Guys. What happened. There’ve been mediocre or outright bad shows on these lists in the past, and I’ve always suffered through them for the sake of having an informed opinion, but by and large I’ve been fairly happy with the quality of popular anime the past couple times I made this video. Then this year — maybe I’ve just gotten jaded — but this year... what was it about 2017 that drove you all to some of the most base and trite anime imaginable? Why does something like Eromanga-sensei do so well?
Alright, before I launch into the list proper, a brief explanation for the uninformed. I find personal toplists kind of boring, because there are by definition as many different opinions as people under the sun, so I’m much more interested in numbers and consensus. Ergo, this article is a ranking of the 15 most popular anime of 2017, calculated through data gathered from MyAnimeList.
A few things before we begin: (1) popularity is defined strictly by the number of people who have added each series to their lists, regardless of how well-received it was, (2) this list contains only TV series, and series which completed a continuous run in the year of 2017 (meaning that Ancient Magus’ Bride and Black Clover are not eligible, because they’re still airing. I have also excluded Naruto: Shippuden, for obvious reasons.) and (3) this is meant to be just a fun thing, so don’t take the exact ranking too seriously. I would love if I had data from Crunchyroll, Funimation, Amazon, and all the rest in order to create a truly accurate list of the year’s most popular anime, but I of course do not, and must make do with what I can.
And this is the last thing, I promise. It’s important to note that, since MyAnimeList is a Western site, this is chiefly an approximation of Western popularity. Every year Japan has some hits that fail to make the same splash over here. This year that was Kemono Friends — which spoiler alert, is nowhere in the article beyond this sentence. That’s all the logistics, so let’s get started with...
The lone short series on this list, with only twelve minute episodes, but don’t assume that Tsurezure Children is somehow lesser for it. If anything, its brevity only adds to its charm, especially for a show about, bear with me, high school couples. What makes Tsurezure Children so likable and endearing is in how it shuffles through a number of different students, lingering just long enough on each to offer a snapshot of their lives without usually going overboard. The show’s also just damn funny: colorful, lighthearted, and always willing to poke fun at the general silliness of teenage romance. For me, the series came out of nowhere but became a very pleasant surprise, and considering the whole thing’s literally only a couple hours long, I highly recommend at least giving it a shot if you haven’t already.
Oh boy. I do think a certain crowd could find Gamers pretty entertaining, as the characters in their own right are honestly somewhat fun and the show at least attempts to be creative in its general presentation, but ultimately it’s not for me. Like Tsurezure Children, Gamers is a high school romcom, but it takes a very different approach to the genre. For one, most of the cast are gamers, as the title would imply, but more importantly, the story is driven by every character wildly misunderstanding and misinterpreting every other character, then acting on those mistaken assumptions as if they are fact. Sometimes that admittedly culminates in pretty hilarious fashion, with five different people having five different views of what’s happening in a given scene (none of which are accurate), but much more often, I found myself just irritated that seemingly no one in this show was willing to have a straight conversation. I like romance, but I don’t like contrivances and endlessly tip-toeing around meaningful resolution, and that eventually felt like most of what this show offered.
Food Wars returns, for its third season in as many years. If you’ve somehow gone this long without knowledge of Food Wars, allow me to set the stage. Yukihira Soma is a talented diner cook at the ripe age of fifteen, before being shipped off by his father to a culinary academy in order to refine his art. This academy is characterized by the eponymous Shokugeki, where two chefs may battle head to head with their mastery of cuisine to settle wagers of any size, from club enrollment to expulsion. But for all that, the show is perhaps most well-known for its, shall we say, foodgasms. If the thought of food so delicious that it rips the clothes off any who eat it sounds appealing or hilarious, I think Food Wars might be for you. It’s very much a high-energy shounen series, and while the latest season undergoes some struggles with its animation, it’s still a show I’ve very much enjoyed, and I hope it stays strong for a while yet.
After angering God, a ruthless Japanese salaryman is reincarnated as a little girl named Tanya in an alternate version of WWI. Desperate not to let God get the better of her, Tanya works her way up through the military ranks, mercilessly destroying her enemies while pursuing an ultimate life of peace and luxury. Despite a relatively high score on MAL, most people I know personally did not much care for The Saga of Tanya the Evil — but I did. It was not a perfect show by any means, but I found it enjoyable on a few different levels. There’s the funny but strangely captivating dissonance of a cruel little blonde girl dictating military operations, the general fun of her being an irredeemable asshole, and in the second half, some legitimate ponderance on war itself; what it takes to thrive in it, and its inherent morality or lack thereof. I also found the direction to be fairly inspired, though not always with production values to match, which isn’t entirely surprising given that this is the first anime series of the one and only Studio NUT.
And now, in eleventh place, we hit the first especially questionable inclusion, if the school outfits didn’t already make that obvious. Hard to take much of anything seriously when all the girls are perpetually dressed like that, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. I watched this show a month ago for this piece, and I already forget much of what happened or why, but the basics are that a layabout guy ends up teaching at a magic academy for plot reasons and, despite his despicable exterior and dearth of academic knowledge, wins the class over with his heart of gold and field experience. There’s action, there’s lackluster politics, there’s contrived character moments, boring exposition, disjointed plot, attempted rape, and all the usual light novel trimmings. Akashic Records doesn’t inspire a rage or an anger in me, it’s just a resigned disappointment, and I’m sure I’ll echo that sentiment before this list is done.
A third series about high school romance. I think I’m starting to detect a trend. However, Scum’s Wish is definitely different than either Gamers or Tsurezure Children, and I think that’s something everyone could agree on, even if you don’t care for it. In essence, a girl and boy are in love with their respective teachers, but knowing that they have no actual chance, the two decide to enter a relationship themselves, each using the other as a willing substitute for their true love, hoping to stave off the despair through physical intimacy of any form. Things quickly spiral further out of control, throwing additional romantic interests and plot wrinkles into the show’s already tangled web of love. Scum’s Wish is a very morose and sexual series, some would say to a laughable degree. It’s certainly not realistic — it’s as realistic as Clannad, if you just replace all the purity with debauchery — but I enjoyed my time with the show nonetheless. I can be kind of a sucker for heavy, dour atmospheres, with deviant, cynical characters that hold no love for themselves, which this show had in spades, yet still managed to land on something resembling a hopeful conclusion. You’re free to disagree, but I loved it.
*sigh* Yep, well, that resigned disappointment sure came back sooner than I thought. Eromanga-sensei, if you’re somehow even superficially unfamiliar with it, is a new work from the man behind OreImo, embracing a new age of anime where for some reason shows about wanting to fuck your little sister are all the rage. I don’t know what to say, or where to go with this blurb. The show’s a meme, and I have no desire to dignify it with an actual writeup. Let’s just move on.
Hm… now Kakegurui is memorable, if nothing else. Taking place in a school where gambling dictates all, and those with debt are subservient to those without, a psychotic transfer student named Jabami Yumeko takes the stage. Intoxicated by the thrill of gambling, and willing to pursue that high through any means necessary, she throws herself into the void, gambling untold stakes time and again against equally crazy peers. Definitely don’t expect a smart mind-game type show from Kakegurui; its almost sole appeal is watching insane people do insane things insanely, and whether or not that floats your boat will come down to personal taste. Me, I was lukewarm.
Rin Okumura, despite living his life until now as an ordinary human being, has an unfortunate chance encounter with monsters and comes to realize that he is actually the son of Satan. After Satan then kills his adoptive father, Rin swears to use his power for good, joining up with a group of exorcists to put down Satan and his demons once and for all. I’m a bit surprised this is ranked so high, given that I never really heard much of anyone talking about Blue Exorcist this year, but the numbers don’t lie. I suppose it garnered a sizeable audience just by virtue of being a sequel to an already reasonably popular shounen series, even if that series was six years old. To be honest, I’m not the best person to vouch for Blue Exorcist, since I don’t like it all that much. It’s a pretty mediocre shounen as far as I’m concerned. Watchable, perhaps, but offering little that I feel makes it actively worth seeking out, unless you’re really running low on hotheaded action anime.
It’s nice to see this so relatively high in the rankings, despite being fairly unknown when it first began. Made in Abyss is a popular answer for anime of the year, and it’s not hard to understand why. It has a great soundtrack, great aesthetics, really memorable world and setting, and it’s cute but only on the surface, with dark subtext that quickly becomes just dark text. The series centers on the titular Abyss, a mysterious gaping hole in which adventurers brave monsters and magic to find riches and fuel their sense of discovery. A little girl named Riko and her robotic boyfriend Reg set out to journey into the deepest layers of the Abyss in hopes of finding Riko’s mother, facing off against all the nasty creepies and crawlies that inhabit it. It’s quite a well-done, and at times rather emotional, adventure series (and even thankfully already has a sequel announced). There’s something about it, I didn’t fall quite as head over heels in love with the show as everyone else, but I still had a very good time, and could easily recommend it.
Akashic Records and Eromanga-sensei left me saddened, but with Masamune-kun’s Revenge, I feel active irritation, not the least of which due to it somehow being the fifth most popular anime of the year. The first episode is not terrible, granted, but it quickly shows its hand as a series with such a dearth of ambition or even competence that it completely fails in convincing you to care. Nothing about the series feels its own, like it’s just parroting other aspects of somewhat better shows and not even having the decency to parrot them well, stringing together stupid characters in stupid conflicts leading to a stupid ending. I’m really not inclined to even give a synopsis here; this is my least favorite series on the list, and I don’t want any of you watching it.
Luckily we maintain a baseline of watchability for the rest of this, though Maid Dragon is far more than just watchable. The title is an apt description of what you’re in for: the 25-year-old Kobayashi lives a quiet life alone until one day a dragon (that she saved in the midst of a drunken stupor) moves in to repay its debt by being a maid — though this dragon, Tohru, has stronger feelings for Kobayashi than mere repayment. Being the year’s sole TV series from Kyoto Animation, Maid Dragon was unavoidably saddled with high expectations, and thankfully it easily reaches them, spinning the tale of this unusual family with a deft hand for both comedy and subtle emotion. I wasn’t a fan of everything it did, particularly when it got more fanservicey, but overall it was certainly a highlight of the year.
#3: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!) Season 2
Interestingly, this is actually higher than the first season was last year. Whether that’s just an unusual coincidence or speaks to a broader lack of runaway hits in anime this year, I really can’t say, but regardless... I’m sure I can’t get away without revealing that I’m not the biggest fan of KonoSuba. However, being well-aware that I am one of only very few that feel that way, I shall present a measured take focused on the positives. Following a group of four idiotic adventurers who wind up in all sorts of trouble, KonoSuba prides itself on a being a parody of both isekai series and your average JRPG, riffing on everything from the typical otaku protagonist to the problematic realities of an actual video game world. The show’s silly style is also wonderfully supported by extremely loose animation: stretching, squishing, squashing, and generally paying no heed to the usual rules of anime aesthetics. Fans of the series apparently found this season a little lacking compared to the first, but not being one of those fans myself, I couldn’t do a good job of explaining why. They felt kind of the same to me.
When looking for the most popular anime of a given year, it’s a fair bet for shounen to be somewhere near the top. Luckily, while the demographic has its many ups and downs, My Hero Academia is fast-establishing itself as a reasonable up. Taking place in a world where nearly every person has awakened to some kind of superpower, our story revolves around the students of a top hero academy, learning to control their abilities and clashing with forces of evil along the way. Last year’s season set up a solid foundation, and this one makes good on much of the potential, expanding the cast and raising the stakes to tell an increasingly more interesting and meaningful story. The show doesn’t do much to break out of its shounen shell, content to work within and refine the genre’s tropes rather than attempt something truly “new”, but if it does this so effectively, who am I to complain? Execution is just as important as originality.
And the sequel domination of our top 3 closes out with the expected juggernaut, Attack on Titan. I’d be surprised if it’s truly necessary to give Titan an introduction, but just in case: mankind is on the verge of disaster, hunted almost to extinction by giant mindless beings known as Titans. Living within walled cities, the last remnants of humanity must fight back, uncovering secrets about themselves and the Titans which surround them, hopefully in the process finding a path to avert their seemingly inevitable demise. And boy this second season has been a long time coming. The first came out four years ago! Madness, I tell you, but better late than never I suppose. As for my personal thoughts on the franchise, I feel like there’s this attitude that anime critics aren’t supposed to really like Titan. You’re allowed to say it’s fine popcorn material, well-animated in its big moments perhaps, but the “respectable” and “intellectual” consensus holds that the characters are flat, the pacing’s a slog, the script is terrible, blah bleh blah bleh bleh blah blah blah blah. Look, I love Titan. It’s exhilarating, it’s badass, it’s just a ton of fun. Maybe it is just popcorn material, but what the hell is wrong with that?
And with that, we have reached the end of The 15 Most Popular Anime of 2017. Now popularity does not necessarily equate to quality, as I’m sure to some this list clearly demonstrates, but hopefully this gave you a taste of the state of anime in 2017. My predictions for next year’s list? Well, Attack on Titan seems like a pretty safe bet… y-yet again.