Top Ten Anime Series of 2014

Another year came to an end, I’ve sampled nearly 60 shows, watched about half to completion, and it’s time to see which shows stood out (in a good way). If we’re frank, this year hasn’t been nearly as good as 2013. Had I used the cut-off criteria of 2013, only the top 7 shows would’ve made it in, compared to 12 that passed that bar in 2013 (and Aku no Hana that passed using different criteria). But even if the year as a whole was weak, the top shows were still worthy of your time. There’d be “Notable Absentees” and “Honourable Mentions” at the end of the post, so if you don’t see a show, keep reading!

Only full series had been considered, no OVAs or movies of any sort. The names link to the show’s description and information on My Anime List (MAL).

10. Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)

Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis anime / Rage of Bahamut: Genesis anime

One of my favourite films is the first Pirates of the Carribean film, which I describe as a 10/10 performance by Johnny Depp, lifting a 5/10 film to the realm of 7/10. The show had a great sense of action and fun going for it early on, which in the second half all but abandoned it for slow and tepid non-action weighed down by a non-character taking center stage. The first half of the show and the finale though are more than worth the price of entry. Just like Pirates of the Carribean, loveable rascals with an extreme penchant for getting in trouble and over the top facial expressions while swashbuckling dominate the show. Zombies join on our crusade to bring down a CG dragon, as we cross against angels, demons, drunk gods, and inflatable ducks. How can you not love a show so in love with its own irreverence?

9. Sword Art Online II

Sword Art Online II Anime

Did Sword Art Online II give everyone what they expected from it? If they disliked it, I bet they got what they expected. If they were fans of the first season, then perhaps they did not. The amount of action and the stakes within the second season hadn’t been as high as they were in the first, but I think that was in a good way. Having read the source material, which contains the strongest part of the series, I think the adaptation was more than solid, as all material they’ve cut only helped the flow of the material, and the only thing I found objectionable was the fixation on Sinon’s butt.

The series had great visuals and great music, it had solid character development in the first arc, in Sinon’s character, which also filled holes in Kirito’s characterization, as she was depicted as similar to him. The second half had a story that was almost entirely Kirito-less, a coherent exploration on the theme of “home”, as the place you belong, and “memories” as the construction of the place where you belong.

And yet, although it was a solid story, with character development that is far better than what most current shounen can show (not to mention the production values), it can’t get higher than 9th place. It was the show I expected, it was perhaps even slightly better, but it wasn’t the experience I hoped for. But if you enjoyed the first season, I do think the material here is better and tighter than first season’s, and more than worth your time.

You can read my episodic thoughts on the show here.

8. Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill anime

Kill la Kill promised us fast-paced action of the sort we’ve had in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Kill la Kill promised us discussion of themes, of fascism (fashion), of self-respect, of two opposing sides coming together, of self-control. Kill la Kill had promised a great many things, but most of what is has given us was a spectacle. The third work by Studio Trigger was very much like the other two (Inferno Cop and Little Witch Academia), in the sense that it stood and shouted to the world, “Notice me, I’m right here!” And Kill la Kill, while it didn’t really deliver an exploration of female strength and/or sensuality, and didn’t really deliver a meaningful reflection on the nature of power structures, and its pacing was far slower than we were led to believe, was certainly noticeable.

Noticeable, loud, and at times charismatic nonsense flooded our monitors, buoyed by impeccable music insertion that often erred on the side of classics, and a visual design that was purposefully intrusive and over the top. Kill la Kill was boisterous nonsense, and one of the more memorable experiences of the year. More guts than show, but it certainly showed up! Definitely a show I’ll be looking to revisit, without undue expectations.

You can read my episodic thoughts on the show here.

7. Barakamon

Barakamon anime

Turns out that it’s important for me to have a “feel good” show most every season, be it Gingitsune, ‘Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha’, or Barakamon. Barakamon is the best show out of the bunch at that. This is a story we’ve seen or read numerous times before, of a brash and young city boy going to the countryside, learning manners and the wisdom of life from ye olde rustic folk. We’ve had a fair amount of that here as well, including actual “morals” that young Handa was taught, but that it was being told by all the kids, who were ably acted and drawn (including the true star of the show, Naru, being voiced by a 10 year old actress) made it all so enjoyable. It had a nice artistic style, it had a good mixture of gags, and humor based on the character personalities, it had actual musings on the nature of art and growing up, and it was comfortable. Every season needs such a show, and Barakamon is better than most.

6.  Gin no Saji 2nd Season (Silver Spoon)

Gin no Saji 2nd season anime / Silver Spoon 2nd season anime

There are very few shows that feel like actual slice-of-life shows, like someone took a slice of someone’s actual life and made a show out of it. This year, it’s only been Gin no Saji’s second half. A story about high school students, but with conflicts you usually get out of university shows. Considering in this agricultural school the kids are learning how to carry the burden of their families’ fortunes, it makes sense. And this is what this show was about, it was about dreams, it was about how sometimes you have to abandon your dreams, and even have to abandon school, just so your family won’t starve. It was about the harsh limits of helping one another, when it could result in your family drowning as well.

Though this show’s gags were still as present (and dare I say, funny) as ever, this was a show dealing with serious issues, issues related to growing up and finding your way in the world, and the very real costs of these things. Not uplifting, not depressing, just real.

5. Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda (World Conquest – Zvezda’s Plot)

Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda anime / World Conquest - Zvezda's Plot anime

What a strange little show this has been. Woefully underappreciated and underwatched, at that. “The world has been unkind to me, so I’ll try to unite the entire world!” is a common scheme in anime, by villains. Charles zi Brittania from Code Geass, Ikari Gendo from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even Fate Testarossa’s mother in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, all were villains who shared this dream of easing loneliness through unification.

Enter Zvezda, a secret organization bent on world-domination, and our heroes. A bunch of lonely misfits who eked a family for themselves. And this was the show’s recurring theme, which could be seen in every one of its seemingly disparate episodes, the quest to create a home, the quest to have a place where you belong and are appreciated, a group that would be family.

The show had pretty sharp humor, but unlike what was often said of it, it took everything seriously. All those gags of blowing up our secret base or someone exploding due to eating spicy food? They were referenced later, they had ramifications. A great cast of characters, even the unlikeable ones, were all relatable. It seemed far-fetched, but it hit close to home. This show had a blend of the fantastical and of the mundane that was anything but mundane, and was truly fantastic.

You can read my episodic thoughts on the show here.

4. Hunter x Hunter (2011)

Hunter x Hunter (2011) anime

I have over 4,000 HxH screenshots. Picked one where I choked too hard while passing over.

Last year I’ve watched the entirety of Fairy Tail’s first season. This year I’ve watched the entirety of Hunter x Hunter. It’s definitely a shounen. It has the same themes of friendship, and the same tropes of growing stronger to achieve our goals, of losing and coming back, of taking up the previous generation’s place at the top of the pyramid. But it’s actually more serious and self-reflective than most such shows, and the focus on friendship as an actual theme to explore, rather than merely a plot-driver or a power-up source have been nice. The action often left a lot to be desired, and not all arcs had been equal in quality and statue.

I say that not all arcs are of equal quality, but they’re all worthwhile. They all have themes you can discuss, and the friendship at the core of the show is always front and center. Trying to reduce this show to under three paragraphs is hard. Do you discuss the nature of humanity, as ugly as it can be, as curious as it can get, as seen in Chimera Ants’ Arc? Do you discuss how the present pays for the past’s decisions, as in the Elections Arc, do you discuss the nature of cooperation explored within the Greed Island arc? I’m not sure a thematic discussion does the show justice, but you also can’t discuss the show without mention of all of these themes.

Which brings me to the show’s latest portion, that aired during 2014, for the most part. The finale of The Chimera Ant arc, and especially the Elections Arc that followed made me tear up on a consistent basis, seeing the struggle and pain to contain one’s emotion, to accept not just one’s emotions, but those of our friends, who are hurting, had been too much, in the best possible sense. It’s a show about two friends, first and foremost, and what a friendship it’s been. It’s not my favourite long-running shounen, as Fairy Tail’s first season still holds that title, but it was probably the best. It’s definitely the best drama-shounen I’ve watched.

3. Samurai Flamenco

Samurai Flamenco anime

I’ve said before how a show can have flaws and still be a perfect show. I’ve said that about last year’s top show, Kyousougiga (Capital Craze). Samurai Flamenco has a lot of flaws, including several episodes it seemed its animation staff had walked out on it. It has tonal shifts, and at some places is a hilarious throwback to the super-sentai shows of my youth, while at others it is a grounded treatise of heroism in the real world and caring for others, while in yet another part it’s an anime version of Sophie’s World or Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

And yet, when you look back at it, all of what Samurai Flamenco has given us, with the exception of two episodes, was pretty… great? Yeah, I’ll say it’s been great. It also made up sense, and as a whole while it shirked away its realistic and grounded treatment of the subject, it had never been about anything but what it means to be a hero, and what it means to uphold justice. This show began on the 7th spot on this list, but I realized that similar to my rating of Shinsekai Yori (From the New World, 2013’s runner-up), I was just finding niggling excuses to not rate it as highly as it deserved. No, Samurai Flamenco is not a perfect show, but it’s still a great one. Warts and all.

(This pick is my most “personal” one. It’s my “Gatchaman Crowds” of the year, in how I loved its discussion of various themes.)

You can read my episodic thoughts on the show here.

2. Mushishi Zoku Shou (Mushishi Next Chapter / Next Passage)

Mushishi Zoku Shou anime

“More of the same” is often flung as an insult, but it really depends on what the original was like, and is usually a bad thing when you wanted plot-progression and character-development and got none. And then you have Mushishi, an episodic show, a magical show, that is a collection of timeless fairy tales, placed in rural japan. “More of the same” for Mushishi, one of the modern anime classics, is high praise. After a seven year absence, Mushishi returned, strong as ever.

The second episode, when all the mushi flew out of the their shells was a moment of concentrated magic and awe. The ravens’ assault in another episode was the second-most dreadful experience anime had passed to me this year, and it’s done so in an understated fashion. The story of the girl who could not remain in one place lest she drowned her loved ones and who could not cry about it made me tear up. It wasn’t always even, and a couple of episodes felt half-baked, but the whole called Mushishi is an instant-classic, a timeless collection of tales.

1. Ping Pong the Animation

Ping Pong the Animation

Remember Agent Smith, from The Matrix? This would’ve been his favourite anime of the year. No, not because it has robots, because it’s a show about inevitability. As many shows, it dealt with humans thinking they have to reprise their old roles, or the roles their parents set out to fulfill, such as Dragon (Ryuichi), only to see how they can break free. There was also the inevitability of the hero coming to save the day, but I’m not actually talking about the in-fiction sort of inevitability, but the sort that marks a story superbly told.

You see, every scene in the show, every major point, was a natural outgrowth. Not just of the fiction, but of how it was delivered. No moment came as a real shocker, but that didn’t dilute the sense of wonder and awe inspired by Peco and Smile’s relationships, their burgeoning sense of self, but only enhanced it. It’s even transcended the rote “Sports Show Inevitability”, where two best friends are destined to fight, becuase it carried all the weight on its own, by building it up, one step at a time.

Ping Pong the Animation

The show had a unique visual flair and fluidity that screenshots cannot capture, and made much use of visual metaphors, bringing to mind samurais and fantastical monsters. This was a story of friendship, a story about individuality in the face of others, and cooperation in the face of the weight we all carry as individuals. This had been a triumph, on both a narrative level, and the structural artistic level. You owe it to yourself to watch it. It’s as much a drama as it is a sports show. It’s 100% human, and Agent Smith’s favourite anime of 2014, nonetheless.

You can read my episodic thoughts on the show here.


Closing notes:

Why shows ending in 2014? Because this is when I made the list, and on one hand shows that are still running might yet falter or pick up, and if we do this yearly as the year ends then shows straddling two years will never get a chance to get mentioned.

Also, while spots 8 downward wouldn’t have made it to last year’s list, spots 3-6 were incredibly neck-and-neck in how I’d rank them, and their order could easily have shifted about.

Honourable Mentions: Shows that barely made it in, or won a dubious award.

  • Isshuukan Friends / One Week Friends – Make the time to watch the first 4 episodes as a self-contained and heart-touching OVA. I liked what came after a lot as well. I think it touched on the true hallmarks of what makes up a friendship, and unlike others, I don’t think the show spared Hase any punches. You can read my notes for the show here.
  • Log Horizon – Honourable mention for “Best Worldbuilding” – The show actually looked critically at how the rules of an MMORPG would translate to a setting where people live in. It also did some very real work at inspecting the nature of communities. You can read my notes for the first season here.
  • Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren / Chuunibyou, Love & Other Delusions 2nd season – Promise me a Romantic Comedy’s “the next day”, where the couple is actually together, only to have half the episodes be OVA material, and to end on the same spot where the first ended, will you, KyoAni? “Biggest Disappointment”. Read my notes, and post-finale rant, here.

Notable absentees: These are shows which didn’t make the list, and are likely to raise eyebrows by some people, so let’s get it out of the way:

  • Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun / The Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun – One of the best-written anime comedies I’ve come across, with actual characters and punchlines written to fit the characters. Alas, weighed down by bad comedic pacing, and letting scenes and punches hang in the air for too long. I’ll probably enjoy the manga, but the anime just wasn’t good enough for me.
  • Space Dandy – Too episodic for me. The first couple of episodes didn’t draw me in. I might watch it at a later date, over an extended period of time.
  • Zankyou no Terror / Terror in Resonance – Watched 10 out of 11 episodes. It didn’t end up doing or dealing with much of what it set out to, and I think Kill la Kill which was guilty of the same issues was much more memorable. You can read my episodic notes for it here.
  • Hanamonogatari – As an OVA, this wasn’t supposed to show up. I planned to watch all of Monogatari Second Season and use Hanamonogatari to place it in this year, but after watching the first arc I was reminded I can’t and don’t wish to watch more than an arc of Monogatari at a time, so it wasn’t meant to be.
  • No Game, No Life – Ended 20th on the list of shows I finished. Wasn’t nearly as clever as it pretended to be, its ideas didn’t always mesh up, and had a couple of episodes that were a complete drain in tension. It was fun, but there were more fun, and better shows. You can read my episodic notes for it here.
  • Aldnoah.Zero – Tried to pass off bad characterization within the show, too many ass-pulls, a gloriously nonsensical finale. Underwhelmed doesn’t begin to cover my reaction. You can read my episodic notes for it here.

Anything you find egregiously missing, or disagree with? Looking at the list, there’re probably shows for everyone to like, and for everyone to dislike strongly here, as with any list!

14 comments on “Top Ten Anime Series of 2014

  1. Sejin says:

    Out of curiosity, what is it about Monogatari that leads you to not be able to or want to watch more than one arc at a time? Also, what did you think of Neko: Shiro?

    • Guy says:

      It has too little plot, and the plot it has takes too much air time. That’s not criticism on the show itself, but it runs counter to what I need to be able to marathon a show, which is for it to be plot-driven, or at least have its plot more presence as a vehicle for the characters. That’s not the case for the more atmospheric and almost relaxed Monogatari series, and it wouldn’t do to force it, for my enjoyment of the show, or the way it stretches its legs.

      I thought Neko: Shiro was solid? It had a weighty exploration of Hanekawa’s family, good action overall, and I remember very little of it other than that. All of Monogatari has that “Too much time for too little story,” which makes you forget a lot of the details, as they’re interspersed with too much nothingness.

  2. fenglengshun says:

    The only thing I find objectionable was SAOII, which… can be pretty bad at times (you forgot to mention the ASADA-SAN ASADA-SAN scene, which is the second time SAO as a series used rape as a threat) but I will admit that Mother’s Rosario was pretty good. Now filling holes in Kirito’s characterization… IMO it only made more holes, since they’ve presented Kuradeel’s killing in the first season as his first kill.

    Kill la Kill… I’d put it lower mostly due to the weaker second half, Ragyo’s gloriousness asides, and the ending that felt forced to me.

    No mention of AmuBuri? It’s not quite KyoAni’s redemption, but it was better than Chuunibou 2 in my opinion. Also, no leftover of Fall included on purpose? I’d honestly expect Shiro Bako and F/sn to be mentioned otherwise.

    • Guy says:

      That bit with Kuradeel is at most a plot hole, not characteization. I also didn’t “forget to mention” that scene, because this is not a review. I also thought I mentioned that the show was well-directed, but seems I did not, the aforementioned scene, while not good in content, was very well directed. As to that flaw of Reki Kawahara’s writing, it’s going to appear a third time in an upcoming arc >.> I do wish someone talked to him about that.

      I didn’t watch AmaBuri. Not a huge fan of anime comedies, not a huge fan of KyoAni’s works over the past 1.5 years.

      The post actually mentions twice it’s only going to include shows ending in 2014. Shirobako/Parasyte would’ve been mentioned otherwise. Fate/Stay Night wasn’t good enough, and even though I include split-cour shows at times, it just flat out wasn’t good enough to merit an inclusion. That it was “hyped” doesn’t matter to me here, or I would’ve also mentioned Sailor Moon Crystal, and Mahouka, and Akame ga Kill! You can read my thoughts on F/SN’s finale here, which also includes my summary about the first half. Your “expectation to see it” speaks of your taste, and presents it as objective and global. But alas, this is not your list ;-)

      • fenglengshun says:

        The bit with Kuradeel makes it hard to buy the attempt to characterize Kirito further here. In all honesty, a lot of the thing with SAOII was hard to accept simply due to being a continuation of the first season. If it was a fresh start/reboot/new story, or didn’t make any reference to the previous season I could probably easily accept it and place it at my 8th show of the year.

        As for its quality of production… animation? Sure. Aesthetic? For a gritty VRMMOFPS genre, it was surprisingly well-designed. Fight scene direction? It was… okay, though I felt the latter half was better in this regards, Sinon’s first introduction asides. Now general direction? I’m not to sure about that because of DAT ASS. The camera was just too… lewd for its own good, and then there’s two episodes of cave talks and its expositions in general, as well as the slightly bigger Klein butt monkey moments compared to the source material… I find it hard to agree with you there. And I’m still not sure about a scene that only make me cringe in disgust could count as “well-directed” but I guess being even more sexualized than the original LN’s version of the scene makes it better somehow. Also, those eyes. They were almost Higurashi level. The endings and the second opening was good those (I’ll never admit the first opening to be kind of okay).

        Hm… I simply decided to give it a try, liked the narcissistic MC and the okay-ish gags, then followed mostly to analyze the MC’s actions to revive their roller coaster tycoon. As an economic student, I’d say most of them were in they “Eh, it’s an okay idea in concept, but could have been better implemented” to sometimes facepalm-worthy level. Kind of makes sense in that regards since the MC was still High School student (I like the surprisingly small focus given to the school, though).

        Must’ve missed it. I skimmed the beginning part and just jumped into the entries. I mostly only skim the latter ones too, since it’s similar to 90% other lists I’ve seen. Not too surprising, perhaps, since the best stuffs are pretty clear cut this year.

        By expectation to see it, I meant in the sense that it’s just too big a phenomenon on the internet not to bear a passing mention- something like “Yeah, I know you guys expected F/sn somewhere and here it is! Just joking, teehee, hard to resist because of the hype since I just can’t find myself rolling my eyes as I watch it so, nah, maybe next year,” or something. I do not necessarily meant that it was good, if anything, it left me with a filling of quiet and distilled dissatisfaction. Narratively, I mean.

        With regards to its production value? It’s probably one of the best production values I’ve seen in recent memory (well, no, there are others too, in term of aesthetics at least, but in term of fidelity? Doubt it), easily surpassing its predecessor and clearly passes to the level of anime movies. That sort of production value is rare and very hard to achieve. Heck, it even changed a lot of stuffs from the original VN too, though sometimes it’s quite dissatisfying and doesn’t quite work, admittedly. If we’re going to talk about production value and directing, I honestly would say that F/sn won compared to SAOII, at least, but honestly, the story was just too cheesy for me to take seriously at this point. At least it’s UBW and not HF, but that’s like saying at least it’s Modern Warfare 3 instead of Ghost.

        It’s not a good story, but it was an okay-ish spectacle to me, but the point is, I was expecting merely because its production quality and talks in the internet should warrant talking about if only to mention how disappointing it is, like how JJBA SC was disappointing compared to the previous season (except if you’ve read the manga, in which case it’s surprising how dP make it more palatable, but I’m digressing).

  3. Gal says:

    It’s hard not to roll my eyes at SAO II’s inclusion in your list. It’s all subjective so I don’t begrudge you but it honestly discredits you legitimacy, especially with the explanation of why you included it.

    • Guy says:

      “I know it’ll sound racist, but phrenology definitely proves that all races are not equal.”

      I’m actually not referring to your “I know it’s subjective, but your subjective opinion is wrong” bit, but what came later, to that ridiculous notion of “discrediting my legitimacy.” This is trying to fall back on some objective claim, some standard I’m failing, while using terminology and an argument that can never escape the event horizon of subjectivity.

      I’ll answer this shortly, right now, because I think I’ll type up a long reply and post it around Tuesday. But not only is this idea ridiculous, it mistakes what this blog is for, and it’s an example of you trying to push your taste on others. If anything, I’d have lost credibility not listing a show I like on my top shows list just because I feared what others would say about it. Had you actually been a blog-reader of mine, it wouldn’t have surprised you as much.

      Furthermore, it’s amazing how lists make people unable to actually read the posts. Spots 8-10 on this list are “Best of the rest”, and wouldn’t have made it using last year’s criteria, which saw 13 shows make it to the list. As to the explanation of why I included it? It’s mentioned at the start of the post, and it’s the same as for every other entry on this list – I thought it was a combination of better and more enjoyable than the shows not on the list/lower than it on the list.

      Finally, I find it entertaining how the anti-SAO brigade keeps couching its arguments in terms of objectivity when it’s just as militant and unreasonable as the most die-hard groups of fans out there.

  4. decimoe says:

    not having Mahouka as #1. Thunder_God your taste is shit.

  5. EatzAce says:

    Interesting list. One big surprise I found with this list was the inclusion Samurai Flamenco. I dropped the show a few episodes after its big tonal shift midway through the show out of sheer bewilderment, but it seems I’ve missed out on quite the gem. I’m curious though. Did you not feel as if the bizarre tonal shifts that occurred in the story hindered your appreciation for its themes?

    Great Number 1 choice though. After having been recommended to watch Ping Pong by many anime reviewers when I finally decided to watch it, I was blown away. It amazed me how a story with such a simple premise could be so beautiful.

    This is just a personal question of mine not related to your list but I was wondering, do you feel that the popularity or rating of an anime subconsciously affects your overall enjoyment of it?

    (Thanks for your time)

    • Guy says:

      Super late reply, but why not.

      This is just a personal question of mine not related to your list but I was wondering, do you feel that the popularity or rating of an anime subconsciously affects your overall enjoyment of it?

      I feel that trying to put it into a box of 8/10, maybe 8.2/10 before it ends can affect my enjoyment, as I’m not simply watching the show, but watching myself watch it. It’s like when you’re rewatching an old favourite and trying to measure whether you still love it, and whether you still love it as much as you did before. At which point, are you really watching the show?

      It’s there, and I’m aware of it, but I try not to. It’s less there when I marathon shows.

      And Ping Pong is a mastepiece, a 10/10 rating, indeed.

      About Flamenco’s tonal shifts, they didn’t bother me about the themes, but I was a bit sad we didn’t get the show it started as, cause I loved that.

  6. Lem Enrile says:

    I might as well be watching your anime series included in your list. I have only watched Kill la Kill and Hunter X Hunter (2011). I actually haven’t watched too many 2014 anime because I was busy watching old anime series. Keep up the great blogging!

  7. arbitrary_greay says:

    NGNL might be one of those shows that fares better in marathon, since there’s less time to ruminate over bad episodic structure/pacing as you load up the next one immediately. I found it pretty zippy whenever I did watch it in chunks, but definitely found my motivation flagging to continue every time I stopped. (I think I watched it in 3 chunks)

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