Music in anime often goes unnoticed. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to pay deep attention to what they consider background noise, but I would highly recommend it. Music in anime can really affect our viewing experience. An over-the-top show, with an over-the-top soundtrack will really just drive home how AWESOME something is (I’m looking at you Kill La Kill). A deeply emotional movie with the right soundtrack will hit you even harder than you knew possible (
cough Wolf Childrem/5cm per Second). Obviously, this is true outside of anime as well but this is an anime blog and, well, for me at least, anime is far better at grasping my feelings, so I tend to have high respect for soundtracks that amplify this.
So this is a list of what I consider to be the top 5 anime composers in the industry.
5. Yasuharu Takanashi– Despite not having composed for a huge number of shows, Takanashi has a somewhat impressive repertoire. One of the shows that he has composed for is Naruto: Shippuden, which has an arguably fantastic soundtrack that manages to not get annoying over the course of 700 episodes. While that doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, it actually is. Think of it this way: there are approximately ten days worth of soundtrack that play throughout the course of the show. Not only that, but the soundtrack fits the world of Naruto incredibly well. Outside of the show, however, the soundtrack doesn’t have all that high of a listening value, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That just means that it was fantastic at integrating itself into the show.
Next on Takanashi’s resume is Fairy Tail. Another longer show that has an astounding amount of popularity. Say what you will about the show, but the soundtrack is phenomenal (specifically the pre-2014 Fairy Tail, though both are composed by Takanashi). It almost feels as though Takanashi created an entirely different genre of music just fit the world of Fairy Tail, and many of the tracks are masterpieces. The main theme and all of its derivatives are among some of my all time favorite musical pieces that I listen to in everyday life.
If you haven’t heard it, take a listen.
It was the Fairy Tail soundtrack that secured Takanashi a place on this list, but he has taken part in composing for a plethora of other anime.
View the list here.
4. Akira Senju – In my opinion, a huge list of accomplishments isn’t necessary to make someone great at something. If they can accomplish one thing that beats everything else, that makes up for the lack of accomplishments. That said, Senju does have a large list of musical accomplishments but a relatively small one in the world of anime. He’s composed for numerous live action films but only a handful of anime. There is one anime that stands out however, and that is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. FMA:B is a generally highly regarded show. A lot of people (including us here at Anime Inspectors) have called it a masterpiece. Almost every aspect of the show IS a masterpiece, and the the soundtrack is no exception. Senju composed one of the most brilliant and compelling soundtracks that I have heard, for anything, ever. I’m no music major, but there is something special about this soundtrack. There are loads of tracks so it isn’t worth listing them all, just listen to the entire thing.
Aside from FMA:B, Senju has composed for a few other anime.
You can view the full list here.
It is also worth noting that the original Fullmetal Alchemist had a great soundtrack as well, by Michiru Oshima.
3. Yuki Kajiura – Kajiura is a composer that does a fantastic job every time. She is very consistent with her work and definitely very, very good at what she does. She has a good sized list of anime that she has worked on, including (but not limited to):
Kara no Kyoukai
Sword Art Online
These are just a few of the shows that she composed for, and they are all known for having incredible soundtracks. Each show has perfectly fitting music for all scenarios. Unfortunately, they are so fitting that sometimes it is hard to notice, as it all just blends together into one awesome experience (Sword Art Online… is a questionable experience). Of all those on the list, she is definitely one of the more recognized names by anime fans, which speaks a lot to her musical talent.
Kajiura has also acted as producer for several studio albums. The most pertinent artist she has produced for is Kalafina, which consequently was a group that she created. Kalafina records a lot for anime openings and endings, so you’re sure to
recognize some of their work. You can view all of Kajiura’s anime works here.
2. Hiroyuki Sawano – Ahhh, Sawano-san. Of all of the composers on this list, Sawano is far and above my favorite. Now it may seem strange that I didn’t place him at number one if he is my favorite, but number one should be understandable. If there is one thing that some anime heavyweights like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill have in common, it is their astoundingly over the top soundtracks; also, they were composed by Hiroyuki Sawano.
Despite being the youngest (by about 15 years) and the newest to the anime scene, Sawano is in pretty high demand and is off to a fantastic start; of course, I also accounted that being somewhat new, he has the greatest amount of potential. Like I mentioned above, he’s got the incredible Attack on Titan soundtrack under his belt, which is what truly skyrocketed him to popularity within the anime community. Before that, however, he composed for other anime. Most notably, Guilty Crown and Blue Exorcist, both of which had arguably better soundtracks than they deserved. After Sawano graced the anime community with the soundtrack for Attack on Titan, he went on to compose what I consider the best soundtrack in anime.
Kill la Kill. I can understand why Kill la Kill isn’t for everyone, because it isn’t. But there is no soundtrack that is better suited to a particular show than Kill la Kill’s. From barely used tracks like
“Light Your Heart Up” to the most recognized song in anime, the Kill la Kill sound track has it all. Each character theme is perfectly executed. Each battle theme can pump anyone up. Even the background music when nothing is happening matches the show’s personality to a tee. Sawano created something out of this world when working on this soundtrack, and that’s what earns him the number two spot. To top it all off however, after Kill la Kill he has done several other shows like Aldnoah.Zero and Seraph of the End, both of which have had some of the best soundtracks of their respective 2014/2015 seasons. You can view the entire list of anime he’s composed for here.
1. Yoko Kanno – I’m sure that no one is surprised to see Yoko Kanno bringing up first place on this list. A musical genius both in and out of the anime community, Kanno has composed for long list of anime, video games, movies, tv shows, and even pop music. In the anime world, she is famous for quite a few shows. What skyrocketed her to fame was Tank! for Cowboy Bebop, which is arguably the best opening a show could possibly have. Whenever I have to describe Cowboy Bebop, I just play the opening as it describes it best.
She has also performed a good amount of her music as a keyboardist in her band called Seatbelts. Because of this, she has an entirely different musical grasp than many other composers do. All of the Cowboy bebop soundtrack was performed by Seatbelts and the entirety of the soundtrack is amazing. It comprises an astounding seven albums and one live DVD.
Even though the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack is more than enough to bolster Kanno’s position, she will continue to blow your mind with incredible music. Despite the show not living up to many people’s expectations, Wolf’s Rain has a soundtrack that lives up to Cowboy Bebop’s.
“Go To Rakuen” is one of the most emotionally-charged pieces of music that I’ve listened to. Wolf’s Rain also boasts one of the best anime ending themes out there. More recently in Kanno’s musical prowess, we have Terror in Resonance. Again, all of the soundtrack is incredibly charged with the same feeling that show is charged with, and very clearly depicts the somber tone of the show.
Kanno absolutely transformed the scene of anime soundtracks and is probably a huge form of inspiration and instruction for other composers. Because of this, she deserves the number one spot.
Check out her full anime involvement here.
Summary – So there you have it. Obviously, it is hard to rate and assign numbers to so many fantastic composers, but these five are the five that I find myself always listening to and looking forward to when I’m setting up to watch a new show. I highly recommend taking some time to listen to some of these composer’s tracks for anime and even their own solo albums (that many of them have). Also, be sure to pay attention to music in anime. So often, good soundtracks are eclipsed by great anime that they accompany. This is a real shame, as many soundtracks are masterpieces in their own right. And with that, hopefully you have some new, awesome listening material!