Anime Feminist’s Top Picks for 2023

By: Anime Feminist January 26, 20240 Comments
Skip and Loafer promo image of a smiling Mitsumi being hugged by her three female friends

2023 saw some massive franchises retire, others make history, and old favorites return. Settle in and check out our favorites from the year that was!

How did we choose our recs?

Participating staff members picked five titles and ranked them. The only rule was that the series or season had to be complete as of December 2023 or been on the air without a break for over a year. This meant that split-cours and ongoing shows that began in 2023 and are still airing (like The Apothecary Diaries) were NOT eligible. They’ll be rolled onto any 2024 lists.

We always want to emphasize that our recommendations are not meant as a rubber-stamp of “Feminist Approval.” Rather, we aim to highlight shows we found valuable and think might appeal to our readers as well, with any content warnings or caveats that might apply.

How are they ranked? 

They’re not, really. We’ve highlighted our “top picks” that received the most staff member votes, but otherwise they’re just organized alphabetically. The team has varying tastes, as do our readers, and we didn’t want to try to put those tastes in a hierarchy.

Hey, you didn’t list my favorite show!

That’s okay! Like we said, we limited ourselves to a Top Five, and everyone has different tastes. If there’s something that slipped under our radar and you think it’s a series other feminist-minded viewers would enjoy, please let us and your fellow readers know in the comments!

Best in Show

Skip and Loafer

Shima and Mitsuki doing "okay" hand symbol dance moves

Chosen by: Alex (#1), Dee (#2), Lizzie (#1), Peter (#1), Toni (#2)

Also previously recommended by: Vrai

What’s it about? Mitsumi moves from a tiny town in Ishikawa Prefecture to bustling big city Tokyo for high school, with grand ambitions of graduating top of her class, studying law, and saving rural Japan from decline. Despite being so sure of her life goals, Mitsumi’s first day of school doesn’t exactly go to plan. But a laid-back, sweet-natured boy steps in to help her—so maybe, even if things don’t stay perfectly on track, they might just end up okay.

Content considerations: Depictions of social anxiety and (briefly) transphobia; allusions to the lingering social trauma of being a child actor; one character’s backstory involves fatphobic bullying. 

Skip and Loafer expertly balances its tone and subject matter, touching on many issues that affect young people—social anxiety, body image, and the pressure to please parents, among others—while still ensuring that you come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Mitsumi is an endearing protagonist who’s goofy and flawed without ever being reduced to the butt of a joke. It’s rewarding watching her navigate high school life: learning to chase her ambitions without running herself into the ground, working out the weird balancing act of a teen social life, and serving as a shining beacon of hope to love interest Shima without her own character depth being reduced. 

As a nice bonus, this series also features some good-natured and matter-of-fact queer representation. In a media climate where trans women are being treated with such vitriol, it was lovely to see Nao-chan presented not only as a likeable, sympathetic character, but as a respected guardian, mentor, and certified Cool Aunty. Drama Club President Kanechika is also fun—though he may read a little stereotypical to some viewers, extroverted gender non-conforming Theater Kid™  that he is, like all the characters he feels familiar and authentic when the initial first impressions are peeled away. Skip and Loafer is a lovely little character study with a nuanced cast of messy teens, and I can’t wait to watch more.


Runner Up

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury

miorine and suletta smiling and holding hands

Chosen by: Alex, (#2), Dee (#3), Peter (#3), Vrai (#1)

Also previously recommended by: Toni

What’s it about? Suletta Mercury is a shy, anxious girl from the outer reaches of space—so how is it that when she’s finally able to go to school, she immediately ends up caught in a duel and engaged to the daughter of a powerful CEO? As she and her new fiancee slowly become closer, a web of political intrigue and corporate warfare begins to tighten around them. 

Content Warnings: Depictions of ableism, gun violence, police brutality against protestors, war crimes, child soldiers, terrorism, child death, gore, gaslighting, genocide.

The Witch from Mercury hit the ground running with tremendous ambition, carrying both Gundam’s long-standing critiques about the horrors of war and its status as the first franchise entry with a female pilot protagonist on its shoulders. To that, it elected to add a central queer romance and a story that dealt with the appropriation of medical and assistive technology by the military industrial complex and exploitation of colonial labor and resources. It would have to do all of this, it turns out, with a runtime less than half that of almost every other Gundam series—and with the additional anticipatory build-up caused by a five-year gap since the last mainline entry finished airing. The glass cliff is a hell of a thing.

With all that on its shoulders, it’s incredible how much the affectionately dubbed “GWitch” succeeds. Its central romance is gripping, to be sure, but just as compelling is the twisted and complex mother/daughter relationship that forms the show’s other central pillar. Propsera makes for a wonderful villain, as layered and sympathetic as she is single-mindedly dangerous. The sins of previous generations echo from character to character, and the show has a skilled eye for making characters double and triple foils for each other. It’s also just a plain delight to see the focus on diversity in character design, whether it’s through race, disability, or a dedication to designing some extremely cute and cool fat characters.

There’s no getting around the fact that GWitch needed to be, at minimum, a full 12 episodes longer. It introduces a fantastic supporting cast only to have to shelve most of them during the “everything happens so much” second half. It casts a critical eye on the military industrial complex, but events that feel like set-up to dismantle the corporatocracy at work are necessarily set aside in order to have enough time to pay off the show’s emotional ends. It struggles with all its might to resist pat solutions to its problems, particularly in the subplots involving the exploited Earth colonies, and the ultimate result is less that it dropped the ball and more that it passed it off-stage into the hands of waiting fanfic writers.

Even with those caveats, GWitch is still a very special show. Its ambition is laudable, its characters compelling, and its heart enormous. It felt like truly communal appointment viewing in a way that’s rare these days. And, as a little middle finger to those who might have expected it to fail, it sold the fuck out of those model kits. Double the success on half the resources, that’s the GWitch way.


The Best of the Rest

These other titles got at least one vote from a staffer, earning them a spot on our 2023 recs list.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride Season 2

Chise and Philomela touching foreheads

Chosen by: Peter (#4)

What’s it About? Chise’s story continues as she decides to enroll in a magical university. There she meets new and old friends while encountering the complex and dangerous world of magical politics which, it turns out, really messes up all the children that grow up within it. One such classmate, Philomela, captures Chise’s attention. Philomela’s emotional strife feels all-too-familiar to the sleigh beggy, who gets a taste of her own medicine trying to lend support to a grief-stricken teen who has lost all hope.

Content warnings: Child abuse (physical and emotional), gore, body horror

Despite my somewhat vocal opinions about the direction of the original series coming up against reality and arriving at a less than ideal conclusion, I have to admit Chise and Elias’ interactions are still just as charming in season 2. Their relationship has reached a much more comfortable equilibrium with Elias’ taking steps to accept Chise’s agency, not interfere with her friendships, and even explore friendships of his own to continue his personal development and lessen his emotional reliance on Chise.

The series does suffer under its new narrative direction with the magical university requiring quite a bit of worldbuilding (exposition) and consistent character interactions that pull the story away from its previous vignette structure that regularly delivered regular doses of dopaminergic catharsis experiences the beauty and sadness of the world of humans, magic, and the moments where the two intersect. Instead, we get a new cast of students who, even if you like them (I found it difficult to connect with any of them), struggle to shine as their various angsts related to the backstabbing intrigues of magic society don’t have time to even reach a stage of conflict as they take a back seat to the development of the main plot.

That all said, the series still has the comfy moments, wonderful magic, and cool creatures (also the series’ best opening) presented with the same sterling quality of the original season, delivered by many members of the original staff who picked up and started a whole new studio just to continue adapting this series. When the animation and music hit, it pulls you right back to the original season. These moments also come often enough to carry me through a much slower-paced, intrigue-laden plot, which takes an equal number of episodes to complete a single narrative arc that the original season used to clear through around 10 vignettes and stories of various lengths.

Minor triumphs and tribulations aside, what ultimately won me over was the central story of this new season (once it finally got going), Chise’s attempt to aid a kindred spirit in her classmate Philomela, a vassal of a powerful magic house who has undergone such severe and prolonged abuse that she has become paralyzed by inaction for fear that anything she does may be punished. Unable to undertake her usual dramatic and self-sacrificing flourish, Chise is forced to take care in showing sympathy and support to show Philomela she can be trusted and encourage Philomela to meditate upon her own wishes rather than fear reprisal, just as Chise slowly grew to recognize the love and support of others during season 1.

It’s a long and painful game even for the viewer with some very complicated twists and turns that I’m sure are in the service of building out a yet greater narrative within Yamazaki’s world but the payoff, as usual, is exceptional. Philomela finding the courage to stand up for herself and a conclusion that draws everything back to the warmth of the magical domesticity of Elias and Chise’s home show that Yamazaki’s still got it. Guess I’m gonna keep buying the manga for a while.


BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!!

close-up of Tomori singing while crying

Chosen by: Dee (#4), Vrai (#5)

What’s it about? Late transfer student Chihaya Anon has her work cut out for her when she realizes everyone’s already got a social group, i.e. their own bands. In a scramble, Anon tries to get her own group together, but it’s not going to be easy–it seems like the only people she can find are the remnants of another band’s messy implosion.

Content warnings: Depression, anxiety, stalking, briefly implied parental abuse

I’d like to start with a shout-out to the AniFem Discord: without their enthusiastic weekly chats I’d likely have slid past this one as a title aimed squarely at people who are already invested BanG Dream! franchise fans. Which would have meant I’d have missed out on one of the best high school dramas this year.

While this is a largely standalone story from the larger BanG Dream multimedia franchise (barring the occasional cameo by other bands), it does come with a different barrier to entry: its visuals. The 3DCG is stiff and limiting, especially in the first two episodes, though it’s clear the creative team is pushing the models for as many subtle expressions as they can eke out, and the camera work gets particularly creative during the big concert sequences. As someone who prioritizes pure animation quality maybe fourth behind writing, voice acting, and shot composition, it was a forgivable annoyance; some shows you just muscle your way through for the writing, and this is one finely written story.

Series composer Ayana Yuniko has been an AniFem feature in years past for adapting given and writing the first (superior) half of Flip Flappers, but this show really cemented my interest in following her career closely. MyGo approaches high school like a classic shoujo, punctuating high melodrama with quiet scenes of emotional truth. Everything is the end of the world in high school, and the story invites you to share that headspace with the characters without becoming exhausting. But for every blowout screaming match, it’ll wordlessly impart a character’s emotional drive from her parents’ divorce, or another feeling alienated by microaggressions during her study abroad.

Autistic-coded Tomori particularly warmed my heart. The broad strokes of her character—shy, socially awkward, cooed over by other girls in her class—can be infantilizing in the wrong hands, but MyGo allows her real dignity. Much of her arc comes from feeling inhuman because she struggles to cry or socialize easily, while her love of collecting things put her out of step with classmates. As is so often the case, no actual language around neurodivergence is used, but I was touched by the care taken with a character who could’ve felt cheap.

The show does end with a sequel hook focusing on a different band, and I was surprised to find myself hyped. I might not enjoy cast-of-hundreds-type multimedia series, but if Ayana wants to keep throwing focused character pieces from this universe out, consider me a convert.


I’m in Love with the Villainess

A young woman with blonde curls of hair laughing haughtily, surrounded by ominous darkness. A shorter brunette is superimposed over the image, holding her face and gushing happily

Chosen by: Cy (#2)

What’s it about? Overworked office employee Rei is playing her favorite otome game to unwind one night, when she suddenly wakes up inside the game’s world. This is excellent news: not because she gets to spend time with any of the male love interests, pah! It’s excellent news because she wakes up sitting next to her actual favorite character, the haughty yet adorable villainess Claire Francois.

Content warnings Depictions of queerphobia; fanservice, sexual harassment, romanticized incest (discussed)

There are a lot of things we often do for love. One of those things is consuming media for the sake of someone we care about, solely to add more joy to the light in their eyes when they talk about what they like.

Watching I’m in Love with the Villainess was initially done as an act of love for my roommate and one of my favorite family siblings, Kit Catwell. It was done because she’s one of the biggest fans of the series. It was done because I love her with all my heart and want to see her eyes light up when she talks about Villainess. I came to the series with very little knowledge beyond that there’s a primarily sapphic couple.

But that quickly changed as I found myself charmed by Rae Taylor and the authenticness of the reasons behind her initially quite off-putting behavior. And let me say: Rae’s behavior is off putting, channeling the worst hints of predatory lesbianism. That is until the narrative goes into the why and actually sits with the very really, incredibly painful feelings Rae has behind her initially over-the-top passion for her counterpart, Claire Francois. Once the show dove into that, I was hooked: it became something I, personally, looked forward to on a weekly basis.

Oh yeah, and honestly, the slime in the show hooked me too. But back to the queer part. 

As yuri evolves, we’re seeing more hybrid stories that are often classified as LGBTQ+ over yuri because of their direct engagement with real-world issues. Yet I think there’s beauty in seeing both demographics and genres attached to a title like Villainess: it is yuri, but it’s also a genuine sapphic story that I now understand on a new level. I can see why it has such a tight-knit fandom, and while I engage on the fringes via my sister, I also am so thoroughly glad this series exists. I’m glad that there’s shows exploring what it means to be queer using queer language; I don’t think I’ve ever heard an isekai (certainly not a modern one) talk frankly about female sexuality quite like this.

My wish for I’m in Love with the Villainess is that it gets a second season. The finale leaves us in a fascinating place, one part satisfying, one part cliffhanger, all parts a desire to see more of this series adapted to the digital screen.


The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady

Anis and Euphie holding hands

Chosen by: Chiaki (#2), Lizzie (#3) Vrai (#4)

Also previously recommended by: Dee, Toni

What’s it about? Since she was a child, Princess Anis has dreamed of being able to fly; unfortunately, she was born without magic. No problem! She just renounces her claim on the throne to her younger brother in order to invent magical tools instead. When her brother calls off his engagement to the refined and beautiful Lady Euphyllia, the princess makes another bold declaration: she’ll take Euphyllia away herself!

Content Warnings: gore, several one-off awkward scenes that never crop up again (a gay panic joke, a parent hitting their child played as slapstick, a boob grab), scenes of non-sexualized nudity; depictions of sexual harassment, compulsory heterosexuality, depression, classism.

MagiRevo is the kind of show that only seems to come around once in a blue moon: it has a queer romance that’s not only the emotional center of the plot but, for those who find themselves frustrated by less demonstrative titles, includes not only a love confession but also an on-screen kiss; Anis is explicitly a lesbian, and comphet is a pivotal part of the narrative given her role as member of a royal lineage; the show’s strongest narratives examine the suffocating, limited roles placed on women in male-governed systems and the ease with which they’re discarded when no longer useful, while Anis’ pursuit of “magicology” is explicitly a narrative about class conflict; and in the truest feat of witchcraft the show pulls off, it does all these things while being gifted the resources to look damn good in the process.

It’s not just having Big Ideas that makes the show worthwhile, though; Euphie and Anis make a wonderful couple, and their individual struggles are moving. The pacing can sometimes be brisk, but the writing knows where to hustle things along (mainly through what might have been big long infodumps about the magic system) and when to slow down to let its emotions hit, especially when its heroines struggle with the despair of wanting to escape the systems they’re trapped in while still feeling like failures for not living up to those expectations. It’s an engaging, complete-feeling adaptation, made with the kind of care, attention, and resources I wish more yuri and BL series could be allotted.



two twins staring at each other, one kneeling on the floor and the other popping out of a moving box

Chosen by: Peter (#2), Toni (#4), Vrai (#3)

What’s it about? Hitori is the most perfect child a rich older couple looking to adopt could ask for: sweet, dutiful, and seemingly tireless in his desire to please. It’s a lot of work to be a perfect child, which is why Hitori is actually a pair of twins, Migi and Dali, who have created this deception in hopes of finding their mother’s murderer.

Content Warning: Depictions of child abuse (physical, emotional), kidnapping, forced infantilization of teenagers, sexual assault (coercion, rape by deception)

Out of the many excellent shows I watched this past Fall, only one left me ugly-crying on the couch as the end credits rolled. It wasn’t just because of the small, sweet dedication to original creator Sano Nami, though knowing we lost such a gifted creator so young in both her life and career was part of it. My heart was just too damn full from a finale that clicked every mystery and character beat together with a sense of thematic satisfaction that’s rare in its completeness.

Migi&Dali is a mish-mash of genres and completely confident in all of them, starting out as a deadpan satire that walks the tightrope of bewildered laughter and genuine unease better than any Ito Junji adaptation, following the two boys as they ascribe ominous meaning to their adoptive parents’ harmless quirks; and yet when the series does pivot into being a deliciously Gothic murder mystery, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. The characters are weird and hyper-exaggerated, but the writing steadfastly hooks you into their relationships and the solid emotional stakes underpinning the comedic weirdness.

That horror-comedy can be as cutting as it is bizarre: this is a show about parents and children, the way children are treated as props or extensions of adults (with particular disposability applied to adopted children); how suffocating expectations of perfection harm women, and how those wounds get passed down to the vulnerable in their care. The handling of infertility is somewhat thorny—multiple positive maternal figures either can’t or don’t have children through traditional means, but the show’s central thesis does end up meaning that every adult woman’s focus ends up revolving around children (in fairness, so does the only significant adult man’s).

Any show this devoted to its own confident weirdness is catnip to me, but Migi&Dali has appeal beyond that. If you’re willing to meet on its wavelength, you’ll find something as genuinely special as it is memorable.


My Happy Marriage

the My Happy Marriage leads walking among autumn trees

Chosen by: Alex (#4), Cy (#1), Lizzie (#4)

Also previously recommended by: Caitlin, Dee

What’s it about? Saimori Miyo is the eldest daughter in her noble family, but she wasn’t born with supernatural talent.  As a result, she’s passed over for her younger sister and abused by her family.  In the hopes of getting rid of Miyo, her family offers her in an arranged marriage to a cold-hearted commander named Kudou Kiyoka.  Assuming she’d be thrown out by her fiancé, she prepares for the worst, but is surprised that Kiyoka offers her a place where she can learn to love herself.  

Content Warnings: Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse

I’ve never been one for Cinderella stories, so when I learned that My Happy Marriage was something of one, I’ll admit, I was leary. I struggle with love stories at base; I struggle even more with Disneylove stories. While Cinderella is a tale as old as time (pardon the pun and the reference to a completely different film), Disney’s Cinderella is the story I know, and I remain not a fan.

But there’s something that drew me into My Happy Marriage, enough that I’m steadily devouring the manga and novels because I just can’t get enough of Miyo’s story, including the genuinely sweet romance at its heart. It’s nice to see a character who’s been so downtrodden be happy. Every smile, whether tentative or unabashed, feels so heartachingly lovely that it’s easy to be drawn into the narrative at play, just to see Miyo be happy one more time. 

It’s not always easy—there’s a lot of abuse that happens to Miyo, so viewers, please watch with kindness and caution. But seeing her go from literal rags to kind riches is well worth it if you go in aware.

And honestly, seeing Miyo get good things, get love and care and a community of people who genuinely like her, and get to see her abusers have comeuppance, even—it feels good. You can’t help but root for her and feel a bit tight-chested when she finally, finally gets to be her full self and start the path to healing. 

Even with the reveal that she does, indeed, have supernatural powers, the story is never truly about that. It’s about Miyo learning to be herself and discovering that her love and kindness are her greatest weapons, whether she’s destroying supernatural Grotesqueries or working through the immense trauma her family dealt her. 

This is, ultimately, a really, really good story, and it’s such a joy that we’ve got a smorgasbord of media to consume after the anime. I can’t imagine a world without this well-wrought tale, and I’m so glad I gave it a try. I have zero regrets.


My New Boss is Goofy

Momose and Shirosaki leaning in to look at the camera

Chosen by: Alex (#5)

Also previously recommended by: Chiaki, Dee, Toni

What’s it about? Momose used to have a boss who was so abusive that he gave Momose stomach ulcers. Luckily, Momose has been assigned a new boss, Shirosaki. There’s only one problem: Shirosaki is the clumsiest and sweetest person Momose has ever seen! How will Momose adjust to this new boss-worker relationship when he can’t stop blushing?

Gwarsh, to start this off, Alex has a sound review and analysis of how this show works based on the first half of the series. I think going there really helps give you a measured look at what this show does well, while also addressing what it could do better. 

The latter half of the series settles into a new meta when Momose and Shirosaki move in together, as Shirosaki tries to help Momose recover from his trauma by going above and beyond as a boss. Meanwhile Kinjo, the fellow traumatized new hire, pairs off with Chief Aoyama. Overall, the cast’s chemistry is good, and Goofy Boss really was my comfort anime of the season during the busy end of the year while I was on non-stop overtime at my media-related desk job that almost canceled my pre-Christmas date plans because we almost missed a deadline. 

That is to say, My New Boss is Goofy really was just a pleasure to watch all season, whether it be the comfort it offers being a kind and caring world where your workplace is both invigorating and nurturing, or just over how adorably sweet the boys are with each other. While Momose and Shirosaki engage in a “will-they, won’t-they” game of “how married can you get without saying you’re married,” the show does not shy away from the reality that queer people exist as it casually notes Kinjo is openly bisexual to his coworkers.

At the end of the day, I just want to offer this reflection for this show: as someone with her own workplace PTSD, and as someone who has more-or-less resigned herself to knowing “good workplaces” don’t really exist under this hell of late-stage capitalism, this show offered a moment of contemplation that maybe there is something better without having to get isekai’d.

While I question the ethics of dating your boss, also I would never actually date my boss (but also I offer freelance services for my girlfriends), the relationship between Shirosaki and Momose is sweet. Furthermore, the workplace camaraderie is healthy and healing to someone who might be trapped in a bad workplace environment. 


ONIMAI: I’m Now Your Sister!

Mahiro makes a big X with her arms as her eyes are squinted together in displeasure. A big blue X is behind them.

Chosen by: Chiaki (#1)

What’s it about? Oyama Mahiro was your everyday, eroge-loving dude. That is, until their mad-scientist sister, Mihari, experimented on them and they woke up as a woman, which–as far as Mahiro is considered–is a life-changing, disastrous outcome. However, little sister Mihari is determined to turn this into a net positive for them both by using this opportunity to help Mahiro grow from NEET to NEAT FREAK…if they can figure out this whole gender thing.

Content Warnings: Forced feminization, sexualization of a sibling, underage nudity, fanservice

I consciously did not recommend Onimai at the end of Winter 2023 because, at the time, I felt the concerns for this show outweighed the positives. There’s just a lot of issues inherent to this show and there’s no way to sanitize what is in this show. If we cash that reality check for Onimai, there’s a lot of reasons people will likely give it a hard no.

But despite it all, at the end of the year, I came back to Onimai as not only a top-five candidate for 2023, but my #1. I’m not here to tell AniFem readers whether this show meets a threshold of whether it’s unproblematic enough or not, but to tell you this show is powerful to me.

Onimai fulfills the same role of fantasized powerlessness through bodice-ripper fantasies. Morally inexcusable on its surface, Onimai  “gives permission” for someone to be a girl when they are socially forbidden. Pre-girlification, Mahiro was a mess. He was under considerable stress to succeed as the eldest son next to his over-accomplished sister and his complete lack of self-esteem turned him into a shut-in of two years. Being de-aged and taught how to live like a girl, however, frees them from that dark cloud and also lets them embrace being happy about who they are for once.

Part of the trans reading and charm that makes Onimai work is how Mahiro takes to being a girl like a fish takes to water. They are just so much more happy because they embrace being a girl. As the show continues throughout the cour, it offers Mahiro experiences that affirm their place as not only a girl, but also someone who belongs, and that’s something trans women often yearn for. Being trans in women’s spaces is terrifying because you never know if you’re truly accepted or not, but Mahiro is shown, time and time again, that they are just one of the girls.

It’s that lofty sense of pleasure one gets from going to the hair salon for the first time to get a girly hair style. Do I, “not a real girl,” really deserve this look? Oh wait, not only do I deserve it, I look great.

It’s being invited to intimate girl’s only spaces and freaking out because you still feel like you’re crossing a line, like being invited to go to the bathroom with your friends and feeling too awkward to pee next to them. 

Mahiro constantly expresses trepidation over living their life as a girl, and that feeling is familiar to me in a number of ways, and finding love and acceptance and fun despite it all is a powerful feeling. 

Yes, the show is horny. It’s highly problematic on several fronts. I would not sit down with anyone with more than a 10 year age difference to watch it, but I’m getting something beyond just the titillation, and that deeper appreciation is something I want to point out for readers. I’m just saying this might be worth a watch if you’ve got brain worms like mine and wish you could go back in time and transition sooner.

Also, that OP is a bop. I’ve listened to it like 100 times on repeat and it’s about your sense of self getting destroyed and being reforged after an identity crisis. I’m gonna go listen to it again now.


Oshi no Ko

Ai pointing at the audience

Chosen by: Caitlin (#4)

Also previously recommended by: Chiaki, Lizzie, Toni, Vrai

What’s it about? Doctor Amemiya Goro is a huge fan of Hoshino Ai, a small-time idol whom one of his late patients idolized before she passed away. Who would have guessed that one day she would show up at his practice, wanting him to help her through her pregnancy and deliver the baby? On the day of the delivery, however, he is brutally killed—only to wake up in the body of her newborn baby named Aqua. And that late patient who first got him into Ai? She’s his twin, Ruby! What will life be like as the child of an up-and-coming idol?

Content Warnings: Depictions of violence against women, suicidality, cyberbullying, stalking, labor/financial exploitation of minors; jokes about pedophilia and reincarnation breastfeeding (limited to episode 1).

While the hype for this show has largely died down, the series has remained as it was from the beginning: an incisive critique of how the idol and entertainment industries treat young women that is undermined by its edgelord tendencies that contribute to the exploitation the show is intending to critique.

These edgelord tendencies mostly come from our antihero protagonist, Aqua, who has grown up to be a revenge-obsessed manipulator we are supposed to read as having good intentions at heart. This assumption of good intentions is stretched to incredulity by all the ways he manipulates the girls around him, sometimes sabotaging careers, sometimes pushing them into becoming idols, and, most egregiously, leaking the story of a co-star’s suicide to the press to control the narrative around it. (The mother of suicide victim Kimura Hana criticized the production’s ethics for failing to contact her despite the storyline drawing heavily from Hana’s very public harassment and death).

The show seems to want us to view Aqua as some kind of Genius For Good, who sees past the façade of the industry and whose actions are extreme but justified. Instead, he comes across as infantilizing the girls around him, who all seem to conveniently fall in love with him. It honestly feels like this show may turn into a surprise harem show, and while harems are not inherently bad, this one would be centered around a truly dull boy.

But. But. The girls surrounding Aqua are so compelling that, for me, the show remains worth watching. Ai is a nuanced portrait of a girl struggling to maintain her privacy and inner life in the midst of a system designed to exploit her. Ai’s arc compellingly lays out the thesis of the show: the only way to protect one’s self as a woman in entertainment is to guard one’s true emotions, to never let one’s true self be commodified—and the girls who come after her all wrestle with this struggle. 

Ruby is a perfect foil for Aqua, taking the exact opposite message from Ai’s story: that she must embrace her love of music and dance now that she has the chance. Her arc of having a new life after illness is one that spoke deeply to me, and the series never trashes on her hopes and dreams.

Kana and Akane provide the brilliant exploration of the psychology of acting that I was looking for after World Dai Star flopped, and the show always respects their intellect and artistry. Rather than viewing the work of acting through a lens of mystique and talent, the show is thoroughly committed to honoring the hard work of acting—and how that hard work falls disproportionately on women. The artifice of acting serves as both a literal mechanism and a metaphorical symbol for how these young women protect themselves from the male gaze of the public. 

Overall, Oshi no Ko is a compelling drama that I can recommend with significant caveats, almost all due to Aqua’s edgelord vibes. The amazingly written female characters, critique of the entertainment industry, and animation and art that made me want to immediately put on Scum’s Wish, made this a show I’m still glad I watched.


Otaku Elf

An ethereal, beautiful blonde elf in a violet robe sitting against a rosy backdrop. She has a game controller in her hands and two cans of Red Bull are superimposed onto the backdrop, floating by her head

Chosen by: Chiaki (#3)

Also previously recommended by: Alex

What’s it about? Koito has just turned 16 and taken on the role of miko at her family’s shrine. But the goddess she has to attend to is a little unconventional: she’s Elda, a 621-year-old elf summoned from another world, who wants nothing more than to spend her days playing video games and painting figurines.

Content considerations: Grief; dead parents; mild existential dread; one character’s gambling addiction played for laughs.

Usually when anime put otaku and elves together, there’s some sort of isekai fantasy harem shenanigans going on, so I don’t blame people for skimming over (or outright being put off) this one because of the title. In reality, though, this is the sweet-natured chill-out show of the season. It’s a light-hearted supernatural comedy based around a fun relationship dynamic, showcasing a variety of female characters with different strengths and interests.

There’s even a bit of an edutainment aspect, since Elda’s immortality means she can provide fun facts about everything from daily life in the Edo Period to the Betamax. The narrative has a lot of fun drawing connections between the historical past and Elda’s nerdy present—for example, suggesting that the women of Edo teahouses, immortalized in ukiyo-e artworks and often the subject of popularity polls, were basically the idols of their day; or pointing out that merchants have been encouraging customers with collectible bonus items for at least four-hundred years. It’s silly, but hey, it’s also a very humanizing way to look at history!

There’s plenty of comedy here, but there’s also a bittersweet undercurrent. Elda’s lived for centuries in a rapidly changing world, and has outlived all the friends she’s ever made—as she will inevitably outlive Koito, too. Moments that acknowledge this imbue the show with a sense of melancholy that adds some depth, goes a long way to explaining Elda’s personality, and gives emotional weight to the deepening friendship between elf and shrine maiden.

The show’s philosophy seems to be “maybe all this will not last, in the grand scheme of things, but isn’t that all the more reason to seek joy and companionship wherever you can?” It’s a moving message I didn’t expect from a chill show about an elf who got reverse-isekai’d by Tokugawa Ieyasu and now loves playing video games. Otaku Elf has plenty of light-hearted goofs, but it also left me with my heart warmed.



Gesicht in a field of flowers

Chosen by: Vrai (Editor’s Bonus Pick)

What’s it about? Inspector Gesicht is called in to investigate a series of murders targeting robot activists, scientists, and a handful of the most advanced robots in the world—including Gesicht himself. As the clock ticks down and bodies pile up, Gesicht must unravel the killer’s motivations and the greater conspiracy behind them.  

Content warnings: Depictions of mutilation and murder of children (implied), war violence (bombings, mass death), flashing lights; gaslighting and PTSD; anti-Islamic violence; hate crimes; parental abuse

PLUTO is a lot of things: a murder mystery conspiracy thriller; a The Woman Called Fujiko Mine-esque remix of Astro Boy; a meditation on how cycles of violence express themselves in the macro, as the horror of war, and micro, as passed from parent to child. It’s a series that’s compelling on its own but also a layer cake of context from over the decades: the 2003 manga reworks stories from the 1960s and 1980s, with another 20-year gap before it was animated. That sense of history carries through the series, and yet it still feels painfully contemporary. One needn’t know Tezuka’s work to enjoy the story, but if you do there are a wealth of thematic parallels to dive into. It’s crystal clear that the series draws its 39th Central Asian War directly from the US’s invasion of Iraq, down to the phrase “robots of mass destruction,” but it’s also hard not to look at the series’ recurrent motif of a flower that thrives by sucking the land around it dry without thinking of the most recent genocides in Gaza.

It’s impressive how well Urasawa’s writing interweaves the big, broad emotionality of its source material with a cast that are almost all the victims of or perpetrators of war crimes—often both, as grieving survivors fall into the cycle of violence anew. The story examines grief and hatred as fundamental shapers of human identity, but it also tempers that idea with the unkillable power of empathy and connection. 

The way the show’s gender politics intersect with those themes can be frustrating. Nearly every woman who appears is primarily characterized as a wife or mother/caretaker, with the sole exception of child robot Uran…who has no combat abilities but is gifted with super empathy. The writing repeatedly characterizes logic as masculine and empathy as feminine. It’s somewhat ameliorated by the story’s (at best) skepticism toward cold logic and masculine bravado, and the male characters most capable of overcoming the cycle of violence are ones infused with that “feminine” coding—sweet, prepubescent Atom and quiet pacifist Epsilon (who is universally noted for both his hatred of war and comparatively waifish build). The story does value these characteristics, which makes the decision to shuffle off its two most prominent female characters with downright condescending closing scenes all the more galling.

Despite that, it’s a stupendous character drama that nails its conclusion to a degree rarely seen in stories of this scope, and its excellent English dub (by the same team that worked on Monster) is the icing on the cake.


Pokémon (1997-2023)

Ash, Pikachu, and Team Rocket sitting together in a boat racing toward the camera

Chosen by: Dee (#1)

What’s it about? The inspirational story of a queer crime family known as “Team Rocket” Based on the best-selling video games about catching and battling with fantastical animals, this 25-season epic follows 10-year-old Ash Ketchum, his Pokemon partner Pikachu, and their many companions as they meet new friends, pursue their dreams, and explore an expansive world where humans and Pokemon work, play, and compete side-by-side.

Content considerations: The early seasons have aged surprisingly well, but no show that’s run for a quarter-century is gonna be without blemishes. See our full family-friendly recommendation for details.

C’mon, like I could pick anything else as my #1 this year?

Few series can say they were the gateway anime for three generations of nerds, but as myself and my li’l niblings can attest, Pokemon is something special. It’s hard to put into words just how much this show has meant to me, both as a writer and a fan. Like Pallet Town, it was where I started and where I could always return; a creative spark and comfort food; a frequent well of joy and an occasional font of frustration; a kind of home, as much as a story can be. I think the creative team made the right call in concluding where they did, but I’m still a little sad to lose the familiar promise of those “To Be Continued” cards.

When I’ve recommended Pokemon for AniFem before, I’ve talked about its impressive consistency over 25 seasons, including its overall strong handling of a diverse supporting cast and frequent willingness to challenge gender norms. I’ve also gushed at length about Team Rocket, a family of misfits who found a home with each other and became my all-time favorite fictional characters in the process.

So, for this wrap-up recommendation, I’d like to give a nod to someone I haven’t discussed much: our protagonist, Ash Ketchum. Over 25 seasons, he grew from a thoughtless, kinda-sexist little twerp I actively disliked into a sweet, supportive kid I could happily root for. As his goals shifted from “being the best” to “doing your best,” so too did his attitude towards others. I was especially pleased with the way he went from demeaning femme-coded interests to respecting and even enjoying them—a consistent throughline in his character arc made all the more noteworthy by how rare it is to see in a boy protagonist.

While Ash does find significant success as a competitor, the last season highlights what makes him a real hero: his compassion for and willingness to help others, human and Pokemon alike. I’ve known since I was twelve that Pokemon wasn’t really about the battles, but it was still deeply satisfying to see the series make that explicit in the final episodes.

Truly, the real rare Pokemon were the friends we made along the way. Their story may have concluded, but here’s hoping Ash, Pikachu, Team Rocket, and the whole gang continue to make friends with future generations, welcoming in new fans for many years to come.


Power of Hope ~Precure Full Bloom~

Cure Dream joining hands with her older self

Chosen by: Dee (#5)

Also previously recommended by: Vrai

What’s it about? As a middle-schooler, Yumehara Nozomi became a Pretty Cure and helped save the world alongside her friends. Now a teacher, Nozomi wants to keep that spirit alive by helping her students. But adulthood is complicated, and she and her fellow Cures often find themselves feeling helpless to solve the problems around them—until a new magical threat emerges.

Content Considerations: Depictions of alcohol abuse, burnout, environmental disasters; age-gap romance (kinda?)

Precure Full Bloom is the best kind of anniversary series. It’s a love letter to the fanbase, reuniting with the Yes! PreCure 5 and Splash Star girls at around the same age their original audience would be now. It also has something it wants to say and a sense of passion beyond the easy nostalgia bucks. Full Bloom is about grappling with the disappointments of new adulthood, valuing oneself in both career ambitions and personal relationships; it’s also about how climate change is killing us now, not later, and that without community organization we’re all screwed.

The early episodes focus heavily on the Cures connecting with girls of the next generation, often struggling against ossified or oppressive systems embodied by middle-aged men in power. It even works its decision to de-age the Cures when they transform (the better to reuse old stock footage) into a theme about the toxicity of overreliance on nostalgia.

Basically, Full Bloom is not pulling punches, standing proudly alongside other bold anniversary one-offs like DEVILMAN crybaby. It does have a slight barrier to entry compared to those series in that it’s technically a direct sequel, but I was able to follow along with the emotional beats despite not having seen the (unavailable in English) original shows. The show drops flashbacks to contextualize major moments, so if you’re familiar with the general tropes of magical girl shows you should be fine.

That lack of familiarity even turned out to be a roundabout boon in one regard: the show’s central romance. Intellectually I noted it was weird and kind of eyebrow raising that Nozomi has feelings for Coco, her one-time magical mascot who, apparently, used to disguise himself as her middle school teacher when not helping her in battle—like if Luna and Tuxedo Mask were the same person. But I was meeting these characters as two adults who hadn’t seen each other at all since those days, and had kept a platonic relationship all those years, so it was easy to simply buy into their immediate concerns as two adults conflicted over their feelings but also their very time-consuming jobs. It’s also, honestly, really funny to watch our heroine court a squeaky-voiced plushie. There are also nods to feelings between Urara and Syrup and Karen and Kurumi, but they remain contained to their focal episodes given the limited running time.

 This is the kind of storytelling that remakes or anniversary projects should aspire to. If you have any interest in magical girl shows at all, don’t miss this one.


Sacrificial Princess & the King of Beasts

Sariphi hugging Leonhart while sitting on his lap.

Chosen by: Chiaki (#4)

What’s it about? Sariphi was raised to be a human sacrifice for the King of Beasts, Leonhart and accepted her fate as she had no one who cared about her.  However, Leonhart isn’t the monster he is rumored to be; and is intrigued that Sariphi isn’t afraid of him so he decides to make her his Queen much to the shock of his subjects.

Content warnings/considerations: sexual assault, human sacrifice, slavery, violence, mild gore, racism as an ongoing theme

Sacrificial Princess takes the Beauty and the Beast theme and is a genuine treat once you get past the scandalous premise, which falls away relatively quickly as Sariphi cements herself as not only Leonhart’s fiancé but acting queen of the Beast Kingdom. 

While Sacrificial Princess is by no means profound in its story or particularly unique in its conventions, it is an engaging two cour series that wraps up well and tells a heartwarming story of not only Sariphi and Leonhart, but of all the characters they come into contact with—including, yes, Anubis, the mean chancellor who seems to harbor unending disdain for the human girl. That greater world of characters helps cement Sacrificial Princess as an engaging story, even if the premise is simple enough.

Sariphi’s unending compassion and Leonhart’s deep commitment to making things better for his kingdom are central to the story. Most of the conflicts arise from conflicting agendas that seek to thwart them in some way. In the beginning, it’s simply factions within the kingdom who feel Sariphi, a human, should not stand beside their king. Later, the story shifts to question not only Sariphi, but the King himself. However, the series offers compelling villains every step of the way and even the most unrepentant and irredeemable villains are given a chance to pull at your heartstrings to delineate why they had turned out the way they did. 

Racism plays a central role throughout the series, but it’s far deeper than the humans vs beasts conflict initially set up in the show’s outset. As the series progresses, it’s revealed all is not well within the Beast Kingdom and prejudice is a problem not just for anti-human sentiments, but among the various races of beasts themselves. Thus, the final arc endeavors to fight back at that prejudice, and it does so with the continued compassion and might which propelled Sariphi and Leonhart from the start.

There’s always a concern when writing a story about fictionalized racism, especially when the ending could become a “let’s all hold hands” kind of moment to defeat centuries or decades of institutionalized violence, but Sacrificial Princess seems grounded in its attempt to take it on. Prejudices are hard to break and some characters never change, and the show is ready to admit that. It knows that, in pursuit of a better society, nothing will ever turn out perfect, but people can at least recognize the good possible in others and in themselves to take a step in the right direction.

Combine that with heartwarming and memorable characters, a variety of cute animal people designs, and you have a pretty good show worth checking out.


Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Ramona in a fighting stance in front of an injured Scott

Chosen by: Caitlin (#3)

Also previously recommended by: Alex, Dee, Toni

What’s it about? Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old slacker and bass guitarist living a precious little life in Toronto, Canada, when he meets the enigmatic Ramona Flowers rollerblading through his dreams. Their budding romance is interrupted when it transpires that Scott must battle the League of Evil Exes in order to win the right to date Ramona. Scott steps up to fight for his girl… and loses, exploding into a handful of coins. While the community mourns him, Ramona suspects that Scott’s not really dead, and sets off to unravel the mystery.

Rather than being a straightforward adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off uses its anime iteration to tell an alternate, self-aware and meta version of the story—a Rebuild of Scott, if you will, or perhaps an Adolescence of Ramona. While I think this can be enjoyed on its own merit and doesn’t need the context of the comics and movie (Toni certainly got a kick out of it), you’ll definitely get more out of this series if you can appreciate it as a new spin on existing material, given new life by a contemporary perspective.

No longer constrained within Scott’s point of view or positionality as protagonist, the other characters get to shine, especially the series’ women. Knives grieves and grows and develops sweet friendships with other bandmates, especially Kim. The Evil Exes no longer exist as obstacles to overcome/bosses to defeat, and so get to be their own messy people—most notably Roxy, Ramona’s sole ex-girlfriend, who gets the most loving and nuanced rewrite. Most importantly, Ramona herself gets to become the protagonist in her own story. The comics definitely took the time to unpack her sparkling persona and address her many issues, but the anime takes that one step further and brings her into the spotlight in a really rewarding way.

I still have some gripes: Gideon is dethroned as the villain and transformed into a pathetic wet cat of a character, a joke that ultimately sweeps his abusive tendencies under the rug; and I’m still not sure how I feel about Todd’s incredibly slapstick bisexual awakening plotline. But overall, the series is creative, compelling, and great fun: an energetic, quirky, and beautifully animated adventure through the mundane terror of grown-up relationships.


Technoroid OVERMIND

the four idols standing on stage

Chosen by: Chiaki (#5), Cy (#3)

What’s it about? Left without electricity and owners, four androids face the threat of an imminent, forced shutdown. However, there’s still hope in the form of performing at Babel, a music epicenter of entertainment where a song well-sung might just save their electronic lives. These androids don’t dream of electric sheep—they dream of a musical future!

Content Warning: Dismembered robots (comedy), racism and violence

On paper, Technoroid OVERMIND sounds like every other boy band idol show made to sell some kind of mobile game. Android boys sing and dance and try to learn how to human by dripping sex appeal. It’s the multi-media strategy that has allowed franchises like Uta no Prince-sama and Idolish7 to flourish, but Technoroid OVERMIND just has that hook to make it more than just “boys hot.”

Its tone remains light and it’s all in service to KNoCC’s rise into pop-idol stardom, but their emotional growth to understand human emotions runs parallel to a festering anxiety by humans against androids. It all culminates into an illuminati plot that feels more at home with Deus Ex or Blade Runner.

Technoroid OVERMIND comes at an interesting time where AI art and chatGPT have rocked online communities as tech-shills have tried to create “original” works derived from stolen work. So why should the boys of KNoCC get to have their humanity affirmed and celebrated while works by DALL-E 2 be resoundingly shat on?

Ultimately, to me, it lies in intent and the focus of the storytelling. Real-world AI creations are hollow, not because those programs lack human soul and aren’t truly human, but because these are simply tools, not only meant to create art but to obfuscate the blame and guilt for stealing the database from which its generated from, art by AI ultimately is there to benefit the people who create and rely on it. KNoCC and other robots in Technoroid, on the other hand, takes on a human role because they aren’t generating music and dance for the benefit of an owner, but for themselves. They are more than tools and threaten to break away from being “thingified.” 

It thus becomes an allegory for racism, and while it often begs the question, “why not just actually make it about race,” I think it’s a particularly interesting swing to add to a franchise when the original game seems to be just a by-the-numbers gatcha game. It is the truly cyberpunk story we should be telling today, but it is being overlooked because it lacks the cool, gritty futuristic guns and neon that normally dazzle the audience in such settings.


Undead Murder Farce

Tsugaru carrying Aya's head in a birdcage. while mirror images of Shizuku aim an old-fashioned musket

Chosen by: Caitlin (#1), Lizzie (#2), Toni (#3)

Also previously recommended by: Dee

What’s it about? It’s turn of the century in an alternate timeline full of yokai and famous literary figures. The mysterious detective (and decapitated head) Rindo Aya travels the world solving cases, accompanied by her loyal maid Shizuku and capricious assistant Tsugaru. Each mystery brings Aya closer to the man who stole her immortal body and transformed Tsugaru through human experimentation. But what is his larger goal?

Content warnings: ethnic cleansing, eugenics, dismemberment, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, human experimentation, ableism

Undead Murder Farce has more than lived up to the hype that surrounded it. It’s unsurprising how visually stylish it is, given its credentials in Hatakeyama Mamoru–it’s not only the action scenes that ooze style, but every line of dialogue is exquisitely staged. What is perhaps more surprising is how effortlessly queer the show is–the main trio is canonically a queer polycule, with Aya at the center and Tsugaru and Shizuku as her lovers. Their banter, which often gives a bratty sub-discipline dom dynamic, keeps the show delightful through even some of the darkest moments. The show also is extremely funny, in a quite dry, British way. (Fitting for its primary locale, London.)

The show also engages, particularly towards the end, with heavier topics like ethnic cleansing, eugenics, and separatist vs assimilationist mindsets towards fighting marginalization, to mixed results. The show’s depiction of eugenics is arguably quite subtle, explicitly drawing parallels between the desire to create a super-human with the discarding of the disabled and showing how those who are harmed by both eugenicist practices can come together to fight back. However, the show also seems to stumble a bit around the ethics of violence, and the ultimate result of the main trio’s investigation doesn’t seem to point much of the way towards true justice. The show is interested neither in easy answers about how to transform an entire culture of eugenics nor in having morally progressive protagonists, and your feelings about the show may hinge on whether you are okay with accepting that level of ambiguity.

The show’s engagement with queerness is at times also fraught, as best seen in Shizuku and Carmilla, whose tortured bodice-ripper dynamic is played to much campy effect. While this can still be deeply uncomfortable to watch, Aya and Shizuku do much to balance out Carmilla’s potential to reinforce predatory lesbian stereotypes–this is especially true given the revelation that they fuck, which ensures we don’t have some hypersexualized predator vs virginal Class S dichotomy going on. As Shizuku emerges in the investigations as the member of the trio most empathetic with the people around her, many of the most beautiful tableaux and most genuinely warm moments in this often icy series come from her (often sapphic) moments of connection with them.

Overall, Undead Murder Farce is a surprisingly thoughtful show that I had a fantastic time with,  although I can definitely see some people wanting more moral clarity finding it frustrating. I hope at the very least its foregrounding of the sexualized male nipple rubs off on the anime scene as a whole. Free the nipple!


Vinland Saga Season 2

Thorfinn hauling bundles of wheat

Choesn by: Caitlin (#2), Toni (#1)

What’s it about? Thorfinn’s long quest for vengeance has come to an unceremonious end, and now he has been taken into slavery. Haunted by the trauma and guilt from the horrific acts of violence he committed as a Viking, he meets Einar, a fellow enslaved man who was the victim of the same kinds of violence Thorfinn committed. Forced to confront his past all while suffering the brutality of slavery, Thorfinn has to change if he wants to survive.

Content warnings: rape (implied offscreen), slavery, gore, mass death, PTSD, death of family members, kidnapping, violence against children, alcoholism

Vinland Saga season 2 is unambiguously my anime of the year. It has quickly become one of my favorite anime, period: a rich character drama, an intensely researched piece of historical fiction, and, more than anything, an abolitionist story that engages with the deepest questions of how we create a just society. 

It is rare to have a sensitive depiction of slavery in anime, and Vinland Saga not only centers the perspectives of enslaved people, but interrogates the specific dynamics between enslaved women and enslaved men. At the moral heart of the season is the plight of Arnheid, an enslaved woman whose position as the “master’s favorite” is deeply analyzed and revealed to be anything but a privileged position. The show, ever interested in the nature of true love, uses Arnheid’s plight to show how “love” can be corrupted–within slavery, love is shown to be twisted possession further binding you to your rapist, with the “humanizing” trust an enslaver puts in a slave merely an ethical certification of the severe punishment meted out when it is broken.

It is Thorfinn and Einar’s commitment to Arnheid that drives them, that allows them to envision the beloved community that they are one day destined to attempt creating. Blending Buddhist, Christian, and Norse religious ideas, Yukimura creates an allegory for the process of intimacy required for the transformation of the self–the intimate refusal to shake off, repress, or try to escape one’s past cruelties in order to ascend to some greater future. It is not a process of self-redemption Thorfinn experiences, nor self-forgiveness, but of deep commitment to the only ethical framework that could sustain a life that has enacted such brutality in the past. This is part of what makes Thorfinn’s often extreme ethic of nonviolence make sense within the show–it is not a commandment for all to follow, but a reasonable way to comprehend and make sense of exiting a life of depravity.

Thorfinn and Einar’s relationship forces the intimacy I referred to earlier–Thorfinn cannot escape into nihilistic self-negation from the harm that he has done in the past when he has to be in relationship with a survivor of that harm to survive himself. Einar is also a compelling character, a voice of reason and everyday wisdom in a show where characters often possess extreme ideologies of violence and nonviolence. His kindness with boundaries, as one might call it, is what creates the space for Thorfinn to work through his past as Thorfinn’s idealism creates the circumstances for Einar to envision an end to the violence he experienced. 

In short, Vinland Saga is one of the greatest investigations into slavery and freedom I have ever seen. While it’s worth noting that the first season is rather difficult, given its propensity to feeling like a battle shonen, the second season really makes it worth getting through. I implore anybody who wants to experience anime at its greatest to watch it. If you’re anything like me, you will cry every episode, and come away maybe not as transformed as Thorfinn is by season end, but moved to find the nonviolent resistor in your own heart.


Yuri Is My Job!

Mitsuki hugs Hime amid a shower of lillies

Chosen by: Alex (#3), Toni (#5), Vrai (#2)

Also previously recommended by: Chiaki

What’s it about? Determined to be loved by everyone she meets and to eventually land herself a comfortable life married to a rich man, Hime puts on a cute, angelic façade. When she stumbles into a job at Liebe Girls Academy, a café where the wait staff roleplay as dainty young ladies from an old-fashioned girls’ private school, Hime should be right at home. But try as she might, no matter how much effort she puts into acting adorable, she can’t charm her co-worker Mitsuki—who claims to despise Hime as soon as she switches off her sweet, elegant work persona.

Content Warnings: Depictions of stalking, internalized queerphobia, heteronormativity, ableism, bullying; exaggerated boob-jiggle physics (episode 12 only).

We’ve already gone on at length about Yuri is my Job! here at AniFem. To me, it’s the best schoolgirl yuri manga currently running. This anime adaptation only scratches the surface of what makes the series so compelling, but even that small taste provides a lot to chew on. This is a smart, affectionate but also unflinching take on the tropes popularly found in Class-S and “pure” yuri. The girls of Café Liebe are all grappling with social expectations and their own identities, and the café and its “sisterhood” kayfabe are a safe place to explore intimacy while also lacking the vocabulary for sapphic identity—a dichotomy that becomes more apparent as various relationships flourish, wilt, and flounder.

YIMJ’s cast of disaster teens are worthy of an Ikuhara anime with the amount of baggage and bad decisions they carry around, each drawing from a common archetype (the cute princess, the elegant older sister, the pining best friend)and then throwing additional layers of depth and complication onto those familiar outlines. They’re often frustrating, but in a way that’s painfully human, and the script has a strong eye for writing miscommunication in a way that doesn’t feel trite or solvable in one conversation.

The adaptation itself is solid enough, a colorful and modest production whose biggest flaw is attempting to recreate the status quo at the end when the manga is interested in no such thing. Still, it makes for a fine introduction to a wonderful work.


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