In addition to the multiple fantastic TV series that graced our televisions in 2019, there were also more than a few particularly great anime. And though there weren’t necessarily any new instant classics this year – although I can easily see my favorite one on this write-up becoming a staple of the medium with time – there was certainly no shortage of well-crafted Japanese animation. Out of the many worthwhile series of 2019, the ones below are, in my opinion, the cream of the crop.
Honorable Mention: The Rising of the Shield Hero (Season 1)
The “ordinary person gets pulled into a fantasy world and must figure out how to get back home” shtick has been practically done to death in anime by this point, but Rising of the Shield Hero is one that… well, rises above most of its brethren by giving us a heavily flawed (and therefore infinitely more interesting) protagonist, while stacking the odds against him from the beginning. It starts off unsettlingly dark, but quickly becomes a more hopeful, light-hearted endeavor that has great action, a heavy helping of humor, a cast of supporting characters that are easy to root for, and an antagonist that redefines the phrase “love to hate.” There’s also a romance angle that doesn’t really work, but it’s still a series that’s definitely worth checking out.
Number 5: One-Punch Man (Season 2)
One-Punch Man is one of my favorite comedy anime of the past few years, lampooning the superhero craze that’s taken almost every form of entertainment by storm. The show follows Saitama, a hero who is constantly bored and disappointed because he always defeats his enemies with a single blow, which leads to many moments of gut-busting hilarity. Almost as enjoyable as the humorous superhero satire that is Saitama’s life are the brawls between the members of One-Punch Man’s supporting cast, some of which are among the most ridiculous anime beatdowns that I’ve seen in quite a while. The animation quality may have dropped slightly between seasons, but this is still one of the most visually impressive and funny series of 2019.
Number 4: Fire Force (Season 1)
I didn’t think Fire Force was going to be all that great before I started watching, but oh boy was I wrong. It boasts the second strongest animation this year, and it blew me away with its intriguing story and well-written characters. What I thought at first was going to be a mostly one-note action romp about superpowered firefighters quickly turned into an engaging mystery that’s slowly unraveled by a strange-yet-lovable group of protagonists who get caught up in some incredibly well-choreographed fights with both human and inhuman monsters. Most members of the core cast have a unique skill or trait that makes them stand out from everyone else – both in combat and personality-wise – and I couldn’t help but eagerly await the episodes that delved into their (usually tragic) backstories, making me care for them even more.
Number 3: My Hero Academia (Season 4)
One-Punch Man and My Hero Academia both use the superhero template to appeal to fans at a surface level, but rapidly evolve into something different than the standard superfare. The former uses the genre’s own tropes to poke fun at itself a la Deadpool, while My Hero Academia is a heartfelt love letter to the Golden Age of comic books that weaves an original story set in a world filled with superpowers and includes emotional beats that are almost as powerful as the godlike characters the show features. Very few anime can keep me interested for more than two seasons, but I’m just as invested in My Hero Academia’s fourth season as I was with its first three. I credit that to the series spending plenty of time fleshing out its diverse roster of colorful heroes and villains – both main and supporting – which allows its truly outstanding battles to hit even harder. And holy shit, they hit hard. MHA even packs enough sentiment in its filler episodes to make them feel important, something I’ve never seen before.
Number 2: Dragon Ball Super: Broly (film)
Note: Dragon Ball Super Broly had its Japanese premiere in 2018, but I’m including it here because it hit the US in January 2019.
This movie won’t make you a fan of Dragon Ball if you aren’t already, but it’s essentially a giant checklist of exactly why the series has so many. Dragon Ball Super: Broly has big laughs, even bigger action – I’d say some of the best in the anime’s decades-long history – and builds upon its existing characters, especially its most iconic villain, in surprising ways that aim to keep the series from getting stale in its future. Throw in an absolutely breathtaking new animation style, killer soundtrack, and the first canonical appearance of a fan-favorite antagonist, and Dragon Ball’s newest film is one of my favorite action movies this year, along with being required viewing for those who love the iconic franchise.
You can read my full review of Dragon Ball Super: Broly here.
Number 1- Demon Slayer (Season 1)
To be totally honest, the only reason this list exists is because I wanted another chance to talk about the anime marvel that is Demon Slayer. It doesn’t break the action-anime mold, but it’s still a truly astonishing series that shows the potential of the medium and why it’s been steadily increasing in popularity over these past few years. The tale of teenager Tanjiro seeking out the monstrous demon that slaughtered his family and a cure for his sister’s tragic transformation was one that had me on the edge of my seat almost every step of the way, even when I could tell where it was going. It’s full of endearing characters that elicit laughs and genuine emotion in equal measure, features a beautiful, moving score, and each phenomenal fight sequence is practically a work of art thanks to the absolutely stunning animation from acclaimed studio Ufotable, delivering what is almost certainly their best work yet. There’s no question that Demon Slayer is my favorite anime of 2019, and it might be the best I’ve seen in years.