Nichijou and the Everyday Epics of High School Girls

A slice-of-life that really knows how to live.

Mio dives dramatically off a riverbank. Yuuko watches her, shocked, in the foreground.

Adapted from the manga by Keiichi Arawi and vibrantly animated by Kyoto Animation, this comedy featuring robots, talking cats, and murderous deer initially sounds far from “ordinary.” However, Nichijou‘s dedication to finding reality through absurdity—to showing how things feel rather than how they literally are—grants the series an authenticity that many grounded YA dramas struggle to capture.

More to the point, it accomplishes this with a cast largely composed of high school girls—in particular, the central crew of Yuuko, Mio, Mai, and Nano. Through these girls’ diverse personalities and adventures, Nichijou not only showcases many common (and not-so-common) trials and triumphs of modern female adolescence and friendship, but also expands the narrow idea of what it means to be a “normal” teen girl in fiction.

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A Girl Worth Fighting For: Kingdom Hearts III and the mystery of the missing heroines

Curses! Damseled again! Aqua stands in front of a young Kairi, her keyblade drawn protectively

The first Kingdom Hearts game launched just over seventeen years ago, and I’ve been an avid fan and sometimes-apologist of the series ever since. Despite its (in)famously convoluted storyline, the character relationships and emotional blend of melancholy, hope, and heart-on-sleeve sincerity has kept me captivated into adulthood. Because, really, who cares about plot holes when you’re watching a cutscene through a veil of tears?

Needless to say, I was elated when the mythical Kingdom Hearts III finally dropped this year. I couldn’t wait to see the many stories come to a dramatic close and all the tragedy children get the endings they deserved. I wanted so badly to adore it.

And while there was a lot to enjoy (the gameplay, the graphics, most of the worlds, everything involving Axel), there was just as much that left me frustrated—and all of it linked back to the way the game treated its most prominent female characters. Kingdom Hearts’s cast and audience may have grown up, but its tired “boy saves girl” gender politics remain just as outdated as they were when the franchise first launched.

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Lady Leads & Sidekick Lads: Flipping the script in Team Rocket’s “Training Daze”

The lovely, charming origin story.

The Team Rocket trio stand together, wearing red training uniforms. Jessie clenches a fist and looks at James, who looks back at her with a determined smile. Meowth stands between them, grinning wide.

The Team Rocket trio have never been your typical villains. With a tenacity only matched by their incompetence, an enduring love for one another, a closet full of exquisite crossplay, and enough puns to sink the St. Anne, they’re about as charming as “bad guys” can get.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that their special backstory episode defies as many conventions as they do, taking the classic team origin story and turning familiar gendered archetypes cleverly on their heads.

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All Folks Bright and Beautiful: The casual gender diversity of Heaven’s Design Team

How to succeed at inclusivity without really trying.

A group of people sitting around a meeting room table. A man and woman face each other in the foreground.

The Heaven’s Design Team manga follows God’s R&D Department as they take requests from on high (literally) to populate the earth with new animals. Similar to Cells at Work!, it’s an edutainment series that balances comical interactions between coworkers with mini-lessons about some of the world’s most unique, clever, or just plain terrifying critters.

As the kid who devoured Zoobooks and the adult who’d rather visit a new city’s aquarium than its art museum, the series sounded like my jam, but it wasn’t exactly waving its arms and shouting “I’ll make great AniFem content!” either. Which was part of what made it such a pleasant surprise. I may have come for the neat animal facts, but I stayed for the charming cast breezily ignoring gender norms.

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Emma’s Choice: The gender-norm nightmare at the heart of The Promised Neverland

Some monsters aren’t just under our beds.

A sketch of two girls, Emma and Isabella. Emma is crouched and facing the left, looking determined. Isabella is standing and facing the right, looking sorrowful.

Since it began serialization in Viz’s Shonen JUMP, The Promised Neverland has garnered well-deserved praise for its twisting narrative, tense story beats, and compelling characters. But this series is more than a page-turning thriller. What begins as a sharply crafted horror story soon reveals itself to be a sophisticated critique on restrictive social practices—including the hellishly limited roles expected of girls.

CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of sexism and violence against children; disturbing imagery. SPOILERS for The Promised Neverland, Volumes 1-5 (Chapters 1-38).

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After the Rain, Ristorante Paradiso, and the delicate art of the age-gap romance

Power, perspective, and how little decisions can make a big difference.Two side-by-side shots of a young woman with short hair (Nicoletta) and a teen girl with long dark hair (Akira). Reflected in both of their eyes is a different middle-aged man.

At first glance, Ristorante Paradiso and After the Rain bear remarkable similarities. Both are anime adaptations of manga series written by women that center around a May-September romance. Both star a young woman and a middle-aged divorcee. Both even feature characters who work at a restaurant together! So why does Ristorante Paradiso leave me with the warm fuzzies, while After the Rain just leaves me feeling vaguely skeevy?

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