It wouldn't be overly self-important to say that sneaker culture started in the U.S. and has lead the industry since the community really got rolling in the '80s. But now, that community is now global, and it's about time the brands really played to each of those markets. This spring, Jordan Brand created a pair of Jordan 3s for Seoul Korea to celebrate the Olympics. On a quick look, they look like a strange version of the True Blues or maybe White Cements. But upon closer inspection, you'll notice they're a play on the Korean flag, with the actual flag elements appearing as embroidery on the tongue. They're a very subtle flex, considering not many pairs of them exist in the world.
A-Cold-Wall*’s Air Force 1 from 2016 is this writer’s favorite sneaker of the last decade, so any related follow-up is going to land squarely on this list. What made the original such an incredible pair was how it took fresh out-of-the-box lacing and turned that into the default for a pair of Forces—it formalized a counter-culture aesthetic into the only option. The Low version released at the end of this year continues the same lacing pattern with a mostly smooth upper that approximates the panels of the high. We’ve lost some of the textures off the original, but ACW has hit it out of the park again thanks to their grasp on how sneaker culture interacts with the wider world.
Y-3's newest sneaker, the Kaiwa, represents a beautiful confluence of sneaker trends from the last couple years, all combining into one show-stopping sneaker. Y-3 is known for progressive design with technical aesthetics. While the Kaiwa employs that in the sole (which is very chunky, like many pairs that are currently popular), the upper retains the implication of significant quality that comes with a leather paneled sneaker. But the upper isn't totally traditional; it has a sock shape instead of using a tongue. All of these elements could make the sneaker too busy, but it somehow retains a near minimalism.
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After Lance Mountain brought a layered customization to the Jordan 1 and Virgil Abloh tore it apart and sewed it back together, Nigel Sylvester took those bold moves and blended them into subtler, personal flourishes on his latest collaboration. Taking inspiration from how his own pairs look after being heavily worn, the result is a sophisticated design with alluring details, and definitely a top pick from the year.
You’re going to see every other end of year list place the Union L.A. Air Jordan 1s right near the top, and we totally get why: one of them certainly deserves it. The black, red, and white colorway is very dope and sits right in the new tradition, catalyzed by Acronym and perfected by Off-White, of remixing silhouettes of classic sneakers. This release was perfectly timed to hit all the best-of lists. Like a December movie release timed for Oscar season, Union's well-hyped collaboration was still fresh on everyone's minds while they wrote their lists. These are definitely one for the books, and we can't wait to see what their staying power proves to be.

Always one to turn its sneaker releases into a massive event, Miami’s own SoleFly provides collaborations at minuscule scales. The numbers are always super small, forcing intense competition to grab pairs—and this year’s Air Jordan 1s for Art Basel fit that same mold. They made two pairs: one incredibly limited in patent leather, and another slightly less limited in smooth leather. Both pairs played with orange, green, and black in different ways, inspired by the store’s official colors and the color-blocking of OG Jordans, but the patent leather pair was next level. The “Art Basel Black” will join the SoleFly Jordan IIIs, and others, as some of the rarest sneakers in the game.


After initially teased in collaboration with Undercover, the Element React 87 became one of the most highly anticipated sneakers of the summer. The shoe combines the sole tech of the React with an innovative translucent upper that reflects some subtler trends in the sneaker industry. The shoes have only released in the black and white versions, each selling out whip quick. Expect Nike to roll out a ton more colorways of this sneaker. Nike has been hurting for a win like this. They finally got it.
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