Come in out of that brutal summer heat and enjoy the anime crop we harvested.
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 shows like Tokyo Mew Mew New 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!
Bee and PuppyCat (2022)
Recommended By: Dee
What’s it about? Bee just got fired from the local cat cafe, and she’s really gonna miss those cats. When she wishes for a pet of her own, a cat (or maybe a dog?) falls out of the sky onto her head. Feeding her new “PuppyCat” may prove a challenge when she can’t hold down a job—but fear not! PuppyCat is a planet-hopping temp worker and can sign Bee on to work with him! The two set off to fulfill the odd jobs of the universe, but there may be more to Bee’s squishy new friend than meets the eye…
Content considerations: Fantasy violence; restrained depictions of child neglect, verbal cruelty, and depression; references to and metaphorical depictions of chronic illness; light body horror and bawdy humor; a very irresponsible pregnant lady.
Note: If you’re looking for an overview of the series’ premise, production history, and general themes, please read the premiere review. I won’t have time to rehash it here.
I stopped watching other shows for a while because the only thing I wanted to watch was Bee and PuppyCat. I finished it and immediately wanted to watch it again. I bought a Bee costume for Halloween and two(!) PuppyCat plushies because I wanted one for cosplay and one for cuddles. I am forming summoning circles to pry a second season from Netflix’s fickle hands. And I’m leading with this so you’ll understand it’s gonna be hard for me to write about this show with coherence, never mind critical distance.
It’s alternately silly, thoughtful, and devastating; delightfully bizarre in its jokes and beautifully melancholic in its ruminations on time, growth, shifting relationships, and what it means to “be an adult.” If you like Ikuhara anime, I can just about guarantee Bee and PuppyCat is for you.
A lot of the feminist-friendly elements I noted in the premiere review hold true throughout, as the expanded cast of lovable messes are also racially diverse and routinely veer from traditional gender norms. The Wizard brothers are all caretakers to some degree, while Toast, the overzealous pro wrestler who keeps smashing through walls and demanding her rival fight her even while she’s pregnant, is particularly chef’s kiss.
Unfortunately, the show’s hiring practices also remain a pain point, as B&P continues to cast a lot of white actors to play characters of color. It’s a disappointing mark on a series that’s otherwise quite thoughtful in handling traditionally marginalized characters and story beats.
Because B&P is so thoroughly submerged in fairy-tale and sci-fi metaphor (and because the story isn’t finished yet), there’s not a lot of explicit progressive ideas to discuss, but there’s plenty that’s open to interpretation. It’s not difficult, for example, to read some of the characters (especially Cass) as neurodivergent; or Bee’s unique body and Cardamon’s sleeping mother as metaphors for chronic illness; or PuppyCat’s backstory and the entire temp system as a commentary on capitalist-driven societies; or so on. (The series is also covered in trans pride colors, though whether that’s building to something or the art director just really likes soft blues and pinks is anyone’s guess at this point.)
I know metaphor- and subtext-driven fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there are plenty of valid critiques out there about why it’s important to have explicit, realistic representation in fiction. But as a fan of stories that encourage audience interpretation, I love how much there is to chew on and muse over in this series (when I’m not giggling at PuppyCat’s soft punches or crying over Moully, anyway). With luck, other writers will feel the same and we’ll see some pitches in the near future, nudgenudgenudge.
I suspect Bee and PuppyCat will be a polarizing series that either does nothing for you or catapults to the top of your “faves” list. For me, it’s solidly the latter—easily my favorite anime of 2022 so far—and I dearly, dearly hope enough other people will feel the same so we can see how this strange, lovely, heartbreaking, hopeful series plays out.
The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún
Recommended By: Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? A devastating plague has divided the world into an “Inside” and an “Outside,” and contamination means slowly losing feeling, memories, and finally yourself. An unusually human Outsider finds a small girl named Shiva abandoned in the woods, and decides to take her under his care.
Content warnings: body horror, plague, potential motion sickness in the opening sequence
Nagabe’s fairytale has been a favorite among the staff for a while now—and elsewhere too, if this film’s day-one successful Kickstarter is anything to go by. It’s quiet and haunting, the scratchy pen art-style evoking old bookplates in forgotten tomes, and emotionally affecting while also having minimal dialogue. That’s a tough mood to transfer to animation, but Wit Studio managed admirably by employing a watercolor style that captures a different sort of quiet dreaminess.
Whether you find it engrossing or dull will largely depend on how you feel about abstract imagery, quiet sequences with a sense of wrongness lurking in the background, and affection unable to be expressed in simple contact. This is all by design, as Girl is the story of humanity growing stubbornly despite the hostile, dying world around it. It has a certain resemblance to Dark Souls in places, as its rot is both mournful but also possibly a precursor to change rather than finality. Shiva can be a bit pwecious as anime children go, but it’s tough to resent both because she’s clearly archetypal as an Innocent and also because her sweetness—and the humanity it evokes in her caretaker—are the hopeful glue that binds the story together.
As you might expect from its Kickstarter origins, this has the feel of a traditional OVA—that is, that it’s made for existing fans and serves as an advertisement for the manga. While it ties up at a neat enough point to feel like it was worth your time, it’s definitely clear that this is only covering two volumes of an 11 volume series. Fortunately, unlike in the ‘90s, you can easily go out and get the rest of the series in English. In that sense, this is an excellent 70-minute test to see if the series is right for you.
Love Live! Superstar!! Season 2
Recommended by: Alex
What’s it about? After nearly winning the previous year’s Love Live competition, school idol group Liella! is ready to come back strong and shoot for gold. They’re also excited to get some new members, but… their emphasis on competition is putting a lot of the first-year students off. With friendships, scholarships, and personal goals at stake, and a menacing middle school music prodigy threatening their top spot, where do the girls draw the line between wanting to win and performing for fun?
Love Live! Superstar!! continues to be a goofy, sweet delight, and I can recommend it for basically all the reasons I brought up this time last year. There are some fun additions, too. In season two, the cast expands and fills out to the traditional nine girls, a big number that feels much more manageable given the slow-burn way the characters are introduced and developed.
My favorite new ingredient is chaos gremlin Natsumi, introduced as a jaded, cynical social media influencer intent on making as much money as possible off school idol clickbait. The Power of Friendship wins her over and she finds renewed passion singing and dancing with the group, of course. But along the way we get some… well, I don’t want to say “biting satire of the celebrity industry and social media culture,” because in the end this is a Love Live and it’s in their nature to keep things lighthearted. But we do get some jarringly prescient jokes where Natsumi talks about manufacturing drama for the sake of viral clicks, or selling “special private footage” to dedicated fans—all before getting bopped on the head and told no, or otherwise deciding against it. She’s presented as a very funny, zany character, but she gives us a window into some very real and relevant themes.
There is one odd scene of note, where two members of the group are sharing a secret (one of them is experiencing writer’s block because she accidentally got addicted to video games) and the others mishear this and assume they’re secretly in love. This is quite the scandal, but… only because of the way it might change the group dynamic. Chisato gasps about this relationship being “forbidden!” but the whole debacle is oddly inclusive, or at least absent of any “but you’re both girls!”. A ship tease? Certainly. Proof that the Love Live universe is not homophobic? Perhaps! Much like the rest of the series, the episode’s tone asks that you dance along and don’t think too much about it. If that kind of gag makes you roll your eyes, do be aware that it’s there, but otherwise the show is a wholly fun and bubbly experience.
SHADOWS HOUSE Season 2
Recommended By: Caitlin, Dee, Lizzie, Vrai
What’s it about? Kate and her “Face” Emilico have successfully made their debut and discovered the source of the house’s brainwashing; but as the girls slowly begins to gather allies for their rebellion against the house’s oppressive rule, an unknown party is intent on spreading chaos and pinning the blame on Kate.
Content warnings: Brainwashing, medical horror (forced treatment), suicide (offscreen, discussed), child endangerment and death
With the rules of its universe safely established, SHADOWS HOUSE has room to stretch its legs. This season expands the cast considerably—thanks to the premise, every new character introduced is actually two—but it manages not to feel overwhelming because of how well the writing ties characters to their importance vis a vis the overarching mystery. It also smartly siphons its focus down to a core handful of new faces (and shadows) through Kate’s clash with the Star Bearers. As she works to clear her name, the audience gets glimpses of how the current generation’s struggles are far from the first time a child asked too many questions.
The central themes of childhood agency and identity are fleshed out beautifully here. There’s a literal gulf in the house between the world of children and adults, across the threshold of which lies supposedly wonderful benefits but require cutting away pieces of oneself to appease the existing power structure. “Becoming an adult” is almost entirely divorced from age and instead tied to when a child is deemed useful and obedient enough to rise through the ranks. Kate, in questioning the cost of those powers, is enemy number one in the house’s eyes.
This season also introduces the wonderful Maryrose, who I both adore and am slightly exasperated on behalf of, as she’s a very ‘90s embodiment of “this is a queer character in a queer narrative but we haven’t technically said the words, so a straight person somewhere is probably confused.” Her storyline is the emotional core of the season and ends on a satisfying note, but I was left with an old lingering frustration that the writing was afraid to step over the line into saying “love” when characters like John and Patrick are free to express those feelings for the girls they like.
Still, that’s a minor annoyance on an incredible season that keeps all the haunting unease going strong while pouring love and attention into its cast. Whether you’re waiting for that still-unannounced second season of Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun or just like a good gothic aesthetic, don’t sleep on this one.
Recommended by: Chiaki
What’s it about? Yayoi, Yuzu, and Yomogi form the manzai trio Young Wai-Wai, representing the Kansai region in a national comedy showdown. Can the girls shine on stage and get to the top?
The “what’s it about” description for Teppen! really undersells what this show is actually about, because it’s taken so many wild turns since its inaugural episode. It’s a show about all fifteen girls competing in the Teppen Grand Prix. It’s about friendship. It’s about the Japanese entertainment industry. It’s about aliens. It’s a mystery show. It’s a surrealist sketch comedy. It’s so many things, and it’s hard to say exactly what this show is.
As I mentioned before in the three-ep and mid-season podcast, this show isn’t laugh-out-loud funny to me, and that’s why I feel like I must recommend this show in spite of itself. Like a steak pun, it’s a rare medium done well. I occasionally groan or snort, but never break down into hysterical laughter, and so I’m left wanting for something heartier, like when I’m watching Kaguya-sama or Hinamatsuri. Yet the comedy is there, and I can’t help but appreciate this weird little show.
Teppen! offered critiques into the Japanese entertainment industry. Though not front and center as it was in the fourth episode of the series, it’s a show that points out some of the surreality of the entertainment industry. From influencers to the physical comedy it takes to make it on TV entertainment in Japan, Teppen! takes jabs at media culture itself to elicit its chuckles.
But critique itself isn’t everything in the show. Teppen!!! is just surreal overall, yet it narratively stays consistent no matter how tall the tale seems to get. What seems like throwaway gags stay canon and it continues to build throughout the show until the very end. It’s kind of like watching Big Fish, a story that seems impossible and completely made up—and it probably is—but somehow you can suss out that maybe there were more granules of truth than fiction at the end.
And I will admit to this: I was howling with laughter at episode 11. In its climatic moments, it finally broke me to crack a wide smile and just embrace the show. It’s a story so ridiculous, I can’t help but just say: touché.