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Dec 15

Monthly Recommendations – Hot In 2016

No punpuns here

If you’re a regular, you’ll know that usually every month, a lovely glorious person tells us all about some of the things they think are pretty cool and worth checking out. But seeing as we’re now in December, let’s instead look back at what’s taken the various worlds of animation and picture books by storm throughout the year. There’s been a heap of brilliant new releases despite the western world going to the dogs, so if you need something to cheer you up this holiday season, maybe give one of these a whirl.

Anime

All things considered, it’s been a pretty good year for anime, but these are the series that have made waves in the community past the first week and my sometimes premature judgements.

Re:Zero – The fantasy darling in a year with several of them (hi Konosuba, hi Grimgar), Re:Zero merged the “trapped in an RPG world” trope with time travel to create something fairly original. Especially as time reversal only occurs when lead kid Subaru dies. Add in the usual harem (Rem, a secondary female, seems to have become waifu of the year) and you’ve got the most popular show of the whole year. (Stream)

My Hero Academia – The big shōnen show of the year, My Hero Academia managed to keep itself fresh with a near constant stream of interesting new characters with new powers, and a hero whose powers crippled him every time he used them. Plus, All Might’s story arc of trying to cope with brutal injuries from years prior really helped add layers to the storytelling. (Stream)

JoJo – The Joestar family have been a big thing in anime for a while, but after a third arc that dragged, Diamond is Unbreakable, the fourth arc which aired this year, got things back on track. Featuring not one but two JoJo’s, there’s a weird bow and arrow capable of giving people Stand’s, which leads to the good old fighting various powers with various powers while trying to solve a mystery and track down a serial killer. (Stream)

Your Name – Currently ranked on MAL as the #1 anime, Your Name has taken the world by storm. Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie is about two kids who wish for an escape from their current lives, and wake up with their minds in the other person’s body. Combine Shinkai’s masterful eye for artistic splendour with arguably his best writing showcase yet, and you’ve got a film to rival anything by Hosoda or Ghibli. (Cinema)

New Game – If you remember Shirobako from last year, New Game was essentially the video game equivalent. A show about graduates trying to make it in the industry. Aoba, the focal character, gets a job at the company that made her favourite game, and bar the fact that nigh-on every employee is female, it’s a pretty good representation of industry life, with the expected assortment of personalities. If this kinda stuff interests you, check it out. (Stream)

Cartoons

While there haven’t been as many brand spanking new cartoons this year, we’ve still had some interesting titles on the telly, alongside some amazing films in the cinema.

Infinity Train – A short that took the net by storm, Infinity Train was a minisode uploaded by Cartoon Network, where Tulip and her robot companion One-One are making their way through a train with seemingly infinite cabins, ranging from a fart room to a corgi kingdom. Channeling a similar vibe to Gravity Falls, Steven Universe and other CN megashows with a great mix of writing, ideas and characters, one can only hope we see a full series in the future. (Stream)

Kubo – The latest film from Laika, Kubo was their best production yet, mixing oriental styling with some more traditional adventure narrative beats to create something familiar and fresh, as young Kubo tries to save his home from the Moon King, who’s also his grandfather. It looks great, it flows great, and it has origami battles, what more could you want? (Digital & Physical)

Moana – Disney’s latest epic continues to build on their recent success with films like Frozen and Tangled. Moana, a tribe chief’s daughter, is sent off on a journey across the seas to reunite a relic with its goddess. And if you disagree with that, the ocean itself chose her, so tough. It has funny moments, sad moments, heartwarming moments… it’s a modern Disney film, basically. And if that doesn’t sell you, The Rock’s in it. Job done. (Cinema)

Gravity Falls – Yes, there was only one episode of Gravity Falls this year, but when it’s the finalé of one of the most successful TV cartoons of the decade, I’d be remiss to not mention it. Bringing an end to Dipper and Mabel’s summer, we see the final confrontation with Bill, tying together many plot threads along the way for a fascinating climax. We’re sad that it’s over, but excited to see what comes next from series creator Alex Hirsch. (Watch Clips)

Voltron – Netflix has really gotten on a roll with its originals as of late, and Voltron was no exception. Taking the 80s franchise and throwing it into modern times, it is, in essence, a mecha show, with kids saving the world from a big bad, but with Netflix’s production values and writing sensibilities taking it to the next level. Plus, there’s already a second season confirmed for January, so now’s the best time to start. (Stream)

Comics

There’s always awesome new picture books around and about, whether you’re a Marvel  / DC guy or not. As such, narrowing it down to just five(ish) is a tricky prospect, but I think I’ve captured a good variety in these choices.

Ghosts – New York Times bestseller Raina Telgemeier’s newest graphic novel, Ghosts tells a story of sisters who’ve recently moved to Bahía de la Luna, a place where people talk to ghosts and eagerly celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It’s a great story, especially for having one of the lead characters suffer from cystic fibrosis and showing how this affects, and doesn’t affect, her and her families daily lives. Another Raina classic. (Digital) (Physical)

March – The final part of the March trilogy came out this year, breaking new ground as the first time a graphic novel would win several literature awards, including a National Book Award. They focus on the US Civil Rights Movement, with now Senator John Lewis acting as the viewpoint character (and co-writer), and provide an accurate account through the ages, from Martin Luther King to Barrack Obama. Arguably the best non-fiction comic ever made. (Digital) (Physical)

DC Rebirth – Yes, it’s a non-committal scapegoat of an answer, but the simple fact is the Rebirth lineup has been offering a good variety of comics for all readers. For me personally, Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Detective Comics have been great, but I’ve heard positive things about Grayson, Green Arrow, Aquaman and many more, and the twice monthly schedule has been a boon for some series. If you’ve been on the fence with DC, now’s the time. (Digital) (Physical)

Mockingbird – One of Marvel’s strongest comics this year, sadly cancelled far too early, Mockingbird finally got a solo series after decades of being a co-star. Cain and Niemcyzk (making her Marvel debut) mix comedy with deadly seriousness as poor Bobbi Morse, having being dosed up with various drugs including the good old Super-Soldier Serum that Cap took tries to figure out her life, with the pieces only falling together as the series progresses. It only ran for 8 issues, but that does mean you can blitz through it in an afternoon. Hint hint. (Digital) (Physical)

Space Battle Lunchtime – The indie star of the year (and there’s been a bunch I could’ve mentioned), Space Battle Lunchtime places Earth gal Peony in the galaxy’s greatest televised interstellar cooking contest. Not that she was asked or anything, so a good chunk of the story is her adapting to weird alien species and even weirder alien foods to try and produce results and survive the contest. Another eight-issue series, the charm of Reiss’ art and writing shines throughout, and another breakout hit for Oni Press. (Digital) (Physical)

Manga

Manga’s a weird one due to the time difference for some series and not for others, depending on who’s publishing and translating, so this’ll all be stuff that made its official English debut this year.

Platinum End – Ohba and Obata are always a team up to take note of, having produced Death Note and Bakuman. Their latest manga, Platinum End, features a kid saved from his suicide attempt by an angel, and then locked into combat with 12 other chosen individuals in a battle to take the place of a retiring God. And if that sounds familiar, yes, it is very similar to Future Diary. Whether the dream team can make their own version shine more remains to be seen, but you’d be a fool to bet against them. (Digital) (Physical)

Goodnight PunPun – I don’t get PunPun. Maybe that’s because the lead character is a regular kid but drawn as a bird. Maybe it’s because the story has God depicted as a dude with a sweet ‘fro. Maybe it’s because it’s about puberty and adolescence and that minefield. But then again, that is what made FLCL a classic, so… I dunno. I do know there’s nothing quite like it, and while it took almost a decade to be translated, this seems to be a series where it’s better later than never. (Digital) (Physical)

Yona of the Dawn – One of my big regrets about taking a break from watching anime when I did is I missed out on Yona. She starts the story off as a very sheltered and pampered princess, but after witnessing her father, the king, killed by her beloved, she has to flee with her childhood friend and bodyguard, beginning a quest to help save her kingdom. Yona’s evolution really helps make the series, and if you want to read a great manga with a great female lead, this is the one for you. (Digital) (Physical)

A Girl On The Shore – Inio Asano’s second entry onto this list (what can I say, guy’s got talent) is about two high school students entering into a casual sex relationship. No, wait, come back, it’s good! Essentially teen drama, it provides a refreshingly honest look about the emotional turmoil and relationship nightmares and experimentation that is youth. The artstyle is intense and deep too, conveying emotional weight perfectly. Short, bittersweet and memorable, it’s another must read from Asano. (Digital & Physical)

Orange – And speaking of teenage romance, Orange! In case the anime (which will be in the top ten for the year) didn’t convince you, the manga will. A bunch of young adult schoolkids send letters back in time 10 years to their school selves to try and change the future and prevent the suicide of Kakeru, one of their close friends. Romance and emotional turmoil are again the order of the day, as they try and walk the path to his salvation, and with Ichigo Takano’s knack for expressions, it’s another classic (and fairly short) shōjo well worth a read. (Physical)

Webcomics

Keeping track of new exciting webcomics is kinda hard considering… well, they’re usually a few years old before they catch on. So instead I’ll highlight stuff that’s had a defining year.

Lady of the Shard – I already recommended this once, but this is probably the best standalone comic of 2016. All about the love an acolyte has for her deity (both admiration and romantic), and how that develops when she walks among her believers, GiGi DG produced another classic, using a kind of scratch art / MS Paint artstyle that works really well. You can finish it in an hour or so too, so why not give it a whirl? (Read)

Homestuck – Coming to an end this year, Homestuck has had one heck of a run these past seven years. A webcomic that went beyond the straight image by image format, with text logs, animations and even games. By playing the beta of upcoming game Sburb, lead kid John triggers the end of the world. Except he then gets pulled into another dimension, and that is just the start of the many, many mysteries of Homestuck. It’s quite the investment to go through it all, but now that it’s over, one that’s worth the time and effort. (Read)

Owlturd – Maybe it’s just me, but Shen’s popularity seems to have catapulted in this past year. The best way to describe Owlturd Comix is 4-koma’s for the modern internet user, with plenty of self-depreciative humour that rings true. Every single strip he does brings a wry smile to my face, and I bet it’d be the same for you too. (Read)

The Meek – Raising over $100k on Kickstarter, the adventures of Angora as she tries to save the world, and decide whether it is worth saving, have certainly struck a chord. Returning from an extended hiatus last year, The Meek is currently in its fifth chapter, with each one about the length of an extended comic. The artwork looks good too, with Der-Shing Helmer producing something that feels like a professional production instead of just another drop in the internet ocean. (Read)

Blindsprings – Another Kickstarter success story of the year, and something I’ve had bookmarked to read for a while, Blindsprings tells that good ol’ story of spirits against science, with lead girl Tamaura stuck in the middle. The story seemingly starts off as a romantic tale of guy saving girl from an imprisoning fate… except she rather enjoys her role as forest and spirit guide, which he yanks her from for the chaotic and all together less peaceful city life. Kadi Fedoruk has created something really charming and endearing here. (Read)

And there ya go! Which I guess wraps up the recommendations for this year. There’s still a few extra articles to come yet though, including my personal Top Ten Anime of 2016 (oh god I have like a few weeks left to marathon anime), so stay tuned for that and all the cool recommendations and stuff to come in 2017! Thanks everybody!