Most anime are based on manga, light novels, games, or other source material, but on rare occasions, we get shows that tell completely original stories. At their best, anime originals keep the audience guessing every week and craft engaging tales that end with satisfying conclusions.
Today, we’ll be counting down our picks for the five best anime originals of the past five years, starting with the Winter 2015 season and ending with Fall 2019. Let’s ring in the new decade together by celebrating the amazing anime we’ve come to love since 2015!
5. Zombieland Saga
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2018 – December 2018
Zombieland Saga puts a spin on the tired old idol formula by filling its singing group with zombies! Seven girls, each plucked from a different era in Japan’s past, must band together to save the faltering Saga district from obscurity while somehow hiding the fact that they’re walking corpses. There’s plenty of wacky fun to be had (especially when their boisterous manager is in the room), but this anime also tackles more serious issues like culture shock, imposter syndrome, and even transgenderism. Be sure to give this one a watch and look out for season 2 in 2020!
4. Yuri!!! on Ice
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
While it’s a more-or-less straightforward sports anime on paper, Yuri on Ice carves out a niche for itself in a number of ways; it focuses on an individual sport with older protagonists, features gorgeous ice skating animation for many of its competition scenes, and portrays a gay male relationship between the main characters in a realistic and sympathetic manner. Japan has a tendency to either fetishize homosexual relationships or sweep them under the rug, so when Yuri and Victor actually kissed and had a real romance, it was a very big step for LGBT representation in the medium. Yuri on Ice is a piece of history, and a great story to boot.
3. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than the Universe)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2018 – March 2018
So many fantasy stories yearn to create a sense of boundless adventure, but A Place Further Than the Universe shines brighter than them all with its tale of four high school girls who travel to Antarctica. Shirase, the daughter of an Antarctic researcher who went missing three years ago, decides to go to the icy continent in search of her mother with the help of her friends Kimari, Hinata, and Yuzuki. It’s a heartwarming story about chasing your dreams and enriching your youth, but with its fair share of bittersweet moments that remind you of the harshness of the real world. This anime is criminally under-watched, so catch up on it before the new year!
2. Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: August 2016
You may have gotten tired of hearing about this movie breaking box office records and winning awards across the board, but sometimes things are popular for a reason. Kimi no Na wa is a beautifully crafted film by Makoto Shinkai (of 5 Centimeters Per Second fame) about two teens whose fates are intertwined through time and dreams. As they desperately search for each other in the real world to figure out what’s going on, a heartwarming romance blossoms between them. It’s only two hours long, so queue it up for your next date night!
1. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2015 – March 2015
Death Parade has all of the aspects we love about anime original series; a creative premise, vibrant animation, an unpredictable and gripping story, and an ending that we’ll remember forever. Quindecim is a quiet bar in the afterlife where two souls at a time arrive to be judged. Will they be reborn into a new life, or will they be cast into the void? The bartender, Decim, has the souls play a game where their darkest secrets and deepest feelings come to light, exposing them for what they truly are. Death Parade has such incredible depth to its world, and both its recurring and one-off characters are so interesting that you can’t help but be enraptured by them. It’s a gleaming gem of an anime that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
We also loved Carole and Tuesday’s charming yarn about two young musicians trying to make it in the world, Sarazanmai’s demented exploration of connections between people, 91 Days’ hard-hitting gangster drama, and... whatever Children of the Whales was actually about. We can’t wait to see what the 2020s have in store for anime originals!
What did you think of our list? What are your favorite anime originals of the past five years? Do you disagree with any of our picks? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!