2021 was a great year to be an anime fan. We had a couple of awesome seasons and some incredible shows, and whatever your preferences – be they mecha, isekai, shounen, horror or slice of life – 2021 most definitely had you, fam.
There have been plenty of stand-out shows spread out over the past 12 months, so choosing just ten for this list was no easy task. The only rule for inclusion is that it had to have finished this year – so shows that started in 2020 but concluded that season in 2021 count, but shows with split cours that are only halfway done at the moment don’t (which is why no Attack on Titan, for example).
We have made one exception to that rule (because we can…), but we will explain why later. Enough talk – let’s anime!
10. Fena: Pirate Princess
Four shows were gunning for the last entry on our list, but it’s Fena that sails into our final spot. The show begins with titular heroine Fena Houtman being rescued from a brothel, and this action- and humour-packed opening sets the scene for the frantic 12 episodes that follow.
There were ninjas, plenty of pirates, sea battles, a steampunk submarine, historical fiction, some straight-up fantasy and, of course, a little bit of romance for good measure. On top of that, Fena blessed our eyes with some of the most gorgeous animation we witnessed in all of 2021, and blessed our ears with one of the best OPs of the entire year, too.
Unfortunately, the show tries to tell a story that’s far too big to fit into a dozen episodes, and it felt rushed in places, while the finale didn’t so much as go off-piste as yeeted itself off the whole damn mountain. It’s a shame, as it spoils the experience somewhat but, despite that, the show was as hard to dislike as its adorable and goofy heroine, and we really enjoyed our time with Fena.
9. Takt Op. Destiny
When anime studio giants Mappa and Madhouse join forces on a project together, you can guarantee that you’re going to get one of the best-looking shows of the year, and Takt Op. Destiny never disappointed when it came to sheer visual delight.
In the future, D2s (monsters enraged by music), have ravaged the Earth, leaving it songless and soulless. However, hope is not lost as Musicarts (magical young women, guided by their Conductors), fight against the D2s using the power of music that they hate so much. We follow unwilling Conductor Takt and his unconventional Musicart, Destiny, on their adventures across the USA, and the show is filled with spectacular battles set to a soul-stirring classical score.
Despite its short 12-episode run, Takt Op. Destiny was not afraid to slow down, sometimes swerving the combat entirely, to flesh out its story and develop its characters, which we really appreciated, and which gave it a little more depth. Delivering a near-perfect blend of action, humour and a sprinkling of romance topped off with awesome animation and an equally awesome soundtrack, Takt Op. Destiny hit all the right notes for us.
8. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S
Sometimes, when things are getting you down, all you need is a slice of life to cheer you up. If that slice of life happens to have three dragons (Tohru, Kanna and Illulu) in human female form living with an office worker (the titular Miss Kobayashi) in her apartment, all the better.
Dragon Maid S achieved the unthinkable by being even better than the show’s first season, something that seemed almost impossible considering how utterly endearing and entertaining that was, and it also came with an OP that you are never getting out of your head.
Dragon Maid S was at once utterly adorable, irresistibly charming and genuinely hilarious, while also being rowdy, raucous and raunchy in the best ways possible. The everyday misadventures of the human and dragon cast never failed to raise our spirits, but the show was also full of poignant, heart-warming moments that genuinely touched us, and yes, we did do a cry on more than one occasion. Dragon Maid S is an absolute joy, and for 12 weeks over summer, our Wednesdays felt that little bit brighter.
7. To Your Eternity
To Your Eternity was unquestionably one of this year’s big hitters, and while the hype around the show was almost unfair, it mostly managed to live up to it.
It begins with a god-like being casting a sentient, unnamed orb to Earth. Able to take the form of any living being it comes into contact with, it must learn about the world it now inhabits, learn about the people it encounters, discover what life is about and learn what it means to be human, as the boy called Fushi. All the while, it has to deal with a monstrous alien species called the Nokkers, created specifically to hinder its progress.
The concept is great, and the story is big, filled with action, adventure, moments that had us on the edge of our seats, and moments that had us in floods of tears. Its characters are lovable and memorable – every death and tragic moment felt absolutely devastating – and Fushi’s growth and progress were truly endearing.
To Your Eternity never quite managed to reach the dizzying heights of its heart-wrenching first episode, and it felt like it lost its way for a chunk of the show, but it unquestionably remains one of this year’s anime highlights.
6. Jujutsu Kaisen
Jujutsu Kaisen slaps, simple as. If you want to watch a really good shounen where people with powers fight monsters while looking badass and firing off perfectly time quips, you have found your show-nen (sorry…).
Teenager Yuuji Itadori finds himself unwittingly dragged into the world of Curses, horrific creatures formed from negative human emotions, and joins the ranks of those that do battle with them – Jujutsu sorcerers. What follows are 24 awesome action-packed episodes filled with bad-ass monster battles that really get your blood pumping.
Jujutsu Kaisen is populated by a huge cast of characters, but they are all so varied (giant talking panda, girl with magical hammer, guy who claps…) that they never run the risk of blending into one another. While Jujutsu Kaisen went hard when it came to action, and its animation was truly top-tier, it also had moments of emotion and tragedy that it played very well, and it also knew exactly when it was the right time to crack a joke. Throw in the man with the sexiest eyes in anime (Satoru Gojou – swoon) as the final touch, and you’ve got yourself one of the most fun, exciting and well-rounded shounen we’ve seen in a long time.
5. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
We unashamedly lapped up a load of isekai this year, but Mushoku Tensei was one of our absolute favourites.
When a 34-year-old friend-less shut-in dies in an accident, he is reborn into a fantasy world as Rudeus Greyrat. Mushoku Tensei follows his life as he develops his magical powers, overcomes his trauma from his past existence, and tries to make the most of his second chance at a new life.
The show’s story feels huge and we love a big adventure like this. The main trio’s quest across its vast, rich and varied world threw them into so many different situations, and it delivered a near-perfect blend of thrilling action, light-hearted moments, and real drama and tragedy. Rudeus, his pupil Eris, and their travelling companion Ruijerd are three very different and flawed characters, but that made them feel all the more real, and their growth and development and the bond they developed with each other was truly heart-warming.
Throw in some A-grade production values, and Mushoku Tensei‘s quality never disappointed. It wasn’t all perfect, though; we never got on with the show’s seemingly relentless lewdness, and the fact that Rudeus is actually a lecherous adult man on the inside always felt a little creepy. However, despite this, in a sea of average isekai, Mushoku Tensei is a beacon of near-brilliance.
86 started out pretty strong: a mecha show with intriguing insectoid war machine designs, a near-unstoppable robotic army on the march, and a corrupt nation segregating its people and sending those of different ethnicity into battle and certain death while concealing this from its populace. It looked good, we liked its characters, and we were intrigued by its story. And then, in the space of just a few episodes, it absolutely soared and hasn’t missed a beat since.
After spending a good while laying its foundations, 86 built an awesome show on top, with a thrilling story that feels big and crams so much in, populated by characters that all feel so different and so real, and you really care for them. It has moments of stillness, moments of heart-wrenching tragedy, awesome action sequences and a score that gave us goosebumps on more than on occasion. 86 breaks our rule because it’s not finished just yet, but if not for two weeks of filler and a two-week break between episodes, it would have been, and it’s so good that we don’t care.
3. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
We almost skipped Vivy, with the premise of an AI singer called Diva being called upon by a time-travelling robot to prevent a devastating uprising 100 years in the future somehow not sounding all that appealing on paper. But after just five shocking minutes of its opening episode, we were so glad we didn’t.
Cramming 100 years of story into just 13 episodes sounded rather ambitious, but clever time skips made sure Vivy never felt like it was trying to do too much, and frustratingly good use of cliffhangers meant each new episode could never come quickly enough. Wit Studio served up one of the best-looking shows of the year, with almost unhealthy amounts of sakuga practically dripping off the screen, and the kick-ass action sequences and dazzling details were a feast for the eyes.
Then there was the awesome soundtrack and the twisting, turning story, which made us cry more times than we can even remember. Perhaps the final act was a little sloppy, as can be the case when you’re playing with time travel, but it wasn’t enough to dull the Vivy experience, and we loved every single moment of this stunning show.
2. Sonny Boy
Sonny Boy started off weird and confusing, with a high school and its occupants – now manifesting bizarre otherworldly powers – floating in an empty void. It then dumped them on a desert island, and it only got weirder and more confusing from there as the schoolkids tried to work out how to get home. Magical cats that deliver anything requested of them? A flying school bus? Monkeys playing baseball? It’s just another episode of Sonny Boy.
The show introduced so many weird concepts and characters and then never really explained any of them, leaving your brain in a constant state of bewilderment. And yet, and yet… we just couldn’t get enough of it. It looked like nothing else: every frame, every moment was like a piece of art that you could happily hang on your wall, while the sound design and soundtrack were simply stunning. The headache-inducing story, meanwhile, was so intriguing. You never had a clue what was coming next but something it kept up right until its dazzling finale.
Sonny Boy is not for everyone: it’s slow, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it leaves you desperate for answers you know you’ll never get. But it’s also an incredibly special experience, and it’s genuinely unforgettable.
1. Re: Zero, Starting Life in Another World: Season Two
If it’s basic to like Re:Zero, then we are basic AF, and we don’t even care because it’s such a good show.
This phenomenally popular isekai follows the adventures of Subaru Natsuki after he is transported into a magical fantasy world with no explanation and with the power to reset to a certain point in the past every time he dies. Cue this magical adventure very quickly descending into psychological horror as Subaru has to experience the pain and trauma of some very gruesome deaths countless times, as well as seeing his friends killed over and over again.
Season Two dialled back the action a touch and instead went deep on the world-building and lore. It gave us masses of history for the main characters, answered a lot of questions from Season One, piled on the plot mystery, and cranked up the feels. It also never let us forget that it’s an action horror at heart, all while delivering awesome animation and a sensational soundtrack. While it perhaps didn’t hit quite as hard as Season One did (few shows ever will), it was an absolutely incredible ride from start to finish.
Each episode left us desperate for the next, and the conclusion left us desperate for Season Three. Season Two of Re:Zero wasn’t just our favourite show of 2021, it cemented Re:Zero as one of our favourite anime ever.