1. Carole & Tuesday – Shinichirō Watanabe, director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, brings us this masterpiece. Music has always been a major part of his work — sometimes it feels like another character — but he cuts out the middleman and outright makes it about musicians on Mars. In 24 episodes, you run the gamut of emotions. The soundtrack is fantastic and even the dub is worth watching. I’ve heard people say that this might be Watanabe’s best work, and while I don’t quite agree (Space Cowboys will always be first place in my heart), it’s definitely in the top two. – 5/5
2. How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? – This one ain’t on anyone else’s list, but I absolutely adore it. As a fairly short woman who recently wasted an entire day watching reviews of squat racks and power cages, tiny anime girls getting strong is my shit. While the actual educational aspect of the show isn’t necessarily 100% accurate, it’s still hilariously entertaining. – 4.5/5
3. My Hero Academia – Despite the first half of Season 4 moving slower than a turtle swimming in molasses, it’s picked up and is still one of my favorite anime series. – 4.25/5
Honorable Mentions: Aggretsuko, Dr. Stone, Fire Force, The Rising of the Shield Hero, The Promised Neverland, Fruits Basket.
1. The Rising of the Shield Hero – I’m thankful they toned down the more unlikable aspects of the original manga (like any ambiguity on whether or not he committed rape) as well as the more shounen aspects (harem, chosen one). What’s more, it makes sense why they care for the main character as opposed to just liking him because he’s powerful or the main hero. Our shield hero is just so despised; it felt like such an original idea to go from cliche (hero pulled from another world) to hero accused of a heinous crime and is loathed by everyone. Having been accused of rape, he gives up on the world he’s supposed to protect and hates everyone. Raphtalia is also one of the more interesting female characters in anime, having gone from the typical “Can’t help herself and relies on the hero” to “the hero wouldn’t survive without her.” I dare you to try not to cry, her origin is so heartbreaking. – 5/5
2. Demon Slayer – Fantastic animation that is incredibly well paced. Even with typical tropes and comic relief (both Zenitsu and Inosuke), the pure-hearted hero in Tanjiro and the mysterious bad guy in Muzan Kibutsuji, our protagonist’s relationship with his sister is very original. The different demons he and the other slayers face are fascinating and uniquely styled both in art design and fighting. In fact, the fighting in general is one of the major highlights of the series going from frantic and fast to borderline picturesque. The only reasons I don’t think it’s number 1 for the year: 1) How much you hate Zenitsu in the beginning. He’s is the most annoying “annoying character” I’ve ever seen. It’s intentional but still painful. But he does get much better. 2) The ending is a little abrupt and has a huge deus ex machina. – 4/5
3. That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime – It’s so weird. Ha. A very funny anime with a way overpowered main character. The main storyline does do some world building in a unique way, testing the viewers typical expectations on D&D. Friendship and trust are the big themes, and eventually the main Slime character faces many enemies that are stronger (one of the saving graces of the show). Although, I found myself hating when Slime would take a human form instead of the cute blob that everyone underestimates. – 3/5
1. Love, Death & Robots – I’m not really an anthology guy, and I’m sure many of you will dock my point tally considering that this series is not true anime. I included it on my list since chances are no one else will. But, if you haven’t had the chance to see this little gem of a show you’re really missing out. If we’re being technical, some of the episodes are crafted with an anime feel and essence, like the beautifully animated “Good Hunting” for example. There’s literally something for everyone in these shorts, as it experiments with an array of animation styles and themes ranging from robot comedy to space horror. As with any anthology series, the stories are hit or miss, but they definitely hit more than they miss. Fingers crossed for a Season 2. – 4/5
2. Dr. Stone – Fun and easy to get into, Stone was a unique surprise this year. I like technical anime that makes you think, and Stone uses real science to get inside your head. The characters are over the top of course, but not as crazy as the wacky Kill La Kill for comparison. If you’re looking for a fun anime that experiments with real scientific concepts, give Dr. Stone a try. – 3/5
3. My Hero Academia – It may be a bit of a cliche pick, but My Hero continues to deliver a solid anime experience. Still fun and exciting to watch, I look forward to where this story will eventually go. – 3/5
Honorable mentions: Kill La Kill, I Lost My Body.
1. Ride Your Wave – Masaaki Yuasa’s latest film is technically getting a wide release next year, but I saw it at Fantastic Fest. It’s his most grounded, least insane and accessible feature to date. It’s not his best work, but it has a lot of heart and is a fun watch. – 5/5
2. Promare – From Trigger, the animation studio behind Kill La Kill and director Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann), Promare is off the walls crazy animation. The storyline is kind of all over the place, but you’ve never seen anything like Promare animation-wise. – 4/5
3. Weathering with You – Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to Your Name, Weathering with You isn’t quite as good as Your Name but the emotion it triggers inside its audience by the end of the film is overwhelming. – 3.5/5
Honorable Mention: One Punch Man — This was the only anime of the year that I actually had the time to finish. The animation for season two of OPM is obviously lacking, but I thought the new season was really entertaining. It sucks that it reached its peak at the very end of the season; ending on a gigantic cliffhanger. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another four years for the next season.
1. Vinland Saga – Throw anime and Viking history together and you get an amazing solmen anime willing to stab you in the feels, as you follow the lead character Thorfinn in his quest of revenge against those who have wronged him. The animation is breathtakingly crafted by Wit Studios, and the story adapted from Makoto Yukimura‘s amazing manga reminds me of the first time I saw Berserk; and, like that series, they share a deep pathos of loss and courage. Vinland Saga is excellent, each episode draws you deep into the story, and earning its bold blood. – 5/5.
2. Carole and Tuesday – So we switch it up, and head to the future of Mars, and a competitive super talent show. We get an anime so vastly different than mostly anything out there, but one that doesn’t fail to enchant both visually and musically. Carole and Tuesday just scratches the need to have something different than we normally get– great characterization, banging tunes, and whimsical animation by Studio Bones. I mean, you wouldn’t expect anything else from anime god extreme, Shinichirō Watanabe. – 4/5
3. The Rising of the Shield Hero – Anime has been strongly dominate in the fantasy realm genre, with Goblin Slayer recently, and Grand Blue Fantasy. While fun, it’s even more interesting in the way the show tries to play on cliches and turn those very pins that make fantasy what it is. The final episodes clicked better than the beginning as we learned a bit more of the Naofumi Iwatani and the titular shield hero. – 3/5
Honorable Mentions: Fate Grand Order – Heroic harem anime.. check, great heroic spirits.. check, pretty cool animation.. check. Like The Rise of the Shield Hero it has a slow build, but when it starts to come together.. watch out, this is the Fate we love to watch.
1. ORESUKI Are you the only one who loves me? – Funny, but the #1 anime I watched all year was Neon Genesis Evangelion and that dropped, oh, 25-years ago. Netflix revived it, everyone’s gone nuts and a fourth movie has been announced for 2020. So let’s talk about something a little bit different: Oresuki. I was recommended this harem/romantic anime a few weeks ago and can’t thank my weeb family enough. This was the funniest, most charming anime I watched in a while, and after all the hunting, killing and slaying, just the right flavor I needed to take me into the new year. – 4.75/5
2. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – This almost wins on the OP alone. LiSA’s “Gurenge” was my ringtone for most of the year. That shit fucks so hard. Thankfully the anime is twice the dope. Those longing for an unofficial (non-Boruto) Naruto adventure will be entirely pleased here, for Demon Slayer is arguably the best ninja anime action since that timeless classic, complete with similar fiendish percussion, lighting-crafted visuals from Unfotable (these demon designs like WHOA), and a cast of characters with plenty of quirk. Who doesn’t already love Tanjiro and Nezuko? Most shōnen comes and goes, but the empathy, moral conflict and duality of the matter at hand — homeboy is carrying a potentially dangerous demon sis around in his napsack — should keep this one around for years to come. – 4.5/5
3. Dororo – Speaking of Naruto, Amazon Prime’s Dororo will send off many of the same vibes, yet in far more subtle, chilling context. I mean, shit, our friend Hyakkimiru’s living parts were snatched from.. well.. demons.. and only comes into luck thanks to a young pest who likes to take things too. There’s so much heart in an anime about a guy who doesn’t have one, and it’s also so wonderful watching a man with brittle-to-missing bones kick so much damn ass. Throw in some world building politics set in that samurai era, lengthy yet wondrous navigation scenes (think the History series Vikings, but anime and.. not vikings), a touching familial bond, and Dororo could be a #1 anime in any other year. – 4.5/5
4. The Promised Neverland – Much like my #1 choice, Yakusoku no Neverland is the type of anime I would never watch unless otherwise highly recommended, with its theme of curious orphans and the whole dreaded “don’t go near the gate to the dangerous forest” warnings. Of course, our children go in anyway and that’s when all the fun — all the sick, demented adult fun — began. Thankfully, Neverland never let up and delivered a tight narrative, gorgeous CloverWorks anime and a haunting story that would fuck up even the most stubborn of otaku. – 4.25/5
5. The Rising of the Shield Hero – There have been a slew of new fantasy sword-and-magic and isekai anime releases in the past year — Goblin Slayer, How Not To Summon A Demon Lord, RADIANT, etc. So what in the hell could possibly separate Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari from the rest of the pack? Oh, its terrible, fucked up twist. Isn’t that always the case? Isn’t that why we love anime? Nothing is ever as it seems, and in Shield Hero, that statement couldn’t be closer to the truth. – 4/5
Honorable Mentions: My Hero Academia, Carole and Tuesday, Vinland Saga, Fire Force, Mob Psycho 100 II, Dr. Stone, That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime.
1. Carole and Tuesday
2. The Rising of the Shield Hero
3. Demon Slayer
4. My Hero Academia
5. Vinland Saga
Honorable Mentions: Dr. Stone, That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, The Promised Neverland, Fire Force, Oresuki.