Though 2017 is firmly in our rear view now, there’s still quite a bit of time before 2018 gets started to reflect on the year that was. Though anime wasn’t necessarily at its best last year (and ended pretty roughly), there were still some pretty great shows to look back on. I’ll admit, as the sole creator here, this list is firmly tilted in favor of my own interests, but I still tried to be pretty fair with what I covered. I broke things down by season, picking my favorite of each season, with one honorable mention for good measure and to round things off at 5. There’s a mix of super-popular and the obscure here, so try to give each series a try already if you haven’t; you might find a new series to geek out over.
Winter 2017: Granblue Fantasy: The Animation
(This one’s a bit of a cheat, since the bulk of it aired in the Spring, but it’s premiere episode was in the Winter, so it still counts!)
Of all the series I watched during 2017, few managed to capture the spirit of adventure the way A-1 Pictures’ Granblue Fantasy did. Based on CyGames’ hit mobile title of the same name, Granblue Fantasy follows a teen named Gran and his talking winged lizard Vyrn as they traverse the sky islands of their world in search of Gran’s father, who left a note for his son claiming he would wait for him at “Estalucia, the Island of the Stars”. Along the way, Gran and Vyrn meet several allies, including a young girl named Lyria, on the run from a military government trying to use her mysterious powers as a weapon, and her friend Katalina–a former knight of the empire moved to compassion to save Lyria from her life as a guinea pig.
Granblue Fantasy lands on this list for what it’s not almost as much as for what it is. It’s a fantasy series that isn’t an isekai; one where yet another gamer that spends too much time playing video games gets trapped in his favorite one, and we see how great a person he’d be in a world where he understands and can manipulate all the rules, a type of fantasy that’s become all too popular in the wake of Sword Art Online. It doesn’t wallow in violence or pretension in an attempt to “elevate” fantasy above what it is. Instead Granblue relies on it’s gorgeous animation and likable characters, and simply shows its viewers a group of friends exploring and protecting a world that’s both worth exploring and protecting. It even managed to snag a season two, which means it’ll get a chance to develop the deep lore of the games further instead of being stuck with that incomplete feeling that most adaptations like this are normally stuck with.
Spring: My Hero Academia Season 2
My Hero Academia is an example of how little it really matters if the tropes are hoary or the genre is well-worn when the execution is so clean. I mean, this season of MHA actually centered the bulk of its season around a tournament arc, and still managed to make fans clamor for more. That’s because BONES’ adaptation of Kohei Horikoshi’s mega-popular manga is superb, elevating an already great source material with next-level animation and music.
Where last season introduced us to the world of Academia and Class 1-A, spending much of its time building the world up and showing us its rules and major players, this season gets the more enviable task of character development. We see the reason behind Todoroki’s detached attitude toward the rest of his class, and the purpose behind his endless pursuit of perfection. We see Iida forced to confront his own inner demons after the sudden rise of a new villain places his family at risk. Even the filler isn’t all that bad, as we get an episode devoted to Tsuyu Asui, the resident Best Girl of the series. And through it all, they even managed not to abandon the school theme, something most series like this tend to use as more of a background to tell stories about youth in general. Season 2 chronicled a whirlwind of successes and failures for these young heroes, and what’s the best part? Things only get better from here, with a season three confirmed for this upcoming Spring.
Summer: Knight’s and Magic
Knight’s & Magic is by no means the greatest mecha series of all time. But there’s something to be said for a show’s willingness to have fun with its own concept. The main protagonist of K&M is Tsubasa Kurata, a genius engineer and mech-obsessed otaku who dies in a car accident and finds himself reincarnated as Ernesti Echevalier in a world where magic and engineering have combined to create pilotable giant robots.
Easily the best thing about Knight’s & Magic is that it fully understands the absurdity of its own concept and shamelessly leans into it. Ernie is an engineer that can give Tony Stark a run for his money, regularly revolutionizing the face of war for this world by creating new weapons and innovating on concepts that hadn’t advanced in centuries before he was born. Though it eschews the heavy politics the mecha genre is generally known for, the trade-off is that K&M spends a lot of time discussing the inner workings of its giant robots. A third of the way into the series, it comfortably settles into a surprisingly enjoyable pattern of “improve robot, explain why robot is improved, take robot into battle, analyze robot’s performance, continue to improve robot” that becomes downright fascinating if you’ve ever been overly interested in psuedo-science behind giant robots or really loved when pilots in mecha series got their mid-season upgrades.
By no means will K&M ever be anything remotely close to “ground breaking”, but the undisguised love it displays for giant robots makes it a must-watch for any mecha fan.
Fall: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond
Alright, now that it’s over I can say it: Kekkai Sensen (or Blood Blockade Battlefront if you gotta be that person) was the anime of the year. It was a little shaky when they released the first half back in 2015, but the second season here is magnificent, eschewing the sort of serial plot that it normally takes to attain an AOTY spot and actually choosing to take on a more episodic bent, developing the madcap cast of Libra and managing to make every single one of them relatable and human no matter how inhuman their powers might have seemed. Everything about this past season was on point: BONES’ glorious animation, Yasuhiro Nightow’s insane story ideas and concepts that sometimes felt like they were going a mile a minute, and some of the best music this side of Cowboy Bebop.
In fact, the series as a whole feels like a spiritual successor to that legendary series, which also had a habit of placing development of its cast of misfit characters above a strong overarching narrative. Doubtlessly due to both this and CB being animated by the same studio, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond carries that same feel; it oozes with style, from its jazz/hip-hop fusion music to the development of the cool, dangerous city of Hellsalem’s Lot, making every episode a treat even when you aren’t even sure where it’s going. If you only have time to go back and give one series a try from last year, you absolutely need to make sure it’s this one.
Honorable Mention: Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ
As a long-time Symphogear fan, I had to sneak the franchise’s fourth installment onto this list. I would’ve made it the choice for the Summer season over Knight’s and Magic, but ultimately the fact that the first episode of this is actually the 40th episode for the series overall made that too high a barrier to entry. Still, Symphogear is almost everything absurd and ridiculous about anime wrapped into one hilariously awesome package.
Following a group of magical girls equipped with an arsenal of weapons that would make Black Lagoon’s Revy blush, this season of Symphogear pits our ladies against the Bavarian Illuminati, a group of villains seeking to free humanity from oppression by imbuing themselves with the power of God. As usual, expect as many over-the-top scenes as possible, including lines like “Fist 1, reason 0” backed by jaw-dropping animation from Satelight and the deliciously cheesy music the girls use to keep their magic armors powered. If you liked Kill la Kill but thought it could use a bit more music and rocket-surfing, be sure to give this series a shot.