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MAL Staff Picks: Anime of the Year 2019

Hidden gems, blockbuster sequels, extraordinary debuts, and more are all on the list for our favorite anime of 2019!

by MAL_Articles
Jan 5, 2020 4:20 AM | 54,287 views


Written by Shymander

Preparing the best anime of the decade was such a big task that I had to push back the best anime of the year, my bad! Still, it's never too late to name your Anime of the Year.

Every season brought their own A-game in 2019, presenting climactic sequels, stunning originals, and everything in-between. Many shows have already entered the top lists of score and popularity, yet the year has barely gone by. As such, you'll find an almost equal amount of anime from every season in our picks.

This is just a casual list by staff members with various writing abilities, so I hope you'll get to know them just a little better through their favourite anime of 2019!

Aquarius (Review) - Yakusoku no Neverland

Horror and anime go together like a peanut butter & salsa sandwich. Needless to say, it gets your attention but just like you expected, ends up being a terrible mistake making you wonder why you even thought trying it out was a good idea in the first place. Previous attempts in the genre have always been plagued with the overuse of disturbing imagery in the place of what could even be called a palatable story. Yakusoku no Neverland was a great switch up from this formula that has plagued horror anime for the past while. Instead of focusing on over the top death scenes and cheap scares, Yakusoku no Neverland went back to what made horror so damn enjoyable in the first place: it explored a genuinely terrifying concept. As a fan of horror, it was refreshing to finally watch a genuine horror story in anime. Even better, a genuinely GOOD horror story. Yakusoku no Neverland may not be the best anime this year in terms of production quality, but it breathed life into a favorite genre of mine that I considered long dead in the medium of anime. Because of this, it stands out above the rest this year making it my AOTY.

Ardanaz (Forum) - Mob Psycho 100 II

The first season was the biggest pleasant surprise I've ever had while watching anime. It is the perfect mix of bad-ass moments as well as comedic relief. The second season continued on perfectly and it left me very satisfied. The art style grew on me and I really enjoy it now. Something that pulls me in so much is the uncertainty of how strong Mob truly is. This mystery is something that really gets me excited in anime and I hope we get to see more of our boi Mob.

Brandon (Forum) - Kengan Ashura 2nd Season

If you're an action fan/junkie then you will love this. I'd describe it as "exaggerated" martial arts, where each character is seen as having different unique superhuman powers. The CGI might take some time to adapt to, however, if you can bypass that then the action that is packed into this show will provide you with more than enough entertainment.

Though the cast of characters is huge, it was still very enjoyable watching all the fights that did not contain the main protagonist. This is because they managed to make each character seem very strong and you're left on the edge of your seat questioning whether they have any more trump cards up their sleeves during a fight. Might just be me, but I find the addition of these sneaky "abilities" to be the best thing you could do in an action sequence.

Season 3 needs to come soon, Netflix!

Cloudy (Anime) - Kimetsu no Yaiba

Kimetsu no Yaiba definitely steals the number one spot as AOTY. First of all, audio-visually is top-notch. It's been a long time since I encountered an anime with such strong OST. Animation-wise... well, it's made by ufotable and my favorite studio delivered once again. Story-wise, it's nothing we haven't seen before. But KnY's strongest point is the character development. Every character that enters the show has a unique personality and something to give. You will learn the story of each individual and you are bound to bond with at least one of them. Seriously, if you haven't watched Kimetsu no Yaiba, give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

cyruz (Admin) - Kemurikusa (TV)

I don't expect Kemurikusa (TV) to be on many people's radars, as it is a fairly low-budget anime that heavily relies on CGI for all of its characters. I picked this up because of the seemingly post-apocalyptic setting, and while the show is not very complicated at all, it ended up telling a story that stuck with me for a while. Yes, its animations are quite basic and there's not too much going on besides the main storyline—but it makes up for it with charm. If you're in the mood for a palate cleanser among the sea of comedy and action anime (Don't get me wrong. I loved Kimetsu no Yaiba, too!), check the synopsis and give it a go. Just don't expect too much from it.

DeadlyRaven (Forum) - Given

I really wanted to pick something a bit less known, but Given has been my absolute favorite anime of the year. Boy’s love isn’t often adapted well and most anime in that genre tend to be more fanservice than anything else. Given isn’t following the tropes and is just an amazing love story, plain and simple. The characters and their backstories are so well written and while there is an edgy side to it, it’s not over the top. The music is so good too! They really didn’t have to put so much effort into the songs, but they did and that made the series so much better. There is one scene I’ve been rewatching months after the show was over and that’s not something I usually do. That’s just how amazing and intense that scene was for me! If you’ve watched the anime, you know which one I’m talking about. For making me cry like a baby, love these silly characters and listen to a song over and over again: Given is my anime of the year!

Denji (Manga) - Kemurikusa (TV)

Kemono Friends is the last anime I gave a 10, and Tatsuki and Yaoyorozu lived up to the lofty expectations with Kemurikusa. He has a real knack for creating solid adventures that mix in the perfect amount of intrigue and mystery to keep you wanting more after every single episode. The world is immersive, the characters are all appealing, and even the economical CG holds up surprisingly well given the stronger emphasis on action. I've never been one to follow anime staff, but now I'm hotly anticipating whatever they come up with next.

firefractal (Review) - Kono Oto Tomare!

While I haven't seen very many shows that aired in 2019, I want to take a moment to highlight this hidden gem. I've always been a sucker for anime about high school clubs, so when I saw Kono Oto Tomare! I knew I had to give it a try. The first few minutes were rocky, with flashbacks from the two main male leads set to the tune of a kitschy music box. My enthusiasm began to drop even further as I sat through the close-up shots of each of the koto club's members running towards a rosy sunset during the run-of-the-mill J-pop opening animation.

However, I had to set aside my misgivings as the cast of characters were introduced one by one. Kono Oto Tomare! is one of those shows with a strong, fleshed-out cast. Each character's strengths are highlighted, and their backstories lend even more significance to their growth throughout both the first and second seasons. Out of the seven Tokise High School koto club members, I'd say that only Mittsu's growth is glossed over, which is actually pretty impressive given the not-so-small cast of main characters. The characters all had such unusual reasons for joining the club, but they were able to overcome their differences through their shared love and appreciation of the koto.

It's clear that the koto is the main star of the show, and its appeal is brought out by the art and the music. While the art during most scenes is pretty average at best, the scenes where the club is together practicing in their clubroom or performing on stage stand out from the crowd. The koto music is definitely one of the strongest points of this anime. I honestly don't know very much about koto music, but it was relaxing to listen to and I really enjoyed the variety of songs that were performed in both seasons.

Kono Oto Tomare! definitely wasn't the best anime of the year for me objectively speaking, but the beautiful koto music and the enthusiasm of the club members really resonated with me in a way that other 2019 anime didn't (pun intended).

Fleeting_Dream (Forum) - Fruits Basket 1st Season

I didn't really start watching the original until the remake was starting. Though I'd have to say, for me, this is probably the best reboot since FMA:B. I'll definitely be looking forward to seasons two and three of the remake. I fell in love with the series thanks to its reboot.

Kineta (Admin) - Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen

While the re-adaptation of Fruits Basket was certainly the anime I looked forward to most this year, the joy of the series lies deeper into the story for me (what the anime has yet to adapt). Considering this, I chose Kaguya-sama as my AOTY for the purpose of this article. Kaguya-sama caught me from the beginning with its stylized opening, pompous narrator, and character-driven comedy. The competitive nature and pure naïvety of its two main characters make for a curious chemistry between them. Both are ridiculously confident in their knowledge of the other's psychology, while being so poor at handling social situations, all they can do is fumble. The result is simultaneously hilarious and heart-warming. A rare viewer of seasonal anime, I picked up the series solely for Makoto Furukawa's main casting as Shirogane—an excellent role for him. Shirogane's varied emotions and exaggerated reactions showcase the full range of Furukawa's voice much better than reserved personas he's often cast as. Paired with Aoi Koga's expressive acting, their dynamic really brought the characters to life. Kaguya-sama is a complete package of talented seiyuu, engaging soundtrack, excellent direction, and amusing source material. An avid manga reader, this is one series I find it difficult to go directly to the manga with; I'm too afraid the charm of the anime will be lost. Luckily, a second season has already been announced.

KuroDubZero (Manga) - Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3 Part 2

There aren't many shows I actually go back and watch periodically, but with this show, I never grew tired of going back and watching older clips. I'm an avid manga reader so I already know the plot, but the anime visuals are amazing and on point. Not to mention the OST is one of the main reasons it continues to be one of my favorites whenever a new season airs. Also, it's one of few anime me and my brother watch together and get excited about discussing future episodes.

Maffy (Review) - Beastars

Without a doubt, Beastars is the true AOTY. It is hard to explain why, but in short... it is an experience. Every episode was a unique experience and the more episodes you watched, the better it got. From a seemingly innocent premise with very obvious stereotypes and a murder mystery as the background, it moves with surprising speed to deeper issues and extraordinary characters. Do you want drama? Romance? Bit of violence? Awesome music? Great directing? Interesting personalities? Maybe even a bit into furries? THEN THIS IS FOR YOU! I would recommend this in a heartbeat because it definitely stole my heart.

MonkeyDHunter (Forum) - Vinland Saga

Vinland Saga happens to be one of my favourite manga, so when I heard that Wit Studio was working on an anime adaptation, I was pretty excited, knowing their good work on Attack on Titan. I'm generally a sucker for series with a historical setting, lots of character introspection, and multifaceted character, so this was a trait. The anime perfectly established the world which the series takes place in: the High Middle Ages when Europe was engulfed in a never-ending circle of violence and war. The show doesn't hesitate to showcase the cruelty and unfairness of this time period as well as the glorification of violence and war which the Pagan Nordic people strongly considered as their gateway to Valhalla by dying "gloriously" on the battlefield. Overall, the animation was pretty good during the most important moments of the series along with some really beautiful background sceneries and some fluid action scenes. Furthermore, the studio managed to bring Makoto Yukimura's beautiful art to life, offering some very detailed facial expressions. In Vinland Saga, the facial expressions speak for the characters' themselves by subtly revealing their motives, personal beliefs, and emotions. I had some issues when it came to CGI which looked awkward at times, the OST being quite bland mainly during the first half of the show as well as some anime-original decisions that I felt were unnecessary. While I still prefer the manga version slightly more over the anime, the adaptation managed to exceed my expectations to the point of calling this anime not only my AOTY but also my favourite anime of this decade as well. Looking forward to a potential second season.

MrZawa (Forum) - Vinland Saga

This year had many great shows, so giving the crown to just one show wasn't an easy decision. It was hard to decide between Mob Psycho 100 II, Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo., Chihayafuru 3, and Vinland Saga, all of which brought interesting and unique things and perspectives, but I chose Vinland Saga* in the end.

I'm into history and I always had interest in Vikings, so Vinland Saga was a very enjoyable experience for me from the very beginning. As far as historical anime go, it's pretty realistic and it actually feels like it's happening in its era, so I very much enjoyed the atmosphere of the show. Character development is done really well and characters feel real. For me, that's very important. I especially loved Askeladd, who is a great villain and actually also a bit of a semi-MC of the show, which is rare to see. I really enjoyed that he isn't a one-dimensional kind of villain who does evil things for the sake of being evil, but rather he is doing them for a reason, and sometimes he also does good things when it suits him. His motivations and his behavior felt human, even if his actions were often twisted. He became one of my most favorite characters ever really fast. MC, Thorfinn, was fairly disappointing at first, but he got solid development throughout the story and I ended up liking him, although it's clear that even by the end of the show, he still has much space to grow. Canute is another character whose development deserves to be mentioned, even if I can't go into details to prevent spoilers. Even many side characters were intriguing and entertaining in their own right. That's a big part of why I loved this show as much as I did.

The story was great. It was interesting to follow Thorfinn's childhood on Iceland and then be thrown into the Danish conquest of Britain with many other characters, each with their own reasons for acting the way they do, interacting and shaping the story. The story isn't too over the top and doesn't contain needless supernatural elements, which is where these types of shows often fail. There are some minor gripes I had at times, especially when Thorkell was involved, but otherwise, it had a really good sense of realism, yet enough unrealistic elements to still be entertaining in a fictional way. There are some cool fights going on, although for me those weren't the most important part of what made it good. For me, those merely set up the atmosphere and moved the story to the key points. The reason why I enjoyed it so much was to a large degree was how it showcased moral dilemmas of revenge, killing people, looting, royal succession and more, through the actions, thoughts, and dialogues of Thorfinn and other characters. I won't go into details here to prevent spoilers, but I found this aspect of the show rather well done. I further like the way the ending concluded this part of the story. Even though it's an incomplete adaptation, for now, it feels complete.

Great music direction further amplified this for me since music really blended well with what was going on and added another dimension to it. It helped me feel it the way I wouldn't feel it without it. I think only Chihayafuru 3 was comparable in terms of music direction from the shows that I have seen this year.

Last but not least, the art was well done as well. It had some ups and downs and quality wasn't entirely consistent throughout, but I think it blended 2D animation with CGI really well and it rarely felt out of place thanks to that. The art style also felt realistic enough; sometimes the level of realistic detail was even surprising, but it also felt cartoony enough when it was needed. Character expressions were done exceptionally well and showcased their emotions in full and in a believable way. Visual storytelling was also done really well, even if I think it could have done more in that direction. When compared with the manga, it felt somewhat lacking. But overall, I liked the direction that the art took, even if I think that some things could have been done a bit differently. But overall, it never disturbed my experience and often it made it better.

Vinland is an all-around great show that isn't perfect by any means, but all its imperfections fade compared to things it does well. For these reasons, I think it deserves to be the AOTY in spite of the fierce competition. Now I just hope we get season 2 ASAP.

neil (Discord) - Granbelm

A show that took me like a thunderstorm in a desert...

The dark fantasy genre has been around for a while now and the premise of this show spoke clichéd to many, as it did to me. But the way Nexus, a new studio, handled every single detail, clichéd was the last thing on my mind as I sat at the edge of my seat with plot twists sucker-punching me left and right and characters causing a deluge below my eyes.

At a glance, this is a mahou-shoujo mecha about six girls with an affinity for magic fighting it out in a battle royale to become the one true mage, Princeps. Omnipotence as their goal, they're chasing after their wishes and putting their very existence on the line. But there's so much more to this beautiful story than that.

Meet Mangetsu, one of the main heroines of the story. A girl with a heart of gold who wants to prove to herself that she's not just some fallen leaf in autumn, destined to be blown away without anyone to remember her. Then there's Shingetsu, our second protagonist out to erase all magic from the world because she believes no good ever came out of it.

The story revolves around the bond between these two as they try to find their place in the cruel world that has forsaken them. It paints a picture of a person who is neither special nor unique. Then it proceeds to pulverise similar sentiments in you until you're forced to believe that you are much more than just a nobody in this vast, unfathomable universe.

With such a stellar staff lineup working on this show, I was flabbergasted when it flew under the radar of many. With scriptwriter Jukki Hanada bringing the magic of Sora yori mo Tooi Basho's character bonds and high stakes thrill of Steins;Gate, the story was bound to evoke strong feelings. On top of that, we have an amazing OST fitting the plot to a T directed by Kenichiro Suehiro, a gripping opening performed by Eir Aoi, and two heart-wrenching ending songs by Uru with lyrics that manage to tear me up every time. Then there's the visual aspect of the show. Exquisitely hand-drawn mecha animation (a diamond in the dust in today's mecha industry) and spectacular action effects by the director of Re:Zero, Masaharu Watanabe, alongside the character designer, Shinichirou Ootsuka, make for a delicious treat for the eyes.

But in retrospect, this show truly shined when all the elements of the first half gradually started to flow into each other as it explored each and every one of the characters' pasts and tied their wishes together into something truly magnificent.

I implore you to look past the mean score, the slightly rocky beginning and the initial lack of information and give the whole thing a try. A story told using magic, themes of existentialism and a lot of heart by the creators made to make you love life itself, it would be a real shame if you pass this by.

Shymander (Social Media) - Beastars

In 2019, I watched more new anime than in any other year—86, to be exact. Each season progressively offered up a new clear favourite for me: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen in Winter, Aggressive Retsuko (ONA) 2nd Season in Spring, and then Given in Summer. At the time, that last one felt like a given for my Anime of the Year.

But then I watched Beastars in Fall.

I'm like everyone else. I have anime I like or dislike, love or hate, or just feel indifferent towards. But there's that rare anime, a creation of pure imagination, that elevates the expectations of what anime can be. And that's exactly what Beastars was. That being said, my best scene of the year does go to Given. You know the one.

We're still in the age of hesitancy towards fully 3D anime, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the same way. But the minute details, expressive physical movement, and provocative layouts of Beastars fully convinced me that there was no other effective way to make it. Studio Orange went above and beyond with every element, even creating a gorgeous stop-motion animation for the opening theme while sticking to a consistently high quality across the entire series. But that's just the production side of things.

Paru Itagaki's original manga is a work of genius. For an urban tail tale of predators and prey, both of which feel oppressed in their own right, it's so profoundly human. Every character has clear motivations that they struggle and fight to achieve, all while living underneath their own shadows. Legoshi, in particular, is an astonishing character that I can only applaud (and cry over). Also, just look at him, he's plain adorable. There's so much to gush over, but I'll leave it to you to check out for yourself (I review the first episode in more detail here). Considering it has the most picks on this list and a second season on the way, I'd say that's a solid endorsement to watch it.

Except, well, Netflix Jail sucks and I hope they fix their misguided content release strategy at some point. To make up for refusing to wait, I'm getting the first few volumes of the manga very soon, which I'm absolutely stoked about.

Snow (News) - Machikado Mazoku

Machikado Mazoku was one of the shows I simply brushed off as "yet another CGDCT show." The synopsis seemed boring, the promotional video looked generic, and the whole magical girl shtick never did it for me. All in all, it shouldn't have worked. And yet, it somehow ended up as my favorite show of 2019.

Why? Well, we have a rather unfortunate but adorable demon in Shadow Mistress Yuuko (or Shamiko), who does her best at being totally super evil and not helpful at all, and a mysterious magical girl in Momo Chiyoda. These two have a very good and friendly chemistry not only between themselves but also with the supporting cast, which leads to a rather enjoyable story filled with quirky characters. This is also where I feel like the series' strength lies in: Its cute and expressive characters. Shamiko and her tail feels so "animated" and is in itself a sight to behold. The supporting cast are also adding to the story rather than just being there. Everyone seems completely fine with the idea of magical girls and demons for instance, which just adds to the comedy. Another thing I enjoyed about the show was the times its pacing ramped up. Things happen in the background, characters talk over each other, and whatnot. While this may be off-putting to some people, I actually think it's part of its charm. This is thanks to the superb timing of the comedy that stays very consistent throughout the entirety of the series. There never seemed to be a moment that felt outright boring because of this. Maybe a bit slow at most, but even when the pace slowed down, it was sometimes met with these wholesome and heartwarming moments.

Now, Machikado Mazoku is by no means perfect and I'm well aware of it. It has its flaws, but this doesn't take away all the fun and fluff that I came to enjoy. Ganbare Shamiko!

Sun (Manga) - Hoshiai no Sora

On the surface, Hoshiai no Sora may seem like your average sports anime. While that may be partly the case, the anime also explores the theme of family issues in each individual member of the soft tennis club. One of the strong points of this anime is that it does not shy away from addressing these issues which may be, at times, confronting for the viewer. This sets a dark tone that is present throughout the whole narrative despite the art style being the complete opposite of the actual atmosphere of the anime. Another strength of this show is the phenomenal sakuga. From hitting a ball with a racket to the mundane activities undertaken by the characters, the sakuga does not fail to deliver these scenes.

Despite all the controversies with this show, there is a good mixture of sports and drama, which makes it a joy to watch. The ending, however, is literally asking for a continuation of the story and we can only hope that there will be a sequel… But still, I encourage people to give this anime a try!

Tacas (Social Media) - Chihayafuru 3

It's been six years since the second season aired, but Chihayafuru feels the same as ever! I find it amazing how the staff manages to convey the same atmosphere as the original series and I'm always excited whenever a new episode drops. The general plot is incredibly realistic and, in contrast to other sports anime, isn't just about karuta but also about the hardships the characters face in their everyday life. I'm more than happy that Chihayafuru 3 will end up airing for a total of 24 episodes and I want to recommend it to anyone who is into tournament arcs, Japanese culture, and feels.

Tensho (Forum) - Carole & Tuesday

As a fan of shows about music and also Watanabe's creative direction, Carole & Tuesday was up there with some of the anime I absolutely had to try. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint with Watanabe's signature genre mishmash, stellar production value, and what was most surprising, some pretty good songs to listen to!

The overarching plot of C&T can be broken into two distinct halves with one certainly shining brighter than the other, but perhaps neither half being quite as driven as one might expect. The standalone episodes stuck particularly well, as might be expected of this director—the concise snapshots into the life of this musical duo are entertaining, and thanks to the setting of a futuristic city on Mars, also an engaging act of worldbuilding.

Carole & Tuesday makes an interesting, unique case for itself and its presentation stands strong alongside other works of bounty hunters, samurai, and terrorists in Watanabe's portfolio, and is perhaps one of the more accessible entries in retrospect.

For those yet to witness one of these eclectic universes with sharp, on-pace episodic tales, Carole & Tuesday is a fantastic place to start with its contemporary humane chord of love towards the world.

tingy (Anime) - Honzuki no Gekokujou: Shisho ni Naru Tame ni wa Shudan wo Erandeiraremasen

It’s been a long year, and I have never been this behind on seasonals since I started watching them in the second half of 2012. At the time of writing, I’ve only completed 20 full-length TV series and am in the progress of completing 19. However, the choice is an easy one. I would like to mention though that had KazeTsuyo started and ended in 2019, I would’ve chosen it without a second thought. Still, it didn’t take much deliberation for me to choose Honzuki no Gekokujou (Ascendance of a Bookworm) as my AOTY.

How many isekai LN adaptations were there this year? Many. How many people actually watched Ascendance of a Bookworm? Only around 33k are watching/have completed it. Honestly, I can see why people weren’t interested in it, with the first key visual of our 5-year-old protagonist, Myne (or Main…or Maine), holding a book. The main visual looks more appealing, but the character designs probably felt too childish for many. However, this isn't a kid’s anime at all! Knowing nothing about the source material, it certainly took me by surprise. While I didn’t enjoy every single moment as I did with, say, Mob Psycho 100 II, Kanata no Astra, Kimetsu no Yaiba, and Given, Ascendance of a Bookworm is in essence, an incredibly charming and refreshing series.

As a fan of slice of life, good world-building, and diverse character interactions, this anime sure hits the spot. It’s not often you get to see a young child interact with not only their family, kids around their age, but also other adults. Cue the many heartwarming moments. Of course, Myne is a special case, given that she has the knowledge of an adult from her previous life, so she’s capable of much more than a regular kid of the same age. Myne’s obsession with books is what drives the story, and her efforts in overcoming her inability to obtain books in this new world are not only entertaining but also educating. There’s also a very apparent problem with the world’s system of socioeconomic class, but we never really truly experience it until the end of the series. Bless the announcement of part two!

Anyways, I highly recommend lovers of slice of life with a fantasy setting to try out Ascendance of a Bookworm[. It’s really an unique entry to the plethora of isekai anime adaptations of recent years and it has so much more to offer with future content.

yuna (Discord) - Beastars

At the time of writing this, Beastars is not quite finished; however, I can safely say it is my favorite seasonal that I have watched this year (and I have really enjoyed some others!). This show has so many things that I love about it, though I would have to say the characters take the top spot. Struggling with your destiny, who you were born as, a life that has been written for you by someone else, etc. is certainly a popular theme in anime and other media. I think Beastars does this very well—each character has to deal with their animal instincts, and their role in a society that only works well on the surface. Besides the characters, I think the soundtrack and cinematography are superb, especially in some of the theatrical scenes. I will definitely be looking forward to season 2 of this one.

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