Everyone begins this type of article with a long preamble about how difficult it is to put together a list of this magnitude. There is so much that has to be considered, cultural impact, frame-by-frame drawings, quality of voice actors, whether it is diminished or improved by its English dub, ratings on Crunchyroll, how many times it trends on Twitter, and to only pick 10 is a Herculean task. Unfortunately for me, the job is complicated by undiagnosed depression, boredom by cookie cutter anime, the relentless forward track of time leaving me with very little ability to relate to the teenagers that populate the large majority of anime, an aversion to romance, the frustration in having my concerns about the poor treatment of female characters constantly being hand-waved away by fandom, and the difficulty in finding something I actually like that all collided in 2013 and kept me away from the genre for nearly the entire rest of the decade.
Nevertheless I will persevere, so please enjoy the list, completely scrambled and entirely from memory below.
Honorable Mention: Demon Slayer (2019) and The Promised Neverland (2019).
Although there was very little I knew about these series before their respective adaptations were announced, their premises got me hooked and they were the first two shows that I actually anticipated before convincing myself to get back into anime. Something about the protagonists almost getting murdered/eaten/suffering horrible despair in episode 1 gets me going I guess. I’m not including them in the main list because they are so new and because neither show goes through much of the manga and there is still too much story left to be covered to make a true judgment on whether it should land on a best of list.
Panty & Stocking (2010)
The lone Gainax anime on this list, this show stands out on every shelf. From the art style that harkens back to the Craig McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky days of my childhood, to the heights of depravity in delved to, Panty & Stocking and Garterbelt kept me rolling with laughter throughout its run. I also remain convinced that 2NE1’s video for Hate You is heavily influenced by its aesthetic, so there you go: Cultural impact. It is also has one of the best songs in anime with D City Rock’s Anarchy.
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation (2015)
There’s still a dark, rarely referenced part of me that loves Japanese police procedurals and Sakurako scratches that itch. Throw in a mildly exasperated lead that only barely understands how he got dragged into his whole situation and you’ve got me (it also gives me shades of the relationship between Watanuki and Yuuko in xxxHOLIC with just slightly less child slavery). I’ve consumed this show in both animated and live-action form and honestly I could continue to watch the adventures of the horny for bones osteologist that cares more about adding bones to her collection than about the murder-mysteries themselves or everyone else’s discomfort with her apparent wanton desecration of human bodies forever.
My Hero Academia (2016)
Yeah, yeah, I don’t really have to explain anything about one of the most well known anime there is that has a simuldub and is exceedingly popular, but it has a large cast of lovable characters that are remarkably fleshed out and given motivations that the audience can understand. The world has stakes, and even though I go into each episode knowing that certain characters have to be fine (our narrator Deku), for those 22 or so minutes my brain isn’t quite sure. There are a few notable missteps: Mineta, the fanbase’s desire to forgive Endeavor and the way too horny costumes for female characters that don’t really seem like they would choose them on their own, but overall, MHA lives up to its billing.
Hunter x Hunter (2011)
This feels like cheating, since I technically run a podcast on the series by Yoshihiro Togashi, and it already got an anime in 1999, but this is my list so I don’t care. I maintain that humanity will slip into the long forgotten memories of the universe before Hunter x Hunter is completed, but at least this new anime gave us the Chimera Ant arc, and for that I am satisfied. I’ve gotten to watch along, both in person and online as friends, family and virtual strangers experienced the Chimera Ant arc and it honestly always gives me joy to see them experience every human emotion at once and just sit with the conclusion and messages of this arc. While the ending of the show (for now) leaves us hanging, the show’s ability to still provoke debates on whether the Hunter Organization was right or wrong to act as they did in the end sticks with me, and I will still shed a tear or twenty-four when I see that one image (You know the one).
Mob Psycho 100 (2016)
At some point my timeline started to get flooded with images and fanart from this series, and if you know me, typically I lean hard into my deeper hater instincts and mute and filter every instance from my timeline and move on pretending I never heard of the series for the rest of my life. However, as I started to interact more with the Gintama fans who loved MP100, its awkward lead and shady broke foster uncle dude (sound familiar) at the center I caved and gave it go. It’s a difficult task to balance increasing the stakes with the fact that the lead character is obviously the strongest person in his known universe, but Mob Psycho 100 succeeds where a lot of other shows fail. It takes care to show that Mob is trying his best: for his part time job, to take care of a little brother he feels is disappointed in him, to make new friends, to impress the girl he has his eyes on and to save the world every now and then. That care shows through in every frame.
Ginga e Kickoff (2012)
I’m glad to see that through the success of shows like Haikyuu that the larger anime community is coming around to the superiority of sports anime, albeit several years too late. The premise of Ginga e Kickoff is a tale as old as time, of a boy who is kinda bad at the sport he loves but nevertheless dreams of playing with his friends and chasing glory together. Shou restarts his disbanded club the Momoyama Predators and through his perseverance and hard work is able to convince old friends and new to join him. Along the way he finds himself and what he’s truly good at and we all find sons and daughters to love.
Giant Killing (2010)
You’re gonna get these back to back football anime and you’re going to like it. The tough older brother of shows like Ginga e Kickoff, this series focuses on a struggling professional club, East Tokyo United that takes on a former star player as its manager and the growing pains of the players and the community around them as they all get used to their new boss. Nothing quite makes me bawl tears like the underdog slaying teams they have no business playing up to, and the internal drama of the team is quite compelling.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part IV: Diamond is Unbreakable (2016)
One of the first shows I dived back into when I decided to give anime another go, David Production continued their fabulous work from Parts I-III. Working from Hirohiko Araki’s spectacular source material, Diamond is Unbreakable gave me a taste of something I didn’t even know I was looking for in anime: an anime where the souls of the hotblooded punched each other in the face while trying to find a serial killer who had operated in their so-called sleepy town of Morioh for years, aided temporarily by the ghost of his first victim. The show is entirely contained to this small town but it does not seem constrained by its singular locale.
Aquarion EVOL (2012)
The sequel to 2005’s ridiculously horny but not horny anime from the twisted mind of Shoji Kawamori about reincarnated angels, an ancient conflict and teens orgasming while their airplanes combine into a mech (it’s not subtle), EVOL ups the ante in every way. I initially hesitated to complete the series because of its heavy emphasis on the love triangle between its three main characters: Amata, Mikono and the evil Kagura. By the time they added Zessica to the mix I was nearly having an anxiety attack, but I came back to the table years later and did not regret it in the least. Fully enjoying the show requires drop-kicking your suspension of disbelief into the ocean, completing the required reading of Genesis of Aquarion and ensuring that you have enough room to run around screaming as the show decides that no depth of stupidity and self-referencing is low enough. I also cannot fail to mention the Yoko Kanno of it all still shines through here.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (2012)
If you know me you know I love two things: Lupin III and its main (only?) female character - Fujiko Mine. Unlike the other leads: Goemon Ishikawa XIII - descended from Goemon Ishikawa THEE first, Daisuke Jigen - some sort of gangster with a dark gangster past in America, Arsene Lupin III - maybe the grandson of Arsene Lupin or maybe some kid that won the title, Fujiko never really had the slightest hint of a past. And for a series that mostly needed her to be little more than T&A and a sometimes rival, sometimes love interest for Lupin that was good enough for decades. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is the most daring the series has been in years and attempts at the same time to fill in the gaps of Fujiko’s past, while at the same telling when she met Lupin and the beginning of his fascination with her while keeping Fujiko firmly centered. Written by Mari Okada and directed by Saya Yamamoto, there’s some mild frustration in a few plot threads that don’t seem to really go anywhere, it’s a beautiful thirteen episode show that both tries to tell a unique story and remain true to the spirit of Lupin III and does both.