The best anime of 2020

Even as studios scrambled to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of 2020, animators still managed to produce a landmark year for anime.

We saw even more investment in productions by international streamers like Netflix. Sony is expected to soon close on their purchase of Crunchyroll, adding it to its growing anime empire that already includes Funimation and Aniplex. And hundreds of new series premiered even as animation studios moved to remote work.

Despite all these changes and hurdles, we saw new shows that may eventually be added to a list of the best animes of all time. So in order to help you distinguish the wheat from the chaff I’ve compiled a list of some of the best anime of 2020. I’ve narrowed the list to seventeen shows, most of which could easily be watched in their entirety in just a few days.

Arte

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Arte is about a young woman pursuing her dream of becoming a painter in 16th century Florence. The series findings drama and character in the gender politics of the period, the privilege of class, and the minutia of how Renaissance art was made. Both poignant and heartening, it balances the wish-fulfillment and reality of a person pursuing a creative life.

Available on Funimation, and Hulu.


Ascendance of a Bookworm (Season 2)

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The second season of Bookworm continues to find new and fascinating complications for Myne’s seemingly simple ambition of wanting to make books. This arc pushes against societal challenges of following one’s professional pursuit. Myne must confront whether she is comfortable using her intelligence and power for selfish reasons, or if she can find a way to get what she wants while also making the lives around her better.

Available on Crunchyroll.


Beastars

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Beastars is the Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse of anime series. Its visual flair would not be possible without the blending of animation techniques and the talent to make use of such tools in inventive ways. The creators infuse tension, nuance, and depth into Paru Itagaki’s brilliant high school drama/murder mystery manga.

Available on Netflix.


Deca-Dence

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Deca-Dence is the antithesis of the “mystery box-style” of storytelling. What would normally be the defining climax/twist in any other sci-fi show, its creators refuse to hide from the audience. The show has unparalleled character animation and spectacular, multidimensional action scenes. This is a masterpiece of a show from top to bottom.

Available on Funimation, and Hulu.


Dorohedoro

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There isn’t anything quite like Dorohedoro. It’s as though someone wrote a fantastical horror story and then had it converted into a comedy. Although the show’s full of body horror and often grotesque violence, the characters are written and performed so charmingly that you can’t help but find the entire cast endearing. (Not necessarily forgivable, but likable nonetheless.)

Available on Netflix.


Fruits Basket (Season 2)

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Fruits Basket’s unique blend of romance, comedy, and drama makes what is often a very sad show, dealing with the emotional issues of a cursed extended family, feel unexpectedly hopeful. With season two, the cast begins to find ways to process through their issues even as the gravity of their family and their curse continues to complicate their lives.

Available on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.


Golden Kamuy (Season 3)

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Golden Kamuy has always felt a bit like a Coen brothers film, a wild mix of serious and absurd moments that still feel grounded. While earlier seasons were more towards the O Brother, Where Art Thou? end of the spectrum, this season has skewed closer to the tone of No Country for Old Men. The creators have begun to fill in the tragic backstories of the show’s supporting cast, though without losing the series’ unique sense of humor.

Available on Crunchyroll, and Funimation.


Great Pretender

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Great Pretender pulls off an inspired trick: it makes you think the show is about clever heists when it’s actually focused on the real personalities behind each thief’s cool facade. Striking a balance between comedy and drama, the show’s story is as unpredictable as its heists. And with beautiful animation and art direction, the show is enjoyable to watch in multi-episode chunks or across multiple viewings.

Available on Netflix.


Haikyu! To The Top

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As the series gets deeper into the national tournament at the heart of its story, Haikyu continues to show why it stands head and shoulders above other sports anime. Haikyu finds ways to make every character relatable, and every team not just an enemy to overcome, but another group of teens trying to get better at a sport they enjoy. The shows humanizes everyone, giving them their own struggles.

Available on Crunchyroll.


Id: Invaded

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While Id: Invaded could be described as “a detective series crossed with Inception” that elevator pitch does a disservice to the show’s range of ideas. Each case is full of mind-bending conceits, buttressed by immensely interesting characters. The creators take a very high concept sci-fi idea and use it to tell a grounded story.

Available on Funimation, and Hulu.


Jujutsu Kaisen

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Jujutsu Kaisen takes a strong manga series and further elevates it with a stellar anime presentation. All of the animation, acting, and writing choices convey the emotional drama of high school teens on the precipice of adult responsibility. Plus, unexpectedly comedic moments make both the heroes and villains endearing.

Available on Crunchyroll, and HBO Max.


Kaguya-sama: Love is War (Season 2)

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The first season of Kaguya was a breath of fresh air in terms of romantic comedies thanks in large part to brilliant choices in its animation style. Season 2 finds new ways to surprise and challenge the expectations, refusing to repeat what worked in the first season.

Available on Funimation.


Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

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Eizouken is a love letter to animation in both story and style. While not shying away from the less-than-ideal realities professional animators face, being over-worked and under-payed, it celebrates the magic of the craft. The series explores how final products are often a compromise between what the animator wants to do, what investors want, and what they can produce in the time they have. And yet the show oozes so much imagination and creativity that you can’t help but feel inspired.

Available on Crunchyroll, and HBO Max.


Moriarty the Patriot

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The series transforms Sherlock Holmes’ greatest foe from a criminal mastermind into a revolutionary anti-hero who constructs his perfect crimes for those seeking justice against the normally untouchable rich and powerful upper-class British society. Most episodes play out like a mix of a detective serial and a heist. Moriarty and his brothers piece together who they should be targeting and then how. The creators show just enough to make the reveal and final twist of the crime so satisfying.

Available on Funimation.


My Hero Academia (Season 4)

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The series’ fourth season is MHA at both its darkest and its strongest, as it further explores the complications of a world where nearly everyone is super-powered. It pulls the focus from the big bads (who are often more super-villain caricatures than characters) to smaller scale stakes. The season is more personal for Deku and the UA students, but no less dramatic.

Available on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.


My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!

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Villainess’ unique charm sets it apart from the other “reincarnated in another” world shows, a genre that’s been fairly well-wrought and overused at this point. Basically Catarina, unlike similar protagonists, is a well-meaning doofus. She succeeds not through her delusional machinations, but instead through her surprising kindness and weird personality. This makes it a rather low stakes, but enjoyable show. That’s fine when episodes are this funny and heartfelt.

Available on Crunchyroll.


Wave, Listen to Me!

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Wave’s Minare Koda is a walking disaster, with every step forward in her life coming with at least one step back and another to the side. Her charm lives and dies completely on the performance of her voice actress Riho Sugiyama, who makes Minare likable because of (rather than in spite of) her brazen and crass demeanor. It’s a romance story that constantly forgets it’s a romance story, but manages to keep you on your toes with wild twists that feel unusually plausible.

Available on Funimation.