Welcome to the second set of Ani-Gamers Staff Picks, our annual countdown of our staff’s favorite stuff from the past year. Below you’ll find a list of extraordinary anime TV shows and movies from an extraordinary year. A fall season featuring some of the most anticipated shows in years, an ever-growing slate of anime movies in North American theaters, and continued investment from major international media companies have all resulted in more hours of anime than we have the free time to watch. In 2022 we also saw the beginnings of a backlash to the Crunchyroll/Funimation merger, with voice actors pushing for more union dubs in the industry. We expect to see this become an even bigger issue in the years to come.
Below you’ll find favorites from our entire team (yes, even David), ranging from retro remakes to the hottest Shonen Jump properties. What a year for anime!
1. Cyberpunk Edgerunners
Due to life circumstances, I don’t have a lot of free time anymore to watch that much anime, but I was not going to miss out on my best and likely only chance to watch some real David representation in anime. Even if the project is attached to the maligned Cyberpunk video game that most people would prefer to forget about, Trigger did the job with finesse, making a show that is somehow closer to fulfilling the promise of the initial hype of Cyberpunk 2077 than the game ever managed to achieve. With 10 tight episodes without a wasted moment, great characters, a great soundtrack, and an absolute bummer of ending, Edgerunners has no right being as good as it is but I’m glad it exists.
3. Love After World Domination
I feel like the only person who watched this show, so I’m getting the good word out there. Rarely does a show come along with a perfect blend of sweet, funny, heartfelt and silly. The main character Fudou’s super sentai team is locked in battle with his lover Desumi’s evil organisation bent on world conquest, but actually the real battle … is keeping their love life secret. Fudou is earnest and deeply loving but has rocks for brains, Desumi is career-driven but wracked with anxiety over her inadequacies. In many ways the theme of this show is expectations: yours for yourself, but also those that other people thrust on you, and whether they match up with reality. The leads have a really sweet relationship and are clear about their desires and emotions in a way that’s not necessarily how relationships always work IRL but is very pleasant to watch. Seriously, I implore you to check this one out. Fudou deserves to be everyone’s himbo boyfriend.
2. Pop Team Epic
Sometimes your favourite show goes away forever, and sometimes it comes back bigger, louder, more annoying, more beautiful and wonderful than ever. Pop Team Epic is the joy of creativity, and the fractured, anarchic confusion of life as it is lived in the 21st century. It’s also really, really funny. Pop Team Epic is built on a rock-solid foundation of Okawa Bkub’s finely honed gag manga sensibilities which shines through every wild and wonderful interpretation of it. Being as weird and as annoying as possible is an art form, and there's a great deal of power in nonsense: trying to make sense of the world, and failing. As an anime otaku it is a balm for the soul, and the rare show that is equally for the sakuga freaks and the horrible trash-loving goblins like me.
1. Ya Boy Kongming!
Janjan, ja chiki chiki ban ban! Ya Boy Kongming is an elegy for a long-ago time and place, a time of romance and intrigue that’s gone and never coming back. That’s right: 2019. The world of carefree “Party People” staying out all night in live music clubs, losing themselves in revelry consequence-free on the streets of Shibuya is gone forever (or at the absolute least, dramatically changed as to be unrecognisable). It recontextualises Zhuge Liang’s martial and political victories during a very troubled period of history by putting him closer to the bottom of our society rather than at the very top. It’s also about our modern relationship to history: Does our understanding of the past, fundamentally flawed as it may be, have any bearing on our everyday life? Does our connection through history to people long past hold an actual meaning beyond just being interesting? Ya Boy Kongming says, of course it does. This is a great show even if you aren’t a Three Kingdoms pervert, and nothing that I watched this year made me feel the way it did.
3. Birdie Wing
That’s right, Gambling Golf Lesbians: The Anime. Birdie Wing was a welcome breath of fresh air in 2022 so it deserves a spot on my list. Eve is a top-notch golfer, but rather than play professionally, she makes her living in the world of underground golf using her unique “bullet” style of play: shooting the ball straight at her target at max strength without the usual subtlety of golf shots. And when I say “underground” golf I mean it both figuratively AND literally: at one point Eve plays a high-stakes match put on by the mafia in an underground bunker with a randomized playing field against a woman with snake-themed superpowers. Birdie Wing is full of similar JoJo’s-esque situations that sound totally bonkers out of context and make only slightly more sense in context. It’s not as consistently over-the-top as JoJo’s, but I was happy to have a show with such a unique premise and likable characters that kept me guessing every week. Thankfully there’s more coming in 2023!
2. Chainsaw Man
MAPPA’s hotly anticipated Chainsaw Man anime might not be the ideal adaptation of the manga I had in my head, but this is still an impressive piece of work. Tatsuki Fujimoto’s punk-rock messiness has been considerably toned down in favor of another, equally valid part of his artistic identity: a flair for the cinematic. The Chainsaw Man anime thrives in moments of quiet tension and contemplation, as characters cope with the trauma of a world where devils commit mass murder on a daily basis. It makes the whiplash all the more bone-breaking when the show shifts into action mode, with fast and bloody combat scenes rendered by a team of Jujutsu Kaisen veterans. And even the drab color palette and more serious tone can’t fully suppress just how funny Chainsaw Man is, particularly its lovable loser protagonist Denji. Most importantly: the opening animation from Shingo Yamashita and the ending animations (one per episode, a staggering feat) are the highlights of the series, especially the variety of art styles on display in the endings. Despite some gripes, I’m just happy to see my favorite recent comic on screen with such loving attention given to it.
1. Ranking of Kings
There’s something really magical about a top-notch animation team breathing life into a manga with simplistic artwork. Just like BONES’ Mob Psycho 100 adaptation, Studio WIT’s take on Ranking of Kings by Sōsuke Tōka preserves what makes its story so great and layers on a spectacular visual style. This medieval fairy tale follows unlikely hero Prince Bojji, the weak and deaf heir to his kingdom‘s throne, as he contends with a jealous brother, an evil stepmother, a magic mirror, and lots of other classic fantasy tropes. What makes Ranking of Kings so brilliant is how it flips many of these tropes on their heads. Heroic characters turn out to be villainous, and the villains turn out to be more complicated than they appear. The staff at WIT take Tōka’s unpolished manga artwork as a license to focus on motion and color over complex line work, resulting in animation that has a grace and vibrancy usually reserved for films. Ranking of Kings deserves to be remembered among the great fantasy anime series.
3. Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan's Island
Cucuruz Doan's Island is such a weird product. Legendary artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko went back and redid the “worst” episode of Mobile Suit Gundam as a full length movie, but it turned out great. Yaz takes this barebones story and turns it into a fantastic adventure. It’s great to see the crew of the White Base at it again.
2. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
I joke with friends that you would think that I’d be over the Dragon Ball formula at this point but then you’re watching a movie and Gohan powers up and gets really strong and fights a guy and you realize that no you will never be too old for this and it will always rule. This movie is also extremely stupid and funny.
1. Bocchi the Rock
I didn’t watch a lot of tv anime this year but I adored Bocchi the Rock. The insane, probably overworked, team at CloverWorks took what is a very cute manga in the classic “what if thing but girl” genre and elevated it to new levels with fantastic direction and use of creative animation. It’s a story of a girl with extreme social anxiety trying to play guitar in a rock band but they used so many clever techniques to visualize Bocchi’s anxieties that it’s so much fun to watch. You end up cheering for her and hoping she can become that star she dreams of being.