Anime is a film and television genre of high emotions and beautiful animations. Ranging from Studio Ghibli masterpieces to long-standing shows like Cowboy Bebop, anime has a firm place in the culture and the hearts of anime fans.
Whether or not the anime was based on a book, a manga, or the director’s imagination, these shows and movies have captured the imaginations of viewers worldwide. Although anime is traditionally a Japanese genre, it has become a worldwide phenomenon of art and culture.
Part of the reason that anime is so popular is the beauty of the art form itself. Anime is about more than just an exciting storyline and well-developed characters: the animation has a distinct style. However, it all comes together with the help of the soundtrack. And in this post, we’re going to take a look at 13 of the most famous and greatest anime composers, their lives, and their works.
1. Joe Hisaishi (1950-)
Joe Hisaishi focuses on simple, minimalist sounds that capture the wonder and loveliness of Ghibli films.
Hisaishi is most known for his work with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli but has done work outside of the film industry.
He has composed for several other films, anime series, and video games, in addition to authoring a book and being a prolific composer.
Joe Hisaishi remains one of the most powerful anime composers living.
2. Yoko Kanno (1963-)
Although she’s not as widely known as Joe Hisaishi, Yoko Kanno is just as prolific as the legend.
Having written music for over 30 different anime films and series, Kanno is an incredibly talented keyboardist and plays all of her compositions.
Yoko Kanno’s most well-known theme is the main theme for Cowboy Bebop, one of the most popular anime series of all time.
She’s also a well-known video game composer, has worked on lots of television series, and even the new live-action version of her classic, Cowboy Bebop.
Kanno has also released six individual studio albums featuring her original piano music.
3. Hiroyuki Sawano (1980-)
Hiroyuki Sawano is an incredibly talented musician, having written the theme for one of the most popular and longest-running anime series of all time, Attack on Titan.
He moves away from the simple, piano-based themes and into grand orchestral movements with choruses. Sawano’s themes are as fast-paced as the anime itself.
Sawano has won multiple awards for his compositions, especially for his Attack on Titan main theme.
However, he has also released several individual albums and is known for naming his original pieces with unique and interesting names (usually involving symbols or numbers).
4. Yuki Kajiura (1965-)
Yuki Kajiura has been composing music for anime series and movies for 25 years. She has created music for online shows, Netflix animes, movies, and more.
Some of her most famous anime works include the themes for Demon Slayer, Sword Art Online, and Aquarian Age.
Kajiura has a more modern sound and leans into synthesizers and techno-beats for her pieces. She incorporates the sounds of the series into her themes and involves electric guitars, drums, and piano.
Yuki Kajiura is a master at creating memorable themes and songs to reflect the characters and feelings of the anime.
5. Shirō Sagisu (1957-)
Shirō Sagisu has had a very distinguished career as one of Japan’s top composers and musicians.
Sagisu had early jazz and classical influences and was a member of a jazz band before beginning to compose individually.
A recipient of many awards, he had the honor of arranging the Japanese national anthem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
He has won multiple awards for his work with anime, especially the long-running series Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Sagisu’s soundtracks are exciting and adventurous, with horns and strings overlying a lively piano theme throughout. His jazz and orchestral roots show throughout his anime music.
6. Taku Iwasaki (1968-)
Taku Iwasaki has dedicated his entire career to composing for anime.
His most famous works include the themes of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Black Butler, Witch Hunter Robin, and White Cat Project.
He has also written music for several video games, including Final Fantasy XV, and the soundtracks for three anime films.
Of course, Taku Iwasaki is best known for his anime themes. Each of them is unique.
Unlike many of the other composers on this list, Iwasaki doesn’t have a specific “sound”–it’s quite difficult to label a theme as an Iwasaki piece unless you know his style very well.
He blends his style into the type of anime he writes.
7. Yoshihisa Hirano (1971-)
Yoshihisa Hirano started his composing career with the music for the popular manga-based anime Beyblades, which had remarkable success as the related toy.
He also wrote music for Final Fantasy games on the Playstation, multiple short-lived television shows, and arranged music for other projects.
However, he soon moved on to a much more serious anime composition.
Deathnote is one of the anime that was made popular because of its intense soundtrack, and Hirano was responsible for the heavy metal sounds of the theme and the strikingly sad guitar riffs of the soundtrack.
Deathnote is an iconic anime with an impressive soundtrack.
8. Kenji Kawai (1957-)
Kenji Kawai has worked in more Japanese film and television than any other composer on this list.
He has become synonymous with soundtrack composing. However, Kawai never finished his music education and started his career composing music for local commercials.
His talent soon led him to the film industry. Some of Kenji Kawai’s most famous works include The Ghost in the Shell, Seven Swords, and the Sky Crawlers.
However, he’s composed for over 100 anime movies and television shows. Kawai is famous for his use of drums and vocals to create a sense of tension and emotion throughout his pieces.
9. Jun Maeda (1975-)
Jun Maeda is a rare exception–he’s primarily an artist and animator for games, manga, and anime.
However, he has also written some of the primary themes for the anime that he’s created and shows great talent as a musical composer as well.
He specializes in visual novels–online stories with soundtracks. For most of the adaptations of his visual novels, Jun Maeda has written his soundtrack.
He pairs the audio perfectly with the visual experience to create an ideal version of his anime world.
Jun Maeda continues to work on visual novels, anime, and soundtrack through his company, Key.
10. Yûki Hayashi (1980-)
Yûki Hayashi has worked on multiple famous anime and movies and is known for his collaborations with other famous composers, including Hiroyuki Sawano and Yoko Kanno.
He writes the themes for many currently popular anime, including Haikyu!! and My Hero Academia.
Hayashi did not start as a musician. He was a gymnast and became interested in music when selecting the background music for his floor routine.
He started to produce music for gymnasts and then moved on to the soundtrack for movies and television.
Much of his music is active and exciting for this reason.
11. Toshihiko Sahashi (1959-)
Toshihiko Sahashi has composed music for over 100 television shows and movies, both anime and live-action.
He specializes in animated television series. His most popular series include the Gundam Seed series, Ultraman, Gunslinger Girl, Steel Angel, and Full Metal Panic!
Toshihiko Sahashi has worked outside of film and television, however.
In 2014, he announced that he would be working on a Sailor Moon stage musical, experimenting with live theatre.
12. Toshio Masuda (1959-)
Toshio Masuda is known for composing television scores in Japan. His specialty, however, is synthesizing scores and soundtracks.
Many of his pieces sound modern and new age instead of classical or orchestral. He also used traditional Japanese instruments to blend with the classical orchestra pieces.
Toshio Masuda’s most famous compositions are from the early 2000s when he composed the soundtrack for the animated television series Naruto.
Since then, he’s composed multiple other soundtracks for anime, as well as live-action television shows, movies, and original pieces.
13. Michiru Ōshima (1961-)
Last but certainly not least, Michiru ōshima has recorded and released over 300 individual records throughout her lifetime.
These have varied from television, anime, movies, concert, and game soundtracks to original pieces and movements.
She holds multiple awards and remains one of Japan’s most revered soundtrack composers.
Some of Oshima’s most popular anime soundtracks include the music for Full Metal Alchemist, Conqueror of Shamballa, Sound of the Sky, and the new Star Wars: Visions.
Her music reflects the beauty and emotion of the anime she writes.
Oshima continues to write and has not yet retired.
Summing up The Most Famous Anime Composers
Each of these composers has contributed massively to the world of anime and television.
Although anime is a primarily visual medium, it wouldn’t be the same without the talent of composers giving it a soundtrack.
From the sweet simplicity of Joe Hisaishi and Studio Ghibli to the sweeping orchestral majesty of Hiroyuki Sawano, these men and women have changed how we see anime.
These composers are a huge part of anime’s popularity, and their songs are inseparable from the anime experience.