With 2023 officially over, now comes the moment that many of you have been waiting for. It’s time for our annual foray into annoying everyone with our questionable opinions, the Best of Anime 2023 post! Continuing in 2022’s wake this will be a collaboration between writers. That would be me (Pancakes), Choya, FJ Freeman, and Princess Usagi. We didn’t quite manage all the shows this year, but we heavily focused on watching entries that made a serious clamour within the anime community. This is a fourth time for us, and we’ll inevitably get things wrong. So please feel free to be brutally honest while giving us constructive feedback. And if we picked something you disagree with don’t hesitate to voice your opinion – best of posts are always subjective!
Continuing from 2022, there are numerous categories in the following areas: Production, Miscellaneous, Genre, and Notable Others. Due to lack of series candidates, and/or the belief that we may not have watched enough shows to make an informed decision about specific genres, some categories present in previous years were ommitted. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Disclaimer: As always, disclaimers abound. Please keep in mind that “best” is subjective. What’s best for us isn’t necessarily best for you, and that’s perfectly fine. This list shouldn’t be taken as some kind of inviolable truth, but rather the opinions of those involved who had too much time on their hands and spent it conjuring up a list of picks based on all the anime they watched. Naturally, our choices will be influenced by our own tastes, experiences, and personal impressions. Before you go bashing one of our choices, please make sure you’ve at least seen it and know where we’re coming from. Finally, all we ask is that you respect our opinions and the opinions of others in the comments, just like we respect yours. Thank you.
Disclaimer #2: The choices in this post are not reflective of the opinions of all Random Curiosity writers. They are solely the opinions of myself (Pancakes), Choya, FJ Freeman, and Princess Usagi, save for where otherwise noted. Thank you for your understanding.
Note: For a show to be considered, it has to have met the requirements outlined in the Reader’s Choice Poll. For OVAs/movies, the additional requirement is that it’s been either released on BD or DVD, so that viewers outside of Japan have had a chance to watch it.
Visuals and fluid movement. It’s all about the quality of what we see on screen and what impressed us the most. To a certain degree, character designs and overall art style fall into this category too.
Pancakes: In the usual fashion heavy hitters wound up dominating 2023’s visuals extravaganza, and in the usual way Kimetsu no Yaiba nonchalantly waltzes its way into first place. It’s not (and increasingly never) hard seeing how given just what ufotable brings to the (heh) table: fluid motion, well-mixed CGI and 2D artwork, and elaborate effort spent on large set-piece battles which truly bring out of the best of this series’ breathing techniques, swordplay, and demonic abilities. Regardless of how good or bad the latest Swordsmith Village arc may be story-wise, there is absolutely no denying ufotable knows how to maximize what Kimetsu no Yaiba offers visually and craft some wickedly awesome eye candy in the process. And to think we have yet another season to look forward to in 2024 – I dare say we might have a threepeat on our hands.
Winner: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Honorable Mentions: Jujutsu Kaisen
As the somewhat polar opposite to what’s on the surface, here we’re looking at depth and what captivated us from start to finish. You don’t need amazing visuals to tell a good story, so it’s about the original material (if any) and the screenwriter’s adaptation of it here. Good cliffhangers that keep you on the edge of your seat week after week suggest the series is doing something right, whereas filler-esque showings don’t.
Pancakes: For many of the same reasons that – spoiler alert – Pluto took the award for mystery are the same reasons it winds up claiming top story spot: a show you just cannot put down. Although we had a lot of deep and complex tales over the course in 2023 from Vinland Saga to AI no Idenshi, Pluto got the edge for weaving a better sense of mystery and suspense. This wasn’t only a show raising questions and inviting discussion, it was one which also through sly cliffhangers and emotive developments left one eagerly wanting to find out what happens next. No particular moment dragged, nothing felt rushed; everything featured served a purpose, each moment a greater window into some more substantive. While Pluto isn’t without its blemishes (its Astro Boy origins and its ending can rub some the wrong way), they aren’t enough to take away from the tale Urasawa Naoki created, and if anything this series highlights just how much a well-crafted adaptation can do to maximize its source material. Goes to show how strong, well-planned and thoroughly thought-out writing can never be overappreciated.
What would a series be without the music to help set the mood and tone? A good soundtrack enhances the power and emotions behind scenes in such a way that you start associating imagery with the music unconsciously, regardless of whether it’s cheery, inspiring, or heartfelt. Lasting impressions say a lot, plus it just has to sound good too.
Editor’s Note: Technically Sousou no Frieren is still ongoing, but the soundtrack proved too good to ignore.
FJ Freeman: Sousou no Frieren is a stunning tale of immortality, humanity, and the passage of time has enamored audiences around the globe, and it’s only fitting (regardless of it still airing) that we honor an aspect of this masterpiece that has resonated deeply with us all — the magnificent soundtrack, a symphony of emotions crafted by the virtuoso composer, Evan Call.
With each note, each crescendo, and each haunting melody, Evan Call’s brilliant compositions for Sousou no Frieren’s soundtrack have woven a tapestry of emotions, guiding us through the poignant moments of reflection, the heart-pounding intensity of action, and the tender connections between Frieren and the mortal world. Call’s musical genius isn’t merely an accompaniment; it’s an integral character within the narrative, infusing depth and resonance into every frame, every emotion, and every heartbeat of this awe-inspiring story.
Evan Call’s work stands as a testament to the power of music in storytelling. His symphonic arrangements echo the thousand-year journey of Frieren, from the ethereal piano melodies that speak volumes of her timeless existence to the grandiose orchestral compositions that paint the vastness of the eras she traverses. The soundtrack doesn’t just accompany the visuals — it elevates them, tugging at the very strings of our souls, leaving a permanent mark on our hearts. It only makes sense to recognize this extraordinary work, a soundtrack that has not only enhanced this anime but has etched itself into the fabric of our memories, ensuring its place among the timeless classics of anime soundscapes.
Winner: Sousou no Frieren
Opening & Ending Sequence
Whether for its originality or ability to showcase what a series has to offer, opening sequences are always fun to watch. We tend to look forward to new ones and the songs that will be featured in them, and sometimes get a glimpse at what’s coming up in the show too (for better or worse). Here, the focus is on the sequence itself, even though the song may play a part in making it memorable.
Unlike opening sequences, endings don’t strive to draw the viewer in and get them psyched up about the episode that’s coming up. Instead, they’re an outro to what you’ve just seen and may highlight a specific aspect/emotion of the series, though sometimes they’re completely irrelevant to the actual story and are just an outlet for sheer fun/comedic value. Whichever the case, there are certain sequences that we enjoyed more than others.
Winner: 「innocent arrogance」by BiSH (Tengoku Daimakyo)
Princess Usagi: We had some banging OPs this year- one of the first that comes to mind is the cool funky sound of is Jigokuraku’s “Ｗ●ＲＫ” by millenium parade and Sheena Ringo. The brilliant colors crafted into the sequence were certainly eye-catching as well. Speaking of eye-catching, we had the 1st OP from Vinland Saga, “River” by Anonymouz. The trippy, symbolic sequences coupled with the song’s gravitas perfectly introduced the mood of the story as it played out week by week. Another OP that carried a series’ mood to the tee was Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu’s 「斜陽」Shayou by Yorushika. The lyrics beautifully symbolized Kyou and Anna’s growing friendship as well as the youthful optimism of first love, and the pastel art was a lovely accompaniment as well.
As much fun as the above jams are, in my mind, the winner has to be none other than Tengoku Daimakyou’s “innocent arrogance” by BiSH. The first time I saw it, and every time thereafter, it completely knocked my socks off with the amazing guitar and vocals and absolutely gorgeous animation- a work of art for sure.
Winner:「ハルノオト」Haru no Oto by miwa (Mix: Meisei Story)
Princess Usagi: I always think of the EDs like the dessert after a full-course meal- small, but delectably tasty enough to leave you thinking “Man, what a meal”. Golden Kamuy’s 「すべてがそこにありますように」 Subete ga Soko ni Arimasuyouni by THE SPELLBOUND was just such a treat. It had a melodic, easy-going sound that let you digest all the whackiness that just happened, paired with a simple, yet elegant newspaper sequence that highlighted each character’s essence. Then, we had Vinland Saga’s, “Without Love” by LMYK. The reflective tune and accompanying sequence hit like a ton of bricks, echoing Thorfinn’s inner struggles. If you’re looking for moodiness- Undead Girl Murder Farce’s “reversal” by Anna had that in spades through the chill tone and tasteful black and white graphics.
The ED that stuck with me the most was from Mix, 「ハルノオト」Haru no Oto by miwa. The song was gorgeous and the lovely watercolor artwork lent a storybook quality to the characters and setting of the series. This was truly one I savored until the end.
With the sequences covered, the attention is now on the actual songs. Insert songs are also up for consideration, with the only real criteria being that it’s something we never got tired of listening to. There’s no bearing on if it was created specifically for a series or even if the series was any good, we’re simply picking some of our favorite songs that were featured in an anime.
Choya:Some will point towards the opening/ending themes as the best songs from Oshi no Ko, but there is a magic and infectious energy to “Sign Wa B” that helps me understand what was so iconic about Ai Hoshino’s talents. As B Komachi’s signature song, it becomes a calling card towards the infectious energy and enigmatic spirit that Ai put into her performances. Ai is built up as this magical entity by the people who knew her, but “Sign Wa B” adds credibility to the mythos as she carries the song with a beam in her smile and a skip to her step.
While the condescending nature of Yoasobi’s “Idol” addresses the pervasive nature of fame and the toxic relationship between idol culture and mass media, “Sign Wa B” is the encapsulation of the pure, raw emotions that fans feel from elevating these larger-than-life performances to that point. No one would choose to endure what is described in “Idol” unless they had a taste of the life described in “Sign Wa B”. It captures the unforgettable impact of Ai Hoshino on a greater scale than the objectification we see from her fans and loved ones. But, to understand how she could be lionized as an idol and a martyr, look no further than the song that started the obsession.
Winner: Sign Wa B by B Komachi (Oshi no Ko)
While it can be argued that individual staff members play the largest impact in a series’ success and a staff may differ greatly between series made by the same studio, the argument can also be made that studios tend to have stylistic nuances that can be found only in series produced by that studio, and this category aims to recognize studios that have made themselves known in that regard—whether it’s in the staff they chose, the diversity of their productions, the consistency of their animation quality, or the quirks they’ve given their main characters.
Pancakes: Certain to be the divisive choice of the year, but yes, MAPPA is taking it for both the good and bad. As a studio there is no denying its sheer output – and successful output at that – over the past year, producing the category winner likes of Vinland Saga, Jigokuraku, Shingeki no Kyojin, and Jujutsu Kaisen, among several others. Of these productions too it did a fantastic job in both adapting to the art styles of each and in providing the best animation possible for the allotted budgets. Yet MAPPA too suffered towards year’s end, with the reported troubles with Jujutsu Kaisen, the animator walkout, and the return to the perennial issue of anime’s dirty little sausage making secret. In the end it’s the people who make a studio what it is, and MAPPA’s latest batch of animators and producers were some of the best for not only giving us the shows we got, but doing so while under the overbearing demands of management and company leadership. Those exceptionally hardworking (and often overworking) men and women deserve all the kudos possible as shown by this win, because without them MAPPA wouldn’t be what it is and a lot of 2023’s top series would not have obtained the status they did. Seriously, give them a major thanks – few others in anime over the past year deserve it as much as they do.
Winner: MAPPA(‘s incredible animators)
Character (Male and Female)
Branching away from strictly picking series and focusing on some specifics is the idea behind the miscellaneous section. The first one is our favorite character, who won his or her way into our hearts for whatever reason. The criteria here is somewhat loose, but with numerous options in a single series, multiplied by almost a hundred in the past year, it’s actually quite difficult to pick one above all others. Be that as it may…
Pancakes: Could it be any other way for 2023? Considering Shingeki no Kyojin finally finished off its story over the past year it makes sense to think Eren stole the show given the last bit of story also happened to be its most crazy. And over the top. And utterly ridiculous. Few (if any) other characters can claim to have shifted goals, desires, and even personality as much as Eren, from determined slasher of Titan necks to the one wanting to genocide the entire world to keep said Titan creators – and his friends – alive. Oh and let’s not forget those Titan powers he accumulated in the process making him a true force to be reckoned with in the past, present, and future. Such awesome power did transform Eren into a nifty final boss though, particularly when paired with how his significant character change influenced the likes of Misaka and Armin, and saw the radical outcome which graced Shingeki no Kyojin’s final conclusion. Say what you will about how Eren’s character was ultimately written or portrayed – and there’s a lot which can be said about it – but he’s right up there (and arguably deservedly so) as one of the most influential anime personas of recent time.
Winner: Eren Yeager – Shingeki no Kyojin
Pancakes: Any number of cutie pies, hotheads, or otherwise seasonal waifus are more than capable of taking this category during a given year, but out of all of them the one deserving it most in 2023 has to be Nezuko. Since the start of Kimetsu no Yaiba she’s always been a stupidly strong combination of cute and capable, whether it be famous chibi dash through the forest or, as in the case of the second season, showing that she has the power needed to protect Tanjiro when required. This season however really upped the ante for Nezuko’s character, both between the fighting she engaged in for the sake of her brother and in highlighting the potential she now has going forward courtesy of season finale speaking and standing in the sunlight – oh yes, this girl will be topping the charts going forward just for the familial love she can now better express for big brother. Must give a runner up shoutout to Dark Gathering’s Yayoi though; when it comes to kuudere tendencies with unique character design (the shoes I swear) you can find no better example in 2023. And hey, she even comes with the complementary yandere in Eiko for spice!
Winner: Kamado Nezuko – Kimetsu no Yaiba
Honorable Mentions: Houzuki Yayoi – Dark Gathering
As the saying goes “dress for success” and in this category, we will be looking at the shows that have successfully dressed their characters in a defining manner. Series in this category will have costume designs that illustrate the characters’ personalities, fit into the story’s setting, are unique, and/or are stylishly done. The design of the characters are also unique, engaging, and suitable to the story.
Pancakes: While easy to hand any number of series the win for design, among all the fantasy and school uniform trappings the one which stood out the most was Uma Musume. A little counterintuitive maybe given the overarching franchise, but this series has always had an eye for interesting costumes which don’t tread too far into the usual idol insanity. Bright and varied colours are matched with the just right amount of frill, while the outfits themselves don’t go so overboard as to completely affect suspension of disbelief coming from them being worn by anthropomorphized horses in literal horse races. Couple it with some effort placed on matching costume design to the origins and backstories of each character and it made for some nifty variation in overall visuals. Just further proof that even the most niche of shows can at times hit above their weight.
Winner: Uma Musume
The emotional moment of the year is defined by strong, persistent, and bold feelings. They can be torrents of happiness, pangs of regret, or the deepest reaches of agony and suffering, but the winner is the one which made us feel for the character alongside them and get just a bit of what they’re going through.
For plot twist of the year, we’re looking for a sudden unexpected turn of events in the story that caught us off guard and delivered sheer shock value. It’s that “WTF” moment that has people talking about it for the next few days, regardless of whether or not anyone found it agreeable.
Betrayal: The act of betraying one’s country, a group, or a person. This category was inspired by the ‘Top 5 Anime Betrayals’ meme and debuts as an experimental addition for the sake of fun.
This may be part of a plot twist or something you see coming a mile away, but we’re concerned about the impact the death has on the story and us as viewers. Well-executed screenplay leading up to it may play a big part, but there are also cases where a character dies so suddenly that we’re left in complete disbelief. In both cases, it’s the lingering impression we’re basing our selection on.
Action, action, and more action! The action genre ranges anywhere from shounen-crazed series to war-filled mecha shows. For battles, choreography plays a huge role, so that was definitely taken into consideration.
Pancakes: Per tradition action was quite plentiful over the past year, with major series in the likes of Boku no Hero Academia, the latest yearly Kimetsu no Yaiba continuation, and new shounen powerhouse in Jujutsu Kaisen all showing just what they’re made of. In the end though the prize must go to Shingeki no Kyojin because oh boy you cannot leave a series off on a better note. Whatever one’s impressions of its plot and ending, the last two TV specials showcased everything making the franchise so damn popular, from the monster mash of Titan battles to the always impressive maneuver gear set pieces up to and including the pulp melodrama giving a reason for it all. Couple it with the usual lavish spending such productions acquire and the visuals definitely improved what was already a wickedly fun experience. Given how long SnK has been an anime fixture (over a decade!), there’s no more fitting way to leave off its last great hurrah.
Winner: Shingeki no Kyojin
Honorable Mentions: Jujutsu Kaisen, Kimetsu no Yaiba
Emotion-filled romance at its finest. The relationship between characters and the emotions involved are the appeal, and the main criteria for selecting a series here. A sentimental story is always good, with tear-jerking scenes being a plus. This is the series that had the best romantic mood from the character interactions to the big confession.
Choya: The English title is “My Happy Marriage”, but the titular happiness is so impactful because of the adversity that both Saimori Miyo and Kudou Kiyoka must contend with to protect and preserve the joy they’ve found together. With Miyo’s arranged marriage to Kudou working out more perfectly than expected, there are swathes of rivals, families, and sorcerers determined to split them up for their ulterior motives. But the magic of romance comes from the passion and dedication that one has for your partner and yourself, and Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon knows how to push Miyo to pull out all of the stops and harness this magic.
Through her constant endurance of some of the most unfair, cruel, and malicious circumstances, Miyo is tasked with overcoming self-doubt and self-loathing to trust in her abilities, no matter how dormant they may be, to fight for her love. Likewise, Kudou fosters a positive space for Miyo to find the confidence she can to know exactly what she wants now that she no longer has to live with the constant abuse she’s dealt with for years on end. Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon captures the enduring spirit of love in its many forms, whether it be the unconditional emotions felt in a lover’s embrace or the compassion that you share with yourself.
Winner: Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon
A lot of good series out there depict an emotion-filled story where the romance comes secondary, if at all. Strong depictions of friendship and in challenging situations can really draw a viewer into the story and start making them sympathize with the characters. It’s a bit of an all-encompassing genre, but only a handful of series really pull viewers in with their screenplay.
Pancakes: If sci-fi struggled with two equal competitors this past year, drama too wasn’t immune courtesy of dual juggernauts Vinland Saga and Oshi no Ko. Both of these shows honestly deserve the win: they’re both blunt, psychological affairs with a dash of moralism (more so in Vinland’s case), raise tough questions regarding their targeted area/industry, and feature some very nice characters and overall character development. The only reason Oshi no Ko ekes out the victory is because its drama is, well, very dramatic, with a brutal and visceral prologue later accompanied by some choice reflection on the state of the entertainment industry and how its participants navigate the waters. It’s imperfect, it’s shallow at times, but Oshi no Ko’s flair for the theatrical (no pun intended) gives it that little bit extra leg up over Vinland Saga’s more slow burning, historically centered efforts. Don’t think you shouldn’t give both of these ones some attention though; if there ever was a category this year deserving of a shared award, this one would be it.
Winner: Oshi no Ko
Honorable Mentions: Vinland Saga
History is not just the particular clothing worn or a significant event or two, but a whole way of life that both influenced and was influenced by the issues, innovations, and values of the times. Noteworthy shows in this category incorporate a particular historical setting not just because it’s cool, but because it has actual bearing on the story. The history presented must also demonstrate knowledge of and respect for the time period.
Princess Usagi: There are many different ways a historical setting can go- for one, there’s the solid traditional route that plays events as they unfolded as pure drama. The other is the full throttle speedway with bombastic characters and events that scream out larger than life. Golden Kamuy certainly took the cake there with many fabulous “is this actually happening on screen right now??” moments, interspersed with random obscure historical tidbits. Undead Girl Murder Farce also brilliantly exploded down this path, pulling in a hodgepodge of who’s who among Victorian literary characters in a wild goose chase around 19th century Europe.
On the other end of the outlandish spectrum, we had Vinland Saga, which followed the immense character growth of Thorfinn while poignantly exploring the painful realities of war, slavery, and loss against the backdrop of the medieval viking conquests. And let’s not forget Oooku, which did a fairly good job of immersing us in the alternate reality of a female-run shogunate-era Japan, taking an interesting dive into the politics of the time as well as the gender dynamics that underlie much of history.
As fantastic as each of these series were in their own rights, the one that stands at the pinnacle of the 2023 historical genre is Rurouni Kenshin. I felt that the reboot really drew out the historical themes central to the source material around adjusting to a new age and the sense of loss in grappling with the outcomes of the causes that were supported during the Meiji Revolution. The threads between Kenshin’s own personal demons and the recurring battles he faces within and outside of him were elegantly tied to the concurrent sense of displacement with that of boldly forging a new, better era in a way that was deeply introspective of the crazy times surrounding the Meiji Era.
Winner: Rurouni Kenshin
The best horror shows are those that incite visceral feelings of shock, fear, and pulse-pounding dread. Gore is not a necessity for this genre, as there’s always psychological thrillers that are just as gripping if not more. However, those that can provide both an unsettling atmosphere and a good scare are even better.
Pancakes: Be honest, you knew this one was coming the moment summer rolled around. Although true horror and thriller series are often few and far between, when the likes of Dark Gathering appear it quickly makes up for all the down time. This show encapsulated everything which makes the genre so chaotic and addicting: visual horror and gore, psychological tension and drama, and an intensely character-driven plot fueled by the best twists and turns which only anime can ever offer. While the show over time evolved into something more akin to a shounen than proper horror, the willingness of Dark Gathering to keep up the suspense, double down on the insanity (particularly as it related to Eiko’s and Keitarou’s relationship), and maintain solid visuals throughout ensured that each week never lacked for pulpy, over the top fun. Considering just how gloriously ridiculous some horror shows can be, could you really ask for more?
Winner: Dark Gathering
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Thought-provoking storylines that keep inquisitive viewers watching and speculating on where things are headed? Yes, please. They don’t necessarily have to have a horror element to them either, as all we’re looking for here is a blend of detective/crime fiction.
Pancakes: For the same reasons Pluto just narrowly lost the sci-fi award are the same reasons it hands down takes this one: a very good, slow-burn, mystery focused story. While Urasawa Naoki has an innate knack for plots like this (courtesy of his earlier experience writing Monster), Pluto’s adaptation perfected the source material experience, weaving a tale which never once stumbled or rushed through its material. Mysteries after all demand that questions both be asked and (usually) answered, and this show never let up in drip feeding the resolutions to its central conflict while raising larger, more philosophical questions to its greater world. Much like Summertime Render last year had you glued to the screen, Pluto’s execution too nailed the desire for “just one more episode” and had at least me binge watch far more of it in one sitting than I likely should have. When a mystery leaves you immediately wanting more you know you have something special on your hands.
Honorable Mentions: Tengoku Daimakyo, Undead Girl Murder Farce
Supernatural is undeniably a sub-genre of fantasy. But where you’ll typically see dragons and wizards in traditional fantasy, a supernatural story usually has a greater footing with our reality — which also includes realistic historical setting. It typically takes on a darker tone and specifically highlights supernatural creatures or happenings as being far from the accepted norm.
Pancakes: Last year proved quite fruitful for supernatural series, whether that be the thriller-infused chaos of Dark Gathering (itself already a winner in horror), the fluffy slice-of-life fun of Shinigami Bocchan to Kuro Maid, or even the genre insanity of Undead Unluck. All of them, however, have to take a backseat to Jigokuraku because if any 2023 show nailed the otherworldly trappings the category demands it was this one. Besides featuring an eclectic, historical setting with some very interesting enemy and monster designs, Jigokuraku melded a neat mix of shounen-inspired action and decent mystery to yield a story as much about its central premise of finding the elixir of life as figuring out just what its world is all about. No matter its occasional stumble in terms of production or pacing, Jigokuraku helps to show that the supernatural often works best when fused with other genres and taken to the extreme and definitely deserves standing first on this year’s podium.
Honorable Mentions: Dark Gathering, Shinigami Bocchan to Kuro Maid, Mononogatari
When it comes to science fiction, a futuristic world with advanced technology, robots, space travel, and superhuman abilities is the usual connotation. However, that’s not the only setting that fits this genre. Sometimes all a series has to do is play up a single sci-fi aspect and do it well to go down as an excellent sci-fi series.
Pancakes: Sci-fi thankfully saw a bit of a resurgence the past year with at least six shows vying for the top stop, though much like isekai in the end it was only a race between Tengoku Daimakyo and Pluto. Both are broadly similar, with mystery-heavy plots buoyed by character-driven development, psychological tension, and questions on the meaning of existence. While Tengoku Daimakyo played more towards gritty post-apocalypse with a very human flair,Pluto was more above board and focused on the definition of humanity, generally aiming for a feel which AI no Idenshi (or even Casshern Sins) also tried to perfect. Both honestly deserve top spot given how they turned out (particularly for how well they roped their audiences in), but if pressed Tengoku Daimakyo just squeaks out the victory for its story as well as its execution. For all its production values Pluto experienced a few of the ubiquitous adaptation stumbling blocks (e.g. 3DCGI), the sort of thing which Tengoku Daimakyo largely managed to avoid. If anything, however, having two acclaimed neck and neck series like this shows that the future of anime sci-fi isn’t all that bleak and that there’s room for optimism heading into a new year.
Winner: Tengoku Daimakyo
Honorable Mentions: Ai no Idenshi, Pluto
Whether it be saving the world or saving oneself, mecha is defined by the presence of big giant robots helping its cast either achieve their hopes and dreams or avoid a terrible fate. While almost always sci-fi, mecha isn’t limited to the genre and has over the years seen some works venture into the realm of magic and fantasy to truly explore the potential of man and machine.
Pancakes: Mecha is always a fun category to look back on because there’s either absolutely nothing or absolutely everything to mull over. While the former was more apparent this year – Megaton-kyuu Musashi and Bullbuster struggled making the grade – given Gundam’s latest original in Witch from Mercury carried over into spring it made things relatively simple. Not that Witch from Mercury is undeserving of first place mind you: it was typical Gundam with larger than life characters (with the first female protagonist to boot), an interesting sci-fi setting and Gundam system effectively building on what Iron Blooded Orphans featured, and the usual feast of neat mecha designs Bandai wasted little time in making model kits for. Couple it with a solid story and the usual theatrical and dramatic flair common to the franchise and no wonder it easily claimed the prize. Sure, Witch from Mercury may be no OG One Year War competitor (or even one to SEED for that matter), but it certainly ticks off all the boxes for a mecha winner – and a good one at that!
Winner: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
Where science fiction seeks to explain the remarkable happenings of its universe via technology and logic, fantasy is less concerned with that. Wizards, dragons, and Tolkien-esque adventures are what usually come to mind, but those aren’t mandatory. As long as the focus is less on what makes the world tick and more on using magic and wonder to tell a story, it’s probably a fantasy tale you’re looking at.
Pancakes: With Sousou no Frieren already a lock for 2024 in this category (the continual pain of fall-winter straddling shows) it left some noticeable room for another contender this year. There’s a few suspects, from the always reliable Megumin explosions in Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Bakuen wo to Ousama Ranking’s follow up “side-cour”, the literal age-spanning tale Fumetsu no Anata e, and even the surprisingly entertaining Eiyuuou way back in January. In the end though there’s only one decent winner for true force of effort: Danmachi. The fourth season in this franchise was arguably the Danmachi redemption arc, playing hard to its underlying strengths in Bell’s personal struggles and fleshing out the backstory of Ryuu in a very satisfying way. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it completely paved over Danmachi cheesy moments or its very light novel developments (plenty of those still remain), but it did wonders for showcasing just what makes this series fun and why many fans hold it in high stead. With how widely variable fantasy can be – particularly in the era of isekai – any adaptation managing to accomplish that fully deserves the praise it receives.
Winner: Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka
Honorable Mentions: Fumetsu no Anata e
As an extension of the fantasy genre, isekai is a concept that has taken the anime industry by storm, revolving around a normal person from Earth being transported to, reborn, or trapped in a parallel universe — usually in a fantasy world.
Pancakes: At this point isekai is as isekai does: it remains the current anime zeitgeist with dozens of series in a given year to work through and 2023 was no exception – even if the competition for first place was surprisingly less intense than thought. In the end the choice came down to Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute and Mushoku Tensei, with the latter just edging it out courtesy of tight storytelling and some strong (and welcome) character development on the part of Rudeus. This season was the culmination for a lot of Mushoku Tensei’s earlier buildup, helping spread the series’ wings and giving some better direction for Rudeus’ underlying goal of finding his family. While the usual light novel/power fantasy criticisms remain, given this season continued the existing series trend of good worldbuilding, decent pacing, and some very excellent production values, it’s full deserving of all the kudos coming its way. No matter the warts Mushoku Tensei bears, this franchise always nails just what it means to truly be isekai. Just have to hope the next season can keep the torch going strong.
Winner: Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu
Honorable Mentions: Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute
The ability to make you laugh until you cry – that’s probably the number one criteria when selecting a comedy of the year. From everything to sheer stupidity, quirky characters, and timely comedic pauses to perverted fun, elaborate setups, and witty jokes, it’s the lighthearted nature and humorous entertainment value of these series that we love.
Choya: It’s tempting not to throw this into the Category Defining category for its disturbing thriller elements and emotional family drama, but Migi to Dali is easily the funniest anime of the year for all of its surreal, over-the-top sense of humor. As newly adopted twins who methodically plan out their every move together, Migi and Dali are forced to keep up the illusion of being the precocious, open-minded Hitori no matter the cost. It’s through these costs that the brothers are put through the wringer as they have to contend with making new friends with unsettling hobbies, performing acrobatics to share time with their foster parents, and enduring some of the most cringe-worthy parties in town.
It doesn’t help that the brothers are still getting adjusted to their new life as Migi’s naivety and Dali’s lack of social cues cause them to have to think fast if they want to blend in. It’s not a comedy for the faint of heart since it steers into some pretty creepy territory, especially as the brothers learn more about the dark secrets behind the Ichijou family’s stability. But if you’re able to roll with the show’s serious turns, then you’ll have a great time with the off-kilter, campy comedy of Migi to Dali.
Winner: Migi to Dali
The romantic comedy genre separates itself from the individual romance and comedy ones by teasing us with potential relationships but never quite settling on one. Instead, the enjoyment comes from the character interactions themselves, often – but not always – in harem-like scenarios.
Pancakes: Romcoms are always a plentiful staple in anime, and much like earlier years we had a huge number to pick through, whether that be the teasing antics of Nagatoro-san and Kubo-san, the transfer student shenanigans from Skip to Loafer, or the tomboy fun of Tomo-chan. All of those however just cannot match the sheer staying power of Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu for absolutely nailing both the romance and comedy aspects. Latter of course is easy: Anna is a continual source of hilarity, with bubbly personality and scatterbrained mind bouncing fantastically off of Kyoutarou’s moody (yet internally sweet) mentality. It’s the romance between the two which makes things overall though, as the slow boil, organic growth of Kyoutarou’s and Anna’s relationship and their gradual realization of interest in one another creates some very charming, wonderfully adorable scenes with minimal teenage melodrama. This one is an excellent example of romcom done right, and if the second season can match what the first had on tap, 2024 might already have its winner determined.
Winner: Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu
Honorable Mentions: Skip to Loafer, Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko
Slice of Life
A laid-back series with no reliance on heavily gimmicky plot devices nor a constantly progressing storyline is what this genre stands for. The character interactions themselves in an otherwise “normal” setting are the highlight, along with any incidental humor that results from them. A lot of times, they’re just really cute and innocent happenings, and that’s exactly what makes a good slice of life series.
Pancakes: Probably shows the staying power of isekai these days when most slice-of-life wound up being alternate world flavour in one variety or another, yet there were a few “proper” examples which happened to fall through the cracks, particularly Yuzuki-san Chi no Yonkyoudai. This one was a remarkably sweet story, focusing not just on family life between siblings with no parents present, but also one where they are all boys. The handling of this premise was particularly impressive, as the slow yet methodical unfolding of Yuzuki-san’s story alongside its intensely character-driven focus quickly made for some very enjoyable – and emotional – moments. Coupled with the show keeping its drama mostly realistic and having some pretty good animation at key moments throughout makes this one without a doubt one of 2023’s diamonds in the rough. Just goes to show that not all slice of life needs a café or club to make things work.
Winner: Yuzuki-san Chi no Yonkyoudai
Honorable Mentions: Edomae Elf
This category seeks to celebrate the competitive past times many of us cherish—at least, the animated equivalents of them. Chances are you’re no Roger Federer or Lebron James, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine ourselves as him or enjoy watching people like him play, and this category seeks to include those series that gave us a great take on a particular sport, with bonus points given to quality animations, insight into mental aspects of the game, and other athletic intangibles.
Princess Usagi: While the quality sports anime this year were rather sparse, the two that did grace our screens made for a tough decision when working on this write-up. One of the highlights in this genre for 2023 was Mix. Any of Adachi’s works is legend (though Cross Game is his best). The way he used Mix to expand upon the universe of Touch while delivering thrilling matches and insight into family was compelling (though frustrating at times when he beat around the bush so many times there was almost no bush left). The real champ for 2023, however, was Overtake!. Skeptical at first with it being an anime original, the deft touch carried by the writing almost every week, the loveable characters, and the gripping races hit hard where it counts, overtaking any other competition. While I am not terribly knowledgeable of F4 racing, the series’ portrayal of the sport certainly drew me in, made me feel the excitement of the race. If that weren’t enough, it completely nailed the ending in a way that many anime originals fail to do, allowing the show to speak for itself and showcasing the talents of the staff who worked on this.
Also known as the Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita Memorial Award, this is the category for those shows that deserve to be on this list, even if we don’t have a clue where they should go. Many series cross into multiple genres, which is why you see shows being featured in multiple categories in this section. These series defy genre. They twist and squirm, evading our attempts to label them and are just themselves, as well as good. This is the category for shows that deserve recognition, even if we aren’t rightly sure what they were.
Pancakes: As far as years go 2023 wasn’t lacking for off the wall as Oniichan wa Oshimai, Migi to Dali, Rokudou no Onna-tachi, and Kaminaki Sekai no Kamisama Katsudou show. I remain firmly adamant the last two are so bad they’re great (especially Kamikatsu *laughs in rotoscoping*), but if being wholly objective Zom 100 has to take the award. This one really came out of nowhere, meshing bucket list fulfillment with a world of zombies (bet you never heard that combination before), pairing the crazy idea fusion with some ridiculously good cinematography, and letting the whole thing go on top of a comedy-powered engine. In a sense it’s a Japanese Shaun of the Dead, replete with parody, satire, and far too many fun times watching Akira try and fulfill his various bucket list items. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a show for everyone (suspension of disbelief is a must), but for a truly “anime” experience in 2023 Zom 100 is without a doubt it.
Winner: Zom 100: Zombie ni Naru made ni Shitai 100 no Koto
Honorable Mentions: Migi to Dali
There are numerous shows out there that people don’t watch or continue watching because they’re so fixated on what’s unanimously popular. We make a point of watching and covering series that tend to be overlooked, so this is intended to highlight the series that more people should have checked out but probably didn’t.
Pancakes: With how hard Dark Gathering dominated the paranormal side of things it can be easy overlooking the rest of the field which frankly would be a major disservice, particularly when it comes to Mononogatari. This one is a solid second tier show: it doesn’t tread new ground (it’s a battle shounen at heart), its visuals are middling (but not egregious), and the overall story and characters are nothing to really write home about. Yet Mononogatari does what it does well, never stumbling, rushing too hard, or otherwise flying off the cliff like many similar adaptations have a habit of doing. Having two seasons helped as well, giving plenty of time for Hyouma to learn and grow, come to terms with his past, and spread his figurative wings vis a vis his relationship with Botan. As a binge watch it was a great time, and while it’ll never top the rankings, anyone with a need for some simple, solid, spirit-side fun (alliterations go boo) would do well to give it a shot. I dare say you might be pleasantly surprised.
The pitfall of excessive hype and anticipation for anything is the disappointment that results when things don’t meet expectations. With regards to anime, this is doubly true when a series has precedent established by its original and a sequel falls incomparably short. At times it’s only a small letdown, but sometimes we’re left wondering what we did to deserve sitting through it. We’re not looking for the worst series of the year here, but the biggest disparity between expectations going in and way the series turned out.
Pancakes: It’s kind of funny in hindsight seeing how well the big name shows went this year as they’re usually the bread and butter for disappointments. SPY X FAMILY? Nailed the sequel. Tokyo Revengers? Doing what it does best. Rurouni Kenshin? A good second round adaptation. Hell even Jujutsu Kaisen, for all the studio woes, made a very impressive second season. All that leaves are the shows which could’ve been, and of those arguably the biggest letdown was SHY. Being a superhero story in the era of Boku no Hero Academia is already a major hurdle after all, and while SHY had the benefit of focusing more on interpersonal dynamics and coming to grips with living up to expectations (read: good anime-esque exploration being a superhero), it wound up stepping on a lot of its own rakes. For one a lot of key details in the manga were cut and development of key protagonists and antagonists both wound up proving superficial. The titular Shy in particular felt disjointed in her growth, which combined with the fleeting world building left a largely listless story. A second season is set for 2024 so hopefully it can make up for the first, but as it stands SHY is a show which just couldn’t quite stick the landing when push came to shove and arguably shows how expectations can be as a big a downfall as execution.
When you expect something to be good, only for it to turn out bad, that’s one thing. When you expect something to be messy, and it embraces said messiness in spectacular fashion – be it extreme technical production issues or overarching storyline, that’s when you know you’ve got a trainwreck on your hands
Pancakes: Seemingly deciding 2022 didn’t have enough trainwrecks 2023 decided to go all out and offer up even more examples. Whether it be the emotional letdown of Maou Gakuin’s sequel, the absolutely chaotic conclusion for Masamune-kun, or Yoko Taro increasingly proving that Nier was lightning in a bottle with Kamierabi, many shows decided cliff diving was an appropriate production choice. Nevertheless the one which really stuck hard was Kaminaki Sekai no Kamisama Katsudou for simply having the most beautiful wreckage. This one truly had it all: crazy isekai-meets-reincarnation plot (those who watched will understand), overtly ecchi shenanigans, the best of comedic light novel developments, and a ridiculously skimpy production budget which left us such animation masterpieces like this. The combination of all these elements made for one hell of a ride, and while objectively Kamikatsu will be a prime example of what not to do for your isekai adaptation, it goes to show that sometimes the most vivid (and entertaining) anime experiences are those shows which break every rule in the book.
Winner: Kaminaki Sekai no Kamisama Katsudou
Honorable Mentions: Kamierabi
Naturally, there’s the exact opposite of disappointment, where we go into a series with low or little-to-no expectations and it turns out much better than we anticipated. This could easily be considered finding diamonds in the rough, which is only possible if you tend to give new shows the benefit of the doubt. Our picks here don’t necessarily mean they’re blockbuster hits in disguise, but that the disparity between expectations and the actual series goes in the favorable direction.
Pancakes: Might seem weird having a mobile game adaptation wind up taking this category (aren’t they all terrible?), but considering where Arknights was starting from it’s a well-deserved award. This is honestly how such productions should go – especially adaptation sequels – where a suitable budget is met with a self-contained and appropriately paced story. Far too many related mobage franchises take the slice and dice approach after all, leaving very bad aftertastes courtesy of cheap animation and rapid-fire episodes testing even the ability of game fans to make sense of. While Arknights isn’t without some of the usual stumbling blocks (it does assume game familiarity for one), its tight execution, especially in the latter half with Faust and Mephisto, made it a very enjoyable experience akin to the halcyon days of Shingeki no Bahamut and I for one hope it translates into further seasons in the future. Given how most of these adaptations go there is no higher praise.
Honorable Mentions: Hikari no Ou
Best Anime 2023
The be-all, end-all of the year. This pick is always a hotbed of controversy, so here’s the exact criteria we used to make it: if we were to meet an anime fan for the first time and they were to ask us to recommend a show that aired in 2018, what would it be? Without knowing the person’s tastes, we would naturally default to the show that did the most things right, one that had wide appeal and deserved it, that had superb animation and told its story well, and above all else, that we enjoyed. The winner of this category should be a high anticipation show that supremely deserved it, or a dark horse that blew everyone out of the water. This is subjective as hell, but you can find a list of our best picks below.
Pancakes: I swear it gets harder every year picking the ultimate winner. From surefire staples to the surprise fall dark horse, something inevitably comes up taking obvious victors out the running and throwing everything else for a loop. Oshi no Ko for example would be the easy pick, but it was arguably frontloaded and more superficial than it would like you think. Jujutsu Kaisen? Tragically plagued by production troubles. And the slate of stupidly good 2023 romcoms are their own tempest in a teapot. No, if going for the strongest overall show the winner must be Vinland Saga for giving one of anime’s best historical fictions to date.
While slow and brooding, Vinland Saga’s second cour was jampacked with moral and philosophical musings, exploring the struggles of Thorfinn and Canute as both came to terms with an uncaring world and how they should interact with it to see appreciable change. It was a drama in the truest sense of the word, a story exploring the very personal highs and lows for key characters, and showing how even the greatest depths of tragedy can yield happiness (or at least a path forward). Sure, the action many were used to in the first season may have been lacking, but the latter half of this one arguably made up for it given its bluntness, moral exploration, and raw emotion, particularly once Thorfinn and Canute finally came face to face. Add on MAPPA really giving its all in terms of animation and artwork and the product we got was as much an ode to the setting which it takes place as an example of the boundless potential such historical works have. When it comes to showing just what anime is capable of, Vinland Saga more than any work production in 2023 showed it best.
Winner: Vinland Saga
Best OVA/Movie 2023
The same as above, except for the not-regularly-broadcasted offerings. These aren’t covered very often on the site, but we’ve each had the pleasure of watching enough to find some that really caught our eyes.
Pancakes: Probably no major shocker after all the praise Pluto received earlier on that it would win up ultimately claiming 2023’s OVA/Movie AOTY award. While Shingeki no Kyojin technically was an OVA this time around, Evangelion made another return, and even SAO Progressive received its second (subbed) installment, none of them taken as a whole could really match the package Pluto was providing. Whether that be the murder mystery premise pulling you in, the underlying philosophical questions permeating and underpinning the entire story, or the show simply being a very good adaptation for Urasawa Naoki’s original work, Pluto as a whole wound up being far greater than the base sum of its parts. Hell let’s not also forget this was a Netflix production at heart – considering how hit and miss the company can be these days getting a show like Pluto is no small feat. Just have to hope its success can encourage the greenlighting of similar series, because if there’s one thing anime can never have enough of it’s brooding and inquisitive sci-fi.
Reader’s Choice – Favorite Anime 2023
Your choice for 2022. With everyone allowed to pick up to five series, we have a pretty nice spread of results. In exchange for finding out if there was one series that everyone would’ve picked with a single vote, we have a much better idea of the other ones you enjoyed. The top choice was close yet still pretty unquestionable though, since it was good enough to make it into the majority of your top 5 picks.
The Top 5:
Oshi no Ko – 7.25%
Vinland Saga Season 2 – 5.81%
Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 – 5.76%
Tengoku Daimakyo – 4.83%
Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute! – 4.55%
Here are the full results.
Reader’s Choice – Favorite OVA/Movie 2023
Your OVA/Movie choice of 2022. As mentioned in the disclaimer above, the choices here were restricted to what’s been released on BD/DVD so that viewers outside of Japan have a chance of watching them and making an informed decision. It didn’t make sense to restrict such offerings to a small pool of voters this year and not have it up it for consideration in 2022, so if you wanted to vote for anything that premiered in theaters, you’ll get your chance next year!
The Top 5:
Pluto – 9.75%
EVANGELION:3.0+1.11 THRICE UPON A TIME – 9.57%
Shingeki no Kyojin: The Final Season – Kanketsu-hen – 8.08%
Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: First Kiss wa Owaranai – 5.97%
Suzume no Tojimari – 5.62%
Here are the full results.