Just because several spring shows were delayed to summer and fall doesn’t mean there wasn’t some absolutely dynamite anime this season!
We talked about three kinds of recommendations:
- 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 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.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Ascendance of a Bookworm – Season 2
Feminist-Friendly Favorite: Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Main’s journey to create books and her struggles with the magical illness known as “the Devouring” lead her to join the church as an apprentice priestess. In order to progress toward her goals (and sometimes simply survive) in this new world and protect those close to her, Main grudgingly begins to learn the ways of noble society in order to outwit it.
Content Considerations: Implied sexual assault, grooming, child abuse; minors in peril, capitalist hellscape.
While I had a generally good time with Bookworm’s first season, its second well and truly grabbed my heart by digging deeper into what makes its world tick. Everything that was good about the last season is still good, and it continues to build on its themes and cast intelligently at every turn. Main has an element of newfound privilege in her role as priestess—if she refuses to take a retainer, for example, it means the retainer who would’ve been assigned to her is now seen as undesirable and has no one to provide their food. Main must learn to balance pushing for change without drawing retribution that would hurt the vulnerable people who now depend on her.
It’s an interesting subversion of the usual approach of rebellious modern protagonists, who simply waltz into generations of entrenched systemic oppression with the bold idea of “what if we didn’t.” While more straightforward narratives have their place, Bookworm’s more subtle approach is both refreshing and rewarding. Main is still focused on getting her books, but the show is becoming stronger in its critique of capitalism.
Some of the finer nuances of this are lost in the translation from light novel to show (like Main’s guilt over turning an orphanage into child labor for her business because it’s the only way she can ensure they’ll have food), but it’s a smart, thoughtful series that continues to surprise me with its heart and ingenuity.
The steady build of political conspiracy and the skillful handling of an increasingly sizable ensemble cast has me over-the-moon excited for the recently announced season three. They’re gonna have a hard time topping this season’s Escaflowne-esque opening theme, though.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War? – Season 2
Feminist-Friendly Favorite: Caitlin
Surprise Favorite: Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Both convinced that love is a power struggle, Nishinomiya Kaguya and Shirogane Miyuki have spent the past year scheming up increasingly absurd ways to get the other to confess their feelings first. They’ve managed to grow closer in spite of themselves, and the trials of election season bring new faces and new growth to the student council.
Content Considerations: Occasional heteronormativity/gender essentialism, depictions of anxiety/depression/dissociation
I was left with somewhat mixed feelings about the first season of Kaguya-sama: it was beautifully directed by Hatakeyama Mamoru, of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju fame and its best moments were wickedly funny and unexpectedly sweet; but it also occasionally fell into plain portraying the gender essentialist ideas about romance it was attempting to skewer, with one character who brought the whole show down.
I’m happy to report that season 2 addresses just about every issue I had with season one, blossoming into a fantastic ensemble comedy with an earnest heart. The jokes about how Men™ and Women™ behave in love, while not completely gone, recede in the name of more character-specific gags that have more room for variation, and the writing finds a surprising number of ways for Shirogane and Kaguya to become closer and grow as people while still holding to the basic “can’t confess” conceit—though admittedly, said conceit remains a little frustrating given how much could also be mined out of letting them fumble through the obstacles of dating.
It even manages to include a casual crossdressing subplot without being skeevy, which isn’t something I would’ve predicted twelve episodes ago. It’s a crying shame that it seems to have flown under a lot of radars, since the rights changed hands from Crunchyroll to Funimation between seasons.
Most shocking of all is the turnaround on Ishigami. While the more incel-leaning undercurrents of his character are dropped outright from the get-go this season, the writing goes a step further by dedicating a full-season arc to his character. His sympathetic backstory—involving beating up a classmate’s boyfriend—does impressive tap-dancing to avoid devolving into a Nice Guy narrative (the girl in question isn’t demonized, nor was he romantically interested in her) while exploring Ishigami’s general apathy; more importantly, it doesn’t leave it at that. Ishigami’s arc is about learning that you’re not deeper or a better person than the “normies” who put themselves out there—a struggle I think a lot of us can relate to from our high school days.
While nominally a rom-com, with a couple that’s a lot of fun to root for, this show has really come into its own as a friendship story. And if they decided to make another season, I’ll be excited to see how it continues to grow.
Problematic Favorite: Chiaki, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? After spoiled noble Catarina Claes hits her head, the memories of her previous life as a teenage geek girl come flooding back to her. To complicate things even further, she realizes she’s been reborn into a world exactly like an otome game she played in her past life—and as the antagonist, no less! Can Catarina change the story, or is she doomed to a Bad End?
Content Considerations: Pseudo-incest (step-brother suitor), obssessively attached lesbian character
It was downright magical to watch Villainess take the internet by storm this season. The show is a loving homage to and deceptively sly parody of otome games, with jokes that reward longtime fans of the genre without excluding new viewers. Catarina herself is an overpowered isekai fantasy: she’s basically indestructible, born into luxury, and able to win the heart of almost any other character in a single conversation. What makes her different is that the fantasy Catarina embodies is one of kindness. She is the RPG player who has time to rescue every kitten and solve every quest tree to its most peaceful, successful outcome, and it is unspeakably soothing to watch this anxious, oblivious dumbass help her loved ones week after week.
And, of course, there’s the fact that Catarina’s suitors consist of three girls and four boys. While Catarina herself is totally oblivious to the idea that her female friends could be into her, none of the other characters treat it as abnormal, and Catarina is likewise pretty oblivious to most of her male friends crushing on her as well. It is worth noting that Catarina’s friend Mary bears a few hallmarks of the “lesbian stalker” trope (scheming above and beyond the other characters to ward off romantic competition) and Catarina’s adopted brother Keith is also one of her suitors (though he gives off heavy vibes of it being misplaced platonic affection), but your mileage may vary on how much the gentle overall tone softens those elements.
While it is somewhat frustrating that the show, like most harem anime, ultimately refuses to end with a concrete romantic resolution, the degree of casual, normalized queerness on display is one that every other anime can and should aspire to as a benchmark. While another season has been announced, the series doesn’t really need it. This is a complete, and completely satisfying, tale that I would happily recommend to any fan of gentle ensemble comedy.
Feminist-Friendly Favorite: Chiaki
Surprise Favorite: Dee, Caitlin
What’s it about? In a far off fantasy world, a young man named Yuuki awakens with memory of little other than his name. He awakens to a beautiful maiden who calls herself Kokkoro and tells him that she has been tasked with protecting him on his journey to see Princess Ameth. However, this will be a difficult journey, since Yuuki lacks understanding of even the most basic things.
Content Considerations: Bug eating, light consistent fanservice
Turns out this show isn’t actually about Yuuki, so much as the adventures of the Gourmet Edifice guild he and his friends start up. While Yuuki remains integral to the crew throughout the whole season as “the hero,” he is definitively a support character in the narrative. Instead the story focuses on Kokkoro, Pecorine, and Karyl as they meet with other adventurers and eventually become entangled in a bigger evil plot endangering everyone in the kingdom.
Most of the show is light-hearted and just fun. Taking the best Kanasaki Takaomi had from KonoSuba, PriConne distills its comedy sans the biting “meanness” KonoSuba had and replaces it with an overabundance of earnestness among supportive companions. PriConne ultimately tells a story of a group of isolated kids coming together to find their own happiness among friends away from abuse or neglect.
As noted, PriConne features some consistent fanservice, primarily focused on ample chests. That fanservice, however, is not overly emphasized nor is it particularly leery. Though, at times distracting, it’s nothing too out of place and most of the story remains just cute.
Cygames Pictures also has a penchant for being pretty gay, if a little guilty of overbearing shipteasing. Pecorine is only a few months away from presenting Karyl a Ring Pop on one knee, but honestly, gals just being pals isn’t all that bad either especially when the cast are such good kids.
The show’s ending feels a little lacking, blatantly telegraphing for a second season that promises to tie up the story. Wrapping up its final arc, PriConne introduces so many more aspects of the story that begs to be addressed in a second season. And I do hope that happens sooner rather than later.
Please, I love Karyl so much. I need more screenshots of Karyl.
Surprise Favorite: Chiaki
What’s it about? Challengers flock to the Tower of God, risking their lives to climb it and obtain their greatest desire. After Rachel enters the tower’s gates, hoping to achieve her dream, her devoted companion Bam chases after her and gets swept up in his own dangerous adventure.
Content Considerations: Violence, control of women’s sexuality
I was surprised to find myself enjoying Tower of God, but I think much of it is owed to how the show didn’t let itself get too focused on Bam’s obsession with reuniting with Rachel. This show really shines in having an ensemble cast and its focus on everyone surrounding Bam really helped flesh out the world within the Tower.
It’s a shounen battle series akin to Hunter x Hunter, and there’s nothing wrong about that. Life is cheap at the start of the series, but once the central cast comes together about halfway in, I felt like the story really slows down to spend more time with everyone instead of focusing just on Bam, who is rather gifted and stands apart from the rest of the cast anyway. Above all, I appreciated that the story focused on developing its cast, particularly its women. Shounen battle series often sideline characters, and although Tower of God is still in its first season, I’m at least glad to see an investment in characters beyond just Bam and Rachel.
If anything, the show hits its biggest controversy only because it went back to focusing on Bam’s obsession to climb the tower with Rachel. The final episodes divided fans of the show over whether Bam deserved what happened and the series leaves off begging to be continued in a second cour as the first season feels more like an introduction than anything.
Only by seeing how both Bam and Rachel move forward after the first season, can I really feel like I can definitively express my opinion of these characters, unlike the many other members of the cast who have, at least partially, revealed their motives and character throughout the first season. But, I did find myself enjoying the first season more than I ever thought I would.
Problematic Favorite: Caitlin
What’s it about? Kudo Minare never intended to get into a life of radio, but here she is at the top of a mountain, facing down a bear as she reads listeners’ questions live on air. She may only have a few minutes left to live, but she’s still going to give these people the answers to their questions. Okay, so she’s actually in a studio with the sound guy mixing in the sounds of a bear, but it is true that she never meant to get into radio. It all started when she got wasted and vented her frustrations about her ex-boyfriend to a random guy at a bar…
Content considerations: Homophobia, homophobic stereotypes, gross bug stuff, discussion of abuse
When I chose Wave, Listen to Me! as my problematic fave, I was worried about being judged. Shunned. Cast out, left shuddering with the platform-free masses, relegated to submitting my reviews to MyAnimeList. How could I possibly support a show where the main character is a raging homophobe?
Okay, I’m exaggerating—after all, we have an active staff member who counts Nekopara and How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord among her favorites—but that’s what anxiety brain does to you. To put it simply, I was able to move past Minare’s homophobia and still enjoy what remains an extremely strongly-written show. And yes, it’s not just her, the boss really does try to touch unconsenting male butts, which is a real problem in and of itself. If it puts you off the show completely, I understand.
But Minare and her boss aren’t the only characters, and there’s a group of really fantastic men and women here, both likable and not. Even when I was having trouble with Minare, I was drawn in by Mizuho, who is trying to enter a dying industry for the sincere love of it, and Tachibana Makie, who is trying to escape her controlling, abusive older brother. And for all her problems, Minare is still a compelling character who displays a lot of growth, with solid indications that she will continue to grow.