When I was constructing this list, I have to confess that I really had no idea for any kind of structure whatsoever. I just started pulling entries from my list of completed anime, and before I knew it, I had accidentally pulled shows that were all from different years of the decade. So, I figured, why not just keep up the trend until I have one from each year? While I tried my best to keep the list to just one show per year, there were a few instances where I had to bend that rule just a little bit. Thus, we have the list you are looking at now.
Since I constructed this as a list of shows from each year, it almost felt weird to rank them, and as such, I have opted not to do so. Instead of, say, a battle royale of sorts to determine which is the single best anime of the decade, which seems like a silly effort to try to tackle in the space of a post like this, I have instead opted to have this post function as a showcase of sorts to show that there are shows that I believe should absolutely be watched from every year this past decade.
Each show is going to be on this list for different reasons, and none of these entries are perfect (honestly, what show is?). However, I do believe wholeheartedly that each entry deserves to be on this list and should be watched for different reasons. I’m going to try to be as detailed as I can for my picks with each entry here, but for the sake of space on this thing, each entry is confined to just a few paragraphs. A few entries have redirects to other articles done for The Backloggers, so you can follow those for some additional details, if you wish.
I think that’s all we really need to say at this point, so let’s get a move-on!
Katanagatari is the only Nisioisin work on this list, primarily because I figure there’s going to be a good chunk of lists with some season of Monogatari in there somewhere. However, I would be lying to you if I did not say that it’s also on this list because I would honestly rather recommend this show to someone over Monogatari any day. I say this not because the Monogatari series is bad – on the contrary, it does deserve to be on many anime of the decade lists. That said, Monogatari is a sprawling, dense series to go into, and unless I know that people would be into Nisioisin and Shaft’s style, it can be a bit of a crap shoot, so to speak. That’s where Katanagatari comes in as, essentially, Nisioisin lite™.
Katanagatari is essentially a story about the unlikely alliance of brilliant and brash strategist Togame and the warrior whose body is used as a blade, Yasuri Shichika, as they journey together to collect twelve “deviant blades” over the span of twelve 50-minute episodes. It is the definition of “what it says on the tin.” There is a large focus on combat in the show – far more than you will find in any other Nisioisin work, sans Juuni Taisen – but it does have that signature focus on dialogue, wordplay, and all other manner of focus on words that Nisioisin is known for. The fights are flashy, the dialogue is fun and has a great bit of witty banter, and the relationship that blossoms between Togame and Shichika is just *chef’s kiss*.
Bottom Line: Katanagatari is a fun, flashy show to watch with a quick, contained story and enough dialogue and banter to ease someone into Nisioisin’s style without just dumping them headfirst into Monogatari. If you’ve ever been interested in the Monogatari series or Nisioisin in general, I would highly recommend that you check out katanagatari, as well.
Future Diary (2011)
Before some folks come in to crucify me for talking about Future Diary instead of, say, Mawaru Penguindrum or something else like that, part of my reason for choosing Future Diary in the first place is to implore you to give it a chance, because like the hypothetical group I just posited here, I, too, did not give this show a chance. I took one look at it and thought, “nice, it looks like edgy trash.”
And it is.
But the fact of the matter is, a show doesn’t have to be a masterpiece for you to enjoy it. Despite its many weird, troubled twists and turns in terms of storylines, character dynamics, etc, Future Diary is, at its core, a pretty solid battle royale show. The different specialties and abilities that each character and their “diaries” have is fun to watch unfold and figure out, and some of the ways that the rules of the game are exploited, tiptoed around, or just outright broken is a delight to watch. There’s also a surprising amount of character development for a show that is, indeed, some hot trash, which was really refreshing as I was watching through it last year.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a good battle royale or edgy show to have some fun with, you’re setting yourself up for a bad end if you don’t at least give Future Diary a shot.
Psycho-Pass is one of my favorite series of all time. I love that, as someone who watched the first season of Psycho-Pass as it aired and fell in love with it, I have been able to watch this series evolve over the past eight years, which has included both growing pains and also some fascinating growth. From a zoomed-out perspective, Psycho-Pass feels like a spiritual successor of sorts to series like Ghost In the Shell, in that we are examining humanity and other social issues in a technologically-focused future.
At this point, with three seasons and four movies, with a fifth on the way, there’s a lot of Psycho-Pass out there to watch. In a perfect world with plenty of time on everyone’s hands, I would recommend that you watch the entirety of it. Parts of it are pretty rough (looking at you, season two), but as a whole, it’s so satisfying and interesting to see how the series evolves over time. However, for the sake of time, I would recommend that you at least watch the first season. The first season of the show is easily my favorite, as it works as a fantastic exploration of the idea of justice, what it means to be human, the nature and reality of “justice” and “evil”, who can be judged by an omnipotent technogod, and whether or not a world controlled by something like that is really worth giving up the personal choices and freedoms of a world without it, to name a few. It does a fascinating job throughout of working both as a thrilling crime procedural and an interesting look at and critique of modern society.
Bottom Line: My ambitious recommendation would be for you to watch the entire Psycho-Pass franchise. However, I am more than content in simply recommending that you watch the first season – it’s a hell of a thrill ride from start to finish, and you really owe it to yourself to watch it if you haven’t had the chance over the past couple of years.
Akito the Exiled (2012 – 2016)
So this year, I finally was convinced by my partner to watch Code Geass for the first time. Fellas, it’s good. Really good. The story of political trauma, intrigue, and everything else that the show is wrapped up in is gripping, and it pretty consistently managed to hold my attention through its entire 52-episode run, which is saying something. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its issues, though – the filler episodes feel like filler episodes, some character arcs, choices later in the series, and just overall treatment of the characters themselves feel a little off, and some parts do drag a little bit (what is up with the weird supernatural dad stuff?). In spite of all of that, however, it manages to be a deeply engaging story with a cast of characters that you can easily find yourself getting invested in. Soon after finishing our watch of Code Geass, we found that there was an OVA series called Akito the Exiled, and hungry for more Code Geass content, we jumped right at it.
The thing about Akito the Exiled is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the core plot of the original series, except for a few cameos of Lelouch, Suzaku, and CC – they essentially only have a few minutes of screentime, and the OVAs could have easily continued without their presence. Honestly, the series is better off because of that, as the exploration of this entirely new cast of characters is fantastic because it is not saddled with the responsibility of, say, making an addendum to the original series. Instead, in the span of its five 50-minute-long-ish OVAs, it’s able to spin an original, interesting political action story using some of the settings and concepts that Code Geass set in motion. The political and ideological battles are interesting, and the mecha battles are thrilling to watch and a huge improvement over the original’s.
Bottom Line: I don’t really know how much I would recommend this to people who have not watched the original series. It’s not like you need a lot of context to enjoy it, but having that experience with Code Geass really makes this OVA series shine. If you have watched Code Geass and you enjoyed it, you absolutely need to give Akito the Exiled a try.
One constant that I’ve heard over the last handful of years when Free! is mentioned is that it’s just pretty fujoshibait and isn’t worth your time. To that, I say that any kind of “discourse” with that at its helm isn’t worth your time, as whoever is saying that clearly has not watched the series. Is Free! a series about pretty boys doing swimming stuff? You bet it is. But is it more than that? Oh my god, you bet it is. Over the course of its three seasons, Free! works in many ways to tackle ideas of imposter syndrome, the struggle between talent, practice, and the unfairness of life, and toxic masculinity, just to name a few. It is so consistently earnest in the friendships and bonds that the main cast has with one another, and the ways in which they work to support each other and work through both personal and interpersonal issues is gut-wrenching and satisfying to watch. Also, though, this show is just gorgeous, and while that does make for a pleasurable viewing experience, the beauty of the show works to exponentially accentuate the raw emotion that the show brings to the table.
Bottom Line: I can easily say that Free! Is one of my favorite sports anime series, hands down. If you’re looking for a good sports anime to watch, this is it. However, don’t expect it to just be a standard “power of friendship and pushing through losses to become better” kind of sports show, because it just isn’t. It does have a fun, lovable cast of characters with some goofy story points, but it can hit hard, and I mean hard. It’s a great show – don’t listen to the meme hate.
Glasslip is an unmitigated disaster. On the surface, Glasslip promises to be a romantic slice-of-life show where our main protagonist, Touko Fukami, works as a glassblower. Fantastic concept, right? And, like so many details in this show, it is absolutely wasted, since the show seems to actively work to be maybe the worst show to come out of P.A. Works.
So, with an accolade like that, why do I have Glasslip on this list of shows you should absolutely watch from this past decade? Context – context so that if you watch this, you could watch another bad show and think “well, at least this isn’t Glasslip.” The thing is, Glasslip isn’t a bad show in the sense of something like Qualidea Code or Hand Shakers, where it looks bad from the start and delivers on that promise. Glasslip has the potential to be something genuinely interesting and manages to end up being disappointing, confusing, and just plain awful. I could nitpick Glasslip a lot. In fact, we have an entire podcast about it. But for the purposes of this entry, that’s not what we’re here for.
Yes, Glasslip is disappointing if you go into it thinking that it might be good. But here’s the thing – as I was watching this while it was airing, and I got to the point where I had accepted just how bad this show was, I went into each week excited to see what more this show could possibly do to just make me laugh from sheer bewilderment. Heck, it was one of the first shows Matt and myself bonded over when we were first starting to all hang out as a collective. The shared confusion and getting to talk about what was happening with this train wreck of a show was an experience that I really can’t fully describe.
Bottom Line: You should make it a point to watch Glasslip with friends or anime fans in your life. Sharing in the utter confusion and fury this show brings is unlike anything else I have experienced as an anime fan, and it’s an experience that I think everyone should at least give a shot. Gawk with your friends, get some context for what a really bad show looks like, and come out enlightened.
Space Dandy (2014)
Space Dandy has a lot of baggage specifically in that it is an episodic space exploration hijinks show with a weird, eclectic crew and a killer soundtrack, created by Shinichiro Watanabe – and it’s not Cowboy Bebop. Therein lies the problem: when discussions of Space Dandy arise, you will be lucky to not have it be immediately steered in the direction of “yeah but Cowboy Bebop is so much better”. I am not here to say that art or series exist in a vacuum – especially in anime, series and creators are inspired, informed by, and shaped by those series that came before them, are their contemporaries, and are to come. It would be silly to say that Space Dandy was not inspired in some way by Watanabe’s experience creating Cowboy Bebop. However, it does not mean that Space Dandy’s worth should be judged by how closely it toes the line to Cowboy Bebop, because, simply put, it is not supposed to be Cowboy Bebop.
If you can put aside the Cowboy Bebop nostalgia glasses and look at Space Dandy as a series of its own, you will find a goofy space adventure series with a great cast and a variety of wild music, art styles, and stories to explore in each separate episode. Space Dandy is, first and foremost, a comedy, and it hits pretty consistently (though comedic tastes do vary, of course). However, there are episodes throughout the series that manage to instead be deeply introspective and serious, melancholy, or just plain moody, and the ability for this series to have such a dubmshit of a protagonist as Dandy and make some episodes really emotional and thought-provoking is a testament to Watanabe’s skill as a storyteller.
Bottom Line: I implore you to toss any biases you may have aside and at least give Space Dandy a try. It’s a goofy show with a lot of heart that just might leave you really caring for our cast of dumbasses and vibing along to a killer soundtrack all the way through.
Snow White with the Red Hair (2015)
I’m a sucker for a good love story, and hot damn, is Snow White with the Red Hair a good one. It’s very fairy-tale in structure – a brilliant herbalist with red hair (Shirayuki) is kidnapped by a dotard of a prince who wants her for himself, but is rescued by a bombastic but sweet and gallant prince of a neighboring country (Zen). Zen brings her back to his home country and pushes her to study to become a court herbalist, and the rest goes from there. It’s a pretty show with a lot of heart, and the characters are all just so dang well-written that it’s hard to not just plow through the entire series in one go. Zen and Shirayuki have such incredible chemistry together, too, and it’s hard to think of a couple in anime that I have wanted to get paired off this hard.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a good romance series to check out with a lot of fun and heart to go with it, give this one a go. You will not regret it.
Tanaka-kun is always listless (2016)
As Matt said once, “this show is like taking a nap in an open sunny windowsill on a breezy spring day”. Or something like that. Tanaka-kun is a slice-of-life school comedy, of which there are approximately several metric shittons of in circulation. However, I’m here to tell you that Tanaka-kun kicks the collective asses of every single one of them (except for Nozaki-kun, which trails pretty closely behind this one). The show kicks so much ass for two simple reasons: brilliant comedy, and unparalleled aesthetic.
The sense of humor in this show ranges from dry as a cracker to just absurd, and it works so well simply because of how excellently fleshed-out the cast of characters is. Each person has their own characteristic goof to them on the surface, but they are also all very layered, complex characters, which makes their continued hijinks over the course of the series compoundedly funny. Also, god, the comedic timing is perfect. But the thing that most makes this show for me is also the aesthetic – mirroring our titular character Tanaka, the show’s overall mood, music, and visual style evokes a sense of ease, comfort, and just being laid-back in general. It is able to take a lot of the humor that a more manic SoL school comedy would have in a hectic, screaming scene and hit with the same impact in a very simple, chilled-out setup, and it is just…immaculate.
Bottom Line: I feel like I’m standing before the face of god when I watch Tanaka-kun. That’s a weird thing to say. Basically, it’s hilarious, it’s comfy, and my god is it pretty. Watch this show.
Just Because! (2017)
Just Because! is a show that I have written about pretty extensively, since it was part of our episodic post series from a few years back. Really, we covered the entire series. Because of that, I don’t want to delve too deep into this show, as the posts have a whole lot to say about the series that you could easily just check out there. However, I will go ahead and talk about what makes this show so dang good, and what has it as one of my top ten anime of all time.
Just Because! is about a group of seniors in high school who are trying to come to terms with the fact that their high school life is about to end, and life beyond is about to begin. All of our main cast is burdened in some way – one wants to go to play professional baseball, but his family is poor, and he’ll have to go straight into working after high school; one feels burdened simply for being alive; you get the picture. And it’s precisely because you do get the picture that this show works so well – easily the strongest aspect of this show is that our main cast all feel so alive and real. It was almost scary how much of myself and my friends I saw reflected on the screen as I watched, and that makes this show incredibly powerful. While many other school drama shows play on some tropey, very anime plotlines, Just Because! feels incredibly real.
Bottom Line: With Just Because!, you won’t find a huge degree of melodrama; you won’t get any bombastic, wild confessions of love, or anything else like that. What you will get is a very genuine, heartfelt, and at times gut-wrenching character-driven school drama that many may find deeply relatable. Highly, highly recommended.
Yuru Camp△ (2018)
I’ve already written a fair bit about Yuru Camp for the blog and have gushed about it in several podcasts since its release, but it would honestly just feel wrong for me to not include it on this list. Yuru Camp is genuinely one of my favorite anime ever, simply because it succeeds so wholeheartedly in almost every aspect of the show. On the tin, the show’s about girls going camping, and that’s what you get in the show. Some, like Rin, are veteran solo campers, some are total newbies, like Nadeshiko, who just wants to group camp. All of the characters, however, love camping in their own way, and the show is just a relaxed romp through loving camping from all of these different perspectives. It’s easily one of the most relaxing shows I have ever had the pleasure of watching, and It’s such an interesting slice-of-life show in that it does not even have the slightest hint of drama or weird, voyeuristic sexualization of our cast.
Bottom Line: Yuru Camp is just girls enjoying camping, and that’s the show’s whole focus. The very basic, pared down approach and focus of the show gives it a lot of time to focus on the aesthetics of the show, as well. The sound design and music of the show is a 10/10, the visuals are so soft, colorful, and lush, and everything just gives off an aura of relaxation, calm, and sheer joy. It sounds simple, and it is, and it’s for that reason that I really think that Yuru Camp is worth watching.
Run With the Wind (2018)
Essentially, Run With the Wind is about a college senior, Haiji Kiyose, corralling all of his misfit dorm-mates (read as: threatening) into running the Hakone Ekiden university marathon relay race with him. What we get from that premise is my favorite sports anime ever – seriously, I think about it probably at least once a day. What makes this such a standout show to me comes in the form of a few factors, but one of the biggest contributions is just how much it deviates from a lot of traditional sports series tropes. For instance, while we do have a fairly large cast (we have about ten boys on the track team), about two of them have any real competitive running experience, and even at that, almost the entire bunch of them are reluctant to go along with Haiji’s wishes (read as: insane demands). But as the series goes on, you get to watch as this group of dudes who have never run in their life work together to accomplish something amazing that is beyond any single individual on the team, and as they come to learn and develop more about themselves along the way.
Bottom Line: Honestly, any real bloviating about this show seems unnecessary when I could just tell you to watch the show, and I will. If you can only watch one show in this entire list, watch this one. It’s beautiful, it has a heart-thumping soundtrack, it has some of the best character arcs I’ve seen in a sports series, and god almighty, it’s just good. I also have a framed picture of Haiji in my office at work. You don’t need to know that, but there it is.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season (2019)
O Maidens is, essentially, a show about high school girls (and boys) struggling with puberty, sexuality, and everything that goes with it. It’s one of the funniest shows I watched this year, and it also hit me with more gut punches than almost any show this year (it’s a Mari Okada show, though, so what do you expect?). The sheer messiness of the relationships between the show’s main cast is just so hard to watch at times, but you can’t look away because they are just so damn earnest in how they try to communicate with one another.
The biggest reason why I am recommending it as this year’s show is because I think that we need more shows like O Maidens around. Shows like this that work to de-stigmatize love, sex, and puberty alike in a healthy way, but also showing some fo the pitfalls to avoid, could be a huge help to actual kids their age that might be struggling with issues like this. Instead of a bevy of series that show middle school boys shooting liters of blood out of their noses because they brushed up against a big anime tiddy, maybe we could balance those out with some shows that actually try to have conversations about these harder, more messy issues.
Bottom Line: O Maidens is sweet, hilarious, and genuinely touching and respectful in how it addresses some difficult issues about adolescent sexuality and growing up. I will also never be able to look at trains the same way again.
That about wraps up my picks, but Kyle is up next in a few days, so stay tuned!