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Best anime of 2018

An ongoing series with no filler episodes
With around 200 new anime series coming out this year alone, it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what to watch. In the past, I’ve done several lists about the best shows for newcomers, but these quickly go out of date and don’t provide a single, ongoing resource. So if you’re looking for an ongoing, regularly updated breakdown of the best anime shows of the year, here it is. While it won’t be an entirely comprehensive list — I will only include things I’ve watched and finished, and I can’t finish every show — everything on the list will be something I can unequivocally recommend.

Dates refer to debuts. If you feel like something is missing, please recommend it in the comments.
Aggretsuko (April 20th)

Aggretsuko is a surprising show, and not just because you don’t expect Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, to make a character that’s not all about being cute. It’s more surprising because of how brutally it portrays the hardships women have to deal with in workplaces and in society in general. Yet it does so while also showing that, despite these daily hardships, you can find ways to make things better.

In our review by Dami Lee, she explains how important Retsuko’s relatability is.

The fact that a Sanrio anime is both acknowledging these inequalities and portraying fantasies of taking the easy way out is incredibly refreshing, because it validates so much of what goes unspoken — or at least, underexplored in mainstream media — about female anger and when and how it is allowed to be expressed. The show’s best moments are rooted in painfully relatable realities: like when Aggretsuko daydreams about calling out a lazy supervisor, or when an annoying salesclerk follows her around the store relentlessly until she feels pressured to buy some socks. (In Korea, overly attentive salesclerks have become so ingrained in the culture that some stores have color-coded baskets shoppers can use to indicate whether they want help or not.) In so many aspects of Asian culture, the pressure to be polite can be suffocating, and Aggretsuko’s death metal karaoke jams lamenting all of these societal ills is a much-needed catharsis.

Streaming on Netflix
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (April 12th)

Around the end of my undergraduate time in college, I started reading the comic Genshiken. The series follows a club for anime nerds at a small college in Tokyo. The group of friends that made up the club felt like the sort of situation I wished I’d had in college, but they also felt very true to the nerd friends that I had around me. Wotakoi feels a lot like that. Now that I’m in my 30s, it feels both aspirational in the sorts of relationships I’d like to have and also like a lot of the relationships I have now.

The show follows an office worker named Narumi Momose who hides the fact that she’s an otaku in her public life as it’s led to issues in past relationships. When she starts a new job, she runs into an old childhood friend, Hirotaka Nifuji, who accidentally outs her as an otaku to some of their co-workers. Those co-workers, Hanako Koyanagi and Taro Kabakura, are not only otaku who hide it in their public life, but they have also been in a relationship since high school, which their co-workers don’t know about.

Wotakoi is a romantic comedy, although it tends to favor comedy over romance. Generally, the show mines the attempts of balancing work life, personal life, and hobbies for humor but never in a way that feels like it’s punching down at the characters and being unnecessarily critical of them. The humor makes the characters endearing and charming, which makes you more invested when things get serious.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Hinamatsuri (April 6th)

One night, a midlevel yakuza named Nitta has a large, strange egg-shaped capsule materialize in his apartment. In it is Hina, a rather emotionless and deadpan middle school-aged girl who is a superpowered telekinetic weapon from the future. Fairly quickly, and without Nitta realizing it, he ends up taking care of her like she’s his daughter, while Hina starts to live a sort of normal life.

While Hinamatsuri has a strange concept, it’s actually a pretty grounded comedy show, especially as the larger cast starts to form around Nitta and Hina. Since the show makes the superpower aspect so tertiary to the characters and their relationships, you start to forget about them until they suddenly become part of a beautifully animated visual gag. (In fact, the show, in general, has some of the best animations of the year.) There is a fluidity to both the action scenes and the smaller moments that helps to add a lot pacing and setup for the humor.

Streaming on Crunchyroll
Megalo Box (April 5th)

Taking place in and around a wealthy futuristic city, Megalo Box is about the sport of Megalo boxing. It’s a lot like normal boxing, except the fighters have powered exoframes on their upper bodies that augment the strength and speed while fighting. The series follows a Megalo boxer, who initially goes by the name Junk Dog, as he tries to work his way up from making money by starting fights in the slums outside the city. He wants to take part in Megalonia, a tournament that’s held in the city and made up of the best Megalo boxers.

The show harkens back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, thanks to its cyberpunk aesthetic and themes that touch on a lot of the struggles of lower classes. The show has a sort of fuzziness to it that is meant to imitate the appearance that anime shows had when they were upresed for DVD releases. The story, the style, and all the design choices cumulatively give Megalo Box a feel that is simultaneously a recently unearthed relic that also has a timeless quality to it.

Streaming on Crunchyroll
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (April 4th)

Set in a far future where the human race has spread out across the galaxy, the story revolves around two major powers that have been at war on and off for generations: the Galactic Empire, an autocratic empire based on 19th century Prussia, and the Free Planets Alliance, a capitalist democracy that’s full of bureaucracy. Your glimpse at these two countries comes mainly through two young military geniuses: Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance.

Both serve as protagonists for the series. They are more like rivals than antagonists, but each is so compelling in their own right that either story could have been its own series. Reinhard is attempting to amass enough power in the Empire to overthrow and clean up the corrupt regime of the current Kaiser. Yang only joined the military so that he could pay for college to become a historian, and he is continually relied upon for his skill and level-headedness.

What seems like a potentially dry rah-rah military show is actually a surprisingly interesting look at the politics and minutiae that surround war and how pointless it can be. It does this by taking a big-picture view of the whole situation, providing a greater context for the actions of Reinhard and Yang. For instance, it’ll show the Free Planets Alliance governing body debating the war before a majority decides that they need to continue the upcoming election campaign as a distraction. We then see how that decision trickles down to Yang and the orders he’s given by his commanding officer, which they both know are futile in the grand scheme of things.

Streaming on Crunchyroll
Devilman Crybaby (January 5th)

I was, unfortunately, more familiar with the Devilman series than the work of animation director Masaaki Yuasa made prior to Devilman Crybaby (aside from him being the anime director who made that one wild episode of Adventure Time about the food chain). But just from that episode and the teaser for the show, it was pretty clear how perfect he was for the job.

The show’s amazing animation bombards you with a lot of spectacle, as Megan Farokhmanesh discusses in our review:

Its lurid use of sex and violence are not simply gratuitous, however; they’re a tool used to demonstrate the overindulgent, sometimes disgusting nature of being human. The show also uses them to play with your expectations, veering from over-the-top sexual images of bouncing breasts and moments of humor to shocking scenes of someone getting devoured by a demon. And though it has buckets of blood to spill, Devilman Crybaby never stops being shocking, and it’s willing to go pretty far to prove its points about how needlessly violent and cruel people can be.

But the real strength of the show and its story are in the quieter moments. It’s there where the truly memorable and important things happen and where it has a lot to say about humans and humanity.

Streaming on Netflix
Laid-back Camp (January 4th)

Laid-back Camp is a show about high school girls who go camping in the winter.

That’s it.

Don’t expect it to be a deep show with lots of drama or any stakes (aside from the ones you use to pitch a tent). They just go camping to different real-world campsites in Japan, and you learn a surprising amount about camping.

It’s incredibly charming and relaxing, and sometimes that’s all you need after a long day.

Streaming on Crunchyroll
A Place Further Than the Universe (January 2nd)

A thing I’ve started to do over the past few years is pay attention to what animation studio Madhouse is doing. It tends to make really stellar adaptations of manga (i.e., One Punch Man, ACCA, and Hunter x Hunter). But it also occasionally makes its own original shows, which somehow tend to be even better, like A Place Further Than the Universe.

The show is mainly about two high school girls, Mari and Shirase, who live in a suburb of Tokyo. Mari realizes she’s been wasting her youth by not really doing anything, which is when she finds $10,000 in an envelope (which happens to belong to Shirase). Shirase explains that she’s going to use the money to join an expedition to Antarctica, which is where her mother disappeared three years ago while leading the previous expedition. Shirase’s determination leads Mari to want to help, and she goes with her.

To describe the show in one word, it would be “genuine.” Everything feels very real, from how they use their cellphones to how hard it is to get to and even live in Antarctica. It grounds everything, allowing for sometimes drastic shifts in tone from dramatic to comedic or from heartwarming to tragic.

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