Top Ten Anime of 2015

And so, another year of anime winds to its end. There have been surprises and disappointments this year, and my ultimate list doesn’t really look much like what I’d expected to find, but in the end, anime is anime. At the beginning of this year, I was looking forward to crowning two of 2014’s better series – Your Lie in April and Parasyte. Unfortunately, both of those shows kinda lost their way in their second halves, which was sad for everyone. Later on, at the year’s halfway point, I was again excited about my end-of-year list – I already had a good seven or eight shows I felt were top ten-worthy, and was beginning to think this would be a year to rival 2013. Unfortunately, the year’s second half only really gave me the last couple shows I needed, and so here I am, recognizing just enough shows to fill out a full list. This year didn’t end out quite as strong as I’d hoped, but ultimately I probably shouldn’t complain about any year that featured enough shows to fill a list plus honorable mentions.

And I actually do have an honorable mention, one I honestly feel a little bad not including on my list proper. Although not all its sequences were equally strong, Studio Khara’s Animator Expo definitely deserves a mention – you might have heard of it just because of Me! Me! Me!, but the whole thing is full of wonderful, creative little vignettes. If you’re interested in the visual potential of anime, or just want to see some cool short-form pieces, Animator Expo is a can’t-miss experience. The third season is still available online (here’s a particularly good one), so I’d definitely check that out. I should also probably mention One Punch Man, since I get the feeling not mentioning it means it will dominate the comments. Yes, I watched it, and no, I didn’t think it was that great. Strong animation, but everything outside of that felt pretty mediocre, and so you won’t see it here.

But that’s all preamble. You guys are here for the top shows, and top shows you will have – shows from a wide span of genres and creators, shows to thrill and shock and make you cry. Every year in anime brings new treasures, so let’s buckle in and run down the best in one more year of Japanese cartoons!

#10: Blood Blockade Battlefront

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Considering this show comes from the same director as Kyousogiga, it almost seems like it’s a disappointment that it’s “only” the tenth-best show of 2015. And that’s honestly kind of true; Blood Blockade Battlefront is a messy show, full of loose narrative edges and weaker episodes and comedy that’s better left unmentioned. But in its best moments, this show shines almost as bright as its director’s last work, featuring beautiful environments and lively music and a whole bunch of crazy, inventive battles. Matsumoto really knows how to create a sense of place, and the place BBB visits is a compelling retro-fantasy New York full of cutthroat thieves and deadly trans-world monsters. BBB is not a truly great show, but there is definitely a seed of greatness in it, and as far as inventive action-adventure goes, it’s right near the top of the pack.

#9: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Egypt Arc

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Of course, BBB isn’t exactly on the top of that pack, because that spot belongs to JoJo. After a thoroughly underwhelming first half, Stardust Crusaders came rallying back this year, featuring high-stakes gamblers and evil birds and the ominous, ever-present shadow of Dio himself. Though there were still a few loose battles here and there, most of Egypt Arc represented a welcome return to form for JoJo. The episodes integrated the humor into the actual stakes of the battles, and those battles were far more inventive and high-tension than anything in the first half. Pet Shop, Vanilla Ice, and Dio Brando represent three of the best fights the series has ever seen, beautiful and ridiculous and legitimately nerve-wracking. Stardust Crusaders was a messy and occasionally dispiriting journey, but it sure ended strong.

#8: Yuri Kuma Arashi

Yuri Kuma Arashi

And in yet another case of “what’s a show by this person doing all the way down here,” Ikuhara’s adventure with lesbian bears sadly clocks in down at number eight. There were a lot of truly great things about Yurikuma, from its sense of humor to its lovely aesthetic to its well-chosen horror movie riffs to its overall narrative ambitions. But the show was also compressed into too few episodes, and the end result was that the audience never really got to know most of the characters. Yurikuma is an unabashed “message piece,” but the strength of fiction is that you can dress your messages in an individual human context, to make them feel personal and true. Yurikuma failed at that, but it’s still a rich and creative and funny and beautiful little show. I have a lot of respect for an ambitious failure.

#7: Maria the Virgin Witch

Maria the Virgin Witch

Yep, the show about the witch who couldn’t have sex or she’d lose her magic powers was one of the best shows of the year. Name and (actually pretty great) sex jokes aside, Maria the Virgin Witch ended up being a really compelling drama, full of well-drawn characters and smartly interrogating the nature of faith and arrogance of “saviors.” Maria actually did exactly what Yurikuma attempted to – it took some really difficult, highbrow concepts (“how can the blunt pacifism of a social outsider engage with the ugly, complex realities of human conflict,” for one), and grounded that in a specific human context on all sides to make for a challenging but also emotionally resonant story. The show unfortunately failed somewhat to stick the landing, but outside of that, it succeeds as a medieval drama, as a thought experiment, as a comedy, and even as a character-focused romance. It’s just a quietly excellent show all around.

#6: Death Parade

Death Parade

A show with a name like “Death Parade” normally wouldn’t be my speed, but the followup to 2013’s Death Billiards ended up being a surprisingly robust and actually very sensitive story. It certainly had plenty of ugly, tragic voyeurism, but the show went in the best direction it could with that – these rigged death games are the awful thing, not the people who are trapped in them. Forcing people to act their worst doesn’t prove anything, and even in that situation, many people will demonstrate the best of human nature. And in addition to being alternately funny, shocking, and genuinely moving, the show was also just marvelously well composed, demonstrating a talented young director backed by some stellar animators. Death Parade was morbid, yes, but it was also beautiful, personal, and occasionally even inspiring. A welcome surprise.

#5: Gatchaman Crowds insight

Gatchaman Crowds insight

Insight was a narrower show than its predecessor – it didn’t have something to say about everything, it had a few key things to say about a few inescapable topics. Through the brief and terrible ascendancy of Tsubasa and Gel-chan, insight explored the double-edged nature of social harmony, the danger of assumed righteousness, and (as always) the ever-present, ever-terrifying power of crowds. The conclusions the first series reached were challenged, and the dangers of social power were turned back on those who’d use it to seek their own kind of justice. But it wasn’t just a lecture – like Maria the Virgin Witch, insight grounded all of these contrasting forces in compelling personal stories. There were long scenes of this show where characters like Jou, Rui, Tsubasa, and Hajime would just sit down and talk out their feelings on how society was moving, and those were actually some of the best scenes of the series. Gatchaman is smart and creative and grounded in a shaken but resilient faith in humanity, and its sequel ended up being a worthy and almost necessary compliment to the original series.

#4: Owarimonogatari


Seasons will change, anime will pass, and Monogatari will continue to be very good. Owarimonogatari actually comes on the heels of one of Monogatari’s all-time weakest arcs, but though this season doesn’t necessarily rally to the sustained heights of Koi and Hanamonogatari, it’s still a rich and beautiful show with more to say about its characters than almost anything else out there. Second Season solved the “Araragi problem” by dancing around him, but Owari directly challenges him, using characters like Ougi and Shinobu to tug at the things that make him interesting in spite of his perversions. There are remarkable treasures in these episodes, from Sodachi’s breakdown to Shinobu and Kanbaru’s nearly fatal debate. There are satisfying reprises from classic characters, and great new tricks, like Ougi’s snakelike presence. Shows that go on this long have a tendency to repeat themselves, but Monogatari just continues to dig deeper, building on character development and its internal visual vocabulary to consistently arrive at lovely new surprises. As long as Monogatari stays this good, it’s welcome to stick around.

#3: Sound! Euphonium

Sound! Euphonium

You can pretty much always count on Kyoto Animation for a beautiful and well-executed production, but Sound! Euphonium is so much more than that. Telling a wide array of personal stories and coming together into a rousing story of talent, passion, and the fleeting nature of youthful glory, Sound! Euphonium is the studio’s best show since Hyouka, a basically perfect monument to the power of careful execution. Sound! Euphonium doesn’t win out through wild creativity, or through characters who keep surprising you – it simply tells a very strong central narrative with absolute grace, bringing characters to life through many small details of direction and animation and letting the contrast of their various stories illustrate its themes in the most natural way possible. Euphonium nails the fundamentals, and that is a rare and valuable thing – as far as “understated adolescent dramas” go, this is about as good as they can get.

#2: Oregairu S2


And representing the opposite pole of adolescent dramas, Oregairu is all individual personality, rising above its competitors through the incredible intelligence and specificity of its character writing and dialogue. Oregairu’s first season was already one of the best-written anime of the last, well, many years, and the second season actually handily rises above its predecessor. Not only is the character drama here more intense, not only does the show largely discard its light novel humor roots in order to really stab at the humanity of its characters… but even the execution here is far better, with the switch in studios resulting in more expressive characters designs, stronger character acting, and much more evocative direction. Oregairu S2 strikes at the heart of insecure, unhappy adolescence, and its characters feel more real than you pretty much ever get in anime. It’s challenging, heart-rending, and witheringly smart. It is the best at what it does.

#1: Shirobako


But even for all that, Oregairu is not my top show of the year. No, that honor goes to a show that didn’t even start in 2015, a show that at this point last year was already impressing on a weekly basis. Shirobako is my top show of 2015, and it isn’t even much of a contest. The show deftly manages a cast of dozens of endearing characters, juggling personal conflicts and larger narrative threads and constant jolts of comedy. It’s an adult drama that simultaneously reveals and canonizes the struggles of anime production, coming across as a fatigued love letter to the industry that built it. It’s full of great gags and relatable personal trials and little moments that bring its characters to life, highlighting the everyday melancholy of stuff like telling your parents you’re okay on the phone while heating up one more microwave dinner. And it consistently veers off into wonderful little gifts, creative twists that run from The Day Anno Saved Christmas to watching a character break down as they remember the shows that made them love anime in the first place. Shirobako broke my heart half a dozen times, and I still get chills thinking of the trials its characters went through. Shirobako portrays the beauty and sadness of life as it is, and there are few higher artistic goals than that.

48 thoughts on “Top Ten Anime of 2015

  1. No surprises on this list, though I started 9 (haven’t gone through JoJo), I only finished 6; Maria, BBB, and Death Parade will definitely be finished soon enough.

    We shared an identical top 5, but beyond that, it was the comedies for me this year in Umaru, YuruYuri, and Symphogear (hehe.) Yuri Kuma was still phenomenal for what it did.

    My honorable mention goes to the first two episodes of Rolling Girls which might as well have been a different series altogether.

    • Yeah, those first two episodes of Rolling Girls really were something. A “best portion of a show” list would probably be pretty interesting, since there are tons of shows that display real unique brilliance for at least part of their run, but aren’t consistent.

      • I’ll avoid the self-plug, but I happen to write Anime reviews for a site where the reviews are split up into portions of episodes.

        Even though it’s hard to put an interesting spin on certain things that are fairly smooth and consistent it’s a really nice way of recognising shows that have those highpoints and lowpoints.

  2. I loved over half of your list! Definitely an improvement over last year. My list:

    1/Owarimonogatari: More of the same, still good.

    2/Gatchaman Crowds Insight: Logical progression from 1st season. Can be a bit heavy handed, but always captivating.

    3/Oregairu S2: Major improvement over 1s season. Way smarter than what I expect a light novel capable of.

    4/Concrete Revolutio: loved the style(fun), the ideas(creative), the characters(simple but interesting). Sometimes clunky and heavy handed, but always entertaining.

    5/Yuri Kuma Arashi: Worst of Ikuhara is still better than most anime

    6/Mushishi Final: The same Mushishi. Timeless and calm.

    7/Death Parade: Very well done.

    8/Nihon Animator Mihonichi: A mixed bag, but enjoyable nonetheless

    9/Noragami Aragoto: Better than the first season in all aspect. This is what a shounen should be.

    10/Garo Honoo no Kokuin: Metal. Good action, dark story, complex characters. A bit slow and poor animation as the start though.

      • I cannot guarantee that you will like Concrete Revolutio, but I’m sure you are going to find something interesting to watch and talk about.

      • It’s a bit messy in the first half because of it’s non-linear temporal sequence of events, but the latter half brings the show together. I think it’s good that you didn’t watch it since things would probably be easier to catch if marathon’ed. Otherwise, it’s a pretty politically charged show that digs a little deeper than OPM when it comes to depicting the modernized superhero.

        Plus, you can look forward to catching it’s second season in April if you end up liking it. 🙂

    • I actually still haven’t finished the last few episodes of Mushishi, but the show’s already one of my favorites, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy them!

  3. As someone who is in a creative field as well, there were numerous instances I could relate to the characters and their predicaments in Shirobako. Very good list, glad to see Kekkai Sensen and Oregairu S2.

  4. #1 Concrete Revolutio: expert juggling of a wide array of characters & factions, interesting use of unconventional storytelling, themes about justice. SamFlam 2.0 with less comedy / more animation. Honestly it deserves #1 over Monogatari because it’s a new show and original.

    #2 Owarimonogatari: placing Monogatari #1 every year wouldn’t be fair to other newcomers but really, it’s excellent as always and keeps adding more depth to its already strong cast.

    #3 Sound! Euphonium: one of the rare instances of a KyoAni anime where the quality of the writing matches the quality of the anime (animation/directing).

    #4 Junketsu no Maria: didn’t care for the manga but got pleasantly surprised by Taniguchi. Despite being an adaptation he really elevated the source material with original characters & script.

    #5 Blood Blockade Battlefront: another instance of an unremarkable manga being turned into something magical. Matsumoto is a real welcome addition to the anime industry and is a master at creating familial atmospheres. As with JnM the original characters were an asset

    #6 Prison School: same as JnM, didn’t care for the manga but thanks to Mizushima’s effortless directing the anime charmed itself to me in no time. It’s a good anime and it’s dishonest to claim it’s fun trash but nothing more. Every episode had people on the edge of their seats

    #7 Gatchaman Crowds Insight: the first half was really good with the way society slowly started to change and did a good job portraying groupthink as dangerous & harmful but it petered off in the end and had a convenient conclusion

    These shows I’d consider all +9/10. Can’t think of any more. If I would count ’14 Fall carry-overs then I’d add Shirobako & G-Reco. Hmm, I guess Jojo/Yahari S2, maybe Sidonia S2, could be added in some order.

    • I’m actually catching up on Concrete Revolutio right now, and currently I think I’d place it right around Maria the Virgin Witch on this list. Definitely a great show.

  5. yep, thats prertty much my list this year, altough I would find room in my heart to sneak in Prison School. That show is something special alright, in all its unabashed trash glory

    • Personally Monmusu was my favorite of the summer’s trash shows, but it was certainly a very satisfying trash season all around.

  6. Yep, this looks like about what I expected. I was curious to see whether Oregairu or Shirobako took #1, but that was about it. I should definitely finish Shirobako at some point; I got 5 episodes in, and it was definitely good (loved the bit about redoing the animation on the girl’s face to make it more emotional + the director’s vision especially) but I lost momentum for some reason and that often just automatically puts shows on hold for me these days.

    Always glad to see love for Death Parade and Euphonium. Seriously great stuff.

    I must say though, I unfortunately never felt like Jojo picked back up again. I LOVED Battle Tendency, and the first season is in my favorites even though it’s thematically substance-less just because it was SO much fun. But while the second half of Stardust Crusaders was definitely better than its first, I ended the whole thing kinda feeling like it had been a waste of time. Even the best moments of Stardust Crusaders never made me feel the tension of the fight vs. Santana or the just outta-nowhere guttural laughter invoked by the pigeon-in-the-mouth gag. It felt like I was watching it with a critical eye the whole time, judging its storytelling components and trying to decide if it was good or not rather than just being taken along on a wild ride.

    Something like Jojo is pure entertainment though, and different people’s reactions are going to be different just depending on personal taste. I liked the break-neck cliffhanger pacing and goofy self-deprecating attitude of the first season, and I hated the monster-of-the-week toilet humor and preposterously uncreative smugness of Jotaro. I can definitely see how someone could feel differently, so I guess I’m really just sad that I got 25 episodes of joyride and then 50 of grind. But I also feel as though the first season does legitimately have a certain creative charm and cleverness to it that would honestly make it appealing to most anyone, while Stardust Crusaders has that “the IDEA of this is great, but the experience is tiresome” feel to it.

    • I think if you’re going to be suspicious of JoJo, the show is going to fall apart. JoJo is fundamentally a stupid show; it doesn’t have much going for it beyond the gags, moment-to-moment suspense, and surprising action highlights. But as far as those go, I think the last 14 or so episodes of Egypt Arc were pretty on point, which is all I really hope for from the show. It’s a simple thing, and I agree that it has never matched the consistent flavorful highs of Battle Tendency, but I think the last act of Stardust Crusaders came pretty close.

      • You’ve got a great point there, about the suspicion. I unfortunately heard from enough sources that Stardust Crusaders was weaker before I got a chance to start it that I was probably a lot more uneasy right off the bat. I really wanted it to be good, I was actively willing it to be good as much as I could, but once that battle takes hold with something like Jojo you’ve already lost what makes it good in the first place.

  7. Pretty much agree with this list. I feel the last two (9-10) are way bellow the rest though heh. Would probably put punchline at number 9 instead, it was a cute little story, not very ambitious but just fun and genuine. And Garo:Honoo no Kokuin at number 10, its just an adventure story well told and I want to see more stuff like this (stylized fantasy adventure is my favorite ‘genre’ (why does anime pretty much always make their fantasy stuff so boring looking?)), a shame the new Garo is such a deviation from the first one..

    • Yeah, I was honestly looking for a show to knock BBB off myself. It’s looking like Concrete Revolutio might be that show – I’m currently giving it a second look and really enjoying it so far.

  8. Surprised Noragami Aragoto is not on the list. I would place it somewhere between 5-10. The show has is great mixture of slapstick and deeply affecting characterization.

    • Absolutely. I thought its emotional intensity in the first half with Bishamon was on point, with both her and Kazuma being to blame for what happened. I also enjoy when the writer keeps the consequences of actions under wraps, so it never feels like anyone in Noragami gets a free pass. The second half was just as good, and I really hope it continues. Noragami was at #2 on my list, only giving way to SNAFU TOO!

  9. Where are the Monster Girls, Nick?! Stop lying to yourself, you know they belong in that #10 spot!

    As I figured though, our lists ended up being pretty similar. I’ve got 8 of those shows on mine, but I didn’t watch Jojo’s or BBB. YuriKuma at #8 makes me a little sad, but I’ve got Shirobako in that same spot so I guess we’re kind of even.

  10. No Rick and Morty on this top list?! I am disappointed!

    Also, it’s cool you’re giving Concrete Revolutio a second look, Bobduh. Why we overlooked it for that other superhero show by a well-respected studio that aired on the same day (within the same time), I will never know.

    Also I notice a few people asking about Noragami Aragoto on here. Keep in mind that whilst the second season is good, you still have to sit through that meh first season to get the gist of what’s going on.

    • It’s kinda funny how Concrete Revolutio is basically “solving” the major problems I had with almost all my big disappointments of the year. Uses superhumans in a more interesting way than BBB, actually ties its Big Themes to character journeys better than Yurikuma, and employs well-constructed fight scenes as highlights, not oases between boredom like OPM. It’s a pretty great show!

  11. Female opinion FORCE is strong on this list, if the author was a male 8/10 would be entirely different choices me personally I disagree with almost everything on this list but whatever girls is known for having completely different tastes in anime compare to boys.

  12. My Top 10:

    Death Parade
    YuriKuma Arashi
    Prison School
    Kekkai Sensen

  13. Reading this makes me think I missed out on all the good animes. I only watched 4 out the animes on you list. I guess I’ll have to do a little extra watching to catch some of these greats.

    Also, I’m glad someone is giving Shirobako the praise it deserves! Way too many people write it off as boring. 😛

  14. Funny that Yurikuma is on that list. I dropped it after the 5th episode because of the looseness of its direction. And I found that surprising because I’m quite a fan of conceptual works like Kyousougiga.

    Otherwise, the top 5 of this list are solid. I was actually half expecting you to put Owarimonogatari in the top 3, but seeing Sound! Euphonium and Oregairu there, I figured just as much. I haven’t watched shirobako, but after reading this, I definitely will.

    As a last question, what are your hopes for 2016? I know people generally look forward to every year, but the line-up for Winter is full of wild cards. Spring is seeing a bunch of second seasons, too.

    • I haven’t taken a deep look at 2016 yet, but so far the main things I’m looking forward to are Kizumonogatari, Euph S2, A Silent Voice, and the new anime-original Mizushima project (the director behind Shirobako/GuP/etc). And now that I’ve seen Conrevo, also the second season of that. Other than that, it’s mostly wild cards.

  15. Statistics on Bobduh’s top year lists

    Average among top 12 2013 shows: 9.17
    Average among top 13 2013 shows (counting Aku no Hana): 9.23
    Average among top 10 2013 shows (no Aku no Hana): 9.30
    Average among top 10 2014 shows: 8.50
    Average among top 10 2015 shows: 8.70

    A happy new year to all of you, full of subjective statistics all around!

  16. Do you think season 2 of OreGairu is worse than season 1? I got the impression that you liked season 2 more but you ranked Shirobako higher for the year of 2015 but on your top 30 list you ranked OreGairu higher than Shirobako. And if you thought season 2 of OreGairu was better than season 1 and Shirobako is better than season 2 of OreGairu wouldn’t that mean you think it’s a better show?

    • He seems to like season 2 better, but whether he likes the series more than Shirobako is kind of a fluid thing. A new show like Shirobako also goes better for the title “best anime of 2015” than a sequel does.

      Though I stand by Gatchaman Crowds insight.

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