AniFem’s top picks for 2017

We’re ringing in the new year with a fond look back at the old! 2017 may have been a dumpster fire in the real world, but it was full of ambitious, entertaining, and emotional stories in the anime-verse. Our staff got together to recommend their favorites from the last 12 months.

How did we choose our recs?

Participating staff members picked up to five titles from three categories:

  • Feminist-friendly favorite: You’d recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats
  • Problematic favorite: You’d only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats
  • Surprise favorite: You didn’t expect it to be something you’d recommend, but it was (either with or without caveats)

The only rule was that the series or season had to be complete as of December 2017. Shows that are still airing (like The Ancient Magus’ Bride) were NOT eligible. They’ll be rolled onto any 2018 lists.

How are they ranked? 

They’re not, really. We’ve highlighted a couple “top picks” that received votes from the majority of the staff, but otherwise they’re just organized first by category and then alphabetically. The team has varying tastes, as do our readers, and we didn’t want to try to put those tastes in a hierarchy.

Hey, you didn’t list my favorite show!

That’s okay! Like we said, we limited ourselves to a Top Five, and everyone has different tastes. If there’s something that slipped under our radar and you think it’s a series other feminist-minded viewers would enjoy, please let us and your fellow readers know in the comments!

Best in Show

Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

An elderly man dressed in a casual Japanese-style robe sits in a chair, looking at a woman with her hair in a low bun who is seated with her elbows on his knees and her chin atop her hands. A Japanese-style screen door is open behind them and falling cherry blossoms dapple the scene.

Chosen by: Amelia, Dee, Caitlin, Lauren, Peter, Vrai

What’s it about? This historical fiction follows the complicated career and personal life of Yakumo, a master rakugo performer, as well as the lives of his found family as they struggle to understand each other, perfect their craft, and find a way to honor the past while still moving into the future.
Content Warning: The story deals with sexism, emotional abuse, sexual situations, and violence/suicide, but most of it is told or implied rather than graphically depicted, and it’s all respectfully handled and serves a narrative purpose

Everybody who voted placed Rakugo Shinju in their Top Five, and Amelia, Caitlin, and Dee all named it their #1 feminist-friendly favorite. After spending half a year writing extensively about the series, Dee offered some final thoughts:

I don’t think there’s any way for me to neatly summarize my feelings for this show except to say that it’s a modern masterpiece, a nigh-perfectly crafted series featuring some of the most impressive direction, writing, acting, and cinematography that visual storytelling has to offer. I came back to this series each week thinking there was no way it could outdo itself again, and each week it proved me wrong, drawing me deeper into its characters’ lives and their tangled relationships with one another.

It was a love letter to the performance arts, a thoughtful exploration of storytelling, a powerful meditation on the inevitability (and importance) of change, a quiet challenge of gender norms, a beautiful tale of found families and forgiveness, and a nuanced character study featuring an array of complex, contradictory figures and a fascinatingly layered queer-coded protagonist. It was an analytical feast and an emotional haymaker, warming and breaking my heart in equal measures. Director Hatakeyama has proven himself one of the standout talents in the industry and Akira Ishida gave the finest performance of his already splendid career.

Simply put, Rakugo Shinju is a phenomenal piece of fiction and easily one of the top five anime I’ve seen, full stop. More to the point, it made me care deeply for its cast and I loved the hell out of it. I’m thrilled that I was able to watch it as it was airing, honored that I had the chance to talk about it for 25 episodes, and beyond grateful that Kumota Haruko and Studio DEEN gave us this incredible series in the first place. This one is going to stay with me for a long, long time.

Dee

Runner-Up

Land of the Lustrous

a green haired figure floating in space/underwater, with their arms wrapped around their legs and their knees drawn up level with their heads

Chosen by: Amelia, Dee, Lauren, Peter, Vrai

What’s it about? In a world where sentient gems are on constant guard against “Lunarians” seeking to turn them into jewelry, one young lustrous, Phosphophyllite, tries to find their purpose and uncover the mysteries around them.
Content Warning: Violence; body horror

Though it didn’t make everyone’s list, Land of the Lustrous earned two #1 feminist-friendly favorite votes from Vrai and Peter, easily giving it the year’s silver medal. Here’s what Vrai had to say about it in our Fall recommendations post:

Land of the Lustrous is something special—I know I’ve spent quite a lot of time writing about it this season alone (including talking with the translators), in hopes of getting more eyes on it. As you can see, a lot of the team felt the same way. So what is it about the rock show?

Well, it’s not really anything like Steven Universe, however fun the memes are (the shows were developed roughly in tandem). What it is…well, that’s a bit harder to pin down. It’s a beautiful character drama focusing on an endearing and distinct ensemble cast. It’s often funny and dreadfully stressful, as part of the fun comes from being gutted by each new cliffhanger. It’s gorgeously produced, pairing daring visual direction and colorful, nuanced CGI with smartly implemented 2D mapping in order to keep the show from becoming (accidentally) uncanny. It has an almost entirely genderless cast, which is all but unheard of.

It’s a story about identity, bodies, and how the latter can determine your place in society. It’s about wanting to reach out to others without knowing quite how, and the balance between truth and comfort. There’s a heaping element of body horror and a disquieting air of suspicion around the gems living under the supposedly-beneficent tutelage of a patriarchal leader, but Ichikawa’s writing handles tough issues with a light touch in all the right places, and knows how to rip your guts out without ever making you numb.

This first season leaves a great many mysteries unanswered while successfully wrapping up its initial character hook—namely, the desire for connection between Phos and Cinnabar. While it’s not clear if a second season will be greenlit, you can rest assured that those questions are at least getting answered in the manga (which you can get in English through Kodansha!). If you’ve been saving up that free week of Anime Strike, this is absolutely the thing to spend it on.

Vrai

Feminist-Friendly Favorites

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

A long-haired woman in a black coat stands in profile as if walking past a short-haired man in a matching jacket. She appears to be saying something quietly to him while he glances at her out of the corner of his eye, mildly surprised.

Chosen by: Caitlin
Also previously recommended by: Amelia, Dee, Peter

What’s it about? ACCA inspector Jean Otus finds himself (unwittingly?) at the center of a national conspiracy in this slow-burn tale of political intrigue.
Content Warning: Occasional violence (involving adults)

ACCA is a hard show to describe. It falls somewhere between a mood piece and a message show, or a plot-driven travelogue. Protagonist Jean Otus meanders through the plot just as he meanders through Dowa’s thirteen districts, only vaguely aware of the nationwide conflict that pivots around him. “Laid-back” and “lackadaisical” don’t really capture it—there’s a sense of low-level urgency, just not one that Jean himself feels. There are statements to be made about power structures and rebellion and change from within, but he’s just along for the ride.

But that’s not the reason it falls under feminist-friendly. What makes it feminist friendly can be summed up with one word: Mauve. The director-general of the ACCA is a major player in the exact action that Jean is only vaguely aware of. She stands at the head of the bureaucracy, ranking only under the five chief officers, and runs it with supreme competence. She comes from a district where women dominate government positions and is an example of how women, given equal opportunities and a supportive environment, are just as capable as men.

There’s a lot of reasons to enjoy ACCA: the beauty and distinctiveness of each of the 13 districts, the slow-burn plot, the appealing characters. But for me, the women are the reason I love it.

Caitlin

The Eccentric Family – Season 2

A woman in a kimono looks down on a temple square where a young man kneels and several tanuki cower in fear

Chosen by: Dee, Peter

What’s it about? Set in a fantastical Kyoto shared by tanuki, tengu, and humans, this series follows the lives of Yasaburo and his family (both blood and found) as they try to find their places in the world after the loss of Yasaburo’s father.
Content warning: Mild violence and nudity (involving adults)

The Eccentric Family has been seated comfortably on my Top 10 Favorite Anime list for the past five years, ever since the first season finished its magnificent run, and I’m happy to report it’s still very much there. Season 2 is more of everything I love about it: A fantastical yet emotionally grounded exploration of the complicated relationships within and among communities, the enduring bonds of familial love, and the magic that exists just beneath the surface of the everyday world.

While the series is largely told through the eyes of its male protagonist, The Eccentric Family is also full of diverse, layered female characters who are more than just their relationships to the guys. Whether it’s the mother who transforms into a prince and hangs out at pool halls, the courteous master shogi player, or the sharp-tongued protector on the wrong side of a family feud, the tanuki ladies breathe with just as much energy and life as the brothers at the heart of the story. And that’s to say nothing of Benten, a proud, capricious, lonely quasi-villain who may just be the secret main character of the series.

Season 2’s ending has as many question marks as it does periods (supposedly the original novel series is intended to be a trilogy), so I dearly hope P.A. Works will get a chance to complete their adaptation once the source material is finished. Open-ended finales aside, The Eccentric Family is the complete package, one of those rare, wonderful labors of love that wholly envelops its audience in its enchanting, ephemeral world. I can’t recommend it enough.

Dee

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

A woman with long dark hair, wearing a sweatsuit, hunkers over a computer desk. On the main computer monitor is the image of a girl in a pink cloak and a boy in a purple suit. The bottom of the screen has text and color bars, implying this is a video game.

Chosen byAmelia, Caitlin
Also previously recommended by: Dee, Peter

What’s it about? 30-year-old gamer Morioka Moriko quits her soul-sucking office job to become an “elite NEET,” spending her days in an MMO exploring dungeons and making friends as the male character “Hayashi.”
Content Warning: One character makes a sexual assault “joke” that nobody else finds funny; depictions of anxiety and verbal harassment; somewhat surface-level handling of gender play

An anime starring a woman in her thirties? I was IN… but wary of the MMO element. I steeled myself for panty shots, groping-as-meet-cute, harem set-up, the works. Instead, each week deepened my emotional investment in Moriko and her surprisingly psychological journey. And I wasn’t alone.

Let’s face it: in 2017, Moriko’s ability to retreat from society while retaining her independence and financial security (how?!) is almost aspirational. The series embraces her very human darkness, arising from common experiences like misery at work and discomfort meeting conventional standards of attractiveness. I found her arc painful without being depressing, though; such moments are handled with care and wrapped in a fun story set in a world of warm, well-intentioned people.

The wider cast is a pleasure to spend time with. Major character Lily has a sweetness rooted in sincerity, making it easy to feel as much affection for her as Moriko does. Multiple characters play as genders other than the ones they identify as in the real world, and while this unfortunately doesn’t lead to a real exploration of trans identities, it does provide some insightful commentary on what it means to present as a woman both in-game and out of it. One character’s humour crosses decidedly unfunny lines… but he also adds a fresh spark of comedy when he decides to join the game with an extremely muscular blonde avatar and no clue how the game mechanics work.

MMO Junkie was my only must-watch show week to week in the autumn season, and perhaps the most relatable show I saw all year.

Amelia

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

A close-up of a a long-haired woman in a jacket, looking surprised, faces a curly-haired young woman who has angry tears streaming down her cheeks

Chosen by: Lauren

What’s it about? A group of orphaned soldiers working for a private security company get embroiled in an interstellar conflict after a young activist hires them as her personal escort.
Content Warning: Violence (teens/adults); child abuse; death of a queer character (although other queer characters do survive)

[SPOILERS for the ending of the series]

This is the only Gundam show with Mari Okada in the writing credits, and perhaps that’s why it ends with such a female-focused conclusion. In the end, it’s two women who tell how the chips fell. One: a Gundam pilot whose accolades leave her on top of the world. Career success has taken the place of a love interest, as she concludes the series on the cusp of a promotion, planning a celebratory dinner with her colleague (who, thanks to his troubled relationship with the main antagonist, some viewers read as queer). Another, whose beauty and royal bearing fooled us into thinking she’d be the main character’s love interest. Instead, she ends the series as an influential politician, a mother, and according to the creators, another woman’s wife. All in all, it’s an unusually progressive entry in the Gundam canon.

Lauren

Problematic Favorites

KADO: The Right Answer

A pale white-haired man and a dark-haired man lean their foreheads together

Chosen by: Vrai
Also previously (guiltily) recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? Young bureaucrat and top negotiator, Shindo Kojiro, finds himself at the center of a debate about humanity’s future when a strange cube falls from the sky, bringing with it a being from another dimension.
Content warning: Violence (adults); tragic queer relationships

KADO is a mess; you have to know that straight away. It is a majestic, ambitious failure which does a few things quite well and others quite poorly (including stumbling hard at the finish line with a deus ex machina). But for me anyway, it was well worth the journey. When KADO was on-point it raised interesting questions about cultural exchange, gave its lead female character a proactive and effective role in the plot, and did some truly impressive things with CG animation in terms of both uncanny body horror and increasingly subtle interaction.

It also shone bright as a stealth harem series of sorts, with several characters of varying genders expressing attraction for the male lead without being shamed for it. (Now, granted, one of them turned out to be quite the yandere, but these are the things you can do when you have more than one queer individual in the cast.) Ride on, KADO, you beautiful weirdo.

Vrai

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A woman in a casual sweater and pants (Kobayashi) lies on grass with her arms behind her head. On one side of her stretches out child dragon Kanna in human form wearing a frilly pink dress, while on the other side is Tohru, with her big dragon tail sticking out from underneath the petticoats of her Victorian maid costume.

Chosen by: Caitlin, Lauren, Peter, Vrai
Also previously recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? Miss Kobayashi drunkenly invites a dragon to come live with her and be her maid, the dragon takes her up on it, and many shenanigans ensue.
Content Warning: Bawdy humor; fanservice (adults); a side story where sexual molestation is played for laughs; sometimes questionable framing of young characters

To be perfectly honest, Dragon Maid was every bit as much of a surprise favorite as a problematic one. I was firmly buckled in and ready for a disasterpiece of fanservice and problematic content. What I got was an unquestionably horny but heartfelt romantic comedy with an endearing cast of characters and KyoAni’s expected tour de force of animation.

Dragon Maid even tackled some particularly tough subjects, such as Tohru’s acceptance that her time with Kobayashi would be very limited by her reckoning and Kobayashi’s difficulties reciprocating Tohru’s advances after a lifetime of feeling unwanted romantically. Dragon Maid even navigated the minefield of sexual development among adolescents with the relationship between Kanna and Saikawa.

The major stumble of Dragon Maid was, to not mince words, Lucoa’s sexual molestation of the underage Shouta, which was not only used for comedic purposes but tacitly accepted by the rest of the cast. Despite the one, admittedly glaring, flaw, I probably looked forward to Dragon Maid more than any other show week to week during the winter season.

Peter

Scum’s Wish

A split-screen image. On the left is a teenage boy wearing a school uniform, glancing over his shoulder. On the right is a teenage girl with chin-length hair, also wearing a school uniform, looking straight ahead somewhat sadly.

Chosen by: Amelia
Also recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? This raw high school story explores the complicated bonds (both emotional and physical) between four students and two teachers as they try to figure out what “love” and “happiness” mean to them.
Content Warning: Sex; nudity (teens/adults); teacher/student relationship (not romanticized but also not denounced)

I had high hopes for Scum’s Wish from even before I saw the premiere. It met my high expectations, though other people’s reviews have been mixed. Scum’s Wish is all about sexuality, emotions, and how the two intersect. Sex isn’t just about romance; it is comfort, distraction, consideration, revenge, calculation, validation. Often it is more than one of these at a time.

As in life, sex and sexuality are complicated. Young people are shown to be sexual without being exploited for fanservice. Queerness is explored gently and with nuance. All the main characters, including women with different attitudes, priorities, and situations in life, are shown to make questionable decisions. The show does not frame these decisions in judgement, or doom these characters to miserable ends. It’s rooted in empathy, not morality—even when characters’ actions are unequivocally unacceptable.

[Mild spoilers in this paragraph] The one major caveat is that the story features a teacher who takes pleasure in emotionally manipulating and crossing physical lines with students and colleagues. While the series doesn’t condone the teacher’s actions, it doesn’t condemn her, either, and the lack of repercussions is a serious issue that may be triggering for some viewers. Her abusive behaviour is shown to be rooted in a hunger to seek fleeting validation through her sexual attractiveness; an instinct other, more sympathetic, female characters wrestle with too. There are no Disney villains here—or princesses. Scum’s Wish shows a spectrum of behaviour, from destructive kindness to enthusiastic cruelty, and invites you to feel for everyone involved. 

The human experience is messy and complicated, and Scum’s Wish manages to capture that in a beautiful, strongly manga-inspired format, with some excellent voice acting. Anecdotally, I got the impression that if you recognise echoes of your own emotional experiences, you may be more likely to enjoy this. In my corner of the internet, it seemed that it would either hit you hard, right where you live, or leave you cold.

Amelia

Problematic Surprise Favorite

Made in Abyss

A blonde girl in a spelunking helmet and hiking gear and a shirtless boy in a metal horned helmet and red cape stand in front of a sheer cliff face, holding hands and looking stern

Chosen by: Dee, Peter
Also previously recommended by: Vrai

What’s it about? After Riko, a young Raider-in-training, finds a robot boy named Reg in the massive abyss near her town, the two decide to travel into the abyss on a quest to find Riko’s mother and learn more about Reg’s foggy past.
Content warning: Violence (some graphic, involving kids); nudity (kids)

Made in Abyss got a nod as Dee’s “problematic favorite” and Peter’s “surprise favorite,” so it gets its own special, complicated category. Given the somewhat thorny nature of the discussion around MiA, we’ve doubled-up on the write-ups for this one and included what both Peter and Dee had to say about the show after it aired:

Easily the most fascinating anime of the season, Made in Abyss featured a complete setting both mysterious and deadly. The production was excellent from direction, to background art, to one of the most impressive musical scores of the year. There were definitely problems, specifically in regards to an excess of child nudity and bodily functions. Although, save for a few choice scenes, the framing wasn’t sexual, the sheer amount of occurrences raise some uncomfortable questions.

That said, the series features a strong female cast and two non-cis characters that were handled respectfully. It absolutely nailed the landing as well, a culmination of the building existential narratives with a heartbreaking conclusion.

Peter

At its best, Made in Abyss was top tier, but at its worst… well, the series has some real problems, particularly an over-reliance on nudity and bodily functions to help convey its themes of “de-romanticizing adventure narratives,” “descending into the natural world,” and “coming to terms with your own mortality” (these are all Good Themes, by the way; the series just over-uses certain devices to the point where it becomes fetishistic or skeevy). It also toes the line between “pain with a purpose” and “torture porn” at times, and I could see folks reading it as more the latter than the former.

Even so, it’s a beautifully complete production in terms of art design, animation, and music. It toys with gender norms, including two female mentor-figures and a couple of gender-ambiguous characters. The cast is packed with well-realized, sympathetic individuals with unique strengths and goals. I think Riko’s cleverness and willpower are an inspiration, and I will fight for the value of characters who are both admirable figures and non-combatants. Also, the finale turned me into a puddle of tears.

Troubling elements and all, it’s a series that captivated me each episode, and one I think is trying to say something valuable about adolescence and adventure stories. I’ll be eagerly awaiting more of this ongoing story, as I’m fully invested and very much want to know what harrowing, heartbreaking, or quietly inspiring adventures these kids go on next.

 —Dee

Surprise Favorites

Girls’ Last Tour

Two girls wearing military helmets and coats sit in a vehicle. The girl with pigtails faces forward and has her hands on the steering wheel. The girl with long unbound hair carries a rifle casually over one shoulder and sits facing backwards, looking up as if lost in thought.

Chosen byCaitlin, Dee

What’s it about? Two girls, Chiito and Yuuri, travel through a nearly abandoned city at the end of the world, encountering the handful of survivors and uncovering their world’s past as they do their best to survive.
Content Warning: Mild nudity (bathing scenes involving teenagers)

This show was barely on my radar a week ago, and now it’s swooped in out of nowhere to become one of my favorites of the year. I’m still basking in the post-credits afterglow.

Despite the lack of a clear plot and some tonal dissonance in the first couple episodes, Girls’ Last Tour builds on itself beautifully, slowly creating a world and tone that is at once heartbreakingly bleak and warmly peaceful. In a kind of “road trip” format, the series uses its apocalyptic setting and characters (Chiito and Yuuri, two girls whose squabbling but intimate relationship feels refreshingly realistic) to ask questions about life, death, and what it means to be human with an elegance that’s rare to find.

While it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers, it isn’t entirely void of hope, either. Neither optimistic nor despairing, GLT explores how people find meaning in their lives and does so beautifully, combining wistful music with melancholy backgrounds with character designs that seem as simultaneously fragile and resilient as the world around them. Don’t dismiss the blobs, folks—they’re part of one of the finest atmospheric stories of the year.

Dee

Kemono Friends

A group of four young female characters look at the camera. From left-to-right, the first three are anthropomorphic animals: A jaguar, an owl, and a serval cat. On the far right is a human girl wearing a safari-style helmet and backpack.

Chosen by: Lauren

What’s it about? When a young woman wakes up in a savannah without any memories, it’s up to the friendly animal girl residents of Japari Park to help her embark on a quest to recover them.

Anime production values are higher than they’ve ever been. We’ve come a long way since a group of university students could create an anime to rival the pros (looking at you, Gainax). That’s great news, but along the way we’ve lost the initial cheapness and weirdness that made anime a quirky alternative from mainstream media back in the day.

Today there’s no way a shoestring production could rival the gorgeous sakuga of modern anime, right? That’s why initially, I had zero expectations for Kemono Friends—a choppy CGI show meant to promote a cell phone game that was canceled before the anime even aired. Just ten people worked on the production, including the director and producers. Generally it cut a ton of corners: you’ll notice that the wheels on the bus the characters travel in don’t even move.

But out of nowhere, this cheap little show about girls with animal ears (AND human ears, too, another cut corner) gained a cult following. With a simple “hero’s journey” story for an initial plot, expressive characters gave it personality while a creeping sense of something that’s just not right—a darker mystery below the friendly surface—gave it depth. Its characters’ successes and struggles rang true. By the end, Kemono Friends left me with a lasting impression that few of the shows I saw this year were able to, and it did it without gross fanservice, needless shock value, or even any fluid animation.

Additionally, Kemono Friends is a triumph because of its underdog status. It couldn’t have been what it was without a no-name production team being thrown to the wolves and just trying their best. (As soon as the show became a hit, Kadokawa reacted by firing the director, inciting the entire production team to quit, so they could hand an easy win to a big-name director, but that’s another story.) The anime inspired me to write “Your audience doesn’t think you suck” because this scrappy, magical show is a reminder that you don’t need a celebrity production team or even sensical character designs to make something that shines.

Lauren

Princess Principal

A young woman in a brimmed cap throws her arm around another girl in a Victorian bonnet, winking. The other girl is smiling. Slightly behind them and facing sideways is another girl, short-haired, looking thoughtfully out a window.

Chosen by: Vrai
Also previously recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? In this alternate history version of London, a group of female spies teams up with a young princess to thwart her enemies and help her someday gain the throne.
Content warning: Violence; child abuse; mild fanservice (involving an adult)

PrinPal is one of the summer season’s underrated gems. Being licensed by Anime Strike made it unfortunately inaccessible for a lot of folks, while others were put off by the moe sameface art design (a decision that, in the show’s defense, is an actual plot point). But those who gave it a look were rewarded with a fantastic aesthetic, a jazzy soundtrack, and strong character writing about relationships between women—both platonic and romantic—while also providing very minimal fanservice (and even then, never from the underage characters). Dee wrote up a great encapsulation of the show at its episodic best, and the romance between Charlotte and Ange forms the heart of the overall series.

The show does suffer from biting off more than it can chew. While the characters all grow and have satisfying arcs, the actual political conspiracy trips on itself once it has to move into the forefront, introducing a new antagonist at the last minute and not actually wrapping up any of the larger concerns about the totally-not-Berlin Wall. It badly needs a second season for that element, and none has thus far been confirmed. Still, if you’re all right with character building that comes at the expense of plot, I can’t recommend this more highly.

Vrai

Tsuki ga Kirei

A girl and a boy in winter clothes stand back to back, glancing at each other, the girl with her hands clasped to her chest

Chosen by: Amelia
Also previously recommended by: Peter

What’s it about? This quiet slice-of-life romance follows Akane and Kotaro, two third-year junior high students, as they and their friends stumble through falling in love.
Content Warning: The after-credits shorts feature unhealthy relationships depicted as romantic

Tsuki ga Kirei may be one of the most unique love stories to come out of anime in some time. In a genre focused on circumstance, often overblown in the name of creating a dramatic narrative, Tsuki ga Kirei eschews these typical obstacles to focus on more realistic barriers. It tells an introspective story of Akane and Kotaro, two middle schoolers trying to navigate their first relationship, growing up as they awkwardly overcome their doubts, anxiety, and ignorance to grow closer to one another.

It’s a slow, deliberate story that allows you to experience both their uncertainty and their emotional heights as they discover love for the first time. Although there is a bit of a melodramatic bent with the inclusion of the character Chinatsu, the narrative remains strong throughout the series. It’s an anime just as unlikely as it is charming, with a gender-balanced cast and a focus on emotional intimacy and self-improvement. A great recommendation without caveats.

Peter

Editors’ Bonus Picks

Amelia and Dee couldn’t bear to see two under-the-radar series go unmentioned on this list, so they’re using their Editorial Powers For Good to highlight them here.

ClassicaLoid – Season 1

To the left, a hornbill bird and a young man with hair covering his face, wearing a blanket over his shoulders, and holding an iPad stand at attention, saluting. The iPad screen has a saluting emoji on it, too. To the right, three other figures are closer to the camera, all looking emotional. A young man in classes is crying cartoonish streams of tears. A busty woman holds her hands over her mouth with tears in her eyes. And a young man in a large round hat smiles wide and blushes.

Chosen by: Dee

What’s it about? Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Comedic violence (teens/adults)

The only reason it didn’t make my Top 5 outright is because I invented a silly rule where everyone had to choose at least one “problematic favorite,” and while ClassicaLoid isn’t perfect (no media is), calling it a “problematic” fave just didn’t quite fit. Thankfully, I get to gush about it here!

Blending wit with weirdness with old-school slapstick and topping it all off with a dollop of heartfelt sincerity, ClassicaLoid is a creative playground that fully commits to both its characters’ conflicts and their antics. Most comedies (anime or otherwise) occasionally attempt to balance wacky hijinks with genuine emotional beats. Many fail. ClassicaLoid succeeded almost every darn week, and I loved it for that.

I also loved it because, unlike so many comedies, I didn’t have to take breaks between giggles to constantly roll my eyes at gratuitous T&A or flip a table about some queer-bashing “joke.” Barring exactly two references to Kanae being flat-chested, ClassicaLoid is good clean fun, a little too saucy to be a true “kids’ show” but with all the bright energy of a Saturday Morning Cartoon. It also impressed with its understated progressivism, as it doesn’t force its cast into traditional gendered behavior patterns (Landlady Kanae, for example, is both a thoughtful caretaker and a temperamental rage-monster), and even directly challenges cultural norms from time to time, such as in the delightfully inclusive “Girls’ Day Out” and “Love, And You Shall Die.”

As those links can attest, I haven’t been able to shut up about this series, so it should be no surprise that this was one of my favorites of the year and I give it a big ol’ Feminist-Friendly Thumbs-Up. If you enjoy a bit of gleeful silliness in your life, this is one melody well worth playing.

Dee

Kabukibu!

A teenage boy in a school uniform stands between two women in traditional Japanese kimino and make-up. The boy looks determined, his arms held out to the sides in front of the two women.

Chosen by: Amelia
Also recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? High schooler Kurogo Kurusu gathers together a diverse group of students to form a kabuki performance club so he can share his passion with others.

The most striking element of Kabukibu! is the atmosphere of acceptance it creates for characters to challenge expectations of both gender and sexuality. By the time the full ensemble is introduced, the high school kabuki club includes a Takarazuka-style woman who consistently plays male characters, and one character who is almost certainly a trans woman, speaking openly at the horror of feeling her male teenage body become more masculine. There isn’t any romance but there are several easily supported ships across genders. You get the sense that if any of the characters were out in queer relationships, they wouldn’t suffer for it socially.

This atmosphere of acceptance feels completely natural in the thematic context of Kabukibu. Main character Kurusu, whose sweet determination pulls the kabuki club into being, builds the club around the idea that kabuki is for everyone. On the one hand, this means challenging the all-male tradition and approaching potential members regardless of gender. On the other hand, this means he enthusiastically explores options like translation and subtitles to make sure his high school classmates will be able to enjoy kabuki as much as he does. By the end of the series the characters are all full of love for the artform and affection for each other, and I enjoyed every step of their journey to get there.

Amelia

 

What would your picks be? Let us know in the comments! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

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  • Snap Wilson

    Surprised Re:Creators didn’t grab a spot somewhere. It was a bit too meta and expository at times, but overall very enjoyable.

    Perhaps it’s a sign of my age or some other dismissive inclination that my feeling on Scum’s Wish was “these kids need to jack/jill off and spend more time growing up,” and I also thought the teacher was kind of a cartoony villain to me. She made the whole story less nuanced and interesting. I did enjoy it as a whole and certainly haven’t seen anything else like it in terms of sexuality maturely conveyed.

    And yes, Rakugo was amazing. Far and away my favorite anime ever.

  • Stolen Username

    I was surprised by the previous treatment of Made in Abyss. I can understand being turned off by the nudity, even if it wasn’t sexualized, but I loved how the world presented its female characters. For Lyza and Ozen, it focuses on their achievements and strength instead of sticking them in miniskirts and treating them differently from male whistles like most other shows would’ve. They even get to look badass and wear actual pants! In an anime! Riko is more of a support, but she’s only a kid while Reg has the benefit of being a robot, and then he’s often useless unless Riko or Nanachi are directing him. Then adding non-gendered Nanachi, who everyone seems to love, earns points. So I get how some could be turned off because the world is so unforgiving and raw on multiple levels, but it also has a ton of good, potentially feminist points which it feels like the criticism sometimes drowns out.

    Agreed that Rakugo is a masterpiece.

    • Colette

      Even without the points brought up in the article MiA is still super problematic though.

      It’s a great story, yes, but if you delve into the manga you’ll see a lot more sexualization of the kids, and I mean less in the “they’re growing up” way and more of the “the author gets off to this” way. The author openly enjoys depictions of his child characters in sexual situations, and is an admitted pedophile.

      Even though the anime team blessedly remove or gloss over these aspects, it doesn’t take away from the fact that MiA is an incredibly good story written by an incredibly bad person.

      • Julia W

        Hold on. When and where did the creator of MiA say he is a pedophile? Do you have any sources that confirm this?

    • Granuli

      Like you said… I also especially loved how that legendary whistle everyone seems to know about, the one admired and put above everyone else in terms of capabilities was a woman! Sadly you don’t get to see that often.
      Parts of the review sure read harsh. To be honest I don’t even remember nudity. Sure I have bad memory 😀 but I guess it wasn’t all to frequent or focused upon, nor was there a big theme built around sexuality.
      I so much hope there’s going to be a second season.

  • kieron George

    Girl’s Last Tour

    Aren’t they college age?

    IIRC there’s a manga dream sequence about them graduating college

  • flarglepuf

    Glad to see Kabukibu! get a shout out! I loved watching it week to week, and you’re spot on about the atmosphere of acceptance. Such a lovely show!

  • Vael

    About Tsuki Ga Kirei, I was a bit bothered by the fact that all the emotional work (or almost all of it) was handled by the girl.
    [Spoilers]
    At the end, when he gets jealous and when she gets hurt because he hid something from her, it is her that handled the emotional
    work of starting a conversation about it, apologizing first,… I
    actually thought that the end will be a bittersweet one, highlighting
    that they didn’t communicate enough to make it work…
    [/spoilers]

    Well, anyway, this article is really interesting, it made me want to watch some of this anime that I haven’t already watched 🙂

  • Another feminist aspect to The Eccentric Family 2 is that class, privilege, and allyship play a strong role in the story. (Okay, it’s mostly bad allyship, but the story knows it’s bad allyship.)

  • sweejen

    I agree that Rakugo is best by a huge margin–like the reviewers, I feel privileged to have been able to watch it week to week.
    Thank you for also including ACCA in your top choices. I don’t think this atmospheric series gets all of the love it deserves.

  • Granuli

    Thanks so much! There are many I haven’t even heard of yet!

    Just tried the first minutes of Princess Principal.
    If this is a cool girls doing cool things show, it will make me very happy 🙂