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The Best Anime Of 2020

The year 2020 was a strange one for anime, with numerous shows being paused and postponed. As a result, fans had to wait longer than expected for many of the year's most anticipated releases, but for the most part, it was worth the wait. There were a couple of low points – Food Wars: The Fifth Plate was a disappointing end to one of the most popular anime adaptations of recent years, and Japan Sinks: 2020, from the creator of hit Netflix Original series Devilman Crybaby, missed the mark — though several shows managed to live up to the hype.

A couple of fan-favorites returned with new seasons in 2020, and there was a number of brand new shows that came out of nowhere to capture the imagination of viewers on both sides of the Pacific. From Ghibli-esque fantasies and cute slice-of-life shows to mind-bending sci-fi and glitzy crime capers, these are the best anime of 2020. Mild spoilers ahead.

Somali and the Forest Spirit is an unmissable father-daughter fantasy adventure

Based on Yako Gureishi's web manga of the same name, Somali and the Forest Spirit is like The Jungle Book reimagined by Studio Ghibli. It's the story of Somali, an abandoned child in a world where humans are hunted by monsters. Clans of various creatures vie for control of the land, and any humans they come across are dealt with harshly. When a golem (an ancient watchman of the forest in Gureishi's world) comes across the orphaned Somali, the lonely child mistakes it for her father. The golem takes it upon himself to return the human to her own kind, but with just a year of his lifespan remaining and humanity on the brink of extinction, it's not a straightforward task.

The first thing you'll notice about Somali and the Forest Spirit is just how good it looks. Co-produced by newcomers HORNETS and Satelight (known for the later installments of the Macross franchise), this beautifully animated show boasts some of the most vivid and imaginative fantasy landscapes in recent memory, and the creature designs manage to be original despite the slew of similarly themed shows that have come before it. What really makes Somali and the Forest Spirit stand out from the crowd is the bittersweet relationship between the titular characters. You'll find yourself invested in their journey from the moment they meet, and by the final episode, they're basically family.

Deca-Dence has the best anime plot twist of 2020

Hailed as "the perfect original anime" by OtaquestDeca-Dence takes place in the far future, when mass air pollution has brought humanity to its knees. Worse still, the appearance of monstrous new lifeforms called Gadolls has pushed the human race to the brink of extinction, but one teenage girl isn't giving up. Natsume lost her father and her right arm in a Gadoll attack when she was a child, and from that moment, she dreamed of joining "the Power," the military unit that protects the last remnants of humanity from the deadly creatures.

The Power is also tasked with defending Deca-Dence, a 3000-mile-high mobile fortress where the remnants of humanity live alongside cyborgs. As population levels fell, corporations began to concentrate on cybernetics, hoping to give humankind a fighting chance. And when we pick up the story with Natsume in the 2400s, the so-called cyborgs are so mechanized that they're essentially a whole new species. The show sets itself up like an like an Attack on Titan-style siege fantasy, but a huge reveal in the second episode confirms that Deca-Dence is actually more of a sci-fi. 

We won't spoil what fans are calling "the best anime plot twist in recent memory," but let's just say that Deca-Dence is the genre mash-up you never knew you needed. It wasn't on many people's radar as the summer season of anime approached in 2020, but word of mouth turned it into a one of the year's must-see shows.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is pure joy

Masaaki Yuasa's Japan Sinks: 2020 might've been a letdown, but the director also oversaw one of 2020's success stories, the delightfully addictive and highly memed Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Based on the manga by Sumito Owara, it's the story of three female students and their passion project. When main protagonist Midori Asakusa, a talented artist with a boundless imagination and a knack for drawing incredible landscapes, meets a young model named Tsubame Mizusaki, an equally talented artist who prefers drawing the human form, sparks fly. Seeing a business opportunity, Asakusa's infinitely more sensible best friend, Sayaka Kanamori, suggests that they team up and create their very own anime. Their school already has an anime club, however, so the girls decide to start a motion picture club ("Eizouken" in Japanese) as cover for their ambitious project.

From its catchy opening song (getting "Easy Breezy" by rap duo Chelmico out of your head is a legitimate challenge) to the free-flowing animation from the team at Yuasa's studio Science SARU, this show is 12 episodes of unbridled joy. "There are a few anime that pop-up every few years that are life affirmingly wonderful, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is definitely one of them," Forbes said in its review, calling the series "a love letter to anime as a whole" on account of Midori's obsession with Future Boy Conan, a seminal early series from Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki.

Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World season 2 takes a risk that pays off

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World is the tale of Subaru Natsuki, a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who's suddenly transported to another world during a routine trip to the convenience store. He's dazed and confused upon arrival, but a silver-haired half-elf girl comes to his aid, and before he knows it, he's involved in an engrossing fantasy quest. It's a mixture of magical and medieval themes that most anime fans have seen before, but what makes this particular show stand out is the characters.

If you're aware of Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World, you've probably heard the term "waifu wars" before. For the uninitiated, "waifu" is fandom slang for a fictional female character who inspires obsession (both borderline and full-blown) in male fans. Waifus Rem and Emilia emerged as the two favorites in season 1 of Re:Zero, but Crunchyroll put an end to the popularity debate when it ran a poll — Rem won with almost half the total vote.

Needless to say, a lot of people were upset when Rem was put into a coma in the first episode of season 2, but fans quickly took to new character Echidna and got over it. Studio White Fox gives a lesson in how to do a follow-up season here, shaking things up without totally alienating fans. And don't worry Rem lovers, chances are she'll be back when the show recommences in 2021.

Great Pretender is a colorful crime caper

One of the latest additions to Netflix's must-see list of anime is 2020's Great Pretender, a crime caper from Wit Studio that follows a small-time swindler as he's sucked into the world of international con artistry. 

After being wrongfully jailed for fraud, young ex-con Makoto Edamura struggles to find honest work. With few other options available to him, he decides to become a con man. He starts out small, and things are going well until he meets a suave thief named Laurent Thierry, who tricks him into coming to Los Angeles. Turns out the Frenchman is planning to steal millions of dollars from a corrupt film producer in a sham drug deal, and he wants Edamura on his team.

Great Pretender is a globetrotting affair (after pulling off the Los Angeles job, the team goes on to hit targets in Singapore and London) that walks the line between drama and humor perfectly. The animation pops, and it sounds amazing, too, blending jazz and classical music to great effect. You'll be singing Freddie Mercury's 1987 cover of "The Great Pretender" (which plays over the end credits) for weeks.

Haikyuu!!: To the Top finally gave us nationals

Sports anime remains as popular as ever in 2020 (who doesn't love a good tournament arc?), a year that was bookended by Haikyuu!! Part one of the volleyball anime's fourth season (subtitled To the Top) ran from January to April, then part two aired between October and December. Fans were divided over some seemingly sloppy animation in one particular episode, but the general consensus was that Haikyuu!!: To the Top absolutely delivered.

Diminutive protagonist Shoyo Hinata is still having to prove that size doesn't matter on the court, despite everything he's achieved in the previous three seasons. He proved himself at the high school and regional levels, but now, the Karasuno High School volleyball team is competing in the nationals. They spend most of the first part of season 4 preparing for the tournament, attending training camps, and playing practice matches. Hinata is determined to be a better player by the time the big tournament commences, knowing the competition will be tougher than ever before. But does he do enough? Does Karasuno make it to the top, as the title suggests?

The second half of Haikyuu!! season 4 is dedicated to the highly anticipated showdown between Karasuno and Inarizaki High School, an unpredictable team with some talented players and a raucous fanbase. It's touch and go, but (surprise, surprise) Hinata's training pays off, and he singlehandedly turns the game around. If you're new to sports anime, this is your perfect gateway show. 

A Certain Scientific Railgun T is an electrifying sequel series

J.C.Staff dropped a fresh season of A Certain Scientific Railgun in 2020, reminding everyone just how much of a blast this show is. Based on Kazuma Kamachi's manga of the same name (a spinoff of his long-running light novel series, A Certain Magical Index), A Certain Scientific Railgun takes place in Academy City, a landlocked sovereign state within Tokyo's borders. As the name would suggest, Academy City is jam-packed with schools and institutions where a mixture of science and magic is taught. The Power Curriculum Program helps students unlock their supernatural potential and become espers, though only a few (like our protagonist, electromaster Mikoto Misaka) make it to Level 5.

Level 5 is already established as the highest attainable esper rank when the story begins, but there have been attempts to go further. A scientist obsessed with creating a Level 6 esper turns his attention to Misaka in the 25-episode third season, which proved a hit with fans and critics alike. A Certain Scientific Railgun T has an impressive score of 8.26 on MyAnimeList, and it went down very well with Honey's Anime, which called it "a must-watch for fans of the Raildex universe" in a glowing review. "With overall excellent production values and a pleasant mix of lighter character moments with intense action and evolving mysteries, Railgun T lives up to the high standards of its predecessors and should delight long-term watchers who have stuck with the series."

Dorohedoro is a weird and wonderful must-watch

Another triumph for Netflix in 2020Dorohedoro is a bizarre but brilliant post-apocalyptic anime about a man with a crocodile head looking for answers. Caiman was once just a regular guy in the Hole, a grim far-future city where humans live in fear. Sorcerers from another dimension regularly visit the Hole in search of human guinea pigs for their black magic experiments, which is how Caiman ended up a croc from the neck up with no memory of who did it. The show follows Caiman and bestie Nikaido as they hunt sorcerers in the Hole, hoping to find the culprit and restore his human face. When word of their violent exploits reaches a powerful sorcerer family, a conflict between the two dimensions erupts.

MAPPA Studios (Yuri!! on Ice) squeezed seven volumes of Q Hayashida's long-running manga into this jam-packed first season, which smashes several anime genres together as it hurtles along at a breakneck pace. Everything from body horror to basketball is thrown into a blender, and the result is a vivid and ultimately rewarding adventure. The relationship between Caiman and Nikaido (a restaurant owner and chef who keeps her part-reptilian comrade well-fed on his favorite gyozas) is the real heart of the show, but the writers also take the time to flesh out the villains, telling the sorcerer side of the story with little bias. Kudos are also in order for the faithful character designs, which remain true to the source material.

My Next Life as a Villainess took a fresh approach to well-trodden ground

Based on Satoru Yamaguchi's light novel series of the same name, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (or HameFura, as it's usually shortened to by fans) is the tale of Catarina Claes, a rich and beautiful noblewoman. At least, that's who Catarina thinks she is ... until she gets hit on the head with a rock one day and regains memories of her true life — that of a 17-year-old otaku. Turns out Catarina died and was reborn into the world of Fortune Lover, her favorite game. The trouble is, she's been reincarnated as the villain of the story, not the heroine.

There have been plenty of "isekai" (shows about regular people being transported or reborn into a fantasy or virtual world) in recent years, but what makes this one different than the rest is the type of game it's based on. While shows like Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and many others used MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! takes a different approach by thrusting the protagonist into an "otome," story-based games geared towards women. Luckily for Catarina, she knows Fortune Lover better than anybody. Armed with the knowledge that all routes lead to either death or exile for her character, she takes drastic measures to derail the plot and stay alive. The results are equal parts hilarious and heartwarming.

ID:Invaded is a cerebral sci-fi that will keep you guessing

Original sci-fi series ID:Invaded takes place in a future where advanced technology has made it possible for a specialized police squad named Kura to tap into unconscious minds and collect clues about homicide suspects. Investigators enter what's called an "id well" and work with colleagues on the outside, who scan for the "cognition particles" that get left behind after a murder. The show follows a former detective named Akihito Narihisago, whose wife committed suicide after their daughter was murdered. When the story picks up two years later, Narihisago is behind bars — he tracked down the killer and took his revenge.

Despite the fact that he's in prison, Narihisago still has the respect of former colleagues. His ability to hunt down serial killers makes him a perfect candidate for id well work, as does his criminal past (only those who've committed murder themselves may enter a well). Narihisago quickly earns the nickname "the Cornerer" because of his knack for cornering serial killers into killing themselves, which doesn't exactly go down well with his superiors on the outside. As the show progresses, he begins to uncover a dark secret that links all the deaths he's been investigating.

Like all good sci-fi anime, ID:Invaded is a show that demands your total attention. Viewers are thrown into this cerebral world at the deep and expected to stay afloat, but for those with the required stamina, it's well worth the effort.

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition was a hit with parents

A brilliant little slice-of-life comedy from the spring 2020 season, Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition is about a man who draws "ecchi," an adult-orientated subgenre of manga known for its sexually suggestive content. When his daughter, Hime, is born, Kakushi Gotou makes it his mission to keep his line of work a secret, pretending to be a salaryman so she sees him as just a regular single dad. His office is located on the other side of town, and his assistants all know the protocol should Hime show up. Despite all the precautions, keeping the inquisitive girl in the dark about his real job proves to be no simple task, and Kakushi is in a constant state of paranoia as a result.

This was an anime that really seemed to click with parents. Parenthood is known to make people reevaluate what kind of media they're consuming, and when you're the person actually creating that questionable media (Kakushi writes and illustrates a manga called Balls of Fury), those anxieties are amplified. Kakushi's increasingly elaborate (and increasingly hilarious) attempts at pulling the wool over Hime's eyes will leave you grinning ear to ear, but it's their sweet dynamic that stays with you after the end credits (accompanied by Ootaki Eiichi's '80s hit "Kimi wa Tennen Iro," which won best spring 2020 anime theme song in a poll). Does Hime discover the truth? We recommend finding out for yourself.

Moriarty the Patriot flips the Sherlock Holmes story on its head

Netflix explored the wider world of Sherlock Holmes with its critically acclaimed original movie Enola Holmes in 2020, but that wasn't the only new take on Arthur Conan Doyle's classic story to come out that year. From Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, Psycho-Pass) came an anime adaptation of Ryosuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi's manga series Moriarty the Patriot, the story of Sherlock's rival and nemesis. The tale unfolds in 19th century Britain, where the wealth divide has gotten out of control. With the help of his brothers, the blonde-haired, red-eyed William James Moriarty sets out to bring down the nobility and end the class divide, putting him on a collision course with a posh, ponytailed Sherlock Holmes.

The vastly different character designs may be jarring if you're a longtime Sherlock Holmes fan, but this version of Moriarty actually has more in common with the original than it first appears. "Aside from his looks, the story borrows heavily from Doyle's canon," Forbes said in its review of the manga. "This version of James Moriarty shares the original's ruthless attitude, professorship in mathematics, and brilliant mind." The anime was equally well received in the West, praised for its accurate recreation of Northern England and its clever cat-and-mouse narrative. The titular antihero comes face to face with Sherlock halfway through the first season of the show, and "a thoroughly engaging battle of the minds" ensues, according to Otaquest's review.

Jujutsu Kaisen plays on shonen tropes brilliantly

One of the breakout hits of the fall 2020 season, Jujutsu Kaisen is the story of Yuji Itadori, an athletically gifted but lazy student possessed by an evil demon that sorcerers everywhere are dying to kill. He finds himself in said supernatural predicament after he joins his school's Occult Research Club and comes into contact with a high-level cursed object — a preserved, severed finger. The discovery of the finger (which belonged to a powerful sorcerer named Sukuna) puts the club in mortal danger, and in a last-ditch effort to save his friends from the monsters they unwittingly spawned, Yuji eats Sukuna's cursed finger, gaining his powers and becoming his host.

It's easy to write Jujutsu Kaisen off as just another battle shonen (the title literally means Spirit Fight, after all), but this adaptation of Gege Akutami's super popular manga series plays on those expectations, subverting them brilliantly with meaningful character deaths and actual cliffhangers. "This is a beautiful trick Jujutsu pulls again and again: feigning predictability with a simple setup before giving a complex genre aware punchline," argued Polygon. The show's been getting rave reviews in Japan and in the West, much to the delight of the English dub cast. "It's been incredible so far," Adam McArthur, who voices Yuri, told ComicBook.com. "I'm still wrapping my head around it, to be honest. I'm very excited to see how things progress and doing my part in bringing the dub to new audiences."

Akudama Drive is a cyberpunk tribute to '80s and '90s Hollywood

An original series from Pierrot (the studio behind Naruto, Bleach and Tokyo Ghoul)cyberpunk thrill ride Akudama Drive is a visual feast that lit up the anime world at the end of 2020. In a dystopian Japan, the region of Kansai has become a vassal state of Kanto after a bloody civil war that divided the country. Run down and increasingly dangerous, Kansai is full of Akudama, a term used to describe the dangerous and highly efficient criminals that roam the region. The story picks up when four Akudama are roped into a plot to steal important plans under the guise of rescuing a prisoner from death row. 

The first season of Akudama Drive ran from October to December. In that short time, it managed to amass a following in the West, and not only because it looks spectacular. The show pays homage to '80s and '90s Hollywood with its episode titles (each one is named after a film from that era), its edgy story (it's like Quentin Tarantino wrote a 12-part heist), and its neon aesthetic (it's just one of many projects inspired by the look of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner). Spotting Akudama Drive Easter eggs became an addictive new hobby for anime fans stuck in lockdown in the latter part of 2020, and the show's buzz continued into 2021, boosted by positive reviews: Slash Film called it "the cyberpunk Suicide Squad anime you never knew you wanted."