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Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks are company names that almost everyone knows. They are, in fact, animation studios that have brought us some well-known and well-loved animated productions that most of us grew up with and still continue to enjoy today. Since the early 1900s, cartoons have graced the world and been part of our lives; the more famous earlier works coming from Walt Disney himself before becoming one of the most influential companies in the world. Although these big names dominate the movie industry, there are also plenty of smaller animation studios from many different countries that provide cartoons for children, cartoons for adults, and feature films.
To this day, animation studios continue growing, using cutting-edge technology to visualize amazing stories with superior visual effects. With the easy access to computers and animation software, it has become a competitive business. As well as the company giants that have come out of the United States, Japan is also known for producing massive amounts of cartoons – or “anime”, to be more specific – and all thanks to the animation studios that work hard to bring fans their favorite manga and novels to life. Here are some of the biggest animation studios that produced some of our favorite anime series and movies of all time. How many of them do you know?
You simply can’t write a list about anime studios with the best animation without putting Kyoto Animation on it and putting on the top of it. While this list isn’t ranked, if it were, Kyoto Animation would be the top, no question. While the past arson attack slowed production, they are just starting to get it going again with the second season of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. What has always made Kyoto Animation so successful is their singular-minded dedication. They don’t crank out quantity series, but rather focus on quality (as well as try to pay their animators a living wage).
They have managed to maintain a high quality in their series and likely shape the present art style that all anime has gravitated towards. If there is ever an anime series that makes you stop and think, “Damn, this is quite beautiful.” Chances are good that it is a Kyoto Animation series.
Visually Stunning Series by Kyoto Animation:
Most famous as the studio that made the first three seasons of Attack on Titan, Wit Studio was birthed from Production IG, a studio that, considering the quality of some of the later Haikyuu seasons, seems to be bleeding their talent. Wit Studios brought visual splendor with Attack on Titan that only got better as they got into it. However, that is just their most famous work. The similarly-themed, but wholly original series that got overshadowed by that wild popularity ride, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, is legit visually stunning as well.
Like KyoAni above, they continue to prove that small, singularly focused studios can really advance anime as an art form.
Visually Stunning Series By Wit Studio:
Studio Bones had rather modest beginnings, pushing out series of average-at-best animation, but somewhere that all changed. Now when you see a series by Studio Bones, chances are good that somewhere within that series will be an absolutely spectacular show of animation grandeur. However, one special thing that allows Bones to be so prolific and high quality is that it is actually separated into several different studios, Studios A through E. This means they can often have several series airing in a season without a drop in quality.
Visually Stunning Series By Bones:
Paddling away from the sinking ship of Gainax was the newly formed Studio Trigger, a lifeboat that contained all the best talent of Gainax. Trigger is truly a studio you can see a series from a mile away. They have a very particular art and animation style that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. Their particular emphasis on fluidity and flexibility in their animation allows for their series to often reach a frenetic pace.
Visually Stunning Series By Trigger:
Over the years, P.A. Works has gotten a little less daring. It seems that they discovered that their uneventful, but beautifully animated slice of life series work really well, so now that’s just all they are going to make. It’s not a bad thing, but it is kind of a sad thing. As I said before, their series do look amazing. So good that you could confuse them with KyoAni animation. It is just a shame that they apparently aren’t looking for complex plot anymore or even complex drama.
Visually Stunning Series By P.A. Works:
Originally a sub-studio of A-1 Pictures, the once-Koenji Studio-now-CloverWorks has since separated from them. However, while their animation isn’t especially striking in any particular way, they maintain overall quality and have been responsible for some of the biggest series in the most recent years. In truth, I don’t actually know to much about them, and there likely isn’t too much else to know since they only started making series in 2018. Their anime list is still small, but the quality is high. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Visually Stunning Series By CloverWorks:
While founded in the early 2000’s, UFOTable really kind of languished as a studio until it started the Fate / Stay Series as well as Garden of Sinners. You really have to wonder what changed between between 2002 and 2010, because something sure did. You look at an earlier work like Coyote Ragtime Show and compare it to either of the entries above and you will notice a stark difference. Currently, UFOtable is most notable for including a lot of flashy effects that really enhance the action of their series. They also know how to make a banger opening animation for many JRPGS.
Visually Stunning Series By UFOtable:
MAPPA is what we would call the cool new kid on the block. Except they are not that new. They are not CloverWorks new, but they have now firmly cemented themselves as a big notable name. They are comprised of a chunk of talent from Madhouse that formed their own studio. Now they are showing that they have every right to be acknowledged, and had people worried that Madhouse will sink without them. Really what I find them notable for, aside from quality, is their CG work. They are definitely looking to experiment with it, and are doing it in a way that it doesn’t always look so terrible like with Dorohedoro, moments in Yuri on Ice, Inuyashiki, and Zombieland Saga. It’s not perfect, but you can watch them trying to get there.
Visually Stunning Series By MAPPA:
I almost left Madhouse off this list. Older and bigger studios like Madhouse, JC Staff, and Production IG tend to focus on quantity, and quality sometimes falls to the wayside with that. However, even small studios have the occasional dud, and Madhouse has still maintained a decent reputation for even their bad series being passable. Even loosing a good chunk of talent to Mappa splitting off in 2011, Madhouse has kept things afloat.
Visually Stunning Series By Madhouse:
Certainly I’ve left off a few solid animation studios here. Controversially so, in some cases, but the ones I have left off that are big staples are either pretty consistently good, but not overly impressive, on the slippery slope downwards in quality, or just plain old don’t exist anymore. Still, if there is an anime studio you feel passionate for, let fans know why in the comments section below.