The summer anime season (which goes until the end of September) has been rather quiet, with a lower concentration of returning or big name shows, though this is no surprise, what with the Winter and Spring seasons as packed as they were (that said, One Piece is always on). That doesn’t mean there’s nothing great to watch, however — the lack of blockbuster shows leaves room for stranger and unlikely hits, which can now stand out more than they could when huge anime series like Oshi No Ko and returning old favorites like Gundam were crowding the schedule. Here are the five anime of Summer 2023 that you simply shouldn’t miss.
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Jujutsu Kaisen is on the precipice of a major turning point, the series’s immense popularity solidified by its rather ruthless “Shibuya Incident” arc from writer Gege Akutami. Like the comic however, it’s prefaced by a flashback arc called "Hidden Inventory/Premature Death,” a prequel story about the quirky but all-powerful sorcerer Satoru Gojo and his close friend turned enemy Suguru Geto, taking place before the rest of the series and also before the movie, Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
The show itself has returned a little different — Shōta Goshozono’s taken over for Sunghoo Park as series director, bringing with him a new art style, brighter color, and more expressive backgrounds than the slightly murkier palette of the last season. It’s a subtle adjustment, but an incredibly welcome one, and part of why the “Hidden Inventory” arc concludes with one of the show’s finest ever episodes. It’s a peek into the isolation of Geto after a traumatic event, his growing misanthropy reflected in the sound design as the sound of rain turns to garish applause, the use of various close-ups making it feel as though that past event is closing in around him.
Jujutsu Kaisen was fun before, but this season feels creatively reinvigorated — typically the most artful episodes would revolve around combat, but the fifth episode, “Premature Death,” is almost purely psychological. The show’s various rules around its battles can feel a little too arcane and convoluted at times, so to have Goshozono cut through the noise with such a clear-eyed study of one character’s existential crisis felt incredibly striking. With even worse things to come in the season’s second part, the promise of things getting exceedingly dire for its characters feels more exciting than ever.
Streaming on Crunchyroll
“I am, by occupation, a detective — which is appropriate, because I can only use my head,” quips Aya Rindo, an immortal woman who is currently reduced to just a talking disembodied head. While she speaks, her partner Tsugaru Shinuchi (who’s half-human, half-demon) gesticulates on her behalf, a proxy for physical emphasis on her deductions.
A mystery series adapted from Yugo Aosaki’s novels by series director Mamoru Hatakeyama (Kaguya-sama: Love is War) and Noboru Takagi (Golden Kamuy), it begins in the late 19th century, in a Meiji era where monsters and fantasy creatures are common knowledge. Decapitated by an unknown assailant, Aya seeks out Tsugaru to help her find her missing body (Aya is carried around in a birdcage by her combat-ready maid Shizuku). Along the way, they solve cases involving the supernatural.
After a snappy introductory episode, Hatakeyama wastes no time, jumping the show forward in time to a point when they have already solved a few cases on their way west. From there, it’s split into three episode mini-arcs, starting with that a murder mystery in a French countryside mansion inhabited by a family of peaceful vampires, and then moving onto that of a gentleman thief, using the Victorian Gothic setting as an excuse to throw a ridiculous host of familiar characters at the wall like Arsène Lupin, Sherlock Holmes, Victor Frankenstein, Carmilla — hell, even The Phantom of the Opera is there.
Even with all that madness, the anime remains very involved in the mystery-solving, getting into granular, procedural details of evidence gathering and investigation, coupled with the unique twists of a world where monsters are a common occurrence. There’s some well-choreographed action, but the verbal sparring is just as engaging in its dance, as in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, its whip-smart dialogue coupled with playful editing and creative visual compositions. This combination of wit, the macabre, and the outright absurd makes the bluntly-titled Undead Murder Farce one of the more unique shows of the season.
Streaming on Netflix
Like Undead Murder Farce, My Happy Marriage is a fantasy show set in an alternate Meiji-era — spirits and magic are common knowledge, though also a dying art. Unlike Hatakeyama’s show, My Happy Marriage waits to tip its hand about the supernatural side of the story. This is more of a relationship drama between an unlikely couple, saving each other from isolation.
It’s the Cinderella story of Miyo Saimori, a girl treated as a servant by her own family, disparaged by her cruel stepmother and stepsister, and never defended by her father Shinichi. She starts the series as a prisoner in her own home, and remains so thanks to her utterly obliterated self-esteem. Her stepsister Kaya enters an arranged marriage with the man that Miyo likes, and Miyo is married off to another man, Kiyoka Kudo — intended as one last insult from her family, as Kiyoka has a reputation for cruelty. Thankfully the truth is that he’s aloof, jaded perhaps, but not cruel.
As Miyo slowly opens up and recalls her past in that house, she endures great emotional punishment (the title feels vaguely ironic because of this), but it makes the route to her contentment all the sweeter. (Still, those who are sensitive to depictions of parental abuse may want to proceed with caution — it’s a continuing thread throughout the series that gets incredibly harsh by its sixth episode). My Happy Marriage’s delicate colors and considered character animation brings to mind Violet Evergarden, another Netflix-hosted anime which also unpacks repressed emotion and its character’s violent past in an alternate universe setting.
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Another high-profile shonen adaptation, albeit one that is ironically plagued by issues in production and various delays, Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead amusingly riffs on the zombie apocalypse narrative by first framing it as a story about stifling corporate culture. The apocalypse basically becomes wish fulfillment — a young salaryman named Akira, working in video production, has his idealism ground out of him.
The lavishly produced first episode focuses on the allegorical connection between zombies and contemporary society through comparison to life as an office drone, Akira’s bloodshot eyes watching a laptop screen as a post-apocalyptic film plays in the background. Zom 100 never hedges about the move from school to corporate office work being the true apocalypse.
Zom 100 vastly differs from a lot of zombie fiction with its design choices alone, awash with vivid color; it’s in intentional contrast to the more austere hellscapes of something like The Walking Dead. Here, the visuals reflect Akira’s renewed energy now that he’s free from soul-crushing work obligations. The found family he gathers soon after doesn’t quite have the same mindset, but that doesn’t stop them from going on outlandish adventures together as he tries to cross things off his bucket list, things that three years of non-stop work never gave him a chance to do.
Streaming on Crunchyroll
The 2021 adaptation of the rom-com manga Horimiya was pleasant enough, but it was a rush job, restricted by a short episode order and what felt like uncertainty that the animation staff would get to continue. A vast swath of material from manga writer Hero’s series was cut out of necessity — and The Missing Pieces, as the title suggests, adds it back in.
This probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone unfamiliar with Horimiya, so: the story is a romance between Hori and Miyamura, two high schoolers hiding a side of themselves from their peers. (Anyone who watches and likes this premise should watch the classic Kare Kano). Hori’s secret is that she’s basically the one looking after her family. Miyamura’s secret is that outside of school, he’s more of a goth than a bookish type; school regulations mean he has to hide his tattoos and dozens of piercings. It’s pretty low stakes stuff, but also a rather sweet story about people finding comfort in their personal insecurities. The series slowly expands its supporting cast, all with their own neuroses.
It’s similar to the side stories of Ranking of Kings: Treasure Chest of Courage — a lengthy but entertaining series of vignettes that feel more like fan service than a complete story. Though it’s disorientating to visit these stories retroactively, the more easygoing pace is welcome, slowing down where Horimiya sped things up considerably. There’s undoubtedly a fan re-edit in progress to put all this in chronological order. But in the meantime, it’s a nice and somewhat unexpected return to a show that felt like it didn’t get enough of a chance.
Kambole Campbell is a freelance writer for Empire Magazine, Little White Lies, Sight and Sound, Hyperallergic, and CartoonBrew. And here!