It’s been a rough year, yet the world continues to move forward. The anime business, of course, continues to thrive. There hasn’t been a major shift in the ever-popular medium’s atmosphere, but there has been an uptick in interest in anime thanks to more and more accessible means to view these episodes and Megan Thee Stallion’s cosplay. Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle was met with a 14 minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes, and the news of Kentaro Miura, the late mangaka of Berserk: The Complete Saga, was reported by both NPR and The New York Times. Since large media companies like Sony have purchased major distributors and producers like Crunchyroll for over a billion dollars, it’s hard to call anime a niche sector these days.
Even if it’s premature to call this the “Anime Decade,” it does appear like we’ve entered one. Last year, it was more prevalent than ever, and the hype and excitement only grew in 2021. Everyone who works from home or participates in distance education can find solace in anime, which has emerged as a vital type of media and a feature of streaming. A lot of outstanding choices were considered for our year-end list, but a few were omitted due to their largely incomplete runs at the time of writing (sorry, Stone Ocean; you’ll be back in 2022 for sure! ). Here is our favorite anime of the year, after a lot of consideration:
Most of the titles listed here may be found on Crunchyroll or Funimation, two popular streaming services for anime. Those wishing to get into anime via a subscription may already have the title if it is accessible elsewhere.
10. Sk8 the Infinity
Hiroko Utsumi has securely established herself as the director of choice for the discriminating fujoshi with films like Free! Iwatoubi Swim Club and Banana Fish, which is a proto-Boys Love Drama. It’s no surprise that Sk8 the Infinity is a hit with Utsumi fans, but it’s also her most accessible anime yet for individuals who don’t identify as fujoshi, making it an excellent choice for those who aren’t.
Sk8 the Infinity, like the best sports anime, has wonderful friendships (or are they something more?), amusing rivalries, and style to spare. The “S” competition is replete with high-octane drama, and Adam, the controversial villain, takes center stage as the story develops. Despite the show’s more tragic moments, it never forgets that skateboarding is first and foremost about having fun. Theodore Roosevelt —Reuben Baron
9. Komi Can’t Communicate
For a high school comedy with 23 volumes and counting of Tomohito Oda’s manga being published in Japan, Komi Can’t Communicate is a safe bet to continue for many more seasons.
The concept of the show is that Komi, the most beautiful girl in her high school class, suffers from terrible social anxiety to the extent that she is unable to even speak to other people. When Tadano, who appears to be your average Joe, learns her secret, he sets out to help her find new friends. I’m still waiting for the ninja’s tale, but Komi’s classmates are all entertainingly weird in their own ways. Comedy fans of Azumanga Daioh and Nichijou will enjoy the hilarity of Komi Can’t Communicate. Theodore Roosevelt —Reuben Baron
8. Star Wars: Visions
Since The Animatrix sparked the trend, Star Wars: Visions is the best anime shorts anthology to come out of Lucasfilm’s galaxy far, far away in a while. Despite the wide range of stories and styles represented by the nine non-canonical episodes produced by seven different animation studios, it appears that no two fans can agree on how to rank them in Visions (although Disney has submitted “The Village Bride” for the Best Animated Short Oscar and everyone seems to like “The Ninth Jedi”).
The Astro Boy-inspired “T0-B1” was the episode that made me the happiest, although I could see why any episode could be a favorite for someone else. Imagine what Disney+’s next Star Wars series will be like when even one-half of them is as inventive and imaginative as Visions. Theodore Roosevelt —Reuben Baron
7. Tokyo Revengers
With echoes of Erased and Gokusen thrown in for good measure, the show has the feel of something new and exciting while also being emotionally raw and thrilling in its depiction of a delinquent gang’s inner workings. Tokyo Revengers’ emphasis on memory, even our most painful and suppressed, is what makes it so appealing, and its central mystery develops with a hearty amount of twists and subversions. As a character study on meatheads and an action-packed tragedy in motion, Tokyo Revengers can be hard to pin down at times, but that’s actually a strength of the film. It’s one of the best slowburns of the year. Texas-born author Austin Jones
6. Pui Pui Molcar
With only 12 episodes, Pui Pui Molcar is one of the year’s quickest and most convenient anime binges. Those who aren’t anime fans will have an easier time getting into it because of how easy it is to recommend. There is no spoken dialogue in this felted stop-motion series, thus there is no need to get into “subs vs. dubs” discussions. Moreover, how could anyone resist the adorableness of a guinea pig that is also a vehicle?
For all audiences, Pui Pui Molcar delivers a hilarious blast of silly fun without going on for too long. With slapstick humor and pop cultural references aplenty, every frame is a joy to look at, and the worldbuilding is far more realistic than in Pixar’s Cars films. Your children (or yourself) will expect products for the holidays after watching this. Theodore Roosevelt —Reuben Baron
5. Jujutsu Kaisen
We did the same thing last year when we didn’t include the first half of Jujutsu Kaisen in our year-end list: dismiss it as a on par action anime. Irrespective of its lack of mastery in any one area, MAPPA’s stalwart successor to Attack on Titan (and its strongest competitor at this point in time, we might add) has an ironclad combination of well-developed characters, beautiful animation and smooth fight scenes with intriguing but not overblown lore and an excellent soundtrack. Kaisen has already created a name for itself by pushing the boundaries of what a shounen anime can be, making bold decisions in its plot beats and doing justice to its female cast, something that practically every huge action anime strives to make up for. ‘Kaisen’
Jujutsu Kaisen is an excellent introduction to the world of anime for those who have never seen it before, while still offering something unique and interesting for more seasoned or even jaded viewers of similar shows. It’s a wonder that anyone can come up with something new in such a crowded field. Texas-born author Austin Jones
4. Wonder Egg Priority
Wonder Egg Priority would be a classic anime if it had a happy ending. CloverWorks’ The Promised Neverland Season 2 was a disaster because of the pandemic, an inexperienced but talented staff, and an animation studio on the verge of breaking point (see also: CloverWorks’ disastrous The Promised Neverland Season 2). There is little hope for a second season of this gloomy magical girl series because of the production’s terrible nature.
However, what a stunning anomaly! It’s worth watching for the animation alone, but the story of four girls trying to save the lives of loved ones who took their own lives was also really moving. You didn’t need to know anything about the mythology to be moved by Ai’s journey to accept and love herself, Rika’s journey to confront her history as a bully, and Momoe’s bravery in claiming her gender. Theodore Roosevelt —Reuben Baron
3. The Heike Story
Starting with Devilman Crybaby in 2018 and continuing through the anthology series Star Wars: Visions this year, Science SARU has had a tremendous couple of years. The studio’s most modest series to date will be the studio’s best achievement in 2021. According to the Genpei War’s The Tale of the Heike, The Heike Story is based on. A young oracle, named Biwa, who has been orphaned, is taken in by the heir of the tribe that slaughtered her father. Despite her reluctance to aid her father’s assassins in their war endeavor, she decides to keep a journal of the events that would take place, claiming authorship of the titular epic in the process.
Reiko Yoshida’s historical reinterpretation of the series is powerful and touching, and this, in combination with the captivating woodblock-inspired animation technique, lends the show a folklore feel while also fostering an emotional closeness. One can see Japan’s emotional landscapes in the past, present, and future through this well-considered portrayal of a critical time in the country’s history. Texas-born author Austin Jones
2. Ranking of Kings
Even though I despise the term “wholesome,” it’s hard to think of a better way to describe Ranking of Kings. There is so much more to it, too. Despite being born deaf, Prince Bojji’s half-brother and the people of the kingdom insult and bully him. Bojji resolves to become a worthy king so that he can claim his rightful crown after meeting Kage, a shadow who understands his sentiments. With its gorgeous watercolors, Ranking of Kings takes place in a universe that evokes both Dragon Quest’s look and mood. Its beautiful battles and freeform fantasy take on Jacques Demy’s fanciful realms give way to a classic epic adventure in its joyful plot and fluid, freeform animation style.
However, it is a compassionate representation of handicap that is both motivating and demanding in its dedication to Bojji. A major step forward for the media is that Ranking of Kings incorporates sign language, which was recommended by the Tokyo Federation for the Deaf. We need to make these important languages more appealing, and Ranking of Kings does just that. Texas-born author Austin Jones
1. Odd Taxi
Each of Odd Cab’s 13 episodes follows the rhythm of taxi driver Hiroshi Odokawa, an eccentric and terminally single walrus who is numb to his monotonous daily routine. The show’s basic exterior reveals its profound substance. As his taxi becomes the focal point of the investigation, a missing girl begins to creep into his personal life. While the plot of Odd Taxi isn’t as fast-paced as Taxi Cab Confessions or Durarara!!, it still has a lot of heart. As fascinating as the show is, it’s also a lesson in mastering the art of generating tension, with each episode seeming like it’s ready to hit a boiling peak before settling back down to a simmering heat again. “Reiwa”
Odokawa’s passengers and the hazardous plots building beyond the cab’s safe haven are a constant source of tension in the show. There are a lot of things to like about this program, but the best is the dialogue between the cast members. The show really shines in the first place—the characters’ quippy banter reveals a genuinely human vision of modern life. Even though it’s a viral hit like many of its contemporaries, Odd Taxi stands out as one of the best anime of the last several years and unlike anything else on the market right now..