2021 had a lot of good anime. It made it very hard to make a top 10 list, and put the most strain on our voting process that we’ve ever experienced. Nevertheless, we still ended up with a good list. What shows made the top 10? What made #1? Has our running gag of choosing an ironic header image for this post gone too far? Read on to get at least two of these questions answered.
10. Super Cub
Light Novel Adaptation by Studio Kai
Director: Toshiro Fujii
Series Composition: Toshizou Nemoto
Jel: In a year that saw the return of Laid Back Camp and Non Non Biyori, Super Cub was the best slice of life series. The slow pace and sparse presentation stand out compared to other shows in the genre. There’s no pink hair or cartoon animation to be found, just down to Earth, endearing characters who actually grow over the course of the series. I feel like a lot of people missed out on this one, so if you’re a fan of the genre it’s definitely worth checking out.
9. To Your Eternity
Manga Adaptation by Brain’s Base
Director: Masahiko Murata
Series Composition: Shinzou Fujita
Artemis: In many ways, To Your Eternity felt like a show of diminishing returns, with each story arc coming across as progressively weaker than the last. However, this was in large part only because the initial arc (and in particular the opening episode) was so incredibly strong. Dealing largely with Fushi learning what it means to be human – experiencing the likes of hunger, pain, and by the end of the arc, grief – Fushi also becomes aware of what it’s like to be part of a family… and what it means to lose it. I would challenge any viewer to watch Fushi and March bond, and then not get angry or otherwise emotional when March’s life is thrown away for the sake of a convenient lie. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention To Your Eternity’s finale, which in a way comes full circle and is easily one of the most poignant episodes of any anime I’ve seen in a very long time. While this show may struggle somewhat with its identity during its middle episodes, it has one hell of an emotional core that shouldn’t be overlooked.
8. Wonder Egg Priority
Anime Original by CloverWorks
Director: Shin Wakabayashi
Series Composition: Shinji Nojima
Aqua: In hindsight, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Wonder Egg Priority even made the list in the first place. Not only was it divisive back when it was airing, it also should never have been made in the first place. It’s almost cynical that a story about the horrors of abuse got made under inexcusable working conditions, and as a result, the way this show crashed and burned with its delayed, unfinished and sloppily-written finale almost feels like justice. Yet how I wish it could have been different. This show’s best episodes were raw, imaginative and poignant in a way anime often aspires to be but hardly ever is, and — with the exception of the aforementioned finale — even its fumbles boasted a creative wealth and profundity that dig into both head and heart with surgical precision. It boldly ventured where anime rarely dares to thread — tackling issues of gender, sexuality, trauma, abuse, fear and death — frankly, yet empathetically, and even in its woefully unfinished state occasionally grazed transcendental brilliance. Yet grazing is just that — close, but no cigar. Unfortunate as it is that these ambitions got cut shot, in the end, CloverWorks only have themselves to blame. The unfathomable mess they made of Wonder Egg Priority‘s production both irreparably harmed actual human lives and all but certainly doomed the product these people were shamelessly sacrificed for to being forgotten in a few years’ time. I will remember Wonder Egg Priority, but honestly, I won’t blame you if you don’t. Let this be a lesson.
7. Shadows House
Manga Adaptation by CloverWorks
Director: Kazuki Ohashi
Series Composition: Toshiya Ono
Peter: I expect I’m the sole reason this show ended up on the list, but I stand by my decision. Shadows House is a truly underrated gem that i encourage more people check out. With anime being an art medium that spends a lot of time making its characters look as pretty as possible, when given characters who are only silhouettes, the animation and focusing on the details really shine here. These shadowy characters are not just clones of the “living dolls” who exist to serve them but with the black paint bucket tool used – they have their own mannerisms and visual quirks which set them aside from their dolls, making the fate of these dolls to become their masters’ “face”, in several senses of the word, all the more concerning. Since this show aired, I found out that the original manga was full colour, and only two weeks ago was the announcement made that Yen Press has licensed it for an official western release. Add to that the second season of the anime coming at some point, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the series has to offer in future.
6. Beastars Season 2
Manga Adaptation by Orange
Director: Shin’ichi Matsumi
Series Composition: Nanami Higuchi
Gee: Beastars certainly had its work cut out for it. Following up on the Glorio blog’s 2019 anime of the year, Beastars returned to remind the world it didn’t plan on resting on its laurels. In many ways, its second season is a confident escalation, a definitive statement that this story is going to go anywhere and everywhere in the pursuit of its eclectic but relatable themes. Constantly evolving its status quo while maintaining the elements that we all fell in love to begin with, Beastars is an exemplary sequel that’s just as dark, clever, and unapologetically horny as you remember. Here’s hoping the recently announced third season can keep the energy going.
5. Nomad: Megalobox 2
Anime Original by TMS Entertainment
Director: You Moriyama
Series Composition: Katsuhiko Manabe, Kensaku Kojima
Gee: Nomad: Megalobox 2 is a masterful character piece and everything you could hope for in a sequel. Joe’s story of redemption is hard to watch, but always reminds us that life is worth fighting for. It never shies away from exploring the darker aspects of human nature, such as xenophobia, survivor’s guilt, and the ways in which our personal demons can destroy us. And yet it’s also a fundamentally compassionate work. One that truly believes that empathy can save us and never loses faith in the human soul. The original Megalobox was an excellent sports story, the absolute zenith of its well worn subgenre. Nomad is its essential companion, the capstone that elevates it into a generational classic. One could not exist without the other, and together they’ve become something even grander.
4. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Anime Original by Wit Studio
Director: Shinpei Ezaki
Series Composition: Tappei Nagatsuki
Artemis: This is a series that came completely out of left field for me. I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan around and I tend to have a strong distaste for music/idol anime, which is what I feared Vivy would be before going in. Boy was I wrong. From the opening scene, this show grabbed my attention and held it pretty much all the way through to the end with its explicit (yet not sensationalized) action scenes, on-point pacing, and some exceptional voice acting. Sure, Vivy might not be the most unique in terms of base premise, but the writing manages to be surprisingly nuanced at times, and it was oddly easy to relate to Vivy herself as a character as well – not exactly something I anticipated. For anime viewers on the lookout for something action-packed and suspenseful yet don’t want to sacrifice on narrative quality, I encourage you to give this one a go.
3. The Heike Story
Novel Adaptation by Science Saru
Director: Naoko Yamada
Series Composition: Reiko Yoshida
Iro: Rather than the lovingly crafted audiovisual productions of Science Saru, the descriptor “historical” often conjures images of dusty libraries and monotone professors. Court intrigue from over 800 years ago has nothing to do with me; why should I care? But media like The Heike Story provide the necessary reminder that all those stone-faced folks in old paintings were merely people. Any liberties the show takes, it takes to highlight this fact. The Heike laughed and cried, loved and lost, made mistakes and paid the price. We suffer as they suffered, in spirit if not specifics, and there is strength to be drawn from that.
Anime Original by Trigger
Director: Akira Amemiya
Series Composition: Keiichi Hasegawa
Zigg: What is it that drives you forward? What is it that holds you back? Those are the questions that are being asked in Trigger’s wonderful followup to 2018’s SSSS.Gridman. Just as that show demonstrated a more thoughtful and emotional side to the studio, Dynazenon represents a flourishing of those qualities to a new level of mature and nuanced storytelling. Focusing on a cast of lonely and damaged individuals, this is a tale of how friendship and common purpose can help bring people together and heal them – hardly an original premise, yet seldom executed as well as it has been here. Director Amemiya and his crew perfectly balance the personal with the epic, the focused character storytelling with the bombastic super robot trappings, the sad and bittersweet with the goofy and gregarious. The end result was a series that excelled on basically every level, and one that spoke to the imperfections inside all of us that we have to learn to leave behind.
1. Odd Taxi
Anime original by P.I.C.S. and OLM
Director: Baku Kinoshita
Series Composition: Kazuya Konomoto
Euri: There are very few shows out there that can manage an ensemble cast in just twelve episodes, but Odd Taxi is certainly one of them. Not only is it packed full of colourful characters, but it does a terrific job in juggling them all correctly, weaving their stories together and not making you feel bogged down in unnecessary details. The characters actually being animals adds an impressive layer of intrigue to the show, but not only that, it makes it so much easier to track who is who when you’re given just one episode a week. Learning how the grumpy walrus Odokawa’s seemingly mundane life as a taxi driver became tangled up in something so sinister is quite the sight, but on top of that it’s the sheer number of stand-out moments that keep me thinking about Odd Taxi even now. And heck, when you can spend an evening discussing the importance of an eraser with your friends following one of the episodes, you know you’ve been watching something pretty special.