Let's be honest: on first impressions, Winter 2019 is not going to be the most exciting season for anime. Winters usually aren't the strongest anime seasons, but fans were kind of spoiled by 2018's crop. Half of the Crunchyroll Anime Award nominees for Best Anime of 2018 (Devilman Crybaby, A Place Further than the Universe and Violet Evergarden) premiered in Winter, while other shows like Laid Back Camp, After the Rain, Pop Team Epic and Darling in the FranXX, while not all universally loved, at least roused passions. Winter 2019, in contrast, feels rather quiet on the new anime front.
35 new or returning full-length anime series premiered this season as well as six short-form anime. This sampling of 20 anime covers most of the most hyped anime of the season, ignoring ones which Netflix has snatched up and isn't making available for American consumption just yet. Out of those 20, the bottom five are downright bad, though it's worth noting one of those series has attracted a rather defensive fanbase. The next eight on the list are varying degrees of mediocre-to-OK; understandable guilty pleasures, missed opportunities and shows with the potential to improve. The top seven are all worth keeping an eye out for over the course of the season, though really the top two are so much more highly recommended than everything else it's not even funny. If you intently follow seasonal anime, chances are you can guess what those top two are, though you might not guess which order they're in. Here are 20 highlights and lowlights of the Winter 2019 anime season ranked by quality.
W'z ranks at the bottom of this list because it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to watch this show. It's a show so unappealing that that the marketing had to completely hide what the show even is. If you haven't heard by now, the big secret of W'z is that it's a stealth sequel to Hand Shakers, another anime nobody liked and nobody was demanding a sequel for.
W'z is slightly less ugly to look at than its predecessor, but it's still an incredibly garish mess of too much animation with not enough attention to things like perspective and basic compositing. The directing is aggressively hyperactive and the story is incoherent. Avoid at all costs unless you love trainwrecks.
19 RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO
Plenty has been written about how Rising of the Shield Hero's content is questionable, to say the least. The show's terrible handling of misogyny, false accusations and slavery has naturally caused anger and controversy. Yet with all these talking points, it's easily to overlook the basic issue that, even if it wasn't so problematic, Rising of the Shield Hero is just boring.
The first episode runs close to an hour and most of that's just exposition dumps. This is yet another "nerd gets transported to video game fantasy world" story where the nerd is particularly unlikable (he's a misogynist slave owner!) and the world isn't anything you haven't seen before. Some say the novels improve, but the combo of boring and offensive easily kills interest.
For some reason, the anime studio Doga Kobo has decided to go all in on comedies about adult women who are way too into prepubescent girls. Wataten! isn't as instantly weak as last fall's UzaMaid! was, mainly because its protagonist is less aggressive and her perverted intentions less outright explicit.
Still, it's a serious waste of comedic animation talent on such utterly disgusting material. At the very least, Wataten! acknowledges that someone should call the cops on the show's protagonist, but nobody actually does. It's not as dreadfully boring as Rising of The Shield Hero, but its offensive content is even more indefensible.
17 DIMENSION HIGH SCHOOL
Dimension High School gets points for being different. It's part live-action high school comedy, part badly animated educational quiz show. The cast of characters includes five live-action boys who get sucked into the anime world, a talking rock and a sphinx. For novelty, you might be tempted to watch it.
Just be warned that this mix of disparate elements doesn't really work. For all the weirdness, the novelty wears off quick. While it's funny when they acknowledge how bad the animation is, it's still unappealing to look at, and the edutainment aspect doesn't work nearly as well as, say, Cells at Work.
16 PASTEL MEMORIES
There have been entertaining anime about anime before, but Pastel Memories fails because it feel less like a fan celebration and more like a bland commercial. The premise, that otaku culture is fading away and the workers at one cafe are trying to preserve it, could have been interesting if it had the slightest ounce of passion, but 90% of Pastel Memories' first episode is a slog.
The 10% that isn't a slog happens to come at the end of the episode, where a sudden twist adds a new level of Kingdom Hearts-esque fantasy silliness to the proceedings. It'd be reason to be curious what came next if the execution were the least bit entertaining.
15 GIRLY AIR FORCE
Girly Air Force has to be the worst title of the season, not because it sounds ridiculous but because it's misleading. You hear that title and automatically think this is going to be a show about girls who fly planes, or maybe girls who are planes themselves because anime in weird. While the show does contain plane-girls, in this first episode at least the focus is pretty much entirely on a boring dude.
Having been saved by one of the Plane Girls, Boring Dude's focus in this episode is joining the Air Force despite his mom's objections. While there's nothing wildly objectionable about the show (though its rah rah militarism might raise eyebrows), there's little compelling reason to watch.
kemurikusa. is mediocre, but at least it's mediocre with a distinct personality. One look at this show and it's obviously the work of Tatsuki, the director and writer of the first season of last year's cult hit Kemono Friends. His trademarks (charmingly cheap CGI, the combination of cuteness and post-apocalyptic darkness) are all there.
Whereas Kemono Friends hid its dark side beneath a friendly kids' show exterior, kemurikusa. is more upfront about the post-apocalyptic nature of its setting. The story doesn't seem particularly compelling at the moment, though this could improve (nobody was expecting Kemono Friends to become such a hit at first either).
13 THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI
The Magnificent Kotobuki's first episode contains decently engaging dogfighting action, minimal characterization and an aesthetic choice so jarring it singlehandedly drops the show down several spots from where it could be on this list.
It makes sense animating the planes in CG. Animating the pilots in CG as well might also be understandable if the show were to fully commit to the digital aesthetic. So why are random supporting characters hand-drawn and shown right alongside CG characters? Unless the CG characters turn out to be robots or something, it's needlessly distracting. This is a better plane show than Girly Air Force but not by that much.
12 MEIJI TOKYO RENKA
There's not that many anime series targeted at women this season, so the time travel romance series Meiji Tokyo Renka will certainly appeal to some if only for lack of competition. This show seems unlikely to break out among American fans, however, due to the relative obscurity in the West of most of the historical figures it references.
The show itself is on the generic side, another dating sim adaptation where those curious might be better off playing the original dating sim. Also, while Akitaro Daichi is a talented director behind such shojo classics as Fruits Basket and Kodocha, recent allegations that he's rather creepy towards women behind-the-scenes makes his involvement something of a turn-off.
11 THE PRICE OF SMILES
This is a hard show to rate due to the contrast between its immense potential and just how bland most of the premiere episode is. Tatsunoko Production put in effort for its 55th anniversary project's animation quality. The main character, the naive Princess Yuki, is charming as well, and the way her advisors try to hide her kingdom's darker truths from her is a solid basis for an ongoing story.
It's likely that story can develop in interesting ways, but judging by the first episode alone, The Price of Smiles is unfortunately kind of boring despite its potential. There's been a sad lack of great mecha anime in recent years, so we want this to improve, but it hasn't gripped us.
10 THE QUINTESSENTIAL QUINTUPLETS
Fanservice anime has trended in such bizarre directions that there's something somewhat refreshing about The Quintessential Quintuplets being such a straightforward harem show of the kind we don't really see that often any more. The only gimmick is right there in the title, that the five girls vying for the protagonist's affections are quintuplets.
In style, humor and overall sensibility, this is a show which could have easily been something Ken Akamatsu wrote in 2003. That will let you know whether you're interested or not. High art this ain't, but as guilty pleasures go it's far from the most embarassing you could have.
Endro! is cute and fluffy and nothing particularly exciting. It does actually have a pretty clever set-up: the first scene of defeating the Demon Lord is set up like the final scene of a typical magical girl anime, complete with ending credits, and the rest of the show is about heroine Yusha's aimlessness without a big enemy to fight.
For fans of magical girl shows on the lighter, more optimistic side of the spectrum, this is worth checking out. Those who want bigger laughs out of their comedies might be better served looking elsewhere, but this is a show which could improve over the course of the season.
8 DOMESTIC GIRLFRIEND
Let's be clear: Domestic Girlfriend is trash. Stupid, ridiculous, sensationalistic soap opera trash. It's also surprisingly well-produced as far as this sort of trash goes, and it's just ridiculous enough to be the sort of fun trash you might end up getting addicted to.
What's the plot? Natsuo Fujii has a crush on his teacher and had a fling with a girl he didn't know was his teacher's younger sister. Now his dad's remarrying and the girls he likes are his step-sisters! The presentation is thankfully more comical awkwardness rather than creepy fetishism. Also, the opening theme is a banger.
7 MAGICAL GIRL SPEC-OPS ASUKA
If nothing else, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka's first episode works as a way to get one interested in the manga (disclosure: CBR writer Tom Speelman does the English translation for the manga). As a work of animation, it's one of the blander-looking shows of the season, but there are interesting things happening with the story.
Of the darker magical girl series which have proliferated since Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is one of the more interesting examples of the trend. It's not going for cheap shock value with its violence so much as treating it as a matter of fact, and the exploration of the heroine's PTSD makes for a strong emotional hook.
6 BOOGIEPOP AND OTHERS
It was wise for Boogiepop and Others to premiere with two episodes in a row. The first episode is kind of dull, overly talky and confusing. While the second episode is still talky and confusing, it gives a better sense of what the show's trying to do. The supernatural elements get creepier, and the total shift in point of view clarifies the way the story will piece together its mysteries.
Recommending Boogiepop and Others at this point is still something of a leap of faith, inspired by the source material's success and the talent of director Shingo Natsume. The art's great but the animation quality is less consistent than Natsume's past series, and the mysteries could fall apart in the end. Still, we're intrigued.
5 MY ROOMMATE IS A CAT
Now this is the good stuff. Just look at that cat roommate! How could you not love him? OK, "cats are adorable" might be stretching it for a full 22 minutes worth of plot, but My Roommate is a Cat does actually have a compelling if not particularly original story to sustain the cuteness.
The main human character, writer Subaru Mikazuki, is a total anti-social wreck who overworks himself so much that he can barely take care of his own needs. He adopts a stray cat he finds by his parents' grave for both inspiration and companionship, and might just become a better person because of it. Two-thirds of the way through, the first episode switches to the cat's perspective; it's manipulative but effectively emotional.
4 KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR
Kaguya-Sama: Love is War is easily one of the best directed new shows of the season, as well as the funniest. The show centers around two super-genius student council members, rich girl Kaguya and working class boy Miyuki, who are both trying to manipulate each other into admitting their love while refusing to admit it themselves.
The first episode is divided into three segments. Ongoing narrative development seems to be beside the point; instead the show is trying to see how many outrageous variations on a formula it can come up with. It's already hilarious and could easily develop into an anime comedy classic.
Osamu Tezuka's classic manga Dororo has been adapted to different mediums many times over. This latest anime adaptation is directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi, whose most relevant credits for this swordfighting action-drama are the Rurouni Kenshin TV series and OVAs. If you loved Kenshin but also don't want to ever rewatch Kenshin due to its gross criminal manga-ka, this is the show for you.
Note that unlike Kenshin, Dororo mixes its historical setting with a healthy dose of the supernatural. Hyakumaru, a man who lost almost all his body parts to demons but somehow retains the ability to fight them, is an enigma, but he's certainly awesome to watch in action. The young thief Dororo, meanwhile, makes for a more expressive POV character.
2 THE PROMISED NEVERLAND
The Promised Neverland arrives as the most hyped anime of the winter season, and for good reason. If you've read the manga, you know why. If you haven't, go and watch the first episode without any background knowledge. You'll instantly want to see more of the anime, and maybe get ahead of it and read the manga.
The next big thing from Shonen Jump, The Promised Neverland has the same positive energy as other Shonen Jump hits but is distinctly its own thing. Emma's a strong female lead that we rarely see in Shonen Jump titles, and the narrative draw isn't big fights but rather a combination of surprising horror and battles of wits.
1 MOB PSYCHO 100 II
Maybe it's cheating to put a sequel to an older show at #1 on this list, since it already had a chance to develop, but a sequel is also at the bottom of the list, so we'll say it's fair game. The Promised Neverland could very well give it a run for its money in the future, but as of this moment, Mob Psycho 100 II has the best premiere of the Winter 2019 anime season.
Mob has grown as a character, no longer repressing his emotions but still having trouble expressing them. You want to hug him and tell him everything will be alright. The show's sense of humor and experimental animation is still delightful, and the season's second episode ramps up the action.