The decade is over. Long live the decade. Tim + Alex have been doing end-of-year stuff together since [checks notes] December 2010, so doing something to mark the end of the 2010s seemed inevitable. That we’d do it with our usual tardiness and slight over-committal, equally so.
So we put our heads together, came up with a definitive list of the twenty best things made between January 2010 and December 2019, and came up with this. Below you’ll find the first half, and we’ll be posting our top ten shortly afterwards. Enjoy, and we hope you’re having a happy new year.
#20. HOXPOX [Comic, 2019]
Tim: While the Fantastic Four are traditionally the home of Marvel’s biggest sci-fi ideas (in theory, if rarely in practice), the X-Men line is where its revolutions should happen. And for a long time now, that hasn’t been true. The editorial and creative direction of Marvel’s Merry Mutants was seemingly stifled, chained to storylines mandated by company-wide events or retreading their greatest hits. Rumours abounded that Fox’s ownership of the X-film rights was a determining factor; whether a creative renaissance of the X-Men line just after Fox’s sale to Disney was confirmation of that or simply grist for the conspiracy mill remains to be seen.
What is undeniable is the energy and scope that Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva and countless others have brought to the X-Men. House of X and Powers of X are an ambitious, complex pair of series, twisted together like a double helix, but perhaps even more impressive is the way HOXPOX has spawned a wave of innovative, exciting series afterwards. The revolutionary spirit has returned to the X-Men line with a unity of vision that hasn’t been present since Chris Claremont was writing the whole thing. Combine that with a fan community more energised than ever and it’s truly a great time to be an X-Men reader.
#19. Dishonored 2 [Game, 2016]
Alex: I loved the first Dishonored for its world: an alt-history reflection of London, powered by whale oil and magic, that arrived just as I moved my entire life to the capital. Dunwall is an all-time great fantasy setting, as far as I’m concerned. And then, right at the beginning of Dishonored 2, that’s all dumped as you get exiled from the kingdom.
In its place, the sequel introduced Karnaca, a similarly tilted vision of the fringes of the British Empire, reckoning – just a little – with the questions of colonialism and power that come along with that kind of setting. It’s a beautiful place, dull London greys replaced with sun-bleached stone and dusty terracotta, fat carnivorous flies taking over from plague-ridden rats. But under the surface ripple the muscles of a much stronger game: one that offers two meaningfully different characters, each with their own distinct powersets, and plenty of reasons to run through its dozen or so hours again (and again and, if you’re me, again). Glancing at what the developer is up to now, it doesn’t look like we’ll be returning to the world of Dishonored again, at least not any time soon. I’m just thankful we got to see this part of it.
#18. American Vandal [TV, 2017-18]
Tim: A lot of this list is made up of established creators putting out their greatest work – people we were fans (or at least aware) of well before 2010 polishing their craft to a fine sheen. American Vandal is kind of the opposite. It came out of nowhere, the brainchild of two creators best known for a few internet shorts, and with a cast that ranged from ‘complete unknown’ to ‘minor Disney channel star who won’t be recognised by anyone over 16’. Despite that lack of pedigree, American Vandal is a masterpiece.
Across its two seasons, American Vandal creates a flawless piece of parody that manages to completely skewer a genre still in its infancy while also offering two highly compelling mysteries, and featuring some of the most naturally written and acted teen characters I’ve ever seen. It is a tragedy that it has fallen prey to Netflix’s ‘two seasons and done’ model for smaller series, and it remains woefully underseen, but in the years to come, there will be thinkpieces asking ‘How are true crime documentaries still being made the same way when American Vandal lampooned them so perfectly?’
#17. Hollow Knight [Game, 2017]
Alex: On most Games of the Decade lists (including ones I’ve helped write), Dark Souls is an auto-include. And rightly so, because it’s been madly influential on the 2010s. But what about all those titles it influenced? Hollow Knight takes its atmosphere and difficulty and intricacy and strangeness, and squishes it all back into two dimensions, into a form more closely resembling the Metroids and ‘Vanias that inspired Souls in the first place. And in doing so, I reckon, improves on its influences – and only partly because it’s a game I could actually finish.
Hollow Knight originally came out in 2017, but first found itself contention for my game of the year in 2018, even though I’d given up after seeing only half of what it had to offer. It was back in contention again this year, thanks to friend of the blog Mike descending into its dungeons, his missives sending me back down after him until I’d pushed to, and in fact a little beyond, the game’s 100% completion mark – something I never, ever do. It’s the perfect game for Switch, its shattered kingdom of tunnels and ruins and shortcuts somehow fitting inside an especially large coat pocket, becoming something you can chip away at on buses or in the bath until you’ve seen it all. If you’ve ever bounced off Dark Souls or Bloodborne, or if you’ve never played any of their kin and have seen them crop up on other (lesser) end-of-decade lists, I’d advise just playing this instead.
#16. Steven Universe [TV, 2013-]
Tim: Looking across our choices as a whole for this list, I think there is a distinct undercurrent of being absolutely done with irony. We love the things we love earnestly, and the things that we love are earnest in their joys. No choice embodies that better than Steven Universe, a series that consistently says that choosing to love, forgive and empathise is always the right choice. It is, in the way of all great art, utterly fearless about its core messages, and quietly radical while still remaining perfectly calibrated to entertain its core audience of kids.
While Steven Universe and its contemporaries feel, in many ways, a world away from the kids’ shows of our youth, they actually reflect a new generation of artists and creators who have taken all those slightly hokey PSAs from the end of ‘80s cartoons and metabolised them into stories where morality and social consciousness exist at the core of the stories, rather than awkwardly tacked on the end. And hey, if you want to blow 2009 Tim’s mind, go back and tell him that in 2019, he’ll be welling up as Estelle (of “American Boy” fame) sings songs about queer love and mindfulness on a Cartoon Network show.
#15. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – Taylor Swift [Music, 2012]
Alex: Honestly, there are probably better Taylor Swift tracks, albums and moments from the 2010s – but Tim + I settled on “We Are Never Ever…” as the representative because it was our first. For me at least, the summer of 2012 kind of rewrote my relationship with pop music, bookended as it was by “Call Me Maybe” at one end and this at the other.
And the song itself is, from the moment that irresistible Max Martin chorus comes crashing in, Taylor rewriting her own future as part of the pop music firmament. It’s a song that moves at whiplash speed, shuttling between multiple Taylors: the lovesick girl of her early career; the implacable goddess leading a stadium-wide chant; a ‘00s pop brattiness we haven’t seen enough of since; this gorgeously petty person who’s unafraid to let you in on every ugly thought, confident she can win you over to her side.
If there are better representatives we could have chosen, they all exist because of “We Are Never Ever” – or at least, they’re in my + Tim’s lives because of it. This song gave me heated late-night discussions with Sparrow and then Reece and eventually Jemma, the one person I know who has actually touched Taylor. It gave me swaying to “Love Story” in Hyde Park with Imi in my arms and realising I wanted to marry her, and a little under two years later walking down the aisle to it. It’s given me a couple of dozen transcendental moments on dancefloors across the decade. All of that potential energy, packed into just over three minutes. Hm. Maybe this is the best Taylor Swift song, after all.
#14. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [TV, 2015-2019]
Alex: Comedy songs are a tricky thing. A good joke might bear repeating three times, but a good pop song has to be built to withstand hundreds of listens. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend didn’t manage it every time, but over the course of four seasons, it amassed around two greatest hits collections’ worth of solid-gold classics. Songs where, even once the gags have rubbed away, there’s still something to stick in your head or catch in your throat.
And those songs are just one part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the hour-long television musical comedy drama nominally about a woman trying to get back with her ex that quickly grows way beyond that premise. Rebecca Bunch is one of the most engagingly complex leads I’ve ever seen on TV, a woman who often behaves in ways that are infuriating but for reasons you can appreciate – thanks in large part to the way songs open up her head to the audience. Sometimes I wish we could all explain our difficult behaviour in song, especially if they were as catchy and funny as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s best.
#13. Hamilton [Theatre, 2015-]
Tim: A hip-hop musical about America’s founding fathers feels so algorithmically-targeted towards me, it’s no surprise I enjoyed it. The surprise is that a) it’s genuinely good and b) everyone else liked it too. While it didn’t explode to the same level in the UK (for obvious reasons), the globalising effect of the internet meant that Hamilton was still a true cultural phenomenon. And on a personal level, it reawakened my love for musical theatre, encouraging me to attend live shows and listen to original cast recordings that I might otherwise have missed.
Together, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alex Lacamoire and Tommy Kail have crafted a production that feels both contemporary and timeless, fusing modern approaches to genre, dance and direction with a story that drips with history and timeless themes of ambition, rivalry and hubris. Right now, Cats is in cinemas, and while the work of Andrew Lloyd-Webber dominated the public conception of the musical as I grew up, Hamilton feels like part of a sea change in that regard, with more complex, diverse stories now coming to the fore. Now we just need to get more productions to do broadcasts to cinemas so we can democratise access to live theatre – there’s a revolution I can really get behind.
#12. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse [Film, 2018]
Tim: It is wild that, in the decade when live-action adaptations of comic book properties dominated the box office, I can confidently point to a standalone animated feature as the best comic book film of the past 10 years, if not of all time. Spider-Verse is a work of staggering detail and thought, with the animators behind it willing to go well beyond what was expected to add the kind of touches that only register subconsciously, like Miles’ frame rate speeding up once he fully realises his powers. The ‘What’s Up, Danger?’ sequence where this happens is the most joyous expression of superpowers I can think of on film, and it’s just one moment in a film full of glorious, joyful creativity.
Live-action superhero adaptations have been slowly learning lessons over the past 20 years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown that embracing the comic book origins of these properties is not something to shy away from, and (some) recent films indicate a growing realisation that crafting a distinct visual style is more important than good CGI and a big portal in the sky during the third act. Spider-Verse arrived with both those lessons already taken on board, and not only did it love the superhero tropes it was inspired by but found ways to articulate the visual language of comics in a way that live action never has. As the superhero genre grows more crowded and some entries risk sinking into a sea of visual orthodoxy, Spider-Verse rises above as a truly unique example.
#11. XCOM: Enemy Unknown [Game, 2012]
Alex: Some of the picks on this list are seeds; some of them are blossomings. There are advantages to both – that first rush of love, versus something that has the benefit of hindsight and giant shoulders on which to stand. XCOM is, without a doubt, a seed. For me, anyway.
It’s the game that taught me I love tactics games. Not strategy so much, with all that right-click-to-build-unit spreadsheet nonsense, but games that zoom right in on the battlefield, breaking the action down into neat turns representing a second or two of action that I can mull over all day. It’s a blossoming, too, I guess – the original X-Com came out in 1994, and this takes the premise and realises it in a modern accessible way – but I never played that. Speaking personally, this will always be the game that launched a dozen others I loved: Invisible Inc and Into the Breach and, somewhat improbably, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I’m a tactics gamer now, and that’s all thanks to XCOM.
And now you’re all prepped to read our countdown of the top ten things of the 2010s.