2020 has been…a year. Look, we know it. You know it. But I think we can all rally around one thing that brought us together and took us to new heights this year: anime.
Right from the jump, 2020 brought the goods with series like Toilet-bound Hanako-kun and Dorohedoro, which adapted unique manga series to life on-screen. This year was also packed with an AMAZING slate of original works, including ID: INVADED, Akudama Drive, DECA-DENCE and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Seriously, whether you just wanted the next chapter of high-octane series like My Hero Academia and Haikyu!! or wanted something lovely to escape to like BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense., this year in anime had something for you.
Let’s dive into some of our staff favorites from 2020! Want to share your favs? Use the #Top5Anime2020 on social media and we’ll be sharing some of your picks through the end of the year.
Akudama Drive – Holly Tennant, Associate Brand Manager
Mixing work with what you’re passionate about can be tricky. Part of my job is to anticipate what new shows will capture the attention of anime fans. I had no doubt that Akudama Drive would become a fan-favorite amidst an enormous fall season; however, I did not expect the series to come after my own heart as it has.
Working on this show has been an absolute dream, which makes it even easier to enjoy. I’ve had the honor of interviewing the legendary Kodaka-san. We were retweeted by the series character designer. The English cast and crew are incredibly talented and enthusiastic. I’m just so thankful, and all of that is simply a unique bonus that I have been fortunate enough to experience as an employee.
As a fan, Akudama Drive is exactly what I needed right now at the end of a crummy year. Feeling anxious? Simp over Cutthroat instead. Depressed? Ignore reality for a bit and lose yourself in this beautifully lit cyberpunk world. Wanna cry it out? Watch Episode 6.
I love anime, and am lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch a lot of it. Akudama Drive is a special find. Every episode has been exhilarating, and has made me feel genuinely excited to be an anime fan. On more than one occasion I was at the edge of my seat and surprised by the events unfolding before my eyes. You’ve got violence, politics and plot points that make you question morality. You’ve also got a talking robot cat and some edgelord who likes takoyaki! At the end of the day what I’m trying to say is simply: you should be watching.
At the end of the day what I’m trying to say is simply: you should be watching.
Honorable Mentions: Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Haikyu!!: To the Top, TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Kaguya-sama: Love is War?
APPARE-RANMAN! – Allie Norado, Associate Brand Manager
As someone who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, one of my absolute favorites was Wacky Races. Rather than the characters themselves, I’ve always loved seeing a colorful cast of personalities duke it out against each other toward the same goal.
RELATED: The Wild, Wild Influences of APPARE-RANMAN!
The same kind of dynamic lives on in cult classics like Rat Race, or even in popular manga like Steel Ball Run (7th part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). These were some of my earliest experiences with crossovers of the best kind, and set me up to really pine after titles that showcase a diverse variety of characters and the different situations they go through as they all strive for money, fame or just an excuse to push their own boundaries to the limit.
When I started watching APPARE-RANMAN! it really satisfied that craving I had. You have eccentric mains, softboy supporting roles, badass female characters that don’t tolerate nonsense, cute animals (still searching for an “other Hototo” plush somewhere), and some truly heartfelt scenes.
They all had different origins, but when the going got tough, they really came together to make a difference in the bigger picture. Story aside, P.A.Works was already a favorite of mine studio-wise, and the animation for this title brought me the nostalgia of old favorites like The Eccentric Family and combined it with absolutely stunning scenery and realistic facials.
APPARE-RANMAN! displays more than just beautiful art and quirky characters, but also a deeper story about how being different can lead to great things if you stay true to yourself and don’t settle for what others want you to be.
Honorable Mentions: Kakushigoto, BEASTARS
DECA-DENCE – Haley Whisennand, Community Manager
If you know me, you know I love a good twist. Most of the time in anime, we don’t get really earth-shattering plot moments until the second half of a season, when the creators know viewers are invested and connected to what’s going on.
But the team behind DECA-DENCE just straight up said, “What if we changed everything you thought you knew about this world, but in the second episode?” And, oh wow, did it work! Not only did the series live up to the expectations I had with names like director Yuzuru Tachikawa connected to it, but it absolutely exceeded my wildest imagination.
RELATED: DECA-DENCE: Some of Our Favorite Moments from Yuzuru Tachikawa’s Reddit AMA ✨
I don’t want to spoil the series’ big twist, or really anything that happens after that, because I truly think it’s something best experienced firsthand. But I can easily say that, with spectacular animation and a complex cast of characters, DECA-DENCE definitely stands out as one of my favorite series from 2020.
Honorable Mentions: Kakushigoto, IDOLiSH7 Second Beat, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama?, Moriarty the Patriot
Golden Kamuy Season 3 – Aaron Walsh, Brand Manager
Golden Kamuy, in my opinion, is one of the most criminally underrated anime in recent years. Because of this idea that not a ton of people are into it, I felt the need to brace myself for Season 2 and, again, now for Season 3, in fear that it would fall off and not retain its storytelling momentum and overall quality.
However, I was wrong to do so for Season 2 and was instantly proven wrong again for worrying about Season 3, as the first episode sucked me right back in.
This series is a master class on balancing story elements. Tonally, it shifts between comedy, drama, intensity, violence, mystery and more without missing its mark and having the desired emotional impact on the audience. Few shows can be so intense and (at the same time) lighthearted in a way that does not contradict but makes the characters and story development richer and more realistically well-rounded.
Every character is such a unique but believable personality that meshes into the landscape of the series’ setting and serves the point of both education and entertainment. It’s hard to connect personally to Northern Japanese and Russian characters living in the 1900s on paper, but its characters teach you their cultures and history to contextualize the plot’s conflicts and twists. Can’t get enough, hoping for Season 4 in 2021!
Honorable Mentions: ID: INVADED, Gleipnir, Jujutsu Kaisen, Fruits Basket, APPARE-RANMAN!, Akudama Drive, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Season 2
Haikyu!! To the Top – Laura Barrett, Sr. Manager, Lifecycle Marketing
It was a great year for new anime, but I can never resist my favorite show. Haikyu!! is something special, and manga fans have been waiting patiently for these arcs and the character development they bring.
Season 4 delivered new characters, backstories, growth, camaraderie, and tons of intense sports action. A true feel-good show for an otherwise feel-bad year.
Honorable Mentions: Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, Moriarty the Patriot, Great Pretender
Kaguya-sama: Love is War? – Nicholas Friedman, Sr. Manager, Content Marketing & Editorial
I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. But Kaguya-sama: Love is War? is so much more than that. People compare it to battle anime, but my response is clear: Does other battle anime have Yu Ishigami??? This series has such smart writing, likeable characters and a breakneck narrative that does not let up.
RELATED: Turning Romance on Its Head in Kaguya-sama: Love is War 💌
When I tell you I’ve never cried or screamed at an anime so much before this show, I mean it. And the second season just levels everything up. Romantic close calls, hilarious hijinks, Chika, it has it all.
Couple that with a killer OP and some of the best voice talent (in English and Japanese!) and you’ve got something truly special.
Honorable Mentions: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, DECA-DENCE, Jujutsu Kaisen, Fire Force Season 2, ID: INVADED, Digimon Adventure:
Kakushigoto – Alex Lebl, Associate Brand Manager
Honorable Mentions: The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED, Great Pretender, The Day I Became a God
The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – Matthias Jambon-Puillet, EU Marketing Manager
Lost amidst the sea of fantasy and shounen power fantasy anime, there was this one sleek and sexy outlier to restore the balance. The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED is about this one rich, smug and unlikeable treasure of a man, and the one and only sidekick to break into that armor.
In this series, no problem can’t be solved just by throwing money and charm at it, and who can resist this combo? Not me. With a studio at the top of their game, delivering a dose of spy action every week, The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED made good on a promise of over-the-top action with a solid dose of adult themes and aesthetics, creating an anime experience like no other this year.
And so, thank you Daisuke and Haru! Here is some bubbly champagne to send the year off…we already miss you.
Honorable Mentions: Kaguya-sama: Love is War?, Kakushigoto, BNA
Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation Season 2 – Fiona Wilkinson, Theatrical Coordinator
As a fan of monster of the day stories, Muhyo & Roji ticks the boxes. And yet, it also has an overarching plot that is fun to watch and really gets a hold of you (which a few monster of the day shows struggle with!).
With endearing characters, backstories that are surprisingly realistic despite the general fantasy setting, an effectively spooky soundtrack, and amazing designs on the ghosts and judgments, this season had me hooked. Plus, this season upped the appearance rate of one of my favorite characters, Panza, which was a very welcome addition!
Honorable Mentions: Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Season 2
My Hero Academia Season 4 – Wenny Katzenstein, VP, Marketing Strategy
I loved introducing my 9-year-old twins to anime, and My Hero Academia was the perfect gateway for us to share time together. We love guessing each character’s Quirks—and how they’ll work in battle.
I also love the fact there are some really strong female characters—perfect for my girls!
Honorable Mention: Tower of God
Toilet-bound Hanako-kun – Aly Luskey, Social Media & Community Coordinator
I’ve always been a huge fan of the pseudo-spooky playful anime (like Mob Psycho 100) and this series had an amazing story to go along with the gorgeous animation.
RELATED: The Folklore of Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Explained
It’s very rare for me to have a series I obsessively keep up with to the minute it releases. Although the series started pre-pandemic, it has brought me an incredible amount of joy and happiness even almost a full year since the anime debuted!
The manga continues on past the anime and delves deeper into the series, getting admittedly darker as it progresses. Everything about the story plays to every need I have for a good series.
Honorable Mentions: Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Jujutsu Kaisen, APPARE-RANMAN!, Great Pretender
Twittering Birds Never Fly – Melissa Frennea, Sr. Graphic Designer (Packaging)
One of the only good things to come out of 2020 was the sheer number of theatrical BL anime. Twittering Birds topped my personal anime adaptations wish list for years, and the first movie in this trilogy doesn’t disappoint in bringing that mature, hard-hitting yakuza drama/romance to the (virtual) big screen.
If you look at other BL offerings from the last few years, Twittering Birds stands out for the darker themes and imperfect romance—but I appreciate that GRIZZLY didn’t shy away from a truly faithful adaptation of the manga. This genre is no stranger to fandom discourse, but Twittering Birds doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not and challenges assumptions of “good representation.”
Paired with some serious eye candy, a jazzy score and an amazing ED, it’s easy to see that “yabai” factor that makes this movie so cool.
Honorable Mentions: ID: INVADED, Great Pretender, The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED, Moriarty the Patriot
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – Sila Virdell, Merchandising & Marketing Coordinator
This anime gave me the cottagecore witchy vibes I’ve been dying to see in anime. It’s cute, charming and leaves you in awe with how beautiful the art is.
Honorable Mentions: Kaguya-sama: Love is War?, BEASTARS