With 2021 officially over, now comes the moment that many of you have been waiting for. It’s time for our annual foray into annoying everyone with our questionable opinions, the Best of Anime 2021 post! Continuing in 2019’s wake this will be a throwback to previous iterations with a collaboration between writers. That would be me (Pancakes), Choya, FJ Freeman, Princess Usagi, and Miss Simplice. We didn’t quite manage all the shows this year, but we heavily focused on watching entries that made a serious clamour within the anime community. This is a second time for us, and we’ll inevitably get things wrong. So please feel free to be brutally honest while giving us constructive feedback. And if we picked something you disagree with don’t hesitate to voice your opinion – best of posts are always subjective!
Continuing from 2019, there are numerous categories in the following areas: Production, Miscellaneous, Genre, and Notable Others. Due to lack of series candidates, and/or the belief that we may not have watched enough shows to make an informed decision about specific genres, some categories have been omitted from previous years. In addition to everything featured in 2019’s AOTS post this year includes some new additions for the sake of perceived fairness and better representation: Character Design (because sometimes an outfit just looks that amazing), Mecha (to help balance Sci-Fi as Isekai does with Fantasy), and Historical (since not every drama must be drama). Without further ado, let’s get started!
Disclaimer: As always, disclaimers abound. Please keep in mind that “best” is subjective. What’s best for us isn’t necessarily best for you, and that’s perfectly fine. This list shouldn’t be taken as some kind of inviolable truth, but rather the opinions of those involved who had too much time on their hands and spent it conjuring up a list of picks based on all the anime they watched. Naturally, our choices will be influenced by our own tastes, experiences, and personal impressions. Before you go bashing one of our choices, please make sure you’ve at least seen it and know where we’re coming from. Finally, all we ask is that you respect our opinions and the opinions of others in the comments, just like we respect yours. Thank you.
Disclaimer #2: The choices in this post are not reflective of the opinions of all Random Curiosity writers. They are solely the opinions of myself (Pancakes), Choya, FJ Freeman, and Princess Usagi, save for where otherwise noted. Thank you for your understanding.
Note: For a show to be considered, it has to have met the requirements outlined in the Reader’s Choice Poll. For OVAs/movies, the additional requirement is that it’s been either released on BD or DVD, so that viewers outside of Japan have had a chance to watch it.
Visuals and fluid movement. It’s all about the quality of what we see on screen and what impressed us the most. To a certain degree, character designs and overall art style fall into this category too.
Choya: This category is a complicated one. Do I go with the beautiful art style of AOTY contenders like Heike Monogatari, Sonny Boy, and Ousama Ranking? Or go with the polished, experimental animation of Bishounen Tanteidan? Or just troll everyone and choose EX-ARM? It’s a tough decision, but then it hit me. The amount of effort, beauty, and fluidity that went into Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S is nothing short of remarkable. With the uphill battle that Kyoto Animation has faced in the past few years, their animation quality continues to be a textbook example of “sakuga”. Their return to Kobayashi-san is no exception as larger-than-life dragons fly, stomp, and roam around cities and fields with the same high caliber animation they’ve prided themselves on. The fight sequences are smooth and beyond satisfying as characters soar and dodge through the air like a speeding bullet, and environments tremble and quake before their powers. The pastel color palette pops vibrantly, embracing the cute, fluffy, story-book aesthetic through times of peace and conflict. Character designs are equally impressive as new additions to the cast range from appearing rugged and gruff to bubbly and devious, meshing perfectly with the world of Kobayashi-san even with their own unique flair and flavor. Takemoto Yasuhiro’s work on the first season was a phenomenal, lively, and high-spirited triumph that transformed a cute, irreverent comedy manga into a sentimental journey with breathtaking animation that still retained its comical, carefree spirit. But the efforts made by Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S’s director Tatsuya Ishihara not only recaptured the first season’s magic, but reached the same riveting, emotional, and inspiring heights that made the first Kobayashi-san such a stunning, quirky, and beautiful anime.
Winner: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S
Honorable Mentions: Heike Monogatari, Sonny Boy, Bishounen Tanteidan
As the somewhat polar opposite to what’s on the surface, here we’re looking at depth and what captivated us from start to finish. You don’t need amazing visuals to tell a good story, so it’s about the original material (if any) and the screenwriter’s adaptation of it here. Good cliffhangers that keep you on the edge of your seat week after week suggest the series is doing something right, whereas filler-esque showings don’t.
Choya: As a whole, Vivy left no stone unturned with making each detail intricately crafted, from its action sequences down to its music. But deep down, it’s Vivy’s story that excels to its highest heights as a fascinating take on the potential that cybernetics and AI have with breaking beyond the simulacra of their automated replications of human behavior. While many philosophical interpretations of AI trudge through the same terrain as Phillip K. Dick books or Ghost in the Shell, the approach Vivy takes is more thoughtful and fleshes out Vivy beyond the restraints given as an autonomous AI designed to be a theme park idol singer. As Vivy becomes more invested in preventing the AI uprising and preserving humanity, she comes to terms with what humans feel, experience, and understand, warts and all. When Vivy is thrust into action, she rises to the occasion. But when she comes to understand how and why key moments in history occur, it transforms a “case-of-the-week” premise into a series of vignettes that capture the components of the human experience that are passionate, complicated, ambitious, and desperate for survival.
Winner: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Honorable Mentions: Oddtaxi, 86, Heike Monogatari
What would a series be without the music to help set the mood and tone? A good soundtrack enhances the power and emotions behind scenes in such a way that you start associating imagery with the music unconsciously, regardless of whether it’s cheery, inspiring, or heartfelt. Lasting impressions say a lot, plus it just has to sound good too.
Choya: Wow, is the music awesome in this anime! It effectively combines Vivy’s rhythmic, bubbly idol work with the solemn dreary outlook of the future she is trying to prevent in a soundtrack comprised of an impressive variety of electronic tracks. Each track is thematically tied to an AI idol’s ordeals as she goes on her journey to prevent a violent cybernetic uprising in the future, capturing the unnerving tension of combat, the poppy enthusiasm of a better future, and moments of contemplative self-reflection. Kosaki Satoru’s soundtrack takes the best influence from video game soundtracks, ranging from the fun experimental chiptune beats of the 80’s that Haruomi Hosono had admired to the tense trance tunes that would populate early 2000’s mech games. The closest I could describe the soundtrack would be the anime equivalent of the moody electronic hums and beats that his former colleague Okabe Keiichi would knock out of the park for the Tekken, Drakengard, and Nier series. For an anime about an AI created to live, breathe, and feel music, the soundtrack for Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song tells its own story as each beat encompasses the emotional highs and lows Vivy experiences on her journey.
Winner: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Opening & Ending Sequence
Whether for its originality or ability to showcase what a series has to offer, opening sequences are always fun to watch. We tend to look forward to new ones and the songs that will be featured in them, and sometimes get a glimpse at what’s coming up in the show too (for better or worse). Here, the focus is on the sequence itself, even though the song may play a part in making it memorable.
Unlike opening sequences, endings don’t strive to draw the viewer in and get them psyched up about the episode that’s coming up. Instead, they’re an outro to what you’ve just seen and may highlight a specific aspect/emotion of the series, though sometimes they’re completely irrelevant to the actual story and are just an outlet for sheer fun/comedic value. Whichever the case, there are certain sequences that we enjoyed more than others.
Winner: Kemono Jihen
Choya: Kemono Jihen felt like it should’ve been a massive series. It was a neat shounen that retained a creepy, supernatural atmosphere as a team of young, eccentric paranormal investigators surveyed haunted places for malicious spirits. The opening song “Kemono Michi” captures the fun, frantic energy of the series by infusing acoustic guitar with a danceable beat inspired by Latin jazz. Voice actor Ono Daisuke holds his own as his voice blends seamlessly with the smooth yet jaunty rhythm. Its exuberant personality lends itself nicely to the OP sequence that captures both the daily routines of the Inugami Strangeness Consultancy Office inspectors and the looming threats that face them. It gets you hyped up for the show, but also gives you a good understanding of who your key characters are. As Kabane keeps his eyes peeled for danger now that he’s living the city life, Shiki is making the most of his peace by chowing on his favorite food, pizza, and Akira is trying his best to stay pretty while reflecting on his cryptic upbringing. It might seem like a basic opening, but when each component comes together, it grooves and meshes so nicely with its sweet Latin jazz beat and cool, unique atmosphere.
Honorable Mentions w/ [Official OP/Official OP]:
Winner: Mars Red
Choya: Anime endings can be a hard sell. I mean, you’re expecting me to watch more of this to hear a somber, garden-variety melody as credits scroll in a dark space? Luckily, many of 2021’s best ED’s push the envelope by having some entertaining music and animation to go with it. While Vanitas no Karte, Uramichi Oniisan, and SK8 had such clean, smooth grooves, everything pales in comparison to the one and only HYDE. Ever since his time in L’Arc-en-Ciel, his powerful, booming vocals have been gracing Japan’s rock scene, making him one of the biggest rock stars in the nation to this day. With “ON MY OWN”, HYDE captures the loneliness and hunger that comes from living in isolation as a vampire with an intense, atmospheric rock ballad. The crisp, clean animation also fits the music well as it sheds light on the fraught, desolation that Deffrot has experienced, giving us a window into the burdens that he carries with him. “ON MY OWN” not only encapsulates the spirit of Mars Red, but does so with the artistry, bombast, and flair you would expect from HYDE and studio Signal.MD.
Honorable Mentions w/ [Official ED/Official MV]:
With the sequences covered, the attention is now on the actual songs. Insert songs are also up for consideration, with the only real criteria being that it’s something we never got tired of listening to. There’s no bearing on if it was created specifically for a series or even if the series was any good, we’re simply picking some of our favorite songs that were featured in an anime.
Life – Lily’s Solo Performance (Zombie Land Saga Revenge)
Choya: It feels like cheating to use a song from an anime about idols, but in the case of Zombie Land Saga Revenge, it had such an awesome, standout track in the form of “Life” from Episode 05. The original song was a classic pop ballad that her parents loved back when she was growing up. Playing it at the talent contest was not only a dedication to her late mother but also a way to send love and thanks to her father, who had finally started to love life again after he made peace with her passing back in Season 01. But when a rival sings the ballad version, she pulls out all the stops to create an entirely new rendition from scratch. With such a short span of time left, she rewrote the arrangement to shape it into a bubbly pop song, retooled her performance towards a cheerier melody, and improvised some scatting in between the original lyrics for a bouncier atmosphere. It’s not a life-changing song, but it helps solidify what makes Lily’s character compelling. Although she happily embraces the cutesier side of being an idol, her character is a creative force of nature who can come up with inventive solutions on the fly with enough energy and grace to look like an effort that would have taken the other idols in Franchouchou days to pull off. At the same time, her insane efforts amount to an unpretentious, down-to-earth tribute to her parents that aims to both send them a love letter and give the kids something new and fresh to be excited about. For a girl who was fearful of change, she uses her immortality to put her skills to the test and challenge herself to evolve as an artist.
Winner: Life (Zombie Land Saga Revenge)
While it can be argued that individual staff members play the largest impact in a series’ success and a staff may differ greatly between series made by the same studio, the argument can also be made that studios tend to have stylistic nuances that can be found only in series produced by that studio, and this category aims to recognize studios that have made themselves known in that regard—whether it’s in the staff they chose, the diversity of their productions, the consistency of their animation quality, or the quirks they’ve given their main characters.
FJ Freeman: Choosing a studio for one season is a simple thing, choosing a studio for a whole year is a whole acrobatic feat on its own. We had a lot of internal discussion on this one but finally decided on a winner, which we’ll get to shortly. Studio Bind, ufotable, MAPPA, A-1 Pictures, CloverWorks, and MADHOUSE they all could be up here, heck even Passione could count. However, this category aims to award and represent the studio that is able to constantly push out quality shows while having a massive quantity of them. In the end, we went with the studio that kept us cozied up with nostalgia, while making us gasp with new and exciting standout series, and adapting a much-loved manga with incredible talent and a knack for making it look easy. OLM is our winner, solely for the fact they’ve already pumped more than 90 episodes on the Pokemon (2019) anime with few delays, but for the most part, are able to bring the heat week by week. Furthermore, in the span of a year, they brought the 23rd Pokemon movie titled Coco. And let’s not forget OLM also invests in Original shows, bringing us the wonderful not-so-hidden gem, Odd Taxi a second season on the fantastic and cozy Isekai Shokudou and the standout hit Komi-san wa, Komyushou desu. For that, we’re choosing the 2021 studio winner: OLM!
Honorable Mentions: Wit Studio
Character (Male and Female)
Branching away from strictly picking series and focusing on some specifics is the idea behind the miscellaneous section. The first one is our favorite character, who won his or her way into our hearts for whatever reason. The criteria here is somewhat loose, but with numerous options in a single series, multiplied by almost a hundred in the past year, it’s actually quite difficult to pick one above all others. Be that as it may…
Choya: While the world of Odd Taxi is indeed odd, there’s nothing unusual about Odokawa being a top-tier protagonist. This middle-aged taxi-driving walrus adds a humble yet melancholic voice to the anime as he absorbs the experiences he gets from the lives of the passengers he carries and the various radio shows he tunes in for. He might be uncomfortable opening up to others, especially with his harsh upbringing, but his compassionate and serious side comes out through how he interacts with the passengers he takes from Point A to Point B. As he gets roped into tense situations with the mob and corrupt cops on his tail, we become further invested in his journey as he struggles his way through the mysteries that he’s now entrenched in. i>Odd Taxi is a magnificent, down-to-earth, and memorable mystery drama, and much of this is thanks to the engaging presence Odokawa has in the narrative.
Winner: Hiroshi Odokawa, Odd Taxi
Honorable Mentions: Rudeus Greyrat, Manjiro “Mikey” Sano, Ken “Draken” Ryuguji
Choya: Some characters are larger than life. For Vivy, this is due to the multiple roles she has to play as the first autonomous humanoid AI. Although she was designed specifically to sing from the bottom of her AI heart at an amusement park, it becomes more and more fascinating to see how her worldview develops with the experiences she’s thrown into. Being an AI idol is merely scratching the tip of the surface as the songstress diva is pushed to become a secret agent assigned to fix singularity points that would eventually lead to a century-long war between man and machine. But through Vivy, we learn that AI are far from being just machines as their emotions breakthrough beyond what they’re programmed to feel. The principle that there is life and spiritual energy in everything we interact with comes through as Vivy starts to feel and experience new emotions she would have never thought she could feel beyond the song she was initially programmed to perform. As she places a higher significance on the power of sensations and motivations, she shows that there are a myriad of emotions that cannot go ignored if we’re going to learn from mistakes and cherish those around us.
Winner: Vivy, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Son
Honorable Mentions: Hayase Nagatoro, Vladilena Milizé, Komi Shoko, Ghislaine Dedoldia
As the saying goes “dress for success” and in this category, we will be looking at the shows that have successfully dressed their characters in a defining manner. Series in this category will have costume designs that illustrate the characters’ personalities, fit into the story’s setting, are unique, and/or are stylishly done. The design of the characters are also unique, engaging, and suitable to the story.
Princess Usagi: Often, the most fascinating costume designs come from history because they have a lot to say about the era and can be different from modern trends. Heike Monogatari. in the course of detailing the medieval conflict between the Taira and Minamoto families was full of resplendent costumes. The rich colors of the clothing were truly beautiful and made the characters leap out of the screen. For the most part, the designers paid attention to the era’s customs in costuming, using colors and designs for each character that reflected their court status. The reason this show is not the winner is because the character designs were overly caricatured and far off base from the source material’s depictions. The prize for best costume design ultimately goes to the 1920’s era vampire story, Mars Red. The design of the costumes made the time period come alive with how they reflected the East meets West fashions of the period. The darker color palette used in the clothing was also quite fitting for the series’ tone. From the costumes and character designs, you could get a sense of the different personalities and some aspects were even involved in character-defining moments of the show.
Winner: MARS RED
The emotional moment of the year is defined by strong, persistent, and bold feelings. They can be torrents of happiness, pangs of regret, or the deepest reaches of agony and suffering, but the winner is the one which made us feel for the character alongside them and get just a bit of what they’re going through.
For plot twist of the year, we’re looking for a sudden unexpected turn of events in the story that caught us off guard and delivered sheer shock value. It’s that “WTF” moment that has people talking about it for the next few days, regardless of whether or not anyone found it agreeable.
Betrayal: The act of betraying one’s country, a group, or a person. This category was inspired by the ‘Top 5 Anime Betrayals’ meme and debuts as an experimental addition for the sake of fun.
This may be part of a plot twist or something you see coming a mile away, but we’re concerned about the impact the death has on the story and us as viewers. Well-executed screenplay leading up to it may play a big part, but there are also cases where a character dies so suddenly that we’re left in complete disbelief. In both cases, it’s the lingering impression we’re basing our selection on.
Action, action, and more action! The action genre ranges anywhere from shounen-crazed series to war-filled mecha shows. For battles, choreography plays a huge role, so that was definitely taken into consideration.
Pancakes: In any given year shounen typically winds up dominating action and this one again proved no exception thanks to the sheer number of viable contenders at play. While it would be easy to cop out and just hand Kimetsu no Yaiba the prize (the Mugen Train arc was technically a movie after all), the winner for here must be Jujutsu Kaisen. Thanks to MAPPA’s frankly impressive work in both art and animation, Jujutsu Kaisen was dominated by fluid fights, excellent choreography, and all-around satisfying and active action scenes. Of particular note is the CGI integration; much like ufotable, MAPPA did wonders in keeping the fan-favourite 2D feel for chaotic and movement-dependent aspects like aura and other supernatural effects. Top it off with an excellent music score and a plot which never really slows down and you have one fantastic show to kick back and indulge in. It goes to show, when it comes to action, money and passion can often mean the difference between decent and amazing.
Winner: Jujutsu Kaisen
Honorable Mentions: Boku no Hero Academia Season 5, Kemono Jihen
Emotion-filled romance at its finest. The relationship between characters and the emotions involved are the appeal, and the main criteria for selecting a series here. A sentimental story is always good, with tear-jerking scenes being a plus. This is the series that had the best romantic mood from the character interactions to the big confession.
Choya: The Fruits Basket remake has been a rewarding romantic anime to follow, offering the best of both worlds by providing a fresh, new coat of paint on an intriguing story about breaking the cycle of generational trauma. The experiences Tohru has with the Souma family add far more nuance and emotional depth to the bonds that develop and strengthen along the way. The love that blossoms between the Souma’s and Tohno is the culmination of how they’ve affected one another since she moved in with them. As each of the Souma family members struggle through the binds that tie them to the trauma they’ve faced, it makes it all the more powerful when Tohru helps them breakthrough and rediscover themselves. It’s an impactful romantic anime not because of a passionate, steamy love story, but rather how it celebrates the tenderness and intimacy of opening up to someone who cherishes you and what you offer to the world.
Winner: Fruits Basket: The Final
Honorable Mentions: Horimiya, Go-toubun no Hanayome ∬
A lot of good series out there depict an emotion-filled story where the romance comes secondary, if at all. Strong depictions of friendship and in challenging situations can really draw a viewer into the story and start making them sympathize with the characters. It’s a bit of an all-encompassing genre, but only a handful of series really pull viewers in with their screenplay.
Pancakes: Although I’m not the biggest fan of drama given the heavy use of melodrama in many a series these days, I must admit there were some good examples in 2021. Shiroi Suna no Aquatope naturally comes to the fore, but we also had Blue Period, Tokyo Revengers, and hell even Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou for added romance spice. All were great in one way or another, yet one coming out on top for me without a doubt was Kakegi Shoujo. This one really went places, taking a seeming yuri-centric story and flipping all preconceptions on their head, instead offering up a dark (yet intriguing) look at the seedy underbelly of the acting world and the struggle some girls go towards to make their dreams come true. It was harsh, it was honest, but most importantly it was tactful, always giving reason for the shock on screen or providing explanations for certain actions and responses. Kageki Shoujo was for me a very well-rounded production, and goes to show some of the best stories in anime are often the most unassuming.
Winner: Kageki Shoujo!
Honorable Mentions: Shiroi Suna no Aquatope, Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou
History is not just the particular clothing worn or a significant event or two, but a whole way of life that both influenced and was influenced by the issues, innovations, and values of the times. Noteworthy shows in this category incorporate a particular historical setting not just because it’s cool, but because it has actual bearing on the story. The history presented must also demonstrate knowledge of and respect for the time period.
Princess Usagi: While the plot itself is a whole other story, in terms of recognizing the time period, I was quite impressed by Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood. This tale of a supernaturally empowered assassin seeking revenge was set in an alternate historical timeline where the Shogunate retains power into the 20th century. By situating specific details of political and social tensions that occurred in real life history within their alternate universe, they showed a deep awareness of the period. The outstanding winner of the historical category goes to Mars Red. A vampire story set in 1920’s Japan, this series showed careful attention to the time period-accurately portraying everything from theatrical plays, movie posters, food, political figures, and other aspects that were relevant at that time. Furthermore, the era was not merely backdrop. The writers used the social and political atmospheres of the period to drive the plot and characters’ motivations. Mars Red demonstrated an impressive understanding of and respect for the era, which I highly applaud it for.
Winner: MARS RED
Honorable Mentions: Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood
The best horror shows are those that incite visceral feelings of shock, fear, and pulse-pounding dread. Gore is not a necessity for this genre, as there’s always psychological thrillers that are just as gripping if not more. However, those that can provide both an unsettling atmosphere and a good scare are even better.
Choya: What is horror? Or to be specific, what is horror in anime? Is it seeing somebody get violently ripped apart? Is it watching somebody’s face distort as they become increasingly angry? Or is it the foreboding feeling of being followed, and right when you feel safe and secure, you stand face-to-face with a mutilated ghost ready to attack you if you pay them any attention? In Mieruko-chan’s case, they pull off the latter example to such a great effect that it wound up being surprisingly one of the scariest anime in recent years. More often than not, you’ll be on the edge of your seat as Miko has to navigate around her daily routine as she has to endure onslaughts of malevolent ghosts who really want her to notice them. The tension is immense as Miko is forced to fake-out ghouls and camouflage her actions to avoid being attacked by the violent ghosts she’s able to see. As the stakes rise and Miko’s living situation is further complicated when she accidentally tails a suspected killer, Mieruko-chan proves itself to be a compelling horror anime disguised as a quirky school-life horror-comedy.
Honorable Mentions: SHADOWS HOUSE
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Thought-provoking storylines that keep inquisitive viewers watching and speculating on where things are headed? Yes, please. They don’t necessarily have to have a horror element to them either, as all we’re looking for here is a blend of detective/crime fiction.
Pancakes: Mystery was sure on the down low for 2021, with no series really laying hard into what we associate the genre with. Well, mostly. Besides Odd Taxi (a category in of itself as awarded later on), Beastars certainly played to the concept, and Fumetsu no Anata e, Godzilla S.P, and hey, even Deatte 5-byou de Battle had their moments in the sun. Easy to pick from any of them – but in the end it could only come down to Sonny Boy. Pure mystery at heart, Sonny Boy did great in wrapping the viewer up into its premise, never really revealing much if anything while still moving its supernatural-based plot forward. It honestly felt a lot like Lost (at least before that series lost the plot) given the themes, presentation, and character development at work, and though thematically shallower in the end than likely intended, it was a fun adventure wrapping up with a satisfying ending. Sonny Boy isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s definitely one worthy of its acclaim.
Winner: Sonny Boy
Honorable Mentions: Fumetsu no Anata e, Godzilla S.P, Beastars Season 2
Supernatural is undeniably a sub-genre of fantasy. But where you’ll typically see dragons and wizards in traditional fantasy, a supernatural story usually has a greater footing with our reality — which also includes realistic historical setting. It typically takes on a darker tone and specifically highlights supernatural creatures or happenings as being far from the accepted norm.
Princess Usagi: “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood who you gonna call?”-your local youkai-busting detective agency, of course! Kemono Jihen follows the adventures in modern Japan of a youkai detective agency, run by supernatural beings. One of the highlights of this show was not just the lore, but also the heartfelt way in which the characters grew beyond the social stigmas of being supernatural. Featuring another supernatural specialist, Kai Byoui Ramune sensitively explored morals with a folktale-esque approach in each supernatural malady of the week. They say one should fight fire with fire, or in the case of the Jujutsu sorcerers in Jujutsu Kaisen, fight curses with curses. And now, it is time for the winner of the 2021 Supernatural Show of the Year- Mars Red– with its masterful tale of unchanging vampires grappling with a fast-changing world of wars and modernity in 1920’s Japan. Mars Red artfully developed its vampire lore- incorporating standard vampire themes while delving into more mature themes of grappling with loss and near-eternal existence, all while set in the backdrop of well-researched, well-executed historical-political drama.
Winner: MARS RED
Honorable Mentions: Kemono Jihen, Kai Byoui Ramune
When it comes to science fiction, a futuristic world with advanced technology, robots, space travel, and superhuman abilities is the usual connotation. However, that’s not the only setting that fits this genre. Sometimes all a series has to do is play up a single sci-fi aspect and do it well to go down as an excellent sci-fi series.
Pancakes: Sci-Fi has seen a subtle resurgence of late, with several prominent and notable series and franchises rearing their heads over the past year for some very welcome entertainment – enough so in fact that for fairness we had to break the usual genre staple mecha out as its own category this time! Plenty of options for a genre rarely seeing variety were on tap this year, and nowhere better highlighted than in the top contenders of Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song and 86. Given the strength of these shows in their compelling premises and tight character-driven stories, I’d love to give the title to both – and truthfully they’re effectively tied – but in the end 86 just edges out Vivy thanks to its excellent adaptation pacing, very strong second-half development on the part of Shin and Lena, and A-1 Pictures truly bringing their animation A game. While the final two episodes are only airing next season (production issues are a perennial curse in the era of Corona-chan), 86 already shows how good a well-executed and produced character-focused sci-fi story can be with a little effort, and together with Vivy resoundingly highlights the best parts of a genre far too often left by the anime wayside.
Honorable Mentions: Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-, Godzilla S.P, Night Head 2041
Whether it be saving the world or saving oneself, mecha is defined by the presence of big giant robots helping its cast either achieve their hopes and dreams or avoid a terrible fate. While almost always sci-fi, mecha isn’t limited to the genre and has over the years seen some works venture into the realm of magic and fantasy to truly explore the potential of man and machine.
Pancakes: Normally mecha is relegated to sci-fi thanks to its ubiquitous trappings, but thanks to a rear-loaded year with multiple mecha shows (and some Sunrise ones at that) it made sense for the sake of fairness to give it some special attention – even if in the end it wasn’t really a contest. Probably no shocker that SSSS Dynazenon wound up stealing the show, as a combination of campy tokusatsu antics paired with a well-developed and diverse cast to yield an excellent example of the “traditional” mecha story. While arguable that Dynazenon is weaker than Gridman (in part from a lack of good Akane replacement), the exploration and fleshing out of Dynazenon’s main cast – including secondary members like Chise and Koyomi – helped transform a largely basic story into a fun and engaging experience with plenty of options for future franchise continuations. Mecha may be on the down low these days, but Dynazenon shows how this concept still has plenty left to give.
Honorable Mentions: Back Arrow, Muv-Luv Alternative
Where science fiction seeks to explain the remarkable happenings of its universe via technology and logic, fantasy is less concerned with that. Wizards, dragons, and Tolkien-esque adventures are what usually come to mind, but those aren’t mandatory. As long as the focus is less on what makes the world tick and more on using magic and wonder to tell a story, it’s probably a fantasy tale you’re looking at.
Pancakes: Thanks to the current anime zeitgeist of isekai fantasy isn’t the most well-represented of genres these days (it’s why we broke isekai out as its own category), but this year still found time to offer up a few choice examples. Whether that be lesser efforts like Hortensia Saga, the pure (and wholly provocative) power trip in Kaifuku Jutsushi no Yarinaoshi, or the “technically an isekai” Sentouin Hakenshimasu, we weren’t lacking for options, and in the case of Ousama Ranking even have a clear winner already set to claim 2022’s title once it wraps up early next year. It would be easy to pass over the genre entirely, if it wasn’t for Heion Sedai no Idaten-tachi. While not the most overt of fantasy contenders, Idaten skillfully paired a vivid and fluid art style with an intriguing thriller-lite plot and shounen-esque character development, offering up a show which never once laid off the gas or spared effort in letting its world shine. At heart Idaten showed just how much more there is to fantasy than simple swords, magic, and pointy elf ears (something far too often forgotten – remember urban fantasy exists!), which in a sea of derivative alternate world shenanigans goes a long way to help keeping the OG genre fresh and fun.
Winner: Heion Sedai no Idaten-tachi
Honorable Mentions: Tatoeba Last Dungeon Mae no Mura no Shounen, Sentouin Hakenshimasu
As an extension of the fantasy genre, isekai is a concept that has taken the anime industry by storm, revolving around a normal person from Earth being transported to, reborn, or trapped in a parallel universe — usually in a fantasy world.
Pancakes: With the isekai train still barrelling along it makes sense to continue breaking it out as its own category for consideration, and this year especially helps reinforce why. Upwards of 20 (!) different isekai series aired through the course of 2021, ranging from your laid-back fantasy takes in Slime Taoshite 300-nen to the comedy laugh-o-ramas of Meikyuu Black Company all the way to new reverse harem genre-mates in Otome Game. In a year featuring too the heavy hitting likes of Re:Zero, Log Horizon, and Tensura you’d think the choice would be hard, but in the end the only real winner is Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu. For all its ubiquitous isekai trappings and certain divisive qualities, Mushoku Tensei really came into its own during its second season, taking the quiet groundwork laid previously and letting its key characters in Rudeus and Eris shine bright. It stands as a testament to the storytelling potential isekai still holds as a whole – doubly so considering it’s one of the original isekai series – and is just one more example emphatically reinforcing how, no matter the hate, this is one genre whose wellspring has yet to truly run dry.
Winner: Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu
Honorable Mentions: Re:Zero, Kumo desu ga Nani ka, Seijo no Maryoku wa Bannou desu, Sekai Saikou no Ansatsusha
The ability to make you laugh until you cry – that’s probably the number one criteria when selecting a comedy of the year. From everything to sheer stupidity, quirky characters, and timely comedic pauses to perverted fun, elaborate setups, and witty jokes, it’s the lighthearted nature and humorous entertainment value of these series that we love.
Choya: KyoAni’s return to television this year was a triumph with the long-awaited sequel to 2018’s Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon. If it managed to merely catch up with the cast, it would’ve already been a 10 out of 10 anime. But the second season goes the extra mile to offer more backstory and insight on the characters we know and love while also giving us some new dragons to grow attached to. There’s an emotional core to the series that is unimpeachable, providing nuance, sentimentality, and significance to the dragons and humans we encounter in the anime. Every fight or conflict has an immense weight to it as characters we come to empathize with have to work out their differences or reconcile. But even with the beautifully animated fights and flashback sequences, the show still manages to be hilarious with quirky, irreverent segments that play around with the supernatural magic at each of the dragons’ disposal. Through Kobayashi’s growth as a loner learning to love her new dragon friends, Ilulu learning to trust humans again after her intense childhood trauma, and Tohru coming to understand how her old companions see her, each scene of the second season is as funny as it is meaningful.
Winner: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S
Honorable Mentions: Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai!, Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san, Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi
The romantic comedy genre separates itself from the individual romance and comedy ones by teasing us with potential relationships but never quite settling on one. Instead, the enjoyment comes from the character interactions themselves, often – but not always – in harem-like scenarios.
Choya: I was this close to adding in Nagatoro-san as a chaotic anti-romcom, but there is something about Horimiya that really stuck with me. Rather than mulling about the “will-they, won’t-they” nonsense that many romcoms embrace, Horimiya cuts to the chase by establishing the relationship between Kyouko Hori and Izumi Miyamura. As they get to know each other, they become more familiar with their quirks, their friends, their flaws, and their perks. Miyamura is the most fascinating of the two as a carefree loner who has no qualms about being himself and embracing the piercings and tattoos he’s received. It helps that the characters that surround them are also quite interesting with their own love stories happening behind the scenes. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and even with Cloverworks’ overall messiness this year, Horimiya is absolutely a worthwhile RomCom experience.
Honorable Mentions: Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san
Slice of Life
A laid-back series with no reliance on heavily gimmicky plot devices nor a constantly progressing storyline is what this genre stands for. The character interactions themselves in an otherwise “normal” setting are the highlight, along with any incidental humor that results from them. A lot of times, they’re just really cute and innocent happenings, and that’s exactly what makes a good slice of life series.
Choya: In a way, Komi-san defies categorization. It’s a comedy that thrives on how Komi does the impossible by making and cultivating a friend group in spite of her clumsy, aloof, and skittish personality. It’s also a slice-of-life that offers a humorously relatable take on the social awkwardness that comes from Komi’s daily situations. But while it’s easy to make a series where a socially awkward girl is treated like society’s punching bag, Komi’s laid-back demeanor and charming looks make it so that she has enough emotional support to make the atmosphere of the show far more calming and wholesome. Najimi is personally my favorite character because, even though they’re blunt about Tadano’s uptight personality or Komi’s avoidant approach towards making friends, they bring out the best in Komi by challenging her and encouraging her to hang out more with her new friends. On top of this, the anime accomplishes the Herculean task of perfectly translating Komi’s silence as she proves to be a lively character even when we can only interpret her thoughts from her body language, squeaks, and whispers. It’s a brilliant show that wants you to cheer on Komi as she gets more involved with her friends, but also doesn’t shy away from making light of the misunderstandings that arise from her shyness.
Winner: Komi-san wa, Comyushou desu.
Honorable Mentions: Yuru Camp Season 02, Isekai Shoukudou Season 2
This category seeks to celebrate the competitive past times many of us cherish—at least, the animated equivalents of them. Chances are you’re no Roger Federer or Lebron James, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine ourselves as him or enjoy watching people like him play, and this category seeks to include those series that gave us a great take on a particular sport, with bonus points given to quality animations, insight into mental aspects of the game, and other athletic intangibles.
Princess Usagi: The outlandishly entertaining- SK∞ the Infinity took me on a wild ride through the nuances of skateboarding in the fierce competitions with gravity defying moves. Bakuten!! was a thrill to watch with the exquisite performances from the competing rhythmic gymnastics teams. The victory of the 2021 Best Sports Anime Match ultimately goes to Shakunetsu Kabaddi. They laid out the game strategies for Kabaddi in ways that were both exciting and understandable, as well as, and providing an interesting look into the team’s personal dynamics on and off the playing ground. It was refreshing to see an anime about a sport that I don’t hear much about compared to other sports like soccer or baseball (not that I have anything against those sports), so kudos for that!
Winner: Shakunetsu Kabaddi
Honorable Mentions: SK∞ the Infinity, Bakuten!!
Also known as the Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita Memorial Award, this is the category for those shows that deserve to be on this list, even if we don’t have a clue where they should go. Many series cross into multiple genres, which is why you see shows being featured in multiple categories in this section. These series defy genre. They twist and squirm, evading our attempts to label them and are just themselves, as well as good. This is the category for shows that deserve recognition, even if we aren’t rightly sure what they were.
Pancakes: I don’t imagine anyone will be shocked knowing that Odd Taxi wound up being the clear winner for this category. Between its anthropomorphic animal presentation, a wonderfully executed mystery plot twisting and turning into an anticipated (if not fully guessable) conclusion, and it technically being the first professional story written by Konomoto Kazuya, this one really nailed everything it set out to do and then some. Although Odd Taxi is not a perfect masterpiece no matter the universal acclaim, much like any Quentin Tarantino film (because damn does it ever feel like one) it’s something which must be a seen to be properly understood, a piece of art whose interpretation is very much in the eye of the beholder. Don’t let the presentation or simplistic art and animation fool you, there’s a fantastic story at work under the (quite literal) fluff definitely deserving of attention. If anything, however, Odd Taxi goes to show how well imagination and execution can transform the strangest of ideas into the most incredible of experiences.
Winner: Odd Taxi
There are numerous shows out there that people don’t watch or continue watching because they’re so fixated on what’s unanimously popular. We make a point of watching and covering series that tend to be overlooked, so this is intended to highlight the series that more people should have checked out but probably didn’t.
Pancakes: Honestly I could’ve gone with multiple options for this category (*looks over at the isekai bucket*), but in the end there was only one real winner: Kemono Jihen. With 2021’s shounen dominated by the usual contenders and the likes of Jujutsu Kaisen, Kemono Jihen happened to slip by more people, yet it’s a show which really shouldn’t have. Besides featuring a fun and engaging supernatural premise leaning hard into its dark elements, this one highlighted exactly how you do character-driven narratives, with protagonist Kabane slowly growing into his own as more and more details – and twists – emerge at every point. It’s the perfect series to binge watch over a day, and while Kemono Jihen isn’t as well-endowed in the animation department as its higher ranked brethren, it holds up very well for the material on tap and story at play. If you haven’t given this one a try I thoroughly recommend doing so, because Kemono Jihen easily proves that hidden gems are often little more than a hop skip away.
Winner: Kemono Jihen
The pitfall of excessive hype and anticipation for anything is the disappointment that results when things don’t meet expectations. With regards to anime, this is doubly true when a series has precedent established by its original and a sequel falls incomparably short. At times it’s only a small letdown, but sometimes we’re left wondering what we did to deserve sitting through it. We’re not looking for the worst series of the year here, but the biggest disparity between expectations going in and way the series turned out.
Pancakes: This year, like every year, was littered with the usual disappointments, whether that be baby’s first Code Geass in Kyoukai Senki, the animation challenged Kumo desu ga, Nani ka, or Blue Reflection Ray showing why game adaptations are hard at the best of times. There’s plenty to choose from as usual, but the only true winner this year is Wonder Egg Priority for its spectacular climactic cliff dive. This one really had everything going for it: excellent animation, a sci-fi-esque premise, and a good plot centered on teenage introspection and learning to come to terms with prior events and mistakes. At least until the final thirteenth episode. In one fell swoop the series fully jumped off the rails, destroying all purpose and characterization lavishly built up to that point. It made no sense, it ran counter to the message of the show, and without shows that more is not always better when it comes to anime. Make no mistake, Wonder Egg Priority is still a fantastic series at its core and is wholly worthy of a watch – provided you forget that last episode even exists. Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss.
Winner: Wonder Egg Priority
Honorable Mentions: Kumo desu ga, Nani ka, Blue Reflection Ray
When you expect something to be good, only for it to turn out bad, that’s one thing. When you expect something to be messy, and it embraces said messiness in spectacular fashion – be it extreme technical production issues or overarching storyline, that’s when you know you’ve got a trainwreck on your hands
Pancakes: Let’s skip the pleasantries: of all the ghosts of last year’s anime past, none is more tortured than Yakusoku no Neverland’s second season. This was a sequel which had it all: a popular horror/thriller story (at least the first couple of arcs); a strong first season adaptation; and heavy hype regarding what was coming next. It truly was a heavy-hitter – and then fully jumped the rails. What hands Neverland the title is a combination of plot and pacing. Take the weaker second part of Neverland’s actual story, chop, twist, and deform it into some anime original Lovecraftian horror, ram it all into one season when it arguably needed two (or more), and you’re left with an awesome trainwreck not seen since the halcyon days of Tokyo Ghoul Root A. Did I also mention the cherry on top of these issues not even fully coming out into the open until the second half after appreciable audience investment? Neverland may not be the only trainwreck to grace our screens this past year – I dare say the hilarity which is EX-ARM can share the stage – but between its overall popularity and the manner of its fall, nothing in 2021 comes close to topping this glorious disaster.
Winner: Yakusoku no Neverland Season 2
Honorable Mentions: EX-ARM
Naturally, there’s the exact opposite of disappointment, where we go into a series with low or little-to-no expectations and it turns out much better than we anticipated. This could easily be considered finding diamonds in the rough, which is only possible if you tend to give new shows the benefit of the doubt. Our picks here don’t necessarily mean they’re blockbuster hits in disguise, but that the disparity between expectations and the actual series goes in the favorable direction.
Pancakes: There’s always a show or two every season which winds up surprising, and 2021 was no exception. Whether it be the comedic first house troubles of Dragon, Ie wo Kau, the better than expected franchise refreshment in NIGHT HEAD 2041, or even generic isekai done right (and complete author atonement) in Sekai Saikou no Ansatsusha, Isekai Kizoku ni Tensei suru, there were lots of hidden gems among the crowd – even though for me the only one really sticking out was Seijo no Maryoku wa Bannou Desu. While inherently generic in appearance, Seijo no Maryoku blossomed into its own fairly quickly, sacrificing overt action and grandiose plotlines in favour of laid-back, idyllic – and oh so wholesomely cute – romantic slice-of-life developments. Coupled with some very rational and pragmatic decision-making on the part of Sei (born in part from her being in her mid-twenties) and realistic relationship growth with all potential suitors, Seijo no Maryoku near effortlessly showed how fun and enrapturing a well-executed romance can be. It’s obviously not the absolute best for the past year (as the Romance category attests to), but given the expectations of it only being an middling isekai, Seijo no Maryoku certainly deserves kudos for really nailing the best parts of its premise and characters.
Winner: Seijo no Maryoku wa Bannou no Desu
Honorable Mentions: Sekai Saikou no Ansatsusha, Isekai Kizoku ni Tensei suru, NIGHT HEAD 2041
Best Anime 2021
The be-all, end-all of the year. This pick is always a hotbed of controversy, so here’s the exact criteria we used to make it: if we were to meet an anime fan for the first time and they were to ask us to recommend a show that aired in 2018, what would it be? Without knowing the person’s tastes, we would naturally default to the show that did the most things right, one that had wide appeal and deserved it, that had superb animation and told its story well, and above all else, that we enjoyed. The winner of this category should be a high anticipation show that supremely deserved it, or a dark horse that blew everyone out of the water. This is subjective as hell, but you can find a list of our best picks below.
Pancakes: With all-around success being the prime decider for AOTY, it’s probably no shocker that our choices, much like reader choices, came down to the trio Mushoku Tensei, 86, and Jujutsu Kaisen. Each of these series (in one way or another) nailed what it means to be top quality anime, whether that be in animation, the stories espoused, or themes dealt with and developed over the course of their runs. For fairness’ sake, however, 86 was dropped relatively early in the proceedings because while given an exception, it doesn’t seem fair handing it the ultimate trophy with its ending still technically outstanding. And between Jujutsu Kaisen and Mushoku Tensei, well, one happened to find an edge courtesy of pacing and characterization making excellent use of the time available to it. Whether you love it or hate it, Mushoku Tensei won the title for us thanks in part to the breadth of its success. It wasn’t just an isekai story, it was one of the genre’s first progenitors and made in a climate where most examples are typically adapted quick and dirty. A relatively reserved first season likewise gave rise to a frankly impressive second, with Studio Bind in particular using some serious care and love to visually flesh out the very strong performances of Rudeus, Eris, and a whole host of secondary cast, most especially Rudeus’ father Paul. For all its base genericity, Mushoku Tensei exemplifies just what’s still possible for anime when given proper passion, resources, and a story with room to spread its wings. Considering it’s also only partway through a full series adaptation, there’s no higher praise to be had.
Winner: Mushoku Tensei
Honorable Mentions: Jujutsu Kaisen, 86
Best OVA/Movie 2021
The same as above, except for the not-regularly-broadcasted offerings. These aren’t covered very often on the site, but we’ve each had the pleasure of watching enough to find some that really caught our eyes.
Pancakes: As is often the case the big names dominated the past year’s theatrical releases, from Evangelion to Fate and what’s already shaping up to be this year’s heavy hitter (again) in Kimetsu no Yaiba. Nevertheless the one I feel truly stood out the most was Violet Evergarden’s direct movie sequel. While not as grandiose or psychological as Evangelion or as technically impressive as the latest ufotable contributions to the Fate universe or Kimetsu no Yaiba, Violet Evergarden is a testament to the individual, a tale as much about discovery and understanding as one of acceptance, love, and forgiveness. Kyoto Animation’s astounding work is only made better by Ishikawa Yui’s performance as Violet who harshly and painfully had to come to the knowledge her role and reason to keep on living was inevitably coming to an end. Excessive melodrama or not, deliberate tearjearking or not, this one was a treat to watch and is a movie anyone with a passing interest in romance or drama should sit down and give a spin if they already haven’t. For similar reasons acknowledgements must also be given to Josee to Tora to Sakana-tachi for featuring similar themes and carrying on the waves first made by Koe no Katachi – and in the exact same pretty and heart pulling manner.
Winner: Violet Evergarden
Honorable Mentions: Josee to Tora to Sakana-tachi
Reader’s Choice – Favorite Anime 2021
Your choice for 2021. With everyone allowed to pick up to five series, we have a pretty nice spread of results. In exchange for finding out if there was one series that everyone would’ve picked with a single vote, we have a much better idea of the other ones you enjoyed. The top choice was close yet still pretty unquestionable though, since it was good enough to make it into the majority of your top 5 picks.
The Top 5:
Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu – 6.67%%
86 -EIGHTY-SIX- – 6.17%
JUJUTSU KAISEN – 5.98%
Odd Taxi – 4.93%
Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu 2nd Season – 3.96%
Here are the full results.
Reader’s Choice – Favorite OVA/Movie 2021
Your OVA/Movie choice of 2021. As mentioned in the disclaimer above, the choices here were restricted to what’s been released on BD/DVD so that viewers outside of Japan have a chance of watching them and making an informed decision. It didn’t make sense to restrict such offerings to a small pool of voters this year and not have it up it for consideration in 2021, so if you wanted to vote for anything that premiered in theaters, you’ll get your chance next year.
The Top 5:
Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time – 12.5%
Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train – 12.04%
Violet Evergarden Movie – 8.8%
Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel III. Spring song – 8.33%
SHIROBAKO Movie – 5.56%
Here are the full results.