clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The best anime of 2021, so far

12 superb anime you should catch up on over the summer

Graphic grid featuring six different images from Anime series Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The summer anime season is in full swing, with exciting new shows like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S and One-Punch Man director Shingo Natsume’s new original series Sonny Boy. With the absolute deluge of awesome and exciting new anime pouring out this year, it’s reasonable that some of the year’s best might have slipped off your radar. To that end, we here at Polygon HQ put our heads together to create a list of some of the best anime to come out this year so far.

From major titles like My Hero Academia and Megalobox 2 Nomad to more niche titles like Odd Taxi, Uma Musume: Pretty Derby, and Pui Pui MolCar, here are 12 of the best anime series to air so far in 2021. Time to play catch up.

Beastars (Season 2)

Haru the dwarf rabbit holds Legoshi the gray wolf’s face in Beastars Season 2. Image: Orange

Beastars tells the story of a wolf who wants to have sex with a rabbit, but worries he will devour said rabbit. I think it’s a metaphor for puberty. Though it could be a cringey, misguided exploration of race. Maybe it’s holding a magnifying glass to sexual violence on campus. Or perhaps it’s a coming of age story about a generation of young people disconnected from their parents by rapidly changing norms. Frankly, I’ve stopped caring about what it’s about.

I know this is gauche amongst critics, but for me, Beastars works when I quit trying to make a one-to-one connection between our world and its city of horny teenage carnivores and herbivores. I enjoy the show best when I take its internal logic on its own terms. In that way, Beastars is like Romeo and Juliet. A sexy, violent, and often frustrating tale of star-crossed lovers kept apart by society. And like the works of Shakespeare, Beastars can be contorted into whatever else you want it to be. —Chris Plante

Beastars season 1 and 2 are available to stream on Netflix.

Fruits Basket: The Final

tohru standing with yuki and kyo against a setting sun in Fruits Basket Image: TMS/8PAN/Funimation

Fruits Basket lures viewers in with the promise of a cute story about a family that turns into animals when they’re hugged, then absolutely disarms with boatloads of generational trauma. In the last season, all of this starts to culminate, as plucky orphan Tohru Honda tries to break the curse binding the Sohma family to domineering family head Akito. But because this is Fruits Basket, everyone has their own share of trauma, Akito included. The emotional final season of Fruits Basket reveals that all is not what it seems when it comes to Akito. When the big moment happens, it’s a sweeping emotional catharsis for everyone. Have tissues on hand. —Petrana Radulovic

Fruits Basket: The Final is available to stream on Crunchyroll and Funimation.


Horimiya, a show whose namesake comes from combining the names of its two central love interests, Kyouko Hori and Izumi Miyamura, is about as darling as you’d expect a show named after its two lovers to be.

The show follows Hori, a responsible big sister and confident student with friends, and her budding romance with Miyamura, a shy and quiet loner with a secret edgy look outside of highschool. (We learn he has tattoos and piercings!) In other shojo, it’s not uncommon for a story to take entire seasons for the love interests to hold hands, and might not even show a kiss. In Horimiya, we see them fall for each other in a matter of episodes. This pace allows the debut season of the show to quickly move away from showing just Hori and Miyamura’s relationship, and gives us space to learn about all the other people in their life. Overtime, we see the once lonely Miyamura develop a loving and supportive community around him.

Horimiya doesn’t do anything remarkable or groundbreaking; It’s just really pleasant to watch. The characters shy away from intense conflict, and embrace idyllic friendships that overcome conflict without a whole lot of development. Sure, there isn’t some sort of big, satisfying resolution like there is in a show like Fruits Basket, but you are also spared the tears. What’s more is that you really don’t have to sink all that much time into, with a complete story starting and coming to a close after just one season. Fun and light, Horimiya was just a rephrasing summer snack of a watch for me. —Ana Diaz

Horimiya is available to stream on Hulu and Funimation.

Jujutsu Kaisen

Yuji Itadori and Aoi Todo fighting together in Jujutsu Kaisen Image: MAPPA

Jujutsu Kaisen was the breakout anime success of 2020 and continued strong in 2021. The story follows the young Yuji Itadori, a good-hearted school boy who one day eats an actual finger, which served as a vessel for a powerful demon called Sukuna. After consuming the finger, Itadori gets taken in by the questionable, but powerful mentor Gojo Satoru, who assembles a Naruto-like cast of three central characters who work together to defeat the monsters known as curses in their world.

Jujutsu Kaisen is a show that plays with the tropes of shonen anime. Whereas other shows like it tend to focus on super-human protagonists who magically power up just when the going gets rough, Jujutsu Kaisen starts with Itadori’s own weakness and him begging for the demon inside to save him.

The show starts off a bit slow, but pays off to those who spend just a little more time with it. The characters — and its women especially — are presented with care, and the three main characters develop an endearing dynamic reminiscent of siblings who like to pick on each other. Sticking around will show some of Studio Mappa’s finest work, as later fight sequences are some of the best animation to come from the studio yet. Basically, Jujutsu Kaisen is the perfect show for long-time shonen fans who are looking for something that isn’t afraid to venture off the well-trodden paths of its predecessors and conjure up something a little bit darker, a bit stranger. —AD

Jujutsu Kaisen is available to stream on Crunchyroll and HBO Max.

Laid-back Camp (Season 2)

Photo: C-Station

Possibly dubbed the most comfy anime in the last decade, Laid-back Camp’s second season delivers as a perfect follow up to its first. Rin still loves camping by herself, but she slowly continues to open up to her new gang of friends at her school’s camping club.

It’s still a very good, comfy slice-of-life anime about girls going camping. It sticks to its roots as a semi-educational show, and this season gives fun looks into some cool areas of Japan. —Julia Lee

Laid-back Camp season 2 is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

Megalobox 2: Nomad

Gearless Joe preparing to enter a match in Megalobox 2 Nomad. Photo: TMS Entertainment

The second season of Megalobox is a far darker, somber, and more melancholic underdog story than the devil may care attitude of the first season. Set several years after his victory at Megalonia, the champion fighter known as “Gearless”Joe is a far cry from when we last saw him; addicted to painkillers, fighting anonymous cage bouts for chump change and,most distressingly, alone. Nomad is a worthy successor to the tremendous action and character-driven drama of the first season; a rousing story of a champion’s precipitous fall from grace and subsequent revival into a fighter far stronger and more determined than ever before. —Toussaint Egan

Megalobox 2: Nomad is available to stream on Funimation.

My Hero Academia (Season 5)

Image: Studio Bones

Studio Bones’ breakout superhero action drama returned for its fifth season as the students of UA High school were thrust into ever more precarious danger with greater stakes. My Hero Academia season 5 deals heavily in Endeavor’s recovery following his confrontation with the super-powered Nomu at the end of last season, the hero Hawks working undercover to take down the League of Villains from the inside, and Deku manifesting a new aspect of his quirk One for All as he delves deeper into the history of his predecessors and their connection to the villainous All for One. —TE

My Hero Academia season 5 is available to stream on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Funimation.

Odd Taxi

Photo: OLM

Odd Taxi is, well, odd. A slice-of-life mystery drama centered on Odokawa, a 40-something year old taxi driver who also happens to be a walrus in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, who may or may not be implicated in the disappearance of a missing girl. Despite how dire that initial premise may sound, the anime as a whole is an expert blend of black comedy and irreverent banter; a series whose focus rotates through a cast of eccentric, offbeat, and above all achingly human characters whose lives intersect Odokawa’s own in search of their heart’s desire, whether it be the semblance of true love or just trying to go viral on social media. Odd Taxi is a series you must absolutely make the time to watch and a strong contender for 2021’s most unique and underrated anime. —TE

Odd Taxi is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

Pui Pui MolCar

Pui Pui MolCar’s fluffy animals Photo: Shin-Ei Animation

Pui Pui Molcar is one of the weirdest and funniest comedy anime to come out in 2021. A stop-motion anime short series set in a metropolis populated by gigantic, fuzzy guinea pigs with wheels for feet, the show consists of a series of skits following the Molcars on various misadventures. From traffic jams to impromptu bank heists, rescuing cats or escaping a zombie apocalypse, Pui Pui Molcar is bursting with as much creativity as it is genuine laughs. With each episode running at just under or around eight minutes, it’s a perfectly snack-sized, low commitment anime that might make for a decent change of pace if you’re looking for something fun to watch or if you’re tired of your kid constantly watching Cocomelon. —TE

Pui Pui Molcar is available to stream on Netflix.

Sk8 The Infinity

Langa and Reki fist bumping in SK8 Image: Studio Bones

The hard-working skateboarder Reki loves the S races — secret skateboarding races that take place at night. These races are filled with danger, and some of the most iconic underground skateboarders settle their beef (yes, that’s the term the anime uses) in S. Canadian transfer student Langa is more into snowboarding, but with the help of Reki, he starts skating and participating in S. Conflict arises as the creator of S is more devilish than he seems, and Langa begins to outperform Reki.

Sk8 is special because its characters make it special. With its large cast of great characters (Cherry stans, unite!) and interesting backstories, it’s the perfect short sports anime to satisfy any itch you may have in 12 episodes. —JL

SK8 the Infinity is available to stream on Funimation.

SSSS. Dynazenon

SSSS. Dynazenon robot bursting out of the ground Photo: Studio Trigger

SSSS.Gridman was one of 2018’s most exciting premieres, reviving one of Tsuburaya Productions’ neglected franchises into a brilliant animated love letter to all things tokusatsu. SSSS.Dynazenon is a brilliant continuation of the original series, shifting focus to another intrepid team of young heroes led by a mysterious man named Gauma who must band together to fight an onslaught of devastating kaiju through the combined might of the transforming mecha known as Dynazenon. The series’ explicit connections to the Gridman universe are loose but tantalizing, opening up a slew of exciting possibilities for shared adventures in future while establishing its own tone and stakes apart from its predecessor.

SSSS.Dynazenon ranks as one of the best anime that Trigger has produced to date; a rolicking action mecha series with explosive battles, beautiful animation, and richly developed characters. —TE

SSSS.Dynazenon is available to stream on Funimation.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (Season 2)

Special Week and Silence Suzuka in Uma Musume: Pretty Derby Photo: P.A.Works

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby’s second season puts a heart-racing anime twist on the real story of the Japanese racehorse, Tokai Teio. She’s a hard working horse girl who wants to be as fast as her mentor, Symboli Rudolf. Teio is a shoe-in for winning the triple crown, but an unexpected injury trips her up, making things hard for her.

With added drama and a smattering of very well-known voice actresses, Uma Musume’s creators manage to pull off an interesting feat: they really make you really care about the horses. I learned so much about real life Japanese racehorses watching this, and some of the episodes had me bawling while I cheered on Teio. They got me good. —JL

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby season 2 is available to stream on Crunchyroll.