Though 2020 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for nearly everyone, the same can’t be said for anime. In fact, anime was in rare form this year—several shows became near instant classics, and favorites like Attack on Titan and Haikyu!! received much anticipated new seasons. It was also a good year for shows based on South Korean manhwa, which have traditionally been underrepresented despite offering some of the best dramas and dark fantasies in modern comics.
Animation is a wonderful escape for a lot of people, and can even be used as a tool to tell stories of oppression, hope, or struggle unlike any other medium. Below are a few of our favorite new anime of 2020, shows that received their first seasons sometime this year, and solidified themselves as being among the best. (You can also check out our list of the Best Anime of All Time here).
The face of anime is rapidly changing, and given Sony’s recent purchase of Crunchyroll, is proving itself to be one of the hottest industries in entertainment today. Time will tell what a monopolized landscape will look like, but for now, we have these shows to reflect on and we can only hope next year’s offerings are just as great.
Tower of God, Jujutsu Kaisen, Higurashi: When They Cry — Gou, Somali and the Forest Spirit, Great Pretender, Sing “Yesterday” For Me, Smile Down the Runway
1. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Studio: Science Saru
Watch on CrunchyrollWatch on HBO Max
It’s crazy to think that until a few years ago, Masaaki Yuasa was anime’s best kept secret. Long popular among fans of experimental animation, he finally crossed over into mainstream success with his Netflix adaptation of Devilman Crybaby. But where Devilman Crybaby is an indulgent work of hedonism and destruction, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is one of his chillest works to date and a fine entry in Yuasa’s expansive oeuvre.
Yuasa is an expert in making the mundane seem magical, and that’s exactly what makes Eizouken so infinitely relatable. The story’s a simple one—Midori, an incoming high school freshman, dreams of creating her own anime. She soon meets her classmate, Tsubame, a popular young model frustrated with her expectant parents who similarly yearns to work in animation. Together with Midori’s best friend, the hilarious miser Sayaka, they form an animation team masqueraded as a film production club at their school to avoid suspicion from Tsubame’s family (and to siphon the school’s generous budget offering).
Eizouken’s all about the power of collaboration and dreams. It’s an optimistic show nestled perfectly in an otherwise dismal year, earnestly hopeful and just a little naive. We could all use a little wide-eyed idealism in 2020, which makes Eizouken irrefutably the best anime of the year.
Watch on Netflix
Over the years, MAPPA has established itself as one of anime’s best animation studios. Since their inception in the early 2010s, they’ve put out some of the most sumptuously animated shows in recent memory, like Shinichiro Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope and Terror in Resonance as well as cult favorites Kakegurui and Yuri on Ice. What makes their work truly shine is the evocative style of movement they manage, giving each of their shows their own visual language that feels sensitive and bodily.
Somehow, their romantic stylings work perfectly for Dorohedoro, which is based on Q Hayashida’s popular manga of the same name. Dorohedoro follows Caiman, an amnesiac cursed with a reptile head living in a nightmarish brutalist cityscape haunted by interdimensional sorcerers. The show is a surreal mixture of high fantasy and grungy sci-fi, reveling in gritty hyperviolence and oafish humor. MAPPA manages to craft something that could easily slide into the low-brow feel beautiful and enchanting. Despite its grotesque bombast, Dorohedoro tells a compelling story of poverty, community, and exploitation, and we’re hoping for a Season 2 in 2021.
3. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Studio: Silver Link
Watch on Crunchyroll
I hate isekai anime. At least modern isekai. Over the last decade, a genre that was previously putting out romantic, sweeping epics like Escaflowne and The Twelve Kingdoms was replaced with shows like Overlord and Sword Art Online. These shows have a lot in common—instead of crossing over to a fantasy world, the main character ends up in a video game, usually an online one. This usually amounts to nothing more than a toxic power fantasy. The main character, always male and always a nerd of some kind, winds up high on the food chain within this new society and has legions of fawning women seeking him out.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! playfully turns this trope on its head. After bumping her head as a child, Catarina Claes remembers her previous life as an otaku high schooler. One of her obsessions was an otome game named Fortune Lover. (Otome games are games targeted to women, and usually are visual novels that are romantic in nature.) Catarina soon realizes she’s been reincarnated as Fortune Lover’s villain, and that she’s destined to have a bad ending unless she does something to change the course of each of the game’s routes, which correspond to a different bachelor. Given Catarina’s charming personality, she easily accomplishes this—but this means all the bachelors, and even the female protagonist of Fortune Lover, wind up falling in love with Catarina.
My Next Life as a Villainess is one of this year’s most fun shows. The tone is a hilarious fusion of a flowery, Austen-esque comedy of errors and the genre savvy comedy of Nichijou. But most importantly, it’s a proper homage to one of gaming’s most under-discussed genres and is a wonderful love letter to otome classics like Princess Maker and Angelique.
4. Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition
Studio: Ajia-do Animation Works
Watch on Funimation
For a lot of people, 2020 has been a year of reevaluation. Did you choose the right major? Is your career fulfilling? Do you support your loved ones properly? We could all stand to do some self-reflection and personal work sometimes, and Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition is all about navigating those difficult decisions. After having his daughter Hime, Kakushi Gotou (a famous mangaka known for his bawdy, lowbrow series Balls of Fury) realizes something has to change. As a single father, his innate overprotectiveness extends to his own career. Wanting to shield his daughter from the horrors of the world, he hides his career from Hime as she enters elementary school, carefully dodging rabid fans on the street and editors showing up at his house unannounced.
Despite being a sitcom, Kakushigoto has a resonant emotional core. At its heart, it’s a story about our shift in priorities when we start a family, and the inevitability of our loved ones learning about the secrets we keep close. It also hilariously teaches its viewers about the ins and outs of the manga industry in an intriguing way. Ajia-do’s soft animation style, as well as the show’s idyllic seaside setting, gives the show a pastel-tinged nostalgia that you won’t soon forget. It’s a show to cherish.
5. Id — Invaded
Watch on HuluWatch on Funimation
Id — Invaded is an intoxicating show that could rapturously trap even casual anime watchers in its intricate web. Part police procedural, part science fiction, Id follows a disgraced detective, Narihisago, who solves crimes by diving into a virtual reality constructed from residual cognitive particles. Though it has a semi-episodic format, the overarching plot slowly unravels the mystery behind Narihisago’s imprisonment, the death of his family, and the slippery movements of the elusive “serial killer maker” John Walker.
The show strikes a near perfect balance among sentimentality, incisive philosophizing, and extreme, hyperbolic situations that are reminiscent of both Stand Alone Complex and AI: Somnium Files. It’s a show that feels cozily familiar, and spins an enigmatic tale that keeps viewers guessing while remaining wryly humorous. Id — Invaded is easily one of 2020’s most bingeable shows.
Austin Jones is a writer with eclectic media interests. You can chat with him about horror games, electronic music, Joanna Newsom and ‘80s-‘90s anime on Twitter @belfryfire
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