When I started thinking about the anime that I enjoyed the most this past year, I realized it would be challenging to make a realistic year-end best list. A vast majority of my favourite shows remain officially unfinished, either being ongoing, or with a continuation announced around the airing time of the season finale episode.
Usually, I only consider series which finish airing in the given year, without the immediate promise of a sequel. This time, any shows I watched in entirety that came to a clear season end in 2014, will be eligible. (Ongoing and designated split-cour series will be considered for next year.)
Below are my top picks of 2014, chosen from about 55 eligible titles. The top five were easy to decide; those were the series that received an 8 or 9 rating from me at MyAnimeList. The next five had to be selected from the nearly 20 shows which scored a 7, and it was no simple task.
#1. KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA (Sidonia no Kishi) (Season 1, 12 episodes)
There’s not much I can add that I haven’t already said in the mid-spring writeup.
I’m not much of a fan of computer-generated animation normally, but this show really made the most of it. With its engrossing sci-fi story and great world-building, KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA was smartly written and very exciting to watch.
Definitely looking forward to season 2 come springtime!
#2. Free! Eternal Summer (Season 2, 13 episodes, complete)
In season one, the boys grew together as a swim team and as friends, while coming to terms with their past experiences. Eternal Summer, on the other hand, focused more on their personal development, especially as Haru, Makoto, and Rin needed to start thinking about their futures.
I had high expectations of Free! from the very beginning, and also confidence that the creators knew what they were doing and where they were going with the series. I felt that my faith was rewarded throughout, but particularly in this second season, including the satisfying finale.
The ending was conclusive enough that it seems fairly certain there will not ever be a season 3, never mind a season 10. Which is too bad, because I will miss having this series to look forward to. The animation was gorgeous, the music was evocative, and I came to care about the characters as if they were real people.
#3. YowaPeda (Yowamushi Pedal) (Season 1, 38 episodes)
This entertaining cycling anime was in my top 3 practically every week that it aired. Even though the storyline was quite simple and focused entirely on bike racing and training, it was always fun to watch. I liked how we gradually got to know each character in the huge cast as it came time for them to play their part for their team. It helped me empathize with their goals and it gave context to their successes and failures.
Well, season one officially ended in June and the sequel, GRANDE ROAD, started in September with a renewed numbering system, but there was really no ending to season one, as it stopped right smack dab in the midst of the gruelling Inter-high race.
#4. GUGURE! KOKKURI-SAN (12 episodes, complete)
When I first heard of this, I thought it was just yet another fox spirit anime; there seem to be so many of them! But one glimpse of the female protagonist and I was convinced it was not going to be just one of those shows.
I didn’t love everything about the series. Inugami and Tama, for instance, were not especially funny to me. But Kokkuri and Kohina, and even Shigaraki, were loveable enough to make up for it.
Overall, I enjoyed the absurd, irreverent humour a lot; and the balance of drama and comedy added some surprising depth to the material.
#5. ALDNOAH.ZERO (Season 1, 12 episodes)
The second of 3 mecha series on this list, ALDNOAH.ZERO had a strong start, featuring a war of worlds storyline, inventive plot developments, and an atypical lead character in soft-spoken, inexpressive Inaho.
The Martian Kataphrakt-of-the-week format of the middle section reduced the appeal of the show somewhat, however. It also didn’t help that Inaho always seemed to dispense with his enemies a little too effortlessly.
Regardless, the detailed animation, powerful soundtrack, and strong early episodes were enough to get me hooked and looking forward to the new season, which has just started.
#6. NOBUNAGUN (13 episodes, complete)
For most of its run, this was a middling series for me. I really liked awkward, tomboyish Sio as the lead protagonist, and I enjoyed the episodes where her group, the Second Platoon, was featured in the plot. But it was considerably less fun whenever the focus was on other characters.
What raised my opinion of NOBUNAGUN was the final story arc, in which Sio got to display her character development and a truly inspired twist regarding the identity of one of the E-Gene Holders was revealed.
I’ve said before that it’s fairly uncommon for an anime to have a great ending, so I really appreciate it when it happens. NOBUNAGUN resolved not only its battle storyline, but its romantic subplot as well, even though the love triangle was mostly imaginary and played for laughs up till that point. This is more than can be said for most shows with romance as the theme!
There is still room for a sequel, but the series ended in a satisfying way.
#7. Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) (99 episodes, complete)
An all-ages-appropriate, realistic portrayal of what it’s like to apply for the space program and the process for becoming an astronaut.
Self-deprecating Mutta made for a sympathetic hero; and the underlying story of brothers with a shared passion was touching.
The first half of the series definitely had the better material, climaxing with Hibito’s moon mission arc. The remaining episodes were more slow-paced and less riveting. But overall, I still give the show a strong recommendation. It’s well-informed and well-written, and it’s entertaining too.
#8. Shirogane no Ishi ARGEVOLLEN (24 episodes, complete)
This mecha/war anime suffered a weak start full of tropes: predictably hotheaded protagonist and grossly out-of-place fanservice, just to name a couple of the problems.
But along the way, the characters, including the lead, grew and became fleshed out and believable. Fanservice fell by the wayside. It was a joy to see the military strategy play out, as well as the interactions between the cast. All in all, it was not a predictable show at all; and it’s a shame that many viewers probably dropped it, for understandable reasons, before it got good.
#9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: STARDUST CRUSADERS (Season 2, 24 episodes)
The third part in the JoJo timeline, once again featuring a huge time skip from the previous arc. Happily, Joseph is still around, and although he’s a grandfather now, he’s still as much of a redneck a-hole as ever. This time, it’s all about special powers called stands and it’s a race against time to reach Dio and stop him from destroying the Joestar family.
Basically, Jotaro and company are trying to make it from Japan to Egypt in one piece, but at every step, Dio’s followers are there to thwart their progress. This results in a stand-of-the-week horror story format most of the time. But that’s okay, because it’s so much fun just watching these lovably flawed characters interacting with each other. You can’t help but laugh at the crazy situations they find themselves in.
#10. Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji): Book of Circus (Season 3, 10 episodes, complete)
I never actually finished season one, and I didn’t watch any of the second season, but I checked out this third installment of Kuroshitsuji anyway. And I liked it!
Who is a victim and who is a villain in a world that isn’t black and white? Book of Circus was pretty dark and explored some of the same themes as Tokyo Ghoul (which also aired in the summer) clumsily attempted to, but executed on them so much better, in my opinion.