The Best Anime of the Year…
The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons. Will its anime line-up one of them? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that this year didn’t pack some truly stand-out titles that will continue to stick with fans long after the NYC ball drops. These are the shows the stood at the top of the stack for each of our writers; each and every one of them is worth the watch if you haven’t done so already.
Studio: Studio MAPPA
Air-date: Fall — Current
Despite its early days, JUJUTSU KAISEN is already drumming up “Will this be the next big shonen” hype. Animated by Studio MAPPA, who have also taken the reigns from WIT Studio for Attack on Titan’s fourth and final season, JUJUTSU KAISEN melds shonen staples with splatters of demonic horror to create something special.
JUJUTSU KAISEN nails everything good about its genre. From colorful characters, to ballistic action, to quirky humor; it’s spot on, and conveyed through Studio MAPPA’s stellar animation.
From death, to demons, to dark hallways and the things that go bump in them, the story presents a more morbid aesthetic than many of its shonen contemporaries. It continues in the efforts of acclaimed works like Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba to refine the shonen formula, whilst carving its own path. Maybe it could become the next big thing, or maybe it’s destined to burn away into the underground of a cult following. Either way, this curse killing romp is bloody good fun!
Highlights so far include hella handsome best boy Satoru Gojo flexing his ‘overpowered character’ status against Cursed Spirit Jogo, Yuji Itadori working with super-serious salaryman Kento Nanami to defeat the evil Mahito, and the fact there’s a character called Panda, who is a talking panda. To top things off, the opening and ending songs get top marks in the style and catchiness categories.
If it’s not obvious by now, JUJUTSU KAISEN is a sensational spectacle, and one of 2020’s standout series. —By Harry Morris
Watch on Crunchyroll
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Studio: Science SARU
Air-date: Winter season
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! has garnered much praise this year, even catching the attention of publications that normally reserve anime discussion to only the most major of film releases. From the outside, this may seem strange since; Eizouken sounds like another glorification of teenage years wrapped in a generic slice-of-life – the show follows a trio of high school girls as they create anime after all. However, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is no idealization, rather it’s a celebration: a celebration of the inherent beauty found in our very imperfect world.
Throughout Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! the audience watches as three girls labor to bring their fantasies to animated life. The proceedings — capturing the arduous work required for such an endeavor — rivals a documentary in its detail and is captivating in its own right. What makes the series so special, however, is the wonder it shows for the mundane as the origins of the girls’ art reside in triviality.
The series reinforces this egalitarian wonder through a deep understanding of each character’s unique, creative spirit. Sayaka, who plays no role in the animating process but is still invaluable, ensures the anime is made through her ingenious marketing. Midori’s drawings, lavish designs, and grand ideas ignite the creativity of those around her. Tsubame’s attentive animation brings life to Midori’s vision and grounds fantasy in reality. The most moving sequence of the series, in fact, is how Tsubame painstakingly attempts to recreate the fluidity in which her grandmother would toss tea from a cup, an action as mundane in real life as it is mesmerizing in animation. That is to say, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! shows the innumerable ways creativity can manifest and that it is not relegated to only a gifted few.
In a year darkened by pernicious uncertainty, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a floodlight of optimism that bathes its audience in love, a love found in the simplest of things and attainable by all. —By Nicholas Straub
Watch on Crunchyroll
Studio: Studio WIT
Air-time: Summer – Fall seasons
The Great Pretender is a unicorn. It, quite frankly, shouldn’t be able to exist given the anime industry’s current capabilities of production. It is a remarkably globally aware show that understands the diversity of experiences people from all corners of the world live through and with, rather than what a Japanese person thinks those experiences are like.
From the broader strokes of PTSD victims, to the use of numerous different languages, to the minute details like the palms of a black woman being a lighter skin tone, The Great Pretender demonstrates a confident savviness that pulls you into a story that undeniably takes place in “our world,” rather than just a tiny slice of it. All that on top of pulling off some of the finest heist stories this side of Ocean’s Eleven.
The Great Pretender walks the tightrope of high-stakes and light-hearted entertainment, keeping you in a state of perpetual tension without ever becoming exhausting. Each arc takes enough twists and turns to make even a Pilates instructor blush, as if in a competition of one-upping themselves. It masterfully suspends your disbelief all while telling extremely personal stories on a grand stage, stories on topics anime all too often shies away from.
The Great Pretender is bold; it steps into territory anime so rarely treads upon so effortlessly that it makes you wonder why there aren’t more shows like it. It’s a stunning reaffirmation of what the medium is capable of when firing on all cylinders and an undeniable hallmark of the industry. —By Matt Ponthier
Watch on Netflix
My Hero Academia Season 4
Air-date: Fall 2019 – Winter 2020
The fourth season of My Hero Academia saw the hit anime’s darkest and brightest arcs back-to-back. As Deku and Mirio put together a plan to rescue Eri from Overhaul, they were joined by Fatgum, Nighteye, and dozens of others for the raid. However, freeing Eri from her horrific plight ended up costing them a lot more than they bargained for in the process.
The much lighter second arc saw the students of class 1-A teaming up to put together a glorious festival, something that could rekindle the spirits of those who had survived the raid, scathed and unscathed alike. Jiro made her way to the forefront for the first time here, while Midoriya faced off against a decidedly low-stakes villain in the secondary plot line.
Overall it was a really strong season, even with the massive tonal shifts. Season 4 saw Midoriya stepping up as All Might’s successor and the introduction and exploration of dozens of new and background characters which expanded the world of My Hero Academia considerably. It also kept things moving at a clip and punched up the emotional stakes on both sides, making for a worthwhile follow-up to the incredible third season. —By Mike Worby
Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax!
Air-date: Summer season
In the seven years that it took for the third season of SNAFU to come out, the series lost none of its edge. The writing remained sharp and heartfelt as ever, easing viewers through an emotional ride of humor, sorrow, and heartfelt humanity.
Most compelling about SNAFU was how it remained acutely aware of both the characters’ beginnings and backstory. Everybody carries their own baggage, its weight on the present becoming increasingly apparent as the cast looks ahead towards the future. For so much of Hachiman’s, Yui’s, and Yukino’s lives, they lived by the judgment and opinions of other people.
Yet over the course of the show, they learned that self-improvement, growth, and maturity shouldn’t rely on unreasonable standards set by other people. It’s about accepting one’s flaws and offering kindness to yourself so that you might grow and be gracious and kind to other people. So much negativity builds off resentment and expectations imposed by others, implicit or otherwise. The main trio accept one another for who they are and work with their insecurities and shortcomings, not against them.
For the cast of SNAFU, their journey is one of discovery that ventures deeply into these relationship dynamics and scrapes away at built-up habits and preconceived notions in order to create something true and genuine. Individual character arcs offer incredibly satisfying journeys and closure and, for the most part, the relationship arcs do as well.
The main love triangle does present a slight predicament. For a show that prides itself on being genre-savvy and subverting tropes, it leans into a fairly safe ending when it comes to resolving the primary romantic tension. Reactions to the ending rely entirely on the viewer and who they empathize with more. Regardless of your stakes in the romantic development, it’s hard to deny the refreshingly constructive and optimistic views that SNAFU has on life and love. —By Kyle Rogacion
Watch on Crunchyroll