Synopsis: Drawn to the mystique of the unknown, Hunters travel the world in search of terrifying creatures, incredible riches, and unexplored lands. Gon Freecss is a naive-yet-determined young boy who aspires to join the ranks of these individuals, in order to find his missing father Ging – a master of the profession himself. To reach his goal, he partakes in the formidable Hunter Exam, a series of tests that push the participants to their physical and mental limits, with a Hunter License as the prize. During the exam Gon befriends vengeful Kurapika, doctor-to-be Leorio, and skilled assassin Killua, who have entered for their own reasons. But with the sinister Hisoka standing in their way, will Gon and his friends be able to succeed in obtaining their reward, or even escaping with their lives?
Why You Should Watch: Like I said with My Hero Academia, I’m pretty much a shonen junkie at heart, and when it comes to top-shelf shonen, I can’t think of anything that really out performed this reboot of Hunter x Hunter. I was already fairly familar with the series going into it, having both read some of the manga back when I used to ride the high seas of piracy, and also having been a huge fan of author Yoshihiro Togashi’s previous work, Yu Yu Hakusho, whose anime adaption I had previous considered to basically be the best shonen anime ever made, both because of it’s pacing and the strength of it’s characters and the strength of its material. That still largely remains true, but Hunter x Hunter edges it out in a few areas. For one thing, it’s one of the best looking battle shonen adaptions out there in terms of animation and storyboarding (not that Yu Yu Hakusho slouches on that either), and while the early episodes are a little more conservative on those ends, the show only looks better and better the further it gets into its run. It also does a lot more to play around with the usual tropes of the battle shonen formula, and by extension has more room to play around with its characters and themes. The basic plot of Hunter x Hunter can really be described in one quick sentence: A boy named Gon goes on a journey to track down his missing deadbeat dad, Ging. In the process of getting there though he befriends a child assassin, gets hunted by a murder clown, has duels with death row inmmates, and that’s all just within the first arc of the show.
Like many shonen, Hunter x Hunter is no stranger to the outlandish, but it also goes to great lengths to explain what affects things like a group of superpowered bandits, or an army humanoid monsters would have on an otherwise grounded world, and it both adds to the surrealism, and allows for more serious consequences to the actions taken by the characters than what a lot of similar shonen stories tend to do. That applies even as the show plays around with various genres over the course of it’s run, and whether it’s a story about dealing with the mafia, or being trapped in a giant video game. Togashi puts enough detail into the mechanics of whatever he’s doing that it’s kind of impossible not to roll with it. In effect it kind of makes the series more of a giant toybox for Togashi to throw ideas around in, rather than a big overarching plot, and while having a shonen be so arc heavy sounds like something that would get annoying quickly, it works because it gives Togashi room to explore some really big ideas that a more linear structure wouldn’t allown. The Chimera Ant arc in particular is a great example of that as it takes the sudden emergence of a group of unknown insects and turns it into a powerrful tale about the dual sided nature of humanity, and how we can be capable of both empathy and unspeakable cruelty, making what is technically the show’s biggest detour, into one of it’s biggest highlights. That I feel, really sums up the appeal of Hunter x Hunter, as in the words of Gtying in the final episode “it’s important not to forget about the sidetrips because they’re the ones that hold what you’re really looking for”. It’s a story that’s much more about the journey than the destination (which is fitting since while the show does techinically get to its intended destination, it still leaves some loose ends) and the journey taken is one I’ll never be able to forget.
Synopsis: One night, Madoka has a terrible nightmare – against the backdrop of a desolate landscape, she watches a magical girl battle a terrifying creature, and lose. The next day, the teen’s dream becomes reality when the girl – Homura – arrives at Mitakihara Middle School as a transfer student, mysteriously warning Madoka to stay just the way she is. But when she and her best friend Miki are pulled into a twisted illusion world and meet a magical creature named Kyubey, the pair discovers that magical girls are real, and what’s more, they can choose to become one. All they must do is sign a contract with Kyubey and agree to fight witches that spread despair to the human world, and in return they will be granted a single wish. However, as Homura’s omen suggests, there’s far more to becoming a magical girl than Madoka and Miki realize…
Why You Should Watch: There really isn’t anything I could say about Madoka that hasn’t been said already by people much smarter than me, but that mostly speaks to just how powerful this show became. When I first checked it out way back in 2011, I wasn’t particularly into shojo, or any anime that didn’t feel traditional masculine, let alone magical girl shows, so I found myself being caught between it’s haunting atmosphere and my general aversion to magical girl stuff. I eventually decided to stick with it, and it turned out to be a pretty smart decision. The show’s earliest episodes lure you into something of a false sense of security as Madoka and her friend Sayaka find themselves thrust into the world of magical girls with the help of a fluffy mascot named Kyubei, and while the incredibly nightmare-like designs of the witch labyrinths they explore are terrifying, the show doesn’t really show it’s hand until the infamous twist of episode 3, and everything goes downward into a spiral of darkness from there. As the show progresses Madoka and Sayaka slowly realize that the finer details of being a magical girl might be a little more than they signed up for, and Kyubei isn’t nearly as benovolent as he first appeared as he’s more than happy to twist the emotions of these girls to meet his own ends (quite literally in fact as it turns out to be part of his job description. It all leads to the girls finding their lives torn apart by the cruelty of how the magical girl system actually works, and writer, Gen Urobuchi, takes a genre that is known for it’s unbridled optimism, and adds a shockingly harsh dose of reality to it. The show never pulls any punches on that end, and its commitment to that has spawned many imitators over the course of this decade, making the show perhaps the single most influencial anime since Neon Genesis Evangellion.
Yet, what many of it’s clones have failed to grasp is that while the girls do go through a heavy amount of suffering and cruelty, Urobuchi still understands that hope lies at the core of any magical girl story, and while the show’s ending certainly isn’t a giant pile of sunshine and rainbows, it still champions that hope in the midsts of despair can be powerful, and that it’s always worthwhile to fight for something better, even if the most ideal outcome isn’t always feasible. That message has stuck with me over the years, and it was the show’s great delivery of that message that helped to turn me from someone who avoided magical girl shows like the plague, to a guy who’s more than happy to burn through 200 episodes of Sailor Moon, and check out some Precure . Puella Magi Madoka Magica was and still is, a revolutionary piece of work, and it’s undoubtedly worth checking out if you somehow haven’t already because it’s not just the most influencial and important anime to have come from this decade, it’s a heck of a magical girl show.
Synopsis: Kamba and Shouma Takakura have taken care of their sickly younger sister Himari since their parents disappeared years ago – that is, until the day she died. But as the boys grieve by her hospital bed, Himari sits up, adorned with a strange penguin hat. Suddenly, the three of them are transported to a vibrant world where the hat, using Himari’s body as a puppet, charges these brothers with a task: find the Penguin Drum and their sister’s life will be saved! Now aided by some odd penguins they received in the mail, the duo must find this mysterious item or risk losing the sister they care for so much. However, they aren’t the only ones with their sights on the Penguin Drum, for new enemies await them around every turn, all connected in ways they would have never imagined…
Why You Should Watch: There’s a lot I could say about Penguindrum, whether it’s about its themes or its characters, but I don’t feel like anything I could mention would even begin to give this show justice, and how powerful it is. The story follows a trio of orphaned siblings named Shoma, Kanbe, and their sickly sister Himari who live together happily until one day Himari’s illness kills her, and she’s revived the spirit living inside of a penguin hat who demand her brothers locate something called the Penguindrum if they want to save her life. This leads to them getting mixed up with a young girl named Ringo who’s been secretly stalking her teacher, and things somehow get even weirder from there. The siblings as it turns out, have more than a few secrets of their own, and one that very specifically ties into a real-world terrorist attack, and the burden its left behind on the famlies of the vicitms.
If you couldn’t already tell from how bizarre this all sounds, this is another Kunihiko Ikuhara show, and while I’ve talked about some of his other works from this decade, this one was actually my introduction to him as a director, and his style of work. Similar to Yurikuma Arashi and Sarazanmai, Penguindrum is bursting from the seams with crazy visual metaphors and surreal storyboarding, and while it’s not as well animated as Sarazanmai, the more classical shojo look of both its character designs and backgrounds still make it a visual feast, and it holds up well almost a whole decade later (well as much as it can considered the quality of Sentai’s stateside release for it). I also feel like, compared to the two aforementioned shows, or even Revolutionary Girl Utena, it’s a really great introduction to Ikuhara if you’re coming to his works from a more casual point of view, as the story itself is a little more tightly scripted than some of his other works tend to be, making it entetaining even if you don’t understand everything it’s trying to say, and characters are a lot more fleshed out as well. Shoma, Kanbe, Ringo (who in addition to the best character in the show, is probably the actual protagonist)and all the other members of the cast are given plenty of time to have their motivations explored, and all of them feel like real people, no matter how outlandish their goals might seem at first.
However, even with everything else the show has to offer, the real strength of it lies in what it has to say, and boy howdy does this show has a lot to say. Penguindrum is about a lot of things: the previously mentioned affects of terrorism, unwanted children, parental abuse, and how people can pass the crimes of parents onto their kids. Ultimately though, all of those ideas tie into one core idea, haunting each of the characters: that the past is inescapable, and you’ll be punished for it forever (a theme made more direct by the villain being a literal ghost of the past). But even through all the budens they carry, the show argues that people don’t have to be defined by their pasts or who their parents are, and whether its through finding people who accept you, or choosing who you consider to be family for yourself, you can rise above your circumstances. It’s a message that feel can resonate with a lot of people, and it’s certainly one that hit pretty close to home for me, which is why I’m still looking so fondly back on the show all these years later. There’s been a lot of great anime this decade, but few have captured both the beauty of anime as an artform, and as a tool for storytelling quite like Penguindrum, and it’s not only my favorite anime of the decade, it’s my favorite anime period, and one that I really hope will continue to stand the test of time.
Synopsis: One chilly March day, Kansei University fourth-year Kiyose Haiji (Haiji) encounters Kurahara Kakeru (Kakeru) running uncommonly fast through the streets at night and forces him into living at the Chikusei-so (AKA Aotake). Haiji has a dream and ambition. He became discouraged after suffering an injury in high school, but he wants to run again. He wants to participate in the Hakone Ekiden and show off the running ability he’s been pursuing. He has only one year left to turn that dream and ambition into reality.
Why You Should Watch: I’m a pretty big sucker for the shonen sports formula, and while stories about a group of plucky high school boys coming together to win a tournment before their seniors graduate can get a little repetitive after a while, they tend to embody a lot of the best qualities shonen has to offer so it’s hard to get too upset about it. Now having said all that, Run With the Wind is an interesting sports anime in how far it veers away from that typical formula. For one thing it’s about a group of college boys instead of high schoolers meaning that in addition to being a little more grounded to reality than the typical lineup of pretty boys in this genre, these are all characters who are much closer to actual adulthood, and the uncertanties of things like finding a good job and actual life aspirations. These are also characters who, baring a couple of exceptions, have no serious attachement to the sport their participating, and are mostly amateurs with little experience. That allows this show to be both an effective underdog story, as the members of the Kansei running club really have the odds stacked against them, making every little victory they achieve feel satisfying, while also allowing it to break free from the constraints of a typical sports anime in order to tell a more nuanced story about personal growth. For many of the members of the club, running isn’t so much about winning as it is about bettering themselves and hopefully coming to better terms with the struggles they face, and it allows for the show’s surprisingly minimal drama to be really strong when it needs to.
The boys themselves are also all really fun characters, and while some of them get a little more to do than others, they all feel pretty fleshed out for the most part, and it’s hard not finding at least one that you can kind of relate to (King’s bit towards the end hit really close to home for me). Even if you are in for this purely as sports drama, Run With the Wind certainly doesn’t slouch with it’s productions and while it does cut some corners with the usage of CGI for the running sequences every now and then, on the whole it’s a very polished looking production, and certainly up there with Haikyu when it comes to high-quality sports animation (fitting, since the two shows share some staff). While many sports anime are about how the players have built their lives around the sport, Run with the Wind is more about how the sport has affected the lives of the players themselves, and the way it chooses to wrap up, really drives that home beautifully. Like I said with Chihayafuru, there was a lot of quality sports anime to choose from this decade, but this one really touched me the most on a personal level, and it’s honestly the most I’ve ever enjoyed a sports anime about an ensemble cast as opposed to just mainly following one character (see Hajime no Ippo). It’s a wonderful story, and one that like several others on this list, deserves way more attention than what it’s gotten so far.
Synopsis: When a small-time crook is released from prison, he is determined to turn his life around by apprenticing himself to the great rakugo master Yakumo VIII, inspired by his performance of “Shinigami” during his incarceration. Surprisingly, the old man agrees to train him and brings his new apprentice to his own house to live, giving him the name “Yotaro”, a classical word used in rakugo meaning “fool”. Yakumo has much to teach about the art of rakugo, but both he and his ward Konatsu- a hot-headed young woman whose father was also a famous storyteller- are difficult people with a shared dark past. Yakumo refuses to train her, claiming that the world of rakugo is no place for women, and Konatsu has vowed to kill him, claiming that Yakumo murdered her father!
Why You Should Watch: Like Chihayafuru, this is another one of those things where any basic explination of it’s premise is going to make it sound like the most boring thing on the planet, and that’d be a great disservice to how ridiculously well crafted it is. Rakugo is another thing specific to Japan’s culture that I was unfamilar with, and this show served as a very compelling introduction to it as we learn about it through the eyes of Yakumo, a rakugo master who has lived through some of the most tumltous eras of Japan’s history, and the relationship he formed with another performer named Sukeroku which has more than a little queer subtext on Yakumo’s end. That relationship gets complicated when Sukerou gets mixed up with a geisha named Miyokichi, and it results in a tragedy that continues to haunt Yakumo well into his old age, and leaves him wanting to take the very artform of Rakugo itself with him to the grave. However standing in his way are a reformed Yakuza thug named Yotaro who wants to be Yakumo’s apprentice, and Konatsu, the daughter of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, who was raised by Yakumo and also wants to enter into the world of Rakugo. It’s a tale both about how haunting the past can be, and how certain things are inevitably passed down regardless of our intentions, with the show fittingly framing it’s two seasons between Yakumo’s long and painful recollection of his past taking up the first one, and the second being about how his relationships with Yotaro and Konatsu allow him to better come to terms with that past, and eventually pass on the future of the future of rakugo into their hands.
The show also goes to pretty great lenghts to demonstrate the beauty of Rakugo as an artform thanks to Studio DEEN and director Yuki Taneda’s incredible eye for presentation. You’d think a bunch of sequences featuring people talking to themselves for sometimes half an episode would be incredibly boring, but use of cool visual metaphors, combined with some absolutely stellar voice acting from each of the performers, really sells it’s appeal, and the show does a great job at handling it that as time goes on you can gradually tell the differences between good and bad rakugo performances, and how that effects certain aspects of the story, Speaking of acting, the show also features Akira Ishida giving what is quite possibly the best performances of his career as Yakumo as he plays the character both in his youth and old age, and really gets across how weary and bitter the years have made him. Calling this show “prestige television” sounds a little pretentious, but there really isn’t any other way to describe it, as it’s the kind of slow burn art, that only adults would really appreciate, and while the show almost stumbles with a last-minute tease that threatens to upend it’s most important character dynamics, it remains just vague enoug about it, that you don’t have to think about that if you don’t want to, and it’s easily one of the most powerful dramas of the decade.
Synopsis: Souya Kuroi is a high schooler living a peaceful life despite having no memories of his past. One day, however, his town is attacked by one of the mysterious Nebula Weapons. Together with the cat-like “Sensei” and the gothic lolita Ginko, Soya gets dragged into a battle against… seven superheroes who protect the town! What is Soya’s reason to fight? The answer lies in his memories.
Why You Should Watch: I’ve been a pretty big fan of manga author, Satoshi Mizukami, ever since I read Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer a few years back, and while none of his manga have ever had the opportunity to get anime adaptions (that Spirit Circle in particular doesn’t have one is a crime, because it’s really high up there as one of the best manga I’ve read, period) when it was announced he was going to be putting out an original work with J.C. Staff, I was eager to check it out, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Like some of Mizukami’s other works, the show starts out kinda slow and very weird, with the initial premise involving a boy with amnesia getting mixed up with a group of heroes who are trying to save humanity from a hostile alien threat. The twist here is that the boy in question is a alien himself, but from a different faction than the ones currently invading Earth, and his primary goal is to take out the heroes because of the role their technology played in his world’s destruction. If that sounds like a lot it both is and isn’t as while the show dumps out a lot of information at you, it’s all pretty easy to digest, and the general tone of the show is very tongue-in-cheek about the tropes it’s playing with, and is often quick to get straight to the point of whatever it’s doing, before throwing out new twists that change the nature of the story pretty significantly. In fact, saying it’s quick to the point is kind of an understatement, because Mizukami takes a narrative that any other mecha series would have told over the span of two 26 episode seasons and maybe a couple of films, and grinds it all down into 12 episodes without ever feeling rushed, and it’s an impressive feat in and of itself.
Of course, that wouldn’t mean much of anything if the material itself wasn’t strong, and boy howdy is it. Souya and the heroes are all pretty delightful characters, and even with how many story beats the show has to work through in a 12 episode timespan, it still finds plenty of time to develop them beyonf the archetypes they’re intially presented as, and they feel very relatable and human in their own way (even the giant cat, who is unironically the most heroic character of the whole story). More than anything though, what really makes this show shine is are it’s messages about the dangers of extremism, and demonizing entire races in the name of “righteousness” and how powerful forgiveness and empathy for others can be, as opposed to raw violence. It accomplishes all of this while also just being a lot of fun to watch, both in terms of Mizukami’s weird but effective sense of humor and how he uses that to play with your expectations, and just as a straight up mecha show, as while the production doesn’t look the greatest (and J.C. Staff certainly didn’t spare this show the resources to match how ambitious some of Mizukami’s storyboards got) it’s still pretty solid, and both the 3DCG mecha animation, and the music capture all the energy of a classic super robot anime. It’s a shame this show kinda went under the radar last year (if partially because it wasn’t promoted that well) because it’s really something special, and while I might still be sitting here hoping for a Spirit Circle anime someday, if this is the only work of Mizukami’s we ever get to see animated, he certainly made a heck of a great one.
Synopsis: In the future, a system called Sibyl presides over the country and provides order to every facet of life. It dictates which job fields citizens should go into based on aptitude tests, and can even read each resident’s mental state and predict which ones are likely to commit crimes in the future. Fresh from exams, Akane Tsunemori is beginning her career as an Inspector, a specialized police officer who works to apprehend these latent criminals and stop crimes before they happen. But not all that get caught are eliminated or jailed, some join the police force as Enforcers to provide insight into criminals’ minds, and Akane is warned not to get too close to them, as they’re considered little more than hunting dogs. Though skeptical of this advice, and Sibyl’s judgement, Akane is determined to work together with her Enforcers to protect the peace of her city and its inhabitants.
Why You Should Watch: I should preface this by saying that when I refer to Psycho-Pass, I’m talking strictly the first season, both because I never got around to the movie, and because well…we don’t talk about that second season. With that out of the way, I have to say that I came into this show with some pretty high expectations back in the day, both because it was coming of the heels of Gen Urobuchi’s success with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and also because the character designs were being done with Akira Amano of Reborn! fame, meaning they were gonna look pretty stellar. Typically setting my expectations through the roof has tended to result in disappointment, but in the case of this show, it met my expectations and then some. While it isn’t exactly my favorite anime genre, I’m pretty into sci-fi and cyberpunk especially is an aesthetic I can really get behind. This show really runs with that from a visual standpoint, as a lot of the style really harkens back to some of the best elements of Ghost in the Shell, and it’s a strong looking production both in terms of animation, and it’s great musical score. The story actually being told here is what really makes it shine though, as Psycho-Pass depicts a futuristic dystopia where Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world, and has created an “perfect” society through use of the Sybil Systerm which can scan brain waves to detect a person’s potential for criminal behavior and punish them accordingly. It’s a concept that is equal parts interesting and extremely dangerous, and the show allows us to view it through the lenses of Akane, a rookie detective whose capacity for crime is deemed incredibly low, and Kogami, a veteran enforcer whose duty it is to punish criminals Sybil has judged, and kept on a leash by the system as he and the other enforcers are deemed to have a high capacity for becoming criminals.
Much of the show’s early episodes function as a procedural crime thriller with Akane and the enforcers dealing with a variety of criminals who are either trying to hide within the system or have little fear of it. Many of these criminals are manipulated by the show’s primary antagonist, Makishima, a man who is clearly a dangerous and charasmatic killer, but has been deemed by Sybil to have no capacity for crimes, and thus isn’t a target for enforcement. Makishima’s schemes serve as the driving force behind the show’s second half as he sets out to expose Sybil as a dangerous system that can be easily exploited, and sets out to sow as much chaos as possible by demonstrating how apathetic it can make society as a whole. While this all sounds a little theatrical, it ultimately serves as a pretty strong allegory for our own strict adherance to laws, and how bystander syndrome can cause us to easily ignore atrocities commited right in front of us. The show argues as to how much these laws can actually protect people, and if not, whether or not they should be ripped apart entirely. As is often the case with Urobuchi’s writing, the answer he comes to on this isn’t an entirely happy one, but it’s certainly powerful, and while the actual plot gets a little over the top towards the home stretch, it still manages to deliver on that answer in a way that sticks with you. Psycho-Pass is a really cool and really compelling piece of allegorical sci-fi, and while neither of it’s sequel seasons seem to quite get what that allegory was supposed to be, the first season is self-contained enough that you don’t really need to bother with them anyway, and it’s definently the genre standout for the decade.
Synopsis: When Jonathan Joestar was just a baby, his mother tragically died in a carriage accident, and his father George was saved by the kindness of a stranger, Dario Brando. At least, that’s what George believed, unbeknownst to him that Dario was just attempting to steal from the victims. Thus, when Dario later dies and his son, Dio, comes to his doorstep, the wealthy George eagerly adopts the boy. But what should have become a budding friendship between two siblings quickly becomes a nightmare for poor Jonathan, as Dio is cruel, calculating and will go to great lengths to become George’s primary heir. Little does Jonathan know that this unfortunate childhood is only the harbinger of things to come…
Why You Should Watch: So I know it’s kind of cheating to list Jojo’s without picking a specific part, but picking which of the parts is your favorite is kind of like picking your favorite child (the correct answer so far is Diamond is Unbreakable you simpletons) and pretty much everyone’s answer is going to be different. It hardly matters though because in all honestly, pretty much all of Jojo’s is great and each season has it’s own charms. On the surface, Jojo’s is a pretty straightforward battle of good and evil, pitting the (mostly) heroic Joestar family against the vampire Dio Brando, and basically anyone his influence has effected by extension. What’s helped to make it such an enduring franchise though, ultimately comes down to three things. Firstly that it’s extremely adapable as each arc, or part as they’re called, follows a different protagonist from the Joestar bloodline making each part it’s own story, and allowing the series to constantly try new things with it’s characters, settings and themes, making it pretty likely you’ll find at least one arc will have something that appeals to you. That adaptability even applies to how the show structures it’s fights as it rather famously abandons hand-to-hand combat after Part 2, in favor of more strategic battles involving psychic ghosts called Stands that all have their own specific abilities, and it makes almost every battle in Jojo’s it’s own unique puzzle to solve, which means it’s rarely boring. Second, it’s absolutely bursting with style, and whether it’s the increasingly outlandish fashion choices for the characters, or their signature poses, Jojo’s has a unique look all its own, and David Production’s work on the anime takes that ball and runs with, as each new season has an increasingly unique sense of color of and storyboarding, and while it’s rarely well-animated, it’s directed so well those shortcomings are almost never apparent. Lastly, and very true to the show’s name, it’s very bizarre, and throws in everything from talking cyborg nazis to vampires that can stop time and shoot lasers from their eyes, while somehow making all of it never feel out of place or like the series is trying too hard to one-up itself in insanity. It’s a strange, but incredibly fun formula, and while it goes through many different changes in style, it’s heart consistently beats with the same level of sincerity as any other shonen franchise, and series creator Hirohiro Araki’s passion for it can always be felt throughout. Jojo’s is very odd for a shonen series and there really is nothing else out there quite like it, but it’s that oddness and it’s consistent willingness to evolve that have allowed it to endure so well over the years, and however much more of the franchise we get animated, I’ll always be eager to check it out.
Synopsis: Ten years before Shirou Emiya’s and Saber’s fateful meeting, Japan is the stage for the fourth Holy Grail War. Seven Masters, each with his own dreams, step forward to win the boon of the mystic relic. Into this fray comes Kiritsugu Emiya, the enigmatic “Mage Killer” who wants to use the Grail to make a better world. Can he, paired with the indomitable Saber win the War? Or will he fall to the ambitions of the other mages?
Why You Should Watch: In my early years of anime fandom, Fate only really existed as the 2006 adaption of Fate/Stay Night from Studio DEEN, which wasn’t very good, and which diehard Type Moon fans insisted was a poor representation of the material. Today, it’s nearly impossible to be a dedicated anime fan without having heard about Fate, and there’s at least two or three new anime projects coming out fot the franchise every year. That massive explosion in popularity can be largely attributed to Fate/Zero, and how the team at ufotable adapted the original novel from Gen Urobuchi. Much like Fate/Stay Night, which this series is a prequel to, the basic set up of this show involves a battle between seven mages who have each summoned a heroic warrior of legend dubbed “Servants” to do their bidding in order to win the Holy Grail and have their wish granted by it. It’s a pretty good setup for an action show, and the production really takes advantage of that, as the fight scenes all look fantastic, and the show takes full advantage of digital effects to make every Servant’s ability stand-out and look as cool as possible.
The character writing is no slouch here either, as the show also takes advantage of the Servants all being based off of historical figures of legend from our own world, to give each of them unique personalities and perspectives that bounce off of their respective masters, and influence the actions they take over the course of the series. Whether it’s Rider teaching Waver how to loosen up and fight his own battles, or Gilgamesh slowly convincing Kirei to give into his dark side and go from priest to absolute monster, these dynamics are a ton of fun to watch, and they help to turn what could have otherwise been a straightforward battle royal, into a more complex look at varying ideologies and morality. That can best be seen through the arc of the protagonist Kiritsugu and his servant Saber as he wishes to use the Grail to save the world, and be a hero, only to find himself wondering if there truly is a way in which all people can be saved, and if he can even save himself from the things he’s done on the path to his goal. It’s all really compelling material and the best part about it is that despite being a prequel (and also despite what diehard fans of the franchise will tell you) it’s a perfectly self-contained story that doesn’t require any prior knowledge of Fate, and doesn’t require you to commit to the rest of the franchise if you don’t want to. Frankly nothing else from the franchise has kind of measured up to it, which is kind of a shame, but for what’s effectively served as a new-ish starting point into such a massive franchise, it’s hard to think of anything as well-executed as this was.
Synopsis: The protagonist Akira Fudo learns from his best friend, Ryo Asuka, that an ancient race of demons has returned to take back the world from humans. Ryo tells Akira that the only way to defeat the demons is to incorporate their supernatural powers, and suggests that he unite with a demon himself. Akira succeeds in transforming into Devilman, who possesses both the powers of a demon and the soul of a human. The battle of Devilman and Akira Fudo begins.
Why You Should Watch: Devilman was always one of those things in the anime sphere that I was vaguely aware of, but never gave much thought beyond acknolweding how influencial it was. Now that we’ve gotten a retelling of Go Nagai’s original tale from the mind of the crimininal underrated director Masaaki Yuasa, I can see why. As is kind of evident by it’s title, Devilman Crybaby starts off as a superhero tale of sorts with the protagonist Akira being a mild mannered teen until he goes to a rave with his friend Ryo one night, and gets possessed by a devil, turning him into the titular Devilman, who goes toe-to-toe with various demonic threats surrounding him. However as the story progresses and the devils Akira faces prove to be more complex beings than he first thought, it evolves into a cautionary tale about how easy it is for society to label those who don’t fit into it’s norms as threats that must be exterminated, and the horrors that can be committed in the name of fighting that percieved threat. It is this aspect of humanity that the show argues is the real danger, and the conclusion it comes to on that end, while extremely depressing, hits in a way that will absolutely leave an impact on you. At the same time though, the show isn’t totally devoid of hope, and while pretty much every character gets put through the meat grinder, it shows that love and compassion can be powerful in dire circumstances, even if our self-destructive nature tends to prevail over that. Those messages are aided by the show’s unique visual design which mixes flash and traditional 2D animation to give it a look that can grasp both the simple and gentler side of human natue and the violent destruction that lurks beneath it. While time will tell exactly what kind of impact this adaption leaves on anime going forward, it certainly left an impact on me, and as my main introduction into Go Nagai’s work, it was one heck of a first impression.
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
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…
So if you’ve followed me on Twitter any time within the last year and you’ve heard me talking about manga, odds are pretty good you’ve seen me dumping on Black Clover’s lack of originality, or talking about a little manga series called The Promised Neverland. The Promised Neverland, debuted in Shonen Jump a little over a year ago now, and caught my attention with it’s unique art and rather strange decision to center around a female protagonist, which is a pretty big rarity in JUMP for obvious reasons. Since then, its captivated me with it’s strong storytelling and equally solid worldbuilding, quickly transforming it into one of the most consistently enjoyable manga reads I’ve experienced in a long time. Now with the first volume of the series set to hit American shores very soon, I figure now is as good a time as any to why you should try to and get an early jump on this series before it becomes the next big thing.
Before anything else, I should probably give a brief synopsis, though that’s a bit of a spoiler in and of itself. Neverland follows the story of a young girl named Emma who enjoys a peaceful life in an orphanage with her fellow orphans and surrogate mother. However one day, she stumbles upon a dark secret: that her world is inhabited by man-eating “demons” and her orphanage is actually something of a meat farm, with her and her siblings being next on the menu. Thus begins a desperate battle for survival as Emma, alongside two of her other siblings named Norman and Ray, work to find a way to escape with the rest of their family. To give away anymore than that would ruin the experience (and the build-up to the revelation about the nature of the world’s setting is a strong hook in and of itself) so rather than going too deep into plot elements or characters, I’ll instead talk about the three major elements that really help to make the series work.
A World of Horrors
Well I might as well start this off by mentioning the biggest hook of the series, which is that it can be well…scary. Neverland’s world is one of constant dangers where one misstep could result in the kids becoming dinner and where hope can be as much of a luxury as it is something to strive for. All of this comes to life through artist, Pozuka Demizu’s fantastic artwork, which can be equal parts breathtaking and horrifying, helping the aesthetic of the series and creating an overall sense of atmosphere that feels more akin to a storybook or fantasy novel than a traditional shonen. Of course, despite the general stigma associated with the Shonen Jump “brand”, this series is far from the magazine’s first horror-related entry (it’s the same magazine that ran Hunter X Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc after all) and ever since Attack on Titan took over the anime sphere a few years back, JUMP has made more than a few attempts at trying to publish something that could compete with it. Where Neverland succeeds however, is in it’s commitment to maintaining a relatively grounded horror aesthetic. Similar dark fantasy or thriller attempts by shonen have often stumbled by reveling too much in their darker elements or being overly reliant on shock value to maintain interest, but series author, Kaiu Shirai, manages to strike a fine balance, avoiding darkness for the sake of being edgy, instead presenting it as the nature of the story’s setting in general and being careful not to go too far.
The Quest for Answers
Even though Neverland’s primary hook centers around its horror angle, it wouldn’t be much of a shonen if the characters didn’t have some method of fighting back. Rather than a traditional battle shonen setup though, Neverland instead opts for a battle of wits , where our protagonists have to stay one step ahead of their enemies, and sometimes each other to achieve their goals, and almost every member of the story’s core cast starts off with their own personal agenda. Though unlike say, Death Note , where Light Yagami starts off with a magic killer notebook and a pretty solid grasp of its rules, Emma and her fellow orphans know very little about the true nature of the world they inhabit. This makes the series’ battle of wits more a battle for information, and the kids have to make use of each new scrap of knowledge they acquire to better ensure their survival. This works wonders when it comes to the story’s worldbuilding as we learn new information at pretty much the same time the characters do, making for more natural exposition than similar series are usually afforded, and helps to create a natural desire to want to learn more about Neverland’s world and the many mysteries surrounding it. That search for answers also helps in Neverland’s effectiveness as an ongoing story as almost every new chapter brings new information that helps to make things just a little bit clearer while also building upon past events, as new revelations can drastically alter how you view them on a second reading. This all comes together to give the series a sense of forward direction that’s frankly pretty rare for a weekly serialization, and while the pacing an feel a bit slow at times, it never feels like Shirai is dragging his heels, and there’s almost always some form of payoff just over the horizon.
The Power of Hope
As strong as Neverland’s combination of horrors and mysteries are though, those elements alone can only carry it so far. After all if it were just a Gothic horror/thriller series that happened to be featured in JUMP, it’d basically just be another Death Note (and despite the numerous claims to the contrary, the structure of this series is about as opposite of DN’s as it gets, but that’s an article for another time). Like any good shonen, its core comes from its sense of heart, and Shirai himself has stated that his hope is that the traditional Shonen Jump values of “Friendship, Effort and Victory” shine through in this series, despite its unconventional nature. Neverland’s world can be dark and cruel but Emma’s optimism and desire to protect her siblings are ultimately seen as positive traits rather than something to smash into pieces (which, if I’m being honest, is a direction that I was worried the series might go into during its early stages). Even when things are at their bleakest, the story does a great job of making you want to see the kids continue to fight back against their cruel circumstances, and while this can at times, get a little cheesy, it instills the series with a sense of hope that can make it feel as triumphant as it is frightening, and helps to make it an immensely satisfying read.
The Promised Neverland has been a pretty exciting read for me thus, and hopefully there was something in my ramblings that convinced you to go check it out. It’s certainly not a flawless series (its biggest issue being how it balances the screentime of its characters) but it has a lot of interesting strengths, and it’s something that at times I’m still surprised managed to get greenlit in JUMP of all things. I’m glad its continued to find success despite how different it is for a shonen, and I’m hoping that success will carry through into an eventual anime adaption. The Promised Neverland’s first volume hits U.S shelves December 5th, but if you’re interested in peeking at the series beforehand, the first three chapters are currently available for free on Viz Media’s website, and new chapters of the full series proper are available each week through Viz’s digital Shonen Jump subscription. Thanks for reading and until next time: stay animated.
The spring season rollout is still bearing down upon us, but between real life responsibilities and Persona 5, getting through the premieres might take me a bit longer than usual. Still I’m determined to plow through as many as these as possible so with all that said and done, let’s keep going
Bad: Stay away far away from this one. Not worth watching
Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a couple of episodes to see how it goes
Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now
Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance
Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .
Synopsis: Koujiro Shindo is a highly-skilled negotiator working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As his plane at Haneda airport prepares to take off, a huge mysterious cube appears from the sky. “It” expands rapidly, and absorbs the passenger plane and its 252 passengers. The cube’s name is “Kado”. A strange being called Yaha-kui zaShunina appears from within Kado and tries to make contact with humanity. Shindou, who has been absorbed by Kado, ends up taking on the role of mediator between Yaha-kui zaShunina and humanity. Who is Yaha-kui zaShunina? What does he want?
First Impressions: This is looking to be a good season for sci-fi anime as there’s quite a few titles from the genre coming out of the woodwork (though thanks to Anime Strike I won’t be watching Atom the Beginning anytime soon). Out of all of them though, this was the one that looked like the one that was gearing the most towards the hard sci-fi angle and while the first part of this two episode premiere helps to establish the main character as an expert negotiator a lot of the material here is mostly procedural stuff and technobabble meaning the actual show itself isn’t really going to kick off till next week. Though what has me the most fascinated about the show so far is that it’s coming from Toei of all studios who are the last ones I’d expect doing a hard-edged sci-fi show, and with the director also being one of the minds behind Gargantia on The Verdeous Planet, I was curious to see how it’d turn out. Of course the most noticeable thing here is that the show is a 2D/3DCG hybrid much like the unfortunate Berserk 2016 anime, but unlike that show the CG here is a lot more passable and the 2D animation, while not great is used well enough to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls that CG stuff tends to run into. As I said before though it’s pretty clear that the actual show itself is still another week off, so aside from the visuals it’s hard to form much of a real opinion yet but I guess that also means it’s at least won the privilege of making want to see what the heck it actually does next week.
Synopsis: A beautiful girl named Guri, who has a mysterious item that forces two random people to kiss and turns them into couples, appears in front high school student, Aino Seiji. Despite being dressed up as a shinigami, she’s actually cupid. Suddenly, Guri tries to kiss Seiji, and then… Unavoidable and uncontrollable. A forceful love comedy that starts with an angel and a kiss!!
First Impressions: So I vaguely recall having skimmed through some of the manga for this way back when and being somewhat amused by the Death Note parodies, so I figured this might be good for a few chuckles. What I actually watched though appeared to be the equivalent of someone on staff hitting the fast-forward button for 24 minutes, because from the everything from very beginning of the episode right through to the end, seems to be a very big hurry to get through the show’s basic set-up and things happen so fast that there’s barely anytime to process one event before it’s moved onto the next. The basic set-up here is pretty much just a harem rom-com with the twist that it’s parodying Death Note in having a notebook that forces people to kiss each other, and while that could be amusing in it’s own right, this first episode runs though the majority of it’s gags so quickly that it’s hard to laugh at them, and the few jokes that do stand out are largely outdated humor about BL and yuri. I suppose this is what I get for relying on my past-self to guide my viewing decisions, but I guess it wasn’t boring at least. Depending on the rest of this season’s outlook it’s possible this might end-up being my go to trash show for the season since I suppose it might at least be amusing to mock but otherwise it’s probably a skip
Synopsis: Earth died a thousand years ago, and a legendary clockmaker known only as “Y” rebuilt it using clockwork. Naoto Miura, a failing high school student, encounters RyuZU, an automaton that “Y” left behind, and the genius clockmaker Marie. When the abilities of these three come together, the gears of fate begin to turn. The cycle of failure and success repeats endlessly as the three of them work to repair the endangered “Clockwork Planet” in this clockpunk fantasy!
First Impressions: Continuing the trend of sci-fi shows for the season, we of course have to have one based off a light novel, and Clockwork Planet is the one looking to fill that “void”. The first episode was an…interesting experience, mainly because the show both looks and feels like it stepped straight out of 2007 and somehow time warped into 2017. From such classic tropes as a girl literally falling from the sky to waifu-bots everything here feels like tropes that anime has since improved or moved on from, and even the way it handles it’s few bits of fanservice feels a little outdated (except the finger sucking scene, that was just…weird). Given all that there’s nothing here that’s particularly of note outside of the setting of a world made of gears which is kinda neat if nothing else. On the bright side though, nothing here is particularly offensive either, and if you’re in the mood for a mid 00’s anime flavor with sci-fi thrown in then it’s at least watchable. Even putting aside my own tastes though this one ultimately just feels like it came a decade too late, and I’m not even sure how much of an audience there is for these crusty old anime tropes but I guess we’ll have to see. As for me I’m likely signing off here.
Synopsis: Kazuya Kagami’s most treasured possession in the world is the obi left to him by his late mother. The scent of cherry-blossoms infused into it helps him through his day – but he never expected it to save his life, becoming a beautiful kimono-clad girl who calls herself an “artifact spirit.” Her name is Kiriha, tsukumogami of the sash, who naturally moves in with him, as he is her “owner.” Throw in Chisato, his bespectacled friend, an overprotective older sister who wants to take baths with him, a busty priestess, a seductive sorceress named Kokuyoura, and Kazuya’s life has just gotten a lot more…interesting.
First Impressions: Speaking of things that somehow hopped on a time machine from 2007 into the present we have Tsugumomo which about as standard as a mid-late 00’s harem show can get. We have our bland blank slate of a protagonist, we have the tsundere childhood friend (who also doubles as the obligatory girl with glasses), we have the raunchy magic girlfriend, and even the onee-san character, who seems weirdly determined to get in her brother’s pants, all wrapped into a pretty generic supernatural setting. Long story short if you’ve seen pretty much any harem show from that time period then odds are pretty good you’ve seen this one, and quite possibly done better meaning that it doesn’t really offer anything of real interest and I personally had to struggle to stay awake through it’s dual episode premiere. If on the other hand you haven’t seen any of those or you’re really nostalgic for them for whatever reason then I suppose you could do worse, and to it’s credit, while the character designs certainly look like something from a decade ago, the production values look pretty decent and there’s even some surprisingly okay looking 3DCG in the second episode. Still, it’s hard to get past the fact that this one’s pretty bland and while I can be pretty okay with dumb fanservice shows if they’re silly enough, the execution here is so sleepy that virtually nothing grabbed me. All in all it’s a definite skip for me, but for anyone else, it’s harmless enough I guess.
What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?
Synopsis: The fleeting and sad story about little girls known as fairy weapons and an associate hero that survived. This is a world after it was attacked by unidentified monsters known as beasts and many of the species in the world, including humans, had been destroyed. The species that had managed to survived left the ground and were living on a floating island called Regal Ele. Willem Kumesh, wakes up above the clouds 500 years later and couldn’t protect the ones who he wanted to protect. Actually, he was living in despair because he was the only survivor. He then ends up meeting a group of girls while starting an unexpected weapon management job.
First Impressions: Well it was only a matter of time I suppose. It was pretty much inevitable that at some point we’d end up with an light novel based show whose name alone is almost an entire paragraph. I have no idea what why these LN writers have such a weird fixation on trying to fit their entire premise into the title, but I guess it’s amusing if nothing else. So stupidly long name aside, this show seems to be a relatively low-key fantasy fare taking place in a world where some kind of apocalypse resulted in humanity being wiped out and replaced with all manner of humanoid looking monsters. Fantasy settings where humans are uncommon tend to grab my attention by default so I was fairly amused by that aspect of it, but the story itself seems pretty alright too, albeit a bit vague in this opener. Apparently the protagonist ends up taking on a job involving being the caretaker for a bunch of girls who happen to be living weapons, but it takes till the end of the episode to flesh out that premise, so the show mostly just has atmosphere going for it right now. The big thing that grabbed my attention is that the main character was apparently a foster dad at some point, and he clearly sees the girls he’s been put in charge of as just kids which is a somewhat refreshing change of pace from what this sort of premise normally involves, and if it actually does turn out to be fantasy adventures in parenting that could be pretty neat. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, and especially with it’s ridiculous title, but it was certainly more interesting than I thought it’d be so I’ll likely stick with it for the time being.
And that’s it for me and spring titles. Sorry this one took so long to get around to, but the allure of Persona 5 was too difficult to resist. Unfortunately though, between that and the amount of stuff locked behind Anime Strike this season is looking to be a bit weaker than I was expecting it to be. As always though there’s enough potential good stuff to probably last through the next few months, and hopefully it won’t take too long for things to brighten. Until then, stay animated.
So if you’ve been on the inter-webs recently you’ve likely noticed that everyone’s in a hubbub over a little show called Samurai Jack being brought back from the dead for a new season in 2016. The show has been held up throughout the years as a beloved classic, and having reviewed the show a year ago, I can confirm that it’s stood the test of time fairly well. So if you need a refresher on what made the series so great or haven’t seen it and are curious to see what all the excitement’s about, here’s a list of my 10 favorite episodes from the show in honor of it’s revival.
10) The Birth of Evil
Every story needs a beginning, but in this case we’re going to the beginning-beginning. This is the episode that finally explained Aku’s origins as well as the origins of Jack’s legendary sword (which oddly enough despite being forged by several gods, none of them were Japanese ones) and it’s the only episode where our titular hero is nowhere to be found, with the story instead being told through the perspective of his late father. Given this was told as a two-parter it’s one of the show’s more cinematic pieces and it’s chockful of the show’s usual brand of action and direction, making for a really nice prequel and one that answered a couple of burning questions.
9) Jack and the Scotsman
Samurai Jack is a show with little to no continuity so it’s nice to get a recurring character besides our hero and villain, and the Scotsman proved to be a welcome addition to the series. Out of all the episodes he’s featured in though, his first appearance is definitely his strongest. In addition to being another solid action piece for the show, it’s really fun to see his brash personality play off of Jack’s more reserved persona, making for some good comedy and one of the better uses of the “handcuffed together” scenario (and as I type this my mind is now filled with horrifying images of the slash fics this may have inspired) as the two are forced to work together in order to fight off the various bounty hunters after their heads. With Jack being something of a lone wolf half the time, it was nice to see him find at least one ally in the future, and their team-up here proved the two most dangerous men on the planet are even more dangerous together (darn, I did it again!)
8) Jack Remembers the Past
The series carries with it, many different moods and stories, but this is one of the few that’s genuinely about our hero himself. Given Jack’s story started off with him being sent off to train against Aku, there wasn’t really anytime to see his childhood before that so this serves as a window into what his life was like before disaster struck. More importantly though, it serves as a reminder that Jack is pretty much alone, as there’s still no way for him to actual return to his home and his look back on bygone days helps to make this one of the show’s more quiet entries and proof that dialogue isn’t always necessary to strike an emotional cord.
7) Jack and the Blind Archers
Speaking of silence, it’s pretty much impossible to do a list like this without this episode being in there somewhere. This early entry in the show’s run features Jack being pitted against a trio of mystic archers in order to gain access to a wish granting well that could return him back to the past (bet you can’t guess what DOESN’T happen!). What really makes this one stand out is that it was one of the first episodes in the series to prove how well direction could carry a mood even without much dialogue, something practically unheard of for western animation at the time (and in some ways is still the case unfortunately). The silent samurai movie nature of it, makes for a really cinematic action piece and while the ending twist isn’t too surprising it caps off the tension of the episode pretty well and if you need an example of how well the show can handle that kind of style, look no further than this.
6) Jack and the Lava Monster
Like the previous episode, this one is another action centric entry but this one has some actual story to it giving it an extra punch. In this one Jack encounters a monster that’s actually the spirit of a Norse warrior who tried to resist against Aku’s hostile takeover of his homeland, only to be cursed by the demon. Now he’s stuck in this body and unable to ascend to Valhalla with the rest of his brethren unless he can die a warrior’s death at Jack’s hands. This makes for a pretty tragic tale in addition to the usual epic fight scene with the combination making it a standout among the show’s earlier entries. It also makes for one of the show’s darkest when you consider this was an episode of a children’s cartoon where the main character was effectively helping a guy to commit suicide. Nighty, night kids!
5) The Premiere
It wouldn’t be fair to do one of these without mentioning the episode that started it all. The premiere is a great introduction into Samurai Jack’s world, displaying everything from how epic, to how downright weird the series can get as we see the beginnings of Jack’s fight against Aku and his first encounter with the distant future he now finds himself trapped in (the latter of which involves talking dogs). All of the show’s sense of direction, fight choreography and killer soundtrack can be found full force here, making for a perfect segway into getting people interested in the show. One of the things that stands out the most about it though is the climatic battle between Jack and Aku’s robot army which features what still holds up as one of the most cleverly constructed middle fingers to violence censorship ever conceived.
4) The Good The Bad and the Beautiful
So this one isn’t as widely remembered as some of the others but it’s pretty solid. This episode is a western spoof featuring Jack on the run from a pair of bounty hunters…who also happen to be divorced and spend just as much time stabbing each other in the back as they do trying to kill Jack. If the premiere is everything great about the show in movie form, then this one is everything fun about it distilled into 22 minutes of pure entertainment. It’s funny, action packed, and clever, making for a great testament to the kind of material you can generally expect from the show when it’s just out to have a good time.
3) Jack v.s. Aku
Despite what the title of the episode implies, this one is almost entirely comedy and as far as that goes, it’s the show’s best effort. In a surprising moment of self-awareness, Aku realizes just how repetitive the battles between him and Jack have become so he offers to settle things in a mano-a-mano fight to the finish. Of course Aku being the slippery devil that he is, tries to cheat his way through the battle with Jack trying to counter all his plans, making for a hilarious “I know, you know, that I know” setup (Light Yagami would be proud). It’s always nice to see a show have the balls to make fun of itself, and this episode succeeds at that in spades.
2) The Tale of X-9
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a robot mook? The answer’s probably no, but too bad because Samurai Jack shows it to you anyway, and the result makes for one of the show’s strongest entries. We follow the titular X-9 who used to be one of Aku’s elite robot enforcers until he decided to settle down and live the quiet life with his pet Lulu (sweet thing). That is until Aku calls him for one last job in trying to get rid of Jack and holds Lulu hostage to ensure he goes through with it. Since X-9’s name doesn’t happen to be Samurai Jack though, his fate is sealed the moment he encounters our hero and it makes for a pretty sad ending. I’m a fan of noir spoofs (mainly because noir is impossible for me to take seriously) and this delivers on all fronts, so the next time you encounter a robot mook in a game, you might wanna think about who he could be leaving behind before you slaughter him. You monsters.
1) Jack and the Spartans
This is another one of the show’s most looked back upon episodes and for good reason. This one features Jack teaming up with a small army of Spartans in order to help defend what remains of their domain, and while at first glance it seems like an obvious homage to the movie 300, it actually aired well before that and is instead a tribute to an earlier film called The 300 Spartans as well as the novel that inspired it. As such, the episode is shot in a deliberately cinematic fashion, ramping up the show’s usual mix of direction, action and storytelling considerably. It’s an episode that stands at the pinnacle of the show’s sense of style, and shows just what it’s capable of accomplishing in a mere 22 minutes when all of it’s elements are in perfect harmony. It also helps that this episode has nothing to do with Aku, making for a great standalone piece, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen the show before, but are curious as to why it’s so highly regarded. The show has a lot of greats, but this is by far one of it’s most brilliant.
And there you have it. Samurai Jack is a show with a lot of style, and these episodes are prime examples of said style at it’s best. As we look onward to the new season, it’s hard to say what else the show will end up accomplishing, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.
Well I said I’d get around to it so here it is. I’m obviously more of an anime fan than I am a cartoon guy, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for western animated stuff, and especially good western animated stuff. I don’t know if I’d bother comparing any of these to anime (outside of the obvious) since that kind of comparison takes away from the shows themselves, but these are some series that I feel have stood the test of time or have a pretty good chance at doing so. As for the criteria, it’s generally the same as my top anime list though entertainment value factors a bit more in here than story for some. Without further ado, let’s get started.
WARNING: There may be some spoilers about some of the shows on this list
27) Teen Titans
Synopsis: Within Jump City, five super powered teens, Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Beast Boy form a group known as the Teen Titans. Together they defend the city from a variety of threats while also learning how to deal with each other.
Why I Like It: This show was a bit of an anomaly when it first came out as it never managed to fit into the DC Animated Universe (DCAU for short) despite the heavy prominence of those series at the time. Instead this superheroics with a weird anime-esque paint and comedy to match. The result was something that oddly clicked as despite it’s initial struggles with what kind of tone it wanted, it grew into a solid little series as it expanded on it’s characters and the story arcs gradually improved (and in some instances got much darker) as time went on. Sadly kids are probably now more familar with it’s spinoff series, Teen Titans GO (which I don’t hate as much as everyone else, but has gradually lost it’s initial charm for me) but this show was unique as far as superhero stuff goes and still holds up as being a lot of fun
26) Static Shock
Synopsis: After getting caught up in the middle of a gang-war and affected by a strange gas, Virgil Hawkins finds himself blessed with the power to control electricity. With his newfound abilities he adopts the identity of Static and decides to clear the streets of other affected superhumans called Bang Babies
Why I Like It: Growing up, I was (and still am)a big fan of superhero stuff, but as a black kid it was kind of disappointing never seeing any black heroes on TV aside from the Jon Stewart version of Green Lantern in Justice League. So needless to say a superhero show about a black kid like myself appealed to me and it helped that it was a pretty good show in it’s own right. It did a solid job of weaving together the classic hero tale with inner city issues, and while later seasons favored the former over the later it still managed to hold it’s ground throughout. To this day there hasn’t been another notable example of a solo black superhero show on TV and while I’d like to see that change sometime in the future if this is the sole example, it’s not so bad.
25) Megas XLR
Synopsis: In the distant future , Earth is fighting a losing war with an alien race known as “the Glorft”. In order to save the planet, the human resistance steals a prototype giant robot from the Glorft renaming it MEGAS . The idea is to use a time-traveling device called a time drive to send MEGAS and its pilot, Kiva, back in time to defeat the Glorift. Before the plan can be executed, however, an attack by the Glorft sends the now-crippled MEGAS all the way back to the 1930s. It stays in a New Jersey junkyard until it ends up in the hands of a slacker mechanic, Coop, and his slacker best friend, Jamie, around the year 2004. Kiva goes back in time to retrieve MEGAS, and when she finds she is unable to pilot it because of Coop’s modifications, she grudgingly decides to train Coop, who is now the only person who can pilot it. However, the Glorft have followed her through time and, much to Kiva’s chagrin, it is now up to Coop to defend Earth from the Glorft and other various threats.
Why I Like It: Genre parodies are a dime-a-dozen these days but an entire western show parodying japanese mecha is certainly something you don’t see every day and it helps that it’s actually pretty fun. It rips on various mecha series (never lasted long enough to get around to Evangelion but I can always imagine what that would have been like) but it also holds a lot of love for the genre as well. Every moment that isn’t spent making fun of robot anime is spent showing why giant robots are awesome and that makes for a pretty awesome show unto itself in my book.
24) Danny Phantom
Synopsis: So rather than sit here and explain this myself I’ll just let the theme song do that for you. Alright? Let’s move on
Why I Like It: Again I’m a fan of superhero stuff, and I also liked Fairly Odd Parents growing up so a superhero show by the same creator seemed interesting enough and for the most part delivered. Despite being much more of a comedy than an action piece the show does a pretty good job of portraying the old Spiderman superhero tale as Danny gradually matures alongside his powers and also displays a fairly interesting universe on it’s own. Sadly the show took a bit of step down thanks to a change in writers for the third season, but it ends on a pretty strong note and still makes for some good laughs and decent storytelling.
23) Xiaolin Showdown
Synopsis: Set in a world where martial arts battles and Eastern magic are commonplace, the series follows four young warriors in training that battle the forces of evil. They do this by protecting Shen Gong Wu (ancient artifacts that have great magical powers) from villains that would use them to conquer the world.
Why I Like It: Similar to Megas XLR being a parody of mecha anime this show is one to battle shonen and kung-fu movies. However more so than it’s saving grace being that it has a lot of love for what it’s parodying (which it does but that’s besides the point) what really makes the show work is branding together it’s comedy with solid character writing as the main characters (one in particular) grow quite a bit over the course of the series. The “sequel” Xiaolin Chronicles doesn’t really manage to capture the magic of the it’s predecessor (partially because it couldn’t decide if it actually wanted to be a sequel or not) but the original still has some magic to it.
22) The Legend of Korra
Synopsis: 70 years after Avatar Aang defeated Fire Lord Ozai and restored balance to the world, the new Avatar, Korra travels to Republic City in order to find her place in the world. There she discovers a movement against benders, and begins the path towards carving her own legend as the Avatar.
Why I Like It: Speaking of sequels that don’t quite live up to their predecessors, this would be one of them. Though to be somewhat fair it comes off the heels of one of the greatest animated action dramas ever made so it had some big shoes to fill. That said while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original, it does manage to do some interesting stuff as it further expands on it’s universe and each season covers a variety of heavy themes (some more successfully than others). It also serves as one of the few male oriented action toons to feature a female lead (even if she isn’t written as well as most of the girls in the show that preceded her), and ended on a pretty famous/infamous note regarding her sexuality. While the latter will is what it’ll likely be remembered for it’s still a fairly good show on it’s own merits.
21) Star Wars Rebels
Synopsis: Ezra Bridger is an orphan growing up on the streets of the planet Lothal. One day he encounters a man named Kanan and his crew of rebel mercenaries who fight against the tyranny of The Empire. Initially apathetic to their cause, Ezra soon finds himself involved with them and becomes a member of their crew while also training to under Kanan as an apprentice in order to one day become a Jedi
Why I Like It: So I never really managed to get into The Clone Wars series despite it being more popular both due to it’s first season being a bit of a turn-off, and my increasing frustration with the back and forth nature of Star Wars canon at the time. What sold me on this one though, was the involvement of Greg Weissman who’s made some of the best stuff here in the states, and he sure doesn’t disappoint with this one. While not as dark as the later seasons of Clone Wars it manages to get into some dark territory for it’s intended audience and manages to make each of the members of the rebels crew interesting characters with their own various backstories and motivations. As there’s only one season of it out so far, there’s plenty of room for it to go downhill but it’s off to a much better start than Clone Wars was for me and I think it might have the potential to become something really great.
20) Fairly Odd Parents (season 1-5)
Synopsis: Again rather than waste time explaining it I’ll just let the theme song do the job
Why I Like It: Fairly Odd Parents is one of two Nick animated comedies to survive for an extended period of time (the other one I’m not a big fan of despite it’s huge pop-culture success, but I digress) and for good reason. It’s a pretty good comedy in it’s prime with plenty of good parodies, fun slapstick and pop-culture jokes that generally flies over the heads of the kids watching it. More than that though it’s also a pretty warm-hearted little show as Timmy learns various life lessons through his wishes and how to make the most of his miserable little life. Unfortunately the show hit it’s prime around the 5th season and later ones proceeded to descend into making the show a lot more mean-spirited, exaggerating the characters to the point of ridiculousness and constantly contradicting what little continuity the show managed to maintain. While the show as it is today is but a shell of it’s former self, those earlier seasons are still pretty fun to look back on and are quality entertainment for the most part.
Synopsis: Dexter is a boy genius capable of creating the most wondrous of inventions in his giant laboratory. However his scientific pursuits are continually thwarted by his older sister Dee-Dee who annoys him at every turn and often destroys his creations Why I Like It: Series creator Genndy Tartavosky has a lot of love for classic anime and Japanese media and it shows in all his works. For this show in particular it’s a love letter to japanese mecha and sci-fi, continually parodying them throughout various episodes. It’s a really fun comedy and it’s easy to see where his later works like Samurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan got their influence as his style is very much present in this show despite it’s lighter nature and while the post movie seasons aren’t quite as good, it’s still earned it’s place as a beloved classic.
Synopsis: The show follows the adventures of Clarence Wendell and his two friends Sumo and Jeff as they get into various, and occasionally weird situations.
Why I Like It: Surrealism in animated comedies for kids is pretty much something of a staple at this point so a show that’s genuinely about regular kids living out their lives is something rare to come by and this show does it well. The show captures the spirit of childhood effectively and has an enjoyable cast of characters and some pretty fun stories to tell. It functions as something of a spiritual successor to Ed, Edd n Eddy and the Rugrats while it occasionally dips into surreal scenarios, it generally does a better job of keeping itself grounded than it’s predecessors.
17) Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Synopsis: When the world’s most dangerous supervillains are released from prison, superheroes Iron Man, Wasp, Ant Man, Thor and Hulk form an alliance to re-capture them and form a team known as the Avengers.
Why I Like It: Marvel’s managed to turn their movies into a gigantic franchise, and general quality to match, but their success with animated works has always left something to be desired. This show however is a pretty strong exception. It breaks away from the usual mostly episodic storytelling of superhero action toons and weaves together lengthy storyarcs that make just about every episode significant later down the line. It also does a solid job of exploring the group dynamics of the Avengers as they slowly grow into an actual team and have to struggle to keep them all together. This is definently the best action toon I’ve seen from Marvel and it’s a bit of a shame it got replaced by the more lighthearted Avengers Assemble series, just to have something closer to the movies (thanks again Disney)
16) Hey Arnold
Synopsis: Arnold is a kid growing up in New York City and trademarked by his football shaped head. Together with his friend Gerald he helps various people throughout the city with their problems while also dealing with the local bully Helga who secretly has a crush on him.
Why I Like It: This is another one of those rare slice of life shows that tends to almost never exist in western animation. What separates this one from the others though is that it not only mantains a completely down to earth tone, but also puts a lot of focus on it’s character writing. It sets up a lot of good stories for each character of the week and while it never delves too much into actual drama it does manage to usually wrap up those stories in a way that’s satisfying. Sadly thanks to the movie being a flop, we never did manage to get that second movie that promised a more complete conclusion but what we do have is more than enough and there’s some inklings going around that the show may be prepping for a comeback so hopefully there’s some truth to that.
15) Batman Beyond
Synopsis: After years of being the Batman, Bruce Wayne’s age finally starts to catch up with him and he decides to hang up the cape. Decades later a young man named Terry McGinnis finds himself involved with Bruce after his father’s murder, and decides to take the Batman suit in order to find out the truth behind it. Initially reluctant to lend him help, Bruce eventually decides to take Terry under his wing and trains him to become the next Batman proper.
Why I Like It: I have a pretty unabashed love for ol’ Batsy but the story of Bruce Wayne’s transformation has become something of a tired tale, and it certainly doesn’t help that across the various Batman stories that exist, his backstory is the one thing that always remains the same. Thus the idea of someone else taking up the mantle as Batman was pretty appealing to me even as a kid, and moreso when he was trained by Batman himself. The show came off the heels of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, and though the writing isn’t quite as strong it manages to delve into darker territory (with Return of the Joker being the most infamous example). Terry’s tale as the Batman is a pretty interesting one as he actually has his own character before wearing the mask rather than it defining him so it gives him a much more manageable character arc. I’m still waiting for DC to make a live-action movie of it someday but in the meantime the show is pretty good stuff.
14) Samurai Jack
Synopsis: Long ago in the distant past, Aku the shapeshifing master of darkness unleashed an unspeakble evil across the world. But a young samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck however, Aku tore open a portal in time transporting the warrior to the future in which Aku’s evil is now law. Now the young warrior, taking on the alias of Jack, travels the world seeking a way to return to the past and to undo the evil that is Aku.
Why I Like It: As I said before with Dexter’s Laboratory, Genndy Tartavosky’s stuff is pretty heavily influenced by japanese media and this show is the most blatant example, as well as the most iconic. It pays homage to classic samurai movies with each episode serving as it’s own mini film of sorts and each one delivering on quality action and direction (while also finding some clever ways to get around censorship at the time). The actual stated goal of the series is never really achieved (unless we ever get that movie Genndy keeps promising) but it certainly doesn’t need one to be enjoyed as it’s a purely episodic tale and each episode is pretty cool.
Why I Like It: So if you couldn’t already tell I like genre spoofs a lot and this show is one to horror series. It’s a really fun comedy that makes fun of the horror genre just as much as it plays it straight as some of the stuff in the show can be downright creepy (I mean seriously what IS that?). It also has the tendency to occasionally veer into heartwrenching territory as some of it’s stories occasionally ditch the horror elements in favor of more heartwarming or tragic tales and it all makes for a series that’s held up pretty well over the years.
12) Green Lantern: The Animated Series
Synopsis: The series focuses on the adventures of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, and his partner Kilowog. Hal Jordan travels t “Frontier Space” the region of space at the edge of the Guardians’ territory, where Green Lanterns are being picked off by the Red Lanterns and they must make their return back to central guardian space to bring news of the threat
Why I Like It: This show is a bit of an odd duck among the DCAU toons as it’s the least like a superhero show despite being based off of one DC’s most iconic superheroes of all time. Instead it functions as something more akin to a classic space opera anime with a few superhero trappings. This works out pretty well for the most part as it makes for a tightly plotted show and gives plenty of room to explore it’s characters as the crew members learn to deal with each other and their respective pasts. It’s also interesting in that it deals with the whole “tragic widower” thing that sometimes pops up in fiction in a way most tend not to as one of the ongoing elements of the show is one of the main characters Razer dealing with his desire to avenge his wife versus letting himself fall in love again. The show was technically cancelled but it ends on a strong enough note that you can mostly take the ending as is and be relatively satisfied.
11) Code Lyoko
Synopsis: Jeremie Belpois, a gifted child attending boarding school at Kadic Academy, one day discovers a supercomputer in an abandoned factory near his school. Upon activating it, he discovers a virtual world and Aelita, a young girl trapped inside Lyoko. After unusual events begin to occur at school, Jeremie learns of X.A.N.A., a malevolent destruction-bent artificial intelligence/multi-agent system running on the supercomputer whose goal is to take over the world. Jeremie soon forms a goal to materialize Aelita into the real world and stop X.A.N.A. in his tracks. With the help from Jeremy’s friends and classmates, Ulrich Stern, Odd Della Robbia, Yumi Ishiyama, and Aelita, the group goes to Lyoko in hope to saves the world.
Why I Like It: As a kid, I mistook this show for an anime for the longest time until I learned what (theoretically) seperates the two and for good reason. This show is still probably one of the most heavily anime-influenced things I’ve ever seen and so much so that it even extends into it’s theme song (to be expected of a french cartoon I guess since anime is a much bigger thing over there). As it’s something of a “Monster of the Week” show in structure what really makes it work are it’s characters. Despite adopting more ongoing plotlines in later seasons, it’s by and large a character show and the character interactions are usually great. Though one oddly unique thing about it is thanks to the French creators being largely involved in the english dub’s production, pretty much all of the fanservice that was in the french version somehow made it over here, and it makes you wonder what the heck was up with Cartoon Network’s censors. Even though most of the episodes have the same structure it manages to avoid being too repetitive and having seen the whole thing through again in recent years, it still holds up surprisingly well.
Synopsis: In a world of adult tyranny an organization known as the Kids Next Door, leads the fight against them. Together Numbahs 1-5 of the Kids Next Door’s Sector V battle against adult corruption and to make the world better for kids everywhere
Why I Like It: So this one’s another genre spoof, and this time for secret agent shows. Similar to the others on this list it works pretty well as a comedy but it’s also interesting in that it actually starts to weave together several story arcs as it goes along and actually wraps up on a surprisingly serious note. Of course what really makes this show charming is that as much as it is a genre spoof it’s also about childhood and despite what it’s premise implies, doesn’t really gloss over the fact that kids can exaggerate how much adults “oppress” them and how silly they can be in general. That strange yet enjoyable mix makes for one of CN’s best classics and definitely one of my favorites
9) Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated
Synopsis: In the town of Crystal Cove a group of kids calling themselves Mystery Inc. dedicate themselves to solving mysteries. Unfortunately for them the townsfolk don’t actually want them to solve anything and instead treat them as outcasts. However when the kids uncover a secret that ties into the history behind Crystal Cove, they find themselves in a mystery bigger than they could possibly imagine.
Why I Like It: Alright so me and ol’ Scoob have a bit of mixed history. On the one hand I adore the original series from the 60’s for it’s campiness and some of the films that followed for putting either a darker or even sillier spin on things. On the other hand though, all the material that came during the “What’s New Scooby Doo” era was bland and managed to almost completely dull me to the franchise. However when I heard this show actually managed to veer into even darker territory than Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, I was intrigued and ended up digging this a whole lot more than I thought I would. This show deconstructs pretty much all of the things that have defined Scooby Doo as a franchise over the years and does a surprisingly good job of making an extremely interesting storyline, while turning the originally one note personalities of the Mystery gang into actual fleshed out characters. However despite it’s more serious tone, it pays homage to what made Scooby-Doo so iconic in the first place as much as it deconstructs it and the ending ties into the franchise as a whole in a way that has to be seen to be believed. On the downside the individual mysteries of the week are sometimes straightforward to the point of ridiculousness but the overall narrative is a strong one and managed to single handedly re-ignite my near dead love for this franchise (though it seems like the upcoming Be Cool Scooby-Doo may end up killing it again *sigh*)
8) Batman: The Animated Series
Synopsis: Within the chaotic streets of Gotham City, the legendary caped crusader known as the Batman wages a one man war on crime. Also known to the world by his civilain identity Bruce Wayne, Batman struggles against a variety of villains as well as his feelings towards the death of his parents.
Why I Like It: So given my earlier rip on the Bruce Wayne story this may seem strange, but across the many animated incarnations of Batman, this show is the one that best gets his story right. While not as dark as it’s sequel Batman Beyond it more than makes up for it by really delving into the psychology of each of Batman’s foes and even Batman himself, while also maintaining an incredibly grounded tone for what was considered a kid’s show at the time. So much so that it actually was attempted to be marketed towards older audiences at one point but alas the curse of the Animation Age Ghetto is a strong one. Regardless this show is the pinnacle of the DCAU works, and still the one of the best Batman stories ever told.
Why I Like It: The Powerpuff Girls is a strange little show, simultaneously parodying superheroes and magical girl shows before the later was even on the radar of U.S. audiences. It managed to make itself into something of a cultural phenomenon (even spawning a series in Japan I wish didn’t exist) and in many ways was the real progenitor of “moe” in regards to Americans (sorry Bronies your show wasn’t first). Part of what really makes the show work is that it can switch from the girls being adorable to hardcore fighters at a moment’s notice and sometimes wielding both at the same time with makes for some great comedy when it hits it’s sweet spot. Of course it’s much more the former than the latter and can be genuinely heartwarming at times. It’s easy to see why this show is still fondly remembered even today and now that it’s on the crux of getting a revival hopefully the reboot sticks to what makes it work.
6) Adventure Time
Synopsis: In the Land of Ooo, Finn the Human and his best friend/brother Jake the Dog go on adventures throughout the land. Each day is a new adventure and each more absurd than the last.
Why I Like It: On the note of weird things, this series takes the cake as it’s one of the most peculiar shows to ever exist. I don’t mean that in a “ha ha” weird way either (though it certainly does have that) but straight up legit weird. Despite having the trappings of an absurd comedy and more or less starting out that way over the course of it’s run this show has transcended it’s initial genre boundaries to the point where I’m practically convinced it’s become a genre unto itself. One things for sure though, there’s a method to this show’s madness and it spends just as much time being surprisingly compelling and at times touching, as it does reveling in how bizarre it is. The world of the series is a vast one and the show is also unique in that it actually does take the time to explore a lot of the characters in it, often times having episodes where the titular duo don’t even show up at all. This show managed to become something of a sensation, and it’s not too hard to see why as once you get past the initial weirdness it bombards you with, there’s something downright magical about it.
Synopsis: Within a suburb town a group of active toddlers spend every day exploring the world around them. Together, Tommy, Phil, Lil and Chuckie go on a variety of adventures while trying to steer clear of Tommy’s trouble making cousin, Angelica.
Why I Like It: So Rugrats asks a question we’ve almost all considered at some point in our lives: how exactly DO babies perceive the world around them? The answer is undoubtedly different than what this show actually gives us but that doesn’t make it any less fun. This show has a blast taking the most mundane of scenarios and turning them into something exciting and fun when seen through the babies’ perspectives making for some cute little adventures. The core cast is extremely likable (hard to expect anything less from a show with toddlers as the main characters) and while the focus is generally on the babies, the adults actually do get an episode or two on occasion and generally avoid being too static. The series was Nick’s biggest hit before a certain other show came along, spawning a couple of movies that made their way into theaters (with both actually being good oddly enough) and a sequel spin-off called All Grown Up. While the mediocrity of the latter has attributed to the downfall of the franchise in some ways, the original is still a great classic.
Synopsis: You COULD read a boring synopsis from me but why not listen to this sexy voiced narration instead (you’re welcome)
Why I Like It: As I said earlier, Greg Weissman is one of the greatest enigmas in western animation and this show is where he got his start. This show is dark in a way where you would almost never be able to believe it was produced by Disney of all companies but more than that this show is extremely…well…classy. It carries itself with a level of sophistication you’d never expect from kids shows on either side of the ocean. So much so, I’m convinced that if you made it into a live action series and changed nothing else about it in regards to dialogue and plot, you would almost never be able to tell it was a kid’s show. The characters all carry themselves pretty realistically (and features Xanatos, who is hands down one of the best villains ever made) and the ongoing storyline of the Gargoyles trying to adjust to the modern world while overcoming their past experiences with humanity is a fascinating one. It’s one of the most compelling action toons ever made, and one I’d even wholeheartedly recommend to die hard anime fans.
Why I Like It: Well we all knew this one was coming sooner or later since it’s pretty much impossible to have this kind of list without it, and for good reason. There’s not much I can say about this series that hasn’t been said dozens of times before (and better) but I’ll try. This show is a pretty blatant (though obviously more of a homage than a rip) western take on the action-adventure shonen formula that dominates Japan, and in many ways actually surpasses a lot of those works. The action scenes utilizing real world kung-fu in regards to bending makes for some cool battle choreography, though to be honest the action is far from what makes this series a stand-out.
What really makes it work are it’s characters and themes, though unlike it’s sequel Korra, the more tightly scripted narrative of this series allows it to make better use of both in a more meaningful way. While it’s far from a realistic depiction of war it does do a better job of delving into how affects those left behind by it a lot more than some of it’s contemporaries do and it also covers some interesting stuff in regards to racial propaganda and spirituality. At it’s core though it’s primarily a coming-of-age story for Aang as he grows into his role as the Avatar and the journey towards him fulfilling that destiny makes for one of the greatest animated works of all time.
2) Steven Universe
Synopsis: The world is protected from evil threats by the Crystal Gems, a group of intergalactic female warriors who use the power of special gem stones embedded on their bodies to summon magical weapons. Steven is a young boy who inherited a gem stone from his mother, a Crystal Gem named Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to figure out the secrets to using his gem, he spends his days in Beach City doing activities with the other Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, whether it’s helping them save the universe or just hanging out.
Why I Like It: Given that the series creator, Rebecca Sugar was one of the best writers on Adventure Time before moving over to this show, I had pretty good expectations for it but I’m still amazed at how much I’ve been blown away by it. If Avatar is the ultimate western take on action-adventure shonen, then Steven Universe is in many ways, the ultimate western take on the magical girl shojo genre (albeit with a male protagonist). The show is filled to the brim with a cast of fun and extremely likable characters, all of them getting fleshed out in their own way and makes great use of it’s simplistic artstyle in addition to having a pretty great soundtrack. It’s narrative is also surprisingly more compelling than it would initially seem as the backstory of the Crystal Gems and Steven’s coming-of-age story tie together really well and manages to consistently succeed in making you wonder where it’ll all head next. However these are all just a portion of what makes this show so fantastic.
The real heart and soul of this show lies almost primarily in it’s emotional core. It’s a show that really gets emotional moments without having to blatantly manipulate the audience’s heart strings to do it, and consistently delivers on that front in a way that even anime fails to a lot of the time. Most episodes will have you walking away from them feeling warm and fuzzy in that regard and it’s that element which has allowed it to become a bonafide hit. As it’s still only in the middle of it’s second season there’s still plenty of room for this show to fall apart but it’s managed to knock it out of the park so consistently that I trust the show to keep on delivering, and I’m in this one for the long haul.
And now for the the #1…
1) Ed, Edd n Eddy
Synopsis: Ed, Edd n Eddy are a trio of pals with the same name growing up with the suburbs of Peach Creek. They spend their days attempting to con the other kids in the neighborhood out of their money as much as they do trying to fit in. However failure is the name of the game for these three and neither ever goes as expected.
Why I Like It: So this as my #1 should surprise literally no one who knows me, but I’ve never really taken the time to explain why I have such an unabashed love for this show. Simply put Ed, Edd n Eddy is a show that is 100% straight up about pre-pubescent childhood. I’ve mentioned this element before in regards to some of the other shows at this list but EEnE has something special that really sets it apart from the mold. For the most part, media generally tends to look back on that stage of childhood with a sense of nostalgia. Sure you might occasionally get a story about a perpetually bullied kid every now and then but even those tend to have a fairly optimistic outlook more often than not.
Not so with Ed, Edd n Eddy for it’s here to remind you of one simple fact: your childhood most likely sucked. Kids can be cruel, often for the most simplistic and stupid of reasons, and Ed, Edd n Eddy manages to capture that aspect of childhood completely. Every character can a jerk in some fashion with no one ever being safe from abuse and it’s titular trio suffers far more setbacks than victories in regards to finding their own little place to belong.
However despite the level of sadism that would imply it’s also clear that the show doesn’t really hate any of it’s cast (and the fact that a good 5/6ths of them are heavily implied to have issues with parental guidance certainly helps things) and it does manage to capture the whimsical and fun nature of childhood just as often as it destroys it. While most of the characters are jerks, they’re also just as much relatable and it’s hard not to find at least a little bit of your self in some of them (well hopefully not the Kanker Sisters since I’d like to believe most people don’t have anything in common with serial molesters). Also despite it’s heavily cynical nature it actually does manage to end on an uplifting note, but one that feels a lot more genuinely earned than most in regards to childhood stories. This series has endured over the years as one of CN’s most beloved classics, even managing to hold as it’s longest running show to date, and for me it stands as one of my favorite shows of all time.
So there you have it. A nice tidy list of my favorite toons to go right alongside my favorite anime. Here’s hoping I don’t have to make any major updates anytime soon.