What is the best anime of all time? Everyone will have their own answer to that question, but looking at the user ratings on MyAnimeList offers an idea of what the most popular answers are. According to MAL, the most popular picks are two dark shonen epics: Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and it's a dead heat over which one will ultimately prove the long-term favorite.
FMA:B has topped MAL's rankings for years, but Attack on Titan temporarily unseated it in the midst of its fourth season (FMA:B has since regained its title). Many anime fans will agree that Attack on Titan and FMA:B are both top-tier titles, but as of this writing, one of them is more deserving of the number one spot than the other -- for now, at least.
Attack On Titan's Rise To Fame
Based on the manga by Hajime Iseyama, Attack on Titan is now in its fourth and final season, continuing to shock viewers with its incredible twists. For years, this story has dazzled viewers with its violent, gritty, take-no-prisoners worldbuilding and action.
In this series, the heroes often lose, and today's ally is tomorrow's enemy. This sets Attack on Titan apart from its shonen peers such as Naruto and One Piece, where "the power of friendship" and "give up trying to make me give up!" always win the day. Attack on Titan isn't cynical for rejecting those ideas; it's realistic and engaging. The characters are compelling, which makes the tragedies hit harder. Impressive drama, a complex but tight plot, jaw-dropping animation and a thrilling soundtrack make for a memorable, adrenaline-soaked adventure. It's easy to see why anime fans are keen to cement it as the GOAT in online rankings.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's Reign At The Top
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the second anime adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's manga, has a bit of everything: creative and exciting action sequences involving alchemy, a stylish World War I European-style setting, lovable and fun characters, serious drama and heartbreak, a tense and intricate plot and heavy themes ranging from forgiveness to the meaning of human life and atoning for war crimes. It manages to fit all this into 64 half-hour episodes.
FMA:B has enough common shonen tropes to be familiar and accessible, but its heavier themes make the series also feel fresh and creative. This series features many memorable characters and scenes, from Shou Tucker's horrific dog/daughter hybrid experiment to Roy Mustang's finger-snap firepower to Edward beating a wannabe god into a pulp with his bare fists at the end. All that, combined with an outstanding soundtrack and slick animation, makes for a series that's difficult to rival, let alone surpass, hence why it's considered a modern classic for MAL users.
Attack on Titan Can't be Properly Judged Until It's Over
How can a title earn its place as the #1 anime series of all? The criteria varies widely, from nostalgia and timely themes to quality in writing and animation, not to mention artistic vision and emotional impact. Both Attack on Titan and FMA:B are exceptionally high-quality anime, but FMA:B has one clear advantage at the moment: it's already complete, so viewers already have the full measure of its quality and know its ending stuck the landing.
Attack on Titan can't beat FMA:B's ending simply because it doesn't have one yet. Since the series is ongoing, it's possible (though not necessarily likely) that AoT's final episodes will fumble with the plot and leave a bad taste in viewers' mouths a la Game of Thrones. Right now, Attack on Titan has serious hype thanks to its exciting fourth season, but it will need a worthy ending to be in serious consideration as the true best anime of all time.