Updated: Jan 19
I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I started this blog. I started off doing all of this out of a sheer whim. At the time, I really did not expect I’d still be doing this after a year. Yet here we are. And I thought: “what better way to say goodbye to 2021 then by going over some of my favorite stories of the year.” And here I am.
If I’m being completely honest, 2021 wasn’t my favorite year in terms of stories. This is actually the only year where I didn’t find a story that I would put on my list of absolute favorites. Though, I did revisit a lot of old favorites of mine. And was able to reconfirm them as some of the best I’ve experienced. Adventure Time, Kingdom Hearts, the Spider-man Raimi trilogy, I had a lot of fun revisiting all these old stories through the year.
We also got a lot of promising stuff this year. Squid game came out and absolutely blew up. Causing an entire trend of people dressing up as the characters and making memes and simply talking about it online. It was most certainly a trend setter and one that I recommend you watch if you haven’t already.
Let’s see… what else…
Movies have become and absolute disaster over the last year. I feel like no matter what, we just don’t seem to catch a break. This is probably the year I watched the least amount of movies in my life, and I feel like part of the reason why is because of the lack of appealing content coming from the mainstream. What did we get this year? We got a movie of a character that’s already dead, another dumbass Disney remake, and fucking Space Jam 2. When are we getting more quality content Disney?! Well actually, I heard the Disney+ MCU shows are pretty good so maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.
We also got a bunch of great adaptations. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure finally got its fifth season adapting part 6 of the manga to great success. And we also got the animated adaptation of the comic book Invincible which ended up being way better than the comic if you ask me.
So overall, we did get some good stories, just nothing too groundbreaking. And with that said, I want to go over some of my favorites. These aren’t necessarily what I think are the best stories of the year. But more so the ones that have stuck with me the most. The ones that left more of a mark on me per say. This list is also in no particular order as I find a hard time deciding which of these stories, I like more than the other.
So, with that said, here are my favorite stories of 2021.
Beautiful World, Where are you? By Sally Rooney
A lot of books came out in 2021. And I didn’t read any of them.
I’m not really much a guy that pays attention to new book releases. Or at least not in this point in my life. There are so many goddamn books out there and with how long it takes just to read one book, I find myself often just reading whatever I’m in the mood for. Which is convenient for this entry on the list.
One of my new favorite things I discovered this year was the author Sally Rooney. She’s very quickly become one of my favorite authors. I read her previous two books, Normal People and Conversations With Friends earlier in the year and absolutely loved them. So, you know I was excited when I learned that she had a new book on the way. And this year no less.
Beautiful World, Where are you? is easily the weakest of her now three novels. Though, that’s not to say that it’s not good. I mean, it’s one of my favorites of the year for a reason. Like her other two novels, this book mainly focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters. Or in this case, multiple relationships.
It’s a story that’s very down to earth. Especially in regard to the complexity and nuance of each of its pairs. Alice and Felix are a very obvious example of this. The former is a very big name and famous novelist who’s frustrated over her work, feeling like she’s undeserving of all the attention. So much so she had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile Felix is this complete loser who has achieved absolutely nothing and essentially lives life in the moment. They both complement each other well, and the conversations between the two always feel meaningful, depth full. By this book, Sally Rooney has pretty much mastered dialogue that can bring out the deepest parts of each of her characters. It gives the whole book this insane emotional profundity that you don’t really see much in other literature. And I think that’s what makes this and her other books so special. They might have a lot of things going against them, but what Sally Rooney always gets right is the emotional aspects of story.
Though, the book does have its downsides. First of all, it lacks a defined purpose. It constantly switches between these two relationships, but it doesn’t really have a connective theme or really anything to properly connect them outside of the email conversations between the two girls that just recap what we basically already know. It only gets interesting near the end when the two storylines inevitably converge. But even then, that crossover is brief and doesn’t really add much to the book as a whole.
Focusing on two separate relationships also doesn’t help much. The constant bounce back just becomes jarring after a while. You wish you could just sit down and focus on one side to the end before switching to the next. In fact, one of her previous books, Conversations With Friends, was actually able to do something similar with success, so it perplexes me that she executes this type of narrative structure for her third novel.
But honestly, even with the flaws, Beautiful World, Where Are You? still nails one of the most important things stories must have. And that is emotion. For what it was aiming to do, and for what it is, this book is an incredible success just like her other two novels. And once again proves to me that Sally Rooney is the master of emotion in romance.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
This one didn’t technically come out this year as The Great Ace Attorney actually released a couple of years ago in Japan. But it wasn’t released everywhere else until this year. So, I’m counting it.
I’ve been a fan of the Ace Attorney franchise for a very long time now. In fact, those original games were actually part of the reason I wanted to become a writer to begin with. So, you can tell I was really exited when I heard that this duology was finally coming to the west.
The story is pretty reminiscent of what we’ve see in previous Ace Attorney games. You follow Ryunosuke Naruhodo as he works as a defense attorney in early 20th century England. You meet lots of really goofy and weird characters, clash with prosecutor Barok Van Zieks, and prove people innocent. Also, Sherlock Holmes is in this one. Except they had to change his name to Herlock Sholmes to avoid copyright.
The story is easy to follow yet complex in nature. Both games amount to a total of 60 or so hours of gameplay which is mostly scrolling through text. But reading through everything never really gets old. The characters are extremely well developed and fun to interact with. They’re all very goofy and over the top while still having a more complex and emotional side to them. Both games make a great job of letting you get to know each of these characters. You see them during their happy moments, sad moments, and climactic moments. You spend so much time with them in fact that there are multiple points where I forgot that these aren’t real people. I specifically loved characters like Susato and Sherlock himself.
While the first game has some pacing issues, most of them are solved by the time you get to the second one. And even then, for the most part, the game knows when to give you calm and quiet moments and when to give you something more dramatic.
The game is also hilarious. There are so aspects of the story that constantly made me smile and laugh. Like how Sherlock Holmes is actually a really mediocre detective who’s constantly making the most absurd deductions that make absolutely no sense. Or how Barok Van Zieks has an unlimited supply of wine he serves himself in court only to then break the glass before even drinking it.
Though, even with all the absurdity, there’s still a very tightly written story here. The main conflict of the story has elements of political corruption as well as cases of injustice committed in court being covered up. These are all things that we’ve seen in Ace Attorney before, but never in such a tightly made duology such as this one. Every single element that is set up in the first game has some sort of pay off in the second. There are no lose ends. Everything comes back in a way that makes the conclusion in the second game extremely satisfying.
While the Great Ace Attorney Chronicles does have its problems, especially the first game pathetically easy puzzles and at times slow narrative. It still manages to tick all the right boxes for me with great characters, good use of emotional moments, and a main narrative that never really lets up. Constantly giving you something to be excited about and engage in.
If you’ve never played and Ace Attorney game before this is definitely one to check out. It’s easily one of the best in the franchise and has reignited an interest in the franchise for me. Especially since it’s been five years since we last got a proper game.
Look Back by Tatsuki Fujimoto
I read a lot of manga in the last year. And I mean a lot of manga. So much so that for the most part there weren’t really a lot that stood out. Even ones I read that didn’t come out this year just kind of drowned in with all the other manga I read. And while I do remember some, for the most part, I just enjoyed these series and went on with my life.
But there is one mangaka that I simply cannot ignore. A man who created a series I don’t shut the fuck up about. And that is of course Tatsuki Fujimoto and Chainsaw Man. While the man didn’t have any new series this year as he’s preparing for Chainsaw Man’s eventual return, he did do a 141 page short manga that’s separate to all his other works. This is a story called Look Back. And it might be, without a hint of hyperbole, one of the greatest pieces of fiction I’ve read in my life.
The story follows two girls from childhood to adulthood. They both want to be manga artist. Our main girl Fujimo is somewhat decent at drawing scenes and draws for the school newspaper. Meanwhile her counterpart Kyomoto is really good at drawing backgrounds but sucks at everything else. She’s also a total outcast, often not leaving her house for days on end. The two eventually meet and while Fujimo was initially bitterly jealous over Kyomoto’s ability to draw backgrounds, the two eventually formed a very close bond and drew manga together.
The whole story is extremely breathtaking and tragic as fuck. Like all of Fujimoto’s other works, there’s this deep sense of dread to every page. But in a difference sense to his other works. Something like Chainsaw Man gives feelings of loss and fear. But Look Back makes you feel worry, regret, melancholy over the past. Fujimo is a character that often isolates herself just like her counterpart. She’s very conscious of all the mistakes she makes through the course of the short manga. And these emotions filled up inside her can be seen in big images with absolutely no words. Just her hunched over her desk drawing manga as she doesn’t know what else to do.
The relationship between the two main girls is also shown to us through very short and simple dialogue that lets us know exactly what they’re relationship is like. Even though it is a short story, you grow a very deep and personal attachment to the two characters very fast.
And as I said, tragedy strikes eventually, and it hits like a motherfucker. I don’t want to spoil things, but you can tell that this manga had a very deep and personal significance to the author. There’s a lot of parallels between the events of this fictional manga and the events of the very real arsonist attack on Kyoto Animations that sadly took the lives of 36 people back in 2019. This information alone gives the entire story and entirely new level of depth that I haven’t really seen much in fiction. It feels like Fujimoto is processing his own emotions of the tragic event through his own art. And as a writer myself, I can’t help but heavily respect that. Stories like these genuinely remind me of why I like fiction so much, because it lets us communicate and handle some of the deepest and most significant emotions inside of us.
Inside by Bo Burnham
Speaking of art reflecting real life. My next pick is the latest Netflix special by comedian Bo Burnham. I know this isn’t technically a fictional story written by an author with a specific structure in mind. But I don’t care.
I’ve always enjoyed Bo Burnham’s content in the past though I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. I’ve enjoyed his standups and really liked his movie Eight Grade back in my film days. But it wasn’t until this special that I felt Burnham reached a league entirely of his own.
The story is nonexistent. The entire special is just a series of songs and “comedy” segments made by Burnham in his small shed. You never get to see outside. There’s no real semblance of structure. It’s just him doing whatever it is he wants to do at the moment. But of course, there is more to it than just that.
There’s a very defined theme of isolation. At the beginning Burnham says that he’s making this special out of a combination of loneliness, depression, and boredom caused by lockdown. This feeling and angst can be seen in every single one of the segments from the special. At multiple points will you just see him looking down at the floor crying. Or just not doing anything. And multiple times you’ll see conversations he has with himself over his current mental state, exactly what it is he’s all feeling and how he just wishes he were in a better place.
Though, it’s also important to note that Bo Burnham has a very satiric and cynical mindset. A lot of the songs he sings are of completely random subjects that have nothing to do with anything. Like a theme song for Jeff Bezos or a song that’s straight up just called “shit”. It almost feels like he’s making fun of his own depression as a sort of coping mechanism. And it further shows you how he’s feeling in a pretty funny way.
Personally speaking, this special hits me pretty hard. This lockdown has been a true pain in the ass for almost two years now, and this type of feeling of isolation that Bo Burnham explores is definitely one I can heavily relate to. Sarcasm and all.
But I also find it to be heavily inspiring, this guy made a masterpiece of a special with nothing but a crappy camera, some instruments, and a really small shed with not a lot of stuff in it. And even better, he was able to show us that art can be made out of literally anything. Even emotions that some might consider to be taboo sharing.
If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend this one. And if not, then check out the soundtrack. It’s hilarious and also heartbreaking while being a jam to listen to at all times.
Spider Man: No Way Home
For my last pick of this list, I want to talk about a movie some are considering to be the best of the year and others to be the greatest Spider-man movie of all time.
I’ve actually been really obsessed with the character of Spider-man for a few weeks now as well as Marvel comics as a whole (so much so that you might actually see some Marvel content on this blog in the future). So, I was really excited for this movie. And boy did it deliver.
I’m a gigantic fan of the original Raimi trilogy. Spider-man 3 and all. I grew up with these films and I’ll always remember them fondly. Especially 2 and 3 which are the ones I watched religiously as a kid.
While I enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-man movie, the second left a lot to be desired. The first one definitely stands on its own as a solid film separate to the original Raimi movies, but the second one is just lame, making me feel indifferent to the duology as a whole.
And lastly, I remember loving both Homecoming and Far From Home back when they came out. However, when I rewatched both films in preparation for No Way Home, I honestly just thought they were good. Nothing really impressing. I still really enjoyed them, but they were more run of the mill modern superhero movies than anything else. And not really anything special like the original Raimi movies.
But then came this movie, and oh boy is it something. There’s a lot to say about Spider-man: No Way Home. Not only is it by far the best of the Home trilogy, but it’s also a celebration of all things Spider-man. This is a movie that challenges the character of Peter Parker more so than any other movie. With his identity now revealed to the whole world, he really has to deal with the responsibility of being Spider-man. And not only that, but through the course of the film he experiences all sorts of loss and sacrifice. Bringing him further pain and strengthening him as a character.
This film is also a huge on fan-service. But, unlike with recent Star Wars movies, this is fan-service done right. It actually has purpose. The fan-service isn’t just there as a crowd pleaser, it actually has a really important purpose in the narrative itself. And even the moments that it doesn’t, it’s still extremely charming and never failed to bring a smile out of me.
It feels like an impossible movie. Not only giving conclusion to the Home trilogy, but also giving some sort of closure to the Raimi and Amazing films that were abruptly canned. I’m still in genuine shock that this movie was actually made. And I’m really excited to see what Spider-man related content we see in the future. You’ve probably seen this movie already, but if you haven’t…. well, if you haven’t seen it already I sure as hell won’t change your mind so just do whatever you want. Still a good film.
Thank you so much for reading until the end of the post. If you liked this, then make sure to subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter or follow me on Instagram @adrian_jimenez_lechuga to get notified of new posts.
What were your favorite stories of the year? Any of them stand out? Did you think this was a good or bad year for stories? Make sure to let me know what you thought of this post in the comments. Regardless of what you think, I’m already glad you read all the way to the end.