The Roaring Twenties are right around the bend! Before we turn that corner and leave the Turbulent Tens behind us, we wanted to lavish some love on the standout titles of the last ten years.
How did we choose the titles?
AniFem staffers Caitlin, Chiaki, Dee, Peter, and Vrai submitted their Top 20 anime of the decade, with a few simple guidelines:
- They needed to be TV series with at least one complete season that ended in 2010 or later. This meant that, for example, Ascendance of a Bookworm was off the table (it’s a split-cour continuing into 2020), but Season 1 of Fruits Basket (2019) was fair game.
- We focused on recommendations: series with intersectional feminist-relevant themes and topics that we would actively toss at our readers. Guilty pleasures and harmless fun took lower precedence. (Don’t worry, though—we’ve also published some personal bonus picks, so you can check those out if you’d like to side-eye our questionable tastes.)
After that, we counted everyone’s votes, with Top 5 picks carrying extra weight, and managed to winnow the list down to 25 titles. Managing Editor Dee (who should probably go outside more) is the only person on staff who’s seen every show on this list, and in her very professional opinion: “Damn! My teammates have good taste.”
How are they organized?
Very loosely! We’ve highlighted the top two titles, then categorized the others based on both the overall number of votes and any Top 5 picks. We’ll explain the rankings in more detail in each category.
To keep readers from feeling too overwhelmed, we’ve kept most of the write-ups short and sweet, instead linking to other places on the site where you can get more information, like detailed discussion and content considerations or warnings. We’ve included more information on the few titles we’ve (somehow) never recommended before now.
Are you going to do a movies list?
We talked about compiling a Top 5, but since anime films are less accessible than TV series, the staff just hasn’t seen that many altogether. We wound up with a couple of clear standouts (In This Corner of the World and Promare) and then a lot of single-vote titles and no proper way to sort them. So, we opted to just focus on TV anime. Feel free to ask us our faves (or tell us yours) in the comments, though!
Hey, you didn’t list my favorite show!
That’s okay! Just because a series didn’t make our Top 25 doesn’t mean we disliked it. There’s a lot of anime out there. Everyone has different tastes, and not everybody has seen the same shows.
If there’s something that slipped under our radar and you think it’s a top-tier series other feminist-minded viewers would enjoy, please let us and your fellow readers know in the comments!
Best in Show
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
(5 Votes; Chiaki and Dee’s #1, Vrai’s #2, Caitlin’s #5)
The clear standout of the decade, Rakugo Shinju made everybody’s list, cracked four Top 5 lists, and was the #1 pick from both Chiaki and Dee. This historical fiction is a modern masterpiece: a nigh-perfectly crafted series featuring some of the most impressive direction, writing, acting, and cinematography that visual storytelling has to offer.
It’s a love letter to the performance arts; a thoughtful exploration of storytelling; a powerful meditation on the inevitability (and importance) of change; a quiet challenge of gender norms; a beautiful tale of found families and forgiveness; and a nuanced character study featuring an array of complex, contradictory figures and a fascinatingly layered queer-coded (arguably ace-coded) protagonist. It’s an analytical feast and an emotional haymaker, warming and breaking our hearts in equal measures.
You can read our full recommendation, listen to our retrospective podcast, or dive in to managing editor Dee’s detailed episode commentaries.
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
(3 Votes; Caitlin and Vrai’s #1, Chiaki’s #2)
Something of a polarizing series, Fujiko Mine didn’t get quite as many votes as some of the shows beneath it, but the three who did pick it placed it in their Top 2, and it was the #1 pick from both Caitlin and Vrai. High levels of esteem like that are more than enough to earn it the silver medal.
A visually stunning, deceptively episodic story that slowly builds into a tightly woven mythos, Fujiko Mine‘s meta narrative questions how women’s stories are told—or more often, how they’re either silenced or co-opted by men. It looks at how the oppressed can become perpetrators of the system, how queer narratives are shut out altogether, and slyly reclaims a character originally created to be interchangeable. It isn’t a viewing experience for everyone, but it is a powerful and exemplary work of art.
This one also comes with a laundry list of content warnings, so please check out our full recommendation for those. We also have a retrospective podcast and Vrai has done their own series of episode commentaries, if you don’t mind spoilers.
Sometimes you don’t have to choose between quantity and quality. The shows in this batch received 3-4 votes each, with a few cracking some top 5 lists along the way. We’ve organized them first by number of votes, then by their placement on everyone’s Top 5 lists, then alphabetically.
FLIP FLAPPERS (4 Votes)
If we were giving out an award for “Problematic Fave of the Decade,” FLIP FLAPPERS would certainly snag it. A fairy tale- and magical girl-inspired coming-of-age story that directly explores awakening queer sexuality and the social pressures placed on young girls, this gorgeous adventure series gets so much right.
It also stumbles into leering camera angles and sexualization on an infrequent but regular basis, which is likely why it made almost everyone’s list but nobody’s Top 5. Still, if you can get past its flaws, it’s an imaginative, heart-warming ride well worth your time. You can read our full recommendation (complete with content warnings) and listen to our retrospective podcast for more.
Land of the Lustrous (3 Votes; Peter’s #2, Vrai’s #5)
Land of the Lustrous turned many a deserved head with its carefully crafted mix of CGI and traditional animation and its notable use of they/them pronouns for the entire cast in the official subtitles. The series’ resonance with trans themes also goes beyond its pronoun usage: it’s a story about identity, bodies, and frustration with how those bodies can determine one’s place in society.
Breathtaking and often chair-clenchingly tense, it’s both a gorgeous action show and an accomplished character drama. You can read our full recommendation for more.
Yuri!!! on ICE (3 Votes; Caitlin’s #2)
Congratulations to Director Yamamoto Sayo, who becomes the first (though not only) director to earn multiple spots on our Best Of list! This smash-hit sports series blends dynamically animated skating competitions, a nuanced queer love story, and pointed depictions of anxiety—not to mention one of the most delightful late-season twists of the decade.
Yuri on Ice likely needs no introduction at this point, but you can read our full recommendation if you’ve somehow not heard of it yet.
A Place Further Than the Universe (3 Votes; Vrai and Dee’s #4)
In the emerging anime subgenre of “bold girls doing bold things,” Place Further is the cream of a very fine crop. Both adventure story and coming-of-age narrative, Place Further is top-tier young adult fiction, weaving four girl’s stories into one travelogue that’s funny, heartbreaking, and hopeful in equal measures.
And, unlike its messier companion Flip Flappers, it’s basically free of caveats, making it an easy series to show just about anyone, even non-anime fans. You can read our full recommendation for more.
SARAZANMAI (3 Votes; Vrai’s #3)
Otterly remarkable! Over eleven short episodes, SARAZANMAI touches on the difficulties of adolescence; the complicated pain of both familial and romantic connection; the commodified exploitation of kink; and the way that entrenched power structures exploit queer people while insisting they’re there to help, turning the marginalized into upholders of their own oppression.
It’s also riotously funny and weird, with an endearing and relatably flawed cast. Also a few noteworthy content warnings, so be sure to read our full recommendation before taking the plunge.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (3 Votes; Dee’s #5)
We couldn’t be happier to declare Nozaki-kun the AniFem Comedy of the Decade. In addition to having an across-the-board charming cast and consistently note-perfect timing, Nozaki-kun is also deceptively smart and cheerfully subversive, exploring gender roles in reality and fiction, the manga industry, and how stories impact our understanding of the world.
Blending sharp commentary with feel-good comedy, it’s one of those rare beasts that critiques and challenges while also just being a whole lot of fun to watch. You can read our full recommendation for more.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (3 Votes)
This laid-back sitcom about a lazy boy and his friends is as smart and warm as it is funny. Using its charming cast of oddballs, the series presents an optimistic outlook on adolescence, cheerfully challenges gender norms, and encourages its characters to be comfortable in their own skins while also wisely understanding that sometimes people want to change, and that’s okay, too.
You can read our full recommendation for more. Content considerations for a little sister who’s a little too devoted to her brother and some debatable queerbaiting.
While not as popular as the titles above them, the folks who love these really love them: Every series in this category received two votes and at least one Top 5 vote. We’ve organized them based on how loudly the staff members who watched them were yelling about them.
March comes in like a lion (Peter’s #1, Dee’s #3)
Dee and Peter are the only people on staff who watched March, and they’re both dead convinced that’s the only reason it’s not in the combined Top Five. A tour-de-force of visual storytelling. March is an emotional epic following the lives of its many characters, their trials and triumphs, and the variety of ways they find meaning.
Through its shogi-playing protagonist and the people he comes to care for, March explores the effects of depression, trauma, illness, grief, aging, and loss—but always tempers it with the steady warmth of personal connections and support networks that help its characters through highs and lows alike. There are no easy answers in March, but there is always hope, and that’s a powerful thing. You can read our full recommendation for more.
The Eccentric Family (Dee’s #2, Peter’s #5)
Dee and Peter once again share a high-(top) five of solidarity for this under-the-radar, tanuki-filled gem. Blending the modern with the mythical, The Eccentric Family is a fantastical yet emotionally grounded exploration of social expectations, the complicated relationships within and among communities, the enduring bonds of familial love, and the magic that exists just beneath the surface of the everyday world.
Despite its currently open-ended finale, The Eccentric Family is still a complete package: one of those rare labors of love that wholly envelops its audience in its enchanting, ephemeral world. You can read our full recommendation for more.
Planet With (Caitlin’s #3)
Planet With is a masterclass of economic storytelling, using its mecha action to develop a large gender-balanced cast with remarkable depth over a single cour. While the story features a male protagonist, the female characters are also given distinct personalities and arcs, and the central familial bond between an adoptive brother and sister forms the emotional core of the story.
But the thing that truly makes Planet With special is its warmly humanist heart: it grapples with how to guide people to make healthy choices without robbing them of agency, and finds an optimistic path forward. You can read our full recommendation for more.
ZOMBIE LAND SAGA (Chiaki’s #3)
Mixing zombies with idols with silly humor and bright sincerity, ZOMBIE LAND SAGA isn’t quite as thematically focused as some of our other top picks, but it’s got heart to spare, beating right out of its adorably rotting chest. The female friendships that form the crux of the story are charmingly written, and the series handles its trans character with empathy and grace.
Zombie Land is often absurd, but it rarely feels mean… except when the group’s male manager gets involved, anyway. It’s up and down, to be sure, but when it flies, it soars. You can read our full recommendation for more.
Maria the Virgin Witch (Caitlin’s #4)
In its brief 12-episode run, Maria takes aim at a broad variety of topics that affect women under patriarchal systems. It looks at purity culture and rape culture as two sides of the same coin; social othering and male fear of powerful and rebellious women; and how systems of inequality can harm people in different ways across the board.
The series shifts between bawdy comedy and historical drama, and each part is as strongly written and directed as the other. A smart, nuanced show that’s also an entertaining watch, don’t let the tawdry title keep you from giving this one a try… Er, but do check out our full recommendation for content warnings first, as there are some notable ones.
Mob Psycho 100 (Peter’s #4)
This supernatural shounen action series was always a marvel of animation, but its second season’s exploration of social ostracization and compassion is what really catapulted it onto this list. Mob’s desire for self-improvement and insistence on helping others adds valuable narrative context to every conflict. The battles are stunning, but it’s how Mob resolves them that resounds the loudest.
Mob Psycho captures the emotional essence of shounen while remaining free—or even being openly critical—of many of the toxic masculine tropes typical of shounen storytelling, rejecting “might makes right” and pushing for kindness at every turn. You can read our full recommendation for more.
For Your Consideration
Our final titles all received two votes apiece and feature a diverse array of charming shoujo/josei adaptations, heart-melting queer romances, and messy-but-sincere explorations of gender norms. We’ve organized them alphabetically.
Bloom Into You
Beautifully storyboarded and gracefully narrated, Bloom Into You follows its cast of queer teens as they grapple with their sexualities, identities, and shifting relationships with one another. Bloom also directly engages with cultural norms, acknowledging harmful “just a phase” ideology and actively rejecting it by including a healthy adult lesbian couple.
Despite a slow start, the series builds into an impressively directed yuri romance that engages with queerness in a way that’s sometimes devastating, often comforting, and always thoughtful. You can read our full recommendation here.
Fruits Basket (2019)
We debated whether this one should be eligible since we know they’re adapting the entire manga series and the other seasons will all air in the 2020s… but Caitlin’s passion for it won us over, so here it is on the list!
What sets Fruits Basket apart from so many other series is its emotional intelligence, as the cast must cope with trauma and help each other to learn and grow. And, despite showing its age at times (the series is adapted from a manga that began in 1998, and its approach to gender reflects that), it is still, at heart, a story about the nature of bonds and love, and about finding strength in compassion. That’s as valuable today as much as it was 20 years ago.
You can read our full recommendation for more.
Given initially seems like it’ll be a nice music show featuring a fluffy, slow-burn queer romance. It then develops into a nuanced, character-driven dramedy that tackles difficult topics ranging from coming-out narratives to suicide and child abuse. It handles it all with grace and restraint, allowing its characters to work through their struggles and find a healthy way forward with one another’s support.
Although, we’ll be honest: it is also a nice music show featuring a fluffy, slow-burn queer romance that’s chock-full of “aww” moments. And that’s pretty great, too. You can read our full recommendation here.
Wildly imaginative, strikingly directed, and featuring one of the most endearing female leads on a list full of notable ones, Kyousougiga isn’t a well-known title, but it really should be. Drawing heavily on Japanese Buddhist-inspired mythology with a splash of Alice in Wonderland, this series uses its fantastical setting to tell the story of a fractured found family and the complicated bonds between them. The cultural barrier of entry is a little high, but if you can clear it, you’re in for a heartfelt treat.
We haven’t written anything on it for AniFem yet, but hopefully that will change soon. For now, we’ll leave some mild content considerations for depictions of grief and bad parenting, and hope this signal-boost gets a few more eyes on the series.
Little Witch Academia
There aren’t a ton of family-friendly titles on this list, so allow us to whole-heartedly encourage you to show this one to your younger relatives. Through its magical girl-esque adventures, Little Witch Academia explores self-confidence, hard work, prejudice, and the value of magic in the everyday world.
Through it all, the series remains centered on its diverse female cast and their relationships with each other, whether that’s as friends, mentors, or rivals, and everyone is given distinct quirks and layers. Energetic and inspiring, Little Witch Academia is an entertaining romp for kids and adults alike. You can read our full recommendation here.
MY love STORY!!
Adorable, funny, deceptively smart, and as warm-hearted as its three protagonists, My Love Story quickly set the bar for teen rom-coms and then proceeded to break its own records. This is a “how to” for healthy relationships: a story about communication, kindness, and self-worth that’s willing to dig into difficult emotions but always meets its challenges with sympathy and optimism.
And as a nifty bonus, it’s another series that’s easy to toss at preteens as well as older audiences! You can read our full recommendation here for more.
From the first notes of its opening song and the film-reference-studded visuals that go along with it, Princess Jellyfish sets itself up as one of the most charming shows of the 2010s. It’s wonderfully clever, packing a ton of nuance into its eleven episodes. The charming (and body-diverse!) cast of weirdos will worm their way into your heart right away, and its social commentary about finding community, functioning in society, and what is lost in gentrification feels just as relevant, if not moreso, in the final days before 2020.
We don’t have any posts specifically about Princess Jellyfish yet, but we’d love for that to change. Content considerations for depictions of someone being roofied and sexually assaulted, body-shaming, and casual sexism and queerphobia.
This stylish mecha show takes the traditional “giant robots as a metaphor for (cishet male) adolescence” framework and dispenses with all subtlety—and gender rules. Girls are just as horny as boys, trios as common as pairs, and the show centers around a slow-burn MMF polyamorous romance. Along the way, it challenges unhealthy masc-coded ideals about power and fights for its female characters’ agency in a world that literally objectifies them.
It doesn’t do this perfectly, mind you. Star Driver‘s exploration of adolescence and sexuality is an exhuberant mess, stumbling into fanservice and damseling its female characters even as it struggles to grant them freedom. But it’s so darn entertaining and earnest in its goals that it’s easy (for us, at least) to forgive its missteps.
Somehow, we haven’t written or recorded anything about this series yet. We really ought to. But, since we haven’t: Content warnings for fanservice, nudity, depictions of unhealthy relationships, assault and abuse metaphors, general teen horniness, and one episode about a teacher/student romance.
Yona of the Dawn
It’s rare to find a fantasy epic with a female lead these days; rarer still to find one so dedicated to that female lead’s increasing self-awareness and strength. With a measured pace and focus on character arcs, Yona of the Dawn develops its titular female protagonist with realistic but inspiring progress, following her growth as a warrior but, more importantly, as an empathetic and driven leader.
Its greatest weakness? No second season. Thankfully, the manga is now available in English and continuing to impress. You can listen to our podcast watchalong for more. Content considerations for violence, trauma, mild sexual content, and implied sex trafficking.
Staggeringly ambitious, viscerally affecting, and stuffed to the gills with imagery and visual motifs, Yurikuma Arashi uses its surreal world and adorably creepy bears to discuss and critique the harmful tropes present in some yuri fiction, how women and especially wlw are treated in Japanese society, the dangers of zealotry and mob mentality, institutionalized oppression, “othering,” and how to combat a broken system.
Taken as a complete work, Yurikuma is a messy, chaotic, thoughtful, earnest, intimate, moving, and aggressively progressive piece of fiction. It’s an uneven and by no means easy watch, but it rewards those willing to see it through to the end. This is another content warning-heavy series, so be sure to read the full recommendation for caveats.
What would your picks be? Let us know in the comments—and keep your eyes peeled for the staff’s bonus picks later this week!
Editor’s Note (1/2022): Please Tell Me, Galko-chan! was originally on this list, but we removed it after manga author Suzuki Kenya was arrested for importing child pornography. The list’s structure has been adjusted slightly as a result.
Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.