5. Vinland Saga
Created by Makoto Yukimura, Vinland Saga has been around for more than a decade in manga form, but if you’ve been listening, you would have known that this was one of the most highly anticipated new anime of 2019, and for good reason. Set in 1013 AD England, Vinland Saga tells the story of Thorfinn, a boy who joins a group of mercenaries with the sole intent of killing their leader, Askeladd after the latter slays his father in combat. Vinland Saga is brutal and pulls no punches, and no one is safe from death. But what makes the show fascinating is how Yukimura draws so much from historical events, persons, and lore to the point that Vinland Saga serves not as just an amazing animation but also as a history lesson. Each featured character heightens your curiosity and entices you to research them after each episode to learn about the historical reference they were based on.
4. Attack on Titan
I once stated that Attack on Titan, created by Hajime Isayama, was the Japanese animation that ushered in a new generation of Western anime lovers, a love so strong that when it went on hiatus for almost four years, it still remained one of the most talked-about anime of the decade. When it finally returned in 2017, it was like a king returning to his throne. Attack on Titan is no regular series. It doesn’t dip in quality nor does it have any weak points that are easy to identify. Isayama has proven with each chapter, or episode in this case, that there are no coincidences in this story; every little detail is so planned out that there is no point in even questioning his decisions, because you know that it will soon be explained. Maybe that is why the series is one of the most popular animes of the 21st century, but it could also be because of the “no one is safe” storytelling of Attack on Titan. In this world, each day could be one’s last, as the inhabitants not only have to worry about making a living, but the advances of cannibalistic giants that can only be killed by severing their heads continue to threaten the human race’s existence. These titans don’t grow tired, nor do they need to eat, yet to our horror continue to devour humans. Some titans even show signs of intelligence, posing an additional challenge for the squadrons assigned to eliminate them. Isayama’s world is a true nightmare to live in, but it doesn’t stop there. The mystery of the titans, and the people who can transform into them at will has been one of the most theorized concepts in anime this decade.
3. Steven Universe
Steven Universe is the most heartwarming coming-of-age animation to release this decade, and like the titular main character, it is constantly growing. When the series ended earlier in 2019 with “Change Your Mind,” the Season 5 finale, it felt like everything was abruptly over. By all purposes, Steven Universe changed the mind of the biggest threat to his universe and made them turn a new leaf. The End. However, the story surprisingly didn’t end there. Although this might be considered cheating, Steven Universe had more to offer with its first full-length movie, and then a second new series that continues two years where the last episode left off. By all accounts, 2019 was the year of Steven Universe, without even factoring in the movie and new series. Season 5 is the best season yet, answering many questions fans had for years, as well as providing emotional catharsis for characters who have been grieving for years. If you haven’t watched Steven Universe yet, hopefully my now third writeup on the series changes your mind.
2. Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho 100, created by the same person who created One-Punch Man, was my animation of the year back when it was released in 2016. In 2019, the series reached new heights as the story became more than just a comedy, and instead turned into an actual coming-of-age story filled with some of the best action scenes of the decade. But the brilliance of Mob Psycho 100 doesn’t come from the main character’s psychic abilities, nor the hilarious jokes and characters that will make you laugh until you cry. No, the real brilliance lies in how the series defies shounen expectations. Mob, the main character, is the most powerful psychic in the show, but he believes in pacifism. With such incredible powers, he could easily exploit people or use them to fulfill his desires like the other psychics in the series, but he doesn’t. Mob just wants to live a normal life, but due to his frail frame and social awkwardness, which makes for some hilarious moments, he struggles. It is his character development, failures, and victories that makes him easy to root for no matter if he is fighting a powerful ghost, or just trying to talk to a girl. The fact that the small moments of life in the show have the same impact as his massive battles is what makes the show so unique and a modern classic. It is a perfectly balanced series that knows when to make you laugh, but also knows when to tug at your heartstrings.
1. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaibas
Often on this list, I mention cultural phenomena, mostly in reference to how this decade was impacted. But one anime on this list not only came as a surprise but impacted 2019 in such a way that it ranks above veteran anime series. Folks, let me introduce you to Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Trust me, this won’t be the last you hear of it. Created by Koyoharu Gotōge, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is quite new given its 2016 manga premiere, but even though the anime is faithfully adapted, it was the anime itself that catapulted the series to newfound success, to the point that Viz, the largest American publisher, put a fast track on future volumes of the series to meet the demand. From its opening moments, the animation grabs you by the arm and never lets go, as you’re immersed in a gripping tale of an unbreakable bond between two siblings. When young Tanjirō Kamado, the protagonist of the story, ventures out for firewood, he returns to find his family slaughtered by an unknown demon. Only his sister, Nezuko, is alive, and she is rapidly transforming into a blood-thirsty demon herself. In efforts to save his sister and his only remaining family, Kamado joins the demon slayer corps while keeping the fact that his sister is a demon hidden. Kamado himself is different than most anime protagonists of the shounen genre because of his immense compassion for his enemy. His mercy and kindness towards demons often result in emotional catharsis for the demons as Kamado releases them of their curse.
But a lovable main character and a highly interesting plot aren’t the only things that propelled the series to be the breakout hit of 2019. No, it is the animation. At this point, simply claiming that the animation is great is not enough to convince most, so let me add some clarity. Demon Slayer seamlessly adds CGI effects to supplement its predominantly 2D animation, creating scenes that left even hardcore anime watchers dumbfounded. You can’t help but look forward to each fight scene. In fact, the last major fight of the series is widely considered the best anime fight of 2019 and could be debated as one of the main reasons the series became a cultural phenomenon within days. It is rare that a new series, especially anime, can capture both American and Japanese attention, but with an admirable protagonist, the colorful personalities of those he encounters on his journey that you can’t help but fall in love with, an exemplary soundtrack and sound design, and its captivating animation and masterful artwork, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is an untouchable series worthy of being the best animated series of any kind of the year.