Anime series—particularly shonen anime—often feature "all brawn, no brain" characters who are incredibly strong but excessively stupid. They pretty much only know how to fight.
Those characters are often contrasted with other characters who are unreasonably smart or clever, who are there to save the day when brute force can't solve the issues at hand.
Genius characters in anime often stand out for their insane plays and crafty strategies that always go according to plan. When done well, these characters usually have fatal flaws that balance things out.
From main characters to side characters to one-off characters, anime is home to some of the smartest characters in fiction. Here are our picks for the best genius characters in anime!
14. Nami (One Piece)
The Straw Hat Pirates of One Piece are a crew comprised of smart individuals (well, with a few exceptions) that include a doctor, an archeologist, an inventor, and a shipwright.
But the most notable member whose expertise is essential for pretty much every single one of their adventures is their navigator, Nami.
By reading the weather, the currents, and the skies, Nami can predict what's going to happen at sea and plan their routes accordingly, even to the point of escaping through violent waves and whirlpools.
13. Meteora (Re:Creators)
Before she was brought and manifested in the real world, Meteora was an NPC in a game. More specifically, she was a librarian.
Meteora was able to quickly adapt to the world she's in because she was already extremely knowledgeable to start with, and a lot of that is due to the role she had in that game.
She has the traits of a stereotypical critical thinker: cold, silent, and stoic. However, she uses the information she gathers and analyzes it for the good of others, becoming the tactician of the group against Altair.
12. L (Death Note)
L is the infamous detective from Death Note who's in charge of the Kira Case and tasked with figuring out who the mastermind is behind the mysterious deaths around Japan.
His first move deduced that Kira was in Japan and that the deaths weren't random. With these clues at hand, he follows logical progressions—along with a few tricks up his sleeve—that lead him toward identifying Kira. Little does he know that Kira has been beside him all along.
11. Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)
Armin Arlert of Attack on Titan is one of the members in the Scout Regiment, alongside Eren, Mikasa, and the rest. He's a critical thinker at heart, who ends up growing into the squad's tactician.
With his logical deductions and clever ruses, he helps his comrades identify, trap, and reveal the traitors in their midst.
But he isn't just smart. He's exceptionally brave in his beliefs, willing to hold onto his ideas regarding Eren's Attack Titan even as a mob of cannons and blades were pointed at him.
10. Shikamaru Nara (Naruto)
From a very young age, Naruto's Shikamaru showcased his near-superhuman ability as a strategist and tactician, which made him a valuable asset to every team he was a part of.
Despite his genius, Shikamaru might just be the laziest guy in the entire series. Everything is an inconvenience to him, and he rarely has the motivation to put his exceptional mind to use.
Only in the most dire of situations will he step up, like the time his team was without a Jonin leader and he helped lead everyone to success in accomplishing their mission (in his own stylish way).
9. Bookman (D.Gray-Man)
The Bookman comes from a clan who holds the duty to record things: historical events, wars and battles, and even the most secret of meetings. His clan is neutral when it comes to conflict and only acts as observers, all in the pursuit of eliminating bias from their records.
The current Bookman knows more intel about all sides of the war than anyone else, as he was formerly allied to the Noah Family (to gather true information from that side) and now to the Black Order.
With the long history of facts that's recorded in his mind, he has a vast amount of knowledge about pretty much everything. It makes him both impressive and frightening in a way.
8. Shinichi Kudo (Case Closed)
Shinichi Kudo is a famous high school detective who was turned into a child by the Black Organization. Now, as Conan Edogawa, he solves cases that even the grown-ups are having a hard time figuring out.
With the help of Professor Agasa's inventions—including a voice-changing bow tie, a tranquilizer watch, among others—he's able to solve tough cases without revealing his true identity.
Though he's extraordinarily smart, he does have a weakness to him as pointed out by Ran: Shinichi Kudo is tone-deaf and that carried forward to his Conan Edogawa form, which nearly gives away his identity.
7. Meruem (Hunter X Hunter)
Meruem was the king of his Chimera Ant colony in Hunter X Hunter. Though he was only a few days old, he exhibited intelligence far greater than any full-grown human being (most likely because his mother's diet consisted of humans).
To prove that he's actually smart and not just an all-powerful being who relies on brute strength alone, he went up against—and defeated—board game champions after only reading the rulebooks, surpassing their many years of playing experience.
6. Ray (The Promised Neverland)
With his hyperthymesia—the ability to spontaneously recall events and dates—Ray of The Promised Neverland is able to remember details from when he was still a baby (even before he was born).
With this gift, he's able to discern the truth of the Grace Field House and the fact that they're going to be fed to demons.
As one of the highest quality products of the Grace Field House, Ray has a high intellect, as shown by his top grades and his ability to accurately point out a text in a book and even its location on the shelves.
5. Norman (The Promised Neverland)
Like the aforementioned Ray, Norman is another high-quality product of the Grace Field House of The Promised Neverland, having a well-developed brain and massive intellect.
While Norman wasn't part of the escape plan—he was already shipped out by then—everything worked out well for the rest of the kids thanks to his brilliant planning and his relaying of those plans to Emma and the others (who executed it perfectly).
4. Senku Ishigami (Dr. Stone)
In Dr. Stone, Senku Ishigami is humanity's last hope as he's the one who holds the knowledge of how to revive the people who were petrified and how to bring back the lost technologies of yore.
Thanks to his interest in science at a very young age, he accumulated and stored all kinds of facts and figures—the kinds of facts and figures that ended up coming in handy when the world needed to be restored.
Little by little, he started to build equipment that was vital for human civilization, like sulfa drugs, magnets, glass, and even the first phone. But even while he has the knowledge, he lacks the strength to gather and build these things, so he also relies on his team.
3. Light Yagami (Death Note)
We've already talked about L, the incredibly smart but quirky detective who manages to trap Kira with his first move. But when it comes to Death Note, Light Yagami is far smarter—to the degree that he ends up being too manipulative for his own good.
With his carefully planned strategies, he's able to escape and avoid suspicion from other people (including L) and he manages to go on with his goal of cleansing the world with the power of his Death Note.
2. Ranpo Edogawa (Bungo Stray Dogs)
Ranpo Edogawa is a member of the Armed Detective Agency. Unlike other members, he's not Gifted—but he believes he is, and he even named his ability "Super Deduction."
His ability is proven when Dazai tries to nullify Ranpo's ability during an instance where Ranpo finally "activates" his Gift.
In the end, Super Deduction isn't a supernatural ability that allows him to solve cases. He's simply so smart that he's able to deduce cases and discover pieces of evidence using only his intellect and fast brain.
1. Bulma (Dragon Ball)
Bulma stands out as the smartest individual in the Dragon Ball series. Not only did she create a spaceship for traveling to distant planets, but she also built a vehicle that defies the laws of nature: a time machine that allows travel through timelines.
In the Dragon Ball franchise, traveling through time may be ordinary for certain godlike figures—Beerus and Whis come to mind—but for ordinary humans, this is a world-changing feat.
In the Dragon Ball GT series, she also used her genius to replicate a device that allows Vegeta to turn into his Great Ape form (essential in his Super Saiyan 4 transformation).