We closed out 2022 with one of the strongest seasons in recent memory and plenty of great titles to choose from!
How did we choose our recs?
Participating staff members can nominate up to three titles and can also co-sign other nominated shows. Rather than categorizing titles as “feminist-friendly” or “problematic,” they are simply listed in alphabetical order with relevant content warnings; doing otherwise ran the risk of folks seeing these staff recommendations as rubber stamps of unilateral “Feminist Approval,” which is something we try our hardest to avoid here.
The titles below are organized alphabetically. As a reminder, ongoing shows are NOT eligible for these lists. We’d rather wait until the series (or season) has finished up before recommending it to others, that way we can give you a more complete picture. This means we also leave out any unfinished split-cour shows, which we define as shows that air their second half within a year of the first. That means that staff favorite Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is currently excluded from the list but will be eligible later.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Cy, Vrai
What’s it about? The year is 1999 and bright-eyed Wahira Nagomi moves to Tokyo’s Akihabara ward with dreams of becoming a maid. She quickly finds a home at cafe Ton Tokoton, a.k.a. The Pig Hut. But it’s not all frills and thrills: being a maid means fighting for your life, and newbie Nagomi is about to learn how intense a maid’s life can be.
Content warnings: Gun violence; blood; human trafficking (maids who lose at a certain poker table will be shipped off to work on a fishing boat, though this is a fairly clear stand-in for the sexual kind); organ trafficking (characters betting using their pancreas as collateral—though they end up intact); depictions of ageism (not condoned by the narrative); mild fanservice via skimpy costumes; brief casual racism (Venezuelan background characters used for “funny foreigner” jokes).
“A rivalry between maid cafes plays out like a yakuza turf war” is a pretty fun premise, though not necessarily one that sounds like it could last. It might be right at home in a Pop Team Epic skit, but seems like it would swiftly go stale. And yet, Akiba Maid War has executed this zany pitch with finesse. I think, chiefly, it’s because this series is not content to ride solely on the shock value of girls in frills doing violent kills. It delivers its vision with genuine flair, with every piece of the ridiculous puzzle carefully crafted and placed, from the music to the pacing to the performances. That beautiful, batshit energy of the premiere is maintained—dare I say refined and perfected—across the series.
Most importantly, this bizarre and bonkers story is carried by some genuinely compelling, loveable (though not always likable) characters. The cast is made up of women with strong personalities who get to be all sorts of “uncute” things: greedy, bloodthirsty, vengeful, foul-mouthed, snarky. Yet also: noble, passionate, driven, wrestling with their morals. There’s something delicious about seeing these women get to step unflinchingly into genre and character tropes usually reserved for male anti-heroes, treated with enough narrative respect that the whole thing feels sincere and emotionally potent rather than another juxtaposition we’re meant to laugh at.
Now, the writing isn’t flawless—having said all that, some characters feel weaker than others, the pacing is sometimes abrupt in a way that takes you out, and there’s definitely a rather cynical way to read how the finale reinstates a status quo for Akiba as a whole. But damn it, Maid War is fun. Raucous and stupid in all the right places, for sure, but able to switch things up and hit you—moe moe kablam—with genuine drama and pathos (and a perfect epilogue for heroine Nagomi). It’s a wild ride that feels fresh and inventive, and is honestly my runaway favorite of the season.
Recommended by: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Anxious Hitori learns the guitar so she can join a band and make friends, but never plucks up the courage to ask anyone to play music with her, or even play in front of other people. Now beginning high school, Hitori is determined that things will be different, but no one seems to want to be her friend and she still can’t make herself reach out to others. Until, that is, a girl sees her guitar case and asks for her help.
Content warnings: Regular intense depictions of panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety spirals, and dissociation; alcoholism played for comedy.
BOCCHI THE ROCK! is a show I’m somewhat of two minds about. It’s a visual triumph, apt at using mixed media to convey the stress of anxiety or just to do an interesting sight gag. It pulls from a broad palette of sources and does pretty much all of them well, proving that making a compelling slice-of-life so often comes down to execution. It’s also surprisingly heartfelt once it gets its feet under it.
I felt on the verge of dropping the series multiple times in its first half, as the series has a tendency to get carried away with its visual wizardry to the point where it can feel like it’s piling on Bocchi rather than relating to her. However, once Bocchi begins to bond with her fellow bandmates, the show settles into what it clearly wants to be: a story about trying to get through life with a mental illness and having friends who understand and love you even when you feel like an unlovable mess. It’s also refreshing to see Kita’s crush on laconic bassist Ryo sidestep the cliches that have so often gone hand in hand with queer characters. Her crush doesn’t define her personality (in fact, her main role in the band is being the hype-drawing extrovert everyone loves), and the jokes around it center more around the fact that Ryo isn’t nearly as cool or smart as Kita desperately wants her to be rather than “isn’t it funny that a girl would have a crush on another girl.”
The members of Kessoku Band might be named for the rosy portrait of youth, but they don’t quite live up to it and neither do their songs. It’s not radically transformative, but it is quietly reassuring; and given both the fact that the manga artist seems to be drawing from personal experience and the intense stigma around discussing mental health in Japan, I wonder if that basic level of reaching out is its main, somewhat humble goal.
It can get uncomfortable when the show goes broad, like showing Bocchi actively dissociating and not realizing where she is, leading from “oh she’s just like me” to “she is going to get hurt, please can an adult do something.” Of course, these things going untreated isn’t unrealistic, in Japan or elsewhere, but that’s a bit heavy for the kind of tone the series is shooting for. I don’t necessarily blame it for not bringing in heavier conversations about mental health, but I wish it had, thinking of all the people it could have reached.
The only unequivocal clunker is senior bassist and semi-mentor Hiroi, who baldly proclaims that she’s constantly drunk to cope with the stress of her anxieties. The show has characters nod toward this being unhealthy, but it’s a twig dam trying to hold back a flood of Funny Drunk antics.
Despite there being a lot one could discuss—an artist’s duty to their own experience versus shedding a hopeful light when writing fiction consumed by young adults; focusing on getting through the status quo versus trying to nudge it toward change for the better—at base, this is a really well-made and endearing music show. I hope that between now and the inevitable season two, people will give the other Bocchi a look, too.
Recommended by: Alex, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? Clumsy and airheaded Serufu has just started high school, separated from her childhood best friend Miku for the first time. On the way to class, Serufu’s bike gets into a brawl with a light pole, leaving her without transport… until a mysterious upperclassman on high-tech rollerskates slides over and fixes it for her. Intent on saying thank you, Serufu tracks this stranger down to the shed at the back of the school and finds herself in the DIY club. Could fixing, building, and upcycling be the hobby for Serufu—and the way to rekindle her friendship with Miku?
Content warnings: Brief, unsexualized nudity (bath scenes); some arguable “funny foreigner” undercurrents to the American and South Asian characters.
I had been hankering for a good ol’ Girls Doing Stuff show all through 2022, and DIY!! was just the ticket. Funny, laid-back, and very pretty to look at with its stylised figures and watercolor backdrops, this series is an understated but finely-crafted story of daily life.
It celebrates the concept of “DIY” with a wide and inclusive umbrella, with some of the girls focusing on more traditionally feminine crafts like making jewelry while others go the less delicate route and build furniture using power tools. There’s a fun mix of personalities in the main cast, and Serufu and Miku’s awkward but sincere yearning to rekindle the closeness they shared as childhood friends is by far the standout dynamic.
Some characterization tiptoes on the line of “wacky foreigner,” though I feel there’s enough work done that the girls’ eccentric traits read as expressions of their individual characters rather than expressions of their ethnicity. For example, Kokoro is a roof-climbing wild child, but glimpses of her family show them acting very differently. This gives us a spectrum of Southeast Asian representation that’s admittedly very small, but still just enough to dislodge the notion of this being a racial stereotype—at least, so far as I can tell from a writing point of view. We welcome, as always, perspectives on this content from members of the represented groups!
Likewise, as Vrai highlighted in the check-in, there’s a conversation to be had about Serufu’s cartoonishly over-the-top clumsiness crossing over into something like a learning disability, something I’m admittedly also not 100% qualified to speak on. This is certainly a warm-hearted series, though, and it never asks us to laugh at Serufu—rather, to laugh with her and to share in her joy as she grows more confident and capable, and finds her own unique ways to contribute to the group’s projects.
Overall, while it has those key issues that complicate things a touch, Do It Yourself remains a sweet, relaxing experience that helped round out 2022 with a sense of calm accomplishment.
Recommended by: Caitlin
What’s it about? Jolyne Cujoh was an ordinary 17-year-old Floridian girl until her boyfriend hit a pedestrian with his car while they were out driving. Her worthless father, Jotaro, is off doing marine biology research in Africa and can’t come help her out. To add insult to injury, he sends her a locket that stabs her in the finger when she opens it. She throws it aside, but then something weird happens: she develops the power to turn her body into strings that she can control. Now, where did that locket go?
Content warnings: Portrayals of carceral violence, sexual violence, and racial violence; regular blood-and-guts violence; children in peril; body horror; existential horror; accidental incest; pretty much anything else you can think of.
I’m not saying stories are inherently more interesting with a female lead, but self-indulgent power fantasies tend to pull me in more effectively if there’s a protagonist at the helm whose gender more closely matches mine. I’ve loved Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure for a long time, and I knew before coming in that Jolyne stood poised to displace Josuke as my favorite Jojo. I wasn’t quite ready, however, for just how intensely I would love her or how much Stone Ocean would have to say about intergenerational violence and trauma, the carceral state, and the very concept of destiny. It is by far the most thematically rich chapter in the Joestar saga, and a fitting end to the conflict that has plagued them across six generations.
The first thing that stands out about Stone Ocean is how very little has changed, even with a primarily female cast. The fanservice doesn’t ramp up, the violence doesn’t become more sexualized, and there is no effort to soften or objectify the characters to make them more appealing to a male audience. Jolyne and her team are just as wild and messy and strong as their predecessors, as are the antagonists across the spectrum.
Plus, the setting, a mixed-gender prison in Florida, also gives plenty of opportunities to explore not just the kind of “punch people who wish you harm real hard” violence that has characterized most of JJBA, but also things like institutional/carceral violence and some uniquely American varieties of racial violence. It takes the tropes of exploitation movies, mixes them up with the characteristically esoteric Stand battles of the series, and uses them in surprisingly thoughtful ways. Of course, there’s still plenty of villain-of-the-week punch-’em-ups and the fights can get so convoluted that they feel like Calvinball rules.
Even more than that, though, this is the Joestar family’s big finish, and Hirohiko Araki takes the opportunity to really dig into the themes of what it means to be haunted by destiny. Jolyne is a Joestar through and through, bearing not just the star birthmark but all the power and pride of her ancestors… not to mention her disregard for the rules and anger management problems. Dio is dead, but can the Joestars ever truly be free in this world? Can they protect their children from it? What does it even mean to inherit a conflict like this from your forefathers, and how does it determine your place in the world? Stone Ocean brings Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure to a close in a way that I never expected, but left me deeply satisfied. Just make sure you keep the tissues close at hand—you never know when you’ll need them.
Recommended by: Caitlin
What’s it about? This group of school friends each has a secret: Rikka is an alien rebel who crash-landed on Earth, Chiyo is a former ninja who quit to enjoy school life, Tsubasa is a boy whose twin sister forced him to switch places with her, and Sekine is a low-level psychic trying to keep them from accidentally killing each other.
Content warnings: Portrayals of bodyshaming, bodily functions, slapstick violence, use of the “undercover crossdresser” trope (though it sidesteps a lot of the harmful jokes usually associated with the trope); the gender stuff gets kind of weird.
Didn’t watch The Little Lies We All Tell? Don’t worry; almost nobody did. Fall 2022 was a wild season full of ambitious series with complex stories and attention-grabbing animation. It’s no surprise that a late-entry gag series with a simple premise and middling visuals failed to garner an audience. As unsurprising as it is, it’s also a bit of a shame, because Little Lies was one of the most consistent delights each week for me.
In fairness, this was entirely unexpected for me as well. I saw Rikka, with her extremely youthful design, and assumed she was there to be sexualized. I heard that one of the girls was actually a boy in disguise, and assumed there would be transphobic and/or gender essentialist humor at his expense, or that he’d engage in predatory behavior that would be dismissed as “boys will be boys.” But then, none of that came to pass. Oh, there are acknowledgments of it—sometimes Rikka attracts unsavory attention from men and Tsuyoshi had a passing thought about “sexy surprises.” If anything, Little Lies is aware of sexist tropes and interested in actively subverting them. It’s hard to describe exactly how, since there’s no better way to ruin a joke than to describe it, and the punchlines thrive on doing what’s unexpected, so you’re going to just have to trust me on this.
One of the things that makes the comedy work so well is how balanced it is, all while rarely punching down. Comedy these days often either end up mean-spirited, whether intentionally like Asobi Asobase or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or unintentionally like… the majority of American sitcoms from the ‘90’s; or sugary-sweet and laser-focused on a comforting vibe. Both can be nice, but they tend to leave me craving more. Little Lies walks this line perfectly, featuring an ensemble that truly cares for one another but keeps just enough acidic observational comedy that it doesn’t turn into empty-headed fluff. It rarely punches down, even when it has the opportunity to.
The Little Lies We All Tell was the perfect anime to come home to after work. I could sit down, kick off my shoes, and enjoy it without having to think too hard, but I didn’t need to turn off my brain, either. If you missed it—and I don’t blame you if you did—how about you try watching it instead of picking up one of Winter 2023‘s many carbon-copy isekai?
Mob Psycho 100 – Season 3
Recommended by: Caitlin, Dee, Peter
What’s it about? Working part-time as an exorcist for his con-man mentor Reigen along with his ghostly sidekick Dimple, junior high student Mob encounters spirits and fellow psychics that test both his moral compass and self-perception as an unremarkable boy who just happens to be able to bend all of reality to his will.
Content warnings: Violence (against adults and kids); psychological horror; bawdy humor; there’s a two-second “joke” about a middle schooler taking part in a drug-fueled alien orgy (not shown). For season 2, we also tagged “Mild fatphobia in one episode, depictions of bullying and abuse, colorism/racist character design (Takeuchi)”; I’m sure I’m forgetting something but I can’t think of what, so please hit us up in the comments and we’ll add others as needed.
Mob Psycho’s final season was perhaps not as dazzling as its second, but that’s like saying an A- isn’t as good as an A+. Technically true, but c’mon, they’re both still real good.
While the season’s mini-arcs took a little while to get revved up, they built well on previous arcs and led the characters to emotionally and thematically satisfying conclusions. The finale is exactly what it needs to be, focusing on the relationships Mob has developed over the series while also putting a capstone on the show’s discussions of masculinity, power, guilt/shame, and adolescence (and delivering a magnificent conclusion to the redemption arc of everyone’s favorite GrifterDad). It’s rare to find a series that so thoughtfully engages with negative emotions and the parts of ourselves we don’t like, which makes Mob not just an entertaining series but also a valuable one, especially for its teen male target demographic.
As with many sequel writeups, it feels like there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said, so I’m inclined to stop here and direct you to past writeups and articles for more details. Overall Mob Psycho 100 is a top-tier shounen adaptation: visually dazzling, thematically thoughtful, and emotionally resonant. I’m still a little in awe that a series I almost dropped halfway through season one became one of my favorite shows of the last decade—and likely one of my favorite shows of this decade, too.
Recommended by: Alex, Dee
What’s it about? Mameda has left her family of tanuki to visit Osaka, where she’s eager to play some pranks on hapless humans. Her antics are thwarted at every turn by the technological advances of the Taisho era, but by pure chance she discovers a different sort of trick: at a rakugo show, where a woman holds an audience captive and paints a whole story with her words. Forget illusions—Mameda’s going into rakugo!
Content considerations: Very occasional, light fanservice; one “joke” scene of an adult hitting on a minor; age-gap shiptease between a yokai teacher and student; mild bawdy humor (mostly about an adult man’s butt).
It’s a shame “Tanukigo” aired in a packed season, because the source manga is delightful and the adaptation is bright and charming, if not particularly dynamic. The anime takes its time with the material, pulling details from later volumes to give our chipper protagonist a bit more emotional depth at the outset. The relaxed pace leads to a somewhat directionless first half, but the second half builds well on itself as the cast expands, Mameda comes into her own as a performer, and the audience learns more about Bunko’s past and the Daikokutei lineage.
Throughout the series, the tension between humans and yokai—and, by extension, between the mundane and the fantastical, the modern and the traditional—remains a constant undercurrent, along with the show’s clear love for rakugo. At its core, Tanukigo is about the power of art/entertainment to create connections, whether between generations, cultures, or individuals, which keeps it upbeat even during its more pensive story beats.
I’ve noted the show’s potential pain points under “content considerations,” but beyond that this is a fun little series blending fantasy, history, comedy, and a dash of hopeful melancholy to tell the tale of tricksters living in the modern era. The anime finds a satisfying stopping point, but it also ends just as the manga finds its groove. So, if you enjoy this series (especially the back half), I’d heartily recommend checking out the manga. It really only gets better from here.
Pop Team Epic – Season 2
Recommended By: Vrai
What’s it about? The proud shitpost of the anime world returns, as trash gremlins Popuko and Pipimi star in sketches that mesh pop culture and the surreal.
Content Warnings: Body horror; flashing lights.
I was somewhat lukewarm on the first season of Pop Team Epic—while there were some extremely memorable sketches, its frantic need to throw everything at the wall (at the top of its lungs) too often left me feeling exhausted. The core team from season one came together again for the underrated Gal & Dino, where it married PTE’s multimedia experimentation and emphasis on forefronting animator credits to a much more laidback source material. While that show had its own shortcomings (namely more and longer live-action sequences than there were ideas to fill them), it was clearly a sharpening experience.
The results of that growth are on full display in PTE’s second season. The explosive ultra-shorts aren’t gone, but there’s a greater proportion of longer shorts that feel comfortable letting an idea develop, and even the ones that aren’t laugh-out-loud funny are conceptually interesting. There is still a memetic layer that rewards specific pop culture knowledge, but it’s not going to ruin an episode if you don’t know that the two actresses for one episode are Gon and Killua from Hunter x Hunter, or that Popuko is replicating a distinctive glitch from a 2002 Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure game. For you, there’s Aoi Shouta’s magnificent tokusatsu pastiche or the distressingly melty take on claymation.
It’s still brimming with creative energy, just executed with a more experienced hand. It even finds room to be pointedly subversive here and there. If any of the first season appealed to you, or you’re a fan of sketch comedy generally, you should absolutely dip back in here.
Sorry, I’m still thinking about Hellshake Yano.
Recommended By: Caitlin, Dee, Lizzie, Vrai
What’s it about? In this fantastical version of dynastic China, legends tell of a “Raven Consort” with mysterious powers who grants favors—for a price. When she accepts the new emperor’s task to find the owner of a jade earring, it sends the young consort and the emperor down interweaving paths as they seek out the truth in a court where rumor is king and the ghosts of the past are more than just metaphor.
Content Warnings: Depictions of child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual—all offscreen/implied), suicide (including hanging), romanticized incest (“case of the week”), genocide, sex work (both consenting and forced), misogyny, and body horror.
Raven takes a lot of big swings in its attempts to cover topics of social inequality, and it hits a lot more than it misses. It has a light touch with its depiction of dark subjects, which keeps it from feeling either too lurid or relentless to watch. Much of this is concentrated in the episodic “cases of the week,” but there’s also a deeper story going on about how narratives are constructed, and specifically how they’re used to silence women—a theme it shares with one of my most beloved faves.
What makes it all come together is Shouxue, the Raven Consort herself. She’s lonely but self-protective, inquisitive but bound by her position, with a generous nature she’s eager to deny. It’s rewarding to watch her grow as her little found family does. Even the initially off-putting dynamic she first shares with Emperor Gaojun quickly mellows into an appealing, compassionate give-and-take that forefronts the development of their friendship even if it also nods to his potential future as a romantic interest.
Gaojun’s presence does serve as a slight stumbling block for Raven’s themes about oppressive social forces: while the writing tries to nod to the fact that the emperor is beholden to a web of intrigue and court politics that restrict his movements, it’s tough not to ask why certain situations couldn’t just be solved by the unilateral aid of the protagonist’s personal bestie, the most powerful man in the entire nation. It’s a testament to the writing’s appeal that the question never feels like more than a minor background annoyance.
It doesn’t quite tie everything up by the end, leaving the characters in a hopeful place of growth but with the central conflict very much unresolved. But it’s a beautiful journey worth taking, and fortunately for those left wanting more, the complete seven-novel series has already been licensed in English. Come, bask in the glow of gorgeous courtly intrigue with us.
Recommended by: Dee, Lizzie
What’s it about? High schooler Anzu has no interest in dating, but the romance fairies have other plans for her. When Riri shows up at Anzu’s home to take away her favorite things and turn her life into a rom-com, Anzu declares war on the tiny cupid. Riri can throw as many hot dudes and dating sim cliches in Anzu’s way as they want, they’ll never get her to fall in love!
Content warnings: Depictions of sexual assault, victim-blaming, an adult stalking a minor, bullying, and violence against teens (all of these actions are condemned by the narrative); characters make a lot of hetero/allonormative assumptions, although it’s debatable if the story itself agrees with them.
If Romantic Killer’s premise sounds like a big Yikes, well, it’s supposed to be. Anzu spends the entire series rebelling against her unwelcome cupid’s attempts at compulsory heteronormativity, and the narrative is firmly on her side. The series walks a tricky tightrope, but it stays fun largely because all of Anzu’s suitors are decent dudes. They’re not perfect, and some can be mean in the impulsive, self-centered way that teens can be mean, but there’s never a whiff of sexual menace or manipulation from them, which keeps the premise from going anywhere truly unpleasant.
Despite its title, Romantic Killer is not exactly anti-romance. Instead, it rejects the “storybook love” often depicted in popular media (i.e., fleeting infatuation rife with gender norms) in favor of the sturdier, longer-lasting bonds that form as people take time to learn about and support each other as individuals rather than as a set of stereotypes. The conclusion is open-ended about whether Anzu will ever actually fall in love, but the audience understands why her suitors like her, as well as why she might fall for them one day (or, hey, might not!).
The first half of the series functions as a light comedy, poking fun at dating sim and rom-com tropes and using Anzu’s plight to explore the way society at-large pressures people (and especially teens) to fall in love. The second half digs a lot deeper, dealing with more traumatic issues of consent, assault, and stalking through two supporting characters (one girl and one boy). While it’s not always an easy watch, it is unequivocally sympathetic to the survivors. The finale veers into melodrama, but that doesn’t overshadow the sincere and thoughtful narrative that comes before it. I expected Romantic Killer to make me chuckle; I did not expect it to also make me cry.
There are loads of elements worth discussing in terms of how the series handles gender roles and sexuality—and I’d love to see some article pitches about it!—but I’m on a word-count limit here, so let’s end this rec on the number one reason to watch Romantic Killer: Anzu. Is. So. Good. Her faces are terrific, her fashion sense is terrific, her personality and perspective and interactions with the other characters are all just terrific. If you enjoy nothing else in this series (and I suspect you will), go enjoy Anzu. She’s a top-tier protagonist and we deserve more proactive, messy, compassionate, snarky gals like her.