We look back (and ahead! Bonus!) at some Anime that warrants attention based entirely off of the strength of the source Manga.
In 2019, I did not watch a lot of Anime. In fact, I watched 0 Anime. I did, however, read a metric-ton of Manga. So, I figured I’d put out a list of series that I think should be worth a watch since the Manga it was adapted from was so good. It won’t guarantee a hit, as studios have butchered what I considered to be slam dunks in the past. But it should be a nice reference if you’re looking to spend the cold winter months bingeing some Anime.
The criteria used is: It had to be a new Anime in 2019/2020 (sorry OnePunch Man!), it had to have a Manga origin (sorry Puella Magi Madoka Magica!), and it had to be something I’ve read. That’s it. Without further ado….
Our Favorites: Shounen
Contestants: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer)(2019), Dr. Stone (2019), The Promised Neverland (2019), Fire Force (2020)
The Winner: Kimetsu no Yaiba
While The Promised Neverland has bonds deep enough to leave a mark, the action is kinda bland. Fire Force has the pedigree of being from the creator of Soul Eater! (one of my favorites from back in the day), but the premise didn’t grab me. Dr. Stone starts out very interesting (in the Manga) but has a distinct problem with power-creep. Halfway through to it’s current plot, the science Dr. Stone pulls out of his butt went from funny to immersion breaking.
Kimetsu no Yaiba is the story of a young wood-cutter with an absurdly good sense of smell. He returns from selling his wares one day to find nearly all of his family slaughtered by demons, with his lone remaining sister cursed to be a demon herself. From there they embark on a journey to get revenge as well as to find a cure for her human-eating compulsions.
The story starts out dark and touching, gets a little comic relief, then kicks into high gear with action that will please fans of Ninja Scroll and Bleach. Combined with gorgeous artwork, Kimetsu no Yaiba is a lock.
Our Favorites: Shoujo
Our Contestants: Domestic Girlfriend (2019), The Quintessential Quintuplets (2019), Asteroid in Love (2020)
The Winner: Quintessential Quintuplets
Shoujo Manga tends to be about romance triangles, thirst inducing boys, or slice of life adventures. We didn’t get any new “hot boys do sports” last year, but love certainly was in the air.
Domestic Girlfriend starts with a strong hook: a young man has a one night stand to get over being rejected by his teacher, just to realize that she was his crush’s younger sister! Unfortunately everyone is so wishy washy I ended up making this manga my hate-read series. Expect a lot of the same in the anime. While the fujoshi in me loves the idea to two girls (who are in love) using their hobbies (astrology, geology) to deepen their bonds, the Manga didn’t set me on fire as much as the premise would suggest.
Quintessential Quintuplets is about Futaro Uesugi, a cheapskate with one goal: get amazing grades so he can secure a future free of his current poverty. When a gig teaching 5 rich siblings comes up, Futaro is forced to take the job or see his envisioned future go up in smoke. But can these hopeless girls be taught?
QQ is a harem romance that realizes that harem romances have been done to death. It reinvigorates it by having a lot of personality, very little wishy-washiness, and some very funny bits about teaching 5 uniquely unteachable girls how to study. It’s probably the best romance Manga I’ve read in the last three years, so I have high hopes for the anime adaptation.
Our Favorites: Seinen
Our Contestants: Dororo (2019), Made in Abyss (2019), Dorohedoro! (2020)
The Winner: Dorohedoro!
Seinen Manga usually shares some basic tropes with Shounen/Shoujo manga, but differs in the depth/intensity of the violence, the willingness to be lewd, and/or the darkness of subject matters.
For example Dororo, based of the classic 1960’s Ozama Tezuka work, is very much like Kimetsu no Yaiba. It’s about chopping demons to bits in a pique of rage. But it’s a little darker and a little more liberal with the blood. Made in Abyss looks like a Shoujo adventure at first, then gets dark real fast. That, combined with it’s penchant for showing loli’s naked (and an infatuation with whether a little robot-boy has a working penis) bump it into the Seinen category in my eyes. Both are fantastic Mangas, and either of them would be worth your time. But one of my favorite Mangas of all time finally got an anime… so sorry, Dorohedoro wins!
Kaiman is an amnesiac who was cursed by a wizard to have the head of a lizard. Living in the dystopian world of Hole, Kaiman and his partner Nikaido spend their days killing wizards, looking for the one that cursed Kaiman. This puts the pair in the cross-hairs of En, one of the most powerful wizards in the connected sorcerer’s dimension.
Dorohedoro is an older Manga, from the heady Sci-Fi days of works like Gantz and Blame!. It’s a weird, ambitious, dark, and sometimes confusing title; but all that pays off the depth of the world, characters, and themes. If you liked Berserk or Battle Angel Alita, then you’ll want to take this deep dive down to Hole.
Bonus! Our Favorites: Isekai
Our Contenders: Tensei Shittara Slime datta ken (that time I got reincarnated as a slime)(2019), Mushoku Tensei (Jobless Reincarnation)(2020), My New Life as a Villainess: All Roads Lead to Doom! (2020)
The Winner: Mushoku Tensei
Isekai is all about characters waking up in a new world. Usually after dying horrible deaths in our world. It is the flavor of the month (decade?) in Manga: you can’t shake a stick without killing someone and sending them to another world. I used to hate this genre. It has finally gotten to be such a trope that people are examining, perfecting, and subverting the genre to great effect.
Tensei Shittara is one of the best of a batch of Isekai’s that reinvigorate the genre by making the character come back as something other than a handsome, OP, Japanese male. The characters are strong, and the politics of a former human leading a faction that humans despise adds some nice depth. Villainess flips the gender and pokes fun of the genre by adding a fourth wall: the world our protagonist ends up in is based on a game she played, and she knows her character is doomed to die in every scenario of said game. It should balance the comedy and pathos of the manga quite well.
Both are fun tweeks on a stale genre, but Mushoku Tensei lifts the genre up just by being of remarkably high quality. This is the story of Rudeus, a newborn baby that remembers his life as a worthless NEET (shut-in). His death in our world was his one selfless act: saving a couple from an out of control truck. Having properly reflected on his former lifestyle, Rudeus vows to live his best possible second life.
Everything about Mushoku Tensei is earnest, polished, and full of touching moments. The story of an isolated, depressed, selfish man learning to put in effort, make friends, and better his world comes across as a breath of fresh air. The art is great in the Manga. I hope the Anime keeps the art and heart up to that high level.