylines were better covered elsewhere in the franchise. Worth watching, but perhaps not the best Gundam has to offer.
13 OVERLOOKED: PANTY & STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT
While cult favorites like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann and FLCL gained studio Gainax near-universal praise, its raucous 2010 series, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt left viewers divided. Panty and Stocking are a pair of fallen angels who fight evil to buy their way back into Heaven.
Their adventures are crude, rude and, at times, surreal, animated in a loose, Americanized style that was apparently inspired by the animators vacationing in the US. While the show's low-brow style won't be for everyone, it's a must-see for those looking for something that looks and feels totally unique in the world of anime.
12 OVERLOOKED: ERGO PROXY
Ergo Proxy is a cyberpunk detective series set in a dark, urban world populated by humans and androids. When a virus grants the androids sentience, Re-l and her robot partner are tasked with solving a string of murders linked to the phenomenon.
Sadly, Ergo Proxy hasn’t managed to creep out from under the shadow of Ghost In The Shell, which is a shame because it’s just as philosophically involving and visually innovative. The only drawback is its labyrinthine plot, which may take repeated viewings to crack.
11 OVERRATED: VAMPIRE KNIGHT
Just like shonen, the shojo genre is guilty of repetitive storytelling and troublesome tropes. Vampire Knight unabashedly indulges in both. The story sees the seemingly-human, Yuki attend an experimental human/vampire boarding school where she becomes caught between her feelings for two vampire boys.
While its melodramatic twists and turns are enjoyable, Vampire Knight very much falls into the guilty pleasure category. If you like beautifully drawn characters, angsty paranormal teens and gothic-lite fiction then you'll be converted, but, for all of its popularity, there's not much else to sink your teeth into.
10 OVERRATED: HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD
2011's Highschool of the Dead only lasted for a single season but left an indelible impression on those that watched it. All you need to know about the plot is that it involves a bunch of good-looking and strangely combat-ready school kids (and one school nurse) vs. a horde of zombies.
Its appeal relies on sensationalism, better known as fan service: extreme violence, extreme sexualization and extreme gore, which got it banned from China altogether. Despite the manga series hitting the New York Times' Best Sellers list, both it and its anime adaptation have been widely panned as unoriginal and as brainless as the monsters it features.
9 OVERLOOKED: MICHIKO & HATCHIN
Produced by the creator of Cowboy Bebop and directed by Sayo Yamamoto of Yuri On Ice!!! fame, Michiko & Hatchin should be far better known than it is. It follows two women on a manhunt through the colorful landscape of South America: Michiko, a fun-loving ex-con and Hatchin, girl who Michiko rescues from abusive adoptive parents.
Together, they're something of an odd couple but the mother/daughter relationship they develop gives the adventure a strong emotional grounding. Given how little we see people and places from that part of the world in anime, it's a refreshing setting that's as lively as it is authentic.
8 OVERRATED: BLACK BUTLER
The first season of Black Butler, adapted from Yana Toboso's long-running manga, is incredibly strong. Set in Victorian Britain, it follows young, orphaned rich kid, Ciel and his loyal demon butler, Sebastian, who is bound to help Ciel get revenge for his parents' demises so long as Sebastian gets his soul.
Unfortunately, the second season veered wildly off-course, undoing all the great work of the first, which was perfectly self-contained; a major misstep that hasn't prevented Black Butler becoming a huge multimedia hit. None of its adapted works, however, have quite lived up to the stunningly-drawn source material.
7 OVERRATED: FAIRY TAIL
Another high fantasy shonen series, another set of high fantasy shonen problems. On paper, Fairy Tail has a great premise: a medieval world of competing mage guilds, each of which are filled with people with distinctive magic powers -- from fire-breathing to instant access to an arsenal of weaponry and armors.
Fairy Tail has a huge and passionate following, obscuring the fact that the show is a bit of a bumpy ride. Its story arcs are either far too long or far too short and its main characters' development doesn't correlate with the amount of time the series drags on for.
6 OVERLOOKED: FRUITS BASKET
When it comes to shojo anime, Fruits Basket doesn't get anything like the name recognition it deserves from mainstream audiences. The story revolves around main character, Tohru who discovers a curse based on the Chinese calendar afflicts the lives of the some male classmates she befriends -- all from the same family.
Fruits Basket's surprising grit and grimness later on is especially effective under its sugary coating -- fully taking advantage of your preconceptions of its genre. With a remake of the anime coming in 2019, now is also the perfect time to become acquainted with this classic series.
5 OVERRATED: SAILOR MOON
A key part of the '90s anime boom, this iconic magical girl series has had an immeasurable impact on pop culture. But, just because something came first, doesn't mean it's the best. While the anime is brimming with charm, it takes a little while for us to get past its titular heroine's flaws.
The show also recycles a lot of footage and is responsible for popularizing over-long transformation sequences, which has since become a source of parody. Sailor Moon should be on every anime newbie's watch list, but there are better magical girls out there.
4 OVERRATED: POKEMON
Nostalgia for Pokemon, the cultural phenomenon of the ‘90s, isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the anime series that became a big part of its success. Ash, Pikachu and their changing rota of companions have been trying unsuccessfully to become Pokemon Masters for over two decades now.
While never brilliant, the early seasons of Pokemon had momentum -- one over-arching story arc was clearly planned, but, the series became an immortal cash cow instead, leaving us with repetitive plots and a main character with a bad case of arrested development.
3 OVERLOOKED: SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK
The ‘70s and ‘80s were dominated by Star Wars, and anime became similarly preoccupied with space operas. The best was undoubtedly Space Pirate Captain Harlock from legendary creator, Leiji Matsumoto, which you might know from the 2013 CGI movie.
While the original series’ animation might look dated in comparison, it’s a real buried treasure. This is largely thanks to the strength of its brooding, dark-hearted Captain, who has come to be considered one of the all-time great Romantic heroes.
2 OVERRATED: DRAGON BALL Z
Yes, we’re going there. Dragon Ball Z initiated so many into the familiar story beats and epically staged fights that became hallmarks of shonen anime. As such, every similar series since walks in its footsteps.
This means it has a lot to be celebrated for and a lot to answer for. While hugely entertaining, over time Dragon Ball Z became a neverending superhero saga of power-ups on power-ups on power-ups, and characters trapped in developmental limbo.
1 OVERLOOKED: DRAGON BALL
In comparison to Dragon Ball Z, the series that superseded it -- Goku's origin story -- doesn't get anywhere near as much love. Sure, Dragon Ball doesn't have as many flashy beam stuggles and multi-episode battles, but what it does have is solid martial arts action and creative power usage.
Dragon Ball is also more closely linked to Journey To The West -- creator Akira Toriyama's main inspiration -- giving it a mythological grounding that feels more distinct from the Westernized superheroics the franchise would later more closely resemble. If you're looking to get into the world of Dragon Ball, don't skip over where it all began.