Just so you know what you’re getting into.
I have to admit I’m pretty pleased that I got this list together before 2018 goes out with a bang.
There’s a million of these circulating online, partially because it’s the season. As someone who spends a little too much time in front of a screen – and as someone who loves pretty dresses and mechs in equal measure – I’ve been told my tastes in fiction are kinda niche. I’m not sure if I should take this as a compliment, but I’ve also been asked on more than one occasion to supply an official list of recs. So consider this my go-to list of shows that I’ve watched this year, if you’re an enemies-to-lovers and SFF/horror fan like myself.
1. The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix Series)
Genres: Gothic, Supernatural Horror
Watch it if you like: Haunted mansions, angry ghosts, fractured family dynamics and being scared half to death
Content warnings: Not for the faint of heart. The series is terrifying and incredibly sad
By now if you haven’t seen The Haunting of Hill House you either don’t like horror or you’re purposely behind the curve. However the series is just so good that I’m going to be cheap and recommend it again. Without delving into spoilers, Netflix’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic story is by-and-large perfect. I honestly believe the media hype surrounding it was well deserved.
A word of caution: read the book before you watch the show. That’s what I did, and I found it added a lot of meaning to each episode. The series sends loving nods to the source material, and it captures the general aura of gothic doom that was so prescient in the novel.
2. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Anime)
Genres: Biopunk, Mecha, Sci Fi
Watch it if you like: Mechs, sci fi adventure, sci fi romance, portal fantasy, bio-engineering, floating cities, futuristic space pirates, time travel, sentient/rogue AI, and heavy-duty world-building
Content warnings: None
I was recently introduced to this series when I was going through my anime craze post-Castlevania. A one-season show produced by Production I.G, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet premiered in 2013 and follows the story of Ensign Ledo and his sentient mech – Chamber K6821 – after they crash-land on a far-future earth.
As a soldier who has spent his entire life fighting giant space squid (no, really), Ledo is initially confused at this planet he has landed on, as he and his people thought Earth was destroyed. Instead he finds a thriving water-world full of floating cities made out of the wrecks of old ships.
Gargantia is gorgeous to look at and character-heavy, with the focus on the psychological state of Ledo and an Earth inhabitant he befriends (named Ami). You can binge-watch it in a night if sleep doesn’t interest you.
3. Netflix’s Castlevania (Animated)
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Supernatural Horror
Watch it if you like: Vampires, vampire hunters, dysfunctional DnD parties, sad boys, OT3 pairings, callbacks to retro media, witty dialogue, monster romances, monster husband tropes, lucky drunks, and the Church getting its comeuppance
Content warnings: Extremely gory, very violent. If blood makes you queasy this series is probably not for you
I honestly wasn’t expecting to get into series as much as I did. Season 1 came out in 2017, and I stopped halfway through because I found the first couple episodes sort of slow. But then Season 2 arrived, and suddenly I was steamrolling my way through the entire thing and losing track of my life.
Based off of the Japanese video games Castlevania III and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, the Netflix series follows the last-of-his-line generational demon hunter Trevor Belmont, whose family was in the business of killing monsters before the Church accused them of witchcraft and tried to wipe them out.
Simultaneously, Dracula – the most powerful vampire in all of Wallachia – meets a human woman and falls in love with her. Tragedy strikes when Dracula’s wife is falsely accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. In retaliation Dracula unleashes his demonic minions, determined to exterminate every last human in the region.
Perpetually drunk Trevor, terminally sarcastic Alucard and the exasperated magician Sypha are forced to try to stop him. The fight scenes are to-die for, and the series has some of the best on-screen dialogue and in-depth characterization I’ve seen all year.
4. HBO’s Sharp Objects (TV Series)
Genres: Contemporary, Psychological Thriller
Watch it if you like: Complicated women who don’t make apologies or try to be pretty for the camera, inter-generational family drama, messy small-town politics
Content warnings: Graphic murder, self-harm, themes of child abuse
This was one of those series that garnered positive reception from critics and mixed reviews from the general public. To be honest I think it has a lot to do with the subject matter. It’s extremely dark and could definitely be upsetting for some.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects follows Camille Preaker – a down-on-her-luck reporter who is forced to return to her hometown and place of trauma to write about the murder of two young girls. I love this show because it gave me the messy, emotional, complex women that I’m always searching for on screen – the sort of narrative that is usually awarded to men working law enforcement who are nursing some sort of drinking habit. I also really enjoyed the series for its depiction of the stifling, uncomfortable claustrophobia that comes with living in a small town. If you’ve got a weekend and a good headspace (seriously, this series could be triggering for some), check it out.
5. Shin Godzilla (Film)
Genres: Monster Mash, Sci Fi
Watch it if you like: Anything related to the Godzilla franchise, political wank, emotional movies, disaster films, shockingly deep commentary about the nature of public service, giant lizards, memes
Content warnings: The destruction of Tokyo and the ensuing firestorm is kinda traumatic
I’m really angry with myself for not watching this sooner.
I blame my delayed introduction to this film on the fact that I’m a late convert to the Godzilla franchise. When I was growing up all I was exposed to was the 1998 American adaptation, which I considered sort of meh. But this year I dipped my toes into the franchise when my co-hosts and I covered Shin on the podcast Metamashina, and it honestly broke my mind.
Produced by TOHO and Cine Bazar, Shin Godzilla is the 31st installment of the Godzilla franchise. The movie re-imagines Godzilla’s introduction to the world by rebooting its origins in modern-day Japan. At first I thought this film was going to be another man-in-a-monster suit thing, because, well, memes:
And yeah, Godzilla’s larval form is hilarious, but the film is actually a deep political commentary on nuclear disarmament, communal trauma, and the importance of public service. It’s worthy of buying as a collector’s edition.
6. A Quiet Place (Film)
Genres: Sci Fi Horror
Watch it if you like: Very angry monsters, alien invasion stories, nauseating levels of tension and very cool creature design
Content warnings: Blood, gore, and jump scares
Directed and starring John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic film begins in 2020 at a time when sightless creatures have invaded Earth to wipe out most of its inhabitants. The Abbott family – two parents and three kids – have managed to avoid being killed by moving out to the country to an abandoned farm house. They communicate entirely in ASL (American Sign Language) to avoid detection. When a series of mishaps occur, drawing the attention of the creatures, the family must work together to avoid being killed.
A Quiet Place is a terrifying film, right up there with The Haunting of Hill House in terms of scare factor. Watching this in the theatre was definitely an experience.
7. Kuromukuro (Anime)
Genres: Mechs, Sci Fi
Watch it if you like: Sci fi action, cool mech designs, long, drawn-out battles, aliens, time travel, myths and legends woven into current science, bisexuality (hinted), well-developed side characters, witty banter, and shows passing the Bechdel Test by miles
Content warnings: None, shockingly
This was another series I was not expecting to be as good as it was. A 2-season anime produced by P.A.Works, it originally aired in 2016 before Netflix acquired worldwide streaming rights.
450 years prior to the start of the series, an exterrestrial invasion force known as the Efi Dolgh invade Earth, piloting mechs that the Japanese mistake as ‘ogres.’ The Washiba Clan – whose territory is at the epicenter of the invasion – are wiped out, and the samurai Kennosuke is the only survivor.
Desperate to enact revenge, Kennosuke and his co-pilot manage to steal an Efi Dolgh mecha and fight back. Unfortunately his co-pilot is killed and Kennosuke is buried alive with the damaged mech and put into stasis. He is then revived by the daughter of a UN facility director, Yukina Shirahane, who finds him and the mech just as the Efi Dolgh try to invade earth a second time. Yukina and Kennosuke must then work together to stop them in the current era.
A lot goes on in this series which I obviously can’t cover in a simple list, but one thing I can stress is that Kuromukuro is steeped in character introspection. Beyond the show passing the Bechdel Test, it’s worth noting that Yukina’s character arc is not subsumed by Kennosuke’s in order to prop him up. The two of them work as deuteragonists, and Yukina doesn’t have to shed her femininity in order to be considered a ‘strong character’ – in the series, she’s explicitly viewed as both. The anime is also utterly hilarious and beautifully animated, with a rich plot and plenty of tropes for us fandom folks to cling to.
8. Altered Carbon (Netflix Series)
Genres: Cyberpunk, Sci Fi
Watch it if you like: Anything aesthetically reminiscent of Blade Runner, new (and better) takes on the Cyberpunk genre, class criticism, soft murder boys, and fated/tragic romances
Content warnings: Blood, gore, torture, incest, mentions of rape and implied rape (although not towards the main characters)
I’ve recommended this series so often I feel like I’m going to go blue in the face, but honestly it’s an excellent addition to the wave of cyberpunk that is currently cresting through the media.
Based on the 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan of the same name, Altered Carbon takes place 360 years from now in a neo-San Francisco. Human memory can be downloaded into disc-shaped devices called cortical stacks that are placed at the back of the neck, and these cortical stacks can then be transferred from body-to-body. Theoretically, this means that humans can live forever, but the process of transferring your consciousness is heinously expensive. Only the wealthy can afford it, allowing them to accumulate capita over hundreds of years while leading to staggering inequality.
Takeshi Kovacs – a former rebel fighter – has been placed in a cortical stack ‘prison’ for centuries. At the start of the series he’s awoken into a new body and given a mission: solve the murder of the richest man on earth and win his freedom, or go back to prison, potentially forever. He takes the job.
Beyond the obvious visual similarities to Blade Runner, the series tackles a lot of similar themes and predominantly focuses on the intersection of class and gender exploitation. It also has stellar pacing and plot twists.
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (Film)
Genres: Animated, Action, Superhero
Watch it if you like: Superheros, Spider-man, the Marvel franchise, and absolutely gorgeous animation
Content warnings: None
So I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m usually not a fan of superhero movies, and my knowledge on them might be more limited than a diehard adherent’s. But Into the Spider Verse basically took away everything I disliked about the genre and left everything I loved: mainly the artistic potential, and the core message that anyone can be a superhero so long as they are willing to do the right thing.
A 2018 film produced by Sony Pictures Animation, Into the Spider Verse covers the origin story of Miles Morales after the original Spider-Man dies. When the villain who runs his city opens up an inter-dimensional portal, it allows the Spider-Men from other universes to fall into Miles’ world. Miles then has to help them get back home while learning to become a ‘Spider-Man’ in his own right.
Into the Spider Verse is such a beautiful film, from the soundtrack to the aesthetic and characterization and the on-the-nose humor. Fun facts about the film: it required 140 animators to complete, and has already received a nomination for Best Animated feature from the 76th Golden Globe Awards.
10. Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms / Fated Love (TV Series)
Genres: Drama, Fantasy Romance
Watch it if you like: Fated lovers, soulmates trope, reincarnation, gods falling in love with humans, fox goddesses, dragon princes, complex family dynamics, stories where the woman has a kid and doesn’t die, lush settings, beautiful costume design, epic storylines, and happy endings
Content warnings: Suicide, attempted suicide, abuse, bullying, and depression
Oh my god I inhaled this series.
To get this out of the way: Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms does have some problems. The CGI is kinda funny. It’s debatable as to whether or not this series passed the Bechdel Test. Even still, it was the most satisfying, junk-food fulfilling romance I’ve watched all year. I will stan it for eternity.
Clocking in at over 50+ episodes, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms stars Yang Mi as the fox goddess Bai Qian and Mark Chao as the Celestial Prince Hua. It’s based on a novel by Tang Qi of the same name. My synopsis will miss a lot of the details, but the tl;dr is that Bai Qian is a young goddess studying under the God of War, Mo Yuan. When a devastating war strikes and Mo Yuan is forced to sacrifice himself to seal the ghost lord, Qing Cang, Bai Qian falls into a deep depression at the loss of her teacher.
Nearly 70,000 years later, Qing Cang tries to break free. Bai Qian is forced to sacrifice herself to keep him sealed, and this in turn strips her of her immortality. She’s then sent to our world to live as a human and undergo a heavenly trial as part of her ascension to High Goddess. While living as a human, Bai Qian meets Ye Hua, the prince of heaven. The two them fall in love.
What transpires next is a tragic, all-consuming love-story that spans thousands of years through multiple reincarnations of these two people. And while I sobbed buckets at more than one point, the series is utterly and completely feminine in its gaze, and it has a happy ending. The best sort of ending.
And that’s it for my top tens of 2018. See you all in 2019!