The second ten of any anime year is an important metric. The first gets all the glory, and with good reason – that’s where the very best series of the year get to shine. But this group tells us a lot about that year – it’s just that it’s different information. Certainly, the quality of the very best shows is the most important measure of a year in anime. But depth is a big deal too (and if anything even more important to my experience covering anime over the course of the year).
Some years excel in the first list, some the second. The really good years both, and the crap years neither. 2022 had quite a good top 10, probably above-average compared to other years I’ve been doing this, but 11-20 was pretty weak. I had to stretch to find shows to fill the list in fact, which is not unusual. That was decidedly not the case in 2023, where I had series I genuinely would have liked to include in both lists that didn’t make the cut. Unmistakably then this past year was a very good one in anime, with strength both in quantity and quality.
So in summary, this batch of series has no charity in it – these are all anime I feel very comfortable including, and there are four or five others I can say the same about that didn’t make it. Any year that has 25 series on that level is a deep year (especially for romance), and we already know how good the top four was.
11. Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko! – Tomo-chan was a series that more or less came out of nowhere for me. I had no expectations of really liking it, and indeed I was not a fan of the premiere. I’m sure glad I stuck with it, because even in a year full of good romcoms this one stood out. A terrific cast, very smart comedy, and surprising depth – yep, in most years this would have been a top ten LiA series for sure. And it had the funniest gaijin girl since Sketch Book Kate.
12. Mairimashita! Iruma-kun 3rd Season – Iruma-kun has become a genuine shounen powerhouse, with two strong-selling spinoffs supplementing the main series’ huge numbers. I totally get it – this is an endlessly charming series with a wonderful protagonist and supporting cast. And it’s a case where the anime has improved on the source material through casting and judicious use of musical numbers. The third season wasn’t on a par with the second for me, largely because the “Harvest Festival” arc wasn’t the show’s’ best material and it seemed to take up about half the season. But that’s a hiigh bar to be sure.
13. Overtake! – Overtake! was at the head of a strong class of underrated fall series (in hindsight it will go down as a very solid season). Yes, Episode 9 was in the running for the best anime episode of 2023, but this show was much more than that. An excellent original sports anime is a rarity, especially at one cour (Ryman’s Club was the last one). Overtake! excelled at both the sports and character sides of the equation, and in the end it was the best motorsports anime since Capeta.
14. Tonikaku Cawaii 2nd Season – I’m including the “Joushikou-hen” episodes in this, as effectively Tonikawa had one contiguous 16-episode season (with a three week break). The main body of the season was yet another romcom from spring, and stands out both for its focus on a married couple and the fantasy subplot that runs through it. Perhaps not quite as strong as the first season on the whole, but if so it’s only by a whisker. I really love Nasa and Tsukasa and I’m hopeful their story will receive a full anime adaptation.
15. Migi to Dari – Another unheralded gem from fall. The final work by the late mangaka Sano Nami (paid tribute to in the final scene in truly poignant and lovely fashion), it exceeds her Sakamoto desu ga? both in premise and execution. Very few anime embrace surrealism and absurdity with the unwavering commitment Migi to Dari does, and the fact that the logic of the plot and the character arcs hold hold together through that is a tribute to Sano’s writing. Also to be noted is that this is a really stylish and sharp adaptation, with excellent casting and music.
16. AI no Idenshi – It’d be tempting to dismiss AI no Idenshi as a low-rent Pluto (which was clearly an influence), but it stands on its own as a worthy piece of work (I prefer to think of it as a tasty appetizer). And it’s not as though anime about the evolving role of artificial intelligence in human society could be any more timely. This show doesn’t wow you with a lavish budget, but the writing can do so if you’re the sort who pays attention and ponders what they see and hear. My favorite element of AI no Idenshi is the way it never spells out the answers to any of the vexing questions it poses – only forces us to ponder the questions themselves.
17. Yuzuki-san Shi no Yonkyoudai. – One of 2023’s broken records – tons of romcoms, and under-appreciated fall shows. Like Overtake and Migi to Dari, Yuzuki-san Shi no Yonkyoudai. deserved a lot more attention that it got. But it’s a shoujo about boys with no overt BL pandering, so the audience in English was always going to be very limited. A really wonderful series that isn’t afraid to depict overt emotion yet never descends into the maudlin or saccharine, this is yet another 2023 series that screams out to be ranked higher than it is. Like AI no Idenshi it’s an incomplete adaptation of a largely untranslated manga (though this one is more popular).
18. Mix: Meisei Story – Nidome no Natsu, Sora no Mukou e – Mix is a long way from perfect. But it’s still Adachi in his most Adachi form and watching it, it’s hard to escape the bittersweet realization that it’s almost surely the last series about which that will be true. There were certainly some pacing issues with the second season but as the connections to Touch started to come into clearer focus, the emotional gravitas increased. I never felt that Mix quite figured out what it wanted to be in that respect – a sequel or an homage – but it’s an interesting dynamic. As with Major 2nd we have no way of knowing whether or not a third season will happen, but that they represent the last icons of golden age of baseball manga is undeniable.
19. Koori Zokusei Danshi to Cool na Douryou Joshi – These last couple of spots are where it really starts to get tough in a competitive year like this. There are a lot of series I want to include and unlike the Top Ten there’s no consolation prize for those that don’t make it. Truth be told the last five or six series are basically a wash but I could only pick two of them, and I decided Koori Zokusei Danshi would be one of those. I do love the workplace comedy niche (it feels like a niche more than a genre somehow) and this show was a very winning example. The premise is silly but the cheekiness and nonchalance with which it’s approached totally it makes work. Very sweet, very fun, and very easy to like.
20. Tsuki no Ko Megane Wasureta – I confess a certain surprise that a GoHands series could ever make this list. But while they didn’t exactly knock this adaptation out of the park, the token GoHands weirdness was largely absent after the first scenes of the premiere. I love this manga, and the anime got male lead Kaede wrong to a large extent. But they did get Ai exactly right, and the look of the series was for the most part rather nice. I haven’t given up hope that we’ll see a sequel here, and the fact that the production committee still cares about promoting the series is a good sign in that respect. It’s a very sweet middle school romcom (my favorite subgenre of the type) and a fitting way to close out the countdown for this stupendous year for anime romance.