Why Death Note is the greatest anime of all time

Savannah Howard
Ryuk and Light Yagami in Death Note

In the world of anime, there are childhood classics like Pokémon and Naruto, and then there’s Death Note.

Since Death Note premiered in 2006, the series has solidified its status as a cultural icon, earning the Animation of the Year (2007) award at the Tokyo Anime Awards and a spot on IMDb’s Top 250 TV Shows list as rated by users.

In fact, Death Note is so popular that it has spawned multiple adaptations worldwide, ranging from light novels and video games to a live-action movie on Netflix (which we don’t talk about) and even a musical.

Still serving as a gateway for many newcomers into the world of anime, almost 20 years after its debut, Death Note continues to hold a special place in fans’ hearts – here’s why.

What’s Death Note about?

If you’re part of the unfortunate few who’ve never watched the series (or the fortunate, who watched it so long ago they don’t remember enough about it), here’s a quick recap:

The story follows Light Yagami, a highly intelligent but relatively normal high school student who discovers a mysterious notebook one day after class – the Death Note. This notebook belongs to the shinigami (basically a Japanese death spirit, similar to the Grim Reaper) Ryuk and grants the user with the supernatural ability to kill anyone whose name they write in the pages.

However, the Death Note has five rules the user must adhere to:

  • The human whose name is written in the pages will die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the victim’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Which means that people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen (for example, they will step in front of a train or fall off a high building)
  • However, if the cause of death is not specified, then the person will die of a heart attack (in other words, natural causes)
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death must be written in the next six minutes and 40 seconds.

Now you’re familiar with the rules, let’s continue. With the Death Note in his possession and Ryuk at his side, the series follows Light as he goes on a killing spree and we watch as he devolves into an egomaniacal murderer under the alias Kira (meaning killer). Initially, the idealistic teenager Light simply wanted to create a utopia by ridding the world of criminals. However, as the proverb says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And, as we discover in the series, it’s a short road to tread.

As the death toll mounts, expert detective Ryuzaki (who hides behind the name L) takes over the Kira case, initiating a captivating battle of wits that gripped fans for 37 episodes and the years that followed.

Death Note stands apart from many other anime in the Shonen genre because it doesn’t need to rely on fast-paced action scenes to keep the audience hooked. Instead, the cat-and-mouse battle of wits between Light Yagami and L cements the series’ status as one of the most memorable anime (and TV series) of all time.

Why? Because there’s no way of guessing what’s about to happen next. With top-notch writing by Tsugumi Ohba, there’s a sense that the anime is always one step ahead, and the viewer is the one who can’t look away for fear that they’ll lose the intricate thread weaving the story together.

Our main character, Light Yagami, also differs from typical anti-heroes that we see in Western fiction. This is because he’s extraordinary from the start. With unrivalled intelligence, his methodical nature and planning skills fuel this extraordinary tale about moral ambiguity. And although exploring the “the ends justify the means” concept reflects many other stories from the same genre, with the series drawing comparisons to Showtime’s Dexter, Death Note proves unmatched for viewer suspense maintained from start to end.

The relationship between Light Yagami and L forms the crux of the series, and the constant need for each character to outsmart the other helps to keep viewers engaged. One of the best elements to Death Note is how the series conveys the intricate thought processes of Light and L, often through internal monologues and a shift in the color palette, adding depth to the narrative.

While Death Note does have its flaws (mainly a dip in quality towards the end of the series), it doesn’t detract from the rollercoaster of heart-stopping thrills that the earlier episodes provide. It’s safe to say that the compelling narrative, complex characters, and exploration of morality make it a cultural touchstone and its far-reaching influence is a prime example of the butterfly effect in storytelling.

Additionally, the memorable opening theme of Death Note (‘The WORLD’ by Nightmare for the first 20 episodes, and ‘What’s up, people?!’ by Maximum the Hormone for the rest) adds to its allure, setting the tone for each episode and further immersing viewers in this extraordinary fantasy world. The opening’s visual elements, layered with meaning, make it perfect for seasoned fans and newcomers to the world of anime alike.

Why Death Note is the greatest anime of all time

There’s no wonder why so many fans (and outsiders) in the world of anime hold Death Note as one of the greatest of all time. Its intelligent storytelling, memorable characters, and thought-provoking themes has resulted in a unparalleled masterpiece which anime series to come will struggle to replicate. And its exploration of morality, ambition, alongside the battle of wits between Light Yagami and L has solidified its position as a pop-culture icon.

Almost two decades since its debut, it continues to captivate audiences from all generations around the world. This supernatural crime thriller deconstructs (and then reconstructs) all society ingrained expectations about morality that keeps it fresh for newcomers to anime and fans alike. Which is why Death Note is the (almost) undisputable greatest anime of all time.

So if you haven’t watched Death Note (streaming in 2023 on Hulu and Crunchyroll US), what are you waiting for? It’s one of the few series that will always live up to the hype.

How to watch Crunchyroll from outside your location in 2023

Crunchyroll is the world’s best hub for streaming anime, whether it’s One PieceAttack on Titan, or Jujutsu Kaisen – and thanks to ExpressVPN, you can access the platform’s full library even if you’re outside the US.

If you’re abroad, here’s what you need to do to access Crunchyroll’s full selection – and it really is this simple:

  1. Sign up for ExpressVPN, which has ultra-fast servers and offers a secure, private connection wherever you are in the world
  2.  Connect to a location anywhere in the US; Express VPN allows you to choose from 24 different spots, from New Jersey to Santa Monica
  3.  Visit Crunchyroll online and start streaming all of your favorite animes – and perhaps some you’ve never watched

Accessing Crunchyroll’s US roster makes a difference; for example, Hong Kong users only have access to less than 100 titles, while the US has nearly 1,000 movies and TV shows.

You can also stream anime on Crunchyroll for free with an ad-supported plan, or you can pay for a subscription – there’s even a 14-day free trial if you can’t quite make up your mind.

You can check out our other anime coverage below:

10 best horror anime series to watch this Halloween | Highspeed Etoile: Everything we know so far | Top 5 mangas getting anime adaptations in 2024 | One Punch Man Season 3: Everything we know | Dragon Ball Daima: Everything we know | 5 anime to watch if you like Death Note

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