BRONX, NY – Happy holidays, readers! I hope you are all well and enjoying the last week of 2022. A few days ago, I was skimming through my planner and realized that I watched a lot of dope animated shows this year. I love animated series because I get to see how far the creatives in the studio pushed their limits from the art style to the storytelling. If you have been searching for recommendations, here are the series I got to experience this year in no particular order:
Maya and the Three (2021)
Studio: Tangent Animation
If you are looking for an adventure full of South American folklore and a lot of heart, Maya and the Three is the one for you. The story revolves around 15-year-old Maya, who doesn’t want to be a princess, but a warrior to her people in the Kingdom of Teca. During her Quinceañera/coronation Maya learns about the true circumstances of her birth when the God of Death, Lord Mictlan, arrives with a threat to her and the other kingdoms. To save everyone, Maya embarks on a journey to fulfill a prophecy about leading three warriors into a battle with the Gods.
This miniseries weaves in so many themes: family, adultery, mental health, grief, Brujeria, and more. Gods from Incan, Mayan, and Aztec mythology make an appearance, and to top it off, the all-star Latinx cast! If you enjoyed The Book of Life, then you will love this show. I will warn you to have tissues ready for the last two episodes. I admit I was not emotionally prepared.
Studio: Fortiche Productions/ Riot Games
You do not need to have played League of Legends to experience this series. Sisters Vi and Powder were surviving with other orphans in Zaun. The siblings are separated when a mission goes terribly wrong due to Powder’s involvement. Powder takes on the name Jinx after being brought up by a gang of villains and gaining favoritism from their leader, Silko. Vi had spent most of her time in prison. The two of them soon find each other on opposite ends of a social class war involving the rich residents of Piltover and the oppressed “citizens” of Zaun. Meanwhile, an apprentice named Jayce discovers the element of Arcane and presents it to the leaders of Piltover, unaware they want to weaponize the magic.
This is a dark series and not recommended for kids. Trauma, PTSD, grief, and classism are major themes. I loved the unique animation style. To me, it resembled a blend of oil painting and steampunk. The camerawork is well done, and the writing overall is phenomenal.
The World Ends With You (2021)
Streaming: Hulu/ Funimation
Studio: DOMERICA/ Shin-Ei Animation
This one is a personal favorite of mine. When the news broke out that Square Enix was going to adapt The World Ends With You into an anime, I celebrated. Based on the video game, the story follows Neku Sakuraba, who wakes up to see he has become a player in the Reaper’s game, a seven-day competition that fulfills the wish of a player who recently died if they win, including being resurrected. Neku soon meets three other players: Shiki, Rhyme, and Beat, and soon learns the value of teamwork and friendships while trying to survive the battles the Reapers present to him. Joshua is another player in the game, but Neku has a hard time figuring out if he is a friend or foe.
Music is a big part of TWEWY. Takeharu Ishimoto composed the score and rearranged most of the tracks to fit the anime (it’s available on Spotify). I am happy the art style of the game was transitioned perfectly into the anime. Street art is also an influence, and you will see some dope murals while watching Neku fight for a second chance. No news yet if the sequel, Neo: The World Ends With You will have an anime.
The Dragon Prince (2018)
Studio: Wonderstorm/ Bardel Entertainment
Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will love The Dragon Prince. This fantasy series stars Prince Ezran and his stepbrother, Callum, who reside in the Kingdom of Katolis. To end an ongoing feud between the magical beings of Xadia and the human kingdoms, the Moonshadow elves decide to assassinate King Harrow of Katolis. Rayla, an assassin-in-training, runs into Callum and Ezran during the mission and the three of them discover a secret in the castle that changes the course of history in Xadia: the egg of the King of the Dragons. While the trio faces many obstacles along their journey to return the egg to the Dragon Queen, Callum learns he is a mage and can harness the power of the elements.
Aaron Ehasz was one of the head writers for ATLA and you will find so many references to it throughout the show. The representation is also amazing! An example is General Amaya, who is mute and communicates in sign language. No captions are used while she is signing and that’s how it should be since captions don’t magically appear in real life (note: just learn American Sign Language. It’s a beautiful language). Netflix has already made a deal with Wonderstorm for seven seasons, so more adventures are on the way.
Spy X Family (2022)
Streaming: Hulu/ Funimation/ Crunchyroll
Studio: Wit Studios/ Clover Works
My friends were raving about this anime, so I had to give it a shot and I have no regrets. Based on the best-selling manga created by Tatsuya Endo, Spy x Family is a comedy that revolves around a spy who goes by the codename Twilight. Twilight needed to acquire a fake family to be successful in his latest mission: Operation Strix. The spy gets more than he bargained for after adopting a little girl, Anya, who is a telepath, and marries Yor, a young woman who turns out to be the top assassin in Japan. The best part? Anya is the only one who knows about her “parents” true identities as they are both doing their best to hide it from one another. Twilight chooses the name Loid Forger as his alias. What could possibly go wrong with all the secrets the Forger family harbors?
The dynamics between the three characters are what really make this anime special. Many will find the scenarios the Forger family find themselves in exaggerated, but that is the beauty of the humor sprinkled with heartfelt moments in the writing. Season 2 and a movie have already been confirmed for 2023.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020)
Studio: Dreamworks Animation Studios/ Mir
Let me start out by saying that I had never seen a color pallet so “pink” for an animated series until I watched Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. Yet, it absolutely works! Thirteen-year-old Kipo lives in a world where humans are living in burrows to hide from the animal mutants (mutes) that rule the surface. When a giant mute attacks her burrow, Kipo is separated from her father and friends. To survive on the surface and find her way back home, Kipo befriends two other human children: Wolf and Benson, and mutes: Mondu and Dave. As the squad inches closer to their destination, Kipo discovers that the humans were wrong about their views on the mutes, especially when she starts turning into one.
This series surprised me in so many ways. I laughed a lot with the characters, in particular, Dave. The environmental message is clear as humans are the very reason Kipo’s world turned out the way it did. Dreamworks did a great job keeping the 2-D animation art style. I found myself rooting for Kipo the entire time while vibing to the quirky soundtrack.
Marvel's What If...? (2021)
Nothing said, “welcome to the multiverse” in the MCU louder than Marvel’s What If..? The anthology series takes you for a ride as the character, The Watcher, narrates the events happening in different worlds. Fan-favorites like Peggy Carter, T’Challa, Doctor Strange, Loki, Black Widow, and more are placed in various scenarios, making this show feel like a huge collection of fan fiction, but with a big budget.
Marvel did an amazing job with their first animated series in the MCU. I wasn’t sure if any of the stories presented would be canon, but the latest Doctor Strange film answered that question for me. I enjoyed watching some of the villains try to play heroes (Killmonger). Chadwick Boseman has his last performance as King T’Challa in the show with his voice acting. Season 2 is already in the works.
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation/ Amblin Television
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot made their big return after 22 years off the air. Hulu revived the beloved series, and it did not skip a beat in either animation or writing. The Warner brothers and their witty little sister are still causing chaos at Warner Bros. studios while navigating all the modern changes like social media, Bluetooth technology, and keeping up with pop culture references. They also have the honor of annoying the new CEO Nora Rita Norita. Although most of the supporting cast of characters were cut from the reboot (i.e. Slappy Squirrel), it would have been a sin if Pinky and The Brain had been left out. Thankfully, the famous lab rats have their own segment within the show.
Animaniacs came back at the perfect time, which was during the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The zany siblings brought humor that was needed, especially with their punchlines on the mess that was (and still is) the U.S. leadership. Having the original voice actors reprise their roles kept the nostalgia for us 90’s babies. I was taken back to when I would watch the show as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup with my bowl of cereal. Also, the updated theme song is so good! The final season of Animaniacs will stream on Hulu February 17th, 2023.
Over The Garden Wall (2014)
Streaming: Hulu/ HBOMax
Studio: Cartoon Network Studios
I finally decided to watch Over the Garden Wall after hearing so many great things about it. The Cartoon Network miniseries follows Wirt and his half-brother, Greg, who are trying to find their way home after getting lost in a dark forest. They are later joined by a bluebird named Beatrice, who does her best to keep the boys in line. As the trio ventures deeper into the forest, they meet strange characters and go through a variety of even weirder scenarios while completely unaware of the danger that has been following them.
I won’t lie, while watching the first few episodes I kept asking myself “what the hell is going on?” The tone of the show reminded me of Courage the Cowardly Dog. It took a while for me to understand where exactly the storyline was going, and I can say that the wait was worth it. I will leave it at that to not spoil anything for those of you who have not watched it yet. This is a great miniseries to watch in the fall.
Forest of Piano (2018)
Do you enjoy classical music? I admit, the genre is not one I enjoy often, but watching so many pieces incorporated into Forest of Piano made me feel like I was at a private concert. Kai Ichinose grew up in a poor neighborhood. His only sense of comfort is a broken piano in a forest, and it seems he is the only one who can bring out the sound from it. When Kai meets his classmate, Shuhei Amamiya, the two instantly become close friends through their love of music. As time passes, Shuhei begins to see Kai as his biggest rival in the performance world. Kai’s life changes when he is given the opportunity to be trained by one of the best piano players in the country, Sosuke Aijino.
This anime is all about experiencing classical music via the emotions of the characters. Kai gives his heart in all the concerts he performs, especially while playing compositions from Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. Frédéric Chopin was the biggest influence on the series. As for the animation itself, I applaud Gaina for paying attention to the details when it comes to playing piano. You can see and hear the different styles as each character performs. The manga, The Perfect World of Kai (Piano No Mori) was written by Makoto Isshiki.
Cardcaptor Sakura (1998)
Streaming: Netflix/ Funimation/ Crunchyroll
I saved this one for last because I wanted to watch something that brought back some childhood memories. Since I watched the entire Sailor Moon series last year, I wanted to keep the theme of magical girls, so for 2022, I went with Cardcaptor Sakura. When Sakura Kinomoto opens a mysterious book found in her father’s library, she accidentally releases all the clow cards. Kyro, the guardian of the clow cards, assigns Sakura the role of the cardcaptor. Her task is to find and seal all the clow cards before they wreak havoc on the world. Sakura, Kyro, and Sakura’s best friend, Tomoyo, do their best to save the world while trying to get through middle school.
I had been wanting to rewatch this anime in order. Anime was hard to find a few years ago, but now we thankfully live in a time where it’s available through various sources. One of the things I enjoyed about Cardcaptor Sakura is the character development. Compared to other animes I have watched, this one felt like life was going at a natural pace for Sakura and her friends. The series ran from 1998 – 2000. The Clear Card arc premiered in 2018. There is still no news about a second season for that one.
I got a lot more shows to watch in the upcoming year. I hope you found this list helpful. Are their any shows you would suggest for me to try? Let me know! As always, stay safe and keep warm during this already brutal winter!
Last Updated: December 28, 2022