There was a great flood of anime in 2017. Of that torrential downpour, five different shows were the rocks I held onto as wave upon wave of trash broke over me. And those five anime series are some of the best I’ve seen in years.

Throughout 2017, we shared our favorite new shows of the winter, spring, summer, and fall. Across genres spanning drama, sci-fi, fantasy, and slice-of-life, a few of these 2017 anime offered welcome surprises that exhibited what heights the form can hit. Here they are in no particular order:

Scum’s Wish

Scum’s Wish is a haunting, disturbing drama about lovers who love other people. Hanabi, 17, dates Mugi, a handsome older student. They go through all the motions of young love, stretching their sexual and emotional limits as any young couple would—except it’s a front. Each is in love with someone else who doesn’t love them back. To satisfy their emptiness, they are each other’s foils.

Scum’s Wish does something that’s rare in anime, depicting young sexuality in all of its raw weirdness. It doesn’t go out of its way to make it palatable in the way lots of anime does. It’s sometimes hard to watch. But the sensitivity with which Scum’s Wish handles its (very volatile) characters, and the many-sidedness of the characters themselves, charmed me completely.

Made In Abyss

I didn’t expect to be blown over by an anime about a bottomless pit on a far-flung island. Made In Abyss is enchanting the same way hit magical girl anime Madoka Magica is. It starts out innocent and easy on that strange island, where a young girl named Riko harbors big dreams of being a pit-diver who unearths incredible artifacts. Her mother, a celebrated and and intrepid diver herself, disappeared long ago, and Riko wants to descend to the very bottom of the pit, where curses ravage human bodies, to find her.

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A few episodes in, things take a turn toward darkness. I needed to watch it all. I needed to understand its beautiful, hideous world. And that world is conveyed through excellent cinematic direction and character exposition. Its show-not-tell approach to storytelling, one that did not talk down to me, was refreshing after watching so much anime that did the exact opposite.


Recovery of an MMO Junkie

This is an anime about an unremarkable, unattractive 30-year-old woman who quits her demanding office job to mainline an MMORPG. How could I resist?

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In Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Morioka Moriko creates a character on the fictional MMORPG Fruits de Mer, which is a lot like Final Fantasy XIV. There, she plays a “hot boy.” At first, he’s pathetic, so a girl character named Lily volunteers to help her out. As Moriko’s avatar becomes closer to Lily, their lives begin to intersect outside of it, too, at first, without their knowing.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie is low-key a romance anime, but high-key an anime about doing what you love, earnestly and unapologetically. This isn’t a highbrow show, but it’s easier to watch than most easy-to-watch shows because there isn’t anything bad or distracting about it. It’s special to find an anime about an unglamorous NEET woman, and more special still to find one in which a woman’s love of games isn’t seen as special.

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World

In this reboot of the philosophical 2003 series Kino’s Journey, an androgynous girl and her talking motorcycle travel from country to country learning the ways of strange peoples. Kino, armed with a .44 revolver, has a mandate to only stay in each country for three days and two nights. That’s long enough for the residents’ idiosyncrasies to alter her own worldview, but not too long that she’s be tempted to settle down. Kino’s mantra is “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.”

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In one episode, Kino travels to a country deemed the safest in the world, where everybody owns a gun. In another, Kino travels on an enormous ship and is told that, in exchange for ruling over its permanent residents during her stay, she’d be treated royally. As Kino wades deeper into these countries’ laws and customs, she experiences the heights and depths of human nature. Kino’s Journey left me with a sense of profound uneasiness, but watching it feels like being told a revitalizing truth over and over: Ambiguity is part of life.

Inuyashiki

This is the sci-fi thriller I’ve been waiting for ever since celebrated anime director Satoshi Kon passed away. In Inuyashiki, an elderly, friendless man whose family does not respect him is diagnosed with cancer. Alone on a hill, crying over his fate, there’s a supernatural explosion. Somehow, when he wakes up, his insides have been replaced with robotics that perform unbelievable feats. He can heal or destroy others on the slightest whim. The problem? An unhinged, sociopathic teen meets the same fate and, after realizing his power, kills indiscriminately.

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Often in shows where a random person is granted superpowers, that person becomes less relatable. Inuyashiki’s protagonist, Inuyashiki Ichiro, is as human as it gets. His pathetic life hasn’t left him jaded; it just provides startling contrast to his still-strong desire to mitigate strangers’ misery. Ichiro’s life is heartbreaking, but that’s what made me appreciate how brave he is to exact justice. Also, Inuyashiki’s pacing is slow enough to build great emotional tension, but fast enough to keep me on my toes.