It’s been quite a decade (understatement!) for fans of anime and manga. Looking back, it’s fascinating to chart the growth in popularity and availability (from Crunchyroll to Netflix) not to mention the screenings in local cinemas that used to maybe only show the odd Ghibli film once a year. So what titles will the writers at Anime UK News share as their ‘best of the decade’? Read on…see if you agree…and please do share your favourites with us too!
Anime Winner: Yuri!!! on Ice
The year 2016 was for many a year they would like to forget, but there was one very good thing to come out from it: Yuri!!! on Ice. Many things are evident to show how good it was: three Tokyo Anime Award Festival prizes won, seven awards in the inaugural Crunchyroll Anime Awards, all six Japanese DVD and Blu-ray releases topping the Oricon animation charts.
But the thing that still comes out on top is the portrayal of the relationships between the characters, especially the gay relationship between Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov. That “kiss” scene may have had to been censored, but we all know what was really going on and how significant it was, and don’t forget them getting each other rings in Barcelona. Utterly heartwarming, and a series worthy of its theme tune – it was born to make history. Let’s hope that the forthcoming film, Ice Adolescence, lives up to the original TV show.
Anime Runner-Up: Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
For my runner-up I have gone with a film. One that, when I watched it, literally moved me to tears.
Maquia is a truly powerful, moving film, dealing with the themes of parenthood as we watch the title character, a woman from a race of beings who age much more slowly than normal humans, raising an orphaned human baby all the way to adulthood and beyond. It is not only full of emotional drama but also many great action sequences that give the movie plenty of thrills too. The movie is one of the few to get a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – an achievement made even greater by the fact this was Mari Okada’s debut as a film director.
Manga Winner: Astra Lost in Space
This was an odd choice for me, because when I originally reviewed this in MyM in January 2018, I only gave the first volume of Kenta Shinohara’s work a score of 5 out of 10, criticising the short length of the series and observing that its cast of humans abandoned in deep space made me think too much of Red Dwarf (which I considered to be better). How wrong I was. After what might be considered a slow start, the drama that builds up across the five volumes makes Astra a real page-turner, with revelation after revelation unfolding before your eyes, from tales about the characters’ back stories to the future of the human race itself. Astra won the 12th Manga Taisho Awards in 2019. The anime adaptation on Funimation is worth watching too.
Manga Runner-Up: World Trigger
I originally considered naming the comedy BL series Love Stage!! as my runner-up for featuring some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a manga, but in the end I went with a title I felt deserves more recognition. Having launched in 2013, Shonen Jump sci-fi series World Trigger was then adapted to anime the following year by Toei Animation. With hits such as One Piece and Dragonball also made by them, I felt sure that it would join the league of the Big Three as titles like Bleach and the original Naruto had ended. In reality, the animation was terrible. The manga is still going however, even after author Daisuke Ashihara’s poor health resulted in a hiatus of over a year. I have stuck with the manga and still enjoy it, with its fun characters, battles and a setting which allows for more plot development. I will defend the original manga to the hilt.
Having said all this however, after writing this, it was announced that World Trigger would be getting a new anime, again made by Toei. Hopefully they will have learned from their past mistakes.
Josh A. Stevens
Anime Winner: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
For some people, looking back on a year’s worth of anime to determine their favourite is hard enough, never mind a whole decade. A lot has happened in my life and across the world since 2011, but one thing hasn’t changed: my love of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The story of young girls who are offered any wish they desire, in exchange for dedicating their lives to fighting the witches who prey on humans.
A far more mature take on a genre known for Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure, the series has an enduring reputation for its darker elements thanks to writer Gen “Urobutcher” Urobuchi, but my adoration for the series isn’t because of its grimdark elements (otherwise, I’d be raving about Magical Girl Raising Project!). No, my love for Madoka Magica comes from its characters. A chaotic neutral feline Mephisto, Kyubey is the most fascinating foil I’ve seen in an anime, because based on pure logic it’s not wrong, which just goes to show how big a part empathy plays in our society.
When I think of Madoka Magica though, I think of Sayaka. The bubbly tomboy in love who was forced to question whether there is really such a thing as a selfless act, and discovers that kindness can lead to greater tragedy. The majority of the cast’s character arcs are complex and deserving of their own series, but hers is the one that’s stuck with me. The series is also so expertly plotted that it’s a rarity that genuinely gets better with each rewatch, Gekidan Inu Curry’s witch designs are spectacularly surreal, and the neoclassical soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura sparked my love of the composer, that has since drawn me to Fate/Zero, Princess Principal and more.
Honestly, a series that makes you genuinely consider whether doing something for others is a good thing or not, and makes a convincing argument, is definitely worth a watch.
Anime Runner-Up: A Silent Voice
As much as I hate to admit it, Martin Scorsese kind of had a general point about Marvel films and general Hollywood blockbusters, and I think that also applies to anime. There’s a lot of fluff, stupid adventure, and shots with unnecessary emphasis on bottoms, and that’s fine. Once in a blue moon, however, a title comes along that is so profound and affecting that it invites pause and makes you think “this is why anime exists”. For me, that moment came with Kyoto Animation’s A Silent Voice.
A beautiful yet tender exploration of bullying and redemption, the story follows the suicidal former bully Shoya Ishida, and his attempts to reconnect with Shoko Nishimiya, the deaf girl he led a relentless bullying campaign against in elementary school. This isn’t just about him seeking forgiveness from her though, but also from himself.
We are aided in being swept up by A Silent Voice‘s emotional fragility and complexity with ease by its animation, which evokes these feelings with its soft colours, remarkable detail, beautiful artistry. The shaking of Shoko’s panicked eyes, the cherry blossoms scattered by a riverside and more, all create a wonderful testament to the work of Chief Animation Director and Character Designer Futoshi Nishiya, and his other talented colleagues whose lives were cruelly taken earlier this year.
A Silent Voice is also remarkable for its representation of Shoko’s aural impairment. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall any anime that really explore disability outside of say, a character being confined to a wheelchair due to a plot-related event, and even Nunally was far from the main focus of Code Geass. However, A Silent Voice explores not only society’s woeful reactions to those with disabilities, but also Shoko’s own struggles with her condition. The attention to detail in Saori Hayami’s performance of Shoko deserves acclaim, as does the decision to cast the talented deaf actress Lexi Crowden in the English dub. While I enjoyed Madoka Magica more on a personal level, A Silent Voice really is the most important anime of the decade.
Manga Winner: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness
While manga at the turn of the decade was arguably still dominated by Shonen JUMP fantasy adventures, one trend I’ve love witnessing over the past couple of years or so, is the rise in localised manga featuring LGBT themes and creators. One of the most celebrated examples as such, is without a doubt Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, an autobiographical account of the author’s first sexual experience with an escort. This event however, is the frame for something even more daring and intimate: a frank examination of her depression and anxieties.
I was blown away by Nagata Kabi’s bravery in coming forward to the world so honestly and openly about the most personal corners of her life, delving into both her discovery of sexuality and exploration of mental health like no other manga I’d read before. That certainly had consequences of its own, as seen in the follow-up My Solo Exchange Diary, which leave me conflicted on whether I actually want Nagata Kabi to write more, because she’s undoubtedly brilliant, but also because I just want her to be happy!
Manga Runner-Up: O Maidens in Your Savage Season
“Girls think about that stuff too”, the cool and stoic Niina tells her male classmate Izumi, who is flustered after asking whether girls talking about sex is weird. That brief exchange encapsulates what I love about this manga, from Mari Okada (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms) and Nao Emoto (Forget Me Not). Sexuality in manga has long had a male focus and been associated with the likes of To Love Ru‘s Rito haphazardly falling into girls’ crotches, but Okada treats our tumultuous discovery of those feelings as the complicated emotion it deserves to be, while also highlighting the oft-ignored female perspective. Don’t worry though, the irony of my male self praising this element like something revolutionary isn’t lost on me. Most guys are like Izumi to start with, but hopefully that will change with more media like this.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season is also a fantastic romantic drama whose cast have such defined character arcs, that any member of the 5-strong Literature Club could be a lead protagonist in their own right. The pure Kazusa realising her changing feelings, the prudish Sonezaki’s physical and emotional transformation, and the amateur erotic writer Hongo’s conflicted sexual discovery are just examples of stories profound and complex enough to stand on their own, but when together make O Maidens in Your Savage Season a wonderful tribute to the tempest that is our teen years.
Anime Winner: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
Back in 2012 I hadn’t long been watching simulcast anime. I was still figuring out what I liked when it came to anime beyond some staple favourites, but perhaps more importantly as a young adult of 17, I was beginning to figure out who I was. Towards the end of that year The Pet Girl of Sakurasou began airing, a series that changed my world forever and one I think back on fondly even now. The series followed character who were, frankly, outcasts. Kids who didn’t fit in at school and whose ambitions and dreams didn’t fit into the social norms. Like me, the cast were figuring out who they were and who they wanted to be. Over the course of 24 episodes I became incredibly attached to the show, which was willing to be honest and brutal with its emotions. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou was fun, ridiculous and gut-punching all in the same breath. I’d never seen anything like it and nothing since has reached the same heights for me. I think about it all the time and to me, that’s the sure sign it deserves to be my anime of the decade. No matter what happens I know I will always find comfort in watching the cast fight their hardest for their dreams.
The series has never been released on home video in the UK, but it is available to stream on both HiDive and Crunchyroll and I hope one day it finally receives a Blu-ray release here.
Anime Runner-Up: Violet Evergarden
My runner-up will come as no surprise I’m sure as I’ve chosen Violet Evergarden. Animation studio Kyoto Animation has always felt like they were ahead of the game in terms of production and Violet Evergarden is a beautiful anime that shows off the best of their abilities. I didn’t just pick it for the technical aspects though, as I also chose it due to the story. Every episode of Violet Evergarden left me a wreck. The characters are packed with emotion, especially protagonist Violet. She’s gone through so much hardship even before the series begins and then suffers, grows and learns to love again through these 13 episodes. It’s an ambitious show that could have easily lost viewers if the emotion didn’t hit the right notes, but thankfully it never falters.
Manga Winner: Orange
I read a lot of manga, so narrowing them down to pick a best of the decade was surprisingly difficult! In the end I picked Orange by Ichigo Takano because, like my anime picks, it’s a series that left a lasting impact on me. When you think of the shojo genre it’s not often you’d associate it with mental health and dealing with death, but Orange sets out to ask the question – what if you could turn back time and prevent someone’s death? The series embraced mental health, showing readers how important it is to take care of those around you and what a difference asking how someone is makes. Coupled with the light hearted, warm, usual shojo tropes we know and love Orange was an unforgettable manga. It was a groundbreaking story for the genre and a brilliant read from beginning to end with a lovable cast of characters.
Manga Runner-Up: Wotakoi
I’m sure many of you will be surprised by this pick. I was trying not to pick more recent series where my opinion was likely to be influenced by their constant presence, but after looking through more than 500 reading/read manga I kept coming back to this one. What makes Wotakoi special for me is the fact that it breaks the trend of most romantic comedy manga by having its cast be working adults rather than high school kids. Seeing how they balance their work, life and otaku habits is both relatable and great fun. I also like that although it does have romance there is never any negativity or drama. It’s just a very laid back and uplifting series that anyone can enjoy.
Anime Winner: The Tatami Galaxy
This was a difficult choice but in the end I have picked The Tatami Galaxy, a series which explores themes of choice and regret through the eyes of a hapless university student; it’s a simple premise but the series is so skilfully crafted that every episode is a delight. It dates right back to the start of the decade, yet its journey to the UK was a rocky one, and the fact that it has stuck in my mind for so long owes as much to the series’ insightful, relatable writing as it does its distinctive art style. I devoured most of The Tatami Galaxy in one sitting the first time I saw it and it’s one of the few titles I think that everyone should find the time to watch.
I was originally going to choose The Eccentric Family from the same author, which is another superb blend of surreal storytelling and human emotion, but of the two I think that The Tatami Galaxy is more likely to resonate with viewers from all walks of life. Take a look at our review of Anime Limited’s re-release if you’d like to see more!
Anime Runner-Up: Sarazanmai
My first choice was memorable for standing the test of time, yet 2019’s Sarazanmai is a much more recent pick. I was initially tempted to go for Osomatsu-san or Ixion Saga DT, but as much as I enjoyed those crazy comedies I think it’s fair to say that Sarazanmai is the better show. It’s flashy, colourful and looks uncannily like an ordinary children’s anime. Once you begin watching, however, you will quickly find that the cute visuals pack a deep emotional punch in between all of the bizarre set pieces, puns and dancing otters. Sarazanmai wears its heart on its sleeve as it explores friendships of all types through the eyes of its three young leads. Even though the issues the characters’ face are serious, Sarazanmai never forgets for a second that its prime purpose is to entertain the audience and it’s that commitment to its medium which makes it so endearing. I’m still humming along to the catchy battle themes several months after the series ended and I know that I’ll still remember the characters fondly for many years to come!
Manga Winner: My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness
I loved this manga the moment I first read it and it was an easy choice for my pick of the decade. Kabi Nagata has poured her heart into every page of this autobiographical tale of isolation, self-discovery and modern life. The honesty in the writing is something rarely shown and it deserves every one of the many accolades it has received over the last few years. Everyone who has experienced depression or loneliness should give this book a chance.
Manga Runner-Up: Requiem of the Rose King
I was a big fan of Aya Kanno’s previous work, Otomen, so when she turned her attention to the works of William Shakespeare for her next project I was intrigued. Requiem of the Rose King is a dramatic retelling of the already-dramatic Shakespearean plays charting the life of Richard III, breathing new life into a classic story of tragedy and ambition. The subject matter works remarkably well in the form of a shoujo manga; the creator explores Richard’s relationships and gender identity with a sensitive curiosity, while the supporting cast’s complex web of motivations keep the pressure high with every twist and turn. There are also plenty of opportunities for fluttering hearts against the backdrop of war and sacrifice! Having an interest in fifteenth century English history definitely helps with keeping track of all of the similarly-named nobles, but it’s well worth taking the time to understand the plot even if you don’t know your Lancasters from your Yorks. Requiem of the Rose King is a lavish, melodramatic story which thoroughly deserves more readers.
Anime Winner: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Magical Girls anime has always been a stable of the genre, for nearly as long as the word ‘anime’ has existed, and many of its biggest names continue to produce content to this day, but none has made as profound an impact as Madoka Magica.
From the stunning ethereal soundtrack provided by Yuki Kajiura, including arguably the best songs that Kalafina ever released, to the extremely clever and thought-provoking writing; Madoka Magica was a tight 12-episode series that created a detailed world, told its story and then exited just as quickly but satisfyingly. That’s a rare recipe in a world where franchises, cliff-hangers and sequels are the expected norm in the medium. The lightning in the bottle effect that this series had remains untouched by its sequel movies and spin-off series and that’s a testament to how good the original series is.
Anime Runner-Up: Fate/Zero
I was really umm-ing and hmm-ing between this and Yuri!!! On Ice, and whilst the latter will always have a special place in my heart and deserves the attention and awards, in the end my heart went to Fate/Zero.
It’s hard to imagine now, what with a new Fate-related anime seemingly coming out every other season and Fate/Grand Order being the bee’s knees of apps, but there was a time when Fate wasn’t the biggest cash grab across multiple media. Before Fate/Zero we only had the Studio Deen anime and the less than well received Unlimited Blade Works movie. Fate/Zero however changed everything; it exploded the franchise into a popularity never seen before for any visual novel, catapulted Gen Urobuchi’s career as one of the biggest names in the industry, and made Ufotable THE studio to not only provide Type Moon adaptations but a powerhouse of stunning animation overall. Aside from all that, there’s no denying that this series has excellent action, and an intense but well written story with unforgettable character moments that really shows why the Fate story has continued to capture people’s hearts to this day.
Anime Winner: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya wraps everything I love about Haruhi in one two-and-a-half hour epic adventure that combines fantastic laugh-out-loud moments with sci-fi-inspired parallel world hopping shenanigans. After the wasted potential of its second season due to the way they handled the notorious Endless Eight arc, this was a huge step forward in going back to what the series does best, putting Kyon through his paces as his world turns upside down; finding himself in a parallel universe without the SOS Brigade or Haruhi where he has to scamper about in an effort to reunite his friends and get back to his own world. However, the film is most notable for giving the true leading role to Nagato, who until this point was one of the more underrated characters in the franchise. She does so much for the gang that she doesn’t get recognition for, so it was about time that she did, with the film giving us a very touching story, showing how human she is despite being an alien.
While it’s a shame we didn’t get any more anime after this to continue with the rest of the light novels, as a complete package it’s the best of what Haruhi has to offer and one my most loved films of the decade.
Anime Runner-Up: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
It’s impossible to deny the influence that Madoka Magica has had on the magical girl genre, splintering off its own sub-genre of darker series that have peppered the decade, and while those have seen some success, they have never quite caught the same thrill and mysterious wonder that managed to capture my imagination when watching this series. Madoka to me was ground-breaking, something that I had never seen before, and I just found myself caught up in all of the twists and turns as it consistently shocked me with its revelations around the fate of the magical girls. In terms of artwork and animation I still think this is SHAFT’s best, with a very unique style and some fantastic designs, particularly around those of the witches, while Yuki Kajiura’s soundtrack is simply phenomenal, and her work with Kalafina produced one of the most recognisable anime songs of the decade with Magia.
It really is something special: a dark and haunting series presented with more mature themes and moral questions that is written with an older audience in mind, that is just breathtaking to watch.
Manga Winner: Bloom into You
Since I started reading Bloom into You towards the end of last year, it has quickly become one of my favourites. Its grounded story mostly stays away from a lot of the less likeable yuri tropes, trying to grasp some understanding on what love is and how it works, as well as being more LGBT-positive, particularly when looking at the relationship between Yuu’s homeroom teacher and the manager of the café; and I found it quite novel in how normal that relationship seemed in the story. It’s also full of compelling and entertaining characters that really won me over, with the vast majority being well-developed and each one having a specific purpose in the story.
Bloom into You is truly a series I’ve come to love, and now that it has concluded in Japan I’m looking forward to hopefully finishing it with the English release of the final two volumes next year.
Manga Runner-Up: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card
When CLAMP announced that they were doing a follow-up to their manga classic, Cardcaptor Sakura, I was excited but cautious as I was worried that they would take one of my favourite stories and then go and ruin it by adding to it unnecessarily. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened and the result has been a fantastic addition to the franchise that still carries the same sense of fun, adventure, and magic, while increasingly adding in a lot of mystery this time around to keep things fresh.
Anime Winner: Psycho-Pass
When Psycho-Pass was first starting to be talked about, I thought it looked really good and I was always up for a bit of Dystopian Cyberpunk, and what I got far exceeded my expectations. The original Psych-Pass ran for 22 episodes (and is the third property on this list to have been written by Gen Urobuchi. I guess we know who’d win a writer of the decade award on this site!) and it’s perfectly paced, with some world building using central protagonist Akane Tsunemori as the viewers’ eyes as she starts her new job as a police inspector, and slowly introducing a charismatic central villain leading to the big finale. The world of Psycho-Pass is an interesting one, where the all-seeing “Sibyl System” keeps an eye on every citizen, and anyone whose mental state deteriorates low enough to be considered a threat to the general public’s happiness and “safety” is detected and the Inspectors and their Enforcers are sent after them, Enforcers being “Latent Criminals”, or people with a low Psycho-Pass but could offer an objective viewpoint, or other talents, to the Officers.
Anyway, I could bang on and on about it, hell I haven’t even mentioned Enforcer Shinya Kogami, whose obsession with the previously mentioned lead antagonist Shogo Makishima is an absolute highlight and extremely intelligently handled, not to mention a top-class Opening theme for the first half of the episodes, but I’ll stop here. Psycho-Pass 2 and the film may have been sub par (and the jury is still out on Psycho-Pass 3) but no matter what came after it, the original Psycho-Pass is a sci-fi masterpiece.
Anime Runner-Up: Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying quite a lot. When I first heard that a series titled “Attack on Titan” was getting popular, I assumed it was some space-set adventure featuring Saturn’s moon, instead it’s set in a walled city where humanity is being attacked by gigantic mindless naked people trying to eat them. Confused didn’t even begin to cover it, but you know what? Credit to original creator Hajime Isayama because he somehow made it work. The anime adaptation of what was originally a manga (not published by Jump! for a change!) became big, and I mean BIG, so big that it soon formed an anti-culture due to its appeal outside of hardcore anime fandom, but you know what? It earned its fan base thanks to its mix of drama and very weird fantasy that has been great to follow, with lead trio Eren, Mikasa and Armin easy to support, and characters like Captain Levi and Commander Erwin are good fun too (an episode based around Erwin during the latter half of Season 3 would probably win an anime moment of the decade for me… at least top 5 anyway)
With some great imagery and animation to go with it, Attack on Titan has created a truly unique world, full of brand new ideas for enemies, gear to fight the enemies with, and general atmosphere of death, fear and eventual hope. The manga may have started right at the end of the previous decade, but the anime has turned the story into a global phenomenon.
Manga Winner: My Hero Academia
Now I first became aware of My Hero Academia thanks to a fantastic anime adaptation (which only just missed out on being my runner-up) but the manga, that unlike my actual runner-up also came out this decade, is where it all began, and what a great story its been so far. Created by Kohei Horikoshi and published in the iconic Shonen Jump!, My Hero Academia takes a lot of what works with the Japanese shonen action genre and crosses it over with the American superhero comics to create a great mix of both. I think what makes MHA stand out more than anything is its cast of characters, where most of the class of students training to use their powers for good in a high school-like environment are all so likable, but none more so than lead protagonist Izuku Midoriya. In a world where most of the population are born with super powers, Izuku, a child who idolized the Superman-esque hero All Might, was born powerless (or Quirkless to use the series’ words). His personality and bravery are such that he’s soon given powers of his own by his idol, setting up a series that has only gone from strength to strength.
The artwork is wonderfully expressive and occasionally impressively shaded for those big full-page moments, making it a joy to read. Whether you read or watch the series, it deserves to be praised this decade as the next Shonen Jump! hit.
Manga Runner Up: …
I’m afraid I don’t really read much manga, so I don’t have a runner-up. I’ve really enjoyed reading Dragon Ball Super, but despite how Dragon Ball being resurrected after a decade and a half of just computer game releases would be top on my “greatest news pieces read this decade” list, I can’t rate the series highly due to it being just fights for fans… fun, but not worthy of high praise necessarily…
Anime Winner: Space Dandy
Comedy is subjective, arguably even more so with animation. You could either find a series hilarious, middling or just be turned off by it completely for a variety of reasons. For me, Space Dandy not only manages to be hilarious but it is also one of the more creative comedies I’ve seen from this decade.
Whilst not every episode necessarily lands as well as the next, a risk with episodic stories with little overarching plot, I find that every time I revisit the series that there’s something new to either laugh at, marvel at, or simple something subtle happening in the background that I hadn’t noticed before.
Many praise series creator Shinichiro Watanabe for anime like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, but for my money this is his finest work to date. It’s Dandy, baby! I also give kudos to the dub, which arguably works better than the sub – though both offer a great time.
Anime Runner-up: Hozuki’s Coolheadedness
When deciding what title I’d put in this spot I had a hard time deciding whether it should go to a series I’ve enjoyed like March Comes in Like a Lion which has been given a lot of praise and attention (deservedly so) or whether I should give the place to an overlooked series that deserves some time in the spotlight.
In the case of Hozuki’s Coolheadedness, I chose the latter. The series takes place in hell, with Hozuki acting as a demon who works for the King and Head Judge. The story is often episodic and offers a colourful cast of characters and very creative episodes and inventive ideas that never grew tiresome over the two seasons the series has had so far.
It is a shame then that this anime has sort of fallen under the radar, so to speak, despite receiving a second two-cour season last year.
Manga Winner: Tokyo Ghoul/Tokyo Ghoul: re (Sui Ishida)
Tokyo Ghoul weaves a story about a young adult, Ken Kaneki, living in a world where cannibalistic beings known as Ghouls roam the backstreets and survive by either eating human flesh or each other.
After a date gone wrong, he finds himself feeling less than human – in fact he is now half-human, half-Ghoul, referred to as a One-eyed Ghoul. From here his journey takes many twists and turns, as he finds companionship, falls apart psychologically and takes on various personalities and unimaginable forms in a quest to unite Ghouls and humans so that they can live in unison.
Mangaka Sui Ishida manages to tell his story with an art style which has improved over the course of the two manga runs, delivering a satisfying story about flawed individuals living in a world that literally wants to exterminate each and every one of them.
Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel are quite different beasts in terms of story beats and structure. Tokyo Ghoul feels more intimate and low-key as much of its second half is focused on Kaneki and his friends trying to reach a specific goal. Tokyo Ghoul: re, however, takes more twists and turns with changes in identity, betrayals and revelations, uncovering more more and more layers of Ghoul mythology and world-building.
What remains consistent throughout is the often brutal and violent set-pieces, unflinching and unafraid to depict sadistic slaughter to illustrate the need for survival and in some cases, sadism, power and hierarchy.
Even though its anime adaptations have failed to truly capture the impact and spirit of the story, Sui Ishida’s duo of manga remain a great read, even if the final arc of re could have used some additional chapters to bring a truly satisfying end to the overall story.
Manga runner-up: Silver Spoon (Hiromu Arakawa)
Silver Spoon is a decidedly smaller-scale manga than most. It presents a a coming-of-age story that focuses on the first-year students of Ooezo Agricultural High School who are enrolled in the Dairy Science Program and follows their progress as students and how they develop and come into their own as people.
When I initially started reading Silver Spoon I liked the idea and concept but didn’t find anything too spectacular early on. However, as the story progressed, the characters developed and, especially in the case of main character Hachiken, improved and matured.
It helps that Silver Spoon really revels in its simple premise and allows for a story that’s funny, educational and at times even poignant. There are arguably bigger and better manga out there from this decade but Silver Spoon manages to deliver just as much enjoyment with a simpler premise and a lot of heart.
Anime Winner: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016)
A young convict’s life is turned around after a performance at his prison by the renowned rakugo master, Yakumo the 8th (Kikuhiko). Yotaro begs the master to take him on as his apprentice – and to everyone’s surprise, he agrees. But it won’t be an easy apprenticeship – and there are some dark secrets lurking within Yakumo’s household. Haruko Kumota is one of the best mangaka around these days and the anime adaptation from Studio DEEN is remarkably faithful to her tale of the story-telling performance art of rakugo, while enhancing it with some breath-taking (and truly chilling) animated sequences. Peopled with fascinating, flawed characters, the series isn’t afraid to deal with issues about the difficulties of keeping an old art form relevant to a modern audience and make them compelling viewing.
Anime Runner-up : Given (2019)
For me, anime has always been important because of the importance it places on music, whether the OP and ED or the way the soundtrack illuminates the action and Given (based on the ongoing manga by Natsuki Kizu) manages to combine both by telling the tale of four young musicians forming a band. Well, yes, this has been done many times before. But this is also a tale of loss, guilt and healing. Guitar prodigy Ritsuka comes across another boy, Mafuyu, clutching a Gibson guitar which needs new strings… and several episodes later, Mafuyu has joined Ritsuka’s group and they’re putting a new song together. Oh and did I mention this is a BL series? One that avoids all the usual, much-maligned tropes. (It’s interesting to compare it with Gravitation from 2001, soon to be issued on Blu-ray.) And it speaks to the heart as well. This was my favourite series of 2019 and, although it was made on a small budget, the team managed to animate the boys’ music-making in a realistic, convincing way. And the music – by female composer MICHIRU – is just right. Pitch-perfect, in fact.
Manga Winner: Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare (2015) Yuhki Kamatani
Tasuku has been outed as gay at his new high school in Onomichi. Desperate, tempted to end it all, he encounters the mysterious ‘Someone-San’ who takes him to a drop-in centre they’ve set up. There he meets people from the LGBT+ community who make him feel at home and involve him in their voluntary work, restoring abandoned houses. And gradually he begins to feel less desperate – and finds out about their lives too. There are no easy answers here, only people trying to lead their lives and be true to themselves. Kamatani conveys their stories with some astonishing art: dream sequences, magic realism, charming chapter embellishments of the city of Onomichi (from a cat’s eyeview). Seeing Tasuku grow in understanding (of others and, above all, himself) makes for a genuinely moving, ultimately uplifting read, even if there are tears for him – and the reader – along the way.
Manga Runner-up: After the Rain (2014) Jun Mayuzuki
How do you cope if you’re a star athlete at high school – and a serious injury forces you to withdraw from track? Well, if you’re Akira, you take on a part-time job at a family restaurant, run by a kindly but scatter-brained, divorced forty-something boss, Masami Kondo – and then you unexpectedly develop a massive crush on him. Does Kondo-san realize how she feels? As Akira gets to know him (and the other staff at the restaurant) she discovers many surprising things about him. Is a May-December romance on the cards? Made into an equally delightful anime series in 2018, Jun Mayuzuki’s manga about growing up, dealing with disappointment and learning new skills, is by turns charming, funny and subtle, never taking the obvious shojo/josei clichéd route with the plot. Her art style suits the characters really well too, making it a pleasure to read. If you’re in need of cheering up, this is the ideal series to go for!