Editor’s Note: Anime that the author has not watched will not be included in this article. That said, honorable mentions of this year would be Carole and Tuesday, Vinland Saga and SAO Alicization: War of the Underworld. While being extremely popular among those who have watched them, Carole and Tuesday and Vinland Saga both suffered by being Netflix and Amazon Prime exclusives.
It’s difficult to remember the anime of the previous season and thinking back to the beginning of the year is like a haze. With a large number of new series this year and award season upon us, let’s take a look back at this years standout series.
It’s been almost a year since the winter anime first debuted, but this year had a powerful start with fan-favorite series; The Rising of the Shield Hero, Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Quintessential Quintuplets and Promised Neverland. Each series, with the exception of Shield Hero; which received a second and third, quickly received the green light for a second season before the year was halfway over.
To this day, the artist community is actively drawing the 5 sisters of Quintessential Quintuplets and the Shield Hero fans are dying in anticipation for next season, where we’ll see Naofumi and the gang join the cast of Isekai Quartet. The popularity speaks for itself with how they are dominating forums and fanart alike, almost a year after they aired; but what made us love these series so much? Certainly, they all had great stories and strong characters, but for those characters to leave a strong impression, they had to resonate with us on a personal level.
Every fan of Quintuplets has a favorite sister, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like the others, in fact, some like all of them. As a “harem” anime, it didn’t play out in the trashy, trope infested way that we’re used to. The wholesome aspect of Quintuplets is what drew people in, but the lovable characters made them stay. The same could be said for Shield Hero, another over-saturated genre, that stood above the rest because it had more human characters than most isekai anime. Each character had their own motivations and the protagonist wasn’t an over-powered Kirito that could use high level moves and take out strong enemies without struggle.
Kaguya-sama brought us memes and that awkward tension when you have strong feelings for someone but don’t want to act on it for reasons that we could relate to. Deep down we’re all capable of being tsundere to the max.
Promised Neverland taught us pain and suffering. When all feels hopeless we still hold onto some shred of hope that things will be better if we resist the looming darkness around us. That kind of message always has a way of leaving an impression, because we always want to root for the underdog and resist, in hopes that everything will be better if we persevere.
After a strong first season, the spring immediately launched us into what will most likely be the anime of the year; Kimetsu no Yaiba – Demon Slayer. Known for its Fate adaptations, Ufotable pulls out all the stops in this anime adaptation. Staying faithful to the source material; while also enhancing the visuals to the maximum, Demon Slayer felt more like a movie than a television series, due to its spectacular animation quality. Look no further than the famous episode 19, where the animation, visuals and soundtrack meld together, to create the most beautiful work of art that is worthy of film class studies. What would’ve been nothing more than an enjoyable shounen series in another studio’s hands, quickly became the most talked about anime of the season reaching the trending tab on Twitter and maintaining it for an entire day.
Aside from the insanely popular Demon Slayer, there were two other great series that were overshadowed by its popularity. We saw the return of the popular Shojo romance series, Fruits Basket; receiving its FMA Brotherhood treatment, and the greatest crossover in anime history, Isekai Quartet. Both series will also grace us next year with their second seasons. Fruits Basket offered a great escape from all the action heavy anime of the season with its upbeat tone mixed with intense drama. Isekai Quartet on the other hand, was pure fun; seeing everyone’s favorite isekai characters come together in a high school setting. An isekai within an isekai. Both series offered a nice breath of fresh air, compared to the overabundance of intense, dark-action series throughout the Spring season.
After two great seasons of anime, it was only a matter of time until we would have a fall-off of great series. In the Summer season we saw a lack of new anime, with Dr. Stone standing out from the rest. Unlike most shounen anime, Dr. Stone had a way of getting into our hearts and minds through science. A series both intriguing and educational, who knew you could combine the two. Senku easily made himself stand out apart from the typical overly smart protagonist by not have a massive ego that belittled others for not being as smart as him. Having a smart protagonist that was kindhearted deep down and acted as a teacher to others allowed for great chemistry to take place. Seeing all of the characters interact with each other and a series that doesn’t shy away from being slightly meta at times, made this series hold its weight for all of the promotion it was given.
As the series continued into the Fall season, it avoided a Demon Slayer by not overshadowing the last batch of great anime we would receive this year. This Fall gave us another harem anime along the lines of Quintessential Quintuplets called Oresuki: Are you the Only One Who Loves Me? As well as another comedy isekai; Cautious Hero and the mobile game adaptation; Fate Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia. Oresuki quickly found its ground by subverting typical harem tropes and Cautious Hero filled the void left behind from Konosuba.
This Fall certainly delivered on fan’s expectations with the FGO Babylonia adaptation by staying faithful to the fan-favorite storyline. Studio Cloverworks, who had very little to show in their portfolio for action-orientated anime, quickly delivered with some high-quality battles that had the community roaring with applause. Cautious Hero walked the Konosuba path by filling the season with laughter in a time when people grow weary of new isekai shows. The same could be said about Oresuki which was more of a wholesome, comedy harem. As the season comes to a close it will be interesting to see what kind of impression these shows will leave us with.
With no season 3 of Konosuba in sight, Cautious Hero delivered on that sharp, witty style of humor; by giving us a Kazuma style protagonist, Seiya. Seiya is far from what you would call an ideal hero, as he seeks to improve himself over saving the lives of others. Becoming stronger takes priority over actual hero duties. It’s this style of a protagonist, mixed with that type of humor, that created an anime worth remembering.
Unlike Quintessential Quintuplets, Oresuki also gives us a not-so ideal protagonist. We follow Kisaragi as he struggles between being a jerk to people as a self-defense mechanism and his true self which is a loyal and caring person. What makes him so relatable is that he carries an inferiority-complex about himself. His struggles feel real, as we sometimes struggle between the two sides of ourselves on an almost daily basis. This sense of realism, tied in with the comedy of the show; allows us to enjoy what we see, while taking a step back to review our prior actions in life. We want to to see Kisaragi overcome his struggles, but at the same time, the show wants us to overcome our own struggles as well.
What makes these series so great isn’t the story they tell, but rather, how they tell it through their characters. While each of these shows isn’t something entirely new, they tell their stories in ways that captivated us. Looking back, this year has given us a lot of amazing shows from isekai and shounen, to romance series that we’ll remember for years. With the year coming to a close, we can look forward to the next year giving us sequels to a majority of these series that we fell in love with. Only time will tell if 2020 will continue this trend of anime that subverts our expectations to quickly become our new favorites.