Top Ten Anime of 2016

And somehow, another year has come to a close. This has been a strange year for me – as my first full year of wholly anime-related employment, it’s been often terrifying, sometimes uplifting, and always exciting. I’m not sure it means anything that my move to freelance coincided with the world catching fire, but hey, things happen. At least I also write for Crunchyroll now!

As far as anime itself goes, this has been a very solid year in general. The industry is currently at a somewhat unsustainable level of production, and though foreign streaming and other forms of revenue are putting the industry in a more stable place financially, that still hasn’t adjusted the workflow mechanisms that keep animators so terribly underpaid. That will have to change eventually, but as far as the actual shows go, there were plenty of anime I had a great time with this year, and solid hits in a wide variety of genres. In fact, this year’s crop was so good that I even have some honorable mentions! That’s honestly kind of unusual for me – I generally struggle getting to ten shows without including stuff I’m not totally sold on. So let’s start right there, and run down the shows that just barely missed the list before we count off the final ten!

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The Best Anime Next Steps

There are a lot of anime out there! Literally thousands, with over a hundred more being released every year. There are new hits every season, and old favorites that have slowly lost their topical sheen. Given all those shows, it can be understandably hard to pick what to watch next – anime, like every other medium, is full of stuff that will disappoint you, and everyone’s tastes are different.

My own tastes in particular are a little weird – I like arthouse stuff and intimate character studies and occasional cathartic message-focused shows. But fortunately, there is indeed such a thing as “normal” taste in anime, or at least the most common preferences shared by fans outside of Japan. And today, I’m hoping to help that audience – or more specifically, hopefully, You.

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Winter 2016 – First Half in Review

And suddenly, six weeks have passed. Fortunately for me, it’s actually hard to pretend the winter season has rushed by; not because the shows themselves have proceeded slowly, but because I live in goddamn New England, and so every day is an interminable march of suffering through sub-arctic temperatures and mocking snow. I hate winter, and I’d rather live in a place where it doesn’t exist, but for the moment I’m stuck here. As far as anime goes, this has actually been a perfectly reasonable season.

This seems like one of those seasons where, to an even greater degree than normally, the show quality just drops off a cliff after the second tier. In an ordinary season, there are a decent number of shows I’m not watching that people in a general sense are still enjoying – things that don’t appeal to me genre-wise, or whose writing or art style don’t gel with me, or some other quirk of preference. But this time, it seems like nearly everyone I know is watching the same shortlist of anime, and then there’s just a vast desert of nothing. But this actually doesn’t affect my viewing habits at all – I never tend to find more than half a dozen or so shows watchable, and as far as that small crop goes, as long as I have two to three shows that seem genuinely good, I’m satisfied. But it’d be far too mature of me to just say “I’m enjoying a fair number of shows for a variety of reasons,” and besides, we’ve got traditions to uphold. So let’s start at the top and ruthlessly rank this season’s claimants to the throne!

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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!

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Fall 2015 – First Half in Review

Holy crap we’re already at the halfway point. It doesn’t really feel like a halfway point – Owarimonogatari’s just finished its first larger arc-sequence, and Okada Gundam is still basically in its preamble, so it kinda feels like we’re just getting started. But apparently everything else is already half over, and the halfway point ranking thing has become one of this site’s many random traditions (look, routines help with my insecurities), so here we are again. As usual, this will be the one and only time I rank this season’s overall shows. Ranking shows when they’re only halfway done may seem like an inherently useless gesture, but I assure you, that is definitely the point. “But Bobduh,” you might respond, “you rank your favorite shows of the year anyway, so how can you say you’re making a point about the futility of rankings when you then proceed to buy into them in the same exact way everyone else does?” “Shut up,” I say to this. “Shut up, stop talking, your face is bad.”

With all that cleared up, let’s get right to the listing! What has risen, what has fallen, and what is just sort of staggering on? ALL WILL BE REVEALED.

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Summer 2015 – First Half in Review

The summer halfway point has arrived! As per long-hallowed tradition, the season halfway point is always celebrated with my first and only show ranking of the season, emphasizing the fundamental ridiculousness of lists through the double-stacked ridiculousness of listing shows that are only halfway over. This is perhaps (definitely) a meaningless exercise, but hey, it gives me a reasonably coherent topic to cover when shows are generally just sort of durdling around and gearing up for their final push. This season’s a bit unusual ranking-wise, in that as far as “actual real serious-business shows go,” it’s basically just Gatchaman Crowds insight versus an empty field. Classroom Crisis has its moments but is far too inconsistent to consider great, and everything else I’m watching falls somewhere into “enjoyable popcorn garbage.” Can you… rank… garbage?

Yeah, of course you can fucking rank garbage. I may be watching Prison School, but I’m certainly not watching Sky Wizards Academy, and there are damn good reasons for that. So let’s take a fine-tooth comb to this season’s pee jokes and snake-fucking and RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN.

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Spring 2015 – First Half in Review

Time again at last. Episodes have passed, cartoons have risen and fallen, and the moment has arrived for us to once again slot stories into a reductive hierarchy that cheapens the very idea of media consumption. Does ranking shows inherently contribute to a system that commodifies art and undercuts the complexity of emotional engagement? Are we essentially belittling ourselves by implying that our relationship with the stories we choose to consume can be summed up through a simple “eh, at least it’s better than this other one?” Will any of the people whose attitudes I’m critiquing in this opening paragraph possibly not skip to the numbers themselves, rendering this sarcastic thought experiment totally pointless?

Maybe so. But goddamnit, we’re gonna do it anyway.

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Winter 2015 – First Half in Review

Dear god, it’s somehow that time again. The time when we all get together to celebrate the cartoons we love by putting them in a meaningless ranking system that denies the very purpose of storytelling altogether. The halfway point rankings feel even more meaningless than usual this season, as the current season is both very good and also full of shows that I’m enjoying all around the same level, but trifling problems like that won’t stand in the way of tradition. Let’s run ’em down!

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Top Ten Anime of 2014

I had to stretch to get a top 10 this year. I’m ready to admit that. Last year, it was easy – in fact, it was too easy, and I ended up expanding my list to twelve shows basically by necessity. But this year didn’t have quite the top shelf of 2013, and so concessions had to be made. There are certainly a couple notable absences here, with I’m guessing the biggest ones being Kill la Kill, Space Dandy, and maybe Nozaki-kun. The reason for those absences is simple – I didn’t like any of those shows very much. If you’re looking for a general “all the shows that enjoyed positive appraisal among the kinds of people who make a point of appraising shows,” I’m guessing all three of those would be included, but this is my list, and I’m gonna talk about what I wanna. (Incidentally, if you are looking for a list like that, my fellow critics at ANN all contributed their own top five lists to this recent retrospective – and that’s all shows that started in 2014, so even my list over there is pretty different). My list may be a little shorter this year, but it’s still got some real gems, and considering three of the year’s best shows aren’t included simply because they aren’t finished (Shirobako, KimiUso, and Parasyte), I’d say we made off okay. Let’s run it down!

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ANN’s Top Five Anime of 2014

ANN just posted their big top five anime of the year retrospective, which includes the results of their reader poll and lists from a bunch of their staff, including yours truly. This list was based on full-length shows that started in 2014, meaning no Hanamonogatari or Samurai Flamenco, while shows like Shirobako are eligible. Meaning the list I submitted there is actually fairly different from the top ten list I’ll be posting here in a week or so, but it still offers a fine preview of my thoughts on the year, and actually highlights how badly I think this fall season pulled everything together. This was a weak year in anime, but the silver lining is that fall’s continuing shows (Shirobako, KimiUso, Parasyte, FSN) are almost single-handedly ensuring 2015 will be better. And the other ANN writers highlight a whole bunch of other compelling stuff, so clearly animeland will survive. Here’s to 2014!

Shirobako