Starved for shows? We’ve got some delicious Spring titles to add to your Summer watchlist.
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 favorites SPY X FAMILY and Birdie Wing are also currently excluded from the list but will be eligible later.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Aharen-san wa Hakarenai
Recommended by: Dee, Peter
What’s it about? After spending middle school friendless, Raido is determined to make some real connections in high school. He starts by making small talk with the girl who sits next to him, Aharen, only to get no response. At least, that’s how it seems at first—it turns out Aharen just speaks in a near-imperceptible whisper, and is just as eager as he is to overcome her awkward past and become pals.
Content considerations: A teacher who’s too invested in her students’ love lives; a couple short sketches about weight gain and dieting.
In a season full of surprise gems, this goofy, deadpan rom-com about two neurodiverse-coded teens trying to understand and support each other just might be my favorite. Despite that “rom-com” label, this is primarily a friendship-driven comedy of misunderstandings, as Aharen and Raido get judged by appearances, struggle to express themselves, and navigate personal space. The series is particularly adept at using its characters’ overactive imaginations to draw absurd conclusions, often to great comedic effect.
Fortunately, Aharen-san never veers into cringe humor or miscommunication melodrama because the series is just so darn fond of its cast, encouraging the audience to laugh out of solidarity rather than superiority. While it’s not explicit in-narrative, I’ve seen autistic folks vibe pretty strongly with Aharen and Raido, so it’s particularly heartening the way the series pushes for accommodation and consideration. The pair are always looking for ways to connect that work for both of them, which makes their relationship a joy to watch develop.
Alas, most anime comedies are required by law to have one crappy joke, and in Aharen-san it’s a running gag about their teacher getting really worked up over their relationship. Despite my best attempts to read it as her having “cuteness overload,” some scenes strongly imply that she’s aroused by the thought of her students dating—which, hey, gross! Thankfully it’s a minor part of the series and is balanced by more charming characters and scenes, including a truly lovely moment between Aharen and her gender-non-conforming sibling.
Silly with a warm heart and an endearing friends-to-lovers romance, Aharen-san pushes nearly all my favorite anime comedy buttons. If you’re a fan of understated school comedies like Tanaka-kun is Always Listless or mutually supportive rom-coms like MY love STORY, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a try.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life
Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Vrai
What’s it about? Menou is a priestess tasked with helping the weak and powerless; she is also an executioner for the church, tasked with dispatching the “Lost Ones,” whose terrifying powers make them a danger to the common people. But she also has dreams of a certain stranger—and the most recent Lost One has been dreaming of her too.
Content warnings: bloody violence, body horror, brief non-consensual groping, mild fanservice, casual non-sexual nudity, graphic violence involving an immortal child
Badass girls! Hammy villains! Colorful swords-versus-sorcery fights! Time magic! Deliciously dark, frequently ridiculous, and with an all-female cast with a variety of personalities and motivations, The Executioner and Her Way of Life lives up to its fantastic first episode and delivers a fun fantasy romp.
While this obviously exists in conversation with the isekai genre (and the cheeky bait-and-switch in the premiere will be extra satisfying if you’re familiar with the genre’s tropes and market saturation), Executioner is not a parody. Instead, it takes a familiar fantasy convention—teens portalling through to other worlds—and uses it as a springboard for its own original story. How would a fantasy setting be impacted by the consistent arrival of young, naive strangers with godlike abilities? What ideologies and power struggles would pop up in response? The writing’s not always the deepest thing in the world, but it does put genuine work into examining interesting questions.
These twelve episodes leave us on a shout of “the adventure continues!”. Which is not necessarily a bad thing—things come to a satisfying climax, even if it’s clear this is part one of a bigger story. That said, don’t go in expecting payoff for the various wlw relationships suggested throughout these early episodes. Momo’s over-the-top clingy crush on Menou (which thankfully tapers off as Momo develops beyond a one-note possessive stereotype), Momo’s fun rivalry with Princess Ashuna, and Menou’s growing feelings for Akari all hang unresolved as the curtain falls. Then again, given the tangled situation, it’s difficult to imagine what “resolution”—especially for Menou and Akari—would even look like. Without spoiling too much, theirs is not a straightforward love story, that’s for sure. I can only be curious about where things will go from here, but for now, season one of Executioner is still a good time on its own.
Recommended by: Dee
What’s it about? In a world where music and song can be used as medicine, three apprentice “Healers”—Kana, Hibiki, and Reimi—work at their mentor’s clinic to improve their skills, earn their Healer licenses, and aid their community.
We often get requests for family-friendly anime recs, so I just had to give this surprise fave a shout-out. Straddling the line between chipper magical-girl show and relaxing chill-out series, Healer Girl laces itself with energy, humor, comfort, and plenty of musical numbers as it follows its likably insecure teen protagonists through triumphs and trials, all in the service of growing in their personal and professional lives.
It’s also quite smart about its “magical medicine” premise, showing our healers working side-by-side with traditional medical doctors, pharmacists, and surgeons. This allows the series to take a nuanced, holistic approach towards health care without stumbling into harmful pseudoscience about “curing illness with good vibes.” It also gets bonus points for showcasing multiple adult women as respected leaders in their various fields.
If the show has any noteworthy flaws, it’s Reimi’s obsessive crush on her female mentor. It’s realistically intense for her age but can occasionally veer into uncomfortable stalker-like behavior, which (unintentionally, I suspect) feeds into the long history of the “gay creeper” trope. It’s balanced somewhat by an implied, healthy partnership between two adult women, but it’s not explicit enough to quite make up for the misstep.
Honestly, though, that’s a very minor critique in an otherwise cheery, compassionate show about determined girls learning medicine and music from their skilled female mentors. Healer Girl is a welcome addition to the “bold girls doing bold things” subgenre, and one I’d be happy to show to a preteen relative.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic- (Season 3)
Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
Content considerations: Occasional heteronormativity and gender essentialism; some mild fanservice.
After an up-and-down first season, Kaguya-sama expanded and developed its cast in Season 2 to become an endearingly hilarious tale of well-meaning high school disasters stumbling through adolescence. Season 3 continues this trend (now with 100% more rapping!), building its characters and their relationships with one another in surprising, heartwarming, or just plain funny directions.
Despite its rocky start, Kaguya-sama has become a top-tier anime rom-com: clever, insightful, and sweet in equal turns, with masterful comedic and dramatic timing from one of the best directors in the business. At this point there’s not much to say that we haven’t said already, so if you’re not on the bandwagon yet you can check out our Season 1 and Season 2 recs for more details.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
Recommended by: Vrai
What’s it about? There’s a rumor that if you make a pact with a certain creature, it can grant you any wish. But in exchange, you must become a magical girl and fight against Witches. There is also another rumor, heard in dreams: “magical girls who go to Kamihama City can be saved.” Iroha is one such magical girl, who can’t even remember her own wish.
Content warnings: depictions of suicide/suicidal ideation, self-harm, depression, bullying/online harassment, terminally ill children; body horror, your usual Madoka stuff
I debated over including this one because it’s honestly a bit of a mess, especially in the first half. The story is burdened by too many characters, a symptom of the series’ mobile game roots; the overarching plot is sort of a slushy mess; and it both leans heavily on evoking nostalgia with appearances from the original Madoka girls while also spending an entire episode toward the end of the first half re-explaining one of the original’s most memorable twists. It also didn’t help that significant production issues meant the last four episodes aired seven months after the rest of the second cour; and while all that was happening, the English version of the mobile game was quietly canned.
But I couldn’t let myself pass it over without a nod to its ambitions. Even in the slushy first half, the mini-arcs focusing on individual magical girls are increasingly compelling, and I was touched by the way the story focused on embracing the experiences of girls struggling with uncute, non-ideal emotions like self-loathing, resentment, and bitterness—there’s even an arc that ends in validating a character’s vengeful anger rather than telling her to forget or forgive, so long as she learns to wield it in a way that doesn’t hurt her friends.
The overall focus on the strength of community and hope felt to me like the best parts of Rebellion, an attempt to grapple with the bleaker parts of the franchise throughout rather than at the very end. Even if its magical girl revolution is doomed to fail to the status quo, I appreciated the character portraits within the messier whole. And it is, if nothing else, an absolutely gorgeous piece of spectacle.
This is the kind of anime that sticks in my heart: weird, sincere, and often trying to do way more than it has the space and resources to pull off. Even if you don’t stick with the whole series, I’d encourage Madoka fans to check out the mostly standalone Sayaka vignette in episode 14, which might’ve made me tear up a little.
Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie
Recommended by: Alex, Chiaki, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? Clumsy boy Izumi loves his girlfriend Shikimori, but it’s not because she’s cute: actually, Shikimori is the opposite, and has a surprisingly tall, dark, and handsome side to her… when the time is right.
Content warnings: some uncomfortable jokes implying some fleeting sexual tension between Shikimori and Izumi’s mother; extremely mild sexual imagery of teenagers (flirty ice cream eating).
Is Shikimori a subversive masterpiece for the way it switches up the gender roles and gendered traits in its central couple? I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is refreshing. The way Shikimori tries to navigate the expectations of femininity, but ultimately refuses to make herself more demure and less competitive in order to be attractive, is certainly satisfying. The series plays with tropes not in a self-conscious genre parody way, but in service of bringing us a sweet little story that explores some different aspects of some fun characters.
Because Izumi and Shikimori are already dating when the story begins, we also get to enjoy a different dynamic to the will-they-or-won’t-they that more often drives rom-coms. It’s cute watching these two dingus teens explore the early stages of a relationship, clearly comfortable with each other but still often shy and awkward, figuring out their boundaries and their future together. At times, it’s goofy, but more often than not Shikimori is delightfully sincere. And it does all this without sexualizing Shikimori (or the other female characters… with perhaps the brief exception of Izumi’s Hot MomTM).
Granted, Shikimori is sometimes possessive of Izumi, and the show can’t quite seem to decide if this is part of her “cool” side or an immature trait she needs to grow past. That said, at one point, a love triangle rears its head… but is swiftly solved with earnest communication. The mini-arc ends with Shikimori gaining a new friend rather than a romantic rival! While the breakdown of gender roles in relationships may not go as hard as I wanted them to in places, this show feels like its heart is in the right place, and it’s a really fun viewing experience.
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