The Most-Watched Anime of the 2010s
Anime is often ignored by Western awards. But, the 2010s saw a huge increase in Western anime fandom, and anime became a serious competitor with Western media for audience attention. The rise of the internet streaming service, the triumph of Crunchyroll and other sites, has made anime available worldwide on pretty much the same schedule as it is available on Japanese TV. There were a variety of amazing shows, and anime films, that came out during this decade.
The 2010s saw a bunch of massive hits, especially in the shounen and isekai genres. Minor niches, like "cute girls doing cute things" or slice of life, have also exploded.
According to Anime Planet, the most-watched anime from 2010 to 2019 Were:
- Attack on Titan
- Sword Art Online
- Angel Beats!
- Blue Exorcist
- One Punch Man
- Tokyo Ghoul
- High School of the Dead
- No Game, No Life
- My Hero Academia
- Future Diary
Surprising? A lot of horror, but favoring action-y and sexy horror over anything with a romantic, classical Gothic aesthetic. Less Dracula, more zombie thriller movies. The popularity of Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online will probably surprise no one who's been to an anime convention or hung out in an anime-related space recently. But I did find some on this list surprising; for example, I thought Future Diary was more niche and less popular than it actually is.
Trends in 2010s Anime
The main trend in anime was that there was just plain more of it, more of everything. They've been making new series at a breakneck pace, leaving turtlish fans like me in the dust, scrambling to watch shows as quickly as they can make them. Streaming saw a huge rise in the 2010s, such that anime viewing in most Western countries is now synchronized in real-time with Japanese release calendars.
Production costs seem to have dropped, perhaps due to a higher reliance on CGI, or unfortunately, underpaying animators. But this means a lot of things are greenlit now that wouldn't have been in the ink and celluloid days. It's cheaper to do animation, and easier than ever before to produce and distribute an animated series. So, a small handful of creators/studios no longer have a monopoly on anime, and the same is true of other media like film and live television.
Trends in anime of the 2010s include:
- Long titles! With!!! Exclamation!! Points!!!! Even If the Idea of the Story Could Be A Lot Shorter, Sometimes The Title Is An Entire Goddamned Paragraph - And the CaPiTaLiZation. And. (Punctuation!) Will : Make : Your : English - - - Teacher Cry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Lewdness has been taken to new heights, way up past the top of Mount Everest. Breasts in anime are not new, but the 2010s was awash with panties, cleavage, groping (both innocent and intentional), and a weird number of guys waking up next to a girl with big-ol balloon jugs. Master Roshi would be proud of this generation.
- Light novel adaptations, and the isekai genre, have shot straight up. The isekai genre involves a protagonist from the real world traveling to a fantasy world, to a video game world, or to the past. This genre really took off, especially with the popularity of Sword Art Online, and the rising popularity of MMO RPG gaming.
- Siblings... Why siblings? sigh...
- 12 episode series came out in droves. This is a good thing if you want to get through a lot of anime series quickly, or binge a series in one weekend. But it kind of sucks if you really get emotionally invested in a 12-episode series and find out that's it, that they aren't making more. But the really popular ones come back every year like the flu.
- RIP: The mech genre. Ok so we had Darling in the Franxx, but it just isn't the juggernaut of an anime genre it was in the 80s and 90s. Sad.
- Also RIP: Studio Ghibli. They hung around with mediocre additions, Arriety and The Wind Rises, which were okay, but nothing like previous gems of theirs like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle. The good thing was, they no longer dominated the concept of deep, feely, artistic anime films. Other studios came and picked up their slack.
- Small girls. Small girls being and doing literally everything. If the typical 90s anime protagonist was a big, muscly bishounen if you were watching a show for boys, and an elegant, noodly princess type bishoujo if you were watching a show for girls, that style of character design is out. The standard character model is a loli or little girl. They are everywhere. Ranging from irritating to huggable.
- Otaku protagonists. There was a huge tide of NEET, hikkikomori, gamer, otaku protagonists, often in isekai anime where they would be teleported into a world resembling their video game of choice.
My Picks for Best Anime of the 2010s Decade
These are my picks for anime that should win awards. I chose six different nominees, and a best series or movie from those nominees, in a wide variety of categories, because there was a diverse array of shows from the decade that were worth mentioning.
To qualify, they have to have begun production in the year 2010 to 2019. So, ongoing, long-running series, which started before this, were not eligible. But, if a movie came out from one of those long ongoing series, and it came out during those years, it was eligible for one of the film "awards". For each category, I made six nominees and selected one winner. Some categories I was thinking of were scrapped for lack of six nominees. For example, "Most Overrated Series" was scrapped because there were only a few hugely overrated series this decade, the most obvious being Sword Art Online.
Keep in mind that it was very tough to pare down my lists in most categories to six, and it was also difficult to choose a winner in many of the categories. They weren't chosen based on popularity or on other people's reviews, but solely based on my subjective opinion of them. So, if your favorite one didn't get nominated or didn't win, I'm sorry. But not that sorry. All it really means is I liked it slightly less than I liked another show in the same category. And, as thoroughly as I researched the anime of the entire decade, I am aware that there may be some that I missed as well. Your favorite might have been unnoticed by me simply because I had such long lists of titles to think about.
Best Fun, Blockbuster Film
By blockbuster, I don't necessarily mean it had to be a massive box office hit. I just mean that as more of a genre of movie, a 'blockbuster-type' movie. That is, fairly light-hearted in tone, usually coming out in the summer, and full of action. As opposed to what I'd call a "serious, artsy movie", it doesn't try too hard to get deep or philosophical. And even if it can have some serious, heartfelt moments, it is not meant to be a tearjerker, but more meant for casual entertainment.
Read More From Reelrundown
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
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- The Boy and the Beast
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Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
All the movies here were cool and fun. But for some reason, Sacred Star of Milos was my favorite. I definitely think it's the better of the two Fullmetal Alchemist movies. Conqueror of Shamballa had interesting drama, but the plot was a confusing mess, and they have Nazi villains while sanitizing Nazi history of any reference to anti-Jewish sentiment or genocide. So yeah. It's cool that Envy gets to be a dragon, though?
Sacred Star of Milos introduces a new setting, a city not explored in the show before. The brothers explore interesting mysteries with fun new character Julia, and get caught up in the history of the city, and learn how it relates to the present conflict. It has moments that are sad, and deep, but mainly it thrives on excitement, intrigue, and action. It's like a long, and very well executed, story arc of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Best Serious, Artsy Film
This category is for movies that I'd define as primarily artistic, rather than purely commercial. That doesn't preclude commercial promotion, or having toys of the characters. But, it means the movie is concerned with themes, or communicating an important message.
These films can communicate deep sadness, causing the viewer to contemplate human (or in the case of You Are Umasou!, dinosaur) suffering. Japanese filmmakers have always been great at saying meaningful things about universally human sorrows. This decade was no exception. In addition to helping us process pain, these films can teach us things and spark discussion on important issues.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion
- A Silent Voice
- Wolf Children
- Garden of Words
- The Children Who Chase Lost Voices
- You Are Umasou!
A Silent Voice
Lots of movies on this list are great. Rebellion is very artistic and at times looks fueled by acid. But it really only works for fans of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and the fans are divided about how this movie changes the Madoka canon ending. You Are Umasou! is a movie I was surprised came out so recently since it has the style of a much older anime movie. I really loved it, and wish more people would see it.
But A Silent Voice is the one that was the gut punch for me. It was triggering for me. I have PTSD from being bullied, so the scenes of bullying were very intensely emotional for me. And, to be honest, I originally hated the concept of the movie; that it was about the bully, and his struggle for redemption, and he gets together with the girl he bullied at the end.
But, when I thought about it later, I realized that means it's good. A lot of anime takes place in schools, and a lot of them have bullying. But many of them are so unrealistic in the way they depict bullying, and comical about it, that they not only fail to trigger me, but don't seem real enough for me to care.
Some of it is like in Magical Girl Site where bullies do horrifying, torturous things, which are rarely done in real life. Bullying in real life is mostly psychological and social. The bullies weaponize your desire for their approval and inclusion. Usually, violence is subtle, and minimal. They're trying to scare you or manipulate you, but not necessarily just to torture you.
Similarly unrealistic is "gaggle of popular boy's fan girls" type bullying seen in romance anime like Fruits Basket and Peach Girl. In those situations, the bullies just exist because part of the wish-fulfillment fantasy aspect of romance anime for girls is to have some jealous bitches hating you. It also functions as social proof that the boy the main character crushes on is, in fact, objectively desirable.
A Silent Voice is probably the most realistic depiction of bullying in anime. The main character doesn't even know why he did it, it was just compulsive for him. Maybe he did it to fit in. Maybe he was repulsed by the girl, Shoko, being deaf. We know as adults that it's wrong, but kids are often freaked out by things they don't understand. The movie shows him learning to look past that. It's about not just coming of age, but what to do when you've come of age, how to move forward with life when all you can think about are terrible things you did in the past. You ever watch a school anime and then go, yeah but what next? Well, this movie is about the "what next".
It's a great movie, but massive trigger warning for bullying and suicide.
Best Comedy Series
Comedy is a broad category. I made best "harem, ecchi, or fanservice series" its own category, as well as adding a category for best slice of life, realistic, or school drama series. For comedy, the best series were the ones that made me laugh the most. The fanservice shows, instead, are ranked by how hot I think they are. Do they actually accomplish their aim of turning the viewer on? The slice of life category is about how much I like or connect to the main character. After all, if the plot isn't going to be that interesting (typical Japanese school shenanigans), the characters have to be the appeal of the show, the reason to watch it. Some series ended up being nominated for more than one of these inter-related categories.
The 2010s had a lot of zany comedy shows featuring absurd premises. It was a great decade for comedy, with a lot of great, very funny shows.
- Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt
- Prison School
- Cells at Work
- Nichijou: My Ordinary Life
- Assassination Classroom TV
- Squid Girl
Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt
Many of the series on the list, such as Prison School, Assassination Classroom TV, and Cells at Work, have a goofy, intriguing premise. But when the novelty of the premise wears off, that is, when you continue to watch the show, you're likely to find yourself losing interest.
Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt is more than just a monster of the week magical girl spoof with a lot of racy humor. What I like about it is the two sisters who are constantly bickering, learning to work together, albeit sometimes with gritted teeth. The girls are fallen angels trying to earn their way back into heaven, so the show explores concepts of shame and purity in a funny way. An explosive good time that will rock your face off, Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt does not slow down - it only keeps getting better with each new episode.
Best Harem, Ecchi, or Fanservice Series
The purpose of comedy is to make you laugh, the purpose of anime in this category is to turn you on. Assuming, usually, that you're attracted to ladies. The category often overlaps with comedy. Awkward s*xual scenarios can be both funny and hot. These stories usually feature a male protagonist who is the target audience stand-in. The protagonists, as such, are not the draw of the show, it's the girls/women who become attracted to him. Expect strategic camera positioning.
- Prison School
- Monster Musume
- High School DxD
- Cat Planet Cuties
It was a great decade overall for those who like this sort of thing. But what I love about animation as a medium is its ability to transcend the tedium of realistic stories. Anime can explore concepts that are fun, without being constrained by what's possible.
Monster Musume is a delightful series. In it, the harem female characters all have interesting personalities. The show explores their feelings, as they learn to work and live with people very unlike themselves. It's hot, but it can also be very sweet and heartfelt at times. That makes it similar to the grand-daddy of harem anime, Tenchi Muyo, which is one of my all-time personal favorites.
Kejio!!!!!!!, Shimoneta, and Prison School all have intriguing premises, and great first episodes. I would describe them as splashy. But, all of them have concepts that get stale after a while. Monster Musume keeps it fresh. They're constantly introducing new characters, without abandoning the old ones. There are always interesting new plot developments. With the concept of monster girls, the sky is the limit. They can make almost anything into a cute girl, and doing so is almost always guaranteed to add drama, by having each existing monster girl react to her.
Best Realistic, Slice of Life, and/or School Drama Series
This is a very common genre in anime, with multiple shows in it per season. You could even call it the bread and butter of anime. In these shows, fantastical elements and cutting-edge technological innovations may exist, but they're not the focus of the show. Instead, the main focus is on interpersonal relationships, often revolving around school activities, crushes, and part-time jobs. These shows are often described as lacking a plot, but that's not entirely true. They have small episodic plots where little is at stake.
Sometimes, shows like this are called "healing". They give sufferers of abuse, trauma, loneliness, depression, etc. a way to imagine a fictional better life. They're also often endearing and cute. The main characters are often middle school or high school girls, who are beloved by fans for being adorable and sweet. Sometimes, these shows are about how to succeed facing everyday professional or academic challenges. At other times, they're about interpersonal relationship conflict. But they can help the viewers then, if they struggle with similar challenges in their own lives.
The ones I chose, I liked because the protagonists were cute, funny, and easy to relate to. It was very important that they be interesting and relatable. There were a lot of these, and a lot that were great. So narrowing it down to just six nominees was something of a headache.
- Himouto: Umaru-chan
- Usagi Drop
- Squid Girl
- Say "I Love You"
Ah heck. I can't justify it with elaborate academic theories or anything. It's just that Tomoko is the character who is most like me, or at least, like an exaggerated and more comically childish version of me. That made the series captivating for me from beginning to end. It was like looking into a dark, greasy mirror. But Tomoko has a sweet side as well, and the anime ends on a hopeful spot. True to the slice of life format, not a whole lot happens or changes.
But I like that. In real life, people do change, but it's rarely ever sudden and dramatic like it is in a lot of movies and TV shows. Tomoko's character development is realistic, subtle, and gradual. This is a show that will suck you in and make you care about the main character, even about things that might not seem like that big a deal from the outside. You feel like you are Tomoko when you watch this, and she doesn't seem like a character, but a real person.
Best Sports or Competition Series
I'll confess I don't really like sports and don't know that much about them. However, a good sports anime will pull you in and get you emotionally invested in the activity in question, even if you don't know anything about it.
Sports anime are popular because they're about solving relational problems under pressure. Sports are about conflict, both between groups and within a group. Meaningful conflict is the heart of storytelling. So, it's no surprise that sports anime were big this decade. I also included Sound! Euphonium which is about band, which is why I say "sports or competition". Because, there are many anime that focus on competitive activities that aren't sports, and we can argue about the definition of a sport all day, but that's not productive. The underlying pattern in all these shows isn't that they're all about "sports" per se, but that they all have a plot built around a competitive activity, with high pressure to win. Card games, video games, and gambling can also fit here. Even cooking, as in Food Wars. There's also competitive academics. Japan is a place where you can find people devoted to excellence in almost anything, and anime reflects that cultural value placed on extreme dedication.
- Yuri!!! On Ice
- Kuroko's Basketball (aka Kuroko no Basket)
- Haikyuu!! (aka Haikyu)
- Sound! Euphonium
- Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
- Ping Pong the Animation
I enjoyed Kuroko's Basketball the most out of all of these. I felt the quickest and strongest sense of connection to the main characters, and I most enjoyed their particular struggles and challenges. All of these were good, but Kuroko's Basketball, I felt, is above the rest. I like how it explores different types of basketball strategies, and focuses on personality differences within the team as well. It makes me care about a game I became jaded about in junior high when I realized no amount of hard work would make up for my lack of height - which is an issue the show addressed. But, short and nonathletic as I am, I can still enjoy this show, and relate to these well thought out characters.
Best Romantic Series
These series all have a romantic relationship as the central focus of the plot, obviously. The romance genre in anime often overlaps with slice of life, comedy, and school drama, for example Peach Girl. But I like romance that avoids the same old clichés. But the main thing a romance anime has to do is make me root for the main couple, understand what they're going through, and like both of them. I scrapped many a romance anime early on because a main character was annoying or just a jerk that I didn't find sympathetic.
I understand that for character development to happen later, sometimes the main character is introduced as deeply flawed. But, there should be something compelling about a character. I should be made to care about them right away. If it's a show about a crummy guy trying to turn his life around, it should at least give him either some redeeming qualities, or a desire to change.
For example, not a romance series, but in YuYu Hakusho, the protagonist Yusuke is an arrogant jerk, especially from the beginning. And generally, the beginning of the series isn't my favorite part to re-watch, though I like to revisit later episodes of the series (mostly seasons 3 and 4) fairly often. Yusuke is shown to have some redeeming qualities. He doesn't, deep down, like violence. He wants to protect innocent people. He begins to feel sorry for his mother and girlfriend Keiko, when he sees how his apparent death would affect them. That experience, that arc, is all about Yusuke maturing and learning important life lessons. Also, as a formerly suicidal person, the arc is a pretty deep lesson in thinking about how your death would impact others.
I could go on and on about why I love YuYu Hakusho. But the point is, I should want to root for the main characters. From the first five minutes. The death of any series is if I end up rolling my eyes and going, "I don't care". In a romantic anime, this is especially critical. Not only do I have to care about the main character and his end goal or what happens to him, but I have to like and care about both leading halves of the future final couple. I should want to see them together, and see how a relationship between them would make both of their lives better.
A lot of romantic anime are paint by numbers. A generic, boring boy meets a generic, boring girl, at spring, when a new school year is starting. They don't have anything in common other than being approximately the same age, going to the same school, and sharing some cute, awkward moment, often involving an umbrella. Their personalities are so empty that you don't think of them as people, just Anime Boy and Anime Girl. When I see that, it makes me think I'd rather be watching old episodes of YuYu Hakusho.
- Maid Sama
- Ore Monogatari
- Fruits Basket (Reboot)
- Hanasaku Iroha
- My Little Monster
- Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
I grew up poor, so I really felt like I related to Misaki's struggle with having to do a job she's not crazy about, just to help her family. I liked the flirtatious, funny dynamic between who Misaki is when working at a maid café and who she is at school. I also enjoyed many other of these nominees, but Maid Sama ended up being my personal favorite, with a female lead I liked the most. It kind of reminded me of His and Her Circumstances.
Both Takumi and Misaki are interesting characters, and it seems that they do what I want to see in a romantic anime - help each other grow. They're really cute together, and they both have fleshed out personalities and back stories. If you're super into romances and you want to be made to care, made to laugh, and possibly made to cry too, definitely check out Maid Sama.
Best Action and/or Shounen Series
Shounen anime are the most popular, and the most likely to get discovered by "normies" who don't typically watch anime. They're focused on action. They usually have a male protagonist. Shounen is about themes such as competition, fighting, and becoming strong. The characters often have cool superpowers. They're ongoing most of the time, exceptions to the pervading trend of 12 and 13 episode series. Because they're ongoing, they can be broken up into smaller arcs, but the number of episodes per arc can vary considerably.
I created a separate category for sports or competition anime. These are the ones that revolve around some kind of sport or competitive activity. I also ended up including Tokyo Ghoul in the horror category, but not in this category. It's both action and horror.
The absence of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure I feel needs to be explained. Instead of this category, I felt like it is a more mature show than most shounen, so I put it in my "Best Series for Adult Men" (my version of seinen, or mature) category instead. It is technically a shounen, since the manga is from Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine, but it feels very different from other shounen. It blends intriguing mysteries, compelling interpersonal drama, and many supernatural elements. Many have called it both shounen and seinen, or described it as a shounen that evolves gradually into a seinen.
- Attack on Titan
- Hunter x Hunter
- My Hero Academia
- Kill La Kill
- Tiger and Bunny
- Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Attack on Titan
It was hard to decide between Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, and Hunter x Hunter. Hunter x Hunter can be eliminated because it has a few arcs that aren't good at all, and it takes a very long time to get going, which can frustrate the average viewer.
My Hero Academia was an awesome and inspiring show. However, I felt like the side characters in Attack on Titan were more interesting and compelling. My Hero Academia has a lot of characters who aren't that interesting or don't matter that much. The stuff where Midoriya interacts with All Might is the heart of the show.
But Attack on Titan manages to deliver a strong, determined protagonist, and also many interesting side characters, who are usually more compelling and important to the plot. Attack on Titan delivers on what I consider the main draw of the shounen genre - exciting fight scenes. All of these nominees and more have exciting fights, but Attack on Titan had some fight scenes that straight up blew my mind. Also, the exploration of fighting by zipping around like Spider-man with air canisters opens up many interesting possibilities.
It also doesn't have an unlimited or vague magic system that's powered by determination and yelling (well, the same can be said for most of these nominees). I appreciate that. Attack on Titan is Game of Thrones meets The Walking Dead, but scale the zombies up to giant-sized, and have some characters who can change into zombies and back again. Yeah. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, you're dead to me.
But all these nominees are extremely great, and should all definitely be watched! It was a great decade for shounen and action anime.
Best Isekai Series
The isekai genre encompasses any story where a character from the real, modern-day world, travels to another world. It can be into a video game, an alternate past like with Inuyasha, a virtual world, or a fantasy world. This genre has existed since at least the 90s, but it saw a veritable explosion in the 2010s, following the success of Sword Art Online.
What makes a good isekai anime? Well, you have to like and want to root for the protagonist. That's true of any anime genre. The other world they go to also has to be interesting - many are written entirely around flat, boring clichés. Side characters shouldn't just be stock fantasy characters, and the plot should also be more than just a stock fantasy or RPG quest plot. The genre quickly became saturated after SAO, and therefore boring. Each new show had to do something new with the genre to stand out. That's how we ended up with That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Which is actually pretty good, but it just shows how the latter half of the 2010s saw near desperation on the part of storytellers to make a new kind of isekai.
- No Game, No Life
- That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
- Problem Children are Coming From Another World, Aren't They?
When I first saw it, Re:Zero seemed mired in fantasy, RPG, and isekai clichés. But, everything in the world of Re:Zero is not as it seems. Everyone is seen as cliché at first meeting, but shows tremendous hidden depths later. I also liked the politics of the fantasy world, which are richer and more complex than in many fantasy isekai series. This was the only show in the genre that emotionally hooked me and kept me on a roller coaster of highs and lows. I got into this show when it came out right away, and it's still one of my favorites.
What I didn't like is how it ended, but I think that is solved by the story continuing. It wasn't really intended as an ending to the whole series. No spoilers, but there is a romantic subplot that ends in a way that disappointed many fans. I can't wait for the next season.
Best Fantasy Series
The difference between fantasy and isekai is that fantasy takes place entirely within a fantasy world. There is no interaction between this world the story takes place in, and the "real" world, our world. As such, fantasy lacks the ability isekai has to compare our world to the fantasy world, and an isekai has a handy reason to give exposition - the main character is a newcomer in that world, like the audience is.
But I prefer, generally speaking, fantasy to isekai. Isekai has many of its own issues. For example, how to explain why the protagonist or a few selected Japanese teenagers can enter this new world, but no one else can? Why does a world need to be saved by some random teenager who falls from the sky with a cell phone? How does that make sense?
The aforementioned exposition isekai series need can also be clunky and boring. "Show, don't tell" is a golden rule in writing. Yet, isekai anime often start out feeling like a video game tutorial, where the designated expository character goes on and on about the details of the world. It's better if the main character, and the viewer, can actually discover those details by doing things. That's also something I appreciate about Re:Zero.
Fantasy usually revolves around politics, strategy, war, and royal succession. That's all right, but I usually prefer fantasy that also deals with the struggles of everyday people. For example, Spice and Wolf is about a merchant traveling with a wolf goddess who has disguised herself as a woman. And it's possibly one of the best fantasy light novels out there.
- Seven Deadly Sins
- Goblin Slayer
- Made in Abyss
- The Heroic Legend of Arslan
- Attack on Titan
- Snow White With the Red Hair
Made in Abyss
I was largely torn between Made in Abyss and Goblin Slayer. Both series are emotionally captivating from beginning to end. I hope both get further seasons. But, Made in Abyss had more interesting world building, which is an important component of good fantasy. The world in Goblin Slayer was a generic copy and paste fantasy RPG world. I think that the point of the anime was to criticize such a world, and it does a good job of showing problems that could be caused by assumptions based on RPG clichés.
But then, the ending is kind of just another RPG cliché. The badass lone wolf protagonist has become more or less just another adventurer in a party. I do like that Goblin Slayer is about the theme of dealing with trauma. But, if we're being honest, it loses its flavor after an extremely impactful beginning.
Made in Abyss was moving because the protagonist is a little girl doing such dangerous things. The girl's quest to find out what happened to her mother, and if her mother is still alive, pulled at my heartstrings. She was vulnerable, her pain made me feel pain. The world she travels fearlessly into, the abyss, is deadly and scary. I can only describe this show as gut-wrenching. In a good way?
Best Magical Girl Series
It was generally not a great time for this genre. Not many magical girl series came out, and we certainly didn't see any that followed the old formula set by shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. Sailor Moon got a reboot that focused more on the manga, but its hasty pace and cheap looking CG animation left many fans cold. Sailor Moon Crystal felt like it was rushing from plot point to plot point, without the time needed to make the progression seem logical.
The face of magical girl anime was changed by subversive deconstruction Puella Magi Madoka Magica. This anime envisions becoming a magical girl not as a special superhero-like destiny, but as a kind of deal with the devil. Girls are granted one wish, and they can wish for anything. In exchange, they have to become magical girls. They get powers related to the nature of their wish.
It doesn't sound bad on the surface. But then it turns out there are some things the little white ferret-like creature Kyubey neglected to mention about being a magical girl. Overall, it's a great series.
It sparked a trend, where following magical girl shows wanted to similarly be tragic and dark. This was done successfully by Yuki Yuuna is a Hero, and unsuccessfully by big stinkers Magical Girl Raising Project and Magical Girl Site.
Finally, we have shows like Kill La Kill, Panty & Stocking With Garter Belt, and Flip Flappers, which combine magical girl tropes with sci-fi and shounen elements. These are the "badass, hardcore" magical girl series, perhaps reacting against feminist backlash that previous heroines of magical girl shows were too meek, bound to the classic, fairy tale brand of femininity. That kind of femininity was seen as outdated and restricting, so there has been an ongoing call for heroines that are fiercer and stronger, more willing to fight for themselves. Flip Flappers has more traditionally soft, feminine main characters, but they make the magic appear more based in science.
- Little Witch Academia
- Kill La Kill
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Flip Flappers
- Sailor Moon Crystal
- Yuki Yuuna is a Hero
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
When people say "2010s magical girl anime" in the future, they will undoubtedly be talking about Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I like that its rich symbolism and Faustian themes allow it to spark much discussion.
But Puella Magi Madoka Magica has more going for it than some references for book and art nerds. It has six equally compelling major characters; Kyubey, Homura, Madoka, Mami, Kyoko, and Sayaka. There are also interesting minor characters like Madoka's mom, the teacher, Hitomi, and the boy Sayaka has a crush on. Also, the twist at the end, and the foreshadowing leading up to it, means it's a show that definitely rewards multiple viewings. It's rare to see a show this rich in purposeful detail.
Best Sci-Fi Series
I was surprised to learn that Steins;Gate was from the 2010s decade, not the 2000s. It seems like it belongs in the 00s era of quirky, weird for the sake of weird, anime. In sci-fi, the 2010s saw the final death of mecha shows, except for Darling in the Franxx and Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans.
But there were not enough excellent mecha shows for the sci-fi subgenre to be its own category. I wonder why the genre is dying? The Gundam franchise's various spawn, and other mecha shows, were once such huge draws.
But now, sci-fi anime has moved towards a smaller scale of action, focusing on interpersonal drama more than on huge battles. These days, there's a surprising number of shows about concepts like time travel, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and memory manipulation. As a fan of Phillip K. Dick, I'm generally loving it.
Dystopian cyberpunk seems pretty much dead, however. New shows aren't about how technology will make the world scarier or deadlier. Generally, they're about how technology will help humanity and create a better world. The plot usually involves an instance of something going wrong, but then, once that "bug" is fixed, technology as a whole is not seen as a problem. Compare this to something like Ghost in the Shell, where the big takeaway is that humanity has lost something it should mourn in the transition from simple to technologically advanced. The brooding, angsty tone of the 00s and 90s is out.
- Darling in the Franxx
- Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
- Promised Neverland
- Plastic Memories
I enjoyed many of the shows I listed here. But generally speaking, sci-fi was a weak anime category during this decade. Even though Steins;Gate wasn't that great, nothing came along that did what it did as well or better. Which is, create an interesting sci-fi premise, have some quirky, memorable characters trying to fix everything and save humanity.
I also like the way Steins;Gate's time travel has them trying to guess what happens in the future, giving the audience interesting and exciting mysteries to chew on. It's a show that can keep up interest and entertainment, while also focusing on cute interpersonal and comedic moments. It's a style of storytelling that reminded me of earlier anime like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, which both balanced the serious and the silly. You don't see that as much anymore. Now, comedy shows are all comedy, all the time, and non-comedy shows are serious almost all the time. But since real life isn't like that, I don't mind shows that swing back and forth between different tones.
As far as the other nominees go, I liked Bunny Girl Senpai and Promised Neverland. Both are mysteries, not in the sense that the viewer is wondering "who done it", but more that we want to know what's going on with the larger world and why. In both cases, the situation is more interesting than the characters. You're continuing to watch and invested because each episode gives you more clues about the setting and the situation. But in both, the characters themselves aren't too interesting - the real draw is the situation they're in.
Darling in the Franxx was sometimes romantic comedy, sometimes about drama and angst, other times, it was just about action. It's about action and fighting, and how characters learn and grow together by fighting alongside each other and helping each other. That's pretty great, but I didn't think that the show introduced interesting new concepts or possibilities for humanity. It was a magical tragic pixie dream girl meeting a generic Anime Boy, him going "but your devil horns are c-cute", and giving her confidence.
Best Horror or Battle Royal Series
In live action film, Japan tends to be pretty great at horror movies in general, being the birthplace of beloved classics such as Grudge, The Ring (Ringu in Japan), and Battle Royale. The latter, based on the novel by Koushun Takami, spawned a subgenre of horror anime, where children are forced to kill each other. Lots of anime take the concept of Battle Royale and give it a twist. Others, like Higurashi: When They Cry, just have a bunch of kiddos murdering each other, without an external impetus like a totalitarian government or a supernatural entity.
In anime, youkai and other monsters from traditional Japanese folklore pop up from time to time, and often as horror monsters. But not always, as shows like Yo-kai Watch, Ushio & Tora, and others depict the investigation and reconciliation of youkai-of-the-week problems as funny and mostly light-hearted. Then, you have shows like Mushi-shi and Mononoke, which have scary parts, but focus more on reconciliation of the spirits with humanity than on the horror aspect of what these creatures do to humans.
As far as trends of the 2010s in horror, almost all prominent horror titles were action-horror. Whether they took inspiration from Battle Royale or not, they were fast-paced and focused on combat. Humans vs. monsters, or humans vs. humans. They weren't shows that let you pause to think too much. But, they packed plenty of excitement into each episode.
- Tokyo Ghoul
- Parasyte - the maxim
- Danganronpa the Animation
- Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
- Corpse Party (OVA)
- Death Parade
Parasyte fans will be wondering why I didn't choose it. To be honest, the fact that the main character in Parasyte has another being in his hand was just too creepy for me. And, as much as I enjoyed Mirai Nikki, the plot didn't make much sense, the main characters were just okay, and many side characters were uninteresting, annoying, or both. It had some pretty cool moments of shock and horror, and some cool fight scenes, but it wasn't quite good enough for me to call it the best horror anime of the decade.
Tokyo Ghoul seems like nothing much at first. It's about an angsty teen vampire fighting, and being chased by, other angsty vampires. What I like is that it de-emphasizes fighting and focuses on the struggle to live and survive in hiding. As a vampire, the main character can't go back to having a normal life. But he learns to make the best of that awful situation, with the help of some friends, and he discovers a cool hideout place, a café that mainly serves vampires. There, he meets up with people who help him adjust to life as a vampire, including ways to avoid having to drink blood. It's more about enduring a radical, life-altering change, than it is about beating up bad guys, although there's also plenty of that. And the fights are well-choreographed, emotionally impactful, and memorable.
Most Underrated Series of the Decade
Many series are great, but for whatever reason, they get overlooked, not attaining the level of mass popularity they should be entitled to. Each of these nominees is a show that I really wish would get more fans and more people watching and talking about it. TV Tropes has a category for this called "needs more love".
This can happen with anime series for a variety of reasons. But generally, the problem is that the anime industry is constantly creating a lot of things, at a breakneck pace. They're mostly making these things for teenage boys, so anything that's not appealing to that lucrative target market is relegated to a side stage. That also means that a mediocre show appealing to teenage boys will always get more publicity than even a great show appealing primarily to say, adult women. It sucks, especially if you're not a teenage boy, or into things typically aimed at them, but it is how the anime industry works.
- Flip Flappers
- Yuki Yuuna is a Hero
- Death Parade
- Log Horizon
If Sword Art Online is possibly the most overrated anime of the decade, Log Horizon, with a similar plot, is the most underrated. I think it will always be overshadowed by SAO, despite being miles ahead of it in terms of creating likeable characters. But you should also check out Penguindrum, by the same creator as Revolutionary Girl Utena, which offers lots of feels. And Yuki Yuuna is a Hero is good for anyone looking for sad magical girl shows like Madoka.
Top Pick For Adult Women
I added two categories, "Top Pick for Adult Women" and "Top Pick for Adult Men" because, as I mentioned above, anime is primarily driven by the desires of adolescent males. That's sad, because I didn't really want to "grow out of anime", but I feel like in some ways I did. Not because I changed all that much, but because anime is no longer as multi-generational. When I was a teenager, I did not want to be a teenager. I liked shows that almost exclusively had adult protagonists. G Gundam. Cowboy Bebop. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Trigin. Not only did I not need a school uniform to get interested, but it was often a turn-off for me. Seeing as how I had to spend 8-12 hours a day at school, whether I wanted to or not, and I didn't enjoy it all that much. What I liked about being in high school was not the high school, it was talking to my friends and spending time with them, outside of school. I dreamed of being a cool badass adult, like Motoko in Ghost in the Shell, Misato and Ritsuko in Evangelion, or Priss in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. But badass adults are hard to find these days, and almost always in subordinate roles to teenage main characters.
So, coming from that background of having gotten into anime in the late 90s to early 00s, I'm sensitive and always looking out for anime with interesting and cool adult characters, because that's what I really want to see. I think that when people my age say they've aged out of anime, they mean they want to see more anime about adults, not teenagers. I don't want to start a generational war though. Teenage protagonists are not bad just because they're teenagers. It's just a question of diversity and inclusion. When studios only produce shows and movies about children and teens, they're saying anime is only for children and teens.
Anyway, here are my picks for the best 2010s anime for adult women.
- Princess Jellyfish
- I Can't Understand What My Husband is Saying
- Kill La Kill
- Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt
I didn't rule out teenage protagonists entirely. I thought that Kill La Kill had a lot to say to everyone, and used the fact that it takes place in a school to create larger social commentary and to have anime meta-humor.
But Aggretsuko is about being an adult woman. Various characters, mostly female, respond to the enormous pressures of modern adult life as office workers in different ways. Cheerful Tsunoda, a deer, "fawns" all over her boss, and chases perfection as an aspiring Insta influencer. Retsuko, the main character, tries to keep her head down and her nose to the grindstone, but it's crushing her. Throughout the series, she makes friends that help her navigate the often aggravating pressures her life puts on her. There's a variety of interesting, memorable side characters who add layers and complications to the show. I definitely recommend this show, to everyone, but especially to adult women.
Top Pick for Adult Men
This one's harder because I'm not a man, so I'm not as sure what might resonate with them. I tried to choose not only ones that have older male main characters, but also ones that I thought would thematically resonate with adult men.
Note that these characters are, by necessity, based on generalizations about gender and age categories. It's quite possible that these categories will not speak to you on a personal level. Teenagers may like things "for adults". Adults may like things labeled as "for teenagers". This stuff is all very general and very guess-y.
But here are my picks for the best 2010s anime for adult men.
- Prison School
- Tiger & Bunny
- Jojo's Bizarre Adventure
- Usagi Drop (Bunny Drop)
Tiger & Bunny
I was kind of in love with this one when it first aired. It's enthralling. On the surface, it might appear all about action. But it's deeper. Like Aggretsuko, it's also about the pressures of a career. Being a hero is a career in this anime, similarly to how it works in My Hero Academia, and I'd definitely recommend it for fans of that anime. But whereas My Hero Academia focuses on the effort and training to become a hero, Tiger and Bunny revolves around the struggle to stay afloat, when you already are one. Heroes in this world are similar to idols, athletes, and famous wrestlers. Their public image is everything. It's competitive, and fame is difficult to keep up.
Best Female Protagonist/s
The 2010s saw the fossilization of the Standard Anime Boy as the go-to protagonist for most anime. If you watch a lot of anime, this gets old fast. It didn't mean that a show was automatically better because it had a female protagonist. But sometimes, shows I wouldn't normally watch, I would pick up because they either had a female protagonist, or because they had a male protagonist who was outside the norm.
I liked all the female characters I nominated for this because they were dynamic, engaging, a joy to watch in every scene. I liked ones that dropped the social script to be "ladylike". The ones that shot straight. The ones who weren't afraid to make a disruption and assert themselves.
- Madoka & Homura, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Panty & Stocking, Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt
- Squid Girl, Squid Girl
- Tomoko, WataMote
- Ryuko, Kill La Kill
- Retsuko, Aggretsuko
Ryuko, Kill La Kill
Ryuko is probably one of my favorite characters of the decade. She's dynamic. People might see her as just a sexualized, female version of a yelling shounen protagonist. I don't believe characterizing her as that is fair or accurate. Ryuko is amazingly strong and sympathetic. The show has clear intent to satirize anime tropes, especially anime clothing, fanservice, and the sexualization of female characters. If you watch the show, this intent should become obvious.
The show takes "weird justifications for awkward fanservice" to extremes, and explores the theme of nudity, shame, repression, purity, and comfort with one's body. It's also about the symbolic nature of clothing, and how clothing is a form of communication and creative self-expression. It's about resisting others' attempts to, by controlling what clothing you can and can't wear, control you. So I see Ryuko as a positive symbol for resistance in a world that wants to police women's actions and women's bodies, where women's clothing is often as literal a battleground as it is in Kill La Kill.
Best Male Protagonist
There were a lot of cool male protagonists in this decade. So coming up with the list was a matter of weeding them out. Generally I was looking for the ones that were the most memorable, and that stood out the most from that standard anime protagonist mold. I was focused on ones that spoke to me, whose struggles felt the most emotionally impactful. Which main character does this will be different for different people.
- Eren, Attack on Titan
- Midoriya, My Hero Academia
- Goblin Slayer, Goblin Slayer
- Saitama, One-Punch Man
- Yuri (Katsuki), Yuri!!! On Ice
- Subaru, Re:Zero
Midoriya, My Hero Academia
Most of these protagonists were likeable and interesting enough to get my attention and keep me engaged, despite not liking many of their genres. For example, I don't like isekai that much, but I ended up enthralled by Re:Zero, largely because I wanted to see Subaru succeed and overcome his curse. I liked his guts and determination.
Midoriya got me interested in something I didn't think it was even possible for someone like me to get into, a show about a bunch of wacky teenagers going to a kind of Hogwarts for becoming a superhero. Of course, a younger me would have loved the idea of such a place. But to tell you the truth, I'm kind of burned out on superheroes, since I feel like Marvel is always waving them in my face.
When I named Attack on Titan the best shounen of the decade over My Hero Academia, it was a hard decision. But it's not hard to see Midoriya as a better protagonist than Eren. Eren is boring after a while, and the show takes its focus off of him, focusing instead on a shifting, ever-expanding ensemble.
But when you watch Midoriya, you're immediately endeared by how determined he is and how hard he works. Eren is similarly determined, and he does work hard, but he doesn't really push himself to the limit the way that Midoriya does. Eren gains the ability to transform into a titan, and it is later revealed that his ancestry is important. Who he is is often more interesting than what he does.
With Midoriya, it's the total opposite; the fact that he works hard and is determined to become a hero despite a lack of powers (initially), is what viewers find interesting about him. He's not key to some larger plot mystery or conspiracy. He's just an unlucky guy trying to make the best of a challenging situation.
It was a close call, but I think Midoriya is the best as far as male protagonists that are charismatic, interesting, and easy to empathize with.
Best Ensemble Cast
Many anime came out in this decade that weren't really "about" the protagonist or a single protagonist. They were often about groups of protagonists who all share the same goal. Anime, coming from Japan, a collectivist society, has always had more focus on groups than on individuals. But in the 2010s this suddenly became more pronounced than ever. Sports anime, which was a really strong category of this decade, was often more about the team as a unit than about any individual player. School dramas were often about the activities of clubs. Idol anime, which was more popular as a genre in Japan than outside it, focused on the group dynamics of groups of singers. Even s*x/romance is a group activity in 2010s anime, with more harem shows than you can shake a -stick- at. And millennials like me are, as you're probably aware, all socialist and collectivist and such, so I kind of dig it. I like shows that focus on characters forming relationships, where the relationships enrich the lives of everyone involved. If we're talking teens and high school, the teenage years are all about learning how to navigate the complexities of relationships and group dynamics.
- Tiger and Bunny
- Zombieland Saga
- Kuroko's Basketball (Kuroko no Basket)
- Hunter x Hunter
All the nominees had really great ensemble casts. But teamwork is a central theme of Kuroko's Basketball. It's about the life of the team, conflict within the team, and so on. There are lots and lots of characters, with lots of detail given about them. When I think of an ensemble cast anime, this is probably the first show that comes to mind.
Best Anime Series of the Decade
Obviously, I don't like saying I have a favorite anime, or even that I rank any one series as clearly "best". Because, "best" really comes down to what categories you prefer. It's also true that within categories, multiple series might be equally great in quality, and then which one is "best" is just a subjective feeling that that series most resonates with you, personally.
For example, in the sports category, I can say confidently that whether you say the best one is Haikyuu!, Yuri!!! On Ice, or Kuroko's Basketball, you're right. I chose Kuroko's Basketball purely because I enjoyed that most and it touched me the most. These are just personal feelings that don't mean anything.
I also decided not to pick a best movie. Basically, any movie that I nominated is worth seeing! I liked You Are Umasou, Sacred Star of Milos, Rebellion, and A Silent Voice a lot. Definitely recommend all of those. Generally it was a cool decade for movies that visually popped and had good hooks in the beginning. There weren't too many bad movies. Even though I love to make fun of SAO, Ordinal Scale was actually pretty good.
The nominees for best anime series of the decade are anything that won in a different category. So here's the list of all of them:
- Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt - Best Comedy
- Monster Musume - Best Harem, Ecchi, or Fanservice
- WataMote - Best School Drama, Realistic, or Slice of Life
- Kuroko's Basketball - Best Sports or Competition, and Best Ensemble Cast
- Maid Sama - Best Romance
- Attack on Titan - Best Shounen
- Re:Zero - Best Isekai
- Made in Abyss - Best Fantasy
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Best Magical Girl
- Tokyo Ghoul - Best Horror or Battle Royale
- Log Horizon - Most Underrated
- Aggretsuko - Top Pick for Adult Women
- Tiger and Bunny - Top Pick for Adult Men
- Kill La Kill - Best Female Protagonist
- My Hero Academia - Best Male Protagonist
Kill La Kill
I've seen all of these, some multiple times, like Puella Magi Madoka Magica. But how I picked was essentially a question of which one would be the most fun to re-watch? And with its fast-paced action, witty comedy, and poignant reflections on totalitarianism and class struggle. There's just a lot that makes Kill La Kill worth revisiting.
But, I'd definitely recommend all of these nominees, you should check all of them out if you haven't seen them already. Some of my other favorites include Made in Abyss, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Aggretsuko.
Until next time!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Naomi Starlight
Naomi Starlight (author) from Illinois on February 26, 2020:
"You didn't include Best Male in the Best Series Category." Thanks for letting me know so I could fix it!
I'm not a Japanese translator. I copied and pasted the Japanese from a site for that joke warning thing. It's just a common phrase you used to see pop up on the screen in anime. I know some kanji, but not enough to be a translator.
I didn't see "Daa! Daa! Daa!?", but I might check it out. For this blog, I focus on things a lot of people are familiar with in the English speaking world, that have an official US release. I don't want to direct people to anime they can't watch or access easily. I usually use Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Crunchyroll as the main sources. But that one might be a good one to consider if I wanted to make a list of good anime without an official English version. Like 'Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei', although I think that one's being rescued?
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 25, 2020:
People who watch anime should really appreciate all the work you have put into writing this article.
ADVluv4life on February 23, 2020:
You didn't include Best Male in the Best Series Category.. I guess it doesn't change anything, but I love MHA and Deku more than the rest of these, Haikyuu second, and some I just felt were more slow or kinda disappointing. So I didn't keep up with them or forgot about them.. Though I do want to widen my anime shows that I watch and I'll totally take this compliation into account.
I want to be a Japanese Translator, how did you approach your career, it sounds fun?
I have a recommendation, if you haven't seen it.. Have you watch Daa! Daa! Daa!? It's pretty old, but my most fave since I was a kid. Neither the anime or the manga was ever officially translated into English, but the fan subtitles are pretty good. I bought the entire manga in Japanese to help me learn language, but it's a slow process.