Anime Year in Review: The Ten Best Shows of 2015

It’s that time of year again, when the shops are awash in holiday garland, the houses draped with festive lights, and the blogs festooned with “Best of 2015” lists. Looking back through this year at the good, the bad, the ultimately disappointing, and the thankfully forgettable (goodbye forever, Chaos Dragon), it was surprisingly hard to narrow this list down to ten shows, and I’ve certainly left out some worthy contenders. Yet, for the sake of the season, it must be done. Without further ado then, the best ten TV anime of 2015.

 

The Seven Deadly Sins / Nanatsu no Taizai

NanaTai

The tenth spot on the list this year goes to The Seven Deadly Sins for sheer entertainment value. Set in a vaguely medieval swords and sorcery world reminiscent of retro classics like Slayers, this shounen fantasy adventure follows the exploits of Princess Elizabeth and Meliodas, the leader of an infamous group of warriors called the Seven Deadly Sins. Although this show doesn’t bring anything especially new to the table, using many existing fantasy tropes and plot staples, the execution, not the premise, is where The Seven Deadly Sins shines. It’s hard not to get attached to the the colorful characters, especially the Sins themselves, and flashy action set pieces and brisk pacing keeps this show humming along towards its high-stakes climax. I’ll be looking forward to the second season for this one in 2016.

Missed it? Watch it now on Netflix

 

Yurikuma Arashi

Yurikuma Arashi

If The Seven Deadly Sins makes the list as a high-spirited crowd pleaser, Yurikuma Arashi represents basically its exact opposite. The latest entry from auteur director and endless staircase expert Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum), Yurikuma Arashi is, at heart, a rather simple tale about finding love and defending it in the face of disapproval, hate, and prejudice. Of course, Ikuhara being Ikuhara, this “simple” story is densely packed with social commentary, multivalent symbolism, and references to historical events, literature, and even films such as Suspiria and Psycho. While the short length seemed at times to pose some difficulty for the creators, with certain events lacking sufficient set up and characters feeling a bit thin for large parts of the story, the concise twelve-episode format ultimately worked in the show’s favor, making Yurikuma Arashi possibly Ikuhara’s most comprehensible and straightforward show to date. Combining Ikuhara’s signature artistry with surprising emotional force in the last third of the show, Yurikuma Arashi was one of the most interesting—and satisfying—shows of the year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Hulu

 

Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

Shokugeki no Souma - 09 - Large 24

Shokugeki no Soma happens to combine two things I dearly love: battle shounen and gourmet cooking. Following the journey of Soma Yukihira, a student at the highly competitive Totsuki Culinary Academy, this show never failed to entertain with its lively cast, Iron Chef-like epicurean competition, and, of course, its infamous reaction scenes. Shokugeki knows how to make the most of its ridiculous premise but also takes itself seriously when it counts—a quality that leads you to giggle over world-renowned chefs transforming into magical girls one minute, and to worry very earnestly about a character’s fate in the next. And, a particular win in my book, it nails the culinary details, from techniques to food trends. Although J.C. Staff’s adaptation was merely competent and didn’t add a tremendous amount of value to the source material, the staff got it right where it mattered and made Shokugeki no Soma one of the most purely fun shows I watched this year—hopefully, the second season continues to deliver in 2016.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll or Hulu

 

My Love Story! / Ore Monogatari

Ore Monogatari

My Love Story! makes it onto this list by virtue of being sweet, fluffy, and endlessly heartwarming. While shoujo romance adaptations seem to get a bit thinner every year, My Love Story! (as well as shows like the lovely Akagami no Shirayukihime—which, before you ask, doesn’t qualify this year) remind us how good they can be in the right hands. My Love Story!, which distinguishes itself with a distinctly un-shoujo protagonist in the beefy Gouda Takeo, quickly eschews the typical will-they-won’t-they rollercoaster in favor of a story about how relationships (and friendships) grow over time. The story was matched with a fitting team at Madhouse (many of whom worked on the excellent Chihayafuru), which brought the manga source material to life with soft colors and enough shoujo sparkles to deck out the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Though the copious pastel bubbles and sweeter-than-sweet antics of Takeo and Rinko might plausibly make this show too saccharine for some tastes, My Love Story!’s slow romance and earnest optimism made it a treat for me this year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll or Hulu

 

Blood Blockade Battlefront / Kekkai Sensen

Kekkai Sensen

With a setting that combines the grungy bustle of Manhattan with the alien squalor of the Mos Eisley Cantina and characters that range from vampires and magic wielders to diner waitresses and mushroom-shaped aliens, Blood Blockade Battlefront is a wonderful—but only semi-penetrable—spectacle. Revolving around the adventures of Leonardo Watch, a young man who has acquired a great power in rather unfortunate circumstances, Blood Blockade Battlefront showcases the amazing visual creativity of young director Matsumoto Rie, not to mention an incredible staff and cast. Like Matsumoto’s previous directorial effort, Kyousougiga, Blood Blockade Battlefront suffered from somewhat convoluted storytelling, and was further bogged down by scheduling issues that delayed the final episode for several months. Despite it all, however, this show was still one of the most imaginative airing this year, and certainly earned its spot here in the top ten.

Missed it? Watch it now on Hulu

 

Death Parade

Death Parade

That Death Parade exists at all feels like a small piece of good fortune, as I don’t think anyone quite expected to see the artsy Anime Mirai short Death Billiards expanded into a full length TV show. Set in a moody, atmospheric bar where hapless mortals come to be judged after death, Death Parade made good on the promise of the OVA, fleshing out its intriguing setting and equally intriguing cast through a series of tense encounters with the human souls passing through each week. Given the episodic nature of the show, dramatic payoff varied from story to story, and some were more effective than others. Yet this variety was also one of the strengths of Death Parade, allowing it to tell stories that ranged in tone from humorous and sweet to deeply dark and troubling. Death Parade represents the kind of evocative psychological drama that we aren’t treated to terribly often, and, in addition to exploring some interesting (and possibly quite pessimistic) ideas about the afterlife, contained some of the most lovely and poignant moments in anime this year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Hulu

 

Parasyte -the maxim-

Parasyte

For various reasons, including a lapsed Hollywood film option, the TV anime adaption of 90s sci-fi manga Parasyte was a long time coming—and when we finally got it this year, it was pretty darn good. Parasyte’s primary strengths lie in its story, which mixes the anxieties of young adulthood with the threat of a sinister alien invasion (and some healthy rumination about the nature of humanity), but most especially in its characters: the strange but touching relationship between Shinichi and Migi, host and parasite. Although the adaption certainly had its pitfalls—visuals were not always the most polished, the soundtrack never worked well for me, and the pace seemed to slow to a crawl every time Shinichi’s love interest got extended screen time—Parasyte has a certain timeless quality that makes it quite a compelling story in any format, as effective in 2015 as it was in 1995.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll or Hulu

 

Yona of the Dawn / Akatsuki no Yona

Akatsuki no Yona

In comparison to the shows that bracket Yona of the Dawn on this list, I realize that Yona seems the odd one out—certainly it didn’t make as much of a splash as either Parasyte or One Punch Man. Nevertheless, this historical fantasy, following an exiled princess in a pseudo-historical Korea, was handily one of my favorite shows this year. Yona’s well-developed cast supports a thrilling and nuanced plot of political intrigue, action, and romance…also did I mention there are dragons? Director Kazuhiro Yoneda and Studio Pierrot’s polished and deliberately paced adaptation of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga is about as faithful as any fan could ask for, and while the anime only makes it through what amounts to a prologue for the larger story, Yona of the Dawn is still very much worth the watch for those that haven’t discovered it yet.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll or Hulu

 

One Punch Man

OPM

This superhero gag comedy was one of the most anticipated shows this fall, and boy did it deliver. Following the exploits of the unflappable Saitama, a “hero for fun,” as well as his loyal student Genos and a slew of other eccentric heroes and villains, One Punch Man finds a winning formula in its mix of humorous absurdity with adrenaline-fueled action sequences that make your inner twelve year old cheer. In many ways, One Punch Man succeeds almost entirely on the strength of the love poured into it from everyone involved, from Yusuke Murata’s painstakingly detailed art in the manga to director Natsume Shingo and the rest of the staff’s amazing and passionate work bringing that art to life (more on this here). The only thing I have to complain about is that we only got twelve episodes—one can only hope that we’ll see another season of this incredibly fun show.

Missed it? Watch it now on Daisuki or Hulu

 

Shirobako

Shirobako

I’d like to say I had a difficult time deciding to put Shirobako at the top of my list this year, but the truth is that it wasn’t hard at all. This show could have been the most forgettable piece of fluff about cute girls making cute anime, but instead we got a surprisingly realistic show about the nitty gritty details of anime production. There are so many things to like about Shirobako: the lovable, large (but somehow never unwieldy) cast that made you want to cheer for their successes and cry at their failures; the winking references to real industry companies and people; the buoyant tone that kept things from getting melodramatic even when the going got tough for our heroes; the lively pacing that kept the show moving along rather too swiftly through its two cours. Plainly put, Shirobako is an anime that makes you love anime—and I don’t think I could do any better than that for my top anime of 2015.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll or Hulu

 

Didn’t see your favorite show from 2015 on here? Tell us your favorites from the year in the comments—or better yet, what you’re looking forward to in 2016!

NB: To qualify for this list, the titles were required to:

  • End in 2015 (split-cour shows were counted as one season)
  • Be legally available in English
  • Not be a movie
  • Not be a sequel

Kelly Quinn is sorry your favorite anime isn’t on this list. You can tell her how bad her taste is on Twitter.

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