There have been more than a few great anime this past winter, spring, summer, and fall. But now, as the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back one last time and pick the five best anime series of 2015.
[This post originally ran on December 29, 2015]
First, some rules:
1) The series must have finished its run in 2015. This means that shows still airing like Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans are not eligible, but 26-episode anime that started in fall 2014 are.
2) Movies, TV specials, and OVAs don’t count. (Though movies will get their own little section below.)
So without further ado, here are the five best anime of 2015 in alphabetical order.
Out there somewhere is a mysterious bar. Inside, we see a scene play out over and over again in which two people must play a randomly selected game—pool, darts, bowling, or even video games. The two are led to believe that the winner will leave and the other will die. However, the truth is far darker: They are both already dead. The games are built to draw out the worst in human nature while the bartender judges the worthiness of both players’ souls. Those judged worthy find themselves reincarnated. The unworthy, on the other hand, are banished to an endless void forever.
Death Parade uses this premise to explore the nature of the human soul. Each episode, two new people enter the bar and, through the games, we learn about their lives and who they truly are. The main characters, on the other hand, are the bartenders. Through them the whole concept of judgment is brought into question as some begin to worry about the moral responsibilities of what they do—and if they have any right to judge human beings at all. It is a fantastic supernatural morality play.
When you think about Gatchaman—or its Western localization Battle of the Planets—you probably think of a team of superheroes fighting alien monsters. But while it has that same basic setting, Gatchaman Crowds Insight (direct sequel to 2013’s Gatchaman Crowds) is about something far different: taking those same superheroes and putting them in a world in the midst of a sweeping, social revolution.
At its core, Gatchaman Crowds Insight is a critique of our modern society—from a look at democracy and political apathy to the eternal battle between individual opinions and the mob mentality of society in the digital age. All this is tied together through a great cast of characters who, while split on most topics the anime brings up, are nonetheless good people only trying to do what’s right. In other words, it’s far deeper than your standard superhero anime.
So many romantic comedies are will-they-won’t-they plots, stretched out for a dozen or more episodes. My Love Story! is the exact opposite: It is not the story of how the two got together (though that is shown), but rather is the story of their relationship after they do. Together, the new couple has to deal with everything from their own personal inadequacies to misunderstandings to problems with communication—often with a large helping of cute comedy to go along with it.
But more than anything, My Love Story! is an anime that just feels good to watch. There are no villains—just good people trying to do right by themselves or their friends and sometimes messing up. It shows that while life is full of problems, it’s always better with your loved ones by your side. It’s the one anime this year that can bring a smile to my face just by thinking about it.
With a title like “My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Too!,” you would be forgiven for expecting a romantic comedy. Instead, it provides the most realistic look at high school life I have seen in an anime. Rather than being a tale filled with romantic nostalgia for bygone high school days, this anime tries to portray youth’s chaotic mental landscape as one stands on the edge of adulthood.
In this sequel to 2013’s My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, drama is constant and plentiful in this story of three teens realizing the superficiality of their high school relationships and longing for something more. Yet at the same time, each must try to discover who exactly they are on the inside as each battles against his or her own worst tendencies. While at times painful to watch—if you, like me, identify with the characters thanks to your own real-life experiences—it successfully captures high school life with its multi-layered plot and emotional core.
Shimoneta is set in a world where anything deemed “perverse” is illegal. The result is a Japan where a generation of teens don’t even know what sex is—all they know is that it is bad. Of course, this also means they wouldn’t know that something was perverted even if it appeared right in front of them. It is exactly as hilarious as it sounds.
The anime follows a group of “sexual terrorists”—i.e., a group of teens who like to tell dirty puns and hand out dirty pictures to educate their fellow students. The series is a stream of perverted jokes and over-the-top sexual situations—made even funnier by the fact that many of the participants don’t even understand the joke. All in all, it is an excellent satire that takes the banning of sexual content to its most radical extremes. As I said in the review proper, “you’ll either be completely disgusted or rolling on the floor with laughter.”
If you are more interested in anime feature films, here are Kotaku’s picks for the best five to hit Japanese theaters this year.
(Click the links for the full reviews.)
Midway through each anime season, I recommend five anime that are worth watching. Of course, sometimes great anime slip beneath my radar or don’t become truly great until further along in the season. So while these anime didn’t make their respective season’s list for one of the reasons above, they probably should have.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
A group of child soldier mercenaries are hired by a princess of Mars to protect her on a mission to Earth where she hopes to gain allies for Martian independence. While the mission seems impossible, the kids have a secret weapon: a legendary mobile suit from a war long ago known as a “Gundam” and a single teen capable of piloting it.
The Perfect Insider
On an island research lab, a world-famous computer programmer is murdered in a room that no one has entered or left in 15 years. What follows is a psychological and philosophical mystery where the only way to solve the case is to understand the complex mindset of the victim.
The easiest way to describe this one is “cute girls doing cute things in the zombie apocalypse.” What makes it great is how the insanity of trying to live a normal school life in this crisis situation actually helps them stay sane.
Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches
One day, a boy and a girl find out that when they kiss, they can swap bodies. What follows is a supernatural rom-com filled with literal magic and romantic protagonists that are easy to root for.
Watch on: Crunchyroll
Imagine if Attack on Titan was about humanity hiding behind a giant wall so as to be safe from man-eating teddy bears instead of giants—and was a metaphor for lesbianism in Japan. Wait. You don’t have to. It’s called Yurikuma Arashi.
Well, there you have it: the best anime series and films of 2015 as well as a few anime series that are finally getting their well-deserved recommendations. To vote for the best anime of the year, head over to Talk Amongst Yourself: Ani-TAY and click on your favorite in our 2015 anime poll.
For all of our Kotaku anime reviews, click here.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.