The Promised Neverland 2019, 2021 / A white-knuckle thriller with great characters going up against constant, seemingly impossible odds


Intricately constructed and unbearably suspenseful from beginning to end, the first season of The Promised Neverland is a masterclass in using the episodic structure of TV to maximize the effect of a mystery-driven thriller. By placing us firmly within the perspective of its child protagonists (who are, to be fair, incredibly smart and determined), every step towards freedom still feels like a shot in the dark, and every setback becomes increasingly more devastating. Even as the season hurtles towards its conclusion, it never becomes clear how much its characters will succeed, if at all. Intelligent editing and animation that goes from ominous to fully grotesque ensures that something always feels off or too good to be true, no matter what.

And it says a lot about the sheer quality of the first season that it’s still worth recommending despite a truly awful, rushed second season, which ignores its own themes and resorts to lazy animation just to get through the story faster. Viewed as a two-season series, The Promised Neverland can’t help but look disappointing, squandering an exhilarating first half with developments that lead nowhere. But even on its own, season one stands tall as a stunning achievement in anime—a self-contained story of selflessness and hope in the face of dehumanization and despair.

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