Anime Year in Review: The Ten Best Shows of 2016

Looking back at the year in anime, it’s been a pretty eclectic mix. We’ve had some very highly anticipated adaptations, some ambitious original stories, and even a few unexpected revivals of seemingly long-abandoned franchises (looking at you, D.Gray-man). If anything, 2016 has showcased how flexible and creative the medium can be: we’ve had shows featuring zombie fighting, lexicography, concert bands, mafiosos, superheroes, professional figure skaters—this year we watched a Taiwanese fantasy puppet show and called it anime, for god’s sake.

Narrowing down the top ten was, as always, a unique challenge, and, as always, I’ve left off quite a few of my favorites. But enough excuses—read on to see what made my list for the best ten TV anime series for 2016.

 

Erased / Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

anime-2016_bokumachi

Tenth on the list this year goes to Erased, the seinen thriller that made waves last winter. Following Satoru Fujinuma, a down on his luck twenty-something who is thrust into the past in order to prevent a tragic event from his childhood involving his classmate Kayo Hinazuki, Erased’s suspenseful storytelling had me hooked from the first episode to the last. The ending felt abrupt and, to be honest, didn’t really work for me, but the first ten episodes of the show, which deal with Kayo’s narrative, along with the very polished execution as a whole, were powerful enough to kick this show into my top ten over other contenders.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Orange

anime-2016_orange

Interestingly, the ninth entry on this list has a rather similar premise to Erased—in fact, the “do-over” plot was uncommonly popular this year, if you count Erased, ReLIFE, Orange, and Re:Zero (am I missing any?). In this shojo drama, high schooler Naho Takamiya receives a letter from herself ten years in the future warning her that a close friend, Kakeru, will commit suicide that school year. Naho herself remained frustratingly passive through most of the anime, but the restrained presentation and sensitive portrayal of Kakeru’s depression as the story approached its heart-wrenching emotional climax elevated this show above similar titles this year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Flying Witch

anime-2016_flying-witch

The eighth spot on this list takes us into lighter territory with Flying Witch, a show about a young witch in training who moves to the countryside of Aomori to live with extended family. Evocative of perennial favorites like Natsume Yujin-cho and Kiki’s Delivery ServiceFlying Witch’s particular brand of rural slice-of-life mixed with low-key fantasy was a real winner for me. The show seamlessly mixes everyday wonders with the fantastic, from the small triumph of growing a garden to encounters with shape-shifters and spirits. Flying Witch’s slow, dreamy pace and buoyant, childlike positivism was a bright spot in a rather dark year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

anime-2016_jjba

Usually I try to steer clear of second (or third, or fifth) seasons for this yearly wrap-up, but I feel that Diamond Is Unbreakable deserves an exception here, (a) because JoJo’s arcs can to a large extent stand alone, and (b) because Diamond Is Unbreakable was just that GREAT. Diamond Is Unbreakable takes place on a smaller stage than previous parts of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures series, but that hasn’t in the least prevented it or its hero, Josuke Higashikata, from being just as intense as any of the other entries. The insanely likable cast, quirky villains and powers, and general outrageous JoJo-ness of it all has been an absolute highlight of my year. And honestly, did anyone seriously think that a show with an ending by Savage Garden wouldn’t make this list?

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Sweetness and Lightning / Amaama to Inazuma

anime-2016_sweetness-and-lightning

This is the second year in a row I’ve been able to put a show about cooking in my top ten for the year, a trend a foodie like me can only hope continues. Sweetness and Lightning is a poignant series that follows the culinary adventures of a single father trying to feed his young daughter wholesome meals after the recent death of his wife. Though the premise is inherently a bit of a downer, the tone of the series is, for the most part, as light and fluffy as Tsumugi’s voluminous hair. The show’s light touch with its characters and tender portrayal of how love is shown though cooking is nothing short of heartwarming, and earns it a spot on this list.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia

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We certainly can’t end without one conventional battle shonen on this list, and there really isn’t any doubt about which it ought to be. The adaptation of this Shonen Jump title was highly anticipated, and director Kenji Nagasaki (Gundam Build Fighters) certainly did the material justice. Following the journey of Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a kid who dreams of being a superhero despite lacking any powers of his own, My Hero Academia delivers an engaging cast of young heroes, flashy battles executed with the expected Bones polish, and enough wacky superpowers to keep things fresh in a world frankly overburdened by superhero stories. My Hero Academia is Shonen Jump played straight, but played at its finest, and I’ll be looking forward to the second season in 2017.

Missed it? Watch it now on Hulu

 

Mr. Osomatsu / Osomatsu-san

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Of course Osomatsu-san is on here. This madcap comedy was positioned as a reboot/homage to the popular 1960s manga, Osomatsu-kun, which follows the various misadventures of sextuplet brothers. What we actually got is a wild episodic comedy with only the most tenuous relationship to the original title, in which six profoundly awful human beings who can’t manage to stop flinging abuse at each other long enough to hold down a job or get a girlfriend torture each other in increasingly creative ways. The show is hysterical and became deservedly popular beyond anyone’s expectations. Osomatsu-san’s gleeful misanthropy and complete disregard for logic or decency earns it a well-deserved place on the list this year.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Yuri!!! On Ice

anime-2016_yoi

Oh, what to say about Yuri!!! On Ice. Yuri swept in this fall as a breath of fresh air for the sports genre, focusing as it does not on high school hopefuls but professional athletes, and presented an even more refreshing romance between protagonists Yuri and Victor, whose mutual fascination with each other drives much of the series. Joyful, sincere, and full of infectious love for its subject and characters, Yuri took the worldor at least social mediacompletely by storm, with even professional figure skaters watching (and in some cases appearing in!) the show. Though ending on a somewhat low note after seeming to stumble a bit in its final arc, Sayo Yamamoto and Mitsurou Kubo’s passion project absolutely made history (sorry not sorry) in 2016.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

anime-2016_rakugo

And now we’re getting down to it. Measured, deliberate, and beautifully crafted, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju gave us mature characters within an engrossing historical drama. Although there is a lot to love herethe delicate handling of the relationships, the atmospheric opening sequencethe highlight of the series for me was easily the rakugo performances themselves, which were brought to vivid life by both creative visual direction and the excellent work of a veteran cast. Rakugo is the kind of series we are lucky to see made these days, and 2016 was undoubtedly better for it. This season wrapped up the first portion of the story deftly, and I’ll be looking forward to the second season in January.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

Mob Psycho 100

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Penned by ONE, the author of One Punch Man, and made by a significant number of the same staff, Mob Psycho 100 entered the scene riding hard on the coattails of last year’s hit. As much as I love One Punch Man, what I certainly didn’t expect was for Mob Psycho 100 to be, in many ways, a better show than ONE’s most popular title. Mob Psycho 100 follows Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a kid with powerful psychic abilities but a total inability to stand out from the crowd. Mob is an unusual protagonist, and his struggle with his own nature is equal parts compelling, funny, and strangely sad. Elevated by a standout production effort led by director Yuzuru Tachikawa (Death Parade) at Bones, this thoughtful take on superhuman powers comes out on top as our favorite show of 2016.

Missed it? Watch it now on Crunchyroll

 

And that’s it, folks! Didn’t see your favorite show from 2016 on here? Tell us your favorites from the year in the comments—or better yet, what you’re looking forward to in 2017!

Kelly Quinn is not sorry that Re:Zero is not on this list. You can complain to her about it on Twitter.

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