If you ever watched an animated film and found yourself captivated with childlike wonder and amazement, or felt emotionally impacted while watching a Disney or Pixar film, you can begin to understand my appreciation and admiration for this medium.
I have enjoyed animation my entire life, and more so than just the average child. Growing up with shows like “Steven Universe” and “Gravity Falls,” my whole perception of the world, and many aspects of personality, have been shaped by the lessons and characters that drive along the stories. Ever since, I have continued to admire amination and what a wonderful platform it can be, and I often spread my love for these works with my friends and family.
Animation can tell stories without the boundaries of our reality, without human restrictions, and can use various elements of art to further develop characters and plotlines. Animation has been growing rapidly over the last 10 years; show writers and filmmakers have been using this format to tell deep and heavy stories, important morals, and life lessons to those of all ages. Animation is quickly written off as something just for children simply because of the cartoony style; however, animation is for everyone to enjoy.
If you are wondering where to start your exploration into animation, here are my picks of the greatest works of animation to come out this year:
No. 5: Sonny Boy (Anime Series)
Unique and captivating, this anime follows 36 students who appear to be trapped in a school in a completely different dimension—everything outside is an endless black void. These students with recently discovered superpowers must work together to maintain order and sanity whilst being isolated from the world. This anime starts off without much explanation on how everyone got to this place, their powers, or the inner workings of the strange world, yet over the course of 12 episodes many of these secrets are revealed.
Being a sci-fi physiological drama, this anime focuses on conflict between its characters for the main source of action. The students fight amongst themselves for control over the group, greater superpowers, and how to get back home. What I enjoy most about this anime is that two of the main characters, Nagara and Nozomi, are perfect foils of one another. Nagara is a quiet, passive boy who is trying his best to just pass time till life returns to normal, while Nozomi is an outgoing, rule-breaking, independent girl who wants to forge her own path and discover the many mysteries of the dimension they are in.
This anime is directed by Shingo Natsume, who some anime fans may recognize as the director of “One Punch Man,” an award-winning superhero anime that originally came out in 2015. “One Punch Man” is known for its excellent fluid animation and exciting fight scenes, and Sonny Boy continues this trend. Built-up suspense from dramatic episodes and colorful animation makes watching this sci-fi anime very exciting and deserving of No. 5 on my list.
No. 4 Beastars (Anime Series)
This Japanese manga adaptation took the internet by storm back during lockdown, with the first season of Beastars coming to Netflix March 13, 2020. The art style drew in viewers instantly, because this romance drama takes place in a world where anthropomorphic animals live in a society like ours. Think Disney’s “Zootopia,” but much more dramatic and action packed.
Main characters Legoshi (a wolf) and Haru (a dwarf rabbit) face various challenges in a world where predator vs. prey still exist, but everyone is forced to go to the same school. Many of the herbivore students fear for their safety on campus, and the carnivorous students face constant ridicule and judgment just because of their species. Being a coming-of-age narrative, Beastars depicts the many challenges and changes that come along with puberty, growing up, and self discovery. Young romance is another expected feature of this teen drama, yet this show tackles the subject well, and highlights how confusing, consuming, and complex romantic emotions can truly be.
Beastars does well at getting its audience invested in the characters. The pacing of both seasons works to keep you engaged in the story by having a good balance of softer, yet meaningful dialogue scenes, along with high action-packed moments that will have you on the edge of your seat. This show tackles some heavier themes of death, betrayal, and sexual assault, so be aware when heading into this anime that it is not your average cartoon and is definitely not meant for children.
No. 3 Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Anime series)
This beloved anime is about an average working woman, Kobayashi, who becomes friends with a dragon who takes a human form as Toru. Toru offers to work as a house maid in exchange for a place to live. This animation began airing its second season back in July of this year. Slowly, this average human’s life is transformed into an exciting journey of magic, friendship, and many new dragon companions.
Surprisingly, this simple slice-of-life anime is jam packed with comedy and heartfelt moments. Both seasons are extremely funny, with a great combination of visual and verbal humor. The cute characters make watching mundane tasks such as going grocery shopping or going to the office incredibly entertaining, with their adorable expressions and naive outlook on the world. For a show about dragons, there is something so human about the interactions between characters in the show, all the dialogue flows very naturally and the relationships crafted on screen feel so genuine.
Watching this show feels the same as eating comfort food, or getting all wrapped up in a good blanket, it is soft, and easily digestible because all the conflict gets resolved quickly so the episodes end on a positive note. This very cute and comedic anime has also been confirmed for season three, so now is a great time to begin this show.
No. 2 Luca (Film)
Disney and Pixar’s latest film release is set in a beautiful dreamy seaside town in Italy. This coming-of-age story follows young Luca and his best friend Alberto’s unforgettable adventures over the course of one summer. However, Luca and Alberto share a secret they must keep hidden from the town locals—they are both sea monsters.
Visually stunning animation and background design and the early Italian pop-music inspired score makes it truly feel like you are spending an hour and a half of your day in the ‘60s Italian coastline. This feel-good story of accepting yourself for who you are, and the importance of found family, is heavily packed with emotions and left me tearing up more than once. As someone who has had a hard time accepting myself for who I am, the messages and the story of Luca deeply resonates with my struggles and can hopefully help more people learn to accept and love themselves as well, which is why I place this film at a well deserved No. 2.
No. 1 The Owl House (Cartoon Series)
This Disney Channel show follows confident human Luz, as she is accidentally transported to a realm of magic and demons where she quickly befriends a number of magical people and creatures, and begins to learn how to be a proper witch. Premiering in 2020, “The Owl House,” created by Dana Terrace, now has 29 episodes released so far, with its second season airing throughout 2021. Avid cartoon watchers may recognize some character voices and humor styles from another beloved animated series, “Gravity Falls” for the creator, Alex Hirtch, works now as a story writer and voice actor on “The Owl House.”
The excellent worldbuilding truly transports the viewer along with Luz into the world of magic called the “Boiling Isles” with the assistance of whimsical backgrounds, and an exciting musical score. This show is filled with heartwarming moments, scenes that will have you laughing out loud, and action-packed battle scenes that are beautifully and fluidly animated.
“The Owl House” caught the attention of many due to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer representaion . Luz the main character was confirmed by the creator to be bisexual and gender nonconforming.Throughout the series, many LGBTQ+ romances are portrayed. Seeing two people of the same gender hold hands with each other on a Disney Channel show is a major step in the right direction, and has caused a large fanbase to form around this series. Sadly, the well portrayed queer representation, and dark subject matter in the show is leading to the downfall of the series, with Disney canceling “The Owl House” after its third season due to the channel believing that the show did not fit with their brand. This wonderful animated series is not dead yet, and us fans are excitedly awaiting the third and final season to air, so be sure to support “The Owl House ” by watching on Disney+ while you still can.
Animation is constantly expanding and growing in terms of quality of art and the stories being told. The animations in this list are just a small sample of the content that has aired throughout 2021, but are some of the greatest so far. I will continue to love each one of these titles and enjoy them as more seasons come out in the future, along with recommending them to those around me. Next time you are looking for something new to watch, try out one of these selections, and continue to look for new animation as it is released.