This list was not hard to make. I’ve seen a lot of new anime this year (more than usual actually), but if I wasn’t completely invested I just didn’t finish them. Because I don’t have time to watch things that are uninteresting to me.
A little tip though. These anime are not necessarily made in 2021. I just watched them for the FIRST TIME in 2021.
That said, I combined anime and added one Korean drama to the mix. So, to wrap up this year here is my beautiful list!
Note: I left AMVs for most of them, so you can have a better idea of what is so great about each show.
8. Made in Abyss (2017) Animated by Kinema Citrus
The Abyss, a hole of unprecedented depth—one young girl and a robot brave its dangers to find the truth.
The town of Orth is a special one, as it is built around the edges of the massive Abyss, a wonder which has never been fully explored. Those who venture too far down never return, but those brave enough to traverse its territories are known as “Cave Raiders” and are heralded as legends. Within this town lives a young girl called Riko, the child of one of the most famous Cave Raiders of all time who disappeared on an expedition many years ago.
One day, Riko’s life changes when she meets a strange robot called Reg, who seems to appear from within the Abyss. Believing this to be a sign from her mother stuck at the bottom of the Abyss, Riko descends into its depths with Reg, ready to confront all the dangers within it.Myanimelist Synopsis
I know Made in Abyss is special. The quality of the background visuals, the ambiance of the overall story, and the complexity of the character’s motivations did not disappoint me or my brother when we finally sat down and watched it.
It is a bit deceiving. At first glance, it seems like it should be a cute anime about friendship and adventure. But after the first few episodes, it reveals darker secrets and darker stories.
It reminded me of Kino’s Journey, Princess Tutu, and Madoka Magica for that reason. It gives meaning to the phrase, “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is beautiful.”
If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend it if you can handle violence against children, blood, and traumatic deaths. That isn’t to say this is an overly violent or gory show. The way these scenes occur makes them all the harder to watch.
Don’t know if it is for you? Watch the AMV down below to be sure.
Preferred language: JAPANESE or ENGLISH
7. The Ancient Magus Bride (2017-2018) Animated by Wit Studio
Chise Hatori, a 15-year-old Japanese girl, was sold for five million pounds at an auction to a tall masked gentleman. Abandoned at a young age and ridiculed by her peers for her unconventional behavior, she was ready to give herself to any buyer if it meant having a place to go home to. In chains and on her way to an unknown fate, she hears whispers from robed men along her path, gossiping and complaining that such a buyer got his hands on a rare “Sleigh Beggy.”
Ignoring the murmurs, the mysterious man leads the girl to a study, where he reveals himself to be Elias Ainsworth—a magus. After a brief confrontation and a bit of teleportation magic, the two open their eyes to Elias’ picturesque cottage in rural England. Greeted by fairies and surrounded by weird and wonderful beings upon her arrival, these events mark the beginning of Chise’s story as the apprentice and supposed bride of the ancient magus.Myanimelist Synopsis
Hmm, before I became a fan of the anime I was a faithful fan of the manga. I followed it all the way to the first 40 or so chapters before I went off to Russia. When I saw a studio had adapted it into an anime I couldn’t resist giving it a look.
Goodness, this anime is beautifully crafted! CGI effects were used merely for effects in lighting and layouts for big cities. The backgrounds brought the British Isles to life, especially in the forest. Animators faithfully adapted the original author Yamazaki, Kore‘s character designs.
All around, this show is wonderfully enchanting. Having studied quite a bit of folklore I truly enjoyed watching figures from Celtic, Druid, and other ancient religions come to life.
Fairytales, especially with the true fair folk are NOT pink and sparkly I can tell you that.
Anyway, I recommend this show to those interested in learning a bit about Western history to give it a look. I also think people who suffer from depression and trauma would benefit from watching Chise’s story unfold.
Preferred Language: English
6. Fruits Basket (2019-2021) Animated by TMS Entertainment
Tooru Honda has always been fascinated by the story of the Chinese Zodiac that her beloved mother told her as a child. However, a sudden family tragedy changes her life, and subsequent circumstances leave her all alone. Tooru is now forced to live in a tent, but little does she know that her temporary home resides on the private property of the esteemed Souma family. Stumbling upon their home one day, she encounters Shigure, an older Souma cousin, and Yuki, the “prince” of her school. Tooru explains that she lives nearby, but the Soumas eventually discover her well-kept secret of being homeless when they see her walking back to her tent one night.
Things start to look up for Tooru as they kindly offer to take her in after hearing about her situation. But soon after, she is caught up in a fight between Yuki and his hot-tempered cousin, Kyou. While trying to stop them, she learns that the Souma family has a well-kept secret of their own: whenever they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
With this new revelation, Tooru will find that living with the Soumas is an unexpected adventure filled with laughter and romance.Myanimelist Synopsis
My gosh, I have so many good memories of Fruits Basket. Not the anime, but the MANGA series by Natsuki Takaya. I must have read it at least 20 times throughout my life. It IS my favorite manga series of all time.
I’m grateful TMS Entertainment remade this story. The first anime from the 2000s. . . left much to be desired. I saw it once and moved on. It’s sad, but they didn’t do a faithful adaptation of Takaya’s beautiful story.
Why does this matter? Well, it’s because there is something SPECIAL about Fruits Basket. It is a glorious example of how a true selfless act always sparks another, of how one kind person can heal countless others.
Now, I haven’t finished this anime because I started watching it with my mom and had to stop because of my job.
But from what I’ve seen, it’s really beautiful. It can be higher on my list because I haven’t finished it. But once I do I’ll surely write about it.
Preferred Language: ENGLISH
5. It’s Okay Not to Be Okay (2020)
A story about a man employed in a psychiatric ward and a woman who is a popular writer of children’s books. The drama tells the story of Moon Kang Tae, a community health worker at a psychiatric ward who doesn’t have time for love, and Go Moon Young, a successful children’s book author with antisocial behavior who seems to have never known love. After meeting one another, the two slowly begin to heal each other’s emotional wounds.IMBD Synopsis
The one and only Korean Drama on this list deserves its spot. I saw this show at a particularly difficult time I was having this year. Its premise reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Fruits Basket, “It’s okay to let yourself be sad.”
I like how this show treats people suffering from a myriad of mental illnesses and addictions. It doesn’t undermine their experiences, their pain, or their trauma. It remains respectful and encouraging for these people.
In fact, the two main characters carry heavy scars because of trauma from their childhoods, which manifest in different ways into their adulthood.
But we aren’t our scars or wounds. As Po said in Kung Fu Panda 2 “Scars heal.” This show teaches, there is a way to move beyond our pain. In fact, we need to grow and progress because of it.
Hurtful, painful memories. Memories of deep regrets. Memories of hurting others and being hurt. Memories of being abandoned. Only those with such memories buried in their hearts can be stronger, more passionate, and emotionally flexible.Quote from Episode 1
All in all, I highly recommend this show to those who love to think and improve mentally and intellectually. It also has a pretty quirky romance, which I somehow enjoyed watching.
4. Bungo Stray Dogs (2016-) Animated by Bones
For weeks, Atsushi Nakajima’s orphanage has been plagued by a mystical tiger that only he seems to be aware of. Suspected to be behind the strange incidents, the 18-year-old is abruptly kicked out of the orphanage and left hungry, homeless, and wandering through the city.
While starving on a riverbank, Atsushi saves a rather eccentric man named Osamu Dazai from drowning. Whimsical suicide enthusiast and supernatural detective, Dazai has been investigating the same tiger that has been terrorizing the boy. Together with Dazai’s partner Doppo Kunikida, they solve the mystery, but its resolution leaves Atsushi in a tight spot. As various odd events take place, Atsushi is coerced into joining their firm of supernatural investigators, taking on unusual cases the police cannot handle, alongside his numerous enigmatic co-workers.Myanimelist Synopsis
This show was an unexpected favorite of mine this year. Honestly. Truly. I was shocked when I liked it so much. I thought its setup, characters, overall story, and animation were unique. The soundtrack also reminded me of Baccano! which no doubt increased my love for it.
Does this mean I loved every single character or every part of the show? No. The weirdest thing for me was the incestuous relationship between two siblings and the pleasure another character took in bringing even her colleagues to the point of death.
Yeah. . . that creeped me out. One of the character’s abilities was also based on a banned Japanese erotic novel.
That aside, here are the things which caught my interest.
- Character animation: I especially loved how the animators at Bones displayed emotions and facial expressions. I loved how the lips curved, the shape of their irises (in their eyes), and how each character’s movements reflected each of their abilities.
- Each arc kept me wanting more: one my dad ended up watching was for the character Dazai and his friend who ends up dying in battle.
- How. Well. They. Blended. CG effects and 2D animation. So Gorgeous!
- How it treats people as people. Not just as villains or heroes.
- How it interweaved poetic dialogue cards in each episode with the story.
- How they used real authors and books for the characters and their abilities.
- THEY HAD A RUSSIAN VILLAIN!
Give this show a go especially if you like detective stories.
Preferred Language: ENGLISH
3. Jujutsu Kaisen (2020) Animated by MAPPA
Idly indulging in baseless paranormal activities with the Occult Club, high schooler Yuuji Itadori spends his days at either the clubroom or the hospital, where he visits his bedridden grandfather. However, this leisurely lifestyle soon takes a turn for the strange when he unknowingly encounters a cursed item. Triggering a chain of supernatural occurrences, Yuuji finds himself suddenly thrust into the world of Curses—dreadful beings formed from human malice and negativity—after swallowing the said item, revealed to be a finger belonging to the demon Sukuna Ryoumen, the “King of Curses.”
Yuuji experiences first-hand the threat these Curses pose to society as he discovers his own newfound powers. Introduced to the Tokyo Metropolitan Jujutsu Technical High School, he begins to walk down a path from which he cannot return—the path of a Jujutsu sorcerer.Myanimelist Synopsis
Woo hoo, this show was a blast to watch! It kept me on my toes. I’ve seen/ read a lot of Shonen Anime. I’m fairly familiar with their patterns and my established expectations. Every preconceived idea I had about these kinds of stories flew out the window.
NOTHING happened in the way I expected. The Curse Sakuna, who Yuuji eats, is truly, and simply EVIL. He won’t help the hero. In fact, he goes out of his way to openly mock him and misuse his body whenever he can.
It’s so hard to explain adequately how well designed and animated it is. . . without spoiling everything. Let’s just say the moment I started it, it had its claws in me. Now, I just have to wait for the movie and season two.
Preferred Language: JAPANESE
2. Demon Slayer (2020) Animated by ufotable
Ever since the death of his father, the burden of supporting the family has fallen upon Tanjirou Kamado’s shoulders. Though living impoverished on a remote mountain, the Kamado family are able to enjoy a relatively peaceful and happy life. One day, Tanjirou decides to go down to the local village to make a little money selling charcoal. On his way back, night falls, forcing Tanjirou to take shelter in the house of a strange man, who warns him of the existence of flesh-eating demons that lurk in the woods at night.
When he finally arrives back home the next day, he is met with a horrifying sight—his whole family has been slaughtered. Worse still, the sole survivor is his sister Nezuko, who has been turned into a bloodthirsty demon. Consumed by rage and hatred, Tanjirou swears to avenge his family and stay by his only remaining sibling. Alongside the mysterious group calling themselves the Demon Slayer Corps, Tanjirou will do whatever it takes to slay the demons and protect the remnants of his beloved sister’s humanity.Myanimelist Synopsis
Demon Slayer is the show I never knew I needed. Because I don’t LIKE a lot of violence, especially against women and children. When I decided to give it another try I had every intention of dropping it again after the first episode.
But, Tanjiro, Nezuko, and their family’s story struck a subtle chord in me. I looked beyond the initial slaughter of Tanjiro’s family and paid attention to how he reacted to his suffering.
I found it truly remarkable how compassionate and kind he remained. He didn’t turn HARD because of his circumstances. He didn’t shut off his emotions. He moved forward despite his trauma.
Honestly, that’s why I kept watching. I fell in love with Tanjiro as the protagonist. He was sincere, brave, and emotionally raw. I loved how eloquently the animators showed a man does not need to be brazen or cruel to be a true man.
Sometimes, the strongest people cry the hardest.
Anyway, my soliloquy is done.
Besides the AMAZING character development, this show is a must-see for its spectacular animation, backgrounds, and overall message.
Preferred Language: JAPANESE
1. Snow White With the Red Hair (2015-2016) Animated by Bones
Although her name means “snow white,” Shirayuki is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the country of Tanbarun who works diligently as an apothecary at her herbal shop. Her life changes drastically when she is noticed by the silly prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raji, who then tries to force her to become his concubine. Unwilling to give up her freedom, Shirayuki cuts her long red hair and escapes into the forest, where she is rescued from Raji by Zen Wistalia, the second prince of a neighboring country, and his two aides. Hoping to repay her debt to the trio someday, Shirayuki sets her sights on pursuing a career as the court herbalist in Zen’s country, Clarines.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime depicts Shirayuki’s journey toward a new life at the royal palace of Clarines, as well as Zen’s endeavor to become a prince worthy of his title. As loyal friendships are forged and deadly enemies formed, Shirayuki and Zen slowly learn to support each other as they walk their own paths.Myanimelist Synopsis
Who knew Bones could animate a shoujo anime so well! I’ve loved this story since it first came out as a manga several years ago. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought anyone could really capture its truly special romance.
I’ve noticed a pattern in both Western and Eastern romance stories. Authors treat abuse and unhealthy obsession like it is love. SOOOO many stories have men (and women) who blatantly ignore protests of fear, revulsion, or dislike from those they are “interested” in.
In turn, the one who is abused somehow falls in love with their abuser. I can’t count how my dysfunctional, unhealthy depictions of “love” I’ve come across especially lately.
Snow White with the Red Hair is a wonderful, beautiful example of what a healthy courtship and romance looks like. Zen and Shirayuki respect and support each other. Here are some examples.
- Shirayuki doesn’t tell Zen to stop being a prince, even though him being royalty makes it harder for their relationship to work.
- Zen supports Shirayuki’s aspirations and dreams in becoming a court herbalist.
- Zen never forces himself physically or emotionally onto Shirayuki. He respects her privacy and personal space.
- They don’t argue or yell at each other. If they have disagreements, they talk it out.
- They have the support of good friends and don’t shut out others just because they have a romantic relationship.
- They listen to each other, about how their day went, what they accomplished etc.
I could keep going but you get the idea. True love doesn’t passionately flare up and stay at one level. It GROWS as two people align their lives in sync to each other.
Romance part aside, the character animation is not stocky or awkward like so many shoujo anime I’ve seen. The fight scenes are REALLY well animated and the backgrounds are simply gorgeous!
The villains, don’t stay villains. Not all relationships between characters SHOULD be treated as romantic.
I just love how emotionally mature and impactful this story is. This anime enhanced an already beautiful story. I hope they decide to make another season.