Oftentimes it seems pretty typical for folks to write an end-of-the-year wrapup and say “what a year it was!” even in years which were, honestly, not really of significant note. With that being said, what a year it was! 2021 was unexpectedly one of the overall strongest years we’ve had for anime in a very, very long time. Every season (winter, spring, summer, fall) has had standout shows, a lot of which would be very reasonable for one to rank as their personal favourite of all time. These shows have also spanned an incredible range of genres, and there’s truly something special to be found no matter what your preference is. Many of these shows are also great entry points for new anime fans who would like an introduction to what anime’s all about, as well as being exceptional for those who have been following it for a long time.
Without further ado, let’s jump into some of the best of the year. To be noted, this is not a ranked list, however some shows will receive specific callouts and accolades!
S++ Tier shows
When I mentioned that some shows would be totally reasonable for folks to rank as their personal favourite of all time, Odd Taxi is exactly what was in mind for me. I’ve talked with multiple people who consider it in their top 3 of all time, and I would definitely be up for having that conversation too.
Odd Taxi is an extremely unique show. It is a fully original, self-contained story by a brand new animation studio – in fact it’s the first anime they’ve ever produced! It is an extremely well-considered and in-depth mystery with, by the end, dozens of Chekhov’s guns – all of which are fired in extremely satisfying ways. Every character matters, and every character goes through a staggering amount of development and growth across the course of the show.
While it takes a few episodes to fully grasp the overarching story, after it is revealed it’s wholly gripping until the very last scenes. Once the story has revealed itself, it’s made even more fun by watching each episode and formulating your own theories as to what’s going on, and making predictions for how it all will end. Watching Odd Taxi is a sublime experience, and as a huge mystery fan, it is easily one of the best mystery anime of all time – especially when seen as a tightly wrapped, self-contained story. Oh also there’s a full audio drama / podcast which goes along with every episode which gives even more context to the wonderful, weird world established in the show.
Also, by the way – while this isn’t a ranked list, Odd Taxi is unequivocally the anime of the year (in an extremely strong year). It comes 100% recommended to absolutely everyone. Even if you aren’t a huge anime fan, it’s an excellent story told sublimely well brought together with a spectacular ending.
First things first, this is a weird inclusion for one reason – it’s not technically an anime. It is a donghua, a Chinese animation. With that being said, it takes a ton of influence from anime and is receiving a Japanese dub soon. Also this ain’t an exact science so yolo. With that out of the way, holy crap Link Click. This show came out of absolutely nowhere and I watched it on a whim after a friend had watched the first episode and said “um, this might be incredible?” As it turns out, yes. Yes it is.
Link Click is a time travel story done right – it tackles one of the most interesting forms of time travel, the far-reaching consequences of changing the past and how it affects everyone’s present/future. By looking at a picture, one of our two protagonists is able to travel back into the body of whomever took the picture at the moment it was snapped. He’s able to stay in this past body for 12 full hours, while the other protagonist is able to guide him. While he occupies the body, he feels all their emotions, and experiences their memories – it’s basically an extremely heightened form of empathy. This concept is perfectly illustrated in the first episode, which tells a fantastic and unique story in just 20 minutes – give it a watch and you’ll know whether or not Link Click is for you by the end of that episode.
While Odd Taxi is the anime of the year, Link Click has – by far – the best individual episode of any show this year. Episode 5 is maybe the most affecting episode of any show I’ve ever seen, and its impact is made all the more powerful by the two episodes preceding it. To describe what makes it so impactful would be a great disservice to both you and the show, but know this: I typically enjoy binging shows with great stories, and also have a fairly high tolerance for intense, emotional content. I had to take a long break after episode 5 because it was profoundly affecting. The message that episode delivered was heartfelt and hits bone deep, an absolute masterpiece.
Something which anime often does right when compared to other mediums is its willingness to take risks and raise stakes for characters you actively care about. It’ll put good people into intense scenarios, and you’re gripped because you care about them so much. 86 is absolutely masterful with this concept. The thing is, the stakes are higher than you may initially realize.
86 is about many things; but, first and foremost, it is about war. It does not shy away from the brutal reality that people you care about may not be there tomorrow, and that’s a consequence of the world these characters inhabit. Along with war, this show is very directly about discrimination and racism. While these are not new subjects to be explored, the way 86 approaches them is extremely mature and nuanced. It is not a simple “racism is bad” message, it instead goes deeper—far deeper, inspecting the very systems which allow for these constructs to proliferate as a whole. It inspects the long-term psychological impacts on those who have had to endure racism their entire lives. It inspects the lack of awareness one may have with regards to racism if one has lived a life devoid of its gaze.
86 is a unique, haunting, beautiful, brutal show very much deserving of your attention. There are many scenes which will leave you leaping out of your seat, and many more clutching your face in horror. It’s a completely visceral experience in the best possible way.
Attack on Titan – The Final Season (Part 1)
Wait a sec, Attack on Titan? That Attack on Titan? The one which took over Hot Topics and was the most mainstream show ever like ten years ago? Why, yes. That one.
If you haven’t been keeping up with Attack on Titan, you’ve been missing out on something really special. While the first few seasons were action packed fun, if they are all you’ve seen then something you may not have known is that they have always had an extremely dense layer of foreshadowing present throughout. What is being foreshadowed? Well… Guess you will have to watch seasons 3 and 4 to find out! Really, I’m not going to give away just what is so cool about Attack on Titan; it is completely worth going through and experiencing organically.
Personally, I have been reading the manga for about ten years, and one thing worth mentioning is that this adaptation has clearly been approached with a ton of love and reverence for the source material. This season had a lot of people feeling split due to the fact that MAPPA took over as the production studio rather than WIT, but I think MAPPA has nailed it! Some scenes have actually been more impactful in the show than they were in the manga, which is a huge accomplishment. I’m very, very much looking forward to the second part of the final season!!
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Okay so hear me out.
J-Pop Idols, right? But this one is an android! Robo-idol, sick. Oh also she’s trying to figure out what it means to sing with feeling; but she’s an android! Nier: Automata vibes? Absolutely. Oh btw, there’s a Terminator-style apocalypse where machines are rising up against humans and visions from this nightmarish future were sent back 100 years to the past so that our beloved AI Idol can prevent the collapse of humanity. But wait, why her? How does she intend to avert the apocalypse? Guess you’ll have to watch to find out 👉😎👉
Brought to you by the writer behind Re: Zero and the original studio who made Attack on Titan, WIT, Vivy is one hell of a ride. Just check out the opening scene and you can instantly see how much Vivy just goes for it. It’s a fun ride with great characters, twists, turns, and a satisfying (though IMO slightly rushed) ending. It also features a few extremely great standalone episodes which compete with Link Click for the best individual episode of the year (especially episodes 4 and 6 in Vivy). It’s a quick watch, but an extremely engaging one recommended for those who are into some good old fashioned existential dread and horror-influenced sci-fi.
Shows which are recommended but with caveats:
Admittedly, this is a show I haven’t even watched a single episode of; however it’s been heavily recommended to me. Specifically by one person. Cheese. Who will write about it now! (Wait a sec, a guest within a guest article?!? You betcha). Take it away, Cheese:
With the absurd amount of isekais popping up in recent years across manga, anime, and light novels, it’s hard to stand out in the genre. Mushoku Tensei starts off like any normal off-the-shelf isekai, with a main character that is, putting it simply… a jobless bum. But as he gets whisked away into this new world, the whole show feels like a breath of fresh air with its fantastic worldbuilding and characters. The story does a good job making you care about everyone you meet that you sometimes forget that you’re watching an isekai at all, and instead you find yourself totally invested in everyone’s journey and growth. I would highly recommend this show if you are interested in being immersed in a fantasy world with ultra compelling characters and their adventure.
Cheese – @cheeseroca
Wonder Egg Priority
This is a really weird show to include in this list. It’s specifically in the “recommended but with caveats” section because the caveat is extremely huge. Okay, let’s work up to it.
Firstly, the atmosphere and mood of this show is amazingly unique. If you’ve ever seen Madoka Magica, Wonder Egg shares a lot of those vibes. It is colourful, playful, and evokes a childlike wonder; but is also psychologically horrifying, intensely dark, and maybe even a bit nihilistic. Shows which try to balance these feelings seem like they’re really hard to nail because if it leans too hard in the childlike direction, it can feel ultra awkward when it tries to be dark – and vice versa. Wonder Egg Priority absolutely nails this vibe, and it’s such a fun and creative watch.
…if you just never watch the last episode.
This show had an extremely troubled development, with staff members making it more as a passion project than anything else, but also getting extremely overworked (to the point of needing to be hospitalized). I preface what I’m about to say with this information because it’s fully worth acknowledging and understanding the human element of what goes into making these shows.
The last episode came out separately from the rest of the season, and is the worst episode of any show this year. It is a thoroughly disappointing and upsettingly bad finale for what was otherwise an amazing show. Honestly, the rest of the show is absolutely worth your time; but just stop watching before the finale. It is truly that bad.
Shows I started but haven’t yet finished so can’t fully recommend yet (so will keep these ones a bit shorter)
To Your Eternity
I’m at about episode 10 of To Your Eternity, but realized that I reaaalllyyyy want to binge this show once it’s finished. Its opening episode is incredible, and in all honesty you could watch only that episode and have a thoroughly satisfying experience. It’s basically a perfect short story which sets the tone for the rest of the show; but as a heads up, prepare for tears.
Higurashi – Sotsu
If you know me, you know that I adore the When They Cry series. The original Higurashi & Umineko are some of my absolute favourite pieces of media of all time. Higurashi Gou was the new season from last year which was billed as a remake, but was a stealth third season – and it was really good!! Sotsu is the followup to that, and while it’s also really good… Something about its format wasn’t working for me when watching week-to-week, and I haven’t had time to get back to it yet. I’ve heard that the last arc is extremely interesting, and I’m 100% going to watch it, but once I have some more free time. No matter the case, it just felt wrong to write about a bunch of anime and not include my all-time favourite series on here.
Beastars – Season 2
The original Beastars caught me totally off guard with how much I enjoyed it; but in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Mainly because it came from the Orange animation studio, who made one of my all-time favourites – Houseki No Kuni / Land of the Lustrous. Once that connection was made, I was all-in on checking out Beastars and, as it turns out, it’s a really wonderful show. And season 2 is, thus far, excellent!! I just haven’t had a chance to continue; but have heard from multiple friends that they adore it just as much as the first season.
Yuru Camp – Season 2
There is no media as comfy as Yuru Camp / Laid Back Camp. Truly. Watching it is like cozying up to a warm fire on a cold night with a steaming cup of hot cocoa while staring up at a gently moonlit sky twinkling with stars. Imagine that, take a deep breath, and that’s comparable to the experience of watching Yuru Camp. Season 2 is absolutely “more of that,” and that’s an excellent thing. I have been saving the show for when I really need to relax and have some fun new experiences with, what feels like, old friends. Don’t sleep on Yuru Camp, it is so good!
Shows which are ongoing at time of writing but have a ton of promise:
86 – Season 2
So remember near the top of this article I wrote about 86? Surprise, the second season has also been airing this year!! In all honesty, so far I think the second season might be even better than the first, and I ranked the first season among the best of the year… So…. Please watch 86, it is amazing (also watch that opening, it is so good – though be warned it has some spoilers for season 1)
Ranking of Kings
In all honesty I’m personally not 100% sold on Ranking of Kings yet, but I have to fully acknowledge that it is a really super well-made and inventive show which is definitely worth experiencing. The lore is rich, the characters are all fascinating, and the world is vast. It’s a really great show at capturing that feeling of being a kid and imagining a big adventure in a world way huger than you can even fathom. I’ll definitely be seeing it through, and recommend for you to as well!
What a weird, weird show. Slice of life, comedy, romance, HORROR. Yep. It’s a show which has a heavy horror influence, but is also extremely wholesome and endearing and sweet and funny. It’s also got a ton of heart, and is an absolutely fascinating, endearing watch.
Thank you for having checked this out!! And also a big thanks to the Super GG folks for inviting me to write this behemoth =D Hopefully you’ve found some new shows to watch, and if you’ve already seen / end up watching some of the above, I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts on them too! You can leave a comment here, or send a message over to @fyxpodcasts on Twitter.
Oh, and in case you scrolled to the bottom and felt like this
Here’s a tl;dr:
- Odd Taxi is absolutely the anime of the year and comes recommended to anyone and everyone, but bear in mind it might take until the end of episode 4 to really, fully understand its scope.
- The best individual episode of the year is episode 5 of Link Click, and it is incredible.
- 86 came as a total surprise, and is amazing from start to finish (and continuing on with the currently airing season 2)
- Attack on Titan’s final season is also amazing, and the last part starts soon!!! (January 9th, 2022)
- Vivy: Fluourite Eye’s Song is a mind bending sci-fi, and comes 100% recommended to fans of Nier: Automata
- Higurashi is awesome, also go play Umineko because it’s the best story of all time (my full review for Umineko can be found here)
- You can listen to Gaming Fyx every week on your favourite podcast app!