Before we get to this list, I’ve got some honorable mentions to give out.
This year had some great movies. While the list could go on (and be mostly films I haven’t seen yet), special mention goes to the first two Kizumonogatari films.
They were stunning, both visually, and in how they articulated the normally wordy conflicts and themes of Monogatari into a breezy action horror spectacle. It’s possible that the trilogy as a whole would surpass anything else on this list.
Next, a show that would go in my top 5 2016 anime if it had been animated: Thunderbolt Fantasy.
Generic anime action sequences turn into a mix of comedy and high art when puppets are doing them. Great hammy atmosphere, a plot full of subtly meta twists and turns, and all weaving in an expression of Urobuchi’s regular themes regarding optimism and what motivates a hero. Silly stuff, but it’s also solidified his place on my list of favorite writers.
But enough of movies, and enough of Taiwanese live action. Let’s get to the Japanese animated TV shows.
This show was an utter joy. There’s a lot to say about the concept of relearning life lessons, or the ability to insert yourself into a high school anime and sort out misunderstandings, and ReLIFE makes it into a really cute time. Things get twisted and changed up a couple times in the series, but it never loses its core charm.
9. Yuri!!! on Ice
Who doesn’t love an underdog story? Perhaps the biggest anime of the year, YoI was a bunch of fun. Great performances, a uniquely modern world, and general high energy had me looking forward to this show every week. The OST, containing a plethora of amazing performance songs, is my favorite of the year.
Ah, five episodes of sadness. Planetarian takes you to a deserted Earth where a futuristic dumpster diver finds an abandoned planetarium. These are all obvious ingredients for sentimentality and tragedy, and Planetarian mixes them together like a master chef. The ONA has no set episode lengths, so none of the five vignettes seems rushed or like it’s overstaying its welcome. Take a visit to the planetarium and learn more about the cosmos.
7. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
If you haven’t heard of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, that is a travesty. This tightly written drama about performance, friendship, and stagnation was easily the highlight of the Winter season. Yakumo’s moments of development and reflection were powerful, and his arc made a good story in and of itself. On the other hand, I’m very optimistic about the second season since it will follow up on the events of the post-plot pilot.
6. Sound! Euphonium 2
Euphonium 2 was not the sequences of laughs, squees, and gasps that defined season 1 for me. In fact, some episodes felt more like the decent-but-not-for-me show that I expected going into season 1. But there was one aspect of season 1 I loved that this second season had plenty of: Asuka Tanaka. Meeting her not just as an eccentric presence but as a complicated character with dreams, motivations, and stories was more than I could have asked. And how perfect to have it culminate in her graduate. I wish we could’ve gotten another Reina/Kumiko date, but this season was pretty darn good. In addition to the great story and characters, Euphonium continues to be one of the best looking anime around. I wish I could watch the Kitauji band grow forever.
5. Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song
Concrete Revolutio is not a show that involves the viewer. In ConRevo, things happen and we are welcome to stay and watch them. Superhumans have conflicts, and these conflicts span multiple years and characters and resolutions. So it’s not the easiest sell. But in the second season, the show hits its stride. There were bold episodes, there were tragedies, and Jiro’s development finally hit its peak. Concrete Revolutio is a tough watch, but another ambitious, beautiful, and cathartic original project is more than welcome.
4. Mayoiga (AKA The Lost Village)
There’s a lot of arguments concerning the intent behind this show, but intent is not what makes top lists. While a lot of us who think Mayoiga is a comedy argue out of love for dear Mizushuma (and maybe also Okada), we also argue it because we think it’s funny. Mayoiga is a show where 31 caricatures who would die ten minutes into a B-horror movie are put into a non-lethal situation. While it’s often compared to the likes of The Room and Plan 9, a lot of the time its meaningless arguments and failed romances felt more like reality TV. Throughout its meandering and its lack of seriousness, the show never seemed bad so much as obsessed with cracking jokes at its cast’s expense. And some of the jokes were quite clever. Even the incredibly bland OP makes me smile. A character name montage with 31 characters? Genius.
(and some of the names are behind the characters! I love that!)
3. Flip Flappers
Like The Last Song, Flip Flappers also had sparse exposition. But it handled its lack of execution far better by presenting its characters in a compelling light. Cocona and Papika’s journey through Pure Illusion was great fun, and was complemented by great drama and magnificent direction. It’s perhaps 2016’s densest anime. Within the blitz of homages, personal stories, and worlds, there’s an episode for anyone.
2. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable
JoJo turned out to be awesome. Just plain awesome. Diamond is Unbreakable is a show that just doesn’t know how to stop adding things. Even to the last few episodes, new characters and stands kept entering the picture, and by the end we have a huge wacky of the town of Morioh. JoJo’s always been good at making you fear for its heroes, but this time around it was able to make you fear for its villain. Yoshikage Kira’s story is quite terrifying, and made a great complement to one of the best action ensembles I’ve seen.
1. Mob Psycho 100
You ever just see a show that’s just so right for you that you can’t believe it exists? Well, Mob Psycho 100 gave me that this year. Between its unique design style, astounding Penguindrum-esque color palette, fluid animation, and great soundtrack (particularly the OP), Mob Psycho 100 was the aesthetic powerhouse of the year. But with those aesthetics came great characters in Mob and Reigen. The interplay between Reigen’s deceptive nature and the real life advise and care he gives to Mob is rather beautiful, and it’s one of quite a few ideas and relationships in this series that make it not just the aesthetic highlight of the year, but for me, the highlight of this year in anime.
There were far more than 12 good Japanese things to talk about this year. Leave a comment telling me what you’d list. There’s definitely more shows I’d love to talk about.