After only watching around a dozen shows from the year before, I decided to take on 2018 full throttle and aimed to watch all of the best series. I didn't follow very much anime as it aired, choosing to binge most of them at the end of the year instead. I ended up completing 31 TV anime and net anime (I didn't get to see any new movies, unfortunately), and compiled a full ranking for them in plaintext form as I watched them.
I did not watch most of the big sequels and there are a few popular ones that I felt weren't worth my time, but I think that there were a lot of good anime throughout the year. I would say I got solid enjoyment out of the entire top 20, and I would be willing to recommend a lot of the top 15 to most anime fans. Although this was originally supposed to be a top 10, I felt that the next five were also good enough to deserve a rank. And so, here is the ranking starting from number 15:
Somewhat of a guilty pleasure, Seishun Buta Yarou is a very solid light novel adaptation that echoes the likes of Haruhi Suzumiya and Bakemonogatari in both narrative structure and its affinity for sharp, witty dialogue between a likable cast of characters. Monogatari fans are sure to appreciate its sense of style but it's held back by its nature as a by-the-books light novel adaptation. It's much better than most series of the sort, but it's still never allowed to come into its own.
This is the kind of show that isn't supposed to be here, a trashy mobile game adaptation created by what was likely one of J.C. Staff's B-teams while everyone else was working on more popular, more impressive series. The producers made the wise decision to turn it into a parody of itself, which allows it to become one of the few great mobage adaptations. It takes all the quirks of mobile games and pushes them to the extreme, making for a no-holds-barred absurdist romp. It isn't a must-watch by any means, but parody fans will get a kick out of it.
Netflix's version of Aggretsuko is a great followup to the series of TV shorts. Watching the original shorts I very quickly became a big fan of Retsuko and it's great to see her debut in a full-length show. The characters are relatable and entertaining. The show's portrayal of the workplace is consistently funny. Anyone who is a fan of adult-oriented workplace comedy or relatable female leads will have a lot of fun with this one, but a slightly frustrating aspect of the series is the incomplete character development. The characters grow a little bit, but seem to be held back in some ways; it may be that writer/director Rarecho was holding back in preparation for the already-announced second season.
To Be Heroine is the follow-up to the To Be Hero series from Chinese director Haoling Li and his production studio Haoliners, which I enjoyed a heck of a lot back when it aired. This is a departure from that, introducing new main characters and building a new story from the ground up while repurposing some of the characters from the previous series. It's more serious and caught my attention with its alternation between Chinese voice acting (in the show's "real world") and Japanese (in the show's "fantasy world"). In addition to this, the juxtaposition of the gritty, polluted Chinese settings with the colorful anime-inspired fantasy world makes for an intriguing tale about anime, escapism, and growing up in China. I can say with certainty that this is the best, most ambitious Chinese-Japanese co-production yet, but despite this, its short length and some cliche writing toward the end hurt it overall.
As a side note, I watched the Japanese-released version of the series which has cut content compared to the Chinese version. Unforunately, the Chinese exclusive version has no available translation.
As the first animated production created, written, and storyboarded by mangaka Satoshi Mizukami, known for the series Hoshi no Samidare and Spirit Circle, this series was set up to be a wild ride for everyone involved. Before starting it I decided to read through both of the former series in their entirety and was impressed with his creative, subversive storytelling. Moving into Planet With, I was pleased to see that he was remaining true to his style. Those familiar with his work are likely to love this series, with a story and characters that fit snugly into the Mizukami canon. As expected, it's a wild ride that keeps things interesting all the way throughout.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that the story was a bit too ambitious for a 12 episode TV series. There are lots of twists and turns, which makes for an exciting experience, but I couldn't help but feel that it was all a bit too rushed. Perhaps if Mizukami was allowed twice the amount of episodes to play with it could have been a lot deeper and more developed, but as it stands it struggles under its own weight.
Thunderbolt Fantasy is not an anime, but a Taiwanese-Japanese action series that makes use of glove puppetry. If it was an anime, I have no doubt that it would have been in my top ten, so I felt that I ought to at least give it an honorable mention. Gen Urobuchi, who is known by many for writing visual novels and anime series, has made this his current passion project and it is some of his most exciting stuff in years. The puppetry is surprisingly awesome, and combined with some nice special effects it all looks really good in action. It's fun all around and has a third season incoming as well. Can't go wrong with this one, you don't want to miss it.
By most measures, Lost Song is a classic fantasy story. The characters, the settings, and the themes are all pretty familiar, but as it turns out this isn't a bad thing at all. For the first half of the series, we're presented a straightforward plot about the struggles of such things as war and what it means to be a good person, with lots of prophecy talk and musical numbers for extra flavor. I say that it's straightforward, but it doesn't feel cliche and it's very well done. Even if you've been through a million fantasies there's still plenty here to get attached to and enjoy the ride with. Then comes the second half of the series- It takes everything that had been building up and flips it on its head in a way with an intriguing twist. This is when Lost Song comes into its own; it's still a fantasy series with the same overall themes, but with an extra layer of storytelling added on top.
It's easy to get into and follow, so anyone looking for a fun, complete, and satisfying story can enjoy it. It's a safe choice, so it was difficult to decide if it really deserved the number 10 spot over some of the more ambitious series that earned honorable mentions. In the end, however, there is very little in this series that I have to complain about. It won't bend your mind, but it's a lot of fun and might surprise you.
Yuru Camp makes it onto this list because of pure execution prowess. It's a cute girls doing cute things series with a focus on a specific hobby like many that we've seen throughout the decade following K-On, but the fact is that it's just done very well. I don't think that it comes anywhere close to matching its inspirations, but likable characters, gentle settings, and attention to detail go pretty far for Yuru Camp. The subject matter is, of course, camping, and the "camping experience" is encapsulated quite well by the series. The characters are fun and have good dynamics with each other, even when they aren't always together.
As someone who has done a lot of camping, it was nice to see a faithful representation of the different ways that people camp. The materials, the procedures, the troubles, and the casual relaxation are all here. It isn't my favorite series of its kind, and it probably won't have you laughing out loud too much, but it's beautiful and a great choice for anyone who just wants to chill out and enjoy the warmth of the campfire.
The latest from Masaaki Yuasa and the very first anime that Netflix was directly involved in the production of, Devilman crybaby was an early smash hit of the year (Before watching a lot of these other shows, I expected it to be an easy top 5). It's a modernized version of Go Nagai's classic Devilman manga, put together in a way that nobody but Yuasa would and with a whole lot of appreciation for Nagai's gory and perverted sensibilities. What supports Devilman crybaby the most is, of course, the fact that Devilman is a great story. I found that Yuasa and his team do a good job taking it and changing it up to suit their needs. The animation is as stylish as any Yuasa series, and the soundtrack is on point (aside from the questionable decision not to use the updated Devilman theme as the OP).
Overall, it maintains almost everything that makes Devilman great and, if you've seen a lot of anime, you can really see how Devilman's legacy has persisted over the years. Crybaby is like a message from Nagai and Yuasa reminding everyone who their granddaddy is, while still staying fresh. The adaptation isn't without problems- the characterization differs compared to the source material, which some fans won't appreciate, and it's paced just a bit too fast (12 episodes instead of 10 probably would have been perfect). But overall, it's an easy recommendation for longtime anime fans as well as those unfamiliar with the medium (if they're willing to give it a shot), providing a solid springboard from which to dive into other anime.
Before getting into Hinamatsuri I was a little worried about what I would think of it- the manga is pretty popular, and of course once the anime aired there seemed to be plenty of people who weren't happy with how the adaptation was handled. Personally, I opted not to read the manga and ended up really enjoying the series. The characters and comedy are hilarious and make for a vibrant cast of unlikely friends. The comedic timing is always on point and every episode got a lot of laughs out of me. The stories build on each other in meaningful ways, as well, and character development is noticable throughout. Basically, it's a funny story about people becoming better people. It's easy to get attached to the characters and the series sends a pretty wholesome overall message about the importance of friends and family. I can't say if it lives up to the source material as an adaptation, but it certainly deserves to be among the best of the year's anime.
The first full-length series by Nexus, Comic Girls, comes from a similar place as Yuru Camp- both adapted from the pages of Houbunsha's ever-successful Manga Time Kirara magazines. The other title is a whole lot more popular but this is the one that I really thoroughly enjoyed. This time around the characters are aspiring manga artists, a familiar subject for anime but a passionate one nonetheless. As someone who is interested in art I found a lot of ways to relate to the characters, especially the main character Kaos who is an analog for all of the artists who can't seem to make anything work. Her deep love of art, but trouble with motivation and perhaps a lack of much natural talent makes her easy to relate to.
The anxiety of not being good enough is a common theme in the series and while it is primarily a very funny comedy, there is also seriousness in the way that the characters approach their work and in the main character's devlopment. It's also a well-animated series, with some impressive sequences coming from a studio as new as Nexus. Because I relate so much to Kaos, I'm willing to acklowedge my bias, but the sheer enjoyment that I got out of Comic Girls is enough for it to earn a safe spot just under the top 5 for the year.
I never could have expected a show from Trigger to make it this high, but the way that they handled Gridman was impressive to say the least. Based on the obscure 90's tokusatsu series Denkou Choujin Gridman from the creators of Ultraman, this new animated Gridman is a loose, quirky series that takes the unhinged talent of Trigger and brings it back into a proper narrative structure. I've often felt that Trigger's work gets to be too much of a mess, and as a result their track record has been pretty hit-or-miss for me. This time, director Akira Amemiya channels his inner Gainax and comes out with a directorial style that's much like the Anno of old. The Evangelion inspiration is obvious, and it could be argued that it's more than just inspiration, but it really benefits the series either way. There is a lot of tokusatsu inspiration in Evangelion, so it's interesting to see how it works just as well the other way around. The characters are likable and entertaining, if a little bit stupid at times, and the story is well-thought out and always interesting.
There's some appreciation for the classic antics of monster-of-the-week tokusatsu series mixed in (though this sometimes causes the tone to clash). The animation and music are also very good, as expected of Trigger. The series' structure is somewhat sloppier toward the beginning, so it may take some time to be convinced, but in my opinion SSSS.Gridman is Trigger's most successful attempt thus far at creating a full-length TV anime. It's fun, it's brutal, and it's memorable as well. It feels like the anime that I've been waiting for them to make since they split from Gainax.
I was very pleasantly surprised by High Score Girl. After a couple episodes, what seemed at first to be a CG-marred adaptation of a nostalgia-fueled romcom manga turned out to be a legitimate romance story backed by a genuine and hotblooded appreciation for 90's arcade games. The series takes us back to the early 1990s and does a great job showing what it was like to be there in the moment. The characters spend a lot of time playing games, and there is a good chunk of time just dedicated to getting really into it, but the main focus of the series is the romance. The same realism that is put into the games is also put into the story and characters; they are middle schoolers, so you can expect all of the obliviousness and awkwardness that comes with middle school romance. What really pushes the series forward is an early timeskip that brings the story two years into the future and allows the story to evolve into some very well-written character drama.
It's there where you realize just how important games are to this story- it uses arcade games as a way of representing connections between people, and the influence of playing so many games affects the way that the main character thinks and makes decisions. One of the best examples of this is the use of the Street Fighter II character Guile, his main fighter, as his inner voice when thinking about his feelings for the lead heroine. The significance of this is not limited to the fact that he plays as Guile, but also that Street Fighter II is the game that brought the two together at the very beginning of the series. Another reason why it succeeds as a romance series is because it doesn't simply characterize the characters by their relationships with each other. There's a lot of solo contemplation and anxiety and the characters are explored as individuals.
The final piece of the puzzle that brings High Score Girl into greatness is, surprisingly, the animation. There are three different styles used here; one is the CG models used for the characters, which are ugly at a glance but are actually quite well made and well animated. The second are the beautiful hand-drawn 2D backgrounds. The third, perhaps most impressive, is the genuine footage and sprites taken from the games of the era. The use of 3D models and 2D sprites evokes the concept of 3D as the real world and 2D as the world of games and anime. At times, they merge, for example when Guile is acting as the lead's inner voice. The end result is a fantastic visual experience that easily tops anything that could have been achieved in the original manga. With a uniquely arcade-inspired story, believable characters, and impressive presentation, High Score Girl is easily one of the best romance anime I've seen.
I will be looking forward to the three OVA episodes that will cover the final arc of the story and will probably update this after I watch them (They come out on March 20).
I have no trouble calling Asobi Asobase Lerche's best anime. Usually I would hesitate before putting a comedy anime so high, but it was some of the best in wacky, wild comedy I've seen in awhile. I feel that the best way I can describe it is, and I mean this in the best way possible, "middle school". The characters are in middle school of course, but the style of humor specifically reminds me of actually being a weird middle schooler. It's fun, zany, and carefree, and the characters are about as self-serving and violent as the most vicious middle school kids. The style is unique and instantly recognizable, and its cutesy presentation makes for a good juxtaposition with the true cutthroat natures of the characters. Despite spending most of their time annoying the hell out of each other, the characters are very likable and fun to watch.
The series had me laughing basically all the way through. Ultimately the success of any comedy lies in the quality of its jokes, and I think that Asobi Asobase was by far the funniest of the year. And the ED was awesome!
It was a very difficult decision to put Starlight in second instead of first. I love this show. Theoretically, out of all of the anime on this list, it's the one that I'm most likely to watch again, but it's held back by some trivial things in the first half of the series. In any case, this was Tomohiro Furukawa's directorial debut; prior to directing Starlight, he worked closely with Kunihiko Ikuhara as co-director on Yuri Kuma Arashi, my number 1 ranked anime from 2015 (even though Koufuku Graffiti might be my real favorite). He also contributed to 2011's Mawaru Penguindrum, Ikuhara's previous work. Basically, as a fan of Ikuhara, I was obliged to watch this anime. Right away it was clear that Furukawa had inherited a lot of Ikuhara's sensibilities. He certainly likes the guy, with obvious callbacks to Ikuhara's portfolio throughout.
But moving beyond the Ikuhara comparisons, Starlight was an ambitious series. I was extremely impressed by the first episode. The style was compelling, the premise was solid, and the animation looked like Kinema Citrus's best ever. The movement and dancing are fantastic and flawlessly animated (without 3D models!!). After the first couple of episodes, the story starts to stall for time with drama between side characters (mostly what stops me from putting the series at number 1), but it ramps back up by the middle of the series and continues full speed all the way through to the end. The characters also developed and became more well-rounded over the course of the show.
The story revolves around a musical that is performed by the characters, and it brings theatrical sensibilities beyond the fictional stage and into the way the anime is written (Starlight was originally conceived as a stage play that was performed in September 2017). It's packed with symbolism, and to understand it better it is necessary to consider the meanings of each story element as if it were a part of a play. The story itself, however, is not very difficult to follow. The story is good, but the real reason I love Starlight so much is the presentation. Nearly every episode contains meticulously choreographed and painstakingly animated musical sequences that tie directly into the context of the story. One can feel the passion of the creators flowing from these sequences that serve as catharsis for the tension that builds up in between. Overall, Revue Starlight was an absolute treat for me, and I am very much looking forward to what Furukawa will do next.
A lot of people thought that this was the best anime of the year; I also thought that this was the best anime of the year. Everything about the way this series is produced is great. The characters, the story, the attention to detail, the cinematic animation, what do I really have to complain about? The writing and direction are fantastic too.
If I have to write something besides wide-sweeping claims of greatness, I'll say that this anime stays true to its sense of adventure. On the surface it may seem like a regular cute girls anime but it's an adventure story through and through. Be prepared to get attached to the characters and experience some really memorable scenes. It's very honest with itself and is the one anime of the year that really stands out as masterfully done. If I were to recommend just one anime for people to watch for the year, this would be the one.
1. Happy Sugar Life - Season: Summer - Studio: Ezola - Episodes: 2/12 - Adapted from a manga
Awful. Workable premise run into the ground by ridiculous characters and a lack of coherent structure. Worst show I attempted to watch all year.
2. Back Street Girls - Season: Summer - Studio: J.C. Staff - Episodes: 2/10 - Adapted from a manga
Basically a frame-for-frame version of the manga, including the lack of animation. Hardly any variety in the jokes and it got unfunny quick.
3. Goblin Slayer - Season: Fall - Studio: White Fox - Episodes: 6/12 - Adapted from a manga
Not an offensively bad anime but I only dropped a few shows and this happened to be the third worst of them. The entertainment I got from this series hinged on a handful of exciting scenes sandwiched between a lot of tedious conversations. The manga is probably more fun.
I'm really glad I took the time to watch a lot of these shows because I felt it was difficult to gauge what was good this year. Anime is more popular than ever, but a lot of series still get overlooked. I'm looking forward to watching all of the very best shows of 2019 and hope that you enjoyed reading about my favorite shows of 2018!