The 10 Best Anime Moments Of 2021

This may have been a weird year for many, many reasons, but when it comes to anime, 2021 delivered one of the best years ever. From productions that got delayed from 2020, to highly anticipated shows and movies, and enough surprise gems to fill several top 10 lists, there was simply too much great anime to watch in one year.

Indeed, 2021 gave us some of the most memorable anime moments perhaps ever, moments that will influence fans and animators alike for years to come. These moments come from a wide variety of anime, from shonen box office juggernauts, to highly anticipated movie conclusions, to iconic franchises, and even wholly original shows that prove there is more to the medium than adaptations of popular franchises.

Without further ado, here are the best anime moments of 2021. Warning, there are spoilers ahead.

Attack on Titan – Raid on Liberio

This is the moment where things changed forever, and "Attack on Titan" made it clear this is not the same show it was eight years ago. After spending three seasons watching humanity be completely defenseless against the man-eating machines that are the Titans, and seeing dozens of characters die horrible deaths devoid of hope, it came as a true shock to see roles reversed this season. The Final Season skips forward four years in time, and it surprised audiences by spending its first few episodes not with the characters we know and love, but with those we considered the enemy — a group of kids training to become Titans and annihilate the people behind the walls.

It was an effective way of showing that the central conflict of the show was more complex and morally ambiguous than initially shown, all building up to the moment where the hunted became the hunter. The moment a Titan starts sweating in sheer terror over a group of "defenseless" humans not only unafraid of him but on the offensive with killer resolve, pays off 65 episodes' worth of story for one kick-ass fight that changed the course of the story and made for appointment TV this past winter.

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time – Gendo Hugs Shinji

It's a moment anime fans never thought would happen: the release of the final "Evangelion" movie, and the moment anime's worst father went ahead and hugged his son. The final film in the "Rebuild of Evangelion" series, "Thrice Upon a Time," gave us something no other "Evangelion" story had done: a relentless and unyielding sense of hope and optimism. After Shinji initiated an apocalyptic event that destroyed most of the world in the previous film, he finally starts to grow the hell up and learn to live with his choices in this film, the first steps in him growing up. More surprisingly is the way the film extends a tremendous amount of empathy and understanding to smaller characters we hadn't spent much time with in the past, like the aforementioned worst father in all of anime, Gendo Ikari. His relationship with Shinji is a central part of the story this time, as they both are forced to confront one another and actually talk things through and try to come to an understanding of why the other feels like they do. We see an emotional flashback to Gendo's past that shows how similar he actually is to Shinji, leading to the anime hug to end all anime hugs, a moment of emotional catharsis, of growth and empathy, a moment anime fans have been waiting for since 1995.

Ranking of Kings – Bojji Can Fight

If there was one show that sort of came out of nowhere and left a big impression on the anime year, it was "Ranking of Kings." The show employs a picturesque look straight out of a children's fantasy book to give the impression of an innocent and happy-go-lucky story of a young prince, but beneath that, it hides a dark fantasy with brutal political maneuvering and lots of violent fight scenes. Case in point, the best scene in the show so far, which encapsulates the anime's main theme of people being more complex than they first appear to be.

After spending the first episode seeing prince Bojji as a helpless, adorable, weak young boy, he picks up a wooden sword and utterly humiliates his younger brother, a prince who boasts about his physical prowess. Plus, it helps that the show is animated by Wit Studio, who gave us "Vinland Saga" and the first 3 seasons of "Attack on Titan," as the fight between Bojji and his brother is given the same gravitas and kinetic thrills as the aforementioned shows.

Odd Taxi – Bruce Springsteen

One of the biggest surprises of the year, "Odd Taxi" is a completely original anime that more than lives up to its title. At a time when the vast majority of anime is catered towards young boys — with power fantasy shows being all the rage — it is a true oddity to discover a show about adults dealing with adult problems, like professional jealousy, being addicted to mobile games, or the simple desire to live a quiet life doing something unremarkable that you actually enjoy. Though the show goes to some dark places that feel like something out of a Coen brothers movie, the show is all about naturalistic conversations about random topics. There is no better representation of what makes "Odd Taxi" special than the Bruce Springsteen joke, a seemingly throwaway conversation between a walrus taxi driver and his doctor, which quickly spirals into a conversation about Bruce Springsteen's role in the "We Are the World" song, and how much fun it is to say the words Bruce Springsteen.

SK8 the Infinity – Reiki Doubts Himself

Sports anime is one of the biggest joys of being a fan of the medium, with shows able to both teach you about sports you otherwise may never experience, while providing a heightened and more exciting version of the real thing. The problem with these shows is that they tend to follow talented prodigies who are instantly one of the best at what they do. As fun as it is to see Hinata do his signature quick spike, or Captain Tsubasa score a goal, we seldom see them struggle. That is not the case with "SK8 the Infinity," a show about boys being boys while skating down a no-holds-barred slope death trap, and about realizing your friends and peers will someday surpass you, and that's okay, because you can still enjoy the sport without being the absolute best.

The best moment of the show, which makes it stand out among other sports anime, is when our protagonist Reki starts realizing that he will never be as good as his best friend, the actual skate prodigy Langa. It's not that he's jealous, but he does become frustrated with his own skills for a while, and wonders if he should just quit skating as a whole, before forcing himself to just fall in love with the sport again just for the sake of the sport, and being able to share that passion with others without the need to compete.

Star Wars: Visions – The Twins

After 44 years, "Star Wars" has finally become an anime. The anthology series "Star Wars: Visions" gives the entire galaxy far, far away to a variety of animators to explore wildly different ideas, themes, and visuals. Though the whole anthology is worth watching, arguably the best segment, and the best moment of the nine-episode season, is "The Twins," animated by Studio Trigger. The short follows two twins trained in the dark side, and what happens when one decides to break from the cult and save his sister. The short is not only a great distillation of what makes "Star Wars" great, with its simple yet complex exploration of destiny, anger, and love, and tons of parallels to the franchise at large and specifically "The Last Jedi."

But what makes it stand out is that it also fully embraces what's unique and special about anime as a medium. Studio Trigger and director Hiroyuki Imaishi add their signature sleek character designs, neon color palette, and dramatic poses that take advantage of the over-the-top nature that the medium allows. This is a short with ridiculous dialogue taken to heart, physics-defying stunts like growing multiple arms each with a lightsaber whip, or a boy cutting through a Star Destroyer with a lightsaber while standing atop an X-Wing going to lightspeed, oxygen and gravity be damned.

SSSS. Dynazenon – Any and All Transformations

"SSSS. Dynazenon" defies what anime sequels can do, with a story that may not feel like a continuation at first, but eventually reveals itself to be a pitch-perfect spiritual companion to "SSSS. Gridman" that comments on, and enhances the viewing experience of its predecessor by remixing its themes and expanding them. But while the show may have enough existentialist questions, philosophical conundrums, and moody teens to rival "Neon Genesis Evangelion," it is also a tokusatsu romp with giant robots punching kaiju in the face. If you grew up watching shows like "Power Rangers" or "Voltron," then "SSSS. Dynazenon" captures that same sense of wonder and excitement when you see the robots combine to form bigger and cooler forms, like the badassery of watching a giant robot become a T-Rex/dragon hybrid.

86 Eighty-Six – I Don't Want to Die

"86 Eighty-Six" is a show that could very easily go wrong rather fast. A story about a fascist kingdom that sent all its ethnic minority citizens to a concentration camp, wrote them off as non-human and sent their sons to fight in a losing war against an army of machines, while we focus on a silver-haired rich girl in charge of a military unit who so happens to be the one member of the military with a conscience, could easily follow tired white savior tropes. Instead, the show interrogates the idea of the white savior from the very beginning, with a pivotal moment in episode 3 showing the members of the Spearhead squadron confront their handler, Lena, for acting high and mighty but still very much protecting and defending the institutions that caused the ethnical minorities to be considered non-human, like calling the soldiers not by their name but by their call sign. It's a simple, subtle call, but one that builds the show up to be a unique war story with a nuanced (if unsubtle) portrayal of institutional racism wrapped inside a compelling story of doomed soldiers.

Demon Slayer: Mugen Train – Rengoku Fights Akaza

Besides obliterating every Japanese box office record out there, the biggest accomplishment of "Demon Slayer: Mugen Train" is how much it gets its audience to care about Kyojuro Rengoku, a character they only got to meet for a brief moment in the anime before his role in the film catapulted him to a fan-favorite icon. His final fight against the demon Akaza is one of the most visually stunning sequences of the entire franchise, an explosion of color, kinetic movements, and emotion. But the reason it works is that Rengoku proved himself to be an endearing, compelling, sympathetic, relatable character in just under two hours. By the time the fight ends, it cements itself as a pivotal anime moment of the year.

Beastars Season 2 – Legoshi Fights Riz

A "Romeo and Juliet" story starring anthropomorphic animals, "Beastars" is a show that quickly falls apart if you try to make it a one-to-one parallel to our world. But if you take it on its own terms, it is a fascinating coming-of-age story about a gentle wolf fighting his carnivore urges, exploring themes of toxic masculinity, femininity, prejudices and more, while also giving us plenty of steamy hot romance and thrilling action. The best crux between those two comes at the climax of the season 2 finale, as Best Boy Legoshi prepares to fight his fellow carnivore classmate Riz, who killed and ate a friend of theirs, an alpaca, and tried to pass it off as the ultimate form of their friendship. In order to beat the living crap out of Riz, Legoshi breaks his vows and eats the leg of his herbivore friend Lois — not in a violent moment of rage, but in a loving embrace where Lois willingly gives a part of his body that enters Legoshi and gives him the strength to go on.

The fight is kinetic, violent, and grounded, while the glances and reactions from Louis are a better love story than most actual romance shows this year. I'd like to see "Zootopia" try and top that!