Please note that this is not a Top 10 Best Anime of 2016 list. I haven’t even watched enough anime from this year to meet the criteria for this list! Rather, this is a list of the best anime I watched in 2016, as in it doesn’t have to have aired in 2016 to make it, only that I had to have finished (a majority of) it in 2016.
2016 was a bit of an anime renaissance for me, as since 2012, I had been watching less and less total anime yearly up until now. With a little over sixty different titles firmly planted within my brain, I decided to pick out ten of the ones I felt topped all others in terms of objective quality and subjective enjoyment. While I include both criteria, this isn’t necessarily a be-all, know-all in terms of what I consider to be the best of the best, as this list is a personal one. Also note that every pick on this list will be anime I’ve already covered on my blog, so I will link my thoughts/reviews along with them.
#10: Michiko to Hatchin
Looking back on the anime I viewed this year, I was slightly surprised as to how much I actually like this anime compared to most. If one were to ask me if Michiko to Hatchin would’ve made this list before last week, I probably would’ve said “No.” Turns out, I’ve seen a lot of mediocre titles this year, so Michiko to Hatchin makes it based on process of elimination. Don’t get me wrong, though. The anime is a good one.
While the premise of two polar opposites traveling together to a mutual goal isn’t far-fetched, the degree of chemistry between the main characters more than makes up for the story’s lack of originality. Not only that, but I really enjoyed the steady progression and the pacing of the journey they set upon, which feels like they’ve traveled a long way for a long time. The feeling of time passing and the two growing into their ending states is genuine and relatable, even in the most inopportune of times. I also really enjoyed the hostility and the cruelty of the outside world that suits the hard-nosed Michiko and proves difficult to manage for the young Hatchin. This kind of atmosphere makes for a creatively unfamiliar anime setting.
One of the few flaws here is the excess of side characters that appear only to cause empathy and drive random, one-episode plots that the characters have to go through as observers. Should the anime have focused less on these aspects, it probably would’ve fared better on this list. As it is now, however, is still a decent watch and definitely recommended for those looking for anime with a different cultural setting.
#9: Umi Monogatari: Anata ga Ite Kureta Koto
I genuinely don’t understand the flak that this anime receives on most ani-databases. I went into this anime expecting cringey fun, but I left in a confused state of bliss. I liked the anime. A lot. A lot more than most, even. This anime is ranked within the 4,000’s on MyAnimeList!
For whatever reason, the aspects that most anime within the same genre try to incorporate into their stories—magical girls, the power of friendship and family, the perspective of good and evil—works tremendously well in Umi Monogatari. One could say that this title is good at meeting the standards set by typical storytelling basics, which is amazing because most anime flub up on one or two aspects, at least. It isn’t anything spectacular, but it does everything it tries to do in such a charming way that I can’t help but give it a decent score. It helps when I like the characters, too.
Clichés hamper the story quite a bit here, as would be expected from those going into it. I also didn’t care for the male love interest, who did all of absolutely nothing to earn any reason to be the object of affection for the female lead. I’m not sure he gets more than a few lines of dialogue the entire show. Somehow, Umi Monogatari manages to make these clichés tolerable at best, and even incorporates a smidgen of creativity within those clichés, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While the enveloping doubt of whether this anime is any good or not wreaks havoc in my mind, take it from me now, as of typing this at 11:49 A.M. Central U.S. Time on December 26th, 2016, that this anime is pretty good, and well worth the watch.
#8: Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch (Season One)
Fun fact: for the longest time, I refused to see this out of spite, due to a self-perceived imbalance of hype and quality regarding it. Ah, such is youth. I’ve learned since then that the passion of others shouldn’t drive you away from such things, but rather encourage you to check the subject out and craft your own opinion on it. Such is the case of Code Geass, one of a few beloved anime series I’ve had the pleasure of watching this year.
I do not think this series is perfect by any means, however the amount of dedication to concocting a formulated and efficient story of strategy and character drama is a tremendous draw to someone looking for something with a little more meat to chew on. I suppose the incorporation of the characters being in high school was a means of helping the audience ease into the political conflict. Still, the atmosphere and the pacing of the show was slow and unforgiving during this point, and a lot of characters here prove rather dull in the grand scheme of things.
Once the series starts rolling, it;s hard to take your eyes away. The final half of this series is pretty heavy-handed with all it tries to flesh out, providing a lot of different things to consider. I genuinely enjoy the effort to cover plotholes with every aspect of the story, whether it be Lelouch’s powers or C.C.’s origins. It makes it feel as though the story wants to be remembered as clean and stable. Of course, this could all be trampled within the second season, which I have yet to see. Pessimistic foretelling aside, Code Geass is a good view for anybody looking for something with a tad more thought behind the actions of its characters and ideals.
#7: Mawaru Penguindrum
There’s creativity in anime, and then there’s literal mindfucks. Ikuhara is a colorful madman and his stories are all the more entertaining for it. There are times when I feel he oversteps his bounds, but the fact that he’s willing to put so much enthusiasm and symbolism in his works at all shows how
pretentious dedicated to his job he is, which is incredibly appreciated as a viewer.
Mawaru Penguindrum has a lot of what Ikuhara likes to do in his works, while also establishing things in a manner straightforward enough for most to understand. Keep in mind the “most,” as some are more than likely going to be lost at some point or another in this series. I certainly was, which was why I had to restart this anime from the beginning a few years after putting it on-hold sixteen episodes in. It’s unlike many other anime out there, aside from those already within Ikuhara’s library.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend this anime to starting weebs, as it throws far too much at them. This is geared more towards, for lack of a better term, elitists who can appreciate the differences from standard anime and the symbolism of many different scenes shown within. It’s distinctive, absolutely, but whether or not it all makes any sense is up to you to decide. For me, it’s definitely enjoyable, but I wonder if everything’s really all there.
#6: Hanada Shounen-shi
I’m willing to admit outright that I don’t have a lot of older anime titles under my belt. Even so, I can definitely tell that Hanada Shounen-shi was going for the carefree, simplistic lifestyle and direction of older titles. More than that, though, the episodic nature of the show gives a sense of every day being an adventure, especially for the young hero Hanada, who has the ability to see spirits due to an accident prior to the show’s debut episode.
I really miss brats as main characters in stories. There’s something really charming about the main character being immature and learning from the different experiences happening around him. I love that sense of maturity and growth from those who obviously can’t handle the concept over a steady progression. In Hanada’s case, he’s a good-hearted kid, just stubborn and easily irritable, much like any kid. He holds the keys to how the story goes, and he rarely disappoints.
There’s a really great emphasis on acceptance in this anime, typically in the form of loss. Hanada Shounen-shi is usually a feel-good story within story arcs, with the occasional developmental episode focusing on those outside of the spirit realm. What I appreciate most about this series is how everyone feels alive, human, and entirely within their roles in society. Do you hate how goodie-goodie everyone is in anime now-a-days? I am. This anime has a good portion of people being snarky assholes and jokesters who enjoy beer, babes, and the material pleasures of life. Because a majority of people totally aren’t like that, right? And because they’re not, they’re automatically good people, yeah? More than anything, despite the fantasy elements attached, Hanada Shounen-shi feels real, which makes it a hell of a lot easier to empathize with.
#5: NHK ni Youkoso!
Much like Hanada Shounen-shi, the protagonist to NHK ni Youkoso! is not your typical oblivious high school student. This anime focuses on NEET culture, and all that it entails. A wide variety of emotions exude from the situations that arise from this anime that it’s hard not to find the story so charming. Charmingly pitiful.
When one thinks of morals in anime, usually the trends are along the lines of “Don’t do bad. Believe in yourself. Friendship is good. Don’t ever choose a girl,” and the like. NHK ni Youkoso! offers a darker moral compass, as it shows the struggles that one deals with when they’ve become so wrapped up in their own deluded fantasies that they’ve become programmed to deny reality as they see fit. Such is the more extreme cases of NEEThood that the anime likes to embellish. The horrifying truth is that thousands, if not more suffer from this kind of lethargic, sometimes insane mindset that riddles them with a mix of guilt and self-loathing.
It’s dramatic, humorous, and somewhat sentimental. There’s a lot to love with this series and a lot more thought put forth to the nature of those with the mindset of our title character. At the end of the day, the viewer can make the experience all the more fulfilling by trying to place themselves within the lead’s shoes. While the show on its own is good enough, those fantastical fantasies give a sizzle to the metaphorical steak.
Why, yes. An anime about fishing and friendship. What makes you think this wouldn’t be within the Top 10?
While Ikuhara tries to hammer in every aesthetic mark of symbolism as humanly possible, Tsuritama has just enough to make this series feel both whimsically random and calculatingly intriguing. On the surface, a lot of what happens in the story makes zero sense and doesn’t manage to do anything for those looking for anything serious. Within the navy depths, crowded with fish and underwater specimens, there’s a story taking place here, one of traditional moral value and a little off-kilter humor to go along with it. A boy isn’t confident in himself, especially after moving from place to place all his life. What he needs is an alien to accompany him on a quest to catch fish. What?
I loved the creativity with visual cues and the absurdity of the progression of the plot. Sometimes it didn’t make sense while other times it didn’t seem warranted, but overall, the entertainment value for this show is sky-high. It has such a weird display of animation and running gags that I can’t help but find this anime adorable. Granted, the ending episodes strayed somewhat from this and became more of a typical “End it with a dramatic bang!” sort of deal, which is disappointing. Even so, the diversity of characters, situations, events, and an underlying structure to all of it makes Tsuritama both memorable and fantastic.
#3: Hyouge Mono
Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Prepare yourself, kids.
Hyouge Mono is immensely likable, different, and incredibly unpredictable. Before last summer, I had never heard of it, nor have I ever seen or heard anyone make one mention of it. Ever. It was something that was completely new and unknown to me. It is also one of those rare “three-cours” that are spoken of only in myth. Truly, this was something that was going to take a lot of courage to go through with. I was feeling confident in myself, as I wanted something of a challenge during my Summer. I went in a man and came out an aestheticist.
It’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It’s slow at first. Very slow. It takes a while for things to kick in. When they do, though, the anime is an absolute blast to watch. It’s silly and fun, but serious in its political themes and wartime strategy. It has a lot of different themes going for it, whether character drama, political powers clashing, battles over land, honor and respect, and most importantly, aesthetics. The focus on aesthetics is a fascinating turn for the industry, and the humor that arises because of it is so ridiculous that it’s charming. A character will lay on their bed, dying of a wound to the chest, vocalizing their will and testament, only to have their most precious item be a wonderfully crafted, slightly torn old bowl that is practically useless. And when they speak of how wonderful it is, as the light shining from the window blankets the bowl’s craftsmanship, the eyes of the men in the room grow to the size of tennis rackets. Their lips quiver, their hands tighten, their faces cave into themselves. God help me, this is so stupid.
The amazing thing about this anime is that it perfectly blends that stupidity with genuinely likable and respectable characters, making the inevitability of death all the more heartbreaking. The triumphs of man for material pleasure is in full force here, and the changes made to structures and the value of various things changing from those who reside in power are interesting to keep note of. Hyouge Mono is also very good at poking fun at the recent trend of bigotry of humankind. Don’t agree with my political beliefs? Screw you. Don’t agree that black is the best color for this little bowl in the corner of my room? Screw you. It’s so strange how funny this is to me, but it is. The whole series is so whimsical in its approach to every aspect that it becomes all the more memorable for it. If only it was a little better paced when it started, or else this may have reached “Favorite” status.
What better way to appreciate anime than to watch an anime about making anime? Sounds riveting, don’t it? Luckily, it is. It’s absolutely vibrant in its execution, and not just in the way the anime is made, but with a sense of camaraderie with those who are employed to make that anime come to life. A quintessential love letter to the industry, in good times and bad, Shirobako is a wonderfully meta excuse to draw anime drawing anime.
The biggest strength here is character, as each of them has a specific role and personality partially due to it. The development of said characters is wonderful to watch from beginning to end, though admittedly not all receive equal treatment. Aside from this, characters are also uniquely written to be realistic in their situations, while retaining the entertainment required to be “characters” in a comedy/drama-ish kind of monstrosity. They have brains, heart, and girth the size of my Mt. Everest.
Something that is shown so prevalently in anime is passion; passion for whatever the situation calls for, though normally strength or determination. It’s become so widespread that this sense of passion has become second-nature to viewers, in that it may not feel as strong as it intends. Shirobako never has this problem, as the passion is brought forth at the most absolute precise of times. Rarely and surely, the motivation and upbeat charisma of the cast makes the show all the easier to cheer on, but only because they aren’t constantly throwing it in your face. One can’t be passionate all the time; it feels more special in small doses. Shirobako has all the right doses, like a good doctor. My heart is excited, but comfortable.
Much like the process of anime-making, Shirobako is a carefully crafted process of hard work and genuine love for the industry. I would tell anyone to go see this, but at this point, do I even need to?
#1: Dennou Coil
It takes a lot, it really does, to land on my “Favorite” list. Somehow, without any expectations, Dennou Coil managed to do just that without even trying.
In the spirit of remaining consistent, I still won’t say much about this anime, as infuriating as that may be to some. My only advice is to watch it. Immediately. There is a spirit of adventure, the charm of the characters, the trials of what life puts you through and the maturity to accept it that makes this series more than a simple “coming of age” story. It’s a magical, wonderful anime that is nearly flawless in my eyes, if not for a meandering couple of episodes near the halfway point. Any anime that can have me nearly in tears deserves as much praise as it can get from me subjectively.
I would definitely put this up there with any anime out there, whether it be movies from Studio Ghibli or top-rated anime such as Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood or Steins;Gate. It’s an accumulation of everything I want to find in a story (aside from a strong romance) and a good indication that the industry is still capable of making wonderful original stories. It’s without a doubt the best anime I saw this year and will likely hold its ground against competitors in the near future. Until then, Dennou Coil is a qualified masterpiece.
The rating for these titles and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.