The 2010s were good to long-time anime enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Over the course of the past decade, simulcasting and online streaming services such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime, and Hulu reshaped the nature of the medium in both subtle and awesome ways, transforming how anime fans discovered, shared, and celebrated the shows and movies they loved. Japanese animation is a stronger medium now than at any other time in its existence, and from the looks of what 2020 has to offer, things are only going to get better.
Otaku and anime newbies have a lot to look forward to this year, with not only one but two new shows from Masaaki Yuasa, the long-awaited release of studio Orange’s Beastars in the West, the highly-anticipated premiere of Toonami’s adaptation of Junji Ito’s nightmarish Uzumaki, and a new CG installment in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series from Netflix. Not to mention a whole host of returning fan-favorites with new seasons of Fire Force, Fruits Basket, The Promised Neverland, and the final season Attack on Titan on the horizon. But until then, here are our favorites of the year so far.
9. Darwin’s Game
Release date: January 3
Director: Yoshinobu Tokumoto
Animation production: Nexus
If you were to cross Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s adrenaline-charged social thriller Nerve with the mystery-driven ultra-violence of Hiroya Oku’s Gantz, it’d probably look something like Darwin’s Game. Based on artist “Ginko” and writer Yuki Takahata’s manga of the same name, the anime centers on 17-year-old Kaname Sudō, who, after accepting an mysterious invite from a recently deceased friend, is thrust into a deadly supernatural bloodsport known only as Darwin’s Game. Pitted against a cadre of sociopaths and with no way to seek help from the outside world, Kaname must rely on his wits and will to survive while searching for a means to escape this living nightmare. Produced by studio Nexus, the 11-episode series is penned entirely by series author Yuki Takahata, resulting in an adaptation that’s a near one-to-one match with the source material. If you’re looking for a taut action series with serious mystery drama, Darwin’s Game is a solid choice.
Available on:Crunchyroll, FunimationGENO STUDIO
Release date: January 6
Director: Takahiro Omori
Animation production: Geno Studio
Pet is a real mindscrew, in more ways than one. Based on Ranjō Miyake’s manga of the same name, the series follows Tsukasa and Hitomi, two empaths with the ability to delve inside the minds of others and manipulate their memories and perceptions. Employed by a shadowy organization known simply as “The Company,” the pair are tasked with using their abilities to cover up crimes, assassinations, and commit all sorts of unsavory acts, more often than not at the expense of innocent lives and their own fractured psyches. The dialogue can be frustratingly obtuse at times, with crucial terms like “peaks” and “valleys” thrown out of left field with little if any formal explanation, and the initial episodes can be a bit hard to follow with regard to what is being seen or perceived by whom at any given moment. Hang in there, though — it’s a story that gradually makes more sense the longer it goes on and rewards the closer you pay attention. And barring even that, it’s still worth a watch for the psychedelic visuals alone. Think of it as a more freakish take on Christopher Nolan’s Inception by way of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.
Available on:Amazon PrimeSATELIGHT
7. Somali and the Forest Spirit
Release date: January 9
Director: Kenji Yasuda
Animation production: Satelight
If your tastes veer more towards the whimsical fare of Studio Ghibli than explicitly action-oriented titles, Somali and the Forest Spirit is a perfect choice. Set in a world of magic and sorcery populated by spirits, goblins, and all sorts of creatures, the series follows the journey of a forest-protecting golem and their companion, a precocious child named Somali. Together, the two embark on a search for a home for Somali among the last of the humans, a race of beings previously thought to have been persecuted and hunted to the brink of extinction ages ago. Think Alphonse and Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, but instead of two brothers in search of the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies, it’s a father figure and their adoptive ward searching for safety and security in a world of dangers at every turn. With exquisite backgrounds, disarming humor, and a story with genuine emotional pull, Somali and the Forest Spirit is a spirited fable of parenthood and love found in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Available on:CrunchyrollBRAIN’S BASE
Release date: January 11
Director: Keiji Gotoh
Animation production: Brain’s Base
Supernatural mystery series are a dime a dozen when it comes to anime, so it’s refreshing when one comes along that has as intriguing a premise and personality as In/Spectre. Based on Kyo Shirodaira’s novel series, In/Spectre follows 15-year-old Iwanaga Kotoko, a university student who four years prior to the series’s start was anointed as the “Goddess of Wisdom” of the spirit world at the cost of her left leg and right eye. Acting as an intermediary between the human and spirit world, Kotoko is tasked with solving disputes and discrepancies between the two. There’s just one problem: Kuro Sakuragawa, Kotoko’s fast-made companion and boyfriend, is a surprisingly fearsome entity with mysterious powers that strike fear in the spirits who Kotoko is charged with protecting. A serial mystery crossed with an odd-couple rom-com that occasionally pokes at the fourth wall, In/Spectre is a gorgeously animated series with fun twists, delightful characters, and engrossing cases that’ll keep you hooked to the end.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HBO MaxCRUNCHYROLL
5. Tower of God
Release date: April 1
Director: Takashi Sano
Animation production: Telecom Animation Film
Tower of God has been one of the most talked-about new series of 2020, and for good reason. A collaboration between Crunchyroll and digital comic publisher Webtoon, the series is an anime adaptation of the online ‘manhwa’ (Korean for ‘comic’) by artist S.I.U. and the latest in Crunchyroll’s recent push into producing its own original anime content. The series follows Bam, an amnesiac youth who is mysteriously teleported into the eponymous Tower of God, a metaphysical structure that seemingly encompasses the entire world and is designed to bestow immense powers upon those capable of reaching its heights. On his journey to reach the tower’s peak in search of his beloved friend Rachel, Bam must surround himself with allies in order to overcome the Tower’s deadly trials and even deadlier adversaries. A gorgeous fantasy-adventure with rich characters, dense mythology, and beautiful animation, Tower of God will satisfy anyone hungry for a new shonen series to binge.
Available on:CrunchyrollA-1 PICTURES
4. Kaguya-sama: Love is War (Season 2)
Release date: April 11
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Animation production: A-1 Pictures
Student council president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya return for another season of machiavellian shenanigans and romantic hijinks! The first season of Kaguya-sama: Love is War was one of last year’s standout new series, a devious and hilarious twist on the classic ‘will-they-won’t-they’ formula of high school rom-com anime. Season 2 has even more in the way of lovestruck mishaps between Miyuki and Kaguya, as well as more time spotlighting old and new breakout favorites such as the Kaguya’s hyper-capable assistant Ai Hayasaki and Miyuki’s icy cool sister Kei. And better, the second season is just self-contained enough that viewers new to the series could pop in to watch this one without missing a beat. Kaguya-sama: Love is War is uproariously hilarious, stylistically inventive, and easily one of the best anime rom-coms to come out this year.
Release date: May 28
Director: Yuichiro Hayashi
Animation production: MAPPA
Based on Q Hayashida’s cult dark fantasy sci-fi manga of the same name, Dorohedoro is set in the Hole, a harsh derelict metropolis populated by humans and an ever-increasing number of unfortunate souls transformed into chimeric monstrosities by malicious sorcerers from another dimension. The series follows Caiman, an amnesiac bounty hunter and his best friend Nikaido as they scour the depths of the Hole in search of the sorcerer who cursed him with a lizard’s head. Oh yeah, he’s also got a sentient human head at the back of his throat that pops up Xenomorph-style whenever Caiman swallows his prey to search for the culprit. It only gets weirder from there. Packed to the brim with gnarly violence, leather-clad weirdos, pitch-black humor, and more than a few moments of light-hearted levity, Dorohedoro is a dark and impressive hybrid-CG anime that combines dystopian body-horror and slice-of-life comedy to make for one of the most exciting and unique new series to come out in 2020.
Release date: March 13
Director: Shinichi Matsumi
Animation production: Orange
Set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, Beastars is the story of Legoshi, a benevolent if dour young lupine who crosses paths with Haru, an emotionally aloof and promiscuous dwarf rabbit, through serendipitous circumstances and begins to develop complicated feelings for her. Legoshi’s primal and emotional awakening is exacerbated by his status as a carnivore, forcing him to confront the terrifying question of whether what he feels for Haru is simply his instinctual urge to hunt and kill, or something more. From a technical and creative standpoint, everything about Beastars is masterful. From its sincerely nuanced depiction of a society frayed between different competing castes of carnivores and herbivores, to its inspired sense of composition and lighting, Beastars is an absurd, terrifying, horny, and heartfelt anime that stands head and shoulders above the pack.
Available on: NetflixSCIENCE SARU
1. Keep your Hands off Eizouken!
Release date: January 5
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Animation production: Science Saru
Based on Sumito Ōwara’s manga series of the same name, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! follows high schooler Midori and her friends Sayaka and Tsubame as they attempt to establish an anime club on their school’s campus and produce their own animated film. What follows is a wild odyssey of the highs and lows of trying to break into animation, the type of comedic and disarmingly earnest portrayal of youthful ambition in the face of opposition, and inexperience that reaffirms why you fell in love with anime in the first place. Brimming with meticulous nods to some of the medium’s finest creators and a mischievously meta sense of creativity that’ll have even the most stone-faced of viewers grinning ear to ear, it’s the kind of show you could only expect from the likes of Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby, Ping Pong the Animation, etc.) and the team behind Science Saru. Top that with an infectiously trippy title theme and score courtesy of rap duo chelmico and experimental producer Oorutaichi and you’ve got one of the most memorable and hilarious anime of the year.
Available on: Crunchyroll, HBO Max