Summer anime is upon us at last, but while temperatures in the northern hemisphere are inching upward, my feelings about this season’s offerings are lukewarm at best. While we’ve got a few notable sequels—Gatchaman Crowds Insight, for one, along with the first new Dragon Ball series in almost twenty years—most of the season is struggling to squeak above utter mediocrity. Still, as always, there are a few worthy contenders among the new shows this season, including a picturesque fantasy romance, a lively 90s throwback, a gritty crime story, and a quirky supernatural school comedy.
With simulcasts in full swing, there’s no reason not to dive in. Crank up the A/C and check out these top picks for the summer season.
Snow White with the Red Hair / Akagami no Shirayuki-hime
Shirayuki (voiced by Saori Hayami) is a humble herbalist in the country of Tanbarun who was born with striking apple-red hair. When her unusual locks catch the unwanted attention of Tanbarun’s prince, Shirayuki opts to flee her home rather than become his concubine. Shirayuki heads for the neighboring country of Clarines, where she runs into a mysterious young man, Zen (Ryota Ohsaka). When the prince sends his men to retrieve Shirayuki, Zen interferes, revealing that he is a prince of Clarines. With Zen’s help, Shirayuki escapes Tanbarun, and sets out to build a life and career in her new country.
This fantasy romance, based on a popular manga by Sorata Akizuki, has a quiet kind of charm. Shirayuki is a resourceful protagonist who is driven by her desire to choose her own fate, and Zen, a somewhat naive and impetuous prince, is earnest and steadfast in his friendship with Shirayuki. Akagami is not the kind of series driven by thrilling plot developments, but by the slowly evolving relationships between the characters. With seasoned director Masashiro Ando (Sword of the Stranger, Blast of the Tempest) helming production at Bones (Blood Blockade Battlefront, Space Dandy), the series is in good hands, and the clean and colorful visuals make this show a pleasure to watch. If a laid-back romance sounds up your alley, there’s no better option this season than Akagami.
For fans of: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii/The World is Still Beautiful, Akatsuki no Yona/Yona of the Dawn (not really in tone, but hey, they both have red hair), Spice and Wolf
Watch it now on Hulu and Funimation
Ushio and Tora / Ushio to Tora
Middle schooler Ushio Aotsuki (Tasuku Hatanaka) is the son of a temple family, and has grown up hearing stories about his heroic ancestor, a man who defeated a powerful demon with a weapon called the Beast Spear. While cleaning out the temple’s storeroom, Ushio stumbles upon a hidden cellar, where (to the great shock of no one who has ever watched shounen anime) he finds the monster himself, pinned down by the legendary spear. Unfortunately for Ushio, it’s not as simple as shutting up the cellar and walking away—the unsealed monster has attracted heaps of smaller demons. Ushio is forced to release the creature, who he names Tora (Rikiya Koyama), in order to defeat the demons—but pinning him down again will not be so easy. Thus begins the grudging partnership between Ushio and Tora.
This fantasy action show, a belated adaptation of an award-winning 90s manga, is brought to us by studio MAPPA (Rage of Bahamut, Punchline) and director Satoshi Nishimura (director of another 90s favorite, Trigun). Ushio to Tora virtually oozes 90s, from the character designs to the cartoony slapstick comedy, not to mention the completely straight way they run at a premise that we’ve been seeing variations of for the last twenty years. That said, Ushio to Tora is pretty darn fun. The show has great energy, and the more raw, retro look sets it apart from slick and shiny fantasy shows like Rokka no Yuusha and GATE this season. Ushio and Tora have good chemistry, and Rikiya Koyama’s performance as Tora, which flips from terrifying monster to pathetic whining in a matter of seconds, is especially entertaining. The series is so far following a supernatural-abomination-of-the-week formula, but the two-cour length promises some meatier developments down the line. A good watch for those craving 90s nostalgia and hot-blooded shounen.
For fans of: Inuyasha, Natsume Yuujinchou, Kekkaishi, Yu Yu Hakusho
Watch it now on Crunchyroll
In the slums of Ergastulum, protagonists Worick (Junichi Suwabe) and Nicolas (Kenjiro Tsuda) work as “Handymen,” accepting dirty jobs that even the mafia and police prefer not to touch, from taking out rogue gangs to delivering money or drugs. When the cops ask them to deal with a pimp and his gang encroaching on the mafia’s territory, Worick and Nic take pity on a prostitute working for the gang, Alex (Mamiko Noto), and save her life by claiming her as a reward for the job. With nowhere to go, Alex joins the Handymen as a secretary—but her new bosses have plenty of secrets of their own, and falling in with them may be more dangerous than life on the streets.
Gangsta definitely falls into the “dark and gritty cartoons for adults” brand of anime, with its focus on violence, crime, and the general viciousness of its pseudo-European setting. Although this isn’t a category I usually find myself drawn to, I’m liking Gangsta more than expected, a development I mostly attribute to the characters. Worick is a smooth talker who knows when to turn on the charm, and Alex is sympathetic as an audience stand-in trying to make sense of her new companions. But the most intriguing character is Nic, a deaf assassin who communicates primarily through sign language and limited speech. I’ve been quite impressed with the way the show has handled this aspect of the manga source material, and Kenjiro Tsuda gives an excellent performance in Nic’s small amount of dialogue. Animation production by Manglobe (Samurai Flamenco, Deadman Wonderland) is so far competent and consistent, and will hopefully remain that way for the twelve episode run. If you’ve been craving a serious anime with mature themes and a high body count, you’ll want to check out Gangsta this season.
For fans of: Black Lagoon, Michiko to Hatchin, Jormungand
Watch it now on Hulu and Funimation
Actually, I Am / Jitsu wa Watashi wa
High school student Asahi Kuromine (Natsuki Hanae) is notorious amongst his friends for his inability to keep a secret. Not only does this mean his friends swindle him in poker games, it’s also obvious to the whole class who he’s crushing on: Youko Shiragami (Yuu Serizawa), a mysterious girl who keeps to herself at school. When Kuromine musters up the courage to confess his love to Shiragami in an empty classroom, he accidentally walks in on her unfurling a rather unmistakable pair of bat wings. A mortified Shiragami explains that she is actually a vampire, but will have to leave school if her secret is discovered. Kuromine solemnly swears to keep her identity secret, but it’s obvious that’s going to be a uphill battle for a kid who wears his heart on his sleeve.
Jitsu wa Watashi wa is a supernatural school romcom based on a manga with a bit of a cult following. Although the premise is not terribly original, the show has a wacky energy to it that’s surprisingly fun. And while this show is nothing special visually—the character designs are a bit crude, the colors a bit lurid, and the animation doesn’t exactly make my heart pitter patter—Jitsuwata makes up for what it lacks in polish with terrific comedic timing, goofy reactions, and a certain pure-hearted sincerity from its characters. Kuromine’s awkward honesty is particularly endearing (voice actor Hanae is certainly in his element in these roles), and Youko and the others have so far mostly resisted typical harem archetypes. If the enthusiasm for the source material is any indication, Jitsuwata should be an interesting watch this season.
For fans of: Yamada and the Seven Witches, Rosario to Vampire, Majimoji Rurumo, Witch Craft Works, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, Blood Lad
Watch it now on Crunchyroll
Nothing here catching your eye? Check out the full summer roster here, and be sure to let us know what you’re watching this season in the comments!
Kelly Quinn is still pretty upset that Aquarion Logos is nothing like Aquarion EVOL. Tell her how bad her taste is on Twitter.