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The best anime of the year so far

By July 7, 2023No Comments14 min read
A collage featuring images from some of the best anime of the year so far, including Buddy Daddies, BlueLock, Oshi no Ko, Trigun Stampede, and Hell’s Paradise

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 2nd Cour

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

Demon Slayer: Swordsmith Village Arc

©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable

The outrageously popular Demon Slayer returned for its 3rd season and brought with it a refreshed and focused energy. As Tanjiro and Nezko go on a much needed break to visit Swordsmith Village to have his sword replaced, they leave behind his buddies from the previous seasons. Instead, they spend some time getting to know other members of the Demon Slayer Corps: the Hashiras Muichiro and Mitsuri and the hot headed Genya. After some charming character building our heroes are thrust back into another confrontation with some heavy hitting upper-rank demons and the action kicks into high-gear, with the majority of the season again dedicated to these fights. Ufotable’s fight scenes are as good as ever, with Tanjiro solidifying his place as the anchor of the show and the audience getting treated to some new jaw-dropping animation featuring the newer characters – the Love Hashira’s fighting style in particular leads to some mind blowing sakuga. While it may not feature as many epic moments as the Entertainment District Arc, there is a consistency in tone and pacing here that the show has struggled with in the past that helps it be the most enjoyable season of Demon Slayer yet. [Guest Contributor Quinn Parulis]

Watch the series on Crunchyroll

Hell’s Paradise

©YUJI SHAKA/SHUEISHA, TWIN ENGINE, MAPPA

The central premise of Hell’s Paradise – criminals and executioners sent on a suicide mission to find the elixir of life on an island populated by grotesque monsters – should be an immediate sell to fans of classic action/fantasy series who want their narratives lean, their fights big, and their character designs badass. Throw in some great writing with a strong handle on the theme of duality alongside some of MAPPA’s finest visual work to date, the show is a thrill ride from start to finish. The protagonists, emotionless killer Gabumaru and his executioner Sagiri, are easy to root for, with Gabumaru in particular destined for popularity due to actually being a very good boy and wife guy ready to do anything to get back to said wife. The fights are incredibly fluid, very gory, and feature high stakes which keep the narrative momentum at a sprint from the beginning. With the season ending on a cliffhanger promising bigger and more mind-twisting battles on the horizon, Hell’s Paradise is an absolute must-see and one of the highlights of an anime season full of gems. [Guest Contributor Quinn Parulis]

Watch the series on Crunchyroll

Signal. MD / Crunchyroll

Hikari no Ō (The Fire Hunter)

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, 2nd Cour

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

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

Oshi no Ko

Courtesy of HiDive

A series about the world of pop idols created by the author of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Oshi no Ko is one of the most unique anime this year. The first episode is a 90 minute trip that is best gone into blind and absolutely deserving of its lengthy run time and even after the plot settles into a more standard groove the atmosphere of the show remains heightened and slightly off-kilter. The narrative, loosely describable as a “murder mystery revenge high school slice of life scathing takedown of the entertainment industry story,” zigs when you expect it to zag and constantly makes you reevaluate details you thought you had figured out. The depth of the writing is remarkable (a standout episode focuses on online bullying), and the art direction is equally filled with small touches like the stars in our protagonist’s eyes sparkling like genuine galaxies or the crowds during performances by the popular idol Ai swelling up into glowing waves. Oshi no Ko has a lot going on, and looks to continue its journey further down the rabbit hole as both the mystery and idol sides of the narrative become more complex by the episode. [Guest Contributor Quinn Parulis]

Watch the series on HiDive

Pierrot / Crunchyroll

Play it Cool Guys (2nd Cour)

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

Skip and Loafer

Where Skip and Loafer shines best is the trust in its cast. This slice of life high school story leans on the interactions of its various students to carry the story from point to point, and does so effortlessly. Spearheaded by the incredibly enthusiastic Mitusmi and balanced by the laid-back Shima, each student that enters the orbit of these two find themselves welcomed but also challenged about the hang ups they brought with them. Thankfully, Skip and Loafer isn’t itself hung up about those hang ups – it’s much more interested in getting over them to create a stronger group dynamic. Skip and Loafer is almost aspirational as Mitsumi attempts to navigate friendships with her various classmates and the Tokyo train system and always settling on a direction that avoids repeated conflict or drama but instead grace and positivity. By doing this, Skip and Loafer prevents any member of its growing cast from falling into a repeated joke or beat and become more fleshed out as a result. Buoyed by exceptional compositing and animation work from P.A. Works, Skip and Loafer becomes an adorable and comfy package that is wholesome without being empty. [Travis Hymas]

Watch the series 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

Tengoku Daimakyo (Heavenly Delusion)

Production I.G./Hulu

Between its mashing of genres, playfulness with timelines, and tonal whiplash, Heavenly Delusion can be hard to explain. It is as much an examination on free will and identity as it is about society after a collapse and also the power of the connections we form with others, and growing up The two narratives – which play off each other in purposefully obfuscating ways – are about a group of children living in a facility isolated from the world who begin to wonder what exists beyond their walls, and a pair of travelers searching through a post-apocalypse trying to find a place called “Heaven” and encounter monsters both human and beyond. Despite not being the most action oriented series, the fight scenes we are treated to here might be the most attention grabbing of the year, with cleverly inspired futuristic weaponry and remarkably creepy monster design. Travelers Maru and Kiruko are some of the best written and complex characters this year, and while the journey they go on leads them to some pretty dark places (content warning for some upsetting sexual violence), Heavenly Delusion manages to find just enough hope in that darkness to keep the show from being overly grim. [Guest Contributor Quinn Parulis]

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 collage from studios MAPPA, Orange, and P.A Works. Oshi no Ko images Courtesy of HiDive

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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