The 20 Best Anime of 2020
The 2010s were good to long-time anime enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Over the course of the past decade, simulcasting and online streaming services such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime, and Hulu reshaped the nature of the medium in both subtle and awesome ways, transforming how anime fans discovered, shared, and celebrated the shows and movies they loved. Japanese animation is a stronger medium now than at any other time in its existence, and 2020's slate of shows proved as much. These were our 20 favorite shows from a weird year.
20. Darwin's Game
Release date: January 3
Director: Yoshinobu Tokumoto
Animation production: Nexus
If you were to cross Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's adrenaline-charged social thriller Nerve with the mystery-driven ultra-violence of Hiroya Oku's Gantz, it'd probably look something like Darwin's Game. Based on artist "Ginko" and writer Yuki Takahata's manga of the same name, the anime centers on 17-year-old Kaname Sudō, who, after accepting an mysterious invite from a recently deceased friend, is thrust into a deadly supernatural bloodsport known only as Darwin's Game. Pitted against a cadre of sociopaths and with no way to seek help from the outside world, Kaname must rely on his wits and will to survive while searching for a means to escape this living nightmare. Produced by studio Nexus, the 11-episode series is penned entirely by series author Yuki Takahata, resulting in an adaptation that's a near one-to-one match with the source material. If you're looking for a taut action series with serious mystery drama, Darwin's Game is a solid choice.
Release date: January 6
Director: Takahiro Omori
Animation production: Geno Studio
Pet is a real mindscrew, in more ways than one. Based on Ranjō Miyake's manga of the same name, the series follows Tsukasa and Hitomi, two empaths with the ability to delve inside the minds of others and manipulate their memories and perceptions. Employed by a shadowy organization known simply as "The Company," the pair are tasked with using their abilities to cover up crimes, assassinations, and commit all sorts of unsavory acts, more often than not at the expense of innocent lives and their own fractured psyches. The dialogue can be frustratingly obtuse at times, with crucial terms like "peaks" and "valleys" thrown out of left field with little if any formal explanation, and the initial episodes can be a bit hard to follow with regard to what is being seen or perceived by whom at any given moment. Hang in there, though—it's a story that gradually makes more sense the longer it goes on and rewards the closer you pay attention. And barring even that, it's still worth a watch for the psychedelic visuals alone. Think of it as a more freakish take on Christopher Nolan's Inception by way of Philip K. Dick's Ubik.
Release date: January 9
Director: Kenji Yasuda
Animation production: Satelight
If your tastes veer more towards the whimsical fare of Studio Ghibli than explicitly action-oriented titles, Somali and the Forest Spirit is a perfect choice. Set in a world of magic and sorcery populated by spirits, goblins, and all sorts of creatures, the series follows the journey of a forest-protecting golem and their companion, a precocious child named Somali. Together, the two embark on a search for a home for Somali among the last of the humans, a race of beings previously thought to have been persecuted and hunted to the brink of extinction ages ago. Think Alphonse and Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, but instead of two brothers in search of the philosopher's stone to restore their bodies, it's a father figure and their adoptive ward searching for safety and security in a world of dangers at every turn. With exquisite backgrounds, disarming humor, and a story with genuine emotional pull, Somali and the Forest Spirit is a spirited fable of parenthood and love found in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Release date: January 11
Director: Keiji Gotoh
Animation production: Brain’s Base
Supernatural mystery series are a dime a dozen when it comes to anime, so it’s refreshing when one comes along that has as intriguing a premise and personality as In/Spectre. Based on Kyo Shirodaira’s novel series, In/Spectre follows 15-year-old Iwanaga Kotoko, a university student who four years prior to the series’s start was anointed as the "Goddess of Wisdom" of the spirit world at the cost of her left leg and right eye. Acting as an intermediary between the human and spirit world, Kotoko is tasked with solving disputes and discrepancies between the two. There’s just one problem: Kuro Sakuragawa, Kotoko’s fast-made companion and boyfriend, is a surprisingly fearsome entity with mysterious powers that strike fear in the spirits who Kotoko is charged with protecting. A serial mystery crossed with an odd-couple rom-com that occasionally pokes at the fourth wall, In/Spectre is a gorgeously animated series with fun twists, delightful characters, and engrossing cases that'll keep you hooked to the end.
Premiere date: April 11
Director: Yoshitomo Yonetai
Production studio: J.C.Staff
The horniest cooking anime to ever exist comes to an end in its fifth season as Yukihira Soma and his band of world-class talented teenaged chefs compete and spectate in the most prestigious cooking competition for chefs under 25 during the Totsuki culinary academy's summer break. Though Food Wars!, aka Shokugeki No Soma, has turned into more of shōnen battle manga with food, taking on the seedy chefs of Noir, than the groundbreaking technique explainer of its past, it's no less celebratory of the art and joy of cooking in all its trial and error, failure and success.
Release date: June 30
Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Animation production: Studio Trigger
In the future, the centuries-old existence of a race of animal-human hybrids known as "beastmen" has been made known to humanity. Faced with the threat of social unrest and undue persecution by the humans, the beastmen are granted "separate but equal" coexistence within an autonomous zone of Japan where they established Anima City, the sole sanctuary for beastmen in the human world. Michiru Kagemori, a teenage girl who has been mysteriously transformed into a beastman, comes to Anima City in search of answers and a cure to her curious condition, and is thrown headfirst into a world of adventure, intrigue, and conspiracy. You Yoshinari’s latest series has everything you’d come to expect from the legendary animator-director behind FLCL, Gurren Lagann, and Little Witch Academia: dazzling animation, whimsically elastic physical comedy, great music, and GOAT-tier background and character design, courtesy of up-and-coming animator-illustrator Genice Chan. BNA: Brand New Animal is yet another excellent addition in Trigger’s body of work, a visual evolution of the studio work on 2019's feature film Promare, and one of the year's most enjoyable anime to watch.
13. Tower of God
Release date: April 1
Director: Takashi Sano
Animation production: Telecom Animation Film
Tower of God has been one of the most talked-about new series of 2020, and for good reason. A collaboration between Crunchyroll and digital comic publisher Webtoon, the series is an anime adaptation of the online 'manhwa' (Korean for 'comic') by artist S.I.U. and the latest in Crunchyroll's recent push into producing its own original anime content. The series follows Bam, an amnesiac youth who is mysteriously teleported into the eponymous Tower of God, a metaphysical structure that seemingly encompasses the entire world and is designed to bestow immense powers upon those capable of reaching its heights. On his journey to reach the tower's peak in search of his beloved friend Rachel, Bam must surround himself with allies in order to overcome the Tower's deadly trials and even deadlier adversaries. A gorgeous fantasy-adventure with rich characters, dense mythology, and beautiful animation, Tower of God will satisfy anyone hungry for a new shonen series to binge.
Premiere date: January 11
Director: Masako Satō
Production studio: Production I.G.
The men's high school volleyball anime Haikyuu!! has gained an obsessive fandom over its four seasons, and it's a no brainer why: While the show is, of course, about high-level volleyball, where one show-stopping match could take up practically an entire season's arc, the real draw are each of the teams that make up the ongoing rivalries. But we're forever rooting for Karasuno High School, and the setter-hitter dynamic of all-star Tobio Kageyama and rising star Shouyou Hinata, prepare for and compete in the national tournament. With every ace, diving save, big block, and perfect spike, Haikyuu!! will make you care deeply about volleyball even if you don't know the first thing about the sport.
Release date: July 9
Director: Pyeon-Gang Ho, Masaaki Yuasa
Animation production: Science SARU
Pyeon-Gang Ho and Masaaki Yuasa's adaptation of Sakyo Komatsu's 1973 disaster novel takes the original premise and updates it for the modern era. When Japan is rocked by a major earthquake, the Mutō family is forced to band together to weather the cascade of subsequent disasters and perils that follow in its wake. Japan Sinks: 2020 is a harrowing survivalist watch, particularly in a post-Fukushima disaster, post-COVID-19 world. As they journey across the country in search of refuge and safety amidst an onslaught of environmental dangers and malicious opportunists, death comes swiftly and indiscriminately for both loved ones and strangers alike. With a gorgeous theme song composed by the inimitable Ryuichi Sakamoto and a pulse-pounding score by composer Kensuke Ushio, Japan Sinks: 2020 is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unfathomable adversity and unprecedented environmental horror.
Release date: August 27
Animation production: Fanworks
Rarecho and studio Fanworks' Aggretsuko comes roaring back for another exciting season of drama, love, and guttural death metal. Retsuko and co.'s journey through young adulthood takes some sharp turns as they navigate the pressures of predatory microtransactions, budding office romances, idol groups and sinister fanboys, the death march of a debt-driven society under the iron rule of capitalism, and the tough but necessary choices that come with growing as both a professional and as a person. As harrowing and full of heart as the series has ever been, Aggretsuko Season 3 is wild enough to give Bojack Horseman’s emotional rollercoaster a ride for its money and without a doubt a must-watch.
Release date: April 11
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Animation production: A-1 Pictures
Student council president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya return for another season of machiavellian shenanigans and romantic hijinks! The first season of Kaguya-sama: Love is War was one of last year’s standout new series, a devious and hilarious twist on the classic ‘will-they-won’t-they’ formula of high school rom-com anime. Season 2 has even more in the way of lovestruck mishaps between Miyuki and Kaguya, as well as more time spotlighting old and new breakout favorites such as the Kaguya's hyper-capable assistant Ai Hayasaki and Miyuki’s icy cool sister Kei. And better, the second season is just self-contained enough that viewers new to the series could pop in to watch this one without missing a beat. Kaguya-sama: Love is War is uproariously hilarious, stylistically inventive, and easily one of the best anime rom-coms to come out this year.
Release date: December 7
Director: Jun Shishido, Yūichirō Hayashi
Animation production: MAPPA
The highly celebrated and fiercely debated anime Attack on Titan returns for its fourth and final season with new horrors, greater perils, and a new studio behind the scenes. With the true nature of the Titans finally revealed, the rightful heir to the throne of the Walled City properly seated, and the series' true antagonists unveiled in the form of the mysterious mainland country of Marley, the last season of the popular dark fantasy action series subverts expectations once again by shifting its perspectives to that of the Marley military as they mount one last desperate campaign to take Paradis Island and the power of the Founding Titan from Eren Yeager. With long-time AoT studio Wit having moved on following their work on Season 3, MAPPA and co-directors Jun Shishido and Yūichirō Hayashi have stepped up to bring the series' finale to fruition. While it may be too soon to say how it compares to that of the series’ preceding season, what’s abundantly clear is that Attack on Titan Season 4 is one of this year's biggest releases and certainly not one to be missed.
Release date: August 20
Director: Hiro Kaburagi
Animation production: Studio Wit
Makoto Edamura is Japan's greatest con-man. Or at least, that's what he thinks until he's bested by Laurent Thierry, a suave and masterful gentleman thief who eyes up the young Edamura to join his globe-trotting crew as his apprentice. Traveling the world from San Francisco to Singapore, London and beyond, Edamura learns the tricks of the trade as he cons the criminal elite's most dastardly plutocrats while growing up along the way, all tinged with the same sense of humor that you'd find in any of the Ocean's movies. Directed by Hiro Kaburagi (91 Days, Speed Grapher) and written by screenwriter Ryota Kosawa, Great Pretender is a death-defying, high-wire heist drama packed with a dazzling art design, beautiful vistas, and an infectiously jazzy score that easily catapults it among the ranks of very best, most memorable, and exciting new anime to come out in 2020.
Release date: October 8
Director: Tomohisa Taguchi
Animation production: Pierrot
Ever wondered what an anime version of Suicide Squad from the writer of Danganronpa and the studio behind Tokyo Ghoul would look like? That's Akudama Drive in a nutshell. Set in an outlandish dystopian sci-fi world where the Japanese region of Kansai has been transformed into a vassal state under the rule of Kanto, the series follows an ordinary young woman who, after a chance encounter with a group of hardened criminals known as Akudama (literally Japanese for "bad guys"), is fitted with an explosive collar and tasked with performing a seemingly impossible heist at the behest of a mysterious benefactor in the guise of a robotic cat. What starts out wild only intensifies into an engrossingly over-the-top, visually abrasive, and unapologetically hyper-violent action show that lives and dies by the Rule of Cool. If you're looking for a show that throws caution to the wind and acts like subtext is for cowards, Akudama Drive was made for you.
Release date: May 28
Director: Yuichiro Hayashi
Animation production: MAPPA
Based on Q Hayashida’s cult dark fantasy sci-fi manga of the same name, Dorohedoro is set in the Hole, a harsh derelict metropolis populated by humans and an ever-increasing number of unfortunate souls transformed into chimeric monstrosities by malicious sorcerers from another dimension. The series follows Caiman, an amnesiac bounty hunter and his best friend Nikaido as they scour the depths of the Hole in search of the sorcerer who cursed him with a lizard’s head. Oh yeah, he’s also got a sentient human head at the back of his throat that pops up Xenomorph-style whenever Caiman swallows his prey to search for the culprit. It only gets weirder from there. Packed to the brim with gnarly violence, leather-clad weirdos, pitch-black humor, and more than a few moments of light-hearted levity, Dorohedoro is a dark and impressive hybrid-CG anime that combines dystopian body-horror and slice-of-life comedy to make for one of the most exciting and unique new series to come out in 2020.
4. Jujutsu Kaisen
Release date: October 3
Director: Sunghoo Park
Animation production: MAPPA
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An athletically-gifted high schooler (Itadori Yuuri) with tremendous physical strength and the ability to converse with spirits is whisked away from his ordinary life to become a highly specialized supernatural warrior (Jujutsu Sorcerer) under the careful tutelage of an eccentric masked mentor (Satoru Gojō) after he inadvertently becomes the vessel of an immensely powerful and evil entity (Ryoumen Sukuna). No, this isn’t Naruto or Bleach or Yu Yu Hakusho; it’s Jujutsu Kaisen, and it’s awesome. Adapted from Gege Akutami’s ongoing Shonen Jump manga and helmed by an exemplary host of animators, including series director Sunghoo Park (Garo: Vanishing Line), key animator Shingo Yamashita (Birdy the Mighty Decode), and animation director Tadashi Hiramatsu (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Jujutsu Kaisen is perfect for any fan of deftly animated action anime searching for a new favorite series while patiently waiting for Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba to return. With an exhilarating blend of supernatural horror-action, dizzying fight scenes, oddball characters, and charming slice-of-life humor, Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the most promising new anime to premiere this year.
Release date: March 13
Director: Shinichi Matsumi
Animation production: Orange
Set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, Beastars is the story of Legoshi, a benevolent if dour young lupine who crosses paths with Haru, an emotionally aloof and promiscuous dwarf rabbit, through serendipitous circumstances and begins to develop complicated feelings for her. Legoshi's primal and emotional awakening is exacerbated by his status as a carnivore, forcing him to confront the terrifying question of whether what he feels for Haru is simply his instinctual urge to hunt and kill, or something more. From a technical and creative standpoint, everything about Beastars is masterful. From its sincerely nuanced depiction of a society frayed between different competing castes of carnivores and herbivores, to its inspired sense of composition and lighting, Beastars is an absurd, terrifying, horny, and heartfelt anime that stands head and shoulders above the pack.
Release date: July 8
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Animation production: Nut
Is it really any surprise that director Yuzuru Tachikawa (Death Parade, Mob Psycho 100) and screenwriter Hiroshi Seko (Attack on Titan, Banana Fish, Vinland Saga) are behind not only one of the best anime of 2020, but one of the biggest anime twists of the year? Deca-Dence follows the story of Natsume, a young girl living aboard a massive mobile fortress in a post-apocalyptic world who dreams of becoming one of its defenders, and Kaburagi, her taciturn mentor figure whose past and nature conceals an unfathomable secret about the nature of their world and Natsume’s very existence. What starts out as an impressively executed, if boiler-plate, mash-up of Attack on Titan by way of Mortal Engines quickly transforms into a cerebral sci-fi drama resembling a cocktail of Westworld, Monster Hunter, and mutant hybrid of Pixar's Wall-E meets Disney's Wreck-It Ralph. With dazzling action, beautiful animation, and a deliriously high-concept premise that’ll leave your head spinning, Deca-Dence is an unquestionable must-watch for any anime fan in 2020.
Release date: January 5
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Animation production: Science Saru
Based on Sumito Ōwara's manga series of the same name, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! follows high schooler Midori and her friends Sayaka and Tsubame as they attempt to establish an anime club on their school's campus and produce their own animated film. What follows is a wild odyssey of the highs and lows of trying to break into animation, the type of comedic and disarmingly earnest portrayal of youthful ambition in the face of opposition, and inexperience that reaffirms why you fell in love with anime in the first place. Brimming with meticulous nods to some of the medium's finest creators and a mischievously meta sense of creativity that'll have even the most stone-faced of viewers grinning ear to ear, it's the kind of show you could only expect from the likes of Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby, Ping Pong the Animation, etc.) and the team behind Science Saru. Top that with an infectiously trippy title theme and score courtesy of rap duo chelmico and experimental producer Oorutaichi and you've got one of the most memorable and hilarious anime of the year.