Here we are again, at the end of another year, albeit one filled with political and social upheaval and a sad spate of celebrity deaths. But it also brought a tour de force of new anime titles to get stuck into, with more than a few classics in the making. A new year brings the promise of reinvention; a fresh start, and yet it’s also the time for putting the last 12 months in context. So with that, the following list is a love letter to the shows we’ve enjoyed the most in 2016; anime that have made us laugh, cry, scream and cheer (or all of the above).
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
Slow down. You don’t have to try so hard. Tanaka-kun’s insulation in his aesthetic of listlessness might not seem so smart to begin with, but look closer as the series goes on, and there’s something enlightened to his sleepy-eyed outlook. It’s often in the negative space of this show, the minimalist backgrounds and the humour of a long pause, that it shares what makes it special. It’s meditative while content in raising a smile, and building friendships that subtly grow stronger.
Kiznaiver‘s characters are its greatest strength, surprisingly touching forced confessions as part of a social experiment getting us on side almost immediately. The show explores the hubris of weirdness, and how we all shackle ourselves with some sort of self-perceived strangeness. With shards of colour, light and shadow, and even the language of flowers, it shows us the delicate beauty of humanity’s shared pain. Though the plot bowed under the weight of its own focus on character, watching the Kiznaiver grow out of leaning on their own ostracism gripped us until the end.
March comes in like a lion
Drowns in dark water and overbearing electric light, its visual metaphor capturing depression, trauma and anxiety in all its crushing pain and guilt. Almost as if script and small talk take a back seat to moods, expressions and impressions, the most memorable moments are ones of silence, whether welcoming or painful. It’s the feeling of being plunged into Rei’s despair, the warmth of the Kawamoto sisters’ home, that stays with you.
Witch-in-training Makoto’s world is no different from ours, but her ability to uncover its secrets wraps you up in imagining what we’re missing in our everyday. The slice-of-life staples of cooking a quick snack and going to a café take on unique wonder with a flying witch around. Magic beings, enchantments or no, in its own steady pace the show lets us reflect on the little touches of magic in our own lives. Perfect to whisk you away on a Sunday afternoon, when you might be dreading the new week ahead.
Charming and serene on the surface, Amanchu! nonetheless has a penetrating vein of weakness that’s instantly recognisable to anyone who’s suffered from anxiety. In the springtime of a friendship between Futaba and Pikari, there’s gentle humour and a feeling of being lifted above the stresses of the everyday. But as Futaba learns to lose her fear of water so she can dive in the open ocean, the depths of its lessons on accepting our fears in order to overcome shine through.
Mob Psycho 100
Instead of being another story of the outsider finding acceptance, this show celebrates the strength in remaining the outsider. Mob never quite becomes part of a group, but adolescence is about learning to carve your own path, rather than trying to shove yourself into a space you won’t fit. It’s therefore a more realistic take on the angst involved in this process than many other high school set shows, the scruffy, almost punk animation style a reflection of this choice. It strikes hard with simplicity, straightforward humour, and a theme song with a blank-faced frustration.
With what’s easily one of the best opening themes of the year, ERASED sets up its overriding feeling of hopeful nostalgia. It’s powerful wish-fulfilment, calling you back to the changes you’d make in your school years if you could only go back with a wiser mind. In his self-sacrifice for the friend he’d never have had, if not for his ability to travel back in time, Satoru often brought us to tears. The show handles hard issues like child abuse with great sensitivity, through an intriguing lens of presumption versus truth.
A bright window into the frustrations and grief regret can bring, Re:ZERO proved its worth beyond being another bland guy in a fantasy world show. Far from it, Subaru is a relatable and loveable idiot, who’s thrown into a surreal and dangerous reality, coping, despairing and loving just as we would. Scattered with witty social commentary and rampant with toe-curling villainy, we will Subaru and his friends through every life-or-death situation, even though our hero has a handy ward against mortality. Props must also go to our favourite demon maid Rem, as a female character who can kick ass and have sexual agency in between her regular bouts of being a sweetheart.
Yuri!!! on ICE
Of all the anime from this year that could have been the next international craze, we’re so glad it was this one. Yuri Katsuki and Viktor Nikiforov’s empowering journey to figure-skating glory is so full of passion and elation that you often wish you could stand in the moment with them. Each routine is so beautifully choreographed and matched to each character’s personality, their stories could almost be told in vignettes on the ice. Yuri’s dances in particular are the apexes of his growth from anxious no-longer-a-child-prodigy, to courageous, open-hearted athlete.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
A twin wielder of wonderful storytelling, this anime is a force of the unexpected in the easy way it draws you into the elegant modesty of rakugo. The minimalist performances are not only beautiful in their own right, but act as intricate support for the history of two storytellers, Yakumo and Sukeroku. The nature of their love for one another remains ambiguous, but its strength is palpable and fully involves you in the meaning of the stories they tell, and those they live.
So, those were our favourites. Do you agree with our ranking, or was your top show sadly absent? Let us know in the comments.