As we say good-bye to 2022, it’s time to take a look at the highlights of the year.
Prior to Anime News Network starting its current “Best of Year” format in 2016, I spent several years at the site teaming up with one of two fellow reviewers to make a “Best of Year” format that was part serious and part flippant, with some categories that were occasionally unconventional. I am returning to that format here, albeit with only my view on the awards this time. If you saw my like posting for 2021, the format this time will be very similar.
Despite lingering traces of the COVID pandemic occasionally impacting anime production schedules, 2022 was still a very full year, with over 150 new titles, remakes, and/or new seasons of established franchises debuting. I at least sampled about 90% of these titles, with the remainder mostly being sequels to titles I was not caught up on, and watched around 50 to completion. Hence, while I have not seen everything fully, I did get a very broad sampling of what was out there in 2022. That’s a lot to choose from, so I am not at all confident that I didn’t forget about a few worthy options. However, each of the titles brought up below is deserving of the attention it got.
Top 10 Series for 2022
Series of the year: 86
This choice is, admittedly, a bit of a cheat, since only the last two episodes of the series debuted in 2022 ( and then only due to production delays). However, both of these episodes easily stand among the three or four best episodes of any series I saw in 2022, so the average quality level can’t be beat. As the story picks up the pieces in the wake of the franchise’s second action climax and finally bring together characters that have been separated all throughout the second half of the series, it provides a fantastic, emotional, and highly-satisfying finish, one which seamlessly mixes in loads of symbolism (even up to the very last shot!) without ever being obtuse and continues to confront its weighty themes head-on. With the conclusion now added in, this is one of the best series I’ve seen in years, maybe the best anime adaptation of a light novel that I’ve ever seen, and an early contender to make my Top 10 of the 2020s list.
2. Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun – Certain aspects of this second season were exceedingly gross, but given how well the rest is executed, it’s hard to hold that too strongly against the season. Outstanding and wonderfully creative visual design highlights a complex tale about how a group of refugees survived long enough to found a community deep in the Abyss, and the unique value system that the trio of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi encounter when they find that “golden city.” The emotions also run deep in this one and the technical merits are among the year’s best.
3. Spy x Family – This was one of the year’s most-anticipated new titles and became one of the year’s two megahits (the other being Chainsaw Man), and deservedly so. Its concept about a fake family – where the father is secretly a master spy, the wife is secretly an assassin, and the young daughter is secretly a telepath who knows the truth about her “parents” and thinks it’s really cool – is brilliant to begin with, and the series dazzles further with thrilling action sequences, a high level of adorability, and plenty of humor from all of the absurd situations that arise. The second half may be a little weaker, but it still delivers often enough that this series was a constant delight to watch and a legitimate cross-over hit.
4. Raven of the Inner Palace – This elegant tale of magic, mystery, and intrigue in a Chinese Imperial Court-styled fantasy setting takes a while to work its full effect, as its strongest appeal comes from the way seemingly-disparate cases combine with the setting’s deep backstory to round out the full picture of who and what the Raven Consort is. However, a strong and interesting titular character, her gradually evolving relationship with the new Emperor, and the intricate details of each ghostly case are plenty enough to keep viewers involved until the series works its true magic in the late stages. Also features some excellent music and design work.
5. My Dress-Up Darling – I never originally expected to even follow this series, but it somehow sucked me in. Now, every time I think about quality series that I saw earlier in the year, I keep coming back to this sweet story about an up-and-coming traditional Japanese dollmaker who finds himself becoming the cosplay costume creator for a gal-type female classmate. The details about designing, creating, and even wearing cosplay outfits and make-up were plenty involving even to someone who normally doesn’t give the cosplay scene a thought beyond admiring costumes at ‘cons, and the gradually-evolving relationship between Wakana and Marin made them one of the year’s best couples. (I was especially impressed by the scene where they come close to having sex, as that was handled far more seriously and frankly than anime normally manages.) Good technical merits and a refreshingly casual attitude about fan service also help it rank this high.
6. Summer Time Rendering – Sadly, this series has yet to escape Disney Jail in the U.S., as it deserves far more exposure than it’s getting. This Spring/Summer series spins an intense, taut horror/mystery tale about Shadows which seem to be gradually taking over a Japanese island community and the former island native who, upon returning home for the funeral of a childhood friend, finds himself time-looping as he hunts for a way to avoid ultimate catastrophe. Solid technical merits, strong character designs, and plentiful twists and turns are all highlights of this dark and sometimes bloody tale.
7. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? IV – Had to figure this one would be here, right? After a couple of seasons of activity mostly taking place on the surface, the series returns to its roots in dungeon-delving – almost to the exclusion of surface content, in fact. It quickly proves that the series has lost none of its touch for setting up and executing spectacular hero-on-monster battles or displaying cool new power tricks. It also adds solid character development for a couple of established supporting characters who have previously received little attention and adds in a new and instantly-likable character, all while doing a fantastic job with visuals, music, and especially sound effects to craft a tense, chilling ambiance. I highly look forward to seeing what the production crew can do with the second half, due to air in the Winter 2023 season.
8. Attack on Titan Final Season p2 – I’m feeling a bit conflicted on this one, as I simultaneously think it’s dragging things out while also respecting the thoroughness with which it’s gradually bringing its story to a conclusion. But there’s no denying that the series looks sharp, successfully piles on the gravitas, and gives viewers plenty to think about concerning the decisions Eren has made and how his closest former companions struggle to figure out how to react to him. The big question now for anime-only viewers is whether or not such an epic effort can land the ending due out sometime in 2023.
The next two picks were the hardest, as 10 titles could have filled these slots. It’s been many years since I’ve had such a wealth of worthy contenders, but a decision had to be made, so. . .
9. Akiba Maid War – This one deserves a place here because it took a concept that shouldn’t have worked – recasting the maid cafe scene in late 1990s Akihabara as a yakuza-style turf war – and somehow pulled it off magnificently well. Much of it was awash in cleverly-used cliches and genre tropes (albeit for a different genre than would normally be associated with maid cafes) and all of it was absurd, but that was entirely the point. Strong, creative choices for opener and closer bookend solid technical merits and the occasional jaw-dropping stunt. It is remarkably graphic, but a fun ride if you can handle the graphic content.
10. Chainsaw Man – Honestly, I’m not very enthusiastic about this choice, and it certainly wouldn’t make my list for favorite series of the year. However, this series is a technical masterpiece on a level beyond any other title on this list, and that is a feat which has to be acknowledged. It is gleefully graphic, much more sexy than normal for a shonen romp, and features characters who are lovable even if they are doofuses. Not sure about the new crowd of reinforcements introduced in the last couple of episodes, but I’ll definitely give its eventual second season a try.
Other titles seriously considered here include Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc, Lycoris Recoil, The Eminence in Shadow, Call of the Night, Uncle From Another World, My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex (far better than you’d expect from the lurid gimmick), and personal favorites Demon Girl Next Door 2 and Ascendance of a Bookworm 3; I could have justified either of the latter two in most other years, but the technical merits of Top 10 titles were just so high that a series with more mediocre visuals just cannot worm into a high spot for 2022.
Character of the Year: Anya Forger, Spy x Family
Of all the awards that I am giving, this was the easiest pick by far. Almost from the moment she first appeared on screen, the little scene-stealer was a constant delight to watch. She has the adorable cute factor going for her, sure, but much more charming is the 6-year-old way she tried to interpret and act upon what she reads from others with her telepathy and the (sometimes very effective, sometimes not) ways she tried to help out with Twilight’s tasks without revealing her telepathy. But really, it’s all about those priceless reactions and facial expressions. Honorable mentions here would be “Dark Peach” Momo in The Demon Girl Next Door 2 and Fran in Reincarnated as a Sword.
Duo or Couple of the Year: Fudo and Desumi, Love After World Domination
There are a lot of solid choices for this award this year, with Honorable Mentions including Wakana and Marin in My Dress-Up Darling, Hinata and Tsukasa in Life with an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout, Chisato and Takina in Lycoris Recoil, Tiger and Barnaby in Tiger and Bunny 2, and Fran and Master in Reincarnated as a Sword. Out of all the top options, though, the one that thoroughly charmed the most was this pair of lovable dorks stuck in a semi-Romeo and Juliet-style situation from a classic sentai series. Though they must pretend to fight each other as the aces of their respective sides, even their silliest interactions are just so cloyingly sweet that the two are clearly made for each other.
Scene of the Year: “It’s been a while, Handler One.” – 86 episode 23
I have watched this episode easily more than a dozen times since its debut, and the emotional impact of the first face-to-face meeting of Lena and the former Spearhead Squadron – the series’ dramatic climax – still hits me every time. This is the moment that everyone who became a fan of the series wanted to see, the moment which affirms the value of all their struggles and each sides’ respective character development. Animation, music, and scene design are all spot-on, the parallels in the build-up to the scene from both viewpoints were flawlessly-handled, and the comparison/contrast it draws to the emotional climax of the first half – where Lena was also in tears over them, but for a wholly different reason – was a beautiful touch, too. This is a scene that people will remember and point back to for years to come.
Honorable mentions include Hitori’s performance-saving solo in Bocchi the Rock! episode 8, Renner’s dance of exultation in Overlord IV episode 13, Al killing a dragon with a carrot in I’ve Somehow Gotten Stronger When I Improved My Farm-Related Skills episode 1, and both Ranko shooting the bunny maid and Ranko battling the amassed bunny maids in Akiba Maid War episode 1.
Best Opener or Closer: tie – “Mysterious” from Raven of the Inner Palace and “Bloody Power Fame” from Bastard!!
Lots of excellent options in this category, too, with other stand-outs including “Fallen Angel,” the hip OP for Call of the Night; the eccentric OP “Great Maid Revolution” for Akiba Maid War; and the grimly bombastic “The Rumbling,” which is the OP for this year’s portion of Attack on Titan Final Season. I went with these two instead because, in dramatically different ways, both speak flawlessly to the spirit and content of their respective series in all of musical style, lyrics, and visuals. “Bloody Power Fame” is a sexy, bloody, flashy, bombastic rock paean for a series and titular character who embody all of those traits with gusto, as well as just being a catchy song on its own. “Mysterious” is a milder song whose lyrics speak to playing a role in a mystery story, which is the exact essence of its series. How perfectly both the songs and visuals represent its series’ content and spirit – even in seemingly-innocuous details – may not be apparent until late in the series, so the greatness of this one may only manifest in retrospect, but it’s still a lovely song until its full impact gels.
Best Gimmick: Creepy Nuts cameos in episode 6 of Call of the Night
The hip-hop duo Creepy Nuts performs the OP, ED, and recurring insert song for the series, but in episode 6 they stepped up their game by actually appearing in animated form as two dudes who try to hit on Nazuna at a party. Especially fitting, given that the series’ ED was the namesake for the series’ source manga, rather than the other way around.
Biggest Anime-Related Irony: The Death of Billy Kametz
Kametz is a voice actor who did numerous prominent English dub roles for anime in recent years, including Asmodeus in Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun, White Blood Cell in Cells at Work!, and Naofumi in The Rising of the Shield Hero. As Shinei Nouzen in 86, he voiced some lines for dubs which debuted earlier this year which spoke very pessimistically about Shin’s survival and inability to see a future for himself. A couple of months later, Kametz was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and had to drop out of dubbing the final two episodes while undergoing treatment. He died in June while his character survived near-certain death to live on.
Most Boring Dungeon Crawls: Harem in Another World
This series had a number of faults, but the most egregious one to me was its utter inability to make the dungeon-crawling aspect of the series any better than an exercise in tedium. Monsters were flatly uninteresting, challenge levels gave no real sense of danger, and the dungeon’s visual design was as drab as could be. Those scenes make grinding look every bit as dull an experience as it actually is. For the diametric opposite result, just look at what DanMachi IV did with dungeon-crawling the same season.
Yandere of the Year: (former) Princess Renner, Overlord IV
This might even be an understatement; she deserves to be on the all-time list for yandere characters. All she did to make sure that she and her chosen man (her loyal bodyguard climb) could live together literally forever was betray her entire kingdom, even to the point of poisoning orphans and helping lay out plans for the attackers to efficiently slaughter everyone and get her man essentially killed so they can both be reborn as eternal demons in the service of the invaders. And then she danced and sang to celebrate the deed! We knew since early on that she was dangerously smart, but this went beyond all expectations.
And that’s a wrap for this time around! Look for the Winter 2023 Preview Guide to start in a few days.