Anime Year in Review: The Ten Best Shows of 2013

With 2013 behind us, it comes time to rank everything we had done or liked (or perhaps glanced at once all year long) in an endless series of “Best of” lists, and anime is no exception. As in every year, there were the usual hits, misses, misses so dazzling they became ironic hits, and the shows that were so middle-of-the-road everyone already forgot they aired (remember Kotoura-san? We don’t either). We’ve used our excellent subjective judgment to pick our ten favorite shows of 2013.

10. Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass

This cyberpunk police drama filled a niche for anime fans hungry for the gritty science fiction titles of years past. With its Minority Report-ish premise, dark color palette, and transforming weapon designs with blue blinky bits, Psycho-Pass has the look and feel of Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner—though it doesn’t, unfortunately, manage to fill those illustrious shoes. While the dystopian themes of the show never quite materialized in the way we had hoped and some character arcs didn’t receive the focus they deserved, the diverse cast, clever villain, and the infamous ruthlessness of writer Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica) kept us entertained and on our toes until the very end. We’re looking forward to seeing what the second season brings in 2014.

Missed the Philip K Dick references and suffering? Watch now on Hulu.

 

9. WataMote—No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular

Watamote

Whether or not you liked WataMote will probably depend on what level you can sympathize with protagonist Tomoko’s plight. A cringe-comedy in the vein of Welcome to the NHK, WataMote finds humor in what is actually a terribly sad situation: that of an awkward loner who can’t understand why she’s not the most popular girl in school. In the wrong hands this odd little show could have been a disaster, but quirky, stylized visuals and adroit handling of tone really brought out the best in the material, creating a show that balances humor and pathos almost disturbingly well. A word must also be said for Izumi Kitta, Tomoko’s voice actor, whose voice-cracking performance deserves credit for many of the funniest moments in the show.

Never paused a show because the awkward moments caused you actual physical pain? Watch WataMote now on Crunchyroll.

 

8. Free!

Free

Free! made major waves this year (always with the water puns) due to the major fan reaction to this 30 second commercial for the concept that aired a few months before the show. Setting the hype aside, Free! is a solid sports anime filled with beautiful animation and lots of light-hearted fun. Although it at times tends too much towards melodrama for our tastes, it also had a good sense of humor and an excellent grasp of its character interaction—this is the kind of show you can just tell the whole staff had a great time making. The show is sure to be a major point of contention for years to come, but love it or hate it, Free! was one of the more interesting phenomena of 2013, and a pretty darn fun sports show to boot.

Missed cute boys doing swimming things? Watch now on Crunchyroll.

 

7. Shin Sekai Yori / From the New World

Shinsekai Yori

Shin Sekai Yori was one of the most fascinating anime of the year, though it seems to have been largely overlooked in favor of its dystopian cohort, Psycho-Pass. This far-future science fiction show not only presented a well-constructed future world and culture, but was one of those anime that really makes the most of the medium, combining a variety of animation styles and some truly stunning design elements. The show is at times quite uneven in quality, with some pacing issues and directorial missteps over its 25 episode run—although considering that the plot covers a span of twenty-four years, it flows much better than one might expect. But uneven as it may be, when Shin Sekai Yori is good, it’s brilliant, and very much worth watching to the final conclusion.

Missed dystopian psychic adventures? Watch now on Crunchyroll.

 

6. Little Witch Academia

Little Witch Academia

Not a show exactly, but Little Witch Academia deserves a place on this list nonetheless. Studio Trigger’s Anime Mirai entry for 2013, Little Witch Academia is a delightful twenty-five minute mashup of Harry Potter and Saturday morning cartoons rendered in beautiful, fluid animation with a playful, Looney-Tunesish style. But aside from being the most magical fun you can experience in less than half an hour, Little Witch Academia is also worth a mention in that it marks an interesting trend in 2013: the rise of Kickstarter as an avenue for funding anime production. The popularity of Little Witch Academia allowed Trigger to successfully Kickstart a sequel now slated for 2015, and they’ve not been the only ones—Production IG and Masaki Yuasa’s Kickstarted anime Kick-Heart won a gaggle of awards at film festivals worldwide this year, and Kenji Itoso’s Santa Company project is in its last few hours as we speak. The trend represents exciting potential for Western fans to have a voice in anime production, something that would have been considered impossible in years past.

Missed that thing Trigger did before KILL la KILL? Watch now on Crunchyroll.

 

5. Hataraku Maou-sama! / The Devil is a Part-Timer

Hataraku Maou-sama!

Hataraku Maou-sama! managed to rise above its seemingly tired and generic premise (a fish-out-of-water comedy with an evil being? Never heard that one before) to be a fresh and incredibly fun romp. Watching a great and terrible demon lord scrape together the next month’s rent while working at MgRonalds is amusing enough, but Maou-sama’s success is all in the execution: creative direction and character animation combined with great performances from the entire cast (including the protagonists performing much of the first episode in a fantasy language) made this show one of the most entertaining comedies of the year.

Missed Lucifer as a housebound NEET? Watch now on Hulu.

 

4. Silver Spoon / Gin no Saji

Silver Spoon

To be quite honest, Silver Spoon didn’t have to work very hard to be a success: based on an award-winning, bestselling manga by Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist), the folks making this adaptation would have had to work hard to screw it up. Silver Spoon is everything we were promised: a heartwarming tale about farm animals and adolescent self-discovery. Balancing protagonist Hachiken’s personal struggles and relationships with a broad cast of characters, Silver Spoon deals gracefully with both the hardships and rewards of agricultural life, not fearing ambiguous answers to the ethical questions it raises. The show’s greatest success, though, besides teaching us more about dairy farming than we ever thought we wanted to know, is in capturing that balance of seriousness and humor that Arakawa so excels at creating in her work. The second season will be airing in January, and as far as we’re concerned it can’t come soon enough.

Missed out on learning where eggs come from? Watch now on Crunchyroll or Daisuki.

 

3. Attack on Titan / Shingeki no Kyojin

Attack on Titan

Of course no look at anime in 2013 could possibly avoid discussing Attack on Titan—certainly, if not the best, the most colossal (har har) anime of the year. Attack on Titan delivered some of the most spectacular action sequences and memorable characters of the year, capturing a huge audience with its mix of fantasy, action, and intrigue. Despite being plagued with production issues and suffering from some painfully glacial pacing in order to stretch the material over the full 25 episodes, Attack on Titan’s portrayal of the desperate fury of Eren and his cohorts in the Survey Corps as they fight against the titan menace made for one of the most exciting shows of the year. And can we just get a word in about Hiroyuki Sawano’s dramatic musical score for this show? Watching titans devour Eren’s friends just wouldn’t have been the same without it.

Somehow never heard of Attack on Titan? Watch now on Crunchyroll. Alternatively, go to your nearest anime convention and start counting the Levi and Sasha cosplayers.

 

2. Kyousougiga

Kyousougiga

Kyousougiga has been several years in the making, beginning with a standalone web short in 2011 which was a bit of a jumble—a beautiful, exciting jumble, but utterly incomprehensible in terms of actual plot. Many among us thought there might be something wonderful there, if only Toei would give its animators a break from working on PreCure to make a real go of it. At last, our patience was rewarded: finally given a ten episode run this year, Kyousougiga has proven that there was something magical behind that first short. With fantastic art and a colorful, dynamic visual style, Kyousougiga’s looks alone would almost be enough to put it on this list, but the visuals support a lovingly developed mythology, strong characters, and a compelling family saga that traverses both death and dimension. The slightly convoluted plot is well worth the effort—rarely are we treated to something so original and imaginative as Kyousougiga.

Missed Lewis Carroll in magical Kyoto? Catch up now on Crunchyroll.

 

1. Uchouten Kazoku / The Eccentric Family

Uchouten Kazoku

Mixing family drama, Japanese mythology, and a magically realistic alternate Kyoto, it’s easy to see why Uchouten Kazoku was our favorite show of 2013. This title delivered in every department: a thoughtful plot provided by a Tomihiko Morimi (The Tatami Galaxy) novel, beautiful art and animation, and lovable characters brought to life by a great voice cast all came together to create a show that was both comedic and heartbreaking. Though Uchouten Kazoku seems to meander at some points, taking its time building a complex world of tanuki, tengu, and humans, the show is self-confident in its wanderings, and never loses sight of its larger themes and character arcs in this story of loss and family legacy.

Missed tanuki doing idiotic things? Watch now on Crunchyroll.

 

Didn’t see your favorite show from 2013 on here? Tell us what we missed in the comments, or check out all 206 anime from 2013 in this year-end AMV:

 

*For the record, to qualify for this list, the titles were required to:

  • End in 2013
  • Not be a movie (sorry Garden of Words)
  • Not be a sequel (sorry Chihayafuru 2)
  • Not be available only through fansubs/Japanese releases (sorry Yamato 2199 and Jojo’s)
  • Not be Aku no Hana (not sorry, that rotoscoping was a nightmare)

Kelly Quinn is an assistant editor at Tor Books. She can also be found on Twitter.

 

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