As the year comes to a close, it’s time for the big one. Here are Anime Now!’s picks for the best five anime series of 2016.
Genre: Time Travel, Mystery
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: Satoru, a failing manga artist in his late 20s, has a special power: When a life-or-death moment involving someone occurs around him, he finds himself anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes in the past–giving him a chance to save the person’s life. One day, he returns home to find his mother murdered and himself framed for the crime. As usual, his power activates–only this time he finds himself not a few minutes in the past, but twenty years. An adult in an elementary schooler’s body, Satoru must work to prevent the murder of one of his classmates in the past and, in doing so, save his mother in the present.
Why You Should Watch It: Erased is an anime that uses its premise to the fullest. It covers everything from loner mentalities to child abuse and is wrapped in a mystery with real stakes and has a hero that is easy to root for. In a very real way, Erased is Satoru’s redemption story, where he gets a chance to fix the event that stunted his own emotional growth and left him an adult without any real connections beyond his direct family.
But what really makes the anime stand out on a narrative level is its villain. Satoru literally knows the future. And even with a child’s body, that is an incredible advantage over the killer. Yet, even with future knowledge, the killer is so smart, careful, and adaptable that he/she remains a credible threat from start to finish. Add in the killer’s interesting moral code, even if you figure out the killer’s identity early on, he/she remains a captivating character–and a villain you love to hate.
Watch It If You Like: Steins;Gate, The Perfect Insider
Genre: Slice-of-Life, Comedy, Anime Industry
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: Chitose is a struggling voice actor, doing little more than bit parts across different shows. But while she is still just a newbie in the industry, she has the ego of the most seasoned diva. Through luck and her seemingly endless wells of self-confidence, she stumbles into her first leading role. But there is far more going on behind the scenes, shaping her destiny, than she could possibly imagine; she is just a tiny cog in the grand anime-making machine.
Why You Should Watch It: There are two main reasons to watch Girlish Number. The first is Chitose herself. Lazy and with an ego a princess would scoff at, she manages to be both a terrible person and a character you want to root for. Though, that’s not to say you root for her success. Rather you hope against hope the events around her will cause her to wake up and become the star she can actually be rather than the one she already believes she is.
The second reason to watch this anime is because of its comical, yet painfully realistic look at the anime industry. Instead of an anime about people loving and putting their all into the show they are making, many of the characters in Girlish Number don’t care about the product being made as long as it is a monetary success in some way. But like with Chitose improving her personality, you hope that these characters will come to see beyond the bottom line and instead create true art that will live on for decades to come.
Watch It If You Like: Shirobako, Otaku no Video
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Time Travel, Ultraviolent
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: Anime and game fan Subaru finds himself transported to a fantasy world. There he meets a pretty half-elf girl and helps her out. It seems he’s finally living the otaku dream–until the moment both of them are brutally murdered, anyway. Still suffering from the shock of death, he awakens a few hours beforehand with the chance to do it all over again. But this is not the happy adventure he believes it to be. In the end, pain beyond belief is his only true companion on his ever-lengthening path toward the possibility of a happy ending.
Why You Should Watch It: Re:ZERO takes a common otaku wish fulfillment plot setup and twists it into both its darkest and most realistic possible permutation. The world, while having common fantasy components, is culturally complex and contains dozens of characters each with their own plans, faults, and motivations. Someone who might be Subarau’s greatest enemy in one time loop could be his greatest ally in the next–depending on how Subaru connects with them.
The problem for Subaru is that he is a genre-savvy character. He’s seen anime and played games with this setup, so he views himself as the protagonist in a fantasy story all about him being the greatest hero in the world. However, this is a living world and he is perhaps the least special person in it. This leaves him facing a rude awakening that, time and time again, he seems unwilling to accept–so certain is he of his place in the world. Over the course of the series, you will both cheer him and despise him. But in the end, his is a character arc that makes him the most complex anime character of the year and one you can’t help but be invested in.
Watch It If You Like: Steins;Gate, Madoka Magica, Brynhildr in the Darkness
Where You Can Watch It: Crunchyroll
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Genre: Historical, Slice-of-Life
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: At the dawn of the new millennium, Rakugo, the traditional art of Japanese storytelling is on its last legs. A former Yakuza thug, inspired by a performance he saw in prison, decides to become the apprentice of Yakumo, the last great Rakugo master. Yet what looks to be a comedy to start is actually the emotional drama of Yakumo’s life–the long road that led him to his lofty, yet lonely perch as the greatest master of a dying art.
Why You Should Watch It: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is simply a masterpiece of storytelling. On one level, it is the tale of two rejected youths that find a home in the world of an ancient art–and the woman that comes between them. On another, it is a story about the nature of art and the need for all things to change to fit the times or be left forever forgotten as a relic of the past. On a third, it is a grounds-eye view of the evolution of Japanese society over the mid-to-late 20th century–from prewar to postwar and into the modern era.
Lastly, the series serves as an introduction to Rakugo itself. Many episodes feature abridged versions of the classic stories acted out on stage by the characters in the story. From the amazing voice acting performances, you can truly see why Rakugo was the pinnacle of entertainment before the popularization of films and TV and why it should not be forgotten.
Watch It If You Like: Rakugo, Japanese folk tales, or modern Japanese history.
Where You Can Watch It: Crunchyroll
Yuri!!! On Ice
Genre: Sports, Romance
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: Yuri is a world-class Japanese figure skater who always seems to choke on the big stage. After returning home in defeat and considering retirement, he flawlessly performs the world champion’s figure skating routine for his childhood friend–only for a video of it to become a viral hit on YouTube. Soon, the world champion himself, Viktor, comes to Japan, insisting that he become Yuri’s coach for the coming year.
Why You Should Watch It: Yuri is a person who has spent his life training for one goal while everyone else he grew up with has settled into their own normal lives, getting married and having kids. But more than feeling left behind, he never accomplished what he set out to do as a skater. Yet, with the arrival of Viktor, his longtime idol and inspiration, Yuri finally has the ability to grow as a person–to build a true, lasting emotional connection with someone who understands him down to his very core and, at the same time, become the champion he always could have been with the right support.
And then there are the visuals. Yuri!!! On Ice is stunning in how it portrays the beauty of figure skating. Brilliantly choreographed and true to life, the skating scenes will make you forget you are watching something animated and not the real thing. If you ever need to show someone why figure skating is so popular across the globe, you need go no further than showing them the opening credits to Yuri!!! On Ice
Watch It If You Like: Ginban Kaleidoscope, Endless Night, figure skating
Where You Can Watch It: Crunchyroll