It’s that time of year again, where we review every anime show that aired this past year and praise the best of them. This was no small feat. Thanks to multiple streaming services, anime continues to grow in popularity, meaning there was no shortage of new series to enjoy. This year’s releases made us sob uncontrollably, yell at our TV in anger, believe in love again, and so much more. From pubescent teens in mecha suits to otakus falling in love, here’s our list of the 15 best anime of 2018.
15. The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: The New Thesis — Encounter
Starting off our list is the reboot of the political classic The Legend of the Galactic Heroes. The new adaptation, aptly titled The New Thesis — Encounter, retells the decades-long interstellar war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. But when two new commanders enter the conflict, Imperial Admiral Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, it could mean the end of the never-ending war.
While the final episode didn’t declare a clear winner between the two interstellar states, it left fans clamoring for more. The high-stakes space opera didn’t cast either side as a hero or a villain. Instead, it told the tale of two nations at different ends of the political spectrum, giving viewers the option to choose which side to support. Not only that, the anime’s opening sequence shows off its high-quality graphics, and its rousing soundtrack fully captures the emotions of the courageous men and women impacted by the war.
14. Golden Kamuy
Golden Kamuy tells the epic story of Sugimoto a Japanese soldier trying to support his best friend’s family. While searching the Hokkaido rivers for the Ainu’s (Hokkaido natives) gold, he hears that someone has already stolen it and tattooed a map of the treasure on a bunch of prisoners. Sugimoto begins his search for the convicts, and along the way, he meets Asirpa, a young Ainu girl whose dad died gathering gold Sugimoto seeks.
Golden Kamuy’s portrayal of Hokkaido culture and history is sure to reel you in. Viewers learn about the tumultuous history of the island nation’s struggle for independence. But the anime has a lighter side as well, thanks to its weirdly likable characters and the comic relief they bring to some of the series’ heavier scenes. Surely, anyone can appreciate an anime that’s found the right balance between education and comedy, as Golden Kamuy has.
13. Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku
While there are countless anime shows about geeks falling in love, they’re mostly about teenagers. Luckily, this year gave us something for adults, Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. The series follows four friends who work office jobs, and also happen to be otakus, as they fall in love with each other while hiding their pop culture geekiness from their colleagues.
Wotakoi’s adult characters made an impact on older anime fans. The main character’s thoughts, behaviors, and daily life and work stressors prove that good anime characters can also be realistic. The series also has several heartwarming and relatable moments that will make you laugh, or cry. And although the leads’ relationships — and conflicts — are mostly G-rated, Wotakoi still manages to sell a compelling love story. Its relatable, adorable adult couples make this series worthwhile, easily earning it a spot on our best anime list.
12. Cells at Work!
Cells at Work! is an adorable anime take on Osmosis Jones. Each episode follows a hardworking but reckless red blood cell as she travels all over the body making delivers. But unlike her comrades, she’s always getting lost. Luckily, there’s a white blood cell willing to show her the way. But they’re not the only ones in this peaceful, hardworking society. There are countless other human-like cells fighting off viruses and germs — and who can forget those adorable platelets?
Biology teachers around the world are impressed with the accuracy of the series. Not only does it help viewers understand and remember the information learned in their high school biology class, it does so in a much more entertaining way. The educational component of the series comes to life thanks to the anime’s bright colors and busy atmosphere, which grabs viewers’ attention right away. Any anime that’s both funny and scientifically accurate is a winner in our books.
11. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Don’t let the title fool you, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai isn’t a school comedy chock full of fan service. It actually centers around teenagers that experience a weird phenomenon called “Puberty Syndrome.” Each character experiences different desires and uncertainties, and this syndrome acts like a metaphor that manifests either psychologically, physically, or, in Sakuta Azusagawa’s case, as a wild bunny girl only he can see.
Although the series hasn’t finished airing yet, the emotional drama that these characters go through is undoubtedly relatable many of us. CloverWorks — the studio behind the anime — went to great lengths to bring to life a story about teenage angst with beautiful character designs and enchanting background animation. While the visuals alone are a compelling enough reason to watch the series, it’s how these teenagers deal with Puberty Syndrome that makes this anime one of the best of 2018.
Yoshifumi Nitta is a member of the Ashikawa-gumi syndicate. One day, while enjoying a drink at his luxurious apartment, something drops on his head — and the story begins! The strange object contains an even stranger girl called Hina. She seems harmless — until she uses her powerful psychic powers to force Nita to take her in. And even worse, Nita’s enjoying his new paternal role.
In Hinamatsuri, anything goes. The anime series isn’t short on creativity, especially when it comes to its characters. We’re introduced to a whole cast of weirdos from all walks of life, including another psychic girl who doubles as Hina’s enemy, a mischievous bartender that employs a minor, and a regular human — you know, to add a dash of normalcy. But beyond its oddball cast, Hinamatsuri tells a heartwarming story about friendship and how these bonds become a support network for our female protagonist. Hinamatsuri‘s creative premise, solid humor, and perfect comedic timing make it a must-see.
9. Attack on Titan (Season 3)
Once again, the shōnen anime Attack on Titan made our best anime of the year list thanks to its monumental impact on the anime industry, both in Japan and abroad. (Basically, everyone is watching it, or has at least of it, at this point.) And this time around, fans didn’t have to wait four years to see what Eren and the rest of the Survey Corps are up to.
Season 3 kicked things off with a bang by answering a few burning questions fans have been dying to know the answer to, like the mystery of the wall. The series solves this mystery by introducing a self-serving villain who also sheds light on Levi’s past. We were also treated to one of the most shocking moments of the season: Mikasa launching herself toward a bloodied Captain Levi We can’t wait to see what part two has in store for these two, along with Eren and the rest of the Survey Corps.
8. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
Based on the light novel of the same name, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime was one of the biggest surprises of this year. The series follows a 37-year-old man who is down on his luck. When he dies at the hands of a robber, he gets transported to a fantasy world — as a slime named Rimuru.
Now, having a slime protagonist typically isn’t that interesting or believable, especially in a series that takes place in another dimension. However, this little guy has won over anime fans with his tenacity, intelligence, and humor. And besides its odd lead character, the series takes its worldbuilding seriously by explaining power-ups and abilities in more detail than the average videogame-based anime. The series’ atypical hero (read: not strong and muscular), simple explanations of basic spells, and laugh-out-loud moments, easily earned That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime a spot on our list.
7. Violet Evergarden
The trailer alone was enough to leave fans in awe of Violet Evergarden‘s visual beauty. The series follows a young girl with mechanical hands who, after seeing her commander die in battle, now searches for the meaning of his final words to her: I love you. Along the way, she makes new friends and gets a chance to experience what life is really about.
Kyoto Animation’s gorgeous work on the visual, character, and art designs make Violet Evergarden a wonder any anime fan would love to behold. The endearing series isn’t just about a young woman trying to understand human emotions; it’s also about her need to explore her own feelings — or lack thereof — and turn them into a heartfelt letter. With themes ranging from the lingering effect of war to complexity of human emotions, Violet Evergarden‘s moving tale of self-expression is one you can’t afford to miss.
Life is hard, and work is even more difficult. Sometimes, after — or even during — a hard day, you just want to take a deep breath and unleash your heavy metal side. Of course, we can’t do that in real life (at least, not in the office). Luckily, the cute red panda Retsuko does this for us in Aggretsuko. To escape the weight of her soul-crushing job, Retsuko hits the local karaoke joint and unleashes all of her frustrations by screaming along to frantic death metal.
Retsuko’s rage isn’t a gimmick. The trails and tribulations she endures (and subsequently scream-sings about) resonates with alienated office workers, who are sick and tired of being treated poorly. While we don’t all find ourselves with a karaoke mic in hand, the series makes it clear that everyone could benefit from healthy stress release. It’s great to see an animation studio make use of the clash between cute, innocent designs and painfully realistic depiction of the workplace to tell a story that appeals to the lost optimist in all of us. The awesome selection of heavy metal songs doesn’t hurt either.
5. DARLING in the FRANXX
Pubescent teens fighting in giant mechas isn’t new, Neon Genesis Evangelion has already made that trope its own. But DARLING in the FRANXX isn’t an EVA clone in the slightest. Sure, it, too, is about kids fighting to save the world. But it’s also about how these children manage to evolve and grow, despite their emotions constantly getting in the way.
Even though it has its drawbacks — like over-the-top fan service and dramatic teenagers — DARLING in the FRANXX manages to tell a moving tale about love, dealing with loss, and standing up for what’s right. It lets the viewers see that, despite the world falling apart, the power of love can accomplish anything, and even bring hope and new life.
DARLING in the FRANXX has an amazing visual team consisting of A-1 Pictures, CloverWorks, and Studio Trigger. Thanks to their combined talents, the series’ colorful, high-octane battle sequences reach a level higher than most mecha series in recent memory.
4. Banana Fish
The unexpected shōjo hit Banana Fish not only features a queer relationship at its core, but it also has one of the best ships of 2018. Taking place on the rough streets of New York, Banana Fish follows Ash Lynx who, despite his handsome exterior, is a ruthless killer. But when he meets Eiji Okumura, a 19-year-old Japanese college student reporting on street gangs, Ash finally experiences love.
Banana Fish isn’t for the faint of heart and that’s what we love about it. The series doesn’t sugarcoat its dark themes or the horrifying scenarios these characters are put through. Viewers are thrown right into the center of life in a gang, complete with the abuse, violence, drugs, and profanity you’d expect. But the series also spotlights the relationship between Ash and Eiji, and although it’s pretty ambiguous, it’s rather progressive compared to other recently released shōjo series. Banana Fish’s perfect blend of romance, drama, action, and witty characters makes it one of this year’s standouts.
3. My Hero Academia (Season 3)
Shōnen anime fans might’ve been overwhelmed by the plethora of titles coming out this year. But there’s one title we’re certain they didn’t miss: My Hero Academia. While there are countless heartfelt moments throughout Season 3, the one that sticks out the most is All Might‘s fight against his archnemesis, All For One. Using the last embers of One For All, All Might delivers a devastating blow that defeats his foe. However, now without a quirk, he can no longer be a hero. With tears in his eyes, Izuku realizes this, and that he must become the new symbol of peace to make his mentor proud. This scene sums up what makes My Hero Academia so memorable — the characters and their relationships.
Beyond this moment, the latest season gives fans even more of what they’ve come to know and love: watching the next generation of superheroes navigate high school and extracurricular dangers on a regular basis. Season 3 has some of the best villains and fighting scenes, including round two of Izuku vs. Katsuki.
2. A Place Further Than the Universe
A Place Further Than the Universe follows four teenage girls who join a scientific expedition to Japan’s Antarctic research station. While the premise sounds pretty niche, A Place Further Than the Universe is a moving coming-of-age story that anyone can relate to. Each of its four main leads has gone through some life-changing event. However, their friendship helps these girls overcome their grief and heartbreaking pasts, reminding the viewer that we can conquer any challenge life puts in front of us.
This message is backed up by Madhouse’s excellent animation team. The show’s use of bright colors and pure white highlights the ups and downs of this adventure and drives the theme of friendship home. If you’re looking for a tale of perseverance and determination, with fantastic art to boot, then check out A Place Further Than the Universe. It’s a story worth watching and worth sharing with others.
1. Devilman Crybaby
Go Nagai’s classic Devilman got a reboot and, although it changes the setting, it still manages to keep the original premise intact. The series follows a kind teenager named Akira Fudo, who gets manipulated into becoming a demon by his best friend, Ryo Asuka.
Devilman Crybaby is certainly not suitable for all viewers. But despite its rating, the Netflix show quickly set itself apart from the streaming giant’s other international animated acquisitions, and it’s all thanks to director Masaaki Yuasa‘s out-of-the-box animation style and straightforward portrayals of violence, abuse, sex, and, of course, the demonic activities taking place under people’s noses.
The series’ real gem is its soundtrack, which features rappers Ken the 390 and Young Dais and beatboxer AFRA. The trio serves as narrators, spitting bars about the dark things happening around them. The catchy rap-filled soundtrack helped make Devilman Crybaby an anime masterpiece, one that tells an incredible story and doesn’t shy away from crossing the line. It’s easily the best anime of 2018.