I watched something like 94 anime that premiered in 2013, most of which were dropped after one episode. But there are standouts, as there always will be. I compiled my list of simply the best stuff I saw in 2013, and then forcibly narrowed them down to 10. It was actually pretty easy until I got to the nine spot. Ten I knew was going to be Kill la Kill and Samurai Flamenco together, simply because they have been great but aren’t over yet so I don’t want to snap to any judgments.
There are also a lot of shows missing from this list. I’d say most notably is Gargantia, which I loved the second half of the first episode and the next two episodes of it very much. But it never really surpassed itself from those moments, and devolved into moe slice of life some of the time.
Also missing are the completely pleasant but otherwise unnoticeably. Stuff like Kotoura-san, Gingitsune, Encouragement of Climb, Love Live!, Stella Women’s Academy High School Division Class C3, and of course Free! Kotoura and Gingitsune were fine, but I can’t say that I ever need to watch them again. They’re the type of show that’s really nice to sit down on a lazy Sunday afternoon and watch at your leisure (except maybe that first episode of Kotoura). Encouragement of Climb was a cute little short, but it suffers from the same problems that Kotoura and Gingitsune did. I probably liked it the most, since the staff behind that really knew what to do with three minutes.
Love Live!, however, is completely something I’d watch again because I have a disease. A disease that makes me love musicals for all their stupid goodness, and Love Live! is a pretty adorable musical, through and through. Plus it has some really catchy tunes in things like “Start:Dash.”
The latter two shows, Free! and C3, are both sports anime that were merely pedestrian. Free! had ulterior motives aside from the sports (like being beautifully animated boys in swimsuits), but it was actually pretty good sports fare. C3 was girls with guns, further promoting gun culture by way of being cute with them (unlike Upotte!, which taught you everything you possibly needed to know about these anthropomorphized guns). But C3 was actually an incredibly fun show that let you escape within the world of airsoft, reminding you and your friends that you should really go do that sometime.
From the world of sequels, The World God Only Knows season three and AKB0048 Second Stage are also missing. I liked the first two seasons of The World God Only Knows well enough, because it was playing with the very idea of a harem. But season three touted that it was indeed Keima that is the only person ever that can do anything and that was a little frustrating. Coupled with the unnecessarily complicated Goddesses stuff, it just didn’t do it for me like the first two seasons did. Meanwhile, AKB0048, helmed by Shoji Kawamori of Macross fame, was never amazing, but was always better than what it deserved to be (which is an advertisement for real-life Japanese pop band AKB48). The first season put us into a dystopia similar to Equilibrium and was incredibly fun to watch the girls try and become members of 00. The second season kept up that rhythm and really made us feel like the girls earned it when they finally were accepted as full members.
The biggest thing I’m missing from here is MAOYU, the show that is directed by the same guy who did Spice and Wolf, Takeo Takahashi, and it shows. The main characters, literally just named Hero and Demon Lord, are even voiced by Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu, Lawrence and Holo respectively. MAOYU accomplishes so much while just anthropomorphizing these names into well-rounded characters. No one is given a name and we grow to love them anyway.
I also didn’t even watch Tamako Market because I don’t have an Anime Network subscription. And there’s Nagi no Asukara, Yowamushi Pedal, Magi, Gundam Build Fighters, and Ace of Diamond that are still airing. But enough about that. We came here to talk about the best anime of 2013 and dammit that’s what we’re going to do.
Number 10: Samurai Flamenco and Kill la Kill
I knew I had to include these on the list, simply because they’ve been so good through 13 episodes. But they aren’t over yet and they’d likely be higher on my list if they were done with.
Kill la Kill is the next project from Hiroyuki Imaishi and his crew at trigger and it’s swept the anime nation with ecchi cosplay of Ryuko and Satsuki. It’s merits don’t end with the cleavage of the main characters, though. It is an incredibly fun show that is always able to turn the dial up one more level right after you thought it was done.
Samurai Flamenco does the same thing, but in a way different way. We start the show thinking that it’s going to be a straight up comedy about a guy trying to be a superhero, but it quickly turns into an amazing action piece that showcases what Samurai Flamenco and the Flamenco Girls have learned throughout 12 episodes of fun. It continuously turns the idea of the singular superhero on its head and, with its next 12 episodes, promises to turn the idea of the sentai on its head as well (exemplified when all five members come out as Flamenco Red). From content itself, it could easily be my favorite of 2013.
Number 9: Attack on Titan
This is truly the anime that took the world and the internet by storm. Attack on Titan really makes you want to care for the characters and the situation they’re in. But more than that, it is an incredible metaphor for fear. The titans are fear incarnate and we humans can only make coping mechanisms to deal with it (the maneuver gear, the cannons, etc.). It also does a great job at creating character agency for everyone involved, especially Jean, who is the character of the show and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Number 8: Watamote
Otherwise known as Watashi ga Motenai no wa do Kanagetemo Omaera ga Warui! or No Matter How I look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! It’s mercifully shortened to Watamote and it is a show completely dedicated to exploring the character of Tomoko and why she is the way she is, which is to say relatively insufferable yet completely lovable. She has a crippling social anxiety disorder which makes it difficult for her to even speak to her teachers—or anyone who isn’t her family or Yu, a friend from middle school. Despite this, most of what happens to her is completely her fault for bemoaning the “bitches” in her class or just not noticing the social cues from her classmates that are legitimately trying to become friends with her. It is just an incredible series to sit through that is at once enjoyable, reprehensible, and thought provoking.
Number 7: Flowers of Evil
Undoubtedly one of, if not the, most divisive anime this year, Flowers of Evil is an incredible exploration of a kid that’s just trying to look cool. Unfortunately, his idea of looking cool is reading Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal to impress Saeki and his friends. His argument is that he read this difficult book, thus he must be intellectual. It’s actually much more complex than that, dealing with the stigma of trying to appear normal yet bottling everything else up inside culminating in one of the greatest episodes in anime history. Flowers of Evil is an extremely deliberate series that’s sometimes frustrating in how slow it moves, because you know how good it can be.
Number 6: Silver Spoon
The next big thing from Hiromu Arakawa, mangaka for Fullmetal Alchemist, turns out to be a pleasant little farm story about a city kid who goes to an agricultural school in Hokkaido. Much of the story is said to be based on Arakawa’s own life, as she grew up on a farm herself. What the show does is showcase what it really means to grow, kill, and then eat livestock for a living, which is not as glamorous a business as it sounds (and it didn’t sound very glamorous to begin with). Watching Hachiken, who is both a great audience surrogate and an amazing character in his own right, grow to love a pig, buy the pig, and then eat the pig is one of the most emotional moments of the year and perhaps the greatest love story of the year…
Number 5: Genshiken Nidaime
…Right behind the unrequited love of Madarame to Kasukabe, which is years in the making and provided me with my number one episode of the year. Genshiken picks up right where the second season left off (Nidaime in this translation I guess means generation? But Crunchyroll translated it as season, which confuses everyone). Ogiue is going out with Sasahara, who’s working as an editor at a manga company. Ohno is still in school, trying to get through her last year, and Tanaka is still supporting her from the sidelines with his own work. Kugeyama has largely fallen off the big anime scene, as he’s working his own office job now. And Madarame…Madarame is the tragic guy who just can’t leave his former club behind. But we’re glad he’s around. New club president Ogiue and new members Hato, Yoshitake, and Yajima work well off him, not to mention returning champion Sue. For fans of the first two seasons, Nidaime is a great continuation and gives us precious little time with the characters we’ve already grown to love.
Number 4: Kyousougiga
I didn’t believe this would be as good as everyone said. I didn’t believe that the mess of a first episode was actually a brilliant how-to on how to tell a story (along with the subsequent episodes, of course). But I finally visited it and, with a few days off from work this week, finished it in two days. Its first episodes are an amazing clinic in how to tell a non-chronological story and its next episodes are a great example on how built up can lead to payoff. Those first few episodes gave us near perfect character agency for everyone involved in the finale and it only made that finale more potent as a result.
Number 3: Gatchaman Crowds
Like Samurai Flamenco, Gatchaman Crowds threw the idea of a superhero out the window and rewrote the How to be a Superhero manual. Main character Hajime asks such pressing questions like “Why do we have to wear the mask?” “Why do we have to keep our identities secret?” and basically all the other why questions you could ask a superhero. They’ve been answered hundreds of times in various media, but why not just have the people help you fight the bad guy instead of going it alone? Crowds is certainly the greatest deconstruction of the superhero idea in 2013, and we were lucky enough to get two great ones.
Number 2: Chihayafuru 2
I quickly fell in love with Chihayafuru after its bold move to do a two and a half episode flashback at the very beginning of the series. But what this did was make us completely in love with Chihaya, Taichi, Arata, and their struggles. Chihayafuru, like the best sports anime, gives us a great sense of what our characters are trying to achieve. It’s an amazing to see Chihaya succeed with her friends, like she did back in sixth grade. Or to see her fail and lock herself in a closet after a huge loss. Or cry after seeing her dad finally have a book full of newspaper clippings for Chihaya and not just the older sister Chitose. Chihayafuru is a show that is incredible at building up its characters to succeed and finally watching them succeed. But it’s also great at building them up to succeed and watching them fail. Both sides of the coin, both in karuta and their own lives, are explored and it makes this show one of my favorites of all time, much less of 2013.
Number 1: Eccentric Family
How do I even begin to describe one of the greatest anime in recent memory? Eccentric Family does a great job at just letting us steep in the lives and the world of these characters in beautiful Kyoto. Someone like Yasaburo is allowed to always be calmly at center stage, yet never sure of what to do. Oldest brother Yaichiro has to act like the man in the family even though he is clearly not prepared for the role, still struck by the loss of his father. Yajiro is even more tragic, having been the last person who saw their father before he died and now relegating himself to a well, forever transformed into a frog. And little Yashiro is just trying to keep the family together in any way he can, even though it’s on the verge of falling apart. And their mother is acting as this big woman, when she truly isn’t; she puts on the best façade of them all and acts strong to convince her kids, and more importantly herself, that she doesn’t just want to cry over the loss of her husband.
But it isn’t all sadness over their loss. The show actually empowers each and every character, yes ever Yashiro, to great heights by the time its final episode rolls around. Giving us the second best episode of the year, fourth best opening theme, and fourth best ending theme of the year, Eccentric Family is a show to lose yourself in. The lives of the Shimogamo family and the world of the tanuki they live in. And that’s not even mentioning Benten, who would win best female character were it not for Tomoko.