It’s hard to find a curated list of shows that I or my friends would like. I’ve tried to get my shows from Netflix before, or my friends – even then, it’s hard to isolate why people like specific shows with only spoiler-free reviews. Personal recommendations are rare and treasured, and I wish there was a place that all my friends put their favorite shows up so I could steal from that list instead. I’m trying to get more into anime as well! My reviews skew higher because I usually quickly stop watching shows that don’t immediately hit, so shows I finish are more likely to be highly rated. See my similar movie doc for movie recs, or my Goodreads for book recs.
‘Plot addict’ is pretty lossy and inaccurate representation of this list. I generally love any shows that have really complex characters, good humor, and make me see something in a different light. I prefer complex plots that take focus to fully understand or make you feel a ton of emotions, or have you sniff out lots of little clues that the animators/directors plant. I’ve found metaphor.systems to be a way better search tool than Google to find links to spoiler free blog posts or analysis videos, though Google’s filter-by-date search is a bulletproof way to ensure no spoilers.
I think this list is pretty broadly recommendable, but specifically I think folks who care more about characters, plot, and emotional depth over action will particularly love this list. I try not to include any spoilers, but more of a broadstrokes review. This list is largely inspired by Nick Sweeting’s similar list and Max Langenkamp’s. If you have any recs for me having looked at this list, I’d love to hear them – you can dm me on Twitter! To calibrate, anything 8 or above means I highly recommend that others watch it, and 10 is a must-watch. ⭐ My top show of the year is marked in stars ⭐. I tend to stop shows I don’t like in the middle, so expect all shows under 8 stars to only be reflective of the first part of the show, and shows 9 or 10 stars to be about the whole show.
This year I’ve basically exclusively watched anime, compared to almost none before.
Attack on Titan: 6/10 Season 1, 9/10 Season 2, 10/10 Season 3, 10/10 Season 4. I think that season 4 is so masterful and beautiful that it is 100% worth continuing even if you didn’t like season 1 – I have never felt deeper emotions while watching television. It is definitely worth it.
These are my real time notes from season 1 – I now think that while my reads accurately depicted my emotions at the time, I was completely and utterly wrong, and am so glad that I continued to watch. I watched the first few episodes and found the characters alright, but the focus on war, gore, and one dimensional villains a bit off-putting. While I understand that characters have no choice but to live in this world and are doing their best given the situation, I initially didn’t like the focus on pro-war rhetoric, or the ridiculously large number of named characters that I can’t keep track of. Then halfway through S1, it switched to power dynamics and coordination of large organizations, which was actually quite interesting. I don’t generally like war or gore, so it was hard for me to get through S1. I found this analysis with S1 spoilers only of season 1 pretty fun to read.
After hearing the same studio that made Jujutsu Kaisen animated Season 4, and literally 5 friends on the same week say that it is definitively not about the villains (and gets much better after season 1), I decided to give it another shot and keep watching. I’ve actually found season 2 much more enjoyable; maybe I was just numbed to the violence by then, but I thought the season was more plot focused and confronted more inner conflict than season 1, and mindless killing was a less prominent goal. The extra OVA episodes were critical watches in my opinion, don’t skip them!
I thought season 3 was a masterpiece – it provided the moral ambiguity I was looking for, very neatly re-interpreted the parts of the series I didn’t like in a satisfying way, and had some absolutely incredibly well thought out plots and character developments. I now think that some of the episodes in season 3 were so emotionally and mentally impactful that it was worth not enjoying most of the frustrating-at-times Season 1.
I think season 4 is the greatest sequence of episodes ever created in the history of television, and erased any hesitations I had about season 1 – it re-interpreted every qualm I had about the series in a beautiful, haunting, and masterful way. The writer’s grasp of human dynamics, character evolution, and human coordination is unparalleled, and there is a reason this is considered an S tier anime.
⭐ Jujutsu Kaisen ⭐: 10/10. I initially didn’t watch this show because I thought it was about martial arts from the title. I was extremely wrong – jujutsu roughly literally translates as “gentle technique”, and means general unarmed combat: the show has some fighting, but it’s not really about that. The villains are well justified and engaging, the characters are extremely complex and evolve in very anti-trope ways, and the plot is insanely well done. The animation is also incredible, and I love that the writers and animators are massive memers: there are chibi-style cut scenes to exaggerate reactions that are hilarious, and after-credit joke scenes that are basically memes. The second opening song is also now probably my favorite Japanese song. I wish there were more spoiler-free discussions or youtube analyses for each episode, though I found Reddit’s episode threads decent.
Made in Abyss: 7/10 first season. This anime seems to be Gwern’s favorite anime and seemed promising; the premise and world building of the first episode felt really fascinating to me, and it’s only 13 episodes. However, as I watched the next 6 or so episodes, I thought the pacing was pretty poor: it was simultaneously too fast to give time to each place, and too slow to develop major plot points. Too much time was spent on the landscape, and too little on the lore or the history. In addition, the characters were pretty simple and one-dimensional, and the villains weren’t particularly cunning or interesting.
I really liked the season 1 finale, but imo it wasn’t worth 9 episodes of buildup. The two movies (journeys dawn and wandering twilight) cut a lot of the crappy slow plots out, added some fun scenes, and seem overall better. I’d recommend just watching the movies piecemeal over the anime. I think if you prefer pretty worldbuilding to fighting scenes and are willing to wait for plot, only then it’s a good fit.
Code Geass: Maybe 6/10 for the first 5 episodes. The villainization of invaders is pretty one sided, the main character seems to win no matter what, and I don’t like the animation style much or lack of clearly developed characters and backstory. The school scenes are alright though. I hear it gets better but I thought it would be more enjoyable to try another anime instead.
Hunter x Hunter: ??. I watched the first episode and liked it – this was the anime that set all the tropes. Couldn’t find anyone to watch with me so I chose another.
Westworld 10/10 for Season 1. The world building and meta world building is absolutely insane – both the out west parts and the futuristic parts. It delves really deep into some very interesting consciousness theories, which I’ve commented on a bit more in my other posts. They slyly slip in a bunch of fun thought experiments about consciousness and AI that are remarkably thought provoking and unique – Jonathan Nolan clearly dug deep for material. The characters are dynamic and multifaceted, and the plot is surprising and well done. People said it gets worse from season 2 and on, so I stopped watching.
Atlanta: ??. Watched the first 2 episodes or so. Wasn’t super compelled; I don’t think I was drawn to Community’s humor either so it makes sense.
Sword Art Online: 8/10 for Season 1. A metaverse concept that was pretty novel for it’s time, the protagonists are entertaining, and the the romance is heartwarming. Probably aimed at middle or high schoolers, but I really enjoyed it nevertheless and would recommend it as an intro anime. Heard the second season was mediocre so decided to try other animes instead of ruining the series for me.
Love Death Robots: 7/10. Hit or miss. Some episodes like Bad Traveling or Zima Blue are 10/10, Good Hunting and The Witness are 9/10, but the average is closer to a 6.
⭐ Bojack Horseman ⭐: 10/10. It’s nominally the best show around about depression, but it’s so well done that I couldn’t really tell. I found the titular character to be both repulsive and incredibly relatable: a remarkable mirror on myself that I’ve never seen so well done in media. The characters are all astoundingly complex and deal with realistic problems that show who they deeply are, and the anthropomorphic characters drive focus to chracter traits closer to people’s cores.
- ⭐ Rick and Morty ⭐: 10/10. This is an absolute classic - Dan Harmon is a story and plot genius, and the sci-fi-esque plots are hilarious, cynical, and anti-tropey. I cannot recommend this highly enough; I have consumed basically all of the interviews and related spinoff shorts I could find on YouTube at this point. The few episodes that kicked off the second half of Season 5 are probably better skipped, but other than that I think most episodes are absolute bangers.
- ⭐ Master of None ⭐: 10/10. Aziz Ansari is a genius: this show is an incredible mix of comedy and personal reflection. It’s a really incredible set of stories about being a mid 20s-something person in New York: the inner conflict at the hidden ironies of the lifestyle, the ethical ambiguity of common and uncommon situations, and all of the small awkward moments in life that everyone has but no one acknowledges. Never watched Season 3.
Want to Watch
The notes for these movies are just summaries of what friends/Reddit have told me about. Approximately ranked with most-want-to-watch at the top. Interestingly, I only have animes on this list…
- Foundation: Classic Asimov novel was adapted by Apple TV so no one seems to know about it, but friends seem to rate it highly.
- Your Lie in April (Anime): Highly recommended dramatic romance about human connection. “Most moving anime” according to a friend.
- Stein’s Gate (Anime): Apparently this is a really good one about a time travelling microwave (seems a little absurd to me, but I’m willing to give it a shot) – a friend said this is the anime he most wishes he could rewatch with fresh eyes.
- Hormiya (Anime): One season, 13 episode anime about a high school romance. Best Romance of the year in 6th annual Crunchyroll awards.
- Abstract: Profiles on famous artists like Olafur Elliason.
- Promised Neverland (Anime): Season 1 is “impressive, leaves you stunned, the world building is so good”. Rec’d by a friend who also didn’t like AoT season 1 but liked season 2.
- Bocchi the Rock (Anime): This is one of the most popular animes in my Japanese friend’s Tokyo group, about an anxious-avoidant gradeschool girl who’s really good at guitar, and has to reconcile the social needs of being in a band with her natural introversion.
- Tatami Galaxy (Anime): Seems to explore the disillusionment of exploring alternate school lives. Critically acclaimed with exaggerated style and absurd dark comedy, 11 episodes.
- Spy X Family (Anime): Wholesome and cute.
- Demon Slayer (Anime): The manifestation of curses is very similar to Jujutsu Kaisen, as is the duality of the main character. Seems like a curious one to try out, but many people say that it’s inferior to Jujutsu Kaisen.
- Violet Evergarden (Anime): “the most beautiful animation out of any that I’ve seen.” - My friend Ray. Unforunately, I really don’t like war plots, so it’s not high on the list.
Shows I watched in middle and high school, roughly ranked in reverse chronological order.
- Silicon Valley
- Yes Theory
- Impractical Jokers
- Breaking Bad
- Pretty Little Liars
Young childhood past
I probably remember exactly 0 details from any of these shows, all probably watched when I was 13 or younger.
- Electric Company
- Fetch with Ruff Ruffman
- Suite Life on Deck
- Veggie Tales