Best of 2012 – Games, Anime & Manga – An abandoned post

Planned to have these three finished in January. That clearly did not happen. I no longer have the motivation, or seemingly the ability, to put together even a mini-review for stuff. I think I’ve spent too long wallowing in the extremely toxic environment of online anime and gaming forums. Where “discussion” is largely people screaming at one another about their subjective opinions. It’s driven me to a standpoint where I just want to enjoy what I enjoy without having to explain or justify why I enjoy it. I may get around to filling in the missing entries when I re-read/watch/play the stuff in them. But some of them I havent looked at in over a year (I really should do rolling Top X lists as it would be easier to keep stuff fresh in my mind). The gaming part is mostly complete, 7 out of 10 more or less complete. Anime and Manga are more or less just list/links.

Games


2012 was an interesting year for me in terms of gaming. For a start I didnt do a whole lot of it. I only really played around twenty games which is half or less of what I usually play in a year. The causes for this were fairly obvious, completing my MSc, commuting and starting a new job. Nonetheless it’s oddly difficult to select a top ten from a pool of twenty. This year also saw several other changes in my gaming habits. I got back into PC games in a big way, I’d only one or two games on Steam at the beginning of 2012. Now I’ve over one hundred (of which I’ve completed about two – but you can see my proposed solution to that problem here).

This year was also the year where I abandoned life on the open wave for purchasing games legally. Though paradoxically I actually generally played games more frequently when I pirated them than now when I’m buying them. Odd. I also got into handheld gaming this year, picked up a Vita and (very late in the year) a 3DS. I even managed to finally complete a game on my DS. Though oddly enough I do most of my handheld gaming at home as opposed to on the go.

I think this is also the year I came to terms with the fact that while I still love fighting games in spirit in practice I just simply dont get enough play out of them. Fucking terrible year to determine that considering the definitive version of both Tekken and Soulcalibur were released this year. I’ll probably buy the odd “proper” fighting game going forwards. But sadly the love affair is over.

So how was 2012 in gaming? Pretty damn good I have to say. While certain areas of the net bemoaned the quality of games released I think it was generally excellent. There were certainly enough quality titles released that I but together not one but two “Upcoming Games” posts. Now 2013 does indeed look like its going to be awesome but I felt that 2012 really delivered. I didnt play a huge amount of games but nearly all the games I did play ranged from good to excellent in terms of quality and enjoyment.

As always this list is a composite of things I’ve played in the year in question, not just what was released in the year. As well as the Top 10 list itself I’ve also included an appendix of sorts where I give a line or two to all the game’s I’ve completed this year (and the ones I’ve played enough off to be comfortable making a judgement on).

XCOM Enemy Unknown

(PC)

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At the beginning of the year I was writing a research paper for my MSc about applying game design techniques from more successful gaming sectors to re-invigorate “dead” genres, the example I chose was western turn based RPG’s. Then a week before submission those bastards at Firaxis announced this. Which meant I had to rewrite my conclusion. But it was so very, very worth it. Modern gaming media annoys me with its continuous previews too far in advance of the actual product itself, you either get burned out on the game before its out or you adopt a media blackout. XCOM’s PR machine handled itself really well, there was enough to keep me interested and build excitement (I honestly wanted the game more after every extended interview/reveal) but not enough to over-saturate me on it. Best of all it was done within a nice tight timeframe (it also included this awesome bit with Jake Solomon). Every time I saw information about the game I wanted it more and thankfully that anticipation was rewarded with an amazing game.

To be honest I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed the game. But all I really need to say is that when I finished the game the first time I sat down the next day and started (and completed) playing through it again on a higher difficulty. I honestly cant remember the last time I played through a game (especially a lengthy one like this) twice back to back. That’s how much I enjoyed it. I put over fifty hours into it in the first week or so. It was like XCOM was my full time job and for once I loved going to work.

Dragon’s Dogma

(PS3)

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Dragon’s Dogma is quite simply one of the best open world RPG’s of recent years and quite possibly of all time. It’s main appeal and genius lies in the fact that it created a world which oozes verisimilitude in a way that I always wanted videogames to but up until now had never seen. The world feels entirely real in a way separate from the player. It’s not simply something for the player to stand on while they have theyre amazing adventures, it is its own thing that exists and carries on regardless of what the player does. My favourite example of this was when I was running through some ruins and in a nearby field a griffin just swooped down and plucked up a cow and fucked off. I could have chased it I suppose, but nothing I did caused it to do that and I didnt have to engage with it or not. There were loads of moments like this, lizardmen sunning themselves on rocks, having fights with wolves, etc. This was aided by the complex night and day cycles. Dragon’s Dogma is a game where night actually means something other than a loss of light.

This alone would have been enough to make the game enjoyable. But it also has one of the most thoroughly enjoyable combat systems I’ve seen in an rpg. So enjoyable that for once I didnt play a magic user (my default for any fantasy setting – though magic is fun and the more powerful spells look amazing). It’s like a mix between Dark/Demon-Souls and Capcom’s more traditional 3d action games. But to be honest I’d say its probably more enjoyable than either (and I am a very big fan of the ‘Souls games combat). Again its the feeling of realism that really makes it. When you’re fighting bigger enemies it really gives you a sense of scale and a visceral feeling of immersion that many video games lack. Clambering slowing up the back of a cyclops and then swinging around to the front to plunge your sword into his eye, or trying to keep a hold of a griffin as it soars into the sky, they were the kind of fantastical and unique experiences that games like this should be all about.

There is also of course the pawn system, where you create an AI companion and hire two more from other players to create your party. I genuinely dont recall a single instance where I felt the pawns AI let me down (which is a marvel in and off itself). But levelling and equipping your pawns and setting up various “parties” is enjoyable in and off itself. It adds a vaguely multiplayer aspect to the game without cheapening the single player experience in anyway.

The story and NPC’s in Dragon’s Dogma are generally interesting and the major ones are well done. Like most open world RPG’s its probably not going to blow you away but its certainly a solid entry for the genre. In the later stages it picks up quite a bit and theres some postgame stuff that adds a very interesting twist to it. Along with that theres loads of weapons, armour and spells all of which look unique and have a varied enough stat spread that it requires a bit of thought to gear up. Exploring the world is also a great experience (largely because as mentioned above it actually feels like youre exploring a different world). I suppose the only negative point is that graphically the game can be a bit all over the place. The lighting effects, particularly the athmospherics and lighting are generally excellent. The actual design of the world, monsters, gear, etc. are all great (I love the look of most of the monsters). The problem is that a lot of the textures arent quite HD and it can be jarring at times. But not so much that it really detracts from the experience.

The game also had one of the more interesting “Raid Bosses” available, which the players fought in asynchronous multiplayer. It made for an odd but interesting experience.

I put well over 70 hours into this and all of them were enjoyable. I bought all the DLC and didnt regret it and I’m sincerely looking forward to the expansion coming in April. I’d recommend picking this up immediately (well actually the expansion contains the original so unless you get it super cheap probably better to hang on till April).

999

(NDS)

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While I’d played bits and pieces of the game earlier in the year it hadnt really hooked me until I sat down one day and played through the entire thing from beginning to end and then did that again and again until I’d seen all the alternate story routes. While I’ve played other visual novels in the past this is actually the only one that managed to maintain my interest enough for me to bother completing it 100%. I think the reason for that is twofold, the first is a boring but important technological issue – the game has an excellent fast forward system which makes it readily apparent what content you’ve seen before and also makes it really easy to get right to the new content. I honestly dont think I could now handle playing a visual novel that didnt have similar features. The second reason is that it was just a really enjoyable and engaging story with an interesting cast of characters and a setting and plot that, while clearly heavily contrived, didnt feel like it.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

(PS3)

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The original Tekken Tag Tournament is my second least favourite Tekken (obviously my least favourite being the pile of shit the world knows as Tekken 4). Which is weird as everyone else seemed to fucking love it. But I could never get into it and in the time since I’ve never warmed to any other “tag fighter” or “tag mode”. Its never done particularly well and its not a mechanic I like either in play or conceptually. The best thing about fighting games is one on one. So I initially wasnt super interested in this game. But as more and more information came to light I became more and more interested and my anticipation grew and grew. In many ways the game was even better than I expected. It’s the definitive version of Tekken. I’m genuinely wondering how they can top it or even match it with the next game. But it’s not only the definitive version of Tekken, it’s also a masterclass on how to release a fighting game (or any game with post launch content) in the modern market.

I suppose to get it out of the way first. The only thing I dislike about the game is the more constrained customisation options available. Theyre not as good as Tekken 6 and certainly nowhere near as good as the ones we saw in Soulcalibur V in early 2012. But to be honest its a minor niggle and one that most people probably wont even notice. If I wasnt so in love with customisation and character creation modes I probably wouldnt have noticed it either.

Tokyo Jungle

(PS3)

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This game came entirely out of left field. I picked it up because the premise, playing an animal trying to survive in a human free post apocalyptic Tokyo, seemed amusing and I had some spare money in my PSN wallet. I’m so very glad I did as this is one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in ages. It harkens back to the simpler arcade games of old where the actual mechanics of play, the pure gameplay itself, was simply fun.

The game was also enjoyable bizarre and weirdly addictive. Seeing your little pomeranian try and tear the throat out of a bigger dog or go mano el mano with an alligator (both of which tended to result in sudden and unpleasant death) just made you laugh and trying to unlock the various other animals was seriously addictive. The fact that each animal plays differently was also great. Making your way all the way from pomeranian up to something like a lion or tiger felt awesome. Prowling around as death on legs taking on packs of wild animals that previously were like a nightmare to defeat. The cost of such power was of course your much smaller hunger gage. The hunger gauge, the breeding mechanism, the random nature of environmental hazards and the unique “goals” for each elements worked well together to create a system where you felt like you were on a time limit but each time you played you did a little better.

This seems a little short but really there isnt a lot more to say. The games basic premise is fairly simple, as is the gameplay. But its also simply fun. Further its also pretty cheap so you have no excuse not to go out and buy it (well, not having a PS3 would be a fairly solid excuse).

Persona 4:The Golden

(PSV)

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This was the reason I bought a Vita and it more than paid for itself. My first playthrough took around 105 hours, and once I’ve recovered fully from that ordeal I plan to run through it again to see the various things I missed. The extra content is more than worth the price of admission, it is uniformly excellent apart from a small part of a cutscene (literally about five seconds) which felt a little gratuitous. But the rest of it is great. In the original game it tried very hard to make it feel like it was a story about something odd that intruded into the ordinary lives of the main characters. Unfortunately the pacing in the original undermined this by skipping over periods of time that were important to the characters ordinary lives but not to the main narrative of the game. The Golden lets you play through this extra time and it really makes the experience feel more cohesive. The new capstone events for each of the main parties individual stories are also great and provide a nice sense of closure that the original lacked. The new social links and characters are also great. The added game content stuff, such as new costumes, persona’s etc. round out what feels like the definitive version of the game. The original game was among my top ten favourite games of all time and this easily takes its place.

While I mentioned it already I feel that the expanded characterisation offered by the added content deserves a second mention. Considering a large part of the appeal of a Persona game is its cast getting to spend more time with them and learn more about them really improves the experience. I also noted how this time through I really appreciated characters that I had more or less loathed the first time through (talking about you Dojima). I suppose one bad thing may be that there’s almost too much new content. I played a solid sixty hours of the game more or less in a row. But after that I was interrupted by Christmas and New Years and it was a little daunting going back to it knowing I was only about two thirds of the way through. Though thats more an issue with how I approached the game. But its something to look out for – in short, either set aside a good amount of time or learn to pace yourself. I think on a personal note my favourite new addition was the extended epilogue. The ending of the original really pissed me off. Speaking of the original my thoughts on it from back in 2008 still more more or less apply so thanks to the magic of cut and paste I’m going to add them in here.

I must admit I’m a huge fan of the Megaten series; both the main line and its spin-offs. To be honest I’m probably a bigger fan of the spin-off’s than the main line. Though that may be due to the fact that there hasn’t been an English release for the main line since Nocturne (which is quality). Of the spin-off’s the

Persona “branch” is certainly my favourite. And considering Persona 3: FES is one of my favourite RPG’s ever I’m sure you can imagine how much I was looking forward to Persona 4. I even imported it from the states just to get the limited edition artbook (Which as an aside is the only artbook I have that is retarded enough to put pictures on the images).

I think in some ways that this anticipation worked against Persona 4. Persona 4 uses a more polished version of the engine used in Persona 3. So it looks extremely similar and plays more or less identically. It also uses the same social link system, fusion system, etc. On a mechanics level Persona 4 certainly feels like a direct sequel to 3. Thankfully like a good sequel it takes the little imperfections in the original and polishes until they shine. However this similarity is slightly jarring as the storyline and characters in Persona 4 are so very unlike those in Persona 3. While Persona 4 is by no means “light” it certainly doesn’t overflow with the pervasive darkness of Persona 3. And it took me a while to grasp that as it felt so much like Persona 3.

Another point of comparison is that Persona 4, while a hefty play experience by RPG standards (1st playthrough is easily 50+ hours), it simply doesn’t have as much stuff packed in as the expanded Persona 3: FES. It feels odd to hit fifty plus hours and feel a little disappointment that you’re almost finished the game. It also has a slightly reduced level of detail in character and monster statistics (three physical stats rolled into one).Though it expands others (e.g. the main character now has five personal traits). Not a huge thing, but something that stuck in my mind. Edit: Wrote this yesterday and in the wee hours of this morning realised I may have been slightly wrong, I wasn’t as close to the ending as I imagined, oh plot twists and additional dungeons how you mock me! My playtime is now in the high sixties and I’ve still to finish the final dungeon and I left out two bonus dungeons. So yeah 70+ hours seems to be closer to truth for the first playthrough.

Now this may read as if I’m slamming Persona 4. I’m not, it’s an excellent game. I outlined the above so anyone moving from 3 to 4 can bridge the cognitive disconnect quicker than I did. Persona 4 is an extremely enjoyable game. While the story isn’t quite as esoteric as some of the other Persona games it feels much more finely crafted. Not so much in regards to plot but rather with the manner in which it ties into the games mechanic’s and in particular the various “dungeons”. Due to its somewhat old school mechanical aesthetic the Persona games can often feel like your playing two different games at once – one the general rpg and the other a grind heavy Wizardry clone. I know that when playing Persona 3 I’d sometimes play for a few hours of just random dungeon crawling. This is never (or very rarely) the case in Persona 4 where each “dungeon” is tied intricately to the plot and where every floor has at least a reminder of why you’re fighting your way through it. This kind of attention to detail makes the entire game feel like a much more organic experience.

Mechanically the game doesn’t break hugely with traditional JRPG’s. Though it is nice being able to control each character. The main mechanical appeal of the Megaten games is finding and fusing your persona’s/demon’s/etc. and this game has it in spades. However, like most RPG’s, it’s the characters and the story that form the main appeal and Persona 4 certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

The story is well crafted and excellently plotted, it feel’s a lot like an expanded version of one of the mysteries from something like Detetcive Conan, Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro or one of the more outré Holmes’s stories. I may be biased as it’s a genre I’m extremely fond of but I found the story and the mystery to be really enjoyable. I also liked the majority of the characters, from the supporting cast Nanako is like a freaky pathos generator), to the enemies (Shadow Kanji ftw) to the PC’s themselves. It’s the first time in a while I’ve wanted to include every single PC in the party.

Oh needless to say this game is entirely unrelated to Persona 3 (beyond a cameo or two). I really can’t decide which of the two I prefer. While this is a sequel it feels so different that it’s almost impossible to compare the two. If you’re interested in getting into the Megaten series then I’d probably suggest starting with this and then going back to Persona 3: FES as this is more accessible to a general audience I think. On the other hand the gameplay enhancements may make going from 4 to 3: FES a little painful.

*SPOILERS*

When I play an extra three or four hours for the “true ending” I don’t want it to be the fucking same as the “good ending” but with a fruity animated footnote. Would it fucking kill Atlus to let a Megaten game have a happy ending? Just let him stay in the fucking town. Also where the fuck are my alternate costumes? Considering nearly everything else is improved from FES this is a bizarre cut.

Borderlands 2

(PC)

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An excellent update to the “FPS/looter” formula pioneered by Borderlands. It expanded and improved on all areas of the game providing a superior mechanical and narrative experience. The game can occasionally bog down a bit in single-player but really is a joy to play in multiplayer.

Crusader Kings 2

(PC)

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Compelling, complex and time absorbing histortical simulator where success is measured more in assassinations dodged, heirs killed and wives sold off than in land conquered.


Way of the Samurai 4

(PS3)

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For some reason it feels weird placing this game in my top ten. I honestly cant determine why. When thinking back to my (considerable) time with the game there are no glaring flaws that jump out and I certainly think it deserves a place here more than the ten or so “also rans” that appear below. But nonetheless I’m still haunted by a feeling that “this isnt right”.

Now with all that said, dont let it put you off the game. Because the game is great. While it can at times feel a bit like a budget title (the graphics could be better, really theyre the only major issue the game has) its an enjoyable and oddly compelling experience. Depending on your choices the story has a large number of different events and outcomes. Which in turn means an individual playthrough can be quite short or fairly long. It’s one of the few games that kept me coming back again and again. One of the reasons is because the story, while not exactly revolutionary, is stocked with entertaining characters so you really do want to play out each “What If?” scenario.

The second reason, and probably the major one, is that the combat (i.e. the main action in the game) is great. There are a myriad of styles and most of them feel quite distinct. It’s probably the most enjoyable “realistic” (well action movie realistic at best I suppose) japanese sword fighting game since Bushido Blade. Sword fighting is the main draw but it can be nice to mix it up by switching to a spear, pistol, musket or even rocking it bare handed. While discovering and mastering the pre-defined styles is oddly addictive it also serves as a stepping stone for creating your own style, which I have to say I really loved.

As well as learning various styles and crafting your own theres also the weapon crafting system which allows you to create, modify and enhance your own weapons. Much like the combat styles this can lead to obsessive “gotta catch em all” behaviour. I honestly did dedicate entire playthroughs just to killing a particular character because I liked the look of his sword grip and wanted to use it for own sword. The game also allows you to customise your appearance to a fairly high degree, allowing you to change even your sex between playthroughs. Again this can lead to dedicating playthroughs to unlocking particular hairstyles or faces or costumes.

The game also features a fair few minigames (the best of which is the one for visiting the red light district) and subsystems (e.g. your actions in one playthrough can have a knock on effect on the environment in the next or starting your own dojo and recruiting students) which add in even more things to do. The game is packed full of stuff. However unlike a “normal” game it requires lots of short playthroughs to see the content as opposed to one massive marathon playthrough.

The game has a distinct sense of humour, which is for lack of a better description “very Japanese”. Its not there all the time, the game is serious when the narrative warrants it, but when it does pop up some people may find it a little weird/off putting in places.

Now after writing all that you may be thinking, “What the fuck were babbling on about in that first paragraph?” But I think I can put my finger on it now. The issue is that this is a good game, an enjoyable game, but possibly not a great game. I enjoyed my time with it and it kept me coming back but to a large extent it lacked “Fuck Yeah!” moments that would have kicked it up from good to great. While I have no hesitation in recommending the game, and if it sounds interesting I’d definitely recommend picking it up, the lack of easily defined “greatness” does create that little niggle.

Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations

(PS3)

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The most recent and most complete entry in CC2’s Ninja Storm series which is bar none the clostest any videogame series has got to making you feel like you’re playing out the kind of battle that would happen in the source anime.

The Rest

Soulcalibur V – Critical Hit

The pinnacle of the series in terms of balance and system but sadly lacking the usually excellent amount of content the series is known for.

Borderlands – Hit

Final Fantasy XIII-2 – hit

A huge improvement on FFXIII with the best FF villain since Sephiroth

Dead or Alive 5 – Hit

Ragnarok Odyssey – Hit

Devil Survivor 2 – hit

Diablo 3 – Hit

A disappointment but not so big a one that I didnt get around 40 hours of play out of it.

Torchlight 2 – Hit

Magic The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 – Hit

Street Fighter X Tekken – Miss

So very disappointing. Biggest waste of money of the year in fact.

Xenoblade Chronicles – Miss

Occasional moments of genius (and a truly amazing world design) dont make up for the tedium that playing a “single-player MMO” provides

Guild Wars 2 – miss

I was really looking forward to this but the beta just failed to impress me or live up to its promise. So I didnt end up buying it in the end (well until late January when it went on a very steep sale, lets see how it goes the second time).

The Secret World – miss

Much like with Guild Wars 2 I expected The Secret World to be something new and different which would re-ignite my faded love for MMO’s and just like Guild Wars 2 I played the beta and was disappointed.

Mass Effect 3 – Critical Miss

Taste is a funny old thing. When someone’s taste is diametrically opposed to our own it can be a little odd but as adults we can all accept that entertainment is subjective. I am however entirely incapable of understanding how anyone could enjoy the piece of shit ending to Mass Effect 3 in any way. I really enjoyed the game up until the terrible, terrible ending. The ending entirely ruined the game for me. Not only was it shit in its own right but it made me go back and tear apart what had been an enjoyable enough action sci-fi story (but upon closer examination fell apart like damp paper – just like any action movie plot). As a capstone to a series which I think peaked with its first entry it was equally terrible. Just avoid it.

Manga


I seem to read more manga than anything else, which makes boiling it down to a top ten a trial every year. This year was no different. I suppose it’s a nice problem to have. Though I think I’m going to take a different approach in 2013, because I read so much it can be hard to remember the details of something I read more or less a year ago. I can recall it being good and the highlights, but it’s difficult to spin that out to a decent sized paragraph or two. So this year I’m going to try and write up my thoughts on possible “Best in Show” candidates directly after reading them. I’m also going to split my “Top Ten” into January-June, July-December and then best overall.

Last year I read around 16,500 individual chapters/issues, this year I read just over 13,900. So clearly the terrible impact of doing an MSc and getting a job can be seen. Considering that such a wide number of titles was read its hard to discern any real pattern (a large percentage of that total is due to the fact that once or twice a year I reread any ongoing series I’m following to get myself up to date with it). I suppose if last year was characterised by catching up on “Modern classics” then this year could be characterised as catching up with “Classics”. Well at least the hyper-macho ones, I read Fist of the North Star and over half of the entries in the JoJo’s series. All of which were significantly better than I was expecting. Fist of the North Star (and its chronological prequel which was published in recent years, First of the Blue Sky) are both actually more than the hyper violent self-parody theyre often portrayed as. JoJo’s was, well, interesting at least. The artwork was terrible for the first few but then it got better and I got used to it. The storytelling also improves greatly to the point where Steel Ball Run (which is sort of an alternate universe) could be recommended to anyone (who wants to read about a turn of the century trans american horseback race where a number of the racers have really odd super-powers). I also finally finished Rurouni Kenshin, just in time to not watch the live action movie. I also caught up with another old Manga UK classic, Guyver. While I enjoyed it (and greatly enjoyed what the fuck happened after the anime storylines abrupt end) I’m not sure if I enjoyed it because of nostalgia or because of what it was. The occasionally wonky fan translation didnt really help with that.

As always I shall “cheat” by recommending any ongoing manga that made it into other years Top 10’s, which at this point would include – Berserk, Hajime no Ippo, Ao no Futusmashi, Nurarihyon no Mago, Kekkaishi, Gamaran, Yotsubato!, Hajimete no Aku, Zettai Karen Children, Beelzebub, Until Death Do Us Part (Shi ga futari wo wakatsu made),The World God Only Knows (Kami no Mizo Shiru Sekai), Mahou Sensei Negima!, One Piece, Liar Game, Skip Beat, Perfect Girl Evolution, Princess Resurrection,Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, King of Hell, Zetman and last, but certainly not least as I love it almost unnaturally, History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi (Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Kenichi)

I’ll also include links to earlier years – Best of 2008,Best of 2009 – Manga, Best of 2010 – Manga and Best of 2011 – Manga.

One last note. All of the series here are available for free online if you want to try them out. You can download them via torrent’s or private DDL or you can check them out on an online reader like Mangafox. In terms of quality I would suggest the former route, though online readers will let you get a feel for them. Ultimately though I would urge you to pick the manga up in paper form if its available in your area in order to support the author (though check out reviews first to insure the translation isnt terrible). This is also one of those rare situations where I practice what I preach.

Magi – Labyrinth of Magic

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I really enjoyed this mangaka’s previous work, Sumomomo Momomo, it was a great blend of humour and action and Magi is similar in that respect. However as opposed to being set in the modern world Magi is set in a fantasy setting strongly influenced by Arabian Nights (though it also includes fantasy versions of China, Rome, etc.). Which a) makes for a fairly fresh and unique setting and b) harkens back to classic films Sinbad and the Thief of Bagdha which I loved in my youth. The setting of Magi is extremely interesting and is revealed quite well, with the majority of it passingly familiar and delivered up front but with more obscure and finer details being revealed as the series progresses.

BECK

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Class rock’n’roll coming of age story

Denpa Kyoushi

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Basically Great Teacher Onizuka updated and mixed with The World God Only Knows

Kuroko no Basket

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I loathe sports, both playing and watching them. But I love me some sports manga. This is my favourite basketball manga (just didnt really enjoy Slam Dunk) and one of the better ongoing sports manga

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 7: Steel Ball Run

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JoJo’s is one of the longest running manga series out there and is a fairly influential one. It’s also one I’d no experience with before this year. While the artstyle takes some getting used to (and improves fairly radically between storylines) the crazy setting and powers presented are pretty compelling. I read JoJo’s Parts 1-3, then I skipped Parts 4&5 because the scanlation was unreadable, and moved on to Parts 6,7 and 8. While the parts are broadly connected only the first two or three parts follow directly on from one another. And starting with Part 7 they are set in a new world entirely. While I really enjoyed Part 2 and 3 I think Part 7 is the best so far. It doesnt hurt that its also entirely stand alone. To give it the elevator pitch “A 19th centurty trans-America “Cannonball Run” on horseback with bizarre super powers”. It’s really a great read.

Mushishi

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My first experience with Mushishi was with the anime adaptation, which was simply beautiful. The manga is no less so.

Gin no Saji

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A slice of life story about a city boy who ends up at an agricultural school. Reminds of those old english comedy novel series about a vet who’s name escapes me. It sounds sort of terrible but makes for a compellingly enjoyable read.

Akumetsu

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The political message is a little overdone at times but the spectacle and story more than make up for it.

Fist of the North Star

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This was a year of catching up with classic manga (a lot of it featuring hyper muscled guys). I’d been familiar with FotN via the animated film and the older anime series. I’d also had a soft spot for it because its entirely fucking ridiculous. The manga doesnt really make it any less ridiculous but certainly makes it much more compelling (which is apparently this posts word of the day). While the story is laden with melodrama and pathos as it goes in it really drags you in and some of the more emotional moments are genuinely touching. As well as that the action is enjoyably over the top and theres a lot more scope to expand the story of characters who got short shrift in the animated versions. But its too late, you’ve already read (apologies)

Arakawa under the bridge

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Slice of life absurdist humour with a fairly dark underbelly

Anime


Going to cheat and fill this in with the stuff I wrote over here (and if I didnt write about it over there its simply blank)

Haiyore! Nyaruko-San

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Nyarlathothep is a cute schoolgirl, what more do you want?

Ben-To

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Ridiculous (and hilarious) premise as an excuse for some really well done fights. Its up there with Air Gear as one of the best combat anime out there. A higher budget would probably have given it the top spot.

Steins;Gate

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What they say: Steins;Gate is about a group of friends who have customized their microwave into a device that can send text messages to the past. As they perform different experiments, an organization named SERN, who has been doing their own research on time travel, tracks them down and now the characters have to find a way to avoid being captured by them.

Why you should watch it: I’ve read/watched/played a lot of fantasy and sci-fi fiction (a lot a lot). One of the things thats taught me is that if you see time travel pop up in a story you are more or less guranteed that that story is about to go to shit. I dont think I could count even a literal handful of examples where time travel has been handled competently never mind well. It’s usually a shittily executed attempt of the writer to drag himself out of the corner he’s written himself into. As I saw someone put it recently “Time travel is the ultimate “fuck you” to good storytelling.” I imagine you can guess whats coming next. Steins;Gate (like one of the few other good examples such as Groundhog’s Day) uses time travel excellently. No, seriously. It’s really well done. It not only avoids leaving any loose ends or weird paradox’s it ties time travel stuff direcly into the main narrative and uses it to improve the narrative. If that was all it did then it would be worth watching. But S;G goes a step further, it also throws in a great mystery/conspiracy plotline which is paced wonderfully. And then it populates this story with really entertaining characters and even a bit of romance and plenty of humour, action and suspense (and some pathos for good measure). This would be a great story in any medium (and actually began life as a visual novel, which also makes it more or less the best VN->Anime adaption out there as well).

You may enjoy this if you liked: The Game, Death Note, Slaughterhouse Five, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I’d list 12 Monkeys and The Davinci Code, but they were shit so if you like them you should be too busy slapping yourself to watch Steins;Gate

Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari

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Great fantasy setting with cool mecha and airships? What more could you want? Feels like a great mashup of Tenchi Muyo and Escaflowne

Jormungand

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What they say: A ruthless arms dealer on a quixotic quest for world peace. A child soldier born into chaotic conflict. Their lives will intertwine as they journey together through the seedy underbelly of the world’s arms market.

Why you should watch it: Because it’s the best piece of modern paramilitary action out there. While the realism level is set fairly solidly around action movie level the grim amoral nature of the chracters and the world presented, as well as the great small unit combat pieces are exactly the kind of things I’d love to see a live action version off. The show is also notable for presenting characters and situations that range from grim to just fucked up without offering any implied judgement. It presents the action and the characters “as they are”. Not really a lot more to it than that, it’s just a good piece of dark action entertainment. Shit, I read parody earlier on about how you can write an anime blog review for any anime even if you havent seen it by talking about how interesting the characters are and how nice the animation is. But fuck it, the characters in this are interesting, particularly for their various world views and how they rationalise or ignore what it is they actually do. I’m not going to bother mentioning that the animation quality is good because that can be assumed if its on this list.

You may enjoy this if you liked: Burn Notice, Classic 80’s action films, Black Lagoon, Hellsing

Another

I used to really love horror. But then I stopped watching it because it was boring. I was not bored while watching this. The way it builds mood and mystery is excellent. I also went into it blind and thats how I’d recommend watching it.

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What they say: 26 years ago, in a third-year classroom of a middle school, there was a student named Misaki. As an honours student, also good at sports, the charming guy was popular with his classmates. When he suddenly died, his classmates decided to carry on as if he was still alive until graduation. Then, in the spring of 1998, a boy named Sakakibara Kouichi transfers to that class, and he grows suspicious of the fearful atmosphere in that classroom. In particular, there is a beautiful, aloof girl named Misaki Mei who wears an eyepatch and is always alone drawing pictures.

Why you should watch it: The horror genre is sadly underrepresented on this list. While a number of the anime listed may have horror elements it generaly isnt the main thrust of the show. In Another it very much is. Another isnt just a good horror anime, its a good horror story full stop. It mixes horror, mystery and (occasionaly copious amounts of) gore to create a fully engaging supernatural thriller. While it starts a little slow once it gets going it doesnt stop. The plot builds naturally on itself and while never predictable it also never feels artificially forced. Along those lines the plot twists are very well done. The conclusion, where a lot of horror stories drop the ball, is particularly satisfying.

Tsuritama

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Equally touching, amusing and exciting semi-slice of life meditation on friendship. I watched a lot of meandering slice of life stuff this year and this is probably the best of it.

Planetes

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What they say: It is the year 2075. In a world where travelling between Earth, the space stations and the Moon has become commonplace.

Hachimaki is just an ordinary salaryman. He works at a space station collecting dangerous space debris. However, he dreams of owning his very own space ship someday. And so he spends his days collecting debris together with his colleagues Yuri, Fee and his friend Tanabe. Now it is his fourth year doing the same work and he is going to be 25 years old soon, which is why he starts to think about his life.

How does Hachimaki feel? Well, today, Hachimaki is going to do the same job…

Why you should watch it: Because decent hard sci-fi is hard to find? Planetes is largely a drama which concentrates on the relationships between the characters and between them and the world. It also has a sprinkling of humour and action, all wrapped up in a very realistic hard sci-fi setting. It deals with the conflict of being stuck doing what you have to as opposed to doing what you want to and the friction that your dream grating against reality brings.

You may enjoy this if you liked: Classic sci-fi or the more recent hard sci-fi revival, Outland, Alien, Wings of Honnêamise

Hanasaku Iroha

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I thought this was going to be some tedious “rich girl learns to love the country” type thing and put it on more out of morbid curiosity rathe than anything else. I then watched it all in one go. It’s a down to earth slice of life coming of age story that relies on its excellent cast of characters to sell it which they certainly do. If you’re looking for something more realistic I’d recommend checking this out.

Accel World

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Fat boy gets the super hot girl and super powers in a (sort of) virtual world. Transparent power fantasy pandering but the world, powers and action presented let you forget about that.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!

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What they say: Yuuta Togashi suffered from chuunibyou while he was in middle school. When he graduated, he put that dark history behind him and forgot about it… or he was supposed to. High school was smooth sailing and full of enjoyment—until the unavoidable, sad event occurs. The event that locks Yuuta into a contract with Rikka Takanashi and disrupts his desperately ordinary life.

Why you should watch it: On the one hand (and at the start) Chuu2-Byo is a comedic slice of life drama about teenagers with bizarre delusions trying to form a club and going about their day to day lives. On the other hand (and as the series moves on) its a touching and interesting coming of age story that deals with broken people trying to face themselves and the world. It also has a really nice love story running through it. To be honest this probably shouldnt be on the list as it may not be super acceptable. But its one of the most enjoyable anime I’ve seen in the last year so that enjoyment alone gets it a place here. The show has a lot of depth to it if you want to look for it. It’s a pretty good commentary on how tough it is to grow up without losing sight of who you are and about modern societal pressures to conform. The animation is also top-notch, showing a level of polish and finesse, particularly during the faux action sequences, which you dont see a lot (or enough) in tv anime. The scene composition in particular is great with some really nice “shots” that ramp up the shows emotional impact. I’ve a feeling this one may be hit or miss (and it certainly isnt flawless, I felt some of the melodrama in the middle portion could have been safely excised) but I’d recommend checking out an epiosde or two at least.

You may enjoy this if you liked: Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, Welcome to the NHK!, Offbeat romantic comedies in general

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