I am glad I have finally managed to pump this one out. I’m only two years late to the party.
I have been actively following anime seasons ever since 2009 so I figured I might as well post (in very belated manner) what exactly the best 25 (TWENTY-FIVE!) anime of the decade were according to my holy and objective opinion. We like top lists, don’t we? We’re on the Internet, after all.
Anyway, I’m not entirely sure where I fall on the ranking the decades game as that’s kind of silly – judging ten years of time is, especially when you haven’t even made it to the third decade yourself (yet), somewhat absurd and it’s not like there were a ton of anime in the 80s or 90s – not to mention I haven’t seen anywhere enough from those eras. Uh, Serial Experiments Lain, Infinite Ryvius, Key The Metal Idol, War In The Pocket… I know old anime, too!
Jokes aside, you can certainly tell this is the decade where the bubble burst as a result of the financial crisis. While the overall output of anime has only ever increased and schedules have accordingly worsened, the medium has become a lot less daring. The late 00s with projects like Shigurui or Aoi Bungaku feel farther away than ever before. noitaminA’s crash did not help. Visual novel adaptations have been replaced with cute girls doing cute things shows, which in turn have been absolved by light novel trash, then further advanced by the soulless content mass production fiasco that is the isekai genre ever since SAO has poisoned the well and the ever-so-unappreciated idol disasters and gacha adaptations have joined in on the ‘fun’. Not like I miss violent tsunderes or regret that the term “moe” feels like an afterthought of yesteryear but we certainly haven’t moved up. This isn’t good.
But you know what’s good? The anime on this list! So let’s instead move over to those! So let’s deal with those instead.
Anyway, anime that did not quite make the list in no specific order before anyone’s asking include the following: Shiki, SoreMachi, Kaiji S2, Ranpo Kitan, The Tatami Galaxy, Grimgar, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku, Rakugo, Sakurada Reset, Houseki no Kuni, YoriMoi, Fafner Exodus and Kokkoku. I’m sorry. I’ve seen a lot and I had to make the cut somewhere. And a Top 25 is already quite daunting. Go wild in the comment section.
25. Star Driver
Mecha is a dying breed, sadly, and this is the genre’s only entry on this list. And by no means is it all too representative of the bulk, being the flamboyant world of wonders that it is. I’ve written about Star Driver in great length elsewhere but long story short, it’s an adolescent tale about friendship and making the most out of your youth as life doesn’t always throw pleasant things at you. Star Driver’s characters are snappy, highly motivated to be part of their own show, their conflicts are engaging and its meta plane battles see their determination to an end and with quite the spectacular animation output. Star Driver is cool but not just that – it’s also smart and has heart. And what’s more important than that?
24. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Yuusha no Shou
If you told me to bet my money on a collaboration between Seiji Kishi, man behind poorly directed projects and admittedly Ranpo Kitan and Takahiro, a guy known primarily for porn or torture porn (or a combination of both) would get to create an anime that I not only deemed good but also would put on my top 25 anime list for the last decade, I surely wouldn’t have believed you but here we are. Yuuki Yuuna’s second season might only be six episodes long and require a read of NoWaYu beforehand yet its well-paced and inherently human approach to telling a short story about believing in mankind and not shouldering the weight of the world on your shoulders alone but prioritizing your own happiness as well ring all the truer in times as troubled as these. Sometimes, it is both a relief and moment of well-deserved catharsis to know that a work as intrinsically positive as this exists.
23. Umineko no Naku Koro ni
Well, it didn’t take me long to start with a controversial pick that will easily make people choose the “He picked THAT over my critically acclaimed darling? I can’t take him seriously anymore!!” route and yada, yada, yada, you know the drill. Anyway, I’ve watched both the anime and have read the VN (and own a lot of manga volumes) and I liked them both. Eat it, nerds. Yes, it’s true that the Umineko anime does not look particularly good. It also cut too much in its time constraints, leading to somewhat thinner characterization but also a lot of fluff (especially Tsurupettan and the dumb meme flag counter battle) being gone. What remains, however, is ridiculously strong. The mere concept of the blue truth and red truth is ingenious and so is using reoccurring And Then There Were None horror scenarios with unreliable narrator fantasy battles as a base for mystery discussions on a meta plane and like that, Umineko kept me on the edge of my seat with its weekly guessing and theorizing. If there ever was a Chiru anime, an adaptation like this trimming the absolutely awful pacing would probably improve upon the material.
22. Hourou Musuko
Hourou Musuko is about a topic that I technically couldn’t care less about but executed it so perfectly that didn’t really matter. Something very prevelant on this list. The power of good execution can boost any premise. Anyway, this is an anime that treats its subject matter with all the grace you could ask for and doesn’t turn it into a political essay but a personal story. As young teenagers find themselves uncertain of where life will take them or what gender they adhere to, puberty and self-realization find themselves in a very tasteful story that only shows us a very brief glimpse into their lives – a rite of passage the outside world could not understand so to speak – to give us an idea of the steps they walk not in unison but far away from it.
21. Vinland Saga
Vinland Saga is why Twin Engine as a spiritual successor to noitaminA is a great creation from Koji Yamamoto. It’s a critically acclaimed manga with all the writing prowess once could ask for. However, it is saddening that its visual execution was, barring some exceptions, relatively pedestrian and uninspired. Which is not to say that no care went into the overall product. The select anime original additions and changes, while at first acting a bit as a deterrent, clearly enhanced the experience, presenting a rounder story with a stronger thematic core that went to show that this is an adaptation that understands the original at heart and rounding off the conclusion of the prologue was a very good decision. Vinland Saga functions as both a brutal character journey through a lawless world and a morality play and it did one hell of a good job at both of these as it told its engrossing story. I am looking forward to season 2.
20. Girls’ Last Tour
Girls’ Last Tour is CGDCT slice of life done right. Yet within Yuuri’s and Chi’s travel of survival throughout a desolate, failing world, a lot of substance can be found, not unlike Pale Cocoon. It’s an anime that is fundamentally low-key while also being high concept. It boasts a great OST and is well directed too – not all too surprising with the Hiroshi Hamasaki affiliates on board. The presentation of Girls’ Last Tour is so interlinked with its writing it feels wrong to even mentally separate them: when Yuuri and Chi stare into the sunset of a dying land as their radio plays a melancholic melody, you experience what they experience. I feel like this is the perfect example of an anime that understands its source material and at the very least, the original author herself believed so as well, even going as far as animating the ending herself. There are many scenes so inherently moving and human that I will keep this one warmly in mind for a long time.
19. Samurai Flamenco
Samurai Flamenco is, against what most anime fans would say, an exceedingly clever show and certainly a unique one. It’s a love letter to tokusatsu, cruising through the several different interpretations of the superhero genre through its various arcs while always staying true to its characters and themes. Its snappy and witty writing knows plenty of self-satirizing humor yet never becomes cynical and self-deprecating. It’s an anime that’s insane but in quite the methodical way – it’s fun and, even if it may not seem like it, ambitious throughout the journey, which is a love letter to its genre. It’s not for everyone and that much is obvious when writer Murata stated that he did not know what love means yet protagonist Masayoshi found out regardless at the very end. Clearly that must be the most super thing about our hero and a miracle in itself.
18. Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu
DenYuuDen is one of the first good fantasy light novel adaptations I’ve seen and in a day and age when garbage like OreImo and Infinite Stratos were the hot rage, this sadly went under. What a shame that is! DenYuuDen boasts interesting characters in a bloody yet not too dark fantasy setting, Jun Fukuyama going batshit insane and some nice music to add to the mix. The intricate friendship between Ryner and Sion put to test as political intricacies and the struggle for the greater good complicate their relationship as it becomes very obvious that Ryner as a potential ticking time bomb still sticks out as impressive to me till this day. Such a massive shame this went by ignored and never received a second season.
17. Fune wo Amu
Fune wo Amu is, essentially, a character-focused drama done right. It also very much exemplifies the best of traditional noitaminA anime aimed at a tendentially more female audience. Its premise of creating a dictionary might seem outlandish. Yet putting language into words and giving them meaning – archiving all of that is an ardeous, unrewarding task that not many know to appreciate; but it’s within this herculean undertaking where these characters redefine themselves and find something they can sternly believe in. After all, what is more beautiful than a life dedicated to fulfilling the ambitions of your one true passion? As such, Fune wo Amu might not first and foremost be a show about creating a dictionary but an ode to following one’s dreams, no matter how harsh and enduring the road might be. And can’t we all sort of relate to that?
16. C – Control – The Money Of Soul And Possibility
C is one of the most ambitious, unique and innovative anime I’ve ever seen and it’s helmed by none other than Kenji Nakamura, the man who had previously gone on a track record with Mononoke and Kuuchuu Buranko. Does it manage to live up to its predecessors? Probably not. But it’s certainly a far cry better than whatever came out of Nakamura’s washed up state thereafter. As such, C tells the story of economics student Yoga Kimimaro who is, simply put, poor. Life flows by him as his passive attitude is formed by the many constraints of not having money yet all of that is about to change as he is invited to the Financial District, a parallel world wherein entrepreneurs fight by use of assets, the personification of their future that is at stake in these battles. Drawing heavy inspiration from the financial crash, with the knowledge to boot that one wrong step could extinguish thousands of lives, C is existentialism put into a very fascinating battle format with magnificent directing and the best Taku Iwasaki OST to date, even if the writing doesn’t always stick the landing.
Parasyte certainly isn’t a well-directed anime but goes to show that it doesn’t necessarily take elevations to a source material to get a good anime made if the source material on its own is already quite good enough. I don’t think that the philosophical mumblejumble towards its end is more than a shallow afterthought but other than that, Parasyte’s writing carries it very far. It’s an utterly thrilling and completely exhilerating anime that doesn’t shy away from killing off characters in its horror-thriller story about man vs monster. With both being modernized adaptations of classics about mankind fighting the monsters dooming them, it’s not quite Devilman Crybaby and the modernization attempts succeed nowhere near as much with the female characters here as there but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly engaging.
14. Subete ga F ni Naru
A noitaminA mystery adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel with Mamoru Kanbe at the directing helm, Kenji Kawai composing and Asano Inio character designs? It doesn’t take long to figure out that this one is a winner. The writing here is smart, introspective and wordy and doesn’t shy away from being proud of these things. I never really understood the complaints about this one being pretentious. When a character starts brainstorming word associations with the color red and communism pops up in his mind, do we really need uneducated anime fans yelling “OMEGALUL HE SAID RED IS COMMUNISM”? But I digress. This is a good anime with well-realized characters, a thrilling mystery with a very original conclusion and a lot to say on the thematic front.
13. Giant Killing
Giant Killing is, compared to others on this list, a very straightforward sport anime centered around soccer. But that is not to its detriment. It does what other sports anime do but does it so well I can’t fault it for it – quite on the contrary. Giant Killing is as thrilling as Kaiji except with only a fraction of the mind games. Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Giant Killing keeps things fresh by not centering itself around wunderkind teenagers but grown adults who are just not very good at soccer – but in comes Tatsumi, the cool and unorthodox coach hired to fix just that. These characters are likable, the faceoffs, production volumes be damned, an absolute blast to follow and I will no doubt check out the manga one day; if it ever properly finishes, that is.
12. ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
ACCA is, for the lack of a better description, a beautiful low-key experience on every single front as it follows thoroughly charming and interesting characters through a not less charming and interesting world. ACCA is a coherent, aesthetical package that unifies the strength of the medium in so many ways. Its political intrigue is decent enough but of second nature to its gorgeous visual realization of character designs, background art, nuanced music and impeccable character writing as you’re used to from Natsume Ono. And, not to mention, it turns the fetishization of bread to the forefront like you haven’t seen elsewhere. Can’t fault this one for dedication, eh? The twitter account is still active even. ACCA is lovely and both its fans and creators know it. And you should too!
UN-GO is the kind of unorthodox mystery story that I love: It’s unconventional and exceedingly intelligent; it mixes magic with mystery and does so well; it’s a post-war story adapted from a book dealing with the aftermath of the second world war… put into futuristic Japan, proving that its messages and themes are timeless. Mizushima of OG Fullmetal Alchemist fame calls it his masterpiece and who am I to disagree? UN-GO intelligently combines the aspect of solving murder mysteries with the question of if it’s better to know the harsh truth or live with a constructed reality that will keep peace and stability intact. Yuuki Shinjurou is a sole individual in his relentless pursuit of the truth – be it the truth hidden within a government conspirancy or the human heart itself. Kaisho Rinroku meanwhile believes that the ends justify the means and won’t hesitate to entangle a public in the spiderweb of lies for the greater good. As these people lead their very own wars, their believes are drawn to the forefront; and that, ultimately, is the appeal of UN-GO.
10. Death Parade
When Yuzuru Tachikawa gave us the very excellent Death Billiards as part of the Young Animator Training Project lineup, I was ecstatic – it is among the very best a oneshot story could offer. When there was an announcement of the TV project, I can still remember vividly the dopamine rush that caused my brain to have. Could Death Parade follow suit or would its TV structure become too overbearing on its premise? Turns out yes and no: Death Parade was just as good as Death Billiards (which is recommended to watch beforehand) and transitioned just about right into its longer format by taking its initial premise and holding it under a critical lense. Death Parade is high stakes existentialism put into a very servicable, audiovisually highly competent package; something that certainly couldn’t be said of Deca-Dance many years later.
9. Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru
This is the story of university students picking up the sport of running a marathon. Or rather, being made to pick it up. And alongside the high-speed, never-ending way, discovering so many things about themselves and their lives. It might be a stretch but KazeTsuyo feels a bit like a The Tatami Galaxy of sports anime. It is an absolute marvel in its genre with fleshed out, highly realized characters. These are young students with dreams and ambitions on their down, all of them having their own inner conflicts and the emotional high a viewer can feel when a character quits smoking or finds new hope in his ruthless job application process is outstanding. It’s also from the author of Fune wo Amu and this one, dare I say it, is even better. The mountains of Hakone are, after all, the steepest in the world.
8. Hellsing Ultimate
Hellsing Ultimate is a murder mania of vampire war fiction that took entirely too long to get finished but it was worth the entire wait. This is an anime that boasts an utterly fantastic audiovisual execution that understands the appeal to a gory fireworks show. Its writing is razor-sharp and impactful, its main characters range from charming to iconic and its villain gallery is incredibly memorable from designs, to fights, to personalities. Not only does Hellsing Ultimate boast with a protagonist who is genuinely frightening, it also features one of the best antagonists in any kind of media. The major and his obsession with war and humanity is a quote machine and elevates an already unforgettable action anime to another level. This is chuuni and coolness done right, down to a T. These are clashes of characters with different philosophies for the ages.
7. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
A shounen classic for a reason. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is excellently produced from start to finish, a visual milestone for shounen anime for sure essentially. And its auditive support is no less noteworthy. Yet it’s not just the presentation that stands out as FMA: B packs rocksolid characters the audience becomes inherently connected with as their human struggle and search for an answer to their problems leads them throughout an entire country of alchemists with a group of formidable antagonists stacked against them. It’s the unraveling of the mysteries behind their country, the thriller aspect and political elements that give the heartfelt shounen story an additional edge in its excellent writing that doesn’t revolutionize shounen storytelling but executes its strengths sublimely – and sees what is a long and cathartic journey to an emotionally laden, well-deserved conclusion.
6. Hunter x Hunter 2011
The only other fighting shounen on this list and one place ahead of FMA: B. And ironically, these are stories that feel fundamentally different. For quite a long time, HxH doesn’t excel in its presentation – the brutal naturalism of the manga’s Hunter Exam arc is substituted by garish colors and loud noises in its adaptation and it takes time for HxH to settle for a proper tone. But once it does, the true colors of Hunter x Hunter unveil: which is to say it is a marvel of intelligent writing constructing engaging stories that vary on an arc-by-arc basis. When your story centered around collecting cards in a video game moves several high stakes subplots forward at once while still feeling like a fun adventure that you’d love to have an MMO of, when your story about beating ants turns into a character study mixed into a multi-perspective war employing various strategems, leading to a commentary on the evil of mankind so real and raw and when your election subplot combines the inhumanity of politics with the personal humanity of seeking to save a life – that’s when you know that a story delivers on so many different fronts with absolute dominance.
5. Devilman Crybaby
Even in the midst of an age where Yuasa became a diluted non-visionarie, he can still deliver. And surprisingly, with Ohkouchi as a writer to boot, adapting a manga that I am less than fond of. But that didn’t stop them from transporting the classic that is Devilman to a modern era, keeping its guro-esque charme and shock effects fresh and making its story on mankind ring not hollow. It’s one of those rare works of fiction that completely escalate and only get better as they go on – the symbolism poignant, the message clear as day and relevant as it can be. These are characters whose lives you fear for and whose ambitions, inner conflicts and thematical relevancy you can understand. I’d say it’s a mixture of Yuuki Yuuna S2, Parasyte and Shinsekai Yori, so if that’s your thing or “Yuasa’s closest work to Kemonozume” sounds promising to you, give the one striking Netflix anime a go.
4. Shinsekai Yori
It’s ashaming that easily digestable and pretentious dystopic works like PSYCHO-PASS get all the fanfare yet works like this and Texhnolyze receive fewer voices of praise. Which is not to say that Shinsekai Yori is an underground work or entirely unknown – it’s been a critics’ darling for the most part for quite a while now and who could I blame for that? It’s experimental in style, from single cuts of Jun Arai’s to entire Shigeyasu Yamauchi episodes with animation directing in stark contrast to the rest of the show. Its kagenashi optics serve the anime well, the imagery and directing are Ishihama’s greatest yet, the soundtrack is decisive in its execution and the writing understands very well how to use effective build-up to slowly but surely reveal the existential horrors of its setting, culminating in an incredible finale that burns itself into your memory.
3. Ping Pong – The Animation
Masaaki Yuasa adapting a critically acclaimed Taiyou Matsumoto manga for the noitaminA timeslot. It doesn’t get much better than this, does it? Which is not to say that Ping Pong’s production was without hiccups – the schedule was insane, with Yuasa doing episode directing for every single episode. But none of that hurt the ambitious imagery and humanity on display added to the source material’s writing. Take Kong’s ping pong ball being stuck in the net representing his chance at a flight home being gone or the Christmas party as he learns to grow fond of those around him whereas winner in ping pong yet loser in life Smile has none of the likes. Add to that the remarkable Kensuke Ushio soundtrack and the already excellent baseline writing and you have a story that’s not just about Ping Pong but the heart that beats inside your chest and breathes life into your living.
2. Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra
Nothing about Tatakau Shishou sounds particularly awe-inspiring on paper. Nobody knew who David Production was back then and there’s little in the presentation outside of its stylish openings that is memorable. Red Data Girl’s director and Mari Okada adapting a fantasy light novel from then still unknown Ishio Yamagata (Rokka no Yuusha) doesn’t sound appealing either. Its first episode is about characters with unappealing designs on a CG boat when CG was still really infamous with anime fans. And yet, its multi-perspective, arc-based story in a dark fantasy setting about the deceased being turned into books with a fantastical war between armed librarians and the governing church is an incredibly compelling drama that doesn’t pull punches and goes far beyond genre conventions. This really is one of those anime that people absolutely missed out on, flexing both the variety and strength of writing fiction can and should have. Much like how every book represents a person’s life, this was a story worth telling.
1. Saraiya Goyou
Here’s a character study for the ages. Natsume Ono is a household name for well-written josei manga and their adaptations, think Ristorante Paradiso and the above-mentioned ACCA. Yet it is Saraiya Goyou, an adaptation of a struggling ronin’s story as he unwillingly joins a group of thieves and kidnappers, that mark her best work in animated form. The writing is to give a lot of credit for but so is the absolutely phenomenal OST, the unique and charming background art and the voice actors’ reserved but determined performances in giving this work its special edo-period atmosphere. Not to mention Mochizuki’s directing performance excelling at this kind of anime, from the already good Zettai Shounen to the excellent melancholic and calm yet intense when necessary directing of Saraiya Goyou. Character-written anime don’t get better than this and it’s almost impossible to believe that this was an adaptation of an ongoing manga, with an original conclusion. That is just about how cohesive this gem is.
And that was it from my side of things. As always, make sure to not take any specific ranking preferences too seriously as I am positive if I went back to redo this one, I’d end up with a somewhat different result. Sometimes, it really comes down to comparing apples and oranges and making rather arbitrary decisions.
Now go complain in the comment section as for what you would have rather seen here. You’re probably wrong but traffic and user engagement are nice metrics to have and I really care about those numbers, by which I of course mean your valuable opinions. Truly.