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Why 2022 could be a big year for seinen anime series

Anime has never had such a big mainstream spotlight on the international stage as it does now. When you once had to be an in-the-know fan to watch the latest anime TV series subtitled in English, all fans need to do today is have a subscription to at least one streaming service to watch the latest episodes within 24 hours of when they air in Japan. Likewise, anime movies are seeing more expansive localization, with recent blockbuster hits like 2021’s Western release of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and this year’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0 showing the growing international success of theatrical releases.

Most of what makes up each season of 2022’s high-profile TV anime premieres are, unsurprisingly, the shonen genre. They’re the type of wide-appeal franchises that get audiences tuning into their streaming service of choice and seated in theaters on a level comparable to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the two aforementioned IPs are prime examples. However, with series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean and Vinland Saga premiering this year, the older-skewing seinen anime genre is primed to have an excellent 2022.

Following Joestar’s colorful odyssey

Foo Fighters, Jolyne, and Ermes Costello in Stone Ocean's opening theme.

When it comes to mass popularity, Hirohiko Araki’s acclaimed JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga — and now anime adaptation — is undoubtedly in the top tier. David Production’s series is all it took to shine the deserved spotlight on Araki’s work, with numerous fans fully invested in following the colorfully violent and irresistibly stylish odyssey of the Joestar bloodline. There was a hefty gap between the end of season 4, part 5 of the series, Golden Wind, and the current Stone Ocean adaptation, but seeing the way audiences flocked to Netflix for the anime despite the long transition period was impressive, to say the least.

Stone Ocean is a particular landmark for the JoJo franchise as well, as it’s the first part of this grand overarching story that features a female Joestar as the lead character. There are several beloved protagonists in this series and Stone Ocean‘s Jolyne Cujoh — daughter of fan-favorite Jotaro Kujo — has already proven to be a strong and charismatic hit with fans. Considering how each successive adaptation is met with thunderous applause is a testament to the long-running endurance of Araki’s work — and his love for Western music and movies.

Official art of the Joestar protagonists over the generations.

The series surely gained more mainstream traction once the spiritual Stand personas/powers were introduced in Stardust Crusaders. But even so, the appeal of following along centuries’ worth of adventures of the Joestar bloodline fighting near-prophetic villains is hard not to love. Taking a look at the anime’s impact on worldwide audiences, arguably the only thing fans would have to worry about is Netflix’s painfully sporadic release strategy for Stone Ocean‘s episodes.

But even with the streamer’s rocky attempt at balancing its binge strategy with the weekly release model, the season will undoubtedly maintain critical acclaim given animation studio David Production’s track record with the IP. One can only imagine the emphatic response that’ll come when the anime adaptation for Steel Ball Run is officially announced, as that arc of Araki’s manga is regarded as some of the best in the medium, not just in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Gripping Norse drama and Japanese historical fiction

Split image of Vinland Saga and Golden Kamuy anime posters featuring the respective main casts.

Even venturing outside the realm of the fantastical that is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, there are some compelling seinen anime dramas that will possibly premiere sometime later this year. There are two, Vinland Saga on Prime Video and Golden Kamuy, that are particular standouts and have the the potential for crossover appeal like Jujutsu Kaisen 0.

Makoto Yukimura’s Viking-themed Norse epic Vinland Saga arguably belongs in the same tier of revered, grounded seinen manga as the legendary and late Kentaro Miura’s Berserk and Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. This series lacks the fantasy and supernatural elements of Miura’s dark fantasy world, but it has a similar level of resonant character-driven drama and introspection as both it and Inoue’s ronin-themed journey. Wit Studio — of Attack on Titan seasons 1-3 fame — adapted what’s essentially the prologue to the rest of where Vinland Saga has gone and will go until the end of Yukimura’s run in a praised 24-episode season.

The way the series has planted its flag in the mainstream anime community is especially impressive, not just for being a story that skews to older demographics, but also when looking at all the big-name shows that premiered at the time. There’s no doubt that 2019 was a big year for anime, with the likes of Demon SlayerThe Promised NeverlandAttack on Titan season 3, Haikyuu!! season 4, and My Hero Academia season 4 all packed into the same year. Vinland Saga stood out even in a crowded field with its superior storytelling and artful animation.

A exhausted Thorfinn reaching out with the sky in the background in Vinland Saga season 2 key art.

Vinland Saga tells an intimate story that starts as a Viking revenge plot — convenient for those looking to see Robert Egger’s The Northman this month — but gradually evolves into a tale about letting go of the past to live for the future and what it means to achieve peace in a world that revolves around going to war to prove one’s worth. In addition to cathartic and brutal fight sequences, Wit excels at depicting picturesque landscapes of the Scandinavian countryside and the writing that fleshes out protagonist Thorfinn Karlsefni’s supporting cast is both tragically beautiful and thought-provoking.

Though it’s unclear when exactly season 2 will premiere and if Wit Studio will return, or if it will continue on Prime Video, the timing suggests a late 2022 premiere date is reasonable. Season 2 is poised to adapt one of the most emotionally powerful and philosophically transformative story arcs in Thorfinn’s life, as well as the point in Vinland Saga where he truly becomes the protagonist.

Sugimoto and his group trudging through snow in Golden Kamuy key art.

Meanwhile, the anime adaptation of Satoru Noda’s Golden Kamuy is another anime that’s equal parts thoughtful drama and thrilling action-adventure yarn. For fans of the manga, Noda’s period piece is in its final stretch, with each character positioned against incredibly high stakes that should bode well for the anime adaptation to get a fulfilling ending too.

Golden Kamuy is set in the 1800s during the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, following veteran Saichi Sugimoto as he comes home reeling over the mental toll on him and trying to financially care for a fallen childhood friend’s family. The main conflict revolves around various parties — former military and otherwise — all trying to find an ancient treasure of the indigenous Ainu people.

What’s most impressive about the series is how well it balances so many themes and intertwining plot threads full of fascinating characters, as well as the attention to detail in naturally exploring Ainu culture. The treasure hunt adventure story is exciting, but the series supplements that premise with sincere commentary over topics of survivor’s guilt, the poor treatment of soldiers when they’re no longer deemed useful for combat, and the complex spectrum of the “morally gray” area.

The young Ainu girl Asirpa with Sugimoto braced for the cold in Golden Kamuy.

Following a unique cast of characters that are this humanized with such believable and nuanced motivations is what will keep fans invested in this mad dash for the treasure at the finish line. However, Golden Kamuy also isn’t afraid to embrace moments of genuine lighthearted optimism and tasteful comedic relief. Similar to Vinland SagaGolden Kamuy‘s fourth season could also see a late 2022 premiere date given the timing of its announcement.

A promising future

Anime is thankfully growing westward steadily and successfully, and the shonen genre will undoubtedly take up the lion’s share of the spotlight. But it’s series like these that will help ensure that the genre will retain a degree of creativity and variety.

Being able to swing from the exciting and vibrant adventures of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and transition to equally compelling, yet grounded personal stories of Vinland Saga and Golden Kamuy should give fans plenty of reasons to be excited for seinen anime in 2022 and beyond.

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