The Best Anime I Watched in 2022

Here we are, another trip around the sun and another list of anime recommendations! While nowhere near as prolific as some people (I admire the dedication!) I feel like I managed to keep up with a solid set of seasonal shows this year, wired in once more by my work for AniFem and the coverage of my fellow staffers. Note as in previous years that some of the material in these personal reviews is adapted from my season recs over on the site. Make sure you give those articles a read, and keep an eye out for the staff’s forthcoming recommendations from Fall 2022 and from the year overall!

I also dug into a bit of my “classics” backlog, watching some older, iconic shows for the first time. I won’t cover those here, though: it’s difficult for me to add anything to the convo around Neon Genesis Evangelion other than “it was good! It was weird! Shinji is my son!” and I already wrote up my feels about both seasons of K-On! here.

Without further ado, let’s get into my personal faves from 2022, from hobby shows to fantasy adventures to… crime dramas? Technically? Well, see for yourself…

Akiba Maid War

Premise: Tokyo, 1999—young Nagomi moves to the big city to pursue her dream of working in a maid café, and quickly finds herself embroiled in a rivalry between costumed waitresses that’s playing out like a yakuza turf war.

The Good Stuff: Maid War is a show that is very smart about how stupid it is. Every episode it finds a new way to be bombastic and wildly entertaining, each piece of the ridiculous puzzle carefully crafted and placed, from the music to the pacing to the high-octane nonsense of whatever niche of Akibahara’s seedy, nerdy criminal underground is being explored that week.

Yes, sometimes it rides on the combination horror/comedy of the juxtaposition between cute maids and gang violence. But it has other elements propping it up that ensure the formula doesn’t become stale. The characters are surprisingly solid, zany enough to be right at home in this bonkers premise but also with concrete backstories and motivations. They also develop a really fun ride-or-die friendship that propels them through the escalating threats facing down their crummy café. The camaraderie that develops between earnest newcomer Nagomi and stoic long-time maid Ranko (who is thirty-six by the way—a thirty-six-year-old female anime protagonist!) is especially potent emotional material.

There are some honestly great threads of social commentary throughout, but it’s also just wicked fun watching young women in petticoats step seamlessly into the kind of quippy, blood-soaked action anti-hero roles usually reserved for male characters. Any way you slice it, it’s a blast—definitely my unexpected runaway fave of the year.

Caveats and content warnings: Gun violence (and lots of it); blood; human trafficking (maids who lose at a certain poker table will be shipped off to work on a fishing boat, though this is a fairly clear stand-in for the sexual kind); organ trafficking (characters betting using their pancreas as collateral—though they end up intact); ageism (albeit from the mouths of characters, not from the narrative itself); the general tension and fear that comes with gang violence and constant threats on the characters’ lives.

And now, for something completely different…

Do It Yourself!!

Premise: Clumsy, airheaded, benevolent Serufu and her childhood best friend, the haughty, studious Miku, have been drifting apart ever since they got into different high schools. When a chance encounter leads Serufu to her school’s somewhat decrepit DIY club, she’s struck by inspiration. Maybe she’s finally found the hobby for her—and maybe she’s found a way to rebuild her relationship with Miku.

The Good Stuff: I had been hankering for a good ol’ hobby show all year, and this one was just the ticket. Funny, chill, and very pretty to look at with its stylised figures and watercolour backdrops, Do It Yourself!! is a finely-crafted everyday adventure full of all the chill vibes you could want.

It celebrates the concept of “DIY” with a wide and inclusive umbrella, with some of the girls focusing on more traditionally feminine crafts like making jewellery while others go the less delicate route and build furniture using power tools. While Serufu’s clumsiness is sometimes cartoonishly over the top, it does make her personal journey and the development of her skills very satisfying to watch. Add in the intrigue of the show’s casually high-tech setting, and the whole package is a delightful and refreshing experience.

Caveats and content warnings: Bless her heart, the character Jobko is deeply annoying, although I admit that’s probably the result of her accurate characterisation as a precocious twelve-year-old. The usual disclaimer about slice-of-life shows being delightful for some but deadly boring for others naturally applies here.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life

Premise: For generations, Menou’s world has been visited by Lost Ones: teenagers who arrive through magic portals and develop incredible supernatural powers. Menou has been trained as an Executioner by her holy order, tasked with eliminating Lost Ones before their powers can wreak havoc. In other words, yes: she has a sacred duty to assassinate OP isekai protagonists. But her latest target, a girl named Akari, is proving difficult. Her superpower renders her functionally immortal. Something about her suggests that she’s not as naïve as she might seem. And the more time Menou spends with her, questing for a way to make that crucial world-saving kill, the closer the girls become.

The Good Stuff: Badass girls! Hammy villains! Elaborate and colourful swords-versus-sorcery fights! Time magic! In many ways, Executioner was engineered in a lab to be the kind of thing my younger self would have latched onto, scratching a similar itch to the magic-tech extravaganza of Princess Principal (complete with that coveted, always-kickass trope of a fight on top of a moving train! I am a simple soul and can be won over by a kickass fight on top of a moving train).

While this obviously exists in conversation with the isekai genre (and the cheeky bait-and-switch in the opening episode will be especially satisfying if you’re familiar with the genre’s tropes and market saturation), Executioner is not a parody. Instead, it takes a familiar fantasy convention—teens portalling through to otherworlds—and uses it as a springboard for its own original story. While the writing isn’t always the deepest thing in the world, it asks and answers some really interesting questions: exploring the kinds of power struggles and ideologies that would spring up in response to, well, children with superpowers turning up out of thin air and causing chaos.

Most importantly, despite the grand stakes the central conflict is very localised on the relationship between Menou and Akari—a pair of gal pals on which the fate of the world resides. Ya gotta love it.

Caveats and content warnings: Bloody violence; body horror; creepy children; mild sexualised imagery of the teen protagonists; Menou’s assistant being very clingy (physically and emotionally) and having a wee bit of an obsessive crush. As an adaptation of an ongoing novel series, this very much feels like Part One of a bigger story, ultimately leaving a lot of threads hanging. Here’s hoping for a second season so we can get some answers to some mysteries, and also see some payoff to the various f/f ships that have been set up (as with another, similar title from last year, marketing comes to the rescue: this is published as yuri so we can rest assured that we will get payoff, though it lingers in the realm of “she’s my precious friend” for now).

My Dress-Up Darling

Premise: Gojo Wakana is training to be a hina doll craftsman, a family tradition… though ever since a childhood friend teased him because “dolls are for girls”, he’s kept his passion under wraps. He’s had a hard time opening up and making friends, until one fateful afternoon when Kitagawa Marin, an impossibly cool girl in his class, catches him at a sewing machine and immediately praises his skills. Marin, you see, is trying to get into cosplay. And lo, the two unlikely hobbyists form an even more unlikely bond.

The Good Stuff: While it has elements of wish-fulfilment in its “cool geeky girl drags anxious boy out of his comfort zone” premise, the character writing elevates My Dress-Up Darling into something genuinely charming. Marin is a confident mega-dork who’s extremely funny to watch and easy to love, Gojo is an awkward but layered human being rather than a blank self-insert, and the two develop believable and honestly kinda delightful chemistry across the series.

There’s something so sincere about this show, an earnestness to the way it portrays everything from fandom to falling in love for the first time. It’s sweet to watch Gojo dive headfirst, fascinated, into the world of costume design (not to mention the world of anime, which is alien to him), not in some hackneyed effort to impress Marin but because he loves learning and loves having fun with her. It’s satisfying to see Marin living her best life, talking openly about her anime girl crushes and developing her own goofy (mutual) crush on Gojo. This honest casual intimacy blooms between them as the story progresses, and while it doesn’t end conclusively (leaving you hungry for a season two) it’s a fun ride to go on—not to mention a cute homage to the artform of cosplay, too.

Caveats and content warnings: As earnest as it is, first and foremost this is a horny romantic comedy. I’m talking boob jiggle. I’m talking characters walking in on each other in the shower. I’m talking an extended—and I mean extended—scene in Episode 2 where Marin bounces around in a bikini and Gojo tries not to get a boner and die while he takes her measurements. I’m talking uncomfortable jokes about middle schoolers who have “developed early” and high schoolers who look like little kids. It goes on.

Your tolerance for this brand of Anime Bullshit may vary. While I’d argue this show mostly does a good job balancing wholesome with horny, breast-boing comedy veers into genuine poor taste more than once. There are some parts (e.g., aforementioned “oh she looks like a babydoll but don’t worry, she’s really seventeen, so it’s fine that we’ve put her in this compromising position!” jokes) that I would… prefer to delete from my mind, or at least fast-forward through on a potential rewatch. And that’s not to mention other fraught issues it skirts, such as Marin darkening her skin using foundation for a cosplay (which the series self-consciously scoots by in half an episode).

It sucks that one of the sweetest romantic comedies of the year comes these issues. I’m ultimately still going to recommend it, at least personally—just be aware of what you’re wading into.

My Master Has No Tail

Premise: A young tanuki named Mameda travels to the city to play tricks on humans like in the old stories. However, things are a little different: it’s the Taisho era, and advances in technology mean that a lot of the old repertoire doesn’t work. She’s despondent, until she finds her way into a theatre. There, she sees a rakugo performance by a woman named Bunko—an eloquent lady who is definitely not a fox spirit, and who spins such vibrant stories that the audience is transported. Mameda concludes that this is the new way to trick humans, and sets out on a quest to learn the performance art.

The Good Stuff: No Tail is a light-hearted historical fantasy with such a fun premise and setting. While it doesn’t get as deep into the concept of the ancient world trying to coexist with rapid modernisation (and westernisation) as it could, these themes form an intriguing undercurrent and frame Mameda and Bunko’s growing teacher-student friendship with some fun supernatural solidarity.

Even when things seem to be getting dangerous, the stakes remain pretty low and the gals always find a way out of any pickle that presents itself (for example, even scary yakuza enforcers can be enchanted and defanged by a good story). It’s a relaxed little narrative about narrative with a goofy but solid ensemble cast and a historical setting that’s really aesthetically interesting, and provides some fun insights into the world of rakugo (even if, as I understand it, some elements aren’t exactly 101% historically accurate).

Caveats and content warnings: A few times, jokes involve embroiling Mameda in some sort of sexual innuendo, which is… a choice, given that (supernatural creature or otherwise) she’s very much characterised as a kid. There’s also some infrequent fanservice/sexy imagery centring on Bunko, though that’s more passable because she’s clearly meant to be an adult woman (again, supernatural creature-nature notwithstanding).

The Orbital Children

Premise: On a commercial space station, Touya and Konoha, two teenagers born on lunar colonies, are undergoing physical therapy in anticipation of their (begrudging) move to Earth. They’re poised to welcome a tour group of other young people aboard the space station when the ship’s AI shorts out and a strange asteroid passes too close for comfort. The kids end up fighting for their lives with limited oxygen, light, and gravity—and end up fighting with a terrorist group that has some big ideas about Earth’s future.

The Good Stuff: Orbital Children is dense and tightly-packed mini-series, crammed to the brim with philosophy and sci-fi worldbuilding, and signing off with an optimistic message. Using its antagonists, it looks pointedly at the way seemingly noble notions like “the greater good” or “the future of humanity” can be co-opted by nefarious ideologies. Rather than buying into the idea of sacrificing a few for the survival of many, the narrative staunchly rejects this and, instead, dares us to imagine and fight for a future that everyone gets to be a part of. Overall it’s an enjoyable romp through an eerily-prescient vision of the near future.

Caveats and content considerations: Children in peril (in the vein of an adventure movie; no one comes to serious harm); discussion and depictions of terminal illness (though again, everyone turns out okay in the end). Admittedly, elements of this—particularly the climax—are a little clunky in execution owing to the sheer weight of the themes relative to the shorter runtime (as these folks put it, things get literally galaxy-brained).

Structured and paced more like one long movie than a segmented series, I’d recommend giving this one the binge-watch treatment and letting yourself fall straight into the wonderful world inside Iso Mitsuo’s brain.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie

Premise: Izumi can best be described as chronically unlucky (not to mention delicate and awkward). Lucky for him, then, that he has his girlfriend Shikimori to look out for him: confident, competitive, and strong enough to spin-kick any piece of debris that threatens to ruin his day. She may not always be typical girlfriend material, but Izumi loves her badass “cool” side just as much as her “cute” one.

The Good Stuff: Is Shikimori a subversive masterpiece for the way it switches up the gender roles and gendered traits in its central couple? I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is refreshing. The way Shikimori shoots down the advice to make herself more demure and less competitive in order to be attractive is certainly satisfying, and Izumi’s adoration for the girl who constantly rescues him is sweet. At one point, a love triangle rears its head… but is swiftly solved with earnest communication. The mini-arc ends with Shikimori gaining a new friend rather than a romantic rival! It’s just nice, playing with tropes not in a self-conscious genre parody way, but in service of bringing us a sweet little story that explores some different aspects of some fun characters.

Because Izumi and Shikimori are already dating when the story begins, we also get to enjoy a different dynamic to the will-they-or-won’t-they that more often drives rom-coms. It’s cute watching these two dingus teens explore the early stages of a relationship, clearly comfortable with each other but still often shy and awkward, figuring out their boundaries and their future together. At times, it’s goofy, but more often than not Shikimori is delightfully sincere.

Caveats and content warnings: Some mildly uncomfortable jokes about how hot Izumi’s mum is (implying some fleeting sexual tension between her and Shikimori); extremely mild sexual imagery (flirty ice cream eating). Shikimori is sometimes possessive of Izumi, and the show can’t quite seem to decide if this is part of her “cool” side or an immature trait she needs to grow past.

SPY x FAMILY (Part 1)

Premise: In a stylized, fictional Cold War, master spy Twilight is tasked with infiltrating a prestigious private school to get intel on a rogue politician. To achieve this, he’ll have to go undercover as a loving father and husband. Twilight’s—now alias “Loid Forger”—plan to appear normal quickly goes off the rails, however. Unbeknownst to him, his adopted daughter, Anya, is telepathic. His fake wife, Yor, is an assassin. Anya, the mind-reader, is the only one who knows both of her parents’ respective secrets… but luckily, Anya is about four years old and thinks it’s super cool. Can this dysfunctional family bring about world peace?

The Good Stuff: Alright, this one’s cheating my own rules slightly in that I haven’t actually finished the second cour of this one by the time this post is due to go live. But I had such a whale of a time with SpyFam’s first half that I don’t want to not talk about it; so here is my glowing review of that pinned with a little sign that says watch this space for an update on its latter half next year.

It’s stylish, snazzy, and entertaining, balancing its spy caper actions scenes with domestic shenanigans gracefully. Anya may be the funniest and most endearing anime child in recent years, and damn near carries the show on her tiny shoulders (and in her expressive little face). It’s sheer joy watching these people—none of whom know what a “normal” family looks like—bond with one another and, by farcical mimicry and by accident, end up extremely functional together. Who knew an action-comedy about contract killers, espionage, and psychic human experiments could be so cute?

Caveats and content warnings: Gun violence; children in peril (but always turning out just fine). Yor’s brother (who, as a bonus, is a violent member of the secret police) is obsessed with her in a way that I found gross, grating, and over-the-top rather than funny. Again, for cour two, seek out your content considerations elsewhere as I can’t advise.

What were your favourite shows from this year? And what are you looking forward to in the looming calendar of 2023 releases? Let me know down below!

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One response to “The Best Anime I Watched in 2022

  1. Pingback: Twenty-Twenty-Through: December ’22 Roundup | The Afictionado

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