Now that 2020 has at last faded into the mists of time, we can look back with fresh eyes at the amazing anime that helped us muddle through the battle of attrition that was this year. We had long-awaited sequels, feel-good fantasies, juggernaut shounen shows, original anime bursting at the seams with creativity, and much more. Let’s check out the top 10 best anime of 2020!
10. Somali to Mori no Kamisama (Somali and the Forest Spirit)
We’re always up for a good old wholesome parenting anime, and Somali and the Forest Spirit has quickly become one of our absolute favorites of the genre. In a highly detailed fantasy world where humans are treated as little more than meat, a lone human child escapes into the wild and decides that the robotic forest guardian Golem is her new father. Golem is annoyed at first, but as he takes her on a journey to find her real parents, he slowly begins to love her as his own daughter. Even if you’re not a parent yourself, the emotional moments where Golem moves heaven and earth to keep Somali safe (often at the expense of his own wellbeing) are sure to put a tear in your eye. Who knew a robot could be so heartwarming?
9. Haikyuu!!: To the Top
At long last, the Karasuno High School volleyball team has made it to nationals! Both parts of Haikyuu’s fourth season aired this year, covering the training camp before the tournament as well as the first rounds of the much sought-after Tokyo Nationals themselves. The training arc’s slower pacing may have thrown off some fans, but we appreciated the opportunity to slow down and see Hinata and Kageyama mature a bit more outside of the intense matches that this anime is known for. Because of this, the second half could bring back the hype action scenes while weaving in character development that it had set up earlier. Even though the pacing and new animation style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, we think this was a worthy installment in the saga of Karasuno.
8. Otome Game no Hametsu Flag shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei shiteshimatta... (My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!)
Harem comedies can be very hit-or-miss depending on the strength of their premise and the creativity of their jokes, so we’re beyond grateful that My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom hits it out of the park. When a rambunctious otaku suddenly finds herself in the body of Katarina Claes, the haughty villain of her favorite otome game Fortune Lover, she formulates a plan make friends with everyone and develop farming skills so she can prevent the exile and/or death that this character faces at the end of every route. What she didn’t expect was that her adorkable personality and foreknowledge of the game’s most romantic lines would make everyone fall in love with her! We absolutely adore Katarina and her merry band of gender-diverse friends/suitors, especially since they’re all so well characterized and have fleshed out relationships with each other. Season 2 can’t come fast enough!
7. Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu 2nd Season (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Season 2)
The first season of Re:Zero hit the anime community like a truck hits an isekai protagonist – it swept us off our feet with its grimdark take on the genre and left us crumpled on the ground for four years while we waited for season 2. But now, against all odds, Subaru and Emilia are back for another dose of suffering in the cruel world they call home. Echidna, the Witch of Greed, challenges them to several trials where they must survive alternate reality versions of past events (all while constantly reliving the trauma of not being able to save their friends, of course) in order to free the inhabitants of Irlam Village. Much of the anime’s staff had to work from home because of the pandemic, but they made sure that this crucial part of Re:Zero’s story was given the gravitas it needed. We can only hope that the second cour is just as good!
6. Kami no Tou (Tower of God)
Webtoon’s first big foray into the anime world came with Spring 2020’s Tower of God, a heavily promoted adaptation of the Korean webcomic platform’s most popular title. The story follows sheltered teen Bam as he ascends the titular tower in search of his best friend Rachel, facing increasingly difficult trails along the way. Telecom Animation Film brings the webcomic to life with a striking visual style of flat colors and detailed line work, while Kevin Penkin accentuates the tower’s uncanny strangeness with his haunting score. Even though subsequent Webtoon adaptations were... less than perfect... at least Tower of God has proven that Korean creators have a place in this industry.
5. Fruits Basket 2nd Season
The highly anticipated new adaptation of Fruits Basket technically started last year, but season 2 is where characters and arcs that only existed in manga form for over a decade can finally see the light of day. And, just as we had hoped, they were well worth waiting for! Yuki is able to come out of his shell through his friendships with the Student Council members, Rin and Kureno’s stories reveal more about the emotionally complex nature of the curse, and we even get to see the hilarious “Cinderella-ish” play! The animation and voice acting are top-notch as always, and the last episode ends on a massive reveal that will have new fans clamoring for season 3 the second they see it. We’re so glad that Fruits Basket finally got the adaptation that it deserved all along.
4. Great Pretender
WIT Studio’s original crime thriller Great Pretender is one of the most vibrant, exciting, and downright fun things to come out of this wretched year, and we’re forever thankful for it. When small-time swindler Edamura gets outfoxed by a French conman named Laurent, he gets dragged into Laurent’s world of high-profile schemes that use complex plans and entire teams of people to part corrupt rich men from their ill-gotten gains. The abstract art style, jazzy soundtrack, emphatic performances (in both Japanese and English), and constantly twisting plotline make this anime a joy to watch from beginning to end. Its OP even pays homage to the great 1960s graphic designer Saul Bass and the ED uses Freddie Mercury’s cover of “The Great Pretender” by The Platters. It’s an internationally flavored feast for the eyes and ears, so don’t sleep on this one!
Speaking of vibrantly colored original anime that draw on Western ‘60s nostalgia, here’s Appare-Ranman! This P.A. Works project largely flew under the radar because of its pandemic-induced hiatus partway through, but it’s still worthy of a spot on this list regardless. Genius inventor Appare and his beleaguered samurai chaperone Kosame accidentally wind up in Los Angeles just before the start of the Trans-America Wild Race, a first-of-its-kind automobile race with enough prize money to get them back home. Appare and Kosame speed across the country in their ramshackle steam-powered car, meeting a delightfully odd mix of friends and foes along the way. It’s part spaghetti western, part samurai drama, and part unbridled chaos, but it all comes together to make one devilishly entertaining show.
2. Jujutsu Kaisen
Straight from the pages of Weekly Shounen Jump comes Jujutsu Kaisen, a new action anime that delves more into horror and introspective character studies than you might expect it to. Yuuji is a normal enough teenager with a taste for the supernatural, but his life turns upside down when he’s possessed by a nigh-invulnerable demon who wants to watch the world burn. Yuuji joins the secret order of Jujutsu sorcerers to keep the demon in check and help others suffering from Curse attacks, not realizing that saving people isn’t as easy as it looks on TV. This gritty urban fantasy has heart-pounding sakuga scenes (courtesy of God of High School director Seong-Hu Park) and fantastic writing that actually manages to make a shounen story unpredictable, so give it a shot if you’re looking for something new.
1. Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! (Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!)
If you love listening to someone talk about a topic that they have undying passion for, especially if that topic is animation, then Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is required viewing. The three dweeby, but lovable members of the Film Club (awkward environmental artist Asakusa, teen model/character designer Mizusaki, and shrewd producer Kanamori) are on a mission to create their own anime feature, and they’ll work their fingers to the bone to make that happen.
Legendary director Masaaki Yuasa brings these girls’ dreams to life with his trademark expressive animation and vivid settings, while the vocal performances and sheer amount of research put into the script leave you brimming with energy after each episode. It’s a true work of art – in fact, both The New Yorker and The New York Times included it on their “Best TV Shows of 2020” lists, so if this anime can reach that far into the popular consciousness, you know it has to be something special!
If your plan-to-watch list isn’t already overflowing by now, we’d also like to recommend Deca-Dence, Akudama Drive, Moriarty the Patriot, Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2, and Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle. But did we miss any of your favorites? What do you think were the best anime of 2020? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!