Hoo boy, 2016 was a rough year (and that’s putting it very, very mildly)–but there were a few bright spots, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today! Crunchyroll Favorites kicks off its fifth year with another three-part look at all our favorites from the past twelve months!
The rules were simple: for Part One, only anime, manga, and related media that were released in 2016 (or received a Western release in 2016), or experienced a major milestone (like starting a new season or closing up a major arc). There’s a lot to look at in Part One–let’s get started!
NATE MING (@NateMing)
FLIP FLAPPERS– Finally, a modern magical girl series that steps out of Madoka‘s shadow and delivers something that’s unique, energetic, and positive as hell. Callouts to everything from Fist of the North Star to Sukeban Deka to (of course) Sailor Moon are welcome for longtime fans, while still getting appropriately dark and moody. Cocona is all about the unease of adolescence, and Papika exudes the simple charm of Son Goku in all her pure, heroic glory. Speaking of…
Dragon Ball Super– I rarely get excited to watch simulcasts as they come out–I tend to wait and binge, but I’m there every week within a day for Dragon Ball Super. In 1995, when I was 13 years old, I wanted a sequel to Dragon Ball Z with Future Trunks coming back. Now, over twenty years later, I get to see a DBZ sequel where Future Trunks comes back–and the series feels even more like the original Dragon Ball. This is the real secret to eternal youth.
Yuri!!! on ICE– Yeah yeah, “fujo bait” or some other BS, you’re just mad their fandom is more organized than yours. That says a lot to me–that a TV anime, a sports anime, can pull together so many people and get them excited, week after week. Lapsed fans have viewing parties, share recommendations, and remember why they were once into anime in the first place. This is what happens when it feels like something’s made for you, and that’s a wonderful thing. Yuri!!! on ICE was a pretty okay show, but it’s what it symbolizes that means so much more to me.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable– I always say that JoJo’s is like the original Star Trek movies–the best parts are even-numbered. Diamond is Unbreakable continues Studio David’s glorious adaptation of Araki’s mega-epic, bringing out all the style and soul and violence of Josuke and the gang’s battle to save their town. New to JoJo? Start here–and buckle up.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless– Anime comedies are pretty important to me–whether it’s the sheer absurdity of Cromartie High School or the more low-key silliness of Tonari no Seki-kun, finding a fairly simple premise and then focusing on it is a good way to hook me. In this case, a lazy guy has to deal with his high-energy friends, and we learn that sometimes, taking it easy is the only easy way to get ahead in life.
Evangelion 3.33: You Can(Not) Redo– It felt like this movie was never going to come out here after its 2012 release, but holy crap it was worth the wait. After the familiar ground of 1.11 and the bold, assertive new direction 2.22 took, 3.33 brings us back to what Evangelion does best: raw emotional pain, horrifying visuals, and never quite trusting or rooting for anybody we see on-screen. What a ride.
Rurouni Kenshin live-action trilogy- Another awesome release that was a long time coming, this adaptation of my all-time favorite manga condenses the first 17(ish) volumes of the series into three movies, trimming some plotlines and making them all just work as dynamic, rough, yet stylish martial arts actioners. Thankfully, great fights and drama don’t overshadow Rurouni Kenshin‘s sense of fun. Check these out when you can!
Thunderbolt Fantasy– Written and created by Gen Urobuchi? Voice acting by Junichi Suwabe, Rikiya Koyama, Nobuyuki Hiyama, and Tomokazu Seki? An opening by T.M. Revolution?! I don’t care what you say, you have those credentials, it can be live-action and be made in Antarctica and still be anime as hell. As the only person I know who regularly bought ComicsONE’s kung-fu manhua, Thunderbolt Fantasy brought me back to the days of hunting down volumes of Saint Legend and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.
My Hero Academia (manga)- There’s always a certain point when a manga hooks me, and I’m in it for better or for worse. One Piece had Arlong Park (and later Enies Lobby). Naruto had the Chunin Exam. Hunter x Hunter had Yorknew City. Now, My Hero Academia‘s 2016 developments–and a very public, dangerous reveal and its emotional fallout–have pulled me in. I don’t just say “My Hero Academia is good.” Now I say “My Hero Academia is One Piece good.”
Crunchyroll x Funimation- Competition’s good, but everybody wins when we all work together. Funimation are the other half of what we do, and have been in this business a hell of a lot longer. Being able to watch brand-new anime subbed on CR or dubbed on Funi is the kind of thing I never thought I’d see, and I am excited as hell to be a part of this, and to see what good it can do for anime fans.
JOSEPH LUSTER (@Moldilox)
Dragon Ball Super– Dragon Ball Super went from “this thing I keep hearing is poorly animated” to “my favorite show of the year” in record time. As soon as it was available legally I jumped into a mountain-leveling, rosé-tinted marathon of madness, and as of right now it’s the best damn thing since DBZ. Super has completely rekindled my not-so-dormant love for all things Toriyama, and I can’t wait to see where they take the series next.
Mob Psycho 100– I loved the One-Punch Man anime, but I’m pretty sure Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama could take Saitama in an unrestrained fight. That’s saying a lot, but it’s just another indicator of how much I adored BONES’ gorgeously-animated spin on ONE’s manga (which needs to come out in English ASAP). It certainly has some of the most creative fights of 2016, and that’s a year that brought us the butt-battling of Keijo!!!!!!!!
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- On paper, Re:ZERO isn’t something I should have enjoyed as much as I did. I read the first volume of the light novel series and found it as clunky and poorly written as most other light novels I’ve attempted (noted exception: Kizumonogatari), but the anime really hooked me. It’s one of the few series I felt I was watching right alongside everyone else, and it never failed to surprise me and punch me in the gut when it mattered most. This one will be remembered fondly down the line, and here’s hoping we get more since Tappei Nagatsuki is still churning out volume after volume of the novels in Japan.
Also, Subaru is great, you just can’t handle how devastatingly real he is.
PETER FOBIAN (@PeterFobian)
FLIP FLAPPERS– On a visual level, FLIP FLAPPERS is a fascinating tour de force of concept and animation, featuring regular bouts of intense sakuga and amazing environmental design in the diverse worlds of pure illusion all illustrated in a pseudo-classical style. For critics it is a cornucopia of satisfying references to fine art, science, psychology, philosophy, and spiritualism with visual callouts to a diverse range of media from Neon Genesis Evangelion to The Shining to Popeye. For the casual viewer it’s a powerful story of adolescent discovery told both literally and through beautifully-rendered metaphor.
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Despite the formulaic basis of Re:ZERO’s story, appearing as one of a dime-a-dozen isekai light novel adaptations featuring a female harem, Re:ZERO proved to have some serious narrative worth. Not quite a deconstruction, Re:ZERO featured a deeply flawed protagonist in Subaru and an atypical narrative featuring a novel premise in Subaru’s ability to resurrect from death. This gave the anime a huge potential for speculation, and created an entire community of enthusiasts and analysts who followed it from week to week to see what happened next.
ERASED– Halfway through winter season I was absolutely convinced that nothing in 2016 would be able to top the combination of subtle direction, emotional narrative, and unique premise of ERASED. The series masterfully invested its audience in Kayo’s well-being, so for the viewer, the series became less about solving the mystery of the murders than the simple hope that this brave, unfairly abused girl could find some modicum of happiness in a cruel world. Satoru’s altruistic quest, forthright concern, willingness to admit his own faults, and habit of accidentally vocalizing his thoughts made him a truly endearing protagonist.
March comes in like a lion– This show tells a story that’s as difficult to look at as it is to look away from. The inextricable nature of the sources of Rei’s joy and sorrow have created a narrow path he must walk upon just at the edge of despair. Studio SHAFT makes excellent use of visuals, employing darkness and deep water to give Rei’s emotions an elemental quality that allow you to experience the suffocating hold that his depression has upon him, while surrounding the Kawamoto household with a warmth and childlike simplicity that represents the refuge their unconditional love offers to him.
Mob Psycho 100– Mob Psycho 100 may justifiably have a place on top 10 lists for 2016 simply for visual power of the anime alone. Like FLIP FLAPPERS, Mob Psycho 100 is a demonstration of what is possible when you let artists loose on a project. It also showcased ONE’s versatility as a storyteller, strangely, by portraying the same type of overwhelmingly powerful protagonist through a different lens. Behind all the oddball humor and eye-popping art is the story of a boy who struggles with being normal, while everyone around him wants to stand out.
Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū– What we have here is one of a kind: a dedicated, generational period piece not only faithfully depicting post-war Japan, but doing so through the the lens of an obscure and nearly-extinct form of artist theater that is uniquely Japanese. Rakugo feels like the sort of soulful, arthouse passion project that a Hollywood director would have to put years of time in to build the clout to justify its creation. Its direction, emphasizing on gesture and expression, is absolutely cinematic, drawing out each emotional note of the melancholic narrative. The somber humanity of Rakugo almost doesn’t feel like an anime, and is a testament to the versatility of the medium.
My Hero Academia– The next up-and-coming shonen hall-of-famer, in many ways My Hero Academia has already surpassed many of its peers with its fascinating triadic rivalry between Deku, Kacchan, and Todoroki. MHA does a tremendous job of portraying its immensely charming cast of characters’ pursuit of diverse personal goals that are equal parts altruism and self-interest. Most importantly, Horikoshi has tapped into the ethos of superheroes, creating inspirational figures that are intrinsically human, but saddled with the responsibility of representing something larger than life.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable– Despite my many attempts to get into the series, Diamond is Unbreakable is perhaps the first iteration of JoJo that had something interesting to say. The slow-burn murder mystery set in an idyllic town and the many asides, notations, and references all work in concert to build the fictional city of Morioh into a nearly real place like The Simpsons‘ Springfield. With that hurdle passed, Araki’s stylized art and its amazing adaptation into color and movement by Studio David become an art form unto themselves.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless– Maybe it was how atypical Tanaka was as a lead in a medium where protagonists are homogenously faceless, featureless, and altruistic that drew me to this series. The entire cast each have some sort of hang-up, but the titular Tanaka-kun just treats it differently (ironically) by treating them all the same. Tanaka-kun definitely has a lot of offer on the classroom comedy front, but it also provides a unique sort of iyashikei, or healing media, in which characters’ idiosyncrasies are taken in stride and wholeheartedly accepted, even appreciated, by others. It’s this light-hearted dedication to the positive that makes this anime so dear to me.
Yuri!!! on ICE– Complaints about animation and 11th hour writing aside, I do believe Yuri!!! on ICE was one of the most important anime this year or perhaps of the past several years. Yuri!!! on ICE is a story meant to appeal to a much more vast audience than the more targeted content we’re used to, and it showed. It’s created new fans for the sport of figure skating, reached out to the LGBT community, and represented countries that hardly see a mention in modern media. It was written for a global audience and it reached it. Only time will tell if it’s destined to have any sort of lasting cultural impact, but in the present, at least, it has drawn some deserved attention to the art form.
KARA DENNISON (@RubyCosmos)
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress– I had this show dropped on me by a friend with absolutely no lead-in whatsoever. I’ve had my fill of steampunk and zombies, so I nearly gave it the brush-off… but then I realized Mikimoto was behind the character designs! It’s a gorgeous piece of work, and not at all tuned to the tropes I was expecting. The promise of more is incredibly exciting.
BAKUON!!– Motorcycle anime? Sign me up. It took literally zero arm-twisting to get me into a show about schoolgirls on bikes. Especially when one of them is pretty much literally the Stig. I haven’t finished this yet, but I’m looking forward to watching the end very soon!
Love Live! School Idol Project (pre-2016)- Yeah, yeah, I’m late to the party. After lurking around on the game, I finally gave the anime a try to see what all the fuss was about. And I admit it: it’s actually really good. It helped that I was in touch with the characters after playing on the app for so long, I think, but I really did jam with this. Looking forward to starting Sunshine soon.
EVAN MINTO (@VamptVo)
Space Patrol Luluco– As Crunchyroll’s resident Trigger fan, I’m obligated to put Luluco at the top of my list. It’s the famed studio of loony ex-Gainax dorks indulging in some of the most surreal, self-referential comedy this side of FLCL (the show where Luluco director Hiroyuki Imaishi got his start as an animation director). Not only does Luluco boast references to every Trigger property from Kill la Kill to Kiznaiver and cameos from Little Witch Academia, Sex & Violence, and 2016’s REAL Best Boy — Inferno Cop — but it’s also a surprisingly sincere shojo-inspired cosmic love story!
Mob Psycho 100– I loved what I saw of One-Punch Man, though I never did finish it (I know, I know). Mob Psycho 100, also from webcomic artist ONE, has some of the same appeal — superpowered battles, lush animation, and an absurd, slightly dark sense of humor — but cuts it with a heartfelt coming-of-age-story. More than anything else, though, I watched Mob just to see what wild shots the animators at BONES would try next, and I was rarely disappointed. Mob Psycho 100 is easily one of the best-looking shows of the past five years; every animator gets a chance to show off their unique style, and even the most mundane scenes are infused with energy and personality.
ERASED– It’s rare we get an anime series I can comfortably recommend to my parents, but ERASED manages to capture the nail-biting cliffhangers and complex mysteries that drive so many popular modern American TV series. On top of all of that, director Tomohiko Ito (of Sword Art Online fame, go figure) crafts powerful, cinematic visuals without resorting to expressionistic anime flourishes. When it all comes together it’s a captivating experience. The ending needs a bit more room to breathe, but even with a few stumbles at the finish line, ERASED is a series I’ll be recommending for years to come.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable– I wasn’t super pleased with Stardust Crusaders, but Diamond is Unbreakable brings back all of the wacky charm of the first two parts of the JoJo’s saga, EXCEPT WITH STANDS. This time Araki doesn’t hold back, introducing a host of completely absurd Stand powers, including: “transform a person into a newspaper and read their life story,” “heal people via Italian food,” and “a real army but the size of toys.” It’s also much smaller-scale, with a lot of recurring characters, many of whom are some of my favorites in the whole series. Though they’ve dropped the incredible Kamikaze Douga OP sequences, David Production makes up for it with colorful, high-contrast artwork that perfectly accentuates Araki’s manic sense of style. I’m sad to see Diamond is Unbreakable go, but JoJo’s still has so much more in store.
Only Yesterday– At 25 years old this year, Only Yesterday is hardly a “new” title, but 2016 was the first time we got it in the United States! Produced at Studio Ghibli and directed by Grave of the Fireflies’ Isao Takahata, the film is a beautifully understated, lyrical look at a woman’s life, told simultaneously through a summer spent farming and a series of memories from her childhood. Most of the movie is ordinary almost to a fault, but like many of Takahata’s movies, it builds carefully and almost imperceptibly to a sublime emotional climax. Only Yesterday is easily one of my favorite anime of all time.
Belladonna of Sadness– Another retro release, Belladonna is the third and final film in the Animerama series of erotic art films produced by Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions. This one, however, is entirely directed by Eiichi Yamamoto (Tezuka co-produced the other two). Suffice it to say, it’s not exactly what you might expect from the studio that produced Astro Boy. A medieval lord rapes a beautiful peasant woman, who seeks revenge by making a deal with the devil. Yamamoto presents the story’s gothic horror — complete with Satanic rituals and frightening descents into madness — with elaborate animated paintings and an incredible psychedelic rock soundtrack from Masahiko Satoh. Not for the faint of heart, Belladonna of Sadness is an arresting work of experimental animation that’s a welcome change of pace from the banality of modern anime.
One-Punch Man (manga)- I’m finally close to caught up with One-Punch Man, and I’m surprised I didn’t read it sooner! Eyeshield 21’s Yusuke Murata has a great eye for character design and pulls off some surprisingly ambitious page layouts, but it’s ONE’s absurd, childish sense of humor that makes the series stand out so much from its shonen action contemporaries. Saitama’s complete apathy undercuts every opportunity for serious danger or drama, giving the series a sardonic self-awareness that’s relatively rare in shonen action series.
And Yet the Town Moves– After a 10-year run, And Yet the Town Moves is finally over. Masakazu Ishiguro’s decade-long manga never follows a single storyline for more than two or three chapters, instead constructing a deliberately out-of-order series of episodic comedy vignettes about a small Japanese town and the grossly out-of-place maid café at its center. What always made And Yet the Town Moves a joy to go back to was Ishiguro’s ability to weave endless strings of jokes at his characters’ expense, all while painting a picture of a tight-knit community of decent, lovable folks both old and young. Appropriately for a sitcom that consistently shuns sentimentality in favor of comedy, the final chapter ends with just another dumb joke.
The Gods Lie.– Lots of anime and manga feature children as the main characters, but it’s rare that these stories really tackle what it means to be a child in modern society. The Gods Lie, on the other hand, tackles it head on with the story of three kids — the oldest of whom are in 6th grade — who live alone in an abandoned house for a summer. There’s a fair bit of high drama in this single book (an absentee father, a sick, elderly soccer coach) but The Gods Lie communicates far more about how how societies nurture and shelter their children through showcasing the fractured but functional surrogate family that the three kids form for each other.
The Osamu Tezuka Story– Though it’s sometimes a little too detailed for its own good, The Osamu Tezuka Story is an invaluable book for anyone like me who’s obsessed with the life and work of Osamu Tezuka, the “God of Manga” who created Astro Boy and revolutionized both the postwar manga and anime industries. In manga form, author Toshio Ban lays out Tezuka’s life from his schoolboy days sketching in the margins of notebooks to his death in 1989, pulling from memoirs, interviews, and personal accounts from those who knew him best. Tezuka loved to write manga epics about the lives of heroes and historical figures, so it’s fitting that he’d get immortalized in his own manga biography.
SAM WOLFE (@_Samtaro)
One Piece– 2016 was another great year for the One Piece manga, as the Straw Hats finally did something fans have been anticipating for years: take on one of the Four Emperors of the Sea! Luffy has been making waves on Whole Cake Island, home to the notorious pirate lord Big Mom (and let me tell you, she’s got that name for a reason). Next to Teach, Big Mom has become one of my favorite One Piece villains, largely due to her distorted views on family. But is Big Mom really so bad? After all, her dream is to sit at a table where everyone sits at the same height…
ERASED– ERASED was a critically received murder mystery and drama that took the anime world by storm earlier this year, and I can’t sing its praises enough. Regardless of your feelings on the ending, ERASED had us gripped, and because the anime promised an alternate ending than its source manga, we were all in the dark. But to me, the success of ERASED was its appeal to both anime fans and non-anime fans. When a newbie asks me for anime recommendations, ERASED is sure to be on that list.
Dragon Ball Super– Dragon Ball Super really wasn’t on my radar until it was licensed in the States, and boy am I happy it was. As a big fan of Battle of the Gods and Resurrection F, Super was familiar territory, but this year I realized how good of a follow-up this show is to Dragon Ball Z; the power levels are higher, as are the stakes, and Goku is finally an underdog again. It’s good to be back.
Yuri!!! on ICE– I know, I know, you’ve heard enough about this one, but it deserves the nod. Yuri!!! on ICE is a special show for a lot of reasons: it’s appealing to anime fans and non-anime fans alike, it was an original story (meaning, it’s not based on a manga or light novel), and it told the story of two male figure skaters falling in love. It’s more than just a fujoshi dream come true; Yuri!!! on ICE did something really new, and that’s worth noting, even if you’re not a fan.
ISAAC AKERS (@iblessall)
As has been my custom with this space over the past few years (okay, just last year), rather than highlighting the shows that made it into my top 10 of the year, I’ll be touching on a few of the year’s offerings that just missed the cut.
She and Her Cat -Everything Flows- One of the quietest and shortest shows of the year was also a serious contender for being one of its best. Based on an earlier work of the same main title by Makoto Shinkai, She and Her Cat -Everything Flows- is a peaceful, melancholic look at the life of a young woman struggling with the loneliness and sadness that can come with being out on your own in the world. Much like one of my favorite short pieces from 2015, the Animator Expo’s tomorrow from there. She and Her Cat captures with ease and empathy a kind of wistful yet warm existential state. If you’ve been in the main character’s shoes even a little (or, if you’re in them right now), She and Her Cat -Everything Flows- is like getting a nice hug.
Three Leaves, Three Colors– Studio Dogakobo is well-known for their bouncy comedies, with recent hits like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun and Love Lab leading the list. However, Three Leaves, Three Colors (from the same mangaka as Engaged to the Unidentified) is a somewhat more demure affair despite sharing many of the same trappings. With standout bits of animation scattered throughout and great color work, it’s a pleasure to look at, but it also boasts a rock-solid main trio of friends who play off each other in fun ways. There are even some almost surrealistic comedic interludes interspersed here and there. If you like moe comedies and missed this one this year, here’s your cue to check it out!
The Lost Village– Arguably the most controversial show of the entire year when it was airing, whether The Lost Village was genius, mediocre, or horrid varies depending on who you ask. I’ve weighed in on the matter with my own thoughts multiple times, but even considering how much respect I ended up having for the show I still find myself a bit baffled by it. That being said, it’s definitely one of the shows I had the most fun watching, writing, and discussing during the year, and I think those who engage with it ready to be flexible with their expectations will find, at the very least, a very unique anime to add to their completed list.
As for manga… I didn’t read any manga this year and I don’t think Nate will let me put Orange on my list for the third straight year, so sorry. [EDITOR’S NOTE: I would have been cool with this.] Pokemon Special’s still fun and good, by the way.
NICK CREAMER (@B0bduh)
FLIP FLAPPERS– FLIP FLAPPERS offered basically everything I want in an anime: great character writing, stirring themes, beautiful worlds, and an overall sense of whimsy that kept the whole thing fun and propulsive even when it was touching on topics like child abandonment and an inability to love yourself. It was an astonishing visual showcase and also a remarkably well-constructed character story, using its many diverse Pure Illusion adventures to consistently illustrate new things about its central characters. It’s one of those weird passion projects that make anime special, and I’m very happy it exists.
Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song– Okay, when I said FLIP FLAPPERS was everything I want in an anime, I sort of lied – I also like shows with searing political messages, and The Last Song was that all over. Depicting the breakdown of an alternate post-war Japan where superheroes are real, The Last Song was more reflective and bittersweet than Concrete Revolutio’s first season, but just as clever, creative, and engaging. From its wild pop-art style to its smart application of superhero archetypes to the social turmoil of 60s/70s Japan, The Last Song offered me a hefty meal to dig into every single week.
Sound! Euphonium 2– And reaching the final pole of my anime preferences, Sound! Euphonium continued to be thoughtful character drama done right. The show’s second season was messier than its first, adapting some material that couldn’t match the consistency of its predecessor, but the show’s characters continued to be very strong, and Kyoto Animation’s execution was just beyond compare. While many shows use the open canvas of animation to tell soaring, fantastical narratives, Euphonium demonstrated just how much magic and beauty there is in the personal and everyday.
Kizumonogatari– Oh, I also watched the first two Kizu movies this year, and they were glorious. Monogatari has been one of my favorite anime franchises for years now, but seeing Tatsuya Oishi’s gorgeous take on the prequel novel still felt like a revelatory experience. Instead of the TV series’ usual embrace of heavy internal monologue, Oishi fully realized Araragi’s depression, panic, and sexual mania through sound and pictures alone, making for one of the most distinctive and visceral film experiences I’ve seen. The Kizu films are a remarkable achievement.
Yuri!!! on ICE – An anime that was born to make history. Besides all the pretty boys and ice skating, the one thing that will stick with me about this show is how international its scope was. Yuri!!! on ICE takes you around the world and offers a surprisingly detailed and true-to-life picture of international competitive ice skating. We got to see skaters from Thailand and Kazakhstan excel at what they love on the world stage. As compelling as Yuri’s journey as an athlete was, any of the skaters could have been the main character of this story. In fact, this was something that director Sayo Yamamoto and mangaka Mitsuro Kubo specifically went out of their way to suggest. No wonder this series was so beloved around this world!
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- This series might look like a typical fantasy-adventure story about an insufferable male nerd at first glance, but I was really impressed by how much empathy the narrative had for its main character. Subaru is an extremely weak character in the scheme of things, and the world doesn’t revolve around him. His struggle to connect with others and move past his self-hatred resonated with me for similar reasons that My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU and Neon Genesis Evangelion did. I also happened to really love all the side characters in this series, and there’s enough left unexplained by the end to make me burn with curiosity to find out what happens next. Season 2 when?!
your name.– I got to see Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece when it came out in Australian cinemas in November, and I ended up loving it so much that I saw it twice in three days! In my view, it’s the first Shinkai film that balances its macro plot and themes equally with the love story, and that might be one of the reasons why I found it so personally relatable. your name. was created in response to the Fukushima disaster, and I found its message of empathizing with others and treasuring every fleeting moment especially profound in that context. I also think that the film touches on something deep about the way we humans connect with each other, and how it’s possible for us to emotionally identify with people we’ve never even physically met. For that reason, among many others, it has become one of my favorite anime of all time.
WILHELM DONKO (@Surwill)
Sound! Euphonium 2– The first Sound! Euphonium was already my favorite anime of 2015, and the sequel again managed to make my list this year, as the second season was not lacking any of the traits and attributes responsible for the remarkable first season. Sound! Euphonium 2 kept its authentic grounded tone, which was accompanied by realistic characters and character-interactions, relatable drama, and background art nothing short of stunning. After a bit of a slow start, the season really picked up after the incredibly animated musical performance during the Kansai Competition, and in the end managed to tie up most loose ends beautifully. I’d also like to quickly mention Kumiko’s voice actresses’ unusual and mellow performance, which added a lot of personality to her character in my opinion.
Haikyu!!– Volleyball? I’m surely not going to care for an anime about a sport I don’t even know all the rules to. Boy, was I wrong. I picked up Haikyu!! around the start of the year, while the second cour of the second season was still running, and was immediately hooked. The show is extremely engaging, energetic, fast-paced, and almost always kept me on the edge of my seat during the matches. Haikyu!!’s cast is equally lovable (even the opponents in the show are great), and undergo some major character development throughout the seasons. I really did not care for Tsukishima at the beginning of show, but he soon became one of my favorites, especially after the thrilling third season. I guess I could say the same about Haikyu!! in general.
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- I don’t think I need to talk a lot about Re:ZERO, as it was undoubtedly one the biggest, if not the biggest anime this year. The show was definitely one of the more interesting takes on the Isekai (different world) formula in recent memory, and always sparked a great amount of discussion after each episode. And what can I say? I really liked to see Subaru suffer.
Love Live! Sunshine!!– I’m fully aware that Love Live! Sunshine!! is the odd one out of all my picks, and I would never objectively consider it as anime of the year, but it was my personal favorite of 2016. Even though I watched both seasons of the original, I never really cared for the Love Live! series, but that drastically changed with the start of Love Live! Sunshine!! While I never warmed up to Muse, I just adore every member of Aqour’s, and generally consider Sunshine!! to be a step up in every aspect compared to the original. However, it wasn’t until my own pilgrimage to the show’s setting, Uchiura and Numazu that I really fell in love with the series. I’ve done a lot of anime pilgrimages, but this one ranks among my favorites. After that I started collecting everything Love Live! Sunshine!! related I could get my hands upon. From art books, to figures to coffee mugs, I have it all – I even play that darn mobile game every day. Yousoro ~
Honorable Mentions: Flying Witch, KONOSUBA, Ajin.
BRANDON TETERUCK (@Don_Don_Kun)
FLIP FLAPPERS– Magical girl anime have encountered a bit of a dry spell in recent years. Thankfully Kiyotaka Oshiyama brought us a unique spin on the genre with his directorial debut, FLIP FLAPPERS. While FLIP FLAPPERS was a mishmash of different styles, ranging from campy shojo horror to Mad Max action, each episode worked harmoniously to create a cohesive emotional narrative. FLIP FLAPPERS’ two heroines, Papika and Cocona, learn more about themselves and each other by exploring a slew of psychedelic and dreamlike worlds. Although the peculiar fusion of genres may not suit every audience’s taste, FLIP FLAPPERS had essentially what I wanted out of a modern magical girl anime: creative and experimental animation sequences, heavily allegorical storytelling, and fabulous henshin scenes.
KIZNAIVER– Hiroshi Kobayashi’s directorial debut, KIZNAIVER, was an ambitious project unlike anything studio Trigger had attempted before. Alongside scriptwriter Mari Okada, Kobayashi created a contemporary adolescent drama that wasn’t afraid to tackle some of the touchier issues in Japanese society. Throughout KIZNAIVER, its cast of misfits constantly grapple between wanting to feel the physical and emotional pain of others and questioning whether an artificial connection could create a sense of togetherness. This was the primary dramatic narrative of KIZNAIVER, and while intriguing in and of itself, it was truly Kobayashi’s thoughtful directing and clever use of visual symbolism that elevated the material. KIZNAIVER may have lacked narrative polish around its edges, but it was one of the most visually poignant pieces of commercial anime to come out of the industry in the past couple of years. Here’s hoping that Kobayashi will have more directing roles in the future as his cinematic vision brings a lot to the table for commercial anime as a whole.
Sound! Euphonium 2– The first season of Sound! Euphonium had always been a favorite of mine, and as such, the bar was set quite high when I heard a prequel was announced. Despite a rather lackluster first arc, the second half of 2016’s Sound! Euphonium 2 blew me away. The relationship between Kumiko and Asuka, two of the central pillars of Kitauji High’s concert band, embodied both the heart and soul of Sound! Euphonium’s web of emotional connections. It was beautiful to see their close-knit bond – built upon respect, trust, and understanding – unfold as the barriers between senpai and kohai were broken down. It set the stage perfectly for the resolution of Sound! Euphonium’s many other narratives: Kumiko and her older sister’s mending of their sibling conflict, Reina’s emotional maturing, and Taki’s finding peace within himself over his late wife. With a soulful conclusion to an already fantastic anime by Kyoto Animation, Sound! Euphonium is a series that couldn’t have ended in a more satisfying manner.
Mob Psycho 100– Mob Psycho 100 is unequivocally a testament to the creativity and passion of the anime industry’s top animators. Director Yuzuru Tachikawa and animation director Yoshimichi Kameda created an experimental take on ONE’s source manga that showcased the importance of animation for storytelling and expression. While still operating within the confines of a shounen work, Mob Psycho 100 is an anime with a visual and ideological identity that does not confirm to the sterile and idealistic standard of perfectionism that is seen in many contemporary anime. “If everyone is not special, maybe you can be who you want to be.”
Love Live! Sunshine!!– Last, but certainly not least, is a pick that you may find a bit strange if you’ve been reading the reasoning behind my other favorite anime of 2016. While I do value artistry in animation and direction, there are times when a fun anime with a cute and charming cast of characters is just as enjoyable to watch. Despite adopting a similar plot structure to the original Love Live! series, Love Live! Sunshine!! knew how to play around with its audience’s expectations, in some cases subverting characterization tropes and outright parodying the original. The girls of Aqours were a low-key bunch of loveable dorks who enthusiastically attempted to emulate the franchise’s previous group of idols (often times with hilarious or unfortunate results). Aqours’ playful banter and goofy antics quickly made me invested in their underdog soul search for stardom, while the intimate relationship between Chika and Riko brought a smile to my face. With the collective energy and excitement it brought to my life while watching, Love Live! Sunshine!! was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2016. Also, Dia is best girl.
And that’s a wrap for Part One of our three-part series! Be sure to tune in at the same time tomorrow for PART TWO: VIDEO GAMES! And if you’re still in the mood for past CR Favorites, check out the previous years’ features here:
Crunchyroll Favorites 2015 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2014 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2013 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2012 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll News’ Best of 2011 Part One Part Two
What were your favorite anime and manga of 2016? Remember, this is a FAVORITES list, not a BEST OF list, so there’s no wrong answers–sound off in the comments and share your favorites with us!
Nate Ming is the Features and Reviews Editor for Crunchyroll News, creator of the long-running Fanart Friday column, and the Customer Support Lead for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter at @NateMing.