For some of us the summer heatwave is already here, but let’s take one last look at the spring season. It was raining romcoms left and right and somehow an original project about women’s golf proved itself as must-watch anime TV. Whether you found your new OTP or an appreciation for ballet, there were some high highs and low lows. Here are the series recommended by our editorial staff (and the ones you should probably avoid).
Before I launch into this, I want to give a shout-out to Requiem of the Rose King. It isn’t perfect by any means, and as of this writing it could still truly screw up in its final episode, but any story that makes me feel genuine emotions over events that both Shakespeare and the historical record told me were coming is obviously doing something right. It may never go down as anyone’s show of the season or year, but it truly has shaped itself into something striking that I suspect I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Best: SPY x FAMILY
Speaking of adaptations, creating a good one is often more art than science, and SPY x FAMILY has more than elevated that particular form. The source material, as manga readers know, is wonderful all on its own, so to take that and expand on it in ways that feel organic while also enhancing the humor and heartwarming drama of the story is nothing short of a triumph. It also says something about the care being taken with this series; it would have been so easy to make Yor sexier, to downplay Anya’s emotional trauma, or to make Loid less human, but instead the anime leaned into all of the things that make the characters wonderful in the first place – their humanity, certainly, but also the way that they’re all just muddling through with only a vague sense that what they’re doing is going to work out even as they try their hardest. It’s this element that helps to make the story both hysterically funny and emotionally rewarding, which is not an easy combination to pull off. Yor may still get the short end of the stick, which is a problem extant in the source material, but watching Anya know everything while understanding nothing and Loid learning how to be a dad alongside his role as a superspy is both impressive and a whole lot of fun. Add in excellent animation, an ending theme that I can’t get out of my head, and stellar voice acting, and this is both a good show and the kind of anime you could recommend to someone who thinks they don’t like anime. Really the only thing I could ask for is a riff on Domyouji’s theme music whenever Damian shows up. (Somehow my sister singing it isn’t cutting it.) There’s still one episode left to air as of this writing, but this is the rare time when I feel fully confident that it won’t jump any sharks: SPY x FAMILY is just good, full stop.
Runner-Up: Delicious Party Pretty Cure
While I’ve enjoyed every Pretty Cure series I’ve watched, Delicious Party Pretty Cure is shaping up to be a contender for my new favorite. That’s because it feels like it trusts its audience to be able to handle a story that’s doled out more slowly than usual for this kind of show – it took an impressively long time to assemble the main three Cures, which has allowed us to get to know each of them as characters rather than just by their colors. Kokone (Cure Spicy) in particular has gotten a lot of character development that has shaped her role in the team and her as a person, but all three of the main girls have nuance to them that I felt was lacking in Tropical-Rouge! Pretty Cure, to use the most recent example. Even Takumi is getting to be more than just “the boy” or the Tuxedo Mask wannabe; he’s got his own thoughts and feelings that are shown to influence his words and actions, and that’s especially nice to see given that his counterpart in the other currently airing magical girl show, Touma in Waccha PriMagi!, is mostly just sort of there and gets sidelined even when he’s got the chance to do more. While Mari treads close to some unfortunate stereotype lines, he’s also more of a person than you might expect, and I’m especially looking forward to how he (and the rest of the crew) will handle the unfolding of Amane’s storyline now that she’s been freed from Narcistoru’s brainwashing. I genuinely look forward to this show every week (and I have the dance from the end down pat); it feels like the magical girl shows I fell in love with back when I was younger and I love that.
Most Frustrating: Aoashi
Let me preface this by saying that I actually am really enjoying this show. I didn’t actually watch anything bad this past season. So why is this here? Well, because I needed an approximation, but also because this is the one show that makes me so frustrated that I find myself yelling at the TV. Mostly that’s because of a trope in sports shows that I find irritating – plucky young athlete who is largely self-trained shows great promise, moves up to the big(gish) leagues, has glaring gaps in his skillset…and no one bothers to teach him what he needs to know. Maybe this is just me not understanding coaching or sports, but if one of your promising players who you actively solicited and signed doesn’t know how to do something, wouldn’t you just, I don’t know, teach him? This happens repeatedly in the eleven episodes that have aired so far, and while Ashito is, in fact, figuring things out, he’s doing so at the expense of his relationships with his teammates, which honestly just seems like a bad idea. Love All Play may be lighter on the action, but at least they have a coach who actually coaches the team, whereas Ashito’s say things like, “Figure it out, or I won’t field you for three months,” which is spectacularly unhelpful even if it may be motivating. Meanwhile his teammates are begging him to do something and he just crosses his arms over his chest and looks forbidding. It’s not Blue Lock levels of sports stupidity, but it also feels like manufacturing a problem for the characters that really doesn’t need to be there, and that just smacks of an effort to stretch the story without regard for how that story is told.
There was an astounding amount of good anime this season, yet an adage I’ve abided by for years still proved to be true: In an anime season with Kaguya-sama, all other shows are competing with Kaguya-sama. Granted, those ‘other shows’ might not have to worry about that moving forward, as this appears to be the swan song for those sweetly stupid scallawags of the Shuchiin Academy Student Council. As is often the case with these season-wrapping evaluations, I’m writing this before Kaguya-sama‘s epic one-hour finale has actually aired, but all signs point to it being a hell of a finish that I’m sure I’ll be able to fondly reflect on when we arrive at the best-of-the-year awards this winter.
The reliability of Kaguya-sama as an institution has grown along with its cast and ambitions over its seasons. Hayasaka continues to be Best Girl, obviously, and we got to see a gaggle of new, different sides to her scattered throughout the sketches of Ultra-Romantic. Ishigami’s shockingly effective character development was the defining swerve of 2020, and now this season was able to parlay his newfound likability into allowing me to root for the boy in his quest to win his crush’s heart (and gaping in gasping, hilarious disbelief when he managed to confess without even realizing it!). We got a few more scenes with Miyuki’s underutilized little sister Kei and their absolute trash-fire of a father—love that man. The series even saw fit to target me, seemingly personally, with the introduction of a pair of thirsty bisexual school newspaper reporter girls. Who have their own spin-off manga, apparently? Can we get an anime of that after this?
Above all that though, I think the defining achievement of Kaguya-sama is its ability to set up that appreciable resolution: Kaguya and Miyuki’s feelings had to forever go un-confessed in order for the premise of the entire series to keep on trucking, but here at the end, I’m all too excited to see them finally just tell each other how they feel, and I’m rooting for things to work out for them when all is said and done. After so many years of warring for our enjoyment, maybe they deserve a little peace.
Runner-Up: Ya Boy Kongming!
Right out of the gate, it was easy to mark Ya Boy Kongming! as worth following (not that I had a ton of choice, being assigned to review it, but I sure wasn’t complaining!). Its silly reverse-isekai concept and unmistakable sense of style, famously encapsulated by its opening theme, meant it’s all but unforgettable once you’d checked the series out and let it get its hooks into you. In some ways it’s similar to the overblown appeal of Kaguya-sama: seeing Kongming execute these complex stratagems in the name of something as seemingly mundane as musical promotion. The difference is that unlike in Kaguya-sama, Kongming is in fact as smart as his strategizing knowhow implies, and we are meant to view him as a 100% certified successful badass.
But what ends up making Ya Boy Kongming! work in the long run, apart from the meme-ready fuel of its elevator pitch, is its commitment to taking that musical side of its story seriously. The show ends up becoming a surprisingly sincere, reflective analysis of the nature of that kind of creation itself—of the relationship between performers and those they perform for. It springboards off of Kongming’s historical military role to contrast how strategizing for the success of creation, rather than destruction, can heal regrets and long-standing wounds of the soul. It might even extend peacetime to the entire world, if Kongming’s ambitions are to be believed, but we haven’t reached that point yet. There’s clearly still plenty of road ahead on Kongming and Eiko’s journey, but what we have in this season is proof of how high a story can reach beyond its initial concept.
Most Birdie Wing Anime: Birdie Wing -Golf Girls’ Story-
Like I said, there was a lot of great anime this season, so much that I couldn’t even find time to watch any bad stuff! A shame, right? So instead you get some space dedicated to me gushing about that wild golf show me and a bunch of other weirdos have been trying to convince you to watch for the past three months. By all metrics, Birdie Wing was one of my favorite shows this season: I raced to watch it whenever it released on its odd Tuesday night timeslot, and lord knows I haven’t shut up about how much fun I was having with it. But it’s at a point where I can only consider Birdie Wing as being this season’s Birdie-Wing-tier anime. It’s a similar experience to my encounter with the Symphogear franchise, as Birdie Wing is the first show I’ve seen doing its specific thing that I didn’t realize I needed until I saw it, and it’s just that damn good at it. So what if there are other anime with disposable assets like ‘nuanced storytelling’ or ‘tastefulness’? Birdie Wing has stuff like underground-trained golf assassins, or musical montages of golf bullying. I love anime just as a general storytelling medium at this point, but Birdie Wing represents the sort of stuff I got into anime for. And sometimes we need something like that to remind us why we might even want something like a ‘girls’ golf anime’ in the first place. It means that while Birdie Wing wasn’t strictly, technically, the best anime of this season, it was definitively the most anime anime of this season, and by its own outlandishly established parameters, the most Birdie Wing.
I’m going to be honest, this season wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I can enjoy a good rom-com like the rest of ’em, but my preferred anime is something with an overarching plot and some serious stakes, either from the perspective of the characters’ lives or the world around them. This season was noticeably low in that regard, but I still enjoyed a new trend: anime couples that are already together and aren’t terribly insecure about their relationships. There were three different iterations of this: college science students, cool Shikimori and her unlucky beau, and tokusatsu rivals.
The latter was my favorite based on the central couple’s dynamic alone. Fudo’s dedication to always seeing the best in Desumi made him instantly likable. Desumi’s own physical prowess paired with her down-to-earth girlishness was cute. I appreciated that she was never sending Fudo flying over some misunderstanding, and neither party showed a hint of jealousy about their lives outside their relationship. When Fudo finds out he has a “rival” for Desumi’s attention, he accepts her wholeheartedly. I mean, here’s someone who also appreciates how great his girlfriend is!
Love After World Domination isn’t going to break the mold. Sometimes the animation is limited and the art doesn’t always hold up either, but I enjoyed watching it with my husband every week and it always left us with a smile.
Runner-Up: Dance Dance Danseur
The conclusion of Dance Dance Danseur kept it out of my number one spot (and you can read more about why that is over in the episode reviews) but on a technical level, I can’t recommend it more. Steeped in teenage drama, this story about a boy finding the courage to pursue ballet features emotive, fluid dance performances that would be intimidating to create in the modern anime landscape. The direction shows a competent understanding of the art form, especially in episode five and the season finale. Despite its frustrating plot developments in the final third, I hope Dance Dance Danseur sets an example for how to do dance and we see further utilization of these mocap techniques in the future.
Worst: Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it Season 2
I’m so disappointed in the second season of Science Fell in Love. This was never a “big” show. The production was always very workmanlike but the primary couple, Himuro and Yukimura, have natural chemistry. I enjoyed its “edutainment” angle of teaching real theories and referencing actual studies while furthering the couple’s pursuit of quantifying romantic attraction. Every once in a while the story would shift focus to one of their labmates, but the focus was always squarely on Himuro and Yukimura.
Until the final arc of this season that put Yukimura and Himuro on the bench in order to introduce extremely weak pathos to Kanade. Kanade was the audience’s self-insert. She’s “normal” in that she doesn’t know everything but is still very competent and has a more grounded idea of romance. While the primary couple were coming up with double-blind studies about how to gauge a successful date, Kanade was wondering aloud how someone wouldn’t know if they liked someone or not. Basically, she was the straightman. Then, for reasons I can’t even guess at, the story decides that she has a complex about her judo abilities that pushes her to fake her “normal girl” appearance. She attempts to force herself to like a guy she feels she should like only for it to culminate into a yandere scenario that includes threats of group sexual assault.
Just a completely weird tonal shift from science romcom shenanigans predicated on weak character writing. Science Fell in Love completely lost the plot.
Best: Vampire in the Garden
This was a hard season to pick a favorite, but in a good way. There was a ton of good stuff this spring, and even more impressive was how much variety there was to it all. There were some great comedies, cool fantasy series, and whatever the hell Birdie Wing is, and I could just as easily have convinced myself that any of those were my #1 for the season. But when I sat down and thought about what left the biggest impression on me from everything I watched, this Wit Studio original managed to claw its way above the rest in my brainmeat.
Part of that is just how different Vampire in the Garden feels compared to the current TV and film landscape of anime. It’s a jumble of post-apocalyptic science-fantasy, horror, romance, and road trip movies that feels like something more out of early-2000s Bones or Madhouse than anything being made today. It’s got fantastic animation, wonderfully evocative direction, a bewitching atmosphere that spans a wide breadth of landscapes, and tells a story of high tragedy that plays out in spectacular fashion. Its setting is a wonderfully eclectic mishmash of Nordic fairy tales, steampunk fantasy, and classic monster movie aesthetics that blend together remarkably well. There are multiple scenes that still stick in my craw because I haven’t seen anything else like them in who knows how long. It’s also just weird at points, featuring things like a roadtrip montage set to a Bob Dylan sound-alike, and as somebody who loves weird choices like that, I can’t help but embrace it.
It’s not perfect, but part of me likes it more because of those flaws. Its story is grandiose but also severely convoluted at times. The central relationship is all kinds of questionable considering the way Momo’s relationship with Fine spans the spectrum of captor, aunt, friend, and potential lover – often simultaneously. The ultimate resolution raises way, way more questions than it answers. Yet all of those things just made it more interesting to pick through, indulging in seeing a story with high enough ambitions that even when it stumbles, it’s fascinating to watch it trip. Vampire in the Garden is the kind of no-holds-barred original production that got me into anime in the first place, and with Netflix bankrolling so many new projects for big-name creators and studios, I sure hope we can get more like it.
Runner-Up: Aharen-san wa Hakarenai
There were a lot of great romantic comedies this season. Love After World Domination was an infectiously charming story about a pair of doofuses learning how to relationship. Kaguya-sama continued batting a million as one of the most consistently excellent examples of the genre in all of anime. I could very easily justify putting either in this runner-up spot. But the same part of me that likes “Negative Creep” more than “Smells Like Teen Spirit” can’t help but root for the smaller, niche title of the season. And it’s my list, so to hell with it: Aharen-san managed to put a smile on my face no matter how stressed or depressed I was, so it gets the silver medal.
It achieved that through a very particular and very modern knack for deadpan humor, delivering absurd gags in such a quiet and unassuming way that only made the jokes funnier. It also did it through the intense friendliness between its two leads, letting a pair of misfits gel so perfectly that every person who saw them – in the show and the audience – could tell they were a perfect match. And it did it through its occasional bits of sincerity, treating characters who might be comedic punching bags or stale gimmicks in other series with care and compassion, often in a casual way that made it all the more effecting. At times it can seem slight or formulaic, and you might need to be in the right mood for it, but Aharen-san always has a kind word and an infectiously silly joke for anyone willing to listen to it.
Worst: Fanfare of Adolescence
Usually when I have to pick a “Worst” for these lists, it’s easy. I point to whatever poorly considered, sludge-gray pile of apathy Netflix dumped on our laps in the past month or so, and call it a day. But for once the binge-watch offerings I saw were anywhere from OK to Great. So instead I had to go with a far less engaging kind of bad for this list. Fanfare isn’t bad because it’s inept or appalling, but simply because there’s nothing about it I could describe as “good” outside of some isolated visuals courtesy of its talented director.
The character designs are too plain to be memorable, but that simplicity is never utilized for any expressive animation or direction. The horseriding animation wavers between passable and embarrassing. And that’s when the horses are actually on screen, which is shockingly rare through the majority of this show, as the writing chooses at nearly every turn to focus on anything but the show’s central premise. A bizarre amount of time is spent not on our would-be jockeys training, but instead on the main character’s undercooked drama with his former manager who’s angry over him choosing horses instead of being an idol. It’s a baffling writing choice that actively undercuts the unique parts of this show, and sidelines 7/8ths of the cast for over half the runtime. The show eventually remembers it’s about horseracing once that’s done, but by then it was far too little and much too late. You can’t spend your entire opening arc trying not to be about horseracing, suddenly pivot to a new central character and conflict, and expect anyone to still care.
It’s not like I was even interested in this show enough to build up hype. But even from a disinterested perspective I can see how you could make something interesting, or entertaining, or at least unique with all of these pieces. Fanfare hardly tries and never succeeds. It’s boring in a way that you have to actively work for, and that allows it to be disappointing even when I expected nothing.
This anime season was incredibly strong—to the point where I flip-flopped on deciding which one was the best. And ultimately, it wasn’t the found-family spy comedy or the rapping Chinese tactician that came out on top. It was the yuri isekai deconstruction.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a thought experiment that takes several core isekai story tropes to their most logical extremes and then builds a world around them. What happens when seemingly unstoppable superpowered teens begin appearing en masse in a fantasy world? What are the repercussions when their powers go out of control? What would a fantasy world’s socio-cultural landscape look like when Japanese culture and modern technology are abruptly introduced? These are the kinds of questions that The Executioner and Her Way of Life explores.
On top of this, we get a burgeoning queer love story between two inevitable enemies: an unkillable Japanese teen and the young woman secretly charged with killing her. Together they journey across this decimated world as the latter looks for a way to kill the former, the two growing closer as each day passes. It’s a story filled with action and drama—with a bittersweet note of tragedy always looming on the horizon. It all makes for an engrossing watch, especially if you’re a fan of the isekai fantasy sub-genre.
Runner-Up: Birdie Wing
While The Executioner and Her Way of Life is what I would call the “best” anime of the season (in terms of composition, world-building, and overall story), it’s not my favorite anime of the season. That honor falls to Birdie Wing. No anime this season has had me more eager to tune in week after week. It’s basically Prince of Tennis meets Kakegurui. It has just the right amount of over-the-top insanity to be fun while maintaining just enough dramatic tension to keep you invested.
And to be clear, I don’t even like golf. I can’t imagine a more boring sport to watch. Yet, watching a girl from the gutter just beat down both hobbyists and pros with crazy tricks like it’s nothing is a blast—and that’s even before we get into high-stakes mafia golfing on an indoor, randomizing golf course. It also does a good job of holding your hand when needed—showing you clearly what’s happening and why it’s important—so that even the golfing ignorant among us can understand. And to top it all off, the main characters are all supremely likable. Eve and Aoi are complete opposites, yet they have such great chemistry that it’s easy to see why they are so drawn to each other. All in all, it’s simply fun to watch. I can’t recommend it enough.
Most Disappointing: The Rising of The Shield Hero Season 2
I really enjoyed the first season of Shield Hero. Naofumi’s journey as he slowly but surely learned to trust others again was engaging, and it even ended with a revelation that completely redefined the “destined heroes fighting monster invaders” plot the series had been seemingly based on up until that point, setting the stage for more exciting adventures to come.
Sadly, those adventures were put on hold as this sequel kicks off with a boring arc that somehow manages to feel both overly abridged and overly long. For all the grandeur of the battle against the giant turtle, it’s basically just a side story where we watch a ton of people we’ve never seen before get killed en masse. Worse yet, most of the character development is focused around a single new character—who is written out of the story by the end of the arc.
While the back half of the series is far more interesting—and far more in line with what the ending of the first season was setting up—it, by design, also feels like everything’s starting over from zero. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the plot moves at a glacial pace—which would have been fine if we had started at that point instead of slogging through the giant turtle arc beforehand. That said, even though this season was a major letdown overall, it hasn’t completely killed my enthusiasm for the series. I’m still interested in where the story is going and will continue watching future episodes.
Best: Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic
I called it! At the beginning of the season, one packed with several highly promising romantic
comedies, I stated that in a hypothetical all-out brawl that my heart told me to place all my bets
on one to become champion. And my gamble paid off, cuz while I thoroughly enjoyed watching
many of the competitors duke it out, Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic, competing
again for a third season, walks onto the mat and absolutely nukes the competition, the
audience, and everything else standing within a 100-mile radius of the arena.
The thing that sets Kaguya-sama apart from its peers is that not only does it excel at being a
heart-throbbing and belly-laughing story about two idiots needing to confess to each other, it
actually manages to capture a really wide range of emotions between the entire cast and all of its animation flourishes. The production team really went above and beyond to make sure each moment has a lot of
impact, whether it’s the little visual gags like having a scene randomly emulate VHS tape
footage, allowing some side characters to have their time in the spotlight while also concluding
one of those arcs in a full-on rap battle with ED to match, or even some genuine dramatic
stakes as we finally get an answer to the will-they-won’t-they question that’s been driving the whole story.
Ultra Romantic juggles so many elements and all of them are bullseyes. The audience are just targets, mere casualties in
love’s conquest like anyone else. Cupid, the little devil, will be proud to gaze upon the field and
see the destruction he hath wrought.
Runner-Up: SPY x FAMILY
But what’s war without a little subterfuge to go with it? While Kaguya-sama took the spotlight for me with its
huge bombast, my second place pick prefers to do its work in the shadows and is no less skilled. I think
overall Kaguya-sama is a better show and a better comedy for the reasons stated above, but it’s not for lack of
trying and I don’t consider anyone the real loser even if it is a competition. The first half of SPY x FAMILY is
about an equally heartwarming, funny, accessible, and elegant adaption of an already great manga. WIT
studio once again works to bring beautiful color to all the thrilling high-stakes hijinks of one
family trying its best to keep it together in front of everyone else.
SPY x FAMILY really pulls you into the family home of the seemingly normal members of the Forger family and you
get a great idea of what makes them tick. The premise may be about three people putting on a façade,
but as a sitcom and a story, you’d be pressed to find a group of people more genuine. They may not be
perfect, but it’s their eccentricities they fear they will be shunned for that make them
engaging and heartwarming to all of us watching. Yor, Anya, and Twilight are all stars to root for and
while they didn’t take center stage for me this time, I trust their extreme talents will take them far in the
(possibly near) future.
The Worst: Tomodachi Game
I’ll let you in on a secret, just between us friends. If you had asked me whether
I would “do anything for a friend,” I would flatly answer “no.” Why? Do I think myself a bad
friend? Of course not. I have many close friends who I deeply cherish because my trust and goodwill
had to be earned fairly. I point this out because the amount of trust and goodwill I feel between me and
Tomodachi Game is ZERO! Negative, even. It’s like it’s just trying to do everything it can to dwindle any
kind of faith I could have in it.
Just like how you shouldn’t blindly trust someone because they say they’re your friend, it’s important
we hold narratives to similar scrutiny. Both relationships and stories require time and personal investment,
after all. A friend who never offers you anything in return when they’re constantly asking favors of you,
particularly risky ones, is exactly how Tomodachi Game‘s story operates. It wants you to be invested in
its plot, characters, and its gambits, but it does very little to set any of that up, or at least meaningfully
show it. Consequently, the payoffs feel equally hollow.
Most of that is because it’s got an awful bug about telling and not showing. Like I’m supposed to
believe that friendship is important when very little is seen of the entire group and 3/5ths of the main
cast get expelled about halfway through the show. The average game of Among Us is better at
portraying the beauty and fragility of social bonds during a crisis than this piece of crap. And while the
character of Yuuichi being a pseudo-sociopath was entertaining in a trashy way, we don’t nearly get to
revel in it as much as we should.
Meanwhile, I really can’t tell you anything concrete about the premise or what it’s supposed to be
other than to make people miserable. What exactly is this organization running the Tomodachi
Game and why the hell are they doing this? The show never really seems interested in questioning the
core tenets of its plot. At the end of the season the admins are even portrayed in a highly favorable light
as they rescue Yuuichi from a thug group committing violent acts in their name. Like, am I supposed to
be rooting for them? Maybe so, given how much I have to listen to them explain everything. You spend
more time listening to the BAD GUYS EXPLAIN THINGS than you do with any of the other characters or
on any foreshadowing. It’s ridiculous how the show leaves very few breadcrumbs and talks down to you
afterward by explaining even the most simple of ploys. It very much feels like having a toxic friend that
wants you to stay with them by making you feel bad and stupid all the time, and if that’s how it’s going
to be, then Tomodachi Game is no tomodachi of mine.
Best: Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic
I have a very complicated relationship with Kaguya-sama: Love is War. What originally looked to me like an overhyped one-trick pony slowly revealed itself to be a rather promising long-term investment, with Ultra Romantic finally giving us the payoff. It took a few years, but the immature and arguably unlikable characters that the show’s comedy initially leaned on have now developed fully into more self-aware teenagers that are finally taking some of their first real steps into adulthood. Season three acts a good mirror for the rest of the franchise, reflecting back on past events and showing them in a different light while also revisiting plot threads that at the time didn’t feel like they needed any followup at all. This is definitely the season that feels the most unapologetic and raw in terms of its emotional confrontations, where a lot of the show’s central cast are forced to ask major questions about what they want out of their relationships with others. All of this is delivered with teenage delusions and misunderstandings that sound completely bonkers on paper but are executed so well that I genuinely can’t think of how you can portray them any other way. A lot of that doesn’t just come from the writing though; the show’s production team continue to knock it out of the park with kinetic and passion-fueled animation filled with unexpected references and dynamic angles, and the voice acting absolutely delivers when it has to. Ultra Romantic didn’t just feel like a climax; it felt like a celebration of the romantic comedy genre as a whole and as someone who grew up with that genre as his primary bread and butter, I was hit in a way that I never thought I could from this franchise. I laughed, I cried, but most importantly I was happy.
Runner-Up: Aharen-san wa Hakarenai
I only really checked out Aharen-san wa Hakarenai on a whim because I somehow still thought I wasn’t already getting my fill of romantic comedies this season. From A Couple of Cuckoos, to Komi-san to Love After World Domination, us romantic comedy fans were eating well this season! If I was just judging this show off of its first six episodes, then I don’t think it would’ve ranked as high in my estimation. While I do think the show’s sense of comedic timing was absolutely perfect and the dialogue felt like a great blend of dry wit mixed with over the top reactions, it does risk turning a bit one note. However, as time went on, the show started showing more of its romantic side alongside the comedy, leaning into developments subtly as if it was worried about scaring its viewers away if it took too much of a sudden shift. Our dynamic duo already made it clear from episode one that they are practically a match made in heaven, but by the end, the show makes an excellent case for why these two idiots pretty much deserve each other. I came here only expecting an extra dose of dopamine every week but what I ended up walking away from was a rather fulfilling meal of comedy and satisfying romantic progression. I don’t know what else you could do from here with a hypothetical second season, but I am definitely looking forward to that should it become a thing.
The Worst: The Rising of The Shield Hero Season 2
Whether you loved or hated it, you can’t deny that Shield Hero was one of the most talked-about anime In the community when season one aired a few years ago. When season two got announced and was finally released, I was expecting similar levels of polarizing discourse and readied my riot shield – so imagine my surprise when everybody came together and generally agreed that this season kind of sucked. When the main emotional arc that got everyone invested was ultimately resolved in the first season, I thought there was still plenty of room for character growth and world building for following seasons to explore. But while season two of Shield Hero definitely tries, it falls short by almost every conceivable margin. I’ve never seen a show be so heavy with its use of exposition and yet still leave me so lost regarding where everyone is and how everyone is doing.
Payoffs are delivered with no buildup whatsoever while other arcs are truncated to the point where it’s difficult to muster any sense of satisfaction once they reach their climax. I like a lot of the ideas that are presented in this season, but much like the worst elements of season one, it feels like the showrunners don’t understand what made those ideas interesting in the first place. I haven’t had the time to go through all the original light novels, but a lot of this might come down to the fact that the animation staff rearranged story events from the original source material while also trying to compress too much into just a handful of episodes at a time. I think that just barely worked for season one, but it absolutely does not work here. None of this is helped by the overall animation quality, which was inconsistent at best with some episodes being filled with mostly still shots while other fight sequences just looked straight up ugly. If you already had mixed feelings about Shield Hero then I have no idea how this follow-up season can win you over, but I genuinely feel bad for the fans of this franchise because it seems like they are the ones who are the most disillusioned with this season. Personally though, I’m not mad; I’m just bored and disappointed.
Best: Birdie Wing -Golf Girls’ Story-
There have been times when I’ve had to hem and haw a whole lot to single out my favorite show of the
season. This is not one of those times. Birdie Wing bashes in the competition with a crooked and
bloodied bundle of regulation clubs. It is, ostensibly, a sports anime about golf, but that belies the heart-pumping high-camp ichor into each of its extremities. This is a show that, from the get-go, presupposes
the existence of back alley illegal golf gambling, and then escalates the stakes from there into a full-on
mafia war fought on the fairway. There are golf crime bosses. There’s an underground modular golf
course. Everyone has a little custom decal on their ball. My favorite character looks like a Hot Topic
snake. Two characters are literally Char and Amuro. Turn A Gundam makes a cameo. I couldn’t not love
The second arc’s transition from betting games to boarding school drama hasn’t lost any of the show’s
spark. In fact, the all-girls academy setting lets the series flex its sapphic muscles even harder, and the
expanded cast of golf freaks are no slouches either. As of writing this, the future of the series is
unknown (although the official Twitter account has hinted at a second season), so I must again
acquiesce to my conscience and beg you from an objectively moral standpoint: watch Birdie Wing. Talk
about Birdie Wing. Clamor for more Birdie Wing. I have no idea how this show got made in the first place, but if one miracle can happen, a second is certainly possible.
Runner-Up: Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic
Chika says the F word in this one. What more need be said?
The first two seasons already made for one of the funniest and most freewheeling anime in recent
memory, and this third season has only made Kaguya-sama‘s madcap romcom antics even funnier and
more freewheeling. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Comedies don’t naturally get better the longer
they go on. This upwards momentum is the fruit of a forest’s worth of effort from this adaptation, which
consistently goes the extra mile to make these gags as gut-busting as possible. It’s one of those rare
shows you feel lucky just to be able to watch—a labor of love breathing life into each of these demon
children and their brain games.
I also want to throw in a quick honorable mention to Estab Life, which I’m sure most people wrote off
because it’s a 3DCG tie-in for an eventual mobile game. Understandable. However, while I wouldn’t
consider it my third-favorite of the season or anything, you owe it to yourself to check it out if you enjoy
zany sci-fi comedies about weird girls with weird jobs. There’s an episode about communist penguins.
There’s an episode about a slime girl identity crisis. There’s actual, effectual pathos in spots. It’s also
hella gay and kinda trans positive, albeit in its own strange fashion. Birdie Wing definitely takes this
season’s top prize for fewest shits given (in a nice way), but Estab Life’s brand of absurd comes in at an
absurdly close second place.
Most Squandered Potential: Bubble
Bubble was really more disappointing than bad. It’s a functional film, but considering the pedigree of the
names attached to it, I was anticipating something more than functional. And full disclosure, I wasn’t even expecting that something to be “good” either. When Tetsuro Araki and Gen Urobuchi get together,
I just want to see temperamental explosions and moody protagonists pontificating about philosophical
double-binds. I want tastelessness with impact. Instead, Bubble is largely forgettable. The gorgeous
aquatic urban decay and kinetic chase scenes ripple away from the film with neither a strong story nor
compelling characters to anchor them in place. Half-cooked allusions to Hans Christian Andersen do not
a romance make. You still might consider it worth checking out for the spectacle of the parkour—and
due to Netflix‘s increasingly slim programming pickings—but for me, this is one bubble I’ll keep popped.
Best: SPY x FAMILY
I doubt I’m going to be alone in singling out the season’s biggest smash hit, but c’mon. What kind of
monster would I be to look Anya Forger right in her delightfully mischievous face and tell her that her
show isn’t the best of the season? SPY x FAMILY combines a near-perfect elevator pitch of a
concept—what if we did Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but turned the ‘Anime Nonsense’ dial up to 11?—with
rock-solid production values and impeccable comic timing. CloverWorks collaborations have been hit or
miss, to say the least, but the work they’ve been doing here with Wit Studio has been nothing short of
superb as of late. SPY x FAMILY brings the charming world of Tatsuya Endō‘s manga to life with lush
colors and expressive character animation, ensuring that the show works whether it wants to be a top-
tier spy thriller, a goofy domestic comedy, or anything in between. Loid and Yor are ideal partners, both
in a romantic and a comedic sense, but the show has clearly been stolen by Lady Anya herself, the little
telepathic gremlin with a dozen different expressions to suit any occasion (especially the waku waku
kind). It’s the ideal anime for both old school otaku and total weeb newbies, the kind of series that can
bridge the gap of fandoms and generations alike. In other words, it is an easy pick for the best anime of
the spring season.
Runner-Up: Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic
This spring seemed like an endless bounty of delightful new romantic comedies, but for as much fun as
we might have had with the likes of Love After World Domination and Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie,
nobody was going to take the crown from the GOAT. Kaguya-sama: Love is War Ultra Romantic is
likely the best season of what is widely regarded to be one of the best romantic comedies in recent
memory, and I honestly had to flip a coin to pick between this or SPY x FAMILY for the top spot. It’s just as
heartwarming and hilarious as past seasons have been, and there’s actually been some bona fide
progress on the relationship front between Kaguya and Miyuki! Plus, A-1 Pictures continues to pull out
all of the stops with the comedically overblown production values, which means that even a simple
sketch about Kaguya learning what it means to be “left on read” can turn into a cinematic game of
psychological cat and mouse that would even make David Fincher stop and turn his head. Look, I’m
going to be real: Kaguya-sama‘s place on this list was basically guaranteed when it busted out the
incredible rap-battle episode. Every other delightful, cringe-worthy moment since then has just been
icing on the cake.
Most Disappointing: In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki
This is a case where I was fortunate enough to not really watch any anime that I found to be actively
terrible, but there was at least one anime that left me feeling incredibly disappointed. I’m a
huge fan of Sōichirō Yamamoto‘s Teasing Master Takagi-san; it’s one of my all time favorite coming-of-
age romances. I knew that In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki was going for more of a straight-up comedy
angle, which I was prepared for. What I wasn’t prepared for was for the comedy in Kunoichi Tsubaki to
be so lame. Takagi-san has plenty of jokes, and a lot of them are excellent, but man, in the handful of Kunoichi Tsubaki episodes I managed to get through, I didn’t laugh once. I don’t even think I cracked a smile. I could only be distracted by the awkward costume and character designs that all of the poor pre-teen Ninja Girls got stuck with, and by how difficult it probably would have been to make all of the dumb puns work even without the added difficulty of the language barrier. Given that Yamamoto’s other upcoming series, When Will Ayumu Make His Move?, just looks like a lesser imitation of his own work, it could be that the Takagi-san franchise was a fluke. Either way, In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki was a major letdown for me, and one of the only anime from this spring that I wish I hadn’t bothered with in the first place.