10 Best Anime Directors of All Time | TheReviewGeek Recommends

Anime directors are just as important as the animators on any animation project. They play a major role in helping with a show’s pacing and storyboarding. If not for the director, the whole project can take a turn for the worse.

We’ve looked through many adaptations and original projects over the years to give you all our picks of the best anime directors. From their outstanding leadership to the legacy they left in the industry, we made sure to choose the best possible candidates deserving of praise here.

As usual, we would love to hear your thoughts about our picks in the comments below.

Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most popular anime directors of all time. He left a major impact on the industry through his creative storytelling and profound works that are jam-packed with incredible themes. Through films like “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” he transports audiences to well-crafted universes brimming with beautiful creatures, landscapes, and other magical elements.

Miyazaki’s animation style is a testament to his skill as a director. His hand-drawn animation techniques have been beloved by many fans as the scenes in his films offer something extraordinary and unforgettable. While some works under Miyazaki’s belt don’t have the most complex leads, some tales of his have rich protagonists that feel realistic, memorable, and charming. Therefore, Miyazaki is a notable figure in the anime sphere and deserves a spot on this list.

Makoto Shinkai

Makoto Shinkai is a renowned anime director whose works have captivated audiences worldwide. From “5 Centimeters Per Second” to “Suzume,” Shinkai continues to delight audiences with his supernatural drama stories, beautiful art style, and fascinating characters.

“Your Name” and Weathering With You” are examples of works that demonstrate Shinkai’s knowledge of light, color, and atmosphere. Both works feel visually poetic and viewers often walk away from both films remembering what they saw.

Many of Shinkai’s works explore themes like love, loss, longing, and the passage of time. These ideas will resonate with many people who’ve gone through either issue in the past, present, or future, making his films feel relevant–no matter what time, day, or year you watch them. Therefore, Shinkai’s earned his spot amongst the many fabulous directors noted here.

Satoshi Kon

Mamoru Hosoda

Mamoru Hosoda is a great anime director known for his heartfelt stories that feature relatable characters. His projects will resonate with many folks as each one focuses on ideas concerning family, self-discovery, and personal growth. Through his approach, Hosoda captures the intricacies of human relationships and the struggles individuals face in navigating life.

Some noteworthy films that demonstrate this are “Wolf Children” and “The Boy and the Beast.” These anime feature deeply moving and relatable experiences that tug at the heartstrings, leaving viewers heavily moved. His characters are well-developed and relatable. They undergo drastic transformations and face many internal and external challenges that will make them complex and memorable.

In addition to each of his works having stellar visuals and animation, Mamoru Hosoda is a well-established director.

Hideaki Anno

Hideaki Anno is an influential figure in the anime industry. He’s directed many notable works like “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “His and Her Circumstances.” However, many know him for his work with the former’s anime adaptation.

Neon Genesis Evangelion revolutionized the mech genre and became a cultural hit. This was due to the story delving deeper into the character’s psychological states and exploring ideas like existentialism, identity, and personal growth. By placing these themes at the story’s forefront, Anno helped the narrative leave a profound impact on audiences of the past and present, sparking discussions that extend beyond the screen.

Further, Anno’s willingness to confront difficult subjects makes him a profound figure in the industry. He’s not afraid to touch upon subjects like depression and the effects societal pressure has on his cast.

With his stellar animation techniques and distinct approach to storytelling, Anno’s cemented himself as one of anime’s finest directors.

Kenji Kamiyama

Kenji Kamiyama is a well-established director known for directing works with great and compelling narratives. His body of work spans various genres, each showcasing his versatility and creativity.

One of his best works was “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.” This cyberpunk masterpiece delves into concepts like identity and technology. It also presents audiences with a thought-provoking storyline that’ll last with them for a long time. “Eden of the East” is another beloved work under Kamiyama’s belt. It combines elements of conspiracy, romance, and political intrigue.

Kamiyama’s ability to offer a thrilling, suspenseful, and mind-numbing social commentary showcases his talent as a director. In addition to working on works with a focus on humor and heartfelt interactions, Kamiyama is a great anime director. 

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo is a widely beloved director, known for his influential contributions to the industry. His most renowned work, “Akira,” not only propelled him to international fame but it helped revolutionize the industry for the better. It was loved for the breathtaking animation that brought out the emotions of its characters and produced iconic action scenes parodied in many Western and Eastern productions.

On that note, Otomo’s ability to blend sci-fi with social commentary is most evident in his work “Steamboy.” This anime explores the potential dangers of technological advancements and the moral responsibilities that come with wielding great power. Through its stunning visuals, intricate world-building, and complex characters, Otomo delves into many notable themes. These include ethics, ambition, and one’s pursuit of knowledge.

On top of being one of the few directors who can adapt his work to screen successfully, Katsuhiro Otomo is a fabulous director who’ll continue to inspire future creators. 

Masaaki Yuasa

Masaaki Yuasa is known for his distinct and innovative storytelling approach. His works often push the boundaries of conventional animation. “Mind Game” is a mind-bending anime that blends a variety of animation techniques, storytelling styles, and profound philosophical themes.

Yuasa is also known for being highly versatile as shown by his handling of “Ping Pong: The Animation.” This anime explores the highs and lows of competitive sports by examining complex characters. Yuasa’s ability to capture the cast’s emotional journey makes “Ping Pong: The Animation” an anime that transcends the sports genre. It gives viewers something more insightful and introspective compared to others that lean into the action and eventful side of their sport.

On top of his ability to create reimagined versions of popular works like “Devilman” with “Devilman Crybaby,” Masaaki Yuasa deserves his sport among the great directors here. 

Shinichiro Watanabe

Shinichiro Watanabe is a name you may be familiar with if you love anime like “Cowboy Bebop” or “Carol &Tuesday.” Watanabe’s known for his ability to blend different genres to create compelling works. For instance, “Cowboy Bebop” is a space western that combines aspects of noir, jazz, and sci-fi. With its compelling cast and stylish visuals, many regard it as one of the best anime ever. 

Watanabe would continue this trend with works like “Samurai Champloo.” This is a samurai anime that meshes aspects of hip-hop and rap to produce something that feels modern and historical in nature. Watanabe isn’t afraid to take risks with his projects, which is apparent in “Space Dandy,” a sci-fi comedy with a non-linear structure.

Whether fans enjoy the relaxing aspects of “Carol & Tuesday” or adore the epic mixture of hip-hop and action in “Samurai Champloo,” Watanabe should be respected for his contributions. 

Kunihiko Ikuhara

Kunihiko Ikuhara is a visionary anime director whose unique and thought-provoking works left an indelible mark on the industry. His storytelling style is often filled with symbolism, social commentary, and complex themes.

“Revolutionary Girl Utena” is one of his notable works. It provides audiences with a surreal tale that challenges standard gender roles and societal norms. With its well-crafted storyline and captivating cast, Ikuhara delivers a world that pushes the boundaries of conventional anime.

He’d continue to showcase his skill at showcasing complex characters in evident ways in the series “Sarazanmai.” This anime explores ideas such as connection, identity, and one’s interest in concealing the truth. This anime’s known for having a story that challenges societal views while highlighting the struggles adolescents endure daily.

With other fantastic anime like “Mawaru Penguindrum” under his belt, Kunihiko Ikuhara is a fabulous director who plans to continue working on projects that will inspire and enchant audiences. 

So, there we have it, our picks for the best anime directors through the years!

What do you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!

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