You know what time it is, guys. Time for another ULTIMATE ANIME COUNTDOWN.
Many years ago as a young and sprightly anime fan, I stumbled across a blog post on the now defunct Ha Neul Seum. Its creator, gaguri, laid out their favorite TV anime of the 2000s. I found this list to be incredibly useful, and discovered all kinds of cool stuff by going down title by title.
Now that it’s the 2010s, I thought: why not make a list in the same spirit? These are my own personal picks, excluding films and some other stuff (go bug the other bloggers on this site if you want their picks.) I can’t say that I’m the most knowledgeable fan you’ll meet, or the one with the best eye. But I can say that I enjoyed every title on this list, and think they’re all worth checking out if you’re curious about the medium. If there’s any kids out there who still read anime blogs, I hope this post may be of use to you as gaguri’s was for me.
Let’s all call out, together: “SEIZON SENRYAKU!”
50. Show By Rock!! — There’s an exchange in the first few episodes of Show By Rock!! that sums up this show’s brand of lunacy at its best. In her room, the heroine worries what will happen if her new friends and band-mates discover she came from another world. “What will they do if they know who I am?” In another room, her dog-eared friend whimpers and rolls around. “What will the new girl do if she knows I have a crush on her?” In another room, her rabbit-eared friend stares into a computer screen. “What would my friends think if they knew I was going to betray them?” In another room, her sheep-eared friend speaks in an unknown language. “What would they do if they knew I was an alien from outer space?”
49. Tokyo Ghoul — Tokyo Ghoul is certainly flawed: it’s an abbreviated take on a goth shounen-ish comic, replete with censored gore and some shaky pacing. At its worst, the series came off as a hopelessly compromised adaptation, especially in its disastrous second season. At its best, though, Tokyo Ghoul is one of the most artful adaptations of a fight comic in the past decade, especially in its two season finales (we don’t talk about Re!) I hope to see the director back at work one day.
48. Girls Und Panzer — A sports story about high school girls competing in tank battles in between cutesy antics? At first glance, Girls Und Panzer comes off as the kind of bottom-of-the-bin pastiche you’d see Musani working on in Shirobako. But its endearing characters, total dedication to its premise, and exciting and well-choreographed tank battles made it one of the most entertaining sports anime out there. Go figure.
47. The Dragon Dentist — “Award-winning novelist Otaro Maijo and the director of FLCL bring you Studio Khara’s first anime!” You’d think the result would be a smash hit, but somehow The Dragon Dentist seemed to sink out of view just on its release. It’s a series that deserves better; while not up to par with the staff’s earlier works from the 90s and 2000s, it’s a solid miniseries with great visuals and a surprisingly nihilistic edge.
46. Megalo Box — A bold retelling of the legendary “Tomorrow’s Joe” for the new era, Megalo Box transposes the story from its roots in the rough-and-tumble 70s to a fantastically textured and detailed post-apocalyptic cityscape. If it doesn’t have quite the fire of the original, the staff give it a solid go; the soundtrack in particular is a masterpiece. Of recent attempts to make “a show that could have aired on Toonami in the 2000s,” this is one of the best.
45. Aggretsuko — “RAAAAAAGGGEEEE!!!” The first season of Aggretsuko is one of the most beloved of Netflix’s “Original Series,” and for good reason–it’s funny, but the daily abuses endured by our heroine Retsuko are no joke. Despite its limited animation and short run-time, Aggretsuko punches far above its weight as a sweet but biting portrait of office life in your 20s.
44. Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight — Part of a multimedia franchise that includes a musical and a mobile game, the Revue Starlight anime staples elements together from Ikuhara shows, idol dramas and grim-dark magical girl series. But the style is exquisite; courtesy of the hard work of the staff and some truly inspired design work, Revue Starlight is one of the most visually stunning shows of its kind. Not quite for me, but a hidden gem.
43. Just Because! — Despite a stellar first episode, the production of Just Because! slowly and tragically fell to pieces over the course of its run. Even so, the series is a far messier and more nuanced portrait of high school than is common for anime, dealing with a cast of lovable but flawed characters working through last-minute nostalgia. Undeservedly overlooked, it deserves a second chance.
42. Zvezda Plot — Okay, yes I know: the outfits in this show are really questionable, and a few episodes in the middle of its run are uninspired. No matter, Zvezda Plot is one of the most creative and entertaining shows there is. Local vegetables as a fuel source! A secret cabal of smokers! References to Kinji Fukusaku films! For a skeevy series about characters in silly outfits fighting on the side of evil, Zvezda Plot is one of the best. I’m still waiting for a sequel (or Girls’ Work, whichever comes first…)
41. Mysterious Girlfriend X — On its release, Mysterious Girlfriend X was derided by critics as a spookily weird fetish show with CG drool. And yeah, it is that…but the series is also an unusually sensitive adaptation of cult artist Riichi Ueshiba’s original comic, created by folks who went on to create critically acclaimed adaptations of After the Rain and Children of the Sea. If you can get past the weirdness, it’s an old-school romantic comedy that (despite some dated politics) goes to places other anime romance won’t.
40. Gundam Build Fighters — Unlike most Gundam series, Build Fighters has no other ambitions than to be an entertaining kids show about fan-favorite robots beating the crap out of each other. But it nails that ambition, resulting in some of the best 2D robot fights of the past several years. Plus, you like the kids! A number of the staff who went on to make megahit anime My Hero Academia first broke through in this effort.
39. Aquarion Evol — Mari Okada teams up with her inspiration Shoji Kawamori for the first time, and in the process they work magic together. EVOL is a spectacularly goofy mecha series, packed with bizarre non-sequiturs (a doughnut themed episode! an episode where the cast learn they dodge better when naked!!) and knowing riffs on anime cliches (a beach episode that is also a hot springs episode!!!) But it’s the memorable side cast and their relationships who are EVOL’s real ace in the hole, ensuring its big dramatic swings land in the final stretch.
38. White Album 2 — Animated adaptations of visual novels can be hit or miss, but White Album 2 is one of the best. Working from a far more linear framework than most of its type, it’s a melodramatic but very entertaining high school drama with some of the best music drops since Honey and Clover. Why is this series listed here, and not Steins;Gate? I dunno, go argue it out in the comments I guess.
37. Concrete Revolutio — Japan’s Watchmen. A skeleton key. A secret alternate history where every robot, defender of justice, magical girl and hideous monster was real. Concrete Revolutio doesn’t quite hang together as well as it wants to. But its sky-high ambitions (replete with some of the coolest fight scenes this decade!) make it more than worth checking out. There’s some excellent cover songs here, too!
36. Garo: The Animation — Like Tokyo Ghoul, Garo can be hit or miss; some episodes are excellent, while others come off as treading water. In the best stretches of the series, though (the tragic 17, 18’s spectacular sword fight, 19’s constant freakiness) Garo stakes its claim as one of the best classic fantasy series of this decade. No other animated Garo series has lived up to its blend of legit storytelling chops and occasional burst of experimental animation, though Vanishing Line came close.
35. Pop Team Epic — Like any sketch comedy, Pop Team Epic is pretty hit or miss! But the best skits are some of the most out-there work produced in the 2010s. It’s exactly the “shitty anime” adaptation that the original comic deserved. Oh? Sorry, I was busy thinking about Hellshake Yano.
34. Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun — A delightful romantic comedy that plays havoc with the tropes of girls’s comics, Nozaki-kun is one of the most endearing series to be directed by Mitsue Yamazaki. There aren’t much in the way of dramatic stakes, but some of the jokes are all-timers, and the ending is an unexpected kick in the stomach. That we never got a second season is a crime.
33. Space Dandy — When Space Dandy came out, I think people had the impression it would be another Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. This is a mistake: Bebop and Champloo succeed as ensemble dramas, while Space Dandy works best when its main character is isolated and wandering through weird alien planets. Take the show on its own terms, picking and choosing episodes that look interesting, and you’ll find the best stand-alone episodes made this decade.
32. Katanagatari — SHAFT’s adaptation of Bakemonogatari made Nisoisin a legend on the world stage, but it’s arguably Katanagatari that is his most well-rounded work. Both a romance and a tricky and playful series of swordfights, Katanagatari makes you fully invested its wonderful characters before pulling the rug out from under you and sending you straight to hell. This is the anime that broke illegenes; will it break you too?
31. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 — Unabashedly old-school yet strangely refreshing, Yamato 2199 is a stately reimagining of a classic series dashed with some early-2000s heady weirdness. As anime lurches towards reincarnation fantasies and slave harems, Yamato gives us submarine battles in space, freaky one-offs and a constant sense of perseverance in the face of danger. Even if you haven’t seen the original, 2199 is worth your time!
30. Thunderbolt Fantasy — After a string of misses, Gen Urobuchi somehow brought it back with the whiz-bang wuxia action of Thunderbolt Fantasy. With a script pared to its absolute essentials but packed with tricks and double-dealing, elevated by the stellar puppetry of legendary Taiwanese puppet studio Pili, and a thumping soundtrack courtesy of Hiroyuki Sawano, Thunderbolt Fantasy is a joy. The sequel came with a bit too much Urobuchi bullshit for my taste, but it does have a character played by T.M. Revolution fighting a dragon by loudly singing the show’s theme song, so it can’t be all bad.
29. Kill la Kill — Kill la Kill is a series with problems, an overstuffed and very horny grab bag of problematic tropes and narrative dead-ends made by folks less interested in nuance than in shouting very loudly. That said: following this show in college is some of the most fun I’ve had watching anime as it aired, and the guitar chords in “Before My Body is Dry” still gives me Pavlovian chills. So I’m putting it here right near the middle.
28. Run With the Wind — The genius of Run With The Wind is how its diverse cast of characters, with their own goals and anxieties, gives everyone someone to root for. Are you a former high school ace learning to love running for its own sake after competitive PTSD? Kakeru is there for you. Are you an older adult dealing with a rapidly failing body, and looking for ways to keep in shape? The always chill Nico-senpai is in your corner. Were you the person in high school cross country who to the very end came in last in every race, but experienced exponential improvement? Prince is your guy. If you’re looking with a sports show with more of a hang-out vibe, Run With The Wind is one of the best of its type (and the animation is pretty great too!)
27. Chihayafuru — Chihayafuru is the whole package: an exciting and tense sports series, a heartwarming character drama packed with loveable but complicated people, a love triangle where the outcome is constantly in doubt. The third season coming down the pike this fall is a blessing, but the first two stand alone as one of the best series of the decade. Don’t worry: even if you don’t know karuta, Chihayafuru will make you love it.
26. Hugtto! Precure — Hugtto! Precure doesn’t have the stand-out excellence of Heartcatch Precure, or the unified theming and consistently good fights of Go! Princess Precure. It does have Emiru and Lulu, a girl and an apocalypse robot who are together the best couple of the decade; unexpectedly progressive and nuanced politics, unafraid to explore gender and Japan’s culture of work within the confines of a children’s series; and some unexpectedly dark and harrowing bits that will shock your kids. Hugtto! Precure can be a mess, but its dedication to its mission and refusal to condescend to its audience puts most “shows for adults” to shame.
25. Tsuritama — Tsuritama is Kenji Nakamura’s most accessible series, a funny and moving story of anxious and confused kids learning how to love each other through fishing. It’s also an apocalyptic alien invasion narrative, and somehow the series is able to juggle these conflicting tones without missing a beat, or forgetting to make you laugh.
24. Samurai Flamenco –What is Samurai Flamenco? Is it a low-key drama about real people playing hero in Tokyo? A shocking genre pastiche that takes unexpected twists and turns throughout? A hilarious comedy that stretches the conventions of tokusatsu to its absolute limit? A deeply serious and affectionate portrait of a slow-burn romance between two men, that actually pays off? Samurai Flamenco is the series that broke Manglobe, and in some respects a colossal trainwreck. But I will never forget it.
23. Planet With — Planet With is cult manga artist Satoshi Mizukami’s love letter to giant robots and early 2000s Gainax shows. If it lacks the budget and sheer animation firepower of its inspiration, its tightly written script and refusal to rest on its laurels puts most other anime to shame. Within its humble means, Planet With is a shockingly enjoyable (and nuanced!) tribute to the greats that often exceeds their current output in execution.
22. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable — Let’s not kid around, while the manga is a genuine masterpiece it’s really the loving anime adaptation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure that broke through to a global audience. Of the five seasons that currently exist, I’d say Diamond is Unbreakable is the best; despite its sometimes rough production values, the adapatation punches up one of Araki’s best narratives with fun tricks of its own. The episode where the cast go to eat Italian food stands alone as the definitive example of what Jojo is capable of.
21. Devilman Crybaby — Despite how excited I was leading up to its release, Devilman Crybaby…might be my least favorite series directed by Masaaki Yuasa? That said, it’s a fantastic adaptation of its classic source material, an uncompromising ride into hell given weight and emotion by the staff’s understanding that Devilman is at its core a love story. The penultimate episode is one of the best and cruellest of the decade.
20. Flip Flappers — The director of Flip Flappers, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, cites the infamous psychologist Bruno Bettelheim as an influence. That as much as anything expresses the show’s appeal to me: it’s a grab bag of popular anime tropes that also includes oblique references to thomassons and Jacob von Uexkull, and a real creeping sense of dread. Oshiyama seems poised for even greater things, but I’ll always treasure Flip Flappers’ stubborn independence.
19. Sound! Euphonium — Musical performances are notoriously difficult to capture in anime, so of course it’d take Kyoto Animation–a legendary studio–to do them justice. But Sound! Euphonium is more than just a venue for well-animated instruments: it’s a great coming of age story as well, one that gives the long-lasting anime struggle between “genius” and “effort” real weight.
18. Land of the Lustrous — Land of the Lustrous is the best TV anime ever made in CG. It’s also a very good adaptation of an excellent comic, dramatizing scenes in an effective way without explicitly copying them. Few other shows are as committed as Land of the Lustrous is to exploring all the ramnifications of its very odd setting, and the ways in which its lead character can break.
17. Sarazanmai — After directing two very odd and indulgent series, Kunihiko Ikuhara is back with something much more accessible: a musical comedy! Sarazanmai is a story about three boys who learn to love each other through song and dance; of course, it’s also a thriller about how society persecutes those whose desires threaten the capitalist machine, and how even those who hold those desires as adults can be implicated by the system. Rather than another story about revolutionizing the world, it’s a story about what it means to live.
16. Hyouka — How do you describe something like Hyouka? A mystery series where the mysteries revolve around literary criticism. A portrait of a “rose-colored campus life” narrated by a cynic. Whether it’s a slice-of-life story, an anthropological study of a high school or a whodunnit, the simple fact is that Hyouka represents the apex of what Kyoto Animation as a studio can accomplish, and for that reason can be considered one of the best TV anime ever made.
15. Kyousogiga — Before Rie Matsumoto blew up with Blood Blockade Battlefront, she was tapped by Toei to direct this very odd series. A mash-up of Japanese mythology, family infighting and a love letter to paper and flat objects, Kyousogiga is one of the most idiosyncratic shows produced this decade. That Matsumoto hasn’t been given an even wider canvas to make her mark on the industry is a crime, but until that happens Koto’s adventures in the Mirror Capital remain ripe for revisiting.
14. A Place Farther Than the Universe — We’ve seen cute girls playing in a rock band, cute girls climbing mountains and cute girls fighting to become idols. But what if those cute girls travelled to Antarctica? A Place Farther Than the Universe succeeds as one of those shows, but it excels due to the extreme specificity of its characters and premise. It takes the dreams of its characters seriously, gives them real hang-ups and difficulties to overcome, and then lets them blow away obstacles in moments of sheer catharsis.
13. Gatchaman Crowds — Is there any other superhero media to have been produced in the past decade as ambitious as Gatchman Crowds? This is the show that predicted Gamergate. A show that in the second season depicted citizenry voting with their gut in favor of a mysterious (and orange) alien populist. Times change fast these days, and bits of the show have aged better than others. But with the majority of superhero media focused on providing easy, disposable entertainment, Crowds raced to the very bleeding edge of possibility every single episode.
12. From The New World — From the New World starts slow, setting up a complicated narrative of psychics, creatures and repressive systems in the near future. But once the series reaches the point of its horrifying and beautiful descent, there is no going back. Anime is rife with dystopias on the brink of ruin, but few do such an effective job at laying the groundwork for why its society deserves to be destroyed, yet still investing you in the outcome.
11. Tatami Galaxy — The first in a shower of adaptations of the work of novelist Tomihiko Morimi, The Tatami Galaxy also may be the most visually polished of Masaaki Yuasa’s work in television. A non-stop festival of visual experimentation and weirdness, it’s also a story about overcoming cynicism to embrace the imperfect but endlessly exciting opportunities of the world around you.
10. After the Rain — Studio WIT is best known for Attack on Titan, but it’s this fantastic series that to my mind is the best they’ve released this decade. Starting with a potentially salacious premise–a high school girl crushing on a much older man–After the Rain treats the struggles of these two characters to find peace in their lives with nuance and grace. A fine example of what the Noitamina airing block once represented.
9. Made in Abyss — What if Cave Story was evil? What if Etrian Odyssey had a piss fetish? Made in Abyss adapts a comic with some real strengths, but also weird and upsetting fixations. In the process, by sanding away some of those issues and underlining others, the creative staff happened to produce one of the most powerful and upsetting shows made this decade. A fantastic vision of a truly alien world, and the harrowing adventures of those children who search in its depths, set to an all-time great and varied soundtrack.
8. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu — “Wouldn’t Rakugo Shinjuu work just as well, if not better, as a live action series than an animated one?” I’ve heard some folks say this about Rakugo Shinjuu, a series whose appeal lies as much in the voice acting and writing as it does in visual staging and animation. Perhaps this is true; all I know is that anime as a medium benefits hugely from the prescence of work like Rakugo Shinjuu in it. A tragedy, a life story, a platform for some of the best vocal performances this decade.
7. Mob Psycho 100 — How do you describe Mob Psycho 100? The best action series of the decade? It is that, a never-ending sequence of amazing set-pieces. But what makes it truly great is how the staff never forget to emphasize the most important aspect of the original comic, which is character. Mob’s goal is not to become the most powerful psychic, but to become a good person, and that sentiment is given equal weight with the outcome of each fight. A masterpiece.
6. SSSS Gridman — SSSS Gridman is a love-letter to tokusatsu dramas and giant robot shows; it’s a spritual sequel to the cult toku series Ultraman Nexus. It’s a harrowing character drama about whether the pettiest, cruellest person can be redeemed, but also a series where every character design references an obscure Transformers comic. SSSS Gridman is Studio Trigger’s best TV series, and like all their work the deeper you dig the nerdier and nerdier it becomes.
5. Shirobako — With the sheer amount of anime produced these days, frantically advertised by streaming services desperate for user approval, it’s easy to take it all for granted. But don’t forget Shirobako, a consistently hilarious and heartbreaking work sitcom that doubles as a love/hate letter to anime production as a whole. Making anime, Shirobako says, can be a *nightmare*–but it’s the people laboring behind the scenes, their dreams and relationships, that make it worthwhile.
4. Flowers of Evil — There has never been, and may never be, another anime series like Flowers of Evil. A rotoscoped hell vision of bitter middle schoolers lost in a small town, a smothering soundscape of fear and perversion. Unable to adapt the manga’s first arc in its thirteen episodes, the series exists as an incomplete monument to a dream that will never be fulfilled. But in its best moments, nothing else this decade could equal it.
3. Ping Pong — Masaaki Yuasa, one of the most adventurous and expressive directors currently working in the anime industry. Taiyou Matsumoto, one of my favorite comics artists. As it happens, they’re a fantastic match for each other, and Ping Pong–Yuasa’s adaptation of Matsumoto’s cult favorite manga–is one of their best efforts. Made on a tight schedule with perhaps the most corners cut in Yuasa’s career, it ends as a transcendent work that perfectly captures the appeal of the original comic.
2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica — Madoka Magica is the colossus that casts a shadow across this whole decade. Superficially a magical girl series, it’s really a cosmic horror story meets puzzle box thriller that pits its young cast against all the world’s cruelty and perversion, given life by SHAFT and Gekidan Inu Curry. There are folks who hate this series and everything it represents: the cynical world of anime late-night productions, the bastardization of girls’s entertainment for slavering otaku. But I tried my best to think of another series whose creeping influence touched everything made in the 2010s. I couldn’t think of one.
1. Mawaru Penguindrum — This is the show that made this blog. It’s every idea Kunihiko Ikuhara had thought of in the years he spent away from anime, crammed into one enormous, ponderous, frankly overstuffed project. Given life by some of the great luminaries of modern anime production, propelled by generally strong animation and fantastic production design and art direction. An homage to Haruki Murakami and Kenji Miyazawa, a grand thesis written in poison on What Japan Is Today. I’m not sure if Mawaru Penguindrum is the best anime of the 2010s, but it will always be my favorite.