The 5 Best Anime Seasons of Winter 2023, Ranked

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The 5 Best Anime Seasons of Winter 2023, Ranked

As the Winter 2023 anime season wraps up, it’s time to reflect on what stood out amid dozens of new productions. Admittedly, this batch couldn’t quite compare to last season’s gauntlet of heavy hitters, but there were more than a few pleasant surprises and one long-awaited return. I imagine there will be a wide gamut of takes on which were the “best,” as there were many solid shows but few that stood unambiguously above the rest. Still, I had a great time with formidable adaptations, weighty sports stories, isekai romance tales, and some great sequels. Let’s run it down.

Honorable Mentions

The sixth season of My Hero Academia continued what may be the show’s best run yet, and the only reason it’s absent from the main list is because we already covered it in our wrap-up for last season. After years of painfully slow developments, it feels like this story is finally making good on its setup, pushing things toward a climactic showdown while resolving character arcs and delivering kinetic action in the process.

Ippon Again! is a grounded sports series about a high school judo team that builds believable bonds between its heroines as they engage with the ups and downs of their club. It’s very much flown under the radar, but its charming protagonist and surprisingly tense matches make it worth seeking out.

Trigun Stampede is a loose retelling of the original show and manga defined by some of the most impressive 3D animation we’ve seen yet in a TV anime, courtesy of Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Beastars). While it occasionally feels like it’s packing too much source material into too little runtime, resulting in some lackluster resolutions and lots of loose ends, it does a much better job fleshing out its antagonist than the ‘98 series and has some genuinely stunning sequences. Those who think 3D anime can never look as good as its 2D counterparts may change their minds after seeing this one.

5. Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte

Watch on HIDIVE

Acting as another twist on the increasingly common “what if I got transported into a dating visual novel, but as the villainess?” sub-genre, Endo and Kobayashi Live! is a cute romance series that riffs on the ways fiction can affect us. It follows the titular Endo and Kobayashi, two members of a high school broadcasting club who begin practicing their craft while commentating over a videogame, only to find that some of its characters can hear their voices. From there, they set out to avert the tragic fate of Lieselotte, Kobayashi’s favorite figure from the game, by getting her to reconcile with her long-time crush that she keeps inadvertently pushing away. We witness a procession of delightfully fluffy exchanges as the pairs in and outside this digital world try to understand each other. It all works on multiple levels; Kobayashi’s enthusiasm over her favorite visual novel is infectious, their efforts to change this story act as a loving ode to fan fiction, there are smart parallels between the two sets of characters, and it moves at a relatively brisk pace compared to many painfully slow-burning romance stories. While its conflicts are sometimes resolved too quickly, and its side cast can be a tad flimsy, the relationships at the center of this tale reach cathartic conclusions that make it all worth it.

4. Nier: Automata Ver1.1a

Watch on Crunchyroll

As someone who loves the videogame Nier: Automata and its predecessor with every fiber of my being, I went into A-1 Pictures’ adaptation with a great deal of cautious skepticism. The games are well-known for being inexorably tied to their chosen medium, weaponizing player involvement in the narrative to devastating effect. Even though series creator Yoko Taro was connected to the production, I was concerned things wouldn’t be the same outside this original context. Out of the jump, Ver1.1a seemed to confirm my worries because despite being faithful in terms of its literal events, the premiere lacked the same impact. However, after the first episode, it quickly found its footing, operating as an increasingly divergent interpretation of this tale that can appeal to newcomers and veterans while also introducing additive beats from Taro’s prequel stage plays set in the same universe (yes, Nier is very weird).

We follow 9S and 2B, two androids who are part of a brutal military organization seeking to protect humanity from invading extraterrestrial robots. Through the liberal use of Keiichi Okabe’s masterful soundtrack from the game and a feast of ethereal imagery, the detritus of this post-apocalyptic world creates an otherworldly atmosphere. Similarly, its philosophical undercurrents and tendency towards grand metaphors about ideology and war are also still present, and it doesn’t shy away from depicting how its protagonists initially carry out their superiors’ callous orders. However, there are also entirely new story threads that playfully suggest events will eventually deviate, making things tense even for those who know the source material well. While all of this is fantastic, unfortunately, there is one significant catch. Like many of Aniplex’s recent productions, the series has been delayed and has no definitive timeline for its return. While they cited COVID-19 as the primary cause, in the past, the company has been accused of greenlighting too many shows for their animation studios and severely overworking their employees, which has likely made them more susceptible to coronavirus-related delays. So far, this adaptation has been shaping up to be something special, and hopefully, the team at A-1 will be given what they need to complete what they’ve started and not be harmed in the process.

3. Tsurune: The Linking Shot

Watch on HIDIVE

Tsurune: The Linking Shot is a striking reminder that no studio besides Kyoto Animation can create television anime with such a gorgeously realized sense of movement. The second season of this story about a high school archery club painstakingly renders the act of shooting a bow by communicating the weight of motion, subtle distinctions in form, and unique twang of each shot. But more than just evoking an impressive degree of realism, the series’ dedication to detail helps connect us to its kyudo-obsessed characters by communicating the beauty of their craft. In the process, it explores the myriad reasons why people care about sports in the first place, such as the thrill of competition, how it’s a method for finding community, or the joy of finding your own style. Its characters grapple with personal hang-ups through their hobby, and even more than in the first season, I was invested in their struggles with familial spats and team dynamics. The cast is deeply charming, and while the narrative is relatively subdued, its direction elegantly communicates their inner turmoil. Instead of the hot-blooded action found in many popular entries in the genre, Tsurune is defined by an introspective grace that befits its chosen pastime.

2. The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady 

Watch on Crunchyroll

The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady was the unexpected delight of the season, steadily improving all the way to its beautiful finale. Overcoming not only its hilariously overlong name but also the many pitfalls associated with isekai light novel adaptations, it is a thoughtful and generously directed production that takes glee in blasting apart longstanding tropes while developing heartfelt romance between its leading ladies. The story centers on Anisphia Wynn Palettia, a magic-obsessed princess who takes in Euphie, a noble who recently had her engagement to the prince publicly annulled. While the first episode conveys the series’ penchant for well-animated action and comedy, it eventually explores the complicated feelings of its deuteragonists as they break free from their assigned roles and societal expectations. Despite its fantastical premise and plenty of action sequences, its shot compositions wring out intimacy and the interiority of its cast, communicating Euphie’s initial listlessness and Anis’ anxieties about her responsibilities. And most importantly of all, their burgeoning feelings build towards satisfying climaxes as they work to break down the oppressive structures and class systems which plague their kingdom. Through effectively bouncing between courtship, comedy, and political intrigue, MagicRevo is the out-of-left-field hit of the season.

1. Vinland Saga Season 2

Vinland Saga: Why You Need to Start Watching the Best Viking Story on TV

Watch on Netflix

Watch on Crunchyroll

After a painfully long wait, we finally have the sequel to one of the most compelling anime in recent memory. The first season of Vinland Saga was a triumph that managed to depict the cruelties of history without ever giving in to outright cynicism, offering a soaring plea that we can somehow be better. We witnessed as our protagonist Thorfinn’s quest for revenge took him down a dark path in a warring 11th-century England, a journey full of crushing moments and memorable scenes. If it had one sticking point, it was the odd contrast between its script’s condemnation of bloodshed and its admittedly very cool fight scenes, which occasionally showcased heroic behavior. However, if there were ever any ambiguities in how the series depicts violence, the long-anticipated second season doubles down on its pacifist themes, almost entirely abandoning the pitched battles of its predecessor for something more contemplative. Our protagonist grapples with his previous thirst for revenge, slowly regaining the will to live as he moves on from his life as a soldier.

It focuses on specific tactile details, its compositions highlighting chapped lips, gritted teeth, and poorly healed scars to reflect the physical realities of this brutal world. It further interrogates how ideologies of violence can take hold, how social conventions make room for unfathomably cruel structures like slavery, and the ills of autocratic rule. If there’s one downside compared to its former run, it’s that MAPPA’s production isn’t quite up to the level of WIT Studio’s work with the past season, but the de-emphasis on action spectacle means this is less egregious than it would be otherwise. While there are still another 12 episodes left, the show’s latest run has already made its hiatus well worth the wait.

Elijah Gonzalez is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. In addition to playing the latest indie games, he also loves film, anime, lit, and creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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