2018 is almost done, and boy has it been a year. Both world events and my personal life have been chaotic with tons of ups and downs, but that’s not what this post is about; this post is about anime! As is tradition, I’ll be listing my top 10 anime out of everything I’ve seen this year. Keep in mind that there are a lot of shows I haven’t seen yet that would probably have made the list if I had (looking at you, Planet With) so keep in that in mind as you’re scrolling through. Also note that, with the exception of the top spot, these aren’t in any particular order. Now, without further ado, here are my top 10 anime of the year!
Darling in the Franxx (Episodes 1-15)
Minor spoilers here
This is no doubt confusing to some of you considering how much I’ve criticized/ranted about it, but I do genuinely like a lot of Darling in the Franxx. Though it completely dropped off a cliff in the second half, the first half is a strong coming of age mecha story with a charming cast and a compelling central relationship. Derivative as it sometimes gets, Hiro and Zero Two’s relationship makes for some excellent drama to keep the show interesting in between the exciting mech battles, eventually becoming the most important part of the show. Even as they grow closer, the conflict keeping them apart keeps things engaging until everything explodes in the downright fantastic climax in episode 15. That fight is a perfect encapsulation of the feeling of finally connecting with someone and reveling in the pure joy that comes with that. Even though Franxx dives right off a cliff in its later episodes, the first 15 stand as one of the best anime arcs of the year.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
Maquia is to Mari Okada what Your Name. is to Makoto Shinkai: the crystallization of talented creator’s vision with none of their flaws. Centering around the titular character’s relationship with her adopted son, Maquia is an emotionally resonant story from start to finish, alternating between light-hearted humor, family drama, and sadness without ever losing focus on the relationship that ties it all together. Its setting, a fantasy world that’s gradually losing what makes it fantastic, perfectly matches the tragedy of the immortal Maquia being doomed to watch Arial grow old and die while she remains young. It’s a sad reminder that nothing lasts forever, but Maquia chooses to frame this as finding hope in the moment rather than despair at the future. It’s a wonderful theme for a wonderful movie, easily one of the best films of the year, anime or otherwise.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind
Though it’s not yet over, I have no doubt about including Golden Wind here. Part 4 was already the best JoJo has ever been, and Part 5 is on track to surpass it. We’re only just getting started and Giorno is already the most interesting JoJo yet, a gangster with a heart of gold who blends Joseph’s wit, Jonathan’s honor, and Jotaro’s punk attitude while still being a distinct character on his own. He’s backed by a supporting cast of gangsters and punks who are all so interesting that they very nearly steal the show from the title character, no mean feat considering how much personality every JoJo has. Of course, this being JoJo, we’re also treated to the same bizarre antics like Bruno licking Giorno’s face to see if he’s lying or Giorno stopping a lighter from being put out by turning a lamp into a snake (it makes sense in context) that never fails to entertain. Episode 7’s dance scene in particular stands as one of the JoJo-iest moments in the history of JoJo with how it channels its creative insanity into something truly transcendent. JoJo is back with a bang.
My Hero Academia Season 3
After a stellar second season, MHA continues with an equally strong third season. MHA’s strengths are pretty well established at this point: it nails the basics of what makes a good shonen and supplements those with its own ideas and sheer sincerity. This season continues that trend while also introducing All for One, the anime’s best villain yet. Restrained but intimidating, All for One is a perfect foil for the ever inspiring All Might, who once again proves why he’s the anime’s number one hero. I won’t go into too much more detail since listing MHA’s strengths could get old after a while, but it needs to be said that this show’s supporting cast is wonderful. Midoriya and All Might have owned the spotlight from the very beginning, which makes it all the more impressive how well supporting characters like Bakugo and Iida can carry the show on their own. If you’ve somehow missed out on MHA, I can’t recommend it more.
Attack on Titan Season 3
Though its popularity is nowhere near what it was in the first season, Attack on Titan’s third season once again proves why the series gained such a massive following in the first place. Though the Titans themselves are absent for most of the season, Attack on Titan proves that its human drama and intrigue are more than enough to carry the story without its titular monsters. Having Eren and the Scouts fighting humans leads to a lot of heavy reflecting on our heroes’ part as they learn that killing people is far more difficult than killing mindless monsters. This shift, combined with a flood of major revelations, gives the supporting cast a ton of development to the point that some of them (especially Historia) outshine the main trio. Of course, there’s still plenty of Attack on Titan’s trademark action as well. Having humans as the main enemy changes the nature of the fights quite a bit, and is a refreshing shift from the Titan-focused battles. Attack on Titan’s third season may not change anyone’s mind about the show, but it’s perfect for those who fell in love with the first two seasons.
Tokyo Ghoul is a mess. Tokyo Ghoul is complicated. Tokyo Ghoul is questionably paced. Tokyo Ghoul also has one of the most fascinating perspectives in anime. For all it’s issues, especially in the second cour of re, one thing that Tokyo Ghoul has always excelled at is its overwhelming empathy. It adamantly refuses to paint anyone with broad strokes, introducing cackling psychopaths before revealing that they’re actually kind to those they care about and introducing heroes who essentially want the same thing as the villains. Re continues this trend and blurs the lines even further with the Quinxes, a group of good people trying to do the right thing on the wrong side. Whether it’s the Tsukiyama family or the CCG, everyone in Tokyo Ghoul is shown in shades of grey, with virtually nobody portrayed in black and white. This level of kindness and empathy is what carries Tokyo Ghoul Even as its storytelling struggles to remain coherent in the second half, Tokyo Ghoul has such an interesting perspective on its characters that I can’t criticize it too much. How many action shows out there are willing portray a conflict and then show just how meaningless it is? Tokyo Ghoul’s biggest drama isn’t the conflict between the humans and ghouls, but the struggle for people on both sides to understand each other. It’s this kind of thoughtfulness that makes Tokyo Ghoul stand out in it’s genre and succeed in spite of its numerous issues.
Zombie Land Saga
The best way I can describe Zombie Land Saga is that it’s a show that refuses to be described. Every time it seems to have settled into one genre, whether it’s absurd comedy or idols or sincere drama, it decides to change gears and become something completely different. In a lesser show, this approach would leave it completely incoherent, but Zombie Land Saga is something special. Whether it ends with a hilarious rap battle between zombie idols or a heartfelt message from a daughter to her father, every episode of Zombie Land Saga excels at what it wants to do and gives us something new to love about the show. Hopping between genres so deftly allows Zombie Land Saga to take the best parts of each one without ever falling into tired tropes or clichés. And I would be remiss in leaving out the glue binding everything together: Kotaro. Voiced by the always entertaining Mamoru Miyano (who’s having way too much fun with this role), Kotaro’s particular brand of self-assured insanity is a treat in every episode and serves as a perfect representation of Zombie Land Saga’s appeal. Add this to a list of shows that absolutely need second seasons.
Speaking of insanity: Hinamatsuri. A bratty telekinetic girl moving in with the world’s most mundane yakuza is already a comedy goldmine, but Hinamatsuri goes far beyond simply relying on a funny premise. Hina, Anzu, and Hitomi each add something unique to the anime, from Hina’s cluelessness dragging Nitta into trouble to Anzu’s heartwarming journey to Hitomi’s hilarious comedy of errors. Hinamatsuri’s humor is all centered around the insanity, sometimes bordering on the surreal, of what’s going on while using it’s cast for a ton of character-based gags and variety. The sheer number of different plotlines and gags means it’s going to have something for virtually everyone. Even putting aside the comedy, Hinamatsuri excels as a story of found families, no matter how strange they might be. Hina and Nitta don’t always get along, but the genuine affection that develops between them is undeniable, and I dare anyone to stay dry-eyed through Anzu’s episodes. Hinamatsuri is the sort of show that shines no matter what it tries to do, and has well earned it’s place on this list.
A Place Further than the Universe
Though it didn’t initially seem like my type of show, A Place Further than the Universe won me over almost instantly with its sheer joy and passion. This is the sort of story that encourages you to live life to the fullest, whether it’s by chasing your dreams or simply having a fun time with your friends. It’s optimistic outlook as the girls doggedly try to reach Antarctica is downright admirable with how inspiring it can be. The quality doesn’t stop there, either. Each of the girls gets their own chance to shine, gradually forming a natural dynamic that makes them feel more real than you’d ever expect. It’s not afraid to let them be frustrated, nervous, or petty because sometimes there’s a good reason to be like that. Their journey is grand and adventurous, but Universe always keeps its characters grounded enough that their own stories don’t get overshadowed by the adventure as a whole. It’s just a wonderful show that would most likely be at the top of this list if it wasn’t for the next show on this list.
Spoilers for Steins;Gate ahead
If you’ve followed me for long enough, you’ve probably seen that I absolutely love Steins;Gate. With its smart use of time travel, relatable cast, and emotional weight, the original anime is one of my all time favorite shows. With such a great story to use as a foundation, Zero simultaneously had a lot to work with and a lot to live up to. The end result is a worthy successor to a modern classic that even goes as far as to surpass the original at times. Zero as a whole isn’t quite as good as the original—its plot meanders a bit and there are some threads that are pretty clearly vestiges of other routes in the visual novel—but that doesn’t take away from what it does do well. Even though we know how it’s going to end from the original Steins;Gate, Zero makes the journey there a treat for anyone craving more Steins;Gate. Seeing the formerly bombastic “mad scientist” Okabe as a traumatized shell of himself is genuinely heartbreaking, and the show knows how to use that to it’s full potential. As he continually moves back and forth on what to do, the anime lets us understand all that from the perspective of his friends in the Future Gadget Lab, simultaneously developing previously underdeveloped characters like Daru and giving us a different view of Okabe himself. All of this culminates in what we knew was coming: the return of Hououin Kyouma. His return after how much he struggled in both series is one of the most uplifting moments I’ve ever seen in anime, a moment where someone who had completely given up decides to take the risk and hope again. Though it’s not without its flaws, Zero is without a doubt the best anime to have come out in 2018.