The Top Anime of 2014

Well, it has been a year, hasn’t it? 2014, as a whole, was a pretty disappointing year in anime. This has been the first year that I’ve actually watched simulcasted seasons for the entire year, so perhaps there’s some of Sturgeon’s Law in effect, but overall I felt that 2014 was far inferior to 2013 in terms of top level quality, mid-tier depth, and low-tier hilarity. To be completely fair to 2014, I did end up watching a lot of 2013 shows this year, but, by way of comparison, shows like Chihayafuru 2 and Monogatari Series: Second Season only served to further expose the weakness of this year.

But it’s more fun to talk about the good things that happened this year, so that’s what I’m going to do. Unlike last year, I’m not going to do caption awards. I’ve already done that with each season, so if you want to see which shows were notable in certain areas, check out those posts:

Winter 2014 | Spring 2014 | Summer 2014 | Fall 2014

So, without further distraction, I present my top anime of 2014! Here’s the Best Girl of 2014 to kick things off!

Nisekoi

Honorable Mentions

  • Hitsugi no Chaika S1
  • The World is Still Beautiful
  • Tonari no Seki-kun
  • Noragami
  • Haikyuu!!
  • Sword Art Online II

While these six shows didn’t make it on to the list, all of them have at least something to distinguish them from the pack. Chaika‘s first season had its derpy sense of humor, The World is Still Beautiful had the wonderful Nike x Livi pairing, and Seki-kun nailed its comedic formula for an astounding 21 weeks in a row. Noragami marked BONES’ return with a beautifully animated action series, Haikyuu!! paired with another series about ping pong to prove to me that I can like sports anime, and Sword Art Online 2 stumbled through its first arc until returning to its more endearing roots in the Excalibur and Mother’s Rosario arcs.

#10. Witchcraft Works

Witchcraft Works

Witchcraft Works is a pretty silly show, but it’s silly in just the right way for me. While the core premise of the show—a normal boy gets a magical girlfriend—has been played out hundreds of times before, Witchcraft Works has a whimsical flair to it that makes is stand out, even almost a full year after its broadcast in Winter 2014. It’s a colorful, energetic show where the bad guys are accompanied by sidekicks that look like giant stuffed animals and the main heroine calls the protagonist her “princess.” It doesn’t hurt that the show looks incredibly pretty—J.C. Staff really nailed me in the aesthetics with Witchcraft Works‘ bright colors and the way the world transitions from normal life into fantasyland and back. Whenever I think about Witchcraft Works, though, there’s one word that blocks out all others: fun. Maybe it’s not the right kind of fun for everyone, but it worked brilliantly for me, more so than almost anything else I saw this year.

If you want to read some thoughts from around the time I finished the show, check out my review.

#9. Barakamon

Barakamon

A city slicker goes to an island and finds himself in one of Summer 2014’s best anime. Of all the shows I picked up on recommendation of others this year, none inspired such constant encouragement to watch as Barakamon. And, well…everyone who told me I would love it was right. I’m fairly convinced that marathoning the show, rather than watching it weekly, was the right decision, as the cumulative effect of Handa’s maturation and slowly increasing comfort on the island not only made him a more lovable character, but also condensed the slower parts of the show. There were some solid themes about figuring out how you want to do what you want to do, but Barakamon‘s greatest strength, I think, was in the simple charm of a bunch of kids who loved a guy who often gave them no reason to do so. Headlined by tiny Naru, Barakamon had a whole lot of love to give, both to its characters and its viewers.

#8. World Conquest: Zvezda Plot

World Conquest: Zvezda Plot

Another offbeat show from the Winter 2014 season, I actually dropped Zvezda after the first episode initially, but came back to it later for a variety of reasons. Once I hit the smoking episode, I knew this was a show for me. Despite the tasteless costumes that the female members of Zvezda wear, Zvezda ended up being a surprisingly mature show for all its childish fascination with quirky fantasy. Or, perhaps, it’s maturely interested in its own immaturity and in the positive personal products of childhood ambitions. That’s a lot of big and abstract words to throw at a show where the world-conquering loli hero channels her superpowers through a stuffed animal, but the genius of Zvezda is that both crazy nonsense and thoughtful insight can coexist together within it.

World Conquest: Zvezda Plot got me to write a regular review, along with a strange speculative essay on the thematic origins of Kate’s powers.

#7. Zankyou no Terror

Zankyou no Terror

The first show I ever blogged weekly, Zankyou no Terror was the best show to come out of Summer 2014 and was my first experience with acclaimed director Shinichiro Watanabe. Unlike many critics on the blogging circuit, I had took little issue with Five’s character or the more absurd elements of the show’s plot and premise. For me, the heart of this show was always Twelve and Lisa’s relationship, an truly odd romance backgrounded by a meeting in the midst of extreme violence and a fast-arising intimacy. But perhaps the element of Zankyou no Terror that I found most poignant was the show’s reflections on the loss of childhood imposed on Nine, Twelve, and Five by what were essentially the expectations of their entire world. In the end, our terrorist protagonists were children begging to be noticed and remembered. Their awfulness of their actions only served to indelibly remind us that they ought to have been protected and that the world around them failed to do just that.

I was a little burned out on writing about Zankyou no Terror by the end of the season, so all I have are my episodic posts on the series.

#6. Golden Time

Golden Time

A carry-over from Fall 2013 that ended during Winter 2014, I ended up putting Golden Time on hold after the first four episodes when I started feeling like the pacing of the show was interfering with my enjoyment of it. Marathoning such shows had helped fix this problem in the past, so near the end of its run I came back and watched the whole show in a couple of days. By the end of the show, I was absolutely convinced that, technically, Golden Time was a mess. I was also equally convinced that it was a mess saying some incredibly important things. That adults are just as capable at miscommunication and non-communication as teenagers. That adults treat each other horribly all the time. That a truly strong relationship is one where both parties are willing to forgive and work. In the end, the show’s technical and artistic failings, for me, couldn’t fully dull the impact of what Golden Time was trying to say.

I wrote a fairly incoherent and illogical explanation of why I think Golden Time is an important show, even if it isn’t good.

#5. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Shoutout to Enzo over at Lost in Anime—without him picking up Nozaki-kun as a speculative pick, I probably would never have ended up watching this gem of a show. Although Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun came in behind Zankyou no Terror in the Summer 2014 rankings, it leapfrogs ZnT here for having a much longer tail. I’m still listening (and dancing wildly) to both the OP and the ED, still talking about Best Girl Mikorin, and still using that amazing gif of Sakura from the first episode. One of the telling signs about a comedy for me if I remember it as being really funny or not, and Nozaki-kun definitely falls into the former category in my memory. But there’s more to Nozaki-kun than just comedy: there’s the shipping, the playing with gender roles, and the occasional heartstoppingly cute moments between Nozaki and Sakura. 8/10 anime comedies are rare finds; Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, thus, is well-worth remembering.

I wrote a review of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun after it ended for those of you still needing more Mikorin love.

#4. Gundam Build Fighters

Gundam Build Fighters

An AniTwitter favorite that ended in Winter 2014, I picked up Gundam Build Fighters in the middle of my fall semester midterms and proceeded to marathon all 25 episodes in four days. Featuring a cast somehow more lovable than Nozaki-kun‘s and boasting Best Girl Aila Jyrkiäinen, Gundam Build Fighters is an incredibly generous show in that its foremost desire is to allow the audience to experience the same exhilaration and wanton joy that its characters do. As a watcher who had never seen even an episode of a Gundam before, I worried that the show would somehow end up too esoteric or too Gundam to entertain me, but Gundam Build Fighters is an exercise in universality. It’s a show for the modern world, where childhood is something that passes us by all too quickly. And I truly love it for that.

To read more about my thoughts on Gundam Build Fighters‘ themes, check out my reflection on the series.

#3. Hunter x Hunter

Hunter x Hunter

Honestly, I have no good reason for not putting Hunter x Hunter at the top of this list, other than the fact that I refuse to accept that it is truly over. I didn’t watch Hunter x Hunter weekly for the duration of its run, but I did catch up more than a year before the end of the series and had the simultaneous pleasure and agony of waiting a week in between each brilliant episode. While the majority of the Chimera Ant arc aired in 2013, 2014 was the year that brought us the absolute best Hunter x Hunter had to offer, including Gon’s first confrontation with Pitou, Netero and Meruem’s spectacular battle, Gon’s horrifying transformation from a child into a darkness-filled warrior, and Komugi and Meruem’s tragically beautiful passing. Capped by Gon’s reunion with Ging, Hunter x Hunter left me desperately wanting more, but extremely grateful for everything it had given me. Until its return, I will wait.

Although I’ve never written a substantial piece on Hunter x Hunter, I wrote a gasping reflection on episode 126, as well as a step-by-step process for coming to terms with the show’s ending.

#2. Ping Pong the Animation

Ping Pong

One of my first experiences with true arthouse anime, Ping Pong was one of those lucky pick-ups thanks to positive critical opinion that turned out to be the best show of Spring 2014. While the animation itself was barely better than shoddy in places and the art style admittedly ugly, Ping Pong and director Masaaki Yuasa wound up telling a heartfelt, superbly crafted story on the nature of being alive and the ways we live our lives. To be honest, Ping Pong left me feeling totally unqualified to be writing anything about it—such well-made stuff rarely comes around and for a fledging anime blogger, it was a lot to take in. But I know a good show when I see it, and Ping Pong is a great one.

If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on Ping Pong, I wrote a review of the show along with a bit of thematic analysis.

#1. Silver Spoon S2

Silver Spoon 2

I liked Silver Spoon pretty well when the first season aired in 2013 and I was excited for the second season when it returned in Winter 2014, but I wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite show of the entire year. I don’t actually know that I can explain why Silver Spoon is here better than I did on my APR ballot, so here’s what I wrote:

The truth is that Silver Spoon has always been a simple show, and I’m a simple person. There’s a sort of fundamental essence that Silver Spoon brings to the screen, a quality that grounds the series in both the mundanity and glory of life—an understanding of what it means to being alive on this earth and a realization of our role within it. Whether it is in dealing with other human beings or with the creatures that populate this planet, Silver Spoon pleads us to find a peace within ourselves that might someday help us find peace with the world around us. 

Everything season one did well, season two did better. With Hachiken and Mikage’s respective journeys intertwining with and enhancing each other, Silver Spoon portrayed some of the best low-key drama of the year and gave us a way to understand everyone in the show—even Hachiken’s grumpy father. It’s a true shame we’ll probably never see more of Silver Spoon in animated form (the manga is selling well enough that an anime isn’t really needed to boost sales) because this is the type of show the world needs more of.

If you like reading me gushing over things like I’ve just done, I’ve written reviews for both season one and season two of Silver Spoon.

18 thoughts on “The Top Anime of 2014

  1. Yeah, I agree with you that in retrospect 2014 isn’t that good of a year for anime. I’m rather biased for it though, since despite of that this is the year where I got motivated to really watch anime again, and as a result finished more series than I do any other year (though regretting some of those too).

    I more or less agree with your top 5, though I’d put in Space Dandy instead of HxH since I haven’t finished that. I do disagree with number 6 & 7 though, I see why you like it but I doubt I’d even put it in the honorable mentions. Personally I’d swap it with Knights of Sidonia or Kill la Kill (which indeed is problematic in many many ways, but is also entertaining in just as many ways. There are parts where my interest dropped though, so it’s definitely closer to 10 than 5). Also, I really love Seki-Kun and would bump it higher.

    Which edge out Barakamon, unfortunately. I know this show is pretty beloved and for good reason, but personally I feel like the latter episodes lacks something that the first two episode have. I’m not really sure what, there’s like an edge or inspiringness (I know that’s not a real word, spellchecker) that only pops up less than I’d like it to be in episodes after that. I don’t know, it’s definitely in my honorable mentions though, as well as Isshukan Friends and Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (which isn’t really popular and for good reason since the supporting characters are meh. Still, I actually like the main couple and their growing romance which makes it the opposite of most romcoms.)

    All the best for you in 2015, and hopefully it’ll be a better year for anime!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Space Dandy is perhaps at the top of the list of 2014 anime that I need to make sure I make time to go back and see.

      6-10 are probably the more controversial shows on the list, particularly Golden Time and Zankyou no Terror. It’s kind of odd, really—I’m often willing to praise shows for their technical mastery, but maybe just as often excuse them for their technical flaws…As for Seki-kun, which is a technically flawless show, the reason it didn’t make the top ten for me was because its tail was pretty short for me. I absolutely loved it when it was airing, but it hasn’t stuck with me the way Nozaki-kun or something like Kill Me Baby have.

      Finally, thanks for coming by! It’s always great to see you in the comments, and I hope you have a great 2015.

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  2. I thought it was a pretty good year for mid-tier shows. There were a lot of solid, enjoyable shows in the B and C range.

    What it was really missing was a top-tier, Grade AAA show. The kind we’ll be talking about five years from now. A Fate/Zero, Toradora, Bakemonogatari, Madoka, etc.

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    • That honestly might be true, and my perspective’s just been jaded by the sampling I took. I dropped a lot of shows this year—many more than I expected to—and I think that contributed to my feeling the mid-tier shows weren’t as good.

      Plus, mid-tier shows almost entirely make their mark as being able to be entertaining, and I think some of the things that would have entertained me before no longer did so this year, especially as the year wore on.

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      • Well, looking at my MAL, stuff I rated 8 (which is my rating for “not top tier, but I enjoyed it a lot):

        Sekai Sefuku, Shingeki no Bahamut, Amagi Brilliant Park, Log Horizon, Chaika, Fate/kaleid 2, Noragami, Kill la Kill, Rokujouma no Shinryakusha, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Barakamon

        I think that’s a pretty solid line up of enjoyable second-class shows. 11 shows, roughly 3 per season, and let’s say that there was one more per season which I did not watch. That’s a pretty decent amount. And there were a fair bunch in the tier below that, which were still worth watching.

        Now, I do think you are a bit more critical than I am, and are more granular in your ratings for good shows as well. I tend to prefer broad tiers where elements in the tier are roughly equal. Rather than precisely positioning shows in relation to each other.

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        • Well, what exactly we respectively consider “mid-tier” shows differs, too, it seems. I have a couple mental tiers in between “top tier” and “mid-tier,” making “mid-tier” shows things that I was watching solely for entertainment. Second-class shows are not mid-tier for me. Second-class, I think, is better than that.

          So, really, we’re just disagreeing on terminology, perhaps not on exactly what we’re trying to say about the year’s shows.

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    • Adding to your point about that absent top tier show…2013 had 5 shows with average home disc sales of over 25k per volume in Japan, headlined by Attack on Titan. 2012 had 4, headlined by Nisemonogatari, Fate/Zero 2, and SAO. Unless Fate/Stay Night overperforms its current sales projections, 2014 will end with only 2 shows cracking 25k per volume (the second just barely), and the top seller by far was Love Live 2, which barely made a ripple outside of Japan. Haikyuu was the other.

      That being said, I do think 2014 had some good depth, even if it lacked elite talent. There were a lot of hidden gems and good “under-the-radar” shows that were worth watching, even if they weren’t playing to huge audiences. It reminds me a little of 2005 in that respect – that was another year where the dominant series in Japan (Gundam SEED Destiny) wasn’t one that resonated with western audiences, but there were still plenty of good “depth” titles lined up behind it for us to enjoy.

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  3. Even though 2014 is a weak anime year but we still had tons of fun. Perhaps that’s the most important part.

    It’s also a year I was introduced Silver Spoon (by this blog of yours!), which is the number 1 anime to me. If I have to give recommendation to new anime viewers it’ll be my very first recommendation.

    Gundam Build Fighters is an anime that I’ve put off watching although it was highly recommended. I’m glad I actually start up the show one day and I had a wonderful experience marathon-ing it. The positivity of the show captured me, and the relationships between the characters touched me. I hold very dearly of the romantic relationships between Sei x China and Reiji x Aila. The interactions between Sei’s mom, Rinko, and China warm up me very much, too.

    Hunter x Hunter has always been my favorite shonen action anime. I’ve been following it since the first anime adaptation. Hunter x Hunter 2011 is a better production no doubt. It is the show that I’d point strongly at if anyone ever wants to know which anime has the best ‘best friends;. Gon and Killua are true friends that exemplify friendship. Gon’s sincere acceptance of people and Killua’s faithfulness towards his friends are what I think is the core of the show.

    Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun landing a top spot shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. It is just such a cheerful show. Yes, I think cheerful is what best describes the enjoyment that the show brings so abundantly.

    Zankyou no Terror is the melancholic show of the year for me. I usually highly prefer joyful shows over melancholic ones. However, I actually followed ZnT till the end and that really counts for something to me.

    Tonari no Seki-kun is a special one for me as it features one of my favorite voice actress, Hanazawa Kana, PLUS one of her best performances. Seki-kun and Yokoi are just so cute and I love them so much. I actually imagine them growing up and anticipate their future together as friends, and how they would actually spend their school/academic life together.

    One thing to note is that although there wasn’t romance in the show, the OP actually hints that aspect, which I find very endearing. And of course, it’s sung by Hanazawa. ^^

    In retrospect, the year of 2014 is actually a pretty warm and fluffy anime year to me. Four out of six anime I mentioned here are full of honest, sincere, and happy moments.

    Let us look forward to another year of great anime!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed that Seki-kun is one of KanaHana’s best performances! I loved her work in the short; she had to be at her best to sell the show, and she definitely was.

      You’ve been following HxH since the first anime adaptation? My suffering now seems so trivial haha…

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  4. I’ll have to check out the shows on your list that I didn’t watch. I agree that 2014 was a subpar year for anime. Not only that, but Silver Spoon and Golden Time are both shows I associate with 2013 and not 2014. Also, Zveda and Witchcraft Works were January shows, as were a few of your honarable mentions. This made 2014 seem even worse than it looks on paper. April through December were some long months.

    I agree with some of your points about Golden Time. I think, judging by the manga and LN which I read (the first half of the show), that bad directing was a lot of the problem with GT. No amount of good direction couldn’t fix the train wreck that the show became at the end, but it would have helped alot in the beginning and middle.

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    • The seasonal split was something I was thinking about earlier today.

      Winter: 5 (+2 honorable mentions),
      Spring: 1 (+2 honorable mentions)
      Summer: 3 (+1 honorable mention)
      Fall: (1 honorable mention)

      Hunter x Hunter obviously doesn’t belong to any of them, but wow, that’s a dominant performance by Winter 2014/Fall 2013 leftovers.

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  5. “Although Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun came in behind Zankyou no Terror in the Summer 2014 rankings, it leapfrogs ZnT here for having a much longer tail”

    I’ve actually been thinking this exact thing over the last few days. I think I ranked Zantero above Nozaki-kun when I mentioned my top ten picks, but I reckon Nozaki is the series I’m going to still remember well in a couple of years. Also that gifability. Such a good series for gifs.

    I should probably give WCW another shot. I only ever watched the first episode when it aired, but damn does it have a massive fanbase.

    Also Chitoge for best girl 2014??? She wasn’t even best girl in Nisekoi! (Though I admittedly have manga reader bias) I know we often disagree on best girls, but this time you’ve gone too far!

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    • Nozaki-kun was pretty fresh stuff, in that the stuff that it did with inverted gender roles and the like made it a lot more unique than your average 4-koma rom-com adaptation. It wasn’t just funny, but it was topically relevant and did some stuff we hadn’t seen done before while also being consistently funny. That’s a lot of stuff to pull of in an anime comedy, which means that it will probably stick with us more than ZnT’s general quality. Nozaki-kun also actually has (good) potential to get a second season, which will only increase its long-term presence in the community.

      Obviously, I recommend WCW. It also does some gender roles stuff, although it’s much less devoted to them than Nozaki-kun.

      Isn’t your best Nisekoi girl Marika? Pffffftt Whemleh please

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  6. I tend not to think about anime in terms of good or bad years anymore – I just don’t have that great a memory, and while I suppose some years might have more anime titles that are suited to my personal taste than others, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a reflection on what’s actually good quality and what’s not.

    Anyhoo, I think as far as 2014, Nozaki-kun comes out on top for me – likewise, an anime I would never have watched if it hadn’t come highly recommended from a bunch of other blogs I follow (possibly including this one). 🙂 I literally cried from laughing so hard. Barakamon, Noragami, Silver Spoon 2, Mushishi, and Zankyou no Terror were also all thoroughly enjoyable though, and no doubt there’s a few others whose names slip my mind right at this moment.

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    • Yeah, I’m sure the general motions of “this is new” and “I’ve seen this before” also influence general impressions of years, along with the personal taste you mention.

      And oh, boy! My writings played (even a small) part in getting you to watch Nozaki-kun? That’s the biggest compliment I can get; after all, that’s why I blog!

      As for shows slipping your mind; I’m right there with you! I listed a few in my honorable mentions, but this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything I enjoyed. I may have had some ire to spill in my worst shows post, but there were still a lot of fun and worthwhile shows that aired this year.

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  7. ” I picked up Gundam Build Fighters in the middle of my fall semester midterms and proceeded to marathon all 25 episodes in four days. ” I think that everyone who picked up the show late, including myself, ended up marathoning it in some form, loveable is the perfect word for it.

    (but no China is Best Girl from the show and oh hey you use wordpress so my new China avatar shows up! :D)

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    • I feel GBF would be almost impossible to not marathon, assuming you weren’t watching it weekly (I didn’t even attempt to watch Try weekly).

      And, okay, I loved China, but no, no, no Aila is clearly the best, no matter how you look at it!

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