MAL’s 50 Most Popular Anime Shows Are Surprising

 MAL’s 50 Most Popular Anime Shows Are Surprising

Recently a tweet showing My Anime List‘s top 50 most popular anime series has been floating around. The original tweet asks that users mention how many of the top 50 they have personally watched (I’ve seen 40). I wanted to go through some particular shows mentioned on the list and highlight certain things that surprised me about this list considering that some shows I definitely thought would be on there, aren’t. Surprisingly, recency bias is missing from this list.

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Here is the original tweet:

Death Note – #1 Most Popular on MAL

This is no surprise to me at all that Death Note is sitting in the number 1 spot. Originally released back in 2006, Death Note is more than likely one of the most important series when it comes to introducing people to anime. I personally know numerous people that love this series and it was one of the first, if not the first, series that they had seen. 

The shows that get you into this medium are something people hold dear. I think that is a large reason why Dragon Ball is so important to people, outside of its influence on the Shounen genre.

Death Note was a bit darker, edgier, and had a constant intellectual cat and mouse battle that would have you sitting like L on the edge of your seat as you hurriedly click onto the next episode. 

While it’s not my favourite series ever, I think Death Note definitely deserves it’s spot. 

Sword Art Online – #3 on MAL

Remember when everyone liked this series? I know it’s buried deep in the dark parts of your memory, but there was definitely a point where this series was something we didn’t recall with disdain. And to be completely fair to SAO, I actually enjoyed the first part of the series. You know, the bit where they were actually in SAO.

I liked that there was the risk of dying in the game and that meant you died in real life. There was a genuine ever-lurking threat involved with the original SAO, that later parts lacked and as a result just felt meh. I think SAO has an initial appeal that got people sticking with it. However upon review, going back and watching it again, or even just watching more anime starts to highlight the problems with the show. 

Disregarding the insane number of mediocre isekai that would follow in this series’ wake, I’m definitely not surprised at this show placing so high. 

Steins;Gate – #7 on MAL

This is cool. Up until this point in the list, it’s all Shounen/Seinen series. Steins;Gate has a slow start with an incredible blend of genres. I’m both surprised and not surprised at this show’s placing.

As I mentioned, the show starts off a bit slower with an almost comedy-ish, slice-of-life feel throughout the first half. As we begin to understand more about the series and the effects of the reckless use of world-line traversal, we see just how much damage has already been done. The fact that the first half was so lighthearted and carefree makes the later events even more impactful and enjoyable. Steins;Gate is great and I’m happy to see it so high up.

The Big 3 – #8 Naruto, #28 BLEACH, #31 One Piece on MAL

Sometimes I have to remember that not everyone grew up watching the Shounen big boys, which is made even more obvious as Dragon Ball/Z doesn’t appear on the list. That being said, I was happy to see them still on the list despite BLEACH’s rocky ending and Naruto wrapping up quite a while ago, and One Piece’s total episode count.

MAL is most definitely a western anime-fan dominated site, so the large gaps in placements do not surprise me. BLEACH and especially Naruto were the more popular series over here.

The Lack of Recency Bias

So the top 50 most popular series on MAL range from the early 2000’s (Cowboy Bebop #37) all the way to 2018 (Hero Academia 3rd season #45). Now, when it comes to certain events or award shows, a lot of these series that evidently people love, are forgotten and replaced with the most recent series that impressed them. A perfect example being Demon Slayer/Kimetsu no Yaiba. 

Demon Slayer did things I have never ever seen before. It went to a level of the mainstream that I think maybe only Dragon Ball had done before it. When episode 19 released, it was trending on Twitter worldwide with people who you wouldn’t expect to be talking about, talking about it! 

This wasn’t just a western fad either, the Japanese sales of the manga exploded to insane levels. The manga was outselling One Piece for god sake! Considering all of this, I’m very surprised that the series didn’t break the top 50. It’s currently sitting at #58, but I really thought it would be that one standout that came out late 2019 and managed to break into the top 20.

I find this kind of stuff quite interesting to look at. Seeing how some things change over time, but certain genres or series stay despite their original air date. There are many more interesting points to take from this list as well!

  • Your Name, Spirited Away and Silent Voice are the only films mentioned
  • Only a single Ghibli film mentioned
  • No Game No Life placing so damn high yet still no second season
  • Tokyo Ghoul Root A even being on the list
  • Yuru Camp not being on the list?!

Shounen is always around. Older series/classics like Cowboy Bebop, Angel Beats, Elfen Lied and Clannad are still there. And god bless Gurren Lagann!

I look forward to checking back in the future to see whats changed.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe and healthy!

Conor Evans
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