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Deku punching a rock, MHA S3 opening. Image: Bones

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The best anime of 2018

From slice-of-life to action and romance, there’s a title for everyone

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Each season, hundreds of new anime series are released en masse. Wading through them is exhausting, and realizing that you missed a hit in the making is frustrating (trust me, I’ve been there). As we near the end of the summer anime season, there are plenty of series to choose from and more than enough to get lost in.

Whether you’re looking for long-running series like My Hero Academia, pure goofs from series like Pop Team Epic or a quick binge from Netflix’s growing, original anime selection, 2018 has something to love. We’ve compiled our list of the best anime of the year (so far!) from the concluded Winter, Spring and Summer seasons. We’ll update with more as the year rolls on, so check back soon.

Now let’s talk about anime.

Winter 2018

Mari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki holding hands in the opening sequence of A Place Further Than the Universe. Kadokawa Pictures

A Place Further Than the Universe (Jan. 2)

A Place Further Than the Universe is a simple coming-of-age story about four teenage girls together on a boat ... to Antarctica. High school student Mari Tamaki wants to take advantage of her youth, but can’t even bring herself to skip school. Shirase Kobuchizawa, who has been saving up to travel to Antarctica to find her long-lost mother, presents Mari with the perfect opportunity to leave home in search of adventure. They are joined on the journey by Hinata Miyake, a high school dropout looking to do something special before her college entrance exam, and Yuzuki Shiraishi, a child actress posting vlogs of the trip.

A Place Further Than the Universe is about the journey to Antarctica rather than the wonders of the destination. At its core, it’s a story about the adolescent friendship between the four girls. Noted for it’s genuine heart and gorgeous animation style, A Place Further Than the Universe is one of the most compelling anime of 2018 thus far.

All 13 episodes of A Place Further Than the Universe are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — Palmer Haasch

Furyu

Laid-Back Camp (Jan. 4)

This cozy, slice-of-life anime follows airhead Nadeshiko as she moves to a new school and discovers her love of camping. Along with a couple of new friends, she figures out how to enjoy her time outside in the best possible way. This show made me, somebody who hates the outdoors, genuinely want to go spend a lazy day outside camping. Along with the pastoral adventures, Laid-Back Camp also offers actual camping tips — you learn while you watch! The soft and cute vibes are a great way to de-stress from a long day.

All 12 episodes of Laid-Back Camp are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — Julia Lee

devilman crybaby art Netflix

Devilman Crybaby (Jan. 5)

Devilman Crybaby was immediately set apart from other Netflix anime offerings by its unique animation style and frank depictions of violence, sex and demonic activity. The series, original to the streaming platform, focuses on Akira and Ryo, two childhood friends that become aware of an impending demon apocalypse through. Unfortunately for Akira, Ryo believes that the only way to fight the demons (the external, not inner ones) is for him to fuse with a demon and become a hybrid Devilman. Between its eye-catching animation style, surrealism and director Masaaki Yuasa’s true dedication to youth, Devilman Crybaby is one of Netflix’s anime masterpieces.

All 10 episodes of Devilman Crybaby are available in English and Japanese with English subtitles in addition to dubbed voices and subtitles in several other languages. — PH

Funimation

Pop Team Epic (Jan. 6)

Pop Team Epic is regarded by many as a “shitpost disguised as anime.” With its quirky and bizarre humor and ever-changing voice acting cast, I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily false. The anime is a bunch of shorts mashed together following the antics of the violent Popuko and the protective Pipimi. They’re best friends that get involved in an assortment of weird antics, from taking down the yakuza to flying around with a real life voice actor in front of a green screen. Each episode is split into two parts: one with Popuko and Pipmi voiced by women and one with duo voiced by men. Each part has the same jokes with very minor differences, but it’s worth it to watch both. The voice actors in each episode are all in many other series, too, so it’s fun to guess who is who.

All 12 episodes of Pop Team Epic are available on Crunchyroll and Amazon Prime in Japanese with English subtitles and on Funimation with dubbed English voices. — JL

Kyoto Animation/Netflix

Violet Evergarden (Jan. 11)

The highly acclaimed Kyoto Animation brings the Netflix exclusive Violet Evergarden to life with the beautiful scenes you’d expect from the studio. The main character, who shares her name with the series, is a young girl previously used as a killing machine by the military during a war. After losing both of her arms and having them replaced with metal prosthetics, she has to learn how to integrate back into society as an Auto-Memory Doll, which is essentially a trained ghostwriter for books and letters. It’s sweet and satisfying to watch Violet grow and learn about the complexity of human emotions, a journey complemented by gorgeous animation.

All 13 episodes of Violet Evergarden are available on Netflix in English and Japanese with English subtitles in addition to dubbed voices and subtitles in several other languages. — JL

Spring 2018

Toho Animation

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (April 2)

OK, seriously, hear me out here — Uma Musume: Pretty Derby is about horse girls, but they are good horse girls. The story follows horse girl Special Week and her journey to be the #1 horse girl in Japan. All of these horse girls attend a special school and also train to race in a derby. Special Week catches a race on her way in and notices Silence Shizuka, another racer who can’t be beat by anyone. The two quickly become friends and rivals. This show feels just like a sports anime, but with cute horse girls. While I expected bizarre “moe” fanservice from Uma Musume, it was actually surprisingly wholesome and fun. All the girls are also named after real race horses, so that’s also hilarious.

All 13 episodes of Uma Musume: Pretty Derby are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — JL

A teenager taking a selfie with Lupin III and his friends at the airport. All surprised. TMS Entertainment

Lupin III: Part V (April 3)

Master criminal Arsène Lupin III has stood the test of time. First appearing in Monkey Punch’s (Kazuhiko Katō) Lupin III manga in 1967, the a gentleman thief and the plausible grandson of French novelist Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin character has successfully pulled off heist after successful heist. His turn in 2018 is no exception.

Part V situates Lupin III’s most familiar characters — Lupin III, marksman Daisuke Jigen, samurai Goemon Ishikawa III and Lupin III’s on-and-off girlfriend Fujiko Mine — within the modern day. With a new arsenal of technologies at his disposal, Lupin III’s adventure take on a distinctly digital turn; in the series’ first arc, Lupin III relieves a dark web mastermind of massive heaps of cryptocurrency and becomes the target of a meme campaign intended to limit his ability to move about the world without a trace. The entire season focuses in particular on technology and the ways in which it impacts Lupin III’s work, but ultimately Part V proves that even after 50 years, heists are still cool.

All 24 episodes of Lupin III: Part V are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English Subtitles. — PH

Kadokawa Pictures

Hinamatsuri (April 6)

Hinamatsuri is a bizarre supernatural comedy about Nitta, a mid-level yakuza man whose world is interrupted when a capsule containing a young girl crashes through his ceiling. The girl, Hina, is a powerful psychic, and Nitta eventually decides to take her in and adopt her as his surrogate daughter. The series primarily focuses on Nitta and Hina, with a revolving cast of side characters — including Anzu, a less powerful psychic girl; and Hitomi, a normal middle school student who ends up working as a bartender.

Hinamatsuri’s capacity to balance humor with a theme of found family and real, grounded emotion is what makes it stand out. The psychic powers, at a certain point, become side content — until you remember that Hina goes out of control if she doesn’t regularly use them. At its core, however, the show’s sense of comedy and consequence are what make it one of the best anime of 2018.

All 12 episodes of Hinamatsuri are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — PH

Joe carrying a bag on his shoulder and smiling. TMS Entertainment

Megalo Box (April 6)

Megalo Box is a show about Megalo Boxing, a fictional sport in which competitors go head to head in the ring with not just their fists but also augmenting technology that enhances their speed and strength. Junk Dog is scouted from an underground ring by Yuri, the current Megalo Box champion. In order to challenge Yuri in the champion’s ring, Junk Dog enters Megalonia, a worldwide Megalo Box tournament, under the name Joe, and works to fight his way to the top.

The show, a 50th anniversary celebration of the 1968 manga Ashita no Joe, harkens back to classic anime like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop with a deliberate, low-resolution animation style straight out of the ‘90s. The retro aesthetic of the show makes it stand out in a world of glossy high-definition anime, while Joe’s underdog struggle and the innovative, gritty world of Megalo Boxing make Megalo Box a spring breakout.

All 13 episodes of Megalo Box are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — PH

Deku after using his special move Bones/Funimation

My Hero Academia season three (April 7)

My Hero Academia’s third season was split into two cours (note: a cour is 10 to 14 episodes of an anime that air during one season) airing in both the spring and the summer season. The series, which has been airing since 2016, takes place in an alternative universe in which 80% of the population has “quirks” — essentially, superpowers — and being a hero is a real, paid occupation. Izuku Midoriya aspires to become a hero, but was quirkless until he was gifted with an all-powerful quirk. The show balances school life at Japan’s most prestigious hero high school with attacks by real, grown-up villains.

The third season, which began airing this Spring, brings forth some of the most harrowing challenges class 1-A has faced thus far, and it highlights what My Hero Academia does best — balancing the fact that this is technically a show about teenagers going to high school with the fact that they’re in peril on a regular basis. This season has some of the best villains, fight sequences and action of the entire series, and My Hero Academia season 3 still stands out both within the Spring and Summer seasons as a must-see.

Episodes one through 55 of My Hero Academia are available with English subtitles on Crunchyroll and Hulu, and new episodes are released weekly on both platforms. There are currently nine episodes remaining in season three. Seasons one and two are available on Hulu with English dubbed voices. — PH

Llenn aiming her rifle at an enemy in GGO. Aniplex of America

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online (April 8)

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online (SAO: GGO) is a spinoff series of Sword Art Online (SAO). Both series are set in a world in which virtual reality technology has progressed to the extent that individuals can fully immerse themselves in their favorite games; most often, massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs). SAO: GGO takes place in the same MMORPG — unsurprisingly, Gun Gale Online — as the third arc of SAO.

The similarities basically end there. Classic SAO characters like Kirito and Asuna are foregone in favor of protagonist Karen Kohiruimaki, a college student fixated on her abnormal height. However, in-game she’s the tiny, adorable and incredibly quick Llenn, living out her desire to be shorter while moving up in the PUBG-like world of Gun Gale Online. SAO: GGO explores the escapist implications of the universe’s advanced VR technology that SAO neglected in favor of perilous narratives.

All 12 episodes of Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — PH

A-1 Pictures/Amazon Video

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (April 13)

If you wanted to ever watch a more relatable romance anime, this show is for you. Wotakoi focuses on four friends who work standard office jobs and are also “otaku” (hardcore fans of anime and games). The anime is filled with heartwarming scenes and moments that are so relatable, I wasn’t sure if I should cry or laugh. Seeing the two main characters, Narumi and Hirotaka, clash on tastes and deal with the struggles of dating is enjoyable as the conflicts in this show don’t last for more than an episode, unlike other romance anime.

All 11 episodes of Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku are available on Amazon Prime in Japanese with English subtitles. — JL

retsuko in her office aggretsuko Sanrio/Netflix

Aggretsuko (April 20)

One of Netflix’s numerous original anime offerings, Aggretsuko made a splash simply because it was so ... well, relatable. Running contradictory to her adorable appearance, the generally submissive Retsuko lets at her frustrations about her dead-end job, misogynistic boss and love life every night through Death Metal karaoke songs.

Retsuko’s rage isn’t just a gimmick. Throughout the series, she navigates loneliness, misogyny and being single less than gracefully, but everything she experiences and expresses is genuine. Aggretsuko handles day-to-day tragedy and triumph in a way that’s familiar to all of us — well, maybe we don’t all find ourselves at the business end of a karaoke mic and the end of a stressful day, but I am certain that we all don’t deal with stressors perfectly. That’s what makes Aggretsuko one of the best anime of 2018 — it dwells in imperfection. Also, it’s funny and adorable as all get out.

Netflix has renewed the series for a second season to be released in 2019, and you can watch all 10 episodes of season one on Netflix now in both English and Japanese with English subtitles in addition to dubbed voices and subtitles in various other languages. — PH

Summer 2018

Nagisa mid-strike. Toho Animation

Hanebado! (July 2)

One of this summer’s most exciting anime, Hanebado! digs into a lesser known sport: badminton. The story revolves around two girls, Ayano Hanasaki, a first-year student and badminton prodigy who has no desire to play, and Nagisa Aragaki, a third-year aiming to become the best player in Japan. Not only does Hanebado! make badminton look really, really cool, it does so with a nearly all-female cast in a largely male-dominated genre.

This isn’t to say that female-focused sports anime haven’t existed before. Shows like Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl timed to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where women could compete in judo at the Olympic level and earn a medal for the first time — have been depicting strong women in sports for years. However, Hanebado! feels cut from the same cloth as sports anime giants like Haikyuu!!. Between fluid animation, genuine passion for sport and a cast of characters that narratively can hold their own, Hanebado! is shaping up to become a standout in the genre.

Hanebado is part of Crunchyroll’s summer simulcast series and new episodes are released on Sundays at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. PT. All episodes are in Japanese with English subtitles, and you can currently watch episodes one through six. There will be 13 episodes in this current season. — PH

Ash Lynx looking unamused in episode 1 of Banana Fish. Amazon

Banana Fish (July 6)

Based off of the 1980s shōjo manga series written by Akimi Yoshida, Banana Fish is set on the streets of modern New York City. Ash Lynx is a 17-year-old New York City gang leader picked off the streets as child and groomed as both a mob successor and sex worker. After being given a mysterious drug and an address by a dying man on the street, Ash attempts to get to the root of the eponymous “Banana Fish,” the name of the drug and the only words his now-unresponsive older brother utters after being drugged and killing his unit while serving in Iraq. Along the way, Ash encounters Eiji, a nineteen-year-old photographer from Japan investigating gang activity in NYC.

While the anime adaption draws its basic premise and setting from the manga, the two take place in different cultural eras: the original manga takes place after the Vietnam War while the anime takes place in the modern day. Banana Fish serves up harrowing action, an intriguing premise and excellent writing, and is shaping up to be a standout of the summer season.

Banana Fish is currently being released weekly on Amazon Prime as it airs in Japan. Currently, episodes one through five available for streaming in Japanese with English subtitles. New episodes are released shortly after they air in Japan and are typically available on Thursdays. The current season will contain 13 episodes. — PH

Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell standing together. Aniplex

Cells at Work (July 8)

It only took Cells at Work three episodes to cement itself as my favorite comedy of the summer. This goofy, could-be-too-educational anime that seems like a spoof of Osmosis Jones is hilarious while somehow staying pretty scientifically accurate. Unlike Osmosis Jones, the human body of Cells at Work isn’t full of conniving politicians and nightclubs — it’s an idyllic society where personified cells fight off anime villain-esque pathogens and platelets are adorable children.

Cells at Work is successful because of its ability to balance education and humor. Fusing bodily processes with classic anime tropes opens the door to hilarious situations — there are ridiculous amounts of blood every time a white blood cell kills a pathogen, and in one episode a whiny, naive T cell gets so emotionally fired up that he finally activates. Situations like these are what have made Cells at Work my favorite summer anime.

Cells at Work is a part of Crunchyroll’s Summer Simulcast series, and new episodes are uploaded on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. PT/12:30 p.m. ET. Currently, episodes one through five are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. The current season will contain 13 episodes. — PH

J.C. Staff

Planet With (July 8)

Planet With is a series that tries to include everything at once — cats, alien powers, mechs, you name it — and succeeds. The series focuses on Sōya Kuroi, a high school student with amnesia who was taken in by Sensei, an otherworldly, cat-like creature, and Ginko, a maid who assists Sensei. After a UFO arrives in Japan, a set of humans transform into weapons using stardust and swiftly defeat it. Sensei and Ginko call on Sōya to fight, but his mission isn’t to defeat the UFO — rather, he’s called to defeat the humans. At the first episode, some of his memories return, and he learns that the power the humans possess is similar to the one that destroyed his homeworld.

With a robust cast of ensemble characters and a bizarre enough premise that’s enough to draw you in from the get-go, Planet With handles alliances, nebulous factions, and a variety of characters with ease in its 12-episode first season. While it flew relatively under the radar during the summer season, it’s an easy, high-action and high-emotion standout.

All 12 episodes of Planet With are available on Crunchyroll with English subtitles. — PH

Lerche

Asobi Asobase (July 8)

Asobi Asobase is a show about pastimes — more specifically, about a middle school club with the ambiguous goal of exploring different pastimes. The club members are an unlikely trio: there’s Olivia, a student with foreign parents who was raised in Japan but pretends to be an American exchange student; Hanako, a wealthy girl with a drive to become popular; and Kasumi, who looks bookish but is radically failing English.

Tracking the girls’ club activities, the series loosely connects shorts (three to four per episode) ranging from a kiddie pool party to a Pokémon Go spoof. Short, sweet and genuinely funny, Asobi Asobase is a comedy about friendship that’s full of good goofs and laughs.

All 12 episodes of Asobi Asobase are available on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles. — PH

Kinema Citrus

Revue Starlight (July 14)

Two parts theater and one part magical girl, Revue Starlight is about a group of girls vying to become performance stars. Karen, a student at the elite Seisho Music Academy, is surprised when her childhood friend Hikari returns from 12 years of theatrical study in London. As the girls’ class prepares to put on Starlight, their end of the year production, a secret audition competition takes place beneath the school. The girls must sing, dance and fight to become the “Top Star” and have the ability to stand on whichever stage they choose.

Revue Starlight blurs the lines between reality and dream, relying on interpersonal relationships to drive its narrative. While it can feel like a little much at times — the secret auditions are run by a mysterious, talking giraffe, which, what — there’s plenty of passion, friendship and drama (double entendre) to keep the story together.

All 12 episodes Revue Starlight are available on HiDive in Japanese with English, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles. Episodes one through nine are available in English dub, and the remaining episodes will be available in English by the end of October. — PH

That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime 8Bit

That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime (Oct. 2)

While this show may have a terrible — but extremely accurate — name, the concept is thrilling. Slime falls squarely into the isekai, or “another world,” genre of anime where a person from our normal world somehow ends up in a strange, usually fantastical land often with magical abilities or powers.

The show centers on a 37 year-old man who is killed in a random stabbing. Thanks to a few odd requests as he dies he gets … yep, reincarnated as a slime in fantasy world where he suddenly has magical power. The most interesting of these powers let’s him absorb things in the world and gain new abilities, which gives the show the perfect excuse to constantly introduce us to new things in its incredibly detailed fantasy world. While this could quickly grow tiresome, the show’s incredible visual flair that often includes inverting color pallets and impressively animated quick movements ends up creating a few much needed breaks in the otherwise cute but simple style of the show. While That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime may be the year’s worst named show it’s also one of the most pleasant to watch and easy to enjoy. — Austen Goslin

Zombieland Saga MAPPA

Zombieland Saga (Oct. 4)

I know I keep recommending idol anime on this list, but ... I’m not really that sorry. Plus Zombieland Saga isn’t your typical idol anime; the show features seven girls who died during different time periods in Japan, who are now — you guessed it — zombie idols. They’re reanimated by a man named Kotaro Tatsumi with one goal in mind: To bring back life to the Saga prefecture in Japan.

The group, Franchouchou, goes through each episode remembering who they were before they died. While some episodes might make you sob like a baby, the usual zombie-humor of heads falling off and rolling around balances the tone. Each of the show’s characters are incredible and easy to love in their own ways, the music is good and the animation is bright and refreshing (outside of some of the weird CGI dance sequences). Zombieland Saga is the idol anime that anyone could get into. — JL

Rascal Doesn’t Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai CloverWorks

Rascal Doesn’t Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Oct. 4)

The struggle of growing up is one of the most well-covered topics in anime, but it’s also an issue that never gets old. Bunny Girl doesn’t reinvent the genre, but its connections to the series that have come before it allows it to tread new ground.

The show follows a boy named Sakuta who, at the library, happens upon a famous actress dressed in a bunny costume. As it turns out, she is slowly turning invisible due to “adolescence syndrome,” and Sakuta is the only one that can see her. In the world of the show, as kids grow up and become adults they can sometimes start to fade from existence as the stresses and pressure of everyday life literally push them out of being.

It’s an interesting take on the struggles of growing up, but the real draw of the show is the characters’ interactions with each other. Rather than philosophical conversations about what it means to grow up, Bunny Girl takes a more intimate approach, showing the ways that small jokes and seemingly meaningless conversations help build relationships that shape people. — AG

Bloom Into You TROYCA

Bloom Into You (Oct. 5)

A bulk of the anime shows that focus on young love between two girls aren’t written with nuance — most settle for thin fanservice or endings where the girls straight-up don’t even end up together. Bloom Into You breaks this mold by providing a sweet and relatable story.

The main characters, Yuu Koito and Touko Nanami, are opposites, but share the fact that when boys confess to them, they never feel anything. Yuu, who loves shojo manga, expects her heart to race, her face to flush and for all the feelings to flood in. Not knowing how to respond to the confession, she asks student council president Touko Nanami for advice. When she realizes that they both don’t feel anything from confessions, the pair begin to build their relationship. — JL

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind David Production

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind (Oct. 6)

There really isn’t another show quite like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. From the series anthology format, telling the story of a new member of the Joestar family each season, to the strange art that meshes together violent lines and western style, almost everything about the series sets itself apart. But at its heart this season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, subtitled Golden Wind, is something a little more familiar: a crime story.

This latest season, which is the fourth of the show so far, follows Giorno Giovanna, who only barely fits into the Joestar line as the son of the series’ original villain Dio Brando. Giovani wants nothing more than to become a Gang-Star, but to do that he must slowly work his way up from the bottom of the mob.

The plus side of JoJo’s anthology format is that you can pick up the series during any one of its seasons and still have a pretty good time, even if you’ll likely be fairly lost on a few plot points. So, if you haven’t caught anything up until now, you can jump in, enjoy the story and go back to the first few seasons later. The show’s thoroughly strange and beautiful artwork combined with each characters’ Stand abilities — which perfectly walk the the line between incredible and nonsense — make Golden Wind one of this year’s most fun shows. — AG

Crunchyroll/DLE

Skull Face Bookseller Honda-San (Oct. 8)

Honda-san is a delight. The show, which is based off of the original webcomic artist’s life experiences, is about a skeleton who works at the manga section of a bookstore. We follow his day-to-day and see the various things bookstore employees have to deal with during a day of work. From foreign customers who are only interested in erotic boys’ love comics to publishing companies trying to put down too many decorations to promote their new releases, Honda juggles drama at the bookstore. It’s all relatable to anyone who has worked retail, even if you didn’t necessarily work in manga. Each episode is only about 11 minutes long, including the opening and ending, so if you need something bite-sized to improve your day, this is the show to watch. — JL