This year has been anything but tradition, with coronavirus in play, but there’s some things that really would be better off staying the same, like the annual tradition of looking back on the best last year had to offer at the turn of the calendar. Here’s my two cents on what I think are the best that Anime had to offer, my Top 10 Anime of 2020.
My rules of this list are simple: if it aired/released this year, it can go on this list. I don’t see the point in only giving a show one chance during it’s airing season, and this is my list so I’ll list my favorite shows regardless of what season it started on. If this means that one show hogs the top spot for 2 years, than good for that show! If it’s an OVA or movie that came out during the duration of the season I fell in love with, then it may be there. I think that the seasonal split is arbitrary and unnecessary, so it’s completely gone here. Sorry about that, but that’s how I’m doing it.
Just an FYI, the placement of the show in the list is mostly based on my experience and enjoyment of the work, so if you’re wondering why something isn’t where you think it should be or you can’t really tell via the justification, that’s probably why. Keep in mind, just because a show is lower on the list doesn’t mean it’s bad — all of these are great, and a lower placement isn’t a mark against the show, at this point it’s nearly all personal preference. With that out of the way, let’s get started!
Thoughts on Anime in 2020:
I’m going to be completely honest here: these past two years, I haven’t watched a lot of anime. Hell, it was so bad that I didn’t make a 2019 list. A part of this was me getting busy — I got into the junior year of an engineering degree at university and thus all my free time was gone. But if I’m being honest, that’s an excuse: even when I was busy in the past, I still managed to find time for anime. Really, the culprit was that I stopped watching seasonally — before I would have a routine of watching about 10 shows a season, and finding an hour a day to catch up on the new shows. In 2019, I couldn’t find 10 shows per season, and honestly the shows that were out really didn’t appeal to me, and I didn’t keep up since. I’ve turned to reading manga to get my fix, and that’s replaced anime in my routine, but for anime, that’s made watching seasonal shows all that harder, because I already know what’s gonna happen for many shows that are airing.
To add to all of that, 2020 was quite possibly the slimmest year for anime as a whole since I started watching in 2012, especially in Spring and Summer, thanks to everything being delayed because of Covid! I only watched a show or two seasonally, and even then didn’t keep up week by week. That being said though, even though I thought 2020 as a year of anime wasn’t particularly great, the best of this year was still great. It helps that a lot of series I like got new seasons this year.
Anime Made By: MAPPA
Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Plot Summary: The story revolves around Kaiman, who does not remember who he was before he was transfigured by a Magic user. This transformation left him with a reptile’s head, and a desire to find out the truth about who he really is. Accompanied by Nikaido, his female companion, he tracks down Magic Users in “The Hole” and unceremoniously chomps down on their head, hoping to find out who it was that put him in this state. One by one, they witness this “second man” inside the head of Kaiman, and after pulling them back out of his mouth he asks them all a question… “What did the guy inside my head say?” — Plot Summary from AniList
My Thoughts: Normally, Dorohedoro is not the kind of show I’d go out of my way to watch. I’ve made it an emphasis to effectively ignore premises when looking for shows so that didn’t really grab me, and on first impression what I saw from Dorohedoro, I thought it would be too hammy and over the top for my tastes. All that being said though, I’m glad I did. This year, at least before the quarantines started, I started to watch anime with other people and one of my friends encouraged me to give it a shot. What I found was my concerns were a non issue as it toed the line extremely well and the rest of the show easily blew me away.
Dorohedoro is full of charm, is well produced with an absolutely unique presentation and a fantastic cast. I loved the setting of the world and I had a blast watching through the show.
9. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle
Anime Made By: Doga Kobo
Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Plot Summary: Sshhh! Princess Syalis is trying to get a good night’s sleep. Some shut-eye. Forty winks. Catch some Z’s. Long ago in olden times when people and demons lived together in-well, disharmony, really-a demon king kidnaps a human princess and imprisons her in his castle. Bereft, the princess’s subjects beat their chests in anguish…until a hero arises to spearhead Project Rescue Our Princess! While waiting for her knight in shining armor, what’s an imprisoned princess to do…? Teddy-bear guards with bat wings are all very well, but her dungeon cell is bo-o-o-ring! So, she decides to wile away the long hours by sleeping. Now if only she could get comfortable…and didn’t suffer from insomnia… — Plot Summary from Viz Media via AniList
My Thoughts: A lot of people tend to hate on pure slice of life comedies because they say nothing happens, but Slice of life has become one of my favorite genres in anime because there’s so little tension. Because they’re so simple, many problems that plague other genres like suspension of disbelief breaking and balancing of tone are simply not problems with slice of life shows. So many SoL shows maintain a consistent level of quality week by week and because they’re not dramatic or overly action, they comprise quite a bit of what I watch seasonally. That being said, rarely do they do anything exceedingly special, so as a result they don’t really make my top 10 lists much.
Honestly in my opinion, Sleepy Princess isn’t really an exception to this, but in the year 2020, when all of us can take a bit of soothing, the slice of life comedy of Sleepy Princess was greatly appreciated. It was good slice of life fun that had me smiling throughout, and I really grew to adore the princess and the supporting cast of of demons. I also really apricated the themes and subversion of expectations you rarely see in the extraordinarily bland genre that is fantasy in anime, with the demons being incredibly nice and the princess being an utter monster. The message of “just because someone is in the out group doesn’t make them evil” is a lesson that seemingly is more important to share now than ever.
8. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom
Anime Made By: SILVER LINK.
Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Plot Summary: Wealthy heiress Katarina Claes is hit in the head with a rock and recovers the memories of her past life. It turns out the world she lives in is the world of the game Fortune Lover, an otome game she was obsessed with in her past life… but she’s been cast as the villain character who tries to foil the protagonist’s romances! The best ending the game has for Katarina is exile, and the worst, death! She’ll have to find a way to avoid triggering the flags of doom, and make her own happy future! — Plot Summary from Crunchyroll Via AniList
My Thoughts: For me, the appeal for My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom can basically be summed up with one sentence: Katrina Claes is amazing. Katrina, who’s been affectionately given the nickname Bakarina by the community, is a Dumb as Rocks Bi Queen who was amazing to watch. So many stories try to make a perfect protagonist without any flaws or try to Pidgeon hole them to be nothing but archetypes, but the problem with that is prefect often ends up as bland, and flaws in characters add charm and make them all that much more relatable. Villainess is a show that understands that Katrina is a flawed character and runs with it in a really fun, endearing way.
Also, there’s just really something about the sunshine girl brimming with positivity trope that gets me every time. I am weak to it and adore it every time I see it.
7. TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You
Anime Made By: Seven Arcs
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Slice of Life
Plot Summary: The story follows a protagonist whose name is written with the characters for “Hoshizora” (“Starry Sky” in Japanese), but whose name is pronounced as “Nasa”. On the day of his high school entrance exams, Nasa encounters a beautiful girl named Tsukasa. For Nasa, it feels like destiny is finally calling out to him that he will have a girlfriend, but things take a turn for the worse when Nasa is hit by a car and unable to attend his entrance exams.
After Tsukasa helps the injured Nasa, he confesses his feelings to her, and she agrees to go out with him, but only if Nasa agrees to marry her first. A year later Nasa aces the entrance exams, but he decides to work a part time job and live by himself instead of going to school. After Nasa turns 18, Tsukasa re-appears, and their happy, romantic, and mysterious married life together begins. Plot Summary from Crunchyroll Via AniList
My Thoughts: For years, romantic comedies were fixated on the will they, won’t they dynamic, which infuriated many in the AniTAY community and the anime community as a whole. It seems like in the Reiwa era, the industry has colletively decided to say fuck that, and Tonikawa is a show that’s leading this charge. Skipping all the bullshit of romcoms, Tonikawa focuses on what it is like to be a new couple, and the relationship of that itself. It’s refreshing, fun and a great show.
While all of the above is true, honestly for me Tonikaku Kawaii’s primary appeal is just the characters themselves. I really love watching Nasa and Tsukasa and could read/watch hours of them just doing anything to be honest. I love how dorky Nasa is, I love how Tsukasa geeks out about her passions and interests, and obviously the chemistry between the two is a delight to see. The way they learn from each other, the way they interact with their quirks and cover the weakness of the others well, all of it is just a pleasure to watch.
6. Ascendance of a Bookworm Season 2
Anime Made By: Ajiado
Genres: Fantasy, Slice of Life, Drama
Plot Summary: When Myne learns that the Holy Church is in need of mana for their relics, she sees it as her chance to be cured of her life-threatening mana disorder. After seeing their bountiful library, she throws herself headfirst into the Church’s grasp and begs to join their order. In exchange for her service and her unusually bountiful supply of mana, Myne is given the blue robes of a noble-born apprentice priestess, despite being a commoner. To Myne, all this talk of mana and nobility is trivial, as she now has access to an unlimited supply of books!
As Myne transitions into the next phase of her life in this new world, she soon learns that achieving her dream has come at a heavy cost. Noble society is severe, unforgiving, and fueled by politics and neglect. She must now deal with the class conflict between the noble-born blue robes and the common-born grey robes, the High Priest’s attempts to oust her, and constant behavioral issues from her new retainers. With the help of her family, friends, and the enigmatic Head Priest whose loyalties and motives remain unknown, Myne seeks to overcome these obstacles and continue on the path to becoming her ideal self-the ultimate librarian! — Plot Summary from AniList
My Thoughts: Out of all the shows on this list, Ascendance of the Bookworm is most likely to be the show you haven’t seen, which is honestly a shame. Ascendance of a Bookworm pairs a fun and quirky protagonist, engaging character drama and fantasy politics in a package that keeps a consistently high bar of quality. I’m amazed by the consistency of Ascendance of a Bookworm’s quality, throughout 2 seasons there’s rarely been a down moment, and as a result Bookworm has been one of the more compelling shows that has aired in the recent months. If this is the first time you’ve heard of it, definitely give it a shot.
5. Chihayafuru Season 3
Anime Made By: MADHOUSE
Genres: Drama, Romance, Sports
Plot Summary: They may have just won their most coveted karuta tournament, but members of the Mizusawa karuta team still have a long way to go. Each member chases their dreams, and with a win under their collective belt, those dreams are closer in reach than ever. Chihaya Ayase is determined to challenge Wakamiya Shinobu and win the title of Queen, and Taichi Mashima is ready to take on Arata Wataya now that he’s made it into the most elite of karuta players — but an unexpected revelation will deal these karuta players a hand none of them saw coming. — Plot Summary from Sentai Filmworks via AniList
My Thoughts: While it isn’t very intuitive, in anime sports and romance are two genres that work well together, playing to each other’s strengths. While you might just assume that sports anime is just Shonen but with a sport, oftentimes a sports anime will do character development and handle character relationships extremely well, leaving everyone likable and making it easy to root for. Chihayafuru manages to take this character development and add romance to the mix in the most natural of ways, and it’s really a blast to see. The whole cast is full of depth and seeing Karuta matches and tournaments is always a blast. I also really love Chihaya is a character, like I mentioned with Bakarina, I’m really a sucker for sunshine girl and Chihaya is definitely that at most times.
It’s been a long time since we last saw Chihayafuru: Season 2 aired back in 2012. As you’d expect from Madhouse though, Chihiyafuru Season 3 didn’t miss a beat, and it was just as gripping and compelling as the first time I watched it.
4. Haikyuu!!: To the Top
Anime Made By: Production I.G
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Sports
Plot Summary: The Karasuno High School Volleyball Club finally won their way into the nationals after an intense battle for the Miyagi Prefecture Spring Tournament qualifiers. As they were preparing for the nationals, Kageyama is invited to go to All-Japan Youth Training Camp. At the same time, Tsukishima is invited to go to a special rookie select training camp for first-years in Miyagi Prefecture. Hinata feels panic that he’s being left behind as one of the first-years and then decides to show up at the Miyagi Prefecture rookie select training camp anyway… — Plot Summary from Crunchyroll via AniList
My Thoughts: A lot of people in the anime community tend to assume that the most popular anime aren’t the best anime. They’re popular because they do plenty of things right, but there’s an assumption that because they aim to appeal to lots of people, they can’t be as interesting or compelling as the best of the them. This absolutely does not apply to Haikyuu, which amazes with it’s quality of execution year after year. Just absolutely supurb directing, fantastic pacing for a show running this long, some of the coolest shots of animation in the industry, extremely great usage of one of my favorite soundtracks in anime, never faltering every time it airs. With To the Top!!, we got 2 great seasons this year, with awesome matches, but more importantly we finally got to see Hinata grow in ways he hasn’t before. Honestly, the only thing I can think of that’s even kind of a criticism is that it’s more of the same, but when the same is this great, is that even a problem?
3. Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2
Anime Made By: A-1 Pictures
Genres: Comedy, Psychological, Romance
Plot Summary: After a slow but eventful summer vacation, Shuchiin Academy’s second term is now starting in full force. As August transitions into September, Miyuki Shirogane’s birthday looms ever closer, leaving Kaguya Shinomiya in a serious predicament as to how to celebrate it. Furthermore, the tenure of the school’s 67th student council is coming to an end. Due to the council members being in different classes, the only time Kaguya and Miyuki have to be together will soon disappear, putting all of their cunning plans at risk.
A long and difficult election that will decide the fate of the new student council awaits, as multiple challengers fight for the coveted title of president. — Plot Summary from AniList
My Thoughts: Kaguya-sama Love is War is easily my favorite manga ever and the manga quite possibly my favorite piece of media in general. There’s so much I love about Kaguya: the way Akasaka sensei balances tone is truly the best I’ve seen, bouncing between lighthearted comedy and serious character drama in a way I would describe as perfect. The writing is authentic and gets to the heart of what relationships mean, oftentimes having memorable moments that leave an impact on you hours after reading. The way that everything is paced, and the surprising amount of content every week makes it always a thrill to read the newest chapter. Also, keeping up with Kaguya several years, excitingly reading the newest chapter, with so many of them making my week, the series has definitely grown on me. To top all of this, I adore the cast — there’s so many lovable and relatable characters.
So, with all of that said — what about the anime, and why is Kaguya 3rd on this list? Mostly, it’s that it hasn’t gotten to my favorite parts of the manga. Season 2 was the first step into Kaguya’s character drama and I loved what I saw, but it’s not quite there yet. I’ve also just never really clicked with the anime in the same way I have the manga — the anime is a great adaptation of the manga but it hasn’t resonated me, quite possibly because I already know what’s going to happen, or because the pace is too slow for my tastes. I’m hoping season 3 changes that, but until then I appreciate Kaguya’s anime but don’t really quite love it.
2. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax!
Anime Made By: feel.
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Plot Summary: Resolved to become a more independent person, Yukino Yukinoshita decides to smoothen things out with her parents, and the first step toward achieving that goal is to prove herself.
As graduation draws closer for the third-year students, Iroha Isshiki-the president of the student council-requests a graduation prom in collaboration with the Volunteer Service Club. Yukino accepts this request of her own volition, hoping to use it as a chance to demonstrate her self-reliance, but what lies ahead of her may prove to be a hard hurdle to cross.
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Kan revolves around the graduation prom as emotions are poured into the preparations for the event. At the same time, a chance for the Volunteer Service Club members to better understand each other presents itself. And thus, Hachiman Hikigaya’s hectic and bittersweet high school life begins to draw to a close. — Plot Summary from MAL
My Thoughts: SNAFU/Oregairu holds a unique place in my heart for me and many of us on AniTAY for being one of the most unique, meaningful and genuine romantic comedies out there. We’re not all perfect, and this is especially the case for stupid high school kids. There exists no show that is able to capture the feeling of being an adolescent better than Oregairu — it captures people and their interactions between each other like nothing else, with Hachiman confronting the cliques of high school, having to deal with the awkward relationship dynamics that comes out as a result of his actions, and confronting Hachiman’s introversion itself.
The show definitely has it’s haters and detractors, especially with it’s incredibly roundabout way of conversation, but the way it captures the atmosphere of being in a relationship and the subtext that hides behind the words is truly something that keeps me captivated on the series, even if it’s a bit of a double edged sword. Honestly in my eyes, Kaguya and Oregairu are just as great in what they try to do, but as the name of this season might suggest, this was the last and most impactful season of oregairu and as such gets the nod for second on this list. The ending of Oregairu was perfect, and god… as a result I want the genuine thing too.
1. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Anime Made By: Science SARU
Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Slice of Life
Plot Summary: First year high schooler Midori Asakusa loves anime so much, she insists that “concept is everything” in animation. Though she draws a variety of ideas in her sketchbook, she hasn’t taken the first step to creating anime, insisting that she can’t do it alone. The producer-type Sayaka Kanamori is the first to notice Asakusa’s genius. Then, when it becomes clear that their classmate, charismatic fashion model Tsubame Mizusaki, really wants to be an animator, they create an animation club to realize the “ultimate world” that exists in their minds. — Plot Summary from Crunchyroll via AniList
My Thoughts: When compiling this list, my AOTY was by far the easiest decision I had to make. I didn’t even really think about it- ever since Eizouken aired in winter, it cemented itself as AOTY for me and stayed there throughout all of 2020. This is a top anime list, and if I’m going to talk about what I felt was the best, most impactful and most engaging experience I had from anime in the year 2020, it had to be Eizouken for me.
Eizouken is a love letter to animation and anime fans, and even if you’re not an anime fan, Eizouken does such a great job in demonstrating what the creative process is like as a part of a group in general. Seeing Asakusa let her imagination run wild with all the ideas she had stored in her head the wrack her brains trying to convey that to others, and then seeing the group work in a team to create something real, dealing with budgets and outside pressures, going through trials and tribulations throughout the whole process. To add to all of this, the way that Science Saru (Massaki Yuasa’s studio) managed to present this to us was a sight to see, with some of the most creative and unique sequences in anime. Eizouken has the ability to demonstrate all the charm and joy that anime has to offer, and consistently did it week by week. Eizoken’s ability to convey pure unadulterated imagination is something that I never really thought could be done and it genuinely blew my mind. Also, this show was basically made for sakuga blog, and their coverage of it was amazing. if you didn’t read through those posts, you were missing out.
Putting it more straightforward, Eizouken made me love and appreciate anime all that much more, and resonated with me like no other show has done in ages. I love the rest of this list, but Eizouken is top 10 anime of all time material for me, and I’m glad to say it’s my Anime of the Year.