Entertainment

The Best Anime of 2018

revue starlight
Revue Starlight | Kinema Citrus
Revue Starlight | Kinema Citrus

Don't miss Thrillist's guides to the best anime on Netflix and the best action anime on Netflix right now. But without further ado, here's our list of the best anime of 2018. Now get watching.

asobi asobase workshop of fun
Lerche

37. Asobi Asobase – workshop of fun –

Director: Seiji Kishi
Assistant director: Yu Kinome
Series composition: Yuko Kakihara
Character designer, Chief animation director: Keiko Kurosawa
Animation production: Lerche
Asobi Asobase successfully debunks the idea that anime comedies set in high school are overly sanitized. It certainly properly conveys how nasty teens can be -- although it comes with a lack of restraint that provide its own share of headaches. The series follows three girls -- the lively yet vapid Hanako, mischievous pretend-foreign student Olivia, and the more stoic, but still eccentric Kasumi -- who form the Pastimers Club, where they kill time after school in increasingly more outrageous ways, escalating to ridiculous levels in no time. For such a seemingly random series of absurd events, the gags are well constructed, and the ludicrous art (namely, the over-expressive reactions) that it inherited from the original comic is a good fit for its madness.

It’d be slightly irresponsible to leave a recommendation for this show with no disclaimers. Asobi Asobase isn’t for everyone -- it’s loud and obnoxious, intentionally so -- but even if this kind of comedy resonates with you, a few scattered gags are outright inexcusable. (A recurring incident regarding the mystery of someone’s gender stands out in particular.) Moments like this represent a just fraction of the series, and for all of its hilarious, irreverent moments, not knowing where to draw the line puts Asobi Asobase at the bottom of the best shows this year.
Available on: Crunchyroll

gun gale online
Studio 3hz

36. Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Series composition, script: Yousuke Kuroda
Character designer: Yoshio Kozakai
Animation production: Studio 3hz
Karen Kohiruimaki is a college student with a complex about her tall height, which she tries to escape from by fully immersing herself into a game where she can play as a cute, short avatar. Regardless of how you felt about its parent, the massively popular but also wildly divisive Sword Art Online, this spin-off is a beast of its own that deserves to be judged on its own merit. And besides being set in the same virtual reality shooting game as the third arc in the original series and the occasional passing mention of some events, Gun Gale Online’s tone couldn’t be more different. The fact that there’s no inherent mortal threat allows it to have a lot more fun with itself, best exemplified by the anecdote that its firearms-loving writer -- Keiichi Sigsawa, of Kino’s Journey fame -- made a cameo appearance to fund the tournament that serves as an excuse to have cool, ridiculous fights within the game. While we still have a protagonist pulling off the impossible to succeed, Karen's wild pirouettes and ridiculous strategies are thrilling to experience on a moment-to-moment basis, so sit back and enjoy watching this adorable ball of pink wreck everyone in a VR FPS.
Available on:Crunchyroll, Hulu

last period
J.C.STAFF

35. Last Period: the journey to the end of the despair

Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Series composition: Hideki Shirane
Character designer, Chief animation director: Mika Takahashi
Animation production: J.C.STAFF
If you’ve ever been addicted to exploitative phone games that want you to drop real cash for the mere chance to be rewarded with a fancy-looking, powerful character, Last Period might be a bit of a healing experience. The series follows a party of goofballs led by apprentice adventurer Haru, who are entrusted with the mission to rebuild their guild after it goes bankrupt under mysterious circumstances. What’s more important than this set-up, however, is the fact that this is based off one of those games with questionable business practices, which leads to nothing but tongue-in-cheek developments: the cast gets constantly scammed, they become involved in puzzling collaborations with dead properties, and generally suffer through all sorts of misadventures that you’d never expect to see tackled in an official animated adaptation. But unlike many self-aware series, Last Period never comes across as smug for having figured out the quirks of its own genre, neither does it feel mean-spirited when it screws over its characters. This is a pleasant little comedy show that by all means shouldn’t exist, but I’m glad that it does.
Available on:Crunchyroll

sword art online: alicization
TRIGGER

34. Sword Art Online: Alicization

Director: Manabu Ono
Character designer: Shingo Adachi, Gou Suzuki, Tomoya Nishiguchi
Animation production: A-1 Pictures
SAO is back yet again with the same old problems, but also a fair share of new ones. You know the drill by now: Our incredibly capable protagonist Kirito is trapped within a (sort of) video game, although this time he finds himself separated from all his friends in a vast fantasy-themed world. There begins a quest so massive, his role basically involves an entire virtual civilization. Freed from his entourage, Kirito’s interactions with the new cast feel much more natural, especially his close relationship with new co-star, Eugeo. Sure, the events that cause all this to happen are preposterous, but that’s not much of a problem considering they’re far from the focus. What’s not to like, then?

Since this is still Sword Art Online, a few things. For starters, the series is still unjustifiably fond of sexual violence as a way to convey just how evil its antagonists are, making it a three-for-three when it comes to SAO seasons. And as positive as I can be about Alicization on paper, its execution leaves to be desired. The aesthetic changes it inherited from the movie Ordinal Scale -- ditching its clean and expressive look for rigid models and particle effects bonanza presumed to be more cinematic -- don’t fit the tone of this iteration, and the relentless pacing has made a few emotional moments fall flat. I suppose SAO wouldn’t be SAO if it didn’t have a list of caveats attached to it, but Alicization still offers enough to earn a spot here.
Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

karakai
Funimation

33. Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

Director: Hiroaki Akagi
Series composer: Michiko Yokote
Character designer: Aya Takano
Animation production: Shin-Ei Animation
Nishitaka, fed up with the fact that the classmate he has an obvious crush for keeps teasing him, keeps coming up with increasingly convoluted challenges in which to outwit her. What he may never realize is that his subject of affection Takagi doesn’t only share those feelings, but is also always prepared to make his plans collapse on themselves. Told in a series of daily-life vignettes, a show like this could easily come across as mean, seeing how much the poor boy ends up suffering. But most of the time it’s his silly proud middle-schooler attitude that earns him his defeats, and the efforts to underline the affection she feels ends up being quite charming. While not as outrageously funny as some similar series like My Neighbor Seki, this adaptation ended up in the right hands to make its more mundane stories feel fulfilling. Leaving aside the one recurring short segment involving other classmates, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san focuses exclusively in one set of interactions, but it gets it so right that it doesn’t matter.
Available on: Crunchyroll

record of gancrest war
A-1 Pictures

32. Record of Grancrest War

Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Series composition: Ryou Mizuno (author), Shunsaku Yano
Character designer: Hiroshi Yakou
Animation production: A-1 Pictures
In a medieval fantasy land torn apart by human in-fighting and a demonic menace, the young Theo gets sidetracked from his goal to liberate his hometown to a grand quest to save the whole continent. Although the awkward introduction could lead you to think this is yet another tired wish-fulfillment fantasy series where the hero gathers an entourage of beautiful girls who fall for him, that’s a misleading first impression; intentionally so even, since Siluca, the damsel in distress the protagonist "rescues," wasn’t in trouble in the first place, and definitely stands on her own as a powerful, wise magician. Don’t get me wrong: Record of Grancrest War follows plenty of tropes, but if anything, it’s reminiscent of a straightforward yet compelling JRPG -- if you squint hard enough, you could even see a game UI indicating the current members of the hero’s party and their abilities. (Hardly a coincidence, considering that the release of the original novels was accompanied by a tabletop RPG.) It's a nostalgic, simple experience, given extra flair by Mamoru Hatakeyama, one of the most stylish directors currently working in anime.
Available on:Crunchyroll, Hulu

sanrio boys
Ponycan USA

31. Sanrio Boys

Director: Masashi Kudo
Series composer: Takashi Aoshima
Character designer: Atsuko Nakajima
Animation production: Studio Pierrot
What could have been one of the most disingenuous product placement series ended up being... a very soulful product placement series. The massive corporation Sanrio once again uses a property to promote their merchandise, but this time, the series is a platform to spread a lovely message. Protagonist Kota Hasegawa is a bit of an insecure teenager who is so embarrassed about his fondness of the cutesy mascot Pompompurin that he rejects fond family memories tied to it, but his meeting with popular schoolmates Yu Mizuno and Shunsuke Yoshino, both huge fans of different Sanrio mascots, allows him to accept himself. Viewers who stuck with the show beyond its nice initial message were delighted to find out that its pleasant vibes continued with understated qualities, like its ability to capture believable friendly interactions, both the playful teasing and the genuine caring. Despite seeming like nothing but a promotional tool at a first glance, this is one of the most unusually sincere anime you’ll come out across.
Available on: Crunchyroll

mistobishi
Sentai Filmworks

30. Mitsuboshi Colors

Director: Tomoyuki Kawamura
Series composer: Shougo Yasukawa
Character designer: Takumi Yokota
Animation production: Silver Link
Kotoha a game-loving child who, despite being very sharp, can't clear any video game with all the cheats in this world; Yui, a leader who might break into tears at any moment; Sacchan, a bright kid whose mind is filled with feces; together they’re the "Colors," a group of children beloved by their neighborhood but feared by the jerk of a policeman they love to annoy during their free time. With just the right amount of exaggeration, Mitsuboshi Colors escalates their childlike behavior and ridiculous conversations in hilarious ways, and becomes even funnier when the adults jump in on their ridiculous game. Beyond all that fun hides a real sense of community, with plenty of incidental interactions that really make you feel all those side characters are neighbors. There’s no denying that the source material is doing the heavy lifting here since the anime’s production is rough around the edges, to say the least, but the charm of the kids bringing chaos to the neighborhood and terrorizing a cop is undeniable.
Available on: HiDive

cells at work
david production

29. Cells at Work!

Director: Kenichi Suzuki
Series composition: Yuko Kakihara
Character designer: Takahiko Yoshida
Animation production: david production
Cells at Work’s title leaves nothing up to the imagination: It portrays the inside of a human body, inhabited by anthropomorphic cells who do their best to keep everything up and running. The central characters are an enthusiastic red blood cell with a very faulty sense of direction, and a white blood cell who ruthlessly slays bacteria. While their adventures together are for the most part lighthearted, the show doesn’t shy away from constantly introducing dangerous pathogens and situations where health is at risk -- if anything, completing this series will increase your respect for your own immune system. While it stands on its own as a charming anime set within a human body, it also happens to be an informative educational series. Fiction demands some concessions, but the show’s scientific accuracy has taken more than one biologist by surprise. Its ability to reimagine real cellular functions as quirky situations perfectly fit the tone of the show without compromising on information. Fascinating for anyone with knowledge in the field, and instructive enough for any viewers willing to learn a little bit of biology while watching cartoons.
Available on: Crunchyroll

gegege no kitaro
Toei Animation

28. GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018)

Director: Koji Ogawa
Series composition: Hiroshi Oonogi
Character designer, chief animation director: Sorato Shimizu
Animation production: Toei Animation
Though it’s never been all that popular overseas, GeGeGe no Kitaro is quite the historic franchise in Japan, the 2018 series being its sixth full animated series, leaving aside films and spin-offs. This fresh new story begins with Mana Inuyama, a normal human girl whose life changes after she meets Kitaro and the many supernatural creatures who inhabit this world. Some of them, like the appropriately named Daddy Eyeball and the proud but kind Catchick, assist Kitaro on keeping a balance between the human world and what lies beyond. Not all the youkai have a moderate outlook, so the week-to-week conflict tends to revolve around the crew subjugating havoc-making creatures straight out of Japanese folklore, with the underlying thread that someone must be spurring all the frequent incidents. What makes GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018) stand out so much are its delightfully creepy and diverse horror set pieces, as well as more subtle thematic elements; having essentially been left back in the '60s when the original series started, most of the traditional monsters struggle to grasp recent human advancements, which widens the gap between societies.
Available on:Crunchyroll

hanebado
LIDEN FILMS

27. HANEBADO!

Director: Shinpei Ezaki
Series composition: Yosuke Kuroda
Character designer, Chief animation director: Satoshi Kimura
Chief animation director: Makoto Iino, Shuji Maruyama, Kazuo Watanabe
Action animators: Masahiro Tokumaru, Naofumi Hashimoto, Katsunori Kikuchi
Animation production: LIDEN FILMS
Sports anime is a healthy, popular subgenre, but rarely does it gravitate toward less glamorous disciplines like... badminton. If you believe that dealing with a minor sport would be an excuse for the anime staff to cut themselves some slack though, think twice. HANEBADO!'s depiction of badminton matches was carefully researched and made into a spectacular pseudo-rotoscoped affair with a tremendous sense of impact, intense character detail, and thrilling back-and-forths, all accompanied by very solemn direction and an elegant sense of grandeur to the framing of every moment.

However -- this is when things get tricky -- HANEBADO! is also fond of whiplash. While the first few episodes follow Nagisa Aragaki and her fairly standard sportswoman issues, the focus eventually switches to the "real" protagonist. Ayano Hanesaki is tremendously talented compared to just about anyone around her, having gotten to that point as a result of both a deep love for the sport and rather ridiculous, though traumatic, family circumstances. She’s first presented as well-mannered, but Ayano snaps and becomes a disrespectful, abusive, nasty player that makes for a unique POV -- as if, for once, we were seeing a sports series from the eyes of the overpowered villain the protagonists should beat. The demeanor of the characters can be inconsistent, to say the least, and there’s a good reason the opinions on the show are very split, but there’s no denying that HANEBADO! is one of a kind.
Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation

free! dive to the future
Kyoto Animation

26. Free! Dive to the Future

Director: Eisaku Kawanami
Series composition: Masahiro Yokotani
Character designer, Chief animation director: Futoshi Nishiya
Animation production: Kyoto Animation
It’d been four years since the latest TV iteration of this franchise, but it always feels right to have Free!’s passionate swimming adventures back for another summer. The cast we’ve been following since their high school days faces are now college students trying to figure out their future. Some things have changed, like new director Eisaku Kawanami trading some of its irreverent humor for more dignified dramatic moments, but the core essentially remains the same: hot-blooded confrontations between guys, in and out of the pool, with such an obvious yaoi reading that it might as well be textual. Free!’s willingness to focus on the fragility of the cast, a step that other series dominated by masculine ego don’t always want to take, has allowed the characters interesting emotional growth. Frustratingly, much of the central conflict is based on characters and thematic threads from High Speed!, a masterful film set in the past that the TV series hasn’t done a great job at acknowledging until now, and that won’t even be available in the US for a few months still. Free! is undoubtedly a messy franchise that was never ready for its tremendous success. Its attempts to fit new material and past events that had been glossed over within one cohesive timeline can be rather awkward, especially for those viewers who missed a crucial entry with limited availability. And yet, despite all these disclaimers, it’s not by chance that this show has resonated with so many fans.
Available on:Crunchyroll

my hero academia
BONES

25. My Hero Academia Season 3

Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Series composition, script: Yosuke Kuroda
Character designer: Yoshihiko Umakoshi
Animation production: BONES
Deku and company are back for the third installment of My Hero Academia. This season is admittedly a bit more modest than its predecessor: training arcs are hardly the most thrilling so its start is relatively slow, and there’s no denying that the presentation isn’t quite as impactful as usual since studio BONES is funneling resources toward the upcoming movie. That said, blood-pumping heroism is still an integral part of My Hero Academia’s DNA, so returning fans will be pleased to see that all arcs still build up to exciting climaxes, and the key confrontations receive the story treatment they deserve. Combined with the arrival of some of the most charismatic allies and foes to the series, the undeniable drawbacks become slight inconveniences rather than deal-breakers. It may not be the greatest installment of the series, but it's quite the entertaining superhero tale, nonetheless.
Available on:Crunchyroll

skull-face bookseller honda-san
DLE

24. Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

Director: Todoroki Owl
Series composition, Script: Shin Okishima
Character designer: Naoko Kakinoki
Animation Production: DLE
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san, based on real experiences as a sales clerk at a bookstore, depicts the particular dynamics between Japanese publishers and bookstores that could only come from an insider. And indeed, Honda happens to be the author narrating his own anecdotes, keeping the core but exaggerating them to increase the satirical factor -- as you can tell by the fact that he’s a skeleton within the series, which (presumably) isn’t true to life.

Don’t take this very specific authenticity as a sign that you won’t be able to relate to the series, though. If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’ll immediately get the struggles of Honda and his eccentric coworkers, and even if you haven’t, there’s something very universal about the interactions between the customers and the overwhelmed employees. There’s no doubt that the author holds some grudges -- a few side comments about publishing companies are elegantly coated with venom -- but the series isn’t built on spite. Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san chronicles the stressful job of a bookseller, but ultimately comes across as a fond reminiscence of it, whether it was the strict coaching sessions or a bold foreigner obliviously requesting adult comics. Don’t miss this cozy, funny show.
Available on: Crunchyroll

that time i got reincarnated as a slime
8-bit

23. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Director: Yasuhito Kikuchi
Assistant director: Atsushi Nakayama
Series composition: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Character designer, Chief animation director: Ryouma Ebata
Animation production: 8-bit
Normal characters being transported to another world -- the isekai genre -- isn’t just a common affair; it might very well be the trend currently dominating a certain subset of Japanese media. Among those, series built around videog ame-like mechanics are especially insidious, so I couldn’t blame anyone who’s tired of these tropes for running away the second they saw this show approaching. What’s supposed to make Slime different: After an office worker in his 30s dies prematurely, he abandons his old name and is reborn as a blue blob in a fantasy world.

Now, isekai titles are so abundant that quirky takes on the genre are commonplace, but Slime’s straight-faced commitment to its premise makes it feel oddly genuine. The thoroughness with which it explores what would happen to a diverse fantasy world if a small monster who’d gained incredible powers suddenly appeared tells you that the author didn’t stop the moment they came up with a silly idea; they ran away with it. Is a series about a nearly omnipotent blob that's beloved by beautiful women and handsome men obvious escapism? Of course! But it’s also an amusing fantasy tale, with a charming cast and a sharp production that makes its bursts of action (and the cute morphing animations for the slime, most importantly) a joy to watch.
Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation

today's menu
ufotable

22. Today's Menu for the Emiya Family

Director: Takahiro Miura, Tetsuhito Sato
Script: ufotable
Character designer: Touko Uchimura
Animation production: ufotable
As if to make up for today's turbulent times, 2018 kicked off with a few calm series to heal our souls, 24 minutes at a time. Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is one of the most curious spin-offs of the Fate/ franchise, which, not content with constantly putting out popular action series, has also been branching off towards more comedic ends. While this Today's Menu is fairly amusing if you’re acquainted with the characters, as their leisurely behavior is quite the contrast with their usual fights to the death, the goal is something else: relaxing with food. The unparalleled thoroughness when preparing the dishes almost makes this show into an animated cooking tutorial, and the coziness when eating it is incredibly contagious. Accompanied by a pleasant, warm aesthetic, Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is the perfect series to unwind while eating yourself. If it weren’t for the fact that the episodes are released monthly, this could be the perfect series to watch every day.
Available on: Crunchyroll

lupin the third
Telecom

21. Lupin the Third (Part 5)

Director: Yuichiro Yano
Assistant director: Daisuke Sako
Series composition: Ichiro Okouchi
Character designer: Hisao Yokobori
Animation production: Telecom
There’s an undeniable timeless appeal to Lupin the Third. Throughout the decades, the tales of this gang of thieves have been reinterpreted several times, all threaded with a familiar irreverent spirit. Charismatic cartoon criminals working together, and often trying to one-up each other, while escaping from the authorities and conducting ridiculous heists is a simple idea, and that’s why it never gets old. But if the franchise has that eternal quality to it, did we need to reinvent the wheel with something that proudly boasts itself as a modern Lupin? As it turns out, yes. The troupe’s adventures in France are structured in multiple short arcs that revolve around modern technology, showing a greater understanding of social media and the internet as a whole than most pieces of fiction, while at the same time still taking the situation to amusing extremes in classic Lupin fashion. The series also manages to combine compelling overarching storytelling with more episodic fun adventures, making it appealing for both franchise newcomers and fans of the old formula.
Available on: Crunchyroll

jojo's bizarre adventure: golden wind
david production

20. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind

Chief director: Naokatsu Tsuda
Director: Yasuhiro Kimura, Hideya Takahashi
Series composition: Yasuko Kobayashi
Character designer: Takahiro Kishida
Animation production: david production
There’s plenty of weird anime (look no further than this list!), but not all titles can brandish their quirkiness effectively, and hardly any have managed to do so while reinventing themselves for decades. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of them, each iteration embarking on an unpredictable journey while always feeling unmistakably like a season of Jojo. Giorno Giovanna offers a fresh POV as the protagonist in the fifth adaptation of Jojo; he’s the son of the iconic villain Dio on a quest to become a benevolent mobster like those who left a strong impression on him as a child. His dream to become a Gang-Star -- a chic portmanteau he’s earned because the whole cast is stylish, even by the franchise’s standards -- leads him to face many outlandish foes with impossible powers. This isn’t the tightest Jojo season out there, but this is a thrilling ride nonetheless. All the enduring Jojo qualities are there, which allows for just about anything to happen.
If its raving fanbase hadn’t already convinced you to give Jojo a spin, hopefully now you will.
Available on: Crunchyroll

laid back
C-Station

19. Laid-Back Camp

Director: Yoshiaki Kyougoku
Series composer: Jin Tanaka
Character designer: Mutsumi Sasaki
Animation production: C-Station
While not extraordinary on paper, Laid-Back Camp is one of the most inspired takes on the popular premise of a group of teenagers focusing on a specific activity. Lone-wolf Rin meets massive airhead and her-soon-to-be schoolmate and Nadeshiko in the wilderness, which gets the latter to fall in love with outdoors activities. This could be the start of a typical story: extrovert meets introvert and teaches her how doing stuff with friends is simply better. Laid-Back Camp instead chooses to take a more nuanced approach, and while Rin starts sharing her hobby with Nadeshiko, she still gets to relax by herself regularly while her new friend hangs out with the school’s outdoor activities club. A similar level of respect is shown when it comes to the depiction of camping, with many of their activities and the countryside landscapes carefully drawn off footage of the real thing, despite the production as a whole not being outstanding. Laid-Back Camp is a little show that cares, one that may help you understand the appeal of the so-called healing anime.
Available on: Crunchyroll

tsurune
Kyoto Animation

18. Tsurune

Director: Takuya Yamamura
Series composition: Michiko Yokote
Character designer: Miku Kadowaki
Chief animation director: Nobuaki Maruki
Animation production: Kyoto Animation
Japanese archery is meant to be an introspective, calm martial art, so it’s only fitting that a series built around it would adopt a similar atmosphere. Tsurune follows high school student Minato Narumiya, who once fell in love with the sound of the bowstrings -- the root of Tsurune’s name in Japanese -- but has grown to avoid archery after developing target panic, a psychological condition that no longer lets him shoot properly. His meeting with a mysterious, dazzling archer begins his healing process, which has him joining the recently re-established Japanese archery club at school; after all, Tsurune postulates that there are no magical immediate cures to trauma, but rather a gradual process that requires empathy by those who surround us. A great deal of Tsurune’s appeal is watching a group of high school boys sincerely support each other and come together as a team, but again, it’s the sport itself that makes it so special: an intricate, solemn art is captured with terrifying accuracy by a team that always shows utmost respect towards their subject matters. It was the contrast between the lively teenagers and such elegant martial art that attracted the director to this title in the first place, and that’s precisely what he’s managed to convey with this excellent adaptation.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HiDive

pop team
Kamikaze Douga

17. Pop Team Epic

Director: Jun Aoki, Aoi Umeki
Series composer: Jun Aoki
Animation production: Kamikaze Douga
Pop Team Epic is at the same time one of the most memorable anime experiences in recent times, and one of the hardest recommendations I’ll ever make. True to the spirit of the original comic, its adaptation is a series of very carefully constructed non-humor skits that, thanks to the audiovisual medium, have only ramped up the madness. Despite technically being a 3-D, CG production, at any point it may switch to intentionally hideous 2-D animation, gorgeous hand-drawn art, pixelated game parodies made by a university student, or an arts-and-craft stop-motion spectacle. While it does have a recurring couple of characters – the small ball of anger Popuko and her equally dangerous friend Pipimi – it’s hard to say what Pop Team Epic is about; if it really were about something, it would quickly get tired of that and move on to something else. And that, of course, does apply to the voice actors as well, as each episode loops with two different sets of voices, just to get replaced on the next episode. This show could either amuse you more than anything else or come across as an inexplicable alien relic, but it’s worth a try either way.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HiDive, Funimation

mr. tONEGAWA middle management blues
Madhouse

16. Mr. TONEGAWA Middle Management Blues

Director: Keiichiro Kawaguchi
Series composition: Mitsutaka Hirota
Character designer: Haruhito Takada
Animation Production: Madhouse
Mr. TONEGAWA Middle Management Blues is a show that shouldn’t exist in 2018. Frankly, it makes no financial sense for anyone to fund an adaptation of a spin-off from a niche title that last made it to TV screens in 2011, and it makes even less sense to recommend it to a western audience, considering that the works of Nobuyuki Fukumoto never seemed to get the dedicated following they got in Japan. And yet, here we are, because TONEGAWA’s simply that good.

To sum things up, Fukumoto is a manga artist best known for his series about gambling -- a theme he uses to explore the psyche of his characters, to criticize the dog-eat-dog capitalist landscape, and to have some unbelievably exciting confrontations. His most famous title is Kaiji, which follows the titular character’s misfortunes as he finds himself involved in increasingly outrageous gambling to escape debt. And years after the end of its last animated season, we get TONEGAWA, a comedic spinoff about one of the intermediate villains, which focuses on the inner workings of the company and the amusing preparations of deadly gambles.

Despite being written by a different author, TONEGAWA understands what made the confrontations on the main series so thrilling and applies that same deadly tension to the most mundane workplace situations. But much like Kaiji was actually illustrating how unfair our society is on top of all the exciting showdowns, TONEGAWA’s a sharp criticism of corporate culture behind hilarious exaggeration. So, let’s make this a double recommendation: Go watch Kaiji, if you haven't, and afterwards, sit back and enjoy this new spinoff that has no business existing.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HiDive

megalobox

15. MEGALOBOX

Director, concept design: Yoh Moriyama
Script: Katsuhiko Manabe, Kensaku Kojima
Character designer: Hiroshi Shimizu
Animation production: TMS Entertainment 3xCube
Initially conceived as an anniversary project for the classic boxing series Ashita no Joe, MEGALOBOX mirrors many beats from its iconic predecessor while comfortably standing on its own as a frenetic underdog tale. This spiritual successor follows a young man nicknamed Junk Dog who gets by in the slums by throwing matches of megalo box, a new take on the sport that features fighters with enhanced power thanks to mechanical appendages. A twist of fate gets him to aim to Megalonia, a tournament meant to award the strongest boxer that only a few pre-selected individuals are allowed to join. His tale is made all the more compelling by the unique cohesive vision that director Yoh Moriyama showcases; the densely packed world with a clear divide between the poor non-citizens and the modern city, the incredible soundtrack with beats woven into the core of the action that prioritizes sheer impact above everything else, the aesthetic reminiscent of cel-era animation (achieved through unusual tricks like intentionally lowering the resolution) -- it all clicks in a way that makes you respect every single decision the staff took, even when you don’t agree with them. MEGALOBOX feels like distilled coolness, the product of a group of creators who knew exactly the kind of kickass anime they wanted.
Available on:Crunchyroll

aggretsuko
Netflix

14. Aggretsuko

Director, Writer, Animator: Rarecho
Animation production: Fanworks
While the marketable cuteness of their designs never changes, Sanrio's many properties have taken over the entertainment world with enduring aesthetic icons like Hello Kitty and all sorts of TV shows casually promoting their IP. Aggretsuko comes from the same mold, although its edge is notoriously sharper. Its modest origins were as a series of one-minute episodes within a Japanese TV program, which featured the misadventures of red panda Retsuko, tormented by exaggerated yet very authentic office politics and the whims of her eccentric coworkers, a similar mix of true-to-life traits taken to amusing extremes. This all came from flash animator Rarecho, who directed, wrote, animated, and even lent his own voice for Retsuko’s karaoke death metal antics: the one release valve for all the stress she bottles up on a daily basis.

What could have stayed as a quirky, fun, but painfully relatable little series found new life when it got picked up by Netflix, which didn’t only expand its reach but also increased its scope by granting it 15-minute episodes. As a result, the rebooted Aggretsuko retains all the pieces that already worked but constructs something larger with an interesting overarching narrative and more space for the main characters to breathe. This new format strengthened its thematic punch, too, giving more impact to its criticism of chauvinism and crusty labor practices. Aggretsuko feels like a product of its time in the best of ways, so it’s no surprise that it’s become a worldwide phenomenon with a second season already greenlit.
Available on: Netflix

devilman
Netflix

13. DEVILMAN crybaby

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Series composer: Ichirou Ookouchi
Character designer: Ayumi Kurashima, Kiyotaka Oshiyama
Animation production: Science Saru
Beloved auteur Masaaki Yuasa has been quite active ever since he co-founded Science Saru, but he hadn’t had a chance to direct a full-length series at his new studio until now. His first go at it was nothing other than a fascinating reinterpretation of Go Nagai’s classic Devilman series, which brings it to modern times and changes all events according to the setting while somehow keeping its core intact: the immensely kind teenager Akira Fudo is still pushed into fusing with a demon by his cryptic friend Ryo Asuka as a way to fight back against humanity’s impending doom, but the narrative that unfolds has been fully transformed in a way that feels very respectful towards the source material. Don’t get me wrong: This adaptation is every bit as gruesome as the original work and then some, Yuasa exploiting Netflix’s lack of restrictions to make a visceral spectacle of hyper-violence, sex, and death. It took a long time to digest DEVILMAN crybaby, and two months after the fact, I’m still not entirely sure about my feelings on it. What I do know for sure though is that it was one of the most impactful, unforgettable experiences in this medium, and based on that alone it’s easily earned a recommendation -- as long as you see yourself being able to stomach it!
Available on: Netflix

run with the wind
Production I.G

12. Run with the Wind

Director: Kazuya Nomura
Series composition, Script: Kohei Kiyasu
Character designer: Takahiro Chiba
Animation production: Production I.G
Once a young athletic prodigy, first year Kakeru Kurahara finds himself in deep trouble until he’s saved by a fellow university student in charge of a dormitory. Little does he know that it was all a set-up to get him to participate in a renowned relay marathon alongside other, similarly clueless inhabitants of the dorm. We’re not just dealing with underdogs here: Most of the runners aren't prepared to compete in any way, or even willing to do so in the first place. So rather than thrilling competitions from the start, the hook here is in watching the characters slowly begin to appreciate the sport and believe in themselves. Run with the Wind possesses an inspirational voice that shines: More than anything else, it’s watching the evolution of its diverse, likable cast that makes this anime such a delight. Each of them may face different societal pressures and personal shortcomings, but Run with the Wind shows us how running can bring such an uneven group together. If you often find yourself wishing for anime with more mature casts, or if you simply fancy a solid non-standard sports series, Run with the Wind should be up your alley.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HiDive

rascal does not dream of bunny girl senpai
CloverWorks

11. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

Director: Soichi Masui
Assistant director: Kazuya Iwata
Series composition, Script: Masahiro Yokotani
Character designer, Chief animation director: Satomi Tamura
Animation production: CloverWorks
The most unfortunate, unfitting title of 2018 hides a bizarrely compelling series about adolescence that’s much more than the sum of its parts. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai had to work hard to earn the positive reception it’s gotten. It’s not just the off-putting title: The seemingly trite premise -- high school student Sakuta Azusagawa helping a series of beautiful girls get over the mysterious Puberty Syndrome condition -- and a rocky start led to quite a few people immediately writing it off. Those who persevered, however, were won over by what this show has to offer: an honest exploration of teenage (and more universal) anxieties, under the guise of a supernatural pseudo-scientific phenomena. Rascal is one of the dark horses of 2018, which also isn't particularly surprising. After all, dubious looking titles that turn out to be better than they have any right to be are very much an anime constant.
Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Hinamatsuri
feel.

10. Hinamatsuri

Director: Kei Oikawa
Series composition, script: Keiichiro Ochi
Character designer: Kanetoshi Kamimoto
Main animators: Tetsuya Takeuchi, Ryo Araki, Kuniaki Masuda, Kenrou Tokuda
Animation production: feel.
The hedonistic life of a greedy member of the yakuza takes a turn for the bizarre when an esper girl named Hina quite literally crashes into his home. Their already ridiculous coexistence is made even funnier by the enchanting rhythm of the animation and especially because of director Oikawa’s restraint when it comes to portraying all the outrageous events, which somehow fits how weirdly easygoing the majority of the cast ends up being. And beyond how well it functions as an absurdist comedy, Hinamatsuri is elevated by how gracefully it combines that with genuinely heartfelt character moments; gags involving side characters in situations as precarious as homelessness don’t feel like punching down, because the show is as invested in making you laugh as it is in respectfully portraying their struggles and well-earned successes. So long as those subject matters don’t inherently put you off, this is an excellent quirky comedy with lots of heart.
Available on:Crunchyroll, Funimation

bloom into you
TROYCA

9. Bloom Into You

Director: Makoto Kato
Series composition, Script: Jukki Hanada
Character designer, Chief animation director: Hiroaki Goda
Animation production: TROYCA
Bloom Into You follows Yuu Koito, a girl in her first year of high school who pines for the warm, fuzzy feelings portrayed in romantic media, and yet she can never feel them in her own life, even in situations where she feels she should. This creates an emotionally pressurized gulf between her and her peers, as Yuu's anxiety of being unable to live up to societal expectations torments her. Eventually, she comes across a seemingly perfect upperclassman who also claims she holds no one in a special place in her heart -- until Yuu explains her situation, causing her to immediately fall for our confused protagonist. Bloom Into You gradually builds into a flirty, dorky love story between these two girls, resonating with the push and pull of a restrained courtship. Its exceptional source material, in the hands of a capable production team, grasps the characters' mental landscapes, projecting them through evocative, beautiful direction.
Available on: HiDive

dragon pilot hisone and masotan
BONES

8. DRAGON PILOT: Hisone and Masotan

Chief Director: Shinji Higuchi
Director: Hiroshi Kobayashi
Series composition: Mari Okada
Animation character designer: Yoshiyuki Ito
Animation Production: BONES
Both in a literal and figurative sense, DRAGON PILOT: Hisone and Masotan is an original anime. Not only is it not drawing from any source material, there simply is nothing else quite like it. Protagonist Hisone is in a constant struggle because of her outspokenness -- quite a problem for a young woman who recently joined Japan’s highly regimented Self-Defense Force. It’s precisely that awkwardness that leads to her meeting with the other titular character: Masotan, an adorable jet-fighter dragon hybrid. A more standard series would have the youngster who accidentally stumbled onto a powerful, heavily guarded military secret use her new powers to fight some sort of alien menace, but this show has no time to waste with trivial matters like that.

What does it focus on, then? A multitude of interconnected and surprisingly mature themes: the glass ceiling, the impossible balance of an emotional and professional life, how deeply rooted sexism is in institutions like the army, the role tradition plays in these matters, and so on. This is all wrapped in a quirky envelope that manages not to make light of the real problems it addresses directly, without losing its humor along the way. DRAGON PILOT: Hisone and Masotan is a melting pot of ideas where all the staff managed to make a difference without hijacking the entire dish; chief director Shinji Higuchi is equal parts attracted and critical of military systems, while writer Mari Okada is no stranger to feminist themes, hence this poignant combination. Even the animation and background art teams showed their personality through the delightfully expressive, stylized character art and the gorgeous traditionally painted sceneries. Do yourself a favor and give this unique show a try.
Available on: Netflix

planet with
J.C.STAFF

7. Planet With

Director: Youhei Suzuki
Author, Series composition, Original drafts: Satoshi Mizukami
Animation character designer: Kazunori Iwakura
Animation production: J.C.STAFF
Manga artists tend to take more of a passive role when their work is made into animation. However, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer’s author Satoshi Mizukami is an exceptional figure. When he was asked to come up with a concept that would be simultaneously published in comic and anime form, he wrote screenplays and provided visual guidelines for the entire TV series. Planet With is very much his baby. It seems important to establish where the show comes from since Planet With is a mix of Mikuzami’s entire repertoire. It embodies everything the author stands for: heroism that should never be at odds with kindness, building familial bonds between people with no blood relation, an understanding of Japan’s mecha and sentai traditions, all wrapped up in a quirky sense of humor. What appears to be a standard sci-fi anime scenario -- the young Souya Kuroi is forced to face alien invaders -- quickly turns out to be a galactic conflict involving multiple factions. The thematic density of each episode makes them feel like you’ve gone through an entire arc within 20 minutes, and yet it’s never an overwhelming experience. Very few people can play with elements as standard as the ones Mizukami is fond of but put together something as unique and majestic as Planet With.
Available on: Crunchyroll

encouragement of climb
8-Bit

6. Encouragement of Climb (Season 3)

Director, Series composition: Yusuke Yamamoto
Script: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Character designer, Chief animation director: Yusuke Matsuo
Animation production: 8-Bit
Anime about a group of friendly girls enjoying outdoors activities are on a roll this year. After the broadcast of its third season, Encouragement of Climb maintains the dubious honor of being one of the favorite anime of the few people who've watched it. Many factors have contributed to this: a simple premise and saccharine exterior that put off a sizable chunk of viewers, spotty availability, even the fact that the entire first season was about as long as one standard anime episode. Ever since the series got expanded into dozens of half-length episodes from the second series onwards, however, Encouragement of Climb has become one of the greatest examples of slice of life anime. It’s got that pleasant, soul-healing quality to it that attracts fans to the genre in the first place, while at the same time offering more poignant, sometimes downright soul-crushing arcs that lead to truly cathartic resolutions. This third season, cute as it starts, is entirely constructed around the painful, conflicting feelings when a socially awkward companion you treasure drifts away from you after you’ve pushed them towards new friendships yourself. These nuanced feelings are delivered with the grace of one of the most impressive modern anime productions, with many episodes animated by single individuals and others attracting tons of talented artists instead.

As glowing of a recommendation as this is, it’s important to note that the availability issues are no joke: Due to licensing problems, it’s currently impossible to legally watch Season 2, meaning that getting into the series at the moment is a bit of a nightmare. If you do get the opportunity though, don’t hesitate, even if this kind of show isn't usually up your alley.
Available on: Crunchyroll

violet
Kyoto Animation

5. Violet Evergarden

Director: Taichi Ishidate, Haruka Fujita
Series composer: Reiko Yoshida
Character designer: Akiko Takase
Animation production: Kyoto Animation
Having lost the parental figure that meant the world to her, and dwelling on her single role as a tool of war, Violet finds herself with no purpose. Pushed into accepting a job as an "Auto Memory Doll," essentially a writer for hire gussied up with Victorian flair, her almost robotic self gradually grows to understand the power of communication and the many forms affection can take. Although her development is slow and she’s not the most immediately compelling character, the show’s impact increases tenfold when it switches to episodic tales that sometimes have Violet as a mere spectator. Her job takes her to different settings with palpable, distinct identities, but it stays thematically consistent, with each episode pushing her closer to the answer she seeks. It’s a sentimental series to the point of being cheesy, but it earns that grandeur through the masterful direction and obscenely lavish production. If you want an anime to make you cry, Violet Evergarden will be delighted to provide just that.
Available on: Netflix

SSSS.GRIDMAN
TRIGGER

4. SSSS.GRIDMAN

Director: Akira Amemiya
Assistant director: Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Script: Keiichi Hasegawa
Character designer: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation production: TRIGGER
In an age where uninspired reboots are the bread and butter of many creative industries, SSSS.GRIDMAN is an unexpected beacon of hope. For people who grew up with Gridman the Hyper Agent (or its American version, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad), they’ll get to relive their childhood with a series that doesn’t just pay homage to its origins, but follows up on them in unexpected ways. It's a niche title forcefully brought back to life by a director who simply loved it -- along with other mecha-driven series, especially Evangelion, from which it takes plenty of directorial cues -- without an ounce of cynicism. The result of Amemiya's team’s efforts are a frankly intriguing narrative, countless charming throwbacks to the '90s, and engrossing direction that puts most anime this year (and any year) to shame. The short bursts of thrilling 3D action might convince you that the present and future might not be so bad after all. Don’t sleep on this one!
Available on: Crunchyroll

after the rain
Wit Studio

3. After the Rain

Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Series composer: Deko Akao
Character designer: Yuka Shibata
Animation production: WIT
Behind a dubious age-gap romance premise hides a beautiful, introspective tale about finding a new reason to live at two very different points in life. Akira Tachibana’s injury forces her to quit the track club to which she had dedicated her youth, clouding over her happiness. It’s only after meeting a dining place’s disillusioned middle-age manager that she can see what awaits after the rain, and perhaps begin moving on. Tying the weather to emotions is an old trick, but this show’s graceful direction is miles ahead of the competition, capable of nailing both juvenile femininity and painful sorrow. A masterful melancholic piece that will unfortunately put off some viewers.
Available on: Amazon

revue starlight
Kinema Citrus

2. Revue Starlight

Director: Tomohiro Furukawa
Assistant director, Revue and weapon designer: Takushi Koide
Series composition: Tatsuto Higuchi
Character designer: Hiroyuki Saita
Animation production: Kinema Citrus
Revue Starlight, a true multimedia franchise with beginnings as a musical, needs to be seen to be believed. The anime series taps into the history and grandeur of Japan's Takarazuka Revue, an all-female theater troupe that adapts mostly Westernized productions, but the unbelievable symbiosis between its themes and the anime’s creative team elevated the concept further than anticipated. On a surface level, Revue Starlight is the tale of a group of girls competing to secure a spot as the lead performer. It’s cute, cheerful, and there’s a real sense of musicality to the daily life events… until all the pleasantries are tossed out the window and the fight for the top becomes very literal: The characters face each other in fantastical staged matches.

Though this is his major directorial debut, Tomohiro Furukawa has proven he’s one of Japan’s most noteworthy up-and-coming creators. The theatrical anime concept he inherited from his mentor Kunihiko Ikuhara turned out to be the perfect toolset for this project, and his team of animators ambitiously capture the passion of the fighting duet songs. Revue Starlight is a stunning experience that deals with the sacrifices one makes for a career, challenging systems, the constant fear of having already peaked, and much more. It's a joyful series that knew how to get serious without following the modern trend of overly grim twists. And it does all that with serious style.
Available on: HiDive

place no further
Madhouse

1. A Place Further Than the Universe

Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Series composer: Jukki Hanada
Character designer: Takahiro Yoshimatsu
Animation production: Madhouse
If we’re talking about proudly sentimental anime, A Place Further Than the Universe is also an excellent example of loud delivery of emotions not necessarily erasing their nuance -- a trademark of director Atsuko Ishizuka. High-schooler Tamaki Mari wants to achieve something big while she’s still at an age where distractions are allowed, but she’s always hesitated when it comes to taking the last step. She’s quickly drawn to her schoolmate Shirase Kobuchizawa, who has a reputation of being a bit of a weirdo because of her dream to go to Antarctica. And that’s exactly where they’ll go, accompanied by two other very believable teenage characters with a bit of a tendency to get into amusing problems. Successful as a coming of age series, respectable as character vignettes, and simply hilarious when it’s goofing around -- this show does so many things well that you’re very likely to get something out of it.
Available on: Crunchyroll

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kevin Cirugeda is a main writer at Sakuga Blog, and an admin at Sakugabooru.