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The 12 best anime of the year so far

By April 2, 2023April 10th, 2023No Comments10 min read

It’s been a banner year for anime so far, with plenty more on the docket to check out. From a few series which continued on their latest seasons to their second cours in 2023, to the return of niche favorites (where fans too were surprised by their return), an updated adaptation of a 90s favorite, and even some energized slice-of-life romances, there’s been no shortage in excellent storytelling.

What makes it better is how varied the lineup has been, as hinted at above. From casual fans to those of us who are keeping up with week-to-week releases, there’s been something for every type of viewer. Even better, some of the series which were fun to watch on a weekly schedule will make fantastic binge-watches too. It’s as great a time to be a fan of the medium as ever, with an eclectic group of artists and visionaries all contributing to the ever-growing industry.

Project No. 9 / Crunchyroll

The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten

Based on the 2018 light novel series by Saekisan, The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten has at least two feathers in its guilty pleasure anime adaptation cap. The first being that in many ways, it proves Saekisan’s teen rom-com about a surly loner discovering his next-door neighbor is the most popular girl in school happens to translate even better as a slow-burn wish-fulfillment anime than its twinkling prose comes across on the page.

There’s a clear reason why Angel Next Door has so rapidly seized the hearts of many a single weeb looking for the next sweet slice-of-life fix they got from Horimiya, Love is War, and even A Couple of Cuckoos just last year. And sure, this anime is nowhere near the stratosphere of its obvious inspirations, but that doesn’t make it any less of a seasonal balm in 2023, at least when it comes to romantic shows that people of any gender can fully enjoy, assuming they’re not too high and heavenly about it. [Jon Negroni]

Watch season 1 on Crunchyroll

Eight Bit / Crunchyroll

Blue Lock Season 1, Cour 2

Viewers will be hard pressed to not fully devour all of season 1 of Blue Lock once started. An immediately engaging sports anime, the second cour maxed out the action with gravity defying animation. Directed by Tetsuaki Watanabe and with character designs by Kenji Tanabe and Kento Toya, the series’ strongest element is in its visuals, and, in the case of most sports anime, the visuals of the game being played itself. Not all characters are given a shared spotlight, but supporting player Bachira (voiced wonderfully by Tasuku Kaito) is an immediate favorite who continues to be the highlight of the series well into the last few episodes. The best sports anime imitate the feeling of watching live sports (even if that’s not really your thing) and Blue Lock accomplishes that level of thrill and adrenaline with ease. [Ally Johnson]

Watch season 1 on Crunchyroll

P.A. Works / Crunchyroll

Buddy Daddies

Buddy Daddies might be the biggest surprises in terms of releases this year. Brushed off initially as an original anime looking to capitalize on the popularity of Spy x Family or merely deemed a lesser version, it soon became a poignant, introspective, and layered look at what it means to be a family, regardless of blood relations, social status, or gender. Rei and Kazuki, despite their status at the start as hit men for hire, are constantly growing and challenging themselves and each other to change for their adoptive daughter Miri.

There are never jokes about perceived sexuality or even them being two uncoupled fathers, and instead the drama and comedy is derivative from their own differing personalities and how the three function in becoming a family. Tender, deliberately violent as to not shy away from the realities of their career, shockingly introspective, and beautifully animated, Buddy Daddies is in contention for best original anime in years. [Ally Johnson]

Watch the series on Crunchyroll

Signal. MD / Crunchyroll

Hikari no Ō (The Fire Hunter) Season 1

The Fire Hunter looks like no other series that has aired so far this year. With a rougher approach to animation, the series, based on the fantasy novel written by Rieko Hinata and illustrated by Akihiro Yamada, the series eschews the industry modern standard of clean lines and overly polished character designs for elements that lack clinical finess in favor for color and constant motion. Even in still frames there’s never a moment in the series that lacks movement. A dense world worth exploring, it’s a tremendous feat both in narrative and visuals.

Watch season 1 on Crunchryroll

Bones / Crunchyroll

My Hero Academia Season 6, Cour 2

We’re just going to say it: Season 6 of My Hero Academia is it’s very best yet. By upping the stakes to make them more widespread while also painfully personal, the series reached a crescendo in bringing together everything we’ve learned about the characters thus far, their relationships, and how their beliefs inform the decisions they make. From a breathless start to a breath defying finish, the action sequences are kinetic and heart-pounding, with more causalities than we’re used to, while the interpersonal drama is just as riveting. It’s what made the second cour so gripping, and not just Deku fighting solo despite the clear wear and tear it took on his body and mind.

Instead, the culmination of Bakugo apologizing to Deku for his past behavior, the adult heroes realizing too much weight has been placed on the shoulders of teenagers, the people Deku has saved in the past coming to his rescue by embracing him when others would turn their back on him, it all results in a larger story about the different types of heroes in the world and the change they can wield through their capacity for kindness and compassion. [Ally Johnson]

Watch all six seasons on Crunchyroll and Hulu

A-1 Pictures / Crunchyroll

Nier: Automata Ver. 1.1 A Season 1

The anime adaptation of Yoko Taro and Square Enix’s cornerstone modern classic video game has had a rocky start; between A-1 Pictures simultaneously working on Kaguya-Sama Love Is War season 4, Sword Art Online’s final arc in addition, the production of NieR Automata has been rocky with the show in the midst of it’s second hiatus at episode 8. The show itself, however, is quietly making moves as one of the most spiritually accurate video game adaptations of 2023 alongside HBO’s The Last of Us. While a lot of moments play out 1:1 with the game’s plot, what is extrapolated and meditated upon is new material that allows the tone and themes of the show, and perhaps some optional side stories players may have missed in a playthrough, that plunge viewers deeper into its philosophical themes about the bitter end if civilization. 

Given this attention to the smaller, humanizing narratives and the tie ins to less accessible multimedia stories such as the stage plays and manga being adapted into its own episode for backstory on Lly and the mysterious adversary A2, we think that NieR Automata: Ver1.1a might be a definitive experience to capture the story of 2B and 9S across mediums of it sticks the landing. [Evan Griffin]

Watch season 1 on Crunchyroll

Pierrot / Crunchyroll

Play it Cool Guys Season 1, Cour 2

With each episode clocking in at 11 minutes, Play it Cool, Guys offers a brief glimpse into the lives of these sometimes awkward but still incredibly endearing cast of characters. There’s a comfort in knowing slip-ups can happen to even handsome, seemingly unapproachable people. Walking away from the checkout with your bag left on the counter, forgetting to plug in your headphones when listening to music, looking for the set of keys that are in your hand – harmless blunders that we’ve all experienced at some point. The greatest pull is the relatability of these characters as they fumble their way through every-day moments, making for a quick and engaging binge. [Guest Contributor, Carly Johnson]

Watch season 1 on Crunchyroll

OLM / Hulu

Summer Time Rendering

Summer Time Rendering released on Disney+ in Japan in 2022, but only made it to the U.S. streaming through Hulu at the start of 2023. Don’t let this deter you or somehow allow it to skip your notice because it is an extraordinary series that combines elements of horror, romance, science-fiction, action, and drama into a single entity that is as gripping as any live action series released in the past few years. An addicting story pulsates with mystery and the ticking time bomb that the protagonists shoulder as they know they only have so many chances to save the day and the lives of everyone on the island they live on. Strong animation with fluidy and dazzling flourishes further elevates the quality of the series which already was superb due to strong, dense, writing and detailed character work. You’ll be racing to the finish on this one while firmly in the camp of not wanting it to end. Truly one of the highlights of the year in anime thus far.

Watch the series on Hulu

Drive / Crunchyroll

To Your Eternity Season 2

Where the first season of To Your Eternity spent its time laying the groundwork for Fushi to learn how to feel, season two is a lot about what it means for Fushi to feel. The season feels different, due to spending much more time with characters that Fushi meets. Different isn’t bad, because we get to bond with wonderful personalities like Prince Bon all while the plot hangs its perennial pain guarantee over our heads. This series is not an easy watch, but as a complete season it tells a story about learning both to love and lose. Those losses are great but the love is just so much more. [Travis Hymas]

Watch season 1 and 2 on Crunchyroll

Orange / Crunchyroll

Trigun Stampede

Easily the most controversial anime of the water season before it even aired, Trigun Stampede had a lot to prove. While it may have needed more breathing room, Studio Orange’s tale of a harsh wasteland that evolves into an irreparable rift between two brothers wowed us. Trigun Stampede played with a lot of complicated themes : love, trust, religion, pacifism, and loss, just to name a few. That’s a hefty order even without using an established IP. Orange chose to stick to their guns in spite of fan expectations, and the series was better for it. [Travis Hymas]

Watch season 1 on Crunchyroll and Hulu

Kyoto Animation / HIDIVE

Tsurune: The Linking Shot

Season two of Tsurune built upon the foundation that season one brought: a beautiful continuation of the sport of kyudo and the interconnected relationships between the players. To start, the animation from Kyoto Animation is top-tier. Each scene is beautifully animated and makes the watcher feel like they’re in the show itself. When paired with the soundtrack, it creates a stunning atmosphere that standouts well after watching. The balanced story-telling between characters allowed for their individual developments to shine through the season without feeling rushed. This season showed how each character matured from the previous one, letting their individuality shine while also highlighting their roles within the team dynamic.

Even as someone who doesn’t know about the intricacies of kyudo, the show continues to pull you in with its characters and remarkable animation. [Kayla Lupoli]

Watch season 2 on HIDIVE

MAPPA / Netflix

Vinland Saga Season 2

Three years after the gripping season finale of Vinland Saga, season 2 pivots in an entirely new direction with an almost unrecognizable Thorfinn. The revered viking shifts from a dangerous warrior to a far more simmered down version of himself. Early on, we see him working as a slave on a farm, and as someone who has not yet read the manga, I was surprised at his unwillingness to start brawling with his master.

Although, so far, this season contains a lot less action than the first, its deep dive into character arcs lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor. The way that young Thorfinn chose to deal with his father’s death in the first season was incredibly brutal. Now, after being the cause of hundreds of deaths, a more reflective approach to his handling of trauma is taken. 

With the addition of the very likable character Einar, and even his and Thorfinn’s slave master Ketil, there’s much to be excited about as the story continues. [Alyshia Kelly]

Watch season 1 and 2 on Netflix

Featured Image Courtesy of Project No. 9, Orange, Eight Bit, P.A.Works, Pierrot.

Allyson Johnson

Based in New England, Allyson is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of InBetweenDrafts. Former Editor-in-Chief at TheYoungFolks, she is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. Her writing has also appeared at CambridgeDay, ThePlaylist, Pajiba, VagueVisages, RogerEbert, TheBostonGlobe, Inverse, Bustle, her Substack, and every scrap of paper within her reach.

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