We are now in 2020. There are times I wondered if we would even get here but looks like the podcast is still around. That and all human life. But let’s not dwell about our eventual destruction, let’s talk about some anime that came out over the last decade that I think were A-OK.
Honorable Mention: 91 Days (2016)
Yo, they made an anime mobster movie. Well, it was a TV show but you get the point. A story of revenge set in the Prohibition era that was dense, hard, and real. Seeing a guy be in over his head and then slowly become the monster that he vowed to slay was stuff that would win awards. Sleeper hit of the year.
Honorable Mention: SSSS.Gridman (2018)
Despite my knowledge of Gridman being limited to an American adaptation starring Mathew Laurence and Tim Curry, SSSS.Gridman managed to make feel nostalgic over a series I never properly watched. That has be account for something. This managed to hit my mecha action button while still doing something more than just a monster-of-the-week series. Might be one of the best shows Trigger has done.
Honorable Mention: sweetness & lightning (2016)
This is just a nice show. There is no real hard sell for this. It’s just a single dad trying to raise his kid. Also, one of the few shows where they actually hired a child actor to play a child in the show. Trust me, Tsumugi is adorable and you will want to adopt her after watching this. If you want something that warms your heart go check out this show.
Honorable Mention: Gintama’ (2011)
It counts, right? This season is the reason we started Just A Gintama Podcast. You could even say if it wasn’t for this season, we wouldn’t have made The Network. Something to think about. Anyway, here are my proper ten.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)
I like dumb stuff. JoJo is very dumb. I am not really going specific with which part I am putting for this ranking so I am just putting the franchise as a whole. Otherwise, I would be putting in JoJo three times (I’ll let you decide which three on your own). JoJo was something that I only had limited knowledge about before the anime came out. Most of what I knew was through osmosys and the couple parts I actually read. But being able to see it in motion was something I was not prepared for. You have to give up to David Productions for putting out this series with a level of style that you can only get out of JoJo’s. It manages to feel like a throwback while still feel like something completely new.
JoJo always came across as that secret handshake that you do with another fan to show how cool you were for knowing some underground artist. Now it’s become part of the general anime culture. The anime has showed up on Toonami. The manga is now properly coming out. Roundabout being a meme for a solid year and a half. JoJo’s has hit it big. Even if the over-the-top nature of the series is not exactly, It deserves to be on everyone’s list and it damn sure is going to be on mine.
I am no expert about the anime industry. I have assumptions and guesses but that is about it. Shirobako might not be any more of an accurate representation about how the industry is like than something like Animation Runner Kuromi but both, more so Shirobako, gave me a better appreciation of where my talking pictures come from. You get a glimpse as to how the sausage is made. Of course, a very dramatized version of it but it was fun to see how a show gets from A to B to C. But really how anime is made is just a part of what makes this series so good.
This is a story about a group of friends with a dream. Seeing them find ways to get closer to that dream is where the magic of what this series is comes from. The successes. The failures. The compromises. All of it to show that even in this dramatized version of the anime industry, there is still some sense of realism that shows how tough this industry is. Yeah, the show can be quirky and silly but there is still a lot of heart. To be able to see a character get what is essentially a bit role and it be a moment that leaves you in tears is something to behold. A human story like this can be done in any medium. This one just happened to be an anime. There is something beautiful about that.
Your Lie in April (2014)
As I was putting this list together, I needed to be sure I was right in adding this show so I decided to put on Goose House’s Hikaru Nara, this show’s first opening, while I was looking up other shows. I was in tears by the time the chorus hit and it stayed that way for the remainder of the song. I was right in picking this one. I should start by saying Your Lie in April is a soap opera, a melodramatic one at that. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Girl is already taken. A tale as old as time.
What begins as something so simple turns into an emotional roller coaster that I can never listen to certain pieces of music without crying my eyes out. It is really hard to explain this show without saying too much but this show more than just some love story. It is so much more than that. It’s about trauma, self-discovery, family, and really about living life to the fullest. All of this being told to you through music. The music is one of the strongest parts of this series and manages to not being the central focus of the whole thing. It’s simply a vehicle for how some of this story is being told. And having that music be paired with superb animation captures the raw emotion that is playing out is what takes this show to the next level.
Is it unnecessarily dramatic at times? Oh god yes. Hell, for how poetic these kids talk in this show, you could have just aged them up to be college age and you would have gotten a hit CW show in your hands. But don’t get it twisted. By the end of the series, everything feels earned. So if want to cry some ugly tears, I hope this show reaches you.
gdgd fairies (2011)
What is this show doing on this list? How can something that looks like CG garbage be one of the best anime that came out this decade? Buddy, have you watched this show? I don’t like throwing the word “random” whenever I describe a show because it feels hack to call a show that. I would say this show lives in the realm of absurd more than anything. This might be something you could see on an Adult Swim type channel. You can probably say this is a show about nothing. It’s about three fairies of different personalities that just hang out and talk for ten minutes. Then maybe play some weird game that borderlines on copyright infringement. This is a show that you need to be seen to be believed because I can’t describe a typical episode without sounding ridiculous.
If there is anything I can describe is the cast’s dedication to the series. This show is about nothing but the three characters you are with for the majority of the series. Their chemistry is the glue that keeps the show together and where a lot of the humor from the show comes from. You can tell they are having fun being in this show. If you are not sure, I would suggest watching the Magic Spring Dubbing Lake segments of the show. Easily my favorite parts of each episode. This is where the fairies riff over a scene they viewing in the lake. Which can range from a giant bear in a barrel to a pseudo facsimile of Motoko Kusanagi dancing with a robot. One of those is real but that’s beside the point. Then at this point it is just the actors trying to voice what they are seeing. And what makes it work is that the actors are pretty much seeing these for the first time so their reactions are all genuine. They do their best to try to stay “in character” but it’s clear that they are doing everything they can to make each other laugh.
I have a very specific sense of humor and this show hits within my strike zone. It is something special. If you enjoy this, you will enjoy the other series this director has done like Hi-sCool! Seha Girls or gdgd men’s party. Just go watch this. It will probably make sense when you do.
Gundam Build Fighters (2013)
Gundam has always been an important part of my history with anime. While in high school, a friend recommended this game called Journey to Jaburo. Back when I had no access to the internet, I kinda just had to take his word for how good the game is. Lucked out by being able to rent a copy from Blockbuster and was surprised with how much I enjoyed it. By all accounts, it was not the best game but what sold me on it was story. They managed to condense what amounts to two thirds of the original Gundam story into this game with animated cut-scenes in between all the actual gameplay portions. Mind you, around this time, Gundam Wing was airing on Toonami. And I didn’t have cable. So that phenomenon was passing me by while i was just replaying this game over and over again to get my Gundam fix. By the time Wing was off the air, I finally stumbled upon DVDs of the original Gundam series at a local electronics store. Convinced I will never see these again, I got my mom to buy this $70 set with the promise of not asking for anything for the next two years (I think I eventually asked for something else later that year). What I didn’t realize was I had gotten the Gundam movie trilogy set. I popped in the first disk of the set. Here was my thought process after the first three minutes: “Wait, why are the words on the screen? Wait, how come this isn’t in English? Wait, what language are they speaking?” Yup, the Gundam movie trilogy was the first proper Japanese media I consumed before I actively knew what anime was. I watched those movies over and over again.
It was the most fun watching a show and it opened the door to eventually discovering more anime including the rest of the Gundam franchise. Years passed. Gundam series came and went. Then, Build Fighters came along. This felt like rediscovering the series again. This series should not be as good as it was. What could easily be looked at as a marketing scheme to have kids buy more model kits, comes a series about hard work and friendship paired with over-the-top animation and a killer soundtrack. No wars. Just kids build little plastic robots and fighting with them.
Somehow a show that is so simple manages to have so much heart. From how all the characters interact with each other to how much love they put into making their respective robots. It reminded me that, at its core, anime is about being entertained and having fun. And maybe buying a model kit or two or seven and never build any of them. Build Fighters is a show where you don’t have to be the biggest Gundam fan to appreciate what’s going on and might be one of the best that happened to this franchise so far. It’s about having fun and I am happy this series reminded me how much fun Gundam can be.
Rainbow: Nisha Rokubō no Shichinin (2010)
Hope is something we need in these troubling times. Of course I write this after seeing everything that is going on in the news. The best part about this is that no matter when you read this, there is probably something bad happening so this post will be evergreen. I would like to think we go to media for escapism because sometimes the world sucks. Anime is great for that because there is variety of shows you can watch that doesn’t involve having kids in cages or our Earth slowly burning to the ground. Speaking about kids in cages, let’s talk about Rainbow. This is a period drama about six youths in a disciplinary school. If you are not sure what that is, it is basically a jail for young boys.
This show doesn’t pull punches. It beings every episode with a content warning saying you will see some explicit scenes. If it were to come out now, it would probably need to be a lot more specific for each episode because it does tend to range. There is violence, sexual abuse, and other disturbing imagery in various episodes. I say this now because I wouldn’t want anyone to be surprised going in. This is a hard R show. Just letting you know this.
What drove me to continue watching this show were the characters and really the relationship they formed with each other. These are six strangers who were forced into a situation where it really was life or death and you see how the world just beats the piss out of them. With every small victory they can get, there is always something there to cut their legs out from under them. These, by all accounts, kids are forced to share a cell with each other and you get to see a means of survival turn into a friendship and eventually a brotherhood. You do eventually see life outside of the disciplinary school and, even still, struggles and hardships these kids go through is almost to a point where it makes it seem God has it out for them. And despite it all, there is always this glimmer of hope in every episode. And with every glimmer, you just want to cheer these kids on so they can just get a win. You will go through a gambit of emotions but know that the bond these boys have will be the guidepost that will get you to the end.
Among all of the series in this list, this might be the one that will be the most difficult to find nowadays. After Funimation licensed the series for streaming, they never picked it up again for a physical release and would eventually lose the license. So, your only hope now is to look for it online. Regardless, this was one that stuck with me all decade and is something I hope people seek out and maybe we can eventually get a license rescue in the future.
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (2015)
This is probably the toughest show to talk about because if I were to describe the premise of the show, it completely ruins one of the best reveals. Of course, you can probably look up the series synopsis and it might give you the premise in the first sentence so I would suggest going into this series as blind as possible. But I have to talk about it since I need to give some kind of reason for picking this series above a ton of other shows that came out this decade so let me try my best pitching this show to you.
The beginning of this series is simple. We meet Aztec Batman as he answers the call to become one of the six heroes to fight the Super Devil. They actually take their time letting you know more about the world as they slowly feed you the history of the heroes and what they are meant to do. After a bit, you get to meet more of them and you get to see how they interact with each other. This is where a lot of the drama comes from seeing as all the heroes have their own agenda despite them needing to team-up to fight the Super Devil. You spend a fourth of the show just setting things up but eventually we meet all the heroes and our adventure to beat the big bad begins. Then, the show decides to throw a curve-ball into the situation.
This is where the series decides to almost completely change genres. If you understand my sensibilities, it should not come as a surprise why I would enjoy this show. But for someone who may be going in blind, the hook is the show. For something that starts as an adventure and changes to almost a character study is kind of what makes or breaks this show. Watch at least four episodes of the show, you’ll understand what I mean.
There are few shows I can think of that have made me laugh more than Nichijo has. Back in 2011, Kyoto Animation riding high off of big hits like K-ON and Haruhi Suzumiya. Which, while they differed in plot, you had a level of expectation to how series they adapted will turn out. Pretty much cute girls doing cute things but with a high level of animation. So, when previews of their next show were revealed everything looked very...plain. What I ended up realizing is this show was simply just hiding its power level.
KyoAni has done a show similar to this called Lucky Star. On a surface level, they are fairly similar. Cute girls living their ordinary lives in or around school. Blatantly, Nichijo’s subtitle is My Ordinary Life. The difference lies in where the comedy comes from. Lucky Star tends to look at the mundane and general observations of life and react to it like: How do you eat a chocolate cornet? Nichijo takes the mundane, makes it surreal, and then makes an observation from that like: Why is the school principal fighting that goat? Comedy is such a dangerous beast. You can either take a subtle approach or go fully absurd and if you fail at either, you kill the show. Nichijo manages to take both routes and succeed.
Now, if the comedy wasn’t enough, the animation is what puts the show over the top and is a key factor for the success of the show. When a gag as simple as picking up a hot dog off the ground within three seconds can be a harrowing action scene, you got something special in your hands. I considered this one of the best shows that never got a proper release. It was only until recently that it has since been rectified so I would strongly encourage you seek this out when you get the chance.
2016 is a very weird year for me as I was in a bit of a transitional phase in my life so I could probably count on one hand how many shows I was actively watching. Most of them are probably in this post. I ended up picking up this show because I needed a show to watch with my girlfriend that seemed simple enough to watch together. Turns out we had no idea what was in store for us.
Erased became must-watch television for me during the time it was airing. Every episode leaving me with “Oh god, what is going to happen now?” as a mystery across time is slowly being unveiled as the series goes on. There was clearly a vision for this show. The way it presented the story to the way the characters interacted with each other felt purposeful and meaningful. Even though this was based off of an established manga, they managed to condense and adapt the manga into a more digestible narrative. Now, that is not without its drawbacks. The ending of the series feels a bit rushed and didn’t have the same pace as the rest it which can take an A+ show to an A-, possibly a B+. That’s not to say that disqualifies this show from the list. The storytelling and human drama that you get throughout the show’s run-time is still some of the best I saw all year. My girlfriend and I would spend hours talking about what happened and theory crafting after each episode. Even though we probably could have just Googled the ending, we wanted to experience the show the way they intended and I would never take that back.
Again, I barely watched anything in 2016 so, to begin the year with Erased was almost a challenge to if a show like this would survive in people’s minds by the end of the year when we had to start picking the “best of”s that year. I would say Erased managed to accomplish that.
Tsuki ga Kirei (2017)
This is the part where I give the big finish and explain why this show is the last in a list of 10(+). I would begin by saying that there is no real order in this list and it can be interpreted as simply just ten great shows that people should check out. It just so happens that Tsuki ga Kirei is the last in this list because I deem it the most believable and real anime I have seen within this decade and has yet to be challenged by anything else within the year it came out, before, or after. Human drama became the theme for me this decade. Everything on this list is about life and the people you interact with and those that you hold dear (and JoJo). Tsuki ga Kirei made me believe in people, in love, and in life. This seems like a lot to ask for from a twelve episode show about a boy and a girl falling for each other. Now I probably overhyped it enough that if you check it out and it is not anything short of a masterpiece it will be a disappointment. Well, this is my list. I don’t have to convince you to like a show. I just have to explain why I liked it. And I really liked Tsuki ga Kirei.
Believability was the idea that stuck with me throughout the course of the show. I believed in everyone in this show. This is a story about kids. Kids who are growing up. Kids who are trying to understand who they are and what they want to become. Then, first love comes into the picture and this is where the believability comes into play. Love is not cut and dry. You don’t see romantic relationship instantly manifest. It’s complicated. It starts slow. You see these characters be awkward with each other. You see worry. You see doubt. Every episode feels like a day in the life of these characters and them trying to figure out this relationship in real time. You get the sense that they want to make this work but sometimes life gets in the way. Their own ambitions get in the way. The decisions they make and the consequences of those decisions get in the way. Life is hard. Relationships are hard. This series allowed you to experience that.
The believability leads to the way the show was presented. Sound design is an often overlooked part in anime. While animation is a central part of the presentation, the way music and sound in relation to the animation gives a sense of emotion and realism to what is happening on screen. Tsuki ga Kirie decided to take the approach of “less is more”. While there is a soundtrack to the show, it is not always a present part of the show. You will get the occasional piano melody at certain points but it is never sets the emotion of how you should be feeling. The show lets you sit the ambient noise of the environment around you from the soft rain while pedestrians walk by to the low hum of a vending machine as you hear the keyboard sounds from the phone a character is using to text someone. So when you they need to punctuate a scene, they can hit you with a strong score that drives the emotion home.
This show is subtle masterpiece. Even with the animation. In some ways, you can think that these characters look like cardboard cutouts put on the screen. But the almost gentle design of everything captures the innocence of they are portraying. That might be me reading too much into it but don’t let this show fool you. It will surprise you at how good this show can look. Even small scenes where the camera is literally just looking still at a cellphone as a text conversation is happening and the phone is moving in conjunction with the way the person is texting. Little things like that you just don’t see in other shows.
Run, don’t walk to watch this show. And really watch everything we have suggested in these write-ups. Within these 30 or so shows, if you don’t count duplicates, there is something that might interest you that we hope you enjoy. Ten years is a long range to pick from so if we ended up not getting anything you like, we’ll try again next decade if we’re still around.