Anime broke down stereotypes and told all kinds of stories in 2016. Whether it was a twist on a well-known trope, a brand new concept, or even something as surprising as an anime about figure-skating (totally not a hint as to what’s going to appear on my list), this has been a good year for anime. As a person who was ready to throw in the towel, I’m so glad I gave anime a chance in 2016. Along with some honorable mentions, here are my Top 10 anime of the year.

Honorable Mentions

MAGICAL GIRL RAISING PROJECT

This series is about Koyuki Himekawa, a schoolgirl with a love of magical girls, who gets the opportunity to become a magical girl herself through a social mobile phone game. While this might lead you to believe the anime is cheerful and fun, the cute premise quickly descends into one of death and deceit. As the demand for magical girls decreases, the characters are roped into collecting as many candies (a form of currency from doing good deeds) as possible. At the end of the week for eight weeks straight, whoever has the least amount of candies no longer gets to be a magical girl. And once you stop being a magical girl, you don’t get to live as a normal girl…or live at all. Having cutesy characters alongside blood and gore is refreshing, and though there’s a bit of fanservice thrown in there, the dire circumstances of the characters make for a shockingly entertaining story.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

NEW GAME!

Moé anime — or anime that gives you the urge to protect and fawn over ridiculously cute characters — will always have a soft spot in my heart, especially when an interesting plot is involved. NEW GAME! follows Aoba Suzukaze, a recent high school graduate, as she starts working at the Eagle Jump game company as a character designer. Similar to SHIROBAKO’s exploration of the anime industry, the series explains how a gaming company’s staff works. The anime’s fun and full of endearing characters, but it falls short in its suspension of disbelief and coverage of game production. Though it’s optimistic and cute, I would have liked to see more diversity in terms of age, instead of having a team entirely run by women under the age of thirty (with some characters who may be older, but only have their ages hinted at). However, that doesn’t take away from the show’s charm and comedy. On the production side of things, we only got a narrow look at what goes into making a game in the first season, so I hope the show explores that more in the future.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

READ: Want to see how too much fanservice can ruin an anime? Check out Peter Swann’s article on FAIRY TAIL!

ACE ATTORNEY

As a big PHOENIX WRIGHT fan, I was ecstatic about the release of this anime. And thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. The show gives so much backstory to the lore of PHOENIX WRIGHT that isn’t in the video games, which is amazing in and of itself, but I also appreciated that the series can appeal to viewers who aren’t familiar with the franchise. The only gripe I have with the series is that if you’re a fan of the games, it’s basically a case recap. Funny and dramatic, ACE ATTORNEY is still a great watch.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

Top 10

10. IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH


In IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH, two childhood friends reunite while the world is embroiled in a fictional version of World War 2. Finé, the crown queen of Eylstadt, decides to use the magical powers of her friend Izetta to fight the German forces. With war as its backdrop, the anime does a fantastic job of exploring the duties of leaders to their countries, along with themes of self-sacrifice and love, and delivers a heartwarming experience from start to finish.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation.

9. SWEETNESS AND LIGHTNING


I can’t resist the warmth that comes from this anime. SWEETNESS AND LIGHTNING follows a single dad who decides to make home-cooked meals for his daughter instead of buying them. They are both thrust into the world of cooking by the inexperienced daughter of a restaurant owner, who is also a student at the school the father teaches at. The story is enhanced by the warm animation of the series. I also love the way the show focuses on cooking and food as a means for the characters to bond and create and share memories.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

8. DRIFTERS

Coming from the creator of HELLSING, it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of gore in DRIFTERS. This is a tale of bloody warfare involving experienced heroes and warriors gathered from across time in a death match for the ages. Shimazu Toyohisa, a warrior from the year 1600, gets transported to a war-torn world full of mystical creatures, elves, and other historical fighters. If you like unadulterated action and violence, DRIFTERS will grab you right away. But if you want something slight less squeamish, MAGICAL GIRL RAISING PROJECT might be more up your alley.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation.

7. HITORI NO SHITA: THE OUTCAST


In HITORI NO SHITA, Cho Soran, a college student, is being assaulted by zombies in a graveyard when a mysterious girl with a sword suddenly saves him and disappears. It’s a thrilling premise, but it doesn’t fully capture what makes the series so great.

HITORI NO SHITA: THE OUTCAST is a slow burn mystery anime that fleshes out the characters and teases the plot to the point some may call unnecessary. But by taking its time, it allows the cast to develop so that you care about what happens to them when the action kicks in. It’s a powerful story with wonderful animation that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

6. BUNGO STRAY DOGS


BUNGO STRAY DOGS is really good at bringing together comedy, drama, and action without using overly-familiar tropes and storylines. Nakajima Atsushi isn’t a typical orphan, and starts off the series on the brink of starving to death due to his powers, but is too cowardly to steal food for himself. His adventure kicks off as he joins the fight against the mafia, with the addition of superpowers making the show all the more thrilling. The second season gets darker and better, and if you’re a fan of literary works, you’re in for a treat. Bound to be a classic alongside COWBOY BEBOP, give BUNGO a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

5. RE:ZERO –STARTING LIFE IN ANOTHER WORLD–

I fell in love with RE:ZERO not because of its slight resemblance to SWORD ART ONLINE (in a good way!), but because it added a different kind of fear to the idea of living in a video game-like world. Natsuki Subaru’s genre savviness and desire for a better future for the people he cares about is a fresh take on the “modern character whisked into a fantasy world” trope, and there’s an interesting mystery to how he got to that world and why he was transported there. Though he doesn’t keep that selfless demeanor throughout the series and has some seriously entitled moments, these changes ultimately make him a more believable and dynamic character. RE:ZERO is an absolute must-see for those who want a different version of the “trapped in another world” story.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

4. RELIFE


Despite its high school setting, RELIFE’s central focus is on starting over. Our main character Arata has gone through experiences that have shut him off from trying to progress in society. He is given the chance to be a test subject for the ReLife project, which means taking a pill that will bring back his teenage body (in appearance only), and going through high school again.

Arata’s circumstances are what really got me into this series. Prior to becoming a ReLife test subject, he finds it better to be a recluse and to give up than to continuously struggle for what society deems appropriate behavior. That’s a theme many millennials and people getting into ‘adulthood’ can understand. I know I’ve had moments where I weighed becoming a “successful” member of society against staying true to myself. My fondness for WELCOME TO THE NHK’s exploration of why someone would become a NEET, someone who’s “Not in Education, Employment, or Training,” in addition to the funny and touching ways Arata and the other characters develop, are also part of what makes RELIFE another must-see.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation.

READ: Want another show about post-high school/college life? Check out Adrianna Gordey’s article about NEW GIRL here!

3. ORANGE


ORANGE is another second chance anime, but with a different premise. Naho, a high school student, receives a letter from her future self. The future Naho warns her of the untimely death of a new transfer student named Kakeru. Despite the overall serious tone of ORANGE, its story is told in a way that makes you smile and cry throughout each episode. It manages to perfectly balance the tense atmosphere with silly high school shenanigans and cute romantic subplots, without ever diminishing the importance of the overarching theme: that everyone matters to someone.

Available on: Crunchyroll.

2. 91 DAYS

91 DAYS is a mafia revenge story set during the Prohibition Era. Avilio was a happy older brother until one day Don Vanetti assassinated every single member of his family, except him. When he gets older, he seeks to destroy the Vanetti family from the inside, and he grows close to Vanetti’s son Nero. Each character is morally grey to a certain extent, leaving the viewer conflicted over who to truly root for. It delves into one’s determination for revenge against the growing fondness of someone you’re supposed to hate. However, it doesn’t descend into a rabbit hole of clichés as you’d expect. 91 DAYS is a gut-wrenching action drama that had me guessing what would happen until the very end, a rare feat for any story.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation.

1. YURI!!! ON ICE

It’s safe to say that YURI!!! ON ICE took the world by storm this season. Wonderful animation, diverse characters, and one of the sweetest, most genuine gay romances I’ve seen in anime that isn’t a giant tease or depiction of a “close friendship.” For a wonderful story about pursuing your dreams and falling in love that isn’t too sappy, YURI!!! is the anime for you.

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation.

READ: YURI!!! ON ICE features groundbreaking gay representation. Check out Sabrina Pyun’s article on the subject.

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