The Spring anime season has begun, and with it a number of highly anticipated blockbuster series. Some of these new and returning shows are living up the fans' wildest expectations, while others have proven to be unfortunate disappointments (even if some of these disappointments are still worth watching in spite of their flaws.) One of the most anticipated shows of the season, the new Shinichiro Watanabe anime Carole & Tuesday, we won't even be able to see outside of Japan until Netflix launches it in the Summer, but thankfully most everything else is being simulcast in the United States. Believe us, when we say everything, we mean even shows that nobody in America is ever going to enjoy or understand!
Total anime production is down from this season last year. Outside of the big attention-grabbing titles, there aren't as many outstanding hidden gems to find. Many of the series which make our "watch" list come with rather tentative recommendations rather than enthusiastic ones. One notable trend is an increase in anime with shorter episodes, under 15 minutes, which certainly made this preview guide easier to get through if not more enjoyable (four of the six short anime on this list are firmly in the "skip" category.) Still, there's a decent variety of shows, and nearly every anime fan should find something they'll want to keep up with this season. Hopefully this list will help you find which shows you'll want to check out and help you avoid the worst of the worst... unless you want to watch the worst, that is.
20 WATCH: SARAZANMAI
One episode in and it already feels like Sarazanmai could end up the best anime not just of the Spring, but of the whole year. A new anime from Kunihiko Ikuhara, director of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, is always an event, but this looks to be his craziest work yet. You might think you're prepared for this. You're not.
So what is Sarazanmai even about? It's about human connection, identity, repression, capitalism, gender, sexuality, kappas, zombies, idols, cops and butts. Lots and lots of butts. This would be Tina Belcher's favorite anime. Oh, and it's also a musical and that's maybe only the fifth weirdest thing about it. Both hilarious and deep, we can't wait to see where this ride goes.
19 SKIP: NAMUAMIDABUTSU! -UTENA
If you were expecting NAMUAMIDABUTSU! -UTENA to have anything in common with Ikuhara's Utena, you're in for a world of disappointment. This series, based on a mobile game, is instead about attractive anime versions of Buddhist deities living in modern Japan with the purpose of fighting Earthly Vices... but mostly just lazing about.
While the opening scenes make it look like an action show, mostly it's just a not particularly funny fish out of water comedy. It's not awful, but unless you're really into the premise or attracted to the character designs, there's no reason to make time for this.
18 WATCH: FRUITS BASKET
One of the most successful manga of all time is finally getting the anime it deserves. Not that the 2001 Fruits Basket anime was bad, far from it, but it stopped not even halfway through the manga's storyline. Fans wanted a second season to finish the story but author Natsuki Takaya understandably didn't want the darker parts of her story presented in the 2001 anime's wacky style.
Now there's a new Takaya-approved Fruits Basket anime, which promises to tell the full story over multiple seasons. The first episode isn't dramatically different from the old show's, but the animation is significantly better, the tone more grounded, and moments of foreshadowing hint at the intensity to come.
17 SKIP: ULTRAMAN
Ultraman is kind of the odd one out on this list in the sense that the full first season premiered at once on Netflix. This article, however, is only comparing first episodes. While Ultraman might get better over the course of the season and be worth the binge, the first episode doesn't do the best job at hooking potential viewers.
The idea of a darker take the campy Ultraman tokusatsu franchise sounds like it could be good, but this just felt generic, like a dozen other better "serious superhero" stories we've seen before. The CGI's better than most of the CGI anime on Netflix, but still looks awkward outside the action sequences.
16 WATCH: ONE-PUNCH MAN SEASON 2
One-Punch Man's second season is lucky to be out at the same time as the new Ultraman. It's got way more personality in comparison, and that personality makes it recommendable enough for those who want to see more of Saitama's story animated. One thing, however, almost pushes the new season into the "skip" category: the animation.
Season 2 has a completely different director and animation team than Season 1, and the show is nowhere near as beautiful as it once was. Corners have been cut on movement, and the new shading techniques on Genos are off-putting. The story's still strong as ever, but if the animation is a deal-breaker, you can enjoy this story in the manga instead of the anime.
15 SKIP: AFTERLOST
Even if it's disappointing that One-Punch Man's animation has been downgraded, AFTERLOST reminds us that it could always be way worse. AFTERLOST is actually animated by Madhouse, the studio which did OPM's first season, but you'd never guess that from looking at it. The 2D animation is thoroughly mediocre while the CGI is downright bad.
The story is downright incomprehensible. The set-up is sort of like The Leftovers or the end of Infinity War, a disaster in which people suddenly disappear from existence, but the script just throws in too much dumb technobabble too quickly to follow or make sense of it. Absolutely skip this one unless you want a hate-watch.
14 WATCH: DEMON SLAYER: KIMETSU NO YAIBA
For the best-looking animation this season, look no further than Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. One of the season's two big new Shonen Jump adaptations, this is absolutely gorgeous dark fantasy anime with outstanding animation by Ufotable. Between this, My Hero Academia and The Promised Neverland, the bar has been raised for quality artistic work in Shonen Jump series.
The story's not quite as special as the visuals; just from the title you know this is gonna be yet another action show about slaying demons. It always has some stand-out unique elements, however. Tanjiro's desire to protect his sister Nezuko even when she's possessed by a demon already gives it a lot of heart and promises a moving adventure.
13 SKIP: ROBIHACHI
There are few things more dispiriting to watch than a bad anime that's desperately trying to imitate a good anime. RobiHachi is one such case. It wants to be Space Dandy mixed with Tiger & Bunny, which is great. Both are excellent shows to take inspiration from. Unfortunately, this is the most bargain basement-level rip-off you can imagine.
Director Shinji Takamatsu has experience directing many good comedy and sci-fi anime, but he's let down by weak writing and animation. In the first episode, there's only one gag (the giant robot having its own theme song) that gets a chuckle. Everything else is dreary.
12 WATCH: WE NEVER LEARN: BOKUBEN
The other big Shonen Jump adaptation of the season, We Never Learn: BOKUBEN, is not the sort of action show most American fans expect from an SJ anime but rather a harem sitcom. From the first episode, it seems like a case where the "situation" is more interesting than the "comedy," but as these sorts of shows go, it's very watchable.
The main girls are exaggerated but charming. Fumino Furuhashi is an outstanding writer who can't comprehend math, while Rizu Ogata is a genius at math but doesn't understand art or literature. Protagonist Nariyuki Yuiga is tasked with tutoring them two geniuses in their weak subjects. This show gets extra credit for one of the best openings of the season.
11 SKIP: MIDNIGHT OCCULT CIVIL SERVANTS
Midnight Occult Civil Servants is the sort of fantasy anime which would be a lot more enjoyable if the visual presentation was significantly improved. Weak art and animation hurts both the human and supernatural characters. The human civil servants are all clearly supposed to be bishounen pretty-boy archetypes, but when their designs are so flat and plastic-y, they fail the attractiveness tests.
Seeing how supernatural creatures (in this premiere's case, angels and tengu) interact with modern society is a rich concept to mine for interesting stories. The writing in this first episode, however, never rises about bare competence, and the creature design and animation work often falls into substandard territory.
10 WATCH: FAIRY GONE
First off, we must applaud Fairy gone for the name "Free Underbar," which joins "Jacuzzi Splot" and "Backyard Bottomslash" on the list of the best/worst white people names in anime. After that, we should note that this original series is directed by Kenichi Suzuki, who co-directed the first three seasons of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and the action scenes are very Jojo-esque, with fairies essentially working as Stands.
The fantasy world-building's a bit complicated but clear enough to follow. The 2D animation is excellent and while the CG fairies don't look great, the action is well choreographed. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and we're looking forward to see where this show goes next.
9 SKIP: CINDERELLA NINE
Cinderella Nine should not be confused with Princess Nine. Both are anime about girls playing baseball, but stylistically they're very different. Princess Nine, the better show of the two, is a feminist shojo drama with well developed, realistic characters. Cinderella Nine, in contrast, is a pandering moe show made to sell a mobile game to older male otaku.
More like an idol anime than a sports anime, Cinderella Nine pretty much copies generic archetypes from the Love Live! anime and transposes them to the world of baseball. It's not particularly bad so much as just really boring if you're not the audience this is pandering to.
8 WATCH: SENRYU GIRL
Far and away the most easily approachable of this season's vast crop of short anime, Senryu Girl's 12-minute first episode is a bit one note, but that note certainly is charming. The hook of this slice-of-life comedy is that the main character, Nanako Yukishiro, is uncomfortable with talking and is only able to communicate through the structure of written senryu haiku.
With her experiences of sensory overload and need for rigid structure, it's easy to read Nanako as a positive portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum. She's a likable protagonist, and the haiku gimmick makes for some entertaining moments of humor.
7 SKIP: YATOGAME-CHAN KANSATSU NIKKI
Is Yatogame-Chan Kansatsu Nikki bad? Ask a Japanese critic. We're not annoyed by this short anime so much as confused. Other than "this came in a package with something else we wanted" (likely) or "we want to license absolutely everything" (possible, though as of yet unachieved,) there's no logical explanation for why Crunchyroll bothered licensing a show almost no viewers outside Japan will get.
All the jokes in the first three-minute episode of the series rely on stereotypes of people from Nagoya. Are these jokes funny? Offensive? We couldn't tell you, since we barely know what those stereotypes even are, and we bet most other international viewers don't either!
6 WATCH: AO-CHAN CAN'T STUDY
Imagine a more ridiculous gender-swapped version of Netflix's Sex Education and you have the basic gist of the short anime Ao-Chan Can't Study. A girl with no interest in boys or romance has the misfortune of having an erotic novelist as a father. When one of her genuinely decent classmates starts to take interest in her, she gets suspicious his motives aren't so pure.
Like an awful lot of this season's short anime, it's heavy on the adult content, but it's played for actual comedy rather than for fan-service. Based on the source material, you can also expect the story to develop into a genuinely sweet romance in addition to being funny.
5 SKIP: AMAZING STRANGER
The line between mocking otaku excess and pandering to it can be a thin one. Judging from the first episode, we're apprehensive about the new short anime AMAZING STRANGER, which seems to want to have its cake and eat it too.
The premise is basically "raunchy adult Toy Story, if Buzz Lightyear was an anime girl figurine in an otaku's house." You can imagine the jokes that emerge from that, and it would be easy to imagine a solid one-off cringe comedy skit emerging. As a full series, unfortunately, it seems this might be playing the weird fantasy aspect of this premise straight rather than satirically.
4 WATCH: KONO OTO TOMARE!: SOUNDS OF LIFE
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is one of the more niche anime titles this season. A melodrama about a high school club for playing the koto instrument is probably not at the top of most anime fans' lists of shows they want to watch. Those who are curious about it and give it a try, though, might be rewarded.
Production-wise this series is nothing to write home about, but its big intense emotions make this otherwise small scale series more compelling to watch than you might expect. The evolving relationship between the nerdy Takezo and the delinquent Kudo promises a solid dramatic hook.
3 SKIP: JOSHI KAUSEI
Joshi Kausei is what happens when you waste a decent gimmick on fan-service nonsense. If you listen to the promotion for this series of three minute shorts, this is a throwback to classic silent comedy, telling cute stories without dialogue. Actually watch it, however, and you realize it's nothing more than a series of shots of girls' thighs.
There's nothing good about this show. The animation and music are mediocre and the comedy is nonexistent. If poorly animated thigh shots are your thing, by all means watch and enjoy, but there's absolutely nothing worth watching here for the rest of us.
2 WATCH: HITORIBOCCHI NO MARUMARUSEIKATSU
The show with the longest untranslated title, Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu is also the most uncertain recommendation on this list. Many anime fans have already decided they love it, and it's understandable why. It's a very cute and relaxing comedy that empathizes with its socially anxious protagonist and promises heartwarming moments in her quest to make friends.
The part of the plot which could push this from "cute and heartwarming" into "saccharine and problematic" is the set-up. Bocchi isn't merely being encouraged to make new friends at her new middle school, but to befriend her entire class or else her only friend won't talk to her. If the show realizes that set-up is messed up, great. If not, this could be awkward.
1 SKIP: NOBUNAGA TEACHER'S YOUNG BRIDE
Every season there's always that one new anime that goes beyond "bad" or "problematic" and storms head on into "what can I say but yikes." "Yikes" is the only reasonable reaction to Nobunaga teacher's young bride, a short series about a time traveling 14-year-old announcing her engagement to an adult man.
There are attempts to play this for laughs, with her fiance decidedly uncomfortable with this situation, but the show goes right into irredeemably disgusting territory with the way the show graphically objectifies the underage bride. It almost feels as if anyone who watches the full thing is gonna be put on a list somewhere.