One of anime’s greatest qualities is certainly are its distinguishing and diverse soundtracks. Cowboy Bebop has a unique flavor of jazz to spice up its eccentric atmosphere, Initial D’s 180BMP+ Eurobeat tracks appropriately add a sense of intensity to its races, and the OG Sailor Moon series is full of energetic songs by the original seiyuu cast. For today’s list, we don’t want to simply just analyze anime with great soundtracks, but anime where music is the name of the game. Just like how in the 80s America had its animated musical program with Jem and The Holograms, there have been numerous anime throughout the last decade that have taken that to the next level. Like Jem, a good percentage of music anime happens to be dominated by female cast members and thought it would be a good opportunity to explore some of the best female leads in the genre.
10. Fuuka Akitsuki from Fuuka
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: January 6, 2017 – March 24, 2017
At just 15, Fuuka Akitsuki, the daughter of Suzuka from Suzuka, has the makings of being a rock vocalist as the lead singer of The Fallen Moon. However, she can be impulsive and rash as seen when she first meets Yuu when she breaks his phone over a misconception that he was taking pictures of her underwear. Eventually, she comes to see Yuu as a nice guy, joins his band, and discovers she may have feelings for him. Not only is she a great singer, she’s also talented as a songwriter as she does her part in contributing despite her initial struggles. As a result of her personality, she does let her frustrations get the best of her a good majority of the time, but for all we know, it could be teenage hormones making her that way. Through Fuuka, especially for you teenage readers, sometimes you have to learn that in some instances, not everything can come easy and just because you face a failure or misunderstanding, doesn’t mean you should immediately give up or move onto something else, especially when such instances can be repaired, which is the ultimate message of this series.
9. Kumiko Oumaefrom Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium)
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: April 8, 2015 – July 1, 2015
Inspired by her sister, Kumiko takes up playing the euphonium and has been a member of the band in junior high. Despite her school band winning a prefectural award, they couldn’t qualify for a national competition, and it created a falling out with her bandmates. As she goes onto high school, she does have her reservations of joining the band since one of the former bandmates she had a falling out with is attending the same high school as her and is considering joining the band. Eventually, Kumiko comes to terms with the incident and with her bandmate, and thanks to the inspiration of some new friends who want to join, she gathers the courage to get up and try again.
As a musician, Kumiko is without a doubt talented, but other than that, she’s rather reserved and unassuming. She tries to avoid being openly competitive but at the same time, she can be blunt without knowing it. She’s aware of her own personal flaws, which is why she tries to stay as quiet as possible. However, thanks to finding a new passion for joining the band upon enrolling in high school, she has a goal she can work towards, and that discipline and dedication can ultimately build her character.
8. Cyan Hijirikawa from Show by Rock!!
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: April 5, 2015 – June 21, 2015
What happens when you mix music with isekai anime? You get Show by Rock!! Cyan is an ordinary girl with amazing musical abilities but is too shy to get up on stage. Instead, she enjoys her performing by playing rhythms games on her cell phone. To make things crazier, she just happens to be sucked into that very game, and anyone of a particular musical talent, can control anything in that world! Upon being sucked into the game, she assumes a new identity where she can have a fresh start and overcome her fears.
Through Cyan, we can get the best of both genres as they’re distinguishing in the sense of being coming-of-age stories. By being in the world of Midi City, Cyan can not only find herself, but further overcome her personal obstacles as being given the responsibility of saving the world of her favorite game. For individuals like Cyan, sometimes, people just need the right motivation or direction in order to overcome their greatest fears. People need something to relate to in order to reach their full potential, and by giving Cyan the responsibility of being a savior of her favorite game can sometimes get the job done. While it doesn’t have to be getting sucked into a new world, in the end, all people need is a clear path to the right direction in order to jump our highest hurdles.
7. Kaori Miyazono from Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie Is in April)
- Episodes: 22
- Air Dates: October 10, 2014 – March 20, 2015
At 14-years-old, Kaori is already an accomplished violinist. After attending a recital of a fellow youth during her childhood, she wanted to pursue music herself. Though she initially wants to take up the violin just to impress the boy she saw at the recital, she eventually comes to see that she does such things for her own sake, and how it can be of benefit for her own personal well-being due to her frail condition. Due to Kaori wanting to be herself on her own terms due to her tragic condition, she extends that to her own performances as she puts her heart and soul into them. When she enters a competition, as opposed to playing Krutzer by Beethoven, she just plays her own song on the fly. We don’t want to get into further spoilers as it relates to Kaori, but through her style of playing violin, audiences can get a general idea as to what it means to be a musician and how those qualities can be universal.
6. Nana Osaki from Nana
- Episodes: 47
- Air Dates: April 6, 2006 – March 28, 2007
While we have also covered Nana Komatsu from this series on our Top 10 Female Leads in Romance Anime list, we thought this would be an appropriate opportunity to cover the other Nana, Nana Osaki. Unlike her roommate, Nana grew up in the city and was raised by her maternal grandmother after being born out of wedlock and being abandoned by her mother. In order to rebel against her grandmother, she wears red and pink because she banned her from wearing such colors during her youth. Thanks to the influence of a friend from high school, she found an interest in rock and started going to local concerts. There she meets Ren and joins his band, the Black Stones, or also known as Blast, as its singer.
Though she puts up a punk image to let out her inhibitions, she’s really a caring individual and is very protective of Nana Komatsu. While Komatsu is about pursuing love, Osaki does want that with Ren, but Ren puts his dreams first with her support while the unfortunate reality is, they drift apart and she has to come to terms that she can’t be with him. In turn, she also does what she can to make her dreams come true. She is passionate about her singing and authentically cares about her bandmates and their success.
5. Kasumi Toyama from BanG Dream!
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: January 31, 2017 – April 22, 2017
Everyone has their own unique gateway into getting into music. For the most part, it was likely a song they heard on the radio, on TV, cassette, CD, or these days, most likely on YouTube. But what if your inspiration came from something you heard on a camping trip while stargazing? That’s pretty much the story of Kasumi in BanG Dream! As a junior in high school, she’s a guitar player (ESP Guitars actually officially released a real life version of her guitar) and vocalist for Poppin’Party, a band of fellow high school girls. She’s an optimistic young lady and she’s always excited about something. She’s very dedicated to her craft and she finds the joy of performing for the sake of it, and to be with her friends. She can be a tease, but she gets along with just about anyone and only has the best intentions. Through her voice, audiences can feel a genuine sense of energy that a Japanese anime school girl is capable of having, and get a feel that she’s both talented and that she can still be something of a girl next door.
4. Rin from Lost Song
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: April 8, 2018 – June 16, 2018
Compared to pretty much all of our entries, Long Song takes the genre in a different direction. While our remaining entries are much more realistic in nature, this series explores the music genre from a fantasy perspective. What makes Rin stand out is that her singing abilities have a mystical element to them as they’re pretty much a super power. Not only that, she’s also naturally talented for reasons we don’t want to get into due to spoilers. Regardless of her powers, Rin always had intentions of using her talents for a career in the courts of her kingdom, but instead, uses it to help people to the point she will always put herself in harm’s way. As to how far she goes, let's say she kind of shares a fate akin to Tupac. Yeah, spoiler alert, it’s speculated she dies but who’s to say she’s really dead since there are some clues to suggest she’s still alive just like how they’re hints of Tupac still alive in real life.
3. Megumi Noda from Nodame Cantabile
- Episodes: 23
- Air Dates: January 12, 2007 – June 15, 2007
Unlike most of the people on this list, Megumi is actually inspired by a real life Megumi Noda, an acquaintance of Tomoko Ninomiya, the original creator. The anime Megumi is barely in her twenties and yet acts like she’s still in pre-school. Putting that aside, she has an unusual talent for playing piano that even Chiaki, the ultimate perfectionist, acknowledges. However, her motivations are also surprising since her goal is to be a kindergarten teacher, and initially has no grand plans in becoming a world renowned piano performer. Complimenting her whimsical personality, is how she plays piano cantabile style (meaning it sounds like a person singing). Her time with Chiaki helps her change her outlook, and in the reverse, she also slowly mellows him out.
While she is a natural, academically, she is rather behind and has trouble understanding the history and terminologies of music and performance. However, she shows with natural talent, with the right fostering, she can become bigger than her initial goals. Despite Chiaki’s anal retentive demands and his perfectionist personality (and physical abuse for comedic effect), she can’t help but like him because she knows that deep down inside, he has feelings for her and knows what her true potential is.
2. Yui Hirasawa from K-On!
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: April 3, 2009 – June 26, 2009
For some people, they find music, or in some instances music finds them. In the case of Yui, it is a bit of both. When she first joins her schools K-On, or “light music” club, she initially had the misconception that it was going to be easy and just does it just for the hell of it. She decides to pick up the guitar and it comes naturally to her. Thanks to her easy and outgoing nature, she’s the perfect front woman for her band and enjoys her moments in the spotlight. She’s not academically oriented and prefers to learn things on her own terms. Due to not having an academic oriented mind sight, basic terminology as it relates to music are lost on her, so she learns simply by action.
If anyone is familiar with the multiple intelligence theory, then Yui is one unique example of how she represents intelligence through physical means. Just because she can do it, doesn’t mean she can verbalize what she can do, nor can you share it with her verbally. The frustrations to this quality are expressed in both ends, but so are the benefits. In the end, some musicians like Johnny Cash never learned to read a note, and Tay Zonday, famous for Chocolate Rain, never took music lessons. So Yui’s predicament is possible in real life and some have found success.
1. Carole & Tuesday from Carole & Tuesday
- Episodes: 24
- Air Dates: April 11, 2019 – Ongoing
OK, this is kind of cheating since you’re getting a 2-for-1 deal with this one, but considering they’re the titular characters, we felt it was appropriate to include both of them. Through their journey so far (take into considering the series is still airing as we write this list), you see that in the future where humanity has moved onto Mars, and music is now more artificial than ever. Forget about Kanye’s auto-tuning and heck, forget about Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve blunder! Music in the future is now produced by artificial intelligence, and Carole & Tuesday take their act back to its roots by writing and performing their own music with Carole playing on an old school keyboard made by Nord, while Tuesday plays with a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar.
Unlike their rivals in the industry, they have no gimmick and just present themselves as regular teens and want their music to be the highlight, and not be a superficial visual act. Granted it is plain, but these two remind us its about the music, and they express their highs and lows through their songs. What makes this leading duo even more striking is that they come from different backgrounds. Tuesday is white teenage runaway from a politically affluent family who is giving up everything, and Carole is a black teenage orphan who was raised in the system. Does this matter upon their initial encounter and their relationship so far throughout the series as it presently airs during the drafting of this list? Not one bit! As opposed to looking at each other based on their world of differences, they unite behind a common goal of becoming big time musicians. Through their friendship, we can learn that if people want to come together, instead of focusing on what makes us different, it’s better to look at what makes us similar on the inside and through that, all things are possible as it has been proven by these two magnificent young ladies who are starting from nothing.
The great thing about music, for better or worse, it can bring people together. Sure, certain songs and music aren’t exactly for everyone (ok, so hating on Nickelback and Bieber has brought many people together as well) but it does have a unique power, and anime has done a great job of exploiting in many ways through its storytelling and characters. We can admit some of our writing staff and some of you probably have to admit that we can’t all be musically inclined, and that’s ok. What our selections can represent is that despite their talent or abilities, they are still just regular people who have dreams and they show that they have to make the necessary sacrifices in order to make them come true, and that applies in reality. While most of your dreams may or not may be music in nature, it shows that you have to go out there and just do it.