Winter 2022 has been pretty hectic for the AniFem staff, but we still found time to make one of our biggest seasonal rec posts in almost a year!
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, so long as they air their second half within a year of the first.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Recommended by: Dee, Peter
What’s it about? The Republic of San Magnolia has boasted zero human fatalities in battle ever since they switched to drone warfare, but the reality is far less rosy: the “drones” are actually piloted by soldiers called “the Eighty-Six” who have been deemed subhuman by the ruling class. When empathy-driven Major Lena Melize gets assigned as the “Handler” for Spearhead, an 86 squadron known for destroying its commanders, will she and the squadron repeat history, or find a different way forward?
Content warnings: Depictions of racism, genocide, abuse, trauma/PTSD, and violence/death against children and teens (not condoned); a few “jokes” about peeping on girls.
I’m not going to be able to adequately explain this earnest, messy, visceral series in a few paragraphs, so apologies in advance for everything that gets left on the cutting-room floor.
Part 1 is a powerful exploration of oppression, privilege, war, genocide, and what it means to be an ally/accomplice. By dividing each episode more-or-less equally between the marginalized soldiers in the field and their commander in the city, 86 challenges its privileged characters without centering them, explicitly rejecting white savior mentalities and refusing to offer any easy, comforting answers. It’s a gut-punching narrative that thoughtfully tackles a lot of difficult topics without losing sight of its human element, particularly in the complex bond that develops between Lena and Spearhead’s squadron leader, Shin.
Part 2 is… rougher. This is partly because it’s recalibrating its central cast, partly because the production schedule fell apart, and partly because its big-picture themes are less clearly defined (it’s sort of trying to grapple with ethics in the face of apocalypse, but it never quite comes together). Its greatest weakness, though, is Frederica, a young girl who fluctuates between a three-dimensional character and a Precocious Child cliche only made worse by her Japanese voice actor playing her with a grating chipmunk squeak. The series shoehorns her into the plot in ways that at times defy reason, leading to some rough episodes in the middle stretch.
Fortunately, the series finds its footing again at the end, returning the focus to Shin’s struggles with PTSD and the connections forged between its central cast. The finale is arguably too rosy given the heavy material that came before it, but after seeing everything our young soldiers have gone through, I’d say they more than deserve a little hope at the end. 86 is insightful and clumsy in equal turns, but when it hits, it really hits, and I’d much rather a series swing for the progressive fences and whiff a few times than never try at all.
Recommended by: Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Sheltered vampire Noé comes to bustling 19th-century steampunk Paris in search of a legendary grimoire called the Book of Vanitas, which is said to curse any vampire who looks upon it by corrupting their “true name.” And find it he does, in the hands of a human who has taken the name “Vanitas” for himself. This Vanitas claims to be a doctor who specializes in vampires… and the only one who can save the vampire race from the corrupting force known only as Charlatan.
Content warnings: Depictions of infanticide, genocide, assault played for horror, gore and body horror, child abuse and grooming/brainwashing, depression, suicidal ideation, survivor’s guilt; nonconsensual kiss (episode 4), one-off visual gag of the series’ only notable brown-skinned character being put on a leash so he doesn’t get lost (episode 4).
It technically runs in a shounen magazine, but Vanitas embodies everything that I love about sweeping Gothic shoujo. While the plot might be a tangled web of conspiracies involving vampire politics and church corruption, all of that matters about as much as the lovable mess of nonsense in fellow honorary shoujo Escaflowne. This is a character piece through-and-through, examining generational trauma, histories of abuse, and a variety of deeply intense but largely unlabeled relationships in the way mangaka Mochizuki Jun loves so dearly. It’s brought to breathtaking life with BONES’ stunning production values, a superb soundtrack, and a killer voice cast.
It can dance from popcorn-munching melodrama to dazzling action to chibified comedy skits without missing a beat; it’s also genuinely sexy, very rarely using traditional fanservice shots but instead focusing on the intimate tensions between its main cast. Good sexual tension is about the yearning, and Vanitas absolutely gets that. This is a series that vibrates “everyone is bi and hot” from the rooftops.
The one major potential hurdle is the relationship between Vanitas and Jeanne, which begins with easily the worst scene in the series (a nonconsensual kiss with heavy focus on her discomfort). While the two eventually develop a rapport based on genuine support and the series does its best to invert the power dynamic between them going forward, it can be a tough hurdle to overcome.
It may be some time before we see a continuation, as the series adapts the entirety of the ongoing manga’s current run (which, as a monthly serial, it took almost seven years to build). But as long as they can get this team back, I’ll wait as long as it takes. In the meantime, just for Dee’s sake, I’ll ask: how about that full Pandora Hearts remake?
Recommended by: Alex
What’s it about? Touya, the last child born on the moon, now resides on the commercial space station Anshin—and has to play host to the tourists visiting it from Earth, much to his annoyance. The latest interstellar holiday quickly goes awry when the AI that runs the station suddenly and mysteriously reboots, and a comet leaves Earth’s atmosphere on a collision course with Anshin.
Content considerations: Children/teenagers in peril; depictions and discussions of terminal illness.
Orbital Children is a dense and tightly-packed mini-series, crammed to the brim with philosophy and sci-fi worldbuilding, and signing off with an optimistic message. Using its antagonists, it looks pointedly at the way seemingly noble notions like “the greater good” or “the future of humanity” can be co-opted by nefarious ideologies.
Rather than buying into the idea of sacrificing a few for the survival of many, the narrative staunchly rejects this and, instead, dares us to imagine and fight for a future that everyone gets to be a part of. While perhaps a little clunky in execution owing to the sheer weight of the themes relative to the short runtime (as these folks put it, things get literally galaxy-brained) it’s a valuable through-line that’s more relevant than ever.
The characters are also plenty of fun. It’s rewarding seeing Local Teen Edgelord Touya grow across the adventure, and while Konoha doesn’t get an awful lot to do initially, I also love her mini-arc about deciding she wants to live. Between sweet-natured Konoha, villainous Nasa, and vain and bubbly Mina, we get a nice spectrum of personalities across the female members of the cast (and hey, even if Mina ends up as the butt of a few jokes, her desire to be an influencer is part of what saves the world, so she ends up validated and with an important role to play).
Overall it’s an enjoyable romp through an eerily-prescient vision of the near future. Structured and paced more like one long movie than a segmented series, I’d recommend giving this one the binge-watch treatment and letting yourself fall straight into the wonderful world inside Iso Mitsuo’s brain.
Princess Connect! Re:Dive – Season 2
Recommended by: Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? The Gourmet Guild returns for a second season, but their quest to find (and eat) delicious food begins to take a backseat to troubles on a grander scale. As the guild meets new friends and slowly unravels the mystery at the heart of their kingdom, Pecorine and Yuuki must confront their pasts and Karyl must decide where her true loyalties lie.
Content considerations: Fantastical violence; mild fanservice (impractical costumes and a few boob jiggles).
Princess Connect’s first season became a surprise staff favorite thanks to its bright energy, upbeat female stealth-protagonist, clever take on the “boy of legend” archetype, and strong sense of humor. While Season 2 isn’t as stuffed with silly shenanigans, it makes up for it with more emotional heft and some truly dazzling animation, building to an explosive finale that doesn’t always make sense but is also never boring.
The character arcs touched on in Season 1 take front-and-center here, with slightly mixed results. On the one hand, the plot gets unnecessarily complicated, muddled in convoluted mythology and way too many minor characters. On the other, it nails its central cast’s arcs and emotional beats, as Pecorine comes into her own as a leader, Yuuki reconciles with his past, and the found-family tale at the heart of the story—especially Pecorine and Karyl’s relationship—reaches a satisfying and at times tear-jerking conclusion.
I can forgive a lot of plot nonsense if the feelings hit, and PriConne never had any trouble getting me to cheer for and fret over the Gourmet Guild as they grew both as individuals and a community. It’s up-and-down, but if you’re a fan of comedic fantasy with a touch of drama, you’ll likely have a good time with this one.
Recommended by: Dee
What’s it about? After a strange explosion turns Tokyo into a crater, Japan becomes a nation of rust and deserts. In Imihama Prefecture, the young doctor Nekoyanagi Milo works to develop a cure to the Rusting disease afflicting much of the populace, including his older sister. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when the infamous “rust-eater” Akaboshi Bisco appears in the city—and, more alarmingly, in Milo’s own home.
Content considerations: Fantastical depictions of climate apocalypses, pandemics, and government corruption; violence; mild fanservice and sexual content; debatable queerbaiting.
I’m still in mild shock that more of the AniFem team didn’t watch Sabikui Bisco, because it’s exactly the kind of shounen-style action/fantasy that much of our staff tends to enjoy. This show is just plain fun, y’all, a deliciously imaginative buddy road-trip romp with wild plot twists, confidently weird world-building, and a central cast of likably flawed young adults fighting corrupt politicians and saving the world from a pandemic. Power fantasy at its finest!
While the series focuses on its two male leads (one of whom explicitly declares his love for the other in a way that isn’t exactly romantic but is absolutely intimate), it does a far better job with its female characters than most shounen-style action series. Wandering merchant Tirol is an enjoyable disaster and city watch captain Pawoo gets her own (anime-original) subplot where she learns about the corrupt government she’s been serving and must decide how to realign her loyalties. While the middle-act kidnapping arc is a bit irritating, both Tirol and Pawoo do play important roles in the final battle, Pawoo especially. They’re side characters, but they’re not sidelined, which helps the series maintain its enjoyable energy.
Despite a premise featuring a climate apocalypse, pandemic, and exploitative political/corporate rulers, Sabikui Bisco never achieves the pointed social commentary of 2020 dystopian darling Akudama Drive or even this season’s 86, preferring to maintain a fantastical, slightly absurd buffer between our world and its own. This may dampen its impact—but honestly, I’m okay with that. Not every story has to be a hard-hitting, nuanced manifesto. Sometimes you just want some aspirational escapism about punching the world’s problems in the face, and Sabikui Bisco delivers that in entertaining spades.
Recommended by: Dee, Peter
What’s it about? Mikoto Shiratori, former high school tennis prodigy, begins his career as a salaryman at Sunlight Beverages, famous for their eccentric flavors like his personal favorite, Natto Cola. There’s convinced to join the company’s badminton team where he is assigned to one of their doubles teams with his senpai Tatsuru Miyazumi. Together the two, along with their teammates at coworkers, strive to succeed in the competitive corporate league while also performing their duties in their office work, all while overcoming various personal and professional anxieties.
Content considerations: Mild nudity/fanservice of adult men; a “heroic” scene of a character preventing a man from stealing canned food from a large grocery store; depiction of workplace harassment that’s sympathetic to the victim but doesn’t lead to any real repercussions for the perpetrator or enabler.
I respect the hell out of Salaryman’s Club simply for highlighting Japan’s unique Corporate Sports System, which I had somehow never heard of until this anime was released, perhaps since nearly all sports anime (and every other genre, to be honest) focus on middle or high school-aged groups. A shame, since the added complexities of family, work-life balance, and the unique structure of the league provide fertile ground for stories, which Salaryman’s Club eagerly takes advantage of.
If anything, I’d say the office politics and insight into the world of marketing—going so far as to follow the characters developing a SWOT analysis for a presentation and battling a department head who prizes sales figures over their brand reputation in developing the company’s signature repugnant beverage flavors—is far more interesting than the badminton itself. Still, the series finds a nice balance and the animation shines, especially in its lateral shots of four players exchanging rapidfire volleys. It’s particularly impressive after Liden Film’s disappointing adaptation of girls’ soccer manga Farewell, My Dear Cramer.
As a total package, the anime is quite fun and even more interesting, as it covers multiple cultural subjects all but absent in most anime, including a great mini-arc about a young dad taking a break from badminton so he can help his wife (herself an aspiring writer) with child-rearing and other domestic labor, as well as a sympathetic if glossed-over subplot concerning workplace harassment. The sports themselves are mostly grounded outside of Mikoto’s pseudo-supernatural ability to read body language and “see” future moves. Although even that doesn’t hold a candle to the unbelievability of the sheer number of hot sports prodigies that have found jobs among Japan’s office workforce rather than as professional athletes or models—but please don’t interpret that as a complaint.
Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? After helping out a fellow student who’s being bullied, covert geek Miyano and alleged delinquent Sasaki become friends. But there’s more to these two students than meets the eye, including Miyano’s passion for boys’ love (BL) manga and Sasaki’s growing crush on Miyano. As the two connect over fictional love stories, will a real-life romance blossom as well?
Content considerations: Very restrained depictions of queerphobia, queer male objectification, and teens navigating relationship boundaries/comfort levels (with a focus on consent).
Settling in for this show every week was like sinking into a warm bath. While far from the most lavish production of the season, the direction excels at conveying unspoken emotions through lighting, scene composition, and a healthy dose of the ol’ shoujo bubbles. It’s a quiet, unhurried little rom-com that packs a lot of smarts just under its unassuming surface.
Adapted from a four-panel webcomic that grew legs, the series begins by introducing audiences to Sasaki and Miyano’s friends while making affectionate jabs at BL culture. As it goes on, it starts weaving in discussions about societal expectations of manliness, masculinity both toxic and affirming, the role of fiction in queer teens’ journey of self-discovery, and a particularly deft, quiet scene about how being a queer man in BL fandom can be objectifying. Its light touch and insider jokes allow the series to have a refreshingly nuanced conversation about the pros and cons of BL. And it’s all wrapped up in a sugar-sweet love story that’s easy to root for.
This is the slowest of slow burns, and Miyano’s confession in particular is dragged out to an occasionally frustrating degree. It does ultimately commit though, and the announcement of a second season takes the sting away. While it might not suit folks looking for more high octane rom-com shenanigans, this is a gem of a series that I hope more people will discover.
Recommended by: Mercedez
What’s it about? Hiyori learned to fish from her now-deceased father, and whenever she’s anxious she heads to the pier. One day her fishing session is interrupted by a girl running down the dock, stripping to her swimsuit, and preparing to dive into the ocean—despite it being early spring and freezing cold. Hiyori stops the stranger from yeeting herself into the frigid sea, and the two get talking, sharing the wisdom of the fly fisherman… only to realize that they’re about to become stepsisters!
Content considerations: Depictions of grief/mourning.
On the surface, Slow Loop is just another “cute girls doing cute things” entry into the already sprawling genre of teenage Japanese (cis) girls being cute and getting hyperfixated on a particular topic. In this case, it’s fly fishing, which I have no experience with, but found was a perfect vehicle to a story about grief and the stages of surviving a parent as a child.
Oh, what’s that? Slow Loop’s got depth? Heck yeah it does, and let me tell you, it came as a very welcome surprise in a season that was filled with a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a heck of a lot of middling shows. And hey, it’s not even yuri-fied: there’s nary a kissin’ stepsister in this series. Instead, it follows two young women bonding over their new living situation and their shared trait: having widow and widower parents who found second life in new love. Alex expressed genuine concern in the premiere review that this show would Make It Weird, but I’m here to assure you there’s only heart, and nothing weird here, which like… wow, the bar is really on the ground, huh?
I’m so fascinated by this new shift in slice-of-life using grief as a vehicle for having very earnest conversations about emotionality in teen girls. Revolutionary? Well, in a way yes, even if there’s shows that have done this before in previous decades. I’m glad to have another modern series to add to the canon of young (cis) women having very open emotions about the one thing that comes for us all: death, and how to survive losing a parent as an actual child versus as an adult, which we’re all socialized to anticipate.
Instead of trying to be the catch of the day, Slow Loop’s a slow burn, only this time, the burn is watching two teenage girls become a real family as they move through some very big feelings and also have some really good seafood. Definitely come for the generally cute animation and stay for the underlying tale of Hiyori and Koharu finding common ground by learning to enjoy living together, and all the vividness that can come in the wake of grief.