Anime was once again my entertainment of choice in 2017. Even as I became increasingly aware of the sea of mediocre anime being released every season, and came up against hyped series which didn’t do that much for me, anime continued to excite me the most and disappoint me the least of any art form in 2017.

Like the best entertainment of any year, the best anime of 2017 were often transporting and thought-provoking. But last year in particular, I found that some series were incredibly sobering in their characters’ attempts to forge their futures. A sign I’m getting a little older, I guess. Here are my top 7 anime of 2017, in no particular order.

INUYASHIKI LAST HERO

Inuyashiki Last Hero - Hiro Shishigami
Image via MAPPA

It’s easy to point to the violence of INUYASHIKI as a reason for someone to watch the series, and for good reason. The show plays on modern anxieties in a disturbing and compelling way, casting its teenage villain as a mass shooter who can get to anyone at any time, simply by looking into a phone, making a finger pistol, and saying “bang.” However, it’s how the series counters its bleaker aspects that makes it truly special. There’s a powerful sense of humanity to our unlikely elderly hero, who feels like he’s finally found his purpose in rescuing anyone he can. The series carries a touching message about the importance of every little thing that makes someone a good person. Even if, unlike its hero, they don’t have a chance to save the day.

Available on: Amazon’s Anime Strike, Amazon Prime Video (where Anime Strike isn’t offered).

PRINCESS PRINCIPAL

Princess Principal - Ange
Image via Studio 3hz x Actas

A fractured, alternate version of early 20th century England provides the backdrop for the fun steampunk series, PRINCESS PRINCIPAL. While the show’s narrative aspirations aren’t particularly high, it compensates for this with great action and a charming cast of female spies. Spending time with them as they execute each mission is such a joy. Because it’s clear that they all like doing this together, no matter what they say otherwise. Perhaps the most telling thing I can say about the show is that, immediately after watching the season finale, I was searching online to see if a second season had been announced. (It hasn’t…yet.) If you were turned off by the sterile seriousness of 2016’s JOKER GAME, PRINCESS PRINCIPAL is for you.

Available on: Amazon’s Anime Strike, Amazon Prime Video (where Anime Strike isn’t offered).

MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid - Tohru and Kobayashi
Image via Kyoto Animation.

Setting aside some incongruous lewd humor and anime grossness, MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID is a heartwarming series about life and the family you find. A woman named Kobayashi saves a female dragon named Tohru, and subsequently gains Tohru as her loving maid. The two then basically adopt a dragon daughter who has nowhere else to go. And later, a few more dragons enter the world and become an integral part of peoples’ lives.

However, it’s not a smooth process. And that’s part of what makes the series great. The show highlights the power of when people, no matter their backgrounds, make an effort to accommodate their loved ones. And it’s touching to see the characters reflect on how they and others have changed because of the people, or creatures, around them. The way the romance between Kobayashi and Tohru progresses as part of this is particularly satisfying, especially when Kobayashi has to confront how important Tohru is to her. As if all that weren’t enough, the series also throws in a few intense action scenes that would be right at home in a shonen.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation (dubbed).

Anime Watchlist: MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID

MADE IN ABYSS

Made in Abyss - Riko and Reg
Image via Kinema Citrus

Much of what makes MADE IN ABYSS so engaging is its mysterious environment, a massive pit people enter in search of treasure and the unknown. True to the natural world, the abyss is both beautiful and dangerous, filled with fields of flowers on the one hand, and home to frightening creatures on the other. It believably feels like a place where life and death are at the forefront of daily life. And this duality is reflected in the show itself. Though things get dark as our young heroes venture deeper into the abyss, MADE IN ABYSS manages to be powerfully uplifting. The series does take a little while to get started, but it’s still more than worth a watch.

Available on: Amazon’s Anime Strike, Amazon Prime Video (where Anime Strike isn’t offered).

KONOSUBA: GOD’S BLESSING ON THIS WONDERFUL WORLD! (Season 2)

Konosuba - Kazuma, Megumin, Aqua, Darkness
Image via Studio Deen

No other anime last year brought me as much pure joy as KONOSUBA, a comedy about a shut-in who gets transported to an RPG-like fantasy world. Between its hilarious running gags, expressive animation, and great, awful characters, it’s one of the funniest anime I’ve ever watched. But KONOSUBA isn’t a slouch when it comes to action, either. It’s consistently exciting to see Megumin cast “Explosion!” or Kazuma come up with a plan to defeat a powerful enemy. And these more intense moments are enhanced by the fact that the characters are so incompetent most of the time. All in all, KONOSUBA is a wonderful show about a mismatched group of people who somehow manage to get by, despite how frequently misfortune comes their way.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

JUST BECAUSE!

Just Because! - Mio Natsume
Image via PINE JAM

Even for a slice of life series, JUST BECAUSE!’s premise isn’t terribly exciting. As the end of high school approaches, Eita Izumi returns to his hometown, meets old and new friends, and changes their lives in small ways. Not exactly the most grabbing setup ever, especially in the increasingly crowded world of anime. But as the show’s presence on this list indicates, JUST BECAUSE! is one of the best experiences of the year.

The series is an earnest portrayal of high school, filled with silly and significant moments that are all too familiar. Its characters give themselves tests they have to pass in order to confess their feelings. They smile while looking at messages for way too long. And they pretend – for as long as they can – that relationships don’t have to change. JUST BECAUSE!’s strength doesn’t lie in having a lot of things going on. But rather, in the feeling it conveys, that of real people just trying their best to figure things out.

Unfortunately, as of this writing Anime Strike doesn’t provide English translations for message text in the series finale. And the finale itself falls short, partly for the reasons previous episodes succeed, and perhaps partly because of production issues the show contended with since its premiere, as may have been the case with some of the other weaker episodes in the series. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from checking out this touching and specific take on what it means to be young.

Available on: Amazon’s Anime Strike, Amazon Prime Video (where Anime Strike isn’t offered).

MY HERO ACADEMIA (Season 2)

My Hero Academia - Izuku Midoriya
Image via Studio Bones

Izuku’s journey to become the number one hero continued in MY HERO ACADEMIA’s excellent second season, which lacked the laser-focus of Season 1, but was significantly more ambitious. The season delved deeper into ideas the series had previously engaged with, offering a few hard-hitting thoughts on what it means to grow and become the best. And as with the first season, these emotional messages were paired with some of the most striking fight scenes, and some of the most rousing music, of the year. Even among “must-watch” series, MY HERO ACADEMIA is a show you should make time for if you haven’t already. Just prepare for plenty of happy tears.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Hulu, Funimation (dubbed and subbed).

Best Anime of 2017: Jay Gibbs’ Top 10

Featured image via Studio Bones.

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