Wed
Jan 1 2014 1:00pm

Anime Year in Review: The Ten Best Shows of 2013

Shingeki no Kyojin cover

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.

 

36 comments
wandering-dreamer
2. wandering-dreamer
Some fans also managed to translate the language/ciphers of Gargantia and Maoyuu which I always find amazing (although I think some fans remembered that the cipher in Madoka was based on German and tried that for Gargantia when it became clear it wasn't English XD ). My list is pretty similar but I also had Blast of Tempest on it since that just ended up being a lot better than I expected (and I'll totally admit that your enjoyment of the show depends on how well you think the genre shift was pulled off).
Kelly Quinn
3. KellyQ
@2. wandering-dreamer - I feel like I'm the only person who hated Tempest; everyone else I know who watched it ended up enjoying it. I just thought it was so boring! All they did was walk around and yak at each other, and I just couldn't get to like any of the characters (except Samon, I loved that guy with his rock banging and his dramatic faces).
Gregg Anderson
4. digrifter
Am I the only person still enjoying Naruto Shippuuden? Once it's not a filler episode it's really good IMHO.
wandering-dreamer
5. Cybersnark
Good to see Silver Spoon, Free, and WataMote getting some recognition.

Some other gems this year were:

Majestic Prince (a hilarious space opera comedy, about a group of barely-competent military cadets equipped with prototype mecha and thrust into the spotlight during an alien invasion.)

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (a super-soldier and his AI-powered mecha end up on a peaceful Waterworld, animated beautifully by Production I.G.)

Gatchaman Crowds (a superhero series based on the old Gatchaman series . A team of alien superheroes and deputized Earthlings must fight off a rogue alien criminal. It takes a bunch of traditional superhero tropes and turns them completely on their ears.)

I'm also enjoying Gundam Build Fighters (the most fun Gundam series we've ever had), but it's not actually over yet, so it doesn't meet your qualifications.
wandering-dreamer
6. dseqthbhsof
Just a note to your note. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 was not a "fansub". The English subtitles were already on the commercial Blu-Ray discs sold in Japan when they were released.
Kelly Quinn
7. KellyQ
@5. Cybersnark - Thanks for commenting! Personally I couldn't get into Majestic Prince; I just couldn't buy into the premise enough to find it engaging (although I will also be the first to admit that I'm shallow enough to have been turned off from the start by Hirai's designs).

Gargantia and Gatchaman both had so many good features and some really strong episodes, but I thought that both fell short in the writing department. Gargantia started off so well, but then seemed to lose considerable steam plotwise and muddle through a lot of its themes while it wasted time on fanservice episodes. Gatcha's art and overall themes were wonderful, but the charater arcs got a little lost and the troubled production was really evident (half-episode recap at the finale? yeesh) - it felt like the whole script needed a second draft! Both really still very much worth the watch.

I am also enjoying the crap out of Gundam BF - glad to hear someone else around here is watching it! It's terrific fun, and you just can't beat 2D robots.

@6. dseqthbhsof - You are of course correct about Yamato 2199, the English subs are on the Japanese BD release. But since it was still a pretty inaccessible distribution channel for most people, I decided to leave it off here (plus I think we all know how most people got their hands on it). I've added a note in the post though since you're quite right.
wandering-dreamer
8. DavidBankson
I'm not sure if these two fit your categories, but I have highly enjoyed Kyoukai no Kanata (Beyond the Boundary) and Hakuouki Reimeiroku (Demon of the Fleeting Blossom - Dawn of the Shinsengumi). I don't really keep up with whether it's been fansubbed only or not.
wandering-dreamer
9. DavidBankson
@digrifter - I still watch Shippuuden. A lot of what people call "filler" lately is directly from the manga, making it not actual filler. The latest episodes (in Japan) are excellent, some of the best they've ever made in the series.
Mani A
10. sn0wcrash
Damn, have been out of touch with anime for a few years now (last I watched was probably Code Geass?). Attack on Titan has certainly been getting a lot of "watch this now", and I'm waiting for the new GitS to be complete so I can watch it at a go.
Is Gundam BF more fun/ over-the-top than G Gundam? Asking as someone who really liked G Gundam (it and Turn-A are probably the best full series Gundam to me).
Kelly Quinn
11. KellyQ
@8. DavidBankson - I enjoyed KnK as well, especially the beautiful visuals - KyoAni really delivered in the animation department, as expected. On the other hand the plot a little too light-novely for my tastes, and the writing wasn't as focused as I would've liked. Favorite episodes were definitely 6 and 10 - and 10 especially was just beautifully directed. Hakuouki Reimeiroku actually aired in 2012 so it doesn't qualify :)

@10. snowcrash - I watched the first GitS:Arise and thought it had some good ideas but didn't come close to SAC in execution. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest though.

Gundam BF is a totally different beast than G Gundam - it's basically an extended toy commercial, really. The premise is that people build and compete with gunpla in a virtual reality/video game arena. Which sounds incredibly kiddy and dumb, but it's actually a ton of fun and has a lot of charming characters and great mecha animation, and the premise makes for some really creative battles. Essentially if you've ever wondered if Char's Zaku would beat the Strike or if Wing would destroy Gundam X, give BF a go.

Shelly wb
12. shellywb
Free was too much fun. I really hope they have a sequel. I like most of your list. Bit I'm one of those who hurt for the main character of Watamote. I couldn't watch it.

I'd chime in with Gatchman Crowds. It was spectacular, beautiful, great heroine, great soundtrack. And Magi, though it's not done yet. And aside from Free for sports anime, Yowapeda is my favorite because it really captures the joy of cycling.

I'm curious if you liked Flower of Evil. I did not watch most, but thought it really got the creepiness across well.

And thank you for not including Kill la Kill. Blech.
David Thomson
13. ZetaStriker
@10: Not to mention that Build Fighters is jam-packed with cameos and references. One character quotes the original Mobile Suit Gundam's opening to some seriously awesome salsa-esque battle theme, Ramba Ral is a member of the core cast, and there are dialogue and animation references all over the place. The thing is also so encompassing in terms of the Gundam franchise that even the G-Saviour - from the better-forgotten live action film of the same name - makes a cameo in one of the scenes.

That's not even mentioning the original units that pop up from time to time, usually using the parts from multiple model kits. A green-painted Epyon with the Dragon Gundam's arms as legs was especially awesome, as it was piloted by a no-name competitor who seemed to easily outplay the protagonists. Every time one of these similar but unfamiliar units pops up the little guy inside of me that used to follow the Gundam franchise religiously just freaks out in a good way.

The original plot is pretty good too. It's not insanely original, but it has a lot of heart and charm to it that really sells the plot. It's superb in its fan-pandering, and good with its core story too.
Kelly Quinn
14. KellyQ
@12. shellywb - The sales numbers for Free! are good enough that I would consider a second season pretty well within the realm of possibility. From what I've heard the audio discs and character goods have been selling very well too (Suzuki Tatsuhisa, the VA for Makoto, even said at a panel that he tried to buy merch for his character and it was sold out everywhere!).

I only wish that Gatchaman had been a little more cohesive. I love Nakamura Kenji as a director, and Kinako's characters designs were fabulous, and the twist on the hero tropes/gamification was really interesting - but it just seemed like the production was SO rushed and it didn't really come together as I'd hoped. I am also loving YowaPeda, and Daiya no Ace is also really picking up - with KuroBas still on and Haikyuu coming for spring, it's a great time for sports anime fans!

Honestly I only watched the first episode of Flowers of Evil. I understand what they were going for with the rotoscoping, and I do admit that the effect was unnerving and dissociating and all the rest, but I found it completely unwatchable. From what I saw, the ending song was the crowning achievement of the series - I actually feel creeped out just remembering it.
wandering-dreamer
15. amusingturtle
nice read. 1 and 2 are where they belong, and maou-sama's position is nice too. good job!
wandering-dreamer
16. Albatross
What about Kuroko no Basket
Kelly Quinn
17. KellyQ
@16. Albatross - Actually we only included series that were new in 2013, so KuroBas didn't qualify...though I'm enjoying the second season very much!
wandering-dreamer
18. DavidBankson
I started watching Kyousougiga, thank you for the recommendation! I will definitely be finishing this beautifully eccentric anime.
Kelly Quinn
19. KellyQ
@18. DavidBankson - So glad you like it! The show didn't go quite in the direction I expected by the end, but I still loved the whole experience. I really hope we'll see more in the future from this particular director.
wandering-dreamer
20. Nightlord
The best top I've seen by far, all these shows are great, but my personal favorite is Watamote you know, "the feels"
Oxi Mar
21. Oximar
i think that is awesome Kyousougiga!!
wandering-dreamer
22. ayitta
This is a wonderful post! I was introduced to so many new and great anime shows like Shinsekai Yori, Uchouten Kazoku, Free!, Silver Spoon...I'll really look forward to some more recommendations in future!
wandering-dreamer
24. lavenderloins
I have to say, I am disapointed to see a couple missing from here. Namely:

Kill la Kill
Beyond the Boundary
The Hentai Prince And The Stony Cat
and Valvrave

Those four were great this year I thought :D
wandering-dreamer
25. ASH90
where is "BTOOOM!"?
Kelly Quinn
26. KellyQ
@25.ASH90 - BTOOOM! actually aired in fall of 2012, so it didn't qualify for the 2013 list.
wandering-dreamer
27. lingern
Is there a list of all the animes shown in the amv? I WANNA WATCH THEM ALL!
Kelly Quinn
28. KellyQ
@27. lingern - You can find most of them on Wikipedia's list of 2013 anime. If there's a specific one that caught your eye, you could note what time it appears and we'll try to identify it for you!
wandering-dreamer
29. Iwatobi Free!
Hi. I was wondering if you were the one that made the 206 animegraphy video at the end? I really loved it and it seemed to have many genres that I enjoy. (Supernatural, fantasy, magic, etc...) But I just couldn't decipher all of the animes that were shown. I probably got like 30 of the 206 shown. -.-' I was wondering if maybe, sorry if it is time consuming, you could post the list of the 206 animes used? Please? I am REALLY running out of animes to watch! Thank you!
wandering-dreamer
30. Iwatobi Free!
Oh, and I am so sorry! I totally did not see the comments above mine I was in such an excitied mode! I'm really, really sorry!
Kelly Quinn
31. KellyQ
@29-30. Iwatobi Free! - Thanks for commenting, and no worries about not seeing the comment above! I didn't make the video, but I think it does a great job of showing off the year. Anything you can't find in the TV series Wikipedia list I linked above will likely be on the movies or OVAs lists, since I saw a few of those in there. Also, as I said in my previous comment, if you note the time a particular show appears in the AMV I'll definitely try to identify it for you!

I'm also happy to help with recommendations if I can, here or on Twitter, if you give me an idea of what you're looking for!
wandering-dreamer
32. Iwatobi Free!
Thank you so much for replying! I don't want to ask too much of you because you have already helped me so much... but I enjoy the fantasy/magic/fighting/sci-fi/violence type of anime. However, I think I watched all of the animes I can on those genres! So if you could send maybe the top three you could recommend to my email at jacktheripperdc@gmail.com if it's not too much of a hassle for you? Please and thank you! (And anyone else who reads my extremely long message, I beg you to send me animes to watch. Thank you! I am desperate!)
wandering-dreamer
33. kaye
wataMote is the worse anime I ever watch
wandering-dreamer
34. Marjun
Nice review i've ever seen.


WatchMeIn
http://www.watchmein.com/anime
wandering-dreamer
35. oruchimaru102
dude you totally forgot about Naruto and Naruto Shippuden(the shippuden should definetally have been there)
wandering-dreamer
37. namikaze minato
NARUTO should be on top. Guys just go through it you will just speak for youself.
wandering-dreamer
38. Kering
The amv = cool but wouldn't it be even better if the name of the anime appears when it shows?

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