Almost everything in sneakers felt uncertain in 2021. Of course, the world at large is in an unpredictable place because of the coronavirus, the effects of which have affected all facets of the economy, including sports footwear. Release dates were in constant flux, with brands suffering from shutdowns at factories in Asia. Other projects were pushed when big-name collaborators were forced to step away from the hype they’d been building for years. And some of the sneakers that did come out seemed like they did so only nominally, their launches corrupted by the dark forces of backdoor buys and sneaker resellers.

All these factors surrounding this year’s best shoes, in addition to their pure aesthetic qualities, go into determining what ends up on this list, and where. How else do we arrive at the rankings? They are a middle ground between the personal tastes of Complex’s sneaker editorial group and our beliefs about which shoes were the biggest and best to our audience. It’s meant to be the mean between those two groups, descriptive enough to consider what our readers really loved in 2021 but prescriptive enough to tell them when there are other sneakers they should have loved more. It considers when sneakers released, how they released, and what they added to previous versions of the same shoe. In a time of dreadful uncertainty, there is one thing you can be sure of: these are the best sneakers of 2021.