Y’all know how this works. Everything about this list is just my opinion and nothing more. My rankings are based entirely on episodes which were released in 2016, meaning that in some cases I will be listing only the first or second halves of a series. I watched at least a small part of every single anime that came out in 2016, so if your favorite show isn’t on this list, it just means that I didn’t like it very much. Gintama is disqualified so that it won’t take the number one spot in every year that it runs. I’d prefer it if you left comments discussing the shows that I put on my list as opposed to what shows you would have put on your own list–just make your own video or post in a forum or something with that. Other videos in which I discuss each of these shows at greater length will be linked below. Anyways, here’s my honorable mentions:
Your name gets a mention, because it’s a summer blockbuster with four-quadrant appeal that’s just cozy enough to be impossible to hate; and you’ve gotta admire when something comes out of nowhere and takes the whole world by storm.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress gets a mention, because it’s also a summer blockbuster, but of the action spectacle variety; and it doesn’t slouch in the slightest on delivering the coolest-looking sequences in TV anime all year, second half be damned.
My Hero Academia gets a mention, because I think a good shounen action show should be emotional and uplifting and full of characters whom I want to see win, with role models that I could look up to even as an adult–and it should look cool too.
Izetta the Last Witch gets a mention, because it’s no Kabaneri when it comes to action, but at least its pacing holds together and I kept wanting to watch it play out while slamming back beers and being glad that anime can still be fun.
Occultic;Nine gets a mention, because if you can cover up your bullshit by talking fast enough, rolling with the fun and kooky concepts, and keeping me just engaged enough to power through my searing headache, then I’ll at least watch you to the end.
Stella no Mahou gets a mention, because these kids act just like real young artists act, and I feel like a coach cheering them on from the sidelines, hoping that they’ll keep making games–and maybe get really good at it one day.
Kizumonogatari 1&2 get a mention, because they are the high-watermarks for aesthetics in animation this year, and nothing will ever look better than Kisshot with short-hair being drawn with such detail that I re-learned why the Monogatari series has my favorite character designs.
Pokemon Sun & Moon gets a mention, because only eight episodes aired in 2016 and it’ll probably make my 2017 list, because it filled me with the kind of childlike wonderment and glee that is irreplaceable to a cold-hearted cynic; and it did so by just being so abundantly pleasant.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin and Thunderbolt both get a mention, because both are stark and horrific portrayals of awesome giant robot space war with very different approaches–one a Game of Thrones-esque winding tale of competing character motivations, and the other a balls-out berserker barrage of death and carnage that truly sinks in how fucked a battle really is.
The second season of Akagami no Shirayukihime, along with the One Punch Man specials and the Prison School OVA all get mentions, because they continued some of the best shows of 2015 while being just as good, if not better than what came before; and are all well worth watching just as their predecessors were. And that’s it for honorable mentions.
Number twenty on my list is Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou, because it’s the year’s most sincerely straightforward coming of age story. Starring a young man who just wants, as all young men do, to be cool, Agetarou is made to learn that no one just is cool, without putting the work into becoming cool.
It’s a show that wouldn’t work if not for one of the year’s most lively and memorable soundtracks–which, while sparse, hits the perfect note for each emotional mood in the series without ever dipping in energy (even when its whole message is to chill out).
It also wouldn’t work if not for highly varied and unique character designs which bring the graffiti-cool DJ culture to life in a way that standard anime designs simply wouldn’t be able to do. There’s a level of understanding and appreciation for the image and style of the musical subcultures which the series is dedicated to, even within this simplistic and deliberately funny-looking aesthetic.
More than anything, it’s the bizarre marriage of passions between relatively cheap Japanese diner food and a very positive take on party culture that gives this show a unique flavor like nothing else I tasted this year. Nevermind that I’ve been rapping over the soundtrack and cooking tonkatsu in my deep frier ever since watching it; I just can’t get those sizzling sounds out of my brain from that magical moment when Agetarou figured out that he could turn the popping of hot grease into an emotional rainfall while leading into some heartfelt bluesy beats. And that’s not the only innovative sound collage which Agetarou puts together to make a DJ’s job look more like that of an experimental music composer–each one is equally ingenious.
Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou isn’t that funny as comedy shows go, and doesn’t move its plot far enough in twelve episodes to have a strong narrative or characterization, but it is nothing if not highly memorable and with a beautiful soul. It got in and got out quickly with its nine-minute episodes, but it left a lot for me to chew on.
Number nineteen on my list is New Game, because I’ve been working all day, every day on a nonstop self-imposed deadline crunch because I care too much about my art; and I like being able to connect with the shows I’m watching, but also to be soothed by the calming attractiveness of beautiful girls. This series had some of the year’s most attractive designs, hitting a difficult-to-pin-down bullseye between cute and hot that is exactly why people think I’m creepy.
These days, lesbian subtext comes prepackaged with every show about cute girls, and even the inner workings of the nerd hobby industries are becoming well-trodden ground, but I’m not going to thumb my nose up at a show about adult character working adult jobs and having work problems if it comes with a great aesthetic, animation, artwork, and funny comedic moments. I loved Denki-gai in 2014, I enjoyed Sore ga Seiyuu last year, and this year I got New Game–and it was a very solid time.
I could talk about the attention to detail on the characters’ desks and making their nerd hobbyism believable, or how the game they’re working on legitimately looks like something that everyone with a Vita who can read Japanese would be hyping on my twitter timeline, or just cry about how the outfits are so good so why are there so few alternate costumes?! But this isn’t really a show for thinking about–it’s for sinking as deep into your chair as you can with a case of good beer.
Number eighteen on my list Please Tell Me, Galko-chan, because we live in a bizarre society in which basic functions of the human body that everyone experiences are treated as some kind of great and mysterious taboo. At no point in life are these taboos more confusing than as a teenager, trying to understand what the hell is happening to your body while realizing that this isn’t something you’re apparently supposed to talk about; and Galko expertly makes comedy out of having its cast of young girls–society’s supposedly ultimate mystery–explore all of these goofy taboos in a matter-of-fact way, while still acknowledging how awkward that is for those involved.
At a glance, it would merely seem like raunchy, or maybe even edgy humor–until it becomes apparent just how playful and sincere the series really is. Its characters become shockingly endearing: first with how each of them is surprisingly multi-faceted, revealing their names (each of them is named after the social clique they supposedly represent) to be a direct mockery of how stupid it is to try and fit people into archetypes. Then, we not only find these girls to have fantastic comedic chemistry together, but also to have a surprisingly emotional backstory behind their friendship; and keep in mind that this show is comprised of just twelve seven-minute episodes.
Throughout the year, I surprised myself with how much I kept thinking about this simple little show, and how even though the first volume of the manga which I bought covered pretty much exactly all the same things that happened in the series, it was equally entertaining a second time. Between the very strong and impressively varied character designs, colorfully poppy aesthetic (which is slightly less cool than the colored-ball-point-pen look of the manga), and willingness to leave no topic unexplored while yet keeping its characters believable and earnest, I think that this was really the buried gem of 2016 anime comedy.
Number seventeen on my list is Planetarian, because telegraphing the intention to pull on my heartstrings so thoroughly and then managing to do it anyways is no small feat. There is only as much to this miniscule story as there needs to be–two characters with just enough depth and backstory to make you give a shit, and just enough sci-fi worldbuilding to give life to the setting. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that every episode of this ONA is a different length, with no unnecessary padding to get each episode out to twenty-two minutes. I’m almost certain that this series would have been far less interesting had its five episodes all been the same length.
Really, the entire emotional crux of this ONA hinges on getting sucked into its magical midpoint scene, in which the surly older protagonist is touched so deeply by an adorable robot’s planetarium presentation that he can’t avoid giving a shit about her any more, however much he may have wanted to. Personally, I fell in with him beat for beat–my hard heart not wanting to embrace some cryporn Key adaptation, but inevitably getting won over by that one scene and then being strapped in for the rest of the haul. And since it didn’t waste my time with five arcs worth of magical bullshit on the way to getting there, I was okay with that.
Number sixteen on my list is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, because I’ve never seen a show about a guy who just got out of prison and decided to become a performer in a classical art of Japanese comedy, nor would I have expected such a story to be so fascinating. In its early episodes, Rakugo Shinjuu introduces an electrifying cast of very complex characters with long and detailed histories, which it then sets out to explore in full. Its drama is emotionally driven, but with high stakes and bitter consequences, and plenty to say about how the life and craft of an artist become intertwined, as well as competitive with one-another.
But if there’s anything that this show really deserves praise for, it’s the impressively directed presentation; particularly in the minutes-long rakugo scenes which communicate half of what we need to know about the characters and where they are in life all on their own–notwithstanding the separate comedic narratives being told in their stories.
Would only that the entire show had the incredibly tight pacing and regular introduction of narrative elements that its first double-length episode had, I think it could’ve been much higher up on this list; and I’ll be interested to see if it’s second season, airing now, can make up for the way that the first one’s midsection lags a bit too heavily with repetitive struggles and taking far too long to get to the point. If it can, then there’s still a chance that this will become a classic series.
Number fifteen on my list is Kiznaiver, because nothing is louder and more abrasively ridiculous and stupid and hilarious and true to the core of living than the emotions of a bunch of dumbass teenagers. As the second-closest thing to bathos incarnate after Angel Beats, Kiznaiver is understandably intolerable to many–and should have been to me, given that there’s no genre in the world that I’m more sick of than teen melodrama. I am, however, way into bullying and manipulating young people and then laughing at their failures, which is kind of what I feel like this show set out to do.
Kiznaiver is some kind of bizarre meta-comedy about how stupid high school melodrama is–like a Cabin in the Woods take on The Breakfast Club–and yet also completely embraces its identity as that kind of show, and even makes an argument for why screaming about your emotions is totally how to make our society better. (Or, at the very least, discussing those emotions before it comes to that point.) In a lot of ways, the show’s overall message is, “yo chill the fuck out and let’s talk about it.”
In 2016, I was constantly being impressed by aesthetic one-upmanship between different shows. Kabaneri and Kizumonogatari were unreasonably impressive visually–and yet I can’t shake the feeling like Kiznaiver clowned on both of them. It wasn’t inconsistent like the former, and was twice the length of the latter without taking eight years in development; and somehow not only had some of the best illustrative character designs I’ve ever seen, but was also able to animate them with the kind of expressiveness that most anime would have to super-deform their characters to pull off. Suffice it to say that this is one of the best-looking TV anime I’ve ever seen.
Number fourteen on my list is High School Fleet, because even though I’m the type of critic who would approach a top twenty list by talking almost entirely about thematic resonance instead of quality, I am also given to be impressed with sheer technical mastery–and, believe it or not, High School Fleet was, I think, one of the best-constructed shows of the year.
Nothing about it is very unique or memorable, granted, but aside from that, it’s a show that I actually have no problems with whatsoever. Its pacing is airtight on every level–the show as a whole moves at just the right speed so that its background mystery keeps things intriguing as it introduces a massive and adorable ensemble cast, who later come into their own and get to do cool things as the narrative becomes more straightforward. Each episode individually has just enough of a light-hearted and fun story and exciting action sequence to make it enjoyable on its own, and each scene is kinetically directed with perfectly timed cuts between well-animated action and adorable facial expressions set to epic music. All of this coalesces into a constantly enjoyable experience, if on no other level than that it’s a satisfying sound and light show.
But really, it’s that lack of failure which sets this one above all the other action thrill rides that I enjoyed this year which are sitting down in the honorable mentions. Unlike Kabaneri, it doesn’t seem to shoehorn an unwanted and uninteresting storyline into its second half. Unlike Izetta, it doesn’t introduce any concepts which are so baffling or out of left field that they lessen the impact of the show as a whole. Unlike most of the action shows that I dropped in 2016, there weren’t any bullshit scenes wherein characters had to hold the idiot ball, or which were presented in a way that robbed them of all tension. High School Fleet is internally and tonally consistent, and everything that happens follows naturally from what came before. It’s a rare show in which nothing was distracting me from the action at any point along the ride, and it allowed me to simply drink my beers and to be at peace with the world for once in my life.
Number thirteen on my list is ReLIFE, because I am a grown ass man who spends an inordinate amount of time watching high school romantic comedy anime, and I’m pretty sure that ReLIFE is aimed specifically at that kind of person. It sees a twenty-seven year-old unemployed man getting turned back into his high school self, and given a chance to re-explore that world with knowledge of all the tropes and worldly wisdom that can help him to navigate it like a pro. For me, this means nodding constantly in agreement with the show’s self-aware take on mostly just being a pretty solid high school rom-com, except with certain characters who know exactly what’s going on.
Really though, artifice aside, what carries this show is a very likable cast with some excellent comedic chemistry, and a few scenes of surprisingly interesting dramatic backstory–particularly for the main character. It’s both funnier and more heartwarming than expected, and manages a slew of adorable and hilarious facial expressions in spite of relatively bland character designs. None of this is to say that it’s the most memorable show in the world, as so much of it is hardly distinguishable from the rest of the genre; but even if not for its central gimmick, it would be at least a solid entry–and with the bonus of that gimmick, it managed to charm the hell out of me.
Number twelve on my list is Mob Psycho 100, because I’ve hardly ever seen such a level-headed approach to the topic of self-betterment; or a character so admirably driven towards his goals, even when they require him to totally ignore his natural talents. Really, the scene that makes this entire show for me is when Mob joins the body improvement club in episode two, as well as everything which follows from that. What looked for a moment like an incredible and wildly hilarious one-off joke plot twist was actually the start of one of the year’s most endearing character arcs, and the jumping off point for an exploration of what having talent actually gets you in life, and how entitlement can turn you into a right shit.
Mob is definitely the hero everyone needs, but Reigen is one of the year’s most imminently magnetic characters, pulling a high-flying juggling act as simultaneously an in-over-his-head fake ghost hunter who swindles people out of money for a living and strings Mob along to do his dirty work, and also a legitimately inspiring life coach and deeply charismatic presence deserving mention in the same breath as names like Kamina. It’s his speech that steals the show in the grand finale–but only because it’s backed by the already jaw-dropping animation.
Without a doubt, there was no series in 2016 doing more with animation than Mob Psycho. While it may not be the most to my personal aesthetic taste in the way something like Kizumonogatari was, it nonetheless floored me with so many styles and techniques–some of which I’ve never even seen before. This is a show that deserves to have classes taught about it, and to be looked up to for years to come for everything that it is.
Number eleven on my list is Vivid Strike, because there are few things in this world that I’d rather be doing than watching little girls beat the ever-loving shit out of each-other in the name of communicating their feelings and becoming better friends. The Nanoha franchise, in spite of its myriad shortcomings, holds a special little place in my heart, because I think that writer Masaki Tsuzuki and I are on some kind of wavelength together; and I only feel like our interests are closing in on one-another as time goes on and I keep enjoying each new show more than the last.
Vivid Strike is about as intelligent as a fistfight–but also as emotional as one. Its drama is entirely personal, and its pathos is writ large and taken very seriously–by which I mean, it is the subject of superpowered slugfests between preteen girls trying to work through one-another’s emotional issues; because they literally don’t seem to know of any other way, and it’s always worked in the past, so why would they even consider trying another method? I’m more than happy for it, because this series had a few of the most epic, episode-spanning brawls that I watched all year–not for action choreography or animation, but for sheer force of impact. It also had the most savage scene of comeuppance for a trio of bullies that I’ve ever seen before, and which I probably gave some kind of standing ovation to after seeing it.
The Nanoha franchise at this point is so far beyond broken and ridiculous that I don’t even care about how much this show actually makes sense in context of the side-story that it’s a side-story to, or even about how dumb this show’s internal logic is on its own. All that really matters is that I bought into the characters and their melodrama enough to want to see their issues resolved, and that the method by which those issues resolved was as gratifying as anything I could’ve asked for.
And that rounds off the first half of this list! Stay tuned to my channel for the TOP TEN ANIME OF 2016 coming as soon as I can get it edited (or linked on-screen if you’re from the future). Be sure to check the description for links to any other videos that I made talking about these shows at greater length, and let me know if any of these were among your own favorites in the comments below. Check out my other channels for more of me, and donate to my patreon so I can keep having time to go out there and watch everything, dragging back only the best stuff for your convenience. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!