Something is happening in the anime fandom, and anime fans aren’t pleased.
If you’re someone who likes to watch anime, you may have been hearing the backlash against Amazon’s new channel, Anime Strike. The service has angered fans by snapping up exclusive licenses to many of the most anticipated shows and putting them behind a steep paywall. Meanwhile, this season sees Netflix continue its practice of exclusively licensing shows, then locking them away until they can release a season at time—long after the show has already finished airing in Japan.
Why does this matter? Both strategies effectively remove a show from popular conversation, and thus from the notice of a large portion of viewers. It’s a frustrating reversal of the increasing accessibility and reach that anime has enjoyed in the last few years under services like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Daisuki. Rather than opening up the market, Amazon and Netflix appear to be shutting the door on old fans and new viewers alike. This is a trend I very much don’t love, especially since my most anticipated show of the season—Welcome to the Ballroom—is a victim of this new distribution regime.
With my Anime Strike tirade out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. As always, I have watched as many of the summer season’s new offerings as I can stand, and picked just five of the best new shows worth your time. Yes, unfortunately many of them are on Anime Strike. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying what this season has to offer—a big helping of of fantasy adventure, a sweet romance, and, of course, ballroom dancing.
Welcome to the Ballroom
Tatara Fujita’s plan to get through school consists of keeping his head down and not giving bullies any reason to hit him. When he’s saved from a back-alley beating by a motorcycle-riding ballroom dance champion, Tatara is reluctantly roped into a trial class at the nearby studio. What starts as polite interest becomes a fascination—for the first time, Tatara finds something he wants to be good at, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get to the top.
Continuing the trend of anime about unusual sports (ice skating, anyone?), this sports show—yes, ballroom is a sport in this context—is this season’s must-watch title. Adapting a popular manga by Tomo Takeuchi, Ballroom has everything one might want in a sports show: a plucky underdog, an aloof rival, grueling training, and an incredibly infectious enthusiasm for its subject. The greatest challenge with this adaptation was always going to be the dancing, and so far the animation team at Production I.G. has done a stellar job with it. I really, really love this manga, and I encourage anyone who can stomach giving money to Amazon to check it out.
For fans of: Yuri!!! On Ice, Haikyuu!!, Yowamushi Pedal
Watch it now on Anime Strike
Love is hard, especially when you’re a teenager. Tsuredure Children tells the loosely intertwined stories of young love, from the unrequited crush of a girl on her upperclassman to an unlikely connection between a school delinquent and the straight-laced student council president.
This warm, funny little romance show has been easily the most pleasant surprise of the season for me. An adaptation of Toshiya Wakabayashi’s 4-koma manga (that’s a four-panel comic, sort of like the manga version of a comic strip), Tsuredure Children is a half-length show, but twelve minutes is kind of the perfect dose of these quirky interactions. Not much more needs to be said here—the charms of the show speak for itself. Check it out when you want to feel warm and fuzzy.
For fans of: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Horimiya, Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless, Daily Lives of High School Boys
Watch it now on Crunchyroll (thank goodness)
Made in Abyss
Riko is training to be a Cave Raider, a group of elite explorers that probe the depths of the mysterious and dangerous Abyss. No one knows how the Abyss came to be, but expeditions have revealed rare magical artifacts and creatures unlike anything on the surface. After Riko’s life is saved by a strange mechanical boy in the upper levels of the Abyss, she is more determined than ever to descend deeper into the chasm. There, she hopes to find not just treasure, but also clues about her mother, a legendary explorer who went missing over a decade ago.
This fantasy adventure (based on a web manga by Akihito Tsukushi) has an old-school quality about it, feeling more akin to Nausicaa, Dennou Coil, or Hunter x Hunter than recent isekai offerings that ape JRPG-style fantasy worlds. It is already obvious that the strength of Made in Abyss lies in its worldbuilding—right off the bat, we are offered a magical, immersive, and lethal world begging to be explored. The first two episodes also reveal this to be a polished production, with an almost cinematic atmosphere and great attention put into small details and large, scary monsters alike. Abyss has definitely caught my interest, but proceed with caution—manga readers warn that the childlike character designs belie much darker content later in the series.
For fans of: Hunter x Hunter, From the New World/Shin Sekai Yori, Suisei no Gargantia, Patema Inverted
Watch it now on Anime Strike
Altair: A Record of Battles
Mahmut is a military and political prodigy, one of the youngest pasha in Turkiye’s storied history. When the powerful Balt-Rhein Empire accuses Turkiye of assassinating one of their foreign ministers, war between the two powerful nations seems inevitable. Mahmut is willing to do anything to prevent the conflict. But even if he can discover the truth behind the assassination, can he get the council of generals to believe him?
This historical fantasy, based on a gorgeous manga by Kotono Kato, mushes up 16th century Mediterranean history to create a rich world predicated on savvy political maneuvering and the constant threat of multinational war. As a fan of the manga, I am hopeful but not entirely sold on this adaptation so far. The first episode gets bogged down in flashbacks and passes over opportunities to streamline initial story arcs. The second episode, however, is much stronger, and I’m hoping that the show will hit its stride as the plot picks up. I am keeping an eye on Altair, and you should too—it’s not often that we get such an intricate fantasy set in this region of the world.
For fans of: The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Yona of the Dawn, Kingdom, Magi
Watch it now on (you guessed it) Anime Strike
Little Witch Academia
Ever since Akko saw a magical performance from celebrity witch Shiny Chariot as a child, she has dreamed of doing magic. When she’s admitted into Luna Nova Magical Academy, an all-girls school for young witches, Akko thinks she’s one step closer to her idol. But magic school isn’t as easy as it looks. Besides being the only student from a non-magical family, which makes her stick out like a sore thumb, Akko just can’t quite seem to get any of her spells right—or manage to stay out of trouble—no matter how hard she tries.
FINALLY, right? Netflix has at last released Little Witch Academia (well, at least the first half) from its holding pen and made it bingeable to the wider world. I’ve described this show previously as Harry Potter meets Saturday morning cartoons, and I still think that’s a pretty apt description. The colorful, witchy cast plus Studio Trigger’s madcap visual humor and taste for splashy action makes this a fun watch for all ages. This TV version gives us more plot and characters than did either of two shorts (Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade), so buckle up for a bit more substance and lot more goofy magical adventures.
For fans of: The other two Little Witch Academia anime, I guess.
Watch it now on Netflix
Watch are you watching this season? Tell us in the comments!