If you ever go anywhere looking for fan art, these series I’m listing here will almost inevitably be among them. Here’s a general rambling about the top 15 of them.
Of course, the top 15 might be a little difficult to define. Pixiv seems like a good indicator, but that takes in an Eastern audience most of all. There’s websites catering for my Western side as well, and the most frequently uploaded on those seems like a good bet. So that’s what I’m going off. Still, this top list is relatively subjective, so take it however you will. I’m just talking about 15 undoubtedly popular series, either way.
Obviously. Touhou might not be at its peak any more, but even so it still remains well amongst the most prominent series for doujinshi. And at its peak, it was so unbelievably popular that it will almost certainly remain the all-time most popular. Indeed, thanks to its peak from 2009 onwards, it still has well over double its nearest contender. The next series down has close to seven times less fanart.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to go too far to explain why Touhou is so brilliant. This is a blog where I write about it, after all. The games, the bread-and-butter of Touhou, are terrific. The music is undeniably outstanding and has resulted in quite the most extraordinary arrange scene. But the utter abundance of fan art is all down to the many and varied characters, all of whom have been drawn in every way you can think of. Of the 20 most drawn characters ever, Touhou has 16 of them. That is how brilliant they are. I don’t think all of them are perfect, but they have all struck a chord in many, many, many fans’ minds. And they’re the ultimate reason why Touhou is about as fantastic as any other piece of fictional media ever conceived.
2. Kantai Collection
I don’t know whether to be amazed that Kantai Collection has been in vogue for nearly four years now, or be amazed that it was nearly four years ago it got in vogue. But I do know this. Like Touhou, it is a series that benefits from a bucketload of characters. But whereas Touhou introduced a group of them with every passing game, Kantai Collection started with its characters in triple figures. And the characters kept on coming all the time. They still do today. This would already have been enough to give it a strong degree of popularity, but there was one thing that did for it above all else. And, regrettably, it was its fanservice.
With so many characters selling themselves to artists, a massive chunk of the doujinshi scene went to KanColle and worshipped it and several of its many characters. The result was something that was able to challenge Touhou’s position as top of the pile for doujinshi. And, in the here and now, it has succeeded in that. It’s not going to topple Touhou’s historic all-time mark, but right now, if there’s an artist you’ve seen, they’re probably doing KanColle.
I hate it.
The reasons for it are many and varied. But I don’t want all my reasons why to swallow up this entire piece. So I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve blacklisted Kantai Collection in every way I reasonably can. Mostly, it has worked. And I am happy with that.
I have absolutely no idea what to make of Idolmaster at this point in time. There are just so many conflicting opinions I have of it that it’s all just a load of mush. However, I am sitting up and paying some notice to it as I’ve found a couple of the numerous Cinderella Girls from their eponymous game, and I think I quite like them. Not many, you understand. But enough now to make my head turn.
But countering this, I’ve seen some clips of the Idolmaster anime that makes its characters look utterly mad. Like, I swear there’s nothing to say that they aren’t on drugs or something. I have no idea what is going on with any of them. And it’s not like any of the girls from the romantically-named 765 Productions are really notable. So I’m not sold on that side at all.
However, there is one opinion I have on Idolmaster that overshadows the rest of them by far. And it’s on the whole theme of the series. In short, it’s based on the real life idol industry, which by all accounts is pretty dreadful. An industry which takes talent to stardom, and then one day decides they’ve had enough and just throws them away. Why would you want to play a part in any of that? Well, here’s why. Because the girls are always attractive and that’s all that matters to you. Idolmaster is just bait for those sorts of people. And nowhere is this made more clear than the fact you play the role of a ‘producer’. I’ll leave to make your own judgements on playing such a shady (and shadily-named) role, but I have a general comment in terms of being made to play as the producer. In doing this, Idolmaster is effectively forcing you to believe you are someone else. Kantai Collection does this too, with its even more suspicious ‘Admiral’. (He’s the most popular character from the series, by the way. Gee, I wonder why…) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve never taken a liking to any series that forces you to do this. By contrast, I absolutely love the two most direct rivals to those series, which just ask you to watch other characters doing their thing. Maybe that’s the reason author avatar OCs never work in Touhou fanfiction. Because their world is designed for them. Not you.
Anyway. My point is, I respect Idolmaster for what it is and its success. I even like some of it. I don’t dislike it, despite what it has its roots set in. But I suspect it is not for me.
Now these are some singers I can get behind. And not just because Vocaloid might even be more popular than this. It’s notable more mainstream than the three series above it here, and mostly that is the result of one character. Remember how I said Touhou had 16 of the 20 most drawn characters? Well, despite being the all-time #1 series, what it doesn’t have is the all-time #1 character. That honour lies with Hatsune Miku, who, it has to be said, is evidently very excellent, despite only actually being a voice program. She has gotten entire venues full to see a hologram of herself. She has won races with cars with her on the side. She has appeared on David Letterman. She is, frankly, quite unlike anything else we’ve seen, but she’s not this popular by accident. She’s a most popular character because, at the heart of her, is all a character needs to appeal to doujinshi makers. Nothing more, nothing less. So I’m fine with her, frankly.
There are other Vocaloids who have managed great success, however. Kagamines Rin and Len are next best after Miku, as well as Megurine Luka. There’s other notable Vocaloids within too, such as Gumi, but Meiko stands as my personal favourite. The thing is, though, I’ve known about Vocaloid for plenty of time. Longer even than Touhou, to be honest. And there’s nothing wrong with it, really. I think it’s rather nice, on the whole. And it’s hard to see anything of its like coming around again.
I know a fair few people who know and love Fate very much, but I’m not really one of them. I know a little about it though, so I can kind of sum it up. The primary source of work from the series comes from its original anime adaptation, Fate/stay night, with the following anime and prequel, Fate/zero, and free-to-play video game Fate/Grand Order also popular works. Fate’s most popular character, by some distance, is its main heroine, Saber, whilst twin-tailed, tsundere-incarnate and thigh-highed Rin Tohsaka also makes a strong showing. It helps that the series just so happens to be really damn good as an original, away from its numerous fan works. Certainly, it sold well in its initial life as a visual novel, way back in 2004 now. Most of all, it sells itself as one of the best bishojo games there has ever been, too. That’s a combination that has seen it build up one hell of a fanbase. And all credit to it for doing so. It’s got a mixture of action, romance and urban fantasy that has attracted all sorts. Make no mistake, this is an impressive series.
6. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
An anime-first series which I still somehow haven’t seen in its entirety, yet I know plenty about Puella Magi Madoka Magica, to give it its English title. And chiefly what I know is that it is an absolute masterpiece. Even though there’s over two and a half years of it still left to go, Madoka will likely be the best anime of this decade (though I would personally give it to Shaft’s other masterpiece of the decade, the Monogatari series). You probably know the form with Madoka, too, although it’s difficult to say what it is without really spoiling the whole premise. And I won’t because it’s brilliant. But the appeal of the whole series is so undeniably excellent that it’s worth noting the characters behind its popularity. Whereas some of the series above needed a plethora of characters to get into the big time, Madoka needed only six main characters: Madoka, Homura, Sayaka, Kyouko, Mami and Kyubey. All six are much beloved. This series is the only other aside from Touhou with more than one character in the top 20. Weirdly though, the titular character Madoka is not the most popular. That accolade rests with Homura, because emotional coldness is a big selling point amongst most of the world’s anime fans, evidently. Oh, and a considerable role in the plot of the series, but like I’ve said, I’m not spoiling anything here if you haven’t actually seen it. I’d like to explain its brilliance in more detail, but it has to be seen to be believed. Then I’ll explain it to you. The result was wild popularity in the time it was running, and a place as the most defining anime for a long, long time. I wonder what the next anime to make as big a splash as this one will look like.
Of course. I’ve already talked about my nearly life-long relationship with Pokemon on this blog already, so I won’t recite any of my very lengthy piece on it. But I suppose I will touch on the anime, seeing as it’s more relevant here. Well, I’ve certainly watched my fair share of it, but was hardly obsessed with it to begin with and certainly am not now. I’ve not been much into it since R/S, and haven’t paid much attention to it at all since D/P. Still, I suppose that’s fine. The original will forever be the best in the anime’s case, of that I’m confident. The games got better and better (until X/Y, and then S/M), but with the anime the first remains the best. It’s nostalgia, you see. That’s Pokemon through and through. And it’s why it’s really damn popular. Just remember when you look for art of it – this is the Internet. If you’re the type who doesn’t want their ‘childhood ruined’, tread carefully.
Of the series here, Precure was the one I knew the least about, for sure. In fact, I don’t think I’d heard of it at all. So I’ve researched on what is a notably popular series. And it’s a long running magical girl series. It’s been going since 2004, for 600 episodes, and 14 anime series. It’s filled to the gunwales with characters, which probably explains how it’s managed to get so popular for a cash cow of a franchise. Anime girls are in constant demand in doujinshi, after all. Basically, it’s the leading magical girl series in all anime, and that’s all that it needs going for it.
9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Now we come to something I meant to get into quite a while ago, but never did. But it didn’t matter anyway because I’ve seen plenty of little snippets of it and I now know, as we all do, that it’s just about the coolest manga the world has ever seen. It’s now into its 30th year of existence, although it didn’t even get an anime until its 25th, in 2012. Its famous art style complements the immense flamboyancy the series exudes. An intricate plot, creative battles and the never-ending conflicts with the supernatural are the definitive points of action in the series. And, in the West, the general badassery of the whole series has resulted in plenty of memes throughout. Basically, going through JoJo and its madness is a bizarre adventure in itself. But it’s also really rather brilliant. This isn’t like the other series ahead of it by any stretch of the imagination. By and large, with JoJo, you just see badasses doing badass things because they are badass. Badass. And artists have only been too happy to oblige. An icon of all anime, and long may it continue.
10. Love Live!
A magnificent series, one so magnificent that it was the first properly new thing I got into for 3 years. That speaks volumes.
I’ve said in many places elsewhere just why Love Live is so utterly brilliant, so I’ll try not to go too deep into it here and now. Instead, I’ll sum up the most relevant reason to this article, and the biggest reason I love it. The characters. I’ve already mentioned some series that get by with a few terrific characters but I feel it’s really worth noting with Love Live. Idolmaster, its most direct rival, needed 13 characters to start with, and that was before Cinderella Girls. God knows how many that’s added. A million, probably. Further up, Touhou is creeping towards the 200 character mark. Kantai Collection has passed that. All Love Live needed was nine characters, who each made up mu’s. And the best of the bunch are simply magnificent. Eli is the best example. There might come a time when I say that she is my favourite character from anything, ever. Honest. Maki, the consensus fan favourite (she’s really attractive, but also mistaken for a tsundere), is another seriously good character. She’s probably in my all-time top 5. After them, the rest are similarly damn superb in their own, special way. Then there’s Honoka and Kotori…but that’s my opinion, not yours. They have their own fans for their own reasons, too.
I shan’t go on much longer about my experience with Love Live much longer, but I’ll just raise my last thoughts on the comparison between it and Idolmaster. I said Idolmaster’s theme was buried in some very shady, and offputting roots. Love Live looks like it might be the same thing, but it really is not. Idolmaster is about the professional idol industry. Love Live is just some girls becoming idols to save their school. And that’s absolutely fine.
Certainly, it hasn’t stopped the series getting a mass of popularity. Sadly, I only got into it a few months before mu’s Final Live. They’ve since been succeeded by Aquors, who are basically nothing more than pretenders to them. They’re just another nine girls, but the formula behind them is exactly the same as before. If they’d changed it up a little (i.e. less girls) I probably would have been cool with them. But, sadly, I’m not nearly as sold on Aquors as mu’s. They are still notably popular now, mind. And yet even today they can’t hold a candle to the original greats of mu’s. They will live forever in my mind. They’re just unbelievable.
Another manga that made it big when it came out as an anime in 2009, K-On is about a five-girl band making music to save a high school club. Somewhere within it, cuteness happened and the world’s anime fans were sold. The two seasons of anime were, of course, done by Kyoto Animation, probably the go-to studio for making a slice of life like K-On was (of which, more later). This was, quite simply, an ordinary anime done absolutely right, something to aspire to. Obviously, its peak has long passed, but the fact it made it so big is testament to its greatness, and its place as a historic trend-setter of an anime. I’ve never gotten too involved in it myself, but the five main characters are all notable enough for me to know them. So I’d say Yui and Ritsu are my two favourites on the basis that they’re the cutest to me. Which was probably the point of it all. K-On benefitted a lot from the all-powerful need for moe, and K-On gave it in spades. That’s why it made it big.
12. Final Fantasy
I would have been able to talk a fair bit about Final Fantasy this time last year, but not as much as I could now, having not long ago gotten further than ever into the series thanks firstly to an explorative look into the brilliant FF8, and then a play-around with the also excellent FF15, the latest instalment in this legendary game series. Naturally, such great popularity breeds great amounts of art, and so it has proven. Mind you, this is one series where it isn’t the characters that is the biggest sell for me, though they certainly help. I mean, I loved FF8’s lot and that’s my favourite in the series. Plus, the four mains in FF15 were great to play as, and there are plenty of other greats throughout the series. FF6 had a great bunch, my favourite being Terra. FF7, the most popular game of them all, has the most popular characters with it, Cloud and Tifa among them. Both are amongst my favourites from the series. And let’s not forget about FF9’s bunch. There’s also the likes of Yuna from FF10, too. Final Fantasy is a series with positives beyond just these characters, but not only are they obviously vital to the whole series, they’re all much loved too. And as well they might be. The series is coming up to its 30th year of existence, and even if it doesn’t ever get back to its previous brilliance, the series will live forever.
13. Lyrical Nanoha
I’ve known about Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha for a while, but I’ve only really known it as something I used to confuse with other anime series with similar words and numbers of words, such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica (perhaps an easy mistake to make when you’re a total noob like I was) and Mahou Sensei Negima (which makes a lot less sense and just makes me look ridiculous). But now I know it to be a really rather popular magical girl series. But this isn’t quite a magical girl series as you know it. Not in the same sense as Madoka, but merely the details of the series itself. Now we know that magical girl series appeal most of all to two demographics: kodomomuke, and seinen. Precure, as mentioned previously, aims to please both demographics. Lyrical Nanoha is meant entirely for the latter. And it shows in all the art that’s been made of it.
But Nanoha also has quite a ridiculous production history. Nanoha was originally a girl in an H-game. No word of a lie. But whilst she was only very minor in it, she was so popular she got a whole new spin-off game, where she became a magical girl. Then an anime on that game was made, except elements of mecha were thrown in, simply because of Nanoha’s costume design. The result was an anime with fight scenes so far beyond the norm for a magical girl anime that it brought fans in who otherwise had no interest in the genre. The result was something really very popular indeed. There isn’t anything quite this popular quite like this, which probably makes sense. It’s hard to see something as mad as this working quite so well again, but the series has proved an exercise in how to take multiple interests and combine them into one, and attract an even greater audience than would otherwise be the case. So I respect it for earning success that way.
14. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Way back when I started to get into anime, Haruhi was the third proper anime I actually watched. I rather enjoyed it, even though it didn’t exactly seem the best thing since sliced bread. But it certainly looked like it seemed that way when Haruhi’s anime first hit the scene. What we have here is an anime with no clear genre – there’s all sorts on hand here, from comedy to sci-fi to fantasy to mystery to romance to slice of life and all in the typical high school setting. But the prominent theme is that of the supernatural, as seen in its main characters. And none more so than the titular character, who, unaware to herself, is a reality warper. The jokes of her being an actual god were probably fitting at the time; her anime was a domestic and international smash hit. It was much loved, and later much despised, but the result was a seriously popular anime. It also marked the point where Kyoto Animation made it big. Again, it’s the characters that sold the whole thing. Quite apart from Haruhi, who I think is pretty damn great despite also being very annoying, there’s a very good protagonist in Kyon, there’s Mikuru, who is basically moe personified, whilst Yuki gets the most love of anyone (she’s the emotionless one, again), and Itsuki is a nice man, too. This famous five were the big names behind the series’ popularity, and their doujinshi from so long ago remains here for all to see today.
The series’ greatest moment has long since gone, though. For some reason they tried to make a new animation as late as 2015, but no one watched it. At least, not anyone I know. The anime world had long since left it behind. It could get away with three years between its first and second seasons, but not six. There is still one very good reason to watch Haruhi now, though. The anime isn’t perfect, but you should still watch it anyway, solely so you can watch Disappearance, the 2010 movie. I waited a long, long, long time to watch it after finishing the second season. Like, a really long time. I actually kept on saying for years that I’ll watch Disappearance ‘soon’, without doing it. Then I went and did it eventually and it was fantastic. So make sure you go out and find a reason to go and see the outstanding movie.
Lastly, here’s another series where I know plenty of people who love it, but I’m not as into it myself. But, obviously, I know exactly what Gundam is. Everyone does, because it’s been around since 1979. It’s a mecha series that needs little introduction, with a common plot that has stood the test of time. The theme of war encompasses the series mostly, and the hell and mental trauma that comes with it. The series has gone from many animes to mangas, OVAs, games, and a mass merchandising empire. There’s been theme park rides of it, racing team sponsorships, and more spin-offs than you could possibly think of. Yeah, and you need much more explanation why it’s popular? Why it’s been drawn so much? Thought not. About as timeless a classic as any anime will ever be.
So, that’s what I think on the most popular series in the world. I’ll end up covering my favourites further in due time, as well as looking at more series in brief eventually. And I have more Touhou stuff to write about at some point, too. Oh yes.