2017 has been an important year for anime. Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name found success in Western theaters, and more and more anime are coming to Netflix than ever. This year’s best anime cover a variety of genres; some are based on long-running franchises, while others bring something new but just as special.
GameSpot’s top 10 anime list includes series that began in 2016 but finished in 2017 as well as all 2017 series and films. Only series that have been localized in the West are eligible. Click forward to see our picks for the best anime of the year, and for more on entertainment in 2017, see our 2017 best of entertainment hub.
Adapting the 2000-plus pages of the Blame manga to a film would have been a risky move on Netflix’s part. However, with the narrowed focus on a single story arc and a shift in perspective, the new take on Tsutomo Nihei’s revered comic succeeds by trying something different.
It’s a sci-fi tale set in a seemingly endless city, the product of an AI run amok. Humans are no longer welcome and are threatened at every turn by the robotic Safeguard security forces. A lone hero, Killy, wanders in search of a potential resolution. Despite him being the main character in the comic, the film puts defenseless survivors up front. Killy thus arrives as a hero, and his fight to protect the innocent makes for an action-packed ride that, unlike most anime of its kind, benefits from the use of CGI. The boundless stretches of Blame‘s manufactured world feel appropriately massive, and the confident use of light and shadow results in one captivating scene after another. Stick to the Blame comic if you want to envelop yourself in Killy’s journey; watch the movie to see what makes him worthy of being a hero.
Available on Netflix
9. Recovery of an MMO Junkie
What do you do when you’re tired of your everyday office job? Obviously you quit, stop by the convenience store on the way home to pick up a couple Sapporos, and fall back into your old MMO playing habit to help you along on a journey of self discovery! This is exactly what the protagonist, Moriko Morioka, an MMO addict with a possibly unhealthy drinking problem, finds herself doing in this quirky slice of life anime.
Morioka soon finds out that her old MMO of choice has shut down, so she must start fresh in an entirely new game. She decides to make a handsome male character and set off on her new adventure. But a new game brings new struggles, and she finds herself having a hard time–until a veteran player comes along to help her and they become great friends. This relationship, as she finds out later, has many more interesting ties to her real life than she initially thought.
One of the most enjoyable things about Recovery of an MMO Junkie is the abundance of smart video game references and in jokes. The game they’re playing is very similar to Final Fantasy 14, which is cool on its own, but the show goes for much deeper cuts than that alone. From getting frustrated with low item drop rates to dropping surplus stat food around AFK players (looking at you, bored raid leaders!) the self-aware MMO references really make the series feel distinct from others with similar themes. Even the scene where she builds a new PC has an impressively accurate depiction of the insides of a computer. This attention to detail coupled with the endearing story of a character a lot of us can identify with help make this one of the standout shows of 2017.
Available on Crunchyroll and Funimation
8. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
At a time when Gundam shows are starting to feel more and more like adverts for plastic model kits (we’re looking at you, Battlogue), Iron-Blooded Orphans was a welcome shift into new territory for the giant robot franchise as it closes in on its 40th anniversary.
It follows the story of Tekkadan, a group of child orphans–once slaves, now soldiers–as they find their place on Mars and in the galaxy. The corrupt peacekeeping organisation known as Gjallarhorn is imploding, and from within it factions are both working with and against our band of heroes. Naturally, these disputes are resolved with mobile suit mechs doing battle.
The second season wastes no time getting straight back into the action we loved from the first, as Mikazuki drops from orbit in the powerful Gundam Barbatos Lupus, smashing his opponents into the dust before it has a chance to settle. Cockpits collapse under the impossible weight of giant swords and hammers as sparks fly, fuel is set ablaze, and the sound of crunching steel reverberates. Iron-Blooded Orphans balances its interesting narrative with intense action.
In one of the most exciting battles of the season a terrifying machine from an old era is awoken, and huge sacrifices have to be made in order to stop it. It’s this all-or-nothing mantra that makes Iron-Blooded Orphans so compelling to watch, and in moments you feel yourself cheering on Tekkadan as they rise up from nothing to conquer the forces against them.
The story of Iron-Blooded Orphans is nicely contained in 50 episodes, unrelated to the huge existing universe of Gundam, which makes it the perfect starting point for anyone interested in watching this show. It’s a hell of a ride.
Available on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu
7. Little Witch Academia
Before coming to Netflix as a full TV series, Little Witch Academia was just two short films produced by Studio Trigger. The series expands upon the original’s themes but with more time to develop its characters and story. Even if you’ve seen the OVAs, the care given to the witches, their adventures, and the magical world itself is enough reason to invest in the full 25 episodes.
Little Witch Academia is all about following your dreams, regardless of the obstacles in your way. Akko, a girl who’s inspired by a famous witch named Shiny Chariot, enrolls in Luna Nova Magical Academy to become a witch herself. However, she struggles because she doesn’t have a magical background. Everything from broom-flying to difficult exams poses problems for Akko, but she still never gives up.
Akko is a classic plucky-but-clumsy main character, a formula that is automatically relatable. Little Witch Academia couples her struggles with beautiful animation that captures her sense of childlike wonder, and she rises above being just a generic anime protagonist and is inspiring in her perseverance. Watching her succeed is truly a delight and makes the series one of the most uplifting of the year.
Available on Netflix
6. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
The first season of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju aired in 2016. It opens with a former yakuza member named Yotaro who is released from prison and decides he wants to become a Rakugo performer. Rakugo is an ancient Japanese storytelling art that consists of one performer sitting largely on stage while portraying multiple characters; the series takes place in the past and present, telling the stories of performers over decades.
The second season picks up with Yotaro, though it might spoil some things to say exactly what his situation is. Suffice it to say that characters are the most important part of Showa, and seeing their complexities unfold in a captivating historical setting is simply beautiful.
This is a show about art, and it follows that it’s also about life. The cultural and historical aspects of Showa might be far-removed from anything you’ve ever experienced, but the show’s masterful storytelling and balance between lighter aspects and drama make it accessible and enthralling throughout.
Available on Crunchyroll
5. The Ancient Magus’ Bride
From the outside, it’s a weird pair: a lonely human girl and a powerful mage with an animal’s skull for a head. But The Ancient Magus’ Bride slowly and carefully develops their relationship in an enchanting, sometimes haunting, story of magic, hope, and belonging.
Lonely and with no family to turn to, teenager Chise Hatori sells herself into slavery. She is put up for auction, and a mysterious man named Elias Ainsworth pays a staggering amount of money for her. He tells her she’s a Sleigh Beggy, a being who can absorb magic and see magical beings that most humans cannot. He says he bought her to be his apprentice…and later, his bride.
Elias takes Chise to a remote part of England, and she is introduced to a world filled with magic–good and malevolent. Chise, whose abilities caused her to be shunned in the “real” world, must learn to navigate the uncertain rules of a world where nothing is exactly as it seems. Despite how she came to England, and despite the dangers of magic facing her, she is hopeful she’ll find somewhere to belong.
From the ominous luminescence of fairy forests to the melancholic beauty of vast meadows, The Ancient Magus’ Bride never fails to capture Chise’s wonder and sadness. It’s a slow burn, but learning the secrets of the world along with Chise is well worth it.
Available on Crunchyroll and Funimation
4. March Comes in Like a Lion
There aren’t many shows about shogi, the classic Japanese strategy game. March Comes in Like a Lion is as much about the game as it is about the player: Rei Kiriyama, a 17-year-old shogi pro. Under pressure from his adoptive family and isolated from his peers due to his reserved personality, Rei moves to a Tokyo apartment to live alone. Then he meets the Kawamoto sisters. The eldest, Akari, notices Rei’s loneliness and decides to help him combat it.
March Comes in Like a Lion portrays depression, loneliness, and grief with great depth, showing the different shades of these emotions. Rei’s struggle as he learns to grapple with his emotions and interact with others makes for a bittersweet slice-of-life story, and one that makes you acutely feel what the characters are going through.
The series’ greatest strength is its use of art and direction over dialogue to show Rei’s depression. Gorgeous-yet-melancholic backgrounds and careful scene staging evoke far more feeling, in often uncomfortably relatable, very real ways, than words ever could; the show knows this, and its understated narrative allows the art to really shine. No matter your background–or if you know anything about shogi–you can find part of yourself in March Comes in Like a Lion, and that’s what makes it so special.
Available on Crunchyroll
3. Made in Abyss
In the city of Orth, cave raiders are those brave enough to descend into the Abyss in search of ancient relics. The deeper they go, the harder it is to come back up; this Curse of the Abyss results in dizziness and severe nausea at shallow depths, and it’s possible to go so far you can’t safely return. But to 12-year-old Riko, those are just details. She wants to see the mysteries of the Abyss for herself, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to reach the bottom.
Riko lives in the care of an orphanage and trains to be a cave raider, but she’s at the lowest rank and is only allowed in the shallowest parts of the Abyss. While on a raid there, she finds a robotic boy who has lost all his memories. She names him Reg, and because he’s not fully human, he’s not affected by the Curse of the Abyss. When Riko learns that her mother, a legendary cave raider, could still be alive at the bottom of the Abyss, she decides she’s going to go there no matter what–and Reg decides to join her.
Made in Abyss is a story of perseverance against all odds, an adventure that’s both hopeful and harrowing. They’re not just motivated by the mysteries of the Abyss, or on Riko’s whims alone; Riko and Reg learn to depend on one another to make up for their own shortcomings, and their friendship drives them even when they shouldn’t be able to go on. Made in Abyss is larger than life, equal parts thrilling and contemplative, and its journey is consistently enrapturing.
Available on Anime Strike
2. Your Name
Your Name is a tale of star-crossed lovers. Yet it isn’t a jealous third party or feuding families who get in the way of co-protagonists Taku and Mitsuha. They must deal with and overcome the cruelest of external forces: time and nature. Of the few objects and actions that hold their fragile connection, it is the sharing of a red ribbon that is the most symbolic, a reference to the red thread of fate from Chinese legend.
The red thread of fate is only one part of a host of Your Name‘s plot devices and themes. Its fresh take on body swaps gracefully intertwines with philosophical nods to dreams. It also deals with the often tragic nature of individuals who don’t live in parallel timelines. You can name dozens of entertainment works that share one or some of these themes, but you’d be hard pressed to find another film that blends these storytelling components as seamlessly as Your Name.
While tying all these elements together, director Makoto Shinkai remains faithful to his unconventional directorial roots back when he was a one-man anime studio over a decade ago. His background art team’s depiction of Tokyo isn’t unusual, but the volume of scenes and level of detail are. Equally impressive are the extreme, sometimes off-kilter close-ups like Taki’s pencils as he’s in mid-sketch and Mitsuha’s ceremonial fabric weaving. Even Your Name’s opening credits has the editing and energy of a season-long TV show and this atypical presentation is reprised a couple times as the film progresses. How all these moments feel thoughtful and deliberate without giving in to gimmickry are some of the reasons why Your Name is Shinkai’s magnum opus and a must-watch for any film enthusiast, anime or otherwise.
Available on Funimation
1. My Hero Academia Season 2
It’s easy to lose sight of what makes the Shōnen genre special. Whether it’s Naruto, One Piece or Dragon Ball, each starts in earnest, but over hundreds of episodes the core virtues of its story and the characters within it fade. My Hero Academia, however, is a series that renews and enshrines these values. It understands that, while flashy action will dazzle viewers, a moment of sincere emotion has lasting impact.
Season 2 of My Hero Academia doubled down on these. While there’s dozens of small, heartfelt moments that stick out, one particular scene between main character Midoriya, an idealistic fanboy on the path to becoming the world’s greatest superhero, and his classmate Todoroki, a genius that forsakes his true potential to stop himself becoming the abusive and fame-hungry hero his father is, sums up what makes My Hero Academia memorable.
Their clash takes place under the auspices of a sports tournament, but for Midoriya it’s an opportunity to help his friend through the mental anguishes holding him back. The battle is a beautifully animated explosion of raw strength, but underpinning each supercharged blow, wall of ice, and maelstrom of flame there’s a desperate struggle for clarity. Midoriya, imbued with the power of All Might, the Superman of My Hero Academia‘s universe, uses his moment in the spotlight to pull his friend out of the darkness clouding him. It’s a poignant scene that makes your heart ache with emotion.
My Hero Academia is about a new generation of superheroes coming of age, and with a dangerous threat rising just as the power of All Might diminishes, the stakes are incredibly high. But the series never lets what matters slip away. The hopefulness of its Quirky and youthful heroes always shines through, and the bonds they build with each other are key to making My Hero Academia uplifting and joyful to watch.
Available on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu