Okay, so here’s the thing: this was initially supposed to be a “Top 10 Anime of 2020” post. I had every intention of doing that, but then someone made a dumb joke about 2020 and 20 anime and I am also dumb, so I resonated with that and ran with it. So here we are now. You have made it to General Tofu’s list of 20 great anime series from 2020 – congratulations!
I was absolutely not about to rank 20 different series, so what I have instead done is that I have organized them by the season that they initially released in. I have also not necessarily organized this as a list of only the absolute best anime – there are definitely shows that I watching this year that I have rated higher score-wise than some shows that appear on this list. I am quite sure that plenty of the shows that did not make the cut for this list have been talked about to death on other end-of-year posts, so y’all probably don’t need to hear about some of them again on this one. Instead, I focused on picking shows that I would readily watch again, because I felt that that would be a more enjoyable list to compile, honestly. The list is pretty beefy already, so for the sake of brevity, let’s get this show on the road!
The initial idea of a show about a dead child’s spirit haunting a school bathroom seems to be a little silly. What could it possibly do to be interesting? Well, the answer is: quite a lot. Hanako-kun is a masterful piece of anime on many levels – the art style is gorgeous and unlike anything I have ever seen; the characters are fun, well-realized, and have a serious amount of depth and development to them; and, the story is really, really good. When the show wants to do horror, it does horror. When it wants to lean full into some rough emotional patches, dear god, does it do it. When it wants to be funny, it sometimes floored me. The bottom line is that I really didn’t expect much of anything from Hanako-kun, but it ended up being almost my favorite show from the Winter 2020 season.
Oh, hi, favorite show from the Winter 2020 season! What happens when you take a spirit medium, an undying himbo, and make them into essentially a yokai detective agency? In/Spectre happens, that’s what. This show’s pacing is not necessarily for everyone; it can be a little slow sometimes, primarily because most of the show’s action, development, and most everything else is conveyed primarily through dialogue. If you’re looking for constant high-flying yokai hijinks, this is not the show for you. If you do want to watch a genuinely gripping slow burn of a spiritual murder case, then this is absolutely the show for you. The writing is super sharp, Kotoko and Kuro are a really cute couple, and it’s just gorgeous overall. Highly recommended.
Darwin’s Game is essentially another battle royale death game anime, but the kicker is that this one is triggered by and facilitated through a smartphone gacha game. I did not expect much out of this one from the general premise of it, but wow, was I surprised by the overall quality of the series. Part of what turns me off of these sorts of shows is that many of them take themselves entirely too seriously without having any sort of punch or substance to back that bravado up. Darwin’s Game does actually bring excellent things to the table, however, and I have some serious respect for it. The game mechanics are fun, interesting, and have real consequences to them, the characters we meet are pretty fascinating, and the fights themselves really get your pulse pounding. If you’ve wanted to watch a new battle-royale-style anime but haven’t really been able to find one to scratch that itch, I would definitely recommend Darwin’s Game, for sure.
Haikyuu!! To the Top
Okay, so here’s the thing: I had not watched Haikyuu!! at all until the unpleasantness hit this year. Next thing I knew, I had plowed through the first three seasons in, like, two weeks. It is genuinely one of the best sports series I have watched in a long time, and I was primed and ready to watch the newest season a little after it aired. I’ve sung the show’s praises in a previous piece already, but the bottom line is that it is just infectiously fun and hype to watch, beat for beat. If you like shonen sports series and you somehow haven’t watched Haikyuu!! Yet, do yourself a favor and plow through it.
Man, what a weird fucking show. Trying to fully explain ID: Invaded is a fool’s errand, as it is a show that has many interconnecting parts needed for full context and understanding of just what the hell it is doing. My elevator pitch for it, though, would be this: detectives investigate murders by diving into the minds of serial killers. Using the “Mizuhanome System,” the police force sends detective-turned-murderer Akihito Narihisago into the, uh, residual murderous intent left behind at crime scenes in order to access the unconscious minds of the killers.
Look, I know it sounds batshit insane, and it is, and it gets a little exposition-heavy at times, but man, ID: Invaded is genuinely one of the most interesting, original ideas I’ve seen for an anime in a long time, and it’s such a fun watch. I would recommend the English dub for this one, but you do you.
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It to the Budokan, I Would Die
Budoukan is easily the most endearing show of the Winter 2020 season, hands-down. Twenty-something Eripiyo (as she is known in her circle) becomes obsessed with Maina, a minor member of the indie idol group ChamJam. Shenanigans ensue for the whole season as we see her and her fellow ChamJam stans engage with the group. Shows like this can have a tendency to get a bit creepy or celebrate unhealthy engagement tendencies in hobbies and fandoms such as this, but Budoukan, refreshingly, does not. It takes a long, hard look at the difficulties of the industry and of fans on idols, about how fandom culture can and does often become unhealthy, and about how those parasocial relationships should be approached in a healthy manner. It’s a wholesome, sweet, hilariously funny show with a lot of heart, and it absolutely deserves to be watched.
Hey, as long as we’re talking about wholesome, sweet, hilariously funny shows, let’s talk about Kakushigoto, the anime of the year. The show follows manga artist and single dad, Kakushi Goto, as he works to write manga with his team to support his young daughter, Hime. Hime, however, does not know that Goto is a mangaka, as he tries relentlessly over the course of the show to keep that hidden from her, since he thinks it would be some earth-shattering realization for her. Thus, we watch Goto try to keep this secret through a number of increasingly absurd, genuinely gut-bustingly funny scenarios. Oh, and did I mention that it’s also told through a framing device where Hime, now a high-schooler, has found out her dad’s secret and is trying to find where he is after he mysteriously disappears? Yeah, this show is also as heart-wrenching as it is funny, and holy shit, does it hurt sometimes (read as: often). It is so, so, so good, and if I had to recommend that you watch only one show off this list, it would be this, hands down. Please do yourself a favor and watch Kakushigoto (also, the OP and ED are perfection, holy shit).
My Next Life as a Villainess
A dumbass bookworm gets isekai’d into the world of her favorite otome game, Fortine Lover. Sounds great – except for the fact that she got reincarnated as the game’s central antagonist, Katarina Claes. And in the game, there are a lot of death flags for Katarina. Thankfully, she was reincarnated to when Katarina was a very young girl, so she has years to plan ahead and try to navigate around all of these death flags. Armed with her knowledge of the game, Katarina tries her damndest to set up her friends with each other so that she doesn’t unintentionally trigger any bad ends. Since she is so sweet and staggeringly dumb, however, she ends up basically developing a huge pan-sexual harem that everyone except herself is aware of. It’s funny, endearing, and has a lot of heart, and I am so unbelievably stoked for the second season coming in 2021. I am begging you to watch this if you have not had the chance to do so already.
Okay, so hear me out – take a socially aloof tech whiz from 19th century Japan, whisk him and his samurai buddy off to Los Angeles, and have them build a steampunk car out of their boat in order to compete in a trans-continental race to New York City for a huge cash prize to help them get home. Toss in a huge, diverse cast of interesting characters, some great character development, kickass visuals and music, a heaping helping of beating the shit out of racists, some spaghetti-western-style shoot/sword-outs, and you’ve basically got Appare-Ranman! This show is just pure, distilled fun.
Holy shit, Great Pretender is incredible, and I think if it were any other year for anime, this would be a no-brainer pick for the anime of the year. Japan’s self-proclaimed greatest con man gets conned by another con man into conning other folks, and wow, is it a good time. The show is split into four distinct cases, all of which have both excellent self-contained narratives, as well as larger builds of character-specific and overarching story-related narratives. The writing is excellent, the cons are fun as hell to see be planned and executed, and the show has no qualms with dragging you along behind it and leaving you thinking, “wait, what the hell is going on?” The music is excellent, the characters are memorable and a joy to watch, and man, Wit spared no expense with making this show look just incredible. Do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven’t done so already (and if you’re curious, the dub on this show is exemplary – highly, highly recommended).
Re:Zero Season 2
Take everything that was great about the first season of Re:Zero and amplify it, along with adding on even more genuinely interesting and thoughtful introspection on Subaru’s part, and you’ve got season 2. Technically, it’s not done yet, as we’re getting the second half of season 2 in Winter 2021, and I’m ready to suffer some more. Honestly, there’s not much to say here – if you like Re:Zero, then you’ll like this, and if you haven’t seen it, then what are you even doing? Go watch it!
After five years of waiting for season 3, Oregairu still hurts as much as it did all those years ago, except even more. This is largely the same as with Re:Zero – if you like Oregairu, then you’ll like this (and you’ll hurt to varying degrees depending on who is your best girl), and if you haven’t seen it, then SERIOUSLY, what are you even doing?
Deca-Dence was a pretty polarizing show this season, specifically because of a twist that the show takes in the second episode, and the folks who thought the twist was dumb were cowards, every last one of them. Deca-Dence is one of the coolest anime originals I’ve seen in a while, and it’s very high up in my runnings for anime of the year, no joke. Talking about the show and its twist ruins some of the effect of the show’s progression as a whole. I will say, though, that it brings up some very interesting ideas about the perils of late-stage capitalism, the commodification of the poor and other marginalized groups, and it’s also just fun as hell to watch folks fight alien things with what are essentially zero-g versions of Attack on Titan’s ODM gear. It’s fun as hell, has a lot of heart, and it just looks great. Highly, highly recommended.
If you had told me three months ago that Hypnosis Mic would have made it onto this list, I would have told you to give me whatever you were smoking. There would be absolutely no way a show about dudes fighting each other with rap battles in a future where a group of totalitarian dictatorial women have taken over Japan, banned all weapons, and have made it so that any disputes would be resolved with said rap battles would actually be good.
Reader, fortunately, it was actually great. I absolutely started watching it because the premise was just so bizarre, but to my surprise, the music is consistently really solid, the characters are (almost) all really fun to watch, the variety in the different groups is delightful, and the entire overarching plot about the evil scheming government trying to take down these rap groups is genuinely hysterical. I got way more invested in this show than I thought I would, and it’s not anything ironic – I genuinely love this show, and I would watch a season 2 in a heartbeat.
tl;dr: Hypnosis Mic is the best idols anime of the year, and it deserves to be watched by everyone. Stan Mad Trigger Crew.
Akudama Drive is essentially what you get when the creator of Danganronpa puts the soundtrack for Hotline Miami on full blast and decides to make a cyberpunk anime that matches the tempo and breakneck pace of his musical inspiration. It is a twelve-episode-long adrenaline rush where a young, unsuspecting bank worker becomes part of a gang of high-ranking criminals (Akudama) who have been assembled and hired for a heist that only a group like this could pull off. It’s filled with highly stylized combat and violence in general, a delightful cast of unhinged misfits, and jaw-dropping moments on an episode by episode basis. It also manages to have a genuinely thought-provoking discussion (or sows the seeds of one) about the nature of our prison systems, and who is considered to be criminals, and what that says about the people holding the power to classify others as such. It’s genuinely not what I expected out of this show, but man, does it make for an excellent overall experience. Highly recommended.
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle
Sleepy Princess is all about a human princess, Syalis, who gets abducted by the demon lord and his horde and held hostage in order to wait for the hero and his party to come rescue the princess. The demon lord pretty quickly finds out that the princess is 1) not scared of anything, and 2) is going to do whatever the hell she wants, especially if it helps her get a good sleep. This includes, but is not limited to: stealing from the castle vaults numerous times; impersonating high-ranking officials; bribery; literal murder (almost, anyway). Through all of this, the princess comes to find out that the demon lord and the rest of the castle denizens are actually really nice folks, and they all end up caring about her as, essentially, their collective daughter. It’s hilarious, so wholesome, and is honestly the most fun I had watching the entire Fall 2020 season. I am desperate for, like, five more seasons of this at minimum, so if one of y’all has the money for it, please throw it at whoever needs it to make more of this. Please.
Man, Jujutsu Kaisen just hits different than other shonen anime. It’s got a great cast, all that Mappa animation goodness, a great premise, and a story that does not shy away from being really, really rough when it needs to be. It does such a great job of telling a mature story while still having plenty of fun and imaginative stuff within the shonen framework, and I find myself looking forward to every Friday. It’s a 2-cour, and we’ve got a good thirteen or so episodes left, so now is a great time to catch up.
Wandering Witch wins the award for “Show That Most Threw Me For a Loop,” I think. It’s a sweet, wholesome show about a young witch who overcomes adversity and learns to be a responsible adult before traveling around the world. It’s also a show where said witch encounters a land where the entire population was murdered by their king, who was turned into a dragon; where she encounters a city that is about to be overrun by magical plant-based zombies and decides “eh, not my problem”; and where she encounters two different wineries feuding and ends up solving their dispute by being a lightweight drunk and inadvertently beginning a long-running grape-throwing festival tradition in the town. Wandering Witch and our titular witch Elaina, herself, are fascinating and really messy at times, and it makes for one of the most engaging, and sometimes most uncomfortable, watches I’ve had with a series in quite a while. I cannot recommend this one enough..
Moriarty the Patriot
Okay, so we’ve had plenty of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but what if we did it and made his archnemesis, William James Moriarty, the protagonist? In this series, we follow Moriarty and his compatriots as they work behind the scenes to orchestrate the murder of deserving nobles in order to highlight the insurmountable class divide in 19th century Britain. It’s so good on its own, but then they bring Sherlock and Watson in about halfway through the season, and everything that was great about the show is just compounded as they add in the sort of cat-and-mouse dynamic (or the looming threat of it) underneath everything else. I genuinely didn’t think that this would be anything other than some edgy fanfiction painting Moriarty in a positive light, but it ends up being an extraordinarily competent crime thriller, and I can’t wait for the second half of the season coming in the Spring 2021 season.
Last, but not least, is Hang On! Climbing Girls, the sports anime about high school girls’ competitive sport climbing. Puzzle gaming nerd Konomi Kasahara stubmles upon her new high school’s sport climbing wall and, using her analytical and pattern-recognition skills from puzzle gaming, falls in love with sport climbing. It’s such a cool sport to see adapted into an anime, and the show works to give a real shonen sort of lens, despite having an all-female cast. My partner actually noted that she was delighted to see this, as many sports shows with female casts often didn’t get quite as serious as some shonen sports series. The series also delves into many of the pitfalls of competitive sports, as it shows Konomi really working hard to get good at the sport. She is initially quite good at it, but her analytical skills can only take her so far without developing her body, as well. It gets pretty real, and it’s a neat perspective for a sports anime to take. While it’s by no means a perfect show, I think it’s really worth giving a shot if you’re at all interested in an all-female cast sports series, or just in interesting sports shows, in general.
What were some of your favorite shows of 2020? Let us know!