There’s a reason why Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note has been considered a strong “gateway anime”. The plot is simple yet highly addictive, the level of physical, fast paced fighting remains low, and the anime only consists of 37 episodes as opposed to other anime such as Bleach (366), Fairy Tail (328), and certainly One Piece (1000+). Since Death Note is not broken down into arcs or sagas, we figured it would be easier to rank Death Note solely by it’s episodes, especially after rewatching the series once more. Here is our ranking (Note: Possible spoilers lay ahead):
#37: Renewal (Episode 26): Quite possibly the only skippable episode of the show, Renewal spends it’s first half retelling the events of the first 25 episodes. That’s literally the entire first 15-16 minutes. The second half is mainly filler with Light and Misa going on their first date in quite some time, Misa complaining as usual, and Light killing more criminals. Nowadays, a quick Google search will recap the anime’s plot, rendering this episode meaningless. That being said, the episode premired in 2006 when the Internet wasn’t reliable, so we can’t really blame the episode (technology has advanced so much, hasn’t it?!). Still, Renewal is a straight-up filler and a true disappointment after the excitement of the previous 4 episodes.
#36: Makeshift (Episode 20): This episode introduced the new opening while, as badass as it is, is unfortunately unfit for an anime such as Death Note-at least compared to the first opening. The first opening is much more religious based and thought-provoking like Death Note while the second opening is fit more for the shonen genre. Even if we look past the opening, however, this episode is very bland and forgetful. The Task Force gets into a fight regarding how to catch Kira which is literally resolved next episode. The Yotsuba meetings are slow-paced too and the question about Light becoming L’s successor is too dragged out. L’s “world without light” joke is this episode’s highlight (in the English dub, anyway), but if one measly joke is the best part, then this episode has worse problems than catching Kira.
#35: Matsuda (Episode 19): As awesome a character as Matsuda is, this episode unfortunately does not reflect that personality. Matsuda is tired of being the Task Force’s punching bag so to prove himself, he goes to investigate Yotsuba by himself. Unfortunately, he gets caught and Light, Misa, and L help to save him. While the episode was trying to make the audience sympathize with Matsuda, this episode just makes him unlikable by showing his desperation and negligence to L’s demands. Seeing drunk Matsuda was amusing at least, especially with L’s “Drinking buddy” voice. Don’t worry, Matsuda, you’ll shine in the finale.
#34: Scorn (Episode 33): This episode relies more on setup than suspense, action, and excitement. It’s Christmastime and Near moves to Japan to investigate Kira, Light meets with Takada to discuss how to “catch” Kira, and Misa and Takada meet face-to-face fighting for Light’s attention. While the holiday atmosphere is always cheerful, Misa’s sheer jealousy and unlikeable nature with Takada are what kill this episode and the setup feels more like filler. Consider this episode a watered down version of Jerry Springer-not very good.
#33: Vigilance (Episode 34): While slightly better than “Scorn”, this episode relies too much on setup rather than memorable moments. The SPK continues to watch Light and Mikami while Misa gets kidnapped so that she could be, in Near’s words, “taken out of the equation [in terms of catching Kira]”. Aizowa is the star here as his suspicion of Light being Kira grows further and is even able to prove that Light and Takada are passing notes secretly. Matsuda’s unlikeable in this episode too. Another bland and forgetful episode.
#32: Rebirth (Episode 1): The pilot episode does a decent job at setting up the plot and rules of the Death Note. It introduces the Shinigami Realm and the Human World and the gloomy, thought-provoking genre of Death Note. That being said, it is only the first episode and the series gets much better from this point. Episode 2 is where things really go down in Death Note, but this episode provides a sufficient introduction. Then again, it’s a “sufficient” episode in a sea of “outstanding” episodes which is why Rebirth is ranked as such.
#31: Selection (Episode 32): This episode expands further on Mikimi’s character and psychotic nature. Despite his character, Mikami’s backstory is somewhat understandable. Also, Light reunites with Takada and tells her his secret. The Task Force sets up wiretaps and surveillance in suspicion of Light-the latter of which gets removed due to Light’s deception. Light speaking with Mikami is straight-up excitement, even if it is over the phone. A solid episode all around but still rather tedious.
#30: Confession (Episode 13): The Task Force continues to investigate the Second Kira (Misa) and attend the “Note Blue” at Awiama in hopes of finding more information. There, Misa uses her Shinigami eyes to deduce that Light is Kira. After getting his address, Misa goes to Light’s house, posing as his girlfriend to thank Light for punishing criminals. A passable episode overall-Misa even has a moment of sympathy. And that hug at the end still gives us chills-hats off to the illustrationist.
#29: Love (Episode 12): Another episode involving everyone’s favorite character (albeit she plays a more minor role compared to subsequent episodes). The fact that Kira himself has joined the Task Force is epic and suspenceful and his reaction to Misa’s dialogue is humorous and understandable. What sets this episode above Confession is Rem’s backstory of how Jealous the Shinigami saved Misa’s life. Learning how to kill a Shinigami is interesting and even heartwarming and it plays a crucial role towards L’s demise. A nice introduction to a not-so-nice character.
#28: Ally (Episode 18): This episode sets an almost completely different premise of Death Note. Light Yagami has turned from a pathological sociopath to a friendly high school student helping to catch Kira. Still, Light and L’s rivalry is still intact with the first physical confrontation between the two. Aisowa quits as the the Task Force resigns from their duties as police officers showing the sheer impact Kira has made on the world. While these episodes aren’t as interesting with Ryuk’s absence (and the fact that Light is no longer Kira but mostly because of Ryuk), this episode at least set the stage for Yotsuba-only to be tarnished by the next two episodes.
#27: Abduction (Episode 27): After episode 25, many fans chose to quit Death Note and for understandable reasons. They thought the suspense and adrenaline rush would be inexistent and that the original cast was irreplaceable. Mello, however, throws that idea completely out the window as one of our first introductions to Mello is him holding the chief’s daughter hostage in exchange for the Death Note. Near’s introduction is intriguing as well, although he is more reserved than Mello (makes sense as he was meant to be L’s original successor). While it’s not the most exciting episode, Abduction does a great job at introducing new characters, especially seeing as the stakes after Episode 25 were extraordinarily high, so we give it credit for that.
#26: Friend (Episode 14): Definitely our favorite of the three Misa introduction episodes. Light has officially gained a new obstacle in Misa as her Shinigami, Rem, threatens to kill Light, should he even attempt to shorten Misa’s lifespan. Light’s frustration expands further and he grows more and more desperate as L figures out that him and Misa made contact. L calling Light a “friend” is also heartwarming, despite being complete nonsense. The ending is icing on the cake as Light convinces Rem to kill L to hopefully lengthen Misa’s lifespan. Very nice buildup!
#25: Decision (Episode 16): This episode is just….confusing. Even L leaves this episode perplexed. The Task Force continues to watch Misa, who has lost her memories of being the Second Kira. Light demands to be confined as well and, during confinement, relinquishes his Death Note, losing all of his memories and begs to be released from confinement. Seeing Light behave this way is jarring and shows the impact of the Death Note. However, it doesn’t take away from the viewer’s confusion behind Light’s plan to save Misa and our desire to learn more. In the words of L himself, “I don’t understand what’s going on here”.
#24: Dealings (Episode 3): This episode dives deeper into L’s character and his ability to predict Light/Kira’s every move. Moreover, we learn that Light’s own father, Soricho, is the chief detective of the Kira investigation, which left almost everyone’s jaw dropping. This episode also introduces the Shinigami eyes, permitting the Death Note user to see someone’s name and lifespan at the cost of half their remaining life. The first cliffhanger of the series occurs in this episode, though a rather weak one. Still, seeing the rivalry increase between Light and L is always exciting, making Dealings an enjoyable watch.
#23: Impatience (Episode 28): Soricho goes to trade the notebook with Mello in order to save his daughter. Light, of course, is not pleased about this but cannot take any action on his own, lest his suspensions amongst the Task Force arise. This episode depicts rare vulnerability on Light’s end as all he can do is watch. His frustration is rather satifying, especially as Light has been established as the villain at this point. Soricho meeting Mello provides nice suspense too, something Death Note has always excelled at.
#22: Performance (Episode 21): After the slog of the previous two episodes, Performance ramps up the excitement again as Misa reunites with Rem. Viewers finally learn who Kira is (at least for the time being), L’s humor is intact, and, of course, Misa getting Higuchi to confess on video that he’s Kira made viewers witness how clever Misa can truly be. It’s an uplifting episode with Misa and Rem’s reunion and an excellent table setting for next episode. Speaking of which…
#21: Guidance (Episode 22): Now that Misa has tricked Higuchi into confessing his identity, the Task Force formulates a plan to determine how Kira is able to kill people. They use the news channel, Sakura TV, to once again fool Higuchi into thinking they will reveal his identity as Kira. Higuchi sets out to stop the broadcast, all while the Task Force spies on his frustration and paranoia. This is another episode that relies on setup but the payoff in the following episode is so exciting and satisfying that it doesn’t even matter. A stellar method of taking down Yotsuba.
#20: Transfer (Episode 31): This episode is a follow-up to the events of the previous episode as Near escapes Light’s trap. The Task Force grows even more suspicious of Light and viewers know the series is reaching it’s end. Light has Misa relinquish her Death Note and “transfers” the power to one of his supporters, Mikimi. Mikimi’s “Delete” quote is almost as meme-worthy as the “potato chip” quote from Glare. While his backstory is explored next episode, Transfer provided a nice introduction to his character (and a strong eyebrow raise to Light).
#19: Malice (Episode 35): The last adrenaline-based episode of the series, Malice involves Mello abducting Takada, only for him to be killed in the process. Kira supporters continue to fire upon Mello, knowing he is an opposer and Takada begs for her “boyfriend” Light to save her. There is more setup too as Near agrees to meet the Task Force once and for all at the Black Box abandoned warehouse so he can reveal his plan to catch Kira. Unlike Scorn and Vigilance, Malice sets up the plot for the final two episodes while also providing excitement and pity for Takada. And the ending scene is bone chilling as well.
#18: Justice (Episode 30): Throughout this series, Light has declared himself “justice” and this episode, as if the title doesn’t give it away, confirms this belief. The President has chickened out of hunting down Kira (the President at the time was George Bush-what did we expect?!) and Near and Mello take the grunt of the challenge. Mello meets with Near and kindly provides him with information especially regarding the “13 Day Rule” which Light made up to prove his innocence to the Task Force. Near contacts Light about this and the Task Force becomes wary of Light being Kira. Light demands the American government disband the SPK and the episode ends on a cliffhanger with Near seemingly in a corner. The adrenaline and suspense in this episode is off the charts. Light is under suspicion once again and the riot is a cherry on top. An underrated gem of this anime.
#17: Glare (Episode 8): Despite detective Ray Penber’s fiancé Naomi Misori being executed by Kira in the previous episode, L still believes that the Task Force should investigate Light as he was being observed by Penbar. L has set up wiretaps and cameras on Light’s house, admitting he suspects Light to be Kira. Light continues to kill criminals using a hidden mini-television in his bag of potato chips. This episode brings Light and L closer together while containing one of the most quotable lines in anime (We still quote this while eating snacks-don’t act like you haven’t done it either!)
#16: Tactics (Episode 5): If Light wasn’t deemed as a sociopathic killer before, this episode confirms this identity. Despite being an innocent, honest member of the Task Force, Light kills off Ray Penber as he was simply an “opposer of Kira”. In doing so, he also acquired the names of the Japanese FBI agents, killing them all. Ray Penbar’s death is chilling, but also shows Light slowly descending into a pathological psychopath. Many police officers quit the investigation and L finally reveals himself to the public, which serves as another cliffhanger. This episode is engaging and builds tension for later episodes while keeping the style of the anime intact. A strong, stellar episode.
#15: Pursuit (Episode 4): A rather straightforward episode. Light sets up a bus hijacking while Penber continues to follow Light. In panic, Penber provides his ID to Light in order to him to trust his status as an FBI member. Because Kira can control the victim’s actions before their death, Light has the hijacker die in a car accident…and the episode ends. This episode shares a somewhat similar style to Tactics except Pursuit remains simplistic; nothing is sugar-coated and Light’s true genius abilities are exploited. Not to mention, the hijacker’s reaction to Ryuk as he’s controlled by Kira is Bruce Almighty levels of Ludacris.
#14: Doubt (Episode 10): An episode focused solely around Light and L is practically guaranteed to be a winner and Doubt says it best. The two engage in a tennis match that puts Serena Williams to shame, all while plotting each other’s next move. Later, they meet at a café where L tests Light’s deductive skills (and luring him into a trap in the process). Later, they visit with Light’s father who suffered a heart attack due to stress. Despite the events in this episode, the rivalry between Light and L remains creating further tension. Still, we wouldn’t mind a television series based around this duo.
#13: Father (Episode 29): This episode is stuffed to the brim with events, yet all of them blend perfectly together. Another Shinigami named Sidoh enters the Human World to retrieve his notebook. Mello uses Sidoh as a guard for the events that unfold later in the episode, which proves to be a waste. Light forfeits ownership of his Death Note, Soricho acquires the Shinigami eyes, the Task Force infiltrates Mello’s hideout, Light gives Sidoh his notebook and, of course, there’s the ending scene with Light’s father. While the episode may seem convoluted from this description, each event gets the screen time it deserves and nothing feels forced. We still gets goosebumps knowing that Soricho believed his son wasn’t Kira. This episode is action-packed, humorous, suspenceful, and touching-the complete package. Unfortunately, the presence of Sidoh does weigh the episode down slightly (seriously, what intern voiced Sidoh?), but the positives severely outweigh. One of the best “post-L” episodes in the series.
#12: Encounter (Episode 9): L removes the cameras and wiretaps from Light’s house believing that they “accomplished nothing”. However, he is still suspicious of Light and the two of them meet during their High School entrance exam ceremony. L tells Light his identity up-front and Light is stumped as he knows if L dies now, Light’s cover will be blown. L and Light’s “encounter” is one of the most nail-biting moments in Death Note and the soundtrack is on par. Also, this episode marks one of the few moments of L sitting normally (perhaps he’s doing it for attention after all).
#11: Unraveling (Episode 6): When people first saw this episode, their reactions to L’s face were very mixed. Some considered him as a “cute emo owl” while others deemed him as “an outright creep”. Either way, L’s first public appearance and behavior is certainly jarring. Regardless, L continues to discuss his thoughts about Kira, sitting like an owl in the process. While the first half of this episode is enjoyable and even a bit humorous, the second half, of course, is what skyrockets this episode to #11. Ray Penbar’s wife, Naomi Misora, travels to Japan in belief that Light/Kira set up the bus hijacking which implies that Kira kills people by means other than heart attacks. By sheer luck, Light happens to be in the same area and tries to stop Naomi before she could release this information to the public. This episode is the first time Light’s reputation and life is at stake and it sets the foundation for the next episode flawlessly. A nice amount of uncertainty and momentum.
#10: Assault (Episode 10): Kira airs a message on the Sakura TV News Channel, killing criminals in the process. As such, the Task Force scrambles to end the broadcast, only to fall victim to Kira who is observing the whole situation. Desperate, Soricho crashes a van into the building and demands Demigawa, the network’s spokesperson, to stop the broadcast. This episode depicts a rare occurance of the Task Force in a state of panic and seeing the ways they struggle to address the situation is adrenaline pumping. The episode ends as we learn that another Kira (Misa) exists and that she had acquired the Shinigami eyes. Even if Light plays a minor role in this episode, there is more than enough enjoyment to make Assault worthy of cracking the Top 10.
#9: Wager (Episode 15): Quite possibly L’s biggest victory over Light, L finds hair fibers on the Kira videos that matched Misa’s hair and, as such, takes Misa into custody. Prior to this episode, Light had convinced Misa’s Shinigami Rem, to kill L, which makes L’s victory all of the more satisfying in this episode. Misa begs Rem to kill her and, instead, Rem has Misa forfeit her Death Note so she’ll lose her memories. The sudden plot change is unexpected, shocking, and very memorable especially seeing how close Light came to outwitting L. It keeps the viewer guessing what events will occur in subsequent episodes while not sacrafising the plot. A top notch episode.
#8: 1.26 (Episode 36): It’s all or nothing as the SPK has finally met up with the Task Force at the Black Box warehouse. Near reveals his final plan which is to have Mikami write names using a fake notebook and then seize the notebook to see who’s name is not written down-that person is Kira. Light then secretly reveals his own plan to the viewers and is sure he won this “game”. The episodes ends with the final (and greatest) cliffhanger as Mikami counts down the final seconds to their death. It is practically impossible to not watch these last two episodes in one sitting and 1.26 sets up the finale perfectly through engaging dialogue and contradicting color schemes. Who will emerge victorious?
#7: Execution (Episode 17): Now that Light has given up his status as Kira, the murders of criminals continue even though Light has no access to their names. L is still dubious and orders Soricho to stage an execution where he “shoots” Light in order to see if Light or Misa will kill the chief to save themselves. The execution scene is pure adrenaline and suspence for first time watchers and the introduction of Yotsuba at the end of the episode sets the stage for the next 6 episodes. A staple of the series.
#6: Confrontation (Episode 2): While Rebirth does a satisfactory job at setting up the plot of Death Note, Confrontation is when viewers truly knew that this anime was going to be something special. L is one of the greatest anime antagonists (or protagonists depending on one’s opinion) and his introduction is very memorable especially when he fools and challenges Kira to “the war” through Lind L. Tailor. This episode also introduces the Task Force and opposition to Kira. Confrontation not only expands on the pilot, but exceeds expectations for the anime and serves as a blueprint for 35 more amazing episodes ahead.
#5: Revival (Episode 24): With Higuchi completely busted, Light and Misa regain their notebooks along with their memories of being Kira. Viewers finally learn Light’s plan from Episode 16 and everything comes full circle. Light finally proves his “innocence”, the two Kiras have officially resurrected and L’s demise is upon us. Also, Ryuk returns; that alone should place this episode in the Top 5.
#4: New World (Episode 37): Of course, the series’ finale is indeed one of the show’s best. With Light and Mikami’s cover being blown, viewers witness a side of Light that completely contradicts his character-in a good way. Light turns from a godlike genius to the realization that he is nothing more than a murderer who killed his family and friends for power. Light’s monologue is intriguing along with his denial of losing the game. Matsuda’s raw emotion when he “confronts” Light shows absolute betrayal thanks to the flawless voice acting (both English and Japanese) and it all ends with the official end of Kira and, sadly, the ending of Death Note. An unblemished conclusion to a practically unblemished anime.
#3: Frenzy (Episode 23): This episode is the closest Death Note will ever get to fitting the “action” genre and it’s exploited in the greatest way possible. Higuichi is desperate to ascertain Matsuda’s real name and races to Sakura TV so he can kill him for good. Fortunately, his identity is nowhere to be found, forcing Higuichi to make the “eye deal” so he can see Matsuda’s true name. Higuichi’s rage and impatience is shown full throttle and the entire episode is fast paced leading to an intense climax. A phenominal end to Yotsuba before Light becomes Kira again.
#2: Overcast (Episode 7): Who knew a conversation between two people would serve as the plot for the second-greatest episode of the show? In the previous episode, Naomi Misora had given Light an alias meaning Light cannot kill her. This episode involves Light spewing out a string of lies to convince Naomi to trust him enough to give him her real name. With Light’s reputation on the line, viewers are left in awe, seeing how far Light will go to fool Naomi. After stating that he is a Task Force member, Naomi gives Light her true ID and the ending scene is, without question, the greatest and most iconic ending in Death Note. Ryuk’s reaction to the events is icing on the cake, somewhat reciprocating the reactions of the viewers. Overcast fully depicts everything that makes Death Note so great and could possibly be the best episode of the anime. However, we already know what Number 1 is so…
#1 Silence (Episode 25): Even the slightest Death Note fanatic could predict that episode 25 would take the gold. From the start, the episode gives off an eerie vibe with a flashback to L’s childhood and an uncomfortable sounding song from Misa. The scene with Light and L discussing morality in the rain is incredibly thought provoking and shows the flawed nature of man and fulfilling one’s ambitions. And, of course, the ending of the episode has fully cemented Death Note as one of the most memorable anime of all time. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to discuss this episode without giving away spoilers, but those who have watched this episode know why it’s the best. Those who haven’t must watch the episode to know why it’s the best; plain and simple.
Whether for nostalgia purposes or for it’s unique plot, Death Note is widely regarded as the greatest anime ever created. While these brief descriptions do not do the show much “justice” (no pun intended), we at least hope we pointed out series highlights without spoiling too much. So grab some potato chips and enjoy the three-dimensional and stimulating world that is Death Note.