2023 is shaping up to be yet another spectacular year for anime fans. We’ve only just managed to catch our breath from the avalanche of the best anime 2022 had to offer, and we’re already swimming in an embarrassment of riches this season.
There’s so many exciting shows to look forward to on the horizon this year, from the final final season of Attack on Titan and the return of both Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Jujutsu Kaisen to the eagerly anticipated premiere of new anime like Witch Hat Atelier, Delicious in Dungeon, Heavenly Delusion, and Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku. That’s not mentioning some of the even more elusive anime set to come out this year, like the long-awaited Uzumaki anime and the even longer-awaited anime of Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto from famed anime producer (and Madhouse co-founder/MAPPA founder) Masao Maruyama.
From Trigun Stampede and The Fire Hunter to comedies like Tomo-chan Is a Girl and the anime adaptation of Nier: Automata, here are the best anime to air in 2023 so far. All titles are listed by chronological order of release.
Tomo-chan Is a Girl!
Tomo-chan Is a Girl has delivered us one of this season’s strongest female protagonists, literally. This romantic comedy follows Tomo Aizawa, a tomboy who has a crush on her childhood friend, Junichiro “Jun” Kubota. Well liked by her friends, confident, and physically strong, Tomo has a lot going for her. There’s just one problem: Tomo has trouble getting Jun to see her as a romantic interest and not just another one of the guys.
Over the course of the show, Tomo enlists her girly-girl friends to help give her advice on how to be seen as a woman. Whereas some stories can reinforce the idea that their protagonist is “not like other girls,” Tomo finds strength in both femininity and her more masculine traits. The show handles its characters with care and doesn’t cast judgment on women — regardless of how they present themselves. Even Carol, who is sort of initially introduced as a blond bimbo, gets her own loving portrayal. It’s good, lighthearted fun that’ll charm anyone looking for a bit of romance. —Ana Diaz
Tomo-chan Is a Girl! is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
For those wanting more of Spy x Family, I would suggest watching Buddy Daddies. The show follows two single men, Kazuki Kurusu and Rei Suwa, both of whom are deadly for-hire assassins. Kurusu is a bubbly but lonely couch-crasher and Suwa is a degenerate gamer who can’t cook or keep his own place clean. One day while on a job, they find a 4-year-old girl named Miri Unasaka. One thing leads to another and the two end up taking her in.
I have some gripes with the show — Unasaka’s mom’s plot plays out in a strange, unexpected way — but it has its own charms. Mainly, you’re watching it for the adorable family interactions. Suwa holding Unasaka gently in his arms after a day in the park is enough to melt the coldest heart. The show isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but if you want a show that will give you cute daddies doing cute daddy things, well, Buddy Daddies is your show. —AD
Buddy Daddies is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
There’s a lot of history to Trigun Stampede, but the moment it starts — with a spectacular disaster in the stars that comes crashing down to a bleak desert under an impossibly blue sky — that doesn’t really matter.
Studio Orange’s reimagining of Trigun, the seminal ’90s manga and anime, stands on its own two feet with tremendous confidence and more than enough swagger. It’s an immediately compelling introduction (or reintroduction) to Vash the Stampede, a legendary hurricane of trouble with an enormous bounty on his head. None of that makes sense, though. For one, he’s kind of a doofus? And for another, he’s an incredible gunslinger who just refuses to kill people. The more time the viewer spends with him, the less he makes sense — because he should have succumbed to despair by now. Everyone should have.
Trigun Stampede is an apocalypse that is desperate but not despairing, a wasteland of broken people figuring out how to persevere and find things worth fighting for after the world is already broken and there isn’t any fixing it. Its blundering protagonist hides enormous tragedy, and its dazzling action rewards repeat viewings on the biggest screen you can play it on. It’s not just one of the best anime of the year — it’s simply one of the best shows. —Joshua Rivera
Trigun Stampede is available to stream on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Nier: Automata Ver. 1.1a
2017’s Nier: Automata is one of the best video games of the last 10 years, a meditative and genre-defying action game that demanded players directly confront, in a way that only video games can, the all-consuming existential dread that one can face when tallying up the many dooms humanity faces here in the early 21st century. Strange, frustrating, baffling, and tremendously moving, Automata is such an argument for video games as a medium that adapting it for television seems almost like a violation of the game’s whole deal.
In its first episode, Ver. 1.1a almost confirms these fears, with a straight adaptation of the game’s opening moments that does little to sell why it’s special to the uninitiated, or justify the investment by the already converted. Then it pivots on its heel to suggest that the series might ultimately be doing something else entirely. This is part of the fun: There’s no way of knowing for sure until the end.
For now, the base appeal is the same as what drew unsuspecting players to director Yoko Taro’s game in the first place: a strange sci-fi far future where warrior androids fight an endless war on behalf of humans that have abandoned the Earth. Taking over the planet in humanity’s absence are crude machines, who war mindlessly against the androids in a perpetual stalemate. This is how it goes, until some of the machines suddenly lose interest in war and begin to grow flowers, and some androids begin to question their mission and purpose.
The mysteries of Ver. 1.1a and how different it may ultimately end up being from its source material have unspooled slowly since the show’s Jan. 7 premiere, after production delays resulted in a roughly 1-month hiatus between episodes 3 and 4. It’s a ride worth getting on, though — few creators leave it all on the floor the way Yoko Taro does. —JR
Nier: Automata Ver. 1.1a is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Tokyo Revengers season 2
After leaving us on an incredibly tense cliffhanger, Tokyo Revengers put my pounding heart at ease when it returned this winter to reveal how Takemichi got out of his latest brush with death — and how he’ll hopefully stop that deadly showdown from ever taking place again. Now unable to return to the existing future for fear of winding up in jail, Takemichi decides to reveal the truth about his time-traveling mission to Chifuyu, leading to a sweet friendship between two himbos in way over their heads.
When rival gang Black Dragon enters the picture — and threatens the lives Takemichi and Chifuyu’s friends in the present and Tokyo Manji’s very soul in the future — the pair put all their energy into taking its bloodthirsty leader down. They’re so set on destroying Black Dragon that not only do they go against Mikey’s orders to do so, but they even agree to work with Kisaki, whose last actions in the future were murdering Chifuyu and attempting to murder Takemichi. The resulting partnership complicates our picture of Kisaski, revealing who he is beyond the “villain” in Takemichi’s story and the unexpected ways their pasts are intertwined. —Sadie Gennis
Tokyo Revengers season 2 is available to stream on Hulu.
Vinland Saga season 2
After nearly four years, director Shuhei Yabuta returns with season 2 of Vinland Saga, a historical action adventure following Thorfinn, a young man raised by Vikings that killed his father. Interestingly, season 2 is such a sharp pivot from its predecessor that the new season could be considered more of a historical slice-of-life show than an action anime.
While the first season of Vinland Saga had nonstop action and character growth (quite literally, in fact: Thorfinn ages from 6 to 22 years old over the course of the season), the second season so far has focused on Thorfinn’s guilt and grief from living a childhood consumed by revenge, as well as developing new characters, such as Einar, a former slave who meets Thorfinn on a farm. After the fourth episode of this season, which featured a pivotal moment of Einar and Thorfinn having a heart-to-heart, Yabuta tweeted, “Even if it slows down the pace, I really wanted to take time to draw [Thorfinn and Einar’s] relationship.” Along with the tonal and pacing shift, the studio behind the series has changed from Wit Studio to MAPPA; the same staff of animators from season 1 remains.
If you haven’t watched Vinland Saga yet, come for the Viking fights and stay for the emotional bonding. —Christina Gayton
Vinland Saga season 2 is available to stream on Crunchyroll and Netflix.
The Fire Hunter
Junji Nishimura (Ranma ½) and Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) combine forces once again after 2021’s Vlad Love to bring us a new anime based on Rieko Hinata and Akihiro Yamada’s post-apocalyptic fantasy novel series.
Set in a world where any proximity to natural fire causes spontaneous human combustion and Japan subsequently has reverted back to a feudalistic isolationist society, the series follows the parallel stories of Touko, a young girl from a remote village who journeys to the nation’s capital to repay the family of the slain Fire Hunter who saved her life, and Koushi, the son of Touko’s savior who endeavors to unravel the mystery behind the otherworldly “fiend fire” humans now rely on for warmth and energy. The series boasts a generous wealth of talented animators and longtime Oshii collaborators such as composer Kenji Kawai and animation director Kazuchika Kise, as well other notable talent including Outlaw Star character designer Takuya Saito.
The Fire Hunter is an unquestionably beautiful series with well-executed animation and interesting character designs that makes inventive use of intertitle cards, digitally painted “postcard memories” still frames, and cutaway panel reactions for dramatic effect as well as expository efficiency. It’s the definition of a “slow-burn” anime, what with the main story only just now ramping up into full gear seven episodes deep. Don’t let that dissuade you, though, as The Fire Hunter is more than worth the investment and shines through as one of the winter season’s brightest new series. —Toussaint Egan
The Fire Hunter is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Summer Time Rendering
If you’re looking for a binge-worthy mystery that will leave your head spinning, Summer Time Rendering is a top-tier choice to go with. To be even more specific with the genre, it’s actually a supernatural mystery thriller with a dash of romance and slice-of-life. So there’s probably a little something for everyone!
The story starts with protagonist Shinpei returning to his hometown for a close childhood friend’s funeral. He initially hears that his childhood friend, Ushio, died by drowning, but Shinpei eventually starts to suspect that Ushio’s death was not as simple as it seems.
I assure you, though, Summer Time Rendering is more than just a whodunit mystery. There’s much more the show has to offer to keep you guessing and confused (in a good way).
Each episode ends with a cliffhanger, which forced me to binge the entire season in a night and miss my bedtime by several hours. Thankfully, there are only 25 episodes, so if you do start watching and can’t put it down, it’ll only be eight and a half hours. Easy! —CG
[Ed. note: Summer Time Rendering aired in Japan from April to September 2022, but was only made available to stream in the United States as of January 2023.]
Summer Time Rendering is available to stream on Hulu.