In the anime world, the 2010s were a decade of stepping it up in the way of eye candy. For those who relish a great battle, intricate fights, and lots of explosions, the 2010s delivered. Yet anime of the era wasn’t just focused on looking good.
The emotional punch produced by some of the anime made during this time still rocks viewers today. Tales were tall and extravagant, but they were also deep, rich, and pretty much guaranteed to hit you right in the feels.
Here are our picks for the top anime from the 2010s.
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1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Watch on: Hulu
Witches are everywhere! Fortunately, Madoka Kaname has encountered a mystical creature who’s happy to grant her special powers to save us from them. With a supernatural contract binding her, Madoka and her friend, Sayaka Miki, are propelled into a new world of adventures.
On one level, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is just another ‘magical girl anime’ – a trope that essentially sees an everyday girl encounter a magical force that grants her mystical powers so that she can save the world. There’s a lot of transforming into cool heroes or creatures, all in an overblown show of feminine power. And while Puella Magi Madoka Magica is exactly that, in many respects it also completely subverts the genre.
Familiar tropes of the ‘magical anime girl’ appear and yet they are never quite what they’re supposed to be. Horror elements begin as a simple aesthetic blend and develop into critical plot points that see the show become a complex and quite twisted exploration of morality, entropy, hope and despair, and the intricacies of utilitarianism. It’s also unique in that it was the first to really explore the psychological issues experienced by these magical girls, exposing the full horrors they experience while saving everyone else. This was so powerful it spawned an entire sub-genre.
The problem for Madoka, of course, is that all contracts come at a price…
2. Attack On Titan
Watch on: Hulu
When the Titans arrived they reduced humanity to a fractured colony of wall-dwellers, constantly hiding from the threat posed by these gigantic, human-eating beings. Humans withdrew, hiding behind their walls and as time passed they became complacent. But humanity is reminded of its own fragility when the outermost wall is breached and thousands are killed.
The Survey Corps is dedicated to discovering how to defeat the Titans once and for all while trying to discover how they appeared in the first place. Eren Jaeger is eager to face the Titan menace himself and joins the Corp with some friends.
Wackiness ensues on a scale never seen before in anime (and in some ways, never since). The original ran for three seasons before a ‘final season’ was released. That ‘final’ season already consists of two parts, with a third recently confirmed for release in 2023. The show’s durability is a testament to its unique expression of a fairly standard ‘humans face annihilation by giant aliens’ concept.
3. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba
The tale of Tanjiro Kamado begins, as so many do, with a demonic slaughter that robs our protagonist of his family. While it’s a cliched concept, it’s the only thing about Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba that remains anything less than original for long.
With his family dead and his sister transformed into a demon, Tanjiro naturally becomes a demon slayer, set on ridding Taisho-era Japan of demonic activity. At the same time, he’s bent (dare we say… hell-bent?) on curing his sister, Nezuko, and returning her to her previous human form.
But we promised you originality, so as you can imagine there’s a great deal more going on than first meets the eye. It’s a compelling yet surprisingly contemplative series that will enthrall you while making you think.
Following on from the original Fate/Stay night game, Fate/Zero was penned by master storyteller Gen Urobunchi. One of the more indelible series in the world of anime, there’s a complexity to the Fate world which sets it apart. On the one hand, it offers a fierce battle in the quest for a wish, but on the other it runs far, far deeper.
When the novel series of Fate/Zero was released in 2007, there was great excitement at the chance to finally explore Emiya Kiritsugu’s tragic past, including his involvement in the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. A deep dive into the politics surrounding the Holy Grail War, plus a chance to see the origins of other characters including Gilgamesh and Artoria Pendragon, Fate/Zero is an exquisitely spun web of fresh material and things you always wondered.
Add to this stunning graphics and animation and you have a grim yet heart-rending dark fantasy tale that’s an absolute must-watch.
With three seasons spawning a great franchise, many have forgotten Psycho-Pass began with a 2012 anime; it’s a tale of a young law enforcement officer in a futuristic world where everyone exists in peace and harmony, pending regular psychological evaluations.
Akane Tsunemori is a member of the Criminal Investigation Division. Her role is to handle citizens who develop violent tendencies, placing them under the control of the Sybil System. As one might expect, all is not as it seems and we are rapidly plunged into a crime thriller set against the glorious backdrop of a cyberpunk dystopia.
Peace, as we all know, is a fragile thing, and the Sybil System isn’t as magnanimous as it would like you to believe. As the conspiracy deepens there are definite Ghost in the Shell vibes, coupled with exceptional writing and a stunning visual style.
6. Steins; Gate
When it comes to time travel anime, Steins; Gate may have been the most impactful on the genre. It follows Okabe Rintaro (or Hououin Kyouma as he dubs himself), an eccentric and self-proclaimed mad scientist whose seemingly simple experiments start to affect his reality and the lives of his nearest and dearest.
A great one for sci-fi fans, the time travel concept at play here is very well handled, giving a unique spin on a classic trope. At the same time, the narrative is a complexly woven mix of conspiracy theories and a heart-rending reminder that playing with time has consequences. If you’re a fan of secret organizations, peculiar phenomena, and characters who are well-meaning but flawed to devastating effect, this one is for you.
7. Violet Evergarden
One of the most beautiful tales told in anime, Violet Evergarden follows an Auto Memory Doll (someone who helps others by writing for them – in Violet’s case by recording their memories) after a devastating war forces her to serve as a soldier. The war has meant Violet has been a solider since she was ten years old, and has never really experienced the real world. As Violet struggles to reintegrate into society and is introduced to various people from all walks of life by a ghostwriter who shows her how to become a Doll.
Each meeting to record a person’s memories is its own little self-contained dose of magic, interwoven into the wider story arc of a very lost soul trying to reconcile her past while trying to understand what she may become.
On the surface, it’s a simple tale of someone’s journey toward self-actualization. Yet there are so many layers to it, and Violet’s encounters with such a range of different people – all with their own perspectives on life – create an incredibly complex social commentary.
It’s also just gorgeous to watch.
Looking for more amazing anime from previous decades? Check out the best of the 70s.
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