All in all, this is a pretty darn impressive group of series.
In some ways, the shows that don’t make a Top 10 list may be as good a measure of a year as the ones that do. Certainly, they’re a better measure for depth in terms of quality series. There are some very fine shows on this list, and I think it reveals 2012 to have been the deepest anime year since 2008.
When you consider the sheer volume of anime I watch these days – around 100 series this year – making the Top 20 is in itself a pretty good accomplishment. But even so, it’s only a year as strong as this one (Spring in itself was loaded) that shows like the top two on this list would be on this list at all.
11. Natsume Yuujunchou Shi. It’s still hard for me to believe this series isn’t on the Top 10 list, but I couldn’t put it there at the expense of any of the ones that did make it. I loved the start and end of the season as much as any Natsume Yuujinchou (which remains among my favorite series ever) and the ending is phenomenal, but there were several episodes in the middle that were by NY standards fairly ordinary. In another year, for sure a Top 10 show.
12. Sakamichi no Apollon. See above – astonishing that it didn’t make the list, but in the end, it simply had too many stumbles in the second half. Watanabe Shinichiro did an amazing job trying to fit this huge story into one cour – in lesser hands it would have been a disaster – and delivered some of the finest individual moments in recent anime. Amazing soundtrack as well. But the narrative structure falls apart in the final third, and it just misses out as a result.
13. Fate/Zero. Truth be told if I’d ranked the first cour, it would have made last year’s 10 Best list. F/Z – like Urobuchi Gen’s prior series, Madoka Magica (which did make the 2011 list, and the first cour of F/Z was better) is proof that a show can be superb and still be overrated. The second cour made some questionable choices in terms of narrative (the two-episode flashback, placed where it was, really ground the momentum to a halt) and the ending didn’t work for me. Again – an excellent show with some individually sublime moments and stellar production from ufotable, but enough flaws to just miss the cut.
14. Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Likely to be remembered as one of NoitminA’s swan songs, a terrific josei romance that never would have been made without NoitaminA. Difficult, stubbornly refusing to pander to the audience, a romance about people making the best of what life (and beyond) offers them. For my money the finest work of Fukuyama Jun’s career.
15. Another. After the first 10 episodes, I would have guessed Another might have made the Top 10. Fabulously atmospheric, chilling and scary – though with very little true horror in the first few eps, which brilliantly set up the midgame. But the ending really lost me big-time – it was a disaster, to be honest, and brings down the overall score substantially.
16. Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou. Another series that was Top 10 material, but struggled in the second half. The first few eps are some of the funniest anime I’ve ever seen, and it’s fantastic to see a series make fun of the gender stereotypes that have become the norm in anime in the last few years. It almost seems as if a lot of the best material was used up out of the gate, because most of the episodes from about 5-11 simply aren’t nearly as funny as the first four, though the series recovered somewhat at the end.
17. Mirai Nikki. A very solid and faithful adaptation from Asread of one of the best trashy thriller manga of recent years. Mirai Nikki is smarter and more profound than it lets on, but mostly it’s shocking, absurd fun – and the anime mostly captured that. There were times when the low-rent nature of the production showed and the mostly unknown cast isn’t uniformly good, but MN is a series that takes well to that sort of approach.
18. Inu x Boku SS. A series that I didn’t even watch for the first few episodes, then puzzled over just what I was watching. A very strange yet quite charming series, with no regard for traditional narrative and an intriguing combination of otaku and fujoshi elements in a very cute and smart package. By the end I was pretty much hooked.
19. Sankarea. For my money this may be the best-looking TV anime DEEN has ever produced. It’s not perfect and the ending is completely unsatisfying, but director Hatakeyama Mamoru did some wonderful things here – taking the best of the SHAFT style and losing the annoying aspects. It was overshadowed in a tremendous Spring season, but Sankarea was a very, very good series that doesn’t neatly conform to genre stereotypes.
20. Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate. Sort of the opposite of Natsume Shi – superb in the middle, not so much at the start and finish. I really enjoyed the political aspects of Koichoco, and for the most part it was a very dignified and thoughtful take on the romance VN genre. After a somewhat formulaic start it came on quickly and was really superb for a stretch, but once again the ending was a real trip-wire.