Discover more from This Side of Japan
This Side of Japan's 50 Best Anime Songs of 2023
We count down our favorite anime songs by Kana Hanazawa, Inori Minase, Liella and more
Back in January, I found myself spoiled with a load of great new anison singles, enough for me to blog about some of them. The hits kept on coming throughout 2023 from voice actors as well as anime shows and franchises, and I soon began to realize I could potentially mock up a year-end list from how much I’ve saved, so here you have it: my favorite 50 anison releases of 2023.
The external factors behind some of the most popular anison releases made for a bigger story this year than any musical trends or styles. Viral TikTok dances. Billboard chart dominance. Driving exponential growth in the sale of instruments. It’s only reflective of the J-pop industry in general, where a song can’t just be a song to be a hit but rather a part of a larger meme. As if voice actors didn’t already have to be able to take on roles outside of their central gig and perform as singers, idols, instrumentalists, they now have to add “influencer” to their resume, learning the dances spread by their respective songs.
As far as anison is concerned as just for music sake, my favorite releases established a unique character as they basked in their own world. The scene showcased a wide range of musical styles as well as moods and personalities. But the best songs were engrossing in their own way whether they got emotionally swept away by flowery string arrangements, indulged in cuteness via squeaky voices and sprightly funk, or brooded about existential anguish to the tune of jagged math rock.
Here are my 50 favorite anison songs from 2023. Selections were eligible as long as they were recorded by a voice actor or were a part of an anime franchise. And here is a Spotify playlist of this list.
1) “My Own Story” by Minori Suzuki
For a song accompanied by such a boundless, soaring string arrangement, “My Own Story” shines a light on a narrator so weighed down to the point of near immobility. “A whirlwind rises, and I held my breath / I want to go / but I still can’t,” Suzuki Minori opens the song, frustrated from her own reservation to dive into the unknown and move forward like the rest of the world. And it’s her struggle to envision what can possibly lie on the next chapter of her story, so to speak, that cuts the deepest. While the chorus blooms with optimism as the voice actress marches along despite her self-doubt, I also can’t help but think of its lyrics as a sweet little lie she tells herself so her endeavors aren’t entirely hopeless and meaningless: “Ahead of the pages that I’ll keep turning / will be a day I’ll understand all of this wasn’t a waste.” Whether or not those lyrics contain the truth, I can only hope that having faith in the outcome can take her far and away from her misery.
2) “Idol” by YOASOBI
Many parts animate “Idol” from its multimedia engagements to Ayase’s bombastic production, bolstered by gothic chorales as well as blaring trap brass and snare rolls. But the histrionics powering it is all in service of the titular idol, dramatized by the song’s moving pieces almost into a religious figure. Her biography is delivered expertly by Ikura, who bobs and weaves through the athletic top line and shifting lyrical styles with ease. Her performance of perfection inspires admiration from her followers yet it’s her character flaws that drive the core of this anthem: “And I’ll lie again / with the hope these words turn into the truth,” Ikura sings from the perspective of Oshi No Ko’s Ai Hoshina before she steps on stage, fulfilling the fantasy mutually built between her and her fans.
3) “Chu, Tayousei” by Ano
No matter how ill-mannered Ano got on TV, variety shows kept inviting her back this year as to encourage her behavior but also to let the former idol squirm: no one looked more uncomfortable hanging out with other entertainers in the studio than Ano. Despite her visible discomfort, she secretly welcomed the attention—she signed up for a hell of a lot of CM appearances at the very least—and it’s this vulgar, tsundere appeal that’s at the heart of “Chu, Tayousei,” the song that propelled her to mainstream stardom.
“Chu, Tayousei” is an earworm by design from its rhyme-first wordplay to loop-de-loop melody, the zippy chorus collapsing lyrics into mere onomatopoeia; its viral TikTok choreography further obscures meaning in favor of the pure stickiness of its lyrical components. All this prime engineering to steer a hook driven by rather disgusting imagery, but it’s precisely this juvenile detail that’s the fuel behind the generated craze: the song would be as half as fun to interact with had Ano not sung “gero-chuu,” or vomit-kiss, in the chorus. Ano drew a mass crowd through spewing venom, all starting from “Chu, Tayousei.”
4) “Dramatic Ja Nakuttemo” by Kana Hanazawa
Despite being blessed in the moment spent with her significant other, Kana Hanazawa can’t help but dwell on the fact that it can all vanish at any given time in “Dramatic Ja Nakuttemo.” Though her anxiety isn’t unfounded, you wish she turns her attention instead to the finer things happening right in the present, especially as the flowery orchestral arrangement presents the idyllic scene laid out in front of her. But her mourning of lost time ultimately leads her to gain clarity of what matters most: “Even if it wasn’t dramatic, even if I moan that it’s all boring / I’ll remember this day,” she sings with newfound appreciation for even the mundane.
5) “Shikou” by Saori Hayami
Frantic pianos and searing guitars electrify “Shikou,” and they imbue the arrangement with heated urgency while bringing the heft and dramatics familiar to Saori Hayami’s past material. The production send the song skyward, hardly offering the voice actress a moment of rest. And yet she answers to the music with equal intensity. “Let’s escape / by pulling hope overflowing / from our fragile wounds,” she sings in the decadent chorus with might, pushing her hushed vocals to the brink. After a series of stately ballads last year, “Shiko” restores in Hayami’s music a vital sense of momentum.
6) “Ct” by Ginka Haijima (CV: Azuki Shibuya)
After leading a curation of big, flashy names in electro-pop production, Denonbu surprised this year by inviting acts such as uku kasai from the underground scenes. From the delicate, subtly uneasy glitch-pop arrangement to Azuki Shibuya whispering lyrics as if to not wake up the neighbors, the solo single “Ct” for the character Ginka Haijima is practically an uku kasai track all but in name. With its main ripple of noise in the form of a breezy rush of drum ‘n’ bass, the intricate song presents a bedroom-pop quietude rarely found in Denonbu releases.
7) “Private Room” by Azusa Tadokoro
In her singles this year, Azusa Tadokoro explored solitude found in personal spaces. But while she portrayed the homebody lifestyle as cozy and full of wonder in “Drum-shiki Tansaki,” she treats her lonesome in “Private Room” as a means of escape from an upsetting reality. Her vocals grow resigned as she sighs oblique lyrics of ambivalence in the chorus—“Hello, you’re the color of glass, the text of temporary”—and the flourishes in the gossamer synth-pop arrangement remain as understated: echoes of crumbing bass and a drum ‘n’ bass break softly courses underneath the somber music as if to not unsettle her. Tadoko speaks low in her own vocabulary as builds her own private world, crafting dazzling pop that captivates with its secrets.
8) “no rhyme no reason” by TOGENASHI TOGEARI
For TOGENASHI TOGEARI, rock music ostensibly acts as not just a hobby but an all-or-nothing salve: the producers write for the 2D band a biography filled with misery and relationship trauma. But while the jagged guitars and the maudlin lyrics of “no rhyme nor reason” establishes a caustic personality by design, the song moves lithe despite its headiness. The razor-sharp riffs are agile as they are urgent, zigzagging as restlessly as the band’s inner monologues. “Instead of standing still with a blank mind / I suppress the part of me that wants to die and sit back and watch,” goes a blunt lyric, though before you can dwell on that morbid thought, the music continues to zoom ahead with overwhelming speed.
9) “Naimononedari” by Maaya Sakamoto
“Naimononedari” initially seems to find Maaya Sakamoto captivated from discovering a shining gem, the jazz arrangement fluttering just as perkily. It’s not until her stately vocals suddenly express disgust—“I hate that you have what I don’t / and I hate, hate, hate that about me even more”—do you realize she is actually harboring deep jealousy. Her self-loathing goes undetected as she sighs in the chorus as though she’s caught in a daydream: “Hey, can I have it if you don’t need it,” she sweetly asks, calling no attention to the desperation informing the lyrics. But Sakamoto doesn’t attempt to mask her flaws in “Naimononedari” as much as she treats adoration and envy as sides of the same coin.
10) “Ai Wana Muchuu” by MAISONdes ft. asmi & Surii
Production ensemble MAISONdes reached outside their house style of late-night R&B to suit the bright personality of Urusei Yatsura, and their bubbly synth-pop themes done for the series surprised with their use of color and humor—unexpected qualities from a project that usually favors anonymity. From its rubbery synths to its restless love-drunk chorus, the second season’s opening song, “Ai Wana Muchuu,” continued the trend. “Pain, pain, go away / and leave me with only love,” featured singer asmi sings as she sinks deep into her obsession, and the music done by Surii proceeds with a manic energy to match her all-consuming feelings.
11) AIMI - “MAGICAL DESTROYER”
12) Sumire Uesaka - “LOVE CRAZY”
13) Liyuu - “OPEN UP!”
14) Yuki Nakashima - “Sapphire”
15) Tomori Kusunoki - “BONE ASH”
16) Ling tosite sigure - “alexithymiaspare”
17) Akino & Futaba Kayano (CV: Sena Horikoshi) - “Muchu Ni Chu Chu Chu Tuning Up!”
18) Momo Asakura - “Shuwawa!”
19) Yurika Kubo - “Kawaikute Ijiwarushichau”
20) Aqours - “Genjitsu Mysterium”
21) Inori Minase - “Scrap Art”
22) Aya Uchida - “Preview”
23) KANA-BOON ft. Yuho Kitazawa - “Gradation”
24) Anju Inami - “Killer Bee”
25) Aika Kobayashi - “Gummy Chew”
26) Ayaka Ohashi - “Please, please!”
27) Aina Suzuki - “Dash and Go!”
28) Kaori Ishihara - “Paraglider”
29) Liella! - “Second Sparkle”
30) Smewthie - “Megamorphose”
31) yanaginagi - “Yukiharuame”
32) Akari Kito - “Dear Doze Days”
33) TrySail - “flower”
34) Nanaka Suwa - “Starry Garden”
35) Yorushika - “Telepath”
36) Maaya Uchida - “Love You Tender!”
37) Shuka Saito - “Bokura Wa Genius”
38) MyGO!!!!! - “Otoichie”
39) Miku Itou - “Ten to Sen”
40) Yu Serizawa ft. MOTSU - “JUNGLE FIRE”
41) Rikako Aida - “Prism”
42) Kaori Maeda - “Hikatta Coin Ga Simesuhou”
43) harmoe - “Anti Client”
44) Minami Kuribayashi - “Aimai Moment”
45) Shiyui - “Happiness of the Dead”
46) Miki Sato - “Dramatic”
47) Nijigasaki High School Idol Club - “Go Our Way!”
48) Kohana Lam - “A few Sentimental”
49) Morfonica - “Chikai No Wingbeat”
50) Kessoku Band - “Hikari No Nakade”
This Side of Japan has a Ko-Fi as a tip jar if you want to show appreciation. A subscription to This Side of Japan is free, and you don’t have to pay money to access any published content. I appreciate any form of support, but if you want to, you can buy a Coffee to show thanks.
Next issue of This Side of Japan is out in December. You can check out previous issues of the newsletter here.
Need to contact? You can find me on Twitter or reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org