As part of my exclusive work for Anime Vice to commemorate my tenth year as an anime fan, I will be doing a ten-part weekly article series where I offer you guys a look into the best anime I seen for each year throughout the decade where I started off my anime fandom: the 2000s. I will be doing either a top five or top ten list for each year depending on the number of titles I had enjoyed from that time. Be warned that whatever I present for these articles is my personal opinion. So do not take things too personally if I do not include an anime you liked.
2002 was where things began picking up with the number of worthwhile titles I came across. TV anime did enough to get my attention, particularly titles running longer than 26 episodes, and some OAVs were worth watch due to their visuals and engaging plots. Some of the titles on this list are hidden gems worth your time to look into while others are what I’ve covered already from my Top 25 Best Anime of All-Time countdown video. Otherwise, here’s a look into what I found to be the ten best anime titles from 2002.
10. Read or Die
This fun action series put some nice twists in the action genre with its literature-focused plot and the anime’s heroine, bibliomaniac and paper manipulator Yomiko Readman. Focused around Yomiko and a police force version of the British Library, the series focuses on their efforts to get possession of a rare book from the I-Jin, a criminal group of superpowered clones of well-known historical figures. Read or Die’s plot is quite engaging for its 3 OAV episode run featuring a number of twists in its plot, some engaging and well-animated action scenes coming from the fights between the British Library and I-Jin and the bond Yomiko develops with one of her partners, Nancy Makuhari. Character depth isn’t this title’s strongest area which could turn off those who are saps for characterization in their anime. But if you are looking for a fun and original premise for an action anime, Read or Die is well worth a look.
9. Azumanga Daioh
This anime was one of the major titles that introduced the high school slice-of-life comedy genre involving a circle of several female friends and their sometimes mundane, sometimes strange interactions with one another. While this genre has gotten somewhat stagnant in recent years thanks to oversaturation, Azumanga Daioh hasn’t lost much of its comedic charm for me as it is still fun seeing the sometimes bizarre and crazy behavior exhibited by the teachers and students seen in the series. From Yukari’s reckless driving to Osaka’s random and nonsensical observations, the series is clever in its comedic timing for its gags and lays out its episodes in five 5-minute shorts for each episode. Definitely worth a look if you are looking for a great comedy title.
8. Twelve Kingdoms
This epic style fantasy adventure series features the exploits of a high school student named Yoko Nakajima and two of her classmates being whisked into a world similar to feudal Japan where supernatural creatures and the divine are part of the norm in this society and the citizens of the country they land in don’t seem to have a strong liking to those entering their world. Much of the anime’s first arc aired during 2002 focused on Yoko learning that her meek and accepting character won’t allow her to survive in this unfamiliar world and she comes to learn of some shocking details concerning her connection to this mysterious world as she appears different from when she lived in Japan and is capable of understanding the language of the feudal world’s residents. The show does enough at developing Yoko’s character, introducing other prominent character serving to aid or deter Yoko in her struggles and allowing the viewer to know more of how the society that the world of Twelve Kingdoms works with its supernatural creatures and divine influences. The show does have a bit of a rough start as it seemingly tosses you into its world with little details explained on what was going on and Yoko not being the best heroine to connect with at first thanks to her meek and submissive personality. However getting past these episodes reward you with a compelling plot of Yoko’s struggles with her own identity and trying to figure out the reasons behind those plotting her death in the first arc of Twelve Kingdoms.
7. Princess Tutu
This clever take on the mahou shoujo genre mixes elements of Grimm’s fairy tales, ballet and classical music in its focus on Ahiru, a duck given human form by a mysterious man named Drosselmeyer who is tasked with gathering the missing pieces of the heart of a prince named Mythos. With the elements of Grimm’s fairy tales put into the series, Princess Tutu does tackle some pretty dark themes for a children’s series focused on tragedy and suffering for the characters connected to Drosselmeyer’s manipulations of the characters centered on Mythos. For instance, Ahiru can’t fall in love with Mythos without vanishing into a speck of light and Rue desires the love of Mythos despite these feelings maker her into a pawn of the major foes in the series as her alter ego, Krahe. The series even starts off with an introduction from a narrator covering a tragic and dark tale connected to the plot of the show’s episodes. The show’s ballet theme is shown through Ahiru and other characters being part of a ballet school and our duck hero making use of ballet to calm down the emotions of those having a fragment of Mythos’ heart within them as her alter ego, Princess Tutu. Classical musical pieces are added to the show and make for a good mix with Tutu’s ballet and fairy tale themes. If you like mahou shoujo titles that are different from the norm, then Princess Tutu delivers well in incorporating unique elements to the genre to help make it stick out.
6. Hikaru no Go
Perhaps one of the best shounen titles I’ve had a chance of seeing, Hikaru no Go is unique in that it believably explores the challenges that young Hikaru Shindo undergoes to become a professional player for the board game of Go. The series is quite meticulous in its focus on the game where it explores the professional gaming scene, the game’s history and basic and advanced techniques of playing the game. The anime even has a live-action segment at the end of the show where an instructor and her two students help the audience learn of different rules, techniques and scenarios for the game; as well as introduce well-known professional players of the game and even bring the game into different schools throughout Japan. Hikaru no Go was so influential in its depiction of Go that the series helped revitalize popularity of the game among younger gamers as it had a niche following before Hikaru no Go’s airing. Outside of focus on the game, Hikaru no Go also featured decent development on the characters of Hikaru and his rival Akira Toya whose characters mature as they interact with one another and progress through various stages in their experience with Go from school clubs to amateur players to becoming famous in the professional tournament scene. They even have their occasional setbacks as they do not win all their games and even have moments of disillusionment from developments they face throughout the series from Akira’s desire to face Hikaru to Hikaru’s desire to be recognized for his own skills without relying on the expertise of his ghostly companion, Fujiwara no Sai. The show’s strong focus on Go won’t be for anyone. But it is free of many of the typical clichés expected from many shounen anime titles and it is a real life board game that anyone with interest can pick up on thanks to the anime.
5. Heat Guy J
A definite underrated gem, Heat Guy J oozes with plenty of style and substance in its 26-episode run featuring detective Daisuke and his robotic partner J tackling cases in the crime and poverty-infested city of Judoh. There is plenty of detail fleshed out on Judoh’s various residents and the world of the series introducing characters of different upbringings and factions with different goals and motivations for their actions. These seemingly irrelevant details about Heat Guy J hint to bigger events yet to come within the series, which become mingled with the frequent episodic cases that Daisuke and J get involved with. The characters in the series have their backgrounds explored and carry with them their own personal beliefs that become challenged at points in the series. The series isn’t afraid at exploring Judoh’s corrupt underbelly with crime syndicates having influence over the city’s political affairs with influential city officials having their own underhanded methods they wish to apply and having their own connections to Judoh’s crime world. For a TV series, Heat Guy J wasn’t afraid at experimenting with different visual and aural styles of presentation. The show is notable for having a diverse number of different action sequences such as hand-to-hand, sword battles, mecha fights and even a fun land-to-sea clash between a tank and nuclear submarine. The show’s soundtrack consists of variety of upbeat and intense musical tracks coming from various instruments like electric guitars, keyboard and woodwind. Heat Guy J is a very well-rounded action/ buddy cop anime well worth the time to check out if you are into the action anime genre.
4. .hack// SIGN
This first anime series in the hack franchise won’t be for everyone as it is slow paced and quite conversation heavy despite its focus on the virtual MMORPG known as the World and the issues surrounding a user of the game named Tsukasa incapable of logging out of it. If you don’t mind these elements, then you can look forward to a solid character-driven series where the various users of the World try to figure out the nature surrounding Tsukasa’s unique character and his connections to a mysterious being who is seemingly manipulating him for her own ulterior motives. These characters come with diverse personalities and their own personal beliefs over how to interact and play within the World. The anime is notable for its unique way of presenting the differences between reality and the World with the former being shown in grayscale with only the sound of static being heard showing how drab and plain reality can be, some of these scenes serving to show the true identities of those playing in the World. Meanwhile, the World is saturated in color and shown to be livelier with its activity and the interactions between characters, helping to depict the MMORPG as a form of escapism from reality, a theme prominent with the back stories we come to learn of some of the anime’s prominent characters. Being one part of a media franchise of different mediums like video games and novels, .hack/SIGN does leave an incomplete feel once Tsukasa’s story is resolved as the nature surrounding the mysterious being and her activity in the World are not explored in great length for this series. Still, the struggles involving Tsukasa and those who come to aid him in his search for a way out of the World make this for an engaging watch if you like seeing character-driven anime drama.
As I covered in my video, Comedy proved that anime could create engaging stories to run in 10 seconds flat shown through Studio 4C’s project on a young girl recruiting the services of a mysterious Black Swordsman to halt the advances of incoming English troops during the Irish War for Independence. The short keeps you wondering of the nature surrounding the swordsman and makes use of dark color in its visuals to enhance the suspense with events leading up to the swordsman’s battle with the English. This is worth a look if you are an enthusiast of any sort of animation.
2. Haibane Renmei
Another of my top 25 anime titles, Haibane Renmei is an emotionally powerful drama that focuses on the existential conflicts that undergo the characters of Rakka and Reki. The series dabbles into religious symbolism concerning the nature of the two main characters and their friends at Old Home from their unique status as Haibane and why they remain in a domed town until their “chosen day”. This is the easiest work coming from Yoshitoshi Abe and those he worked with for one to get latched on as it is easier to follow than Serial Experiments Lain in its themes and symbolism. It is a definite look if you like anime dramas.
My favorite mecha anime of choice, Rahxephon features a wide cast of characters between TERRA and the Mulian alien threat as they ally with or oppose the show’s male lead Ayato in his search to figure out his true identity after learning the life he lived within the space phenomena known as Tokyo Jupiter was a complete fabrication. The series slowly takes its time at unraveling hints to the true nature of the world that Ayato seeks to believe as reality and the viewer coming to learn that the young man could have some past connections to characters helping him out. Besides Ayato, other characters within TERRA and the Mulians also get their focus in regards to how they feel about the conflict and their connection to Ayato. The presentation for the series was great for its time featuring slick and detailed designs of the show’s settings, mecha and characters; as well as sporting a tense and energetic soundtrack coming from well-known composer Yoko Konno. This is a worthwhile mecha anime to look into and those claiming it to be an “Eva knockoff” are simply jaded as this is a series with its own identity despite borrowing from some of the typical clichés of the mecha genre of anime.