Top 5 Anime Composers That You Should Listen To

Movie and classical music buffs alike love a great musical score – John Williams with Star Wars and Howard Shore with the Lord of the Rings films are just two names big enough to make music fans squeal with glee. If I was to write about all of them, it would be near impossible. While movies may be the first association you make with the two magical words ‘musical score’ (theatre close second), what about the anime scene? Many are unaware that scores for Japanese animation is taken just as seriously as film (at the best of times, anyway). Here are 5 anime composers that are incredibly underrated and deserve more attention.

5. Naoki Sato

Sato-san looking sombre, often like his music!
Sato-san looking sombre, often like his music.

This man is one of the youngest out there in composition (born 1970), and the most popular soundtracks he has been part of is X TV (2000), Eureka Seven (2005), although he has also collaborated for the End of Evangelion (1997) team. He won an award for “Best Music” for the film “Always: Sunset on Third Street“. To get a taste of his greatness, some standout tracks include “Sadame” and “Distant Memory“, just to name a few.

4. Tenmon

If you see a Shinkai film, Tenmon is behind it!
If you see a Shinkai film, Tenmon is behind it.

Shirakawa Atsushi, more commonly known as “Tenmon” was born in 1971 and originally composed music for Falcom games. Meeting Makoto Shinkai in a visual novel game company lead to various collaborations like the beautiful melodies for Shinkai’s works of She and her Cat (1999). Tenmon’s music initially utilized the piano, although as Shinkai’s works got more exposure, more instruments have been added to the ensemble. Standout tracks include: Distant Everyday Memories and Sayuri’s Melody.

3. Joe Hisaishi


If you do not recognize Hisaishi then it is very likely that you have been living under a rock. Formally known as Mamoru Fujisawa (born 1950), Mr. Hisaishi has composed and directed hundreds of musical scores. He is most famous for his work with Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)), but has contributed to many Japanese live-action films as well. His melodies are rich in both instruments and emotion. Even though there are thousands of great pieces by him, I would like to highlight: “Howl’s Moving Castle: Main Theme” and “Princess Mononoke: Main Theme“.

2. Yoko Kanno

The brilliant lady behind the music
The brilliant lady behind the music

Yoko Kanno (born 1961) is a big name for the Japanese media industry in general. She has lent her talent to anime TV shows, movies, live action shows, video games, song writers (notably Maaya Sakamoto) and commercials. I can not give justice to her in just a paragraph or so – some of her famous soundtracks include: Escaflowne (1996), Cowboy Beebop (1998), Wolf’s Rain (2003), Ghost in a Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) and CardCaptor Sakura: The Movie (1999). A nice preview of her work includes: “Sora” and “Dance of Curse“. She is worth taking a further look at, if only to marvel over the sheer volume of work.

1. Yuki Kajiura


Despite being a big fan of all the previously mentioned composers (and many more that could not make the list), Yuki Kajiura (born 1965) remains my favorite. Her style is very dark and always beautiful, it gives the feeling of Howard Shore’s work on the Lord of the Rings. She is a music composer, producer and has composed soundtracks to a few video games, and an ever growing list of anime (Madlax (2004), Noir (2001), Tsubasa Chronicles (2005)…). She has also worked together with Toshihiko Sahashi on the Gundam Seed soundtracks. Since 1992, Miss Kajiura provided back up vocals and music for the J-pop music group See-Saw. Some great tracks by her include: “A Song of Storm and Fire” and “Galza“, but like the others, this is skimming the surface of her mountain of amazing work.

I hope this has inspired you to think twice about anime, or at least the music it can contain, and check out more from these wonderful composers.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Pernilla

    About time anime music gets more attention! Can’t get enough of Hisaishi’s magical compositions. And you can never go wrong with Hayao Miyazaki amazing storytelling!

  2. Brandon Somma

    Yo, I dug this list girl!

  3. WillStocks

    great article, Joe Hisaishi is one of my favourite composers and musicians at the moment, his music plays just as a major part in Miyazaki’s films as the story does for me

  4. Thanks for writing this but i would hsve liked it more if you would have explored the music more and maybe discussed the compositions further…

  5. Yoko Kanno..what an amazing composer. Thanks for the list!

  6. Mary Awad

    Firstly, it’s awesome to see two women taking the top two! We dah best~ Secondly, all the composers are wonderful and Joe Hisaishi is a master! All his scores are beautiful and filled with such emotion and joy. The Wind Forest from Totoro may be one of his bests; it’s absolutely incredible!

    • Jordan

      I find it amazing that no matter how many compositions Joe Hisaishi does they don’t seem to be decreasing in quality!

  7. what about Susumu Hirasawa??

    • Jordan

      I haven’t seen enough of his work to make a decision. I noticed he did work on some Satoshi Kon work which is awesome 🙂

  8. I’ve been a big fan of movie music and composers for a long time, some of my favorites being John Williams, Howard Shore, John Powell, Hans Zimmer, and James Horner. Recently I’ve started paying more attention to anime music composers, and I love this article. My favorites are also Yuki Kajiura, Joe Hisashi, and Tenmon. I’m not familiar with the other two composers, but now I can look their music up. Thank you!

  9. Yamato-san

    Fuck yeah, Kajiura! I’ve been a fan of her ever since I saw .hack//SIGN on Toonami, and I’d easily consider her my #1 as well. Sadly, I can’t say her work with Sword Art Online is quite up to par with her previous masterpieces, but Madoka Magica and its more recent movies leave me confident that her work has NOT been waning as of late.

    One composer I love who wasn’t listed is Kow Otani. He’s done a lot of great work, with my personal favorites (out of what I’ve heard) being the music for Outlaw Star and The Soul Taker, as well as the game Shadow of the Colossus. Shiro Sagisu (Evangelion, Bleach) and the late Takanori Arisawa (Sailor Moon, Digimon) seem worthy of mention as well.

  10. Check out Ryo Kunihiko

  11. Shiro Sagisu

  12. Jutor

    I guess I have been living under a rock. Although, I’ve never been one to remember the names of the actors or writers. I royally suck when it comes to remembering names. I believe in judging a show or movie based on what it puts out, not based on who I know behind it.

  13. Seshiito

    Taku Iwasaki. And yoko kano’s work in zankyou no terror

  14. Where is revo (linked horion)

  15. Ken Kaneki

    Yutaka Yamada should be here lol. He’s just amazing.

  16. eddie barbour

    Reading a book by Steph Cha and was looking for soundtrack to listen to whilst reading. Spooky that how I picture the character Juniper Song to look like Yuki Kajiura in this article. Eddie

  17. Since I have not heard of most of these anime, it would certainly be obscure for me.

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