It literally took a global pandemic to slow down the rapid growth of anime’s popularity. But the industry has surged back, and after a year during which studios were playing catch-up, 2022 felt like it was largely business as usual and maybe better than that, with dozens of new series released each season, new studios jumping into the fray (a trend that will really take off in 2023), and more anime movies than ever making their way to international release.
This diversity and expansiveness are reflected in our Best of 2022 anime list, which includes continuing series—titles that were notable heading into the year—but is mainly filled with anime that unexpectedly delighted. They feature an introverted rocker, an insomniac who wants to become a vampire, a famous figure from the Three Kingdoms reincarnated to become a young woman’s musical advisor, and teenage assassins who run a coffee shop. And yes, these series were every bit as fun as they sound—and for reasons we mention below, even more wildly inventive, deeply engaging, and personally meaningful than they have any right to be.
Here they are, in alphabetical order (because any other order is too hard to decide!):
BELLE • Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War • Bocchi the Rock! • Call of the Night • Chainsaw Man • Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These S3 • Lycoris Recoil • Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun • SPY x FAMILY • Ya Boy Kongming!
What do you do as a parent when you look out at the world and see a harsh reality lying in wait for your painfully shy young child? Well, if you’re Mamoru Hosoda, you make a film to fill her with courage, hope, and the joy of being alive at such a time as this. You make BELLE. This masterful reworking of the classic fairy tale transforms a simple (and unrealistic) romance into a heartrendingly raw, yet gently epiphanic reflection on loss, fear, and coming of age in an unsafe world. At the heart of Hosoda’s redemptive story—the magic that breaks the curse, if you will—is not romantic love but something ever more vital in this current climate: compassion. Through her vocaloid-like online life as fearless songstress Belle, the heroine Suzu learns to extend this vital grace to both others and herself, and to receive it from those closest to her as well. In this way, BELLE celebrates the capacity of social media to do good and not only harm, while modeling how exactly to live with compassion, a valuable message in an era seemingly dominated by cancel culture. This may be a retelling of ‘a tale as old as time,’ but this is the one adaptation that will, in my books at least, truly stand the test of time—and future generations will be better for it. Thank you, Hosoda. ~ claire
Streaming on HBO Max.
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War Arc
One of the most epic shonen anime series of all time has finally begun its journey to completion. The previous seasons of the anime ended pretty poorly, full of filler that couldn’t compare to the Arrancar and Aizen arcs. Manga readers will not be disappointed with this final arc adaptation, though! Every episode is a fun ride, full of intense battles that push the captains of the Gotei 13 to their limits. Many long-standing questions are finally answered, as the series prepares for what is proving to be a satisfying conclusion. Ichigo and his allies are pitted against some of the most fearsome enemies in the entire run of the franchise, falling short again and again against the insurmountable power that is Yhwach and his crew. Although the heroes pull out all their best attacks, they cannot avoid taking severe injuries, and not everyone will make it to the end of the season, or in some cases, not even past the first few episodes! The animation by Studio Pierrot is up there with the best, though be warned that it is more violent than previous seasons, so keep that in mind if you are watching with little ones or sensitive viewers. Overall, the action and suspense of this final arc make waiting for Mondays a real challenge, which is a very fitting end to such a blockbuster series! ~ Samuru
Streaming on Hulu.
Bocchi the Rock!
The genius of Bocchi the Rock! is the fact that it’s not afraid to defy slice-of-life conventions to tell the story that it wants to tell. A different show about a high school girl with social anxiety joining a band might shy away from the comedy in favor of wholesome friendship moments and satisfying character arcs. But Bocchi! wants to have its cake and eat it too. And it pulls it off. Interspersed with reflective ponderings on anxiety, self-talk, and loneliness are zany sequences where the pressures of social life cause Hitori to morph into famous paintings, lose corporeal form altogether, or just keel over and die. All this works because the authors love Hitori, even as they poke fun at her social anxiety-induced antics. It works because they understand her struggle to connect with others, even as she deeply desires that connection. It works because they track her growth, slow but steady, as she steps out and discovers what life in community looks like. Add on a lovely main cast and some seriously good insert songs, and we have a show that will be treasured long after the curtains fall. Hilarious yet sensitive, imaginative yet grounded, niche yet relatable, Bocchi the Rock! does it all. Producer Shouta Umehara was aiming for “the pinnacle of slice-of-life anime,” and he definitely hit the bullseye. ~ sleepminusminus
Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Call of the Night
Call of the Night is one of those shows that does an excellent job of capturing emotions and sparking a relatable tone with the audience. From the moment where Ko, the insomniac teenage protagonist, steps out into the night, in awe and amazement at the new world that surrounds him, to the moment he meets the vampire girl Nazuna, who represents the allure and enticement of nightlife and the seductive temptation of being in a world normally occupied by adults—the series is evocative and a little nostalgic too. The outstanding animation quality really captures the feel of being on the streets of a major metropolitan area in the twilight hours. Also, the OP, “Daten” is an absolute bop and held the crown of Best Anime OP during its entire run…until a certain show about a certain dude with a hardware issue came along. While it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting a second season of this one, you owe it to yourself to check it out and instantly get transported to that time when, as a youth on the cusp of adulthood, you too first discovered the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of the night. ~ Josh
Streaming on HiDIVE.
One of the most hyped anime of the year, Chainsaw Man is an example of what happens when the powers that be say, “Okay, here’s the source material and the company credit card. Give us a 13-episode series, make it look pretty, and money is no object.” And they succeeded beyond their wildest imagination. What makes this the best anime in 2022? Simple. No really. That’s the answer. It’s simple. The story of a boy who bonds with a demon and produces chainsaws from his body to defeat other demons is simple enough for anyone to comprehend (“simple” when it comes to anime that is). Still, the characters, combined with the fantastic animation, push this narrative into “must-see” territory, especially regarding our saw-tooth bro Denji. It’s downright refreshing to have a protagonist that doesn’t have any grandiose delusions of wanting to be a superhero and fight for something silly like saving the world. Denji wants to be comfortable and live a good life with someone to take care of him, which is something that we can all relate to. I’ll be the first to say that Chainsaw Man has a lot that can turn people away—the levels of violence and sexuality might be too much for some people, but don’t let that turn you away. Every blood splatter and sexually charged moment is not done just for the heck of it—there is a rhyme and reason for it to be there! Finally, let’s talk about this dub. Can we please give Ryan Colt Levy and Sarah Wiedenheft their flowers? Ryan as Denji is so freaking spot on, I seriously can’t hear anyone else in the role. And Sarah as Power is just downright prodigious! This is a show you owe it to yourself to watch in both languages. ~ Josh
Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These S3
The remake of this classic space opera lives up to the high standard set by its revered 1988 predecessor, bringing updated animation and an excellent English dub to help introduce Tanaka Yoshiki’s saga to a new generation. While the LOGH series is not completely flawless, it achieves untouched heights when the story focuses on its complex political drama and meditations on the cyclical nature of human history. This season reaches one of those high points as Admiral Yang Wen-li finds himself struggling with the moral dilemma posed by his incredible naval victories: are they truly defending democracy or simply saving a corrupt government and apathetic citizenry from their own foolishness? This philosophical drama plays out against a backdrop of Death Star VS Death Star battles as the Galactic Empire conducts a major campaign against the most critical defensive strongpoint of the Free Planets Alliance. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes or a complete newbie debating whether or not to take the plunge on this famous but intimidating science fiction epic, get in on Die Neue These. ~ WacOtaku
Streaming on Crunchyroll.
LycoReco is the very embodiment of something that shouldn’t work but, in complete contravention of all logic, really, really does. (A bit like black matter, the placebo effect, or bulldogs.) With enough twists and turns to make a corkscrew blush, and a production history that can at best be described as unconventional, this zany combo of workplace slice-of-life and sci-fi spy thriller is fantastically original. And chaotic. Did I mention the chaos? Plot lines duck and weave like a Dempsey roll and loose ends stick out willy-nilly, but all this serves only to heighten the charm, dynamism, and pure delight of watching the adventures of these teenage undercover government assassins dole out justice while forming fast friendships, devising the most mountainous chocolatey desserts known to Instagram, solving mind-boggling conspiracies, and reforming a genius child hacker. Maybe. At first, the cast seems to slot neatly into familiar tropes, yet as the series progresses (ahem, by episode two), they somehow manage to explode such conventions effortlessly. Chisato and Takina, as the cheerful, bubbly extrovert and cool, self-possessed introvert, single-handedly breathe new life into the most predictable pairing formula known to anime—and steal our hearts in the process. If this is what is possible with anime original series, then we need more of it. A lot more. Hats off to A-1 for taking the risk and doing so with such verve! ~ claire
Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun
Surely season two of Made in Abyss couldn’t top the horror and despair of season one and its movie sequel, could it? Yes, actually, it could and it did, in all its face-melting, body-horror glory. But if that’s all Made in Abyss was about, I’d simply file it under “splatter film” and avoid the series for all eternity. No, what makes The Golden City of the Scorching Sun and its predecessors so special, apart from being set in a world wholly unlike anything depicted before, are the glimmers of hope it provides when they are needed most. The series perseveres in finding hope in the most unlikely places: when an impossible choice must be made involving a loved one, when the regrets from past misdeeds threaten to drown, when the road feels too long and difficult to follow. That’s when the series sparkles, as it reminds us that light shines brightest in the darkest of nights—or the deepest of caves. ~ Twwk
Streaming on HiDIVE.
Spy x Family
Voted Japan’s most anticipated anime of 2022 by an absolute landslide, Spy x Family did the impossible and lived up to all the hype. And then some! The series combines action, comedy, spy thriller, and a dash of romance as it follows a fake family where each of the members is hiding a secret—even the dog! They’ve been brought together by circumstances in order to save the world by foiling a war between the East and West in a Cold War-like situation. But as the story progresses, those fake bonds become more and more genuine, as the Forger Family learn to care for one another and no longer hide behind their respective masks. The animation is stunning, while the color design shines brightly and captivates the eye. The production is slick, but captures all the looseness and charm of the original manga, to the point where Anya could rival Bocchi for Best Comedy Faces of 2022. In short, Spy x Family is masterful, creating a fun ride that you never want to end. And here’s the good news: it’s not going to anytime soon! Season 2 has already been announced. Here’s to the continuing journey of Japan’s—and now possibly the entire world’s—favorite fake family! ~ Samuru & claire
Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Ya Boy Kongming!
If there was an award for Most Classy Anime Character, then in 2022, it would have to go to Kongming. Having been a world-leading tactician in his past life, he now uses his flashy intellect and proven stratagems to help young singer Eiko achieve her dreams in modern-day Shibuya. But it’s actually another quieter, hidden ability that makes him such a compelling character, namely, his ability to demonstrate what it means to serve others well, putting them above himself. He more than lives up to the call “to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In addition to such powerful characterization, this anime also showcases some of the most catchy music of the year! Whether it’s the upbeat and fun opening song “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, the slower-paced and moving “Dreamer,” or the driving rock ballad “Underworld,” there’s something here for every musical taste. Ya Boy Kongming! is genuinely a one-of-a-kind anime that not only offers strong entertainment, but also explores deeper themes in such a way as to leave you thinking well after the final episode has finished. ~ Laura A. Grace & claire
Streaming on HiDIVE.
Our honorable mention anime, perhaps more than even our top ten selections, demonstrate how strong a year it was for the medium. How so? Well, we could have slipped any of a number of these into our top ten without much fuss, don’t you think? And there are a few heralded anime from 2022 that didn’t even make it into our honorable mentions. What a strong year!
Without further ado, in alphabetical order, here are our honorable mention anime of 2022:
- Aharen-san was Hakarenai
- Birdie Wing
- Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
- Drifting Home
- Do it Yourself
- I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss!
- Kaguya-Sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic-
- Laid-back Camp Movie
- Mob Psycho 100 III
- My Dress-up Darling
- One Piece Film: RED
- Play it Cool, Guys
- Raven of the Inner Palace