2019 has been quite a year, both in world events and for me personally. But we’re not here to talk about that; we’re here to talk about anime! This has been a fantastic year for anime, especially shonen. There’ve been so many great anime that quite a few that would make my top 10 most years got pushed off the list by even better anime. But since I don’t want to neglect them, honorable mention goes out to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5, My Hero Academia Season 4 (which hasn’t had enough episodes to make it), Dororo, Sword Art Online: Alicization, and One Punch Man Season 2. All of them are well worth the watch, but got edged out by the best of the best. With that done, here are my top 10 anime of 2019!
Boogiepop And Others
Boogiepop’s out of order storytelling and often deliberate obtuseness make it a difficult anime to describe, but a fascinating anime to watch. Using a shifting point of view and skewed chronology, Boogiepop weaves strange and often thought-provoking supernatural mysteries that it uses to explore adolescence, human psychology, and various social phenomena. Though each arc can be confusing to follow at first, the end result is inevitably satisfying, completely justifying the journey. It’s an anime that always leaves you thinking, and that alone would justify its place on this list.
For shonen fans like me, 2019 has been one of the best years in recent memory in terms of the sheer number of new shonen anime (several other of which you’ll see further down). As shonen go, Dr. Stone is quite an unusual entry. Rather than action or adventure, its plot is driven by scientific development, which is both a refreshing take on the genre and a cool premise in its own right. By showing each step Senku takes as he works on rebuilding the world, every invention he completes has a real sense of accomplishment, turning mundane objects we take for granted into exciting achievements that embody human ingenuity. With a strong heart underneath all of that, Dr. Stone is more proof that shonen storytelling can apply to any premise with enough passion behind it.
One Piece: Stampede
In case you’re new here, I’ll be straightforward: I love One Piece. I love its characters, I love its world, I love its themes, I love its fights, I love pretty much everything about it. For a fan like me, Stampede is the perfect kind of fanservice. A nonstop action set-piece that highlights almost every major character from the series, Stampede is the sort of movie that rewards you the more invested you are in One Piece. In terms of pure spectacle, Stampede offers some of this year’s best action scenes in its near-constant battles that grow and grow to apocalyptic levels. It’s a pure love letter to fans, and one I’m happy to receive.
Put simply, Granbelm is best described as Madoka Magica meets Fate/Stay Night with mechas. If this sounds both silly and cool, that’s because it’s both and much more. Even the episodes without any fights shine by virtue of Granbelm’s excellent cast, a group of girls each with their own desire and the determination to fight for it. Every character is so well developed that their fights often end up being more tragic than exciting, particularly when the show begins explaining the mysteries surrounding its premise. At its heart, Granbelm is a story about finding meaning in one’s life, shown through Mangetsu’s experiences as she tries to find a wish of her own. Granbelm is the sort of show that has a bit of everything, and excels at everything it does. If you slept on this gem back when it aired, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia
For an adaptation of a mobile game designed to make people throw money down the drain, Babylonia is a pretty great show. It’s only halfway done as of this writing, but what we’ve gotten so far is more than enough to put it on this list. First off, Babylonia’s production quality is staggering. With a host of talented animators and a great production schedule, Babylonia looks better than any TV anime has a right to. Even the minor fights have so much energy to them that they practically pop off the screen, and the climaxes are just amazing. And the story this is in service to, while not the most welcoming to newbies, is a ton of fun once you get into it. So much of Babylonia’s appeal boils down to how charming the entire cast is, from new characters like Merlin to fan favorites like Gilgamesh to hybrids like Ishtar. There’s so much chemistry here that I’d be happy to watch an entire show of just these people going about their lives in ancient Uruk. With what I know from the game, I expect the story to only go uphill from here, which is pure catnip to a Fate fan like me.
Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel II. Lost Butterfly
After Presage Flower introduced us to Heaven’s Feel’s darker story and heavier themes, Lost Butterfly continues to demonstrate why Heaven’s Feel is Fate/Stay Night’s most beloved route. Ufotable’s work on these movies is nothing short of jaw dropping, providing gorgeous animation and top-notch fight scenes across the board. But that’s only the half of it. Lost Butterfly trades the visual novel’s broader scope for a tightly focused story about Sakura and what exactly drives her. Heaven’s Feel turns Sakura from a forgettable background character to one of Stay Night’s most fully realized characters to date, even improving on the visual novel in certain ways. I won’t go into more detail to avoid spoilers, but know that Heaven’s Feel is some of the best storytelling Fate has to offer, and that’s already a high standard to meet.
The Promised Neverland
Part thriller, part horror, part mystery, The Promised Neverland isn’t what you’d expect from a Shonen Jump adaptation, and the end product speaks for itself as an engaging thriller that still fits perfectly into the Jump pantheon. Neverland puts its characters through some of the worst traumas imaginable without ever dropping into torture porn, consistently keeping an optimistic outlook even in its darkest moments. The interplay between the kids’ scheming and Isabella’s own plans gives every episode the kind of nail-biting tension found in all of the best thrillers, buoyed by the same Jump spirit as the action/adventure stories we’re used to. The buildup to the escape plan is masterfully done, and the finale leaves me excited for its upcoming second season. What more can I say? It was good to be a shonen fan in 2019.
Vinland Saga is a story about Vikings. It’s a story about violence, war, revenge, and family. But above all else, it’s a story about people, flawed, messy people. Vinland Saga is the rare show where every episode leaves you thinking, from the high octane battles to the quiet conversations. It’s rare to see a show with such a clear and powerful thematic vision that stays this consistent and compelling for its entire run. Even supporting characters like Askeladd and Canute have so much depth that they can practically carry the show on their own, and that’s not even getting into how much of an impact Thors had in such a short time. And if none of this has sold you on Vinland Saga, it also has a guy uppercutting a horse into the air. You can’t skip out on a guy uppercutting a horse into the air.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Part 2
Even with its popularity dying down, Attack on Titan is still a show that needs no introduction. After its previous season proved that the series’ storytelling is strong enough to remain engaging without Titan involvement, this season combines the previous season’s insightful writing with even more Titan battles to produce Attack on Titan’s best season yet. From its thrilling fights to its heavy themes about the cost of war and the dangers of fanaticism, this is Attack on Titan running on all cylinders. By finally answering some of its oldest mysteries, this season both fleshes out the series’ world and firmly states its overarching themes in a way that previous seasons only hinted at. Even with some…questionable…metaphors, this latest season proves that Attack on Titan deserves its status as one of the best action shows of the year.
Weathering With You
Your Name is an impossible movie to follow up. Few anime have managed to sweep the community and break into the mainstream like Your Name did in 2016. Given its impossible task as Makoto Shinkai’s first film since Your Name, I’m happy to say that Weathering With You is a resounding success, even it it falls a little short of its predecessor. A coming of age story set in a Tokyo beset by endless rain, Weathering With You is the sort of film that leaves an impression that sticks around long after the credits roll. It’s a film about climate change, growing up, the struggle to find happiness in a world that doesn’t seem to care about you, and the power of one person to change the world, all depicted in gorgeously drawn settings with impeccable animation. If it sounds like Weathering With You has a lot going on, that’s because it does. This is far and away Shinkai’s most ambitious film yet, although it still has that same core feeling as all of Shinkai’s movies. Like all of Shinkai’s films, Weathering With You wears its heart on its sleeve, unafraid to be openly sentimental and call on the audience to empathize with that sentiment. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but Weathering With You is still an excellent film and more than deserving of being my anime of the year.
And that’s everything! I’m sure there are plenty of great shows I just didn’t watch, so let me know if I missed anything. Happy New Year!