The year 2019 is slowly winding down, and with it, the end of this long, long decade. There’s been a lot of wild changes in the world over the past 10 years, some for the best and others…not so much. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that there’s still a ton of anime coming out every single year and way too much of it for any one person to see no matter how much free time you have. Since we’re getting ready to head into a new decade, I felt like it was only proper to talk about some of the best anime the 2010’s had to offer, and while there was a lot of great stuff that came out during this time, I’ve managed to wittle it down to what I thought were 25 of the strongest shows to come out of the decade.
In the spirit of the season, I’ll be listing off one show per day between now and December 25th, so there’ll be something new here every day until then unless my schedule gets weird. With all that out of the way, let’s hop to it
*All series synopsis are from Anime Planet
Attack on Titan
Synopsis: Over a century ago, mankind was devoured by giant beings of unknown intelligence and origin known as Titans – creatures that eat humans alive indiscriminately and for no apparent reason. The remaining population has managed to survive the last hundred years only by building a multi-walled city capable of keeping the Titans at bay, training military recruits to patrol the perimeter and gather intelligence about their mysterious foe. Eren and Mikasa have lived a relatively peaceful life behind the city’s walls, but when a massive Titan appears, smashing the outer barrier and unleashing a wave of terror, their lives are brutally changed forever…
Why You Should Watch: While my feelings towards the series have kind of diminished over the years, it’s hard to deny how *pardon the pun* colossal of a hit this show turned out to be. The series starts off with a strong hook regarding humanity’s fear of the Titans and Eren’s desire to fight back against a seemingly unstoppable threat and only gets more intense from there as the scale of the story escalates the deeper it goes in, until it eventually evolves into an exploration of military fascism and the demonization of other races. It’s also cool as heck to look at and chief director Tetsuro Araki of Death Note fame, and Studio WIT did a fantastic job of transforming the manga’s unique, but kinda ugly art, into a glorious action spectacle with some city scaling parkour that would make Spiderman blush, and the battles between the Titans themselves constantly hovering somewhere between giant mecha battles and wrestling matches. Sadly the show’s very…messy mixed messaging regarding it’s darker themes kept it from making the cut for this list, but when it comes to the biggest hits of the decade, almost nothing’s managed to scale up to this one.
GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018)
Synopsis: Nearly twenty years into the 21st century, people have forgotten the existence of Yokai. When a number of unexplainable phenomena plague adults of the human world with confusion and chaos, thirteen-year-old Mana writes a letter to the Yokai Post in search of answers, only to be greeted by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro…
Why You Should Watch: With how much Dragonball fans have been screaming at Toei to put out a sequel to Dragonball Super, you’d be forgiven for thinking Kitaro was a lame replacement with not a whole lot to offer. However you’d also be dead wrong as while the show carries itself with the outward charm of a fun kids’ show, it’s also one with a pretty good horror aesthetic, and uses it’s episodic premise to explore themes such as human trafficking, worker exploitation, and how hatred can spiral violence. It can pretty dark for a kids show, and never pulls any punches despite its target demographic, as not all of it’s stories have a happy ending. Even with all that in mind though, it still knows how to cut loose and be fun, and Kitaro and his band of yokai pals make for a pretty charming cast of characters to hang out with every week. This might not be the most exciting show out there for most audiences, but if you aren’t afraid of checking out kids’ shows, and you’re in the mood for something spooky, Kitaro’s been one heck of a ride, and it could certainly use more love
Synopsis: The teen adolescence story revolves around the coming-of-age of boys in a junior high school’s soft tennis team, which is on the verge of shutting down. Touma Shinjou asks Maki Katsuragi to join the team for his vaunted abilities, and mentions a summer competition. Katsuragi asks for money in return for joining the team.
Why You Should Watch: Honestly it really feels like this show should have made the cut for this list, and I was very tempted to put it there, but as of the time this has been written the show hasn’t ended yet and since there’s still the (slim) possibility it could faceplant in the final act, I’d feel weird including it on something like this. All that said, this is still more than worth checking out. Series director Kazuki Akane had a pretty good track record going for him with his work on The Vision of Escaflowne and Noein to your other self, with both shows mixing cool fantasy elements with heartfelt coming of age stories and solid character drama. While Stars Align is a lot more grounded than either of those shows it certainly isn’t any less lacking in the drama department and has used its premise of a dysfunctional middle school soft tennis club to discuss abusive parenting, and LGBT topics, with episode 8 in particular offering one of the most gentle looks on transgender and non-binary people that I’ve ever seen in an anime, and it was more than a little eye-opening for me. Again, I feel pretty bad not having it on the proper list here, but if you haven’t already checked the show out, it’s far and away the strongest thing the Fall 2019 anime season has had to offer, and it’s more than worth your time.
Synopsis: Around the end of the millennium, Viking, the mightiest but atrocious tribe, had been outbreaking everywhere. Thorfinn, the son of the greatest warrior, lived his childhood in the battlefield. He was seeking the land of reverie called Vinland. This is the story of a true warrior in an age of turmoil.
Why You Should Watch: This is another one I’d include if the show wasn’t still airing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. Historical fiction isn’t exactly an uncommon topic for anime, but the time of the Vikings is one that media barely covers in general, despite the myths about them, and this series dives headlong into their culture and the various conflicts of that time period through the eyes of Thorfinn, a young boy who wants revenge for his father’s murderer, and Askeladd, the guy who killed Thorfinn’s dear old dad and runs his own band of Vikings who pillage the countryside, and hire themselves out as mercenaries to whoever pays the highest. While all of that sounds like a formula for some testosterone-fueled action, and there’s certainly no shortage of that given that this is a Studio WIT production, it places even more emphasis on the futility of violence, and how it’s a cycle that can only be escaped by making the conscious choice to live for something better. It’s a lesson that hasn’t quite hit Thorfinn just yet, but the path to him getting there has been a fantastic watch, and with how effortlessly the show’s managed to go into it’s heavier topics, it’s not hard to see why it’s source material has been held in such high regard, and so far, the anime adaption’s proven to be one of 2019’s strongest offerings.
Synopsis: 30 years ago, a massive firestorm tore through half of the world’s cities, bringing the planet to its knees and giving birth to fire-wielding mutants known as Burnish. Now, a powerful mutant terrorist group who calls themselves Mad Burnish, lead by the soft-spoken Lio, threatens to destroy the earth again in a blaze of hellfire. The only thing that stands in their way is the Burning Rescue Fire Department and their hot-headed leader Galo. As these two burning forces collide, with the world as their battlefield, who will come out victorious?
Why You Should Watch: While I wouldn’t exactly call myself the biggest fan of Hiroyuki Imaishi or the general aesthetic he’s helped make Studio Trigger known for, I’d be lying if I said his stuff wasn’t a whole lot of fun to watch, and Gurren Laggan and Kill la Kill are two of my favorite action shows to watch if I want to get my blood pumping. Still even with that in mind, it’s hard to think of anything that quite encapsulates Trigger’s style quite like Promare. Like it’s aforementioned predecessors, Promare is a loud bombastic action spectacle filled with even louder characters and some incredibly stylish battle animation cuts, while also having a unique visual style that blends 2D animation and 3DCG in a way that gives the film an almost comic-book feel not unlike Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. What really makes this particular project special though is that while Imaishi certainly hasn’t been shy about addressing topics like the power of non-conformity in his previous works, this one is definently the most blunt about what it wants to say, and dives surprisingly deep into the treatment of minorities by government enforcers (they’re called the Freeze Force for a reason guys) and the looming threat of global warming, all while maintaining the usual level of fun and high energy that Trigger productions are known for. Sadly it’s commitment to the typical Trigger aesthetic kind of cuts some of it’s thematic ambitions short, but it manages to cram everything great about Trigger shows into a tidy 2-hour package so it’s hard to be too critical about it. Plus it’s given us the most popular gay pairing to an action thing aimed at dudes in recent memory, and anything bold enough to be as unsubtle about that as possible is pretty cool in my book.
Synopsis: In Japan’s Warring States period, Lord Daigo Kagemitsu makes a pact with 12 demons, exchanging his unborn son for the prosperity of his lands. The child is born malformed and is set adrift in a river, while Kagemitsu’s lands thrive as promised. Years later, young thief Dororo encounters the mysterious “Hyakkimaru”, a boy whose arms are blades and whose visionless eyes seem able to see monsters.
Why You Should Watch: I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of the show’s director, Kazuhiro Furuhashi, since a lot of his work on the Rurouni Kenshin franchise made the series needlessly edgier than it’s source material and subsequently misunderstood it’s ending (the less said about Rurouni Kenshin: Reflections the better). Still, it’s pretty hard to deny he’s talented so when I heard he was doing a new retelling of the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka’s, Dororo, I was pretty curious to check it out. What I got ended up being one of the strongest shows of 2019, as Furuhashi and the staff at Studio MAPPA took the interesting but kind of tonally inconsistent manga, about a boy with puppet limbs hunting down the demons who took it alongside his scrappy orphaned companion, and turned it into a thoughtful look at how one’s humanity can be maintained in a world where everyone has to dirty their hands for their own survival, and if sacrificing the few to save the many can ever truly be justified. Hyakkimaru’s battle to regain his humanity by reclaiming his body, leads him down a path that ultimately threatens to take that humanity away from him, and seeing where that journey takes him can be equal parts horrific and triumphant as nearly every character in the show’s cast carries their own struggles in how they’ve made their way through such turbulent times. The series also has a pretty good visual aesthetic going for it, in how it chooses to display it’s violent world, and it helps to give the series a bit of a retro feel, while still feeling more than suitable for modern audiences. While I doubt this series would have been high on anyone’s list of manga properties to revive, this reinterpretation turned out to be one heck of a ride, and reminded me that not every adaption needs to be direct to it’s source to be great.
Synopsis: When the girls in the literature club ask themselves, “What do you want to do before you die?” one of them gives a most surprising response. Now they’re all preoccupied (for better or for worse) by their friend’s unexpected answer! Soon each of these very different young women find themselves propelled along the uncertain road to adulthood, their emotional journeys taking them down paths as surprising as their friend’s unconventional wish.
Why You Should Watch: Ah, puberty. It’s one of the most awkward and confusing times in any person’s life, and media has exploited that awkwardness for nearly all it’s worth, as stories about horny teens aren’t exactly uncommon, especially in anime. However while fiction about puberty is often tackled from a male perspective, very rarely is it done from a female perspective (at least not without the added condition that it’s at least partially played for titillation) and O’ Maidens in Your Savage Season holds nothing back. Penned by the original manga’s author and prolific anime writer, Mari Okada, O’ Maidens follows a group of young girls in a high school literature who seem to want nothing to do with boys until one of them declares her desire to have sex. The ensuing whirlwind of chaos from that declaration, pulls the girls into various love triangles, strange relationships, and just a general mess of awkwardness.
Mari Okada’s work is both famous and infamous for how melodramatic her stories can get, and while there’s a whole lot of drama going on in this show, what really helps to set it apart from similarly sex-charged stories about puberty is that it has a surprising amount of levity, and often has you laughing at some of the girls’ crazy antics as much as it does wanting to make you give them a hug and tell them everything will get better with time. It’s also one of the rare stories that tackles how a queer teen handles puberty, and while her arc isn’t exactly the happiest, it’s empathetic in a way that dramas like these aren’t always the best at. The relationships in this show can also delve into some very uncomfortable dynamics as the girls deal with the men in their lives (as a word of warning one of them involves one of the girls dealing with her abuser who is a literal pedophile) but it handles them very delicately, and never crosses any lines it can’t walk back from. It’s a pretty messy series, and the slightly anti-climatic conclusion might not sit well with everyone, but puberty is messy, and this show understands that in a way that very few other works of fiction have shown successfully, and that makes it both an impressive piece of art, and one Mari Okada’s strongest works to date.
Synopsis: Frustrated with her thankless office job, Retsuko the Red Panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out death metal karaoke after work.
Why You Should Watch: If you told me a couple of years ago that one of the best shows to tackle millennial work life and the anxieties of adulthood would come from the same company that makes Hello Kitty, I would have thought you were off your rocker. Sure enough though, Aggretsuko is one of the most relatable shows out there, and one of the few anime comedies to penetrate mainstream consciousness in the west, and for good reason. Regardless of gender, I’m pretty sure just about every young adult trying to make their way through an early career can see themselves in Retsuko, a red panda who has to put up with all sorts of garbage from her co-workers and chooses to vent via death-metal screaming sessions at her local karaoke bar about how much she hates her life. It can certainly be cathartic if you’ve ever found yourself in similar situations but what really makes Aggretsuko shine as a series is how Retsuko learns how to navigate her way though the problems with her life with the first season tackling the workplace sexism she constantly finds herself under and how marriage might be her only means of escape, while the slightly more uneven but still solid second season, has Retsuko looking more at what she wants out of life in the long term. These aren’t easy things to deal with, and Retsuko never manages to overcome these problems so much as she does learn to take the good with the bad in her life, and head towards her future at her own pace. As someone who shares in at least a few of those struggles, these feel like surprisingly honest conclusions, and that honesty has probably contributed at lot to it’s current success. Workplace comedies may be nothing new, but few speak to the millennial experience quite as hard as Aggretsuko, and while we can’t always scream out our frustrations, at least this show is willing to do plenty of the screaming for us.
Synopsis: Izuku has dreamt of being a hero all his life—a lofty goal for anyone, but especially challenging for a kid with no superpowers. That’s right, in a world where eighty percent of the population has some kind of super-powered “quirk,” Izuku was unlucky enough to be born completely normal. But that’s not going to stop him from enrolling in one of the world’s most prestigious hero academies. Now, the only thing standing between him and his first class is the academy’s formidable entrance exam—nothing a little private tutoring from the world’s mightiest hero can’t solve.
Why You Should Watch: So I might have tried pretending to be smart with some of these other entries, but anyone who talks to me online knows I’m a shonen junkie at heart, and few series this decade have given my inner 12-year old their fix quite like My Hero Academia. While the first season kind of stumbled out of the gate with some wonky pacing, and a more conservative looking production than the general pedigree Studio BONES has made themselves known for, every season afterwards has only gotten stronger and the anime staff has brought Kohei Horokoshi’s original manga to life with the kind of high energy many shonen adaptions of the past could only dream of, with consistently strong animation, and some killer direction. The material itself of course, is no slouch either, and while a lot of its base appeal lies in how well it’s refined the typical Shonen Jump formula down to it’s lovable cast of characters (and Mineta I guess) and well paced story structure, what really makes this series shine is that’s well…actually a pretty good superhero story. Even though on the surface, a lot of it’s superhero elements feel like they’re there to add some flavor to it’s shonen formula, in many respects, it’s usually the opposite, and the series has quite a lot to say about how true heroism comes from a desire to help people, and how that desire can conflict with a society held up laws and regulations, as well as acknowledging both the good and bad in having superheroes as symbols for the people. Even if you don’t care about any of the deeper stuff though, My Hero is just a really fun time, and while it’s not the most sophisticated thing on the planet, it’s kind of like having your favorite bowl of cereal. It might not be a full-course breakfast, but it always puts a smile on your face, and as this decade’s big tentpole battle shonen, hopefully it can keep bringing those smiles for a few more years to come.
Synopsis: When Mutta and Hibito were children, they made a promise to become astronauts together after spotting a UFO one night. Now adults, the duo’s path couldn’t have diverged more – Hibito is about to travel to the moon with NASA to help simulate the future exploration of Mars, and Mutta is unemployed, having recently headbutted his boss at an auto company. Still, the man can’t shake his desire to surpass his younger brother, and soon, he becomes an applicant for Japan’s JAXA space program. His ultimate goal, to get one step ahead of Hibito and go to Mars. But the path to becoming an astronaut is long and fraught with tests and challenges. Will Mutta and newfound friends Kenji and Serika manage to persevere and achieve their dream?
Why You Should Watch: As kids we’re often told that there’s a certain point in adulthood by which we should have our lives together, and that anyone who fails to do so by that point is doomed to amount to nothing. However as many struggling folks (myself included) in their late 20’s and early 30’s would tell you, real life is a lot more complicated than that, and getting one’s life together can be a constant work in progress. This rings especially true in the story of this show’s protagonist, 35-year old Mutta Nanba, who after getting fired from his job as an auto engineer, is forced to rethink his life trajectory, and decides to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, alongside his younger brother Hibito, who’s already living that dream. His journey towards that goal has a lot of ups and downs, and along the way we’re introduced to a variety of other characters, some who have been constantly beaten down by life, and others who have loving families and stable careers, who all still similarly yearn to achieve their dreams of going to space, and there’s a level of humanity to just about everyone Mutta meets that really helps to demonstrate that being an adult doesn’t always mean you’ll be fulfilled.
While that description makes this series sound pretty dry and serious, a lot of the time it’s really funny, and while it never sugarcoats the struggles the adults of this show face, it also has an abundance of child-like optimism that keeps things from ever getting too dark, and it rarely fails to be entertaining. It also presents the inherierant romance of space and adventure with the kind of wonder that can easily capture the hearts of kids, as well as the adults it’s more grounded elements are tailored to, making it one of the rare anime that you could actually put on for the whole family (well minus one racially insensitive joke that’s mostly skippable, and a potential age-gap romance that might not sit well with everyone). Unfortunately it didn’t really gain much traction in the west, much less a dub, so the series has sadly remained kind of niche here over the last few years, but it’s well worth your time regardless, and while it’s a little long, the show never feels like it’s dragging it’s heels. Whether you’re young or old, Space Brothers is here to tell you that it’s never too late to start over and pursue your dreams, and as someone who’s sadly gotten more jaded about life with age, it’s the kind of optimism I could certainly use more of.