The winter anime season is upon us, and I’m sorry to say it, but it’s looking pretty grim. Like a polar vortex of mediocrity, winter has brought down a flurry of bland mecha, unfunny comedies, and half-hearted light novel adaptations. But all is not lost—in addition to continuing series from fall and the return of Silver Spoon, there are a few new cartoons that look like they can get us through this harsh winter. From the heavily anticipated Space Dandy to surprises like Noragami and the weird Hozuki no Reitetsu, new anime is a click away. Here are some of the best shows of the winter season that are available to watch right now.
Space Dandy follows the exploits of the eponymous Dandy (Junichi Suwabe, Ian Sinclair), an alien hunter whose job it is to look for undiscovered alien species—the rarer the alien, the heftier the reward. With his sidekicks QT, a broken-down robot, and Meow, a lazy Betelgeusian feline, in tow, Dandy bumbles his way around the galaxy looking for his next meal ticket and making pit stops at a galactic chain of Hooters-esque restaurants. Along the way, the crew of the Aloha Oe must also dodge the minions of a powerful space empire, who are looking for Dandy for mysterious reasons.
A new project from Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) as well as a slew of incredibly talented writers, animators, and composers working at Studio BONES (Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Fullmetal Alchemist), it is safe the say that Space Dandy is the most hyped show this season. It also has the distinction of airing on both Japanese and American TV at the same time, receiving a simuldub with American voice actors for Cartoon Network.
So is Space Dandy worth all the excitement? Kind of. Space Dandy packs in lots of goofy alien fun and psychedelic visuals with promises of more interesting characters to come. On the other hand, Dandy is a rather unlikeable hero and the boob jokes do get rather tiresome. Right now Space Dandy is a fairly solid sci-fi comedy, but with the staff Watanabe has on board that’s basically a given. I’m looking forward to some more developments down the road, especially the involvement of the waitress, Honey—that lady looks like she’s got a few cards up her (nonexistent) sleeves.
For fans of: Cowboy Bebop, Futurama, Yutaka Nakamura cubes
Watch it on Hulu, or on Cartoon Network Saturdays at 11:30pm
Noragami’s protagonist is one Delivery God Yato (Hiroshi Kamiya), an extremely minor god without followers, funds, or a shrine of his own. In order to accrue the cash necessary to launch him to the big time, he scrapes by doing odd jobs—from fixing pipes to looking for lost pets—for 5 yen apiece. When high schooler Hiyori Ito (Maaya Uchida) is nearly killed trying to save Yato (who, being immortal, is rather careless of large, fast-moving trucks) from onrushing traffic, her soul is knocked loose from her mortal body, leaving her in a state of spiritual limbo. Desperate to return to her mundane life, she hires Yato to help her find a way to return her soul to normal.
A minor deity seeking followers is not the most original premise out there (I’m sure there are even a few people who still remember Kannagi), but Noragami gives it a fresh spin with a slick, stylish premier. Likable characters—Yato is a rather endearingly self-aggrandizing and Hiyori takes to the whole “your soul doesn’t stick to your body” thing with surprising equanimity—are a good start here, and the exaggerated character animation really brings them to life. Character introductions and world-building are balanced nicely with humor and action, and it’s clear that the director has a good handle on tone and pacing. And while Noragami may not have the same caliber of flashy animation as Space Dandy, it will certainly remind you why no one does action anime like BONES.
For fans of: Ao no Exorcist/Blue Exorcist, Hataraku Maou-sama!/The Devil is a Part Timer!, xxxHOLiC, mixed martial arts
Watch it on Hulu
Hozuki no Reitetsu
In Buddhist hell, the great King Enma judges the souls of those who cross the Sanzu River into his domain. But aging baby boomers and restless evil spirits have placed an unprecedented burden on hell’s resources and personnel. The highly competent Hozuki (Hiroki Yasumoto), Enma’s chief aide, picks up the bureaucratic slack, dealing with everything from demon workflow to disgruntled mythological figures on a day to day basis, all while trying to find time for his own hobbies, which include watching nature programs and growing goldfish plants.
Hozuki no Reitetsu is a slice-of-life show about demon office workers in hell. It’s got a sharp, sadistic sense of humor, a cast that includes the legendary Momotaro as well as Satan, and a cheerfully bizarre setting that features goldfish plants that are just goldfish sitting on top of long green stalks (what?). Hozuki is a delightful character to follow around as he cleans up little chthonic managerial issues: he’s a tough boss, but he knows how to get the job done right. WIT Studio (Attack on Titan) has done a great job with the visuals here as well—the dingy traditional watercolors as backgrounds are a particularly nice touch, but the show in general has a high level of polish. I’ll be the first to admit that this is a rather obscure one for western audiences, but if you don’t mind boning up on your Japanese mythology, Hozuki no Reitetsu is definitely worth a shot.
For fans of: Polar Bear Cafe, Working!!, Servant x Service, Buddhism
Watch it on Crunchyroll
Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda / World Conquest Zvezda Plot
Sekai Seifuku’s protagonist Asuta Jimon (Natsuki Hanae, much in demand this season), a high school runaway, is caught out on the streets alone when emergency martial law is declared, prompting citizens to retreat into their homes for the evening. Wandering the empty city, he meets a strange young girl named Kate Hoshimiya (Misaki Kuno), who declares that she will conquer the world. While tagging along with Kate, Asuta encounters members of a strange organization called Zvezda who call Kate their leader, and is quickly drafted as their newest recruit.
A new project from director Tensai Okamura (Darker Than Black, Ao no Exorcist), Sekai Seifuku was a bit of a mystery going into the winter season. No one quite knew what to expect, and two episodes in, I’ll admit that I’m still not sure. First of all, Sekai Seifuku looks great: it has a bouncy, colorful aesthetic, and the character designs are all very distinctive—although I do wish they’d designed a few more clothes onto Kate. The show throws you into a world where no one apparently bats an eye at secret organizations, magical attacks, giant monsters, and martial law, and the tone is somehow maintaining a balance between quite serious and utterly ridiculous. And yet despite all this weirdness, Sekai Seifuku is entertaining and fast-paced, sporting a cast of weird characters with grand ambitions and an intriguing, if baffling, setting. This one will probably require a bit of patience to see where it’s going, but based on the premiere, it’s almost certain to be a fun ride.
For fans of: Gatchaman Crowds, Shinryaku! Ika Musume/Squid Girl, skin-tight latex
Watch it on Daisuki
Despite being the son of the local yakuza gang’s boss, Raku Ichijou (Kouki Uchiyama) leads a normal high school life: going to class, participating in school activities, and talking to his crush, Kosaki Onodera (Kana Hanazawa). Raku secretly treasures a keyhole pendant that was given to him as a child by a girl he can’t remember, dreaming that one day he will meet the girl with the key and fulfill their childhood promise. But his peaceful life is turned upside down when he meets the presumptuous and difficult Chitoge Kirisaki (Nao Touyama), the daughter of a rival gang head. In order to keep violence from breaking out between the gangs, Raku is forced to unite the families by pretending to date Chitoge.
A childhood promise and a harem romcom? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. While Nisekoi’s premise wins no points for originality, this Shonen Jump adaptation has had a surprisingly enjoyable premiere. Nisekoi has a good sense of humor (the yakuza in particular are pleasantly goofy) and a likable long-suffering lead in Raku, but what really makes it work so far is the art and direction. Animation studio Shaft (Bakemonogatari, Madoka Magica) has brought their idiosyncratic visual style to this material with very good results, elevating what could easily be an extremely by-the-book adaptation into a quirky romantic comedy (though be warned: a 13 episode run practically guarantees an inconclusive end).
For fans of: Love Hina, Seto no Hanayome/My Bride is a Mermaid, OreShura, Shaft head tilts
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time
A girl named Yokoi (Kana Hanazawa) sits next to a boy named Seki-kun (Hiro Shimono, though he never speaks) every day in class. Instead of listening to the lesson, Seki-kun constructs a vast array of fabulous distractions on his desktop, from elaborate domino courses to a mock war using shogi pieces. Yokoi finds herself drawn into Seki-kun’s mischief while trying to avoid the eyes of the teacher.
Each episode of this show is only ten minutes long, but that’s all it needs to execute its simple premise perfectly. Seki-kun’s creations are always creative and unexpected, and the silent struggle between Yokoi and Seki-kun throughout each episode is hugely entertaining. Tonari no Seki-kun is funnier in ten minutes than most of the full length comedies this season.
For fans of: Nichijou, Daily Lives of High School Boys, silent glares
Watch it on Crunchyroll
Kelly Quinn is an assistant editor at Tor Books. She can also be found on Twitter.