2023 was a banner year for anime. From beloved continuing series like Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Jujutsu Kaisen to long-awaited passion projects like Pluto and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, there was pretty much something for every type of anime fan. While we’ve already published our picks for the best anime of the year and where to watch them, we also wanted to highlight one of the important yet overlooked elements of any great anime: the opening title sequence.
Opening title sequences in anime have a lot of purposes, from crediting the staff of animators who pour their hearts and craft into creating an excellent production to foreshadowing significant moments in the series itself. Combined with a particularly memorable theme song, a well-done title sequence has the potential to create a lasting impression on audiences and fans, if not even possibly eclipsing the quality of the show itself.
With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a list of some of our favorite anime openings of the year to highlight the work of the animators who created them while sharing our favorite anime theme bops.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off — “Bloom”
Director: Masamichi Ishiyama
Music by: Necry Talkie
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off was one of the year’s big surprises, despite being highly anticipated. The anime adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s action rom-com comic series turned the story of Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers’ whirlwind romance on its head, reinventing its world as a way of reintroducing characters that fans knew and loved.
Chief animation director and character designer Masamichi Ishiyama’s opening sequence was the perfect reintroduction of Scott to new and old fans of the series, taking the video game-inspired visuals of the comic and injecting them with vibrant anime flair. Aside from a very clever blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to the opening sequence of the 2004 anime Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, what makes the opening sequence for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is for how much it doesn’t tease the big twist of the series. It’s just a brilliant distillation of what made Scott Pilgrim such a beloved hang-out in the first place, and that’s all that it really needs to be. Combine that with an awesome track “Bloom” courtesy of the Japanese pop rock band Necry Talkie, and you’ve got a certified banger.
Jujutsu Kaisen season 2 — “SPECIALZ”
Director: Yuki Kamiya
Music by: King Gnu
This season of Jujutsu Kaisen took a significantly darker turn, and the series’ second opening title sequence encapsulates that. Just as Shōta Goshozono took on the role of directing the show’s second season from previous director Sung Hoo Park, so too did Yuki Kamiya inherit the role of crafting this season’s opening title sequences from Jujutsu Kaisen’s former animation director Shingo Yamashita.
Of the two sequences Kamiya directed for this season, it’s the second one, created for the “Shibuya Incident Arc,” that stands out as one of the year’s best. It’s dark, ominous, and foreboding; foreshadowing not only Yuji Itadori’s fraught battle against the cursed spirit Mahito and the increased prominence of the malicious jujutsu sorcerer Sukuna, but also the tragic passing of one of the series’ most beloved characters. It’s an apt opening for a bracing, violent, and heartbreaking season.
Heavenly Delusion — “Innocent Arrogance”
Director: Weilin Zhang
Music by: BiSH
Heavenly Delusion was one of my favorite anime premieres of the year, so it’s little wonder the series’ opening title sequence would also win a place in my heart. Weilin Zhang absolutely nails it with this opening, translating the already excellent character designs by the artist known as Utsushita into scenes that feel as unruly and adventurous as the series’ protagonist.
One particular moment in the sequence that stands out to me is at the one-minute mark, when Kiruko is running against a pink and purple sunset sky, the outline of their body racing out of sync alongside them before eventually merging. It’s a memorable and impressive artistic decision that feels, in hindsight, like a symbolic metaphor for Kiruko’s struggles with body dysmorphia throughout the season. The gorgeous sequence is made even more impactful for how perfectly BiSH’s original theme song “Innocent Arrogance” complements it.
Spy x Family season 2 — “Ado Kura Kura”
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Music by: Ado
Who do you choose to direct the opening title sequence for the second season of Spy x Family, one of the best animated action comedies in recent memory, if you want it to be an absolute legendary effort? Why Masaaki Yuasa, former president of Science Saru, of course!
The opening sequence for Spy x Family feels like the anime equivalent of an Avengers-style team up, with Yuasa’s whimsical polka-dotted animation backed by a theme song performed by Ado (of One Piece Film: Red-fame) and composed by none other than Cowboy Bebop’s Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts. The result is a sequence that feels every bit as auspicious as the creative team behind it, a wild and rollicking adventure that finds everyone’s favorite family of undercover spy-assassins-psychics enjoying a good cup of tea in-between performing donuts in their car.
Trigun Stampede — “TOMBI”
Director: None listed
Music by: Kvi Baba
Much has been said about Trigun Stampede, the latest 3D CG anime adaptation of Yasuhiro Nightow’s space western manga, and the differences between it and the beloved 1998 anime produced by Madhouse. One of the key points of contention that fans of the original anime have is the absence of any equivalent to the 1998 Trigun’s rock-’n’-roll-inspired score by Tsuneo Imahori, with Trigun Stampede composer Tatsuya Kato taking on a more electronic and orchestrally inspired approach for the new series.
As a fan of the 1998 anime, I totally get it. But I will happily go to bat for it, and I absolutely loved the western-inspired title theme song by Kvi Baba and its accompanying sequence. Without fail, every time I watched this sequence before a new episode of the series, I was locked in and ready to take in the latest chapter in Vash the Stampede’s mission to protect the people of the planet Gunsmoke from his murderous brother Knives. It sets the tone for the series perfectly, striking a balance between mournful, adventurous, and appropriately epic.
The Fire Hunter — “Usotsuki”
Director: Kenichi Kutsuna
Music by: Leo Ieiri
The Fire Hunter flew under the radar of many anime viewers this year, despite the pedigree of talent attached to its production. Make time to watch it — Ranma 1⁄2 director Junji Nishimura reunites with Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) on an epic apocalyptic fantasy story and the opening title sequence for the series absolutely rocks.
Directed by Kenichi Kutsuna, who previously worked as a key animator on Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Dororo, the opening for The Fire Hunter is a beautiful and memorable sequence that expounds on Takuya Saitō’s delicately rendered character designs and pairs them with elegantly pictorial backgrounds. I mean, look at that shot at the 23-second mark with the shafts of light piercing through the thinly outlined mass of clouds! Art!
Vinland Saga season 2 — “River”
Director: Yūsuke Sunouchi
Music by: Anonymouz
Like Jujutsu Kaisen season 2, the second season of the historical adventure epic Vinland Saga took a sharp tonal shift from the vibe of its first season. Far from a revenge story, this season’s focus was on Thorfinn’s search for a sense of meaning and a life separate from the vengeance that previously drove him.
Directed by Yūsuke Sunouchi, who previously worked as an episode director on the first season of Vinland Saga, the opening title sequence for Vinland Saga season 2 perfectly captures the feeling of someone emerging out of the darkness and grasping after a sense of renewed clarity and direction. It’s a sequence that drops you directly into Thorfinn’s mindset at the outset of the season and primes the audience for the next chapter of his story.