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.
Synopsis: The Earth Sphere had lost its previous governing structure, and a new world was created under new systems of government. While a temporary peace had arrived, the seeds of a new conflict were being sown in the Mars Sphere, far away from Earth.
Why You Should Watch: When you think about giant robots in anime, it’s hard not to think about Gundam, and it’s as true now as it was when I was a kid seeing promos for Gundam Wing on Toonami. Yet for all the years I’ve watched anime, with the exception of the fun toyetic spinoff Gundam Build Fighters, I had never really watched a Gundam series from beginning to end, until I watched Iron Blooded Orphans, and for my first “real” Gundam show, it was a pretty wild experience. Iron-Blooded Orphans depicts the tale of a group of well…orphans known as Tekkadan, who have been raised as child mercenaries and have little freedom of their own, until a job from a rich philanthropist gives them a way out, and their journey towards making a better life for themselves, brings them into conflict with various political interests, and through the lens of the show’s titular orphans and some of the other characters they meet along the way, we’re given a front row seat to the various ways the young and vulnerable are exploited by those with power, and how those with that power, can bend narratives to their will to maintain their influence.
As political as that sounds though, this is also another series scripted by Mari Okada, which means that in addition to all of that, it’s also got some pretty heavy dramatic chops, and it spends just as much, if not more time, exploring the weird and sometimes unhealthy dynamics between the members of Tekkadan and those who oppose them, as it does talking about corrupt politicians and nobles, making it pretty easy to get invested in even if you don’t care much about it’s larger messages. And of course since it’s a Gundam title, it’s got some top-notch 2D mecha animation from the folks at Sunrise, and while not all of the show’s giant robot battles look super polished, they rarely disappoint, and the general lack of firearms on these machines, means that the fights can get pretty gritty they need to. It’s certainly not a perfect show, and some of the relationships it depicts can get a little wonky, but it’s unflinching in it’s goals and what it wants to say, right down to it’s surprisingly brutal ending, and I respect the heck out of it for that. My experience with Gundam since then has still been kind of lacking, and I really should get around to seeing the original 0079 series someday, but if I was gonna invest in any Gundam series first, for better or worse, I’m glad it was this one.
Synopsis: Chihaya Ayase is a famous beauty at her school, but she’s far from a conventional girl. Three years ago in her final year of elementary school, Chihaya and her friend Taichi became infatuated with the card game, Karuta, after connecting with a lonely boy named Arata Wataya. But when the trio graduated from elementary school, they each went their separate ways but shared one common goal: to excel in the game and meet each other at the national championships. Now, Chihaya is attempting to share her passion for the game by creating a competitive Karuta club at school, but when she reunites with Taichi it seems that maybe she’s the only one with the intention of fulfilling their childhood promise…
Why You Should Watch: Chihayafuru is one of those things where any basic description of its premise would make it sound way more boring than it actually is, and definently needs to be experienced to be properly appreciated, but not enough folks are watching this dang thing, so I’m gonna try my best regardless. On the surface a show about karuta, a sport that effectively involves listening to poems and swiping cards related to them doesn’t sound like it’d be all that good a time, even with a romance angle involved (go Team Taichi or go home), but veteran shojo director Morio Asaka and the staff at Madhouse put their best foot forward in making the game look as exciting as possible, and many of the matches are filled with cool storyboarding, and kinetic camera work that can go toe-to-toe with some of the best shots from Haikyu in terms of ramping up the intensity and turning what would be an otherwise mundane sport into something that can keep you at the edge of your seat. It’s a good thing too, because while the series is classified as a shojo manga and stars a plucky heroine caught in a love triangle between two pretty boys (well as much as it can be one considering she’s about as married to her love of karuta, as Goku is to his love of fighting) it follows the general formula of a shonen sports anime as Chihaya’s goal is to rise to the top of the karuta world and achieve the rank of Queen, and she both befriends and competes with a variety of quirky characters along the way.
At the same time though, it’s shojo elements also allows the series to have a certain sense of nuance in how it’s characters are written that a lot of similar sports shows lack. Plus, karuta itself being a gender-neutral sport also gives the show a lot more room to flex in that regard, as even some of the most intitially superfical members of the ensemble rarely feel sidelined, and Chihaya’s opponents often come from all walks of life. In a decade where we’ve had killer shonen sports anime adaptions like Kuroko’s Basketball and Haikyu, it feels weird saying that one of the best sports anime to come from it involves an niche, Japanese-specific sport, that isn’t even done professionally, but Chihayafuru really is something special, and with it’s third season currently running, hopefully it’ll continue to impress.
Synopsis: Kageyama Shigeo, a.k.a. “Mob,” is a boy who has trouble expressing himself, but who happens to be a powerful esper. Mob is determined to live a normal life and keeps his ESP suppressed, but when his emotions surge to a level of 100%, something terrible happens to him! As he’s surrounded by false espers, evil spirits, and mysterious organizations, what will Mob think? What choices will he make?
Why You Should Watch: So unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, it’s almost impossible to be an anime fan without having heard at least a little about ONE’s hit manga, One-Punch Man, and the absolutely killer adaption it’s first season recieved (we uh…don’t talk about the second). However until recently, you were a little less likely to have heard about ONE’s other series Mob Psycho 100, and it’s a shame because while I’m certainly found of Saitama and friends, Mob is really in a league of it’s own. For one thing there’s very few anime productions quite like it, and while One-Punch Man’s first season had no shortage of sakuga, Mob Psycho takes advantage one ONE’s simplistic character designs to go absolutely nuts with the animation and storyboarding, and nearly every frame is bursting with personality whether it’s in it’s in fast-paced and high energy fight scenes, or it’s more low-key comedy. Of course, a strong production can only carry a series so far (again you need only look at One-Punch Man season 2 for that) but thankfully it’s got a pretty strong story going for it.
Much like One-Punch Man, Mob stars an incredibly overpowered protagonist in Shigeo Kageyama aka Mob, but where One-Punch Man uses Saitama’s strength to explore how jaded life can become once you’re an adult, Mob’s arc is a little more complicated than that as his great power ultimately does little to improve his relationships and his social standing, and he seeks to improve himself in more mundane ways. It’s through those efforts to improve that the show finds it’s thesis statement: that natural talent only goes but so far in life, and it’s generally just more valuable in the long run to be a good person. This is a lesson that Mob gradually has to learn for himself, and that many of his enemies need drilled into them, whether it’s physically, or through more comedic means, as the show preaches the power of empathy throughout all it’s crazy shenanigangs, making it as powerful as it is entertaining. With all that going for it, it’s kinda nice that the show’s much more impressive second season, gave it the shot in the arm it needed in terms of buzz, and now that it’s getting out there, hopefully it’ll be allowed to stand the test of time because it really deserves it. While One-Punch Man, asks what it really means to be strong, and if that strength can be fuflling, Mob Psycho is here to tell you that it’s not just important to be strong, but kind too.
Synopsis: In a “mirror city” that is Kyoto and yet not Kyoto, where humans, monsters, and robots all live, 14-year-old Koto searches for her mother. She encounters a monk named Myoe who’s waiting for his father to return. Family and the mirror city itself are at stake as this action fantasy unfolds.
Why You Should Watch: So this series from Toei Animation has a bit of a weird history to say the least. It first debuted as a kind of pilot ONA way back in 2011, and was subsequently released on Youtube. This was how I first came across it, and while I had absolutely no clue about anything that was happening in it, I knew it looked rad as heck and I eagerly awaited more of it. After that, the series came out with 5 additional OVAs in 2012, before finally becoming a full TV anime in fall of 2013. Thankfully for as wild as all of that sounds, you only really need to watch the TV series to understand the story (well that and the weird episode 0 special, which basically covers everything the first ONA, but re-adjusted for the purposes of the TV anime) but that sure doesn’t make the actual show itself any harder to comprehend, at least initially. In a premise that can only be described as Alice in Wonderland on even more drugs, meets family court, this show tells the story of how a priest with the ability to make his drawing comes to life, uses his strange abilities to create a mirror like version of Kyoto, and with it a wife and kids, as well as one adopted war orphan who he curses with immortality. All is well and good in this bizarre family until one day mom and dad just straight up abandon their kids, and leave them behind to run the mirror world in their absence. The kids obviously don’t take this well, and each one of them has their own ways of coping, or not really coping with their abandonment issues. This all changes when a mysterious girl named Koto (who happens to share the same name as the kids’ missing mom) shows up claiming to be another member of the family, and wants to reunite with them.
It’s very weird to say the least, and series director Rie Matsumoto, uses her incredible storyboarding skills to make it even weirder as nearly every shot of this show is crammed with enough visual information, that you could almost mistake it for an Ikuhara joint, and they can get pretty jaw-dropping. It’s also got a pretty polished production considering it came from Toei (and especially Toei in the early 2010’s) and the overall visual aesthetic of the show is show striking it’d almost be worth watching it for that alone. Beneath all the weird and pretty visuals though, at its core this show is the story of a broken family coming back together, and Rie Matsumoto and her crew poor enough heart into that tale that you can really tell how much of a passion project this series was for them. Plus it’s also got the bonus of my favorite seiyuu Akira Ishida giving a really fun performance towards the end as the priest in question, who’s actually pretty high up there on the list of crappy anime dads even if he’s a lot less mean about it. This a very odd show, and one that definently requires a lot of patience since it’s overal structure is a lot more abstract than it’s general themes would suggest, but it’s also one of those things that really demonstrates how unique anime can be as an artform, and it’s by far the strongest thing Toei’s put out for the decade.
Synopsis: The setting is Asakusa. One day, second-years in middle school Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji, and Enta Jinnai meet Keppi, a mysterious kappa-like creature, who steals their shirikodama and transforms them into kappas. “To return to your original forms,” Keppi tells them, “you must fight the zombies and take the shirikodama from them.” Can the boys connect with each other and steal the zombies’ shirikodama?! At the same time, something is happening at the police box where Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu work. This is the story of three boys who can’t connect with someone important to them, learning about what it truly means to do so.
Why You Should Watch: As a huge stan of Kunihiko Ikuhara, I’d be remisced if at least one of the shows he directed this decade didn’t make the cut for this list, and while this one is probably his weakest work to date, it’s still a pretty impressive piece of art. As is generally the case with Ikuhara’s works, this show has a very pretty visual aesthetic going for it, and it’s storyboarding is jam packed with visual symbolism, with many shots carrying some form of hidden meaning. As is also the case with Ikuhara’s works, this crazy visual style is combined with obtuse storytelling, repeated dialogue, and killer musical numbers that generally requires your brain to be at full attention in order to dissect this show’s various messages, and even then, there might be a lot more going on than you’d expect. In the case of this show specifically, those messages come in the form of various ideas about relationships, capitalism. and how certain demographics are exploited. Ultimately though, it ends up zeroing in on that first one, as the core of the story centers around a trio of boys and how sensitive their connections to their loved ones and each other can be in the wake of certain societal norms. It can get into some pretty rough subjects in that regard, and while Ikuhara has never shyed away from getting dark with his material, Toi’s arc in particular goes places that you wouldn’t really expect anime to typically dive into, and it’s pretty wild. The show itself is also very, very queer, and while that isn’t exactly new territory for Ikuhara, this is the first time he’s centered one of his stories around gay men instead of lesbians and he uses that for all it’s worth, even directly challenging the notion of how gay men are generally treated in anime outside of BL, and it’s pretty fascinating. Sadly this material doesn’t all come together in the end that the same way alot of Ikuhara’s other works have, and it’s clear that he couldn’t fit all his ideas into the show’s runttime, but the ending still hits pretty hard regardless, and the show itself is easily one of the most ambitious works to come out this year, and something that’s more than work a look.
Synopsis: Yuuri Katsuki carried the hope of all Japan on his shoulders in the Figure Skating Grand Prix, but suffered a crushing defeat in the finals. He returned to his hometown in Kyushu and hid away in his family’s home, half wanting to continue skating and half wanting to retire. That was when the five-time consecutive world champion, Viktor Nikiforov, suddenly showed up with his teammate, Yuuri Plisetsky, a young skater starting to surpass his seniors. And so the two Yuuris and the Russian champion Viktor set out to compete in a Grand Prix like none the world has ever seen!
Why You Should Watch: Ever since I checked out Michiko and Hatchin a few years back, I’ve been really impressed with Sayo Yamamoto as director and I’m basically up for checking out anything new she makes. This was also the case back in 2016 when Yuri on Ice first debuted, and as anyone still salty about the Crunchyroll Awards that year will tell you, it blew up pretty quickly. It’s not hard to see why though because right off the bat it has a lot of things going on, and it does all of those things really well. On one end, it’s an anime about figure skating, a sport that anime rarely touches (if partially due to how complicated it is to animate) and shows off it’s appeal by bringing an incredible sense of flair and style to all of the show’s figure skating choreography, and while the actual animation doesn’t always deliver on that end the direction, and incredibly strong musical score for the series, make every figure skating sequence a delight to watch. As is typical with sports anime, it’s also filled to the brim with an fun cast of characters with eccentric personalities, and they’re all so entertaining that it’s hard not to find at least one to latch onto. It’s also a story about a struggling athelete who finds himself in a slump, and is forced to reinvent himself in order to maintain his career, which is certainly pretty easy to relate to for better or worse, and Yuri’s development alone is almost enough to make the show.
Of course, the biggest thing in it’s favor, and one of the main reasons it made such a splash to begin with, is Yuri’s relationship with Victor, and how it not only helps him on his path towards reinventing himself, but also in general is one of the surprisingly sweet gay male romances placed in an anime outside of BL. Given how much the industry was, and still is, kind of adamant about keeping non-BL gay romances as vague on the actual romance as possible for marketing purposes, it’s nice that this show was able to convey as much as it did, and Yuri and Victor’s dynamic is so fun, it’s kind of hard not to get behind them. Yuri on Ice sets out to achieve a lot for what could have otherwise been a pretty simple sports show, and Sayo Yamamoto deserves a lot of credit for allowing all that ambition to pay off in more ways than one, since it’s kind of hard to understate big a financial success it ended up being. We may still be waiting on that movie to finally come out, but for what we have right now, it’s clear this show was born to make history.
Synopsis: After an asteroid explosion and meteor shower lit up the sky over planet earth, strange adorable bears began to attack and devour humans. The earthlings responded with violence of their own, and in the end, a massive barrier – the Wall of Extinction – was erected to separate man from bear. This fragile peace lasted until two high school girls encounter a yuri flower blooming – only to be shaken by the piercing warning of the Bear Alarm! Once again, bear and man- or bear and girl -will be pitted against each other in a deadly and mysterious showdown.
Why You Should Watch: It’s time for around of Ikuhara shenangians, with this one centering around the topic that helped to make him such an icon in the anime industry to begin with: lesbians. And when I say the topic of the show centers around that, I mean that really is the main talking point, meaning that compared to a lot of Ikuhara’s other works, this one is probably the easiest to digest in terms of themes. Revolutionary Girl Utena wasn’t shy about having it’s heroines kiss either, but it partially used that as a springboard to talk about the much broader topic of the male patriarchy and how women are controlled, while this talks more directly about the societal pressures gay women face. Specifically, it’s pretty direct about how Japanese culture specifically tends to treat romance between women as something of a childhood phase, even having Kureha, and her initial love interest Sumika refer to each other as “friends”, much in the same way a lot of other anime with yuri subtext tries to keep things vague, even when it’s pretty clear the girls are at least more along the lines of friends with benefits. Meanwhile the villains of this show are literally comprised of a high school clique that’s dedicated to maintaining the status quo, and despite Kureha intially making a few concessions to that status quo, the relationships she forms with the show’s other heroines Ginko and Lulu push her to break free from them, and challenge those norms in order to be with the one she loves. Direct as that all sounds thouhj, this is still an Ikuhara show, so while the overall message isn’t exactly hard to get, it’s still peppered with tons of visual symbolism and abstraction so the actual plot can get a little messy at times, and the exact symbolism behind some of the actions these girls end up taking can be a little more vague that they probably needed to be. Still, Ikuhara’s penchant for bold and coloful art design is all over the place in this show so it’s hard to get too mad about those nitpicks, and the ending is strong enough that you couldn’t really miss the point of this show if you tried. Between the strong visuals and the hard hitting themes, it’s clear that this show was the kind of social allegory that anime was made to tell, and it’s an impressive feat of art that demonstrates how unique anime can be in conveying those themes.
Synopsis: Yuuta Hibiki can’t remember who he is, and now he’s seeing and hearing things that others don’t! A voice from an old computer tells him to remember his calling, and he sees a massive, unmoving creature in the distance. Nothing’s making sense—until the behemoth springs to life! Suddenly, Yuuta is pulled into the digital world, reappearing in the real one as the colossal hero—Gridman!
Why You Should Watch: I might not have any serious childhood memories of the live-action Ultraman series back when it aired on U.S. airwaves, but like most kids who grew up with Power Rangers, I at least have a basic idea of the appeal of tokusatsu shows, and this series exempifies those qualities in spades. While the show’s director Akira Akemiya has been known for his work on intentionally stilted looking action-comedies like Inferno Cop and Ninja Slayer (so much so that some folks didn’t even believe this thing was gonna be properly animated till the full trailers hit) he’s been involved in more than his fair share of bolder looking productions, and this show is quite a sight to behold. While the inheriently plastic look of tokusatsu shows and the various monsters that comprise them is at least part of the charm, this show manages to bring that to animation through a clever blend of 2D animation and 3DCG that makes many of the monsters, and Gridman himself look intentionally plastic looking and something along the line of rubber suits, while still being a pretty impressive visual spectacle even without picking up on that intent as it’s chock full of cool mecha animation, and the character designs are all pretty expressive.
All of this sounds like it would be a formula for some off the walls action and insanity as is generally the case with most Trigger productions, but despite it’s tokusatsu based origins, the general tone of it is surprisingly grounded in a lot of places and Yuta and his pals all come off as one of the most believable group of teenagers I’ve seen in an anime in a good while. It’s also a show with something to say beneath all it’s flashy theatrics as it ends up borrowing more than a few cues from Neon Genesis Evangelion later down the line. However, where as Trigger’s…other mecha show from 2018 tried to blatantly paint itself as the next Eva, and failed pretty badly, this show is more of a homage to it’s themes, as what starts off as a weird but slightly typical show about a boy with amnesia fusing with a superhero in a computer to fight giant monsters, becomes a thoughtful look at depression, and one character’s desperate desire to flee reality and stay in the world of escapism they’ve made for themselves and it gets a lot darker than I was expecting at the beginning. Trigger’s made a lot of cool stuff over this decade, and what your favorite work of theirs is going to be largely kind of comes down to personal taste, but as for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed shows like Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia and most recently, Promare, this is easily the most impressive thing they’ve put out for the 2010’s and quite possible the best thing they’ve made, period.
Synopsis: In Sternbuild City, corporate logos not only cover billboards, but also the costumes of the super-powered heroes that act as its protectors. Veteran and newcomer warriors of justice alike compete in a reality TV show that offers points for apprehending criminals while giving champions’ sponsors a chance to promote their brand. When the low-ranking Wild Tiger loses his backing after a string of outrageous, botched rescues, he finds himself paired with an up-and-coming spotlight-seeker called Barnaby. But with their wildly different personalities, will the pair be able to save their beloved Sternbuild City and win the game show, or will their constant tension be the undoing of the world’s first hero team?
Why You Should Watch: Before My Hero Academia took the internet by storm, the hottest superhero anime on the market was Tiger and Bunny, and if it’s placement the top of NHK’s poll of the best anime ever made is any indication, it’s got a lot going for it. Similar to My Hero, Tiger and Bunny takes place in a world where being a superhero is an actual job, but whereas My Hero treats it as a profession the same way you would being a police officer, Tiger and Bunny talks about it from a much more commericalized standpoint where superheroes are treated like brands, and saving the day is just another way to boost the popularity of that brand. It’s a unique angle to say the least, and Tiger and Bunny both has fun with as it relates to the protagonist Kotetsu and his dwindling popularity as a hero, while also not being afraid to tap into the darker aspects of what can happen when heroes are just another product in the gears of capitalism. Mainly though, the show is just out to have a really good time, and it’s comprised of a really fun cast of characters (as well as one who’s a little outdated nowadays), and an aesthetic that often feels more like a buddy-cop comedy than a superhero show.
Speaking of that buddy-cop angle, one of the biggest appeals of this show really comes down to the dynamic between the main characters Kotetsu and Barnaby, and they play off of each other really well. A lot of their banter makes for some of the show’s best jokes, and it’s nice seeing how the two of them grow closer over the course of the show. Between the two though, Kotetsu is kind of the bigger draw as a character, because like Mutta from Space Brothers, he’s a rare example of a middle aged protagonist in an anime (right down to having the same seiyuu) and the show really taps into his feelings about seeing his age catch up to him with his career, and if he can even stay in the business at all, despite his genuine desire to help people. It’s a great arc to watch, and while the way it wraps up feels a little like sequel bait, it still feels incredibly rewarding in the end. Tiger and Bunny is a fun show, with one of the best English dubs this side of Cowboy Bebop to go alongside it, and while it weirdly never caught on the west to the capacity it probably should have given it’s general aesthetic, it’s still a great time regardless and it’s worth checking out. Now if only Sunrise would actually make good on another season…