The winter anime season is looking quieter than its blockbuster predecessor, with the exception of the highly anticipated Solo Leveling and BONES‘ anniversary project, Metallic Rouge. The rest of the season is rounded out with isekai and villainess stories and a few original surprises. As always, you’ll be able to find your own “must-watch” series by joining us at the Trailer Watch Party on Friday, December 29 at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT and reading along with the Preview Guide when it launches on January 3.
Most Anticipated: Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?!
You have to go beyond the title with this one and possibly even the premise. Manga creator Yū Toyota is fully aware of how silly the baseline for the story is: an urban legend that if you hit age thirty as a virgin, you’ll suddenly develop magic powers, which is precisely what happens to Adachi. But once we’re past that initial setup, this is a charming story about finding love where you least expect it and that being able to read someone’s mind by touching them could make things incredibly awkward. Office worker Adachi is shocked when he discovers that the urban legend is true, and even more so when he touches his perfect coworker Kurosawa and realizes that the other man is madly in love with him. Thus begins a slow story about two people gradually growing closer, with Adachi learning to rethink his initial assumptions about Kurosawa (and others) and becoming more comfortable with himself in the process. There’s something very warm and sweet about the manga that carried over into the live-action series (which you can watch on Crunchyroll). I’m hopeful that the anime will capture that while providing a new interpretation of the tale. If you like your BL fluffy, this should be on your list of things to check out. While it may not look great visually from the trailers, it should be adorable if they do this even a little bit right.
Runner Up: 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life and The Demon Prince of Momochi House
If there’s one thing to look forward to about 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life, it’s Rishe. The heroine of the source light novels hasn’t just lived six times before; she’s learned from them, and by the time she hits life number seven, she’s ready to be done with this whole reincarnation cycle. Although marrying the man who has killed her six times before may not seem like a brilliant plan, everything Rishe does has a purpose, making this a standout in the time loop genre. Rishe uses all of her accumulated knowledge to get it right this time, and that’s been very rewarding to read about. She’s not quite Maomao, but she’s still a heroine who uses her brain, and I’m all for that.
Meanwhile, The Demon Prince of Momochi House is my favorite of manga creator Aya Shuoto’s works. The story follows Himari, who inherits a large, strange mansion in the countryside only to find it already occupied by a boy her age named Aoi and several strange men. As it turns out, Aoi has taken over Himari’s duty to Momochi House, giving form to the Nue and maintaining a balance between human and ayakashi worlds. Shuoto’s beautiful art could be hard to capture (as the trailers show). Still, the story is fascinating as Himari and Aoi struggle to achieve balance and factor in their feelings – both for each other and Momochi House and its mission. I’m worried that the story’s complexities could be truncated, but I’m still looking forward to seeing how this adaptation plays out.
Most Anticipated: Sengoku Youko
As much as I love and swear by Satoshi Mizukami‘s works, I’ve never read this series. However, that’s not enough to stop me from putting this unexpected adaptation up top anyway. Mizukami made three different works that I would include among my all-time favorite pieces of fiction, and that’s more than enough goodwill to pick this one on reputation alone. My only worry is that the last time we got a Mizukami adaptation, it was animated on the back of a vomit-soaked bar napkin and moved with all the artistic grace of a runny bowel movement. Thankfully, everything I’ve seen from this production looks, at worst, like a competent and well-put-together supernatural action series. While not an immediate visual standout, even just a capable production that isn’t pieced together out of spare parts should be enough to let Mizukami’s lovable characters and narrative wizardry shine through. If nothing else, it can’t possibly be as disappointing as the Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer anime.
Runner Up: Metallic Rouge
I was only partially hyped for this show when it was announced. It looked slick, and as my anime fandom formed around the original productions Bones put out in the 2000s, I’m always excited to see them back at it. However, the real trick that rocketed this series from “looks cool” to “I need to see this” was the music video they released for promotion:
That song, loudly and proudly declaring, “Darkness will be broken open, shattered by the crimson lightning,” hit me like an adrenaline shot to the base of my spine. Not only is it some Grade-A cheese from Taisei Iwasaki, but it’s exactly the kind of theme I want from a big, flashy, lavishly animated sci-fi action project like this. Put it together with the eye-catching character designs, and you’ve got something that, even if it turns out poorly, will at least look and sound great no matter what.
Outside of that, this series has several curiosities but nothing I’m actively hungering for. I bounced off the early chapters of Delicious in Dungeon, but those trailers look like some excellently realized fantasy, so I’ll still be checking that out. While I’d have preferred a new season of her skateboarding show, having Hiroko Utsumi back is always nice, so I’ll check out Bucchigiri?! in the meantime. Plus, I’ve got some more mecha offerings with the return of Synduality: Noir and whatever the hell Bang Brave Bang Bravern is. Hopefully, that can be even half as fun to watch as it is to say.
Most Anticipated: Metallic Rouge
I’m excited for Metallic Rouge for the same reasons I presume a lot of people are. It’s a glossy, hyped project celebrating 25 years by beloved studio BONES. It looks like it will be a standout stylistic showcase, and the trailers also indicate that this might be a dense story overall. Granted, I tend to feel burnt out on plots using robots as a vector for exploring societal prejudices, but I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt based on how overall rad it appears.
There are also immediate reasons why I see Metallic Rouge calling to me. I’m a big tokusatsu guy, and the anime projects reflecting that medium seem to be increasing in ambition and experimentation as of late (I am looking forward to Go, Go, Loser Ranger! in a couple of seasons). In that respect, Metallic Rouge‘s deployments of transforming heroines, mean monster fights, and interrogations of humanity are the kinds of building blocks I’m an absolute sucker for when they’re stacked together. Director Motonobu Hori has proven with the likes of Carole & Tuesday that he knows his way around an impactful production. It all makes for a pleasing preview pitch, plus Tomoyo Kurosawa voices a cool-lookin’ lady. Between that and the tokusatsu stuff, I’m nothing if not predictable.
Runner Up: Hokkaido Gals Are Super Adorable!
Speaking of points where I’m predictable, gyaru! Those standard-bearers of style may be past their early 2000s peak, but they continue to grace anime with their presence. While we await the return of My Dress-Up Darling and everyone’s beloved Marin Kitagawa, why not settle in for a winter rom-com on the snowy streets of Hokkaido? Hokkaido Gals looks straightforward but sweet, and you know that between SILVER LINK and Blade on production, they ought to make these gals and everything else about the show look pretty good. Also, a couple of years ago, my co-writer Nick casually called my ass out when the manga added a shark-toothed, tanned, tomboy character, so I feel like the anime’s as good a reason as any for me to finally make good on getting into this series.
Most Anticipated: Solo Leveling
I have to admit, outside of the plethora of villainess stories I ravenously consume, I’m not usually too interested in Korean web novels or manhwa. However, every once in a while, when I feel the need for a lengthy yet completed series, I dip my toes in and try the more popular ones. This was how I came across Solo Leveling. And honestly, having read it, it’s easy to understand why it’s getting an anime.
Set roughly in the modern day, strange gates that connect to monster-filled dungeons open up worldwide. If the boss monster inside isn’t killed within a week of the dungeon’s appearance, the monsters flood out, attacking the general population. Luckily, the appearance of the gates also seemingly grants many humans minor superpowers that allow them a fighting chance at clearing the dungeons. This is the story of Sung Jin-woo, infamously known as the weakest monster hunter, and how he became something much more.
In all too many action anime, the hero either starts overpowered or becomes overpowered off-screen after a time skip. However, with Solo Leveling, we see Sung Jin-woo start at the bottom and work his way up little by little, step by step. While he certainly has an edge over others, he is far from the strongest (be that human or monster)—and rarely is victory anything close to a sure thing. All this gives the series a constant source of tension from start to finish. It’s a classic zero-to-hero story with a great supporting cast that brings the world to life.
Runners Up: Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp, Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss but I’m Not the Demon Lord, 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy!
Speaking of my endless love of villainess stories, we have three big ones this season. The first, Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp, follows a woman who reincarnated in our world for her second life and became a doctor—seeking to gain atonement after her first life as a villainess in a fantasy world. But when her second life ends suddenly, she once again finds herself in her original body, ten years before her death, and with a chance to change her world for the better with modern-day medical knowledge.
The second, Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss but I’m Not the Demon Lord, is a more comedy-centric villainess story about a girl from our world reincarnating into the body of an otome game villainess (who happens to be the game’s secret boss). Knowing the troubles that are coming, she power levels herself to level 99 in her childhood—leading to all kinds of misunderstandings once the story gets going.
The final villainess story I’m excited for is 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy! In this story, our villainess is stuck in a time loop. In each loop, she has done something else with her life—be it a merchant, a doctor, a knight, or a maid. However, every time, she dies at the age of twenty and restarts her life at the moment of her denouncement. Now, in her seventh life, she has a chance encounter with Arnold Hein, the crown prince of a neighboring kingdom, who not only killed her in her sixth life but now, for some reason, wants her hand in marriage as well.
Most Anticipated: Metallic Rouge
When I was but a wee lad who was just beginning to discover all of the wonders that the world of anime had to offer, when asked about my “dream girl,” I would have told you that she would be a sexy, badass superhero-slash-robot that can shoot laser rockets out of her hands while killing other badass robots alongside her equally badass human girlfriend (I was a very progressive twelve-year-old). They called me many names for that back then, but they should have called me “Prophet” because if you showed me a trailer for Metallic Rouge in 2004, I would have told you, “It is just as I predicted. Know me, brothers and sisters, and you too shall know salvation.”
(Also, did you hear the music in that special trailer? Hot damn; this show would be at the top of my list for the soundtrack alone!)
In all seriousness, though, I don’t know how you could watch the trailer for Metallic Rouge and not think that it looks like the coolest shit imaginable. Just about the only reservations I have on the production side of things is that the visuals look a bit dark for my tastes, but that is something that can quickly be figured out with solid direction, and Motonobu Hori is a pretty talented director; all things considered (I forgive him for Super Crooks, considering the role he played in helming Carole & Tuesday). So far as the story goes, while Metallic Rouge carries some of the risks inherent to any anime original, I don’t need it to blow minds or anything. Just give me a dozen or so episodes of a badass robot lady punching other robots really hard in their stupid robot faces, and I’ll be good to go, my friends.
Runner Up: Sengoku Youko
Here’s a phrase that is bound to excite me for a project: “This anime is based on a manga by Satoshi Mizukami, beloved author of classics such as Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and Planet With.” Do you know what phrase gets me even more excited, though? “This anime is based on a manga by Satoshi Mizukami, beloved author of classics such as Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and Planet With, and it doesn’t even look like it was accidentally drawn on greasy, used bar napkins instead of regular paper!” I’m sorry to poke at the still fresh wounds of the Biscuit Hammer fans out there, but you have to admit that the trailers for Sengoku Youko look extra nice on account of not…well, looking like hot garbage. I’m not even entirely sure what this series is about, aside from the whole “two siblings and their allies in Sengoku-era Japan get into magical adventures for some reason,” but that’s all I need to know: Satoshi Mizukami is a genius. You prove to me that his work is being given the time and care that it deserves, and I will show up.
Most Anticipated: The Demon Prince of Momochi House
After years of drought, it’s starting to rain shōjo again… well, more like a light sprinkle. But still! For the past few seasons, the selection of anime aimed at female audiences has vastly increased, even if they’re still dwarfed by the number of shows made primarily for male fans. One such series is The Demon Prince of Momochi House, a manga I’ve been a fan of for some time. The protagonist, Himari, is a teenage orphan seeking to move into her ancestral home after being away for most of her life. When she arrives, she finds it’s already occupied by three young men: Aoi Nanamori and his two servants, Yukari and Ise. Himari couldn’t evict the squatters even if she wanted to; the house is a gateway to the spirit realm, and Aoi, possessed by the guardian Nue, is unable to leave.
I do have some reservations about the anime since the animation in the trailers has that matte coloring + glow filter look that plagues cheap productions. I’m unsure of its ability to fully bring to life Aya Shouoto‘s delicate linework, her characters’ melancholic beauty, or the supernatural setting’s creepiness. Still, I’m choosing to be optimistic, because even if the art doesn’t end up fully realized, the heart of the series is Himari and Aoi’s relationship, which still has a chance to come through. There are a lot of shiny, high-profile series animated at esteemed studios that I’m looking forward to this season, such as Delicious in Dungeon and Metallic Rouge, but I can’t help but root for an underdog, you know? But now for something completely different…
Runner Up: BUCCHIGIRI?!
Under any other director, I would not have given BUCCHIGIRI?! a second glance. A delinquent high school comedy where the wimpy protagonist makes a wish to lose his virginity, presumably with the single female character? No thanks. But this is the work of Hiroko Utsumi, who has been a favorite of mine ever since Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club–.
Utsumi just gets me, you know? Her high-energy productions consistently balance silliness and sincerity, and Sk8 the Infinity proved her brilliance when given free rein to go wild with full creative freedom. Even if her female characters are just so-so, I forgive her because her beautiful boys are so utterly lovable. Plus, her obsession with men’s back muscles is positively infectious… and I should know, because I was among those infected by Makoto Tachibana. This may be silly, but when Utsumi gets to call her own shots (which was not the case in the disappointing Banana Fish anime), she never fails to leave a smile on my face.
Most Anticipated: Mashle: Magic and Muscles Season 2
The first season of Mashle was surprisingly enjoyable. The comedy was on point, and the action didn’t slack either. The vibrant cast might feel stereotypical, and the core elements might feel like a retreading of similar anime, but the way the series was packaged gave a fresh feel. I am enthusiastically anticipating the answers to the lingering questions left by the last season.
Judging from the latest trailer, this season’s action will be at least a few notches above the previous season. The expanding cast of characters also seems to be getting a batch of new, cool magic high schoolers. Rayne Ames was spotted in the trailer whipping a big weapon in a seemingly bigger fight. Abyss Razor is hanging out with the main cast. Mash himself will still be involved in many fights against more powerful wizards. I’m looking forward to another season of fun times with Mash and friends.
Runner Up: Metallic Rouge
It’s an original mecha anime, and it’s produced by Studio BONES, so of course, I’ll be there on its first day. Mecha anime has been relatively rare in recent years, and having one coming from a high-profile studio immediately put them into my top three most anticipated anime of the season. Such is the case of Metallic Rouge. Last season, we had PLUTO, which, if you know the story, despite taking place across the globe, is a tale of robots with their personal views on humanity. Instead of chasing the high of presenting a grand spectacle, the staff followed the manga’s presentation and moody atmosphere, highlighting dramatic interactions among characters. Even during big fights, we don’t get action scenes on the same level presented in recent hit titles. After reading the synopsis of Metallic Rouge, I hope they would go with a deeper (though not necessarily complex or convoluted) story instead of trying hard to overwhelm us with unnecessarily flashy, explosive, bombastic action accompanied by messy plots.
Most Anticipated: High Card Season 2
A part of me wanted to put The Dangers in My Heart Season Two here, but I’ll go for a slightly less obvious sequel. High Card was an interesting original anime in an industry that doesn’t see that many original series. Its gimmick with the playing cards was simple but easy to understand, and the show is filled with so much style that it was easy to forgive most of its shortcomings. My problem with season one is that it couldn’t really decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Did it want to be a globetrotting adventure series? Did it want to be a down-to-earth character piece? Did it want to be an action romp with a supernatural mafia? The answer is that it wanted to try to be all these things, but there’s no way that High Card could give any of those story beats proper dedication in just twelve episodes. I’m happy it’s getting a second season because, while original anime are rare, continuations or sequels to original anime are even rarer. I got the chance to preview the first episode of season two and Anime NYC, and it already feels like the show is finally getting a little focus. I don’t think High Card season two can be a masterpiece, but I am curious to see what the final note of this show will be. When it has an ending in mind and runs towards it as fast as possible, what will things look like on the other side?
Most Anticipated: A Sign of Affection
This looks cute. I like seeing more adaptations of romances that take place post-high school and more adaptations of works aimed at the shōjo market, so A Sign of Affection already has two points in its favor. The main hurdle here will be its treatment of the hearing-impaired main character. Will she be a person, or will she be pathologized? The trailers give me confidence, and I’m incredibly impressed by the apparent fidelity of the sign language featured in them. A glimpse at the staff reveals they have distinct credits for “sign language animators,” so they’re taking it seriously. And if that kind of passion goes into the rest of this project, I’m excited to see how this romance develops.
Most importantly, there are a bunch of Tribe Cool Crew team members working on A Sign of Affection, including the director, Yūta Murano. I thought he did a great job on Kakushigoto, so it’s nice to see him again here.
Runner Up: Pon no Michi
Pon no Michi appears to be a slice-of-life romp about mahjong. That’s all I know about it. The anime doesn’t have to be good. It probably won’t be good. I don’t care; I’ll be there. Like many people, my introduction to mahjong was Akagi, and like many people, I made the grievous mistake of learning how to play it. In the many years since, no other game has inspired in me the range of emotions that mahjong has. It is a profoundly evil and capricious sport, yet it is alluring and addicting all the same. And I am dying to see how a laid-back club comedy approaches this nexus of felt, tiles, and malevolence.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.