This article almost didn’t get made. While I was eager to talk about my favorite insert songs for anime, I was a lot less enthusiastic about having to dance around copyright issues. I didn’t quite feel like getting murdered by corporate henchmen—be it legally or literally—and linking other people’s videos seemed like a messy solution. I tried working with Spotify, but Japanese artists are very underrepresented on that platform.
I will do my best to embed official links where possible, but I encourage readers to look up the songs themselves if they seem interesting.
With that said, this list has some guidelines to it:
- For the sake of minimizing argument, I am defining “insert songs” as any track in an anime’s OST that has lyrics in it and which plays during the actual anime.
- This means that I include character theme songs and regular music in the criteria, so long as they have clear lyrics.
- Openings and endings are completely excluded, even if they are later used as insert songs.
- Interstella 5555 is banned for being way too obvious.
#10 Dance of the Spirit – Ancient Magus’ Bride
To start of this list we have a character theme so enchanting that it made me drop the manga in favor of watching the anime. Dance of the Spirit acts as the theme song for the Fae Queen Titania, and it’s first heard as she literally comes riding into the anime.
The scene is treated with much spectacle and while some had issues with the directing choices, most will agree that the music knocks it out of the the park. Dance of the Spirit is composed and performed by Kokia and opens up sounding vaguely ominous before turning into festive chanting. I don’t know if this is actual Gaelic, but Irish influences have been prominent in Kokia’s music in the past; her 2008 album Fairy Dance being a very obvious example of such.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride soundtrack is full of great music, but this is the song I come back to most often. It’s also fortunately available on Spotify, so you don’t have to be confronted by Titania’s huge tracts of land every time you want to listen to the song.
#9 Katyusha – Girls und Panzer
The Girls und Panzer soundtrack is full of recognizable music pieces from across the world, most of them army music like The British Grenadiers and When Johnny Comes Marching Home. You’d think world famous music pieces like that would escape the clutches of copyright laws fairly easily, but one song didn’t quite manage. And, sadly, it was by the best of the bunch.
The Soviet-era folk song Katyusha was used as a diegetic insert song that preceded the battle between Ooarai Girls Academy and the Russian-inspired Pravda Girls High School. Pravda’s captain, who is even named Katyusha, led her team into battle while singing part of the song. An iconic moment for the series that sadly didn’t make it overseas due to copyright shenanigans.
Plenty of people have since reuploaded the scene and it’s available region-free on Spotify, which gives you the full song as well. It’s a great rendition of the folk song that gives it an anime flair while staying true to its original spirit. It also helps that it’s partly sung by Sumire Uesaka, who is both a phenomenal singer as well as fluently Russian. It’s as close to authentic as you can probably get and shows that the producers truly cared about making this a highlight of an already stellar soundtrack.
#8 Fuwa Fuwa Time – K-On!
Fuwa Fuwa Time is a catchy song, but it also acts as the main objective throughout season 1 of K-On!. This Kyoto Animation classic is about a group of girls who form their school’s “Light Music” club and their arduous journey towards actually performing live music.
Season 1 is all about Fuwa Fuwa Time actually becoming a reality. The girls must buy equipment they can’t afford, teach total amateurs to play music, and overcome a horrible case of stage fright, and all that just for a single song. We get our first taste of Fuwa Fuwa Time in episode 6 with vocals by Yoko Hikasa, but the song develops further from there as the club picks up a fifth member and becomes more skilled. In episode 12 we finally get the complete version of the song, this time with vocals by Yui voice actress Aki Toyosaki.
It’s an interesting throughline for an anime series to watch a song being perfected like this, which is a role Fuwa Fuwa Time fills well. Its light rock music and cheesy lyrics are adorable and simplistic enough to be believably composed and performed by young high schoolers. Especially when compared with the ending song Don’t Say Lazy, which is way too moody and intense to fit that purpose.
Even if it’s overshadowed by other songs in the soundtrack, the context and catchy nature of Fuwa Fuwa Time make it by the most lovable song in the OST for me.
#7 Servante de Feu – Sound of the Sky
This is tricky, because getting into the specifics of why Servante de Feu works so phenomenally well would entail getting into spoiler territory for a show that’s very dear to me.
Sound of the Sky is a very bittersweet series about the girls who make up the army garrison of a small town. Their nation is on the brink of war once again, but the cast does its best to maintain the carefree atmosphere of the town and participate in its unique culture. It’s an anime unlike anything else, so I sincerely recommend watching it. Not just because it’s a fantastic show, but also to experience Servante de Feu in its proper context instead of just looking up a nice, French song on YouTube.
#6 Blumenkranz – Kill la Kill
Villains get the best music and, Holy Shit, Kill la Kill had some amazing villains. Nui Harime continues to be one of my favorite bad guys in all of anime and she sure has a villain theme to match, albeit without lyrics. That would be breaking my own rules, wouldn’t it?
Fortunately, there is Ragyo Kiruin and her theme music “Blumenkranz”. For me, a song that’s more iconic for the series than even “Before My Body is Dry”.
Whereas Nui Harime’s theme is undoubtedly a masterpiece reeking of villainy, Blumenkranz is a deceptively empowering song. There are certainly grim implications if you look into the song’s German lyrics, but listening to it as a non-native speaker it sounds heroic and positively defiant. it throws your expectations for the characters for a loop and leaves you questioning just what Ragyo is even about.
The music is by Hiroyuki Sawano and the vocals are sung by Cyua, who incidentally also cooperated for the Attack on Titan insert song “Vogel im Käfig”. I haven’t spoken German in years, but these two songs really leave me hoping there’ll be more foreign music in anime in the future.
#5 Forces – Berserk
Susumu Hirasawa is one of anime’s most respected composers and his work on the Berserk franchise has been especially legendary. Though every attempt at bringing the Berserk series to anime has proven troubled, Hirasawa’s music has become synonymous with the series as a whole and is cherished even by the most die hard of manga purists.
Many of Hirasawa’s songs for Berserk are classics, but you honestly can’t go wrong with the original. Forces is a beautiful and overpowering song that featured prominently in the 1997 adaptation by OLM. The song is unrivaled in its ability to hype me up for a good action scene. Particularly its chorus is very satisfying to chant along with, which is what gave it an edge over Aria and Ashes for me.
If you want to see something really cool, then I recommend looking up old live footage of Hirasawa performing the song. There are recordings from the turn of the millennium where you still get to see him struggle with an elaborate machine that handles the music and synthesizer effects. It’s super inefficient and definitely at the cost of Hirasawa’s actual singing, but it’s an amazing bit of showmanship.
#4 Scanty & Knee Socks Theme – Panty & Stocking
It was painful trying to decide what song from Panty & Stocking to include on the list. Though the anime might look vulgar and hyper, it actually sports a remarkably solid soundtrack consisting mostly of electronic music. These are composed by TeddyLoid, who’d later go on to make the infamous MeMeMe! music video.
Ultimately, I decided to go with the theme song for Scanty & Knee Socks, the rival duo to the anime’s anti-hero protagonists Panty & Stocking. It’s a harsh and aggressive track, but it’s also very catchy and the lyrics are strangely unsettling. It certainly draws attention to the villains the song belongs to and remains impressive even as Scanty & Knee Socks themselves get turned into laughingstocks.
A lot of the music in this anime, including that of runner-up “D. City Rock”, is very transparent with its vulgar content. It’s good music for sure, but the Scanty & Knee Socks theme has a subtlety to it that songs like “Technodildo” lack, for obvious reasons.
#3 Tsubasa wo Daite – Mermaid Melody
Mermaid Melody was one of the first reviews I ever did and it’s a show that has stuck with me for a long time. It was an eye-opening shoujo anime for me that was definitely influential in getting me to later try out shows like Tokyo Mew Mew, Sailor Moon, and Yumeiro Patissiere. I regularly listen to its soundtrack and was utterly surprised to find out that the license holders had actually put the whole OST on Spotify.
Just as with Panty & Stocking, actually picking a favorite from the diverse Mermaid Melody soundtrack proved incredibly challenging. Especially its villain songs are absurdly good and memorable. In the end, it came down to Lady Bat’s “Ankoku no Tsubasa” and the big man Mikeru’s own “Tsubasa wo Daite”. While I generally prefer intenser music, Mikeru’s theme is just so incredibly impactful that I had to give this spot to Tsubasa wo Daite.
Whereas the other villain songs are aggressive and gloomy, Mikeru’s song is lamenting and personal. It’s a sentimental ballad about the tragic destiny that forces Mikeru to be the antagonist of the series. in it, he sings openly about his regrets and feelings, making the song a real tear-jerker once you have gotten invested in the character. Voice actress Junko Minagawa hits it out of the park with her performance and the song is sparingly used to maintain its chilling effect.
Tsubasa wo Daite is emblemetic of Mermaid Melody as a whole and listening to it always reminds me of just why this series continues to have such a passionate fan base to this very day.
#2 Koishi Masho Nebari Masho – Cyberteam in Akihabara
I resent Cyberteam in Akihabara, but I can’t deny that its soundtrack is pretty darn amazing. Its music was composed by Shinkichi Mitsumune, who’d later use his talent for more successful anime like Rozen Maiden and The Familiar of Zero, as well as OVA series like FLCL.
My favorite track was very easy to pick out. “Koishi Masho, Nebari Masho” is the recent hit single by beloved idol/secret villainess Hatoko, which often plays in the background of the anime or is actually sung by Hatoko as she battles the Cyberteam. It’s a very catchy pop song composed and written by Masami Okui, with vocals by Hatoko’s VA Yuki Kakazu.
There’s no elaborate, meaningful reason behind the song or me putting it this high. I just absolutely love it even though I hate the show it’s a part of. I get a kick whenever it suddenly pops up in my playlist, and then get angry afterwards as I reminisce about how insufferable Cyberteam in Akihabara was.
#1 God Knows – The Melancholy of Haruhu Suzumiya
I probably won’t win any prizes for originality here, but there is no denying just how amazing of a singer Aya Hirano is. She is an icon of the mid-2000s and Haruhi Suzumiya is the star role by which she is forever remembered.
The song God Knows is sung by Aya Hirano in-character during the Culture Festival arc, as she and Yuki Nagato fill in for a band that’s shorthanded. I don’t know if this scene actually took place in the original light novel, but I can only imagine the production team’s glee when they realized they could throw an Aya Hirano concert at the tail-end of anime that was already topping the popularity charts.
I have rewatched The Melancholy of Haruhu Suzumiya a bunch of times and the concert is always the scene I end up looking forward to the most. Even more impressive is that it’s an insert song that managed to be good TWICE. Instead of just awkwardly shifting to Japanese when the concert comes up, the English dub actually has God Knows translated and sung by Wendee Lee. It’s not as amazing as the Aya Hirano version, but that’s a lot of effort and bravery for a dub.