It’s been one month since I started this blog! This post was one of the first I planned to write but it got waylaid due to perceived irrelevancy. Well, I continue to see “best of 2016” lists go up so screw it, I’ll throw my hat into the ring.
To qualify for this list a series must have ended in 2016 because otherwise I haven’t seen it. This means that March Comes like a Lion (3-gatsu no Lion) isn’t eligible although based on its first episode I can imagine it being a strong contender for 2017.
Along these same lines a series must have released a reasonable majority of its episodes in 2016. Listings that fall under this rule will be judged on the entirety of their run, not just the parts that came out in 2016.
I watched *a lot* of anime last year: I completed 45 series, not to mention OVAs. This was not an easy list to pair down which is why you’re getting 13(+1) listings instead of the traditional 10. It’s all arbitrary anyway.
So without further ado…
+1. Thunderbolt Fantasy
Urobuchi Gen did it again! While it’s arguable whether Thunderbolt Fantasy is an anime I’m not sure it’s a classification that matters. Urobutcher managed to introduce the world to Taiwanese puppetry and prove its strenghts in one fell swoop, showcasing its stylish action and charming quirks through limitation. Yet the series was not content to coast by on its novelty; it also has a great story to tell as you’d expect from a Urobuchi production.
With Thunderbolt Fantasy you come for the puppet sword fights and stay for the fantastic characters. Its uniqueness demands your attention, anime or not.
ReLIFE was a precursor to my decision to watch current anime after they’ve completed rather than as they air. The series was released in full on streaming services at the start of the Summer 2016 season and made for a memorable viewing moment. I realized then that this was how I should approach anime going forward, even if it took me a few seasons to put that to action.
This series does romance well but what really sells it is the unique premise of getting a second chance to develop social skills in high school as an adult. Seeing how somebody closer to my place in life would fit in with teenagers was an interesting dynamic and reminds us how just because we’re older doesn’t mean we’ve got everything figured out. This is a series that desperately needs a second season though as the place it ends left me deeply unsatisfied.
Oh, that other 2016 series that featured the lead character being transported into their younger body was garbage. Sorry (not sorry).
12. My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)
My Hero Academia is a superhero high school series with a lot of heart. It’s jam packed with memorable characters (many of whom I hope get more development in its forthcoming second season), especially its leads. Keeping each character’s ability locked to a single trait keeps them easily readable and the way the show uses their powers in combination with one another can be quite clever.
There’s not too much to say about this one as it felt like the beginning of a grander tale but it’s a strong foundation that I look forward to seeing expanded upon. There was rarely a dull moment as this one chugged along. Plus, I need more All Might in my life.
11. Food Wars! The Second Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara)
This one had a lot to prove. My enamor quickly gave way to indifference in season one as it entered its final stretch of competition episodes. I loved the characters but seeing them cook endlessly without the narrative backbone of earlier arcs wore the appeal thin.
The Second Plate won me back. While much of S2 was still taken up by the competition its focus on the finals allowed it to hone in on characters. There were clear stakes and dynamics unique of each match kept every episode fresh. The internship arc that followed served as a great launching point for Souma’s further development should the series continue to be animated from here. Food Wars has hooked me back in.
(You have no idea how much I wanted to put “steaks” instead of “stakes” in that last paragraph. These are the awful puns you get when you come to my blog.)
10. Assassination Classroom Second Season (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 2nd Season)
Another shounen sequel! Assassination Classroom’s conclusion was bittersweet but necessary (I can really appreciate it when a series knows its stopping point, especially in a genre infamous for being endless). The show managed to leverage its entire cast better than ever, giving even its most ancillary students recognizable personalities. It’s use of non-lethal action sequences allowed for the interpersonal conflicts to take center stage.
There is one complaint I want to leverage against the series: Koro-sensei’s backstory was unfortunate. Such an iconic character didn’t need over-explanation, especially when it came in the form of an overdone trope. He at least demanded something more original. It doesn’t hurt his character and was ultimately handled pretty well but it’s the major flaw that keeps this series from being higher on my list.
Don’t let that get in the way of you watching Assassination Classroom though. It’s one of the best shounens in a long time with characters that are sure to be remembered in the years to come. It also has an incredibly satisfying conclusion.
9. The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu)
It’s said that a great story can make you care about it’s subject matter regardless of your affect going in. As such I would never have thought I’d be engrossed in the creation of a dictionary but The Great Passage proved me wrong. We buy into these people to the point that we can’t help but invest in what they care about.
What I really appreciate about The Great Passage is that it doesn’t resort to glorifying its subject matter. While these characters are passionate about their craft it still comes with years of toiling and stress. This is not easy work, it’s not always exciting and the series reflects that in its tone. Coming away from it I have newfound understanding and respect for what it takes to make a dictionary.
This one flew under the radar thanks to not getting simulcasted in North America but it’s highly worth checking out.
8. Space Patrol Luluco (Uchuu Patrol Luluco)
Studio Trigger continues to be amongst the most exciting studios in anime right now. They’ve established a balls-to-the-wall style that they continue to deliver on. Luluco takes it to 11, a continuation of the work Hiroyuki Imaishi has been doing ever since his Gainax days.
Space Patrol Luluco’s portrayal of the innocent pathos of teenage love achieves more than most series that take the subject matter super seriously. Luluco herself is a bundle of joy and optimism that is impossible not to fall in love with. Also, if you’ve followed Trigger’s productions up until this point you’ll want to watch this one for it’s meta narrative spanning all of the studio’s works. It’s great stuff.
Kiznaiver isn’t perfect but it has a lot to say about the human condition which means it falls squarely into my strike zone. The idea of forming emotional bonds through literal shared pain made way for keen observation on what we value in interpersonal relationships.
This series also showcases Trigger’s range, especially when aired alongside Luluco. It retained the signature beautiful animation the studio is known for but took a decidedly more serious tone by the pen of Mari Okada. For this reason I find it to be a critical installment in their library.
I want to make special note of its incredible OP that takes on extra weight after the passing of Boom Boom Satellites vocalist Michiyuki Kawashima. Thank you for your incredible work, sir. You helped make some truly memorable anime OPs.
6. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)
Slice-of-life series tend to work best for me as tone pieces, drifting me away to a calmer world free from the burdens of reality. Tanaka-kun is the epitome of this, a sleepy show about a sleepy dude and the heartwarming people surrounding him. It’s a series about friendship. Everyone is super likable and good-natured. We just want the best for them. That’s my kind of show. (It fills the void in my lonely heart).
Tanaka-kun doesn’t lean too far towards iyashikei. There are dramatic elements at play in most episodes stemming from the characters trying to express themselves to one another. I say drama but It’s all played with a laissez-faire attitude attitude. This is a stress-free zone, it just isn’t a mindless one.
5. Mob Psycho 100
ONE’s follow-up to his 2015’s breakout hit One Punch Man was every bit as good and even more versatile. Whereas Saitama had no qualms about obliterating his opponents with one punch, Mob is scared that his psychic powers could end up hurting someone and tries to suppress them. His struggle is never overblown to the point of edginess though. Mob always feels like a genuinely dopey kid, crushing on the popular girl at school and awkwardly feeling his way through social situations. It’s easy to relate to him. The same goes for the rest of the cast, particularly Reigen who is one of my favorite characters of the year.
What puts Mob Psycho 100 over the top is its psychedelic, free-form art style. This show looks like nothing else out there. It’s without a doubt the most aesthetically interesting series of 2016 and looks amazing in motion.
4. Sound! Euphonium 2 (Hibike! Euphonium 2)
The first season of Sound! Euphonium was one of my favorites on 2015 and the trend continues here. It’s a pathos-laden mecca through the trials and tribulations of a high school band striving to achieve their dreams of competing in the national competition. The emotions of these kids are laid bare in that infectious manner Kyoto Animation does best.
A lot can be said about this series but I want to bring specific mention to an element often overlooked: its voice acting, specifically Kumiko’s. Tomoyo Kurosawa brings so much to Kumiko, giving her a naturalistic sound that sets her apart from the crowd of anime characters. It’s very much akin to what Hideaki Anno’s voice work in The Wind Rises accomplished. If the show was half as good as it is I’d still recommend watching for this reason alone.
This season wraps up the story so if you’ve been sleeping on it now’s a good time to give it a watch! Also make sure to watch the OVA bridging the two seasons as it fleshes out a main character that doesn’t get as much of a spotlight in the second season.
3. New Game!
In a medium that often defaults to a high school setting it’s always a breath of fresh air when a series shifts its focus to older characters. New Game!’s crew most fit into the 18-24 range and have transitioned to the workplace which brings with it a dynamic more relatable to the current me. This series marries perfect slice-of-life antics with keen observational humor about office life and being an adult in your mid-20s. Plus, the series gives a genuine look at the life of someone involved in game development as outlined by this great interview.
I really can’t stress enough how much I love New Game. It’s easy one of the best “cute girl” series I’ve seen in a long time and every character struck my heart with an arrow, especially Kou who is total waifu material (I legitimately want to marry her). I melt every time I think about this show and end up spending the next half hour watching YouTube clips and looking up gifs. Suffice to say I’m impatiently anticipating the just-announced second season. I need more New Game in my life. I need it now.
2. Lupin III
Lupin’s return to television after 30 years of being film-exclusive (outside of the fantastic but decidedly different 2012 Fujiko Mine series) is an absolute joy. From its gorgeous art style to its stylish OP that harkens back to an era passed, everything about this revival oozes that classic Lupin flair. He’s the same rascally thief with a heart of gold, followed by his eccentric band of cohorts as they swindle their way through a series of episodic capers.
It’s not content to just spin its wheels, though. This Lupin series stands out in the series by capitalizing on its Italian setting and introducing overarching plot threads tied to its new characters. Key among those is the gorgeous Rebecca Rossellini, a socialite with a mischievous side who gets tangled up with Lupin and co. She instantly feels core to the series like she’s been a part of the cast all along, a testament to how scene-stealing she is.
The Lupin series can be jumped into at any point and this is the new best starting point outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic film The Castle of Cagliostro. It’s a real thrill ride to watch these iconic characters get tangled up in sticky situations only to narrowly escape.
1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
I’m not going to bother embellishing this: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is one of the best drama series this decade. It weaves a multi-generational tale following art of rakugo, a Japanese style of oral storytelling akin to a one-man play. We see it at its height only to watch as it fades out of fashion due to newer trends, something our leads try to prevent with all their will.
But more than that it’s a character piece that I hesitate to speak on in too much detail because I believe this one deserves to be experienced with fresh eyes. These are more like real people than traditional pathos-driven anime characters. They’re complex, deeply flawed and haunted. They carry gravitas with them. Don’t mistake this as a series that could be easily translated to live-action though. The rakugo scenes in particular utilize the medium to visualize the stories being told, not just literally but through aesthetic flourishes only possible with anime.
It’s the ambitious rakugo scenes that really make Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu more than the sum of its parts. Nearly half of some episodes are taken up by full performances. The voice acting on display in these sequences is outstanding, some of the absolute best I’ve ever seen in anime. You could be mistaken for believing these are classic rakugo performers. Furthermore, the series smartly uses these sequences to punctuate character development; none of this is extraneous or indulgent.
The second season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is currently airing and it’s the series I’m most excited to watch when the current anime season ends (likely bundled with rewatching the first season). Hopefully it can stick the landing and give this story the conclusion it deserves.