We live in a golden age for anime music. With the increasing popularity of anime as a medium and closer relationships with music publishers, new composers are turning up to try out new things and bring these worlds to life with unique sounds. Recently, guitarist Makoto Miyazaki, electronic composer and a team of other newcomers have teamed up to create [K]NoW_NAME with Toho Music, as a way of utilising their own unique talents to provide a complete product.
Even famed video game composer Keiichi Okabe and his studio, MONACA have begun to work on more anime projects, bridging that divide between media that we just don’t see crossed often enough. The names on this list are some of this generation’s most talented anime composers who are certainly worth getting excited about as soon as you see their name attached to a new project.
10. Nanatsu no Taizai - Hiroyuki Sawano
Known for his work on Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan and Aldnoah.Zero, Hiroyuki Sawano is one of the most popular anime composers among modern fans. Known for his Hollywood-esque dramatic music, his loud orchestral sounds instantly identify his work. However, his speciality actually lies elsewhere, utilising less common instruments, delving into World Music, as seen from his original album, Musica. And whilst working on the soundtrack for Xenoblade Chronicles X, Sawano got another opportunity to share this talent.
Whilst Nanatsu no Taizai’s OST features some of the same sort of dramatic orchestral tracks of his previous work, the instruments and sounds implemented are completely new, with a rare musical depiction of a fantasy world. Tracks such as “Eri0ne$” and “EP←K” (Sawano has a strange naming sense) are striking standouts with brilliant musical progression as a scene unfolds within our minds. The whole soundtrack is heavily inspired by his work on Xenoblade Chronicles X and with the track “mouth×宣華○2LI”, it becomes clear that this is a direction I’d like to see Sawano go in in his future works, including the upcoming Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
9. The Rolling Girls - Masaru Yokoyama/The Blue Hearts
The Rolling Girls was a massive treat for any 90s punk rock fans as new composer Masaru Yokoyama worked to develop stylistic new covers of music from Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts. This is something that pretty much never happens and the music became a core part of the series as a whole. Is it cheating to form a soundtrack around covers of licensed music? Yes. But it’s cheating with style, as these covers form a tone and personality for the world that our cast adventure through.
Masaru Yokoyama has shown exceptional talent working on various shows with a particular affinity for piano tracks shown in Your Lie in April. However, The Rolling Girls proves definitively that he can do far more than play the piano with brilliant energetic tracks that fit the style of The Blue Hearts covers with a unique 90s energy to them that is absolutely impossible to replicate. “Always Komi-ma” is particularly interesting, featuring bizarre sounds and even what sounds like a didgeridoo at one point. The whole soundtrack is a type of wacky fun that we just don’t see often at all.
8. Gatchaman Crowds - Taku Iwasaki
The soundtrack to Gatchaman Crowds is certainly an unforgettable one, proving to be an exemplary example of electronic music used to establish a modern science fiction world. You probably know Iwasaki from shows like Soul Eater, Ben-to and Noragami and with many standout action soundtracks, to say Gatchaman Crowds’ is his best is saying a lot. With cool electronic dance music transforming intense battles into something genuinely fun.
With highlights such as “In the name of Love” and “Milestone”, the Gatchaman Crowds OST stands out above so many with a strong sense of thematic consistency and intensity all at the same time. Alongside this are some lighter tracks played when exploring the world, combining a whole variety of synthesized sounds within a methodical and light beat, sticking to the theme whilst providing something relevant.
7. Log Horizon - Yasuharu Takanashi
The music of Log Horizon is a blessing. Combining traditional fantasy vibes with the sort of music we might hear from World of Warcraft or Guild Wars, Log Horizon fully immerses us within its game world. One step removed from traditional fantasy music, Log Horizon takes the opportunity to bring in the electric guitars in battle opportunities, emulating traditional RPG battle music much like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest’s tracks.
Yasuharu Takanashi is well known for his huge orchestral work on Naruto, Fairy Tail and PreCure, selecting exactly the correct instruments and developing exactly the right sounds for the specific fantasy world and Log Horizon is no exception. There is no track within the entire soundtrack that feels at all out of place. You could place all of these tracks within a new MMO and it would never feel out of place, which is exactly what this soundtrack was going for. It’s absolutely exceptional and one of Takanashi’s best works.
6. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya - Satoru Kousaki
As a member of MONACA, Satoru Kousaki is a gem within the world of anime. Previously having worked on the Tekken series of games, he’s brought his talents over to anime, working heavily with Kyoto Animation on some of their core shows and eventually going on to be heavily involved with the Monogatari series. But even now, nothing beats the stunning Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya soundtrack with its exceptional simplicity and emotional weight.
Some anime soundtracks have a habit of attempting to deliver tone and theme by combining the sounds of an obscene amount of instruments in the desperate hope that they may come together to form something relevant. But Kousaki’s Disappearance soundtrack takes an entirely different approach, keeping the amount of instruments to a bare minimum, keeping the emphasis on rhythm and emotional resonance. It’s a film soundtrack that can compete with some of the greats, even outside of anime.
5. Gundam Build Fighters - Yuuki Hayashi
As one of my personal favourite anime composers, Yuuki Hayashi’s music can be described in just one word: Exciting. Being a heavily underutilised composer, it’s always a treat to see him on a new project. However, his magnum-opus still remains to be the soundtrack to Gundam Build Fighters. Using a combination of traditional instruments and synthesized sounds, Hayashi builds a vast soundtrack, crafting tracks specifically to represent character personality.
Character specific music isn’t uncommon at all, but few blend as well as Gundam Build Fighters’ tracks do. With a total of 55 tracks for just 25 episodes, Hayashi always overcompensates with his shows and when working with a good direction team, this can mean great results as new tracks are reserved for effect. The highlights include “Allied Force” and “Build-fight”, two tracks that not only represent Gundam Build Fighters, but Yuuki Hayashi’s work as a whole.
4. Free! Iwatobi Swim Club - Tatsuya Kato
If there’s one OST that I always have loaded up on my phone, it’s Tatsuya Kato’s Free! soundtrack. There really isn’t anything more motivating than this electronic collection of brilliant music with various inspirations that brings this world and characters to life. With a total of 64 tracks for just 12 episodes, there’s never a moment in the show where it feels like we’ve heard a particular track too many times.
The Free! soundtrack is exemplary in many ways, designing each part of the story after a certain type of sound, with some locations having their own specific track. Tracks such as “Serious game” show the exceptional assimilation between synthetic and traditional sounds applied in such a careful way so as to not make them at all overbearing. It all comes together to provide one of the most energetic and consistent soundtracks overall and certainly Tatsuya Kato’s best.
3. Persona 4: The Animation - Shoji Meguro
I may be cheating by including Persona 4: The Animation on this list as Shogi Meguro is in fact an ATLUS game composer and this remains the only anime series he has ever composed in its entirety. Meguro is an odd composer when it comes to his style. With a strange fusion between electronic, classical and jazz, the Persona 4: The Animation soundtrack is built upon the results of this fusion. Whilst a portion of the soundtrack is built upon tracks from the original game, there’s many new tracks that are composed specifically for new original scenes.
Whilst other Persona anime adaptations have involved Meguro collaborating with other composers such as Taku Iwasaki and Tetsuya Kobayashi, Persona 4: The Animation remains purely his work, with each and every track fitting into the style of the original games and world perfectly. It’d be great to see him work on new anime projects and hopefully he decides to take full control of the upcoming Persona 5 anime.
2. Cowboy Bebop - Yoko Kanno
Within this article, I’ve adopted the self imposed rule of having one soundtrack per composer. I had to adopt this rule to stop myself from placing everything Yoko Kanno has ever done on this list. Whether it’s Turn A Gundam, Kids on the Slope or more recently, Terror in Resonance, Yoko Kanno represents some of the best musical talents within the world of TV anime. However, the soundtrack that particularly stands out as one of her best is Cowboy Bebop. It was because of Cowboy Bebop that Kanno formed the blues/jazz band known as the Seatbelts.
It’s a collection of tracks that perfectly fits the themes of the show and provides an entirely unique sound that Kanno composed exceptionally, beginning a partnership that saw Kanno working on Watanabe’s shows decades later. Each of her tracks just seemed to work perfectly within the show with a wide variety of tracks leading from slow relaxing harmonica tracks to faster trumpet tracks. Overall, it’s the best soundtrack within TV anime and any news of her working on a new project is good news.
1. My Neighbour Totoro - Joe Hisaishi
We can’t have an article on soundtracks without talking about Joe Hisaishi, the celebrated Studio Ghibli composer who crafted some of the most iconic tracks within anime. One his particularly iconic works was My Neighbour Totoro, a wonderful little selection of tracks, all surrounding a particular rhythm present within the main theme. Fans of the film will recall the various renditions of the main theme, steadily increasing in intensity as the music follows us on this wonderful childhood adventure.
Careful piano tracks such as “Path of the Wind” become the forefront of important scenes throughout the film, with a strong spiritual vibe and a beautiful rhythm. Joe Hisaishi has the ability to create worlds with his music and there’s few composers in the world that can match his incredible talent, especially when it comes to classical Japanese music. Because of this, the My Neighbour Totoro soundtrack and Joe Hisaishi himself deserves the top spot on this list.
So, there we have the Top 10 Anime Soundtracks. I made sure to include only one soundtrack from each composer, otherwise this would just be a list of Studio Ghibli films and Watanabe shows. There’s a large variety of different styles of music involved here and hopefully this article gives you an idea of some of the big names involved within anime composing. Let me know your favourite anime soundtracks or composers in the comments below.