As the year draws to a close and presents are boxed and wrapped, it’s time to unbox our own feelings and reflect upon this past year of anime. As always there have been a plethora of shows that have aired this year but which ones come out on top? Here are the shows that the GoombaStomp anime section think have a reason to be watched. These are the Best Anime of 2019.
10. My Hero Academia Season 4
Runtime: October 12th – Present
There’s good reason for My Hero Academia’s continued acclaim and popularity. After 2018’s stupendous third season, the king of modern shounens enters its Shie Hassaikai arc. With a new villain in Overhaul, more Mirio magic, and the usual dollop of awe-inspiring action and character-driven drama (all conveyed through Bones’s top-notch animation); there’s no better time to embrace the most entertaining anime on the market, especially with our ongoing superhero fanaticism (see Marvel’s box office dominance).
Honestly, that’s all I have to say. You’ve just gotta watch this show! (By Harry Morris)
9.The Rising of The Shield Hero
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Runtime: January 9th – June 26th
There is an unsurprisingly low amount of isekai shows on our list this year despite there having been, at minimum, three per season. It’s fairly simple to generate an isekai story that stimulates on the most basic of levels but it’s rare to see one like The Rising of the Shield Hero that, well, “rises” above the rest.
The thing about Shield Hero is that it’s not particularly unique in its setting or premise; a college kid is summoned to a fantasy-game world to defend it from evil. It’s how the show executes on those foundations, though, and tells a story beyond just being an isekai that sets it apart.
Naofumi is run through the mud, in every sense of the phrase, right from the outset, resetting both his and the viewer’s expectations of the world to the negatives. This isn’t an isekai story where everything will just work out in the end. Naofumi needs to scrape and claw his way to survive despite the pain and anger he feels inside and that creates a compelling protagonist that you want to root for. Not a hero, but not quite an anti-hero either.
It’s the fact that Naofumi knows when it’s ok to forgive and when it’s not that makes him more than just a rage-beast, though, and that’s due in part to his companions. Despite the somewhat controversial method in which Naofumi and Raphtalia encountered each other, that encounter tests and emphasizes the bond between them in beautiful ways akin to watching a family.
Kinema Citrus has done an excellent job of animating this world and conveying a sense of scale often absent from other isekai not to mention the excellent fight choreography even including a rare team fight not often seen in anime (usually 1-on-1 duels or 1-on-many). The mesmerizing score by Australian composer Kevin Penkin, meanwhile, amplifies the emotions of both tender and frantic moments to the nth degree. The presentation and story combined make for one of the most grounded isekai to date, and a series to keep close eyes on in coming seasons. (By Matt Ponthier)
8. Fruits Basket
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Runtime: April 6th – September 21st
I said it in my preview during the Spring Viewer’s Guide but I still can’t believe this remake exists. The fact that enough people saw the original Fruits Basket, a series that is about as shoujo as one can get, and thought it was important enough to give a remake treatment over the plethora of other classic shounen out there is absolutely mind-boggling. That’s just it, though. This is an important series that teaches lessons that are just as meaningful today as they were over a decade ago.
At its core, Fruits Basket is a story about learning how to accept others for everything they are, as well as oneself. Such a simple-sounding concept is, in reality, difficult to realize, especially when trying to do so alone.
The Souma family circumstances are fantastical, to be sure, but each member’s plight touches upon the many forms of doubt and insecurity one may feel throughout various stages of life. The cast of Fruits Basket all have their own inner demons to grapple with and chances are you’ll find yourself sympathetic to at least one of them for one reason or another. It’s in seeing Tohru unconditionally believe in that projection of yourself that has such a profound healing effect both inside and outside the screen. It helps that the updated animation makes the high-emotion scenes hit all the harder and knowing that we’ll be getting into never before animated scenes next season makes my heart quiver in anticipation of being wrecked all over again.
Fruits Basket is a rare anime series that challenges the viewer, challenges them to be a better person. It shows how difficult it can be to be that person to soothe others’ pain, but it also shows the importance of at least trying. (By Matt Ponthier)
Watch on Funimation
7. Aggretusko Season 2
Airdate: June 14th
What makes the second season of Aggretsuko work so well is the same charming concept and wacky characters that made the first season work. Retsuko is still endlessly relatable as she struggles through the annoying grind of 9 to 5, while looking for worthwhile reasons to keep going on.
Where this season doubles down, however, is in the nuance it adds to her character. While Retsuko has long been fixated on things like finding a husband or landing her dream job, now we see her coming to realize that authentic happiness and contentment must come from within, rather than from without.
Other characters get added layers in this season as well, with even characters that are almost never taken seriously, like Kabae, given some depth. Finally, the new additions of Anai and Tadano beef up the cast considerably, making for a richer, and funnier, slice of life with each episode. If Aggretsuko can maintain this growth into its 3rd season, it will be a must-watch anime. (By Mike Worby)
Watch on Netflix
6. O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Runtime: July 6th – September 21st
When O Maidens first aired, I was initially hesitant. The series’ writer, Mari Okada, has a history of scripting projects that lean rather hard into melodrama. Not that melodrama is bad. Rather, the danger of writing on such intense emotions in anime is that it can quickly become uncomfortable or lack the appropriate cultural context to make it impactful with foreign audiences.
What makes it work for O Maidens is the subject matter. Unlike many other dramas about high school kids, O Maidens focuses on the most universal truths to being a teenager: things like love, sexuality, betrayal, body image, and friendship. It offers an honest look at the pain and anxiety of growing up and learning not just how to be an adult, but what it means to no longer be a kid.
Much like FLCL, O Maidens uses the outrageous to highlight aspects of humanity that are very much real. Things like train masturbation jokes and excessively flowery erotic prose garner unexpected laughs in a series where you never really know what’s going to happen next. Taken off guard by the show’s brazen demeanor, it leaves you vulnerable and receptive to the uncomfortable nostalgia it exudes.
The characters possess a charming naive innocence that draws out laughs and grimaces in equal measure. Mari Okada has tapped into a deep well of shared adolescence unbound by culture. We often look back on our teenage years in disdain, scornful and embarrassed of the children we once were. Perhaps for good reason. Rather than shy away from these unpleasant aspects or romanticize them, Okada puts them plainly on display.
O Maidens loses a bit of its way in the latter half, with a few too many vague conclusions and loose ends. Understandable enough, given that it was only a twelve-episode run with a cast of five main characters. Yet, those twelve episodes are a wild ride of heartbreak, desires, and passion that truly marks this period of life as a “savage season”. (By Kyle Rogacion)
Watch on HIDIVE
5. Mob Psycho 100 II
Runtime: January 7th – April 1st
With its second season, Mob Psycho has gone above and beyond expectations. The first season did an excellent job of setting the world’s tone: equal parts zany, kickass, and heartfelt. In establishing Mob’s powers, his friends and family, and the vast landscape of psychic abilities, season one set up the perfect framework for a deeper dive into this universe.
The world of Mob Psycho 100 is one of camp, exaggeration, and utter ridiculousness. It revels in bright gags and noisy colors, moving from joke to joke with a deft alacrity. Yet through all the slapstick and witty dialogue, Mob Psycho’s greatest attribute is its heart. Season two covers a fascinating trajectory by charting Mob’s character development through dark and murky waters.
Mob’s greatest conflict this season comes from himself. Now comfortable with using his formidable powers, he nevertheless fears what might happen should he lose control. He begins to question what role espers like him play in society and whether or not the spirits he exorcises are inherently evil.
Opposite Mob is his master, Reigen. Reigen is the same as ever in season two: sleazy, self-serving, and manipulative. As Mob develops a greater sense of moral agency, he comes into direct conflict with Reigen’s own ideals and agenda. The rest of the returning cast all have their moments to shine, but season two is undeniably about Mob and Reigen growing both as individuals and as friends.
Of course, this writeup would be remiss not to mention the stellar animation work done by Studio Bones. Mob Psycho 100 is a visual feast, powering through its action sequences with a colorfully wild kinetic energy. There isn’t much reason beyond “rule-of-cool” for how esper powers work in this series, but Bones does such a fantastic job animating these psychic battles that you really don’t mind.
Rare is the anime that can be called an instant classic; Mob Psycho 100 would be a more than worthy pick. (By Kyle Rogacion)
4. Vinland Saga
Studio: Wit Studio
Runtime: July 8th – Present
That Vinland Saga is the title of a series concerned with the Danelaw, and Viking piracy in England and France, suggests a lot about its metaphorical leanings. Vinland may be the bountiful wine land of North America, but for young Thorfinn, it’s a near-mythical representation of wholeness and tranquillity the harshness of war and cruelty of life rob him of.
What sets Vinland Saga apart from simply being a historical war drama series with elegantly-animated combat is the thematic weight each blow carries. Every cut of the sword tears into the soul and is a probe into the forces that shape the emotionally ravaged Thorfinn. This is an immensely philosophical series, casting Thorfinn’s development from innocent child to weary warrior in the shadow of his pacifist father’s teachings.
Cleverly weaving Thorfinn’s story in amongst apocryphal and substantiated history, Vinland Saga has an elegiac quality to it, not just on a personal level for Thorfinn, but Viking society as a whole. Inasmuch as Vinland Saga explores the deceptively complex idea of what it means to be a great warrior—and the many answers to it—through Thorfinn’s tribulations, this is a series about finality: the death of people, the death of morality, and the death of culture.
The metaphysical introspection and inevitability of demise textures everything. This is Attack on Titan animator Wit Studio’s finest work so far, because the depth the tapestry of Viking conquest lends to its protagonists, creates some of the most human and nuanced characters anime has to offer.
This is one of the best anime series of 2019, but it’s also one of the best pieces of fiction this decade, if not longer. Vikings still capture the imagination centuries later, and there is little doubt that Vinland Saga’s uniquely pensive drama will linger in memory well after it finishes airing. (By Declan Biswas-Hughes)
Watch on Amazon Prime Video
3. Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Runtime: January 12th —March 30th
Kaguya-sama succeeds not only because it pokes fun at the ridiculous dance of high school romance, but because it also reminds us just how serious many of those situations felt at the time. What Kaguya and the gang experience are immediately relatable; hesitating to confess one’s feelings immediately, not knowing how to exchange contact info without seeming desperate, trying to give love advice knowing full well you’re not qualified to be doing so, etc. While everything is escalated to hilarious heights, it’s all anchored by a subconscious notion of “Yeah, I’d be freaking out about this, too.”
That said, school-based romantic comedies are, frankly, a dime a dozen. Aka Akasaka and A-1 Pictures wisely manage to sidestep much of the saminess of other shows by leaning into the sketch comedy format à la Aho-Girl. Instead of following around one central character for an entire episode, each episode is instead broken up into several vignettes featuring the cast in different scenarios. From the self-serious narrator bellowing about the war of romance to the “winner” of every battle of wits being evaluated at the end of each sketch, Kaguya-sama leverages this format to deliver sharp satire and fascinating glimpses into the lives of all of its characters.
Beyond the relatability, format, and smart writing, however, Kaguya-sama simply nails the balance between comedy and meaningful character-building. For as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are (and there are many), Kaguya-sama hones in on each non-Kaguya/Shirogane cast member just enough to get viewers attached. With a massively successful first season in the books and a second one already greenlit, it’s never been a better time to enlist as a soldier of love. (By Brent Middleton)
2. The Promised Neverland
Runtime: January 10th — March 29th
The success of thrillers rests primarily on tense tone and pacing. The most captivating of premises can be undone by languidness. The Promised Neverland has a simple premise: children are reared and harvested for feeding unknown monsters, and now three children who have uncovered the truth are trying to escape. The Promised Neverland proceeds to then wring genuine fear and anxiety from that idea through taut execution. No anime series this year was so addictive, nor as emotionally exhausting, for its audience.
Set in a wooden manor—now prison—Director Mamoru Kanbe ensures that the viewer truly feels the claustrophobia experienced by the children, rarely cutting away from their perspective, and even as going as far to pan through the house’s halls from a first-person point of view to emphasize the walls keeping everyone in captivity.
Limiting the viewpoint to just that of the kids is inspired, because not only does it induce greater empathy for them, but also makes their process of uncovering knowledge and deductive reasoning all the more riveting. Their unknown variables are ours too. As characters, Norman, Ray, and Emma are a complementary and engaging trio, with their varying degrees of logical planning, emotional perceptiveness, and physical prowess counterbalancing one another. Each protagonist is necessary to everyone’s survival, and watching them discern information and trying to outwit the matriarch of the house, Emma, through careful consideration, is incredibly satisfying.
It’s then impressive that Emma is such a formidable foe. This is psychological thriller, but it draws upon horror’s visual language—most evident in the series’ approach to Emma. She is a terrifying boogie-woman for the children; her caring bedside manner belies the truth of her role. The series isn’t so facile though, and has much to say about complicity in mundane evil through her.
There has not been an adroit anime thriller that is genuinely scary for years, but The Promised Neverland retroactively has made the wait worthwhile. ( By Declan Biswas-Hughes)
1. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Runtime: April 6th — September 28th
In an age where very few traditional shounen are still making waves, Kimetsu no Yaiba took the industry by storm with the most delicate blend of visceral action, pitch-perfect pacing, and compassionate storytelling since the 2011 Hunter x Hunter remake.
There’s simply so much Kimetsu no Yaiba gets right. For one, Tanjirou’s rise in skill is gradual and earned through constant training and battle experience. Save for one instance, there are no sudden all-powerful moves that materialize out of thin air; he only uses and improves upon techniques that he’s learned.
Then there’s the fact that, instead of burning through the strongest adversaries in the first season, most of the show’s truly daunting foes haven’t even been encountered yet. From the authentic and heartwarming friendship that develops between Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inosuke to the over-the-top humor that keeps things lighthearted amidst all the death and darkness, Koyoharu Gotouge’s manga has absolutely thrived in its transition to animation.
Beyond the supreme coziness of the season’s final episodes and ufotable’s absolutely gorgeous combat sequences throughout, it’s the way Kimetsu no Yaiba humanizes its villains that ultimately sets it in a tier above the rest. Every demon was a human once, and illustrating their descent into losing hold of that humanity allows viewers to sympathize with them as much as Tanjirou does. The love in his heart for these unfortunate souls is palpable, and it’s this underlying foundation of empathy that makes the show such a success. (By Brent Middleton)
And that’s a wrap for 2019! Do you agree with this list? What shows do you think deserve to have made the cut? Let us know in the comments and be sure to keep a lookout later in the month for when we publish the top anime of the decade!