Opening or closing theme songs in anime are an integral part of the show, not only providing a catchy melody that reminds viewers of the cast long after they’ve finished watching, but also for setting the pace and mood of the show itself. This is ever apparent in the action and the inclination to largely rock inspired themes that convey either a sense of power, urgency or tragedy at the hands of battle with unknown foes. The quality of these themes can drastically influence the viewers opinion on the anime series, most of us would be lying if we said we had never watched a show purely because the theme sounded great.
So what makes a great action anime song? Well it needs set the scene for the show, having a relevance to the source material and emoting an enhanced feeling of the central themes. A memorable chorus with good instrumentals, vocals and composition are also essential in elevating a good song into a god level song and worthy of our list of top 10 action anime songs.
10. D Grey Man - Opening 1
"Innocent Sorrow" by Abingdon Boys School
- Episodes: 103
- Aired: Oct 2006 - Sep 2008
In the world of D Grey Man, young Allen Walker has inherited the power to battle against the demons (akuma) of the world unleashed by the evil and enigmatic Millenium Earl. The disturbing thing for Allen and his comrades is the way that these akuma are created. By manipulating the vulnerable and depressed in the world, they are tricked into selling their soul and humanity, often out of grief, to be eternally transformed into horrific creations with no free will. D Grey Man features excellent action, comedy and an excellently evil antagonist that the viewer can’t help but cheer for Allen and cohorts to eventually crush and defeat.
The first opening theme for D Grey Man is a gothic J rock masterpiece, featuring dramatic lyrics, guitars, organs and a penchant for the over the top that perfectly fits an anime concerned with conquering demons using magical weapons. The emotions of the voice is amplified by the driving rhythm, sounding almost heartbroken and distressed, something that emulates the overall themes of depression and suicide which are referenced throughout the series. I would defy the regular D Grey Man viewers to refrain from shouting out ‘don’t cry’ in broken English at the climax of the chorus.
Abingdon Boys School - Innocent Sorrow (Official Video)
9. Samurai Champloo - Opening
"Battlecry" by Nujabes feat. SHINGO2
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 2004 - Mar 2005
Mixing stylish modern street culture with Edo period Japan and stunning visuals, Samurai Champloo is a comedic action epic following two complete opposite wandering samurai Mugen and Jin, along with one ditzy tavern girl Fuu and their journey across Japan to find the samurai who smells like sunflowers. Featuring an interesting and alternative take on Japanese period history, the true appeal of Samurai Champloo is the interactions between the 3 companions and how their differences eventually unite them towards a common goal. Samurai Champloo’s journey is stylish and sophisticated, evoking similarities to Tarantino’s works in cinema.
The opening song for Samurai Champloo is an original composition for the show featuring smoky, downbeat hip hop vocals, an old school golden era style beat that DJ Premier would be proud of and seamless scratching and mixing. It perfectly combines lyrics about samurai and swords with a very modern feel, which harps back to the overall mood of the show, combining modern style and sensibilities with a historical Japanese setting. The undeniably cool ambience of the song exemplifies the cool and lethargic approach to life that the trio of protagonists share, simply drifting through life, finding their way without worry.
8. Kill La Kill - Opening 2
"Ambiguous" by GARNiDELiA
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct 2013 - Mar 2014
Atop a mountain, looming over the common populace is the elite academy of Honnouji. Satsuki Kiryuuin rules over her academy with an iron fist, offering the power of the Gouku uniforms to students who prove themselves dedicated and worthy enough. Ryuuko Matoi arrive on the scene with a deadly grudge against Satsuki and one half of a secretive scissor sword. In order to confront her nemesis, she must first battle her way through the schools elite fighters including the student council body Elite 4. For her to be powerful enough, she first needs a uniform that can provide her with the same boost as the artificially created Gouku uniforms. That’s where the immensely powerful seifuku Senketsu comes to the fore, using the power of her blood to transform Ryuuko into a hyper sexualised but super powerful warrior, capable of toppling the academy hierarchy.
The second opening song for Kill La Kill is an epic, digitised rock song featuring powerful female vocals and a unique driving guitar rhythm. The intro in particular is a fantastic slow build up into the uplifting and exciting vocals and then straight into the main heavily digitized guitar riff. Its high tempo and fantastic build up towards the momentous chorus packs the same dramatic and over the top punch as Kill La Kills action scenes. There are few anime songs that can equally emote that feeling of a passionate battle quite like this one.
7. Noragami - Opening
"Goya no Machiawase" by Hello Sleepwalkers
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2014 - Mar 2014
What happens if you’re a god in modern Japan that’s not a household name? maybe you don’t have your own shrine to receive donations and no school children are wearing charms purchased from your Meiko caretakers. Enter the world of Yato, a tracksuit wearing handyman of a God, unknown to the general populace and without a shrine of his own. All he owns is his jar of 5 yen coins he receives for performing menial tasks he advertises on park walls with chalk and spray paint. However after he is inadvertently saved by a high school girl named Hiyori, and acquires a new Divine Instrument (humanised weapon) Yukine, Yato’s world begins to change, perhaps one day he will be a god everyone worships.
The opening to Noragami is a stylish, J Rock//Punk track with tonnes of attitude and biting vocals. This theme is a perfect fit for the cool depictions of traditional Japanese culture blending in with the modern and edgy aesthetic of Tokyo. Featuring, sneering crowd roaring shouts and chants with a punchy melodic vocalist, clanging punk rock guitars and some excellent drumming. This theme perfectly sets the bar for the high pace action Noragami brings when the world of the gods clashes with the world of man.
Hello Sleepwalkers「午夜の待ち合わせ」MUSIC VIDEO
6. One Punch Man - Opening
"THE HERO!! Okoreru Kobushi ni Hi wo Tsukero” by JAM Project
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2015 - Dec 2015
In a metropolis constantly threatened with impending doom at the hands of terrifying and powerful monsters and freakish natural disasters, surely the life of a super hero should be action packed and fulfilling? Unfortunately for Saitama this is not the case. With his brutal training regime of 100 press ups 100 sit ups and a 10km run each day his power levels have surpassed even the most diabolical creation from distant corners of the galaxy. Saitama is bored of his super hero life and desperate to face a foe he can defeat in more than just one punch. Will joining the Hero Association allow him to finally face an opponent that can withstand his ferocious power?
A brilliantly tongue in check anime about super hero’s with over the top personalities and powers deserves and intro song that pays tribute to that. A power rock ensemble with countless fist pumping bromance moments included, One Punch Man’s opening theme song is cheesy and epic in equal quantities. Combining powerful riffs and chords with vocals that I liken to a Japanese glam rock God, this theme has everything to get viewers hyped for the hilarious over the top action that is to follow. ‘Hero’!
One Punch Man OP
5. Deadman Wonderland - Opening
"One Reason" by DWB feat. Fade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr 2011 - Jul 2011
On the site of a major explosion and disaster in central Tokyo, a combined prison amusement park has been erected to provide a new method of prisoner corrections, one that provides brutal entertainment to the masses. When Ganta is falsely imprisoned in the facility for murdering his entire class, he soon discovers that he will have to compete in hellish death games to stay alive and to eventually earn his freedom. What begins as a harkening to classic science fiction like The Running Man develops into a dark action film focusing on the prisoners who have inherited bizarre powers to control their own blood from the great disaster that hit Tokyo.
The opening theme to Deadman Wonderland perfectly fits the thematics of the show. A heavy grunge rock track with English vocals, it features lyrics and imagery all about being trapped in the Deadman Wonderland and being treated like a puppet for the masses. The chorus ‘I will be your deadman’ is synonymous with the roles the unfortunate recipients of the dead man powers have to fill. The song brings back imagines of early 2000s bands such as Korn as does well with its lyrical imagery of blood, one of the key concepts of the show.
Deadman Wonderland PV
4. Prison School - Opening
"Ai no Prison" by Kangoku Danshi
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 2015 - Sep 2015
Being trapped in a maximum security prison doing manual labour when you thought you were attending a new all girls school as the only 5 guys? Sounds like everyday adolescent males dream turned into a terrible nightmare. Especially when your prison guards are three insanely attractive but maniacally man hating female members of the secretive disciplinary committee. Filled with more immature sexual humour than all American Pie films combined, Prison school’s story of sexual awakening and boys will be boys redemption story is the funniest anime show from the summer’s line up in Japan.
The opening theme for Prison School features a heavy breakdown style guitars and modern metalcore style intro. Over this is the shows excellent voice cast providing vocals complete with awesome fist pumping cries of ‘break out’, ‘guilty’ ‘freedom’ during the chorus. Featuring funny and dramatic lyrics like ‘this prison of love’, This opening theme perfectly sets the tonne of this overtly gratuitous but hilariously funny take on the chastising of adolescent sexuality, and many of the common tropes that are found in anime.
Prison School OP
3. High School of the Dead - Opening
"High School of the Dead" by Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 2010 - Sep 2010
How would you survive if the world seemingly plunged into chaos, zombies tearing apart your classmates and nowhere to hide? Probably team up with outrageously sexy and deadly female students including the president of the kendo club and battle across the devastated city. High School of the Dead features grossly over the top violence and ecchi fan service for both males and females. The action and battles is intense and is perhaps one of the best representations of zombie killing action in an anime format.
The opening song for High School of the Dead is by Japanese rock band The Akeboshi Rockets, renowned for their excellent live shows. The opening riffs alone are enough to get the blood pumping, building the energy and tension for the main chords to kick in along with the drums. After this clang calms down, haunting female vocals enter the fray, almost siren like until she unleashes a tenacious element that takes listeners by surprise. The chorus is strong and resonates with the listener the sense of desperate survival the characters experience existing in a city that has literally gone to hell.
Highschool of the Dead official MAD
2. Durarara!! - Opening 2 <
"Complication” by ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Jan 2010 - Jun 2010
Hugely popular take on what happens when the modern gangs of Tokyo clash both with each other and the supernatural. Durarara!! is an interesting examination of modern day friendship, manipulation and the role that technology plays as a tool of communication. In the world of Durarara!! anyone can become the leader of the most notorious gang in all Ikebukuro, the Dollars, with the use of social media. Many of the people in Ikebukuro are not quite what they seem and may have multiple persona. However the bonds of friendship made between Masaomi, Anri and Mikado are genuine and lasting despite all the problems they encounter.
The second opening theme for Durarara!! is a memorable Indie rock anthem with a heartfelt shout of a chorus. It cleverly transitions between soft melodic guitars and sorrowful vocals into an intense, loud and vibrant chorus that is written to be enjoyed shouting along with your arms around your friends. It even includes some hip hop styled vocals while still remaining relevant and tuneful and steering as far from nu-metal/rap rock territory so that the integrity of the track as a whole is maintained.
ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D 『コンプリケイション』
1. Nabari no Ou - Opening
"Crawl" by VELTPUNCH
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2008 - Sep 2008
In the world of Nabari, clans of ninjas blend and adapt into modern day society, all while competing and searching for the most powerful ninjiutsu ever seen in Japan. The unlikely recipient of this dangerous and unpredictable power is a apathetic and lethargic teen Miharu, around who a secret war is about to be waged to kill him and extract the power to become the ruler of the Nabari world. While initially appearing to be another shounen ninja anime, Nabari in fact becomes about a deep relationship between 2 males with the elder living on borrowed time due to the ninjutsu power he wields. His inevitable decline and Miharu’s desperate attempts to save him is powerful beyond words.
This theme is my favourite throughout the many hundreds of shows I’ve watched and is a band I gladly listen to at any time. It’s an indie rock song that packs one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard while also effectively conveying the tonne of the show. The emotion displayed by the vocalist clearly exemplifies Miharu’s feelings of desperation for his friend Yoite to survive and having the desire to do anything necessary to save him. The song has enough catchy guitar hooks and driving rhythms to encompass the action packed side of the show, while staying rooted in modern music helps create the feeling that these are traditional ninjas adapting to modern Japanese cities and life.
CRAWL / VELTPUNCH
So what songs have got you most pumped for an action anime? Our list is heavily rock and punk influenced, but what other genres would you like to see represented in the action anime genre? Leave us a comment and let us know what your best action theme songs are.