My favourite anime of this last year...
And I didn't put Golden Kamuy on because it got delayed and basically stopped after 7 amazing episodes. Can't wait to see you on this list next year!
10. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean
Shit, I’m already cutting stuff off? This hurts. I had to cut off some shows that are plain good, like Kotaro Lives Alone, a show with a wacky premise that gets bizarrely real emotionally about surviving abuse and lands it with charm. And Lycoris Recoil, the show about teen assassins that has a dark potentially edgelord premise and manages to be charming throughout. Charm counts for a lot. Then there are two wonderfully dumb sports shows; Birdie Wing and Blue Lock. Birdie Wing starts out swinging for the fences. Blue Lock promises edgelord death game without death but also manages to balance it’s ideas that a good scorer must be selfish and also characters becoming a team and it’s still kind of dumb but somehow it works.
But… I kinda can’t say no to Jojo. And this is a cheat because I actually didn’t finish it yet. No show swing for the fences like Jojo. Araki is following his own weird muse and following right along is David Production. Like Golden Wind, Araki gets kinda nasty with Stone Ocean, with some horrifying gross imagery but it’s always backed up by it’s weird internal logic and I think Stone Ocean has so many weird wonderful ideas, I can’t deny it. And I also cheated since I know how this story ends. But I can’t wait to see it animated. Obviously, the list is bias. It’s about MY favourite. But I think even more than usual, just the joy of seeing Bohemian Rhapsody come to life counts for so much.
9. Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc
I haven’t been AS over the moon for Demon Slayer as some. Not big into the Zenitsu despite I have a soft spot for the team coward archetype when well done and loving the gimmick he has. But when it goes for it, it’s a very well-told if standard action tale. And it is the way it is told that this works so well. I love those action series where the epicness is our heroes not only pulling off big news but managing to win by the skin of their teeth, a hair’s breadth away from death. Demon Slayer is good at making our heroes look like badasses while not just “I trained enough so I have the power now.”
It doesn’t hurt that it is coming off the momentum of the also great Mugen Train film before it but it really sells the epicness of its adventure. In this season, there’s a lot of intrigue in the front but most of the season is a single fight between the heroes and an evil duo and while anime has certainly had fights that last longer, it’s important to do it right or it gets repetitive (seriously, my memory of every fight Naruto has in Naruto is him getting his dick knocked in the dirt five times in a row before deciding to change strategies. This probably isn’t an entirely fair assessment outside of the filler arc but it’s a thing I feel happens in shounen a lot to fill time). Demon Slayer does an excellent job about see-sawing the advantage and doing it with stellar animation and making me cheer when our dumb boi trio manage to pull out wins.
8. Komi Can’t Communicate
It’s the year for social anxiety, I guess. Komi Can’t Communicate still has its problems (mostly Yamai) but thankfully it backed off a little on having people being way to uncomfortably horny for the lead character, instead focusing on the charming and funny side of the series. There’s no shortage of these series this year’s, with the cute Aharen (best slow-witted duo) and Ayumu series but Komi tops them just by being a great looking show and having some sweet characters.
It also helped that it added Katai, who reminds me of a similar 90s manga with a similar premise about a dude who looks like a scary punk but no one realizes he’s actually friendly and accident prones into victories a la Inspector Gadget. Here, though, Katai actually puts Komi in a position where she is judging in a similar way and the triangle between them and Tadano adds some friction but never pretends that the two leads won’t end up together. Komi is a great comfort food anime and while not every joke lands, it has a lead we can cheer for as she learns to make more friends despite her anxiety.
7. Chainsaw Man
Chainsaw Man hit like a bomb this year but to be honest, while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t as crazy as most seemed to be or as unimpressed as some others. I just thought it was a good show, though I kind of rolled my eyes a bit at the early subplot about trying to feel tits. I will say, though, even that is strongly based in character at least; the main character had a life of nothing but alleviating hardship and his journey is upon being relieved from a burden is “What do I live for now?” And his goals are humble, live a good life and enjoy it, but also leaves him a little lost. And that’s unusual for a shounen protagonist and it has potential to make for a character without an interesting journey. But Chainsaw Man is nothing if not interesting.
Of course, people are crazy about power but to me the strength of the series is in the second half when things get darker and weirder. Whether Makima is nasty antihero or full-on villain has yet to be revealed but her methods put her among my favourite nasty folk in anime. The show also really succeeds in smaller moments more comparable to arthouse film than a grindhouse thrill, where we do just slow down with the character and even the moment, like Aki’s routine or Himeno drunkenly stumbling around her apartment. It’s not that I wasn’t sold before but the second half convinced me that it’s more than just a great exercise in style, even when it goes to the classic training arc trope (it helps that it’s hilarious that Denji and Power are away of shounen manga, decide to get ahead of the game and start wearing glasses, believing that it makes them smarter).
6. Ranking of Kings
You know, at the beginning of 2022, I was positive that with its momentum Ranking of Kings was going to dominate WHATEVER came out that year. But as the series went on, it was clear that while the creators were doing an amazing job setting up the mysteries, conflicts and complexities of the characters, follow-through was a bit trickier. The villains motivations became almost a little too convenient to the narrative’s ending, practically asking for defeat and things that were so much more complex in the beginning sorted themselves out a little too well. The fact is, Milhouse, sometimes the journey TO the fireworks factory is actually more enriching than the factory itself.
As you might imagine, though, there’s a but here. After all, I put this above fan favourite Chainsaw Man. Yes, as someone who put the show on a pedestal, I was disappointed, but the show was still good. It should have given our heroes a more emotionally complex challenge but Booji and Kage remained characters I loved and root for and there was still a lot of great stuff to be found in their journey, some victories that didn’t feel hollow, some growth that was strong and an amazing fucking horse.
5. Bocchi the Rock!
I feel like every season a few years ago there were 5 “cute girls doing cute things” but I feel like there’s either been a shift or I’m seeing it different. It’s still adorable girls but I think of it being more of doing projects. Things that they can be cute doing but aren’t inherently about cuteness and instead is about a process. All the same, a lot of them, while nice and pleasant, don’t have too much going on. And that’s OK. They are just chill hangout shows. This season there were two like that or so I thought. There was Do It Yourself! which does fall into that but is more interesting as it involves a weird low-key tech dystopia (I’m not sure that’s what the show thinks but… like… too many drones) and interesting character designs. I thought it would be the superior show to the slick and funny Bocchi the Rock, which seemed to have the traditional multi-coloured hair girl gang.
But soon it became clear, it wasn’t just slickly animated, it was wild and weird and really had a true visual identity of it’s own. Shows about heroines with sever social anxiety seem to be in vogue but more specifically Bocchi visually realizes that with wild visuals. It’s also a case where I immediate noted the voice acting of the main character. She might be afraid to speak, but her inner voice is just going for it and while Yoshino Aoyama has been working for a while, I feel like this is going to break her out in a big way. Bocchi’s path is pretty standard but as a show, it’s one of the most sensational looking in a way that works in perfect conjunction with the comedy.
4. Dance Dance Danseur
I feel like with a lot of the stuff I really liked this season, there’s some sort of caveat. In this one, it ends on something of a misguided note that I don’t think holds up, strong emotions aside. But despite this, Dance Dance Danseur remains a favourite from this season as we watch a little man’s man… boy come to face that he wants nothing more than to be a ballerino and must overcome years of putting his dream aside.
The show is a great sports/arts melodrama as our hero uses the advantages he has and his passion to learn so he can catch up to use, only to find new challenges. Despite my issue with the ending, where it leaves us ends with even more interesting promise for the future but even if we don’t get another season, it was a pretty satisfying story with some gorgeous, eye-popping animation in a year full of it. I liked the characters and in a moment of really strong moments of animation, Luou becoming Rothbart when Junpei risks messing up the play by getting lost in the part is a high point.
3. To Your Eternity
I think the consensus on this one is “not bad but I think this used to be better?” Which I get. Frankly, season 1’s last arc was a bit of a step down from the others. And I don’t know if we’ll get those high highs again but my investment in this series is pulling me along pretty hard so I’m still into this. But I also think that it helps that I do like some of the new cast and their tales. It would be easy to find Bonchien Nicoli La Tasty Peach Uralis to be a bit much as a character but I feel like he was the real emotional core of this season. Also, despite being something of a selfish vain oaf, is also the character not only with the most interesting arc. Despite his flamboyant nature, he proves to be strangely shrewd in revealing his own huge secret and a lot of the big game changing elements involve what he knows.
I also like that this remains a fantasy series where it really takes into account “what does this actually mean” to its speculative elements. A lot of the popular isekai shows gesture at it with characters learning to min/max with their magic but I feel like To Your Eternity is very invested in the human ramifications. What does it mean if you can overcome death. If you meet someone who can but they don’t realize it, do you tell them? The series is still dedicated to taking place over centuries and while it has some stumbles, it remains a strong fascinating series where it’s world building is tied not only to powers but what that means for characters.
2. Spy X Family
With so many caveats to everything this year, things I really like, we are getting to the stuff were I don’t have to say “I like it but…” No buts about it, Spy X Family definitely earned its place as a super-hit, thanks to its loveable cast and perfectly blending big comedy, actual stakes and some well-earned sweetness. In a year of great comedies, it’s hard to top and I can see why Anya and her wild expressions took the internet by storm.
But beyond that, its spy elements aren’t just window dressing and even more than a narrative device. It’s a series about people for whom crisis has shaped their lives and each of the leads have taken seriously a duty that in theory will help others but left them alone and in dark places. Without realizing how much they need each other, they find each other and while they all are motivated by different factors, they end up valuing and loving each other, even if some aren’t quite ready to see it that way. The animation is stellar because Wit Studio has been just KILLING it for quite some time and this is no exception. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to end Ranking of Kings and moving onto a new Wit Studio show and one that just makes me laugh and get the feels each week.
1. Kaguya-Sama: Love is War – Ultra Romantic
This isn’t the end of Kaguya but it’s the end of an era. JBear tells me the series takes a different direction from here on in and I’m given to understand the movie released last month is literally all about dealing with the fallout from this one. And it is soooo good. It’s not just that we get some real story progression even though the show could have easily amused me spinning its wheels with delightful farce. But beyond that, the series hit its best season yet and includes some of the best visual gags in the series’ history. It manages to twist some of it’s own formulas in fun ways (the show was actually pretty quick to mess with the Chika teaches Shirogane shit and is completely wrecked and this one finds a new wrinkle with a fantastic rap arc) and features some great visuals I just know weren’t in the manga.
The last arc is particularly fun and yes, there’s farce but it also toys with us when for the first time, there really ISN’T some wacky hi-jinx to get in Kaguya’s way and there’s a sense that something is going to happen… and it does. I remember when I first saw the preview for the show and I parsed it as a romance version of Kakegurui where it is about romantically dominating people and while the *characters* assumed that, the show plays out that shows they are being needlessly dumb. And this season decides to take seriously that these characters have grown and can grow more, even if, as the narrator points out, it rejects the very premise that launched the show. Congrats Kaguya! Can’t wait to see the movie.