[While the GLORIO blog has technically only existed since 2012, we are still declaring the 2010’s “The GLORIO Decade”. And so as we move into the 2020’s, we’re taking a look back at just how GLORIO the decade was.]
I have been an anime fan most of my life, but it’s only the past ten years that I’ve been really committed to it. There’s a number of motivating factors that kicked in for me around 2010: easier access through streaming, finding a community, and getting bitten by the writing bug. As a result, I’ve read about, watched, and/or reviewed nearly every new anime series that has come out since then. I’m not saying that makes me more qualified to make a “best of the decade” list than any other person, I’m just saying… I’ve seen some things.
This was an interesting exercise as we did do a mid-decade list in 2015. While most of the same shows I picked then are still on the list, I did find myself rearranging a few things. So I thought it would be a little more interesting to focus on how I feel about these shows right now, at the start of 2020, with all the context that comes with the passage of time. Hopefully that brings some fresh perspective.
That all said, here’s my personal list of the best anime of the 2010’s. Enjoy, and feel free to share your own.
- Another (2012) – Highly underrated, I will gladly defend this one.
- Hyouka (2012) – Arguably the most beautiful TV anime ever made but too inconsistent to make my list.
- Golden Time (2013) – From the author of Toradora, also better than Toradora. Fight me.
- Sound! Euphonium (2015) – See Hyouka.
- Death Parade (2015) – Maybe the hardest emotional gut punch of the decade.
- Made in Abyss (2017) – No, actually this is the hardest emotional gut punch of the decade.
- Binbougami Ga! (2012) – Yoichi Fujita is the best comedy director in anime.
- Mr. Osomatsu (2015) – Yoichi Fujita is the best comedy director in anime.
- Classicaloid (2016) – Yoichi Fujita is the best comedy director in anime.
Manga Adaptation by Orange
Director: Shinichi Matsume
Air Date: October 8, 2019 – December 26, 2019 (12 Episodes)
Feel free to accuse me of recency bias, but I truly believe Beastars will be remembered as a turning point for 3D animation in television anime. It’s the first primarily CG anime I’ve seen where it doesn’t feel like the tools are holding it back. I’d chalk this mostly up to the brilliant directing, which I hope serves as an inspiration for use of the medium in the future. That alone makes Beastars worthy of being in this conversation.
Even without the technical accomplishments though, I would still think Beastars deserves consideration. Using animals for allegories to real human problems is nothing new, but the story presents these in fresh and compelling ways that glue you to the screen. It’s also just fun. They know when to be serious and when to cut loose with a funny gag or wild plot twist. There’s nothing quite like it, and with another season in the works I think Beastars is poised to leave an even bigger mark on the industry in the future.
Light Novel Adaptation by Ufotable
Director: Ei Aoki
Air Date: October 1, 2011 – June 23, 2012 (25 Episodes)
It’s been a wild ride watching the Fate franchise grow from the niche appeal of Fate/Stay Night to the massive juggernaut that is Fate/Grand Order. There have been quite a few Fate series that contributed to this, but Fate/Zero is hands down the best of them. It takes the franchise’s deep, esoteric lore and makes it more down to earth, maybe even, dare I say… cool? I mean, who doesn’t want to see morally ambiguous wizards fighting a proxy war with powerful, summoned beings based on historical figures? That’s always been the appeal of Fate’s battle royale premise, and Fate/Zero delivers it better than any other series.
8. Kill la Kill
Anime Original by Trigger
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Air Date: October 3, 2013 – March 27, 2014 (24 Episodes)
Kill la Kill feels like a relic from a previous era of anime. More specifically, let me put it this way: it’s kind of like when an old RPG gets a modern remake that streamlines all the outdated game mechanics like random battles and fixed saved points. Hopefully enough people understand that comparison… My point is, Kill la Kill attempts to deliver the blood, boobs, and over the top action we might associate with the 2000’s or the 90’s, but in a way that works for the present day. Unlike shows from that era, the writing never takes itself too seriously. It’s fast paced and fun, and makes at least some attempt to justify its excessive amount of skin on screen.
Does it succeed? Certainly on the first two points, not so much on the third. We all have our tolerance level for that kind of thing and I can totally understand if that turns some people away. For me personally though, Trigger’s trademark sense of humor is so dumb and silly that it eventually even turns nudity into a joke. In fact you might be best off looking at Kill la Kill as a comedy, punctuated by some amazing, fist pumping action sequences that will get you out of your seat and cheering. It appeals to the nostalgic corner of my heart that longs for the Trigger staff’s previous glory days at Gainax. While that era may be over now, this is a good way to remember it.
7. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Manga Adaptation by Dogakobo
Director: Mitsue Yamazaki
Air Date: July 6, 2014 – September 21, 2014 (12 Episodes)
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is the premier school romantic comedy of the decade. It’s not particularly ambitious, but it is flawlessly executed and carries a positive, modern message that makes it stand out above the competition. The cast of lovable dorks are constantly disproving manga and anime tropes, gently poking fun at gender norms in a way that says “be yourself, don’t just do things because that’s what boys or girls are supposed to do”.
It also features some fantastic jokes and visual gags that have become instantly recognizable to fans. I can probably yell TOMODAAA!!! and many of you will know exactly what I’m talking about it. The romance bits are adorable but the writing stays primarily focused on the comedy, (mostly) avoiding the frustration from lack of closure you get on shows like this. Nozaki certainly deserves a place in the anime comedy hall of fame, and if you like this genre it’s a must watch.
6. March Comes In Like a Lion
Manga Adaptation by Shaft
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
October 8, 2016 – March 18, 2017 (22 Episodes)
October 14, 2017 – March 31, 2018 (22 Episodes)
Of all the shows on this list, this might be the one I recommend EVERYONE watches, anime fan or otherwise. It has a kind of universal appeal that doesn’t require years of context from watching other anime to appreciate it. March Come In like a Lion is a story about healing, finding family, and looking for your purpose in life. It is very gentle but not naive, handling some difficult, painful topics with grace and beauty. I think that’s something anyone can enjoy.
For me personally, I found myself connecting with the main character Rei and his struggles with depression and dealing with the emotional baggage from his terrible family situation. It’s not even that I have those exact problems, just the way his struggle is depicted feels so accurate and sympathetic that I’d be shocked if the author did not experience this themselves. I think a lot of people will feel the same way, and the author’s ability to share that feeling is a testament to how good this series really is.
Manga Adaptation by Kyoto Animation
Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
Air Date: April 3, 2011 – September 25 2011 (26 Episodes)
This may be controversial, but I feel like Nichijou embodies the soul of Kyoto Animation more than any of their other series. It is the pinnacle of the slice of life a genre, a celebration of our “normal” daily life. Nearly all KyoAni works explore this idea, but Nichijou IS this idea. Past all the loud, silly gags and crazy animation, the series arrives at one beautiful conclusion: our day to day lives are actually a series of miracles. If that’s not what KyoAni has been trying to tell us all these years, then I must be missing the point.
I revisited Nichijou shortly after the tragic attack on Kyoto Animation Studio 1 this past July. It was extremely difficult to watch, but it felt more important to me than ever. There are a lot bad things happening in the world, and it’s important for us to stay informed and do what we can to help. But no matter how bad things get, there are always good things in our life we can appreciate, no matter how small. Whenever we can, we need to stop and enjoy those things. Nichijou is a great reminder of this, and maybe watching it every now and then will help me stay sane in the next decade.
4. Gatchaman Crowds
Anime Original by Tatsunoko Production
Director: Hideki Itou, Kenji Nakamura
July 12, 2013 – September 27, 2013 (12 Episodes)
July 4, 2015 – September 26, 2015 (12 Episodes)
I was not prepared for Gatchaman Crowds when it aired in 2013. I don’t know if anyone was. It seemed like it had some interesting things to say, but the events were so far fetched there was no way it could be taken literally. Now looking back in 2020, it’s almost uncanny how accurately it predicted the shift in the world’s social and political climate since then.
Gatchaman Crowds is a story about the unexpected impact of social media and how it eventually leads to the rise of fascism. This involves very specific examinations of the media and our electoral system, as well as broader questions about how we communicate and connect with each other. All of this is accomplished through a colorful, creative re-imagining of the classic Gatchaman series, pitting ideals against each other in both high stakes physical battles and perhaps more intense verbal ones.
I can’t say Crowds is the best anime on the list. It often lacks nuance and hits some of its complex themes with a sledgehammer. What I can say is Crowds is the most relevant anime of the decade, maybe even the most important. It explores questions and concepts that defined the 2010’s as well as the problems we are facing moving into the 2020’s. If you are interested in anime as more than pure escapism, you should check this out.
3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Anime Original by Shaft
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
Air Date: January 7, 2011 – April 21, 2011 (12 Episodes)
No single series has had a bigger impact on anime in the last ten years than Madoka. The original airing was a cataclysmic event that spawned many imitators, made Gen Urobuchi an industry star, and led to “deconstruction” being the most overused word in anime critique. Even today it remains a universal reference point for anime discussions, since EVERYONE has seen it. In those aspects, it’s sort of like the Neon Genesis Evangelion of this generation.
To keep the Evangelion comparison going, I do think Madoka has lost some luster after years of saturating the market with merchandise and a series of movies that didn’t need to exist. That and I guess it’s just cool to hate on things that are popular. Either way it’s not fair since Madoka really is a great series. It’s extremely difficult to mix dark, tragic themes into a cute and colorful magical girl show without coming off as too edgy or cruel – just look at some of the attempts we’ve seen since. And yet Madoka pulls it off with its bittersweet message of perseverance, sacrifice, and hope. It deserves its place in anime history and for many people will define anime in the 2010’s.
2. Mawaru Penguindrum
Anime Original by Brains Base
Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara
Air Date: July 8, 2011 – December 23, 2011 (24 Episodes)
No anime from the past decade is more “anime” to me than Penguindrum. What I mean is Penguindrum remains the best example of a series that can only exist as anime. It relies so much on animated visuals to convey it’s mood and message that if you converted it to a manga or a novel or live action, I don’t think it would hold up. Fans of infamous director Kunihiko Ikuhara can fight me on this, but I think it’s his best work. It’s a great balance between his abstract, eccentric directing style and a compelling, personal story with emotional weight.
I’ve written at length about Penguindrum over the years and don’t need to repeat it all. Everything I’ve said in my previous reviews still stands. I’ll sum it up like this: Penguindrum is a complete work of art, an audio visual experience that we rarely see in television anime. It’s one of the best examples of the wild creativity and imagination that made me love anime in the first place, and the unlimited potential the medium has for the future.
1. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Manga Adaptation by Studio Deen
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
January 9, 2016 – April 2, 2016 (13 Episodes)
January 7, 2017 – March 25, 2017 (12 Episodes)
Rakugo’s biggest flaw is that the first episode does not hint at the real journey you are about to go on. This is not a self indulgent homage to a dying art form… OK it is kind of that, but it is mostly a deeply personal look at an entire lifetime of one individual born in the early Showa era. Through the course of the series we are privy to the main character’s highest highs and lowest lows. We see things like the joys of family and a successful career, or the pain of losing people that you love. It all builds to an emotional conclusion that I might consider the best ending of the decade, maybe even one of my favorites ever.
There are a number of unique elements that make this all interesting, such as the Showa era setting. But the real star is Yakumo, or Kiku, or whatever name the main character inherits through the course of the series. He often comes off as brooding and conflicted as he struggles with his gender and sexuality as a young man, and then with his legacy later in life. He tries to stay focused on his career, pushing people he loves away. And yet as you watch him grow from wet blanket to cranky old man, you still find yourself rooting for him. It’s incredibly compelling to watch.
Yakumo’s journey toward self discovery and fulfillment is one of the most satisfying stories I’ve ever experienced, anime or otherwise. It made me think about what I’m doing with my life and if I’m really the person that I want to be. It’s been nearly three years since Rakugo aired and I still think about that, and I probably will for years to come. It’s rare for any work of fiction to have that kind of emotional impact on me these days, and that ultimately made me pick Rakugo for best anime of the decade.