Without a doubt, the cuts for this list were even harder this year than the ones for the Top 10. Looking at the first 10 as compared to last year, I think they come up short as a group. The second 10 is about even. But the third ten – the ones that didn’t make this list – is probably better in 2013. That tells me that while the concentration of truly great series (which I consider the more important measure of a year overall) is down, this year did provide a lot of depth in terms of good to very good series.
That of course means that the last few cuts from the 11-20 list were agonizing. That said, if I were to make an arbitrary cutoff this year it’d be 13 elite series – those are the ones that clearly stand above the rest for me. After that the next 12-15 shows are closely grouped together, and there are some names you won’t see on this list that would have made it some years. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like them a lot – it just means if you draw a line, some show has to be the first one on the wrong side of it. And truth be told, between the last few shows that did make the cut and the first few that didn’t, there’s just not much of a gap.
11. Little Busters! Refrain – This is a highly deserving show, delivering some of the most sincere and raw emotions of any series this year. It was clearly better than the initial Little Busters! series, though that one did the heavy lifting that made Refrain possible. It was very, very close to the top 10 – in truth I suspect there’s a certain sentimental draw to the first season of Chihayafuru that made me nudge its sequel just ahead of this series. But Refrain is, along with Kanon, the best of the Key adaptations and a real vindication for J.C. Staff.
12. White Album 2 – Easily the best romance of the year, although there was almost no competition. There were moments in the first few episodes where I felt my interest flagging, but WA2 always managed to reel me back in by the closing credits. The last stretch of 4-5 eps is truly excellent, and overall this is one of the better high-school romances of recent years, utilizing the age of the characters for great dramatic effect rather than inane comedy and abjectly stupid behavior.
13. Gingitsune – The cutoff for the really great series – the ones that flirted with the Top 10. I love this show to an irrational degree because frankly, it could hardly have been drawn up more perfectly for my tastes. It too started out slowly but once Gingitsune found its groove, it carved an identity for itself as a humane, subtle and profoundly moving story about both its human characters and their interaction with the mystical beings in their lives. One of the best anime about Shinto ever.
14. Minami-ke Tadaima – Certainly the best Minami-ke series since the first season, directed by Ohta Masahiko. Just hilarious, clever straight-up comedy – smart and dumb at the same time, with the ability to find humor in a dizzying array of styles with its huge cast of characters. Tadaima found the M-K sweet spot in balancing cynicism and heart, and gave all of the principals in the cast a chance to shine.
15. Shirokuma Cafe – I called out Shirokuma Cafe for recognition on last year’s list too, because this is a special little series that deserves more attention than it received. Another anime comedy that gets the mix of sincerity and snark spot-on, using a cast of mostly animal characters to hilariously enlighten the human condition.
16. Hataraku Maou-sama – As with White Album, Hataraku pretty much came from nowhere to find a place on this list. It’s that rare LN adaptation that rises above cliche and formula, though at times it lost its way during the second half of its run. I liked Hataraku best when it was brilliantly showing the Dark Lord adjusting to life as a blue-collar drudge in modern Tokyo and get ahead in the fast-food business. Some of the best seiyuu work of any series this year.
17. Robotics;Notes – As usual, the hype was wrong about which of the two NoitaminA series starting in Fall 2012 would be the better. R;N definitely had its lulls, but on the whole I liked it a lot – it felt as if I were watching a giant robot anime as written by Adachi Mitsuru. Kaitou was a classic Adachi main character, that’s for sure – quietly and self-effacingly noble and courageous. It was overshadowed by Psycho Pass and by its predecessor Steins;Gate, but Robotics;Notes is a highly underrated gem.
18. Uchuu Kyoudai – If it’d been eligible last year Space Brothers would certainly have made my Top 10 list, even as good as that list was. It was very good this year, but to my eye measurably less brilliant than in 2012. There were too many sidetracks, there was too much Racist Cartoon Theatre and not enough of what the show does best – show us Mutta applying his unique perspective to the challenges he faces and studying the dynamics of group behavior. It’s still a terrific series, and hopefully 2014 brings us a return to its form from 2012 – this year ended on a pretty strong note.
19. Suisei no Gargantia – How the mighty have fallen. After four episodes I thought Gargantia had a chance to be the best series of 2013. Then came the horrific beach episode, and somehow the show never seemed to fully recover. There were some fine moments in the second half, and Gargantia still managed to ask some very interesting questions with no easy answers (an Urobuchi Gen specialty). It also brought terrific visuals to the table. There was so much greatness in this series, but even more potential that was never realized. There will be a sequel – I go into it with some trepidation.
20. RDG: Red Data Girl – Here’s a living example of what happens when you adapt a long-running series of novels in one cour. RDG also has enormous untapped potential, but for me it delivered an awful lot during its run. The scenery is some of P.A. Works’ most beautiful, the storyline complex and fascinating and I (though not most, seemingly) really enjoyed the developing relationship between the two leads. The narrative style was unorthodox, giving a sense that things kept right on moving while we were away. The second-best series about Shinto of the year, and in most years it would have been the best.