Sometimes when we do our top 10 anime of the year list we get a safe, predictable collection of solid shows that everyone generally likes. Then we get a year like 2022, with some diverse, maybe even controversial choices that I can guarantee you will not see anywhere else. If anything, I hope this top 10 reflects our eclectic tastes as a group and I really feel like everyone voted with their hearts on this one.
So we once again present our ten favorite anime (and anime adjacent) series from the past year. Let us know how you feel about our choices and what you would have picked, and we’ll see you all in 2023.
Adaptation by Wit Studio
Director: Ohta Masahiko
Series Composition: Aoshima Takashi
Peter: Ah, I’ve got to justify this being on the top ten list huh.
Alright, bear with me here. Onipan! was produced by Wit Studio, who (spoilers) have two other shows on this top ten list. It seems like every single show they work on they go all-in on making it visually stunning. Heck, Onipan! managed to have a chase scene from episode one go viral for a bit because it was so high quality or, as people say, “sakuga”. As far as the visuals go, it absolutely has the right to be up there with the other shows.
Onipan! had a really interesting release schedule. From some sources, you’d be forgiven into thinking it had the same number of episodes as a typical anime series (12). It actually had 60. Each of the 12 production episodes was split into 5 smaller parts and one would air daily as part of a morning kids show on Japanese TV with an omnibus episode at the weekend (said episodes are what we got on streaming services). That’s an interesting thing to have to deal with when producing a series as you want to have them still tell a story but not be a massive issue if you miss one day (as someone who struggles watching shows on a weekly basis let alone a daily basis, I can appreciate that).
Despite the limitations of being daily 5 minute episodes for kids, or perhaps benefiting from it, Onipan! was such a good laugh every week. Great music, great animation, great show. I hope you can appreciate why I think this show deserves a bit more attention and it being on the top ten list of 2022, admittedly right on the edge of it.
Also they use a version of Funiculì, Funiculà as their “previously on/next time on” music, a song many people know as “the pizza time song from the Spider-Man 2 game”, so it’s actually pure genius.
9. Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic-
Manga Adaptation by A-1 Pictures
Director: Shinichi Omata
Series Composition: Yasuhiro Nakanishi
Jel: How did an anime that is arguably the best comedy of the past five years, in what is arguably its best season, that has appeared on our top 10 list twice at higher positions, only reach number 9 this year? Is it just a testament to how good the rest of the list is, or did we forget about it because it aired earlier in the year?
Regardless, I will still claim Kaguya-sama is the best all around anime comedy going. It takes a standard school rom com and elevates it with a great ensemble cast, top tier production values, and just the right amount of self awareness. But the key to its longevity is progress, a novel concept in your average rom com series. Characters and storylines steadily develop over time, building up to a remarkable climax in season 3.
Other comedies might be more funny, heartwarming, or relatable, but I’m not sure any in recent memory do all three at such a high level. With more anime in the works, now is as good a time as any to catch up.
8. Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun
Adaptation by Kinema Citrus
Director: Masayuki Kojima
Series Composition: Hideyuki Kurata
Zigg: Made in Abyss continues to be a truly singular creation – a fantasy world of breathtaking scope, depth, and wonder, married to a story that is by turns heartbreakingly cruel, grossly explicit, and uncomfortably exploitative. A lot of talk around The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, including from this very blog, was about whether this was finally the point at which the story’s more unsavoury aspects overpowered it’s undoubted merits.
The answer, I ultimately think, is no, because while there’s plenty of stuff in the show that could charitably be called highly problematic, it does ultimately remember to play to the strengths of the story. Which is to say, this is a tale about how the limitless promise and danger of the titular Abyss brings out the highest highs and lowest lows of human emotion. The richness of the setting is just a tapestry to project onto stories of hope and love, greed and fear, life and death, and everything in between. The Golden City of the Scorching Sun succeeds because it remembers the best narratives are not only about the choices we make, but also the consequences that echo down. Vueko and company’s tale may border on unwatchably gross at times, but the brutality is in service of heightening emotion, and making us feel just a fraction of the gut punches it regularly deals out to the cast. Made in Abyss might be a more abrasive watch than ever before, but it still retains an unparalleled power to shock, astonish, and to deeply move us.
7. Spy x Family
Adaptation by Wit Studio and CloverWorks
Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Series Composition: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Artemis: 2022 graced us with not one but two cours of Spy x Family in the Spring and Fall seasons respectively, and both of them knocked it out of the park. Whether you were already a dedicated manga reader or were introduced to the franchise through the anime, Spy x Family managed to be a major people-pleaser thanks to its immensely broad audience appeal, consistently high quality, and clear passion for its source material, with the joint Wit Studio/CloverWorks production never failing to deliver in the technical department either. If anything, I have it on good authority that the anime actually improves upon the manga in some respects, especially when it comes to fleshing out specific scenes to make them even more over-the-top and visually impactful when it counts.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions of Spy x Family lies in its core cast of characters. Loid, Yor, and of course Anya are so charmingly fun and loveable that it’s basically impossible not to root for them, both as individuals and as a team. This isn’t to say that the series doesn’t also have some awesome side characters, but at its heart, this is a story about family – and no anime family is quite as uniquely compelling and delightfully goofy as Spy x Family’s, regardless of whether the show is delivering surprisingly taut action, intentionally dumb comedy, or welcome moments of intensely heartwarming poignancy. The fact that the anime typically succeeds at all of the above on a regular basis, all while juggling a wide but complementary number of themes and genres, speaks volumes of its overall quality. If for some reason you were hiding under a rock in 2022 and haven’t yet checked this one out, now is absolutely the time to do so.
6. Bocchi the Rock!
Manga Adaptation by CloverWorks
Director: Keiichiro Saito
Series Composition: Erica Yoshida
Aqua: Nothing Bocchi the Rock! does is particularly revolutionary. There have been anime about teenage girls starting bands before. There have been shows that successfully portray the burden of social anxiety before, and there have even been shows that have successfully milked this topic for all of its comedic worth. Even the smorgasbord of animation styles and creative flourishes Bocchi the Rock! brings to the table, adorning nearly each and every individual joke with its own brand of tailor-made nonsense, is essentially nothing new. Nevertheless, there have been few shows that do any of these things in a way that feels as thematically cohesive as the way in which Bocchi the Rock! does it. When girls in an anime start a band, the only real reason why they do this, is because making an anime all about music sells boatloads of concert tickets. Anxiety is often portrayed as a desirable, cutesy quirk, rather than as an impairment so crippling and callous you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of your own mental state. And when animators, voice actors, composers or other creatives decide to show off, they tend to do so in service of the story being told, as opposed to in a way that makes the medium itself the message.
Bocchi the Rock!, however, manages to recontextualize all of the many elements it has in common with other shows within its own central theme. It is a show about the joy of creative expression and how sharing it with others can set you free from the mental anguish weighing you down. This message is the reason why the main characters start a band and perform songs together. It’s why all of Bocchi’s most humiliating and traumatic moments of self-sabotage are blown out to comical proportions, teetering on the edgy between heartfelt empathy and riotous gallows humour. It’s why the artists involved need to show off, why they need to express a love for their craft in everything they do, because what better way to hammer home a point than by serving as an example? For a show that mostly sells itself based on its relatability and breezy gags, Bocchi the Rock! is a stunningly holistic work, its exuberant wealth of artistic excesses, memorable quotes, goofy faces, directorial embellishments, stunning musical performances and authentic references to indie band culture, all serving to empower a singular, all too human thesis: Art is life.
5. Kamen Rider BLACK SUN
Adaptation by Ishimori Productions/Toei
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Series Composition: Izumi Takahashi, from an original story by Shotaro Ishinomori, Shōzō Uehara, and Noboru Sugimura
Zigg: Entrusted with the task of remaking one of tokusatsu’s most iconic shows, you’d have expected the team behind BLACK SUN to offer a reverent, largely faithful update to a beloved classic. Instead, director Shiraishi and his crew delivered the media equivalent of a brick through a plate glass window. Brimming with barely-contained anger, BLACK SUN takes Ishinomori’s classic story of an evil, monster-birthing cult, and reimagines it as a furious tirade against corrupt government, the military-industrial complex, Japanese right-wing culture, nepotism, racism, and class struggle. In doing so, it transforms the kitchen sink camp of most modern tokusatsu, lashings of violence and subtext-is-for-cowards dialogue creating an extraordinary melodrama that is somehow true to the larger-than-life silliness of the genre, and yet doesn’t undermine the actual drama taking place.
Crucial to such an unstable mix is the anchoring power of a set of terrific actors. Hidetoshi Nishijima (star of the Oscar-winning Drive My Car) is excellent as an older, thoroughly grizzled Kotaro Minami, but it’s the younger stars who steal the show, especially what is surely a star-making performance from Kokoro Hirasawa as young activist Aoi. Managing to perfectly walk the fine line between taking your story about cyborg bug men too seriously, and not taking it seriously enough, the writing, acting and special effects all pledge themselves to the bit entirely, giving the production a sheen far beyond the usual cut-rice kid’s show aesthetic of ‘mainstream’ Kamen Rider.
BLACK SUN is not a subtle show, nor is it an overly complex one, and criticisms have been levelled at it on those fronts. But it shows an admirable amount of self-belief and commitment, following through even to a shockingly dark finale that refuses to cop-out for the sake of a happy or overly optimistic conclusion. As an anniversary project it’s a timely reminder that tokusatsu can still have power and relevance when those in charge truly care about the story they’re telling. And it understands the essence at the very heart of the Kamen Rider mythos – sometimes you just have to put on your belt, get on your bike, and kick the shit out of some fascists.
4. Akiba Maid War
Original by P.A. Works
Director: Sōichi Masui
Series Composition: Yoshihiro Hiki
Iro: Akiba Maid War is a show that could only exist in the highly specific media landscape of anime. It lampoons absurd otaku subculture and yakuza movies in equal measure, making what could have been a bog-standard P.A. Works “working girls” show into a hilarious, po-faced comedy. Turns out the way to make a show about maid cafes even remotely appealing is to also make it a hard-boiled crime drama! The show knows that you can maintain an irreverent tone while also cranking the melodrama to 1000%, which is a hell of line to walk; there’s a real art to making sure the audience is in on the joke without either breaking character or becoming annoyingly coy. Akiba Maid War does it with style and sticks the landing, which is an achievement few shows can claim.
3. Ranking of Kings
Adaptation by Wit Studio
Director: Yosuke Hatta
Series Composition: Taku Kishimoto
Euri: There was certainly a moment earlier in the year when many of us thought this would be our number one show. Bojji is an instantly likeable character, and his adventures with Kage were, to put it quite simply, an absolute joy to watch. Despite most other characters being evil assholes, despite struggling with those around him due to being deaf and mute, the young boy soldiers forward.
The show’s biggest strength comes in its characters. Every single person that has more than a few lines of dialogue has history, is a bit complicated, and feels like a real person. Queen Hiling going from unforgivable stepmum to one of the best characters in the show had to be earned – and this happened slowly, over many episodes and in a way that felt right. Not just her, either – Prince Daida, Domas, even seemingly pure-evil characters like Ouken are provided with a depth that you just don’t see in a lot of other stories.
Of course, there’s a bit of an asterisk to everything I’m saying here, and the reason why it didn’t have a better shot at getting our number one spot. Without getting too much into it, let me just say that while I am all for subversive storytelling, this show’s ending did not nail it. Some characters, even the well-written ones from Ranking of Kings, are simple unredeemable, and it becomes an impossibility to change that fact. The show presents us with a resolution that makes no sense given everything that has happened up to that point, and it proved to sour what should have been a grand finale.
Importantly, I do want to stress that the overwhelming majority of this show is an absolute delight. Despite the failed landing there’s still an incredible amount of potential, and I genuinely look forward to the further adventures of Bojji should we get the chance to see a continuation.
2. Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story
Anime Original by Bandai Namco Pictures
Director: Takayuki Inagaki
Series Composition: Yosuke Kuroda
Jel: By traditional standards, Birdie Wing lacks any award winning qualities. It’s average looking at best, the story is unhinged chaos, and I’m not sure the dialogue was written by a human being. But wow, it sure is entertaining. Don’t be fooled by its generic sports anime appearance. Golf is the least of your concerns when you’ve got shady deals with organized crime, hot ladies with cyborg arms, and Amuro Ray and Char Aznable for some reason? The list of random surprises goes on and on. Even in it’s most subdued moments, Birdie Wing finds a way to catch you off guard and entertain you.
Perhaps the most telling evidence that Birdie Wing deserves a spot on this list is the fact that it ended 6 months ago and we haven’t shut up about it since. We’ve been constantly referencing it, comparing new shows to it, and speculating about what wild things we’re going to see when it returns for a second season. We’ve continued to joke that Birdie Wing is our definitive Anime of the Year and everyone else is just aiming for second place. In our hearts, I think we all knew we weren’t really joking.
1. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
Adaptation by Studio Trigger
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Series Composition: Masahiko Otsuka, Yoshiki Usa, Bartosz Sztybor
Gee: Nobody would call Cyberpunk: Edgerunners a subversive work, it’s the spinoff anime of a platinum selling video game animated by one of the 21st century’s most prominent animation studios. Edgerunners still caught us off guard anyway, telling a gripping and deeply human story of ambition, found family, and the monstrous grind of capitalism. Not since 2020’s Akudama Drive has anime so keenly understood that cyberpunk as a genre isn’t just the failing of systems, but a hell of mankind’s own design. That its banal callousness to the indignities inflicted upon its people mean the system is working as intended. Everyone in Edgerunners is trying to get to the top, and everyone in Edgerunners has someone or something they’re beholden to. It creates a constant loop of fucking over and getting fucked that holds true throughout the entire story. This is exactly what our masters want.
And yes, it undeniably helps that Trigger takes the game’s vision of a cyberpunk dystopia and infuses it with its own brand of artistry. Imaishi imbues Edgerunners with his own stylized direction and energy. Throw in the killer’s row of Yoh Yoshinari, Sushio, and Trigger’s young ace Kai Ikarashi, and you’re left with something in a visual tier of its own. It’s kinetic and stylish, but also finds time for a surprising degree of cinematic introspection. And hey, Imaishi still finds a way to purposely repeat shots and fit in a couple tweening animations.
Edgerunners understands that our cast of rogues are at their best and most kind when working together. It’s the splintering of that found family that spells out their tragically thematic oblivion. The power of love may not be enough to save us from capitalism. But it might be enough to shield us from its worst excesses. Only in the arms of others can we hope to make something meaningful in a world so mundanely cruel. Stick with Trigger and you’ll make it.