Last time, we compiled our staff’s “best of” votes into a Very Democratic Top 25 list. But just because a show didn’t get multiple votes doesn’t mean it isn’t worth praising! So, to give everyone on staff a chance to highlight some personal darlings, we proudly present Part Two of our 2010s Retrospective, affectionately titled: “I can’t believe my teammates have such bad taste!”
How did we choose the titles?
- As before, all titles needed to be TV series with at least one complete season that ended in 2010 or later.
- While the focus on recommendations still mostly holds (i.e., don’t pick it if you genuinely wouldn’t encourage AniFem readers to check it out), there was a lot more wiggle room for guilty pleasures and problematic faves. Basically, if it was one of those shows where you’d say “Okay yes I know it has serious issues but I love it and here’s why and I think you might too,” then it was fair game!
Series are listed alphabetically under each staff member who picked them. Obviously, we’re really fond of the shows we chose, so we hope you can find something to love here, too!
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club and Eternal Summer
I think it’s safe to say that Free!’s release in 2013 was something of a cultural moment. Fanboys lost it when their favorite “cute girls doing cute things” studio, Kyoto Animation, announced a series starring a ripped, mostly naked, mostly male cast. On the flip side of the coin, it became a testament to the power of female fandom, as it quickly became a cash cow for the studio.
Director Utsumi Hiroko has called Free a series about “swimming, friendship, and upper bodies,” and boy she is not kidding. It’s a joyous celebration of the straight female gaze, indulging in the kind of giggling, shameless scopophilia that few mainstream works aimed at teen girls indulge in, with stunning animation. Of course, it also offers the exact kind of tense races, rivalries, and interpersonal relationships fans look for in the sports genre, making its story as rock-solid as Makoto’s abs.
I love Free, not because it’s intellectually challenging or powerfully written or even has an ideology I agree with. I love Free because every time I turned it on, I knew I would be spending the next 25 minutes feeling happy and relaxed. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be pandered to. Content considerations for fanservice/sexualization of minors and a depiction of near-drowning.
Hardly a week goes by where the Kaguya-sama opening doesn’t start playing in my head without provocation. This series was one of the consistent highlights of my week when it aired. Director Hatakeyama Mamoru (of Rakugo Shinju fame) shows off his gift for comedy, elevating solid source material to sheer brilliance, from simple comedic timing to rewriting gags for greater effect.
In addition to being just plain funny, Kaguya-sama takes a concept with a lot of potential for negativity and turns it into something wonderful. Kaguya and Miyuki want to make the other confess, not as a power play like they claim, but because they’re both incredibly awkward. Chika is the best kind of quirky anime girl, intelligent but also airheaded in her own way; an honest kind of weirdness that’s rare in fiction. And yes, I even like the socially isolated gamer Ishigami, whose misogyny is never endorsed and is utilized for some great gags.
They recently announced the second season, with all of its cast and crew returning. I can’t wait to see these knuckleheads and the belly laughs they inspire again. You can read our full recommendation for more, including some noteworthy content warnings.
I almost quit halfway through Gridman because it seemed to be leaning way too heavily on fanservice of its teenage antagonist, Akane Shinjo. I’m so glad I kept watching, because the show takes a clever turn entirely outside the traditional tokusatsu framework, placing the development of its female cast front-and-center and rendering many of my concerns moot.
It’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, but suffice to say that, some early fanservice (and foot service) aside, Gridman turns into a smart coming-of-age story with fantastic art direction and animation and a strong focus on its female characters and relationships. You can read our full recommendation for more.
There’s something really nice about seeing your own slightly-unconventional-but-loving relationship reflected in fiction. That’s why I love Wotakoi so much—it not only depicts but celebrates relationships between nerdy adults, much like my own.
In addition to its playfully combative central geeky romance, Wotakoi also engages with the split between female-dominated transformative fandom and male-dominated curative fandom, giving a lot of attention and respect to the often-derided transformative space. It’s a refreshing depiction of nerd culture through the lens of female characters, and I adored seeing it. You can read our full recommendation for more.
When we half-jokingly decided to record a podcast about Yamada’s First Time for our 69th (nice) episode, I don’t think any of us were expecting this ecchi comedy to be one of the most cheerfully sex-positive anime of the decade.
Yamada’s quest to sleep with 100 guys by graduation, starting with shy virgin Kosuda, walks a careful tightrope in trying to tell a story about horny teenagers without feeling leeringly exploitative. While there is still some fanservice, the majority of the nudity and intimacy is framed comedically to highlight the awkwardness of puberty, particularly when fumbling through intimacy with no roadmap.
It also doesn’t feel like either lead is uninterested and being pressured into sex they don’t want. Instead, it’s a dance of miscommunication and learning to respect one another that actually lets their relationship develop both emotionally and physically. They’re good kids, easy to root for, and it’s hilarious to boot. Content warnings for some fanservice, a sister obsessed with her older brother, partial nudity, heteronormativity, brief queerphobia, teen sexuality, and a lot of sex jokes.
Okay, now hear me out. I know this looks bad, but I stand behind this series. I’ve talked at length about the many issues with Demon Lord‘s depiction of BDSM relationships, chief among them the initial lack of consent, the apparent age gaps, and the sexualization of the underage female characters. The series is as problematic as they come among “problematic faves.”
But Demon Lord is also about the importance of found family and finding your footing in a safe and reassuring environment. All three of the main cast come to the story with their own fears and traumas. These misfits, though initially unwilling, came together to develop a unique polyamorous relationship wherein they love and support each other. It’s a nontraditional dynamic not often recognized, especially outside queer circles, that offers safety, comfort, and warmth.
Given that I cannot discount these themes and the fact that a non-zero number of people share this sentiment with me (not to mention that I am literally Rem), I feel compelled to endorse this show as one worth checking out. But please do remember it comes with major content warnings for nonconsensual slavery, sexual themes, manhandling, taking advantage of a minor, torture, and toxic masculinity.
Although lacking in any kind of adventurous story, the supernatural cast of Interviews with Monster Girls offers a series that humanizes and serves as an allegory to people with disabilities. In a world where demi-humans are an accepted part of society, they become a kind of second-class citizen with additional accommodation requirements to live “normal” lives. Yet Interviews treats its characters as human, first and foremost, to develop a story that elicits empathy over fetishization. This is a genuine feat when you have an adult succubus in the main cast.
On one hand, Takahashi wanting to interview the girls feels a little intrusive. Coming from a place of genuine curiosity, he wishes to learn more about demi-humans, which might be considered voyeuristic for some. However, his thoughtfulness and the show’s focus on allowing the girls to just be themselves away from him helps keep it from entering uncomfortable territory. Content warnings for mild sexual content and fanservice.
This Guruguru remake hits strong with the nostalgia of being a home-console gamer in the 1990s while also being playfully wacky enough to appeal to younger fans. The two main characters, Nike and Kukuri, play the role of ‘90s RPG hero and heroine: Nike as the rascal anti-hero and Kukuri the straight-laced heroine dedicated to the hero. Yet Kukuri isn’t totally passive and carries her weight as the other half of a world-saving duo, especially when Nike is incapacitated or useless.
And, despite seemingly just “a kids’ show,” Guguguru is packed with intelligent humor. It has the concept of comedic timing down and uses an arsenal of tools to illicit awkward pauses and absurdist humor both visually and situationally. A lot of weird things happen, and most of it is good clean fun. The one major drawback to the series is Nike’s role as a womanizer, played for comedic effect, so there are content considerations for mild sexual content.
I was late to the game on Princess Principal, but this spy thriller quickly cemented itself as a favorite. The series, told in a non-linear format, weaves a cloak-and-dagger, twist-filled story that only gets better over additional viewings. Character interactions, mannerisms, and motivations take on new and deeper meanings upon a second look, which only adds to what I appreciate about this show.
Its all-female main cast is overall entertaining and embodies some strong moments of empowerment that is more than the typical “girls doing cool things because it’s anime” way. It is also inexplicably gay, with Ange and Princess’ relationship forming the core of the story. Ange’s drive to become a spy watered my crops. Princess’ subdued but Herculean efforts cleared my pores. I can’t wait for the sequel films (all six of them!). You can read our full recommendation for more.
Psycho-Pass: Season 1
One reason I like the first season of Psycho-Pass is: the second opening theme SLAPS (flashing screen warning).
The real reason why I strongly endorse this series is its portrayal of a cyberpunk police state Japan. In a nation where the conviction rate of prosecuted crimes is 99 percent and police are (mistakenly) thought to be bored with no real crimes to investigate, the sci-fi world of Psycho-Pass hits a little closer to home than its futuristic veneer might suggest.
The show depicts a system that prioritizes self-righteous enforcement devoid of empathy that ironically relies on sociopathic calculations to judge whether a person will “become a criminal” or not. Faux luxury and cutesy police droids controlled by a cold supercomputer offer a simulacrum of a free and safe society. Meanwhile, a massive prison and social engineering complex puts people away on the assumption of guilt with almost no real focus on rehabilitation, which drives people to find venues for humanity and survival within its confines.
Psycho-Pass cleverly lampoons the technological utopia Japan wishes to become by presenting this same image as a horrifying dystopia, and it’s the kind of pointed social critique the medium could use more of. Content warnings for sexual assault, graphic violence (much of it against women), smoking, and cops.
I debated whether I should allow myself to pick Chihayafuru, given that Season 3 is currently airing… but dang it, if the Fruits Basket reboot can make the list, then so can the best lady-led sports anime in recent memory.
A character-driven competitive epic, Chihayafuru begins as the story of three kids struggling with social expectations who find a place to belong thanks to the world of competitive karuta and their friendships with each other. Now in high school, the trio have drifted apart, but protagonist Chihaya has never given up on her dream of becoming the Karuta Queen. Her determination is infectious, bringing both old and new friends into the game she loves.
From this groundwork, the story’s world gradually expands, as teammates and rivals alike get a chance to tell their own diverse stories—and each is given respect and value, whether they’re focused on professional goals or romantic or familial ones. The karuta matches are genuinely thrilling, but it’s that dedication to sympathetic, gender-balanced character studies that really gives Chihayafuru its emotional heft. Content considerations for depictions of body-shaming, gender essentialism, and sexism.
I’m a sucker for a silly supernatural “drama” and an even bigger sucker for musicals (yes, it’s a MUSICAL). Put ’em together and you’ve found my guiltiest of pleasures. Dance with Devils gleefully goes all-in with its premise, tackling everything with a straight face and its tongue firmly in its cheek. Few shows made me laugh harder than this one did, from its musical numbers to its “bad boy” antics to its demonic Pomeranians.
It is also, slowly, sneakily… kind of brilliant? What begins as a campy “bad boy otome romance” with a passive female lead gradually morphs into a genre-aware story about female agency and the important line between harmless fantasy and dangerous reality, leading to a finale that had me cheering out loud. Content warnings for predatory dudes, threats of assault, and violence, but the show actually knows what it’s doing, and what it’s doing is a damn clever take on the bodice-ripper romance.
This fantastical slice-of-life is a masterclass in both episodic and slow-burn storytelling. Almost every episode is a self-contained story and there’s nary a dud among them, each finding new ways to explore the show’s central themes about empathy, community, love, loss, and transience. Along the way, it slowly develops a broader narrative, as Natsume builds friendships with humans and yokai alike, learns more about the spiritual world around him, and begins the gradual process of healing from years of neglect and isolation.
To describe it as “low-key” isn’t exactly right, because it frequently punches you in the gut, but it does so with gentle understatement. Natsume is a lovely tale of support networks and recovery, and I dearly hope it continues into the next decade as well. You can check out our Season 6 recommendation for more. Content considerations for restrained depictions of emotional abuse, bullying, child neglect, and violence.
The only eligible Ikuhara anime not to make our Team Top 25, this surreal story of two brothers tasked with saving their sister might be the least consistent of his works this decade… but y’know what? I also think it’s the one I’m most fond of (and not just because it has penguins in it).
Part 1 struggles to find its focus, leading to a repetitive and unpleasant “wacky comedy” mini-arc about a teen girl stalking an (uninterested, thank goodness) adult man. (The series eventually comes down on her for it, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to watch.) But Part 2… wow, Part 2 really clicks, engaging in memorable, visceral ways with generational trauma, child abuse and neglect, what it means to be a “family,” and social pressure to conform.
Its desperate sincerity and defiant optimism build to a bittersweet finale that left me thinking about it well after the end credits rolled. Partly a response to the Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, Penguindrum is a dense work packed with historical and literary allusions, and I’m still not entirely sure I “get” it—but damn, will it stick with me for a long time. Hefty content warnings for depictions of abuse, trauma, stalking, assault, sexual content, and incest.
A confession, dear readers: Snow White is my actual AniFem #5 pick of the decade. But, since nobody else voted for it, I reworked my Top 20 list to help with tie-breakers and single-vote shows. Heavy is the head that wears the editorial crown ‘n’ all that.
Snow White is just so dang nice, y’all. A gracefully directed, quietly progressive modern-day fairy tale, the series plays with classic stories and offers its own contemporary twist on them, pushing for equality, respect, and personal freedom. While it focuses on an idyllic romance that promotes trust and communication, it’s just as interested in the many unique relationships that develop between the rest of the cast, and how those relationships can inspire change. And through it all runs a strong central message about female agency and the many ways women can live their lives.
It’s also cozy as all get-out, with unhurried charm spilling out of every gorgeously animated frame. Snow White is the anime equivalent of sipping cocoa on a chilly day, and the “once upon a time” our generation could use more of. I love it a little more with each passing year. You can read my full AniFem recommendation or a boatload of episode commentaries for more.
Editor’s Bonus Pick
Pokemon: Diamond & Pearl and Sun & Moon
The bulk of this AniPoke Decade was decidedly uneven, but Pokemon bookended the 2010s with its consistently strongest material to date: Diamond & Pearl ended in 2010 and Sun & Moon wrapped (in Japan) a month ago, making both series just barely eligible for the list. Lucky me!
While the overall tone and structure of DP and SM are quite different—the former more epic road-trip adventure, the latter more laid-back school sit-com—they share Pokemon‘s core strengths in spades. Each is as supportive of femme-coded interests as it is masc-coded ones. Each presents compassion as its hero’s (and antagonist’s) greatest assets. Each is an ensemble show, shifting the focus between a variety of diverse characters with unique goals and personalities that cleverly side-step and sometimes outright challenge cultural norms and stereotypes.
And, using those characters, each balances the silly with the thoughtful, creating gleefully goofy episodes alongside sophisticated stories about empathy, self-confidence, trauma, grief, and the importance of supportive communities. Our full recommendation covers the entire franchise, but if you (understandably) don’t have time to Watch ‘Em All, you’d be hard-pressed to find series more start-to-finish endearing as these two.
Although it runs in a seinen magazine, The Ancient Magus’ Bride often has the feel of a shoujo. Isolated and abused by others because of her interactions with spirits only she can see, the deeply depressed Chise decides to sell herself into slavery to find some use for her life. She’s purchased by the skull-headed mage Elias, who frees her and offers her a deal: he’ll teach her magic and she’ll teach him about being human.
Magus’ Bride is a beautiful story set in the English countryside where Chise explores every corner of the world of magic and English folklore. The anime is a slow journey in which Chise discovers her purpose in helping the humans and fae she encounters and, eventually, begins to care for herself as she learns how important she’s become to those she’s helped.
The series has some harsh stumbles on the subject of Chise’s agency, culminating in an unfortunate and unsatisfying ending, but it’s a breathtaking journey all the same. Content warnings for depictions of child abuse, slavery, suicidal ideation, nonconsensual contact, violence, and an age-gap relationship between a minor and a supernaturally ancient being.
Slice-of-life is a criminally underestimated genre when it comes to difficulty of execution. Making an engaging series without serious conflicts is a tough ask, requiring an immensely likable cast and a certain magical something that pulls you in that only a precious few series possess. Laid-Back Camp is one of the shining stars of the last decade, and it really is as simple as a bunch of high school girls who love to go camping.
Sometimes informative, often funny, and always enjoyable, Laid-Back Camp follows the exploits of five girls as they spend their days thinking about camping, working part-time jobs to buy camping gear, and finally… going camping. Each of the girls brings their own unique charm, and seeing the various real life locations of their camping trips, particularly through the eyes of camping newbie Nadeshiko, really shows the appeal of the outdoors even to the most dedicated homebody. You can read our full recommendation for more.
This Anime of the Year winner probably doesn’t need much in the way of introduction, but it’s my job to supply it anyway. Made in Abyss is a gorgeous dark fantasy series with a production that could be called Ghibli-like if Miyazaki developed an obsession with body horror and human suffering. The series is an excellent balance of compelling personal narratives and world-building set within the descending levels of a yawning pit.
We follow Riko, Reg, and Nanachi on their quest to discover the fate of Riko’s mother, but the star of the show is the Abyss itself, along with its resident flora, fauna, and the many raiders we meet seeking to uncover its mysteries. If not for some of the author’s unfortunate proclivities towards underage nudity, bodily fluids, and drawn-out suffering, it could be a perfect work. As it, Made in Abyss is a masterpiece with some major caveats. You can read our full recommendations for more, including those significant content warnings.
We live in an era packed with increasingly identical isekai power or revenge fantasies, which is why it’s so valuable to have a series like Re:ZERO that really wants to examine that model. Rather than the modern hyper-proficient isekai protagonist, Subaru is hopelessly weak in his new world. He relies heavily on his boisterous attitude to get him through conflicts… and it often doesn’t work.
All the same, he is desperate to play the part of the hero and help Emilia become queen. But the deeper you go, the more the narrative of Re:ZERO becomes twisted, examining Subaru’s motivations and forcing the audience to question whether his hard-earned accomplishments are actually hurting his new world.
Unfortunately, the series seems more intent on analyzing isekai narratives than characters, which leads to some missed opportunities when it comes to the women around Subaru and his own reflections on how he treats them. It’s imperfect but fascinating, and a top pick for fans of the isekai genre. You can read our full recommendation or listen to our podcast retrospective for more. Content warnings for graphic violence, death, and suicide.
In the hierarchy of criminally underrated anime I’ve fought tooth and nail to get eyes on, Space Brothers comes only behind March comes in like a lion in both importance and utter lack of attention. As the title might suggest, Space Brothers tells the tale of two brothers… who go to space. It’s a love letter to mankind’s pursuit of space travel and easily among the most well-researched manga-turned-anime out there.
Mutta’s quest to reach space alongside his brother Hibito takes us through the entire process of becoming an astronaut, from testing to training, to vying for precious positions in space missions, to politics. It has all the passion for science found in Dr. STONE while touching on more realistic and ongoing pursuits relevant to our species’ future in the solar system.
Hopefully this recommendation will convince more people to give it a look and keep this buried treasure from being lost to time. Content warnings for a racist caricature in anime-original post-credits cartoons and hints of a romance between an adult and a minor (though it’s never made explicit or official).
In a decade that saw a glut of re-imaginings of classic series from the ‘70s and ‘80s, few managed to not only capture what made the original appealing, but also to push that material to speak in a meaningful way to a modern audience. One of them is the nearly perfect Fujiko Mine, and the other is the messy-but-breathtaking crybaby.
While the series struggles in its first half, with uneven pacing and pointless exploitation of its female characters, the second half ramps up into a pointed social critique that uses the series’ concept of “devilmen” to empathize with marginalized identities where the original text did not. Brutal and gruesome, crybaby isn’t a watch to be taken lightly, but it is a damn fine lesson in what a good remake can aspire to.
Released to little fanfare and now tragically difficult to find, House of Five Leaves is likely to appeal to those looking to fill the Rakugo-shaped hole in their heart. Told with Natsume Ono’s characteristic restraint, this found-family story about a talented but anxious ronin who falls in with a gang of so-called benevolent kidnappers touches on grief, loss, abandonment, and betrayal without ever feeling lurid or melodramatic.
Meanwhile, ronin Masanosuke’s determination to find out more about the charming but distant gang leader Yaichi has the kind of powerful, world-changing magnetism for both of them that reads well as both a general queer romance and an ace one. The show’s quiet, deliberate pacing makes it perfect for those looking for a quiet but intense experience balanced with charming beats of historical slice-of-life. Content considerations for violence, kidnapping, and depictions of harm to children.
There’s no way I was leaving this decade without a nod to the wildest weekly rollercoaster I’ve ever ridden. SamFlam is a bizarre creature, leaping from pastiche to pastiche (slice-of-life, tokusatsu, paranoia thriller, and more!) in search of what it means to be a hero. Its answers are wildly inconsistent, ranging from “nearly unwatchable” (the sentai arc) to “why have you dug out my heart like this” (the first and last arcs).
SamFlam‘s problems are worn on its sleeve, but its heart is on its sleeve too, and its high points are as sneakily clever as they are sincere. The slow-burn love story between its two male leads is often discounted due to creator commentary, but it literally ends in a marriage proposal (in a scene explicitly paralleling the show’s canonical wlw couple), so I’m still gonna call this a canon queer romance, thanks.
With creators happy to speak derisively of it and no plans for a physical release, SamFlam is a series destined to be buried. But it’s also a totally unique experience, an ode (if not also a warning) to the power of just doing your own thing. And those of us who love it will remember it forever. Content warnings for nudity, torture, sexualized torment, gore, vomit/bodily fluids, sexism, and a female character who receives far more brutal comeuppance (and humiliation) for her flaws than comparably shitty male characters.
Director Yamamoto Soubi’s This Boy… series focuses on sweet, consent-focused BL stories in a genre that often romanticizes assault in titles chosen for adaptation. Professional Wizard is the first of her works to receive a serialized web release, and it represents the best of the artist’s work. The result is a very personal-feeling story about compulsive overwork and crushing anxiety in addition to the well-told romantic element.
Visually arresting and impressive as a nearly solo project, it’s a 30-minute treat that goes down smooth. Yamamoto has taken an apparent break from creating new projects since finishing Wizard, but no matter when or if she decides to return, she left something to be extremely proud of. Content considerations for depictions of anxiety and depression. You can also read our Creator Spotlight for more on this queer auteur’s full body of work.
With its cast of racially diverse adult characters and a universe inspired by western superhero comics, Tiger & Bunny is an anime that simply feels different. It leans on body language and nonverbal storytelling in an often talky medium, gives dignity to concerns about ageism and trauma, and spins twists that are no less engrossing to watch unfold even if you predict them.
All of this is wrapped up in the endearing, compelling relationship (and implicit love story) between its two leads. And while QPOC Fire Emblem was introduced with an extremely rocky start, by the time of post-series film The Rising they were centered in a potent and affecting subplot about their journey of gender presentation and gender fluidity.
The downside of a story about an older male hero written by older men is that the female cast is sometimes treated with irritating paternalism. Still, the series remains one of my greatest joys to watch. You can read my (ongoing) episode commentaries for more. Content warnings for sexism, fanservice of a teen girl, queer stereotypes, tomboy pressured to conform to feminine gender norms (abandoned/reversed in the movie), depictions of grooming, gaslighting, PTSD, terrorism, spousal/child abuse, bad parenting, and maladaptive grief and alcoholism.
Do you have any guilty pleasures, comfy classics, or under-the-radar faves from the last decade? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This article was modified after publication to include content warnings for Space Brothers.