AC’s Top 20 Anime of the Decade

This has been a decade of mixed reactions for some people. A handful may see it as a period of renaissance, paying tributes to giant robots and classic mecha of the 80s and 90s in the form of instances such as Tengen-Toppa Gurren Lagann and Gundam SEED. Others see it as the period of the rise of subcultures, and the saturation of genres created as groundwork from previous decades. I see it simply as a decade of wonderful anime titles, most of them contributing to my all-time best list. Without further ado, here’s my list of 20 best anime this decade has to offer.

NOTE: The decade is defined as the period from 2000 to 2009, and the titles for this list are chosen based on those that began within the year 2000. Ongoing titles which debuted in 2009, and all formats – TV series, OVAs and movies – are taken into consideration as well.

20. Fruits Basket
“What if you can’t touch the ones you love?” is the motif of Fruits Basket, and though it lands female lead Tohru into bizarre and comedic situations, beneath them lays emotional scars and unbearable cruelty at the hands of a family curse. This moving series shows how, despite the unerasable heartbreaks, love can heal any tortured soul.

19. The Twelve Kingdoms
This is a story of epic proportions, where a girl gets transported to a surreal world that’s fantastic yet believable. The amazing thing about The Twelve Kingdoms is the comprehensive development of both the characters – particularly the protagonists and those around her – and the magical setting. The abrupt ending may be a huge disappointment, but there’s no denying how grand the story truly is.

18. Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei contains a lot of questions and mysteries. What’s behind the Wall? What are the origins of the Haibane? Equally important is the amount of symbolism present in many aspects of the series. Viewers will be enveloped in a sense of warmth and self-rejuvenation in a series that’s both thought-provoking and refreshing.

17. Black Lagoon – The Second Barrage
The prequel holds no punches with its delivery of violent gunfights, unrestricted vulgarities and raw characterization. The Second Barrage brings all of them to a new level by introducing a new dimension to the adrenaline-filled action and character development that is both engrossing and shocking. Revi is not your ordinary strong female protagonist; she’ll swear and pull the trigger at everyone that gets in her way.

16. Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou
This is a continuation of Natsume’s encounters with supernatural beings, and this time, winter is the theme of the show. The material is not subpar compared to the prequel, but perhaps due to the light-hearted approach, it’s not as moving as the prequel is at times. Nevertheless, this is soul-cleansing series that shows how kindness is not necessarily restricted to the living. Oh, and be sure to look out for the great ending song, “Aishiteru” by Kourin.

15. Bokura ga Ita
Here is a seriously underrated anime about how a young love between two high school students Yano and Nanami is marred by lost love. What makes this series great isn’t the story per se, but it’s the delivery that oozes naturalness, and the focus on the minimal cast. Emotions are not shoved down the throats of viewers like some other melodramatic series; instead, dramatic moments unfold themselves and invoke feelings from the viewers in a natural way.

14. Kaiba
Unconventionality is the key term of the series. The childlike artwork will draw flak with some viewers at first, but beyond the unorthodox art style lays the powerful messages and ethical issues about memory manipulation, self-identity and sacrifice. Kaiba illustrates that no matter how insane or corrupted the world may be at the hands of greed and technological advances, there’s always a glimmer of hope that shall survive eventually.

13. Nana
This is drama about realistic characters and poignant relationships at its best. Although occasionally melodramatic, Nana explores the joys and hardships people face throughout their lives and how admiration, happiness, regret, courage and sadness are influences of their livelihood. Humans are imperfect; everyone has both good and bad traits, and Nana illustrates this, as well as the gray area which blurs the line that separates them. The series is accompanied by a great and memorable soundtrack as well.

12. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
I don’t usually like GONZO, but it is series like Gankutsuou that tells one not to always judge a series by its production studio. An adaptation of a classic novel, the series has a big twist by resetting the setting from the 18th century to one of a neo-classical realm, and a few changes to the characters. This results in a truly unique series that is a feast to the mind and senses, as viewers are indulged to a story of a man bent on vengeance and the downfall of those who framed him.

11. Mononoke
Right from the onset, this is not your ordinary anime series. The unique art style and exceptional storytelling showcase the creative audacity and visual masterpiece that this anime boasts of from start to finish. Equally amazing is the mystery plot, which grips viewers with absorbing suspense and terrifies them with the ultimate truth, and this is told with undoubtedly astounding aesthetics. A series of such untamed creativity is not commonly seen and this will go down as such an instance.

10. Dennou Coil
This is a science fiction series, but the heart of the matter isn’t about the gizmos or the techno-babble; instead, it’s about the quirky characters involved in the futuristic world. Ethical issues are also being put under the magnifying glass: Can technology truly replace the ones you love, and are real living things no different than their virtual counterparts? This is a poignant series where viewers will laugh and cry as it explores the qualities of the human heart in a society which is incorporated with virtual reality.

9. Natsume Yuujinchou
The combination of subdued art style, tender story, soothing music and likeable characters is a winning formula for one of the series of the year 2008. It is a story about spirits and their stories, but more significantly, it highlights how they are actually no different from human beings. Each of the spirits’ experiences gives protagonist Natsume valuable life lessons and viewers will laugh and cry together as they watch Natsume earnestly help them out.

8. Sword of the Stranger
The story is told in an epic setting, and the adrenalin-packed action goes with an unforgettable soundtrack. What’s even more amazing is the beautiful CG animation and crisp art style that showcases the beautiful fusion of a grand-scaled story and awesome aesthetics. Do look out for arguably one of the best climatic fights in years.

7. Moyashimon
Biology and agriculture aren’t the most exciting themes to be used for an anime, but Moyashimon shows that with great comedy and hilarious characters, a series can be both delightfully entertaining and educational. What happens when a man is able see microbes otherwise only visible with the help of a powerful microscope? Lots of laughter and hordes of lovable microbes!

6. Clannad ~After Story~
The sequel to Clannad takes a very different approach not in the story delivery, but in the focus of the characters. The highlight is more on the couple Nagisa and Tomoya and, perhaps more importantly, the theme is now more on family rather than friendship. Tears will be shed as viewers will follow the lives of the two, in a show about how miracles can grant people’s hopes and dreams.

5. Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG
Artificial intelligence, politics and war drama have never been blended so well in a series like 2nd GIG. The political and war drama is riveting, the action is exhilarating and stylish, and the ending is climatic. What’s best, all of them are showcased in full view of gorgeous CG animation and perhaps one of composer Kanno Yoko’s best works. The GITS saga has been a personal favorite, and this installment is perhaps the best it has to offer.

4. Now and Then, Here and There
Perhaps the most poignant series in the list, NTHT features some of the most powerful scenes in recent years and the rawest emotions a drama anime series can ever portray. The iconic sunset scene in the series is pure symbolism in itself, as it illustrates how its beauty can mask the horrors of humanity. Most importantly, it states that no matter how dark and in despair the world may be in, there is always a glimmer of hope and how unbreakable the human spirit is.

3. Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann
Some see this as a tribute to the giant robo genre of the yesteryears; others see this as a passionate and symbolic mecha series. Whatever the impression is for the viewers, there is no denial of how epic the story is, and the presence of a charismatic character that made the series. Throw the logical explanation out the window; it’s time to “FIGHT THE POWAH!” and be overwhelmed by the might of the human heart and mind.

2. Mushishi
Viewers don’t just watch this series; they drift slowly into its dreamy world. The origins of Mushi are mysterious, but their presence undoubtedly affects people’s lives. The focus is however, not on the Mushi, but the people who come in contact with them and how their lives are changed after their mysterious encounter. Each episode features different yet connected stories, and whatever the story may be, Mushishi is perhaps the most unforgettable dream one has ever watched.

1. Monster
Do monsters really exist in this world? If they do, what is the most terrifying monster out there? Worse, what if you’re the one who actually saved his life? Questions such as these and more are explored, and profound issues such as the complex mind and humanity are put under the spotlight. Most importantly, each character has a dark story to tell and the plot thickens right from the start. All of these and the presence of Johan Liebert, one of the most complex characters ever created, are enough reasons to render this the greatest anime to grace the decade.

The decade has experienced some ups and downs; the years 2005 and 2007 offered some unforgettable titles but for some reason, the anime industry has lately been having a barren period. Likewise, my love for anime has had its ups and downs too, but despite the dry seasons, there are still a handful that have provoked different emotions for me. I’ve yet to watch titles such as Honey & Clover, Planetes, Infinite Ryvius, etc. but in the mean time, the list above contains all the titles that continue to ignite my passion and restore my faith in anime.

NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of lists for the best anime of the decade by The Nihon Review reviewers, and we have Sorrow-kun next in line. Stay tuned to see how he reviews the anime in the last ten years.

32 Responses to “AC’s Top 20 Anime of the Decade”

  1. […] Year 2009 Review, Kurogane’s Year 2009 review pt.1, pt.2, AC’s Top 20 Anime of the Decade. […]

  2. That’s right folks, more is coming.

  3. These lists have so many great recommendations. I have The 12 Kingdoms DVDs at my fingertips, but I’ve never made the time to sit down and actually watch them all. It’s an anime that’s appeared on so many lists, so I really should make an effort. However, this is one of the few lists I’ve seen which has had Black Lagoon. Also, Nana, melodramatic. An interesting call. I wonder what Shadowmage and other Nana fans think.

  4. Hmm, your list is a good balance of objectivity and subjectivity. Those that I’ve seen, particularly Mushishi were nothing short of brilliant.

    It’s interesting though that you’d put TTGL on the list and not FLCL. I’ve almost found the latter more impressionistic and resonant, especially so to the teenage soul. Well, to each his own :3

  5. The Twelve Kingdoms are on many people’s lists simply because it is that great. The focus isn’t always on the heroine Youko; it shifts between aspects of the story, from the characters around her to the twelve kingdoms (hence, the title). Its storytelling is at its best in a certain, when the focus deviates to two different girls in different kingdoms, and it gradually converges into one single subplot. It’s only sad that the ending is so abrupt that many consider the series ending-less.

    Black Lagoon is great because it knows what genre (i.e. action) it deals with, and it has a “no holds barred” approach to it. It’s exhilarating and provocative, particularly the latter. As for Nana, although there are melodramatic moments, it’s the poignant ones (e.g. Nobuo and Nana in episode 32) that speak volumes. It made the anime series, but this same scene also broke the live-action Nana 2 movie.


    I don’t want to be too objective with my own list because by doing so, I feel like I’m being dishonest on the anime that really made a strong impression on me over the years.

    Why FLCL isn’t on my list? There’s a very simple reason for this: I haven’t watched it yet.

  6. I would consider Nana to be amongst the best titles in the “Oughts” (OO’s). Melodramatic as it is in places, it sets up these events well so that they’re at least logical. The drama focuses more on the reactions and the resolutions to these events than the events themselves. I’m just disappointed it ends the way it does. I felt like there was a lot more story to be told.

    Twelve Kingdoms was epic, if you can get past the absurdity of the Twelve Kingdoms itself. The rules set in place by the gods, in my opinion, is a heavy handed attempt by the author to describe his stance on the role of government. Considering it is a Japanese perspective, the idea of “no wars” between the Kingdoms is probably just a reconciliation of Japan’s post-WWII hangover and the imposed rules by the United Stats into their constitution. The idea that the king or queen must serve the people and make the kingdom prosperous, or face death, is idyllic. If only real government was that simple to control.

    Otherwise it’s a wonderful fantasy epic with a slightly more realistic touch to the “fish out of water” scenario. I was hoping Utawarerumono was going to end up more like Twelve Kingdoms than what it was, if that tells you anything.

  7. Well, to create a series that realistically portrays governance between different kingdoms (that is, to include political complications) is a difficult feat to achieve. I’d applaud The Twelve Kingdoms because that’s as close as one can get in terms of creating a foreign realm with kingdoms that have governance.

    I heard that the manga for Nana hasn’t ended; the series just ends momentarily. I’m not sure if there’s a continuation of the anime anytime soon.

  8. Glad to see Mononoke make one of these lists as it certainly falls into my top dozen or so shows from the decade. I’m also a Moyashimon fan, but I’m not sure I’d give it quite the pride of place as do you.

    But, really, the reason why I chose to post is that your top row of images shows Ryukki from Saiunkoku Monogatari as a representative of The Twelve Kingdoms. I keep waiting to see where you’d place SaiMono on your list after seeing the image, then realized it was just an error.

  9. Moyashimon is just sheer entertainment; it’s the only series that made laugh so much and at the same time, be educational without being too dry. Moyashimon to me is like Azumanga Daioh to Sorrow-kun; they’re subjective epitomes of “fun”.

    I didn’t realize that screenshot is from a different series; they look similar at a glance. Sorry about that.

  10. @Sorrow-kun

    If you look at everything that occurs, Nana is pretty much a melodrama; it’s just that the show doesn’t bash down emotions with a sledge hammer. The thing I love about the series is just how alienated all the characters are from a “normal” life. In a sense, many of the characters long to be normal, but their pasts give a very callous, very cold outlook of life. These properties make for some very interesting characters who from time to time touch on some profound ideas.

  11. […] AC’s Top 20 Anime of the Decade […]

  12. Did u forget clannad after story? a great anime, and personally, one of the best (in my opnion)

  13. retarded list you forgot scryd and lain.
    one of my two faves next to gits

  14. I’ve seen most of these titles, and among those mentioned, clannad still tops my list.

  15. A top 20 list of the past decade…….and no full metal? but Fruitbasket? you are clearly a fan girl and should be shot.

  16. surely the decade should be 2001 to 2010. since there was no year 0. the first decade would be 1 to 10

  17. Definitely missing some gems in here, and even though I suppose each tops-list is as its maker wishes it, I feel it a shame not to have included FMA: Brotherhood, Death Note, and FLCL. Where movies are concerned, I would have definitely included 5 Centimeters Per Second, as I have yet to see any production at that level of aesthetic accomplishment. There’s also some of the great long-time runners, which always get my blood pumping; I speak of course of Shipuuden and Bleach, which always kick ass when they’re not ruining my life with filler.

  18. […] best list. Without further ado, here’s my list of 20 best anime this decade has to offer. AC’s Top 20 Anime of the Decade » Behind The Nihon Review Creative Search Engines Videos/Media Interesting animation Anime [+] Entertaining huntsman […]

  19. Thanks to you, I found out the anime series “Monster”. Thanks very much, great list.

  20. Haven’t seen many of these, but I’ll definitely add them to my list now and get to them!

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