clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The best anime of the decade

These series knocked us out with a single punch

One Punch Man anime character Image: Madhouse via Polygon

Let’s get to the point: the last decade has been great for anime, and below you’ll find the proof.

This list does not include anime that debuted before 2010, which means you won’t find some serious greats like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bakemonogatari, and One Piece. Forgive us.

We took this task seriously. Not only did we list out every anime we’ve watched and liked from this past decade, we also listed all the anime we didn’t watch, and then went back to watch them before finally voting. While not all of our personal favorites made the final list — we have to be picky! — it’s still a solid list of shows you should definitely give a watch.

The list you can see below is in order of release, starting from 2010.

Katanagatari

The main character of Katanagatari faces off against one of his fiercest opponents White Fox/NIS America

The main character of Katanagatari is a swordsman who doesn’t use swords. Because he doesn’t use swords, he’s immune to the temptations of the 12 magical blades he’s tasked with hunting down.

The premise is simple, but it’s the perfect set up for the show’s incredible action scenes and world. White Fox, the studio behind Katanagatari, uses an understated, almost flattened out style to animate the show that places it somewhere in a gorgeous middle ground between traditional anime and a slightly more western style. Where this style truly shines are the shows fights, which thanks to one combatant being swordless, are some of the strangest and most unique in anime. —Austen Goslin

The Tatami Galaxy

Watashi lays on the floor of his room in The Tatami Galaxy Madhouse/Funimation

The Tatami Galaxy follows the story of Watashi, a normal college freshman who’s just trying to make friends. Watashi joins a new college club in each episode, only to realize that it doesn’t bring him the happy life he wanted. Then time rewinds and he gets to pick a new club. He is the determining factor in how his future unfolds.

This is my all-time favorite anime. It’s wordy, it’s fun, and it has this great, over exaggerated art style. Watch The Tatami Galaxy, but beware of the possible existential crisis that sometimes comes with it. —Julia Lee

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

Panty and Stocking work as bunny waitresses in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt Gainax/Funimation

Two angels who fell from heaven have to buy their way back in by earning coins. Said coins are rewarded by hunting demons. The angels, Panty and Stocking, are two sisters who use their underwear — which transforms into weapons — to fight. Yep.

Anime doesn’t have to look like anime. Panty & Stocking delivered raunchy, stupid humor in a great animation style. Gainax, we’re still waiting on our sequel. It’s been a decade. What the hell. —JL

Princess Jellyfish

Kuranosuke helps out Tsukihi, who is kneeling on the floor in Princess Jellyfish Brain’s Base/Funimation

Tsukimi Kurashita is a reclusive girl who loves jellyfish. Kuranosuke Koibuchi, a stylish crossdresser, takes it upon himself to help Tsukimi upon up and also save her apartment building from being demolished.

Princess Jellyfish taught me that anyone can be a princess, whether you’re a dude or a stocky girl obsessed with jellyfish. Everyone is beautiful and interesting and it should be a crime to not see yourself that way. —JL

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Kyuubey from Madoka Magica stares menacingly Shaft/Aniplex of America

If you’ve never seen Madoka Magica, I highly recommend you watch it before reading any blurbs like this one; it definitely benefits from not knowing what lies ahead, especially considering how earnest and lighthearted the show seems from the outside.

Madoka couldn’t exist without an earlier generation of magical girl stories, but it’s more than just “what if Cardcaptor Sakura were dark?” The depth of the animation when the magical girls battle with witches is beautiful and unique, deploying mixed-media textures to underscore the surreality of these fights. The show promises a lot, but entirely lives up to the horror of its concept (especially Homura’s backstory, which haunts me to this day). —Jenna Stoeber

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

Menma excitedly looks at Jintan in Anohana A-1 Pictures/Aniplex of America

Menma died many years ago, but her friends still haven’t had closure regarding her death. She haunts Jintan in hopes of reuniting their friend group and moving on.

This is the anime everyone used to tell their friends to watch, with no warning of the fact that it’ll make them sob like a baby. Anohana has turned the toughest people into crying puddles on the floor, not only because the entire premise is built around a tragedy, but because it’s a reminder that friends grow apart and people change. —JL

Penguindrum

The penguin queen poses with feathers flying around in Penguindrum Brain’s Base/Sentai Filmworks

Penguindrum is Kunihiko Ikuhara’s successor to Revolutionary Girl Utena, which means it has pink hair, it’s messed up, and it’s gay. The gist: Two brothers try to keep their sick sister alive by following the demands of a penguin spirit.

I could get into the scary themes or write an essay about how Ikuhara has, yet again, managed to write such a haunting and beautiful story using such fun imagery, but you should just watch it. —JL

Fate/Zero

Two Fate/Zero character clash weapons Ufotable/Aniplex of America

Fate/Zero might be the MOST anime show ever made. It follows several families that all come from ancient magical bloodlines as they fight over the Holy Grail using champions summoned from across time. Gilgamesh, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, and even infamous child-murderer Gilles de Rais are called from across time to do battle for what are essentially rich aristocratic wizards.

The series features some of the most gorgeous and meticulously crafted action scenes ever. Each character has a flourish of magical abilities that look incredible and the show’s sense of scale takes fights anywhere from delicate one-on-one duels to conflicts that span entire cities. Between, and often during, the massive battles, the characters take time to monologue about their carefully crafted life philosophies. In the end the story is probably a little too ambitious than the series can handle, but the journey is as fun and over the top as anything in anime over the last 10 years. —AG

Hunter x Hunter

Gon from Hunter x Hunter excitedly runs around a market Madhouse/Viz Media

Hunter X Hunter is a 165-episode gift. Yes, there’s a cannibal furry arc. Yes, the clown man (OK, magician) is naked all the time. But look beyond the fact that I can’t describe this series in a way that will convince my friends to watch it. Hunter x Hunter is the pinnacle of shonen anime. There’s not a shred of filler in it. A particular arc that involves Gon and pals fighting in the 251-floor Heavens Arena is the perfect example of Hunter x Hunter’s economy of storytelling: they only spend ten episodes there, and the narrative payoff is so good.

By the time I reached the 65-episode long Chimera Ant arc (shut up), I would have died for these characters, and Hunter x Hunter is at times so emotionally wrenching that I nearly did. —Simone de Rochefort

Polar Bear Cafe

Polar Bear, Penguin, and Panda talk amongst themselves Studio Pierrot/Crunchyroll

Polar Bear Cafe is a delightful slice-of-life variant about the regulars who hang out at, you guessed it, Polar Bear’s cafe. Unlike similar shows, the animals aren’t personified, they just… are the animals, which makes Panda’s griping, Penguin’s fretting and Polar Bear’s bad puns extra entertaining. Watching this show is just as soothing as enjoying a cup of coffee at your own favorite weekend shop! —JS

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Joseph Joestar from Battle Tendency David Production/Viz Media

You know that thing you did as a kid when your friend would shoot their finger guns at you, but you’d say you were made out of metal, and then they say that their bullets are made out of metal-melting acid, but then you say that last night you snuck into their base and ate all their bullets? JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is exactly like that, except instead of imaginative kids, everyone is an extremely beautiful fully grown adult man with a name like “Robert E.O. Speedwagon” or “Kars.”

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is pure spectacle. It’s a series built around absurd confrontations where the stakes aren’t always clear and the rules might as well not exist, but it’s a joy to look at. Characters strut around in avante-garde, impractical outfits and strike dramatic poses. They’re all named (seemingly arbitrarily) after classic rock musicians. It’s the kind of series that encourages you to keep watching, not with a compelling plot or great mystery, but just with the promise of seeing beautiful and weird men do things.

I think that’s okay. —Patrick Gill

Kamisama Kiss

Tomoe mocks a falling Nanami in Kamisama Kiss TMS Entertainment/Funimation

If you ever wanted to be put in a situation where you were a shrine maiden and the familiars and spirits you had to associate with were hot men, this is the series for you. Main character Nanami spends the series teaching the attractive spirits how to understand human emotions, as they’re forced to deal with what happens with the forces collide.

Reading teen romance manga got me through high school and Kamisama Kiss is the most self-indulgent, sweet, romance series there is. —JL

Attack on Titan

Wit Studio/Funimation

We debated putting Attack on Titan on this list, but when it comes down to it, season 1 of this show was just that good. The premise — teens fighting grotesque monsters while flying around on cables like Spider-Man — was unique and the action was good, until the series started getting all these weird links to fascism. At the very least, season 1 was really good. —JL

Gatchaman Crowds

Hajime strikes a pose after birding up in Gatchaman Crowds Tatsunoko Production/Sentai Filmworks

Gatchaman Crowds is a modern version of the Gatchaman series — a superhero show from the 1970s. The series has shed its bird-motif and now the characters suit up on robot-like outfits that are animated with CGI.

It’s a great action superhero show, but it’s also much more than that. The main character, Hajime Ichinose, has an infectious and bubbly personality, and wants to empathize with the aliens that the Gatchaman fight. Not everything has to be solved with violence! —JL

Kill la Kill

Studio Trigger/Aniplex of America

Ryuko Matoi is looking for the person who killed her father, with her only clues being a red scissor blade and a talking school uniform. Using the uniform, she transforms into a skimpy outfit and starts knocking heads at Honnouji Academy, looking for answers.

Kill la Kill was the breakout series by Studio Trigger and it set a high standard for all the anime the studio would make after. It’s kind of hard to justify the nudity in this show, but I promise it’s symbolic. —JL

Yowamushi Pedal

Onoda bikes with his mind set on fun anime goods TMS Entertainment/Discotek Media

Sakamichi Onoda is an anime nerd who joins the biking club after realizing that he’s got the skill for it. (He had been biking all the way to Akihabara on his casual bike to pick up anime goods!) From there he meets the rest of the Sohoku High School biking team and helps them try to win the Inter-High tournament.

While Yowamushi Pedal is your typical sports anime, the series does a great job explaining the roles on a biking team in a digestible way. It’s not one of those series where characters are already experts of their sport and are explaining things to teammates who know the concepts already, for some reason. You’re learning with Onoda. —JL

Haikyu!!

Shoyo Hinata, the main character of Haikyu!! jumps into the air to spike a volleyball Production I.G./Sentai Filmworks

If the point of sports anime is to make you feel like part of the team, then Haikyu!! couldn’t be anymore successful. The show’s constant focus on characters learning the value of teamwork through their victories and defeats on the volleyball court is as entertaining and wholesome as just about any show. —AG

Ping Pong The Animation

A character from Ping Pong The Animation playing ping pong Tatsunoko Production/Funimation

No show has ever looked like Ping Pong The Animation. From the creator of The Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong is full of misshapen lines, inconsistent proportions, and downright strange looking faces. But the way the show stretches moments of reflex reaction and Ping Pong-mastery into beautiful scenes that anyone can understand is incredible.

Most sports anime focus on what it means for an individual to join a team, but Ping Pong dives into its character’s psyche through the lens of individual sports. It’s obsessed with the parts of our personalities that make us who we are and the parts that keep us from succeeding, at ping pong or anything else. —AG

Terror in Resonance

Three characters from Terror in Resonance stand in front of a destroyed city Mappa/Funimation

Terror in Resonance is the story of two terrorists who want to destroy the institutions of society, but without killing a single person, and a police officer who has been failed by the system, but is still bound by it to stop the terrorists. The anime from Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe is a thrilling cat and mouse chase full of riddles and surprises, that make it endlessly watchable, but it’s also a deeply complicated story of the ways that good people are hurt by the serrated edges of broken social systems. —AG

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Nozaki skims the latest monthly issue of girls romance manga Doga Kobo/Sentai Filmworks

Nozaki-kun is the best show to wind down with and watch when you need a pick-me-up. It follows the story of Umetarou Nozaki, a high school boy who’s secretly a very popular girls romance manga writer. Chiyo Sakura has a huge crush on him and finds out his secret, and begins to assist him in his work.

The shorts in this series feature a wide cast of characters and typically follow Nozaki trying to learn about how to write romance, having not experienced it himself. His inspiration comes directly from his classmates, whether it makes sense in his writing or not. Shenanigans ensue. —JL

Assassination Classroom

Koro-sensei holds up a well-scored test Lerche/Funimation

A mysterious smiley-faced alien creature destroys a hole in the moon and says that, if the students in class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High can’t kill him by next year, he’ll destroy the world. The monster, named Koro-sensei by his students, begins to teach the kids how to make a proper assassination, while also teaching them how to adjust to school and society.

With a premise like that, you wouldn’t expect the show to cut so deep at times. Koro-sensei’s love for his students is inspiring. —JL

One Punch Man

A cartoon character named Saitama who is a shiney headed bald dummy. Madhouse/Viz Media

Somehow, a series about a hero that defeats his enemies with just one punch also has some of the decades most incredible and intricately animated fight scenes. The series takes a pretty serious dip in its second season, but the first season remains one of the funniest, and most singularly entertaining stories in anime, so it more than makes up. —AG

My Hero Academia

Deku after using his special move Bones/Funimation

My Hero Academia feels like the evolution of the shonen. On the surface you can see Naruto, and Dragon Ball, and One Piece, but in the decade or two since those shows were on top of the genre, My Hero has learned a thing or two. While the earlier days of action shonen often relegated plot as merely a bridge between two fights, My Hero elevates it to the main attraction.

The show’s super-powered school kids develop genuine relationships with each other that change episode to episode and everything that happens to them is reflected in the way they fight and how they use their powers. This extra emotional weight gives the show’s stunning fights a little bit of extra oomph and helps to push the show beyond the always-a-stronger-villain engine that powered older shonen series. —AG

Mob Psycho 100

Mob Psycho 100 Image: Bones/Crunchyroll

Mob Psycho has no business being as wholesome as it is. This show, about a fake-psychic conman and his real-psychic assistant, is one of the funniest anime ever. But what really shines about the show is how kind it is. In the spots that a normal anime would feature a duel to the death Mob Psycho 100 usually puts in a calm conversation. While action-centric shows will probably always be anime’s bread-and-butter — and Mob Psycho can do action when it wants to — watching a show that would rather make characters friends than make them enemies is a refreshing change of pace. —AG

Yuri!!! on Ice

Mappa/Crunchyroll

First off, the theme song for Yuri!!! On Ice absolutely slaps and will get stuck in your head. The show itself is full of amazing music, incorporated into the main characters’ ice skating routines.

At its heart, Yuri!!! On Ice is a love story: anxiety-ridden Yuri falls for his suave coach Viktor, as the two train for the Grand Prix. Viktor and Yuri’s love story and the ice skating competition take up the main plot, but the colorful side characters make this show unforgettable. Who else loves King JJ and the dance routine that’s literally just set to a song about how great he is? Plus angry Yurio and the great love he has for his grandfather? And Otabek and Pichit rising up to represent their countries for the first time? It’s all a delight — and you learn a hella lot about ice skating in between. —Petrana Radulovic

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Tohru poses at an unhappy Kobayashi Kyoto Animation/Crunchyroll

After a night of drinking, Kobayashi stumbles upon a dragon named Tohru in the forest. She drunkenly helps pull swords out of Tohru’s back and says that, in return, Tohru can come back home with her and be her maid.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid uses a simple, but pretty art style making it so both the scenes with slapstick comedy stay funny and the scenes where dragons are duking it out stay action-packed. —JL

Kemono Friends

Serval points out a new friend to Kaban Yaoyorozu/Crunchyroll

A girl named Kaban wakes up in the magical Japari Park, a place where animals have become anthropomorphized thanks to magic. To figure out who she is and why she’s in Japari Park, Kaban turns to her new animal friends.

This is the ultimate “don’t judge a show by its cover” anime. The animation is choppy and leaves a lot to be desired, but the story and characters are so cute that it is a must-watch of this decade. —JL

Land of the Lustrous

Phos from Land of the Lustrous pouts Orange/Sentai Filmworks

In the future, gemstone people fight Lunarians, people who come from the moon and want to use the gems’ beautiful colored bodies as decorations. One gem, Phosphophyllite, is brittle and unable to fight and looks to find a place where they belong in their community.

Land of the Lustrous is what happens when an anime uses 3D animation well. The shiny, beautiful, animation is one-of-a-kind. —JL

Violet Evergarden

Violet Evergarden in Violet Evergarden Image: Kyoto Animation/Netflix

Violet Evergarden, a young girl who formerly served as a soldier in the war, has to reintegrate into society. She takes up a job as an Auto Memory Doll, a ghost-writer of sorts, and has to learn about how human’s deal with love, tragedy, and other complexities.

This anime is slow but it packs a meaningful punch. Its outstanding animation certainly helps carry it through dull moments. —JL

Laid-back Camp

Nadeshiko and Rin sit by the fire C-Station/Crunchyroll

Laid-back Camp is the ultimate comfy, slice-of-life anime. Nadeshiko Kagamihara joins her school camping club and befriends Rin Shima, a girl who normally likes to camp by herself. With the club, they go camping. That’s it. That’s the premise. And it’s good. —JL

Devilman: Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby Science Saru/Netflix

Akira Fudo merges with a demon to kill other demons at the advice of his friend Ryo Asuka. Some real messed up stuff happens after, that I’ll leave you to behold.

Netflix’s first original anime felt like a simultaneous punch to the face and gut. The gore and extremely upsetting dramatic turns aren’t for the weak of heart, but that doesn’t make it any less good. —JL

Wotakoi: Love is hard for Otaku

A-1 Pictures/Amazon Video

Narumi and Hirotaka are coworkers in an office where they hide their nerdy tendencies. They begin dating and the tales of their all-too-relatable nerdy love unfold.

I love this series because of how many times I’ve turned to my friends and murmured, “This is me.” Wotakoi highlights the struggles of being an adult nerd, but doesn’t shame the characters for being this way. —JL

Aggretsuko

retsuko in her office aggretsuko Sanrio/Netflix

Despite being about an anamorphic red panda, Aggretsuko is somehow the most relatable anime. In her mid-20s, jaded at work, struggling in love, our loveable red panda finds solace in karaoke rooms, where she can channel her frustrations through music. But the gimmick isn’t the only thing great about the show. Slowly, Retsuko learns to stand up for herself, to navigate this weird world of adulthood while still being true to herself. With a second season finale that captured a mature end of a relationship, Aggretsuko is poised to be the best How-To-Adult guide out there. —PR

The Promised Neverland

The Promised Neverland Image: Cloverworks/Aniplex of America

This series starts out in an idyllic orphanage before the children living there discover that they’re entire reality is a lie. From there the series is suddenly transformed into one of the scariest and most thrilling anime of the decade. It’s rare that horror is done well in anime, but Promised Neverland’s nightmare world feels like it’s resting at a constant simmer, always threatening to boil over into absolute terror.

Combating the world’s constant nightmares are Promised Neverland’s four main characters who each prove to be charming, clever, and resourceful, and each have their own role to play in the season-long plan for escape. When the brilliantly plotted season finally comes to a close, it’s one of the most satisfying endings of any anime season. —AG

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Image: A-1 PIctures/Aniplex of America

Romance anime series aren’t often hilarious, and they’re rarely well animated. Kaguya Wants to be Confessed is both. The series pits two geniuses up against each other in the adorable duel of trying to get the other to confess.

The last few years of the decade have been filled with romantic comedy anime. But Kaguya manages to synthesize the best parts of those series into something that feels different. As each one has their ridiculous internal monologues the show shifts into their minds and shows off with the kind of visual flourishes normally reserved for action anime. Kaguya’s still a romantic comedy at its heart, but there’s nothing else in the genre that looks this good or is half as funny. —AG

Carole and Tuesday

Two girls smile at each other, carrying musical instruments as they run. Image: Bones/Netflix

Carole and Tuesday is a show about two very different girls who have both run off to the big city in search of realizing their musical dreams. While neither one finds it on her own, their friendship blossoms into a creative collaboration that allows them to push each other to new musical heights.

The show’s gorgeous animation, beautiful music, and heartfelt central friendship would be enough to make it one of the best anime of the decade. But the fact that it’s set on Mars in a fully realized future always adds a little extra to the characters rather than distracting from them. —AG

Demon Slayer

A character in Demon Slayer ... slays a demon Image: Ufotable/Aniplex of America

Demon Slayer is not a complicated anime. Everything you need to know is right there in the title. The series follows a kid whose family is killed by demons with the one exception of his sister who was transformed into a demon herself. So the kid sets out to ... slay demons. And that’s exactly what he does. Demon Slayer.

The show is so pure and straight forward that it’s impossible not to admire its commitment to the bit. Demon Slayer is, for the most part, about the fighting. Luckily it’s very good at the fighting. Each demon brings something unique to the show and opens up a new way for the protagonist to fight and win. Few shows over the last 10 years have so clearly or unabashedly made fights their focus, and absolutely none of them have done it as well as Demon Slayer. —AG

Fruits Basket

Three of the Somas turn into animals while Tohru stands in shock TMS/8PAN/Funimation

Tohru Honda lost both of her parents and is now living with the mysterious Soma family. Yuki Soma is the high school’s crown prince, but the Soma family is hiding a secret: when hugged by the opposite sex, they turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac.

This new adaptation of an old favorite series hits the nail on the head. It follows the original manga nearly panel-by-panel and does the series justice. —JL

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon
newsnewsseoseogamesmedicalgamesgamesnewsnewsnewsnewsnewshealthnewsgamesnewsseogameshealthgameshealthnewsgamesgamesnewsseohealthnewsnewsnewsnewsgamesgamesgamesseogamesgamesseogamesgamesgamesseohealthgamesgamesgamesgamesmoviegamesgamesgames