2022 was a strange year in animation — the medium has never felt both as strong and as vulnerable as it as this year, with dozens of incredible films and TV shows releasing alongside news of cutbacks and dismissals of their creators by a wider industry that just can’t seem to understand animation’s worth. In a year filled with greats, here’s our favourite animated shows and movies of 2022.
Admittedly, what specifically Lightyear was and how it fit into the Toy Story universe held the movie back from reaching a wider audience. But without that baggage, on its own merits, Lightyear is just a super solid sci-fi adventure movie. It’s got that heart and emotion you expect from Pixar, as well as jaw-dropping action and excitement.
Disney wishes it could reinvent Beauty and the Beast like Mamoru Hasoda does in Belle. A thoroughly modern musical, this film works to say something about love, family, and the struggles of growing up in a world that demands you be online, even when you’re having enough troubles just being a kid. A truly gorgeous film with an incredible soundtrack.
Prime Video’s lushly rotoscope-animated series about a restless woman named Alma (Rosa Salazar) who bends reality to reunite with her late father (Bob Odenkirk) delivered a near-perfect first season that ended on an actually perfect cliffhanger. Season two picked up right where season one left off but took the story in a new direction, exploring Alma’s family history with the help of time-travel and multiple mysteries from the pas. The end result was a unique, boundary-pushing triumph both narratively and visually from creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman).
Star Trek: Prodigy
Star Trek’s latest animated series has walked an intimidating tightrope between selling people on its CG visuals and having to appeal to young viewers and Trek diehards alike. So far, its debut season has been a smashing success on both fronts, giving us a gorgeous sci-fi universe for its young alien heroes to explore, and fleshing out those heroes into compelling characters every bit worthy of standing alongside Trek’s finest (or being chased by some of, in Admiral Janeway’s case). Star Trek can be for anyone, and Prodigy has done an excellent job in opening the doors to a new generation of Trekkies.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0
A popular anime getting its first ever movie often feels like a big deal, and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is no exception. Though the trademark goofy humour and sick monster designs that made its debut season such a delight are present in Kaisen 0, along with the stunning fight scenes that studio MAPPA has become known for, the film manages to carve out its own place in the franchise thanks to its soulful heart. Boosted by a compelling pair of leads in Yuta Okkotsu and Rika Orimoto, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is just a damn good film and one of the best animated outings of the year.
Wendell & Wild
Henry Selick delivers another generation-defining stop-motion coming of age tale with Wendell and Wild. Lyric Ross voices Kat, a demon imprinted teen with the power to summon Wendell and Wild, two trickster brothers from the underworld. Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele reunite to play the delightfully devious demons. The heart of the story is Kat, who along with her friends uncover some big secrets about their town in a powerfully timely tale that’s still filled with terror and thrills. Jordan Peele co-wrote the script so you already know it’s got his signature flair all over the story. And I have to shout out all the stop-motion artists and animators behind the scenes who worked on the painstakingly long process of putting the film together, their touch brings everything to life and it shows.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
The Bob’s Burgers Movie did feel a bit like an extended episode of the long-running Fox series — but that decision also felt exactly right, allowing familiar themes from the show (Bob and Linda’s financial woes, Gene’s musical dreams, etc.) to play out across a bigger canvas, with a high-stakes murder mystery given equal plot importance to more intimate Belcher-family moments, like why Louise is so attached to her bunny ears. It felt true to the show but also bigger in all the right ways, including all the musical numbers we hoped for.
Given the massive (and deserved) success of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man, fans all over the world were waiting for the anime adaptation of the tale of a teen who hunts devils, thanks to his ability to transform into a man literally made of chainsaws. It took four years from the manga’s debut, but Studio Mappa made the tv show worth the wait. While anime can’t represent Fujimoto’s brilliantly creative use of the comic format, director Ryū Nakayama and his team have captured both the ennui and incredible action that made Chainsaw Man a hit. And a very special shout-out to the Japanese voice cast, who expertly bring Fujimoto’s distinctive characters to life.
Transformers as a franchise defines itself on reinvention, but Earthspark is one of the smartest takes on the robots in disguise yet by simply challenging itself not to really reboot the age-old Autobot/Decepticon conflict, but to imagine an Earth after that conflict has already happened. Centering itself on a small family and their connection to the first ever Cybertronians born on Earth provides the newcomer perspective, but Earthspark revels in its smart relationship to Transformers’ history while delivering a ton of laughs, action, and heart too.
The world of tokusatsu has always been primed to work in anime, but at long last Kamen Rider got its animated dues in this year’s manga adaptation of the W continuation, Fuuto P.I.. All the explosive action you’d want out of a Kamen Rider series works excellently in animation, but it’s all tied together by the show’s smart mystery-of-the-week detective format and a compelling new villainous foil to W’s heroes that makes for a series well worth watching, even if you weren’t’ a Rider fan.
A true labour of love, Mad God marked award-winning animator and special-effects wizard Phil Tippett’s directorial debut, which seems wild when you consider how long he’s been in the business, but not so wild when you consider the stop-motion tale took 30 years to make. Its grimy, doom-filled world comes to life in vivid detail, weaving a unique story filled with equal parts despair and gross-out eye candy.
Dead End: Paranormal Park
Netflix’s adaptation of the supernatural/slice of life Hamish Steele comic DeadEndia provided us a delightful yarn of found families, kooky horror, and a lot of laughs. But it excelled in its queer heart, centered around its protagonist Barney has he navigates the world as a queer trans teenager–giving equal weight to his struggles finding himself thrust into a world of magic, mystery, and demons as it did to him dealing with his family’s transphobia. Its deft approach to both makes Dead End an animated show unlike anything we’ve see on TV in a while, and an important one for queer youth given the awful year trans folks in the real world have had being persecuted just for existing.
One Piece Red
One Piece’s theatrical movies have generally been fine. Well, they used to be terrible until creator Eiichiro Oda started getting more hands-on with them, but generally they all ended in the same way — Monkey D. Luffy and his crewmates, and maybe a few more popular characters, teaming up to fight some new, ultra-powerful, non-canonical foe. But Red is different in almost every way, and for the better. It fills out Luffy’s backstory by introducing Uta, the daughter of One Piece’s most enigmatic character, Shanks. When a tragedy separates them, the present-day Luffy discovers she’s become a good-hearted pop idol who wants to save the world with her music — but at a sinister cost. Red gives Luffy a foe who isn’t transparently evil, and one he can’t beat by punching them. The result is One Piece’s most introspective, unique film yet. And Uta’s songs are absolutely killer, too.
Dragon Age: Absolution
Recency bias plays into this a bit, but man, there was so much fun to be had with Dragon Age: Absolution. It had a compelling, energetic cast (not unlike the games), and its heist story was just really fun once it went off the rails (read: almost immediately). Maybe it feels a little more inconsequential than it should since Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is theoretically due within the next year or so, but Absolution’s got fun vibes and was a nice animated series to wind down the year with.
Spy X Family
What more is there to say about Spy x Family that hasn’t already been said? It’s a fun anime starring a hilarious trio of weirdos — a spy, an assassin, and a telepathic preschooler — who are so laughably bad at pretending to be a normal family that it makes the moments where they pull it off all the sweeter. That it manages to pull off the one joke of “how has no one caught onto these people yet?” successfully across two dozen episodes as an impressive feat in and of itself, and it’s one of the easiest anime of the year to fall in love with.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Not every show that ends unceremoniously gets a second chance, but when they do, they make it count. With its animated Netflix movie, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pulls out all the stops to show the best of what the short-lived series had to offer. With one inventive action scene after another and gorgeous animation featuring the Turtles and their supporting cast at some of their most fun, the Rise movie was a great closer to one of the strongest incarnations of the Turtles to date.
Rick and Morty
The Adult Swim mainstay found its footing with new confidence in its sixth season, spending time smartly dissecting itself by ripping into story tropes and its own established canon, including an entire “meta” episode. But it also delivered the kind of storytelling that fans have come to expect, walking the line between juvenile and brilliant at all times. Rivers of pee and dick jokes shared screen time with surprisingly profound explorations of identity, regret, and the crushing burden of facing up to one’s responsibilities.
The coming of age animated feature film centered on a Mei who upon hitting puberty finds out she can turn into a giant red panda. With the help of her friends she begins to embrace who that makes her while overcoming the generational trauma it caused her mother as family. Director Domee Shi really captured what it was like to be a teen in the aughts and the timelessness of that period of a girl’s life. The scenes with the mother (Sandra Oh) where cultural clashes came to light were deeply relatable as a first gen first born american daughter. Filled with catchy music done by Billie Eilish and Finneas, we fell in love with Mei and her friends, who were each iconic in their own right. And then there’s the giant third act Kaiju Panda battle, which proved this should have been the movie Disney Pixar put in theatres.
From the moment we saw the first trailer, we knew we were going to fall in love with Inu-Oh. ‘60s and ‘70s punk and alt-rock’s rebel aesthetics combine with a sense of historical fabulism, and the result is a masterpiece of musical theatre, gender performance, and stunning animation.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
If you saw a trailer for Marcel, you might think it was live-action. Which is why it’s such an incredible animated movie. While there are
live-action elements, ultimately the tale of this shoe-wearing sea shell looking for its family is all done with stop-motion animation, and the story is incredibly smart, funny, and inspiring. A must-see and one of the year’s best films.
Putting one of Japan’s most revered anime studios on an adaptation of the highly-anticipated, controversially-broken Cyberpunk 2077 seemed like a weird fit at first. But Edgerunners proved that you should never doubt Trigger, as we were delivered a bloody, over the top, and yet deeply melancholic series about the tragedy of the human limit, love, and self-destruction.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro produces a lot of things and not all of them are winners. But when he puts his name above the title on a film he co-directed, you know he’s proud of it. And he should be proud of his stop-motion Pinocchio, which takes the tried and true tale and fractures it through the dark, disturbing eye of the filmmaker.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury
The new Mobile Suit Gundam show had a lot to live up to, but from its very first episode it’s delivered kinetic, gorgeous giant robot action, and sweet, intimately rendered character work as we entered the world of Suletta Mercury and her friends at the Asticassia School of Technology, a place where the future of interstellar capitalism and warfare is introduced to the next generation of corporate scions. Both a wonderful, potentially sapphic high school love story and a fascinating evolution of Gundam’s perpetual Earth vs Space conflict, The Witch From Mercury is a highlight of the current anime season, and one of the best shows on TV right now.