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Frieren Knocks Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood Out of the Top Spot on Both MAL and ANN

by Lauren Orsini,

[Editor's Note: An incomplete draft of this article was accidently published previously. It has been taken down and replaced with this, the completed version.]

What is the greatest anime in the world? The show that's generally agreed to be the best? This is the kind of question that we could all argue about for 200 forum pages. But at some point in that argument, and very likely early on, somebody would link to the ANN Encyclopedia's Top 10 Anime or the MyAnimeList Top Anime Series page to prove their point. No single resource is perfect, but both of these established lists rely on millions of fan rankings to rate the greats.

And as it happens, both of these resources have recently undergone a reckoning. After roughly a decade or more with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood ranked as the reigning anime on both sites, Frieren: Beyond Journey's End has now edged into both top spots.

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End burst onto the scene in Fall 2023 with a bingeworthy premiere of four full-length episodes back to back. Viewers got hooked on its cozy fantasy premise, ageless main character, and unexpectedly deep underlying message about mortality. Frieren benefited from strong source material from ​​Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe's popular manga, but Studio Madhouse's adaptation brought its charms out further in living color.

Meanwhile, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood premiered 15 years ago in April 2009. The 64- episode Studio Bones series was preceded by Fullmetal Alchemist, a 2003 anime that loosely followed the plot of Hiromu Arakawa's beloved (and, at the time, not-yet-completed) manga of the same name. Brotherhood rebooted the anime—this time faithfully adhering to the entire manga—and for this reason it is the one that has more clearly withstood the test of time.

On Anime News Network, Brotherhood initially rose to #1 in May 2016 with a score of 9.10, overtaking the previous reigning champ, Steins;Gate. MyAnimeList reflected this change much more quickly than the ANN database. By July 2010, it had already claimed the top spot over Gintama. However, while Brotherhood has remained the top anime in the ANN database for the eight years since it first took #1, MyAnimeList has seen more fluctuation. In the past 14 years, titles like Fruits Basket: The Final, Attack on Titan's final season, and Oshi no Ko have all temporarily unseated Brotherhood from the top position. But each time, the juggernaut returns to MyAnimeList's top position.

Kineta, the lead moderator for MyAnimeList, told Anime News Network: “Like all anime on MAL, Brotherhood's score has declined over time as new anime fans watch it and have differing perspectives or opinions. However, when a title has already accumulated 2.1 million scores, the number of new viewer scores are easily outweighed by the existing.”

In the Anime News Network database, Frieren has an overall score of 9.14, slightly edging out Brotherhood's current overall score of 9.07. On MyAnimeList, Brotherhood has a weighted ranking of 9.09 (scored by 2,104,150 users) as of this publication. Frieren, which currently has a higher weighted ranking of 9.181 (scored by 205,336 users), overtook it more quickly on MAL, back on November 22, 2023.

Kineta told Anime News Network that Frieren's upcoming conclusion may bring it back down to #2 because of the way MyAnimeList counts rankings for airing versus completed anime.

“For an anime which has completed airing, one-fifth of the anime's total episodes must have been seen for the member's list score to count towards the weighted average. This means that when an anime entry's status changes from ‘Currently Airing’ to 'Finished Airing,' all scores given to the anime [by members who have viewed fewer than one-fifth of the total episodes] suddenly no longer count. This will often also temporarily increase or decrease the weighted score,” she wrote in an email.

In both cases, Brotherhood has the benefit of time and the widespread word of mouth recommendation that comes with it, while Frieren has the advantage of cutting-edge animation and plenty of weekly chatter on social media as each new episode is released. Fortunately, the latter does not also have an advantage of streaming accessibility. As long as Brotherhood remains available on Crunchyroll, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and (for one more week) Funimation, it is unlikely to fade into obscurity even if it no longer claims the top spot.

Looking at these two anime side by side, they share many similar themes and a familiar appeal. Brotherhood leads with strong action scenes and fantasy elements before walloping viewers with deep emotional beats to make them contemplate the concept of mortality; meanwhile, Frieren follows this formula in reverse. Both shows benefit hugely from the convivial chemistry between their dual leads as they set out on a life-changing journey—and the energy and humor of the ensemble casts they meet along the way. And both shows showcase strong worldbuilding, catchy opening and ending themes, and impressive animation that stands out from that of their contemporaries.

Brotherhood deserves its accolades, but if something is going to push it off the throne, Frieren has earned the crown. The show is currently wrapping up the First-Class Mage Exam Arc and is a very different show than the one it started as. However, this about-face from its earlier focus on Frieren's past and current journeys indicates the show's range and staying power.

It's fitting that Frieren, a show with such strong messages about time and mortality, has become the one to topple Brotherhood's enduring status quo. A major theme of Frieren is that its titular character experiences time differently: what would feel like ages to a human is nothing to her. To Frieren, Brotherhood's rein would be simply a blip in the time space continuum.

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