In keeping with last year’s tradition, to complement my previous video highlighting 2017’s most popular anime, I’d now like to take some time and draw attention to the not-so-popular anime, shows from this year that I feel are worthwhile but for whatever reason couldn’t capture a wider audience. Maybe their genre wouldn’t appeal to the casual viewer, or a lack of legal availability stunted their potential reach. Whatever the case, these aren’t necessarily going to be series that no one’s heard of (many are in fact very well liked), but they just didn’t have enough people watching to make it on the popular list, which I linked above.
As always, series that are still airing are ineligible for inclusion (like Ancient Magus’ Bride), and like last year this article shall contain no sequels, ‘cause that’s just too easy. To curtail any complaints on that front, I’ll rattle off my favorite not-so-popular sequels now: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Rage of Bahamut, Owarimonogatari (plus Kizumonogatari), Gintama, Natsume Yuujinchou, New Game, Eccentric Family and Kekkai Sensen. Alright, that means from this point forward, everything I talk about you could go watch immediately.
And one last thing before we begin, please note that this list is in no particular order. That does not imply that I find all ten to be equally good, rather that I find all ten worth recommending, and hold no desire to actually rank them. So without further ado...
#1: 3-gatsu no Lion (March comes in like a lion)
Interestingly enough, I found myself somewhat bored by the first episode of March. For me that episode didn’t make for a wholly entrancing watch, with its sedate pace and abrupt comedy, but as I carried on the show’s mood, characters and atmosphere wormed their way in, captivating me with their eloquence and understated emotion. I — realize that sounds vague and pretentious as all hell, so let me step back. Rei Kiriyama is a professional shogi player at the age of 17, living his days alone in a small apartment, who through happy circumstance comes to befriend a trio of sisters, named Akari, Hinata and Momo Kawamoto. Over the course of the series, Rei, being a lonely and reclusive young man, slowly opens up to the world through his interactions with both the Kawamoto sisters and his fellow shogi competitors. I suppose it’s true this is not a traditionally “exciting” show, but neither is it a full-blown slice of life, instead fitting somewhere in between. It examines in sometimes frightening detail the many people Rei encounters, while meanwhile, his loneliness and never-ending emotional strain culminate in some truly gut-wrenchingly sad or beautiful scenes, frequently elevated even further by Studio Shaft’s trademark eccentricities. If you’re not left with a hole in your heart at some point watching March comes in like a lion, I really don’t know what to say. The show is a treat, and the still-in-progress second season is somehow shaping up to be even better.
#2: Tsuki ga Kirei
I made an entire video about why Tsuki ga Kirei was my favorite show of the spring season, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it made it on this list. I won’t give you much of a synopsis because the synopsis itself isn’t all that important or memorable: boy meets girl, romance ensues. From there I could easily just point you to the aforementioned video and move on, but to briefly summarize my praise, Tsuki ga Kirei understands youth, and goes out of its way to breach new ground for the teenage romance genre, never contenting itself with stagnation, always pressing forward to new topics and developments. One particular way in which Tsuki ga Kirei impressed was its repeated portrayal of slight and seemingly innocuous details that cemented both the realistic tone of the series and a subtle characterization of its cast. Another was its refusal to entertain cliche, resolving conflicts nearly as soon as they began, and giving our couple tangible hurdles to overcome every step of the way. If you’ve been known to enjoy methodical school dramas and can tolerate some less-than-stellar visuals, Tsuki ga Kirei is in fact my favorite non-sequel anime of the year, so of course I highly, highly recommend it.
#3: Little Witch Academia
Atsuko, or “Akko”, Kagari is a bubbly and energetic young girl, who — despite lacking any real aptitude for magic — chases her childhood dream of being a witch by entering the esteemed Luna Nova Academy. In no time at all, Akko makes many friends and a few enemies, all of whom end up dragged along in her daily misadventures. This series almost certainly would have been on the popular list, had it not been cordoned off by Netflix until people just didn’t care anymore. Nonetheless, Studio Trigger’s 25 episode reimagining of their original Little Witch Academia shorts is an absolute delight, bursting at the seams with humor and personality, and bristling with enough pure-hearted energy that it’s nigh impossible to watch without a smile on your face. In my opinion, the show does start to lose its way when it discards the episodic structure and introduces a more central plot in the second half, but it’s still a marvelously fun and magical series, lit by a flame of such pure joy that I was actually saddened when my time with it came to an end.
#4: Mahoujin Guru-Guru (Magical Circle Guru-Guru)
Another series where “joy” makes for an apt descriptor. Guru-Guru is a frenetic and nonsensical fantasy comedy anime, never taking itself too seriously and lampooning everything it can get away with from classic JRPGs. As with March come in like lion, I wasn’t totally enamored by Guru-Guru’s opening episodes, but over time it won me over with the sheer silliness of its material, and the remarkable consistency with which it served that silliness. Don’t be fooled by the artstyle into thinking this is just a forgettable kids’ show; as long as you’re fine with some low-brow comedy, it’s a lot of fun and (according to MAL) the most overlooked show on this list, so please let’s do what we can to change that.
#5: Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai (The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Bearer)
Despite what I just said about Guru-Guru, I’d wager this is actually the most obscure thing in the article, since it’s not yet legally available in the West in any form and was released on a mostly monthly schedule over more than a year. While most everything on this list I’d give a blanket recommendation, I can only truly recommend Zaregoto if you’re a big fan of two things: Nisio Isin and Shaft. The series bleeds both. As an adaptation of the first volume of Isin’s Zaregoto novel series (which actually predates his later larger success with Monogatari), this anime is a murder mystery of sorts, following a group of geniuses living peaceful lives on a secluded island before one is mysteriously and violently killed. The unnamed main character, alongside the remaining geniuses on the island, must use his skills of logic and investigation to unravel the twisted web of conspiracies that they find themselves caught in, over the span of eight approximately half-hour episodes. My previous disclaimer is still the best way I can put it: if you’re not turned off by Shaft’s avant-garde aesthetics (taken to new heights in an OVA like this) nor by Isin’s love of silly and convoluted dialogue, you’ll probably have a great time with Zaregoto. After all, I did.
#6: Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (Girls’ Last Tour)
Depending on your perspective, Girls’ Last Tour is either a slice-of-life with an unusual premise, or a premise with an unusual execution. In a world where humanity is all but extinct, two young girls wander through civilization’s decrepit remains. They may occasionally dodge collapsing architecture or nervously cross a harrowing bridge, but by and large this is a show without conflict. Theirs is not a dying world; it is already dead. However, even in the face of that, time marches on for the pair, leaving them to scavenge for food and take in the intermittent somber beauty that still exists. Girls’ Last Tour can be an alternatively hilarious or thoughtful experience, crafting a unique spin on the post-apocalypse where our heroes aren’t trying to change it, but simply live in it. Not every single episode is supremely interesting, but there are some true highlights here that probably stand among my favorites of the year. Check it out if you haven’t already.
#7: Princess Principal
Another show with a cast of cute girls, but that’s about the only similarity, as where Girls’ Last Tour was a deliberately paced slice of life, Princess Principal is an action spy show. The sell for this series is incredibly simple: badass steampunk spy adventures. It’s admittedly silly and over-the-top, and you can nitpick the character writing or plot holes for days, but in my opinion all those details are secondary to just having a good time, and that I certainly did. I told you the sell is simple, and I really don’t have a whole lot more to add than that. The visuals range from solid to functional, the soundtrack is actually not-bad, the cast is engaging and distinct; it’s a package made, not for “art”, but entertainment — and I have no problem with that.
#8: Net-juu no Susume (Recovery of an MMO Junkie)
I suppose I could say the same of this show. MMO Junkie isn’t exactly a “deep” experience — it probably won’t give you pages to write about, or change your perspective on the world — but it’s one of the most charming and fun anime I watched this year. Morioka Moriko is a 30-year-old NEET, whittling away her days playing MMOs. Through a series of happy accidents, she gets to know a young man in real life, who unbeknownst to her is also her best friend online, and the hijinks ensue. Thankfully MMO Junkie is also fairly short (only 10 episodes), so it mostly won’t waste the viewer’s time with contrived misunderstandings or misfired conversations, instead following through on its potential to bring this cute couple closer and closer together, despite all the trials and tribulations they face along the way. If you can’t handle a string of unlikely coincidences in your anime, maybe proceed with caution, since there are many more coincidences beyond this guy being her virtual BFF, but otherwise there is a lot here to like.
As we near the end, we come to one of the more inconsistent series on this list, only matching its brilliance with its incompetence. Re:Creators’ premise is as follows: anime and video game characters are transported into the real world for unknown reasons, aligning themselves for or against a mysterious antagonist with the fate of the world in the balance. With that, you might think Re:Creators is nothing but a dumb action show — which it sometimes is — but it also has a lot to say about how we view art and the nature of creating it. After all, these are fictional characters being brought into our world, forced to realize their life’s apparent irrelevance upon coming to face-to-face with some unremarkable “creator”. There’s so much promise for interesting material there, and by and large it fulfills that promise. I don’t want to give away exactly what Re:Creators does for those that haven’t actually seen it (and fair warning it does struggle with broader issues of exposition and pacing along the way), but in the end the show is a unique action series that somewhat successfully tries to be more, and that’s something I’ll always applaud. Also, like Tsuki ga Kirei, I have a whole video on Re:Creators, so I’d direct you there for actually detailed thoughts.
#10: Houseki no Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)
Witnessing this series experience a meteoric rise in acclaim throughout the fall season was quite a sight to behold. Initially written off by many (full disclaimer, myself included) because “blegh, 3D animation”, it slowly made a name for itself through its fascinating world, the journey of its central characters, and in-the-end actually very impressive visuals. The show’s premise is somewhat abstract and hard to give proper justice in only a few words, but I’ll try: a race of long-lived humanoid beings called Gems (who can be shattered and rebuilt just like their namesakes) must defend their home from a silent and mysterious menace, the Lunarians, who seek to spirit them off to the moon for unclear reasons. This story is really actualized by the aforementioned aesthetics, which I’d have no reservations claiming illustrate the best usage of near-full 3D in a TV anime — ever. Not only is the framing surprisingly sound and the characters intrinsically interesting to look at, with their transparent and colorful hair, but the action scenes are heart-stoppingly dynamic, making full use of what 3D can do that 2D generally can’t. I do have my issues with its haphazard plot progression, and (as usual with anime) its incomplete ending, but as an introduction to the tale of Land of the Lustrous, it’s hard to ask for much more. The show is a terrifically well-made package.
And would you look at that, we’ve reached the finish line. Apologies if your favorite anime was neither on this list, nor the popular list, but there’s just too many series in a year to call out (or even see) every one.