–would be the perfect time to add a long-needed staple to the FAQ page.
Honestly, my top three were a piece of cake. That’s because I talk or think about them at least a few times a week, and, if someone were to ask me to watch one of them, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Picks four and five were trickier because I wanted to choose a show that represented the best of a genre or branch that I like. Surprisingly, I’d already covered two of the shows I was going to pick, so I included them in the honorable mentions to avoid redundancy.
If you’re curious as to what qualifies or doesn’t for this list, read the opening of my Anime 2021 post here. (Of course, you can also read the rest of the post if you like.)
Separately, as of this writing, Spy x Family hasn’t finished airing, and Chainsaw Man has yet to premiere. If the former can stick its landing while the latter can manage the source material’s sprawling story and whiplash tonal shifts, both would seriously vie for spots on this list. As it stands, my Best of Anime 2022 post is going to be easy to put together.
This anime claimed my top spot in 2021, so it’d be criminal to give it more coverage. Apparently, the source material goes beyond where the show did, but the final episode sends the viewers off with such grace that I wouldn’t be mad if this is all we get.
Again, the surprising nuance and depth this show delivers should be appreciated at every opportunity, especially because it’s based on a series of light novels. The American equivalent would be if someone adapted Animorphs or Boxcar Children for TV, then that show won the Emmy for Best Drama. 86 is that good.
A last-minute surprise in 2020, Drive is about a young woman who lives in one of the only thriving regions after a post-apocolypic war. The commoners live in Kansai while the elite live in Kanto. A heavily-guarded monorail is the only transportation between the two. While getting a steamed bun, our young woman pays for the meal behind her. This simple act of kindness embroils her in the heist of the century, involving a talking cat, death-panel bounty hunters, and even an escape plan to the moon!
This show hits all my sci-fi, caper, and action buttons simultaneously. Plus, its ending is the best kind of bittersweet. The only reason this show missed my cut is to avoid homogeny. I already have two-and-a-half sci-fi/fantasy picks on here, and the top five left even deeper emotional impressions on me. I’m crazy about this show, however, so it’s the secret sixth slot on this list.
Jinta Yadomi doesn’t go to school—hell, he doesn’t go anywhere. As a child, though, he used to BE somebody. He was the leader of the “Super Peace Busters,” (S.P.B.) a group of six friends who spent their summers in an awesome clubhouse. Then Jinta’s Mom died. Then Jinta’s crush and fellow S.P.B. member Meiko died.
While the five years since have not been kind to the now-recluse Jinta, his trauma reaches a new intensity when he begins hallucinating a teenage Meiko who asks him to grant her final wish. To free his mind of this apparition, Jinta’s going to have to get the old group back together. The problem is that they want nothing to do with him. The other problem is that Jinta’s “hallucination” might be something more…
I don’t know if this is true for everyone from 18-22, but my peers, facing adulthood for the first time, became nostalgic for their childhood. Anohana revels in escapist childhood nostalgia, then springs its trap: childhood is when people experience trauma that drives their poor decisions as adults. Each of the six members of S.P.B. was scarred by Menma’s death, but each reacted differently—none of them properly healing from the experience.
As the series continues, viewers discover that, while no one in the group is currently happy, things were far from perfect before Menma’s death. Longing for the past is a typical feeling for many, but to stagnate one’s current life or actively sabotage it in an effort to return to the past is a dangerous endeavor. Nostalgia is a powerful river with a dangerous current.
As someone going through a tough time immediately after college, I desperately needed to hear this message. During a recent rewatch, I expected this show’s luster to fade because I’m, thankfully, far removed from that head space. Instead, I was taken aback by how much empathy Anohana has for its characters. Even the people who behave abhorrently are shown to have their reasons. While they’re not excused from their choices, Anohana expresses an understanding and attempts to both heal and grow its subjects. The resulting (incredibly cathartic) message for the audience is that we all should do the same with ourselves.
That perennial takeaway is why I value this show so highly and will likely revisit it again.
Mari is one year away from graduating—AND SHE HASN’T DONE ANYTHING WITH HER YOUTH! As she bemoans her continual inaction on her desires, she stumbles across an envelope with a million yen ($7,500)! Attempting to return the money, Mari meets Shirase, a classmate who’s saving up for a trip to Antarctica. Why? Shirase’s mother was a notable scientist and explorer there before a freak storm killed her.
Mari decides to support Shirase’s dream, and the two apply for a junior scientist program—immediately getting denied. Mari and Shirase are going to find out just how much work and dedication achieving a dream takes… and if the results are worth it.
Unlike Anohana, Universe takes childhood trauma and uses it as fuel to achieve a seemingly impossible dream. Through this journey, Shirase discovers more about her mother than she thought possible. While Shirase’s retracing of her mother’s footsteps allows for hefty emotion, Universe brilliantly makes Mari the main character. Mari doesn’t have some core drive to understand a dead relative—she’s just curious and tired of being on the sidelines.
Universe‘s message is simple: a person can do way more than they think they’re capable of, regardless of their motivation. The important thing is to do it.
The other fuel source in Universe’s journey id its finely crafted characters. Shows like Killing Eve get smothered in praise for having two compelling female leads. Universe has four. They’re unabashedly teenagers, but never stray too far into archetypal pitfalls. Even as the crew settles into their friend-group roles, the show refuses to flatten any member’s individuality, instead providing engrossing revelations even through its final episode. While the main characters chart a challenging path, the viewer is amply rewarded every step of the way.
Satoru’s life isn’t going to plan–he has been rejected by yet another editor, he still lives with his mom, and he works at a pizza place. This isn’t the life he thought he’d be living. To be honest, it’s probably because of the horrific events that happened when he was in elementary school. A girl in his class as well as one of his friends were found dead, and the murders were never solved.
Even more frustrating, Satoru has been given a gift, one he calls “revival,” that alerts him to a nearby tragedy, then rewinds time a few moments so that Satoru can stop the impending disaster. The bigger the tragedy, the more time Satoru gets to prevent it. Understandably, Satoru is frustrated that he didn’t have this power when he was a child. Otherwise, he would’ve prevented those deaths.
Satoru gets his wish when his mother gets murdered; his power sends him back all the way to fifth grade! He’s got a second chance, but he only has the resources of a child, and the killer is more pernicious than Satoru could ever imagine.
Last January, I talked about my adoration of Baccano! for homaging Quinten Tarantino and of ODDTAXI for approximating Martin Scorsese. Erased is the closest anime gets to Hitchcock—though Alfred never touched science fiction or time travel. Erased‘s formula, then, falls into the coveted “uniquely familiar” paradox so many studio execs strive to achieve. Basically, this show transcends anime and becomes just a fantastic mystery/thriller.
Perhaps that’s why Japan has tried twice to adapt Erased into live-action (neither version turned out quite right…). Animation’s unique capture of expression and motion, meanwhile, lend a wistful air to this version of the story. Satoru’s childhood classmates have a cheerful, ignorant glow to their color and movement while he seems faded and tense, knowing what he has to accomplish. These subtleties would be challenging for even the most skilled live-action filmmakers to bring to life, where anime uses its medium to deepen its theme.
That theme falls disturbingly in line with my other picks (Nostalgia for youth with a desire to fix mistakes of the past—I hope my therapist is taking notes!), but Erased presents a different angle: so much of a child’s world is defined outside of their vision, control, and understanding. Satoru continually beats himself up for not doing anything about the murders, but there’s no way a normal eleven-year-old would’ve been able to help with the investigation. Only with the power of a Lunesta moth can he even begin to reason his surroundings. As more secrets come to light, the failure clearly lies with the adults of the community at that time. They should have done much more to prevent the killer from prowling.
Time travel isn’t real, but adults are. Erased profoundly asks its viewers to let go of past events outside of our control, to live in the present, and to watch and care for our communities—especially for members who can’t do it themselves.
Shōyo Hinata lives on a pig farm in rural Japan. He’s short of stature, so he’s fascinated when he sees a local high-school volleyball player the same height as he is play in the national tournament. Hinata therefore decides to join his middle school’s team—oh, wait, they don’t have one. He practices with the girls’ team, then rounds up some friends to play in a local tournament.
…And gets promptly flattened. Tobio Kageyama, a prodigious-yet-pompous opponent scolds Hinata for the poor match, leading Hinata to declare Kageyama his sworn rival. Upon entering high school, however, Hinata and Kageyama find out they’re on the same team! Can these rivals become partners? If so, how high can these two soar?
I hate sports shows and only begrudgingly like the best of sports movies. Imagine my surprise, then, when I fell in love with Haikyuu!!. That’s not to say Haikyuu!! is designed for non-athletes on purpose; every athlete who discovers this anime also falls in love with it. Conversely, Haikyuu!! made me finally realize how appealing team sports can be.
Having grown up in the chest-puffing, one-upping toxic masculinity of the 2000’s, I just thought team sports were another way for jocks to dangle accomplishments over everyone else (not that my school had many to brag about at the time). Meanwhile, my sisters had to deal with nonstop cattiness and scheming on their teams because some classmates thought Mean Girls was a “how-to” guide. Looking back, it’s painfully clear that neither model actually fostered a healthy team dynamic.
Conversely, Haikyuu!! showcases multiple group hierarchies throughout its runtime, each with dueling egos and ideas, yet shows a healthy way to balance that for the good of each member. The bubbly libero on Hinata’s team would sour in a different environment while their second-year hitter’s aggressive impulses would be left unchecked on a lesser team, leading to a tense atmosphere. Instead, Hinata’s team, the Karasuno Crows, are molded and shaped into better humans by their experiences and camaraderie. The fact that I am able to care about literally a dozen characters and their relationships should tell you that this show is leagues above most television.
Even more astounding is Haikyuu!!‘s ability to invest its viewers’ emotions in the main team’s opponents. You thought these guys were just the first-round cannon fodder for our main characters to step over? Here’s their backstory about how they lost their captain, got bullied because they looked like delinquents, and found their motivation to play on the court once again!
I haven’t even covered Haikyuu!!‘s secret weapon: it’s structurally a shōnen anime in the vein of One Piece and Naruto. The difference is that Haikyuu!! takes place in a barely heightened reality, yet keeps all the training, power-ups, and dramatic villain finger pointing. Unlike One Piece and Naruto, however, Haikyuu!! rarely serves filler, and, on the few occasions that it does, the audience receives hangout time with a team of well-drawn characters.
Watch one game with these dorks, and you’ll be a lifelong fan.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are brilliant young alchemists, scientists/magicians who can transmute one substance into another—for an equivalent exchange. An alchemist can transform a pound of feathers into a pound of bricks, so the principle should work with anything, right? That’s what pre-teen Ed and Al think when they decide to resurrect their dead mother.
Things… don’t go smoothly. The process robs Al of his body while Ed literally pays an arm and a leg. In the process, Ed meets God, a faceless homunculus who punishes those accessing forbidden knowledge. As exchange for his limbs, God grants Ed powers beyond those of everyday alchemists. This gives Ed the knowhow to affix Al’s soul to an antique suit of armor.
Together, Ed and Al begin searching for a way to get their bodies back. This most likely involves the mythical Philosopher’s Stone, but the only way to search for it is to join the country’s fascistic military. Thus, Ed and Al begin a journey to restore what they lost, but equivalent exchange still applies—what will they be willing to give up to gain back what they lost?
Pulpy narrative? Check! Japanese culture obsession? Check! Sci-fi? Check! Twisted morality warnings? Check! Hijinks galore? Check! Wonder and spectacle laid on top of a beautiful narrative? Check!
The previous paragraph is word for word what I wrote for my favorite movie, so choosing FMA: Brotherhood as my number one tracks. Unsurprisingly, I was a fan of the original anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist—until things went horribly wrong in the final few episodes and epilogue movie. Usually, I view movie and TV remakes with trepidation, but anime do-overs usually mean bigger production budgets and more faithful adaptations. Such is the case with this show.
Many others agree: Brotherhood is the top-rated anime show on MyAnimeList, so it must strike a chord with its viewers. For me, the show helped me deal with cosmic, faith-based questions in a challenging—yet never demeaning—way. I rewatched Brotherhood years later with a friend who has quite different beliefs than I do, and she thought the same thing. I think that’s because the show begins with inescapable questions: If God is real, why is life so cruel? If we want to better ourselves, why does society seem to punish us for it? Does great progress always come at the cost of others’ great suffering? Brotherhood then offers a multitude of different answers and outlooks, none of them definitively shown as the one correct way, but each path has its flaws, and some are clearly portrayed as evil.
At the end of the day, Brotherhood presents what many great works of art portray—triumph of the human spirit. This show also has all the usual hallmarks of great narrative works, from captivating characters to alluring atmosphere. What Brotherhood has in addition, however, is the power of animation. So many scenes are doubly horrifying, funny, or cool because of what the show can portray beyond the reality of live-action. The bones-deep sense of wonder Brotherhood and those of its caliber contain are what keep me searching for the next great anime.
I noticed as I was making this list that all of my favorites are less than 15 years old. There are plenty of wonderful shows older than that, but, when I considered those shows, I found myself thinking, “They never finished the story,” “The animation is distractingly dated now,” or the dreaded, “They adapted the material before it was finished, so they made original (much worse) material to close the gaps.” Especially now that rendering tools do much of the background work, animators can tell more imaginative stories with more intriguing vision than ever before.
Hopefully anime’s next innovation will be to give its animators a fair wage and manageable workload…
The 400 Blows: Leftover from both January and April’s themes
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: Leftover from April and September’s themes
Blow Out: Leftover from August’s theme
Why are PG Rated Movies from the ’70s and ’80s So Graphic? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post/Oblogatory Deep Dive
Why Aren’t There More Family Sitcoms Nowadays? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Adventure Time: Partially Obligatory
Why do European movies look different than American ones? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Obligatory Animated Viewing from 2023
Obligatory Live-Action Viewing from 2023
Rocky: Yo, Adrian!
Midnight Cowboy: Hey, I’m Walkin’ Here!
Road House: Pain Don’t Hurt…
The Big Sleep: “You’re Cute.” “Gettin’ Cuter Every Minute.”