A healthy mix of returning blockbuster series and quirky new originals herald the 2023 spring season of anime. Leading the charge is the wild and entertaining Oshi no Ko, a drama that’s both as outlandish as they come and often bitingly down to earth, all while taking a magnifying glass to the entertainment industry. Elsewhere, the surreal, post-apocalyptic road trip Heavenly Delusion and the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury operate on a larger scale, both balancing flashy action with some immensely complicated internal struggles.
As ever, there’s more great new and ongoing series than we know what to do with: the utterly unhinged golf drama Birdie Wing is also back, while the second season of Vinland Saga, following its winter debut, has evolved the introspective focus of its compelling and crushing historical drama. Once again, we’re here to help you find the stuff you absolutely must watch, from flashy debuts to charming spinoffs, to body horror and high school whimsy.
Here’s our guide to the best anime of Spring 2023; all shows are now streaming.
Available on Disney+ and Hulu
You can’t be blamed for being unable to find Heavenly Delusion — Disney and Hulu have practically buried it on their platforms, keeping it listed under the Japanese title of Tengoku Daimakyou (in the U.K., at least). But if you put in the effort, you’ll find a gorgeous, truly idiosyncratic show.
At once the most laid-back take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland that we’ve seen but also home to body horror that reaches sleep paralysis levels of ick, Heavenly Delusion eludes easy categorization through its frequent switch-ups. Its characters Maru and Kiruko banter with each other and meander through the show in a manner that defies the usual severity of such a setting. But it constantly swerves, as each genuinely funny and awkward conversation is soon intruded upon by some of the most truly ungodly creatures imagined in animation this year, all capable of separating limb from body in utterly grotesque fashion. To say more about the nature of its world would be to spoil some rather delightful surprises, so for now, all we’ll disclose is that it’s compellingly tricky and provocative about identity, in concert with the strangeness of the fictional world it builds.
As the show tonally zigs and zags, the quality of its production remains consistent, with some of the finest animation put to screen this year so far. A gorgeous opening sequence directed by Weilin Zhang is just the beginning, as the show continues into desolate but detailed urban environments and expansive countrysides, the characters themselves animated by expressive acting. It may be as elusive to find on streaming the place its main characters are relentlessly searching for, but it’s well worth the effort.
Available on HiDive
From the mind of manga author Aka Akasaka, whose previous series Kaguya-sama: Love is War is one of the best rom-coms around, comes Oshi no Ko, an anime which is decidedly more deranged. Adapted from his manga series by Daisuke Hiramaki and Jin Tanaka and produced by the studio Dogs Kobo, it takes an incredibly roundabout route to detailed and pointed critique of the entertainment industry. How, you ask? By having a surgeon and a terminally ill teenager reincarnate as the twin babies of Ai, an idol they admired.
By the fortune of their bizarre birth, the children, who have memories of their previous lives, are given access to stardom. An incredible, feature-length first episode adapts the manga’s several-chapters-long prologue, which vaguely recalls Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue in its dark reflections on otakudom and the culture around idols. The show then follows the twins Aqua and Ruby into show business, which is where Oshi no Ko really gets to enjoy the breadth that its setting allows. After a wild first episode, Hiramaki and Tanaka settle into a compelling groove, mixing the comedy that Akasaka became known for alongside sharper insights and soap operatic drama.
As in the comic, the show takes a keen and granular interest in both in the artistic decisions and business decisions that drive creative work. It encompasses all aspects of whatever industry has taken its fancy, from the technical details down to fan response. The series capably alternates between playfulness and righteous anger, depending on the topic, like how an early arc about Akane, a reality dating show cast member who is subjected to online abuse in an arc that recalls ((content warning for suicide, if you click through) the social media bullying of Hana Kimura on Terrace House: Tokyo. It’s in moments like this where Oshi no Ko lands with a compelling sting, the writers wielding both personal experience and anecdotal knowledge to fully show the frustrations and deep pains of working in arts and entertainment, as much as the joys of it.
Available on Crunchyroll
As Suletta, the charming and socially awkward main character, used her giant mech to flatten a gunman into bloody paste, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury ended its excellent, meticulous first half by upending everything. The first mainline Gundam TV series in seven years, The Witch From Mercury takes place in a future where humanity has split between wealthy space colonists called “Spacians” and the impoverished, Earth-born “Earthians.” Suletta’s place in all this is as a student at the Asticassia School of Technology, a facility run by the interstellar megacorporation The Benerit Group.
Director Hiroshi Kobayashi and series composer Ichiro Okouchi, while not skimping on sci-fi drama, do carefully thread the needle between the intrigue of The Benerit Group and the (heightened) high school angst of its principal cast. There’s a lot going on: myriad references to The Tempest and Revolutionary Girl Utena, various reconfigurations of Gundam archetypes making their way through the story with surprising twists and turns. At the same time, the usual anti-war themes of Gundam are given a fresh angle through the examination of war-profiteering: how the cutthroat adults of this world perceive everything as a weapon or a tool, even their children.
Until that shocking watershed moment at the end of its first season, The Witch From Mercury had kept a (relatively) light tone — by no means slow, but carefully easing in newer viewers before getting to the severity expected of Gundam, allowing time for its expansive cast to show their individual charms and build their relationships. And now, in the (still unfolding) second part, that’s all at stake — when she squashed that guy, Suletta also potentially squashed her relationship with fiance Miorine. Worse still, every new episode brings with it some kind of shocking revelation, shattering emotional pain, complication of an identity crisis, or all three at once as Okouchi and co. continue to twist the knife. It’s the most accessible the series has been in some time, welcoming newcomers but not at the expense of the intense drama that the franchise made its name on.
The Witch From Mercury is utterly spellbinding as it hits its stride, keeping up the momentum and barrelling into each new wild twist with compelling aplomb. Even if you’ve never seen a Gundam series before, this one’s a must-see.
Available on Crunchyroll
Mitsumi Iwakura thinks too much, the tall and handsome Sōsuke Shima thinks perhaps too little — and the low-key high school rom-com Skip and Loafer is gently enjoyable in observing their effect on each other as soon as they meet. Moving from the countryside as part of her rather rigid life plan, Mitsumi alleviates her insecurities about adapting to city life and new peers through over-preparation. She imagines her life not one day at a time, but several decades ahead, how every decision will reflect on her “airtight” plan to become mayor of her hometown (and solve rural depopulation). Mitsumi’s carefully laid plans are often derailed, but Skip and Loafer mines most subsequent mishaps for easygoing goofs rather than outright cringe comedy… most of the time, anyway.
Produced by PA Works, a studio that put out the eccentric 2022 sleeper hits Akiba Maid War and Ya Boy Kongming, Skip and Loafer is much more down-to-earth by comparison, pleasing to the eye with its naturalistic approach to character design, its soft colors and lines. Through that visual approach, Mitsumi makes for an amusing protagonist even in the few moments when she’s not really doing anything goofy. She's drawn like slightly more of a cartoon than her friends, with her incredibly dilated, full-stop pupils and lack of eyelashes, with writer and director Kotomi Deai making it believable that people would naturally flock to her even as she bumbles through new social circles.
Sosuke is a fun mystery to unravel too, as Mitsumi (and half of her class) is instantly smitten with him and his attentive, easygoing demeanor — one that masks some insecurities of his own. The series gradually builds out a strong supporting cast of similarly insecure people looking for community. Skip and Loafer is perhaps flying a little under the radar compared to the might of various returning shows and other high-profile adaptations this spring, but its impeccable comedic timing and gentle romance places it among the best.
Available on Crunchyroll
The original Ranking of Kings series was among the very finest of its year — a somewhat old-school fantasy adventure fable with an adorable, noble hero. Bojji, a young prince who is also deaf, set out on a quest to rescue his kingdom, winning over almost all of those he encountered along the way. The anime ended on a rather definitive (and lovely) finale, so it wasn’t expected to return in any form at all really.
Treasure Chest of Courage is a spinoff rather than a sequel, a narrator providing context for where each chapter takes place along the original series’s timeline. This is supplementary, but remains winsome appointment viewing as it shows off little vignettes from the character’s lives outside of the boundaries of the original series.
These snapshots are as charming as ever. With Yōsuke Hatta resuming directorial duties, Treasure Chest of Courage is also full of bouncy, elastic animation and gorgeous color design, its idyllic storybook appearance often obscuring some real emotional maturity and the occasional bit of bloodshed. But it never gets carried away on that front, happy to remain light rather than striving for “adult” material. While its scattershot approach to narrative means that it feels far less urgent than even its rather relaxed predecessor, it’s nothing less than a pleasure to watch.
Kambole Campbell is a freelance writer for Empire Magazine, Little White Lies, Sight and Sound, Hyperallergic, and CartoonBrew. And here!
TOPICS: Anime, Disney+, HIDive, Hulu, Heavenly Delusion, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, Oshi no Ko, Ranking of Kings: The Treasure Chest of Courage, Skip and Loafer, Tengoku Daimakyou, Crunchyroll