Devilman Crybaby. Golden Kamuy. Jojo Part 5. These were some of the anime that dominated public discussion over this past year. These were also series that had plenty of buzz leading up to them, were attached to known properties (or in the case of Goblin Slayer, known memes), and/or had serious talent backing their releases. People had expectations for them going into them, and the fact that they didn’t blow them was more a matter of everything falling into place.
The series we’re going to be talking about today are the ones that no one had really heard of or had much interest going in. The relative unknowns that came out and surprised everyone. Maybe they were attached to a franchise, but it’s not like they were well-known in the first place.
4. Baki (2018)
It seems weird to throw on a Netflix-endorsed sequel to an old action series from the early 2000s, but we feel this one fits pretty well. After all, who even has fond memories of Grappler Baki? It was just so insane and weird at a time when anime had a much more subdued, gritty vibe to it. After all, who wants to watch buff children rip the optical cords of men through their arms when there was Trigun and Cowboy Bebop to be watched? Making a direct sequel to Grappler Baki 17 years later looked like suicide.
Well, as it turns out, this anime was exactly what was needed to bring Baki back into the public conversation. Now that people are a bit more accepting of the weirder sides of anime, Baki was able to make a splash with its insane character designs that are more muscle than man and even crazier fights.
3. Megalo Box
Hey, while on the subject of trends from the early 2000s, Megalo Box was the throwback to the late 90s/early 2000s anime scene that no one realized we needed. Despite being a 50th-anniversary project for Ashita no Joe, the hand-drawn style and melancholic tone of Megalo Box perfectly captures that sci-fi noir that defined that era. The fact that this series was most likely done on computer technology is nothing short of mesmerizing, as its darker watercolor tones and messier line-work makes it a dead ringer for an older series. You’d never guess it was made today.
Even more surprising, though, is the fact that this came from TMS Entertainment. It’s not that they are a bad studio, it’s just that most of TMS’s work has more of a workmanlike quality to it. They’re not exactly the sort of studio you think of when you think of a lovingly produced throwback anime. Yet that’s exactly what they managed here, and need to be commended for their incredible attention to detail with Megalo Box.
2. Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii!! (Wotakoi: Love is Hard for An Otaku)
Anime about glorifying anime fans are nothing new. What made Wotakoi interesting this year though was that it was perhaps the first to say it was fine to be one as a member of the workforce. Anime is heavily targeted to high schoolers yet most anime fans tend to actually be in their late 20s or early 30s these days. It was refreshing to have a slice-of-life about characters living the sort of lives that the fanbase is currently living rather than resort to high school nostalgia. The result was a warm and heartfelt love story that was cozy comfort food for its aging audience.
1. Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san (Skull Face Bookseller Honda-san)
Actually, anime saw a major rise in workforce comedies this year, with Wotakoi and Aggretsuko becoming major hits. But reliable Honda snuck in at the very end of 2018 and quickly endeared himself to the audience with all sorts of random retail minutiae that while maybe not everyone could understand, they could easily relate to. After all, the service industry is really where the majority of workers are these days, so most can relate to Honda’s woes of being unable to keep his shelves organized, dealing with obnoxious pointless mandated training from corporate, and weird customer interactions. The fact that he’s a skeleton only added to the charm, reflecting the state of any true retail worker.
2018 was a really great year for anime. You could really feel the trends changing. While not all of these were the biggest hits, they were definitely some of the more notable sleeper hits that really took us by surprise.
Was there anything we missed? Any other series that you felt slipped under the radar? Please let us know in the comment below!