As we enter a brand-new decade, it’s a good time to look back at the world of anime in the 2010s. Within the fantasy genre, trends skewed strongly toward isekai after 2012’s smash hit Sword Art Online changed the way we view RPG-style fantasy worlds. It spawned an endless horde of imitators, as well as some genuinely intriguing shows that subverted the conventions we’d come to expect. Outside the tidal wave of isekai, long running shounen anime like The Seven Deadly Sins, Magi, and Fairy Tail held the banner of traditional fantasy, while bold newcomers like The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Made in Abyss blew us away with their richly detailed worlds. Now, without any further delay, let’s count down the best fantasy anime of the 2010s!
10. Tensei shitara Slime Datta Ken (That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2018 – March 2019
With a title like “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime”, you might expect this anime to be a mindless isekai parody with no redeeming value other than a few good jokes. That’s certainly what we thought at first, but as the story progressed throughout its 24 episodes, it gradually revealed itself to be a wholesome tale about one little slime who builds a thriving community with his newfound friends.
We particularly love the detailed worldbuilding (like how each nation Rimuru travels to has different politics, tools, and gossip) as well as the tsundere dragon Veldora who starts him off on his journey in the first place. It’s not exactly an innovative masterpiece that upends the entire genre, but That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is still one of our favorite fantasies in years.
9. Mahoutsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus’ Bride)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2017 – March 2018
English and Welsh mythology doesn’t tend to get much representation in anime, but The Ancient Magus’ Bride embraces it wholeheartedly. Chise Hatori has always been able to see magical creatures, but the constant isolation from her peers and the loss of her mother have left her as a depressed husk of a person. She sells herself to a magical black market, where a skull-faced magician named Elias takes her under his wing as his apprentice... and bride!
Although the storytelling leaves a bit to be desired (especially towards the end), this anime is a must-watch purely for the enchanted settings that Chise explores. Everything, from Elias’ cottage home to the forbidden woods where dangerous fae dwell to the vast dragon hatchling grounds, teems with so much life that you feel just like you’re there with her. We wish we could step through the screen and live in that world ourselves!
8. No Game No Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2014
Illustrious gamer duo Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into the world of Disboard, where all conflicts are resolved through games. They quickly take a liking to this new reality and strive to unite its 16 warring races so they can rule over Disboard as gods, but they’ll have to take down everyone in their path with high stakes fantasy games if they wish to make that dream come true.
Madhouse crafts a surreal, but beautiful atmosphere with its vibrant use of neon colors that complement our protagonists’ mercurial personalities. Yes, they’re smug and overpowered, but when their victories are this fun to behold, who cares about tactics and power balancing? Oh, and by the way, this anime has JoJo references – enough said.
7. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: January 2016 – March 2016
This comedic take on the isekai genre comes from Natsume Akatsuki, who also wrote the source material behind this year’s wrestling isekai Hataage! Kemono Michi. Needless to say, the man has a solid grasp on fantasy-tinged humor, with a particular emphasis on jokes that are so stupid they wrap back around into being hilarious.
KonoSuba follows a group of adventurers who act more like sitcom protagonists or obnoxious D&D players than proper heroes – Kazuma is a sarcastic newbie who’s been freshly imported from the real world after a pathetic death, Aqua is a useless goddess, Darkness dreams of being ravaged by monsters, and Megumin is a chuunibyou mage who refuses to learn any spells other than “explosion”. The combination of their wild personalities makes this anime a blast to watch again and again, so be sure to watch it with friends every chance you get!
6. Violet Evergarden
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2018 – April 2018
Violet has only known combat for her whole life, having been used as a tool of war until she lost her arms trying to save her commanding officer. Now living in a new town with a pair of prosthetic arms, she takes a job as an “Auto Memory Doll” to ghostwrite heartfelt letters for people who can’t do it themselves. She hopes that, by writing down the emotions of others, she can discover what her commanding officer really meant when he said that he loved her...
Kyoto Animation has always been known for its gorgeous animation work, and Violet Evergarden is perhaps the pinnacle of their portfolio so far. Every frame captures movement, expression, background, and lighting in such stunning clarity that it looks more like a Makoto Shinkai movie than a 13-episode weekly series. The story itself takes time to pick up steam, but once it does, you’ll need multiple boxes of tissues to get through this beautiful tear-jerker of an anime.
5. Houseki no Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2017 – December 2017
It’s monumentally rare for an all-CGI anime to be considered good, let alone amazing, but Land of the Lustrous defies all expectations. Studio Orange spared no expense making sure that the gem-like people who populate this Buddhism-inspired fantasy world shimmered and sparkled and shattered exactly as they should. The unnatural smoothness of CGI movement actually works in this anime’s favor, creating graceful body movements and breathtaking camera angles that perfectly punctuate this anime’s more intense scenes. When combined with the top-tier voice acting and unique worldbuilding, Land of the Lustrous shines brightly amongst its competition.
4. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2013 – September 2013
Attack on Titan punches up the classic zombie apocalypse story (which was riding high in the early 2010s thanks to The Walking Dead) with steampunk elements, disturbing monster designs, and political intrigue to create a brand-new fantasy world that instantly drew viewers in from the very first episode. Gigantic warped humanoids called Titans terrorize a population of walled-in people, believed to be the last humans on Earth, while they fight back with what little resources they have.
The first season was a rollercoaster ride fueled almost entirely by hype action sequences, while the later seasons expanded the world and delved deeper into character motivations. And even though Attack on Titan took some time to develop into a truly fascinating series, the latest revelations from this year’s Season 3 Part 2 have set it up for a well-earned climactic conclusion in 2020.
3. Re: Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2016 – September 2016
We’ve seen wholesome isekai, funny isekai, and full-on parody isekai, but what about a dark and disturbing isekai? Re: Zero does for the isekai genre what Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica did for magical girls – it shows what disastrous things would actually happen if a real person lived in that kind of fantasy world. Our protagonist Subaru possesses the power of “Return by Death”, where he can return to a specific point in time whenever he dies in this new environment (just like a save point). But since he feels the excruciating pain of death every time, and he physically can’t tell anyone about his plight, his fun fantasy adventure becomes much more difficult.
Re: Zero is best known for its romantic subplots (particularly with the blue-haired oni maid Rem), as well as its copious violence. It’s not flawless by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a unique show that has had a huge impact on the isekai genre for the foreseeable future.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2011 – December 2011
The Fate franchise has had its ups and downs over the years, especially in terms of its anime adaptations, but Ufotable’s version of Fate/Zero is unanimously considered to be one of the best things ever to come out of the series. Set 10 years before Fate/Stay Night, it chronicles the Fourth Holy Grail War – a no-holds-barred battle royale between ancient warriors who fight for the wishes of their sworn masters.
While the story is largely inaccessible to uninitiated viewers, the compelling ensemble cast and gorgeous battle scenes are worth watching all on their own. Saber’s climactic fight against Caster and Gilgamesh is one of the modern masterpieces of action animation, proving that Ufotable should be the choice for all Fate adaptations to come in the future (and maybe some other stand-alone series like Demon Slayer so that non-Fate fans can enjoy their work as well).
1. Made in Abyss
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2017 – September 2017
In a decade filled with repetitive isekai trend-chasers, truly original fantasy anime stand out from the chaff. And Made in Abyss – a melancholic tale of two young explorers descending into a massive pit of fantasy monsters unlike anything we’ve ever seen – is perhaps the best of them all. Delver-in-training Riko and her new cyborg friend Reg set out on a mission to find her mother at the very bottom of the Abyss, a mysterious place from which nobody has ever returned. Their struggles with the treacherous environment and hostile fauna lead them to meet a cursed humanoid creature named Nanachi, whose endless quest to put her suffering friend Mitty to rest forms the emotional backbone of the second half of the season. It’s bitter, raw, beautiful, and our favorite fantasy anime of the 2010s.
We also loved Magi for its boundless sense of adventure, Yona of the Dawn for its strong female lead, and The Seven Deadly Sins for its vibrant ensemble cast. And even though its actual quality is suspect, we have to acknowledge Sword Art Online for its massive influence on the isekai genre.
What did you think of our list? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!