Welcome back, curious readers!
I finally return to the blog for the second installment of my inherently true and correct list of the best 12 anime OPs and EDs of the past year. The second on the blog anyway, I did it on my Twitter (my X? ugh, no) before that. And if I thought last year was good (and I did!), this year was even better. There are some treats awaiting you.
As before, I haven’t embedded the videos in the interest of not filling this post with broken stuff a couple of years down the line. The link is still included at the top of each section.
Rank 12 ED: “Todome no Ichigeki” – Spy x Family
The “last place” slot on my lists were incredibly hard to decide this year. In both categories, there are three or four other contenders swimming around the bottom, barely missing out. I’m sure the honorable mentions down there at the end are going to be an absolute mess. But, after intense deliberation, the last numbered slot had to go to Spy x Family, which has yet to miss in terms of quality OPs and EDs.
The diorama aesthetics fit very well with the themes of the show itself – the idea of putting on a pretty picture, a literal display for the society around you. Anya, however, isn’t content to be boxed in. I love the shifting focus, the 3D feeling, the charming way the paper outlines shimmy around. The punchline at the end as Anya proudly presents her doodle (Yor claps, Loid squints) ties it all together nicely.
Rank 12 OP: “Love is Show” – Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Originally released as a theatrical movie, The First Kiss Never Ends was broken down into four separate episodes when it hit streaming this year. And, of course, they added a suitable OP for the short run, with yet another banger from Masayuki Suzuki. I think this is probably my favorite of Kaguya’s strong run of OPs, both in the song and the visuals.
It’s packed full of references and cameos (appropriate for what I’m guessing will be the last set of Kaguya episodes for at least a few years), and Kaguya and Shirogane look their absolute best (for a run of the series where they’re the absolute Worst). The rotating shot around their dance astounds in its complexity. And, of course, we’ve got a punchline here too – it’s all just a game of life that the Student Council has been wasting their afternoon playing. A perfect summation of this show’s best qualities.
Rank 11 ED: “Mada Tooku ni Iru” – The Fire Hunter
There are several common threads present throughout the selections this year. Paper or craft-type aesthetics. Different aspect ratios. Characters walking or running through things. Making you believe a show is better than it actually is. The Fire Hunter’s ED hits all four of these at once. Despite it being low on the list, this might be one of the most representative sequences for the list as a whole.
We follow the silhouettes of Touko and Kanata as they walk through the different stages of their story, characters and locations drifting along both sides of them. I just love the way it all looks: the part-collage, part-mosaic, part-sketchbook images overlapping each other in interesting ways. The comet at the end is particularly striking with its multicolor trail like bits of tissue torn up and stuck onto the paper sky.
Rank 11 OP: “Mellow” – Skip & Loafer
There’s a little less dancing this year than last. Kaguya had a bit, of course, and there’s a few more to come. But I’d say Skip & Loafer is really the peak of the subcategory for this year. The little dance that Shima and Mitsumi share is filled with character, demonstrating both their personalities and their current relationship. And it’s just so stinking cute!
The dance is obviously the most impressive part, energy and animation-wise (the moving folds on her dress and his shirt are just so good), but I really like the simpler parts of it too. Shima looking back over his shoulder at Mitsumi with light slicing through the blue, the cute poses for the other characters, the flowers…it’s just all very charming, which is exactly what you want for a low-key romance/slice-of-life story like this.
Rank 10 ED: “Anytime Anywhere” – Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End
I always like milet’s music, but I feel like her work doesn’t usually make this list due to usually being paired with underwhelming animation sequences (see Demon Slayer from this year or the aesthetic clip show of Vinland Saga ED2). So I’m really happy to finally be able to put one of her songs on this list through Frieren’s lovely, melancholic sequence on the transience of our lives.
The flowers represent various characters that pass their way through Frieren’s life. Sometimes they literally become their hair or their faces. The way it flows is mesmerizing to watch, although it is a little funny to see how they struggled to work in Stark’s – they just chuck his scalp into the air, the poor guy. Frieren passes through lives and through environments, everything around her growing and dying even as she remains the same. It’s lonely, but it’s beautiful.
Rank 10 OP: “Ao no Sumika” – Jujutsu Kaisen
Spoiler, JJK’s second OP “SPECIALZ” didn’t make this list (despite me genuinely liking the song itself!), but it’s worth bringing up what a well-matched set it is with “Ao no Sumika”. The blue to the red. Beginnings to endings. Comedy to horror. As an individual piece, however, “Ao no Sumika” stands heads and shoulders above it.
The OP tells essential story here. I think my understanding of the arc of the first five episodes of S2 would be genuinely incomplete without it. Would I really understand the bond between these characters if I didn’t see them sharing a bike, a can of coke, a day out on the town? This OP’s existence improves the show, letting me experience those lazy days that these characters will never get back. Perhaps it’d be better if those days were included in the show itself, but a Shonen Jump property has to do what it can, I guess.
Rank 9 ED: “Akari” – Jujutsu Kaisen
This ED is similar in goal and theme to the matching OP above in its purpose – the two of them work in tandem to sell the emotions of the story. But this ED also has Soushi Sakiyama singing, and Geto sits on the aspect ratio which is so cool. Therefore, it’s a rank higher. That’s just how it works. This is a highly scientific system.
I like that it takes place at the end of their youthful days, appropriate for a sequence that closes an episode. As Geto stands up near the end, the viewer can just barely catch a flash of his true exhaustion for a moment. And, of course, it goes unnoticed by Gojo’s shaded eyes. It’s not just the representation of a relationship, but the representation of the end of a relationship. It’s already too late. The tragedy is here. It’s just unnoticed.
Rank 9 OP: “Shayou” – The Dangers in My Heart
I gotta throw a curveball in these somewhere before I’m accused of being predictable. At first glance, there might not be anything truly exceptional about this one. But sometimes you just like things. And the texture of this OP is so soft. It’s vulnerable but comfortable, from the clear, plaintive vocals of Yorushika to the soft, saturated colors that fill the space around the characters. It’s fun how the waves can transition so smoothly into Yamada’s long hair.
I like the way the OP represents how the mere presence of Yamada adds brightness to Ichikawa’s everyday routines. There’s a shot near the end where a little sun literally evaporates some of the more muted stripes of color, leaving behind a much brighter combination that they bike their way through. The straightforward sincerity makes it all the more charming.
Rank 8 ED: “Vita Philosophica” – My Happy Marriage
Key to the Cinderella story is the strength of Cinderella herself. She possesses an uncanny ability to pick herself up despite the mistreatment and abuse, to keep walking steadily through the seasons until she can finally find the light at the end of the tunnel. This ED perfectly shows what’s so inspiring about a Cinderella-figure like Miyo. She can keep going, even when it’s hard.
Plus, this whole sequence is just gorgeous. I love the colors and the way light and shadows are used to fill the scene. Everything feels painterly and organic, like I can feel the physical texture of the artwork through the screen. I also like the touch at the end where Miyo’s gaze focuses on the hair-tie she gave Kiyoka rather than his face – he accepted her, and he wears that acceptance for all to see.
Rank 8 OP: “01” – Undead Unluck
VIDEO (mildly NSFW)
There’s seemingly nothing Yuki Yase’s team at David Production likes better than applying artistry to properties that are pretty trashy at their core. Undead Unluck has more going for it than Fire Force did, but it’s still not a story that makes you go “oh yeah, lens flares and eye close-ups and an artsy, sorta abstract OP.” But I’m here for it, because this OP is awesome – and honestly, it suits the show better than you’d expect.
It quickly gets to the heart of our two protagonists’ own insecurities and complexes in between images that just make you go “oh that rules.” There’s even time for a character showcase, as every shonen battle OP is legally required to have one. And, of course, we’ve got a real bop from Queen Bee. I love the use of the claps on the off beats during the chorus.
Rank 7 ED: “North Wind” – My Hero Academia
We still haven’t gotten here on Split Screen, whoops. But I can see that season 6 leads up to a turning point for Deku. This ED summarizes his journey while also referencing back to the very first ED of the show through Deku’s run. If they’d kept all the flashbacks in first person POV (there’s just two they miss on), I probably would have moved this a slot higher. It’s just so effective to be placed directly into Deku’s head like this. Hilariously, season 5 barely features.
It’s also circular with itself. It starts with Deku’s first step towards becoming a hero, his foot hitting hard into a puddle on a sunny day after rain. And it ends on his latest step, taking a slow step forward out of another puddle, on another sunny day after rain. Bad things will always come. But so will good ones, if you look up and see them.
By the way, the OP from this year didn’t make the list, but it’s pretty good! Two decent ones in a row? In MHA? I’m so proud.
Rank 7 OP: “Idol” – Oshi no Ko
Oshi no Ko, how’d you get all the way down here?? The second half of the year came out swinging. Idols are doomed to struggle, I guess. This is, however, the good Yoasobi OP from this year (I dislike the song on Frieren so much it’s literally the reason why it didn’t make the list). And it is quite good. The haunting chorus of wotagei in the back paired with the oppressive wave of red glowsticks creates a unique horror vibe that pretty much sums up the show’s goals.
Not all of it works (the close-up on Gugule?), but what does really does. I like the focus on Aqua and Ruby’s personas – their ways of lying even under careful scrutiny – from Aqua’s complete poker face to Ruby’s mischievous wink. But we also see their honest feelings here, as Aqua chases forever after Ai’s star while Ruby tries to grasp one of her own. Just some great character studies here.
Yoasobi songs also get the benefit of always having specially-made full music videos put together for them, and Idol’s is pretty good.
Rank 6 ED: “Raise” – One Piece
If you’re going to return to including EDs after almost two decades without them, you better hope you make a good one. The sun’s come out after a long storm of too-long OPs and no EDs. Okay, maybe it’s because the long-running arc ended in the show, but we know the real symbolism here.
I love how joyful it all feels. Even before the sun comes out, torn umbrellas are spinning around, and Yamato is enjoying his onigiri. And after, everybody’s packing it up and having a great time doing it. The various tableaus of the Straw Hats and their friends have so much moving parts, you have to watch them a few times to see it all. It almost tricks me into wanting to watch One Piece. Unfortunately, I will never succumb.
Rank 6 OP: “Kura Kura” – Spy x Family
I guess Masaaki Yuasa needs something to fill his time now that he’s stepped away from his previous studio. Spy x Family is a show that’s much more dedicated to consistency in character design than most of Yuasa’s other fare, but it’s almost more fun to see him try and stretch the character designs as much as he can within those constraints. Look at their big feet! Their squishy cheeks! Their flailing limbs! That’s the content I like to see.
At this point, I anticipate a new season of Spy x Family less for its soothing sitcom shenanigans and more for whatever incredible sequences they’ve managed to put together this time. As I said at the top, there hasn’t been a miss yet. And, maybe more impressively, they all feel distinct from each other, allowing their creators’ voices to shine through. Always a treat!
Rank 5 ED: “Nuisance” – Spy Classroom
VIDEO (mildly NSFW)
From one Spy show to the other, less popular Spy show. We’ve turned in funny, goofy times for a more horrific aesthetic here (in this ED, at least, pretty sure Spy Classroom still has a lot of funny, goofy times). I love the vibes on this thing, the way each transition is marked through the clench of teeth, the unnatural way its silhouetted girls move, and the terrifying expressions we get to see on some of their faces. Also frogs!
It does a great job getting you interested in the particular neurosis and/or skills of each of the girls (and their mentor) with every one of its unsettling scenes. The line between reality and fiction is blurred and warped together. Maybe if this had been a horror anime, it would have been able to hold my attention more.
Rank 5 OP: “Song of the Dead” – Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead
VIDEO (mildly NSFW)
It may not have been finished until like 9 weeks into the run of the show, and maybe that also had something to do with the last three episodes not airing until like four months after that, but hey. It counts. When the first version came out, I was super disappointed that they’d wasted this song with repeating footage from the first episode, so I’m glad they managed to complete the vision at least.
And it’s fun! I have some quibbles with stuff like the zombies as “people on their phones” – we’ve moved past that as a society, I think – but ultimately, it’s just an incredibly colorful, impressively animated, irrepressible good time. We’ve got dancing, we’ve got lip sync, we’ve got a cowboy hat…plus a genuinely serene title card that brings it all together after the relentless energy of the rest of it.
Rank 4 ED: “Mephisto” – Oshi no Ko
I think this ED’s compare/contrast of the show’s two main characters is perfectly expressed. Aqua and Ruby share the loss of their mother and idol, but their reactions to that loss are markedly different. Aqua can’t stop working his way down while Ruby can’t take her eyes off the sky. But they’re both reaching desperately for that star.
Plus, I just really love those illustrations of all the characters that follows the haunting bunny puppet show. One of the show’s main strengths is the way it renders eyes (thematically important and plot relevant!), and it’s on full display here. They look so mesmerizing. Since the cast is all in show-business, they appear appropriately glamorous. But they’ve all got a haunting edge to them too, thanks to the lighting and stark colors. And, of course, we return to those eyes at the very end as Aqua stares down the camera.
Rank 4 OP: “innocent arrogance” – Heavenly Delusion
I love animation. That’s the feeling that this sequence inspires in me. Ultimately, animation comes from a series of lines and blobs, approximated into recognizable shapes. And I love how animation can take those lines and blobs and make them even linier and blobbier. They become angles and smudges and smears. It looks nothing like real life. That’s just what makes animation so great.
There’s some other good stuff in here. I like the brief video game-type shots. The extended sequence where Kiruko runs out of step with their own lines packs a thematic punch. But ultimately, that “I love animation” feeling boosted this OP all the way up here. Weilin Zhang just knows how to get you feeling that way. I hope they get to lead a ton more projects like this in the future.
Rank 3 ED: “Red:birthmark” – The Witch from Mercury
You miss out from watching all these videos in isolation (and I won’t watch every OP and ED in the context of an episode of anime, I’m sorry, I just won’t), but there’s a real power to the opening notes of an ED being played as an episode comes to an end. Hearing this song start under some sort of emotionally devastating event every single week really enhanced the storytelling of the show.
But only a viewer could know that. Even without that added bonus, the sequence by itself carries some of that emotional devastation. This is the show at its most witch-like, between the violent magical girl transformation to the devilish-seeming, stark-red ritual dance that follows it. But, at the end, Suletta and Miorine stand together, nervous and scared. Human and holding hands. Miorine’s hands shake – a small detail that adds a lot of feeling.
Rank 3 OP: “MAGICAL DESTROYER” – Magical Destroyers
VIDEO (mildly NSFW, eyestrain)
It’s a very NSFW year looking back at it. That’s the other theme of the list this year – brief sudden nudity. Although, on this one, that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even notice the nudity until I’d watched this a few times. You get a bit distracted by the whole thing breaking down in your ears and in front of your eyes.
I think I snubbed Kenichi Kutsuna’s Vladlove OP the year it came out, but I’m really making up for that omission this year (keep reading). Their work enchants. The images they create feels strange and distant, simultaneously familiar and alien, and that’s even before this sequence gets to the particular strange parts. It’s the sort of OP that a show could never live up to – that’s a real marker of Kutsuna’s work too.
Rank 2 ED: “know me…” – Undead Unluck
I’m always happy to see a new work from Taiki Konno, whose characteristic style adds a deep emotion to everything they touch. Their other work from this year on Magical Destroyers (slight NSFW) didn’t make this list, but the impact of their Undead Unluck ED almost carried it all the way to the top. Take this with a grain of salt, since I cry way more easily at things these days than I used to, but it made me tear up the first time I saw it.
There’s just a tenderness to the expressions and the movements, in the soft grasp of hands, that makes you desperately miss something you can’t name. The dedication to monochrome throughout most of it allows the sudden color to shock you. The viewer is as disoriented as Andy – you wake up from the dream together. I feel like this is an ED that will only get more meaningful as the show continues.
Rank 2 OP: “Vortex” – Link Click
This is a pretty straightforward concept for a time-travel series like Link Click, but the execution is spot-on. Ostensibly, the fall that Cheng Xiaoshi takes in the second part makes more logical sense (laws of gravity and all), but the OP frames it as a rewind, tape effects appearing on the screen and the very music itself turning backwards. Is the act of rewinding his downfall? I don’t know, this season lost my interest pretty quick.
Beyond any potential thematic relevance, this OP looks cool, mixing a variety of styles from CG to impressionist to morphing. Tons of little details appear on a rewatch, like the small moment where the shattered glass reflections of Lu Guang have different expressions before they solidify into one. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to listen to, and it’s fun to theorize about (before you actually watch the show, that is).
Best ED of 2023: “Re-raise” – CARDFIGHT VANGUARD!! will+Dress
This is the weirdest ED ever made. They just called up a ton of highly specific and idiosyncratic creators and stuck their work all on top of each other in a show about a card game. And it works! The miraculous thing is that it all works! Throw Kai Ikarashi with Kou Yoshinari and put Mebachi on top with maybe some live action footage and what the hell?! Who thought of this? Why? Why isn’t my brain as huge and inspired? It’s not fair!
The mishmash of styles creates a strange atmosphere. The gorgeous drawings of monsters, the effects of their attacks bursting out of their stillness and the very aspect ratio, represent them as something otherworldly. And the same is done with the characters, paired with real life footage or rendered in Yoshinari’s trademark style. What else is a card game but reality blending with imagination?
Best OP of 2023: “Usotsuki” – The Fire Hunter
Hey, Kenichi Kutsuna, leave some space for the rest of these OPs to breathe, okay? You snapped up two of the podium spots for yourself this year, it feels unfair! I mean, keep making them, but seriously! Honestly, I could swap around the top four OPs and be relatively satisfied with the rankings. The Magical Destroyers OP certainly catches the eye more immediately. But this is the one that’s stuck in my mind the most since the first time I saw it last winter. Ultimately, I couldn’t have put anything above it.
You don’t need a lot of motion to make beautiful animation. The strength of an illustration, accentuated by rain, or fog, or the heat haze, can do a lot on its own. This OP carries itself with such confidence, to just let the song and the image speak together, for as long as needed. It’s beautiful. What more to say? It’s just beautiful.
Honorable Mentions and Wrap-Up
I keep throwing shade at the anime mentioned in this post this year! I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to do that. Sometimes my self-control slips.
A few notable honorable mentions if you’re still craving more:
- Similar to Shayou at Rank 10, Undead Murder Farce’s ED is just one I like. I didn’t really have the words to explain it though, so it didn’t quite make the list.
- I also enjoy how charmingly old-school the Synduality Noir OP feels, appropriate for the show itself.
- Both Onimai’s OP and ED feel too fetish-y to actually enjoy, but they’re technically well-made. Your mileage may vary, both on these and on the show itself. NSFW, it may go without saying, especially the OP.
- If not for the tone-clashing dancing at the end (I know, me, critiquing dancing???), the My One-Hit Kill Sister ED would have made the list. Love the concept of taking the trashy concept of the show incredibly seriously.
- One of my favorite directors Masashi Ishihama did make a sequence this year with Horimiya’s new OP. It didn’t quite make the list on its own, but it’s a wonderful extension of Horimiya’s previous OP (which was the best one of its year).
- The One Piece OP that matches that ED above features a lot of repeat footage. The new stuff does rule a lot though, and it almost made the list.
- Finally, I just have to call out the Bungo Stray Dogs S5 ED song. Luck Life managing to reference all their previous ED songs for the series in the lyrics is so laser-targeted at my soul. It’s just rude is what it is.
Go watch more OPs and EDs, you will find so much cool stuff, I swear to you!
(PS, also remember to check out our end of the year episode for thoughts on video games in 2023, kthx)