My Final, Definite Top Ten Favorite Japanese Music Artists List

I’ve done at least eighty iterations of this post, because I keep finding new artists and my tastes keep getting more insane. Back in the day, I only liked music from Japan, but that’s changed… somewhat. Now it’s 20% Japan, 75% Europe, and 5% other, but that’s besides the point. Anyway, my older lists were outdated. Just for closure, here’s my real list. NOTE: Contains artists I have talked about before.


10) MYTH & ROID

My first ever exposure to modern music. If it wasn’t for this band, I would still be a classic rock boy. This progressive hard rock duo is everything you could ask for: heavy beats, heavy synth, and emotive female vocal work (with the latter courtesy of the talented Kihow). They’ve been pretty quiet though, with only sparse releases of singles and EPs. I don’t listen to them too often anymore, but I definitely keep my eyes trained on them.


9) nano

My other first exposure to modern music. nano is an anything-goes bilingual hard rock soloist who has pumped bangers for over a decade. I remember when they hardly showed their face, and now… we just know what they look like. What a trooper. Anyway, nano’s music is simple with relatable lyrics, but it’s great stuff. Their talents have been wasted on openings for anime that the community never seems to care about, but whatcha gonna do. The fans still love nano nonetheless.


8) RAISE A SUILEN

I haven’t talked about this band in years, and that’s because I hadn’t listened to them in years! Of all the Bang Dream! outfits, they were the one I was obsessed with. However, I eventually fell out of love with them, mainly because right after their debut came out I had discovered Amaranthe, a band that’s been doing the same type of music for longer and better. However, as superior as a lot of bands are to RAS, it turns out I still love RAS all the same.

RAISE A SUILEN is Bang Dream!‘s heaviest band, standing right on the line that separates rock from metal. Just like Amaranthe and many others, they frequently use electronic elements to give their music extra zing. I honestly don’t know what my beef with them was… and honestly, I’ll cringe at myself if I go back to the old review of their full-length and find out. Feel free to bash my past self if you so choose!


7) Mili

I don’t talk about this experimental J-pop group too often, considering how much I love them; always have. This trio knows how to make any idea into a good one (even a cursed song like ‘Ocean Bby’). With moving piano playing accompanied by all forms of symphonic and electronic effects, and lyrical themes ranging from food to existential horror, Mili almost always delivers. They are a group that feels metal in terms of creativity, despite not sounding metal whatsoever. Of course, vocalist Cassie Wei brings the band’s weird lyrics to life; easily one of J-pop’s best and most underrated voices.


6) BAND-MAID

I’ve gushed about them many times and I’ll do it again, except with even more fervor than ever because they’ve gotten REALLY GOOD lately. BAND-MAID is considered hard rock, but they have a heaviness and aggression that sounds more like metal. They hit hard with an old-school feel, and it hurts so good. Also, vocalist Saiki Kasumi has an amazing singing voice.


5) Lovebites

Being a Lovebites fan was hard once upon a time, but fear not: they have a new bassist. Since their inception, Lovebites has put forth some amazing classic-style metal and power metal. Vocalist Asami has a powerful voice, but her English isn’t the best. Hopefully she’ll improve with time. Anyway, expect me to fan-gush over their first album with the current line-up when it drops later this year.


4) Crossfaith

Apparently, this was my second ever metalcore band. While I felt like they had a rough start (although I might think differently now if I go back to the older stuff), they’ve gotten to the point where they hit hard with metal and meaty synthesizers to create futuristic heaviness. Vocalist Kenta Koie takes some getting used to, especially in the older stuff when his English wasn’t as good, but he definitely shows his capabilities soon enough. In case you’re still intimidated by those extreme vocals, Crossfaith does tend to incorporate more melodic stuff, giving them even more tools to work with. Unfortunately, they’ve seem to be on hiatus, question mark? They generally put out at least SOMETHING every year, even if it’s just a single, but they’ve been quiet lately.

Naturally, with Crossfaith being my second metalcore band, you might surmise that my FIRST metalcore band would ALSO be Japanese. That assumption is resoundingly correct! Only a certain popular Japanese metalcore band would give me my first exposure to extreme music…


3) Crystal Lake

Psyche!


3) PassCode

You really thought I would actually like a POPULAR band? Well, believe it or not, I had a phase where I didn’t like PassCode at all (and now they’re THIS HIGH on the list). The irony is that—of all things—this niche alt-idol outfit truly is my first ever experience with metalcore! Additionally, the first unclean vocals I ever heard came from them. This band is basically why I had a history of underwhelm-ment with BABYMETAL; I found PassCode first. 

My reason for not liking them was because their songs were so intricate at the time I first listened to them. Metal-virgin-me had figured that I didn’t like a song if I couldn’t commit it to memory in the first several listens. Now that I know that’s not the case, I eventually missed and returned to PassCode, more in love with them than ever. I wish I had never left, because the band has only grown, especially after 2020’s Strive (holy crap). Imagine Perfume but with metalcore (or you could just watch the video so you don’t have to imagine it at all).


2) Utsu-P

Utsu-P is special for multiple reasons. One is that he churns out music like a factory, juggling his own solo career with a band AND producing for an idol group. Another reason he is special is because he’s hired an unusual assortment of vocalists… or should I say, Vocaloids. Oh, and did I mention that his music is heavy and chaotic djent metal?! That’s right, Hatsune Miku and her friends sing and even perform death growls in Utsu-P’s staggeringly large catalog of insanity. Right, and the final reason why Utsu-P is special is because his music is simply some of the best that Japan has got. He’d be in the number one spot, if it weren’t for…


1) Broken by the Scream

I’m sure you know of BABYMETAL: one of the—like—three globally, truly mainstream Japanese music artists, earning collabs with death metal icons like Alissa White-Gluz (actually she might be the only death metal icon to collab with them… for now), and having endorsements from veterans like Rob Zombie and the Metal God himself. If you know me, then you know that I find them to be… okay. Broken by the Scream is the same idea—Japanese idol pop with metal—but on steroids. BBTS takes it a step further, focusing exclusively on extreme metal elements. Connoisseurs of the current extreme music scene can easily recognize death metal, metalcore, and even deathcore in BBTS’ practically perfect cacophony of J-pop. It is the kind of chaos like when you boot up Katamari Damacy for the first time… every time I put them on, I am always boggled with how they managed to pull it off.


Conclusion

This went from having Dempagumi.inc and MYTH & ROID having top spots to only the latter being on the list at all. Hooray for metal. Anyway, Japan has amazing music; I don’t know why South Korea gets all the love now. In any case, this is the FINAL LIST. I will not update it even if I actually end up believing the positions need to change (which you won’t know regardless). If you like the embedded MVs—which I actually put in this post unlike the other lists—then check out the artists yourself!

Mack’s Top Ten Favorite Japanese Music Artists

I’ll always love the classic rock of yesteryear more than anything. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve realized the greatness of contemporary Japanese music, and want to spread the awareness of these artists as wide as possible. In this blog I’ll discuss my favorite Japanese music artists… for the second time, since things have changed a bit. In fact, there’s so many that I wanted to talk about that I had to double the length of the list! 

10) Kenshi Yonezu

One immediate difference between this list and the previous one is that Dempagumi.inc is not on here anymore. I still stand by everything I said originally; they are definitely the best idol group and one of the best examples of mainstream pop out there. However, I am biased toward rock and innovation (plus, Dempa’s newest album was pretty lackluster). As a result, someone else has snuck onto the list: Kenshi Yonezu.

Yonezu is a strange case. He seems to be one of the most popular singers in Japan… and only in Japan. I have no idea how someone as famous as he is has not gone global at this point, but that’s just Japanese marketing I guess! Anyways, while I’d normally be against someone so popular, the reason that I like him is that he’s not as mainstream as you would think. In fact, his music is very abstract and strange.

Why is his music strange? Er… it just is. Yonezu’s music falls into a weird, Beatles-esque prog-soft-pop-rock style (confused?), and it’s something you just gotta try. You never know what he will pull out of his eccentric butt. 

While I don’t love ALL of his songs (hence his position at the bottom of the list), he’s definitely a man who seems to care about quality over quantity. Since his 2012 record label debut, the man has only put out three studio albums. And it’s not like he’s an anime singer, like- say- Konomi Suzuki, who can only put out singles when they’re hired for an anime. He clearly invests all of his brain meats into his music, and I commend the guy for it. Yonezu’s music has been getting better and better over time. While I find his first album, Diorama, to be hit-or-miss, his second album, Bootleg is all-around great, and his newest album, Stray Sheep, is utter “Wow”. I put him on here in anticipation that he’ll evolve to levels beyond what anyone can predict (and maybe go global?). 

9) Hysteric Panic

Hysteric Panic is a very underrated J-rock group that I love because of their simple, primal energy. Songs fall within the hard rock category, but border on metal after their fourth album, Hypnotic Poison. For some reason, I want to describe their style as “memey” because of how nonsensical they sound at times. 

They also have a wide range of vocals, from a high-pitched, Axl Rose-sounding guy, to a guy who sounds like a constipated alligator (and on occasion, what sounds like a choir of Japanese school girls). Regardless of if it’s multiple guys or the same guy, this wide range of screams makes Hysteric Panic stand out as a thrash band. At present, their original guitarist has left (I think?), and they haven’t shown any signs of a new release. I’m concerned with how they will move from here, but if they’ve truly been acknowledged by the spirit of rock, they’ll party till they’re purple!

8) Gacharic Spin

I had a debate over Gacharic Spin or RAISE A SUILEN from Bang! Dream (which I discussed in my review of the latter’s first album). But in the end, I chose Gachapin. But even then, I was hesitant. I am fully aware that they have changed a lot since their initial formation, especially after their original drummer tragically passed away. The problem in my case is that Apple Music didn’t exactly HAVE the band’s older stuff, and as a result, I’m ONLY familiar with their newer, more electronic sound (side note: I’ve also just started listening to Galneryus, and they will probably replace Gachapin in a third version of this post).

But you know what, sometimes that’s them apples. Why would I not be qualified as a fan just because I never heard the original lineup? In any case, the Gachapin I know has garage-style jams featuring various auto-tuning and synth effects for style. 

The one problem I have with them is that they are pretty inconsistent. When they go full-on, they are fricking serious electronic metal. However, a lot of their stuff feels like typical rock and kind of… there. I get that not all songs can be bangers, but that really shows at times in Gachapin. But you know what, the great thing about rock bands is that if you don’t like them, then they can just say “Eff you!” and go about their day. Anyway, if you like rock with punch, then check out Gachapin.

7) Crossfaith

I dropped MIYAVI after two albums, Hikaru Utada after one and a half, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu after just half of a compilation album. I’ve made my peace with them, but there’s always the classic counterargument for any critic who doesn’t finish a thing: “It gets way better later!” As much as you can argue about that defense until the cows come home, it is partially true, and Crossfaith is such a case.

I royally disliked them at first. I started from the very beginning: 2009’s The Artificial Theory of Dramatic Beauty. I loved the idea of thrash with a techno atmosphere, but it sounded bad. They only used one or two synth effects, and the singing was awful. Kenta Koie sings entirely through the type of throaty scream that I only previously heard as backing vocals (like Hysteric Panic), and in English. Oof. 

But hey, Crossfaith wouldn’t be on here without a reason. I was about to give up on them after 2011’s The Dream, the Space. However, I gave them one more chance on their 2012 EP, Zion. It ended up being a marginal improvement, and enough of one for me to try their 2013 album, Apocalyze. That album instantly changed my views of the band. As soon as I heard the intro track, ‘Prelude’, followed by ‘We Are the Future’, I went from a critic of Crossfaith to a fan in the span of a single song. I can’t describe exactly what it was, but they seemed to have a better sense of how to combine metal and synth to make a truly futuristic metal band THAT SHOULD’VE DONE THE BOSS MUSIC IN XENOBLADE X *grumble grumble*. 

As good as Apocalyze was, they kept growing. Koie’s singing goes from bearable to straight-up good, and they start experimenting with songs like Wildfire, a groovy fusion of disco and metal featuring the band Skindred (whom I know nothing about other than that song). Their 2018 concept album, EX_MACHINA, and 2020 EP, SPECIES, are great showcases of how much they’ve grown over the years. My only issue with them (besides their first two albums) is that they don’t really do guitar solos. Normally, I’d find that disgraceful, but when I’m listening to their raw cyberpunk rage, it never bothers me.

6) Wagakki Band

Before I start talking about these guys, I shall have you know that I was an avid fan of this group well before their collaboration with Evanescence. That being said, onto the actual discussion!

I know I shouldn’t make a post about “how wild and weird Japan is”, but Wagakki Band is something that could only be formed in Japan. And I’m saying that because their… equipment is much more accessible in Japan than anywhere else.

Wagakki Band is a massive group, and that’s because there’s a LOT of instruments (and yet Slipknot somehow has more members). Along with the usual rock instruments, such as guitars and drums, they also have some very vintage instruments. Specifically, wagakki instruments (which literally means traditional Japanese instruments). They are a true East Meets West rock band! But of course, I do not want to give them credit where it isn’t due; I’m pretty sure at least two bands have done the same thing way earlier. However, those bands are old, and older Japanese bands are shaky at best when it comes to licensing in my region, so… I’m gonna stick with Wagakki Band for pretty much forever.

In any case, the way they combine the two styles of music is so good it’s almost creepy. My favorite aspect is how well the *insert name of old-timey Japanese drum here* works for hard rock. What’s even weirder is the fact that their vocalist, Yuko Suzuhana, sings in an old-timey style, and it also doesn’t feel like it clashes. Whether it’s a head-banger or a power ballad, Wagakki Band delivers. Japan has always had a knack for seamlessly integrating its modem culture with its traditional culture, and Wagakki Band is one such integration.

5) MYTH & ROID

Led by TomH@ck of OxT, MYTH & ROID was originally my favorite Japanese band, and was in 1st on early drafts of the original post. Although they are a solid prog-rock band that has more of an identity than most people in the ainsong industry, I realized that I find the artists in the Top 3 more irreplaceable. I don’t know if it’s because MYTH & ROID has way less discography or what, but them’s the brakes.

But hey, they’re still in Top Five for a reason. MYTH & ROID has managed to craft a distinct style that basically allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they maintain one consistency: MAKE. IT. AWESOME. Out of all the artists on this list, I have always exclaimed “WTF?!” with every song of theirs the first time I heard it.

At the time, I remember when I threw on ‘Styx Helix’ because it was a Re:ZERO song, and thought it was decent techno-chill. I later noticed that they also did OP 2 of the same show. I put on that song, ‘Paradisus Paradoxim’, and it completely blew me away with how different it was. I fell in love with MYTH & ROID right then and there, making them the first Japanese rock band I ever seriously tried to get into. While they are no longer my favorite, they are still a great band that stands out from the rest. I recommend giving them a listen if you’re tired of that mainstream crap.

4) BAND-MAID

This is a band I literally found out of nowhere. Although they’ve grown substantially more popular with their most recent album, I was a fan since summer 2019- snug within the range of “before it was cool.” When I made the life-changing decision of subscribing to Apple Music, one of the first bands I got into was- no, not BAND-MAID- but Passcode. Passocde’s great and all, but in the similar artists tab, I couldn’t help but notice BAND-MAID. And the rest is history.

BAND-MAID, whose claim to fame comes from their maid cafe-like attire, is a hard rock band that skirts the line of metal. And they’re a damn powerful one at  that. One distinct vibe I get from their music is something I rarely feel in any other J-Rock bands: Classic Rock. It’s not as prevalent as a certain other band on this list, but they definitely have an old-school, garage-y style reminiscent of stuff like AC/DC. “You only like them because they’re mimicking Western culture, you traitorous lech!” you exclaim. Well… I don’t define rock by any nationality. Sorry, bub.

I had some concerns when I first started listening to their breakthrough 2019 album, CONQUEROR, but it has definitely grown on me in the latter half. In conclusion, BAND-MAID is a ludicrously good group. Apple Music doesn’t have their very first album, but it has everything else. I personally started with their third studio album, Brand-New Maid, but you can honestly start anywhere.

3) nano

I can’t believe nano is not in first anymore. It was already surprising when I docked her to second place, but as you can see, she’s actually in third now. But why? After all, she is one of the few people in the anisong industry who really has a true style that is entirely her own. But hey, she’s still great, and here’s why…

nano generally does very aggressive hard rock and metal tracks, but also throws in electronic, or even in the case of one particular song, combines rock with traditional Japanese instruments. I find her older stuff to be rough around the edges, but from her third album, Rock On, and onwards, she’s gotten better and louder. Her albums are one of the best showcases of the evolution of an artist that I’ve ever heard. A lot of credit goes to whoever produces and mixes the music in order to bring out the best of her powerful voice and the instruments that her buddies play.

nano’s music is divided into two distinct types: Regular J-rock that’s used as assets for anime and such, and straight up Western-influenced hard rock, complete with English singing. The latter is typically used in albums, as the designated deep cuts. However, I find those to be some of the best filler, and oftentimes among nano’s best songs. I recommend going through all of her albums, or at least starting with Rock On and going chronologically from there.

2) Mili

I never liked pop music. I always associated the pop genre with mainstream. But out of nowhere, a pop band took my heart and almost sniped first place on this list. I present to you: Mili.

I have never been surprised by a 21st Century artist more than Mili. The idea of pop not having to be mainstream was legitimately mind-blowing to me. Normally, I can compare an artist to someone else; you saw that in this post. But I can’t compare Mili to anyone. They are unlike anything I’ve ever heard in my life. 

Their music is otherworldly. They use a combination of piano and synth that just has an air of uniqueness to it. While all their albums are great, they get better and better, to the point where it outclasses their older stuff by a lot. 2018’s Millennium Mother is such a good album I haven’t actually gone back to their first album, Mag Mell.

I can’t praise Mili without giving kudos to their vocalist, Cassie Wei (a.k.a. momocashew). Her voice is just absolutely phenomenal. Her English, along with the lyrics she sings, are great. Her voice can be both soothing and terrifying depending on the mood of the song. She’s truly one of the best Asian singers I’ve ever heard.

1) Lovebites

Mili was originally first on this list until just earlier this week. While they are definitely the most unique band I’ve heard from Japan, it’s still technically pop (or soft rock?). I like the heavy stuff, and that’s why Lovebites took first place.

If BAND-MAID is classic rock, then Lovebites is classic metal. They aren’t just my current favorite J-Metal band of all time; they’re among my favorite metal bands of all time. Underrated doesn’t even begin to describe them. They deserve way more than their puny five-digit amount of followers, that’s for sure.

Immediately, Lovebites comes off as similar to DragonForce, with their orchestral synth in a lot of their songs, and their multi-minute guitar solos. However, they have much more variety in terms of tempos and melodies, which- IMO- makes them better than DragonForce in a way. They have a venomous and aggressive aura that reminds me of none other than Judas Priest, and they ALSO have a level of simplicity that’s similar to Iron Maiden. This is no coincidence, because (unless they’re faking it), at least one of the members is a classic metal fanatic. And by the way, their vocalist, Asami, is amazing…. For the most part. Like Crossfaith’s Kenta Koie, she sings in Engrish, and I admit she doesn’t sound too great. However, it’s still easy to tell that she has amazing talent when it comes to singing itself. It took Koie a decade to sound good in English, and it’ll probably take Asami about as long to do the same.

If there’s any remaining issue, it’s that Lovebites needs a bit of experimentation. While their fast-paced music is about as good as similar songs from Priest and Maiden, that isn’t all that those two bands can do. In Lovebites’ case, that kind of music makes up the bulk of their career, and I know that they are more capable. But hey, they’ve pretty much just started. 2020’s album, Electric Pentagram, already sets a new standard of quality for them. It took Priest and Rush a decade to cement themselves into rock history. Where will Lovebites go in 2030? I can’t wait to find out.

Conclusion

I feel pretty safe saying that this is my definitive list for Japanese music artists. The only one I see changing the list is Galneryus, but I don’t know if it’d be worth making a third, identical post just for them. Japan might come off as a country full of dainty, yukata-wearing tea-sippers, but rock is a language that anyone can learn. And hopefully with this, you can see that Japan has a genuine sense of metal that isn’t fake and superficial like BABYMETAL. If you have a hankering for this stuff, give it a try (and follow the artists’ on social media because you’re not going to have any other source of news from them because Japan doesn’t want you to know they exist).