Unpopular Opinion: My Top 50 Anime of Decade

On the one hand I’m kind of excited to do this because this was the first decade of anime where I was really into it.  I’ve watched plenty of older shows but I didn’t really dive head first into anime fandom until 2011 so this is the first time I get to make such a list.  On the other hand I’m pretty terrible at coming up scores and rankings so I’m going to totally half ass this by just going in alphabetical order because sorting them any other way is a huge pain in the ass outside of the top or bottom 3-5.  As for the rules of this list, I’m not including any sequels unless they’re sequels to shows who haven’t had a sequel/season since the last decade, and for any shows which started in this decade and had sequels and/or spin-offs those are included when discussing the show listed.  As far as what this means in a practical sense is that Gintama, which I’m hundred of episodes behind on anyway, and the Monogatari franchise will not be on this list despite the fact I’m a huge Monogatari fan.  Let’s get to it and there will be spoilers.

 

1 – Aggretsuko

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I’ve always found anime shorts to be very hit or miss and Aggretsuko hit me at just the right time.  I had recently moved and was several months into a job I utterly hated but needed to stick with for the paycheck when I stumbled upon Aggretsuko, sitting there conveniently on Netflix alongside the few normie shows I watch.  And goddamn was Aggretsuko satisfying.  It was like Dilbert (I’m a fan), Hello Kitty (not a fan), and Detroit Metal City (huge fan) all had a baby.  The episode 7 climax, which frankly should have been the end of season 1 because the short romance arc sucked, was the most cathartic moment in anime for that year.  Retsuko just going full ham on her boss after his own surprisingly impressive battle rap, was glorious and perfectly encapsulated how I was feeling towards my own management types at the time.  Season 2 actually went more on the romance side of things but gave it time to breathe and gain some depth, making it much more dramatic, interesting and emotional than the weak, short romance arc of season 1.  I personally still prefer season 1 episodes 1-7 but it was a good time overall and a must watch it if you’re feeling at all fed up with your job and/or management at the job.

 

2 – Arslan Senki

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I’ve already written about both seasons of Arslan Senki before but for a an overview it’s something pretty rare in anime, a good history/historical fantasy not set in Japan.  It’s got a very believable world full of different nations, ethnic groups, religions, social systems, internal and external political struggles with just a hint of fantasy elements.  It maintains a large cast of memorable characters with mostly striking designs and spends a good time developing some of them with significant character arcs.  It also has a fair amount of action to break up the long periods of travel and political intrigue (which means standing around and talking) and while the action is usually nothing special there a few fights that are genuinely impressive.  The political gambits of all the characters and factions make sense and are believably messy and Arslan in particular grows in interesting ways while still maintaining the generally soft-spoken and compassionate nature which rests at his core.  It’s an all around solid choice for anyone who enjoys historical anime and is sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.

 

3 – Back Street Girls: Goku Dolls

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Jesus Fucking Christ.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of or watched this one it’s about 3 yakuza guys who fuck up and are forced to undergo a sex change and plastic surgery before forming an idol group, the Goku Dolls, to make their boss money.  And it’s hilarious.  The animation is deliberately hideous with some truly disgusting facial expressions and unusual tricks, like overlaying the inner man face on the outwardly girly head, to add shock value and overdramatic tension to the scene.  What really makes it work though is that our hot blooded yakuza guys are just as, if not more emotional and dramatic than actual teenage girls.  This leads to some great running gags, like the anti-Goku Dolls club, the ridiculous American gangster who visits from time to time, or anytime the Goku Dolls are on TV or Radio.  Their boss is flippant and casually cruel but in a way that’s darkly funny rather than edgy.  This show always has me dying of laughter with it’s genderbent comedy and cruel and ridiculous antics.  Well worth your time if you can handle the ugliness of the show and fucked up humor.

 

4 – Bakuon

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I’m hardly much a cute girls do x fan most of the time but Bakuon was one of the few that really connected with me.  It’s about a bunch of cute girls into motorcycles and while I have no serious interesting in motorcycles, they capture the kind of people who make up any fandom with consummate skill.  There’s the idiot who get roped in and ends up loving it, the hardcore fan of the off brand/brand that the majority looks down on, the elitist snob, the rich kid who’s somewhat interested before diving in, and the die hard fan who’s fucking great at the hobby.  In Bakuon’s case it’s girl equivalent of the Stig and she’s great because she appears to be an unaging immortal figure who hardcore motorcyclists and mechanics all over Japan know about and revere.  It’s cute, it’s fun, it occasionally slides into fanservice but mostly stays in a comedic lane, involving such bizarre scenarios as a sentient bike that can communicate with the rider telepathically, the genius young racer who basically can’t drive outside of racing scenarios, and meeting Jesus and fighting for the existence of motorcycles against a theoretical timeline where humanity decides motorcycles are more dangerous than they are valuable.  It’s great fun without being as extreme as most of the comedies that I really love.

 

5 – Beelzebub

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I imagine that for most anime fans the action/comedy go to is Gintama.  And fair enough Gintama is great, but I got started with Beelzebub and it’s my go to for this genre.  It’s a battle comedy set in school full of cartoonishly delinquent punks with a main character ending up as the host of the devil’s second son, the baby Beelzebub.  It’s biggest weakness is that the gags in the earliest episodes are the most repetitive and the story takes a couple episodes of bullshitting around to get going but once it gets going it’s well worth the short wait.  The scenario’s and enemy characters are ridiculous, the cast is enormous and highly memorable with a ton of unique designs.  Most of the characters are hilariously dumb or otherwise so quirky as to constantly make fools out of themselves, while the straight man is constantly shit on.  Beelzebub is the show that really endeared me to the ultra aggressive attitude and specialized speech used by punks and yakuza characters.  I don’t know why but I really do love Japanese punk-speak and the attitude that goes with it.  Beelzebub is a great juxtaposition of the cool and the utterly ridiculous involving awesome battle scenes with people who can shatter concrete with a wooden sword and punch people so hard they get stuck in walls, and in perhaps my favorite scenario, a bunch of punks, most of know are total video game noobs, all trying to work together in a CoD knock off to find the location of a demon.  There is a special kind of joy that can only come from the stupid and the absurd and Beelzebub is one of the titans of stupid and absurd.  If that sounds at all up your alley you should watch it.

 

6 – Binbougami ga!

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I swear I’m not only talking about comedies on purpose, it’s not my fault most of my favorite comedies start with the same couple of letters.  Yet another especially stupid comedy this one is about a girl who is unfathomably lucky and constantly draining the luck of everyone around her – thus a goddess of misfortune is sent to take away her excess luck.  Hilarity ensues when our girl’s luck is in fact so strong she can compete with the goddess of misfortune on equal footing and does her damnedest to prevent her luck from being stolen.  Unlike with Beelzebub, Binbougami ga! actually has a surprisingly strong emotional side with character backstories and surprise scenarios that are more serious and severe than the tone of the show would usually suggest, with a strong underlying focus on family, fortune and isolation.  There are a ton of references to other anime and a strong pinch of perverse and potty humor, like the masochistic dog god who can transform based on how much pleasure he feels.  Whereas Beelzebub is almost pure absurdity, I think what makes Binbougami ga! special is the mix of absurd moments that make up most of the show and the serious emotional moments that are given all the more weight by straightforwardly the show handles them in comparison to its usual ridiculous self.  This is definitely one of my favorite comedies.

 

7 – Boku no Hero Academia

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And the normie in me finally bursts forth.  Not a relatively obscure comedy this time, no this is one of the big franchises that has dominated the decade.  One of the most beloved shounen anime, because no filler or any of the other problems that plagued the Big 3, this has been a smash hit all across the anime community.  It’s easy to get into, the characters have great or otherwise instantly memorable designs, this a show that took the well worn path and tropes of almost every major shounen series and then polished the fuck out of them.  For the most part I don’t think there are any unique ideas or character stories Boku no Hero Academia has in comparison to other shounen stories, but it has such a strong grasp of the fundamentals and executes them so well that it basically doesn’t matter.  There’s a large cast of lovable characters, some truly standout characters among them like Stain and All Might, great character stories about kids struggling with themselves and their idea of what it means to be a hero when confronted with the reality of what heroes often do, strong rivalries and some truly epic fight scenes.  Ironically season 1 of Boku no Hero Academia is probably the weakest with only 1 really hype battle scene and a lot of time spent establishing the characters and basics of the world.  Season 2 has one of the best tournament arcs in recent memory with excellent key battles in Deku vs Todoroki and Uraraka vs Bakugo.  And Stain is far and away the most interesting and intimidating villain in the show despite his relatively weak superpower.  His 3 episode battle arc with is some of the best Boku no Hero Academia has to offer.  And then we get to season 3 and *breathes deeply* the greatest shounen battle of the decade.  Make no mistake this is not an easy call to make between the Stain battle, Netero vs Merum and other HunterxHunter battles but for my money All Might vs All for One reigns supreme.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever made and one of only a handful of characters who really has the gravitas to capture the full appeal of the “legendary older figure” character that so many shounen shows feature.  Despite it’s relative brevity and total lack of complex tactics or powers the sheer passion, emotional impact and weight delivered in this fight are so overwhelming I’m literally tearing up as I write this particular bit.  I would be willing to bet no character ever created in any medium has ever done a better job epitomizing the idea of the traditional superhero – unbending spirit in the face of adversity, immense self sacrifice, victory against an overwhelming enemy, and a pillar in hearts of people everywhere.  This fight and All Might’s dialogue at the end is the pinnacle of what shounen has to offer.

 

8 – Date A Live

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There’s a special place in my heart for the rare harem show that isn’t the old To Love Ru style of harem nor the modern light novel, main gets all the girls with no effort harem.  And it so happens Date A Live is one of those harems.  I do not expect this to be on most people’s list especially since the genre’s main appeal leaves out quite a large portion of the anime fandom, but I love it and you’re looking at my list so deal with it.  Date A Live is genius in that all of it’s fanservice is a natural extension of story not a forced panty shot or accidental groping.  The whole point of the show is that our boy Shido has to woo the various Spirits so he can then seal their powers because if he doesn’t they will be targeted by a special branch of the military.  Let’s back up for a second.  In Date A Live there are Spirits, always girls, and wherever they come from when they come to and from Earth they cause what are called spacequakes, which function like balls of anti-matter that annihilate whatever they touch.  Their existence is not public knowledge and because of the spacequakes a specialized military unit is tasked with hunting down any Spirits that appear.  Spirits meanwhile have strong magical powers and are all but impossible to put down or even capture by conventional means.  Shido with his power to seal Spirit powers by kissing Spirits offers up a unique solution and the secret organization led by his adoptive sister wants to make use of him.  Because of this Date A Live has a lot more emphasis on romance and working through emotional and trust issues than it does with traditional misunderstandings and accidental pervert scenes or OP dudes winning girls over by being strong and usually nice.  Not to say that there isn’t the occasional swimsuit episode or ecchi scene but those are much rare than in most harems.  I prefer this approach and the Spirits look phenomenal both as humans and in their Regalia.  Best of all even after 3 seasons the story is nowhere near finished as malevolent human forces and certain untamed Spirits have added new dimensions to the story.  For all my dudes out there, if you wanted a harem show with something to get invested in besides anime tiddies this show is for you.

 

9 – Dororo

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Dororo was the undisputed king of the Winter 2019 season for me and it still was the show I looked forward to most each week as it continued airing into the Spring 2019 season.  A 50 year anniversary reboot of a classic Tezuka property, Dororo follows the story of Hyakkimaru, a young man of a noble lineage whose body was almost entirely sacrificed to demons in exchange to prosperity in his family’s region.  He’s on a quest to slay these demons and regain his bodyparts and is joined by the titular Dororo a young thief who helps him navigate the world and make a living while he hunts down the demons.  Dororo does not hold back on gore or violence with baby Hyakkikaru shown in full horrific detail, a baby with nothing but a skinless head and torso.  As for the drama, it writes itself especially once we meet Hyakkimaru’s little brother.  See with every demon he kills, Hyakkimaru gains back body parts, but also weakens the contract between his father and the demons, causing sudden calamities or otherwise weakening or eliminating usual blessings that have allowed his family’s region to prosper despite the harsh and chaotic time period.  The show poses you the following question, do you support Hyakkimaru, knowing that if he succeeds he will bring an entire region to ruin and hardship or do you support the family, who sacrificed their son and took his future away from him for the sake of the people?  Personally I sided with Hyakkimaru but I could easily see how some people who go against him because he is ruining the greater good.  Plot and drama aside, the action is intense, kinetic, brutal and well choreographed; some of the best action animation of the decade.  And a return to the older style of backgrounds  and characters with more a painted and hand-drawn look was a welcome breath of fresh in the face of the ever expanding use of CG to cut costs.  This is another great historical fantasy, genuinely one of the coolest shows I’ve ever watched, I highly recommend it.

 

10 – Fate Zero

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This is weird one for me to include because I’ve come to basically hate the Fate franchise even as it grows ever further in popularity, but it stays on the list because this is the only Fate show which really captures the conceptual appeal of Fate, before it gets ruined by visual novel harems, alternate roots and a million genderbent characters to make more waifus.  At this point most of Fate is much better as fap material than it is to capture the awesomeness of the Heroic Spirits, the Noble Phantasms and the Holy Grail War, i.e. the parts of Fate which are actually interesting when the hentai browsers are closed.  Fate Zero is one exception because it takes the good parts of Fate and the Nasuverse and cuts out Nasu’s character writing and replaces it with Urobuchi Gen writing.  It’s full of adults making adult decisions with a tons of strategy, secrecy, and dishonorable schemes in the face of the mostly honorably and proud Heroic Spirits themselves.  There’s plenty of dark bits and the whole conflict is ultimately a tragedy, a titanic struggle for a prize that was tainted and rendered useless but the journey to get their is the important part. It also features a much stronger ideological bent than any other Fate work, with the iconic Banquet of Kings scene, where Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, King Arthur discuss their views on what king should be, being the prime example.  The Heroic Spirits are generally well done and present interesting pairs with their various Masters.  It has some pacing problems but it’s visually stunning without being overdone the way I thought the Unlimited Bladeworks tv anime was.  The effects from the magic and magical weapons are especially good.  If you’re interested in Fate but don’t know where to start, start with Fate Zero and never watch another one.   The lore is also least confusing in Fate Zero so that’s another plus.  All said I do think this show has dropped pretty sharply in my estimation from when I first discovered it, but it is the best of a now very popular franchise and it’s still strong enough to merit being on this list.

 

11 – Gakkogurashi

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This is Madoka Magica of “cute girls doing x” shows and far and away the most interesting thing to happen to that particular sub-genre in the entire decade.  It takes place during a zombie apocalypse that is so traumatizing to one of the main girls’ mind literally breaks down and she lives her daily life under the delusion that everything is fine.  Surprisingly though this is kind of saving grace for the other girls because it allows them to find non-stressful, non-serious tasks, rules and objectives to pad out what would otherwise be a bleak if not utterly hopeless future.  The show delivers on cuteness, shenangians and some of the scariest and most traumatic zombie scenes I have ever seen.  The teacher zombie in particular is fucking terrifying, made all the more so because of just how much she meant to some of the girls.  There does also seem to be something of a larger game afoot as one of the girls details but that doesn’t really get addressed in this season, this is mainly about surviving with their sanities mostly intact and making the most of their now restricted and dangerous lives.  All in all an excellent dark but not grimdark spin on the usual cute girls show, well worth your time.

 

12 – Gatchaman Crowds

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I talked about this in a different post but I cannot stress enough how, despite Boku no Hero Academia being a hype machine and a beloved show, I still believe Gatchaman Crowds and it’s sequel are the most interesting superhero anime in existence.  I did previously say best superhero anything but I have had to amend that because I read Worm and now stop whatever you’re doing and read that, then come back here.  Gatchaman Crowds takes a very different approach to superheroes making the central thrust of it’s character and story arc less about how to be a good hero and rather asking some pointed questions about what it even means to be hero and what kind of heroes would be best for society.  Likewise the villains of the show are less conventional supervillains and more reflections of humanity’s or perhaps societies’ own worst impulses.  It also features Hajime, who is just heaps of fun and a deceptively sharp and dedicated character for someone so openly air-headed, playful and bubbly.  I dig the Gatchaman transformations, they did put me off at first but they’ve grown on me a lot especially with how distinct each is.  The colors and character designs completely leap of the screen and visually it’s quite impressive.  Again though what really sets Gatchaman Crowds apart has more to do with it’s approach and questions posed regarding heroes, villains, society and human nature.  Most superhero properties don’t ask a lot of the viewer besides a suspension of disbelief, Gatchaman Crowds goes a lot further and expects the audience to keep up.  It’s advanced and heady without being overly difficult to follow or ever going up it’s own ass in an attempt to be clever.  Both seasons are very well put together with solid character arcs, tight stories and interesting themes.  A seriously good time, cannot recommend highly enough.

 

13 – Gi(a)rlish Number

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This is every anime cynic’s secret delight.  A fun show that mocks how some of the shittiest anime in existence get made while the fools behind all of the terrible decisions cackle away as they hatch their next cashgrab scheme.  There’s also plenty of  not so veiled criticisms of the anime industry itself, as well as the portrayal of the sad truths about how marketing often does not get along with or give a flying fuck about the art it’s using to generate revenue.  It’s mostly funny because of just how much of a terrible, entitled brat our main girl Chitose is, in comparison to the other characters and how the anime being made in the show is so obviously terrible and ultimately a failure.  There’s also a strong dramatic element to the show with certain character arcs peeling back the curtain to show the frustrations of the people trying to make a living in the anime industry and how difficult that can be both from all kinds of angles.  Chitose herself is not forgiven for being a lazy, entitled piece of shit (I mean that in a good way, she’s great fun to watch), and the show really leans into the drama later on.  I think it ultimately has the best of both worlds with large chunks of the show being funny, mocking and biting for anyone frustrated with various aspects of the anime industry, breaking up the serious dramatic arcs that really get you invested in the characters long term.  Gi(a)rlish Number is great fun, a must watch for any anime cynic.

 

14 – Golden Time

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There comes a time in every anime fan’s life when they want to see a good romance, and most of reviewers point to Toradora as a good place to start.  Fair enough, I liked Toradora quite a bit – then I saw Golden Time and it redefined what a good romance anime was for me.  Seriously, I kind of find Toradora insufferable now because Golden Time is that much better.  Our lad Banri here is a college student and though it’s not immediately apparent he’s actually suffering from amnesia after he got hit by a motorcycle upon graduating high school.  And this will be a factor later especially since it turns out the girl he was hella crushing on in high school is now senpai at his college (he’s a grade or two behind because of time spent in the hospital).  Our lady Koko meanwhile is so obnoxious in her displays of love that she would, and does, drive most men up the wall, and it’s really only by the grace of Banri being such an unflappable go with the flow kind of guy most of the time that he ends up being a good fit for her.  The fact that these characters are in college instead of high school is a saving grace for the show because they aren’t treated like children.  They can get drunk, they can go to sketchy clubs to make a quick buck or do stupid things, they can drive and they actually have reasons to be mostly living alone.  When parents do get involved they don’t treat the main cast like kids except as a means of insulting their lack of maturity or bad decision-making.  There’s a lot of freedom that comes with being a college student as opposed to a high school student and Golden Time makes the most of it.  Ironically what makes it such a good romance though are the strong emotional and dramatic thru lines of Banri’s character and his amnesia and what that means for his various relationships.  To this day I haven’t found a romance I liked more than Golden Time, I strongly recommend it to everyone, fans of the genre or no.

 

15 – High School of the Dead

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Two words, Matrix Boobs.  For that scene – which I will never in my life forget – alone, HOTD had to be on this list. It’s a goofy, fun zombie show where everything seems ridiculous and over the top to the audience but is played seriously from the perspective of the people in the world.  Also HOTD milked the shit out of hot anime girls with big anime tiddies  and uh… no man has a right to complain about that.  In all seriousness HOTD is very fun, it has kinetic, frantic action, the mass death that all zombie films are famous for and a solid cast of fun characters with various hang ups they have to work through during the zombie apocalypse.  I consider this show something of an anime  right of passage, make it through HOTD with a smile on your face and you’ll find a lot to enjoy in anime, if it’s too crude or perverted and the like for you this may not the medium you’re looking for.

 

16 – Hoozuki no Reitetsu

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I don’t expect this to be many people’s lists but this was a go to for me when it came time to just chill and have some laughs.  The story, not that there really is one follows the cold, ruthlessly efficient secretary of the king of Hell as he goes along dealing Hell’s various problems.  It’s generally funny but not laugh out loud funny, maybe more of snickering or snorting funny.  There’s a massive cast of characters with pretty excellent designs, good use of color and just random bizarre demon shit like the big fish flower things you see all over the place.  I have great deal of interest in folklore and mythology and while I don’t consider this show an at all serious take on Japanese folklore, having the folklore creatures as characters and Hell as a backdrop added a lot of flavor to a show that was mostly very relaxed.  For most anime fans the relaxing stuff are moe shows or something along the lines of Flying Witch, for me it’s Hoozuki no Reitetsu.  It’s fun but not too fun, there’s lot of characters and random shit to keep track but not an overwhelming amount of details and nothing’s ever confusing.  I adore the overall look of the show and some running gags or characters (Zashiki Warashi ftw), but I’m mostly here to relax and enjoy the random happenings of demons going about their day.

 

17 – Houseki no Kuni

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Certainly one of the more interesting anime of the decade with its use of, wait for it, good CG and unique setting I found Houseki no Kuni to be utterly fascinating.  The gems all have great designs, the world is mysterious and memorable, and the entire show really pops of the screen with it’s excellent color choices.  The fights are solid, with lots of emphasis on movement as opposed to heavy impact hits and the enemies are some of the strangest you’ll find in a given anime.  The story and it’s main character Phos though are what really makes Houseki no Kuni shine.  Phos is one of the most fragile of all of the Gems and unlike the other fragile Gems she doesn’t have a lick of combat ability.  Despite the fact she unarguably the weakest and most useless amongst all the Gems she still has a strong desire to help but can’t get any of her fellow Gems to really guide her.  However she has two great strengths as a character, she’s by far the most inquisitive of the Gems and her very weakness allows her to evolve the fastest.  The Gems are largely creatures of permanence, they can live seemingly forever with aging, they can’t actually die even if their entire body is shattered, and they have only one predator to worry about.  Because Phos is so very weak anytime she loses a part of herself she can replace it with almost any mineral or metal, whereas most of the Gems can only be connected with their old parts.  This does have a cost as every time Phos loses part of her original form she loses memories, but her core character doesn’t really change.  Even as she gets strong enough to fight alongside the other Gems she remain highly inquisitive, and is the driving force of any change in the story.  It’s a very unique show well a great main character and an entrancing setting, well worth you’re time even if you’re dubious about the CG.

 

18 – HunterxHunter (2011)

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One of the most highly praised shounen series, HunterxHunter is definitely a cut above most of its contemporaries.  Despite being among the longest running shows of the decade it has none of production issues we all remember from the Big 3 and is unique in it’s approach to it’s main characters, who rather than aiming to become the best there is are kind of exploring for it’s own sake with simple goals in mind.  Gon and Killua are usually treated more like side characters in any given conflict, they play a role, they’re present but they are rarely if ever the deciding factor in the conflict.  Even as they get substantially stronger over the course of the show they always have a long way to go with enemies who remain light years ahead of them in strength.  Nen is arguably the most in-depth and creative power system ever made and I absolutely love it with all of it’s individuality and nuances.  Beyond the qualities that make it unique HunterxHunter is much like Boku no Hero Academia in that it’s mastery of genre fundamentals is part of what makes it so good.  It too has hype tournament arcs, impressive battle scenes and one of the biggest individual battles of the decade in Isaac Netero vs Meruem.  HunterxHunter also hold nothing back, with sudden and brutal deaths, injuries and crushing failures shown as early as the first phase of the Hunter Exam, which was an impressively long introduction to the colorful, varied and highly detailed world of HunterxHunter.  If you haven’t watched it you should, don’t be intimidated by the episode count, this is absolutely worth your time.

 

19 – Katanagatari

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This ranks as one of my favorite shows of all time.  It’s historical fantasy anime set in a theoretical timeline of Japanese history where certain forces which supposedly could have existed in our own history are pushed into existence by a shadowy figure known as Shikizaki Kiki, who incidentally created the 12 magic swords our heroes need to gather.  The art style is literally my favorite in all of anime, with excellent character designs, color choices and a stylized world.  The various locations our characters visit are distinct and exciting, from isolated mountain temples, to frozen wastes, to lands destroyed by desertification.  There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.  Unlike typical anime Katanagatari takes place over 12 45min episodes and features a lot of dialogue as the basic routine of each episode is that Togame, who was tasked with collecting Kiki’s swords, first tries to negotiate for them and when that inevitably fails the bodyguard she had to travel to a remote island to recruit, Yasuri Shichika, fights the owner for the sword.   Shichika is particularly fascinating character in that he’s grown up on an island with only his sister and father for company and been taught to think of himself as a weapon not a person.  This is because his family has the unique Kyotoryuu, a martial art that mimics swordsmanship allowing him to cut people and parry blades with his bare hands.  I think his sister is actually the most interesting character in the show as I detailed elsewhere, but for the sake of brevity I won’t discuss her.  For a show with such a focus on an inevitable between highly skilled foes and their uniquely unusual weapons the fight scenes are often quite brief.  They are awesomely well animated and highly impactful but if you came here for lots of action, you might be disappointed.  Katanagatari is very much a character study with a focus on how our main characters change over the course of their year long journey, how they view each other, what ideologies they encounter among their foes and what parts of themselves they can’t actually let go of.  The season finale is one of the best episodes of anime ever made.  Katanagatari probably isn’t for everyone but for those it’s for, you will not find anything else quite like it and you owe to yourself to give it a try.

 

20 – Kekkai Sensen

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Kekkai Sensen was some of the most fun I had with anime this decade.  It’s world is absolute chaos as humans, aliens, demons and every kind of creature you can think of are all crammed into a portion of New York.  In direct contrast to Katangatari, Kekkai Sensen is a show for whom dialogue means fairly little and instead survives on lots of bombastic action and just the sheer craziness of the setting.  The characters are generally goofier but there are some surprisingly emotional and dramatic stories interwoven into what is usually a dumb action show with an emphasis on fairly unique visuals.  Kekkai Sensen’s biggest downside is that the season 1 climax is not very good and when it was currently airing we had to wait long after the season for said climax.  Season 2 mostly swept that under the rug though and continued Kekkai Sensen as usual.  This is mostly wacky, goofy and fun but there are some truly legendary frames as the team behind Kekkai Sensen tried all kinds of visual tricks – personally the thermo-vision cut of Zapp’s boner when he hears about this chick he’s been hitting on being interested in him, as he wipes out a particularly dangerous monster takes the cake for me.  And if that doesn’t get your interest/attention maybe Kekkai Sensen isn’t for you.  You should try it though, it’s great fun.

 

21 – Kill la Kill

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Every couple of years or so there comes a show, which while not being quite the big tent pole show that dominates the decade, is nonetheless massively influential and often more beloved by hardcore anime fans than the tent pole shows.  The first of these I remember popping up in the 2010s was Kill la Kill.  I love Kill la Kill, I love it so much I think it’s better than Gurren fucking Lagann regardless of the fact the general consensus is the other way around.  Ryuuko is in the running for my favorite anime girl of all time, not that Satsuki isn’t impressive or Mako lovably adorable, but Ryuuko’s attitude, look, style and general approach to life is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread and her synergy with Senketsu makes it probably the best pairing in the entire show, the hilarity of the Mako and Gamagoori shipping be damned.  When Kill la Kill first aired there was a lot pushback because of the “fanservice” and inconsistent animation, but I believe those have been rightly argued down at this point.  Nudity as authenticity and vulnerability is a major theme throughout Kill la Kill – of course the girls will end up nearly naked as a result, and honestly if all you can focus after the first few transformations is the amount of skin showing maybe that’s a you problem not a show problem.  I like fanservice as much as the next guy but there’s so much going on visually in Kill la Kill, and so many half naked fight scenes that at some point you kinda stop caring about the fact the girls are half naked and focus on what’s actually happening.  Likewise the sudden and bizarre animation shifts are indeed stylistic choices to make the show pop off the screen and be all the more memorable.  Suddenly shifting styles to capture the unique voice of many different animators also happens to something of a penchant for the director, Hiroyuki Imaishi.  As for what makes Kill la Kill so damn good?  Well the action is some of the most gloriously over the top, kinetic and well animated you’ll find.  The characters are likewise insanely over the top in pursuit of their various ideals and everyone has some of the most memorable designs in anime history.  The music is absolutely amazing and you will find nothing else like it visually.  That is to say you can really see how much heart was put into this and it paid off.  Kill la Kill is one of the greatest anime of all time and if you’ve somehow missed it, go watch it – like right this second if possible.

 

22 – Kimetsu no Yaiba

Kimetsu no Yaiba

I’ll be honest I was really struggling about whether or not to put Kimetsu no Yaiba on this list.  Between Zenitsu and it’s relatively weak position compared to HunterxHunter and Boku no Hero Academia, I wasn’t sure it merited making the list.  Then I remembered two things, Nezuko and Episode 19.  Nezuko is probably the greatest little sister character to ever exist, with her adorable bamboo muzzle, cute little grunts and pats, the simplified eyes during some scenes to maker her extra cute, the fact she’s carried around in a box or basket most of the time, and her ability to change sizes and achieve peak meme status as smol Nezuko are all in her favor.   The fact that she can kick demon demon heads off and turn her blood into striking pinkish red fire is just a bonus.  To be slightly more serious for a second, it’s both the focus on and depth of the familial bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko that give this show wings beyond it’s generic premise and indeed what makes the climatic battle of episode 19 so powerful.  It’s all about the power of family, it takes of all Tanjiro’s skill, Nezuko’s Blood magic, their father’s technique, their mother’s subconscious urgings – all of it in concert to deliver a seemingly impossible and decisive blow against a demon who should be, and thankfully is, too strong for them to handle at this point.  Still episode 19’s fight was one the biggest anime moments of decade and that helped push Kimetsu no Yaiba onto the list.  I also generally like the stylization of the various techniques and breathing in contrast the show’s normal look, which itself is not bad all.  I do find the brisk pace of the show somewhat surprising given the genre and when he isn’t asleep Zenitsu is utterly insufferable – but on the whole it’s a good show.

 

23 – Kingdom

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Kingdom fans might surprised I put the anime on the list considering how much more beloved and detailed the manga is but I actually got my start with the anime before checking out the manga and I have to say, get past the CG and there’s really quite a lot to like here.  For most people in the know the Kingdom anime has been unfavorably compared to the currently airing Vinland Saga but I honestly think that not only is Kingdom better overall, it actually looks better much of the time.  I know that sounds ludicrous because the Kingdom anime is famous for the shitty CG but hear me out.  First off Kingdom does start switching to beautiful traditional animation during non-battle scenes fairly early on and the use of CG becomes very limited in the second season.  When it’s traditionally animated Kingdom looks miles better than Vinland Saga, with much stronger colors, linework on the characters and attention to overall detail.  And while the CG is godawful it’s usually all awful together.  One of the worst parts of Vinland Saga’s visual look is how it’s perfect willing to mash up hand-drawn backgrounds and characters with a bunch of CG models or CG longships which actually looks worse than a scene made up of nothing but bad CG.  This comparison will only get worse once we get away from the visuals, Kingdom absolutely curb-stomps Vinland Saga on the audio end, with huge swelling tracks that take full advantage of the sheer size of the battles going on or are used to maximum effect in conveying a characters dominating presence.  I also find Thorfinn’s screaming to be really fucking irritating while the same can’t be said for Shin’s constant yelling.  If there is one reason to try the Kingdom anime, manga fan or no, it’s for the sound.  The music is amazing, the voice acting is solid, and the battle-noises are quite good, with a great of attention to detail put into the types of sounds  made by characters using different types or strengths of hits.  The story is also great, set during Warring States period in China (3rd century BC, I think) with a war orphan who wants to be the become a mighty general paired with a young king who wants to go full Alexander the Great on China, complete with a huge cast of excellent side characters from every strata of society.  Kingdom is also the show which most successfully capture the “legendary older figure” characters I mention when discussing All Might.  The major generals of the previous generation come off as absolute legends, with utterly titanic presences be it during a simple conversation or on the battlefield.  The action in Kingdom is very satisfying but not especially well animated most of the time because of the heavy use of CG during battles, it’s much better in season 2 where they use traditional animation for many of the fights.  Kingdom also has a penchant for a kind of heroic military romanticism that seems very much like the Homeric traditions of ancient Greece.  This makes the actual fighting and troop numbers wildly inaccurate to but it also really heightens the tension and highlights the dramatic fight scenes between characters of particular import.  I consider it a must watch for anyone who has the same obsession with history, especially ancient history, that I do.

 

24 – KonoSuba

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Megumin, that is all.  Jokes aside this is by far the most entertaining isekai property of the decade.  It’s cast of almost total incompetents somehow stumbling their way to victory in fights against the most powerful enemies the world can throw at them while struggling to defeat a single giant frog is barrels of fun.  Megumin is my personal favorite because she could be totally competent but has such idiotic obsession with only using the strongest attack magic that she knowingly turns herself into a one and done artillery piece.  Darkness is probably the least interesting because her masochism overrides basically everything else about her but the way that everyone else misinterprets her kink on the battlefield is pretty fun.  The designs are often deliberately wonky in a way that is pretty charming if not traditionally good looking. The character chemistry among the main cast is pure gold and there are some truly amazing running gags that pop up across both seasons.  That KonoSuba manages to finagle a few genuinely impressive fight scenes in just makes it all the better.  It’s not the most ridiculous comedy on this list but it is one of the most consistently fun shows of the decade.  Well worth a watch.

 

25 – Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

kore wa zombie

What happens when you combine a Necromancer so strong she can’t talk because she can kill with her voice, magical girls, vampire ninjas and your average Japanese high school boy?  You get a story about a guy who becomes a zombie that transforms into a chainsaw wielding magical girl.  Yes it is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds and yes you should absolutely give it a try.  It even has a magical girl who is cursed to look like a middle aged man except when she’s drunk and then assumes her original form.  Kore wa Zombie is about as absurd as anime comedies can get and while there are a few dramatic narrative thru lines it’s mostly a show about stupid fights against random, bizarre monsters, truly goofy uses of magic, hot chicks and the kind of violence based humor which only a zombie, or maybe a harem protagonist, can survive.  Thoroughly recommended.

 

26 – Koutesujou no Kabaenri

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In that 4 year gap between Attack on Titan seasons 1 & 2 the studio which made it was somewhat panned for creating an AoT clone in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  In yet another zombie apocalypse humanity is reduced to living in isolated walled settlements where the only viable mode of transportation is by train because the world doesn’t have aircraft yet and the Kabane, vampire-zombies with glowing, nigh-unbreakable hearts, would eat anyone on foot or horseback.  But whereas AoT came out hype and then had a serious slow down in the middle, the shorter and more tightly written Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had no such problems.  It came out hype, stayed pretty hype, and then latched onto to short narrative which ended the season.  Visually it remains among the prettiest shows of the decade with highly detail, heavily shaded artwork in the close ups and stills.  Even in it’s normal state it looks very solid.  The Kabane are perhaps the most threatening zombie I’ve come across as they are not only fast and aggressive but they are extremely difficult to put down, killing them requires specialized weaponry, and short range to melee combat – the place you don’t want to be when a single bite from a horde of zombies will turn you into one.  There are also special variants of Kabane who can use combat skills they had in life or who can morph together and become a giant corpse pile monster straight out of a Fromsoft game.  What really sets Koutetsujou no Kabaneri apart from AoT is that the greatest threat doen’ts come from external source like the Titans but the poor decision making of understandably cautious or paranoid people trapped in relatively small spaces, it’s story where most of the humans matter, as opposed to AoT where only the monsters and few human outliers matter.  Good action, good visuals, good zombies, good time.

 

27 – Log Horizon

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Whereas KonoSuba is the most entertaining isekai of the decade, I would propose that Log Horizon is the best isekai of the decade – and possibly ever.  It’s much slower and more toned down on the action front compared to most isekai shows but it more than makes for that with the most in-depth isekai world building in anime and a plot that revolves more about creating and managing a livable society in a world full of people who can’t die, while trying to unravel the mystery of how everyone got here in the first place and how they can get back.  There’s a lot focus game mechanics, character class interplay and eventually even flavor text and how these things manifest now that the game has changed and become reality for a large number of people.  There is a focus placed on depth in almost every facet of the setting and the major interactions between the most powerful players – now leaders in this world.  This leads to a show full of lots and lots of dialogue and build up, so it can seem very slow if you’re not paying attention to just how much is going on in any scene.  Concepts that will become pivotal can be introduced many episodes in advanced, allowing everyone paying serious attention to be on the lookout for what details to track.  Unlike most anime Log Horizon expects a lot from the viewer and you will get left behind just turn your brain off and drink it in.  I don’t want to overstate how smart this show is, nor do I want to be a pretentious little shit saying *fake poncy British accent voice* that this is an anime for smart people – but relatively speaking it is the thinking man’s isekai and there’s a lot to engage with if your willing to put in a little more effort and muddle through the headier parts of the show.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I do think everyone should give it a try.

 

28 – Made in Abyss

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One of the few downsides to the absolute flood of isekai shows released this decade was the almost complete loss of bonafide fantasy worlds.  While some shows put in the effort to make the video game based worlds interesting a ton of shows defaulted to generic RPG concepts and monsters and called it a day.  And while doing so these game-based settings replaced more traditional fantasy settings.  Made in Abyss however was one of those rare shows which not only featured a true fantasy setting but one which was striking in just how unique it was.  There’s a colossal hole in a small island in the middle of the ocean and the hole is full of unique treasures and fantasy monsters found nowhere else in the world.  So the people who found it first set up a gold rush town where the entire society revolves around delving into the abyss, and returning with it’s unique treasures to study and sell to the outside world.  Our begins in an orphanage where we follow the child of a renowned explorer who has allegedly made it to the bottom of the abyss and she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps to meet her in person despite the fact it’s something that is incredibly dangerous even to explorers far more experience than her.  Joining her on her suicidal journey is a robot boy who can fire lasers and extend his arms like grappling hooks who seems to have some connection to the girl’s mother.  The setting is amazing with all kinds of unusual terrain, monsters and eccentric characters.  And don’t let the cutesy designs fool you, Made in Abyss goes hard in the paint when it comes to terrible injuries, darker plot points I won’t spoil.  It’s an interesting show like nothing else I’ve ever seen and a must watch for any fantasy lover.

 

29 – Magi

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Magi is one of the other great fantasy shows of the decade.  But unlike Made in Abyss Magi has a much more involved narrative in a vast world that its two seasons have had more time to flesh out it detail.  One of Magi’s strengths is the sheer sense of adventure it conveys, with our cast visiting vast deserts, island kingdoms, port-cities, fantasy Rome, fantasy China, steppe tribes and so on.  There’s also all kinds of interesting fantasy kingdoms and races like the superhumanly strong Fanalis who have been mostly enslaved, the beast riding Amazons of Artemia and the blue haired half Norse and half Inuit giants of Imchak.  It’s easy to get lost in the sense of wanderlust that the characters have especially in the early parts of the show before the over-arching plot is introduced.  It also helps that the colors are especially vibrant, really adding a lot of life and vibrancy to the setting and it’s inhabitants.  The overarching plot sort of resembles FMA Brotherhoods and Magi follows of similar trajectory of assembling a gigantic cast to face the lurking enemy threat that looms over all of them, despite the large divisions between the major political powers and characters in the world.  Magi has an interesting magic system where all magic grouped into 8 broad types which have varying levels of resonance with each and differing magicians.  This is a fast and loose rule set that results in many mages with different specializations but leaves lots of room for overlap and creativity for more advanced spellcasters to work with.  Then we get to Djinn and the Djinn Equips and that alone was enough to get me on board.  The Djinn may all be blue giants but they look and behave pretty differently and their Equips allow humans to assume an approximate form of their Djinn, resulting in outfits and weapons which are often totally impractical but also classic high fantasy.  The main characters Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana are all quite solid though Alibaba is undoubtedly the weakest on the character front just as Aladdin is the most interesting.  There’s plenty of action, political intrigue and wide and well developed world to explore.  It’s even a good entry point for non-anime fans or anime casuals in my own experience – give it a try if you haven’t already.

 

30 – Mairimashita! Iruma-kun

iruma

This is one of the most wholesome anime of the decade and I fucking love it.  It’s cute, it’s lighthearted, it’s fun and it warms my bitter cynical heart.  There’s honestly not that much else to say.  It’s Rosario + Vampire meets Hayate no Gotoku with a big focus on kindness and friendship.  It’s not serious, not heavy, it honestly feels a bit like a kid’s show and it’s wholesome approach is a such a breath of fresh compared to the endless edgy light novel bullshit or my usual more violent and/or though provoking shows of choice.  It’s a much needed break from the rest of anime and it brings a warm smile to my face.  Also Clara is adorable.  Watch it, it’s a great pick me up.

 

31 – Medaka Box

Medaka's_Speed

Medaka Box is written by NisioisN of Bakemonogatari fame and is the work of his that delves in one of his narrative penchants, the nature of geniuses, more so than any other work of his I have seen/read.  The anime regrettably lacks the fan favorite arc, Minus, ending just before that arc begins but nonetheless a very solid anime.  It has personal favorite design style with regards to to anime faces, using a wide array of artistic tricks from multiple styles of iris, heavy lines to frame eyes and strong use of color, vibrancy shifts and changes in shading to create what I consider the best anime faces of all time, which results in some truly excellent character designs.  The cast is memorable, full of characters who are at once living memes and are also either struggling with or utterly consumed by the differences in talent between people.  The show has almost more focus on quirks than Boku no Hero Academia, and features some truly bizarre students who need help with a wide variety of problems.  There’s also a strong action element to the show though that doesn’t really rear it’s head until late into season 1.  This is again one of the shows that’s honestly pretty stupid but is willing to run with it’s stupid ideas full steam ahead and I have severe soft spot for that kind of approach.  I seriously hope it gets another season to deliver the Minus arc and even if this doesn’t sound up your alley I encourage you to try it.  Partly because it’s a show that does much better in the moment than in dry reviews but also because I’m curious as to what most other people think of the character designs.

 

32 – Mob Psycho 100

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Easily one of the most interestingly animated shows of the decade Mob Psycho 100 did very well among the anime community for both its visuals and its message.  The story revolves around a kid with ungodly strong psychic powers, and this matters not so much because Mob then goes to exorcise ghosts or fight other psychics but because in direct contrast to his crazy powers Mob has basically no physical or social ability and is setting out to improve on those fronts.  He does this by joining the Body Improvement Club and working for Reigen, who have top tier bodies and charisma respectively.  Most of Mobs opponents meanwhile are people who have convinced themselves that their psychic powers makes them better than everyone else and can’t understand why Mob isn’t using his powers for personal gains but seeking to improve everything but his powers.  There’s some great psychic action which no doubt drives much of the show’s fandom and popularity, but I also like to think it’s positive attitude and focus on self improvement resonates with a lot of people.  If you haven’t seen it already you absolutely have to give it a try.

 

33 – Monster Musume

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And the harem genre strikes again.  Much like Date A Live, Monster Musume marks itself out among its genre contemporaries for having a bit more of an emotional side and an approach to fanservice that comes not from accidental slips or a sudden burst of wind but the nature of the various monstergirl species and their own individual desire for our protagonist.  I honestly can’t remember his name because almost every character introduced so far, which is quite a few at this point, calls him by a different nickname – I’ll probably just call him Darling for ease of reference.  Monster Musume’s main difference in comparison to Date A Live is the amount of fanservice.  The monstergirls either by dint of their species or by their own thirst for the d, give us a lot more fanservice than the Spirits of Date A Live – which is mildly ironic considering the Spirits are basically human once you get past the magic, and the monstergirls have similar trust issues/worries about discrimination in the wider world.  The cast is highly memorable and mostly great fun, and while there isn’t really much of a story per se, the moment to moment experience is very enjoyable.  Even some of my non-anime fan friends were into Monster Musume so to my fellow weebs of culture, let us celebrate the anime that gave us a new and confusing boner, or ladyboner, for monstergirls.  Amen.

 

34 – My Little Witch Academia

my little witch

This was basically cute anime girls Harry Potter, if Harry could barely use magic, Ron spoke to spirits, Snape cackled at the thought of making poisons and Hermione merged with Draco Malfoy to become an upper class blond bitch (at first anyway).  Having thoroughly enjoyed both My Little Witch Academia movies, I had high hopes coming into the tv anime and it did not disappoint.  It was so much fun to watch, with sequences like Akko firing herself out of a cannon to catch the world’s fastest flying broom so she could win the broom race, Sucy’s dreamland and of course the Gurren Lagann bit.  But for every moment of comedic gold or irresistible cuteness, My Little Academia also delivered on a satisfying moments of drama and character development, revealing truths that added whole dimensions to pre-existing characters and their relationships.  Akko and Diane’s character arcs were particularly good, especially when they really get to know each other and then join forces for the finale – which was also awesome.  This is a show that’s super easy to get into and a must watch for any fan of the movies or Harry Potter.  Y’all should watch it.

 

35 – Nobunagun

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As much I am sick to death of hearing about Oda Nobunaga, I have to say Nobunagun was one of my surprise favorites.  Utterly stupid, featuring fights between the descendants of heroes and alien Kaiju was so much fun.  I was a big fan of the stylized weapons or abilities of the various characters and especially a fan of the sudden color shifts during the action.  The normal look of the show is pretty bland and generic but during the battles the color scheme radically changes, not only making everything really pop off the screen, but giving it a unique look and feel.  There’s honestly not much else to say about Nobunagun, either you’re like me and fell in love with the show’s brazen idiocy by the end of episode one or you didn’t and you probably think I’m crazy to put it on this list.

 

36 – Non Non Byori

non non byori

Welcome to the pinnacle of anime memes.  Other than JoJo shows I can’t think of any other shows off hand that have such a meme following.  Nothing happens in Non Non Byori – serious, literally nothing happens.  It’s about cute girls living in such a remote country town that there’s only one teacher and she teaches all 5 students at the same time despite the fact they’re all in different grades.  Highlights include going to the beach, building an igloo, walking to the candy store and going to feed the rabbits – that’s how much nothing is going on here.  That being said the interactions between the girls are cute and hilarious, with the undisputed queen of Non Non Byori being the one, the only – Ren-chon.  Renge, to use her actual name, appears to be a genuine genius in many regards but is hiding her power level by thinking so outside the box that the others can’t even understand her galaxy-brained ideas.  They have no choice but to simply roll with it as asking the mysterious deadpan loli for her reasoning brings forth answers which only madmen and eldritch horrors could possibly comprehend.  To be a bit more serious for a second, this show’s appeal hangs almost solely on Ren-chon, not that the other girls are bad but she’s what will really invest you in Non Non Byori.  Either you will recoil from this loli in confusion or bow down to her majesty and be drawn into the show by her magnetic presence.  It all depends on you.

 

37 – One Punch Man

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This is one the shows that will be on probably everyone’s top 50 of the decade list.  It’s well animated (well, it was in season 1), the characters a good, it’s funny and it does an excellent job at making it’s central joke – that Saitama kills every awesome unbeatable bad guy in just one punch – except when he doesn’t to make the fight cooler.  I think the visuals are what really made One Punch Man so beloved, because if the whole thing looked like season 2 it probably wouldn’t be on this list.  That said because the visuals got so many eyes on One Punch Man and, in my case at least endeared me to the characters I was able to solider in Season 2 because the characters and their interactions were as good as ever despite the massive visual downgrade.  Watch it if you haven’t, but seriously who hasn’t seen this by now?

 

38 – Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

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Of all the many anime comedies I’ve seen Panty & Stocking is basically guaranteed to be the raunchiest.  It looks like a western cartoon from the Dexter’s Laboratory era aka my childhood but this one is not for kids.  This is all about sex, sweets, shit and sisterly infighting.  Which is hilarious because the two are supposed to be angels but they’ve literally been kicked out of heaven for their bad attitudes and have to do a bunch of good deeds and earn enough goodwill from the divine to get back in.  They do this grudgingly and with mild interest preferring to bone as many people or eat as many sugary delights as possible along the way.  Almost all of the ghosts they have to slay inhabit things like shit, vomit, sperm and buggers.  The art style changes all the time to suddenly look more gorgeous and realistic or hideous and blobby from scene to scene.  And while there is an over-arching story it not only does the show has perhaps the most controversial Gainax ending of all time but it will do whatever the fuck it wants with at all times.  Some diversions include, a half episode Transformers war between the two angel sisters, a minutes long scene where the camera never leaves the room or ever changes the angle of the shot and Saving Private Ryan scenes played from the perspective of sperm.  There also some great fight scenes and the overall feel of the show is incredibly dynamic with all kinds of overkill in every conceivable way, with lot’s of movement and attitude that takes advantage of the simplified art style.  This is definitely worth your time and one of the only shows that I think has a decent dub, I still prefer it subbed but if you have no other option the dub is one the better ones you’ll find.

 

39 – Psycho-Pass

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This may be perhaps the only show in this list which is wholly serious.  It has no comedic elements whatsoever and is instead a tight, tense and gripping police procedural set in a near-future Japan which has been completely transformed by a mysterious advanced network called the Sibyl System and the implementation of the Psycho Pass; a score which not only quantifies your mental state but also is used to match any given individual with jobs they will fit into best and so on.  There’s also a great deal of hologram tech which is mostly useful in how it gets used to disguise murders or to interact in some kind of VR social media.  The setting is very fleshed out especially regarding all the implementations of the new technology and the flaws, boons and workarounds therein.  This show is very interesting because one of the central themes is the merit of the Psycho Pass.  From the show’s presentation and some of it’s larger reveals it appears to be presenting a dystopian future.  There are all kinds of problems with system, and it generates behaviors which probably wouldn’t appear in a society without the Psycho Pass because they are specific methods of coping or failing to cope with the use of Psycho Passes.  That said, all other details point to the Sibyl System and Psycho Pass bringing about massive improvements to overall society – lowering crime, increasing productivity and so on.  It’s difficult for us as viewers to agree with because we are accustomed to having way more freedom and the idea of a machine, even one that may do a better job than we will most of the time, being used to guide/dictate our lives is untenable.  Whatever your answer to the questions posed there’s no doubt it’s one of the true titans of the decade in terms of craftsmanship (not season 2 though it was made by different people and fucks everything up), and I’ve yet to come across a similar anime.  Definitely give this one a try.

 

40 – Quan Zhi Gao Shou

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I really struggled between putting this or Mo Dao Zhu Shi on the list, as the latter is visually more impressive and involves more of a historical fantasy story and setting, but it also has some pacing issues and a focus gay romance that I have literally no interest in cause I don’t swing that way.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or The King’s Avatar is a more modest production about video games and pro-gaming that is ended up really being really good.  It settles on the basically undisputed best pro-player of a very popular RPG getting fired due to the team’s faltering performance and concerns about his age, he’s 26 which is old by pro-gaming standards.  And because they hammer this part in immediately it’s very easy to invested as to how our main guy with stick it to the man.  The character side of the story is pretty great but what Quan Zhi Gao Shou really delivers on is something of every gamer’s power fantasy and really capturing the kind of passion that the deeply hardcore fans of certain games have for their game of choice.  Our main guy has been playing this game for a decade and rather than lash out when he’s suddenly dropped from his pro team he immediately starts up a new account, experimenting with a playstyle he and his best friend had started on conceptually many years ago.  There’s lot of flashy action and solid understanding of RPG mechanics along with a focus player action speed versus depth of knowledge.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou is very easy to get into, with a tone that is mostly, light brisk and fun with occasional currents of a more serious struggle going on.  It’s a great watch for anyone who has picked up any RPG before – and while the show has modest production values the 3 OVA sequels are fucking jaw droppingly well animated, a good reward for those who make through the first season.  There was also a recentish movie release prequel, so this franchise does seem to have some legs and we will hopefully get a second season soon.

 

41 – Re:Creators

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Re:Creators is unfortunately a show with some problems and an ending that is so meta it’s a bit up its own ass but generally I really loved watching it.  It played around some very interesting story concepts both in a meta sense to resolve the main conflict and for use as character building.  The differences between how characters from more simplistic settings developed in contrast to characters from darker or more nuanced settings was really cool, and the interplay between characters from totally different mediums and settings using their various power against each other was awesome, resulting in scenes like watching a giant magical girl heart slam a flying heroine into the ground with explosive force – where else will you even see something like that?  I know that a lot of people hated the main guy but honestly I think he did his job exceptionally well and filled more of a Shinji from Evangelion role than that of a typical hero and thus had many similar flaws and criticism that Shinji himself suffered from.  I think what really sold it for me though were the parts that delved in the various artists and writers and the creative process.  I thought the show’s commentary on that front was fucking spot on and resulted in some of may favorite low key interactions and bits of dialogue, with the crowning achievement being the battle of wits between Blitz and his creator – who basically proves to him that he hasn’t developed at all and is frankly immature in his thinking when compared to the other fictional characters who have invaded our world by predicting his every line and move.  That said there is a bit in the middle where show slows down massively while building up to the final battle and I could easily see that being a problem for some.  I personally was fine Altair’s design and abilities but I did find her motivations to be pretty pathetic and her nigh-invincibility sometimes utterly ruined the awesome powers of the characters.  All told I think it’s still a good show with interesting ideas and an excellent commentary on creatives and the creative process but it’s on the lower end of this list.

 

42 – ReLIFE

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This is actually one of the best romances of all time, at least in anime.  It’s about a guy who seems to have no real prospects because he quit his first job as a means of protest against his boss and co-workers, who in fact drive his mentor to suicide with their bullying.  Because of this he obviously didn’t get any kind of recommendation and is struggling to find a serious career since he has no reliable references and every interviewer will of course ask why he left his old job, or call his old boss and presumably be told that our lead is a shit worker.  While he struggles he is given an offer by a mysterious government agency to take a drug that reverts him back 10 years (I think) and redo his senior year of high school as a means of rehabilitation, with the promise of a job afterword.  With little else going for him he takes offer.  Part of what makes ReLIFE great is that our lead is not fumbling his way through school like so many high school romances, he’s done this before and while there are many jokes at his expense because of his adult outlook and him having to readjust and relearn old material, that same adult outlook lets him cut through usual high school bullshit and misunderstandings with ease, allowing him to quickly make some friends and even guide these young people when some of them are having trouble.  His main focus is the super emotionless girl in his class who we will later learn went through the same program he did but didn’t change at all during her year and is now doing a second year unbeknownst to our male lead.  But it’s because the secret ReLifer is so inept at personal interactions that our male lead spends extra time helping her, and thus the groundwork for a serious relationship is laid.  ReLIFE has some decent comedy, solid drama and – once all the various secrets are revealed – one of the best anime romance stories of all time.  You really owe it to yourself to give it a try though I think older viewers may like more since it’s much easier to connect with a male lead closer to our age.

 

43 Shokugeki no Souma

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I think what really sells Shokugeki no Souma, in addition to the fact they went all in on the foodgasms, was the attitude.  Souma and many of his various rivals have the same highly arrogant, confrontational and fiery attitudes of characters from battle manga.  Like if these kids had huge muscles instead of major culinary skills they would fit right into something like Baki.  And I love the attitude, it really is the heart of the show because it’s that same attitude which leads to the intensity and stakes of challenges.  The various characters make massive bets with all their pride and skill on the line and it’s only be dint of the overall attitude that this makes any sense at and is indeed fully sold.  The fact that show does a really good job making the actual cooking matches and recipe research engaging is to it’s credit but it’s kind of just a bonus – it’s the attitude and characters which really keep me invested, especially since the story gets increasingly off the rails as it goes on and the production values start to take noticeable hits in later seasons.  And speaking of the characters, this show really does nail the kind of giant memorable and interesting casts which are a staple of the shounen genre, and even some of characters who only appear in a few scenes are among the most memorable side characters I can think of, Hojo and the witch girl in particular.  There’s also a huge focus on talent vs hard work and perhaps even more importantly, confidence.  Megumi is one of the best characters because she is a talented cook who is so lacking in confidence that it almost sees her expelled and it’s not until she meets the brazenly competitive and outright arrogant Souma that she really finds the inner strength to make something more of herself.  Her big moments in the season 2 tournaments were probably my favorite parts of the show.  That’s really all there is to say, if you want some food porn, with a side fiery attitude and a full course of interesting cast members, Shokugeki no Souma is the dish for you.

 

44 Shuumatsu no Izzetta

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This is one of the shows on this list that most people will probably be scratching their heads at as it didn’t have great critical reception nor was it especially popular when looking at the decade as a whole.  But I have a deep affection for fantasy and history and this was yet another solid historical fantasy not set in Japan.  This was a fantastical WWII story, though the politics of the world is much more reflective of WWI where royal families exist as serious political factors in much greater numbers.  Overall I don’t think the story or writing is especially good, though the episode where Nazi (not actually a nazi this is just for ease of reference) infiltrator into fantasy Switzerland (which is where the main characters are from) discovers that he really likes the kind people of fantasy Switzerland and concludes his side might be the bad guys in this scenario since fantasy Germany is invading fantasy Switzerland was great.  That being said I do love the overall focus on patriotism, heroic myths, the clever use of propaganda and the magic vs WWII tech battles.  The politics were also good, with all of fantasy Germany’s enemies celebrating the rise of Izetta as a weapon against fantasy Germany while also becoming very concerned about what Izetta and magic represent.  Fantasy Germany has some very capable men who put the titular Izetta in danger multiple times and while I wasn’t much of a fan of how her final opponent came to be, I do like the thrust of her enemy’s story and how she interacts with Izetta, as a pair of witches who have similar power levels and played similar heroic roles for fantasy Switzerland but had a world of difference in their treatment.  What really gets me though are 3 things.  The music, the depth and intimacy of the friendship between Izetta and Princess Fine, and last but certainly not least Izetta’s solution to end the conflict and the truly humbling levels of self sacrifice required to enact this solution.  The climax is something that’s going to be etched in my mind forever, between the swelling music, the way it cuts between the actual fight scenes which in and of themselves aren’t that impressive to the momentous political events which Izetta’s immense self sacrifice is going to pave the way for, with multiple tensions builds which are put on hold by flashbacks or exposition before resuming with exponential intensity before we get to the big earth shattering moment where the entire nature of the world is re-written and the age of magic passes forever.  It’s something out of an epic or a saga, and it’s the kind of story beat which cuts right though to the core of my being.  For whatever reason it’s the scenes like these, the big swelling moments of legendary feats be they Izetta’s climax or something like the Ride of the Rohirrim, these are the scenes that connect with me deepest, which make my tears flow most fiercely.  Many of the shows I enjoy have a lot more of “the journey is more important than the destination” vibe but every now and then there comes a show where, though the journey is perhaps not as striking or memorable or as well written as many other shows on this list, the destination is so phenomenal that it eclipses all other factors.  Shuumatsu no Izetta is one such show.

 

45 Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

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This is another of the best anime romances in my book, though this is much more of a traditional shoujo story than Golden Time.  It takes place in a very simplified fantasy world where all the countries are named after random climatic and topographic features like Rain, Sun, Sea, etc.  More important than the milquetoast fantasy world though are our main characters, Livy and Nike.  Livy is a genius young king – who looks like he’s only a kid but is supposed to be a pre-teen I think – whose reign is nonetheless stained by his own internal demons and the heartlessness which he steeped himself in to take power.  Nike meanwhile comes from a poor as shit country at the ass end of the world, the Rain Country, where royalty doesn’t really behave all that differently to average citizenry.  In fact when Livy demands a Rain princess for his bride – because he wants power over the weather to combat the sun for which is own country is named – Nike is sent because she lost the 4-way rock-paper-scissors match between the princesses.  What really makes these too such a great pair is that while Livy is a man above the people in many regards, both in his own attitude and in his understanding of greater political movements or complex problems, Nike is definitely a woman of the people.  She struggles with expectations of royalty and formality but thrives on interpersonal relations, rapidly making connections with anyone be they royalty or peasant.  Nike also has weather altering magic which is why Livy wanted a Rain princess to begin with, and she uses her powers mostly to teach Livy about the importance of his emotional development and doing the right thing for the right reason – in contrast to his old approach of doing the right thing for the wrong reason or vice versa.  Both Nike and Livy are great characters in their own right, which is why this show manages to break into this list despite the shoujo label.  Most of the time I find shoujo stories to be pretty insufferable because the characters are fucking boring so I have no reason to be invested in the drama and the romance.  That’s not the case here, this show could probably be about anything and so long as Livy and Nike were in it I’d have a good time.  Definitely worth a watch, especially for anyone starving for good romances.

 

46 – Steins;Gate

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Steins:Gate is, in my opinion, the greatest time travel story ever made (if we discount all that Zero garbage).  As someone who generally finds time travel annoying as it’s almost always used for narrative convenience, I fell in love with Steins;Gate right away despite my reticence about the subject matter.  Part of this was due to the unusual presentation of the early episodes but it’s mainly because of the characters, with Okarin in particular getting me super invested early on.  The actual tech involved in the time travel is basically a random stroke of bullshit but the mechanics of time travel are simple but interesting and used very well in the story.  The fact that the time travel was very important to the story and used for serious character development rather narrative convenience was a huge breath of fresh air for me and really helped keep me working through the slower parts of the story, where we get to know the characters, who we absolutely need to love for the drama of the later parts of the show to really hit home.  Luckily the characters are fantastic and do a great job of drawing you in.  If you haven’t seen this already you should absolutely give it a try.

 

47 – Suisei no Gargantia

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I’ve never been a big fan of Mecha shows but Suisei no Gargantia won me over right away with it’s pretty unique premise and totally unique environments.  For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a about a young soldier, Ledo, who has been cast adrift by a wormhole travel error after a major engagement against alien forces and arrives at, of all places, Earth.  The humans of Earth are significantly more primitive and live on giant clusters of ships, and while they technically have mechs, their mechs are more like forklifts in a humanoid shape than a proper Gundam.  Ledo meanwhile comes from an advanced space-faring branch of humanity, who believe Earth is either a myth or long since frozen over, and has the only mech worth considering for 90% of the show.  Rather than this being a giant battle of mechs, the show is really about Ledo learning how to adjust to a life without combat, where there isn’t much if any war and conflict avoidance is the first priority.  I personally love this kind of character, the soldier who is either so consumed by war or started fighting so young that it’s all they really know and so struggle to adjust to peace.  The mass of interconnected ships, especially with the locks, cranes and rust make for some of the coolest and most striking environs of the decade and while the characters and story beats are generally quite simple, they are nonetheless compelling and make for an easy digestible story so you can focus on all the detail poured into the environments, society and culture which are the backbone of the show.  It’s very memorable and a solid show if not one of the true greats of the decade, definitely still worth a watch.

 

48 – Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen

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This show was certainly one most surprising treats of the decade for me, seeing as the original Utawarerumono came out in like 2008 and remains one my favorite shows of all time.  Sadly the sequel, Itsuwari no Kamen is noticeably weaker than the original – with a bunch of jokes that feel more like meta appeals to fans than in-universe culture and a much slower story.  To it’s credit Itsuwari no Kamen does cram in a ton of story compared to most anime without ever feeling rushed, and it has room to dedicate entire episodes to let us bond with the various individual members of the large cast, but since the original Utawarerumono was for my money the most content-dense 24 episode show of all time Itsuwari no Kamen definitely takes a hit in this regard.  Another bizarre change is the toning down of realism and the sudden changes in power levels that requires. While all the people with fake masks having knock-off versions of Hakuoro’s powers makes sense, why can a swordsman like Yakutowaruto level a city block with his technique?  He’s not from the same race as Karura, who were the only group were aware of having the super strength.  And hilariously it means when Yakutowaruto has to fight Kuro, who by the end of the original is basically the weakest of the main characters, and gets his ass handed to him, Kuro has to be way more badass in Itsuwari no Kamen than he was in the original, by doing things like shrugging off an explosion.  There are other minor details like this but overall the show is very good.  It has a large and mostly lovable cast, multiple wars from the various beastmen cultures, expands the world building laid out in the original and great visuals to boot.  It’s not on the original’s level but it is still a very good show, far better than most anime you’d find in any given season.  Give it a try it’s well worth your time.

 

49 – Youjo Senki

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On the one hand this is an anime with a serious visual problem, it looks quite terrible and even the movie sequel sets the bar about as low as I’ve ever seen for anime movies.  That being said I don’t give a shit because this definitely one of my favorite shows of the decade.  The WWI but with magic and emerging WWII tech makes for a great setting and there are all kinds of nods to historical events such as the Romanian invasion in utterly failing.  But as much as I love the setting, I think it’s the prevailing attitude of the show which really makes it a winner.  Tanya is just the right blend of ruthless sociopath, corporate asshole and incidental heroine to make her an incredibly fun character who makes all kinds of seemingly crazy choices based on her prior life’s knowledge of the events of WWI & WWII.  It also gives her a ton of room to maneuver in the story, she can work with  logistics and organization, develop new tactics, and still have time to get in dogfights with planes and bombard poor infantrymen stuck in the trenches.  The show is also just a great deal of fun, allowing you to revel in Tanya’s evil qualities when she succeeds with ease but to also appreciate their genuine heroism and patriotism of her men when the going gets tough.  Moreover while the in-universe events are taken seriously by the characters, the show does not take itself overly seriously at all, adding to the fun.  The anime is quite ugly but everything else makes up for it so well I’d be mad not to recommend you give it a try, this show is way too fun to pass up.

 

50 – Zombieland Saga

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Of all the shows to come out this decade, Zombieland Saga would be my number 1 surprise hit.  Zombie idols was possibly the best thing to ever comes out of the idol show genre despite other strong contenders like Gokudolls coming out at roughly the same time.  But where Gokudolls was basically just funny, with very limited character development, Zombieland Saga puts a lot more focus on the characters.  How talented were they in life?  Can they square their new existence as zombies or will they wallow around in a funk forever?  Will the Legendary Tae-chan ever regain her ability to speak and function like a human being?  The show tackles all of these difficult questions and more in a story about a bunch of girls with terrible luck getting a second chance at well, existing and maybe pursuing happiness.  Also they do a whole bunch of random marketing shit like mud runs, fast food commercials and mini-concerts sponsored by new products.  Personally I found all the characters to be really interesting or otherwise enjoyable, and some of them had seriously powerful story beats like Lily getting to sing a love song for the father she left behind, Junko’s and Ai’s differing philosophies as idols from different decades and how they clash before eventually supporting each other, Saki getting to help out her best friend’s daughter and – though the presentation was a bit heavy handed – Sakura’s total transformation when she regains her memories.  The concerts are also a treat, because despite the frankly terrible visuals, the songs cover a wide variety of genres and are full of random yet awesome incidents.  We have death metal idols with neck-breaking headbanging, improv rap battle, the sudden techno remix made possible by lightning strike and other hilarious events.  The show is a ton of fun with occasional segments for heavier, more dramatic story bits which only add to the overall story and presentation.  Well worth your time, go watch it.

Understanding the Medium: Premise Means Nothing

An anime’s premise is practically fucking worthless.  Now a lot of anime fans be they new, casual, old or otaku don’t think that way.  Look at some of the biggest hits of the last few years, SAO, Erased and Shingeki no Kyojin.  I’ve seen all three and I have a lot of problems with all three, and while the community is pretty divided on their opinions of these shows it is undeniable that they are in fact some of the biggest hits of the 2010’s.  And the reason why these shows are so big is that they have cool premises, and people flocked to them because of those premises.  Now I have to explain why those premises don’t fucking matter.  There will spoilers.

This might seem hypocritical and confusing but a show’s premise is simultaneously something valuable and something fucking worthless.  As I explained in a previous post, the ability to craft a good premise is in fact a skill and it seems to do a great job at getting people’s attention.  You know the first time I started watching currently airing anime seasons was the season SAO came out (I am an otaku but compared to most I haven’t been at this very long, I just got way into anime once I finally got into it), and I remember how exciting it sounded.  It was the Matrix set in an MMORPG, I don’t even like MMORPGs and I thought that sounded great.  And there was another show in particular which caught my attention that season, Shin Sekai Yori, which also appeared to have a cool premise. While I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t realize quite how shit SAO was when I first watched it (it sank in a bit later once I got more critical and had seen more shows), even when I saw it that first time I still vaguely understood that it hadn’t lived up to the premise.

By the end of SAO’s Aincrad arc I was very “meh” about the show and my opinion went down after the end of Alfheim.  Meanwhile I was pretty fucking excited about Shin Sekai Yori the entire time it was airing and I continue to enjoy it to this day.  Unlike SAO which rapidly became less interesting because the execution of the show did not at all live up to the premise, Shin Sekai Yori had my attention and continues to have my respect.  “How did Shin Sekai Yori, an obscure little anime succeed to entertain while the titanic SAO fell by the wayside?” you might ask.  The answer is simple, SAO presented us with an interesting premise but after episode 3 (at best) it stopped executing the premise well.  SAO stopped being a death game set in an MMO and became just a teenage empowerment fantasy aimed at gamers, i.e. a huge percentage of the young male demographic.  By comparison Shin Sekai Yori executed it’s premise well, it had expressive artwork and insane visuals to match it’s eerie tone and disturbing ideas.  It had characters I cared about, it constantly addressed and expanded on the premise and core themes by adding relevant narratives and setting details, and this made it an engaging, thought provoking watch, compared SAO’s boring, low quality action and harem-comedy fare.  And this is one of the main tenets of this entire post: A good premise can bring your anime attention, but good execution is what brings your anime critical acclaim.

Because here’s the thing, yes it takes a little imagination to come up with a cool premise for a show, but really, anybody can come up with a cool idea.  It takes people with talent and vision to execute any premise, be it cool or mundane, with a lot of skill.  For example Madoka Magica is also one of the biggest hits of the 2010’s and it does have a cool premise, again I’m not even a fan of magical girl shows and I think Madoka Magica is built on a cool premise.  But do you know why Madoka Magica is so much more universally beloved than the other three big hits I mentioned above?  Because it was executed well.  The presentation of Madoka Magica was phenomenal, with all kinds of trippy visuals that played into the darker aspects of the show, and the flash-forward to the fight with the Walpurgisnacht to engage our curious minds.   And then they built up the character drama with the sudden death of Tomoe Mami in episode 3, the reveal of Kyuubei as this amoral monster who tricked girls into giving up their physical bodies and eventually turning them into the monsters they hunted, Sayaka’s total mental breakdown, Homura’s backstory and character transformation, and of course with Madoka literally rewriting the rules of the universe across all of time.  In short the execution of Madoka Magica was good, and lived up to the premise that got everyone excited about it.

More importantly you don’t even need a good premise to make a great show.  One of my favorite shows of the Spring 2016 anime season, which was a great season overall, was Bakuon.  Bakuon was a stupid moe high school comedy about a bunch of cute girls with motorcycles and their shenanigans.  Its premise is incredibly mundane and boring and its genre is not really my thing, I’m not big into moe even if I’m not anti-moe per se.  In fact it looked so mundane and boring that I initially skipped over it and wasn’t going to watch it at all until I heard someone describe the first episode.  Then I gave it that watch and what do you know, I fell in love immediately.  I looked forward to every episode and enjoyed every episode, Bakuon never let me down and I was never bored.  It was so good that it instantly made it into my top five comedies, no small feat when you’ve seen and enjoyed as many comedies as I have.

Now some of you probably think I’m crazy.  I mean how could a “real anime fan” prefer something like Bakuon to SAO, Erased and Shingeki no Kyojin, with their great premises and huge popularity?  Because Bakuon executed it’s stupid premise so well, that it outclasses those other fucking shows by an overwhelming margin.  SAO is a dumpster fire, I can see why certain people enjoy it but it’s bottom of the barrel writing.  Erased is mess because most of the characters feel like cardboard cutouts meant to make certain story beats happen instead of existing organically as people in a real world.  And while I cared about the mystery of the titans in Shingeki no Kyojin for a long time, it’s taken too long to get any answers and now all I really care about are the fights.  See that’s the thing with premise, it has a lot of pull but not a lot of staying power.  My interest in any premise, no matter how good or cool it is, will eventually burn out someday, but good execution lasts forever.  My opinions of the three big hits changed for the worse rapidly because they rely on premise to keep me interested, by contrast Bakuon works its ass off to make sure I have a good time and that’s why I will ALWAYS have a good time with Bakuon.

What I’ve found recently is that a lot of shows I sort of liked or found at least ok because of their premise are shows where I generally start to think “you know that show was actually a piece of shit” and end up hating it later down the line.  Overlord is a good example, by the show’s end I found it very mediocre but held on because the main guys were demons and monsters and that was a cool idea.  But ever since then every time I think of Overlord I can only think of all the shitty parts and how I really hated the damn show and wonder in retrospect how I ever finished it in the first fucking place.  But well-executed shows don’t suffer from this problem, because they fucking earned my respect and love.  Banking a show on premise is essentially betting on whims and fads, you might love it now but it won’t stay that way.  Good execution is like ancient engineering, built to last a thousand years after the creator is dead.

Another great example of execution being more important than premise is D Gray Man Hallow.  Setting aside the unforgivably terrible first episode, which I’ve ranted about at length, the show is surprisingly not terrible.  The main arc has some interesting ideas and story beats, even if I figured out the main thrust of this arc back when I finished the original D Gray Man.  In fact, the fact that D Gray Man Hallow isn’t total shit is a testament to how good the premise and ideas of this arc are, because by all rights it should be shit.  But sadly that will not save D Gray Man Hallow for me, because with every episode I watch my reaction is that I inevitably end up thinking how much better this would be if it had happened in the old D Gray Man.  I hate all new voice actors, most them don’t match their characters and they have no chemistry, but even worse is the new visual design.  What really sold D Gray Man a lot of the time was not just the action or the story, it was the look and feel of the show.  Back in the old D Gray Man, the visual aesthetic was this dark, Gothic look and it matched the overall darker tone of the show, the older European setting (of many but not all episodes) and the excellent dark, Gothic atmospheric soundtracks.

So much of D Gray Man’s appeal was communicated by it’s aesthetic, sound and atmosphere and how those things influenced the overall narrative and characters; and that’s FUCKING GONE.  D Gray Man Hallow is too bright, sleek, clean and modern to ever recapture the feel of the old D Gray Man, even if they hadn’t replaced all the voice actors and fucked up a bunch of the characters, they were never going to get D Gray Man right with this visual redesign.  That’s what happens when you execute something poorly (especially if it’s because it’s a blatant cash grab), I, and a lot of other people, will find your show wanting.  It makes me wish D Gray Man Hallow had never happened, because I would be happier imaging this arc in my head for all time with the old D Gray Man’s feel as reference then see it brought to life by people who have no understanding of what made the show good to begin with.  D Gray Man has a lot of cool ideas, but I love the show because they did a good job with it.  D Gray Man Hallow still has those cool ideas but I’m disappointed because they didn’t bother to do them justice.

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering what good execution looks like, if some of the biggest hits of the 2010’s don’t have it.  There’s really no answer to that question.  You can do anything well, and you can do anything poorly.  For example, as I discussed in one of my first posts, you can attempt any kind of battle in an action anime, you can do a instant win One Punch Man style or you can drag it out for a whole season DBZ style.  And theoretically you could do a great job with a fight on either of those extremes or anywhere in between, of course you could also fuck up any fight at or between those extremes.  Now add that freedom to anything a story can do, and this is why premise isn’t important.  You can make any kind of show from a dumb high school moe comedy to a high concept super-immersive scifi story with deep themes, and you can make that show good.  Or you could fuck it up.  There’s no template or formula for what makes good or bad execution, there’s no genre or trope that automatically sucks or rules.  And there’s no such thing as a premise that guarantees one kind of show to be better than other kind of show.

That’s about all I have to say.  Premise has some value in the short term, i.e. getting people’s attention, but long term value, which is what really matters for art, comes from good execution.  More importantly, any premise from the mundane to the arcane can be executed well or be executed like shit, so it makes no sense to place any value on premise, because the premise does not in any way determine the quality of a show. There are hundreds if not thousands of anime examples that prove that premise alone is not worth anything, that prove that execution of a premise trumps the damn premise itself.  It’s a very simple truth, a basic idea, and somehow a lot of people don’t get it.  Hopefully some of you get it now.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Popularity: Quality and Popular Shows

Recently I saw a short review of One Punch Man by anime Youtuber BaronJ, and it’s one of the best ones I think he’s done because as he reviewed the show he talked about the asinine tendency some people have to instantly  assume or otherwise believe that shows which are popular are bad shows, which is the anime equivalent of arguing that games as popular as say Call of Duty must also be of the same relatively low quality as Call of Duty.  Since I liked the video I just thought I’d give my two cents on the same subject, there will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Just in case anyone who feels this way, as in you believe popular shows are bad shows, made through the first paragraph without closing out the page, I’m going to let you in a little secret, I totally get where you’re coming from.  I don’t agree with you, mind, but as someone who is similar to you, I get you.  I have a tendency to avoid popular shows, well sort of.  Technically I was introduced  to anime on popular shows and when I returned from my anime viewing hiatus I did it with a popular show and from there I watched several more popular shows.  But as I got more comfortable and more familiar with anime I started to avoid popular shows more often, I wanted to be that guy who knew the most awesome cult classic, who found the interesting stuff off the beaten path instead of walking the same mainstream road most anime fans followed.  I mean for fucks sake I have an entire subsection of this blog dedicated to “Hidden Gems,” though I haven’t given it as much attention as I would like to.  Believe me I get the appeal of writing off popular shows and trying to find something awesome and more unique.  One of the many reasons I am such a huge fan Katanagatari is because I know the ending is divisive and I enjoy pettily lording my ability to enjoy interesting anime over the casual anime fan.  But really that’s as far as it goes for me now, and that’s as far as it should go.

See here’s the thing, narcissism, a mild form of narcissism anyway, is a part of this writing off of popular shows.  We are all the heroes of our own story and most of us want to be special, someone distinct from the others around us.  I feel this is especially pronounced in anime community, anime has after all been something of a fringe medium in mainstream culture for decades now and it still is.  However it is less so now than it used to be, between social media, speed subbing, and just general cultural evolution more people are getting into anime than they used to and it’s slowly but surely becoming less of a weird and unknown thing in the mainstream. To those of us who are used to being on the fringe the next logical step therefore is as follows: if anime is getting more popular than by rejecting mainstream anime and finding the good stuff no one knows about, I can remain fringe, here meaning special.  I’m oversimplifying of course but as someone who had this mindset for years and still does to a lesser extent I feel pretty comfortable in my conjecture thus far.  There is however another side to this, the SAO effect.

Now the SAO effect is not specific to SAO or even anime, it’s present in every form of entertainment, I just call it that because it makes sense within the confines of anime.  The SAO effect is really quite simply, it’s when a show which is altogether terrible becomes hugely popular to the point where it’s basically worshiped by more causal viewers and causes major industry changes.  Much of the backlash towards popular shows can be attributed to the SAO effect, wherein the hardcore fans, like myself, get incredibly pissed that a garbage show like SAO is made popular by the masses of casual fans and how that popularity boom effects the landscape of what we perceive as “our” medium.  And as someone who has written several posts bashing  shitty SAO clones, SAO itself and why we need make more creative and original shows, trust me I get the hatred towards the SAO effect.  And the rift between hardcore fans and casual fans is real, even discounting all the venom I’ve seen on Youtube and other sites, I remember getting into a big argument with a casual fan over an episode of Fairy Tail 2014.  I ripped the thing to shreds because the episode was shit, and the casual fan basically told me to fuck off, I responded rather rudely and he did the same and then I tried to dial things back a bit and wrote a couple big paragraphs breaking down all the reasons I thought the episode was shit, no personal attacks, just my reasoning.  And it didn’t matter because that guy didn’t want to argue reason, by that point he had already classified me as a vile hardcore fan who ruined anime for newcomers and just perpetuated the argument by making attacks on me and hardcore anime fans without ever making a point of his own while my analytical breakdown responses got progressively nastier as I continued to explain my position but decided he was fair game to insult by that point.

Anyway the point is I get the reaction, I’ve been there and in some instances I’m still there.  I’ve heard great things about the mindfuck that is Serial Experiments Lain or how good Monster is, or for an even more popular example, I still haven’t watched Berserk yet because the first time I tried I couldn’t even make it through the first episode.  And to this day I’ve avoided these shows to some extent because they’re popular.  But at the same time, I have allowed myself to try those “vile” popular shows I kept putting off and here’s what I have to say: popularity is a sign of quality.  You’re probably thinking I’m talking about Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, both of which are great by the way, but this applies to SAO as well just not in the same way.  See quality is by it’s very nature is subjective, there is no objective quality though I’ve surely said there is in prior posts, in which case I meant they are good by metrics most people agree on.  SAO is garbage but it has certain elements that are made with enough skill to be considered quality, mainly the premise and visuals.  And for a lot of anime fans it would appear that’s all you need.  And sure that frustrating when you’re like me and you want people to celebrate true masterpieces like Katangatari and Utawarerumono, but that doesn’t contradict the point I’m making here.  Popularity is a sign of quality, not necessarily a lot of quality or quality that counts where you want it to, but in order for something to get big, it must have something about it which is good and/or appealing and therefore quality craftsmanship.  Just as I can appreciate why SAO is a pile of shit, I can also understand what parts of it are good and why people might be into that.

The quality of a show’s premise I feel plays a particularly big role when it comes to attracting newcomers.  SAO, Erased, and Shingeki no Kyojin are some of the three biggest anime hits in recent years and all three of them, in my opinion, failed to deliver.  Even Shingeki no Kyojin, my favorite of those three is more noteworthy for the big action scenes more so than the story or characters, and I can get the same thing from Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, a show which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than Shingeki no Kyojin.  But the fact that all three shows failed to deliver doesn’t matter to a ton of people, because to that mass of people the premise was crafted with enough quality to pull them all in and keep them interested enough to ignore all the flaws of the shows, assuming they don’t just miss the flaws entirely.  This is probably the biggest gap between hardcore otaku and “casual noobfags” when it comes to the differences in those two groups traditionally value.  To a lot of anime newbies, and I don’t mean to criticize anyone by calling them that because we’ve all been newbies at some point, a good premise is all you need or at least is more interesting than a slice of life moe show.  Trust me I know how that feels, it’s so fucking easy to write off all harem and moe shows or maybe all SAO of AoT clones to give a different example, and get drawn into something with a that has a more interesting premise.

Of course easy is not the same thing as smart or right, as I explained in my breakdown of why Erased’s characters sucked because they solely existed for their narrative purpose rather than existing as independent entities in the world of the show, I’d rather watch a decent moe or harem show than watch another show with a great premise that falls flat on it’s boring ass.  Because to someone like me a good premise alone is not enough to impress, you need to have more substance.  This substance can take many forms, maybe’s it’s characters I really like, or good fight scenes or good comedy.  One on the funniest shows in recent seasons was a moe comedy show called Bakuon.  Now I initially passed over Bakuon because it looked like a dumb moe show, and to be fair that’s exactly what it is, however what I failed to appreciate before I saw it was how much fun it was and how much heart had been into the stupid moe comedy, and that heart is what made it fucking hilarious.  Now Bakuon was not a big hit so far as I’m aware, despite the quality of it’s comedy.  This too is part of the reason people  they popular shows are bad, because a lot of people miss the shows that are great all the way through, shows that are overlooked because they don’t look as interesting as shows with a good premise like Erased.  So it is understandable how the idea that popular shows are bad shows came about, because many popular have quality where designed to attract lots of newbies while they lack quality where hardcore fans want quality, like story, characters, pacing and everything that isn’t premise and visuals.

However to assume that something that’s popular is automatically bad is even more close-minded than ignoring all of a show’s problems just because the premise is good.  One Punch Man is a great example because it’s fucking awesome, the comedy is hilarious, the action scenes are insanely well animated, the voice acting is spot on and the dialogue is solid.  Why would you assume it’s bad?  Maybe if action doesn’t interest you or you didn’t think the comedy was good or thought the idea of a hero who kills everything in one hit was boring I can understand why you might not like the show.  But One Punch Man oozes quality from every aspect of it’s design and it seems mindboogling to me that anyone fails to recognize that.  Moreover a lot of the shows that remain popular for any length of time tend to be high quality shows.  I remember I put off watching Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion for a long time because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the old 90’s animation, but after having seen I can say without a doubt that both shows are great and their 90’s animation fits them exceptionally well, the Evangelion Rebuild movies look far less impressive than the original Neon Genesis Evagelion despite their shiny new graphics.

Now none of this is to say you can’t dislike popular shows, I think plenty of popular shows are crap and I’m usually less impressed by even some of the truly beloved shows like Death Note compared to the community at large.  I just think it’s stupid to assume that something popular is automatically bad, don’t make assume that until you’ve tried it, or if you’re really averse to that maybe wait to hear about it from a friend you trust.  Lots of popular shows are bad, usually because their only quality constructs are their premises and visuals.  But assuming they’re all bad just because they’re popular is shooting yourself in the foot and making you look like an ass.  Have reasons why you hate something, good reasons, substantive reasons that can justify so someone who isn’t you can understand why you think the way you do.  If you just categorize popular shows as bad you could be missing out on great shows, because while some of the biggest popular shows in recent years are infamously terrible, there are plenty that are great or look promising and you honestly owe it yourself to find out for yourself what shows are and aren’t for you.  That’s really the main point here, more so than all the crap about different kinds of quality, what I really want people to do is stop missing out on good shows for stupid reasons, like assuming all popular shows are bad.  Hope you enjoyed the post and I’ll see you in the next one.