Sorry, just wanted to work that one in somehow.
In many ways this list is more telling about the quality of a year than the Top 10 – certainly in terms of depth. I find 2014 to be a photo-negative of 2013 in a sense, because compared to other years its strongest at the very top (certainly #1 and #2 are stellar) and gets progressively less impressive as you dig deeper. 2013 was arguably a little thin in truly elite series, but the second 10 was quite good – and the ones that just missed the cut were a strong group indeed. In 2014 I would have been very hard-pressed to make a #21-30 list, because there just weren’t that many really worthwhile series.
That said, there are some very nice shows on this list – for me it’s dominated by “underrated gem” type of series. The other thing I’d note is that unlike in prior years, there’s not much separation between series on this list – I’ve been tweaking the order for days, and if I went back to it next week I have no doubt it would be different than it is here. There’s no clear cutoff at the #12 or #13 level – as a group, these shows are very close in my eyes.
11. Kingdom 2 – This is a hard show to judge in many respects, a study in extremes. The production values are arguably the worst among any series I’ve watched in the last couple of years, but the storyline is among the best. I would rank the second season of Kingdom as slightly better than the first (which just missed my stronger 2013 #11-20 list) despite losing its best character (Wang Qi), a credit to the quality of the writing. This is old-school anime storytelling of a type we just don’t see much anymore.
12. Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii – Pierrot takes the top two spots on this list, and Soredemo is a series that’s right up their alley. They have a way with shoujo fantasy, and the animation and art are certainly far stronger here than with Kingdom (or Baby Steps). There are some flaws with Soredemo which knocked it out of the Top 10 – most notably some pacing issues and a definite lull in the middle. But at its best this was some of the most entertaining anime of the year, with a wonderful mismatched romantic centerpiece to build around.
13. Gugure! Kokkuri-san – A late riser for sure – it was closer to #20 a few weeks ago, but the charms of Gugure! Kokkuri-san steadily wore me down. This is a comedy, yes, but a very bittersweet one that’s really centered around the theme of loneliness. The visuals are clever, the voice work is stellar, and the writing is really smart and subtly subversive. It reminds me of Inu x Boku SS in many ways, and the evidence is that it seems to have found a roughly similar demographic mix in its audience. This series cries out for a sequel.
14. Majimoji Rurumo – You’d have to have be pretty cold indeed not to be won over by the charms of Majimoji Rurumo. Mangaka Watanabe Wataru’s Yowamushi Pedal is his headline series, but this sadly overlooked romcom is likewise overflowing with heart and goofy humor. It starts a bit slowly, but as with Gugure! the charms of Majimoji Rurumo grow over time. Watanabe-sensei is a one-man wrecking ball taking aim at cynicism, and this show is certainly no exception.
15. Isshuukan Friends – Another guided missile with cynicism in its sights, One Week Friends is the show I hope isn’t remembered as the last hurrah of one of my favorite studios, Brains Base. I can understand why some take issue with the somewhat contrived nature of the premise, and why some feel there’s a bit of a niceness (and cuteness) overload among the cast. But it works for me because the emotion is honest and honestly earned, and because I truly came to care about the three (not four) main characters. The manga just finished and this season didn’t sell badly, so it’s not impossible that Isshuukan Friends might see the remainder of the source material animated.
16. Uchuu Kyoudai – Here’s another show that’s extremely difficult to assess. If it’d been eligible by my rules in 2012, it would have been in the top 5. Last year it ranked #18, and though it’s a bit higher in 2014 I think that’s more due to the relative strength of the competition. I enjoyed Space Brothers start to finish, and Mutta remains one of the best characters in recent manga or anime. Still, for me at least neither the 2013 or 2014 versions were nearly as good as the 2012 was. The biggest issues this year were a bit too much of the series’ creeping racism (Racist Cartoon Theater with Buddy the Gorilla remains among the most offensive things I’ve ever seen in anime) and a general plot drift. Arguably the most important plot thread was Hibito’s struggle with his PTSD, and it was somewhat undercut by the misguided focus on what seemed like romantic developments with a 15 year-old girl. Uchuu Kyoudai earns its place here because of Mutta, and because its best moments are still truly profound and beautiful.
17. Haikyuu!! – The latest in a string of sports manga mega-hits driven by a largely female audience, for my money Haikyuu!! is the best of the bunch. Production I.G. absolutely nailed it here – I haven’t read much of the manga, but it would be hard to believe there was any untapped potential in what’s been animated. The visuals were spectacular (the game sequences among the best I’ve ever seen in any series) with limitless sakuga and brilliant choreography. Music and cast are terrific, too. I’m not as high on the writing as I am with Baby Steps or Yowapeda, but I enjoy Haikyuu’s story and characters in a straightforward way, and I appreciate that unlike most WSJ sports series, it (mostly) manages to keep the sports element in the realm of realism.
18. Noragami – BONES second-best series of 2014 for my money, Noragami falls short of greatness but it brings an awful lot to the table. The anime-original arc that closed the series wasn’t on-par with what came before it but I understand why it was done, and I think it was better than it gets credit for. This is another series that benefitted from very solid animation and terrific cinematography, and it did a nice job of balancing the humorous and darker elements that are so intwined in the story. Another series that really seems primed for a continuation, and that just might get one.
19. Gundam Build Fighters – “Try” is still running so this is for the original series only, but I see the quality as being remarkably consistent anyway. It’s rare but not unheard of for shows I don’t regularly blog to appear on this list (Nekogami Yaoyorozu springs to mind, at the very least) but GBF is an easy choice. This is one of my favorite Gundam series ever, largely because it refuses to take itself seriously and manages to have fun with the silliness of the premise (and the franchise) without being mean-spirited about it. Good animation, likeable cast of kids, the hilariously self-referential Mr. Ral and one of the best MILF characters in anime history – really, what’s not to like here?
20. Shingeki no Bahamut – I just did the series review on this one but in brief, Bahamut earns its place here because of its great ability to deliver spectacle, and the way it manages to blend old-Hollywood swashbuckler ethos with “Deities & Demigods” and a few anime tropes for good measure. Almost all of the key staff here is over 50, and it shows – this is old-style anime that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 90’s if it weren’t for the stellar animation delivered by MAPPA (and on occasion DR Movie).