I feel David Bowman coming over me a bit as I ponder this upcoming anime season. We’ve had some big seasons in recent years to be sure. Heck, Fall 2022 looked like it had epic potential on paper, though in practice it ended up being somewhere in the “pretty good” realm. As the old sports saw goes, “they don’t play the games on paper”. We never know how a season will rank until several episodes into it.
That said – my God, it’s full of stars.
However powerful this season is in the broad sense (and it has plenty of big hitters, (including the biggest of all in Kimetsu no Yaiba) what seems pretty clear is that it’s the peak of recent years as far as my own tastes are concerned. At the time of this writing there are 52 new series by my count, which is high but not an astonishingly large number for spring in the 2020’s. But out of that 52 I’m previewing almost 50% (22 shows), which I’m pretty sure is the highest batting average I’ve had in years. My usual hit rate is eerily consistent at around one-third, and in LN-heavy Winter ‘23 I barely hit a quarter.
Even more telling, I currently have 10 series on my “Will Definitely Blog” list, and I’m almost positive that would be my largest number yet. And there are absolutely others that will join that group – for Enzo’s sensibilities, this is both a deep season and one which has elite quality at the top. Stipulating to all the usual cautions about seeing how things play out, it would be a major surprise if spring doesn’t dominate the year-end Top 10 list, and provide legit contenders for AotY status (maybe most of them).
A schedule already packed with quality was further spiked by the addition of delayed series from 2022 and winter – most especially Golden Kamuy S4, which will without doubt be one of those contenders. You also have Vinland Saga carrying over of course (winter and summer usually have fewer multi-cour series) and that too is certain to be among the year’s best. What’s driving this avalanche? It’s not sequels, in the main – there are a few good ones, but they aren’t the main driver of good seasons as has usually been the case recently.
No, this is all about manga. Spring 2023 is fit to bursting with adaptations of outstanding manga. And there are no less than five of series that I’m currently reading, which is another number I’m pretty sure is a new high. It’s a genuinely impressive list, and a reminder than as anime has struggled with homogenization and an overall lack of creative ambition, manga – assisted by the growth of web-based publishing – is as creatively healthy as ever. I’m unofficially referring to 2023 as “the year manga saved anime”, and spring is the finest example.
What about genres? In a season like this you’re getting to feel like you’re getting a little of everything, but what stands out for me is definitely an explosion of romcom (a genre that hasn’t been especially robust in anime). I mean, you literally have adaptations of outstanding romcom manga for every age group – elementary (Clueless Transfer Student), JHS (BokuYaba), high school (Insomniacs After School, Skip to Loafer), and college/adult (Tonikawa Season 2). Nothing else is as prominent as that, but I see entries for sports, action, sci-fi, and drama – none of my usual boxes are feeling left out. It’s also a huge season for the seinen demographic, as this preview will illustrate.
Lastly, it sure doesn’t hurt that the adaptation I’ve probably been most excited about these past couple of years is finally arriving in BokuYaba. It’s a series that’s both objectively great and perfectly attuned to my tastes. There are other manga I follow whose adaptations would probably be my top pick in a lot of seasons on top of that, too. It’s exciting, but it presents some real challenges for me in terms of time management. I think there’s simply going to be too much good anime for me to cover given the current demands on my time (and my energy levels). This is not Spring 2012, when I was younger and blogging was still new and exciting – I could never cover a season now the way I covered that season. No chance.
The question, then, is what do I do about that (even this intro is the longest ever, ROFL)? I’m still not sure, to be honest. A lot of digest posts? Short coverage of a lot of series, with very few (or no) screencaps? Not covering a bunch of good series that would make the cut in most seasons? Actually deferring some series to summer, which from a distance looks far, far weaker? None of those options appeal to me but nothing is off the table at this point. The answer may be some combination of all those things, but I’ll probably put off the hard decisions until the last possible moment.
Let’s move on to the preview. As usual, the poll is in the sidebar – please go vote!
Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu – Shin-Ei: (PV) Of all the manga adaptations that have come down the pike since I’ve been an anime fan, few have me as excited (and yes, a little emotional) as Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu. I love this series unabashedly and unreservedly. I love everything about it – the art, the sensibility, the humor, the depth and conviction. Middle school romcom is manga’s boom sub-genre of the past half-decade and for me BokuYaba is at the top of the pyramid. I always knew an anime was coming, but to have it finally arriving is a bit surreal.
BokuYaba comes to us from the pen of Sakurai Norio, best known to anime fans as the author of Mitsudomoe. I like that series a lot, but this one blows it out of the water. There’s a strong autobiographical element in that Sakurai projects many of her own neuroses into protagonist Ichikawa Kyoutarou, the undersized seventh-grader at the heart of the story. Kyou will remind some of Tomoko from Watamote (and BokuYaba of that series) but they’re very different. Kyou is a neurotic, plain and simple – a bit of a chuunibyou too when the series starts, but basically a worrier more than anything else. Into his life sweeps popular and imposing classmate Yamada Anna, the heroine of the piece, and nothing is ever the same for either of them.
I’ve waxed poetical about BokuYaba on many occasions (including this YouTube video), and I’m loathe to repeat it all here – I could go on for hours. I’ll just say it subverts expectations relentlessly. Kyoutarou and Anna are not what you think they are at first. Patience is crucial with this series – the early chapters give only a glimpse of what it will become. The characters are all fantastic, especially the leads. And it says something that with Anna being gorgeous and hilarious, a custom-designed breakout star in a medium that worships cute girls, it’s Kyou who wins ever fan poll as favorite character. He’s one of the best male leads in manga, in any genre.
The other crucial element with Boku no Kokoro is that it appears to be receiving a well-considered and thoughtful adaptation. Shin-Ei and director Akagi Hiroaki, both from the superb Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san adaptation, where chosen to adapt it (as indeed I speculated they might be). It has a great staff and the casting seems on-point. This series doesn’t need the significant tweaking Takagi-san did – a smart and faithful retelling is enough to elevate to masterpiece romcom status. I’m over the moon that this wonderful treasure of a series is finally going to be shared with a wider audience.
Kimi wa Houkago Insomnia – LIDENFILMS: (PV) From here it gets a little harder, as the schedule is fat with adaptations I could easily slot in second. Out of that group I’ll start with Kimi wa Houkago Insomnia (Insomniacs After School). It’s another romance series in a season absolutely bursting with good ones. This is another manga I absolutely love – it’s gorgeous, heartfelt, cheeky, and inventive. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting anything original out of a high school romance manga at this point, but Insomniacs never feels less than totally fresh.
As you’d expect, the story here is about insomniacs – a boy named Ganta and a girl named Isaki. Neither can sleep at night, each for their own reasons. What brings them together is the school’s defunct astronomy club (specifically the abandoned – well, mostly – observatory. Isaki and Ganta each have their secrets, but they find a soulmate in the other. The astronomy plays a secondary role at the beginning, but becomes more important as the narrative progresses.
Lidenfilms has definitely been on the upswing recently – not to mention becoming something of an insomnia specialist – and the previews for this show are pretty gorgeous. And they need to be – the art is one of the big draws with the manga, and an adaptation that doesn’t show that off would be doing Insomniacs a disservice. Director Ikeda Yuuki is largely untested in that role, which is one of the few cautionary notes here. If the staff and studio is up to the challenge, Kimi wa Houkago Insomnia has a chance to be truly great, though all the caveats about one-cour adaptations off ongoing manga apply.
Tengoku Daimakyou – Production I.G.: (PV) Another outstanding manga being adapted, this time veering far off the romcom lane. The mangaka is Ishiguro Masakazu, a figure truly revered by readers and fellow mangaka alike. His best-known work is Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, but Heavenly Delusion is a massive tonal shift from that one. It’s a dark, deeply weird, and sometimes very graphic (both sexually and in terms of violence) dystopian sci-fi.
Ishiguro is still unspooling his story in the manga, and many mysteries remain. It’s a dense and complicated story spanning multiple timelines and cast, but most central to the story are teenagers Kiruko and Maru, on a journey to find the “Heaven” of the title. The setting is somewhat reminiscent of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou with its alien but beautiful mix of decay and the mundane, but the tone could hardly be more different. Those two kids are a very winning anchor for the story, which is a good thing because that’s desperately needed.
Tengoku Daimakyou is full of sharp edges and not remotely user-friendly. It’s one of the strangest and most disturbing manga I’ve read in years. Yet somehow it seems to have received an incredibly lavish adaptation. I.G. is reliably high-end of course, but the previews here are off the charts fantastic (and the series is apparently far advanced in its production, having been held back at least once). Director Mori Hirotaka isn’t a huge name but the staff is gangbusters – perhaps most notably Art Director Kaneko Yuuji, an absolute legend whose stamp is all over those PVs. I don’t know how Tengoku Daimakyou is going to be received, but if you’re a fan of the classic anime sci-fi of the 90’s and noughties I think you’re going to be blown away by it.
Skip to Loafer – P.A. Works: (PV) As I hammer out these previews, what strikes me is that I keep sounding like I’m talking about a series that should be the top pick of the season. In Skip to Loafer we have yet another adaptation of a much-lauded romcom manga. Unlike the two above I have no direct experience with this one, but it’s hard to find anyone who does who isn’t a fan (including a lot of folks whose opinions I respect).
I obviously have a checkered relationship with P.A. Works these days – frankly they haven’t done much the past several years that’s worked for me. That said, they still produce above-average visuals that occasionally hit transcendent, so it’s really a matter of matching them with the right material. Skip and Loafer is only the studio’s second manga adaptation (after Paripi Koumei), so in that sense it represents a continuation of PAW’s move to a more conventional studio model. Still, I think it’s a little bit off type for them both thematically and visually – not nearly so much as Akiba Maid Sensou obviously, but not a project I necessarily associate with their aesthetic.
That said, it’s another one where the PVs look absolutely fabulous. Kotomi Deai, one of anime’s most established female directors, is handling both direction and series composition here and while I haven’t loved all her work, she’s more than capable of a home run and a good fit for the material. The plot sounds relatively stock – a genki small-town girl goes to high school in Tokyo and befriends a laid-back local boy. But pretty much everyone who knows the manga says this is a fantastic couple, and even the previews give a good sense of a very winning vibe. Another non-sequel with a chance be pretty special.
Mahoutsukai no Yome Season 2 – Studio Kafka: (PV) The first sequel at last, and it’s a pretty big one. The first season aired five (!) years ago now, though there have been a couple of very good OVAs since, and appeared on my 2018 top 10 list. The Ancient Magus’ Bride is not a series without flaws, but it has “it”, whatever “it” is. It soars with mystery and wonder and (sometimes) horror, spinning one of anime’s finest takes on European folklore and magic.
That first season was the product of Wit, and one of TV anime’s most beautiful series ever. We’re in the hands of Kafka now but they’re effectively a Wit spinoff, so I’m not hugely worried. Manga fans sometimes refer to this chunk of the series as “Chise Goes to Hogwarts” so we’re clearly in for something of a shift from the first season, but I look forward to seeing Chise more fully her realize herself in a radically different setting. The director here is Terasawa Kazuaki, who didn’t helm the first season but did the excellent Nishi no Shounen to Seiran no Kishi OVA series.
Tonikaku Cawaii 2nd Season – SevenArcs: (PV) It sounds ridiculous with that top tier group, but I think “Mid-table” may actually be the most impressive part of this list. It’s a kind of a philosophical question – should the competition have any impact on which tier I place a series, or should it be completely based on the show itself? Intentionally or not I do tend to take it into account, and there’s no question that Tonikaku Kawaii 2nd Season (and maybe not just that) would have been “Highest Expectations” in some seasons. Here’s a sequel to a series that was a top 10 show for me a couple years back, and it’s in the second bucket. That sort of season.
I really do love Tonikawa, a genuinely likeable romcom about two genuinely likeable young (by appearance at least) adults. We get very few anime about married people, and while this one soft-pedals the physical side to a degree, the overall formula is a winner. Even the supporting cast, who I wasn’t initially very fond of, grew on me over time. This is indeed the season of the romcom and Tonikaku Kawaii (both spellings are used officially) is pretty much a guaranteed winner. It also has the adult sub-genre pretty much to itself.
Jijou wo Shiranai Tenkousei ga Guigui Kuru. – Studio Signpost: (PV) And one more romcom to gild the lily, yet another manga that I’m following too. This one is an elementary school setting, which is a delicate sub-genre to get right, but I think The Clueless Transfer Student is Assertive does. Because these are pre-teens the romance really needs to take a supportive role to the comedy, and that’s very much the case here. These are kids and they act like it, even if two of them are most definitely a couple.
That couple is Akane and Taiyou. She’s an introverted social outcast derisively referred to as “The Reaper”. He’s the new kid who things being the reaper is the coolest thing ever, and shines a light into her life. There is a bullying element here, and while it never gets too heavy that element isn’t glossed over either. Much of the humor springs from the fact that Taiyou is basically the world’s biggest chad, and it’s always completely obliviously. Those two are adorable, but my favorite is actually their friend Daichi, the son of a ramen shop family and the funniest kid in the cast. This series is a charmer altogether and very hard to resist.
Ousama Ranking: Yuuki no Takarabako – Wit: (PV) Ousama Ranking getting a second season would certainly have earned a “Highest” designation once upon a time. For most of the first cour I legitimately thought it had a chance to compete for the top spot in 2022. But then the second cour happened, the ending incorporated some shocking writing decisions, and it ended up just missing out on the top 10 altogether (though in some years it would have made it). It also used up most of the published manga, so I assumed that was that for the foreseeable future.
As such, this sequel announcement came as quite a surprise, and elicited some mixed feelings. All the more so since this is apparently (though details are sketchy) going to be all or mostly original material. That said, given how messed up the source material gets maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing. Plus, Boji and Kage are wonderful and the supporting cast has some standouts (if Sakurai Takahiro is dropped as Despa that would be a pretty big blow). Not to mention Wit clearly produced the first season with love, and when they’re really committed to a project (and on a schedule) their work is among the best in the business. In the end Yuuki no Takarabako is one of the year’s biggest mysteries, but you have to respect the upside.
Mix: Meisei Story – Nidome no Natsu, Sora no Mukou e – OLM: Yeah, the mid-table is definitely the most sequel-heavy part of this season’s preview. Mix isn’t particularly well-known in the West, but this series is very popular in Japan. And indeed, the same might be said of Adachi Mitsuru himself. Four years on from the first season Mix gets a second, and it would have happened sooner if Adachi-sensei were producing new material at a faster rate.
It doesn’t get much more Adachi than Mix, which just missed my top ten in 2019. This one is a literal sequel – which some might say is redundant with Adachi given how of a kind so many of his series are. But this of course is a sequel to Touch, whose adaptation was by some measures the most popular anime of all-time. I don’t find Mix to be on the same level as Touch, an certainly not the master’s magnum opus Cross Game, and it isn’t helped by having Kaji Yuuki cast as protagonist Tachibana Touma. Yet it’s still vintage Adachi, and if that’s your jam, you won’t be disappointed here. As did the first season, this one will run for two cours and 24 episodes.
Jigokuraku – MAPPA: (PV) It may seem a bit odd to call an adaptation of a pretty popular battle shounen a sleeper. But in this season of highbrow tentpoles, I think Jigokuraku sort of qualifies. I just have a feeling this one is going to be really good, despite a typically overloaded MAPPA production slate and the absence of a big name director. Mangaka Kako Yuuji is yet another extension of the Fujimoto family tree – if nothing else, the guy seems to have had amazingly good taste in assistants.
The story here chronicles a ninja framed for a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to die, which he’s ready to do as he’s tired of life. But an opportunity presents itself to change his fate, and so does a reason to keep on living. I haven’t read any of the manga so I’m going in cold turkey here, but like I said I’m vibing this is going to click with me for some reason. Reviews are of the manga are generally quite positive for what it’s worth, and the manga being complete should work in the adaptation’s favor.
Oshi no Ko – Doga Kobo: (PV) Akasaka Aka and Yokotani Mengo’s Oshi no Ko is something of a phenomenon, no question about it. It sells a ton, gets high aggregator scores, and has been nominated for a gaggle of manga awards. Of course most of that is also true of Akasaka’s Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai, a series that most definitely did not click with me. As such I go into this series with an abundance of caution, but an even more robust curiosity factor.
It’s one heck of a weird premise. A gynecologist secretly delivers the twins of the 16 year-old idol he adores, and winds up being reincarnated as one of them (the boy). There are some timeskips and serious twists too, as I understand it. When a manga makes as big a splash as Oshi no Ko I’m always keen to try and grok why, and if there’s one thing I know about Doga Kobo it’s that this is the sort of show they can pull off very well. Not so much a sleeper for me as a complete wild card.
Ao no Orchestra – Nippon Animation: (PV) Performing arts manga have seen a bit of a boom in anime adaptations over the past few years. Ao no Orchestra is the lastest to take the stage. This time around the focus is on the violin, with a timid son of a famous violinist getting who’s angrily sworn off the instrument after his parents divorce. But he’s roped into instructing a hard-edged girl who’s rumored to be a bully but dreams of becoming a concert violinist herself.
I don’t know a whole lot about the manga, which seems to be fairly well-regarded. But the staff is quite strong – Kishi Seiji directing and Kakihara Yuuko on series composition. Ao no Orchestra is another wild card for me, more or less, but I think there’s a pretty high likelihood this one is going to be quite good.
My Home Hero – Tezuka Productions: (PV) Seinen manga adaptations are always a subject of interest, and My Home Hero is no exception. Yet another spring adaptation of a much-acclaimed manga, it’s the story of a father who kills his daughter‘s yakuza boyfriend after he abuses her (and was trying to extort money from her grandparents, part of a recurring scheme). When his syndicate comes snooping around for answers as to his disappearance, the drama kicks in.
I confess I have a certain unease with that premise, which has an air of glorified vigilantism to it. On the other hand it’s at least a more realistic portrayal of gangsters as opposed to the cuddly fiction anime is usually peddling. The staff doesn’t stand out in terms of notoriety but assuming it’s the same guy, it’s interesting that longtime seiyuu Kiyasu Kohei is in charge of series composition.
Yamada-kun to Lv999 no Koi wo Suru – Madhouse: (PV) On my radar screen at least, this is the stealth fighter of this season’s romcom class. There are just so many of them, and I don’t have any exposure to the manga with Yamada-kun. But it’s Madhouse, who really seem to be trying to re-position themselves as a “prestige title” outlet, and directed by Madhouse legend Asaka Morio. There’s an awful lot there to grab your attention.
Yamada-kun to Lv999 no Koi wo Suru is penned by a first-time mangaka named Mashiro about which there seems to be no background info. But it’s well-reviewed (it was the Tsutaya Manga Award last year), and with the adaptation’s pedigree it’s definitely one to watch. It’s also the only shoujo among that bumper crop of romcoms this season. As for plot, the heroine is a girl whose boyfriend cheats on her with a girl he meets in the MMORPG they play. She then finds herself falling for the title character, a player in her guild whose RL counterpart is a schoolboy with no interest in romance. I sense serious potential here.
Kimetsu no Yaiba: Katanakaji no Sato-hen – ufotable: (PV) Oh by the way, the other prime candidate for the most popular anime ever (if it’s not Touch) has another season coming up too. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on Kimetsu no Yaiba for a series I’m more or less indifferent about, but it’s important enough from a historical context that I think that’s justified. Maybe the mania has died down just a hair as the manga receded further into the rear view mirror, but not much.
For my part I covered Kimetsu, left, and came back – largely driven by a desire to try and understand the source of its staggering reach. I think I sort of found my answer, and in terms of the anime as entertainment, well… I did like the “Infinity Train” OVAs well enough, and I found the second season better than the first (the relative lack of Zenitsu and Inosuke being a big part of the reason, but not all of it). My plan is to follow Katanakaji but with a season as packed as this one, I can’t make any firm promises.
Otonari no Ginga – Asahi Production: (PV) A Galaxy Next Door seems to check a lot of boxes. It’s a seinen with a pretty interesting premise – an orphaned mangaka caring for his two young siblings meets a force of nature assistant just when he’s at his lowest ebb. Something just doesn’t click with me, though. It’s almost as if someone told an A.I. “create a seinen manga” and this is what it spit out – the cobbled-together pieces of earlier seinen. Not to mention – and this is completely an unsubstantiated impression – I worry that the female lead is a manic pixie dream girl. I’ll definitely give it a shot, just to see if the head is right and the heart is mistaken.
Megami no Café Terrace – Tezuka Productions: (PV) Tezuka branching out? Basically this looks like a pretty stock harem comedy – a guy plans to sell his late grandma’s beach hut cafe, but the five crazy girls who live there have other ideas. And of course he moves in. But it has a very established director in Kuwwahara Satoshi, and for whatever reason my gut is telling me it’s going to better than it sounds.
Mashle – A-1 Pictures: (PV) I haven’t read a lot of Mashle, but it’s not among the more interesting WSJ series for my palate. Still, Jump-ers have surprised me when they port over to anime before and this one is pretty popular, so I’ll give it a punt. It’s the story of a magic-less dude in a magic = elite society who winds up attending a prestigious magic academy.
Dead Mount Death Play – Geek Toys: (PV) It’s an isekai with a teen hero battling a demon lord, but at least Dead Mount Death Play is adapted from a manga. The main reason this one is in the preview is because I like the look of the art, but that only gets you a first look – after that, it’s pay as you go.
The Marginal Service – Studio 3 Hz: (PV) I have no idea what The Marginal Service is actually about, since I haven’t seen a synopsis anywhere. We know Cygames is involved, and the previews have been on the madcap side, with a bunch of ikemen in extreme professions making a lot of noise and fuss. It doesn’t get much more “wild card” than that, but the staff here is pretty good and seriously experienced, and I do have a certain curiosity factor.
Opus.COLORs – C-Station: (PV) C-Station is a relative newcomer, and has made their reputation basically off the Yuru Camp franchise (which are at least well-produced – I think?). Tada Shunsuke is a good director and the staff is solid, so maybe this original idol(ish) sci-fi anime can exceed the norms for the genre. Maybe the merest hint of a sleeper vibe
Golden Kamuy 4th Season – Brain’s Base: (PV) You can loop back to my Fall 2022 preview for the full write-up on this one. Golden Kamuy (a past #1 series at LiA) was well on its way towards competing at the highest levels of the 2022 list when it went on hiatus after its 4th episode due to the death of a “key staff member”. There’s something very odd about this whole situation – I don’t recall anything similar happening before, and we still don’t know who the person in question was. Maybe we never will. But we do know GK4 is scheduled to return next season, starting again from Episode 1 and hopefully getting through its run uninterrupted. If it does it will almost certainly be a serious AotY contender, and that makes its return a very important event even in a season as packed as this one.
Will Definitely Blog: Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu, Golden Kamuy 4th Season, Kimi no Houkago Insomnia, Tengoku Daimakyou, Skip to Loafer, Mahoutsukai no Yome S2, Tonikaku Cawaii S2, Ousama Ranking, Mix, Jijou wo Shiranai Tenkousei ga Guigui Kuru.. From eight to one to ten – the whiplash cycle continues. Like I said up top, that number may be a personal record though I wouldn’t swear to it.
Sleepers: In a season like this, one has to raise (or lower, depending on how you look at it) the sleeper threshold. Stuff that would normally be more prominent in my expectations can be under the radar given the competition. Yamada-kun to Lv999 no Koi wo Suru is the first one that springs to mind for me (I think calling Jigoraku a sleeper is a reach even this season). Ao no Orchestra, maybe or even Opus.COLORs at a stretch.
I can’t be too upset about this category drawing a blank in a season where the series list is so buff, but it is further evidence that OVAs as a medium are in decline.
Sailor Moon breaks up the no-hitter but that’s it.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Cosmos Movie – 06/09/23, 6/30/23: (PV) I don’t know the Sailor Moon mythology well-enough to know what the “Shadow Galactica” arc is, but these two films are adapting it. I’m not necessarily a fan but any new Sailor Moon anime at this point is noteworthy.