Anime Feminist has been in operation since Fall 2016, which means seven years–a whopping 28 seasonal rotations. We’ve written about hundreds of shows, and recommended plenty of them, and as the years go on it’s easy for some of the smaller titles to get lost in the shuffle. That’s why we decided to try out a “backlog” series. People are getting into anime for the first time or coming back to it from a long time away all the time, after all!
When putting together this list, we placed the cutoff at the end of 2020, just to really let comparatively older titles shine. Plus, it leaves some options on the table if decide to circle back to this topic in a few years! We also didn’t include any titles that are already on our pinned recommendation lists.
Have you seen any of these already, or plan to look them up now? Let us know in the comments, along with what you’d be interested in for future “flashback”-type articles–more stuff from the vaults? Staff picks by vintage year? We wanna know!
ClassicaLoid (Winter 2017)
Recommended By: Dee
What’s it about? Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Mild bawdy and sophomoric humor (fart jokes, mostly); comedic violence (teens/adults); shipteasing between minors and adults (played for comedy, and nothing comes of it)
From the director of Mr. Osomatsu comes a comedy about famous composers reborn in the modern era who escape a research lab and move into a Japanese boarding house where they cook gyoza, play MMOs, and use their psychedelic “musik” powers to help their high school landlady.
And if all that sounds absolutely ridiculous, that’s because it absolutely is. Blending wit with weirdness with old-school slapstick and topping it all off with a dollop of heartfelt sincerity, ClassicaLoid is a creative playground that fully commits to both its characters’ conflicts and their shenanigans, and I loved it for that.
I also loved it because, unlike so many comedies, I didn’t have to take breaks between giggles to constantly roll my eyes at gratuitous T&A or flip a table about some queer-bashing “joke.” Barring exactly two references to Kanae being flat-chested, ClassicaLoid is good clean fun, a little too saucy to be a true “kids’ show” but with all the bright energy of a Saturday Morning Cartoon.
It also managed to impress with its understated progressivism, as it doesn’t force its cast into traditional gendered behavior patterns (Landlady Kanae, for example, is both a thoughtful caretaker and a temperamental rage-monster), and even directly challenges cultural norms from time to time, such as in the delightfully inclusive “Girls’ Day Out” and “Love, And You Shall Die.”
As those links can attest, I haven’t been able to shut up about this goofball series, so it should be no surprise that this was my second-favorite show of the season (behind Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, of course) and that I give it a big ol’ Feminist-Friendly Thumbs-Up. If you enjoy a bit of gleeful silliness in your life, this is one melody well worth playing.
Anime-Gataris (Fall 2017)
Recommended By: Vrai
What’s it about? High schooler Asagaya Minoa is a total newbie to anime, except for the fuzzy memory of one show she loved passionately as a small child. That’s all it takes for her to be lured to the “anime research club,” where she’s enraptured by the passion of her new clubmates (not to mention the mysterious door that must apparently never be opened.
Content Warnings: Fanservice/sexualization of minors (mainly concentrated to gags around one character); queerphobic stereotype
Every season this year has ended with at least one ambitious wreck that pummeled my emotions and prodded my frustrations, and here we are again. Anime-Gataris is one of the most creative meta-anime that I’ve seen in some time, but the ride getting there is bumpy enough that I find myself somewhat reticent to recommend it.
The first chunk of the series is a fairly low-key club anime, distinguished by some truly eagle-eyed insight into what being a high school anime fan is like: the rush of going to a fan event for the first time, arguing anime versus source with your friend, and totally overanalyzing a crush because you don’t want to be like those lunk-headed idiots in rom-com anime. It believes passionately in anime and its power to bring people together. It even occasionally acknowledges that you can be a passionate fan without unquestioningly loving every anime produced, a small touch that endeared me after years of “critical fan=bad fan” portrayals.
The last third is an absolutely gonzo thrill ride that plays around extensively with the mechanics of how anime is made while also discussing the relationships between fan, author, and text. It’s not just meta, it’s creatively meta, playing with art style, aspect ratios, and stages of production. It avoids getting into anything too complex (none of the female characters are bothered even once by ecchi or siscon anime, for example) but it’s also not so far gone as to uncritically tongue-bathe this thing we all love.
It also takes way too long to get going, content to wear its mask for far longer than most twist anime, stalling out in the middle with pleasant but unremarkable episodes. And while most of the skeevy elements in the series are part of a long walk toward a joke (overly sexualizing a student character out of nowhere every episode, having a pretty offensive gay stereotype because it’s basically Fukuyama Jun reprising his role on Black Butler), those jokes are never good enough to wash away the discomfiting cost. Still, I can’t say I didn’t admire it at the end of the day, and the final three episodes are an unforgettable trip.
Asobi Asobase (Summer 2018)
Recommended By: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Meet the girls of the Pastime Club! There’s Olivia, a Japanese-born daughter of foreign parents with blonde hair, blue eyes, and absolutely zero English skills. There’s Kasumi, who has hated games since she was a child because her older sister used them as a way to power trip over her. Finally, there’s Hanako, who really wants to be cool and popular but just can’t seem to make it work. Together, they explore a variety of pastimes from different cultures.
Content Warning: Transphobia; fatphobia; an adult man trying to hit on a teenager; horrible horny baby; boob jokes; gyaru tanning that toes the line of blackface jokes
A comedy about terrible people is a difficult needle to thread. Go too gentle on your cast and you risk seeming to endorse their worldview; go too harsh, and the show’s tone becomes alienatingly cruel. 90% of the time, Asobi Asobase walks that line with skill.
As Caitlin’s premiere review mentioned, the show is dedicated to letting its protagonists wallow in anti-cuteness. The grotesque facial animations and hyper-real close-ups wouldn’t have been out of place in a horror anime, and it’s intensely refreshing. Hanako, Kasumi, and Olivia are horrible little shits in ways generally only allowed for male protagonists, and it had me in rare fits of audible laughter almost every week. Even the show’s boob jokes are funny.
At the same time, you get a solid sense of why they’re friends and they tend to be remorseful when a joke gets too harsh. On the rare occasion that the show breaks into out-and-out sincerity (of a sort), it sells. Watching the Pastimers help occultist and cinnamon roll Oka make a voodoo doll in hopes of curing her hospitalized friend was genuinely heart-melting.
There are jokes that don’t so much cross the line as trip over it (some fatphobia in the premiere, Olivia’s older brother perving on Kasumi via text, the gyaru sketch, a few too many jokes at the expense of Olivia’s body odor), but for the most part the comedy is fast-paced enough that any failed punchline is in the rearview mirror before it can leave much of a sour taste. The jokes lead toward a dizzying absurdity that recalls all the dumb things you thought in middle school and then depicts them with the visual intensity you perceived them to have at the time.
The exception to this is Aozora, a feminine-presenting student heavily implied to be a trans girl. The “jokes” about her almost uniformly centers around the Pastimers trying to look at her genitals. The assumption of cis individuals that they have a right to interrogate trans bodies based on their own curiosity is a poisonous one, and a daily trauma almost every trans person has probably experienced at some point (and don’t come at me with that “oh, she’s a male-identified crossdresser!” shit—this takes place at an all-girls school, not a mixed-gender one with uniform options).
To make things worse, while most of the writing pulls off a clear distinction between the girls being idiots and what the audience is implicitly meant to think, that collapses during Aozora’s introduction. In maybe the ugliest moment of the show, the Ron Howard-style narrator remarks that Hanako’s “animal instinct” tells her she should be afraid of Aozora. It is both unfunny and hurtful, and I don’t blame people who found those sketches poisonous enough to drop the show.
For me, personally, the show being divided into self-contained sketches—there are 44 across the whole show, and Aozora appears in only five—combined with how incredibly successful basically every other element of the show was, made it possible to compartmentalize those aspects. For those interested who want to avoid those sketches entirely (which I highly recommend) they are: “Loaded Questions” (episode 5), “Phantom Thieves: Pass Club” (episode 7; though the joke of this one is about the girls stealing a file of school rumors, and Aozora only appears at the very beginning and end), and basically all of episode 10 (which also includes a burgeoning predatory lesbian, though that blow is softened by the fact that Kasumi is pretty closeted/gay-coded herself).
Outside of that not-insignificant flaw, Asobi Asobase proved to be one of my favorite anime comedies in years. If the terrible-found-family dynamic of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is your jam, then definitely give this one a try.
Meiji Tokyo Renka (Winter 2019)
Recommended By: Chiaki, Dee
What’s it about? Ostracized as a child for her ability to see ghosts, Mei Ayazuki has gotten used to being alone—at least, until a magician sends her back in time to the Meiji Era. Surrounded by famous men and supernatural mysteries, Mei can truly be herself for the first time in years.
Content Warning: A lack of respect for personal space; roughshod crossdressing; ableist undercurrents
Though Meiji Tokyo Renka started off a little rough with the male cast getting pretty handsy with Mei Ayazuki, the show chills out quite a bit after the first episode. If anything, what helped the show along the most was the fact it had its cast of famed Meiji-era Renaissance men, especially Ougai Mori, take a step back to instead allow the show’s oddball heroine to take center stage.
Mei is memorable as a character, not only for her quirky love of beef, but her earnest can-do attitude that takes charge each episode. Renka shines the most when Mei is in the spotlight, whether through songs about electricity or forthright declarations about her own wants and needs.
The show, however, is by no means perfect. Notwithstanding the concerns expressed earlier, Renka does not have as much sensitivity as it could. Kyoka Izumi’s germaphobic tendencies aren’t taken that seriously after all, and Otojiro Kawakami’s crossdressing role as Otoyakko feels more like a spectacle than anything.
These character quirks, among others, especially feel shallow given the germaphobia and crossdressing don’t appear to have any historical grounding. Actually, the show had a number of temporal inconsistencies, which made me wonder if the writers did any research at all about these guys save for a quick glance at a Wikipedia page.
Overall, though, the playful tone for the series, and, most of all the narrative kindness expressed towards its isolated female protagonist, makes it such a pleasant watch. I’m just happy for Mei, and being able to join her on this fantastic journey was fun enough for me.
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu (Spring 2019)
Recommended By: Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? All through elementary school, Bocchi’s only friend was Kai. When it turns out they’re going to different middle schools, Kai gives Bocchi a challenge: they can’t be friends again until Bocchi has made friends with every person in her homeroom class.
Content Considerations: Depictions of anxiety.
Hitoribocchi is the gentlest of comedies, the kind of school story that lovingly pokes fun at its characters while always sympathizing with and humanizing them. It’s quite silly, featuring fairly broad archetypes with quirks like “secretly a disaster” or “wants to be a ninja,” leading to plenty of solid humor. At the same time, though, there’s an emotional authenticity to its characters’ stories and arcs that grounds it, allowing it to resonate with middle-grade viewers and adults alike.
Protagonist Bocchi is often a spot-on portrayal of anxiety—getting nauseous at the thought of greeting new people or speaking in front of class; fretting that her friends will forget about her if she’s been away for longer than a day—but the series handles it with a light, optimistic touch. Bocchi is never shamed for her difficulties with social situations, and she does slowly grow and gain confidence, thanks in large part to her supportive friend-group.
So often “cute girl” comedies let themselves get too saccharine or stumble into infantilization or fanservice. Hitoribocchi avoids these pitfalls, leading to a sweet, upbeat experience that’s a pleasure to watch each episode. If you like soothing comedies, this one’s an easy recommendation.
Outburst Dreamer Boys (Fall 2019)
Recommended By: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Hijiri Mizuki wants a peaceful life at her new high school, but she just had to go and get an eye infection before starting. The eyepatch she’s temporarily wearing catches the attention of Noda Yamato, a superhero tokusatsu nerd who immediately pegs her as a fellow geek. Will she be able to make any “normal” friends now that he’s begun recruiting her to join the Hero Club?
Content Considerations: Mild comedic violence.
An infectiously enthusiastic comedy about helping others and being true to yourself, Outburst Dreamer Boys swept in like a super sentai squad to become not only my favorite show of the fall, but one of my favorites of the entire year.
As a story about nerd boys, Dreamer Boys walks two impressive comedic tightropes. First, it pokes good-natured fun at its cast without veering into cruelty, always tempering its humor with a genuine beat of humanity. And second, it encourages its audience to be honest about their geeky passions without snubbing its nose at anyone who doesn’t share those passions. It’s enthusiastic but never smug; silly but never mean; an upbeat exploration of what positive nerd masculinity can look like.
And, as a story about a girl finding her place in a new community, it’s slow-moving but deeply satisfying. As the passive, reluctant Mizuki gradually develops genuine affection for her new friends, she shifts into a more active role in the story, working to protect the club and the people she cares about. Whether Mizuki has actual superpowers is up for debate, but by the time the credits roll, there’s no doubt the Hero Club is her home.
At a crisp 11 episodes, the series tells a complete story that’s joyfully accepting, quietly affirming, and a whole lot of fun to watch. Don’t get caught sleeping on the Dreamer Boys, folks.
Uchitama?! Have you Seen my Tama? (Winter 2020)
Recommended By: Chiaki, Dee
What’s it about? Based on the popular mascot characters Tama and Friends, Uchitama?! follows cat Tama as he hangs out with the other cats and dogs in District 3.
Content Considerations: Comedic violence.
Who knew at the start of the season that the real MVP (Most Valuable Pet) was gonna be Uchitama over any of the other anime featuring catgirls? It’s first episode appeared to be setting up a slice-of-life “cute humanoid animals” show, but Uchitama instead became a solid comedy with wit and charm, all while keeping things wholesome and even progressive at parts.
Each of the cats and dogs are easy enough to “get,” given that this is a series based on characters primarily created to sell cute stationary rather than deliver a compelling story. Even so, the show applies the characters well in a variety of situations and I felt like I got to know a new side to them previously unnoticed in their cute and simple caricature animal forms.
I got to the point where I didn’t know what to expect from Uchitama each week, but I accepted it all the same. In one episode, the cast broke out in a rap battle; in another, Tama is a contestant on a parody of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. There is no rhyme or reason why any of this happens the way it does, but nothing felt out of place no matter how surreal things got (except perhaps the interdimensional portal on Beh’s cheek—that was really weird even by this show’s standards).
The show somehow manages to hit a sweet spot where its tone is kept relatively consistent, even as situations ranged from tear-jerking drama to absurdist comedy. There was no ongoing story for Uchitama, but there was enough variety to its short skits that I wouldn’t mind seeing more in the future if this cat returns.
APPARE-RANMAN! (Summer 2020)
Recommended By: Caitlin, Chiaki, Dee, Lizzie, Vrai
What’s it about? In early-1900s Los Angeles, a cross-country automobile race filled with fantastical vehicles and colorful characters is about to kick off. When upright young swordsmen Kosame and flighty genius engineer Appare wind up far from Japan, they decide to enter the race—Appare so he can put his inventions to the test, and Kosame so they can use the prize money to get home.
Content warnings: Racially stereotyped character designs; violence, including brief depictions of the deaths of indigenous people.
Vrai referred to Appare-Ranman as “the platonic ideal of a problematic fave” during our mid-season check-in, and that held true right through to the end. As we’ve discussed before, the character designs were an undeniably insensitive mistake: someone thinking “if they’re all dressed like stereotypes, then it’s fine” without considering the histories of oppression, appropriation, and uneven power dynamics that impact Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities.
And it’s completely fair if that’s an automatic deal-breaker for you! But if it isn’t, the great news is that Appare‘s writing is in almost direct opposition to its character designs. A modern take on turn-of-the-19th-century Western adventure stories, Appare takes the genre’s story beats and twists them in refreshing ways, largely by centering its tale on the marginalized characters (women and BIPOCs) that those older narratives either ignored or outright vilified.
It plays with expectations in delightful ways, as characters you think will be villains turn out to be cinnamon rolls, apparent enemies quickly become friends, and the “cold genius” character becomes the emotional core of the series. It all culminates in a thrilling and surprisingly touching finale—and, while I don’t want to mislead readers by saying the ending is explicitly romantic, the lighting, tone, and dialog all make it very easy to view the series as a queer love story (and an adorable one, to boot).
I don’t mean to suggest that Appare is a complex progressive manifesto, because it isn’t. It is first-and-foremost popcorn entertainment that wants its audience to have fun, which means its take on feminist topics is more in the vein of “hoo-rah, go underdogs!” than a nuanced exploration of early-1900s America. There are also some issues with flat villains and kidnapped ladies in the back half, though it helps a lot that there’s also a prominent female character playing a major role in the damsel’s rescue.
Still, the endearing way Appare both subverts genre expectations and builds its characters and their relationships makes it an immensely enjoyable romp with surprisingly few caveats. Despite its cringe-inducing character designs and some early narrative concerns, Appare-Ranman‘s lovable cast and feel-good adventure story helped it become my favorite show of the summer (and possibly of the year). The finale teased a potential season 2 airplane race that I’d love to see play out, but even if it doesn’t, this is a charming self-contained series that I very much look forward to rewatching down the road.
Gal & Dino (Fall 2020)
Recommended By: Dee (but only the animated section), Vrai
What’s it about? The titular gal, Kaede, wakes up in her apartment after a night of drinking to discover that she agreed to let a dinosaur crash at her place! On the bright side, it turns out a dino makes for a pretty chill roomie.
Poor Gal & Dino. This follow-up from the Pop Team Epic crew was always going to be a bit of a niche title. It’s an experimental comedy that dabbles in 2D animation, 3D animation, and stop-motion felt work alongside live-action sections… which resulted in its production being delayed the longest of any of the Spring 2020 series. By the time it came back, it was all but forgotten.
And that’s a shame! Because the animated sections in particular are bursting with love and creativity, and I was endlessly touched by the show’s insistence on prominently putting artist credits at the beginning of every short sketch. Its humor is gentle and relatively quiet, with a likable cast and just enough touches of absurdity to keep it from dragging. It’s also just nice to see a gyaru (gal) character that isn’t the target of misogyny or a grating caricature and who has really great friendships with other women in addition to her excellent dino roommate.
The live-action segments can be much more hit-or-miss, with the early episodes in particular often building their gag around getting a popular Japanese comedian or TV personality to guest star or waiting ten minutes to reveal a punchline. They’re not for everyone—although I did get a kick out of, for example, watching the live-action Dino inexplicably recreate Rin’s opening camping scene in Laid-Back Camp—but I appreciated the experimental spirit of it.
Fortunately, because the show is divided neatly in half with the animated segments first, it’s entirely possible to skip the live-action bits if they’re not working for you (for the record, this is Dee’s recommended strategy). It’s an odd little show, but I couldn’t let 2020 slip by without shouting out its weirdest iyashikei offering. I look forward to seeing what Aoki Jun and his co-conspirators do next.
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle (Fall 2020)
Recommended By: Alex, Caitlin, Chiaki, Cy, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? In a world rife with tensions between humans and demons, a new conflict begins when the Demon King suddenly kidnaps Princess Syalis of Goodereste and locks her in his castle! While the Hero of Goodereste embarks on a quest to rescue her, the princess embarks on a quest of her own: to get the best night’s sleep ever.
Content considerations: Slapstick violence; comedic kidnapping; a wordplay sex joke in the third episode concerning a character who’s almost certainly underage (see our three-episode check-in for more details).
Easily the Staff Pick of the Season, this goofball comedy about a gremlin princess had a strong sense of identity from the word “go” and maintained that same level of energy and silliness through to the end. Better still, the back half expanded the cast and developed their relationships with one another, revealing a beating heart beneath all the shenanigans.
Sleepy Princess mines a lot of its humor from reversing fairy tale and fantasy expectations, as the kidnapped princess wreaks havoc on the soft-hearted residents of the demon castle while an ineffective hero she can’t stand tries to rescue her. But along the way, it also uses these same expectations to humanize its cast and challenge tropes.
As the characters get to know (and develop affection for) each other, they push back against their prescribed roles and the world they’ve been born into and begin to wonder if conflict really is their only option. The commentary is a light touch (this is a comedy, after all), but it does wonders for developing an endearing cast who are more than just vehicles for a punchline.
Overall, Sleepy Princess was a fun, charming romp each week, and a welcome addition to the list of Nice Comedies I can recommend with almost zero caveats. Between this and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Yamazaki Mitsue has proven herself one of the best comedy directors in the business. I wouldn’t say no to a second season of Sleepy Princess, but I will straight-up demand more Yamazaki projects in the future.