This fall season of anime lived up to its formidable slate of premieres, delivering one of the most impressive lineups in a very long time. There were highly anticipated adaptations of mega-hit manga, interpretations of lesser-known properties, and more than a few out-of-left-field originals that were so delightfully weird I’m still slightly baffled they got greenlit in the first place.
While it can sometimes feel like the medium is inundated by a landfill of lowest-common-denominator nonsense, this assortment of shows at least partially restored my faith. We had detours into the depths of experimental animation, conventional but entertaining stories where people punched each other really hard, genuine hilarity, and productions that somehow managed to blend all of these at once. There were inspiring live performances, socially anxious lesbians, gory chainsaw battles, maid shootouts, the joys of carpentry, massive mecha duels, and, well, more socially anxious lesbians. In short, the last few weeks of anime were very good. Let’s run it down:
10. My Hero Academia Season 6
After some stretches so dull that I considered calling it quits on the long-running series, My Hero Academia’s latest arc pays off years of table-setting, making it the most vital the show has felt in a long time. On its face, this storytelling success is pretty simple; things have finally erupted into an all-out war. This large-scale conflict between heroes and villains has been a well-earned payoff because it weaponizes the attachments and motivations developed over its previous hundred or so episodes to deliver brutal blows as these characters engage in life-or-death scrambles. And while its animation doesn’t approach some of the incredible cuts from the first three seasons, it partially makes up for this through the improved tactical depth of its fights, as both sides leverage combinations of their superpowers to get the upper hand. There is palpable desperation as our protagonists face foes that feel nigh invincible, their well-laid plans hitting a brick wall. And through all the flashy moments, there are also affecting turns as likable cast members meet unfortunate fates, heroes see comeuppance for past abuses, and we witness more than a few exciting comebacks. Coming in, I wasn’t sure if I was still invested in this tale, but these last few episodes have convinced me this story still has more to give. Here’s hoping it can maintain its momentum.
9. Akiba Maid War
Akiba Maid War’s premiere was an absolute sucker punch, an absurd 20 minutes of television that showcased violent dark comedy as it depicted a ’90s Akihabara, Tokyo where rival maid cafes partook in yakuza-style turf wars. While the first episode was a trip, I had no idea if it could maintain its unhinged antics for a full run. I’m happy to say it mostly stuck the landing thanks to its deeply weird escalating episodic adventures, taking our heroines through high-octane poker matches, underground fight clubs, and perilous games of baseball that somehow always conclude with a cartoonishly large body count. Its humor remained razor-sharp, never failing to accentuate the dissonance between its cutesy affectation and blood-soaked gun duels.
However, perhaps its biggest surprise is that despite its occasionally mean-spirited gags, it also manages to build up the aspirations and wants of its characters, as our starry-eyed protagonist Nagomi attempts to break cycles of violence and revenge that define these maid syndicates. Like any successful parody, it at least partially conjures the gravitas and weight of the works it’s aping; moments of crime epic tragedy hitting far harder than they should considering this story prominently features a person permanently wearing a panda costume. Similarly, its action set pieces are smoothly animated and effortlessly cool, demonstrating the stone-cold badassery of Ranko the killer with grace, further solidifying this as a genre pastiche. My only real complaint is that it suffers from a somewhat awkward transition in its last two episodes. Here, it goes from its weekly escapades to a more serious serialized format, and its final beats don’t quite have enough room to breathe. Still, amidst an anime landscape defined by adaptations and sequels, Akiba Maid War is a wholly original mad vision brought to life with style and heart.
8. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean Part 3
While Netflix’s belabored rollout of the latest JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure arc seemed designed to drain as much hype out of the proceedings as possible, this last batch of episodes was so exciting that even its painful release schedule couldn’t hold it back. This run has everything that defines the series at its best; complicated battles fought with magical powers that end in impossible reversals of fortune, over-the-top action that boils over into comedy, and most of all, juicy melodrama. Here Jolyne continues her confrontation with Father Pucchi, a man of the cloth who wants to fashion himself into a God. Many of its greatest turns come as Jolyne repeatedly proves her ironclad resolve, best summarized when her archenemy acknowledges that these previous trials have forged her into a near-unstoppable fighter whose ingenuity lets her topple one unbeatable challenger after the next.
More than a few times, I audibly hooted and hollered as our heroine pulled off another impossible upset, well-conveyed motivations adding weight to the scuffles. These last few episodes also effectively set up the backstory of its antagonist, a sequence of dramatic misfortunes amping up the bad blood. And while my initial reaction to its finale was somewhat mixed, as I was admittedly looking forward to a predictably cathartic conclusion, with time, I’ve warmed up to the swerve presented in its climax. Considering this is the last segment of the narrative set in this continuity (the next two arcs of the manga take place in an alternate timeline), Stone Ocean is a fitting send-off to one of the most entertaining and influential action sagas around.
7. Raven of the Inner Palace
Raven of the Inner Palace was one of the biggest surprises this season, an adaptation of a lesser-known light novel series set in a fictionalized rendition of imperial China. The story follows Shouxue, a young woman whose supernatural powers have forced her into a hermetic existence within the royal palace. Using her gift, she sets out to resolve mysteries and lay troubled spirits to rest, digging up this place’s sordid past as she helps the living resolve their grief. One of the show’s greatest strengths is its thematic cohesion, as these weekly ghost stories paint a picture of an unjust royal system that disempowers women and leads to widespread abuse. The origins of the status quo even tie into Shouxue’s mysterious abilities and station, leading to an even more explicit indictment of this patriarchal political apparatus.
It also does a fantastic job of portraying our protagonist as she breaks free from her isolation. Through her kindness, knowledge, and bravery, she helps others find closure, slowly building a cadre of companions. Despite its heavy dealings, there are many delightful moments of low-key bonding, and it beautifully develops the friendships between its leading women. It may not be an animation showcase, and its dialogue-heavy episodes make its origins as a light novel clear, but I was pleasantly surprised by how invested I became in these episodic mysteries. Not only was each resolution interesting by itself, but these ghostly one-offs always tied into the narrative’s larger thematic ambitions. If there is a downside, it feels unlikely we’ll receive a full adaptation due to its seemingly humble viewership, but at least the light novels will be getting an official English translation soon.
6. Spy x Family Part Two
While the latest batch of Spy x Family didn’t quite reach the heights of its initial run in the spring, it was still an absolute joy each week thanks to its balance of non-stop humor and heartwarming moments. This found family of misfits is the core of the story’s success, each misdirecting the others while they slowly become inseparable. Loid, a master spy, and Yor, an unstoppable assassin, continue to develop excellent chemistry as they deal with misunderstandings brought out by their mutual deceptions. And Anya steals the show thanks to being one of the best-written kid characters around, her child-brain and telepathic powers leading to all manner of adorable hijinks. Between her incredible reaction faces, genuine love of her family, and tendency towards messing up horribly, she’s a terrible munchkin that captures little-kid logic perfectly, propelling this endeavor into must-watch television. This time around, we are introduced to a new fourth family member, and the resolution of his rough past leads to some great comedy and catharsis.
Although the series can sometimes struggle with adapting the more fragmentary one-off chapters from the manga, the longer arcs, like the canine sub-plot or dramatic tennis tournament, shine thanks to expressive animation and satisfying throughlines. One of its most impressive qualities is how its episodes orchestrate moments of life-or-death spy craft, gut-busting gags, and familial warmth, all without ever fumbling into tonal weirdness. Oh, and I’ll never get sick of seeing Yor’s feats of superhuman strength, each animated with a degree of comedic excess that is simultaneously over-the-top and deeply cool. Altogether, it makes for a lovely action dramedy full of memorable moments that will be replaying in my mind for some time.
5. Do It Yourself!!
In recent years, there’s been an abundance of hobby-themed anime, each diving into the ins and outs of obscure pastimes with varying degrees of success. While Do It Yourself!! isn’t fundamentally different from its peers, it hits on every aspect that makes this kind of slice-of-life story so appealing. Our protagonist is Serufu, a Neil Armstrong-caliber space cadet who falls in love with her school’s “D.I.Y.” club, which is dedicated to crafts and carpentry. However, in a near-future defined by drones, automation, and other advanced technologies, this type of hands-on activity has become increasingly neglected, and Serufu needs to work with the club’s president to recruit enough members so the tiny group can keep receiving school funding.
One of the series’ most immediate pleasures is its vibrant background art, beautiful pastels realizing a variety of charming domestic spaces. Precise animation brings these carpentry projects to life, conveying the handiwork and precision that goes into these efforts while also communicating enough technical details to be informative. However, its most crucial element is that it treats its cast with care, each of these young women finding friendship and fulfillment in the club. They have concise but gratifying arcs; some are introverts who’ve had a hard time making friends, while others play hard to get as they reject the club’s premise as too old-fashioned, but they each grow throughout their endeavors. In particular, the implied sapphic relationship between Serufu and her standoffish childhood friend Miku is terrific, leading to a low-key triumph when she finally lowers her guard. In a medium often marred by casual misogyny, it’s refreshing to see a show about girls taking part in a typically male-dominated pastime, and throughout, it features women working in a broad spectrum of professions. Do It Yourself!! may not be as flashy as this season’s heavy hitters, but it’s crafted with the same degree of love that its characters pour into each of their projects. It’s a fluffy delight.
4. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
Through its first 11 episodes, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury delivered many of the elements I come to anime for, gracefully weaving together pulse-pounding robot duels, earnest diatribes about friendship, and allusions towards smashing unjust systems. We follow Suletta, a Mercury-born mech-pilot whose severe social anxiety is only matched by her ability to beat the crap out of rich kids with her Gundam. As an exchange student at the Asticassia School of Technology, she finds herself thrust into a world of corporate politics as she becomes entwined in proxy wars fought by the influential companies that control the galaxy. But, despite the convoluted machinations orchestrated by scheming corpro stooges, Suletta’s main priority is finally making friends her own age. While the backdrop is grandiose, one of the series’ greatest pleasures is how it engages with its protagonist’s self-doubt and awkwardness. Eventually, her earnest desire to help others gets her accidentally engaged to Morione, the heiress of the business conglomerate that runs things. This queer romance, along with the bonds Suletta forms with marginalized members of the school, amplifies the stakes of these mech fights, as this ragtag group attempts to stay afloat amidst warring factions.
Right now, this story is juggling a lot of threads; school drama, corporate politics, child soldiers, revenge plots, and romantic relationships, but so far, these elements have gelled. For instance, the economic exploitation wrought by these all-encompassing corporations gives additional cause to root for Suletta and company as they combat the powers that be. While I have some concerns about how its political messaging will resolve, and production issues have resulted in delays and dips in animation quality, if it can maintain momentum when it returns this spring, it could find itself among excellent company.
3. Chainsaw Man
Chainsaw Man was one of the most eagerly awaited premieres of the season, and for a good reason, as the manga is the best thing to come out of Shonen Jump in a long time. The plot centers on Denji, a teen forced to battle powerful monsters called devils to make ends meet. After gaining dangerous abilities, he is taken under the tutelage of Makima, a mysterious woman who heads a government organization dedicated to “public safety.” So far, the anime has done justice to the source material, conveying that beneath crassness and buckets of gore, this is a story that thrums with humanity. At its heart are a group of garbage people who we can’t help but love, deeply flawed characters fighting their way through a dumpster fire of a world. There’s Denji and his juvenile motives that stem from a desire for genuine connection, Aki and his fading wish for revenge, and Power, who is awful in consistently funny ways. Unlikely camaraderie develops between its central trio, while the extended cast proves equally indispensable (dear god, Kobeni is so wonderfully unfortunate).
One of my favorite aspects of this series is it knows when to embrace tropes and when to nimbly side-step them, only indulging in convention long enough to set up brutal gut punches that come out of nowhere. For instance, episodes 8 and 9 are an insane one-two combo, a haymaker followed by a chilling demonstration of state-sanctioned violence. And despite everything, there’s empathy buried under the wayward intestines and viscera. One of Fujimoto’s greatest skills as a writer is his ability to jump between dark humor, action movie moments, and searing emotional pain with grace, depicting a bleak and violent reality without succumbing to nihilism. As for the strengths of the adaptation, while it loses a bit of the manga’s punchy pacing, its more leisurely cinematic framing helps further realize the day-to-day life of its characters, bringing us into the little rituals that define the Hayakawa family. Perhaps most impressive of all, if the anime can keep up with the source material, things will only get better from here.
2. Bocchi the Rock!
While a few shows came out of nowhere this season, none of the dark horses left a greater impact than Bocchi the Rock!, a music-themed coming-of-age comedy that was one of the most visually creative projects of the year. It focuses on Hitori Gotoh, an extremely introverted guitar player who finds herself the newest member of a fledgling band. From here, she confronts her social anxiety as she grows as a musician and person. One element that hooked me on the series is how Gotoh is so convincingly written, a constant stream of interior thoughts and witticisms communicating her misguided perceptions. Voice actress Yoshino Aoyama does an excellent job capturing the contrast between her boisterous internal monologues and outwardly reserved presentation. The extended cast is equally fantastic and between their vibrant designs and the chemistry between the band members, even its less drama-filled episodes are entertaining.
However, the most striking element of this production are its aesthetics, a feast of artistic techniques that bounce between visual styles and mediums to comedically overdeliver on every gag. The mixed media approach uses disparate color palettes, claymation, live action, 3D rigging, and just about everything else imaginable to portray what it’s like to have a messy anxiety-addled brain. While these jokes could have come across as mean-spirited, as someone who can relate to the protagonist, it feels like it comes from a place of personal experience rather than ridicule. It does have one misstep in a recurring alcoholism joke that I hope is addressed more seriously down the line, but besides this, just about everything lands. And beyond its escalating humor, the direction also conveys the overwhelming power of music, transforming humble gigs into moving scenes that capture the beauty of live performance. At one point, the camera morphs a flickering lamp into stage lighting, turning a street corner into a venue as Hitori shreds an impressive lick and steps towards overcoming her apprehensions. These sequences maintain the creativity of the comedic cuts while using fluid character animation to demonstrate the weight and physicality of playing an instrument, these musicians’ self-doubts and worries melting away as they’re lost in song. Altogether it’s a visual tour-de-force, equal parts funny, poignant, and painfully relatable.
1. Mob Psycho 100 III
After more than six years, Mob Psycho 100 is finally over, and its last run further solidified the show as an all-time great. While these episodes initially felt somewhat scattershot and unrelated, underlying conflicts eventually tied together its many threads, culminating in a finale that deftly incorporated just about every sentiment, character arc, and idea it has covered up until now. While this narrative has always been about how our telekinetically gifted protagonist helps others see that their psychic powers don’t define who they are, here, Mob redirects these lessons inward as he grapples with the self-loathing and repression caused by the accidental harm his abilities caused in the past. While there are more than a few generously animated fights that display the artistic talent of the creatives involved, this climax is less about flashy showdowns than the fulfillment of Mob’s emotional journey.
We see how much his actions have helped those around him, former adversaries now aiding him in return. This story deeply believes in our capacity to help each other heal, form healthy relationships, and change for the better, rejecting the might-makes-right underpinnings of the battle-shonen genre to focus on internal growth instead. In an often-quoted interview, the author explained that when writing the manga, he “wanted it to be something that feels kind.” Despite its penchant for comedy, supernatural phenomena, and jaw-dropping set pieces, Mob Psycho 100 is defined by empathy, its faith in people bubbling to the surface at every juncture. While the well-timed humor, moments of cool, and impeccable animation are important factors, a genuine sense of warmth is what makes this one of the best coming-of-age tales in the medium. Through its masterful visuals and beautifully realized concluding arc, the final season solidifies the series as an instant classic.
Elijah Gonzalez is the games intern for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing the latest indies and AAAs, 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.
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