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Team AFA's Top Animation Films and Series Of 2021

2021 didn't turn out to be the year any one of us was expecting, but on the positive side it was another great year for animated film and television. Some films delayed from 2020 finally arrived such as Raya and The Last Dragon and The Mitchells Vs The MachinesThere were not one but two animated musicals featuring new songs from modern maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda with Encanto and VivoInternationally features such as Summit Of The Gods, Flee, Josee The Tiger And The Fish and Chuck Steel have shown the incredible variety of stories and styles among feature animation released last year.

The year was perhaps even more significant in terms of animated television that was full of game-changers. Jorge Guiterrez's Maya And The Three brought an epic scale and movie-quality animation to the small screen, Arcane: League Of Legends and Invincible both advanced adult animation in different ways.

It's time for the team here at AFA to look back on our favourite releases of the year. We made a new video to celebrate, check it out below.

Chris Perkins


The Mitchells Vs The Machines

Sony Pictures Animation has been killing it lately, and in a strong year for the studio, this was their best. Delayed from 2020, Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe's unique combination of family road movie and robot-apocalypse movie is visually astounding, absolutely hilarious and often heartwarming too. And You'll never look at Furbys the same way again.

Maya And The Three

I enjoyed Jorge Guiterrez's debut feature The Book Of Life well enough, but this event series is his masterpiece. Guiterrez's aesthetic is one of a kind, but his 'Mexican Lord Of The Rings' isn't just funny, it's full of jaw-dropping action sequences and emotional scenes too. The production values are on par with a major studio feature but expanded out to nine episodes, Maya And The Three is an instant classic.

Star Wars Visions

I love the concept of animated anthologies, but in reality, their results can be somewhat mixed. In this case, LucasFilm invited seven of the best animation studios in Japan (including Trigger, Production IG and Science Saru) to tell stories in the iconic Star Wars universe. For my money, there isn't a duff short here, and they cover a pleasing variety of stories and styles. There are also at least a couple that I would love to see expanded out to a series or a full-length feature, so I'm crossing my fingers that the powers that be at LucasFilm agree. 





Stunning animation is something we almost have come to take for granted in a Walt Disney Animation Studios film, but even by their own standards, Encanto is Incredible. As well as being one of the best looking animated films ever,  its story is also beautiful and heartfelt. And that's without even mentioning the incredible songs, penned by the peerless Lin-Manule Miranda.


Honourable Mentions

Both seasons of  Justin Roiland's sci-fi comedy Solar Opposites came to the UK via the new Star channel on Disney Plus, and they are both brilliantly funny and sharply written and probably overall more enjoyable than this year's season of Rick and Morty to be honest.  Also on Star (and Hulu in the yes) The Marvel stop-motion comedy MODOK was a gem, and a brilliantly irreverent take on the Marvel Universe. Marvel Studio's first animated series What If meanwhile didn't quite live up to its potential but at its best it was enjoyably bonkers and visually dynamic. The second seasons of both Star Trek Lower Decks and Harley Quinn were both also improvements on already excellent debuts, with the Harley, Poison Ivy romance plot surprisingly heartfelt.

It was an incredibly strong year for the major studios movies too. Disney hit it out of the park with both Raya And The Last Dragon and Encanto, and Luca was the most enjoyable Pixar release for the past few years for me. Vivo is likely to be forever overshadowed by the other Lin Manuel-Miranda animated musical of the year Encanto, but it's a shame as it's a thoroughly gorgeous film in its own right.

Rachael Ward

The Mitchells vs the Machines

This film has easily made it to my top three list of favorite animated films of all time, if not one of my favorite films in general. It has everything. Fun relatable characters for both kids and parents viewers A fun plot with loads of laughs and references for a film buffs to catch on a second or third viewing.  The emotional beats the film takes feel natural and earned. I could go on forever but I'm simply thankful for this film existing for no other reason than to have given us the most adorable robot boys and a dog joke that still makes me belly laugh every time.


Star Wars: Visions

If the Mandolorian proved that a galaxy far far away still has stories to left to tell, Star Wars Visions proves that those stories don't have to be set in the same continuity or style. Standing as one of the best animated film anthologies I've ever seen, each short presents several facinating stories that feel fresh and unique. Not to mention each anime studio bringing their absolute A game to give each story a strong visual identity. If it is these kinds of stories that Lucasfilm is looking to embrace instead of leaning on past glories, the Star Wars franchise is in good hands.



Easily the biggest surprise for me this year. With only a passing knowledge of the video game, I found that going in mostly blind was actually the better choice. It allowed me to fall head over hells for this fractured world and the characters who call it home. With an animation style that continues to prove how stylized computer generated animation can be an a jaw dropping season finale, Season 2 cannot come fast enough.


Honorable Mentions:

For those days you just need a short bit of fun and cute animation Pui Pui Molcar had both of those things covered in spades. Perfect chicken noodle soup for the soul that was definitely welcome in this dark year.


Christophe Harvey


Summit of the Gods

Summit of the Gods is the standout of the year for me. Patrick Imbert's latest feature pulled me out of the animation rut that I found myself in and renewed my enthusiasm for it. This feature contains some stunning alien but familiar landscapes which are populated by believable and relatable characters who themselves have a clearly defined look that shows they are from somewhere. It neatly and coherently tells its tale of its two main characters, their stories intertwining more as the film progresses. It has come great animated set pieces and because it is animated we see things from some ... interesting camera angles where some of the action and peril was truly heightened and made me quite uncomfortable. This feature thrilled, shocked and entertained me way beyond my already high expectations and I can;t recommend it enough.


On Gaku: Our Sound

There was something fresh, interesting and completely unpretentious about On Gaku: Our Sound that left a lasting impression with me. I loved its really simple pared back look with its hint of a flattened perspective (a style which I find visually appealing). This was contrasted with really detailed sketchy *almost* realistic music sequences which whilst a bit of a gear-change were just a visual marvel. It was a simple tale of high school delinquents (with all its misunderstanding, cringe-worthy moments) who start a band. For me it really captured that late-teen feeling that you could do anything ... even when you knew nothing about it but didn't impose those adult limitations on your dreams. 


Season 1 of Hilda was one of my favourite things to watch in 2020 - I was a bit late to the party but it charmed me no end and I was so looking forward to season 2. And what a delight it was. It has taken a great show and elevated it so much more by bringing in the characters developed in season 1 and constructing a balanced and entertaining ensemble cast who go on marvellous adventures that we all dreamed of as children. Hilda and her friends are growing up and that is reflected in the stories and at times it was painful to watch as I was reminded of things I did - just nothing like chasing trolls, kraken or travelling through time. We also get to see Twig get his own episode (The Deerfox) which is one of the best. It is a show that has made me laugh and cry and I want more as it has been superb.


Honourable mentions...

I have two honourable mentions this those feel a bit mischievous and a bit of a cheat but brought me a lot of pleasure so I had to include them. 

Though originally released in 1990-1991 the release of Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Cyber City Oedo 808 from Anime Limited in January 2021 was a massive nostalgia trip. It was a dose of 90s cyberpunk anime with all dark colour palettes, hyper-violence, *that* dub and an iconic soundtrack from Rory McFarlane which has stayed with me since I first watched it on the Sci-Fi channel. Full of action, implausible feats, well drawn characters and good stories it is one of those I can go back to for entertainment time and again.- bit of a cheat but re-released at the beginning of 2021. 

I grew up listening to a lot of electronic music (blame my parents) and as I have got older have revisited some of these artists. At the turn of 2021 Jean Michel Jarre held an online virtual/live event which was released as Welcome to the Other Side in 2021. All computer animated and with the performer appearing in the virtual Notre Dame setting with motion capture representing his studio-based performance. The reason it is here is it made me feel like I was in a Sharon Apple concert from Macross Plus where both the music and visual elements combined to make something special. 

Ali Harris 


Raya and the Last Dragon

Disney movies hold a special spot in my heart, but I haven’t seen what I consider to be a true Disney classic in a while. Until this little gem came out in early 2021. Raya and the Last Dragon comes as close to capturing Mr. Disney’s original vision of storytelling as you can get from today’s filmmakers. Our very own NeverEnding Story of the 21st Century. 

I can only describe the art of Raya as 2D animation coupled with the intricacy of 3D. In the best way possible. I know computers were used to create this movie, but I honestly get the impression that human hands actually built each character. Love, laughter, tears, and effort were put into this film. What else can I say? It’s right up there with The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Mulan


The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf

What’s not the like about The Witcher franchise? A series of epic books. An amazing video game series. A blockbuster live-action series still in the making. What else could make it cool? How about an anime-esque movie on Netflix? Sold. 

Taking a step away from Geralt of Rivia, Nightmare of the Wolf travels back in time to the origins of his mentor Vesemir (Theo James) and his fight to destroy an unholy darkness. If Raya is a children’s storybook brought to life, Nightmare is a dark fantasy poetry book spawned from the shadowy imagination of fireside yarn-weavers. Think Avatar the Last Airbender meets The Lord of the Rings. The attention to character details is incredible, the voice-acting is top-notch, and the story is fabulous. 

Netflix, you’ve done it again. 


Honorable Mentions

I want to give a shout-out to two movies in particular. 

The first is Mitchells vs. The Machines, easily one of the funniest animated films I’ve seen in a while. Besides being a comedy, though, there is plenty of heart and that good old-fashioned family bonding we love to see. Even if it is a road trip movie in the midst of a robot apocalypse. So good and so heartfelt. 

The second is Rumble. Which I personally think is closer to being a new version of Space Jam than the actual sequel to Space Jam. The idea of giant monsters living alongside humans isn’t new. Neither is the idea of said giant monsters fighting each other in competitions (think Godzilla meets Pokemon). But it’s got enough heart and soul to keep adults and kids watching. I loved it and would recommend it. 

Denhery Olguin

So much has happened and a lot of amazing things have come out this year that it was hard to keep track when things were released. However, there are a few favorite movies that came out this year. Wish Dragon is a one of them because I enjoy the direction the movie took with the story we all know and love. It is a classic fairytale set in modern time done right. The characters are a lot of fun to go on this journey with. At times, it will tug at your heartstrings. You just root for all the good characters because you can't help but care about them. Luca, this new era of Pixar is exciting to me because there are new people taking over and creating new stories such as this. A simple movie about a group of friends wanting to belong in a world that doesn't accept them, it's a story that resonates with anyone who feels or has felt out of place. Honorable mentions: Mitchells vs the Machines, and Arlo the Alligator Boy

M.O.D.O.K was everything! A show with a more obscure Marvel character and giving it a stop motion show is one good way to introduce someone. Plus the music is incredible and I've been listening to it almost everyday. Going to a complete opposite direction to mention that City of Ghosts is the show that stood out to me above the rest. As someone from Los Angeles, it was nice change of pace to see a show truly represent the beauty of the city and the people. It is a show that is mixed with a bit of documentary as some of the audio are from interviews of the people in the city, it blends in perfectly that it's hard to tell. Honorable mentions: Kid Cosmic, Invincible, and The Ghost and Molly McGee

Kevin Kissane


Transformers: War for Cybertron – Kingdom

The concluding episodes of Netflix’s first Transformers production are a must for any Transformers fan. Throughout its 18 episodes the difficult balance of action, intriguing character work and power politics is handled admirably, harking back to the more consequential days of the original G1 series and movie. Kingdom also serves as proof that the Transformers franchise need no longer rely on Peter Cullen and Frank Welker to be successful.



Walt Disney Animation Studios 60th production is a title that is well worth its milestone status. It’s a milestone in storytelling, perfect voice acting, beautifully captured Columbian aesthetics and culture, with wonderfully catchy, brilliant musical numbers you’ll be singing long after this musical masterpiece is over. Essential viewing.


Honourable mentions

Kevin Smith’s brave attempts to revitalise the He-Man franchise with Masters of the Universe: Revelation offers more positives than negatives, but overall is a bit of a hot mess. The voice acting is stellar, and is visually impressive and intense in battle, but the flippant handling between protagonists strays too far from He-Man traditions and makes little sense as a result. Likewise, Pixar’s lukewarm story of friendship Luca is an enjoyable lark. Like Onward, however, it lacks the usual Pixar punch of previous efforts.