Every artist finds inspiration in the type of art they like. Some digital artists like video game concept art while others may be fond of Disney illustrations.
But another style is the world of Anime art. The Japanese have a unique flair to animation all their own and if you love anime movies/TV shows then you’ll adore these art books.
Granted there are dozens of books out there so I’ve whittled down this list to my top 20. But this still offers a broad range of anime art with popular series westerners know & love.
I found Yu-Gi-Oh! when it first came to America in the early 2000s. It is still one of my favorite animes and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged is just a treasure trove of laughs.
Duel Art: Kazuki Takahashi Yu-Gi-Oh! Illustrations is a fairly recent book with art focusing more on the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series. This book isn’t too big with 128 pages but it does have a bunch of rare artwork from series creator Kazuki Takahashi.
You’ll find a bunch of finished concept art along with raw sketches and storyboards from the anime. Every piece of art is simply gorgeous and the print quality is fantastic.
There is so much rare concept art here covering the cards themselves, but also the creatures and characters in the show. You’ll also find a couple interviews from different artists and Takahashi himself discussing the rise of Yu-Gi-Oh! as a worldwide phenomenon.
If you love the original YGO series then you’ll want a copy of this art book. It’s by far the most complete collection of anime art pieces I’ve seen and most of these have never been published elsewhere.
Another wildly popular Americanized anime series is Dragon Ball. This started as a manga which later got its own TV show and a follow-up anime Dragon Ball Z.
Dragon Ball: The Complete Illustrations celebrates both animes along with the overall Dragon Ball franchise. Inside you’ll find rare concept art dating back to the mid-80s when Dragon Ball first released in Japan.
There’s a bunch of great concept art of everyone from Goku to Piccolo and Vegeta. But the production art goes beyond characters to include environments, buildings, vehicles, and even action shots designed in sketches.
Every sketch and concept design has a small annotation explaining where it’s from and usually when it was created.
This art book is more than just a fun collection of DB/DBZ artwork. It’s also a time capsule peering into the history of this incredible series.
Everyone and their grandmother knows about Pokémon. It took the world by storm and has quickly become one of the most popular video games, mangas, and animes in the entire world.
There are not any specific anime art books out there for the Pokémon series. However there is a brand new book titled Pokémon Adventures 20th Anniversary Illustrations with 170 pages of concept art & never-before-seen illustrations.
This artbook covers the Adventures mangas which follow different protagonists outside of Ash Ketchum. These mangas do have similar art styles and they all feature the same Pokémon you’ve come to love, so this book is really just a massive compilation of rare Pokémon concept art.
I like the cheaper price tag on this because it’s an affordable purchase for any fans of the series.
There is one other art book on Ken Sugimori’s style but that also mostly covers the Pokémon manga. So this newer Adventures 20th Anniversary artbook is definitely the better choice and it’s a must-own for any Pokémon fanatics.
The Art Of Fullmetal Alchemist follows Edward and Alfonse on their mysterious journey to find the philosopher’s stone. This series also started as a manga but quickly grew into a wildly popular anime with the same name.
However these books are not strictly concept art books. Instead they focus on finished illustrations and character designs from the series.
You’ll find designs from all the major characters like Lust, Winry, Mustang, Scar, everyone from both protagonists & antagonists. The artwork is in full color and printed beautifully on glossy paper with a strong hardcover design.
My one complaint is the small size of the book. It’s only 90 pages which just feels lacking compared to other artbooks. Granted there is a second artbook for FMA but you may not want to buy two separate books to get all this artwork together.
Still the prices aren’t bad so if you want a coffee table book or a cool FMA style reference I’d recommend grabbing both.
Evangelion is another anime that pretty much all anime fans know about. Der Mond: The Art of Neon Genesis Evangelion takes a look into this series offering a history of the story and the characters.
It’s a sizable book with 120 pages full of color prints. Most of these prints are traditional finished pieces with characters, postcard designs, and even marketing/promo art.
Very few of these prints have captions so this can feel like a random assortment of artwork. Not to mention the ratio of finished illustrations to concept art must be 4:1 at best.
Certainly a gorgeous art book if you love the Evangelion series. But this doesn’t show a lot of production art so it’s not as in-depth as you might expect.
Steins;Gate Art Works Imaginations of Huke features some of the most incredible anime artwork I’ve ever seen. Regardless of whether you know this series or not, this artwork will blow you away.
I know many artists reading this want to draw their own mangas or improve their anime drawing abilities. Naturally you need to practice a lot, but you also want to find inspiring pieces that you can compare against your work to gauge your progress.
This art book for Steins;Gate has dozens of gorgeous full-page spreads in HQ print quality. Full color digital paintings that will keep you mesmerized for hours.
If you love anime and want a genuine reference into the art style then this book will not disappoint.
The entire Ghost in the Shell series is just over 20 years old and it’s one of the most beloved animes/OVAs to ever come out of Japan.
You can find a bunch of weird art books for this series but many of them feature postcards or semi-popular art you can find everywhere. But Ghost in the Shell Original Collection is the artbook for this series.
It’s absolutely massive with 288 pages and well over 1,000 illustrations/concept designs. The artwork is organized in chronological order based on the film and snippets from the anime.
You’ll find character sketches, storyboards, animation cels, and tons of visual development ideas.
Definitely a great buy if you love Ghost in the Shell or if you want a peek behind the scenes at the production side of anime.
If there’s any Japanese animator that every artist should know it’s Hayao Miyazaki. He created a number of popular films and my personal favorite is Howl’s Moving Castle.
That’s why I was thrilled to get The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle and dig in. For an art book this one’s pretty thick with 256 pages of character sketches, full digital paintings, backgrounds, illustrations, and even animation cels.
Throughout the book you’ll find various interviews with team members on the movie’s production staff and the key animators. But I do think it’s the artwork that truly shines here.
I love the background paintings because they show just how much detail goes into creating a believable anime world. These should offer plenty of inspiration for aspiring background painters or artists working to create their own works.
The artwork in this book is like nothing else and it’s a true gem in the world of anime art.
Another wildly popular Miyazaki film is Spirited Away. This art book was first released around the time of the movie so it is quite a few years old.
But the print quality is fantastic and it really holds up against modern art books. The Art of Spirited Away totals 240 pages of illustrations, storyboards, animation cels, and so much more.
This is like the definitive guide to the entire movie with concept designs for pretty much everything. The pages are very thick and the color spectrum is wide enough so you can really appreciate these art prints.
Plus as a bonus you’ll find a lot of behind-the-scenes details on the making of this film with insights from the cast & crew. Studio Ghibli concept art is just as beautiful as the final anime and this book takes you deep into the production side of Japanese animation.
One of Miyazaki’s older films is Kiki’s Delivery Service, a classic fantasy film made in 1989. On the fifteenth anniversary of the movie Ghibli released The Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service.
This hardcover 200-page artbook offers a glorious look into the creation of this classic anime film. There’s so much rare artwork here that you might make yourself dizzy flipping through pages!
You’ll find a ton of concept ideas and variations on character outfits, hairstyles, props, and environments. Most of the artwork is from other animators & artists outside of Miyazaki so this book really celebrates the entire film as a whole.
Fans of the movie will naturally love this artbook. But it’s also great for aspiring artists trying to pick up the anime style.
Uzumaki Naruto: Illustrations is a small yet voluminous art book featuring designs from the Naruto anime & manga.
It totals 104 pages with a few sections on characters and environments from various illustrators. But much of this book focuses on poster art and production/promo pieces from the mangas.
All of this artwork is still gorgeous and follows the classic Naruto style. It’s an excellent art book for anyone who adores the manga and wants a deeper look into the creative process.
But admittedly this is an illustration book, not so much a concept art book. So far I have not found any Naruto books with behind-the-scenes artwork but hopefully something like that will pop up in the near future.
The Art Works of Lupin the Third is a sizable 8.5×11 A4 print artbook full of rare production art from the anime. This is by far one of the most detailed art books I’ve found with real concept production art overflowing each page.
It totals 128 pages and most of the book is full of real Lupin the Third artwork. Just note that technically this is a Japan-only release so it was never translated into English.
Thankfully you don’t need to reach much Japanese because the visuals are more than enticing. This is primarily an animator’s art book with tons of storyboards, x-sheets, animation cels, and rough sketches from the days of traditional animation.
This book actually prints complete storyboards for scenes from the anime and they’re all incredibly high-quality prints. You can learn so much just from skimming this artwork and it’s easily one of the best anime art books out there.
If you can justify the cost this will prove an amazingly valuable asset for art/animation inspiration.
The Art of My Neighbor Totoro is, once again, a Miyazaki special. This guy has quite a track record of hit films and it’s no wonder he’s Japan’s most revered animator.
This book catalogs the concept art from the 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro. It is printed in English and it offers some deeper insights into the film with character designs and backgrounds for their personalities.
Artists share their thoughts on the process and how they came up with the designs for each character. Many pages even have side-by-side comparisons with rough sketches compared to the final design.
And most of these concept sketches have never been released in any other book so this is a rare treat for all Miyazaki lovers.
If you liked this movie and wanna dig deeper into the anime production art then grab a copy of this book.
Makoto Shinkai has worked on many different features and video games with a very distinct art style. Perhaps his most well-known anime is 5 Centimeters per Second but he has released many other animated features.
One thing stands out about Shinkai’s art style: the level of background detail. It’s gorgeously rendered and pushes anime artwork far beyond what most other animators have done.
A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai curates all of his artwork into one amazing book. This features hundreds of rare background paintings which are the cornerstone of his films. Every single painting is a work of art and they really set the scene well.
This book is a huge curation of his beautiful backgrounds and the work that went into all of them. If you’re looking for real anime art inspiration this is a must-own resource.
One of the oldest animes out there with a huge fanbase is Future Boy Conan. This first aired in 1978 and features a post-apocalyptic sci-fi plot that’ll grab anyone’s attention.
Future Boy Conan Art Book celebrates the wondrous artwork from this series and how unique art styles were used in the anime’s production. Over 150 pages you’ll find character models, rough sketches, x-sheets, storyboards, and tons of classic artwork from the days of traditional animation.
Unfortunately a small portion(maybe 25%) of this book is just still shots from the anime. This may not be as useful since you can find a lot of those shots online.
But the rare production artwork more than makes up for this and the book itself is really fun to look through. If you’re into Miyazaki or the Conan series then you’ll adore this book.
Baccano! started as a light novel with illustrations but slowly gained popularity with its own anime series in 2007. The Baccano! Illustration Art Book shares a bunch of rare artwork from this series and from the original print publications.
This is all in Japanese so there’s no way to read the captions unless you’re semi-fluent. But the artwork is really the prize here and there’s so much to go around.
You’ll primarily find artwork from color illustrations and manga-style character designs. Many of these illustrations do come from the anime while others were used in print production. But they’re all full-color prints on very firm stock paper.
This art book comes with 112 pages which is a bit on the lighter side, but it’s still a really cool look into the Baccano series.
Fans of Cowboy Bebop will treasure this rare piece of anime history. The Cowboy Bebop Art Book comes straight from Japan with 200 pages full of rare anime production art.
This book is the real deal with dozens of sketches featuring characters, props, environments, vehicles, costumes, you name it.
All of this stuff is incredibly valuable for aspiring animators because you get to peek behind the scenes with character designs and storyboards from the TV show’s production.
But concept artists will get a lot from this book too since the character designs follow a similar structure. You get to see how the Cowboy Bebop artists designed and presented characters to the production team from raw sketches to finished illustrations.
The only pain point here is ordering directly from Japan since you’ll have a hard time finding it elsewhere.
But if you can snag a copy then you’ll find yourself skimming this art book constantly as an inspirational resource and a look into the Cowboy Bebop production cycle.
The Gundam series has a huge following with a bunch of different anime shows & movies. If you search around you can find a ton of different art books based around this series and they all have different styles.
I personally recommend the Mobile Suit Gundam Illustrated 2013 artbook for its size and level of detail. This is another Japan-only release so you probably won’t be able to read anything in this book.
Thankfully you’re probably getting this book for the pictures and those won’t disappoint. The book features a ton of Gundam designs with raw sketches to showcase the concept process. It really is a design book focused on the Gundam world and the many different anime series.
You might pair this with the Gundam Complete Works guide which is a bit longer and comes with a larger variety of concept artwork.
They both come straight from Japan so they may be tough to find in stock. But Gundam fans will find a whole heap of inspiration from these never-before-seen visuals.
The Death Note Illustrations Art Book is absolutely gorgeous and it’s exceptionally well put together.
Inside the book you’ll find 160 pages of Death Note illustrations and finished paintings from Japanese artist Takeshi Obata. A small portion of this book goes beyond just Death Note so it really feels like more of a collection of Obata’s works.
But I’d estimate close to 80% of the book is solely Death Note from the manga to the anime and various illustrations along the way.
This would make a great coffee table book if you like the Death Note style or Obata’s style. But for anyone else this book doesn’t have enough rare artwork to justify the import from Japan.
Yu Yu Hakusho is one other anime series that most western audiences know about. It first aired in the early ‘90s and built up a cult following over many years.
The Yu Yu Hakusho Art Book has some of the most varied artwork I’ve ever seen with watercolors, sketches, rough character designs, and completed pieces all packaged together. It’s a fairly short book with only 100 pages but thankfully every page is full of artwork.
It covers a 50/50 split between the anime and the manga so there it is plenty of variety. But it’s all Yu Yu Hakusho art and there are tons of rare pieces scattered throughout the book.
In my opinion this is a must-own for any Yu Yu Hakusho fans. But since it doesn’t have many production pieces I wouldn’t recommend this for artists who have never seen the show.
And either way I hope there’s at least a couple anime art books in this list to pique your interest.
I know everyone has different tastes and some art books focus more on animation while others cover illustrations or concept art. But if you’re a huge fan of anime and the Japanese art style in general then you’ll find plenty of inspiring books in this collection.
If you’re also into JRPGs and Japanese gaming then take a look at my picks for the best Japanese game artbooks as well.