For the second straight year, I review the year that was in anime. My review is timely this year – published right after the final anime season of 2022 (winter) came to a close in December. You may contrast this with my April review of the year that was in anime in 2021. In this post, I will list my top six anime series of 2022, post comments on series that did not not make the cut, and go into a number of category-specific awards for best characters, best episode, best aesthetics, best writing, and best opening/ending songs.

Un-Spoiler Notice

It is my hope that some of my readers will find an anime series to watch based on my rankings and notes. For that reason, in addition to common courtesy, I have tried to write the plot introductions and commentary in ways that do not spoil major plot developments – something that is a bit tricky in the case of several series that had prior seasons. While my assessments are free of meaningful spoilers, you may want to watch any of the series that I review that are already on your list (if you have a list) before reading my analysis. I leave that to your individual discretion.

My background

There are many kinds of anime and even more kinds of anime viewers. Like any other person who watches anime, I have my own preferences. While I evaluate shows based on my opinion of their quality in several areas, there is invariably a subjective element – one that I think will be quite prominent in the 2022 edition of my ranking. For some perspective going in, I quote myself from a 2020 article I wrote in which I recommended anime series of the 2011-2020 decade (learn why I counted the decade as being 2011-2020 instead of 2010-2019 here):

I have been watching anime since the latter half of the 2000s. The vast majority of shows that I have watched aired after 2005, but I have seen a decent number of shows from the early 2000s and a few from the 1980s and 1990s. I tend to prefer down-to-earth dramas to action shows (that will be reflected in my choices), but I have no hard-fast rule and watch a variety of genres.

N.A. Ferrell

You may also learn a bit about my preferences from some of my previous articles:

Now how did I put together my 2022 ranking?

Ranking rules

Before jumping into my 2022 anime ranking and year in review, we must establish some rules and definitions.

  1. I am only counting full series – typically of at least 11 episodes. I am not counting movies or shorts (apologies to the beautiful three-episode The Girl from the Other Side, which would have earned a high ranking under different rules).
  2. I am only counting individual seasons of series that concluded a season in 2022. Every series ranked in my top six both began and ended in 2022, so my main ranking has no edge-cases.
  3. In the case of series which had their second or third seasons in 2022, my ranking is strictly about their new season. However, I will generally demand a bit more of second and third seasons due to the fact that they require prior viewer investment.
  4. I can only rank series that I have watched. For the most part, I at least tried every series that interested me on its face – with the exception of the series on Netflix or that are licensed by Disney. I am highly confident that I did not miss anything that would change my top two (or, most likely, top three). However, in the event I see something down the line that would change my top-six, I will amend the instant article.

Before we launch into 2022, let us take a quick look at the top-3s for the previous six years.

Previous years

Before jumping into the new list, I thought that it would be instructive and interesting to lead off with my top threes for the previous six years (parentheticals used to indicate seasons for multi-season series).

YearSeries of the YearRunner-upThird place
2021SSSS.DynazenonFruits Basket: The Final (3/3)Kageki Shojo!!
2020My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax (3/3)Kaguya-sama: Love is War? (2/3)Fruits Basket (2/3)
2019Fruits Basket (1/3)Teasing Master Takagi-san (2/3)Vinland Saga
2018March Comes in like a Lion (2/2)Revue StarlightSSSS.Gridman
2017Tsuki ga KireiMarch Comes in like a Lion (1/2)Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (2/2)
2016Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (1/2)Sound! Euphonium 2 (2/2)Sweetness and Lighting

I discussed the three 2021 picks in depth in last year’s year-in-review. Many of these series in my 2011-2020 recommended anime series piece. At the time I wrote that article, I had not yet seen the second season of Sound! Euphonium (see 2016 runner-up), but I wrote about my watching it a few years late here. I covered Sweetness and Lighting (see 2016 second runner-up) in a article which was primarily about 2011’s Usagi Drop.

Which 2022 series will be on the 2023 version of this table? Let us find out.

The top six series of 2022 (and other notables)

Below, I will start from six and work my way up to the 2022 anime series of the year (I understand these kinds of countdowns build drama). After completing my top-six, I will offer shorter thoughts on some other notable series that I watched in 2022.

6. Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task

I read some 2022 anime of the year review pieces on anime news sites and blogs in advance of writing my review. While my survey is by no means comprehensive, I am confident that I am zigging while others zag with the first of my top six: Heroines Run the Show.

Heroines Run the Show details

SeriesHeroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task
Anime DatabaseAniDB Link
AiredApril 7 to June 23 (12 episodes)
SeasonOnly
StudioLay-Duce
DirectorNoriko Hashimoto
Source MaterialBased on a virtual idol song by HoneyWorks called “Heroine Tarumono!”
U.S. LicenseCrunchyroll

Heroines Run the Show made a cameo appearance as a Leaflet when I commented that her voice reminded me of a character in Fire Emblem Three Houses (one of my favorite games), Bernadetta von Varley. With that being said, Hiyori and Bernadetta are nothing alike.

What is Heroines Run the Show about?

The protagonist, Hiyori Suzumi, is a first-grade high school student (10th grade in U.S. terms) who moved by herself from the countryside to Tokyo so she could attend a high school with a track and field program. Hiyori is a diligent girl who does not want to rely on her hard-working parents for money, especially after her fisherman father suffered a back injury. She applies for several jobs before landing a gig as an apprentice manager for a high school idol duo – despite not only knowing anything about idols, but also having gotten off on the wrong foot with a popular male idol duo both of whom happen to be in her class. To the shock of all viewers, it turns out that she will be the secret manger-in-training for LIPxLIP, starring her two antagonistic classmates, Yūjirō Someya and Aizō Shibasaki.

Hiyori and the Lip x Lip idols glaring at each other in episode 2 of Heroines Run the Show.
From left to right: Yūjirō, Aizō, and Hiyori. This scene from episode 2 depicts many of their interactions, even after Hiyori and the duo warm to each other.

Hiyori faces many hardships – beginning with the fact that she does not like Yūjirō and Aizō and, at the beginning at least, the feeling is mutual. Moreover, it quickly becomes obvious that Yūjirō and Aizō do not much like each other. Despite these headwinds, Hiyori throws herself into work and in running, and in short order, even the somewhat anti-social idol duo comes to respect her and her contribution to their careers. We watch Hiyori try to balance her secret job (she is not allowed to talk about it) with her athletic endeavors, and there is always just a bit of drama lurking around the corner.

Heroines Run the Show analysis

I have no interest in teen idols, and I can probably count on one hand every idol anime that I have seen (I am not sure to what extent Zombie Land Saga and Idolmaster: Xenoglossia should count, however). Heroines Run the Show, is inspired by a virtual idol song, but it makes the list by more or less succeeding in what it sets out to do.

The series is carried by Hiyori. Early in the run, I commented here on The New Leaf Journal about her very distinct voice. But over time, I came to appreciate her character. Hiyori has no deep struggle or unusual drama – she is simply an earnest, hard-working girl who gives it her all to accomplish what she sets her mind to (whether it is scoring a good result at a track meet, babysitting idols, or barely passing her midterms). However, save for one incident in the show’s final arc, she is also willing to stand up for herself and call the idol duo that she manages (or baby-sits) on their sometimes petulant behavior.

For their part, the idol duo are also solid characters – albeit not they do not stand out as much as Hiyori. They have an amusing work relationship that swings between outright contempt and begrudging respect for each other. Their relationship with Hiyori works because both parties – the idols and their manager – come to appreciate one another over time. The idols come to respect Hiyori for her work ethic and her usefulness as a mediator. Hiyori develops an appreciation for the duo after seeing how much work they put into their craft and how much their fans appreciate them. I should note that despite the opening song, which depicts Hiyori with the prince-like idols in various fairy tale scenes, there is not even a hint of romantic tension between the trio.

Heroines Run the Show peaked when it delivered a false ending with a very well animated concert in episode 6 (I almost thought the show was over until the last scene). It held its quality until the last arc (episodes 10-12) when it (unfortunately, predictably) went slightly off the rails to deliver a message about idol culture and fans that was not entirely agreeable. Fortunately, Hiyori remained likable enough that I still left the show with a positive impression despite its decision to finish with its worst foot forward.

Last year, I wrote with respect to my 2021 anime of the year, SSSS.Dynazenon: “[F]or a full-season-length series, Dynazenon may be the closest to perfect from beginning to end.” Heroines Run the Show is something like the “six-point-five-out-of-ten” version of Dynazenon. It is always above average, but it is never very far above average. It peaks at, “clearly a cut above average” and dips at “slightly above average.” If being consistently above average – give or take a few ticks – is a virtue, Heroines Run the Show is incredibly virtuous. But to its credit, it does what it wants to set out to do well – and there is a place for pleasant-enough shows with appealing characters.

5. Bocchi the Rock!

While my sixth choice may have been a left field selection, Bocchi the Rock! appears to have been one of the more popular and recognized series of 2022 – especially in a survey of people who work in the industry. For reasons I will explain, it somewhat limped into my ranking, but its creative merit cannot be denied.

Bocchi the Rock! details

SeriesBocchi the Rock!
Anime DatabaseAnidb Link
AiredOctober 5 to December 25 (12 episodes)
SeasonOnly
StudioCloverWorks
DirectorKeiichirō Saitō
Source Material4-panel manga by Hamaji Aki
U.S. LicenseCrunchyroll

What is Bocchi the Rock! about?

Hitori Gotō is a painfully shy, anxious, socially stunted introvert who enters the series as a first-year high school student. She had taken up the guitar a few years before the start of the series in an effort to become popular. While she became skilled and achieved YouTube stardom for her faceless videos, her guitar-playing did not translate to real world popularity – and she continued to go through her days trapped in her own head, speaking to no one.

Hitori Gotō plays the guitar at a concert in episode 8 of Bocchi the Rock!
Being Hitori is hard. In recognition of that, I found the coolest screenshot of her that I could (and one of the few scenes where she’s not wearing her trademark pink tracksuit).

Early in the series, Hitori’s (soon to be nicknamed “Bocchi”) plan to walk around with her guitar in the hope that someone would talk to her pays off unexpectedly when she is inducted (or kidnapped) into the Kessoku Band by Nijika Ijichi (also a first-year high school student) after their lead guitarist disappeared right before a show. One things lead to another, and Bocchi not only becomes a member of the Kessoku Band with Nijika and the band’s bassist, Ryō Yamada, but she also ends up working part-time (awkwardly) at the band’s home club. While she is finally able to be part of a band and play in front of real audiences, Bocchi remains very much a work-in-progress as far as basic human interactions go.

Bocchi the Rock analysis

Starting with the good, the creative animation and direction of Bocchi is genuinely unique and refreshing. I recommend reading about all the outstanding work that went into it in a part of posts on Sakugablog (see posts one, two, and three). Adapting 4-panel gag mangas into full-length anime series can be hit or miss, but the team behind Bocchi had a clear love for the original work and took great pains to deliver a unique animated experience. Lest one ever thinks that they may run out of ways to creatively depict Bocchi somewhat twisted thought processes, they always come up with another memorable artistic flourish.

Bocchi mostly delivers as a dark comedy with a colorful exterior. Most of the jokes center on Bochi constructing an elaborate scenario in her head about objectively mundane situations – while those around her try to guess what she is thinking about. The series cares about Bocchi, as do its characters, but it always pulls back before becoming sentimental, never shying away from the fact that Bocchi’s way of seeing the world is more than a bit warped.

(Having gone to many shows to see my New Leaf Journal colleage, Victor V. Gurbo perform with his band, I appreciated how Bocchi the Rock depicted its main small music venue and some of the points that the characters made about having to move tickets to cover. I thought not only of Victor’s stories, but also one of his articles.)

Having noted the positives, Bocchi’s source material proves to be a bit of a double-edged sword. While the first half of the show is consistent in delivering comedy and introducing new events, the second half felt aimless around what were two of the season’s dramatic musical moments, and the set-up for the big events and the immediate aftermath were handled a touch awkwardly. Individual jokes still land more often than not, but it felt to me that the show itself was meandering to its conclusion, running out the plot clock while continuing to deliver creative animation. Moreover, while I like Gotō as a character on the whole, I came away feeling that her character development was lacking. No one with her degree of anxiety is going to change in a fundamental way over the course of the few months that the series covers, but even then the change we see from, say, the half-way mark to the end, is underwhelming.

In the end, I split the difference with Bocchi. It was easily the third best comedy of 2022 (consider that a small clue about the rest of the ranking) and certainly the most creative original production of the year. It would have possibly (if not likely) picked up one or two spots on my ranking with a better second half, but its good qualities were too myriad to not rank it.

4. Raven of the Inner Palace

Our sixth place series was consistently a tick above average while our fifth-place series combined superlative art direction with sometimes-aimless plot direction. In fourth place we have Raven of the Inner Palace – which has a fascinating world and compelling characters undercut somewhat by bizarre pacing and strange presentation choices.

Raven of the Inner Palace details

SeriesRaven of the Inner Palace
Anime DatabaseAniDB Link
AiredOctober 1 to December 24 (13 episodes)
SeasonOnly
StudioBandai Namco Pictures
DirectorChizuru Miyawaki
Source MaterialLite novels by Kōko Shirakawa
U.S. LicenseCrunchyroll

What is Raven of the Inner Palace about?

Raven of the Inner Palace is set in the inner palace in a fictional, fantasy version of ancient China. The main character is Liu Shouxue, a 16-year-old girl who has unwittingly been chosen by fate to be the “Raven Consort.” As the show makes euphemistically clear in the introduction at the start of every episode, the Raven Consort does not perform “nighttime duties.” In fact, the Emperor is not supposed to have contact with the Raven Consort at all, and she is destined to live in seclusion. The Raven Consort has certain magical/spiritual powers that go with her curse, which usually manifest in her calling, purifying, and exorcising the spirits of the dead.

The Raven Consort looks on as the Emperor carves a bird in episode 4 of Raven of the Inner Palace.
The Raven Consort looks on as the Emperor talks while carving a wooden bird for her.

Upon becoming Emperor after deposing the Empress Dowager, who had previously murdered his mother and had the new Emperor disinherited, Xia Gaojun learns of the Raven Consort. Curious, he insists on meeting her – and begins to question why it is exactly that she has to live alone and bear her curse. He diligently works to befriend her with varying degrees of success, but he discovers to his good fortune that she does have favorite foods.

Thanks in large part to the Emperor’s persistence in trying to befriend the Liu Shouxue, which derives both from his feeling genuine sympathy for her and his own feelings for her, she acquires several misfit companions, including an energetic lady-in-waiting, and she works to fulfill the spiritual requests of people in the inner palace while complaining about the Emperor’s insistence that they become friends.

Raven of the Inner Palace analysis

I will start with a negative point this time – the anime is, at times, a structural mess. It jumps from side-story to side-story, sometimes leaving one side-story to start another before returning to the first story in the same episode. There are a couple of instances where the opening song comes in the middle of an episode or even after the ending song. There is a central plot lurking but it can be hard to discern and does not show itself in earnest until the end. The audio-visual production values are, on the whole, average – although Raven does have its flourishes.

Fortunately, the good is good enough to outweigh the questionable choices in presentation in the final analysis. No 2022 series does a better job of world-building than does Raven of the Inner Palace. Liu Shouxe, the Raven Consort is a strong and complex character – an ordinary sixteen year old girl (for the world, at least) who is effectively condemned to a life of painful solitude by fate. The Emperor is strikingly human in his genuine concern for her, which goes beyond his obvious romantic sentiments. The cast of supporting characters, from Liu Shouxue’s collection of misfits and rejects from elsewhere in the Inner Palace to the Emperor’s retainers (who could be mistaken for love interests in a girl’s dating sim but for the fact they are eunuchs)are all appealing. While the presentation of the side-plots left a bit to be desired, the individual stories were interesting.

Raven of the Inner Palace ultimately earned fourth place because, unlike my sixth and fifth place finishers, it ended on its strongest note. Its final episode, which concluded the arc by focusing on what I would describe as the central story this first season, was one of the best episodes to air in 2022.

Raven’s flaws suggest it should rank quite a bit lower, while its merits suggest that it could have been ranked one spot higher. I suppose that after taking the good and bad together – fourth place is exactly right.

3. Shadows House (season 2)

The first season of Shadows House aired in 2021, and I liked it well enough, although it was not among my top-five series of the year. Moreover, because I did not have much to say about it, I neglected to mention it in my notes on series outside of the top-five despite the fact that it was better than some of the series I did note – one of which received a separate article on hair color. But the second season of Shadows House will suffer no such New Leaf Journal omission.

Shadows House details

SeriesShadows House
Anime DatabaseAniDB Link
AiredJuly 9 to September 24 (12 episodes)
SeasonSecond (first aired in 2021)
StudioCloverWorks
DirectorKazuki Ōhashi
Source MaterialManga by Sa-ma-to
U.S. LicenseCrunchyroll

I tip my hat to CloverWorks for producing the and -ranked shows on my list for 2022. Producing one good show is a feat in and of itself. CloverWorks turned out two strong series in back-to-back seasons.

What is Shadows House about?

Shadows House is set in a mysterious mansion populated by shadow people and their “living dolls,” who look and talk exactly like their shadow correspondents but for the fact that they appear to be human rather than composed of soot. Our show follows shadow children, who must pass several tests with their living dolls to graduate into adulthood – or risk facing the consequences in the alternative.

Shaun, Kate, Emilico, and John standing together in episode eight of Shadows House season 2.
From left to right: Shaun, Kate, Emilico,and John. I captured this screenshot from episode eight.

The main protagonists are Kate, a shadow girl, and her “face” counter-part, Emilico. Despite their obvious relationship, they have very distinct personalities. Kate is taciturn and enjoys reading while Emilico is a high-energy little ray of sunshine. Together, along with their peers, they overcame challenges in season one. In season two, they look deeper into the sinister happenings in the mansion.

Shadows House analysis

I liked the first season of Shadows House on the whole, but one long arc in its second half dragged a bit in my estimation. Fortunately, while I will not forgive the pacing of the second half of the first season, the events therein turned out to be significant to the second season, which built on and improved upon the first in every respect.

The first season introduced the characters and their world and guided the main cast through their first major challenge. In the second season the main characters play a more active role in unraveling the mysteries of Shadows House, all the while not dragging its feet on having the characters become aware of some of the answers to the more obvious mysteries. The second season does an especially effective job of introducing and incorporating a significant number of new characters without ever losing focus on the most important characters – Kate and Emilico, as well as John and Shaun.

The second season was made by the development of Kate, the series’ main shadow character. When Kate puts on her detective hat and tries to solve the troubling mystery of a certain “Master Robe,” she is forced to learn to rely on others. The influence of Emilico – her cheery, sociable. living doll-half – allows Kate to to enlist the assistance of others while still taking full advantage of her own sharp intellect.

Shadows House is an interesting series with a distinct aesthetic, and despite giving off some distinct “young adult fiction” vibes, it charts its own course. The second season is better than I had expected it would be, and it leaves off at a point which both concluded its central story and sets up what should be an intriguing final season in the future (I hope near future).

2. Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic

Both of the first two seasons of Kaguya-sama made my yearly top-three in 2019 and 2020 respectively – with it earning a distant second place with its stronger season in the latter. Kaguya established itself as a classic anime romantic comedy with its sharp humor and a distinctive animation style in its first two seasons. Based on its first season alone I had thought highly enough of it to include it as recommendation for general audiences in my recommended anime series of the 2011-2020 decade. The third season focuses far more on plot and character development than did the first two, and this proved to be to its benefit – albeit not enough to improve on the ranking of its second season in 2020.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic Details

SeriesKaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic
Anime DatabaseAniDB Link
AiredApril 9 to June 25
SeasonThird – S1 (2019) [#3], S2 (2020) [#2]
StudioA-1 Pictures
DirectorHatakeyama Mamoru
Source MaterialManga by Aka Akasaka
U.S. LicenseAniplex

The director of Kaguya-sama has been a fixture in my year-end rankings going back to 2016. He directed both seasons of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, the first of which was my anime of the year in 2016 while the second season was my third-place finisher in 2017. Thus, going back to 2016, Mr. Mamoru has one anime of the year, two runner-ups, one third-place finish and one fourth. Not half bad. I encourage everyone to read this in-depth article explaining all the work Mr. Mamoru and the whole team behind Kaguya did to produce a great third season against strong headwinds.

What is Kaguya-sama: Love Is War?

While I am a bit constrained in what I can say about sequel series, Kaguya is relatively easy to summarize.

Kaguya and Shirogane arm-wrestling in the first episode of the third season of  Kaguya-sama: Love Is War - Ultra Romantic Details.
Kaguya and Shirogane arm-wrestle in the first episode of the third season. Why not?

Kaguya Shinomiya is the vice president of the Shuchijin high school student council (she is a senior in the third season). She is the daughter of a major conglomerate owner and is revered in her school for her classiness, intelligence, and wealth. She happens to be in love with the president of the student council, Miyuki Shirogane (also a senior), who comes from much humbler beginnings and has earned his position (as well as his top student ranking over Kaguya) through hard work. As luck would have it, Miyuki is also in love with Kaguya. However, they cannot confess their feelings – for reasons that tie into their backgrounds and thought processes – so much of the show’s comedy derives from the absurd mind games they play to try to force a confession out of the other.

They are joined by an eccentric cast of characters in the student council. Chika Fujiwara is Kaguya’s long-time friend and a bit of an airhead with a strong comedic presence. Yu Ishigami is an anti-social good-guy-at-heart, albeit with some edgelord tendencies. Ai Hayasaka, who is the same age as Kaguya, serves as her personal assistant (while also being a student at the academy). A few other characters who were introduced in the second season carry over into the third.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic analysis

While the first two seasons were dominated by individual comedic skits, the second season also showed a surprising range – mixing some of its best comedy (see episode 7 of season two for a great example) and genuine character drama (see Yu Ishigami’s backstory arc toward the end of the season). But while the second season added wrinkles to the formula, the fundamental dynamic between the protagonists, Kaguya and Shirogane, changed little.

The skits and comedy of the first two seasons are still present in the third, but it becomes clear after a relatively conventional (for the series) opening episode that things will be different. The first five episodes give Ai Hayakawa, Kaguya’s best friend and attendant, a good amount of attention – culminating somehow in Shirogane deciding to take up rap in the fifth episode, which delivers the best humor of the season. The second half of the show shifts the focus to the relationship between Kaguya and Shirogane when it becomes clear, for reasons that I will not disclose, that their status quo cannot remain indefinitely.

The latter half of Kaguya focuses on following a specific plot and story line rather than stringing together loosely connected individual scenarios. While it never loses its character, the mood is heavier as things moved toward a dramatic finale. While I cannot say much about it here, the final two-episode arc of Kaguya, which aired on a single day, represents anime production and story-telling at its finest and it gives the now long-running Kaguya series its single defining moment. Moreover, the conclusion is remarkably well done in light of the fact that Kaguya is not over, a movie (which I have not yet seen) which directly follows the events of the season three finale was released on December 17. While I am not familiar with the source material, my understanding is that there may be enough left for a fourth season. But despite the fact that there is more Kaguya material left, season three ends in a manner that fans of the anime series can be satisfied with even without the movie or the potential for a future season.

Kaguya’s shift in focus in season three does come with a few trade-offs. The comedy skits, while terrific as always, are, save for episode 5, not as sharp as the best of the second season. But whatever Kaguya loses in laughs, it makes up for by moving the plot forward more decisively than someone who had seen the first two seasons would have expected. Had I known how Kaguya-sama ended, I would have certainly guessed that it would be my choice for series of the year. However, Kaguya was not the only multi-season romantic comedy to establish itself as a classic in the genre over the last few years. There was a competitor for the honor that previously crossed paths with Kaguya in 2019. Their paths crossed again, and there can only be one choice for series of the year…

1. Teasing Master Takagi-san

Teasing Master Takagi-san’s first season aired in 2018. Its second season aired in 2019, after Kaguya’s first. Takagi, a middle school romantic comedy featuring a girl and the dense boy she loves (and loves to tease), established itself as one of my favorites. However, going into their respective third seasons, my view was that Kaguya, thanks primarily to its second season, was the better series. Yet, despite all my praise for Kaguya’s third season, the matter of which is the best anime romantic comedy in recent memory has been resolved decisively in Takagi’s favor.

Teasing Master Takagi-san details

SeriesTeasing Master Takagi-san
Anime DatabaseAniDB Link
AiredJanuary 8 to March 26
SeasonThird – S1 (2018) [#4], S2 (2019) [#2]
StudioShin-Ei Animation
DirectorHiroaki Akagi
Source MaterialManga by Sōichirō Yamamoto (see also)
U.S. LicenseSentai Filmworks

Takagi-san was not the only 2022 anime based on a manga by Mr. Yamamoto. The summer season saw When Will Ayumu Make His Move? That series features two high school students, Ayumu and Urushi, who are part of a shogi club. Urushi, who is good at shogi, always beats Ayumu, who plans to confess his feelings for Urushi when he finally beats her. Ayumu was generally pleasant, but the magic of Takagi-san was not present. While the difference in quality between the two series is too great to be attributed to any one thing, one problem in Ayumu is that some of Takagi-san’s humor works precisely because the two protagonists are in middle school.

What is Teasing Master Takagi-san about?

Like Kaguya-sama, Takagi-san is relatively easy to describe without spoiling anything of significance. The series is centered on middle school classmates Takagi and Nishikata (we never learn their first names). Takagi and Nishikata are best friends, although Nishikata sometimes has difficulty with that fact. Takagi has a distinctly strong crush on Nishikata, who is genuinely unable to process the obvious. One thing that Takagi very much loves is getting reactions out of Nishikata For his part, Nishikata, determined to “win” against Takagi, comes up with all kinds of schemes, but he always fails due to his being very easy to read and unwilling to take the wins that Takagi offers him in increasingly obvious ways.

Takagi staring deeply into Nishikata's eyes in episode 7 of Teasing Master Takagi-san's third season.
Takagi sometimes has a lack of regard for Nishikata’s personal space, especially when she is trying to read his face (that is not too difficult to do). I captured this screenshot from episode seven.

(Here, I should note that everything in Takagi-san is in good fun. Some other series which use a similar formula come off as mean-spirited, with one character trying to humiliate the other. This is unpleasant even if it is portrayed as the manifestation of real affection. The strange dynamic of the Takagi-Nishikata friendship comes from Takagi wanting Nishikata to pay attention to her and Nishikata understanding her behavior through his own world-view. Rather than try to tear him down, Takagi’s “teasing” pushes Nishikata to self-improvement in his quest to win against the girl who would like nothing more than for him to figure out how to win.)

Attentive viewers who can see the series from their own perspectives rather than Nishikata’s will note there is some subtle development in Takagi’s character in the second season. There is less development in the case of Nishikata – at least until the latter stages – and those latter stages are enough to establish that things should be a bit different in the third and final season of Takagi.

(Takagi concluded with a movie released shortly after the end of the series – thus foreclosing the possibility of another season about their school days.)

Teasing Master Takagi-san analysis

I thought that the first season of Takagi-san had a bit more going on than its bubbly skit comedy exterior suggested. In it, Takagi had the “advantage” over Nishikata in large part because she grew up just a bit faster. Nishikata’s denseness is genuine, and it is the kind of denseness that works specifically because of the age of the characters. Takagi’s determination to make her feelings as obvious as possible to Nishikata without saying the words is fueled by her confident belief (or, at times, her resignation) that Nishikata is some combination of unable to grasp, and quick to deny, the truth when it creeps up on him. While the second season had some blemishes, there was progression in Takagi’s character – while never mean, she began to make her feelings even more obvious through her teasing than she did before, and one can pick up in her some uncertainty – a slight fear that maybe Nishikata would really never get it. One of the aforementioned blemishes is that for much of the second season, Nishikata continued in exactly the same patterns of behavior we saw in him during the first season until some important, but not decisive, events toward the end of the season.

The third season improves on the first two in every way, from comedy to story progression to hitting its high notes. It is clear from the first two episodes – which feature a dream sequence and a silent film-inspired skit, that the team is doing something different. By the fourth episode, it is clear that while Nishikata is still Nishikata, he is growing up – and it was then that I was certain that season three of Takagi could be something special. My certainty was realized with episode six, followed by episodes nine and twelve, three genuinely classic episodes which will stand the test of time.

Both Takagi and Nishikata see significant development in the third season. Takagi has seen enough by the end of the third season to have confidence that her wish will come true in the end. Nishikata finally begins to meaningfully consider what Takagi is to him and why it is that he is so determined to play her games. The truth, which is obvious to everyone but Nishikata, still often escapes him, but we see definite progress.

Season three is also structurally distinct from seasons one and two. While there are a few episodes that use the multi-skit format of the early seasons, the third season is built around several multi-episode plots. To a far greater extent than before, we see Takagi and Nishikata as part of a school and a class rather than apart from it. The side characters, who struggled a bit in the first two seasons when forced to carry the show on their own, come into their own.

As I noted, Takagi concludes with a movie – meaning it should go without saying that the third season of the anime was not the true ending. But like Kaguya, it ended in such a way that had it been the end of Takagi, it would have been a satisfying conclusion.

Takagi started out as a quality skit comedy, but a skit comedy nevertheless. It experienced some growing paints in the second season before moving things forward a bit at the end. It grew beyond its simple and humble origins in its third season, becoming the best version of itself and then something more. I always thought of Kaguya and Takagi together due to their similar structures. Kaguya was slightly better than Takagi through their first two seasons. After the third, there is no question in my book that Teasing Master Takagi-san, as a series, is the best anime romantic comedy of the last decade-plus, and its final season is the best anime comedy of any flavor since my 2012 anime of the year, Humanity Has Declined.

Other series notes

Below, you will find short notes and comments on nine series that I (1) watched and (2) did not include in my top six. The series are listed in alphabetical order to underscore that this, unlike what you read above, is not a ranking. This is simply a list of nine additional shows that I watched and had something to say about. I saw additional series that are not included.

  • Chainsaw Man: I do not follow the manga scene, but I watched this upon learning that the underlying manga is apparently the most popular thing since sliced bread (or since Spy x Family, but we will get to that shortly). It did not look like my kind of show – and sure enough, I do not much care for it. While I understand there is controversy in its fan community about the director’s naturalistic art direction and brooding tone, I fear my issues have more to do with the dull characters and plot.
  • Dance Dance Danseur: This has the best opening episode of any series I watched in 2022, and as you will see – it features in one of my award categories. I expected this show, which is about a high school boy throwing himself into ballet, to end up being ranked high early on, but it made some odd plot choices as it went along (i.e., the focus on Luou) and ended up annoying me. However, I would be interested in a second season based on how the first season concluded.
  • Lycoris Recoil: A new entry in the girls with guns genre, but it is more buddy cop than Gunslinger Girl. It largely succeeds as a slice of life and character piece, but its world building and plot twists leave much to be desired. You can almost convince yourself that it is good if you try to ignore the plot and the show’s determination to not ask questions about the world, but alas – the plot is too present for this method of denial to work over the course of 12 episodes. (See a very good article on its interesting production.)
Chisato Nishigiki dodging paintballs in episode 3 of Lycoris Recoil.
Chisato Nishigiki in action in episode 3 of Lycoris Recoil. While I cannot totally look past the show’s faults, it has some strikingly good moments, such the animation sequence I took this shot from.
  • Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun: The first season of Made in Abyss (2017) often features on best of decade lists, and I concur that it was near-great for the better part of the first 10 of 13 episodes (2017 was an amazing year). The last few episodes of season lost me a bit, and the movie which comes in between the first and second seasons took some tendencies that had lurked throughout season one and dialed them up to 11. The second season takes the worst aspects of season 1 and the movie and dials them up to 13 – I concur almost entirely with this assessment from Mr. Nicholas Dupree of Anime News Network. More than being just less than the first season, it was less than a good season.
  • Mob Psycho 100 III: I liked the first two seasons of Mob Psycho 100, an anime about a kind-hearted middle school-aged boy with psychic powers. The third and final season ended the series in the right place, but I did not like some of the choices it made to get there – particularly in the second half. I could nevertheless have easily put it in my top six, but I opted not to rank a third season that I liked less than than its two predecessors.
  • My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: I watched this against my better instincts after seeing a few reviews of the opening episode which noted that it played the premise accurately articulated in the headline straight – and the two protagonists were none too fond of each other. None of the series I I viewed in 2022 swung as wildly from being incomprehensibly stupid at one moment (all of the side characters… save for one) to quite good in others (the exploration of the former middle school relationship between the protagonists, which serves as interesting viewing alongside my 2017 and 2022 anime series of the year, Tsuki ga Kirei and Takagi-san, respectively). Had this series not insulted my intelligence for large swaths of the first half (and a few instances in the final arc), it may have had a real shot at the top-six (I am not sure if that says more about its good qualities or 2022).
  • Ranking of Kings: This beautifully animated fairy tale began airing in fall 2021, and had you asked me this time last year what my prediction would be, I would have guessed it would be safely a 2022 top six pick. Then the second half of the series happened – and its messy plot, glacial pacing, and questionable literary choices overrode its good first half and its genuinely unique (for an anime TV series) aesthetic. The best I can say of the second half (perhaps last 2/3 in hindsight) is that, while the series lost its ranking, it still delivered on the animation front.
  • Spy x Family: This, I am told, is another extraordinarily popular manga series (I can see why from a pure commercial perspective). It aired in two cores in the spring and autumn. I thought the first core was charming at the beginning, but the series gradually grated on me and I must confess I could not bring myself to finish to finish the last couple of episodes of the second core (I do not care about Anya’s school).
  • The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting: A strange, and at times heartwarming show about a yakuza enforcer babysitting the boss’s seven-year old daughter. I tend to not like mob fiction (just read the real thing if you are interested), but this show turned out better than I expected and, to its credit, it did not entirely forget that many of the characters behind its sweet moments were violent gangsters. I almost put it at the end of the top six for its range and high quality, but I could not quite bring myself there.

2022 Anime category awards

I bring things to a close with several category-specific awards. Below, you will find my choices for best male character, best female character, best aesthetics, best episode, and best opening/closing song. You can see last year’s winners in my 2021 review. I did not include a

Best Anime Female Character of 2022

My top two series of 2022 both had the names of young women in their titles. While I would have liked to spring a surprise in the first award category, I have no surprise to offer:

#CharacterSeriesVoice Actress
1TakagiTeasing Master Takagi-sanRie Takahashi
2Kaguya ShinomiyaKaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticAoi Koga
3Ai HayasakaKaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticYumiri Hanamori
4Liu ShouxueRaven of the Inner PalaceSaku Mizuno
AniDB Links: Takagi, Kaguya, Ai, and Liu

Takagi was also my choice for female character of the year in 2019 (second season) – and she takes the honor relatively easily in 2022. While Nishikata’s development was more important to the third season than was Takagi’s (he had further to go), Nishikata’s subtle growth allowed Takagi to be the best version of herself.

A close-up of Takagi-san's face in episode four of the third season of Teasing Master Takagi-san.
Takagi-san takes the crown for the second time in four years. This screenshot from episode 4 gives an idea of what life is like for Nishikata.

The second and third spots both go to Kaguya, with second being Kaguya herself and third being her confidant and assistant, Ai Hayasaka. Ai saw her strongest development in the first half of the third season while Kaguya featured prominently in the show’s defining moments in the second half and conclusion.

I had some difficulty choosing the the final awardee, but I narrowly gave the nod to Liu Shouxue, the Raven Consort of Raven of the Inner Palace, over Kate from Shadows House and Hiyori from Heroines Run the Show.

I conclude with a fun note. Ms. Saku Mizuno, who did the voice of Liu Shouxue, was also the voice actress for Ryou Yamada, one of the four band members in my fifth-pace series of 2022, in Bocchi the Rock!

Best Anime Male Character of 2022

The top three spots are again swept by my top two series – but a different series comes out on top in this case.

#CharacterSeriesVoice Actor
1Miyuki ShiroganeKaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticMakoto Furukawa
2NishikataTeasing Master Takagi-sanYuki Kagi
3Yu IshigamiKaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticRyōta Suzuki
4Xia GaojunRaven of the Inner PalaceMizunaki Masaaki
AniDB Links: Shirogane, Nishikata, Ishigami, Gaojun

Despite all of my credit to Takagi-san for Nishikata’s growth in season three, Kaguya’s Miyuki Shirogane, whose initiative drives the dramatic events in the first and second halves of Kaguya, is the clear choice for best male character – and he surpassed Kaguya, his co-main character in terms of development (from what I read, Kaguya gets the main focus if the December 2022 movie).

Shirogane holds a space watch in episode 8 of the third season of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War - Ultra Romantic with an astronaut wearing the same watch on the Moon in the background.
There is no spoiler here but this article is long enough without trying to explain this Shirogane scene. It does provide a terrific example of the creativity of the team behind Kaguya. Captured from episode 8.

I conclude our top four with the same two shows from the female category. I did not talk much about Ishigami in my Kaguya section, but he may well have seen the most character growth and development of anyone in the cast in its third season, building on his more dramatic arc in the second season.

I could have gone in a number of directions for the third runner-up spot – I considered Reigen and Mob from Mob Psycho 100 III, Sean from Shadows House, and Mizuto Irido from My Stepmom’s Daughter is My Ex. With the top three spots all going to two series in their third seasons, I decided to go with a character Xia Gaojun, from a series in its the first season. Mizuto Irido had a surprisingly strong case – but he was too tarnished by his proximity to some of his show’s inane plot-lines. Thus, Emperor Gaojun it is.

Best Anime Aesthetics of 2022

For this category, I make a choice based on my view of the anime’s overall audio-visual aesthetic. As I noted with respect for games, I look for aesthetics that will stand the test of time, not merely the best use of the cutting-edge technology of the moment.

#SeriesStudio
1Dance Dance DanseurMadhouse
2Bocchi the Rock!CloverWorks
3Ranking of KingsWit Studio
4Lycoris RecoilA-1 Pictures

We finally break the duopoly for aesthetics. Kaguya has a strong case for its unique style, and I could well have put it fourth – but I figured we should give some other series a chance. Dance Dance Danseur has some of the best character designs I have seen in any series – and it rose to the occasion when ever it was called upon to animate ballet.

Junpei Murao and Miyako Godai perform Swan Lake in episode 5 of Dance Dance Danseur.
While I did not like some of Dance Dance Danseur’s plot choices, it is an all-timer in the aesthetics department. I almost started to regret not putting it in the top six while looking for a good capture.

Bocchi, with all of its creativity that I noted above, would have also been a worthy first pick. Ranking of Kings is one of the prettiest series produced (it is a real shame about its last two-thirds). Finally, Lycoris Recoil is a pretty show with great attention to detail and some compelling animation in its action scenes (see the dramatic scene in episode 3 for one of my favorite examples). Kaguya, SpyXFamily, and Mob Psycho 100 III all have good cases for the fourth spot.

(For its part, Takagi has fitting visuals and background music, but is not of the kind of production that I would choose in this category.)

Best Anime Writing of 2022

I was half-inclined to not make a category for writing (I did not in 2021). In light of how I evaluate series, this category is often going to be the same as the overall best anime ranking (such was the case for 2018-21). Moreover, because so many series are based on manga and novels, the writing often depends in large part on the source material. But to leave it off seems like a bit of an over-sight, so I decided to include a writing award. My criteria is not firm, but I will consider dialogue, themes, and plot organization.

#SeriesStudio
1Teasing Master Takagi-sanShin-Ei Animation
2Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticA-1 Pictures
3Raven of the Inner PalaceBandai Namco Pictures
4Shadows HouseCloverWorks

As I expected, my best-writing category is my top-four, but I will flip Raven and Shadows House, which is both a credit to Raven’s world-building and a demerit for Shadows House’s tendency to have its characters explain their plots in excessive detail.

Best Anime Episode of 2022

After our brief break from Takagi and Kaguya, we return to our regularly-scheduled production.

#SeriesTitleEp No.Director
1Teasing Master Takagi-san“Christmas”9 of 12Hiroki Imamura
2Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic[Title redacted]13 of 13Yasuhiro Nakanishi
3Teasing Master Takagi-san“Culture Fest”6 of 12Yasuaki Fujii & Bak Gyeong-sun
4Teasing Master Takagi-san“March 14th”12 of 12Yūki Bessho
Wikipedia was my source for episode directors.

Our best episode list features a clean sweep of the top four spots between my top two series – and I had great difficulty leaving off episode 5 of Kaguya-sama, which should make any list of all-time funny episodes. The choice at the top was not easy either – had I only known of Kaguya’s finale in advance – I would have penciled it in, but Takagi was the absolutely best version of itself after building up to its ninth episode – and thus it takes number one along with spots three and four.

Takagi makes Nishikata blush in episode 9 of the third season of Teasing Master Takagi-san.
Screen capture from the 2022 episode of the year, Teasing Master Takagi-san 9.

I did not spend too much time thinking beyond the obvious top five (the top two shows would probably make it to eight before allowing other entrants), but the final episode of Raven in the Inner Palace was probably the best episode of a non-sequel.

Best Anime Opening/Ending of 2022

2022 was not (in my view) a great year for openings and endings – but whereas last year my top choice won because I liked the song, this year’s winner benefits foremost from outstanding animation.

#SeriesSongOP/EDPerfomed by
1Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra RomanticMy NonfictionED (ep 5 only)Makoto Furukawa & Konomi Kohara
2Ranking of KingsNaked HeroOP (2)Vaundy
3Lycoris RecoilAliveOPClariS
4Dance Dance Danseurwind, flowerEDHITORIE

I almost always choose endings for these lists (last year saw four endings) – but I decided to be creative this year and find a few openings too.

While episode 5 of Kaguya just missed my best-episode honorable mentions, its special ending (used only for that episode) is our ending of the year. Given the series’ production challenges – it is a wonder they managed to set aside the budget for the animation for a one-time ending song (especially in light of how elaborate the animation is for the regular ending). The two singers are the voice actor for Shirogane (our male character of the year) and the voice actress for Chika Fujiwara. You can watch the video without credits here.

Capture from the "My Nonfiction" music video at the end of the fifth episode of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War - Ultra Romantic.
Kaguya, Shirogane, and Ishigami take a well-deserved bow at the end of their episode 5 music video.

Ranking of Kings’ second opening combines a good song with outstanding and, at a few points, beautiful animation – it is almost enough to make you forget how the show went off the rails. While I do not love Lycoris Recoil’s opening song, it has some of the best visuals for an opening or ending that I have come across, perfectly capturing the personalities of the two main protagonists through subtle animation. I could have gone many directions with the final choice, including Kaguya’s regular ending, Takagi’s well-animated opening, Raven of the Inner Palace’s ending, Lycoris Recoil’s ending, or one of the five catchy endings for Heroines Run the Show – but I liked Dance Dance Danseur’s calm ending, accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Conclusion: 2022 in retrospect

I have seen enough series to credibly complete rankings for every year going back to 2005. While there are a number of romantic comedies that I like, I had never chosen one as my series of the year (my 2015 and 2020 winners are the second and third seasons of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, but despite the title, it is not a comedy). The last time a comedy of any sort was my pick was Humanity Has Declined in 2012 – and that was a rather dark comedy (despite is cheery visual aesthetic) with no romance at all. The closest a romantic comedy comes to the crown in any of my previous rankings is Takagi’s second season in 2019. I will remember 2022 primarily for how two series that began as fun little sketch comedies grew into something more – and delivered special seasons. While I did not have a difficult time choosing Takagi as the anime of the year (2017 and 2019 presented closer calls between first and second than did 2022), Kaguya would have been a more-than-credible recipient of the honor in its own right.

Kaguya, Hayasaka, Chika, and Shirogane prepare for a rap battle in episode 5 season 3 of Kaguya-sama Love is War.
Kaguya-sama episode five from left to right: Kaguya, Hayasaka, Chika, and Shirogane.

The rest of 2022 was a bit shaky in my view. Beyond the very good second season of Shadows House, I had some significant issue or another with every series in my top six, and there were a number of series outside the top six that, for one reason or another, failed to live up to the promise of their premises or strong production values.

However, in the end, we remember the great series more than the disappointments. 2021 was deeper than 2022 in terms of quality shows, and its best show, SSSS.Dynazenon, would have been my choice over Takagi without a second thought had they aired in the same year – but 2021, like 2020, 2018, and 2016 – only had one series that I would have felt good about naming anime of the year (2019 had none… 2017 had three) – so to get see two series of that caliber in consecutive seasons (Takagi in the winter and Kaguya in the spring) is very much worth celebrating.

(Moreover, as I noted near the top of this article, the three-episode The Girl from the Other Side is without a doubt the most aesthetic piece of 2022 and a piece that deserves mention as a very high-level work.)

Here is to hoping that 2023 produces a couple of classics at the top with a bit more depth than what we had (in my book) in 2022.

March 12, 2024 Update: See my 2023 year-in-review. I also updated my 2019 ranking to change the third-place finisher for that year.