FEATURE: Crunchyroll 2015 Favorites, Part One - Anime and Manga!

Crunchyroll staff and contributors pick their favorite anime and manga from 2015!

It's a leap year now! With 2016 just getting started, a variety of Crunchyroll staffers, contributors, and people who only technically do what you'd call work are here to share what they loved in 2015!


The rules were simple: for Part One, only anime and manga that began or ended in 2015, or experienced a major milestone, like a new season or closing up a major arc. The lists can get pretty varied--let's check out what everybody chose!


NATE MING (@NateMing)

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Mr. Osomatsu- From Golden Boy to GTO to Gintama, my favorite anime comedies have been able to mix gut-busting goofiness with some surprisingly serious moments of real, raw pain. Updating a much-more-innocent Showa-era kids' comedy anime, Mr. Osomatsu catches up with the Matsu sextuplets--all grown up to be tremendous pieces of crap--as they navigate jobs, romance, and mutual sibling sabotage to make my absolute favorite anime of 2015.


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Gintama°- Gintoki and the gang returned this year for another go-around of "Always Sunny turns into The Raid every now and then," starting with a hilarious time-travel misadventure to an insane fan-favorite genderswap arc (and much more) leading up to the brutal, world-changing Shogun Assassination Arc. Gintama's steadily climbing to the top half of my "favorite shonen series ever" list, and it does it with heart, grit, and the willingness to wield dick jokes like a blade in the hands of a master swordsman.

 

Maybe that wasn't the best analogy.


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Wakakozake- Sure, you've got the high-energy insanity of Food Wars, but for me the best food anime of 2015 was much more chill--the kind of feeling you get when eating kara-age and washing it down with a nice, cold beer. Wakakozake let us join the always-hungry, sometimes-snooty OL Wakako as she paired different foods with different drinks in perfect, bite-sized episodes. Use an episode of this to wash down whatever you watched earlier today--or just marathon the whole thing in one go like I did.


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One Punch Man- Gloriously adapting the ONE/Yusuke Murata adaptation of ONE's webcomic, One Punch Man not only gave us a great comedy punctuated by some of the best action sequences around, but also gave us this great quote: "Who's going to help if all the heroes run away?" The power to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the heart of someone who will always, always help. Additionally, One Punch Man was able to bring a whole slew of new people into the anime fandom--I had people who otherwise didn't know anything at all about anime asking about One Punch Man, which in turn leads them to other anime! Local man saves anime, indeed.


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Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F- While One Punch Man helped bring new fans into the fold, Goku and Vegeta--and resurrected genocidal maniac Frieza--helped bring lapsed fans back into anime. Playing out like a straight-up martial arts movie instead of a more typical DBZ movie, Resurrection F gave every character a chance to shine, dialed back the franchise's notorious power creep (even with a new super form!) and most importantly, reminded everybody of how Dragon Ball Z unites fans young and old, literally worldwide.


Honorable Mentions: Parasyte -the maxim-, Ushio & Tora, Himouto! Umaru-chan


DANIKA HARROD (@danikaharrod)

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InuyashikiNews of another manga by Gantz author Hiroya Oku was super exciting, and while the art maintains the same dark, dreary style from Gantz, Inuyashiki boasts a more cohesive, easy-to-follow storyline. Inuyashiki follows Ichiro Inuyashiki and Hiro Shishigami, two men who experience a blast that changes their lives. Each man now has the power to kill, heal, fly and more, and both of them use these powers how they see most fit. The manga is 47 chapters in and getting more and more interesting as it progresses! There are some pretty obvious homages to Gantz throughout, and I really love how it keeps up with modern times by highlighting forums and other things. I'll be contuing to read each chapter as they come out!

 

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Scum's wishScum's wish was a surprising hit in 2015, and its popularity comes from not only the beautiful art, but the crazy storyline that follows two main characters, Hanabi and Mugi. These two feign a beautiful relationship while struggling with figuring out what they want and who they are. There are twists and turns from older women to a "brother" figure and even a cat girl! Mengo Yokoyari really knows how to make the reader feel uncomfortably connected to the characters and that's what keeps me reading!


EVAN MINTO (@VamptVo)

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Animator Expo- Despite keeping up with a lot more simulcasts than usual in 2015, there weren’t very many TV series that impressed me this year. In fact, my favorite anime of the year isn’t a traditional “series” at all. Animator Expo is a collaboration between Studio Khara (Hideaki Anno’s studio, staffed by an army of ex-Gainax animators) and Japanese media company Dwango, who is presumably bankrolling the whole deal to get their name out there and promote some musical artists via animated music videos. Every “episode” of Animator Expo is a short film created by a Khara animator (or, as is very often the case, an unaffiliated animator with friends at Khara) with near-complete freedom of expression. Though Animator Expo started in late 2014, this year we’ve seen some of its most memorable entries, including balls-to-the-wall monochromatic insanity in Hiroyuki Imaishi’s "Sex & Violence with Machspeed" (a spiritual successor of a sort to both Dead Leaves and Panty & Stocking), a psychedelic trip into the hamster-piloted mind of a high school girl in FLCL director Kazuya Tsurumaki’s "I Can Friday By Day," and a nostalgic CG send-up to Gainax’s legendary Daicon animations (as well as the soon-to-be-bygone age of physical media) in "Cassette Girl." If it all seems a little transparently self-referential with its tongue-in-cheek callbacks (the title character in "Obake-chan" is totally just Rei Ayanami), straight-up remakes (Evangelion, Ultraman), and promos for Anno’s manga artist wife Moyocco ("Diary of Ochibi" and "Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen"), that’s because the whole idea is one big throwback to the early days of Gainax. This is animation by and for animation nerds, with no hand-wringing over sales numbers or return on investment. Anno & co. may have grown up and their work may be polished and professional now, but the creative spirit of Gainax lives on in their dedication to making anime for anime’s sake.

 

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Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade- Two years ago I named Little Witch Academia as my second-favorite anime of the year, and this year Studio Trigger finally delivered on their promise to make a bigger, better second OVA episode, backed by $650,000 of Kickstarter cash from international fans including myself. The Enchanted Parade is everything I hoped it would be and nothing more, which is actually just fine. Little Witch is comfort food—a lovingly crafted fantasy movie full of warmth and magic that tells a simple story about kids believing in themselves and each other. The elements that The Enchanted Parade adds to the formula—new cast members, a new setting outside of school grounds—rock the boat just enough to keep things interesting without taking too many risks with such a nascent franchise. Trigger did well to keep it all self-contained as well; in the event of a TV/film expansion of the franchise, which fans have been clamoring for, loose ends might make it difficult to connect the stories together. As with the first episode, though, this one is all about the animation. While the early sequences emphasize comedic character animation, the film really shines at the climax, when a series of spectacular broom maneuvers and attacks from a giant monster showcase the team’s formidable action and effects animation abilities. I was pretty blown away by the initial cut of the film, which screened at Anime Expo in July, but it says something about Trigger that they made corrections to the animation on top of that for the Blu-ray. Trigger maintains a standard of quality when it comes to Little Witch Academia that few productions can boast.


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Teekyu/Takamiya Nasuno Desu- Very often, “best of the year” lists give undue precedence to new things, neglecting workhorses like Teekyu that are so consistently good that they fade into the background. Teekyu is an anime about girls in a tennis club with 2-minute episodes. On paper it sounds like forgettable trash, but in practice, it’s instantly memorable, very intentional… trash. This year MAPPA handed the reins over to studio Millepensee (though director Shin Itagaki stuck with the project), which has resulted in more polished character designs, and… well, that’s about it. Teekyu’s lo-fi animation, breakneck pace, and surreal, often pun-centric comedy make it hard to recommend to any but the most hardcore anime fans (and even they might need to watch each episode twice to get all the jokes), but it’s managed to remain thoroughly entertaining week after week and season after season. And the best joke of all is that this dumb little cartoon has been successful enough to get not only four seasons in 2015, but a spin-off called Takamiya Nasuno Desu (which is just about as great as its big sister). Next year we’re getting ANOTHER Teekyu spin-off, and I couldn’t be happier.

 

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The Case of Hana and AliceMost anime is produced within the relative bubble of the Japanese animation industry, featuring the same stable of producers, freelance animators, and other creatives who churn out series after series every season. Sometimes, however, we get the odd crossover title that brings different sensibilities to the world of anime while still being undeniably “Japanese" and “animation.” The Case of Hana and Alice is a prequel to the 2004 live-action film Hana and Alice (both films are directed by Shunji Iwai), but the twist is that this time the whole thing is animated, via a combination of 3-D computer graphics and rotoscoping. The cinematography is conservative, but the acting, especially in the rotoscoped scenes (featuring Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi reprising their live-action roles), teems with a kind of sincerity of humor that anime character animation rarely provides. Indeed, despite two teenage girl characters who do their fair share of goofing around, there are no panty shots or coy winks to the audience here. The story purports to be a murder mystery, but as the investigation leads the girls through a host of absurd comic situations, it becomes clear that The Case of Hana and Alice is nothing more or less than a joyous celebration of the innocence and idiocy of genuine youth—a welcome change of pace for an art form so dominated by amped up teen melodrama.


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JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (manga)- Unfortunately I didn’t read very much new manga in 2015, so this isn’t a very authoritative selection, but let me tell you, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a treat. Of course, I’m late to the party, as JoJo’s has an army of fans who have been raving about it since long before Viz started their beautiful hardcover releases of Parts 1 (Phantom Blood) and 2 (Battle Tendency). But for those of you who, like me, got their first taste of the solar-powered fisticuffs of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure via David Production’s anime adaptation, Hirohiko Araki's 1986 manga is absolutely worth your time. I, like most everybody else, prefer Battle Tendency over Phantom Blood, but there’s a special place in my heart for the seemingly oblivious idiocy of Araki’s early work. Bodies twist and stretch in ways no human should, characters spend paragraphs explaining incidental background details of scenes for dramatic effect, and most importantly, anime’s favorite villain Dio Brando is alive and committing gruesome, unsolicited dog murder. By all reasonable criteria, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a bad manga, but its wanton disregard for silly things like logic and anatomy elevates it to a special kind of camp. If you try too hard to make sense of it, the whole thing falls apart, so just let the power of Hamon flow through your body and laugh along with Araki’s maniacal carnival ride.


Check out even more retrospectives from Evan and the rest of the staff at Ani-Gamers in their 2015 Staff Picks: AnimeManga, and Games.

SAM WOLFE (@_Samtaro)

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Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers- Rokka had my attention with its elevator pitch: six heroes are fated to meet to defeat the demon king, and seven people show up--one of them is evil. I spent hours after each episode digesting this show with my friends, changing our predictions of who the traitor might be. Add a distinct Mesoamerican setting and art style not often seen in anime, and you’ve got a recipe for a good show.


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Himoto! Umaru-chan- The balance of cute, funny, and emotional moments in Umaru-chan gave me something to sink my teeth into when I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching anime. Sometimes I felt like Umaru, an unapologetic fanboy, while other times I felt I had more in common with her brother. Although the ending left me wanting a little more, I’ll always think of Umaru-chan as the show that kept me invested in anime when the well seemed dry.


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One Piece (manga)- This year was a big year for One Piece: the showdown with the longest-running villain of the series, Doflamingo. It’s pretty rare when a villain who has been built up for so long delivers on the payoff, and Luffy’s battle against him did not disappoint. With some serious stakes and a showcase of new abilities, this was a fight worth waiting for, no strings attached.


ISAAC AKERS (@iblessall)

I’ve catalogued all my top favorites of the year elsewhere. Let’s let some of the stars of the second tier have a chance to shine! I love them no less for being just a bit dimmer.


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Classroom Crisis– In the end, Classroom Crisis wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. Despite that, it was definitely a show I have a lot of residual affection for. From the peppy opening song to the gratifyingly authentic romantic peaks to the can-do attitudes of the A-TEC students to Mizuki’s smile to Nagisa’s redemption, there was a lot to love about Classroom Crisis. I hope director Kenji Nagasaki gets a chance to make more anime-original stuff; I love the way he treats his shows.


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Wagnaria!!3– With a third season that miraculously managed to balance the show’s trademark humor with actual plot progression (a feat all the more impressive considering most shows of its ilk fail to deliver on either) and the wonderful finale special, letting Wagnaria!!3 go this season after its 5-year run is bittersweet. Bitter because there’s no more, but sweet because it saw a conclusion that many manga adaptation anime can only dream of. Wagnaria!!3’s a little miracle, both as an industry exception and as a bright spot of warm humor.


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KanColle– Shipgirls: The Anime turned out to be my favorite “cute girls doing cute things” show of the year, an outcome I didn’t expect when I marathoned the first seven episodes in the middle of the winter season. But, here we are. KanColle turned out to have just the right mix of action and fluffy slice-of-life goodness, even if its attempts at being dramatic sank like… well, a ship. Will KanColle ever be considered among the best anime of 2015? Nah, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless and am eagerly anticipating its sequel.


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Orange (manga)– I wrote about Orange for last year’s feature, and I’m bringing it back again this year (justified because it ended this year). With an omnibus physical release on the horizon early in 2016, I’m crossing my fingers that this beautiful, sensitive, important manga finds a larger audience than it has. It deals with issues of depression, self-hate, and suicide in one of the warmest, most thoughtful fictional renderings I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness—and it brought me to tears many times. Please read this manga. Please.


PETER FOBIAN (@PeterFobian)

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One Punch ManI will personally be shocked--and disappointed--if this series doesn’t show up on each of our favorites list for this year. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I am not shocked, but still disappointed at the results.] One Punch Man is the classic shonen story grown to seinen, succeeding where so many DC writers failed in creating a compelling story about a fighter whose raw power renders all challenges meaningless. This series has absolutely everything: epic fights, great comedic timing, amazing animation, a strong supporting cast, and even the opening is awesome. Much like Dragon Ball Z, One Punch Man carries the universal appeal that has the potential to inspire another generation of anime fans. It’s the best.


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Himouto! Umaru-chanTo this day if you ask me why I like Himouto! Umaru-chan, I’m not sure if I could really tell you. Best guess is it’s a cathartic experience to watch Umaru, the subject of public admiration as an ideal young woman, going home and turning into the same couch-dwelling, junk food-eating, anime and videogame-binging gremlin as myself. Her selfish, childlike hijinks may also be the closest thing to a Yotsuba&! anime that I can possibly hope for in the foreseeable future. I knew from the first time I saw the opening that the anime was something special and I wasn’t disappointed. Beyond my conflicted relationship with the protagonist, my tacit admiration of her lifestyle and simultaneous desire to see her brother strike her with a heavy object, the show also has a supporting cast of characters who each have their own dramatic issues which are as relatable as they are personally debilitating. I hope there is more on the horizon, if only as an excuse to watch the opening a few more times.


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Parasyte -the maximFor the adaptations there have been of The Thing, very few have deviated from the formula of placing the story in the Antarctic, perhaps since it occurring in a populated area could be considered a doomsday scenario, so the premise of Parasyte immediately grabbed my attention. Where I think the series really stood out was in the development of the villainous aliens as, necessarily ignorant of their own biology and origins, they begin to ponder their own purposes and form opinions about their relationship with the human race. Parasyte explores some interesting topics while portraying the cat-and-mouse conflict between Shinichi and the alien enemies who have infiltrated his species.


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Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation- Television procedurals are a dime a dozen in this day and age, with very little distinguishing one from another beyond the location and the cast. While this paradigm has given us some truly standout works like House, it was about time that a show expanded the boundaries of the genre. What I really like about Beautiful Bones is that it’s a forensic investigation series that breaks away from the mold of every episode starting with a body and ending with a murderer in handcuffs. Mysteries present themselves in a number of novel ways, and Shotaro and Sakurako’s investigations lead them to causes ranging from murder to suicide to accident, if a death is even involved at all. Although less exhaustively scientific than many shows in its genre, Beautiful Bones has definitely done its legwork and is seeded with a number of interesting facts to make the viewer feel like they are getting some education along with their entertainment.


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Rokka: Braves of the Six FlowersIn the pantheon of fantasy series featuring heroes determined by fate, triumph over the forces of evil is never obtained without personal struggle, but rarely is a wrench ever thrown in the wheels of destiny. When the Braves of the Six Flowers, ordained by divinity to save the world from the Demon God, gather to find seven heroes present, this presents a unique problem. Rokka is as much an epic fantasy as it is a grandiose game of Clue--the Braves can’t afford to halt their quest to identify the fraud among them, so they have to continue forward and nurse their suspicions. I really liked this dynamic, not only for the myriad of interactions it creates between the characters, but also for the fun of speculating about the who and why of the mystery between episodes. Rokka also has the advantage of being a beautifully animated series with Aztec-inspired designs that you don’t typically see in animation. The fact that the de facto protagonist Adlet is also atypical among anime heroes for being a tricky fighter rather than one of immense power and perseverance also contributes toward the uniqueness of the series.


TIFFANY CHEN (@lugiamania)

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Your Lie in April- At first, I wasn't super interested in watching Your Lie in April as from the description it sounded like a typical shojo/school life romance [EDITOR'S NOTE: the manga ran in Monthly Shonen Magazine], but once my boyfriend convinced me to give it a go, I was hooked. It's really more of a drama, especially dealing with human drama and emotions and not so much a coming-of-age as much as it is about finding yourself again. The character development for Kousei, the main character, is spectacular and honestly he's the main reason I love the show so much. The animation is also stunning, and I was very surprised to realize that this was animated by A-1 Pictures, as it's quite different and much softer than their usual style. Also, for any musician or classical music fan, this is a must-watch, particularly if you've played an instrument before. A lot of the characters' sentiments will ring true with you and you can really relate to their struggles and feelings. My favorite anime I watched in 2015.


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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works- I watched and LOVED Fate/Zero, so when I heard the same team was going to redo Fate/stay night, I was super excited. Of course, ufotable did not disappoint with their gorgeous animation, fight scenes, and superb production quality. It was nice that the team also threw in some Fate/Zero throwbacks for those of us that watched it, which made it extra fun for me. The music was great and I loved the openings and endings, an the cast from Fate/Zero reprised their roles as well. While Shiro is technically the protagonist of the Fate series, this version focused more on Rin's story, and I learned that she is a very popular character for a reason. The story was not as dark and grim as Fate/Zero; in fact I was kind of surprised at how light-hearted some of the episodes were, like the special where it was essentially one long date, and how different Saber's personality was compared to Fate/Zero. It was definitely made from some cute moments though, and it was kind of nice to not be all gloom and doom.


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Parasyte -the maxim- I've never read the manga, but my sister did and was a huge fan, so when this anime aired, she told me that I had to watch it, and it did not disappoint. The pacing was pretty much spot-on with the manga, and the writing was good, with good character development that made me feel really invested in what happened. I cried at the end when Migi disappeared. The action scenes were awesome, and animation did a great job adapting an 80's manga style into the modern era. Of course, who can forget that dubstep soundtrack as well?? Overall, a really solid anime series that's not only great for fans of the original, but also a great series to introduce to non-anime fans as it has a simple but solid plot that's easily understood and not full of tons of anime-tropes or references that wouldn't make sense to someone who was not familiar with anime. I eagerly looked forward to this every single week when it was airing, and it's no surprise why it's tearing up the charts now on Toonami.


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Wakakozake- A short weekly jaunt about an OL who goes out to eat delicious Japanese pub food every night. What's not to love?? The theme song is catchy, and each dish is animated and described by the main character in such an appetizing way that I would try and time my meals whenever I watched this. Otherwise, I would inevitably end up being super hungry and craving Japanese food afterwards. Actually, I always ended up craving Japanese food regardless. It's great if you like Japanese food or would like to learn more about Japanese food, as it's also a great introduction into the different types of dishes you can eat in Japan. Educational and tasty!


JOSEPH LUSTER (@Moldilox)

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Haikyu!!- I didn’t get into Haikyu!! until this year, and boy am I glad I did. The first season is excellent, and the continuation keeps the deft mix of lovable characters and thrilling volleyball action alive. Like any good sports series, this one made me want to go against all reason and start playing, or at least watching, the sport in question.


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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders - Battle in Egypt- Even though David Production’s take on Araki’s work is pretty limited in the animation department, the liveliness of the original somehow makes it seem even more fluid and exciting than it is. I still haven’t read this particular arc in manga form, but I was hooked on a weekly basis here.


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Ushio and Tora- Thanks to both its source material and its throwback character designs, Ushio and Tora is the best ‘90s anime that came out this year. I love the heated relationship between the leads, and the yokai-of-the-week fun eventually melds seamlessly with an exciting overarching story. Fantastic animation, too.


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Gatchaman Crowds insight - I was skeptical about the need to continue Gatchaman Crowds, which I loved less for its take on Gatchaman and more for what it had to say about technology and the society that’s bound to it. Thankfully insight ended up delivering, and while it wears its commentary on its sleeve, it still manages to be an engaging series with some great characters among the cast.


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One Punch Man (manga) - Okay, I REALLY dig the anime, but I have to give the nod to ONE and Yusuke Murata’s ongoing manga for sheer brilliance of comic-making. Murata never ceases to amaze me, and some of his single panels alone serve as master classes in comics creation.


Honorable Mentions: Gangsta., My love STORY!!, Yurikuma Arashi, Mr. Osomatsu


Still in the mood for CR Favorites? Check out last year's lists!

Crunchyroll Favorites 2014, Part One - Anime and Manga!

Crunchyroll Favorites 2014, Part Two - Video Games!

Crunchyroll Favorites 2014, Part Three - Everything Else!


Be sure to tune in tomorrow at the same time for PART TWO of this three-part feature, where Crunchyroll's staff and contributors talk about their favorite VIDEO GAMES of 2015! What about you? What are YOUR favorite anime and manga of 2015? Remember--FAVORITES, not BEST OF, so there are no wrong answers--sound off in the comments and let us know!

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