This has been one of the best times for anime and the sheer evolution of the industry over these 10 years is crazy to consider. Just looking back on the number of anime that came out in one season in 2010 compared to a season now shows an explosion of growth. And sure, there’s been plenty of sequels, reboots, and rehashes of old tropes. However, there also have been stand out hits that did something unique and were immediate loves of mine at first watch.
So for this list, I didn’t restrict myself to one per year, nor any limitation of trying to number one anime above another. Instead, I just wanted to share anime that had a big impact on me and, I think, also the industry. So given when this list is coming out, let’s celebrate the holidays in alphabetical order with something morbid: Death!
Death Parade is an interesting show for its broad discussion on not only death but the ways we feel towards it, both as an act against someone, as well as by whose definition the punishment should be deemed justified. The premise is simple, similar to playing a game against the reaper, when people die, they are given a chance to either reincarnate or end up obliterated. The rules are that a game is chosen and the recently deceased must try to see if they can win. However, there’s always a catch and through the game, we are able to find out who these people really were in their previous life, allowing our protagonists to make their final judgement.
However, as the series goes on, not only do we bring into question the cruel punishments given to those in the afterlife by various religions but also the accuracy of the judge of those actions themselves. Our main characters are explored even more thoroughly than any of the random deceased they deal with and a very interesting and tragic story begins to unfold.
It’s a dark, but wonderful series and deserves much more notice than it’s gotten so far.
Houseki no Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)
It definitely was not the first series to blend 2D and 3D animation but it was absolutely the first to perfect it, in my opinion. Houseki no Kuni is amazing in every way, from the soundtrack and art, to the characters and darkly tragic twists. And that’s to say nothing about it’s most obvious feature: That gorgeous blended art and animation. The use of the 3D animation is so creatively done, that there are parts of this series that quite possibly could never have been done in standard 2D animation, creating an iconic style that is so unique and gorgeous, I was blown away within even the first few minutes of watching. Never once did it falter in its presentation, and gosh dang is it just so pretty.
It’s my hope that moving forward, a lot of studios take notes from this series to make the inevitable blended shows we see coming out to fight, and possibly even compete with, this blessed dearest of a gem.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
Humanity has Declined may not be on everyone’s radar, but it definitely should be given a chance. The series perfectly captures the darkly playful and chaotic nature of fairies from old folk tales, and blends that with modern comedy and a surprisingly depressing worldview for something that looks so pastel and colorful.
The story simply follows our main character as she tries to intercede on the behalf of the last remnants of humanity, who destroyed themselves, when it comes to matters with fairies, the classical kind which returned once the humans and their pesky electronics went away. The series is split into arcs. However, the arcs are told intentionally out of order to aid us in feeling the constant sense of confusion and craziness that our characters feel as antics run amok, adding onto the already prevalent whiplash of such a cutesy art style. The fairies throw out jokes about genocide, social commentary, and weirdly Machiavelian protagonists who get their comeuppance, like it was a normal Tuesday.
It’s a riot of a show, with strange and twisted humor playing off of the colorful art style. However, its very clever writing explores deeply the reasons why humanity may actually cause itself to decline, while never being too depressing. It’s a wonderful mix of goofs and yikes set in a pastel apocalypse.
General Tofu has already spoken at link on this, so I won’t go into too much detail but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout out to Katanagatari.
The story and characters are clever, sometimes to the point of poking a joke at the audiences’ expense, building up certain things to then just wave them away later. And the art style, borrowing from classical Japanese paintings, is colorful and amazing. It also helps to add a unique flair that is capitalized on by the designs, with outfits being wild and unique. For instance, the ninjas in the show all dress in modern street/dance clothes that help to separate their faction while also accentuating their movement. Yet it doesn’t feel out of style to the rest of this vibrant world.
It’s a clever show and definitely a unique-looking one that is absolutely worth your time.
Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill will always be a troubled favorite of mine. There is plenty of things to love and hate about this show but I feel for all its sins, it also does so many things well, possibly tipping that scale (at least for me) towards the positive.
The fun action, kickass female characters, and very basic, but cleverly punned, classism struggles of its main characters will always be highlights for me, and are the very reason I wrote my first article for the blog. However, at some point, the rose tinted glasses fell off and we can see the cracks of questionable sexualization and, in some unfortunate instances, awkward gendered issues. However, I never feel like it goes too far down that road, enabling us to experience the very first full series Trigger showed in all of its wild and ridiculous glory.
It’s manic, angry, weirdly horny, and is ready to bare it all for the world. I salute that.
Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)
Other than the quick short Cross Roads that Makoto Shinkai has made, this was my first introduction to the man and hot damn was it an amazing one for me. Obviously, I had well heard the hype and fanfare for this movie. Going in, it not only was very different from what I pictured and hit in some very heavy ways I did not expect. However, it also caused whatever expectations I had to fly out the window, and leave me a sobbing mess leaving the theater.
The discussions of coming to terms with immense loss (directly paralleling the director’s after the earthquakes) and the insanely strong emotional bond we to have people, can be extremely potent. Holy shit. It’s not that the romance is necessarily new, and the Freaky Friday bit has been done, but it’s just delivered so honestly and beautifully that it doesn’t matter what tropes came before.
This one will always hold a special place in my heart. And the memory of the grandma four rows behind me in the theater, with tears in her eyes and a massive smile will be something I carry with me and hope to see again for another movie.
Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice)
A Silent Voice came out of nowhere for me. I had just gotten done watching Your Name in theaters twice when I was told that it had also come out the same year. I knew nothing about it and that was the best gift I could have given myself.
A someone with depression among other mental illness, the struggle of both of our main protagonists in dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts hit me viscerally. This film is very true to life when it comes to showing the misunderstanding by others and the unjust pain those who are outcasts receive from their peers when they fail to empathize. The extreme guilt and depression both leads feels is highly accurate to my own personal struggles I’ve had and my life isn’t even half as bad as these two.
This film is brutally honest without ever needing to become darker than it needs to be. It’s a gorgeous animation with soft and beautiful colors that hits harder much more true than half of the darker and edgier shows I’ve seen. It’s a masterpiece.
Little Witch Academia (OG film)
The original short film animation of Little Witch Academia, I feel, was a turning point in the industry. It’s success, eventual sequel, and then full series adaptation is a testament to how much fans themselves can breathe new life into this industry. While there haven’t been many, there are successes in Crowdfunding when it comes to anime, but more so than that, the dedication and love of the LWA community saw this show through into becoming infinitely more than many could have imagined.
It’s a beautiful animation by itself, and its cast of characters is immediately iconic and memorable. However, I think it should be celebrated and remembered not only for its display of talent by the creators, but the dedication its fans have had in enacted amazingly positive change and helping to launch Trigger into the massive success they are now.
Nichijou is, and will most likely be, one of my all-time favorite comedy series from any medium. The characters, the writing, and the gosh dang perfect timing of everything is a blessing on this world. I’ve written about it before but Nichijou is a perfect example of learning from previous animation, like classic Looney Tunes, and modernizing it all with its own unique style and flair.
On top of all of this, even when it’s at its silliest, the series has amazing heart and is unafraid to forego a joke to instead give us a warm moment among its characters. Some of my favorite skits from the series has me saying “aww” much more than I was laughing and I appreciated the show’s respect for its characters, even having a (relatively) throughline of a overall plot for a show about gags and skits.
Nichijou is wonderful and excels at everything it does, in all its weird, over-the-top glory.
Princess Principal is a series that, sadly, I don’t think a lot of people were able to watch. Fighting between streaming platforms left a lot of people out of being able to see this gem. However, it is absolutely worth it.
While it’s a reasonably episodic spy series, the characters and their dynamics constantly build upon each other and could carry this entire series to the finish line by themselves. However, blending in the mystery of this steampunk world as well as the espionage and intrigue of Cold War Berlin, yet setting it in the UK, is such a uniquely stylized idea that deserves applause, particularly from an anime original with no source material to help construct this setting.
On top of all of this, the immense vibes of love, girl power, and camaraderie before country give us such a strong cast and group of characters, who will stop at nothing to support each other. It’s so good.
Shinsekai Yori is a series I was not originally sold on when I started it. The show is intentionally a slow burn, leaving the audience the think it’s one type of story when, in fact, it is so much more. It’s dark, twisted, and builds upon its world and lore even right to the very last few minutes of the show, leaving the audience picking apart bits and pieces of each and every section of the show until a horrible realization arises.
Shinsekai Yori is a powerful show, starting from basic ideas of community and power, and building upon them to show the darker aspects of humanity if they reigned king.
Violet Evergarden is just plain and simply beautiful. The art is gorgeous, the animation is intimately detailed, and the stories of each of the characters in the show are tragically fitting for a post-war decade. Following Violet, an ex-child soldier, as she attempts to construct some semblance of life out of battle, our protagonist ends up in a job assisting others in writing and delivery letters, more specifically, the words they mean to and yearn to say to others. However, as Violet is emotionally stunted due to her past, she struggles to understand those words and those feelings people are trying to get across.
Each smaller story in the series helps to explore incredibly complex emotions, allowing Violet to grow and eventually understand her own emotions and emotional scars. It’s heart-wrenching at times, and is unafraid of directly discussing psychological issues that people who have gone through war and trauma are sadly subjected to. Yet it does so in one of the more delicate ways I’ve seen down in an anime.
It can easily be said about the art and animation, but as I said before, whether it’s the characters, the stories, or the themes, this show is simply beautiful.
Lastly, before we get to the final one on the list, I wanted to real quick list some honorable mentions. These ones I pulled because my list was getting too long but I felt they at least needed a shout out.
The first is Cross Road, a Makoto Shinkai commercial of all things. I wanted to mention it because for a less than 2-minute commercial advertising cram schools, this shook me. Like, I legit wanted a full movie or series about these two characters and their struggle to get into college. It’s amazing how quickly I felt connected to the main characters and all of it is wrapped up in a beautiful art style with amazing animation. Man, Makoto don’t even slack on commercials, yo! Still waiting on that full adaptation.
Another short one is Out of Sight. This short film surprised me when I came across it. It beautifully shows the world from a blind girl experiences it in her mind’s eye. The creativity of it all and how each sound reveals another clue to the void around her is amazing. Highly recommend this.
Madoka Magica. Just the name should be enough but if you haven’t seen it. It’s amazing. It’s dark. It’s massively influential. Go watch it. Or rewatch it!
On a personal note, A Certain Scientific Railgun S, the second season of the series is to this day, one of my most influential anime. When I was almost at the lowest point in my life, I decided to try and get back into anime after being out of the loop for a few years. This wasn’t the first one I saw but it was a show that I bonded with a few others over and inevitably now I’m here, still talking about anime and being less depressed. It’s a fantastic anime and blows the first season out of the water with an incredible plot and amazing action.
And lastly, for the honorable mentions, a series that not many people got a chance to see is Fune wo Amu or The Great Passage. It’s a wonderful story about a group of people making a dictionary, something you wouldn’t think would hit you emotionally but gosh dang does it. The anime instills this love of words, their meanings, and how much language can connect us. It’s a great sleeper hit that peeps need to wake up to!
Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (Tatami Galaxy)
Tatami Galaxy is a really hard one for me to define. Hands down, this is one of my all-time favorite shows and I absolutely love it. However, it’s also one of the strangest shows I’ve probably ever seen.
The basic set up is a guy enters college and tries out a specific club or activity to see what he wants out of college life. However, inevitably, he must also deal with the consequences of his actions, causing multiple endings to occur until time resets and he tries again with a different club or activity.
It’s all very Groundhog Day or Majora’s Mask when you put it that way but not quite. It’s relatively unknown if anyone else actually realizes but our main character definitely is completely unaware of the constant restarting back from start. It’s more of a stage play that is told different every time, but with the same people, props, and setting. Instead of this series being about time travel or loops, it’s more about seeing the results of alternate choices and how those influence a person, their setting, and even the relationships of people around them, eventually allowing the audience to come to conclusions about our own choices in life.
However… here’s the thing. This show is WEIRD. Everything about it is strange. Characters look and physically behave like fluids, never keeping a consistent shape, metaphors become reality and it’s always hard to tell which is which or if it even matters. Plus, there are times when the art style itself switches things up to further show the increased confusion and isolation some of the characters may be feeling. It’s a show that’s absolutely all over the place but it somehow works. Each odd choice in style of animation adds to the whole, and each one-off adventure our character gets into better helps us to understand him, as well as the people around him, and how we all connect.
I know for a fact I haven’t explained it well at all but it’s one of those strange, mystifying experiences, like gazing into the eyes of a galaxy and trying to explain to someone what it was like. It is a surreal and unique masterpiece that anyone who enjoys animation should watch.
These are my favs! And, to round out the trio, we have certainly not least, Owningmatt, to give us his favs!