The Best Anime of 2018
James Beckett, Lynzee Loveridge and Chris Farris
We're publishing our bonus features once per day - click here for the best anime theme songs of 2018!
It was between this series and A Place Further Than the Universe for my number five spot, but Megalobox just barely won out by being the exact kind of anime nostalgia bomb that I never knew I needed. Even though it's a loose reimagining of one of the most famous sports manga ever made, Megalobox manages to walk the perfect line between paying homage to Ashita no Joe while still firmly establishing its own supremely confident identity. I loved everything about Megalobox's grungy “Blade Runner meets Cowboy Bebop” aesthetic, and it also manages to use those slick retro visuals to tell a thrilling about people punching each other real hard with robot arms. Sure, there isn't much to Joe, Nanbu, and Sachio's underdog story that we haven't already seen from other sports anime, but Megalobox make up for its lack of original narrative by pumping up with ridiculous amounts of coolness and charm. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that “peak TV” feeling when your job requires you to check in on so many shows all the time, but Megalobox kept me glued to my seat week after week. Nobody provided pure entertainment in 2018 like Joe did, and for that he earns a spot on this list.
Netflix's anime original offerings have been inconsistent to say the least, but Aggretsuko got the year started off right by offering a biting and often painfully insightful journey into the mind of a disaffected millennial office drone. That might sound bleak, but the titular Retsuko is a red panda designed by Sanrio who vents her frustrations by belting out heavy metal on karaoke nights (or in the office bathroom if things are really dire). Few series this year were as optimistic, kindhearted, and earnest as Aggretsuko, and its casual approach to office sitcom storytelling makes it a perfect gateway series for anime newbies who need something a little more low-key than, say, DEVILMAN crybaby. It might not make you any happier toiling away at your 9-to-5 job, but watching Retsuko and friends navigate the eternally confusing experience of learning how the hell to adult correctly is at least a solid reminder that, when you want to scream your lungs out at your depressing dating life or your sexist pig of a boss, there's an adorable little panda girl who knows exactly how you feel.
It says something about Asobi Asobase's quality that I was genuinely stressing about where it belonged on the list, and there are absolutely days where this deranged little comedy could stand as my favorite anime of the year. While the opening theme and plot synopsis might have you thinking that this is a show about three cute anime girls playing fun games and generally being adorable, do not be fooled. Olivia, Hanako, and Kasumi are three of the most disgusting, stupid, and downright ridiculous holy terrors of hormone-addled absurdity in anime, and that's what makes Asobi Asobase so special. Through a neverending onslaught of foul language, sex jokes, poop jokes, pee jokes, dick jokes, and literal ass-lasers that were implanted into a perverted butler by space aliens, this show is determined to annihilate your mind with the sheer brute force of its characters' idiocy. This might rightly sound like a nightmare for some viewers, but Asobi Asobase is the funniest anime I have ever seen – even after watching each episode at least three or four times, the Pastimers Club still managed to have me rolling on the floor with alarming consistency. Some of its regressive takes on queer characters sour the experience, but I'd argue that the jokes land eight times out of ten, which is a ratio of success that even the best comedies struggle to hit. If you feel like you can handle a show that plumbs teen girls' adolescence for all of its gross, awkward, and painfully relatable comedic potential, then I urge you to check out Asobi Asobase as soon as possible.
2. DEVILMAN crybaby
If any of my picks are controversial, I would imagine it's this one. Not because DEVILMAN crybaby isn't a thrilling, heartbreaking, and overwhelmingly beautiful masterpiece (because it totally is) – rather, I can see some people wondering how the hell this show didn't clean up with my number one spot. To be honest, DEVILMAN crybaby was sitting comfortably at Number 1 until I sat down to write down all my thoughts. It's still the most gut-wrenching and brilliantly produced anime I saw in 2018. It just wasn't my absolute favorite.
Go Nagai's original antihero epic dealt with dark material – the main character is literally a demon who brutally murders other worse demons – but Yuasa hones in on the acutely personal experience behind the devilish conspiracy that envelops Akira, Ryo, and the rest of the cast. Yuasa's signature style gives DEVILMAN crybaby an intensely impressionistic vibe, which makes the whole story feel gripping and intimate, even when geysers of blood and guts are being thrown at the screen. The show examines the fraught relationships with sex, love, and self-identity that so often fuel a young person's identity and sense of worth, which all gets filtered through the lens an epic gruesome war between supernatural forces. It's a tragedy of literally biblical proportions, but it never forgets how those stakes are rooted in painfully relatable human experiences. The depths of its characters' pain and suffering can make DEVILMAN crybaby a hard show to watch, but its commitment to such a raw and poetic vision demands to be recognized as one of 2018's finest achievements in any medium.
1. Planet With
Given that it doesn't have the visceral aesthetics of DEVILMAN crybaby, its action scenes aren't as slick as Megalobox's, its humor doesn't generate nearly as much laughs as Asobi Asobase, and it crams so much plot into its brief 12-episode run, it's easy to imagine a slightly different universe where Planet With ended up being little more than a failed passion project for Satoshi Mizukami. Thankfully, this universe seems to have lucked out, because the Planet With we got is nothing short of incredible art. Its Super Sentai-esque trappings don't initially do much to impress: Soya Kuroi is an antihero living with a space maid named Ginko and an anthropomorphic space cat named Sensei, and the cat swallows Soya to become a giant robot that must defeat a bunch of other robots, then an army of aliens, and then a space dragon. What's so special is how Mizukami manages to weave a propulsive and shockingly coherent narrative that delivers more twists and turns in just twelve chapters than many series can manage in 50, all the while treating its audience with respect and intelligence, trusting that we can latch onto the familiar tropes and still grasp the more complex and emotional themes underneath them.
Beyond its whip-smart writing and entertaining spectacle, this is a show that desperately wants to make the world a brighter place by demonstrating the power of joy and empathy to fight authoritarian fear-mongering. This is a message that absolutely needs to be heard, and Planet With spells it out with crystal clarity, while never failing to give us a fun and exciting giant robot anime too. It brought a light of hope into a very tumultuous year for me, so it is far and away my favorite anime of 2018.
The ever-expanding breadth of each anime season made my picks this year even more difficult that usual. Admittedly, there's probably at least five shows I'd like to have marathoned before committing to my choices, but at the end of the day, I had to come to terms with just not having enough time for the crazy amount of series coming out of Japan! I can't complain about having too much of a good thing though, with 10 potential contenders for “Best of the Year”. When it came time to narrow it down, I discovered that 2018 offered me a nice blend of muc- needed comedy, emotional sincerity, and overwhelming style. Creators were out there taking risks.
I wouldn't normally find camaraderie with Sanrio mascots, but Aggretsuko's introduction showed that the creators of Hello Kitty can pack a punch behind all that cuteness. The Netflix series stars office lady Retsuko, an adult female red panda that navigates sexism in the workplace and other everyday stresses by unleashing her inner death metal goddess in the karaoke booth. On its surface, this looks like another adorable mascot show, but the series is surprisingly relatable to millennials who are struggling to meet societal expectations like marriage and children while pulling long shifts for unforgiving bosses. Aggretsuko is female working class rage personified and watching her scream her little heart out was incredibly cathartic.
Pop Team Epic was experimental and unforgiving in everything from its format (A/B sides of each episode that are largely identical save for changing voice cast) to its presentation. Each segment was handled individually, giving contributors almost limitless possibilities. We got stop-motion animated felt characters recreating a music video by '70s funk band Earth, Wind and Fire paired with segments entirely in French. I didn't always “get” the jokes, and it was clear that sometimes the absurdity was the entire point. If anything, Pop Team Epic is a big old middle finger to all our preconceived notions of what a comedy anime is supposed to be, and I have to give them props for not holding anything back.
Megalobox was a stylish joyride from start to finish. I went into the show knowing next to nothing about its predecessor Tomorrow's Joe, with the exception that both are about boxing. That also means I didn't know about that famous ending or any other plot beats. My viewing experience was looking at the show as strictly a futuristic sports anime, but I think the series would also work for fans of the original. It subverts expectations that only those familiar with Tomorrow's Joe would pick up on, so it works on both levels. That said, Megalobox really takes you somewhere. Its dusty urban setting feels familiar even when men are beating the crap out of each other in exoskeleton-gear. Joe is the show's junkyard dog; a guy who's hungry to live beyond the circumstances he was cast into and has more bite than bark. And the fights are intense! Each match is gripping and I probably yelled at my TV more times than I'd like to admit.
2. A Place Further Than the Universe
There is a lot to gush about when it comes to this coming-of-age story, but I think central to A Place's success is how well-written its group of girls are. Each character feels very real and eschews many shorthand character tropes I've come to expect from anime. Even when casts are predominantly female, the characters can often fit into neat personality cut-outs with the jokes and conflicts following suit. A Place threw all of that out the window in favor of characters with more nuance and complicated feelings about friendship, personal fulfillment, and family. It also made me ugly cry which is not an easy feat, but over the course of the show I grew to really care about these girls and their happiness.
1. DEVILMAN crybaby
Masaaki Yuasa knocked this one out of the park. He took Go Nagai's seminal story to places it hadn't been before while still keeping its key points in tact. The brutality of adolescent awakening and what it means to be “othered” was captured in an incredibly powerful ode to humanity's worst tendencies while simultaneously asking where the line between “human” and “monster” actually lies, if it exists at all. Yuasa's signature style gave DEVILMAN crybaby a frantic energy that couldn't be found anywhere else this year. There were times where I caught myself thinking back on the implications of the series' plot even though it'd been many months since I'd watched it. DEVILMAN crybaby really stuck with me in a way nothing else has in quite a long time.
5. Lupin III Part V
It was quite a year for remakes and sequels of old properties in the anime scene, but one of the best examples was a series that's never really left us. Even without a new TV show, Lupin and friends have stuck around in specials and films almost continuously, so this new show could've just been one more of those, but it actually took things further. Pointedly taking Lupin into the modern age, the series avoided what could have been simple ‘Lupin gets an iPad’ exploitations to grapple with what it actually means for such a classic character to keep existing in our modern era. The series brilliantly used ‘filler’ episodes to flash back to different eras of classic Lupin, exposing new audiences to the bizarre antics of Pink-jacket Lupin or showing the Red-jacket version again to demonstrate how the character's humor and style have evolved with our modern sensibilities. Lupin III Part V did what the best retro-revivals should do, proving how something from the past can still be relevant and provide more material to mine in the present.
This weird and wild little ride is still so fresh in my brain I'm not certain how high it should be on this list. But I am sure that Zombie Land Saga went from being a pleasantly unique surprise to being an impossible-to-ignore fixture of my fall season. Once the series got going, it was the sort of thing where my friends and I were racing to message each other about the latest episode. It's an absurd and irreverent comedy that still made me cry on multiple occasions. I think it's the best idol anime ever. I feel like it's maybe been hyped up so much this year that those that haven't seen it yet could find themselves pushing back against it, but I say give it a chance. It's a feel-good show that will make you smile (and sob!) and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
SSSS.Gridman is a follow-up to a semi-obscure tokusatsu series, animated by TRIGGER with a ton of additional visual inspiration from Transformers, so I was pretty much guaranteed to like it at least a little, but it turned out to be far better than I expected. Far from just checking off all the references that Akira Amemiya and his scrappy crew had thrown in, each episode of SSSS.Gridman proved to be a brilliant and fulfilling experience in its own right. Its visual acuity alone is worth pages of praise, with the direction of episode 9 being a standout example. The series even managed to make CGI mecha/monster battles work smoothly by using the technology to mimic the live-action suit-fights that inspired it. SSSS.Gridman is a love letter to the plastic heroes of our childhoods, unashamed of nerding out in the name of nostalgia that may have helped us out in some of our lowest moments.
2. DEVILMAN crybaby
It's a testament to how absurdly long 2018 felt that it definitely seems like more than a year ago that DEVILMAN crybaby kicked down the door and took the lunch money of almost every other anime that was about to come out. Masaaki Yuasa's a well-respected auteur within the industry, but who could have predicted that his version of Devilman would turn out so huge and impressive? Perhaps committing so hard to the grim vision of Go Nagai's original manga, down to its infamous ending, was one element that helped. Or maybe it was the show's Netflix-original status, letting it uncompromisingly cut loose with the excesses of sex and violence it needed to frame its vision, escalating to heights that made it genuinely hard to watch at times. The truth is that great works are multi-faceted, and there were many reasons that DEVILMAN crybaby became so great, and why it should endure for a long while after.
1. A Place Further Than the Universe
The only thing that could top Devilman for me was a show that's basically its ideological opposite. A Place Further Than the Universe really was the anime I needed to watch right after DEVILMAN crybaby wrecked me, and this heartening journey to anime Antarctica was worth all the steps the characters took me through. Many words have been written already on why this show is good, so I just want to highlight the moment where I realized I was looking at something special. It's about halfway through episode one, when Kimari follows Shirase into the bathroom to return her lost million yen, only to find her having locked herself into a stall. Shirase's violent kicks to the door and her anguished cries over having lost the money are all presented from the outside and Kimari's point of view, and yet the real-world pathos of it comes through perfectly for the audience empathizing. It's a raw feeling that meshes perfectly with the style of the show and the outstanding acting of Shirase's voice actress, but it barely scrapes the surface of the emotional highs and triumphs A Place Further would go on to cover. It caught me completely off guard going into what I initially assumed would be a more typical TV anime production, and I was gripped the rest of the way through.
discuss this in the forum (162 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history