Top 12 English Dubs for Anime

Whether you rejoice over or revile an anime with an English dub track, there's little doubt that having English audio greatly broadens any given anime's reach and potential audience. It's all but impossible to book an anime on United States broadcast TV without an English voice track. Even sales figures show the presence of English audio helps an anime title — whether a series or standalone film — sell that much more vigorously.

The average quality of any given English anime dub has gone up significantly in the last decade or so thanks to better voice talent, more attentive voice casting and keener direction. Out of the dozens of titles released each year, though, a few stand out as being successful adaptations of the tricky source material, voiced by mavericks of attention-getting voice-acting performances that you can't help but love. The following list presents the best English dubs for animes in alphabetic order. 

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"Black Lagoon"

Black Lagoon. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

The dialogue in the original "Black Lagoon" manga was a masterpiece of expletive-bombing vulgarity. The anime adaptation needed to preserve every bit of that foulmouthed-ness, or it wouldn't have been the same story that fans had come to know and love.

Thankfully, it did and doubly so in its English dub version. Everything from Dutch's catchphrase "Amen, hallelujah and peanut butter" to Revy's four-letter gutter sniping was not only reproduced but amplified.

Maryke Hendrikse as Revy provides the standout performance for this English dub. It's a shame nine-tenths of her dialogue cannot be reproduced here. Hendrikse, by the way, also voices Gilda and Spitfire in "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic," although her dialogue is a lot more family-friendly in that show.

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"Cowboy Bebop"

Cowboy Bebop. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Perhaps more than any other single series or film, "Cowboy Bebopis routinely cited as an example of how to do an English dub of an anime right.

It's not just the voice actors, who are beautifully chosen, but the sassy dub script which also suits the sardonic, world-weary nature of one of the anime genre's staple masterworks. With standout performances by the entire principal cast, it's hard to point out any one star, yet David Lucas' interpretation of the protagonist Spike Spiegel delivers cynicism that's never sounded quite as suave or self-assured.

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"Excel Saga"

Excel Saga. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Never mind for now that "Excel Saga" has about as many detractors as it does admirers. What made dubbing this self-conscious parody of anime clichés such an exceptionally tough job was not only the machine-gun pace of the dialogue but the sheer number of puns, doubletalk, in-jokes, out-jokes, cross-references and tons of other near-untranslatable things that were somehow made not only coherent but funny for an English-speaking audience.

With Jessica Calvello and Larissa Wolcott's performances as Excel leading the pack, the voice casting was near-perfect in this English dub. Calvello's brilliantly over-the-top performance was cut short after half the show when she damaged her vocal cords and had to be replaced by Wolcott — who sounds so much like Calvello that most people not clued in never noticed anything had changed!

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"Fullmetal Alchemist"

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part Five. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A show this sprawling and complex — not to mention this closely scrutinized by legions of fans — could have ended up a mess, or been a case of a couple of solid lead roles surrounded by an ocean of mediocrity. But somehow the production studio made this whole thing work, and the end result is one of anime's more recent across-the-board success stories that can be watched in English without feeling like you're missing anything.

Maxey Whitehead as Alphonse Elric and Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric truly capture the spirit of brotherhood and youth in the face of adversity, with Whitehead's vulnerable turn as Alphonse being almost as crucial as Mignogna's brash and fiery Edward.

Speaking of fiery, Christopher R. Sabat as Alex Louis Armstrong and Stephanie Young as Olivier Mira Armstrong present one of the most frightening duos of English villains in voice acting history. You're almost frightened to find out what happens when they end up in the same room together. (They do. It's terrifying.)

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"Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex"

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Another example of English dubbing done with impeccable taste and class. Done wrong, this series would have been an incomprehensible welter of techno-gibberish and pokey acting. But both dub script and voice team were among the best assembled for any anime production, and the results speak for themselves.

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Richard Epcar as Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batou ​respectively did such phenomenal jobs in their roles that they are now more or less synonymous with their respective characters.

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"Golden Boy"

Golden Boy. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

This ecchi comedy revolves around a young man whose drive to learn absolutely everything he can ​puts him (literally) in the laps of one woman after another. The relatively laid-back Japanese audio stands in stark contrast to the English dub, which is way over the top. Some people (like me) find the very fact of the original audio's restraint to be funny, but others prefer the English track for the exact opposite reason.

Either way, Doug Smith as Kintaro gives a truly fun performance as the main character, propelling the action through this funny series and making it humorous for English audiences. Although not my personal favorite, I still recommend it for the sheer feat of translating the show's humor to a broader audience.

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"Outlaw Star"

Outlaw Star. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Gene Starwind and his ragtag crew — is there any other kind of crew in space opera? — knock around the universe and get into and out of all manner of trouble in "Outlaw Star." This severely underappreciated show that deserves the same kind of attention that "Cowboy Bebop" received.

It's also one of the few anime from the Nineties — a time of largely anonymous and often uninspired dubbing — with an English track that not only worked well then but holds up just as well now.

Robert Wicks and Bob Buchholz give standout performances as the lead character Gene Starwind offering all the (snarky) attitude, all the (snarking) time — and we love him for it. Look for him again in a solid supporting role as Paz in "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex."

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"Princess Jellyfish"

Princess Jellyfish. © Akiko Higashimura • KODANSHA/KURAGEHIME Committee

There are so many ways this dub could have gone wrong. Consider the premise: a cross-dressing young man insinuates himself with a crew of misfit female otaku. But the English voice casting makes this show, already heartwarming in its original Japanese edition, doubly so in its dub.

This is thanks mostly to Josh Grelle voicing the lead as Kuranosuke. It would have been the easy way out to have a female voice actor do duty for a cross-dressing character, but Grelle (nominally a supporting voice) is deft at giving us both the male and female versions of Kuranosuke.

And who would have thought the crackle-voiced actress who voiced the likes of the assassin-maid Mey Rin in "Black Butler" and the vampire queen Mina Tepes in "Dance in the Vampire Bund" could manifest so radical a flipside as Mayaya in "Princess Jellyfish?" While gloriously bonkers in the origional, Monica Rial does magnificent justice to this character in her performance in the series, lending further levity to the English version.

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Shin-chan. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Here is a dilemma: how to be faithful to the rat-a-tat potty humor of Japan's favorite kid with a filthy mouth? The solution was not to even try, and it might well have been the best possible option.

FUNimation's English dub for "Shin-chan" — about the adventures of a kid who might well be a close cousin to the casts of either "Family Guy" or "South Park" — was rewritten entirely from scratch with the blessings of the original Japanese production team, and is very much in the vein of those two gleefully vulgar pieces of pop culture.

Some sample dialogue: "Let's play CSI — last one to the basement is a dead hooker!" The real heroes here are the teams of adapters who defied both logic and taste to make this thing happen.

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"Spirited Away"

Spirited Away. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

In truth, almost all of the English-language dubs commissioned by Disney for the Studio Ghibli collection of films for release outside of Japan are excellent. This one deserves special mention — along with "Princess Mononoke" — in big part because it was the first Ghibli film that "broke wide" with English-speaking audiences, and because John Lasseter (of PIXAR) personally oversaw the adaptation to make sure it was letter-perfect.

Daveigh Chase as Chihiro and Suzanne Pleshette as Yubaba bring Miyazaki's characters to life as a spot-on child star and a veteran actress with stellar chops for the lead "baddie." David Ogden Stiers as the multi-limbed Kamajii also gave a stellar performance.

But the best part is, most any English-dub Ghibli film will sport many familiar names in the credits. Everyone from Betty Davis to Christian Bale have lent their voices to this delightful cast of characters.

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Steins;Gate. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

This marvelous mix of catty character humor, psychological suspense and science-fiction strangeness took audiences by happy surprise when it debuted on Crunchyroll in a subtitled-only incarnation. That only made people wonder: what would it be like to have an English-dubbed version of this story, given its reliance on high-tech gobbledygook and oh-so-Japanese meme humor? 

Answer: quite good, thanks to the efforts of its lead voice actor and scriptwriter — which happened to be the same person.

J. Michael Tatum gives outstanding performances as both Rintaro Okabe and Houuin Kyouma. Tatum not only voiced the hilariously self-important main character but wrote the English adaptation of the whole show. Both the performance and the script are brilliant and considered by many to be some of the most inspired dub work in anime.

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Trigun. © Yasushirow Nightow / Shonengahosha, Flyingdog

Another gleefully spirited English dub job, which benefited from a bit of "pre-localization," Trigun was met with critical acclaim once it reached U.S. networks. The show was essentially a Western in space — or, strictly speaking, a Western set on an alien planet — and so the voice cast tears into the whole thing as if it were a live-action Italian soap opera. It was the right decision as it fits the material in so many ways.

Johnny Yong Bosch as Vash the Stampede, Dorothy Melendrez as Meryl Stryfe, Lia Sargent as Milly Thompson, and Jeff Nimoy as Nicholas D. Wolfwood round out the cast and bring fresh life to this classic Japanese series. 

Bosch's name deserved to turn up at least once on this list, and it might as well have been for this show. Melendrez also did a great turn as Kaoru in the English cast for "Rurouni Kenshin." Sargent is a veteran but is most famous for this breakout role; and Nimoy is none other than the son of Leonard, but doesn't coast on his family name here, not one bit.