In my last post about the Top 5 Most Anticipated Anime Coming in 2019, I pointed out what a great year 2018 had been for the anime industry. I even offered a few standout titles as an example, and I stand by my claim.
Since I’d already hinted at a few of the titles that made 2018 such a great year for otaku everywhere, it only made sense to do a follow-up piece that made it official and completed the list.
So, without further ado, here are what I consider the best 5 anime shows from 2018.
5. Cells At Work!
We’ll kick this list off with a more light-hearted title that’s nevertheless made a huge splash with American viewers!
Cells at Work! is an anthropomorphic depiction of what goes on inside your body every day. The series focuses on Red Blood Cell AE3803, also called Ethrocyte, and White Blood Cell U-1146, also called Neutrophil. While the clumsy but hard-working AE works to provide oxygen and nutrients throughout their human’s body, Neutro takes on the role of the committed warrior, defending the body against invading bacteria, parasites, and any other harmful pathogens. Together, they’re on a mission to keep their host’s body operating at peak capacity, while we enjoy some great action and truly hilarious moments along the way.
On the surface, Cells at Work! seems like it would be far too simple a concept to base an entire series on, but that’s the point. One of author and artist Akane Shimizu’s main goals is to make people realize just how complex and dynamic the human immune system really is, without the series becoming a college biology class. Her solution was to give these biological functions names and personalities and set them loose in a manner that we can engage and relate with. The result is a funny, heart-warming, action-packed tour of just how hard your body works to keep you functioning every day of your life.
4. My Hero Academia Season 3
If all My Hero Academia had managed to do was sell a few copies of the manga, and get a few seasons worth of anime out, it would still be doing better than the majority of other published works coming out today. Instead, Hero has managed to become one of the best-selling and most widely loved titles of the last decade.
The basic premise is that the world is filled with people with amazing superpowers, called “Quirks.” Izuku Midoriya is the exception. He doesn’t have a Quirk, and that makes him the target for bullies at school. Despite this, he dreams of one day becoming the greatest Hero of them all. After Izuku is the only person to try and save his friend Katsuki from a supervillain’s attack, despite being surrounded by people with Quirks, he’s given the world’s greatest Quirk, “One for All,” by the world’s greatest Hero, All Might. This allows him to enter the U.A. High School, the world’s premier academy to train Heroes, and sets him on the path to achieving his dreams.
While the series has been a huge success in Japan, it became an overnight sensation in America, and that’s no shock. Mangaka Kōhei Horikoshi loves American superhero comics, and it shows. Everything from the character designs to the Heroes’ personas is modeled after the Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America comics that inspired Horikoshi. These sensibilities help the show immediately resonate with a Western audience. It also retains that weird and wonderful quality that is so prevalent in Japanese works of fiction, that America tries to replicate, but just can’t seem to pin down.
3. Castlevania Season 2
I’m tempted to just combine seasons 1 and 2 of Netflix’s original series, because the first season was so short. At a measly four episodes of 30 minutes each, the first season was more of a prelude than a proper season. But whether combined with the first season or standing on its own, the eight-episode second season of Castlevania stands as not only one of the best video game adaptions ever made, but one of the best animated series to come out of recent years.
SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 FOLLOW
Picking up where the first season left off, the second season sees Trevor Belmont, heir to the legendary (though outcast) Belmont clan of vampire hunters, and Sypha Belnades, Speaker and powerful sorceress, united in their quest with Adrian “Alucard” Tepes, Dracula’s estranged Dhampir son. Their goal is to stop Dracula’s eradication of humanity, whom he holds collectively responsible for the murder of his wife, and Alucard’s mother, Lisa.
To achieve his goals, Dracula assembles his top vampiric generals, including the Viking Godbrand and the aristocratic Carmilla, along with their armies of undead warriors. Together, they unleash a campaign of genocide on mankind. Not only pulling from the ranks of the undead, Dracula is also aided by two human Devil Forge Masters, sorcerer-blacksmiths who can control the dead, named Hector and Isaac. Against this seemingly unstoppable force stands only the three companions, who must discover a way to defeat the King of the Vampires, if one even exists.
Some people may be irked that I even included Castlevania on this list since it’s not technically anime. The show was produced by Adi Shankar, developed by Netflix, and penned by revered comics scribe Warren Ellis. That’s about as un-Japanese as you can get. Normally, I’d have the same reservations, but not for Castlevania. Shankar is a devotee of the original Konami games, all of which came out of Japan, and the production team did an incredibly good job at retaining certain Japanese sensibilities that often elude American productions. The character designs were mostly adapted from the work of Ayami Kojima, whose paintings and ink drawings helped define the look of Castlevania that we’re most familiar with.
The result is a show that may not be anime in pedigree, but certainly feels like one. The animation is top notch, and while Ellis liberally injects his own take on the Castlevania mythology, nothing feels out of place (the exception being Carmilla’s SJW-inspired slang about “man-children,” which was truly cringe-worthy). Ellis’ greatest triumph is his portrayal of Dracula, whom he paints as a strangely sympathetic figure, torn between his literal and figurative thirst for blood, and his sorrow over losing the one person in his life who made him feel like a man, instead of a monster. The voice performances from Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, James Callis, Alejandra Reynoso, and others are truly superb, and each character feels both original and distinct.
This first arc in the Castlevania saga was adapted from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Curse of Darkness. I’m hopeful that the show will move into the Simon Belmont era of the original Castlevania, and the Richter Belmont era of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, with future seasons. Whether the producers opt to go that route or not, only time will tell.
2. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind
The real magic of the long-running manga and anime series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is that it’s so damn weird and ridiculous that it should fall apart in spectacular fashion, but never does. Instead, the series has established itself as one of the most engaging and original works of fiction ever conceived. The latest story arc, Golden Wind, carries on that tradition in a big way.
Golden Wind follows Giorno Giovanna, the human son of Dio Brando, the immensely evil and vampiric antagonist of both the Phantom Blood and Stardust Crusaders story arcs. Giorno lives in Naples and is the head of a small-time mob organization, working to improve the lives of the city’s citizens. That’s not terribly unique, except that Giorno has a Stand, a hyper-dimensional being with unique powers that acts on Giorno’s behalf (“Stand”-ing in for him, if you will). After he’s approached by Bruno Bucciarati, head of a team of Stand-using mafiosos within the mafia outfit Passione, Giorno joins their organization. Together, they set out to Capri to retrieve their mob leader’s riches, battling a rival mob and trying to protect their leader’s daughter, Trish Una, who holds a secret of her own.
Ever since the new series launched with the adaption of Phantom Blood back in 2012, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has been a cut above nearly any other title on the market. I think there are two main reasons for this.
The first is the quality of author Hirohiko Araki’s original manga. JoJo has always been this weird mesh of action, horror, mystery, comedy, fashion, and fantasy. I think if a less skilled mangaka tried to put all that together, and tell a compelling story at the same time, it would just end up a mess. With Araki’s touch, the series becomes something more than the sum of its parts, and holds you captivated despite yourself.
The second reason is the animation provided by David Production. Prior to JoJo, they’d worked on a few titles that, while not huge successes, helped them gain a reputation for creating dynamic, impactful animation. With JoJo, they took everything they’d learned from their freshmen efforts and kicked it up by several levels. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure just looks amazing! From the character designs to the backgrounds to the sound effects, everything looks powerful, dynamic, and fluid. This is the first time I’ve ever watched an anime that felt like a manga in motion.
Combined together, the story and the animation create an amazing, surreal experience that you won’t be able to resist watching from beginning to end. It’s simply one of the best you can get.
It’s still damn weird, though.
1. Devilman Crybaby
I thought I knew what anime was all about. I’ve been watching anime since DBZ first premiered on Toonami back in the day, and I’ve seen some of the best, worst, and downright ugly that the industry has to offer. With years of viewing under my belt, I thought I knew exactly what anime was capable of. Turns out, I didn’t have a clue. Devilman Crybaby was what showed me how much I had to learn.
Adapted from the classic manga by Go Nagai, Devilman Crybaby tells the story of Akira Fudo, a gentle, timid, and kind-hearted high school student living with the Makimura family. The household includes oldest daughter Miki, whom Akira is very close to, and secretly has started to develop feelings for. Akira’s life changes forever when his only other true friend, Ryo Asuka, tells him that a primordial race of metamorphic monsters, the biblical demons, have awoken from millions of years of slumber to reclaim the Earth. Their method? Eliminate the human race.
To stop them, Akira and Ryo attend a drug and sex-fueled rave, the debauchery allowing the demons to open a dimensional gateway into our world. They proceed to rape, dismember, and consume the ravers. In a sea of blood, gore, and screams, Akira merges with the greatest warrior in all of demonkind, Amon the Brave. Akira’s belief in humanity and resolute heart allow him to resist Amon’s influence, and gives birth to Devilman, a being with the body and strength of the demon lord, but also the empathy of Akira Fudo. Together with Ryo, Devilman resolves to stop demonkind’s invasion of Earth, no matter the cost. And there will be a very high cost indeed.
I’d never read Go Nagai’s manga prior to watching the series, nor had I seen the original 1970s TV show or OVAs that came out after. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t. Devilman Crybaby is one of the few instances I can think of where the adaption far exceeds the source material. That’s a bold claim for a work so highly regarded as Devilman, but the series has the stones to back it up. The animation style is so far removed from anything else out there that it’s hard to categorize. It’s a little bit of European comics, a little bit of manga, a little bit of graffiti, and a little bit of Warhol. It all merges together to create a dazzling visual experience that I’ve never had before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have again.
While the original manga is a horrific and grotesquely violent statement about the horrors of war, discrimination, and human evil, this new series adds another angle that makes it far more compelling – teenage angst and sexuality. In lesser hands, it would be about as interesting a concept as Mean Girls in anime form. But in the hands of director Masaaki Yuasa, it becomes an artistic masterpiece that explores what it means to be human, and whether or not we’re far worse than any demon could ever be. As Akira struggles with his new form, his growing lust for Miki, and whether or not the humans he fights to protect are worth saving at all, we recall our teenage years when we thought we knew everything, while knowing nothing at all.
I don’t know how to give Devilman Crybaby a higher recommendation than I already have, except to say it is hands down the best anime I’ve seen in years. If you want to see what anime is truly capable of, finish reading this, put on Netflix, and watch the show in one sitting. Just be prepared – you’ll never look at anime the same way ever again.
It was hard to narrow down to just five titles. There were so many great anime that I wanted to talk about, but just didn’t have room for. To help take the sting off, 2018’s honorable anime mentions include:
- Megalo Box
- Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
- Attack on Titan Season 3.0
- Lupin the Third Part 5
Feel like I left one out? What were your favorite anime series of 2018?