2021 was a banner year for anime, featuring the long-awaited return of regular favorites such as Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and My Hero Academia alongside exciting new original anime like Odd Taxi, The Heike Story, Sonny Boy, and SK8 the Infinity. 2022 is shaping up to be much of the same, with popular series such as Mob Psycho 100, Vinland Saga, The Devil is a Part-Timer, and even Bleach slated to make their return later this year. And all signs point to the highly anticipated debuts of Chainsaw Man and Uzumaki!
There’s a wealth to choose from and not nearly enough time in the day to watch it all, which is why we’ll be updating our list of the best anime airing in 2022 throughout the year as the seasons progress. Take a look at the best anime the year has to offer so far, and be sure to check back in when we update our list later this summer! For clarity and convenience, this year’s list is ordered by premiere date.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc
After the frankly devastating Mugen Train Arc, Demon Slayer returns with heightened stakes. The Entertainment District Arc sees young hero Tanjiro and his friends Inosuke and Zenitsu following flashy Uzui, the Sound Hishara, as he goes undercover in the Entertainment District to sniff out a demon hiding in the midst. This arc starts out with more subterfuge than the typical Demon Slayer episode, as Tanjiro and his friends disguise themselves as courtesans and try to figure out where the powerful demon is hiding. The final battle takes up most of the arc, a devastating fight between the Demon Slayers and not one but two powerful demons. It’s all gorgeously animated, with twists upon twists and, most heartachingly, a brother-sister parallel between Tanjiro and Nezuko and the two demons. —Petrana Radulovic
Ranking of Kings
Ranking of Kings is a fantasy series where monarchs are measured by their deeds, and more importantly, their strength. Enter Bojji, a tiny, warm-hearted boy who is next in line to take the throne from his ailing father, who is king. Bojji isn’t physically strong and struggles to speak, thus leading him to communicate primarily through sign language. However, where his characteristics might lack in comparison to more traditional leaders, he makes up for it in heart. In the first episode, he literally takes the shirt off his back for someone in need.
Bojji is one of the most moving and compelling anime protagonists I’ve seen on screen. Ranking of Kings charges even the most banal of moments with the highest stakes; it makes a non-lethal spar between Bojji and his half brother somehow feel more important than a fight between gods. He makes for the perfect protagonist as his tiny stature and sense of awe make a sweeping fantasy land populated with golems, wizards, and giants feel all the more grand. That being said, Bojji is far from being the only character who stands out. Alongside him is his companion, Kage, who is the sole survivor of a once-persecuted clan, as well as his half brother Daida, who struggles to find a way to power that feels true to him.
Ranking of Kings works because I would die for Bojji. However, this series is more than an underdog story. Based on the manga written and illustrated by Sosuke Toka, the anime nails all the fixings of a great fantasy series: intriguing creatures, mystical and dark magic, palace intrigue, and an adventure that takes a little lad to the depths of hell. It’s an incredible series so far, and one that I can’t recommend enough. —Ana Diaz
My Dress-Up Darling
High school students Wakana Gojo and Marin Kitagawa both have uncommon hobbies: Gojo likes to make hina dolls (traditional Japanese dolls), and Marin is largely into anime and gaming, with an affinity for cosplay. Marin, a bubbly girl who dresses in gyaru fashion, asks Gojo to use his crafty skills to help make her cosplay and from there, a fantastic duo is born. Marin’s bubbly and kind personality mixed with Gojo’s reserved-but-determined mindset makes for an interesting relationship that breaks free of the usual setup of a gyaru girl with a quiet boy (in which the gyaru girl simply teases the boy relentlessly while hiding her own feelings for him). Marin obviously cares for Gojo and isn’t doing anything to purposely hurt him or stress him out, even if he ends up getting embarrassed while taking her measurements. My Dress-Up Darling does have an uncomfortable amount of fan service that makes me unsure if I can really recommend it, but the story itself is so refreshing that I had to include it on this list. —Julia Lee
Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2
The final season of Attack on Titan may be the most contentious anime on this year’s best-of list. Much has been said and written on the final chapters of the Attack on Titan manga, from creator Hajime Isayama’s inferred pro-Imperialist sentiments to the series’ uncomfortable allegorical parallels to real-life historical atrocities. Bearing these criticisms in mind, it’s understandable to ask why Attack on Titan is on this list.
The answer is simple: Directors Jun Shishido and Yuichiro Hayashi and studio MAPPA have taken what is a messy and divisive conclusion and have produced (through 22 episodes) the best possible animated incarnation of it. The combined one-two punch of the season’s 20th and 21st episodes alone easily ranks as one of the most shocking revelations of any anime in recent memory, rendered through some of the most apocalyptic imagery seen in the series to date.
There’s nothing quite like being along for the ride of a Big Anime Event, where it seems everyone is watching (and dissecting) each new development in the series’ ongoing climax right alongside you. For all its controversies, the final season of Attack on Titan represents not only the culmination of one of the significant anime of the past decade, but undoubtedly qualifies as one of the must-watch anime events of 2022, flaws and all. —Toussaint Egan
The Orbital Children
After nearly 15 years since his last original anime, Dennou Coil director Mitsuo Iso returns with The Orbital Children, a six-episode anime (released in Japan as two feature-length films) following the story of five children stranded aboard a commercial space station on the brink of a cataclysmic disaster. Through a dizzying tapestry of rich world-building brought to life through beautiful animation, Iso and co. weave a coming-of-age story that takes the lives of five unsuspecting children and places them at the precipice of humanity’s expansion into the vast unknown of space. It’s a brilliant anime with dense, beautiful visuals that rewards both attentive first-time viewers and repeat watches alike. —TE
The Orbital Children is available to stream on Netflix.
If, hypothetically, we were living through a year that felt at times interminably bleak, then one could be glad for a show like Healer Girl out in the universe. The original anime directed by Yasuhiro Irie (who also directed Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the GOAT), follows three young girls training to be “vocal medicine” healers. They treat their patients’ ailments with the power of songs, crafted specially for the individual.
Healer Girl occupies a similar space in my anime rotation. It is small, contained, nourishing, and warm-hearted. And while that may not be the exact selling point everyone is looking for in their shōjo adventures, trust that the art direction of the show offers its own rich rewards. Irie’s eye is careful to pull out the most expressive angles on any given scene, expertly alternating between the finer details and the wider scope. Couple that with lush, magical singing montages set to new bops every episode, and Healer Girl is easy (and essential) charm in a cruel, cruel world. —Zosha Millman
Healer Girl is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Ya Boy Kongming!
Ya Boy Kongming! tells the story of Zhuge Liang Kongming, a third-century Chinese statesman and strategist who wishes on his deathbed to be reborn in a more peaceful time. Drawing his last breath, Kongming gets more than what he bargained for when he wakes up in an alley in present-day Shibuya on Halloween night. Believing himself to be in hell, Kongming is lured by a pair of partygoers to visit a nightclub, where he meets Eiko Tsukimi, a part-time bartender and aspiring singer. Moved to tears by the beauty of her singing voice and at a loss for what to do in this new life, Kongming volunteers to become Eiko’s manager and use his legendary skills as a military tactician to help guide her young career.
Every episode of Ya Boy Kongming! has been a blast so far. From using ancient war stratagems to draw in new audiences and foil underhanded rivals to recruiting reluctant allies with his freestyle rap skills, Kongming proves himself a shrewd manager and a savvy decision-maker. The heart of the show’s appeal is in seeing its characters bond through their mutual love of music and the gut-busting comedy of watching Kongming adapt to modern life in spite of being several centuries out of sync. That’s not even mentioning the series’ meme-worthy title track, a Japanese cover of the Hungarian pop song “Bulikirály,” which aside from being beautifully animated is a total bop. —TE
Ya Boy Kongming! is available to stream on HIDIVE.
Between the mysterious underground game the teens of Tomodachi Game are roped into, the capitalistic debt that keeps them playing, and the life or death stakes that moor every episode, it’s easy (too easy) to compare this to Squid Game. But while the latter deals in economic anxiety, the former uses that merely as a cudgel. The friend group is initially tricked into playing a few rounds of the “tomodachi game” with the dangling promise that doing so could rid one of their friends of debt. But with a handful of episodes under our belt it’s clear that the central currency of Tomodachi Game isn’t yen, it’s friendship. And with that camaraderie comes a lot of secrets.
Tomodachi Game isn’t a wower in its animation, and its pacing can be a bit baffling. It’s the kind of anime that can make you want to pick up the manga just to see where the hell this story is going already. But if you’re anything like me — hopelessly nosy for the drama that comes with people ping-ponging off each other — then it’s irresistible. Where can all these considerably sizzling threads lead? Nowhere good, and I cannot wait. —ZM
Tomodachi Game is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Spy x Family
Despite only having four episodes out, Spy x Family’s debut season is poised to be one of the best anime of 2022. The show follows Loid Forger, a spy who’s tasked with a top-secret operation to stop the leader of the National Unity Party from harming peace relations between two neighboring countries. His plan is to get close to the political leader by meeting him through an event hosted at a super-elite elementary school. There’s only one problem: Loid is a bachelor.
Enter his adopted daughter, Anya, and new wife, Yor. While the two don’t know of Loid’s real identity, they have secrets of their own. Anya is a telepath who can read minds, and Yor is an assassin. The family’s story starts with them living under the same roof, all trying to maintain the facade of family while juggling their respective secrets.
Anya forms the emotional and comedic core of the show. The short, pink-haired child’s earnestness (and, to be frank, sheer stupidity) brings the show together in a series of charming character moments. Upon learning Yor has literally murdered people for a living, Anya reacts with starry eyes, “I’m so excited!” Despite these goofier moments, you get the feeling that Anya is just a girl who wants to be loved. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and the show has provided a much-needed balm from the woes of the world. —AD
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War -Ultra Romantic-
Three seasons in, Kaguya-sama: Love is War’s setup still feels fresh. For those not familiar, Kaguya-sama follows class president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya — two ambitious, proud, and intelligent students — who’ve decided to play a game where they get the other person to confess romantic feelings. The only problem is that somewhere along the way, they both fell head over heels for each other but now refuse to be the first to budge. As the cast grows — inviting in colorful characters like peppy Fujiwara, gamer loner Ishigami, and goody-two-shoes Miko, just to name a few — so does the hilarity. Every week, Kaguya-sama manages to surpass itself in sheer secondhand embarrassment and every week, that somehow turns from something devastatingly cringey into something deeply heartfelt. The romantic relationship between Shinomiya and Shirogane is still at the center, but the friendships between all of the student council members and the other people in their lives become just as compelling and moving. —PR
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War -Ultra Romantic- is available to stream on Crunchyroll.