Why Spy x Family Has Taken Over the Anime World

Why Spy x Family Has Taken Over the Anime World
Screenshot: Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, Spy x Family Project

Imagine James Bond was sent on a mission needed to pose as a family man, but he also needed to somehow procure a wife and child by himself. Furthermore, Bond would need not only to pose as the perfect father, but somehow get his adopted kid into the world’s most prestigious school and turn her into a genius. Now, imagine that this Bond movie was also a genuinely hilarious comedy, unbelievably heartwarming, and also didn’t star James Bond because he’s a chauvinist pig. This is Spy x Family.

Based on the equally fan-favourite manga by Tatsuya Endo, Spy x Family (if you’re pronouncing it, the “x” is silent) is already the hit anime series of 2022. There’s nothing else quite like its mix of spy action, comedy, and emotionally gratifying family drama, which makes it enjoyable for an impressively wide audience.

Spy x Family’s full premise is actually significantly wilder than the scenario I spelled out above. Set in a fantasy, contemporary version of 1950s Germany, the spy Twilight, from the nation of Westalis, is sent to prevent a politician from Ostania embroiling the two countries in a devastating war. The problem is the politician is a near-total recluse, with the exception being a party held for the top-most students of the private Eden Academy and their parents. The only way, then, to get close to the target is for Twilight to create a family, enroll the child in the school, and have her become one of the school’s elite. Adopting the name Loid Forger, he adopts a child named Anya and comes to an agreement with a woman named Yor to pose as a married couple. What Loid doesn’t know is that Yor is secretly an elite assassin and Anya has the ability to read minds.

It may sound overcomplicated, but Spy x Family eases viewers into it perfectly, and moreover, it’s so rife with story possibilities you may start to wonder how no one thought of it sooner. The comedy of Loid and Yor trying to keep their real professions secret from the world and their family is rampant; same goes for five-year-old Anya’s attempts to navigate her hoity-toity new school while quietly helping Loid’s mission by befriending the politician’s bratty child, all while keeping her telepathic abilities hidden from her new parents, which is all bolstered by Loid’s constant frustration with Anya’s problems at school. (For instance, she manages to punch the politician’s kid in the face on day one. Day one.).

Honestly, just about everything involving Anya is hilarious. Her youthful naivete leads to countless misunderstandings, her ability to read minds causes problems since the two minds closest to her are a devious spy and a trained killer, and she’s one of the all-time great physical comedians thanks to Endo’s original art and the show’s fabulous animation by Cloverworks and Wit Studios. It’s no wonder Anya is already the subject of multiple memes, including her unparalleled “smug anime face”:

Screenshot: Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, Spy x Family ProjectScreenshot: Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, Spy x Family Project

Fans of the manga have also been delighting in inserting Anya into other manga, and the results have been outstanding:

But as funny as Spy x Family is, what elevates the series is just how achingly and satisfyingly heartwarming it is. While Loid initially forms his family solely as a façade for his mission, and Yor accepts the role to become less conspicuous, they and Anya forge a bond that turns the ruse real. Anya’s love for her new mother and father is very real, which in turn inspires very real affection from Loid and Yor. The affection that grows between the found family is genuine, moving, and immensely satisfying to watch.

If you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned the “spy” portion of Spy x Family yet, rest assured it’s there, it’s just mostly used to bolster the show’s comedy (such is when Loid sneaks into the Academy to try to secretly convince Anya to apologise to the politician’s son for hitting him). The operative word there, however, is “mostly.” Sometimes Loid has to go on other missions, where he’s frequently shot at; meanwhile, Yor not only murders people but she’s so good at it that she’s been nicknamed the “Thorn Princess” for her giant, needle-like knives. When the serious spy stuff kicks into gear, there’s no shortage of mortal danger or blood.

But these bouts of danger and violence serve to add stakes and heft to the show’s comedy and drama, which only enhances the narrative. The scenes of Yor connecting with Anya and Loid hit harder when you know she could die while fighting off a dozen of the world’s most elite killers (she won’t, obviously, but you get it). Seeing Loid’s tragic childhood growing up parentless during a previous Westalis-Ostania war makes his growing desire to protect and care for Anya even more powerful. It all just works perfectly together, culminating in a series, regardless of whether it’s the original manga or the anime, that should — and by all accounts, does — appeal to just about anybody. There’s simply nothing not to like.

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go watch Spy x Family. The first 12 episodes are currently on the Hulu and Crunchyroll streaming services, while the next batch is currently scheduled to start airing in October. Given its success, and the fact that there’s plenty of manga left to adapt (and it’s still ongoing!) I feel quite optimistic about the show getting a second season, too. In fact, I’d be shocked if it didn’t, which is also an expression Anya makes supremely well:

Screenshot: Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, Spy x Family ProjectScreenshot: Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, Spy x Family Project

Oh, did I forget to mention the family dog, who can see the future…? You’ll get there, soon enough.

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