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The Best Anime of 2021
Caitlin Moore, Lynzee Loveridge & The Best Movies

by ANN Editorial Team,

Click the cow to jump to Best Movies!

Caitlin Moore

5. The Case Study of Vanitas

Despite my constant refrain of “I'm not really into vampires,” I have to admit that The Case Study of Vanitas was one of the most consistently delightful anime of 2021, perhaps because it rarely indulged in vampire clichés other than the sexy bloodsucking, which I'll talk about in more detail another time. Perhaps it's because its most complex, troubled character is the human, while his vampire partner, who has plenty of complexities of his own, is overall a sweet, sweet boy who gets excited and loves life, people, and the city of Paris.

The dynamic between Vanitas and Noe is the main draw, but every aspect of the series shines through. It's beautifully animated, courtesy of the talented folks at Bones, with strong character acting and powerful action when needed. Paris – both of them – come to life onscreen, particularly at night with lovely lighting effects. But most importantly, underneath all the beautiful people and places and fighting, the story explores questions of self-worth, identity, and the effect trauma can have on both those things. I'm thrilled to get to see more of Vanitas, Noe, Domi, Jeanna, and their massive levels of psychology in the coming months.

4. Sk8 the Infinity

Free! has had many imitators since the smash-hit series debuted, but few true successors that managed to capture the energy and charm of the 2013 TV series. Every single one I watched was a disappointment. Finally, finally, in 2021, Sk8 the Infinity recaptured what I loved about Free!, and it came as no surprise, considering it was directed by the very same woman, Hiroko Utsumi. She and Bones, a studio that prides itself on allowing its directors plenty of creative freedom, were a match made in heaven. The series they produced was in turns grounded and gloriously over-the-top as each moment called for, and always confident.

Sk8 the Infinity can take a Takehito Koyasu-voiced villain who tap dances on his skateboard and a juggalo mid-boss who becomes a member of the main ensemble and blend it into a story about friendship, grief, and competition in a way that makes sense. That takes some serious confidence to pull off, and pull it off it did. Sk8's endearing ensemble cast goes a long way to making the series fun to watch, and it got through 12 episodes of skateboarding races without once feeling repetitive. It may not be the most intellectually stimulating series, but it's fun and made me happy to watch every week at a dark time for everyone. That's worth a whole lot.

3. Kageki Shoujo!!

How many times must I effusively praise Kageki Shoujo!! for this site? Would it not be enough to link to one of my manga reviews? No? Fine, then I'll break it down yet again: Kageki Shoujo!! is a love letter to the performing arts, particularly musical theater, with one of the single most endearing female leads in all of anime. Sarasa is all garrulous enthusiasm, raw talent, and charisma that has yet to be refined in quite the right way, and she brings delightful disruption with her as she barrels into the halls of Kouka-not-Takarazuka Academy.

Although it takes some time for her classmates to adjust to her presence – particularly her PTSD-suffering roommate Ai Narata – Kageki Shoujo!! avoids falling into the kind of bullying narrative girls' high school stories delight in. Instead, it eases into something more meditative about gender in the performing arts, and about the nature of talent and ability. As Ai warms up to her, their bond turns tight, even inseparable, and carries a whiff of homoeroticism as well. The other girls in their class get their moments to shine as well, exploring their own relationship with the theater and what it means to them. While the manga is better, the anime version is certainly no slouch.

2. Sonny Boy

One of the things I've been saying for years is that I want more “there and back again”-style isekai anime, where the main character travels to another world, has a life-changing experience, and returns with new skills and knowledge that better equip them for their life ahead. Those are the isekai I grew up with, and the ones that touched my heart most deeply. Sonny Boy, about a class of middle schoolers on the cusp of graduation whose school is set adrift, brings something like that, but… different. Not cynical, necessarily, but sadder and less idealistic, showing how that life-changing experience is never quite as life-changing as it seemed at the time.

It's difficult to talk about Sonny Boy in brief for a couple of reasons. It is thematically dense, presenting idea after idea in each episode, all the while challenging and contradicting itself. It's also a difficult series to decode, as writer-director Shingo Natsume utilizes the kind of abstraction-heavy storytelling where it can be hard to tell what is meant to be consciously analyzed as part of a symbolic system, what is meant to be understood symbolically, and what is essentially meaningless. Or maybe it's all meant to be meaningless, allowing each audience member to project their own ideas onto it. Who knows! That's kind of the beauty of it. Like its characters' trips through alternate universes, Sonny Boy is an experience that will not be soon forgotten.


This feels like a bit too obvious a choice for best anime of the year. After all, it's received nods and accolades that extend well beyond the typical anime community, not to mention a huge amount of attention among its expected audience of fans. But you know what? It deserves it, because ODDTAXI is truly excellent in every way. The neo-noir thriller doesn't have a single spare cell of animation or line of dialogue; every moment contributes to the escalating tension as all the disparate plotlines slowly coalesce into a single stunning conclusion.

In fairness, not every single line is just about advancing the plot; the particular charm of ODDTAXI comes from just how full of life and personality each and every one of the cast is. Is it essential to the plot that Yano raps everything he says, or for Odokawa and Goriki to go on a tangent discussing Bruce Springsteen in “We are the World”? Probably not, but it does humanize them. That's important in any series, but especially when your main character is a taxi-driving walrus with a crush on an alpaca that practices capoeira. ODDTAXI gives you just about everything you could possibly want in a series.

(For what it's worth, I totally called the twist from the first episode.)

Lynzee Loveridge

5. Kageki Shoujo!!

I sure do hope we get more Kageki Shoujo!! anime in the future because I want to know more about these girls and see their future performances. The show's production itself was a bit workmanlike and it had some very serious issues like eating disorders, stalking, and child sex abuse that weren't always handled in the best way but then it would turn around and give us romantic drama like episode 8 and knock it out of the park. The lead duo, Sarasa and Ai, felt like two sides of the same coin and built off the typical kuudere and genki girl tropes for girls with more nuance. The rotating ending sequences were always a huge plus and I've long since added them all to my playlist.

4. Zombie Land Saga Revenge

ZLS remains my idol show in a genre I usually bounce right off of. I love the genre-mashing music, the drama between the girls as they find themselves and evaluate their connections with one another, and the humor. The second season had some of my favorite moments from 2021 as we watch non-verbal Tae go about her day and see the community that supports her. There's Junko's song, which felt like a challenge (and I just love her singing voice in this series), and the closing performance which brought me to tears. Very little can top Lily singing "You can take pride in what makes you strange," which is a statement not only about her but the group as a whole. ZLS remains subversive as a series that focuses on an idol group comprised of members that do not adhere to the expected norms and yet inspire hope and happiness in its audience none the less.

3. Megalobox 2: Nomad

The second season of Megalobox was already following up one of my favorite anime of 2018. The second season was announced but wouldn't premiere for a number of years later and, given how these scenarios tend to play out, I was a little worried. Often times it's difficult to get the entire staff back for original projects like these and then there's the fact that first season had a definitive conclusion. Despite all of these considerations, Nomad is a triumph and in no small part because of the very thoughtful work of its staff. It's heavily introspective on the motivations of an athlete who has been knocked around the head one too many times, turned to drugs to manage his physical and mental anguish, and whose pride is at odds with his family. I also continued to enjoy its purposeful grainy aesthetic against the otherwise futuristic world that Joe lives in.


Both of my top two this year are series I'd call the "dark horse" of their respective seasons. ODDTAXI in particular felt like an indie series helmed by a fresh director and starring outside-the-industry voice actors who had more experience as rappers and professional comedians than working in anime. Even Natsuki Hanae, an extremely popular voice actor best known as the voice of the youthful and sincere Tanjiro did a 180 by voicing a cynical yet slick 40-something Walrus cabbie. It's yet another series from this year with a tightly constructed narrative that features nuanced characters that are both funny and relatable. Who hasn't gone absolutely postal after losing an ultra-rare gacha pull?

1. Ranking of Kings

This is a surprise to absolutely no one. I've been yelling about this series online and in person for about three months. The most apt way to describe this series is a miracle. I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes at Studio WIT, but Ranking of Kings has no business looking as good as it does at all times. When it comes to anime, I'm perfectly fine making concessions for wonky animated sequences and off-model characters from time to time. The state of the industry is hardly a secret anymore and I have a lot of empathy for the staff members working their hardest with minimal support on the absolute deluge of series we get every three months. It would be okay and normal for this show to have some stinkers or fall off narratively as it tries to tie all of its threads together. Then it doesn't. Every lead-up, one-off, and side conversation pays off in some way you wouldn't predict. Then there's the absurdly good character writing that fleshes out the characters you expect to hate, whether its the "evil stepmother," the power hungry younger brother, or the cursed magical entity. Further, whether intentional or not, the series emphasizes humanity overall and spotlights disabled and marginalized characters in a way that shirks narratives that emphasize pity or uses them as a way to focus on the growth of an able-bodied character.

The second half is looking just as intense and dramatic as the first and I can't wait.

Best Movies of 2021

Richard Eisenbeis

Thrice Upon a Time had one heck of a job ahead of it. It had to not only continue and conclude the borderline nonsensical story set up in You Can (Not) Redo, but also put together a satisfactory ending to the entire Evangelion franchise. Somehow, it succeeded in doing exactly that.

When it comes down to it, Thrice Upon a Time is the story of how Shinji, the boy who never grew up, finally grows up. It takes him from his lowest point and shows us step-by-step his journey to becoming someone capable of saving the world. Much of this comes from the excellent first act where he is allowed time to grieve and find a new place for himself. By learning that he can exist outside of being an Eva pilot—that simple happiness can still be found in everyday life (even during the apocalypse)—he comes to understand why he wants to be an Eva pilot. On the front lines, he can protect those who can't protect themselves—even if he has to wear a bomb around his neck to do so.

Beyond that, the film brings something new to the table philosophically. The End of Evangelion came to the pessimistic conclusion that you'll inevitably be hurt by those close to you but that's still better than being alone. However, Thrice Upon a Time posits that if you selflessly love those around you, and do what you can to make them happy without expecting anything in return, then you'll inevitably be surrounded by those who will do the same for you. In the end, you'll never be alone. And that, my friends, is one hell of a moral to end things on.

Christopher Farris

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon A Time

There were quite a few anime miracles this year. Gunbuster got licensed for a new Blu-ray release, complete with dub, for one! But the most impressive feat to me was something else from Hideaki Anno: The man actually, finally, for real this time, finished Evangelion! I'm sure it was plenty momentous for those that had waited nine years since seeing You Can (Not) Redo, but my experience was a bit different, since I'd managed to put off watching the entire tetralogy since it started, and just shotgunned the whole series the weekend Thrice Upon a Time came out. The remarkable thing is, I think so long as you had any experience with Evangelion as a franchise before this, making it to that big finish was worth it any way you got there.

It almost feels unbelievable that Thrice Upon a Time works as amazingly as it does. I know there was some gnashing of teeth in the wake of You Can (Not) Redo (though I personally loved that one), and just the idea of Anno actually bringing all his disparate concepts and experiences with the Evangelion story to come together and end this thing would seem like an insurmountable task. But bless him, he pulled it off, in a way that lands not just with palpable catharsis for his accomplishments, but for all of us that grew up with this series in one way or another, saying bye-bye to it in a manner that acknowledges the growth we've had necessary to reach this point. It manages that seemingly-impossible feat of wrapping a long-runner like this in a way that actually leaves me satisfied seeing it go out this way, happy for Anno having found the right terms to end the story that's defined him for so long, and grateful to him for doing so. What else can I say other than: Congratulations!

Runner-up: BanG Dream! FILM LIVE 2nd Stage

On perhaps the complete opposite end of artistic integrity, I got to see the second BanG Dream! animated concert movie! This thing is a naked promotional vehicle, devoid of story or conceptual footing apart from convincing us to buy CDs, character goods, and gacha tickets, but it was also an absolute joy of a production that I was all too happy to sit through. Look, you all know me by this point, BanG Dream! is one of my unapologetic comfort foods, and FILM LIVE 2nd Stage showed how you can turn that kind of appeal into entertainment even without opulent indulgences like 'a plot'. Instead, the production just goes all-in on presenting a believable animated concert, with all the sweat-filled excesses of effort in singing and performing that makes that energy so entertaining. In that case, this earns recommendation enough just to see how far SANZIGEN's advancements in CGI anime have come by this point. They're playing my song, and even if it's a song I've tapped along with on my phone hundreds of times before, I'm happy to hear it again here.

Steve Jones

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon A Time

It's been a few months, and I still haven't finished collecting my thoughts about this bulging three-ring- binder of a movie, so don't expect any eloquence from me here. Hideaki Anno's final word on Evangelion spills over with exactly as much indulgence and incomprehensibility as befitting the franchise, but the tenderness is what really surprised me. Eva 3.0 was justifiably hostile to its audience in the way it inverted our expectations and threw us off a dark apocalyptic crevice into Shinji's lowest point. 3.0 + 1.0 is a long and labored reversal, crawling its way upwards, fingertips bloody and ragged, towards an end that prioritizes reconciliation and healing above all else. Evangelion always had warmth, but only now, a quarter-century later, does Anno seem confident and content enough to lay bare that warmth free of pretentions or parentheticals. It's a deliciously laborious and ultimately uplifting conclusion to a story that has been with me my entire adult life. It's still impossible for me to assess it beyond that. I can only say I'm glad to have shared that journey alongside so many other fans and friends.

James Beckett

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon A Time
The son of a bitch actually did it. The first theatrical “Rebuild” of Neon Genesis Evangelion came out when I was a sophomore in high school, and as much as I loved the slick, big-budget reimagining of my favorite work of art in the history of the world, if you had asked me whether it would be worth having to wait until I was nearly thirty years old to see the conclusion of the series, I would have called you crazy. Yet here we are, in 2021, and somehow Hideaki Anno and the rest of the crew at Studio Khara managed to release Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time. The only thing more preposterous than this movie's title is the fact that it doesn't just manage to provide a satisfying conclusion to the Evangelion movies—it is the ultimate resolution to the entire franchise, concluding the story that began all the way back in 1997 with the original TV series. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 is a messy, uneven, and occasionally incoherent treatise on the lengths to which one incredibly traumatized boy must go to free himself from the shackles of his own story and find the strength to finally love himself. Half the movie is nonsense technobabble that literally means nothing, and the other half is just as experimental and confrontational as anything The End of Evangelion ever did. It's perfect, and I love it so much.

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