Over the decades, there have been countless anime – some good and bad titles, some noteworthy and unexceptional series, as well as long and short shows. Many have accumulated enormous fandom that remain even after the show stopped airing. These shows couldn’t have existed without their studios. Here we will talk about the companies and people behind these creations, the top ten anime studios that made our list (in no particular order).
Sunrise used to be known as Nippon Sunrise and is an industry giant; no doubt fueled by the success of the Mobile Suit Gundam series and its numerous sequels and spinoffs. A subsidiary of Bandai Namco, it has incredible reach through legions of toys and merchandise, including the ubiquitous Gunpla models which made up a whopping 90 percent of the Japanese plastic model market in 2004. One of its anime, Iron-Blooded Orphans, gained a manga adaptation, multiple video game titles with both praise and criticism of its mature, harsh themes about child soldiers and the horrors of war.
Release poster for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (source)
However, it would be a disservice to forget that Sunrise also made Cowboy Bebop, the legendary 1998 space opera that remains one of the most highly acclaimed anime to this day. It left a huge impact in the West due to its style and mix of genres, won a slew of awards, and arguably paved the way for anime to be widely accepted as a mature form of entertainment in the United States thanks to its broadcast on Adult Swim.
See you Space Cowboy… (source)
Sunrise is also behind other notable titles like Code Geass, the long-running Gin Tama, Love Live School Idol Project and InuYasha - all of which have left a sizeable impact in the industry and the hearts of their viewers. Here’s looking at forty more years of original anime from one of the most iconic studios of the generation.
The first major animation company in Japan, Toei was responsible for popularising genres of anime including Magical Girl and Super Robot shows, with long-standing juggernauts such as Sailor Moon and Mazinger Z still remembered and inspiring works to this day.
The original five Sailors, from left to right: Mercury, Mars, Moon, Jupiter and Venus. (source)
However, Toei is probably most known for the influential and still ongoing adaptations of the Dragon Ball and One Piece manga, both of which have legions of fans worldwide and remain some of the most famous TV series known by the masses. This is not even counting the significance of Slam Dunk and the Pretty Cure series, plus the ground forged by icons like Hokuto No Ken and Space Pirate Captain Harlock.
The poster for Dragon Ball Super, released mid-season for a new arc. (source)
Despite being named after a clown, Pierrot is an industry titan with massive titles under its belt including Naruto and Bleach –adaptations of two of the best-selling manga of all time. They both have burgeoning video games, collectibles and merchandising sold in their millions all over the world. It’s also behind the award-winning series Yu Yu Hakusho and Gensomaden Saiyuki, as well as the more recent Tokyo Ghoul.
Naruto, possibly the first thing that comes to mind when anime is mentioned. (source)
Of course, the list would be incomplete without mentioning Osomatsu-san, Great Teacher Onizuka, Beelzebub, and even some episodes of the Western animation Legend of Korra. Pierrot certainly has its eyes on even more titles in the future and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
If there’s one thing Production I.G. is known for, it’s jaw-dropping detailed animation, like Ghost in the Shell’s immortal frame-by-frame sequences or the dizzying action in Attack on Titan.
From 1995, featuring a level of detail superior to many modern titles. (source)
Since their feature length adaptation of Patlabor, Production I.G. has taken on a wide array of different stylistic approaches as seen in xxxHolic, Psycho-Pass and Guilty Crown, all of which have made their mark in anime history. A less known fact is that the studio also made anime for Western releases including Batman: Gotham Knight (set between the live-action films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and a tie in to the Halo video game franchise, Halo Legends. In fact, it was behind the animated scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume One, another indelible mark in Hollywood behind the Wachowskis’ Matrix series, themselves inspired by Ghost in the Shell.
Attack on Titan (2013).
Kyoto Animation (a.k.a. KyoAni)
Kyoto Animation started out adapting visual novels and bulldozed its way into the industry with the emotional roller-coasters Air and Clannad. This set a trend for the company with subsequent releases sharing a common theme: cute girls going about doing cute things. After Full Metal Panic, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, Nichijou, and K-On! uncovered a massive demand for casual escapism, KyoAni is now synonymous with the slice-of-life genre and a conspicuous art style echoed across many of their works, but everyone is too busy drowning in diabetes-inducing adorableness to notice or care about the similarity.
K-On! (2009). src
Still, never let it be said that Kyoto Animation appeals to only one demographic; with Free! Iwatobi Swim Club netting a resurgent female fan base and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid proving that it can write for an older audience while not losing their iconic charm. KyoAni truly is a television juggernaut, and continues to grow in its own way of making the ordinary beautiful.
Very beautiful. (source)
Madhouse is known for its adaptation of prominent mangas like Cardcaptor Sakura, Trigun, and Black Lagoon, but during the heyday of late director Satoshi Kon, it was behind outstanding films such as Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, the latter of which directly inspired Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It also made the award-winning Wolf Children, alongside director Mamoru Hosoda’s Studio Chizu; one of their most famous collaborations since his acclaimed movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (also made by Madhouse).
The theatrical release poster of Wolf Children (2012). (source)
More recently, Madhouse’s works include Death Note, One Punch Man and Hunter x Hunter; at the same time the company had also worked closely with Square Enix for the Original Video Animation (OVA) Last Order: Final Fantasy VII, and Western series such as Disney’s Stitch!, a spin-off to the movie Lilo and Stitch. The company’s main drive is still anime, though, and the highly anticipated continuations to No Game No Life and Overlord have been released.
Pictured: what kept a significant number of fans alive into 2018. (source)
Gainax may be synonymous with some incredibly specific bodily physics, but it is a standout company among its peers - the critically-acclaimed Neon Genesis Evangelion was credited with reviving the mecha genre and the animation industry with its release in 1995. Gainax has left a timeless cultural impact on the artistic and technical side of anime, spawning a cult following that continues to persist long into the modern era of digital animation.
Neon Genesis Evangelion DVD release cover. (source)
Not one to rest on their laurels, Gainax proceeded to create the smash hit Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, completing their trinity of iconic mecha films that started with Gunbuster in 1984. However, Gainax has since also branched out into unexpected, but not unwelcomed, directions; the R-rated Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was highly inspired by American cartoons, while Hanamaru Kindergarten was a pleasant, cute comedy featuring the lives of toddlers and their caretakers.
And not a single mecha in sight. (source)
Despite being a relatively new studio established in 2011, Trigger has some of the biggest industry veterans and burst onto the scene with Kill La Kill; making waves with swift, extreme animation and a recognisably intense style. It was both a parody of and a homage to the magical girl archetype mixed in with the shonen genre, thus making Trigger the posterchild of whirlwind, often over-the-top action.
Not pictured: any form of restraint whatsoever. (source)
Hot on the heels of Kill La Kill came Kiznaiver and Little Witch Academia, both popular in their own right. At the same time Trigger releases shorter series with no less insanity or self-aware flippancy like Inferno Cop, Space Patrol Luluco and Ninja Slayer from Animation.
Though the “animation” part is debatable.
In case you somehow didn’t recognise Studio Ghibli (the vehicle of legendary directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata), it is the company behind eight of the fifteen highest-grossing anime films of all time in Japan. From incredible heart-wrenching dramas such as Grave of the Fireflies to heavy social commentaries in Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli does not shy away from serious topics, using symbolism and art to deliver powerful messages in what is usually portrayed as children films.
This is not a children’s film by any regard. You have been warned. (source)
Combining mature themes, beautiful hand-drawn animation and award-winning stories, Studio Ghibli is undoubtedly one of Japan’s gifts to the industry and the world. The only downside is that Hayao Miyazaki can’t seem to decide if he wants to rest or work, as he is coming out of retirement (again) to make another movie for his grandson.
“This is the last one, I swear. Again.”
CoMix Wave Films
Another relatively young studio, CoMix Wave teamed up with director Makoto Shinkai and proceeded to create breathtakingly resplendent scenes , with every frame a painting rather than your typical animation. Paired with heartfelt, poignant beauty in relatable stories and characters, movies like 5 Centimetres Per Second and The Garden of Words had simple but meaningful dialogue against a backdrop of sublime art and sound direction, earning the moniker Five Wallpapers Per Second, and for good reason.
This is one frame from 5 Centimetres Per Second. One. Frame.
More recently, Your Name became the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, sweeping film awards from Los Angeles to Spain. Makoto Shinkai had this to say:
“For me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. Two years was not enough.”
From the man now proclaimed to be the new Hayao Miyazaki, one can only wonder what he could accomplish if given the time and money necessary.