The 2010s were a major decade for myself personally and solidified my anime fandom as a permanent fixture in my life going into adulthood. Early in the decade I started this blog (and actually updated it), hosted a podcast, and got as deep into the fandom as I could stomach… and emotionally barely survived the experience. The second half of the decade I unfortunately pulled back on writing but dedicated myself to creating compelling content for anime conventions. Now moving into the 2020s I hope to continue my work on anime and the fandom in some way weather it is return to this blog, finally start to create videos, or simply keep traveling to Japan and getting lost in the woods and eaten by a yokai; whatever form that takes, I’m happy that anime is an unshakable foundation of my life even as life takes me to unexpected places and my goals change over time.
So here is my list of the Top 10 anime of the 2010s:
10. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
Madoka Magica exploded on the scene in 2011 to an unsuspecting audience. The animation was beautiful and the enemies, created using a cutout-craft style of art, were a refreshing change to the art style of Japanese animation at the start of the decade. Madoka Magica was a standard Magical Girl show with a slightly dark twist until the third episode where one of the main characters is brutally killed and the show truly begins. What was set up as a show about a magical girl destroying bad feelings starts to peel back the layers to reveal more and more of the secret world hiding just beyond our sight. Even the most veteran Magical Girls didn’t realize what their actions were truly contributing too and the most horrifying realization is that the system they are perpetuating is unchangeable. A powerful witch would appear. Our heroes will die. The powerful conclusion was delayed by the horrible Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and when the show returned the sacrifices of Madoka and the hope she brought to a world on the brink of collapse was a welcome message after a natural disaster shook Japan to its very core. Many attempts have been made to emulate the series but few have come close to mirroring the elements that made the show a triumph.
9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Diamond is Unbreakable (2016)
The 2010s is the decade Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure finally got a good anime adaptation and finally became a known property in North America. All of the chapters of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure have been well made and enjoyable but Diamond is Unbreakable represents a maturity and mastery of Hirohiko Araki’s formula. It steps back from the epic scale of Stardust Crusaders to tell smaller stories about real people in a normal suburban town, granted with the ever present twist of everyone having a magical doppelganger hanging out with them. The villain has no aspirations of power but simply wants to be left alone to murder without interference. This mix up of the formula and refinement of the action makes a surprisingly refreshing experience after the epic battles and gruesome deaths of the Jojo’s chapters that came before. Diamond is Unbreakable is always thrilling and is constantly redefining its own internal logic and combat rules to the thrill and excitement of the audience.
8. Land of the Lustrous (2017)
The very first thing I noticed in Land of the Lustrous is the amazing use of computer animation. The characters in the show, sentient humanoids made out of gemstone, at first appearance seem human except for their hair: Which glistens with an otherworldly beauty enhanced by the use of CG to give it a lovely transparent and crystalline quality. The injuries in the show are even more dramatic with the human visage shattering to reveal more shining gemstone. It’s a combination of content and technology that happened to come at the right time and be given to the correct studio. The story follows Phosphophyllite, the softest and weakest gemstone who has a reputation among her peers of being a lazy daydreamer. She wants nothing more than to help the other gems fight off the mysterious Lunarians who are trying to shatter and collect fragments of the gems to sell as jewelry on the moon. The mysteries of the world are slowly unraveled as Phosphophyllite digs deeper into the truths behind the conflict and as she learns more about the world her innocence is slowly stripped away as she is emotionally and physically changed. It’s a lovely and powerful show that is worth watching and worth continuing in the manga as we await a second season.
7. In This Corner of the World (2016)
In This Corner of the World was a passion project of director Sunao Katabuchi who tried for years to get the film made and finally used crowdfunding to show how much interest there was in the project. His goal was to show life in Hiroshima before the bombing and strived for as much historical accuracy as possible using antique aerial photography and interviewing people who lived in the city in the early 1940s. The result is a slow, meditrative film following a young bride trying to cope with her husband’s family and her new life while their world is coming to an end. It’s an absolute masterpiece of historical filming and a must watch for anyone interested in the experience of Japanese civilians while their leaders propagated a pointless war.
6. From the New World (2013)
From the New World is a beautiful show that takes place in a far future where psychic powers have become a permanent part of human evolution. Due to the arrival of these powers modern society crumbled and humanity now survives in small villages where populations and personalities can be controlled and maintained. Humans who would abuse their powers later in life are identified and dangerous situations are resolved long before they become a problem for society at large. Our main cast of middle school aged kids are faced with an urban legend of a monster that comes in the night and takes children away; except it seems like the story is coming true. The anime follows along as the innocent children discover the horrifying lengths that society had to go through in order to survive the latest development in human evolution. It’s a coming of age story about children learning the lengths adults go to in order to survive.
5. Mawaru Penguindrum (2011)
Mawaru Penguindrum marks Kunihiko Ikuhara’s return to animation after a ten year hiatus. Ikuhara’s shows are comprised of a large portion of surreal and thematic storytelling more than straightforward, direct narratives. Mawaru Penguindrum takes the audience on a chaotic ride into the lives of our orphaned main characters Shoma and Kanba and their beloved but sickly sister Himari. During a trip to the zoo Himari’s illness gets the best of her and she passes away, but the brothers make a deal with the Princess of the Crystal in exchange for Himari’s life. In order to permanently bring Himari back from the dead the brothers must find the Penguindrum without any concrete information on what the object is or where they should begin their search. The quest will take them on a journey to re-discover and contextualize their own past and seek to define the meaning and nature of fate. Penguindrum, being more of a thematic narrative, follows the characters on an emotional journey until those emotions explode into the real world and the brothers come face to face with their truth of their past and have to decide if they want to embrace the destiny that was laid out before them by their parents or change their futures and embrace the lives they wish to live. It’s a difficult but fulfilling watch that I still struggle to contextualize even nine years later.
4. Shirobako (2015)
Shirobako is an anime about making anime. I struggled to define Shirobako in my 2018 review, which I am less than happy with because I find it difficult to define exactly why Shirobako succeeds narratively and emotionally. Shirobako takes the time to explain the processes of animation, it examines the struggles staff has with deadlines, and the creative struggles CG artists have with the monotony of the job. Establishing those aspects in the first half of the series leads into the drama of the second half, where no longer is the show teaching the audience about the struggles with creating anime, the audience is now an insider along for the rollercoaster ride the show presents as an anime goes from concept to broadcast. The strength of the show are the five main characters; the five likable characters all take jobs in different aspects of animation with the main character, Aoi Miyamori, taking the role of a production assistant and having to touch all aspects of the job. She is there to help her friends as they grow within their own vocations because she has an insight into how all the aspects of animation come together to create the finished product. Shirobako walks a fine line where it both displays the harshness of the anime industry but at the same time champions those who endure that harshness to make great art. It’s a love letter to anime from the people who create anime.
3. Kill la Kill (2013)
Rising from the ashes of studio Gainax, Studio Trigger was founded by Hiroyuki Imaishi after the success of Gurren Lagann and Gainax’s slow decline. Studio Trigger’s premiere show, Kill la Kill, picks up stylistically where Gurren Lagann left off bringing classic anime tropes into modern storytelling. Ryuko Matoi arrives at a new school ready to challenge authority but what she finds is a literal dictatorship defended by the class president’s own military police. After getting chased off she finds a sentient class uniform which gives her super powers and returns to the school to slowly disassemble the existing power structure. Kill la Kill on the surface feels like a surrealistic dream where superpowers and combat decide who hold all the authority in the world, but it also has a lot to say about the role clothes and how we present ourselves to the world reflects our place in society. It has messages about conformity and class and it has subtext about the end of state shinto after World War 2. Studio Trigger has an uncanny ability to create entertainment that can be enjoyed on many levels and while you can enjoy Kill la Kill for the action, visuals, and fanservice; once you go slightly deeper the show opens with messages on society, history, and fashion. Studio Trigger’s ability to create animation that can be interpreted completely differently based on the audience makes me constantly excited to experience their next insane adventure.
2. The Tatami Galaxy (2010)
The Tatami Galaxy premiered as I was finishing college and entering the workforce in the wake of the Great Recession. It came into my life at the absolute best and worst time. Every episode of The Tatami Galaxy features the protagonist choosing a club at the beginning of college and then the rest of the episode unfolds the events of his life following that small, seemingly insignificant choice. The people are always the same but his relationship and feelings towards them are shaped and defined by which club, which identify, he decided upon at a club fair during his first year in college. The narrative is complemented and enhanced by the wonderful art and direction of Masaaki Yuasa who’s style at the start of the decade was considered unmarketable but, after a successful kickstarter and the international success of his adaptation of Go Nagai’s Devilman, he transitioned from a critical darling into an animation superstar. However, Tatami Galaxy is not an early work from an up in coming creator, it is the result of a long career in the animation industry and a unique skill of fusing animation and narrative. It’s tone and style are a bit imposing when the series starts but sticking with it results in a rewarding experience of self-reflection and discovery.
1. Chihayafuru (Season 1: 2011, Season 2: 2013, Season 3: 2019)
Chihayafuru is the perfect melding of all popular anime genres. It’s a romance show, it’s a sports anime, it’s a shonen show, and it’s a uniquely Japanese story that could not have been made anywhere else in the world featuring an easy gateway into an aspect of Japanese culture that I would have otherwise never known about. Chihayafuru follows three characters and their journey into the world of professional Karuta: A card game that requires players to memorize 100 famous Japanese poems and identify the second verse by hearing the first. The concept at first sounds impenetrable to a western audience but by using the tropes of Sports and Shonen manga as well as building fantastic characters, learning the rules of the card game becomes a part of the enjoyment of the show instead of an overwhelming prerequisite. Beyond a shonen action show Chihayafuru has a lot to say about class, ambition, romance and desire, mourning and loss. Those messages are delivered effortlessly through the writing of the characters and how they both individually address their personal hurdles in life and how it reflects back on their advancement in the world of Karuta. Chihayafuru has remained the most enjoyable show I’ve seen in my adult life and revisiting it thanks to the third season has only reinforced the pure joy this show has brought into my life. Chihayafuru is unique to the medium and a masterpiece containing all the individual aspects Mandalorianof the Japanese media that have become such a central piece of my life.