Anime Feminist Recommendations of Winter 2024

By: Anime Feminist April 19, 20240 Comments
close-up of MaoMao and Jinshi

We had a warm winter of romance—whether it involved middle school students, office workers, or giant robots.

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.

It’s also worth noting that sometimes, someone on staff watches and likes a show, but simply isn’t able to write about it for a variety of reasons. This season, that honorary nod goes to 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy!, which both Chiaki and Dee enjoyed from underneath a pile of work and health issues.

Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!

Mao Mao from the Apothecary Diaries

The Apothecary Diaries

Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Dee, Lizzie

What’s it about? Maomao works as a pharmacist in the red light district until she’s kidnapped while collecting herbs and sold to the imperial harem as a servant.  Maomao hopes to finish her term without being noticed, but it’s difficult to hide her intelligence when royal infants start mysteriously dying and she can’t resist letting the consorts know the cause.  

Content warnings: discussions and depictions of illness and medical procedures; non-consensual sex work; forced pregnancy (for political marriage purposes); threats and discussion of sexual assault; infant death and miscarriage; a one-off joke about a horny courtesan going after kids; though it’s implied the emperor “doesn’t visit her” one of the concubines is 14 years old, something treated as normal by the setting but horrifying to the protagonist.

The Apothecary Diaries takes you on a journey of intrigue, poison, and politics in the twisting corridors of an imperial palace. Maomao is a fantastic lead: clever and prickly good with poisons but often bad with people, though always with her heart in the right place. The “pragmatic yet awkward genius detective” is a trope that’s more often reserved for male characters, and it’s fun to see Maomao step so confidently into that role—and also be her authentic gremlin self.

While Maomao is an unconventional female protagonist in a few ways, the narrative avoids framing her as being “not like other girls”—in fact, Maomao as a character, and the storytelling itself, clearly hold a lot of sympathy and interest for the various flawed and layered women that make up the broader cast. Each of these women is navigating the patriarchal system in which they exist in their own ways, some by being resilient and kind, some by scheming, and everything in between. Rarely does the narrative pigeonhole them in a binary of victims or villains, and it’s satisfying to watch.  

The major sour note is the dynamic between Maomao and her superior Jinshi, who is set up to be her eventual love interest. A pretty-boy planted in the Rear Palace to test consort’s loyalty, Jinshi is baffled that Maomao not only isn’t attracted to him, but is deeply unimpressed by him, and sets out on a quest to seduce her at all costs. While this behavior of his gradually tapers off and the interpersonal relationship between them evens out a little as the series goes on, there’s no getting away from the uncomfortable power imbalance between them and all the times he was perfectly willing to weaponize it for the purposes of being a creep. I find Jinshi an interesting character and do kind of enjoy where his vibe with Maomao ends up, but the way his early oppressive flirting is played for laughs feels horribly out of step with the show’s otherwise nuanced portrayal of sexual power dynamics. While I do still wholeheartedly recommend this series, take this caveat—and the series’ many other content warnings—with you when you venture in.


a giant robot with a sword, haloed by a rainbow

Brave Bang Bravern!

Recommended By: Caitlin, Vrai

What’s it about? Lewis Smith and Ao Isami are from opposite sides of the world and its militarized forces: Lewis, a U.S pilot, and Isami, Japan’s ace. But the day aliens invade changes their lives, bringing them closer than they could’ve ever expected.

Content Warning: torture (waterboarding); comedic nudity; mild fanservice (male and female); brief jokes about assaulting a minor (Episode 3); valorization of the military

I’m almost loathe to describe Bravern too much, because it only benefits from falling headlong into its absurdity unawares. It has similarities to a certain other gonzo hero anime in that sense, though Bravern doesn’t have nearly as much thematic ambition as my beloved Samurai Flamenco. By far the show’s biggest weakness is its uncritical valorization of the military. Yes, it has waterboarding, but what initially seems like a genuinely dark turn evolves into an escalating running joke that ends with the CIA trying to waterboard a mech. Admittedly? Funny. But also the first signs of the overall approach. There’s certainly no malice here. There’s some mild fan service, but as much of beefy chests as gently jiggling boobs. Most of the female characters are background players (and one lady alien robot, who is of course The Horny One), but it was satisfying to see Lulu emerge as a protagonist in her own right.

The writing is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of the military—the sweaty camaraderie, the cool jets, the unified forces—all of which it throws against an imaginary alien enemy rather than acknowledging any human conflicts. But that’s also a more incidentally insidious kind of propaganda, promoting the trappings while whitewashing the atrocities of the military-industrial complex. It’s the kind of low-level background hum that’s practically de rigueur in the Hollywood action films (i.e. Top Gun) that Bravern is partially homaging. It’s worth examining critically, though it wasn’t ultimately enough to keep me from championing this show.

Because my GOD is it gay. Yes, it’s a loving and smartly made parody of and tribute to the history of giant robot anime made by a veteran of the genre; one that pings for a casual viewer but also includes a wealth of very specific references every single episode. But also, it’s so gay. It is the beautiful story of a robot who is extremely horny to have his pilot inside him. And the writing commits, dammit. There’s a love confession and a moonlit beach date. The power of love saves the day. And while the show revels in its own ridiculousness, it doesn’t belittle its characters’ emotions.

Even with its faults, I couldn’t walk away from the bubbling eagerness I felt waiting for each new episode, especially with the ever-raging thirst folks out there have for genre anime with queer romance. Bravern (and Bravern) is a big, muscley pit bull who loves you, and is probably chiefly thinking about whether he can eat the nearest rock. If you can meet it on those terms, it’s fantastic.


Adachi and Kurosawa mid-kiss, Adachi hiding their lips with his phone

Cherry Magic! 30 Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?!

Recommended by: Alex, Lizzie, Toni, Vrai

What’s it about? At 30, Adachi Kiyoshi is still a virgin, so you know what that means: he gets psychic powers! His power isn’t super impressive, though—he hears the thoughts of people he’s touching. The inside of most people’s heads isn’t very interesting, so it’s mostly a minor inconvenience… until he brushes up against his well-liked and handsome coworker Kurosawa Yuuichi. Turns out, Kurosawa has a thing for someone in the office: Adachi himself! What is a psychic virgin supposed to do with this knowledge?

Content considerations: real-life shipper fujoshi; mind reading; discussions of homophobic stereotypes; fears of being outed; sexual content.

Finally, some good goddamn food. 

I’ll be honest, one of my biggest gripes with contemporary BL is that there seems to be this extreme dichotomy between the hypersexual predation stories that we get from the likes of Dakaichi and extremely slow burn romances like Given where the story ends with the characters getting together. For years, I’ve been waiting for a show that depicts two adult men entering a relationship that includes sex and is largely healthy. (Ideally, the sex would also be sexy and titillating, but that is a topic for another article.)

Cherry Magic basically answered my wishes. These men are horny for each other—especially Kurosawa, whose almost every thought when he’s around Adachi is “boy would I love to rail this twink. Consensually, of course.” (Okay actually it’s a little more restrained than that, but you get the picture.) And yet. And yet. This is actually a show about healthy communication more than anything. 

Astonishingly, the mind-reading wizardry conceit ends up being a truly brilliant symbol throughout the series, signifying many different struggles somebody might have in a first same-sex relationship. Early in the series, it signifies the absurdity of the closet—how even as one knows full well the other person is madly in love with you, it’s still impossible to fully reveal one’s queer desire either to them or even to yourself. Later, though, it becomes a poignant symbol of Adachi’s terror at being hurt or accidentally hurting Kurosawa, and how being paralyzed by that fear or letting it guide him harms their ability to actually ever connect as adults. To be able to fully connect with Kurosawa, he has to trust Kurosawa enough to let him in. It is immensely satisfying to watch a BL where the messy early stages of a relationship are not only depicted, but given the complexity and weight they deserve.

The B-couple Tsuge and Wataya are also a delight, with their arc showing how a trusting relationship can support you as you follow your dreams. While their plot largely conforms to many romance anime cliches (cycling somebody to the audition/test while giving them a big pep talk, for example), it is still an enjoyable novelty to watch them applied to a BL.

The only thing that makes me sad about Cherry Magic is that it does not adapt the whole manga. I would have loved to see the kinds of explicit explorations of societal homophobia and resistance that the later volumes of the manga depict. Given the big time skip towards the end, there is almost no chance we will be getting a continuation, and that sucks!

However, it really only makes me sad because this is such a great series. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that opening is so visually impressive. Thank you, Akane Kazuki.


Kyotaro and Anna standing back to back, both blushing

The Dangers in My Heart — Season 2

Recommended By: Vrai

What’s it about? Ichikawa Kyotaro is the quiet edgy kid in class who carries a murder encyclopedia and thinks about killing annoying classmates. Most of all, he wants to kill tall, popular model Yamada Anna; except the more he observes her, the more he starts to realize she’s a weirdo too. 

Content Warnings: depictions of misogyny and sexism; bullying; stalking/online harassment; sexual harassment; diet culture/fat-shaming; sporadic fan service of middle schoolers (drops off almost entirely by the end of Season 1)

The first season of Dangers in My Heart just barely missed out on getting a seasonal recommendation. The season it aired in was packed, its premiere has a pretty unpleasant cold open, and there was just enough weird fan service shots in the early episodes (which I suspect are supposed to be about protagonist hormones but are uncomfortable nonetheless) that I ended up prioritizing other titles and giving it a small shout-out on the podcast instead. But Season 2 is everything good about the first and then some, so I couldn’t let it fly by again.

Dangers absolutely gets the agonies of middle school. Kyotaro’s awkwardness and prickly deeper-than-thou façade certainly struck a chord with me, and the realization that he only turns 13 halfway through this second season really hammered home how young these characters are. It is the worst, most dramatic, most cringe part of growing up, and this show captures that with writing that’s gently affectionate but not nostalgic. The manga artist has a clear eye for Kyotaro’s flaws on his journey to become a more compassionate person, and even before he begins to open up she writes the girls around him with depth and sympathy (the other boys are….mostly kind of the worst in petty, familiar ways, for a pretty long time). All of that translates beautifully under the hand of Hanada Jukki, king of the high school character drama.

But even if Kyotaro is the POV character, it’s Anna’s story too. The boarding takes care even early on to convey the subtleties and awkwardness of her character that Kyotaro isn’t yet picking up on, but Season 2 in particular spends a lot of time separating Kyotaro’s admiration for Anna from idolization as they grow closer. Her career as a burgeoning child star isn’t just a throwaway trait to make her a higher-value prize as a girlfriend; it’s her passion, and an influence on how she has to think about romance in the public eye. Several subplots treat stalking, “nice guy” pressure tactics, and pick-up artistry, as serious issues, and it makes some good-hearted attempts at body positivity with the series’ B-couple (though they’re a bit complicated by Anna’s quirk of eating constantly despite being a model and seemingly never having to worry about her weight). After those early episodes it’s also pretty classy about touching on adolescent sexual awakening, though there is still a small handful of horny POV shots.

It’s a sweet, earnest romance show that really captures the emotional trials of being that age, giving its cast grace for their flaws while also nudging them toward communication skills and/or positive masculinity some of us probably wish we could’ve learned a little earlier. And damned if the last episode didn’t make me cry a little.


A white-haired young man and a red-haired young woman standing underneath umbrellas in the snow, facing each other. They both have their little fingers raised to their chins

A Sign of Affection

Recommended by: Alex, Dee, Toni

What’s it about? Yuki loves fashion, cute things, and her friends, and is living her best life in her first year of college. She’s also deaf and uses a combination of sign language and written notes to communicate with her classmates. A chance encounter on a train sees her path crossing with a jet-setting fellow student named Itsuomi, who has just come back from his latest trip. Yuki assumes he can’t possibly be interested in her, but, thanks to some encouragement/meddling from her best friend, maybe her world is about to get a little bit wider.

Content warning: scenes of disability discrimination, often unintentional, systemic, or built into the setting around them.

A Sign of Affection retains the sweet tone that the premiere established, and unfolds into a gentle, down-to-earth, character-focused story about relationships, communication, and self-confidence. While the romance between Yuki and Itsuomi (and the ensuing love quadrangle that spirals out from it) is a major part of the series, it often feels like the narrative’s main drive is to provide a sincere coming-of-age story for Yuki. It’s rewarding to watch her come out of her shell, expand her horizons, increasingly stick up for herself (particularly where her overbearing, overprotective childhood friend Oushi is concerned), and generally have a nice time.

While the series touches on some of the challenges Yuki faces as a Deaf person navigating a world that doesn’t always accommodate her, it’s not capital A About her disability, nor does her entire characterization hinge around her marginalization in society. It helps that there are multiple Deaf or Hard of Hearing characters throughout the ensemble cast who demonstrate a range of personalities and experiences, saving Yuki from being the be all and end all of disability representation in the show (even if she is the only major character—not ideal, but still). But most satisfyingly, A Sign of Affection generally manages to balance depicting a realistic world with depicting a romanticized, rosy shoujo story. While there are some hurdles at the start—for example, Itsuomi overstepping physical boundaries with casual touch a few times—the main couple settles into a really sweet dynamic that emphasizes the importance of communication and emotional intimacy as a precursor to all else. It’s clearly a healthy relationship while also being practically glittery with elements of romantic fantasy.

As this article about A Sign of Affection’s animation and production process articulates so neatly, “its creators see it first and foremost as an idealistic shoujo romance; one that uses reality to ground the lived experience of people with hearing impairment, but that remains deliberately starry-eyed otherwise.” While your mileage may vary and I expect—like all works of art that depict marginalized identities in some way—it will resonate with some audiences and bounce off others, it’s clear that this anime was put together with a lot of care, both in terms of respecting Yuki as a character and building a warm, welcoming world in which to tell an inclusive romantic story.


chibi Yumiella looks sparkly eyed and determined

Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss But I’m Not the Demon Lord

Recommended by: Alex, Dee, Lizzie

What’s it about? After a tragic accident, a college student is reincarnated as Yumiella Dolkness, the extra-hard secret boss of Light Magic and the Hero. Her initial goal is to avoid heroine Alicia Ehnleit and her love interests altogether, training in secret in case she should need to defeat the Demon King herself. But all her training adds up to is putting every eye on her at the academy’s entrance ceremony. 

Content warnings: fantasy discrimination (against dark magic/black-haired people)

Villainess Level 99 is a breath of fresh air in a sea of overpowered male protagonists in the isekai genre. There’s definitely a conversation to be had about this show’s place within the villainess genre, but from a purely isekai perspective it was fun seeing Yumiella’s strength outshine everyone’s abilities. Yumiella is a total gamer who loves to level up, but due to her deadpan personality, people often misunderstand her and believe she’ll someday destroy humanity. It doesn’t help that there’s overt discrimination against black haired people so that further alienates Yumiella from her peers.  

Unfortunately, the series doesn’t explore the prejudice against black-haired people in depth until the last couple of episodes, which is a shame because I believe the writing was capable of unpacking that theme. It also doesn’t help that this series clearly didn’t get the budget it deserved to depict the magical world these characters inhabit. It’s frustrating that it’s becoming a noticeable pattern that shows aimed at women and girls either don’t get a decent adaptation or there’s an unlikelihood of a second season. Not only is Yumiella a likable character, but it was amusing to see characteristics normally attributed to edgelord male characters be given to her. If that wasn’t enough, her romantic partner in crime, Patrick, is a genuinely sweet guy who cares about her and wants to be seen as her equal. I know that’s a low bar, but considering how many edgelord characters we get each season, I’ll gladly celebrate this little win.  

While Villainess Level 99 isn’t a perfect show since not every character got their chance to shine (or at least go beyond their generic archetypes), Yumiella’s character is a reminder as to why we need women to be centered in isekai again. We need a variety of women characters with different personalities and goals to root for along with bringing back some much needed life into the genre. Even though the show felt extremely rushed towards the end, I’m glad Villainess Level 99 exists and I guess we have to resign ourselves to reading the light novel.  


4/19/24: This article was edited after posting to include a shout-out to 7th Time Loop.

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