Oh boy it’s that time again! (Well, it was that time a week ago. Yes I know this list is late I had a lot of shows to watch! Give me a break.) Time to rundown the best shows of the year in an arbitrary ordered list that fills me with undue satisfaction. 2016 was quite a bad year in many ways but anime actually did pretty damn well this year in my eyes. It goes without saying that this list in mine and based on my opinions and you will almost assuredly not agree with all of them. Mercifully I did not have to worry about how to count split-cour shows airing in different years and though I watched many shows I did not watch everything so there are going to be things I missed. Also, while these are roughly ordered, I would not worry too much about the order, as many of these shows are fairly even with each other and they’re all great nonetheless.Who knows how I’ll feel about this order in a year or so anyway. With that said I watched quite a few shows, so let’s dig in to them!
As excessive as it seems I was having difficulty cutting down this section, so consider it a lightning round! Thunderbolt Fantasy was a very entertaining puppet action thing with a wonderful script by Gen Urobuchi (And yes it is anime I won’t hear otherwise). It contained the sentence “The Screaming Phoenix Killer does not ask questions with words.”, so you know it’s cool. Mob Psycho 100 was a messy but pleasant romp with plenty of great action and surprisingly endearing character work. Love Live Sunshine was the most enjoyable and refined season of this energetic idol phenomenon yet, gracing us with the best idols, You Watanabe and Zura. Joker Game was a cool, stylish spy thriller with plenty of exciting and interesting episodes that unfortunately was a bit too unambitious for its own good. Battery was a compelling character piece. The Morose Mononokean was a warm and heartfelt show, and the best episodes almost feel something like Mushi-Shi stories, though obviously it’s not on that level. Finally, I should mention Sound! Euphonium‘s second season, which unfortunately was not quite on par with the first season’s quality but still had plenty of excellent character bits and visuals/direction. (The first season was on last year’s list for those who remember, though the gulf between their positions has more to do with how many good shows I watched this year rather than the divide in quality. It’s still a good show.)
Whew! With that out of the way let’s get to the list!
#10- Yuri on Ice
Yuri on Ice has become 2016’s biggest anime sensation quite easily, and though it is a flawed show, it clearly does enough right to warrant its popularity. Although the animators struggled mightily to keep up, the ice skating was still very entertaining, but beyond that what Yuri on Ice does best is developing the relationship between the two main characters. Yuri and Viktor feel like two people in an honest and real relationship, and the developments are earned and endearing. The fact that it feels like such a true relationship is a big point in the show’s favor and is no doubt a reason for its popularity. Yuri on Ice is not perfect- the character development is not as strong or even as it could be and the entire narrative structure is kind of a mess (many episodes are just watching the same six performances over and over- perhaps the show spread itself too thin) but it succeeds largely thanks to its cast and relationships therein. Add to that a good sense of humor and a loving embrace of multiculturalism, and it’s not hard to see why Yuri on Ice has become such a hit.
#9- Scorching Ping Pong Girls
The other lovably gay sports show from the fall season, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is a show guaranteed to make your heart go dokidoki suru. There’s nothing quite like the ecstasy of a match in a sports show like this where the dramatic dial is turned up to 11. The matches are exciting and entertaining, even featuring some very impressive animation cuts. While not a drama in the mold of Yuri on Ice, it also greatly cares for its characters and many of the developments and relationships are genuinely heart-warming. It also has a mostly fun sense of humor and is just generally entertaining. But the main draw is of course those matches, and the table tennis action and likable characters playing made this a very enjoyable watch.
#8- Sweetness and Lightning
Sweetness and Lightning is a show about a single father raising an adorable anime child in the vein of Yotsuba&! or Barakamon (though I’ve yet to see the latter). It is as absurdly adorable as one might expect. It’s always a treat to watch this unusual family put together whatever special dish is being made that episode. But as the title implies, it’s not all sweetness. Sweetness and Lightning pulls no punches as it confronts the loneliness and grief that come with the loss of Tsumugi’s mother. When Tsumugi breaks down thinking about the fact that her mother is gone, I’m shedding tears right there with her. Tsumugi really does feel like a young child- adorable and curious, but prone to outbursts and tantrums. Sweetness and Lightning deftly handles both extreme cuteness and sadness, and is a very pleasant watch for it.
#7- Girlish Number
Girlish Number is one of those shows where the priorities seem to change around the halfway point, and thankfully this show seemed to fully understand what strengths to lean in to for that. It starts out as mostly as a cynical comedy about the voice acting industry, but where Girlish Number truly shines is its characters and the reflections on life they bring about. The show contains many thoughtful moments, such as reflecting on the aging of parents as one gets older or the depression that comes with feeling as though you have no place or value (Incidentally, I wrote a piece on this one! I know, shameless). The vast majority of the cast are interesting or endearing in their own right, and many of the conflicts they experience make them either relatable or understandable. Girlish Number may be cynical and funny, but it is also heartfelt and earnest.
Kuromukuro is one of those shows where I assume all that’s really necessary is a plot summary. “Young Samurai from 450 years ago awakens and must find our spunky heroine and pilot a giant robot with her while fighting other giant robots piloted by aliens looking to take over Earth.” I mean, you know what this is, right? What Kuromukuro is is extremely fun. It has interesting and mysterious plot elements, cool characters, awesome action and a great sense of humor. Kennosuke is a samurai too, meaning many of the action scenes robot or otherwise involve swords, which just makes them even cooler. Ken and Yukina also make for great leading characters, and the rest of the cast is plenty enjoyable (though the villains are pretty bland). Funny, exciting, and entertaining, Kuromukuro is a greatly enjoyable ride.
#5- Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Grimgar is a funny entry for this list, as I had given up on it rather quickly when it first aired. But then it became pretty well-liked within circles I follow, and I’m glad I was encouraged to revisit it. Grimgar is a fantasy show as the title says, and it does everything that comes with that well- Great action, solid worldbuilding, and an incredibly great and immersive atmosphere which is one of Grimgar’s biggest strengths. But Grimgar’s biggest strength is that it is a story chiefly about grief and dealing with loss. It has one of the most sensitive portrayals of death I’ve seen in recent memory, and tackles these tough subjects with finesse. It has its problems- Ranta, and a camera that seems way too intrigued by Yume’s butt. But the gentle hand with which it touches on some resonant themes and the characters being interesting and endearing in their own right make Grimgar a very strong show.
#4- The Great Passage
The Great Passage unfortunately never became legally available in the U.S. due to Amazon’s aloofness, and what a shame that is. The Great Passage is an ode to life and to spending it pursuing a grand goal. Watching this wonderful set of characters devote themselves to this underdog project is inspiring, and a big reason why this is such an enjoyable watch. There are struggles between the sheer volume of work, corporate meddling in the team as well as the ability to focus on the work, and other day-to-day problems, and these are things The Great Passage does not shy away from. The chemistry between the cast of characters and the investment one feels in their work are some of the big reasons why The Great Passage was such a wonderful show. I could nitpick and say that the short length means some characters and relationships don’t quite get the development they deserved, but that doesn’t stop the show from being, well, great.
#3- 91 Days
91 Days is such a different show it’s very hard to compare to it to The Great Passage, but a Prohibition-era mafia revenge story is extremely up my alley. 91 Days follows Angelo Lagusa as he seeks revenge on the Vanetti mafia family that murdered his family. There will be plenty of violence, betrayal, and drama along the way, just as any fan of the genre would want. But 91 Days also can be thoughtful as well, though one could argue its thoughts on revenge aren’t exactly original (Incidentally I also wrote up that point! I know, still shameless). The cast of 91 Days is also pretty great (Fango was supremely enjoyable whenever on screen), and it wraps it all in good setting and some great direction. 91 Days may simply be a show that depends on your feelings towards works of this genre, but I enjoyed it immensely.
#2- Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Most people reading this list probably knew this show was to be on here, and indeed Rakugo deserves it. Rakugo is a beautiful, melancholy drama about a niche artform and the fascinating people who perform it. The characters are of course a crucial piece, and the relationship between Sukeroku and Kikuhiko and what it means for how they express themselves through their performances is fantastic. The Rakugo itself is very entertaining as well- watching people act out entire multi-character stories was tremendous fun, and where quite a bit of the light and charming side of the show comes from. Rakugo doesn’t pull punches with its tragedy either, being both moving and engaging. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always lovely, Rakugo is a very special show, and I am immensely glad a second season is upon us. For all intents and purposes Rakugo Shinjuu could be considered Anime of the Year, but there is one last show that moved me just as much.
#1- Tabi Machi Late Show
If The Great Passage is an ode to life, Tabi Machi is life. The main character of Tabi Machi Late Show is you. It’s all of us. The mentor tearfully waving goodbye to their student. The adults regretting their stupid life decisions as adolescents. The child coping with a tragic loss. The teachers who’ve seen so many children grow up and move on through their lives, and are now heading in to a new chapter of their own lives. Everything Tabi Machi does and says hit close to home because it is a celebration of the events both good and bad that make up the lives we lead and the stories we are left to tell. It’s a beautiful thing, so much so that at least two of the four short episodes had me a teary-eyed mess. The show’s visual style is reminiscent of a pretty picture book one would read to their children, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to present such a story. Tabi Machi Late Show is without a doubt one of the most special things I’ve seen, and as something you can see the entirety of in a half-hour on Crunchyroll, I would absolutely implore everyone to try it.
I bet most of you weren’t expecting that last one, huh? That’s one the things I love about these end-of-year lists- sharing things I am passionate about to those who are not as familiar. I also would enjoy hearing what you think, as I’m sure my list is quite unique! I hope you enjoyed this list as well as any of these shows you’ve seen, and maybe you’ve got some cool new things to try out. Here’s to anime continuing to be good, and to a better 2017.