2016 wasn’t a great year from a world-events perspective, but it was a fairly good year for my personal life, and anime played a large role in that. This is a year where I got multiple top 10 anime, and many that came close. This year’s best shows were incredibly varied in genre, and fans of anything had stuff they could love. It’s a year that reinvigorated my love for multiple franchises, and a year in which I feel as if I missed a lot even when I loved so much.
This was my favorite year of anime since joining the anime fandom, so I figured I had to make a top 10 list. This list isn’t super concrete; many of these shows could easily switch places based upon my feelings from day to day, but these are rough approximations of my general ranking. As always, this is very much based on my personal taste, and there’s no criteria. I’m just ranking my favorites of the year, and hopefully someone will enjoy seeing them.
#10: Girlish Number
This show was written by the author of Oregairu, a show I really soured on as it got more serious, so I was worried coming into this one, but it became something I really liked. The central focus of this show is the struggle to work in spite of a lack of talent or originality, and I relate to it heavily. My own writing is something I do for entirely personal reasons, and while I’m not a terrible writer, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m slightly better than average at best. Taking that knowledge but continuing to strive to improve is hard, and Chitose’s struggle to do so really resonated with me.
Girlish Number is a show which was occasionally too cynical for my tastes, but Chitose was always enough to redeem that. Her desire to live truthfully in spite of her shitty personality was another thing I loved about her. It can be hard to do what you want in spite of others’ thoughts, but it’s worth it in the end. Changing yourself for others won’t make you happy, it’ll just make you depressed, something Girlish Number readily presents. The show manages to be cynical without making me apathetic to the characters’ emotions, and that’s a job well done in my book.
#9: New Game!
I’ve called this the best Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show since K-On!, and coming from me that’s high praise. New Game knows exactly how to do a fun, moe slice-of-life comedy well, and while it doesn’t hit on that deeper emotional level needed to raise it up to the ranks of K-On!, it’s so consistently entertaining that it deserves its spot on this list.
Nearly everything about this show contributes to the fun environment it creates. The character designs are bubbly and round but legitimately varied, while the characters themselves are all fun. Aoba’s constant cheer in spite of her slow realization of how hard it is to work is charming, and the interactions between Kou and Rin always deliver, alongside the many other couples you can easily ship. I can’t say the show is super deep or made me think a ton. It didn’t, but this kind of show isn’t made to do that, and I don’t come into these shows expecting depth, I’m just happy to find it if it’s there. Besides some simple themes on working for what you love New Game didn’t do all that much thematically, but I’m happy with everything it did.
#8: Mob Psycho 100
I’m not a huge fan of OPM. It’s full of great animation, but the writing is frequently boring and repetitive. Fortunately, I can’t say the same for MP100. Mob Psycho 100 is a story about wanting to improve oneself for its own sake, and a tale on not looking down on others. The show has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen, but unlike OPM it comes across as a thoroughly genuine show which really has something relatable to say.
Mob is one of the most relatable protagonists of the year. He’s a gifted psychic, the strongest one we ever see in the series, and yet he doesn’t see himself as better than others. Mob recognizes his talent and the value of it, but he still sees value in the talents of others. He’s unpopular, weak, and not particularly intelligent, and he still wishes he could improve himself. And so he does. Despite his ability to do whatever he wants with his powers, Mob uses them as infrequently as possible and attempts to improve his other aspects.
And Mob gets all of this from his master, Reigen. Reigen’s writing is a lesson in brilliance. We see early on that he’s a con man, but he’s a con man who delivers results. He’s totally incapable of using psychic powers, but he still does his best to make those he cons happy. It isn’t until the show develops further that we see how important he is. Reigen seems to be tricking Mob, but he’s truly the reason that Mob is so great. Reigen instilled the ethics of Mob’s powers into him, and made sure he knew that he wasn’t better. His genius is most apparent when telling off those who believe their powers make them better as no different than a bully who thinks they’re better because they’re good at sports.
Those are only this show’s fantastic characters, but I think you get the point. The show’s writing in regards to its themes is always poignant and consistent, and when coupled with the fantastic animation we end up with a truly wonderful show. I’m happy that I watched this in spite of being lukewarm on OPM, and I can’t wait to see more.
#7: Love Live! Sunshine!!
I greatly enjoyed the first Love Live, but it didn’t particularly stand out. It was a very solid show with a great fan community that made a lot of good, additive content, especially in terms of shipping, but the anime itself was nothing amazing. I was expecting another fun but otherwise not noteworthy show when I started Sunshine, but what I got was actually an improvement over the first Love Live in every respect.
The thing that really stood out was the drama. Love Live’s drama was not its strong suit, and it often came off as overly corny, but not campy enough to fit the show’s usual tone. Sunshine managed to deliver a much stronger dramatic narrative, with much more emotionally impact, and the reason for this was the greatly improved characters.
Love Live has very fun characters, but they’re often fairly one-dimensional and better as comedy characters than dramatic ones, and this stands out the most in the protagonist, Honoka. Sunshine on the other hand managed to deliver a protagonist who I actually cared about in Chika. Chika’s struggles, while similar to Honoka’s, were more down-to-earth. Chika is in many ways a clone of Honoka, but she struggles much more than Honoka does, which makes the series’ drama come off as much more important.
The characters’ relationships are also great. Sunshine has just as much shipping potential as the first Love Live, but it’s much more apparent. Two couples–KanaMari and ChikaRiko–are practically canon, and over all there’s a lot more shipping fuel than usual. The non-romantic relationships are fun too, especially Yohane or Mari’s relationships with anybody.
What’s most important though, is that the entire narrative of Sunshine is structured around one theme that sets it apart from the first Love Live — forging your own path. Aqours starts out as mere copies of μ’s, but over time they eventually realize they need to be their own thing, a sign that the anime itself will continue to take a different path from the initial. It’s very inspired by it in many ways, but both Aqours and Sunshine want to be better than their predecessors, and the first season of Sunshine accomplishes that and more.
#6: Flying Witch
Iyashikei is very clearly my favorite genre, but they aren’t the most common show out there. Nichijou-kei shows borrow from the genre, but they don’t usually satisfy my itch for more good iyashikei. Fortunately, Flying Witch came flying in this year to give me a great example of the genre, and what a great example it is.
One of the best things an iyashikei can do to make itself interesting is put itself in an intriguing setting. The world of the Mushi in Mushishi, Neo-Venezia in Aria, the slowly decaying world in Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. All of these set mundane, simple stories in fantastical worlds ripe for exploration, and Flying Witch continues this. The magical world in Flying Witch is incredibly varied, and it’s clear we only see a very small part of it. There’s no important rules like there are in the Nasuverse, but that doesn’t matter here. All we need is for the magic to work towards the show’s calm atmosphere, and it sure does that.
As opposed to the melancholy of Mushishi or the mono-no-aware of Aria and YKK, Flying Witch simply presents a mood of oneness with the world. It’s a slightly more comedic show, and one that is basically just happy all the time. There’s no deeper emotions in Flying Witch than calmness and happiness, which keeps it from being truly resonating, but it’s still a very relaxing show.
What it really excels at is using the magic to make interesting episodes. The giant whale, the magical messenger, and the magical cafe all stand out in this respect. The show’s able to use its setting to keep each episode fresh and interesting despite the lack of depth present in many other iyashikei.
Flying Witch isn’t a show that I would put this highly if I weren’t a fan of iyashikei. It doesn’t do many of the things that make Aria and YKK some of my favorite series. But it’s a fantastic representation of the genre’s main purpose to heal. Every time I watched an episode of this show after a long day at school I felt much more refreshed, and that’s really what it’s here to do, so it gets this spot for that alone.
#5: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
Ah, Jojo. It’s hard to express why I enjoy Jojo so much, because a lot of that love comes from later parts. If I were to boil it down to one thing, it would be the pure embrace of camp while still attempting to tell a good story. The camp’s always been there, but Parts 1 and 3 really struggle in the good story department. Fortunately Part 4’s here to set Jojo on the path to true literary brilliance.
What Part 4 does that has the biggest effect on my enjoyment of the series is the variance of the Stands. Part 3 has boring Stands that just punch stuff or swing swords. They’re all just normal powers that take no creativity. What gives rise to good super-powered action stories is an understanding of how the powers can interact in interesting ways, but before that they have to actually be interesting powers. Part 4 is the first part to really make the Stands interesting and weird, fitting Jojo’s general tone. Stands like Love Deluxe, Superfly, Cinderella, and Echoes never could have existed in Part 3, and while later Stands get even weirder, this was the start of an important shift.
With these new, more creative Stands, Part 4 sets to making a much more interesting story. One part Slice of Life and one part suburban Murder Mystery, Part 4 thrives by portraying the darkness lurking in one beloved town. Most arcs in Part 4 aren’t especially high in stakes. A lot of them are there to make Morioh a more interesting place, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Part 4’s best character, Rohan, came about as a means of making Morioh more interesting.
Rohan and the other characters are another thing that stand out in Part 4. Jotaro was a boring guy trying to be cool in Part 3, and while that hasn’t changed a ton here, that role works a lot better when he’s the mentor as opposed to the protagonist. Josuke, our new protagonist, is a much more interesting guy, someone who’s a bit of a dick but always willing to help in the end. He, and the cast at large, are much more emotive than Part 4’s cast, something which greatly benefits the show.
If we’re gonna talk about any one character in Part 4 though, it has to be Kira. I would call Kira the first–though certainly not the last–villain who’s actually a good character. Kira is interesting because he’s exactly as he appears. He really is a guy who just wants to live a quite life while fulfilling his desires. Those desires are reprehensible, but he has no greater goal. He doesn’t want to dominate the world, and he has no ideology he wants to fulfill. He’s just a serial killer who wants to go uncaught, and while that could be boring, it certainly isn’t with Kira. We learn about his likes and dislikes, about his weird habits, and about how he lives when he isn’t killing. He’s a terrible man, but we really get a good sense for who he is, which makes him interesting and makes us interested in what he does.
Part 4’s main plot is interesting in that it isn’t all that long. There’s probably only a cour left of the main episodes, but Part 4 isn’t really a series about that. It isn’t about the battle between Josuke and Kira. It’s about the goings on in a little town called Morioh, a town that just happens to have a ton of Stand users. While Part 2 was very good, Part 4 is the first of the really good Parts of Jojo, the ones where the writing goes from fun to legitimately high quality, and what a first it was.
#4: ViVid Strike!
I really like the Nanoha series, though I’ve lost my fervor for it over time. Two years of not watching it followed by a disappointing spin-off was enough to make me less interested in keeping up with the series in any way outside of reading NanoFate doujins. It was for this reason that I was very cautious upon starting Vivid Strike, but that cautiousness wasn’t necessary.
I’ll be blunt here: this series is flawed as fuck. I can’t defend a lot of things this show does. The theoretical main character, Fuuka, gets much less screen time than she should, and the side characters get even less. The animation frequently goes to shit, with many fight scenes basically being light shows. The story repeats the themes of the other Nanoha series to the extent that it could be called a retread. This is a series that does so, so much wrong, that most people probably wouldn’t put it anywhere near this high.
In spite of all that, Rinne’s story was so good that I don’t care. Her story follows the same template as Fate, Hayate, and Vivio in a lot of ways. She’s a girl who could only be saved by being beaten into submission. But it works particularly well here because she of her particular issue. Rinne never sees herself as strong enough, so being beaten both forces her to really look at herself while also following the Nanoha classic of “beat them ’til we’re friends”.
Vivid Strike basically just does everything I want out of a Nanoha series. It’s got magic(though I’d like more), it’s got action, it’s got gay girls. I realize while watching that it doesn’t really stand out from other Nanoha series, but it doesn’t need to. I spent much of my time watching this thinking that it couldn’t be that good because Nanoha isn’t this good, but I think the truth is I forgot how good Nanoha was. I’m just so happy that Vivid Strike has made me remember.
#3: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Where do I even begin with this one. Rakugo would be best described as a drama, and a very good one at that. Rakugo takes an art that I knew nothing about prior to the first episode and manages to consistently keep me engrossed in every performance. This show makes me interested not just in the lives of these characters, but in the life of the art they care so much about. This is ultimately just another interpersonal drama show, but it’s delivered in such a powerful way and connected so strongly to its art form that it really excels.
One of Rakugo’s biggest themes is the passage of time. The art of rakugo is a slowly dying one. After World War II and the arrival of more movies and television, rakugo theaters have been dwindling, less performers are entering the business, and fewer viewers are coming to performances. This backdrop is used to set the main characters in ideological conflict, with the choice of updating rakugo and thus losing its essence, or staying traditional and allowing the art to die.
The show also focuses on one other central theme–finding one’s own style. The protagonist of this season, Kiku, has a very hard time doing this. He has talent, but when he tries to copy others’ styles he comes across as stilted and boring. His friend, Sukeroku, has a very apparent natural voice, but his tendency towards goofing off prevents him from moving up in the rakugo world. Kiku has to learn to find his own voice while remaining within the more traditional bounds of the art form, and this journey is one which is intensely relatable and incredibly interesting.
The show’s only real issue is its emotions. The show isn’t incapable of being emotionally impacting, but it often struggles at it. The show’s ending comes off as fairly soapy, and at times the drama between characters fails to leave any major emotional impact. This isn’t a fundamental flaw of the show though, because Kiku himself is so likable and easy to relate to that I ended up caring more about the drama surrounding him than I otherwise would.
Every year needs a good, down-to-earth drama show, and Rakugo was this year’s. It doesn’t reach the heights of some other examples in the genre, like Shirobako, but it never fails to present an interesting episode. Fortunately this will be here in 2017 as well to ensure the year gets off to a good start, so I’m fairly sure this won’t be the last time Rakugo ends up on my end of the year list.
Flying Witch was a good iyashikei, but as I said it failed to emotionally touch me the way that the best examples of the genre can. The same can not be said for Amanchu. Coming from the same mangaka and director as Aria, Amanchu was a sure success for me from the moment it was announced, and it did not disappoint in any way.
Amanchu is a fairly similar show to Aria. All the episodes are sometimes melancholy but always relaxing reflections on the beauty that exists within life. Amanchu makes frequent use of mono-no-aware to give many of its episode a slightly sad, but ultimately uplifting tone.
What really differentiates this show from Aria–other than the fully HD drawings–is the characters. In Aria, Akari is the main character through and through. She’s the one who’s new to Neo-Venezia, so she learns about the beauty of the town alongside the viewer. Akari is always happy and rarely lacking in self-confidence, always managing to bring a smile to everyone’s face.
Teko, the main character of Amanchu, is quite different. It’s her friend Pikari(her real name, Hikari, means light just like Akari) who truly is the one bringing everyone happiness. Teko frequently lacks in self-confidence and really needs a push to get herself to try new things. This gives the show a totally different dynamic from Aria. Akari would leap into new things with vigor, while Teko needs someone to push her, and that someone is usually Pikari.
Pikari and Teko’s reliance on one another is what truly sets Amanchu apart from the rest of the herd. The two are almost inseparable, and they share a relationship which is hard to describe as anything other than adoration and love for one another. They help push each other to try new things. This is why the show’s central conceit, that it’s about diving, works so well, because in diving as in live, you need a buddy on your side to help support you.
Aria certainly talks about the importance of friends–in fact it does so in great detail. But Amanchu is a show that I can only describe as being about the importance of having somebody next to you, ready to have your back. Teko and Pikari are two parts of one whole, and both are necessary to one another. Amanchu is ultimately a show which is tonally very similar to Aria, but it avoids being a lesser Aria by focusing on a relationship instead of a character and a world, and it does a wonderful job with that focus.
#1: Flip Flappers
I came into this show expecting a fun magical girl show with fantastic animation. I came out of it having seen one of the best anime I’ve ever watched. It’s hard to overstate how much I loved Flip Flappers. This is a show that I liked enough to rewatch it while it was airing, something I’ve never done before. I’ve spent the last three months trapped in a trance by Flip Flappers, and that’s one thing that doesn’t upset me at all.
Flip Flappers is a show that presents a vibrant picture of the world. Reality isn’t heralded as superior to the mind in FliFla, if anything the opposite is the case. The “real” world within the show is just as colorful and nonsensical as any of the “imaginary” worlds of Pure Illusion. This is a show that is optimistic to its very core. The idea that the real world is a more boring and down-to-earth place is thoroughly rejected, and the show only presents the drab and boring version of the world as another iteration of Pure Illusion.
The show’s optimism is central to the struggles of our main character, Cocona, and what a character she is. Cocona’s journey of self-discovery is both the show’s narrative and emotional centerpiece, bringing together the disparate genres and styles it looks at into a few cohesive themes. Cocona’s journey could be divided into two rough components. Learning to love, and learning to make her own decisions.
Cocona has a hard time loving others early on. She has those she cares about–her grandmother, her rabbit, and Yayaka–but the lack of any parental presence early in her life has left her feeling quite alone, something she eventually makes clear to Papika. Her journey towards openly loving others is primarily centered around her relationship with Papika, the first person to really make her question her feelings.
To be blunt about it Cocona very quickly falls in love Papika, but she has a very hard time understanding these feelings. Cocona has a hard time making her own decisions, so she’ll follow what she’s told most of the time, and society tells her that it isn’t normal to love another girl. Her quickly rising feelings for her lead Cocona to eventually be put into multiple situations where she has to directly confront those feelings. She’s forced to question the nature of this relationship, and eventually settles upon the fact that what she feels for Papika is, in fact, romantic and sexual love.
Acting upon that love is another story though. Cocona has to complete one more trial in her journey to self-actualization–she has to become capable of decision making. Cocona is paralyzed by the fear of regrets, so she allows herself to be strung along by life. She makes progress towards that after working out her sexuality and love for Papika, but is met with the setback of her mother. It is only through the kind words of her mother’s good side that Cocona is able to realize a simple, but at the same time very hard to accept truth–everyone struggles to make important decisions. But you have to have the bravery to make them or nothing will ever get done.
Cocona’s story is so personally resonant and so well told that on its own it would already be a show I’d always remember. But when combined with the stories of Papika and Yayaka, with the inventive genre shifts, with the often excellent animation, and with the fantastic music, I can’t call Flip Flappers anything other than my anime of the year.