The new year kicked off with several new anime series, seven of which have managed to catch our eye.
January 2021 is the start of this year's winter anime season, which means a ton of brand-new anime debuted across all the different streaming services. There are plenty of shows to enjoy but seven series in particular have managed to keep us watching beyond their respective premieres.
Keep in mind, we're not saying that these seven are definitely the best anime to air this season. There are still plenty of weeks left in the winter season and any of these shows could take an unfavorable turn (or any we don't list here may recapture our attention if they have a turn for the better). But, for now, these seven anime are the ones we're enjoying the most, and we think that you will too. We're always open to hearing recommendations though, so let us know what you're currently watching--and why we should also be watching it--in the comments below.
Wonder Egg Priority
An original story, Wonder Egg Priority is one of the most gripping anime we've seen in ages. Beautiful to look at but covering topics that are often difficult to watch, this anime deals with the trauma of suicide and posits the question: How far would you go to save someone who took their own life? This is a show that comes with a load of trigger warnings--be aware that Wonder Egg Priority portrays bullying, self-cutting, fat-shaming, survivor's guilt, and group suicide, and that's only within the first three episodes. As an original story, there's no way of knowing what else is in store, all we know is that we're going to see it all the way through, as this may end up being the best anime of the season.
It would be a disservice to summarize what Wonder Egg Priority is about, given how well it crafts a compelling mystery from the building blocks of its structure--an uncanny otherness in its dreamscapes, ensemble cast of nuanced characters that each harbor private yet powerful motivations, and creativity in making personal traumas into literal monsters. Part of the appeal of this show is how well it holds so much information back and yet delivers just enough nuggets of information with each episode to convince you to return the following week for another peek behind the curtain. If you can, try to go into Wonder Egg Priority with as little knowledge of what transpires as you can. Admittedly, that's a hard ask for a show that makes suicide and personal trauma the central theme of its conflict, but it will make this already compelling anime that much more interesting to watch. You can watch Wonder Egg Priority on Funimation.
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
Plenty of the animations for the plays--especially the spikes for protagonist Yuni--have made us mutter, "Oh, shit" under our breath while watching 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team, an anime that's literally about its title. But it's not just the animation that has us in love with this show--we're tuning in every week to watch the evolving chemistry between Yuni and Kimichika, childhood friends turned volleyball partners. There's a lot of queer-coded subtext to the way the two boys speak to one another and are blushing at each other all the time, and the promise of possibly seeing the both of them fall for each other as much as they've fallen for volleyball is enough to keep us invested for the long haul. With that said, this anime recommendation comes with a trigger warning for depictions of bullying and physical violence, as well as references to self-harm.
Though the anime delves into the lives and motivations of their teammates as well, Yuni and Kimichika are the primary focus of the show--they both played together on their middle school volleyball team but had a falling-out that led to their team's defeat and the loss of their friendship. Now in high school, the two find themselves once again playing volleyball together and strive to fix their fractured relationship in order to become the powerhouse setter and ace combo their team needs to go to Nationals. You can watch 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team on Funimation.
It's so rare to see anime starring adults, which makes Otherside Picnic a refreshingly wonderful series to see in the winter anime lineup. It's special beyond that, of course. Despite the fact that Otherside Picnic primarily deals with the spooky and the supernatural monsters of internet creepypasta, such as the Wiggle-Waggle (a creature that makes you insane if you look at it too long) and Hasshaku-sama (an unnaturally tall woman who preys on people's deepest desires), the anime also heavily focuses on a pretty cute and wholesome romance.
Otherside Picnic sees college student Sorawo Kamikoshi teaming up with Toriko Nishina to explore a bizarre alternate reality where the creatures of urban myth are very real. Toriko is exploring "the otherside" in search of her mentor, a woman who's gone missing in the dangerous universe. Sorawo tags along after developing a small crush on Toriko, and the two form a monster-hunting partnership, selling the spoils of their expeditions to fund their weapon and supplies expenses. It's not an easy-going task though, and their journeys into the otherside begin to have an effect on them, transforming Sorawo's eye and Toriko's hand and giving them both otherworldly abilities. All the while, the two women grow closer to one another, developing a powerful bond. You can watch Otherside Picnic on Funimation.
SK8 The Infinity
Another original series, SK8 the Infinity is perhaps the most stylish anime this winter season, sporting a colorful assortment of animations. Action scenes are over the top, presenting the wild antics of an underground skateboarding racing ring with the same uncontrolled zeal that street racing had in Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift. The anime pauses between the action to dissect the act of skateboarding itself, providing explanations and demonstrations of certain moves before showing off how satisfying a feeling it is to slowly grasp the intricacies of the sport. In the same way that most sport anime may inspire you to want to play volleyball or pick up boxing, SK8 the Infinity will likely help you understand why people find riding on a skateboard so appealing.
In SK8 the Infinity, there's a secret skate race that takes place in an Okinawa mine shaft at midnight. Simply called "S," this race has no rules and competitors often challenge each other for rewards of their choosing. Some bet money, others stake their custom boards or personal reputations. Many of the racers are everyday business folks adopting personalities to unleash their hidden desires and true emotions. The series focuses on Reki, a high school student who loves skating more than anything, and his new friend Langa, a transfer student from Canada who knows nothing about skateboarding but ends up falling in love with the sport and becoming a natural S race competitor. You can watch SK8 the Infinity on Funimation.
Laid-Back Camp Season 2
Winter 2018's cute-as-heck series about camping returns for a second season this year, and--to the surprise of no one--continues to be one of the most wholesome watches ever. If the start of 2021 has left you stressed, there are few better ways to unwind than with a cozy episode of Laid-Back Camp, which takes a relaxed pacing with its storytelling--often stretching out camping trips for several episodes and giving you a regular dose of camping tips and tricks, hilarious comedy sketches, and beautiful moments of animated scenery. It's just such a fun show to watch, which is why it was a crowd favorite in 2018. It's nice to see that trend continue this year, as well as see Asaka (who sang the popular "Shiny Days" opening for Season 1 and "The Sunshower" theme for the spin-off series, Room Camp) return as the artist behind Season 2's opening, "Seize The Day." We love that she's now just associated with the show.
Laid-Back Camp follows a group of high schoolers who all love camping. Rin Shima enjoys camping on her own, though a chance encounter with Nadeshiko Kagamihara inspires her to occasionally step outside her comfort zone and camp with others. Nadeshiko, on the other hand, wholeheartedly takes to group camping, joining the Outdoor Activities Club at her school. One of our favorite aspects of Laid-Back Camp is its portrayal of Nadeshiko. She's a happy-go-lucky girl and extreme extrovert but she understands Rin's boundaries as an introvert, allowing her friend to enjoy camping alone. Laid-Back Camp is a rare series that doesn't outright preach "activities are better with friends," and instead posits that people can enjoy the same activity in different ways and emphasizes respecting boundaries, ensuring the activity remains fun for everyone. You can watch Laid-Back Camp on Crunchyroll.
We love anime that seem like they're setting up an obvious twist, only for the obvious twist to end up being a clever smokescreen for something else. Kemono Jihen does this in a few ways. It seems like it's going to be a slow-burning, mystery-driven serial where protagonist Kabane is at the center of something possibly supernatural, only to reveal that it will actually be a bit more action-focused and that Kabane is not as unique as we are originally led to believe. Kemono Jihen has one of the most well-written premieres of any winter 2021 anime--it respects your time, forgoing long-winded narration and clunky setup. This does mean that you'll likely be confused for a great deal of the first episode, but if you're willing to put up with that, you'll be rewarded in a big way by the end and find a lot to enjoy in the following episodes.
Like Wonder Egg Priority, you'll ideally want to go into Kemono Jihen with as little background knowledge as possible. Though it's not the main focus, the mystery around Kabane is one of the big drivers for the plot, and to reveal anything about him or the Tokyo detective that comes to his village in order to investigate the strange deaths of random livestock would ruin this anime's excellent first episode. That said, you should know that Kemono Jihen does not shy away from animating body horror or blood, and depicts child death and physical bullying in its first episode. The show has been more tame in subsequent episodes but this is definitely an anime that doesn't shy away from violent imagery. You can watch Kemono Jihen on Funimation.
If you're looking for something to watch with a loved one this winter, you really can't go wrong with Horimiya, an anime based on a popular, incredibly cute romantic comedy manga. The premise behind Horimiya is likely familiar to everyone (which likely explains its popularity). The series is all about the dual identities of people, especially during the years that they're in high school. Sometimes the person we are in public is altogether different than who we are in the privacy of our homes or when hanging out with a close-knit group of friends. Perhaps one version of us is fake, perhaps not--Horimiya does not judge, it simply explores the societal phenomenon that tons of people seem to deal with but rarely ever talk about.
In Horimiya, Kyoko Hori is a smart, stylish, outgoing student and one of the most popular girls in her class. Everyone thinks she must lead an exciting personal life but, in truth, she takes care of the housework and her little brother after school every day while her single mom works, preferring to dress down and wear comfortable clothes when not at school. Her classmate, the gloomy and shy Izumi Miyamura is an assumed otaku. But in truth, he only wears glasses, keeps his hair down, and always wears the long-sleeved winter uniform because he actually has a ton of piercings and tattoos. He's also not much of a shut-in or nerd; he impulsively acts out and is a poor student. A chance encounter causes Kyoko and Izumi to discover their dual lives and the two begin regularly meeting up after school, vowing to keep each other's secret. Eventually, the two's friendship begins to blossom into something more, and the two soon find out that their classmates aren't all what they seemed either. You can watch Horimiya on Funimation.