2013 has been another great year for anime, and below are my picks for the must-watch of 2013 that have ended its run before the year ended. There’s little point in ranking them by the numbers, as each has its own merits, so here’s all 10 in alphabetical order.
My criteria for picking anime is based on three things:
- Plot – Story ranks among my top criteria for grading anime, but in slice-of-life/comedy series, I’ll look instead at the originality of the gags (or how often it succeeds in making me laugh).
- Direction – There are many ways to bring a given script to life, be it with the appropriate use of CG or stylized artwork, or using cinematographic techniques to set the scenes. Done well, it even turn a badly written story into something worthy of praise.
- The Package – Sometimes it’s hard to pin-point what makes a series so great, but when taken as a whole (animation, soundtrack, voice acting etc.) it comes together so nicely that you are compelled to recommend it to others.
Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko (The Perverted Prince and the Stony Cat)
This is one helluva funny series. Despite having such a title, it is surprisingly tame in the fanservice department, and plays many of its jokes straight. Follow Yokodera as his wish to remove his facade to help him better express his true feelings lands him in many comical situations where he is forced to speak his mind – containing all manner of perverse (but in no way sexual) thoughts. If you find yourself in need of a laugh or ten, pick this up.
I anticipate very different opinions when it comes to how you feel about this show, largely because of the way the series concluded, which felt hurried and rather disappointing. You can safely give this a miss if you’re looking for a happily ever after, because you’ll be having none of that here.
While the ending is dismal, this original story from the writer who brought you Code Geass does shine from time to time, with antagonist-turned-protagonist L-Elf and this ex-teammates often locked in an exchange of battle strategies, allowing the series to do much more than staving off boredom with action-packed space battles. If you found Guilty Crown worthwhile, then you’ll be in for something similar.
Little Busters! Refrain
How far the Little Busters! series has come! There was initial worry over whether the team at J.C. Staff would be able to pull off a Key adaptation, but such concerns proved unfounded as the team showed with the original Little Busters! that it too can create a series true to the source material, in all of Key‘s heartstring-tugging brilliance.
Refrain picks off right after the original season, with a darker mood that sweeps protagonist Riki toward the secret of the world. If you’re looking for a narrative that can make grown men weep, then this is not a show you’d miss.
Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
If you liked the Spice and Wolf series, then this will be your cup of tea. Set in medieval Europe, you are introduced to the protagonists Yuusha (Hero) and Maou (Demon Lord). No, it isn’t about the human and demon realm going to war, but about how the pair work together to stimulate the economy of both realms through invention and interaction.
The show tackles a broad range of issues which aren’t limited to any one group, from agriculture to military stratagem, so those who’d like to give their cogs a good oiling will do well to pick up the series in its full 12 episode glory.
Monogatari Series Second
The long-running Monogatari series that began with Bakemonogatari continues in what has to be one of the strongest narratives of 2013, resolving many of the show’s sub-plots in an extremely satisfying fashion. The point-of-view is no longer restricted to protagonist Araragi Koyomi, and instead hops around different characters in their respective stories. This grants greater characterization, even to characters you never thought to empathize with.
The abstract style of animation is still as eye-catching as ever, and you are still required to pause the video every now and then to read the unspoken monologues of the cast, but for all its quirkiness, I can assure you will discover a subplot or two that you will love and remember for a long while to come.
I never thought I’d see the day when Pokemon’s anime counterpart would land anywhere near my “recommended” list, but these 4 episodes did for me what no other Pokemon series did in the last decade – it made me want to pick up the Pokemon games again. You can never go wrong with a protagonist like Red. This might well be the only Pokemon anime to have a proper conclusion too. Pokemon fans, your prayers have been answered. Full review here.
Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
Few anime has come as far as Shingeki no Kyojin. Walking along Japan, you hear the theme song by Linked Horizon, Guren no Yumiya, being broadcast, limited not only to the streets of Akihabara but even up in the snowy slopes of sub-urban resorts. It became a meme, and led to the song being performed at the annual Kouhaku Uta Gassen, whose invitations are coveted by artistes each year.
I’m full of praise for the direction, with appropriate mood-setting music that ranges from bass-heavy tunes to quiet beats, and a display of great cinematographic techniques to reveal the battlefields. Filled with adrenaline-rushing titan take-downs, this is the anime that defines 2013. Definitely a must-see.
Suisei no Gargantia
Despite a rather misleading first episode that might make the viewer assume a space-battle anime, this original series that focused on the life of humans as they lived out their days on an Earth without land is surprisingly entertaining, as Ledo, one of the pilots bred for combat, with some help from his Machine Caliber’s snarky AI Chamber struggles to find his place in a society that sees his values as barbaric.
The story has its share of surprising twists, and I’m doubtless you’ll find yourself cheering towards the end. Definitely among one of my most recommended. Full review here.
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S (A Certain Scientific Railgun S)
There’s a saying among the fandom that in every Railgun anime you’d look forward to Touma’s appearance, and in every Index anime you’d want to see Mikoto in action. For this continuation to the Railgun series, which takes place in the concurrently as the first To Aru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) anime, I can’t agree more.
A simple comparison between the two of one of the show’s most poignant arcs, Level 6, showed how a change in direction can lead to a greater appreciation of the entire cast, and makes villain-of-the-month Accelerator more than just a palpable threat to the protagonists. The gorgeous animation takes all these up to eleven, so don’t miss it.
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru (My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected)
I never thought cynicism could sell an anime series the way this show does. Meet super-pessimist Hikigaya Hachiman, who thinks of family members as your closest strangers. This anime explores the themes of social psychology on a level that has yet to be seen in anime.
You might find yourself nodding along to some of the observations made by our protagonist, who prides himself as a realist. A show where the viewer gets to relate with the issues discussed is fairly uncommon outside of documentaries, but I guess we all got lucky in 2013. Full review here.
White Album 2
I’d admit, this had to be the most surprising anime for me the entire of 2013. Mainly because it’s a successor-of-sorts to the train wreck that was White Album, whose protagonist you just wanted to see run over by a train. Thankfully, with some miraculous wizardry, White Album 2 was saved from such a fate.
Set 10 years after the original, it stars a group of school students who forms an adhoc band that trains together and performs for the school festival, and at its heart is a relatively simple drama about the 2 girls Ogiso Setsuna and Touma Kazusa vying for the attention of one Kitahara Haruki. Those fatigued by the relentless harem series thrown their way can take comfort with the knowledge that the show does conclude properly, with none of the over-the-top angst School Days was known for. If you’re looking for some romance played straight, this is it.