We continue our annual Staff Picks list with our second entry, counting down our favorite anime series and movies from 2023! Any anime project released (in the case of films) or completed (in the case of TV series) officially in English during the year is eligible. In lists below from Inaki, Evan, and Patrick, we cover a surprising range (considering how busy our team was this year), including highly anticipated manga adaptations, sports anime, and more!
And just like we did for video games, since some team members wanted to include a few extra anime that they didn’t have time to finish, this time we’re including some “honorable mentions” after the main rankings.
#3: Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End
As a lifelong genre fiction dork, and as someone who has gotten far too sentimental about the unstoppable passage of time, Frieren feels like they put my brain into an alembic and concentrated it into a TV anime about a sad elf. It takes many of the common tropes of Japanese-style pseudo-medieval European fantasy and makes a slow, contemplative work about the passage of time. Yes, elves being long-lived and aloof is as well worn as fantasy tropes get, but I’ve never seen it be treated with the same depth that Frieren aspires to, and which it pulls off. What does it feel like to continue to live your life when the major events that defined it have retreated into the past? How do you reconcile things that only make sense in hindsight? I wish I had the answers.
#2: Oshi no Ko
Oshi no Ko was one of those things that was bubbling up with my friends who read a lot of manga the past couple of years, and in fact the English-language published manga volumes are currently sitting in my living room. Naturally when I finally was able to watch the anime adaptation it was immediately clear to me why it is so beloved. Works of fiction that deal with blisteringly modern subjects can often feel surface-level, pandering, inaccurate, “crinch” as we term it these days. Oshi no Ko feels, by contrast, intimately familiar with its subject matter, keenly aware of both the good and the bad. Although it reasonably could have have come out at any point in the past decade or so, it’s fitting that it came out in a year when the word “parasocial” had entered the mainstream vocabulary and we were all perhaps a little too close to our oshis.
#1: The First Slam Dunk
I was looking forward to seeing this in the cinema but harbored a vague suspicion that it would not, could never possibly live up to the celestial levels of hype and effusive praise it had been getting. I’m not much of a shonen person or a sports person, but remembered liking the series when I checked it out many moons ago. Well, shows how little I know because now having seen it, it deserves every word of praise and more. From start to finish the film ratchets up the tension, but through a miraculous piece of film-making never becomes forced or exhausting. You live in this moment, you see its importance to the characters and how they ended up here, making an argument for the power and importance of the often mocked (albeit mostly in good fun) shonen sports genre. I walked out of the cinema unable to stop thinking about this for weeks afterwards.
Someone — or someTHING — is killing the world’s most advanced robots and their allies, leaving eerie horns jammed into their heads, and one-of-a-kind German robot detective Gesicht is on the case. His investigations take him around the world as he uncovers a dark past connecting the victims and a cycle of hatred that threatens to destroy them all. Over eight hour-long episodes, Pluto delivers a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of Naoki Urasawa’s outstanding modern retelling of the Astro Boy storyline “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” All the key elements, from North No. 2’s melancholic soul-searching to Dr. Tenma’s strained relationship with his robot son Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy), are brought to life with expressive character animation, a sweeping score, and tense pacing. Few anime series even attempt the kind of raw emotional power and ambitious political messaging of Pluto. The Greatest Manga on Earth finally has the anime adaptation it’s always deserved.
- Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End: Refreshingly contemplative fantasy about mortality and human connection, with beautiful artwork and music.
- Scott Pilgrim Takes Off: Science Saru knocks it out of the park visually, though I’m still too early to judge Bryan Lee O’Malley’s decidedly new take on the story.
- Ranking of Kings: The Treasure Chest of Courage: Additional short stories from my previous Anime of the Year, featuring the same rich characterization and vibrant animation work.
#3: Baki Hanma (Probably)
I haven’t actually gotten around to the next season yet but I’m sure it should be here.
#2: Birdie Wing
The second best Gundam show of the year.
#1: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
I don’t know what I can say about The Witch from Mercury that hasn’t been said a million times online at this point. It brings a new and fresh angle to Gundam that it so desperately needed. The shift in setting and character goals makes it feel like something new and different even while still having all the tropes we’ve come to expect. Miorinne and Suletta are such wonderful characters, and have such a great relationship. I’m not actually a huge fan of the Aerial but I love all the other designs in the series. Non-Gundam mecha in Gundam shows have gotten so good. Please keep making them weird and different. And please keep trying new things.