I've read 21 books, enjoyed 333 comic books, watched 24 movies, and binged 17 TV shows in 2022. Below, I collected the ones that stayed with me all throughout the year, the best of the best that I would recommend to my own friends.
A quick disclaimer: this post became much longer than I expected thanks to the sheer amount of excellent media I consumed in 2022. If you just want me to recommend my absolute favorite pick from each category without any explanation, here you go: read The Priory of the Orange Tree, pick up G. Willow Wilson and Marcio Takara's Poison Ivy from your local comic book shop, watch the Triangle of Sadness at the movies and binge Only Murders in the Building on the streaming service of your choice. That's it, have a great 2023; see you back here next January!
And for those of you, who want the whole enchilada, read on!
I loved The Martian and hated Artemis, so Andy Weir's third book was kind of high-stakes for me. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded, and this story of a deeply screwed astronaut in outer space is nothing short of a hard sci-fi triumph. Hail Mary is one of those books that you really should read without knowing anything about the story, so I'll just say this in way of a recommendation: if you loved The Martian for the scientific nailbiters, but thought that it was missing a heart, this is the book you've been waiting for.
Although not a series, I put Blake Crouch's two novels together because if you loved one of them, I'm pretty sure you'll dig the other one as well. I inhaled both books in under 48 hours. Crouch's sci-fi thriller puzzle boxes are intricately designed, his pacing is excellent and he treats his science-fictions "gimmicks" with unusual nuance. The characters are somewhat thin, but that doesn't hold back Crouch from delivering some truly devastating emotional gut punches in both stories. Not going to lie, I teared up during the last couple of pages of Recursion, and you probably will too.
I'm going to be honest with you: The Poppy War is a bleak book. It's about orphans, the hardships of growing up, failures, and war. It does not pull its punches. However, it can also be beautiful; a book full of grit, triumph, and companionship with the occasional dash of humor. If you're interested in a fantasy world built on Chinese history, appreciate realistically drawn characters who are often unlikeable, and like to read about war without glorifying it, you'll have a great—albeit trying–time with this novel.
Okay, ready for a palate cleanser? Ready to curl up in a cozy blanket with a hot cup of tea and forget not only the world outside but the fictional battlefields and cataclysms as well? If yes, Legends & Lattes is the book for you. Meet Viv: mercenary adventurer extraordinaire, who just had enough of slaying monsters and delving into dungeons. She bids farewell to her party and decides to open up her own coffee shop in the city. But, as it turns out, starting up a business is not that easy—not even if you're a fearsome orc. Legends & Lattes is a warm blanket of a book, a perfect soothecore novel that will make you okay for a while.
This might be the most hopeful book I've read since the pandemic started in 2020. (Apart from Camus' The Plague.) During the past three years, I kind of lost hope for a hot minute that anything can be changed for the better. In the years when humanity seemed to spiral ever lower into the abyss, I felt myself retreating into a small corner of the universe because improving anything other than myself seemed more and more impossible. Then I read Switch. It's not a silver bullet, but it restored some of my faith in people and armed me with a bunch of evidence-based tools to once again tackle problems big and small. If you want to change human behavior—either your own or others'—for the better, this is the book to read. It is the literal antidote to the "people don't change" mantra.
This book made me angry. Not because it is badly written, in fact, it's an excellent piece of non-fiction. No, I became enraged because Merchants of Doubt walked me through how a very small group of people knowingly eroded our trust in science, experts, and the existence of objective truth for their own personal ends. If you'd like to understand society's reaction to global warming, the anti-vaccine movement, and our global response to the coronavirus pandemic, you'll find this book very helpful. But I want to warn you: you might be filled with burning rage by the end of it.
Carlos Ruis Zafón's 1999 novel about a high school kid's weird adventure in Barcelona is a shapeshifter of a book and nothing quite like anything I've ever read before. It changes genres every forty-fifty pages, seemingly telling different, fractured tales just to be pulled into a neat, beautiful bow at the end. As much a lingering impression of a city and its people as a story, it left me dazed and slightly haunted for days after I finished it.
Priory is my favorite book of the year, hands down. In an age when every new fantasy or science-fiction novel is the first book in a trilogy—or even a trilogy of trilogies—Priory is a masterfully paced one-shot, in which the author starts firing on all cylinders on page one and doesn't let up until the last sentence. It has dragons, secrets, a rich world modeled after the Age of Discovery, beautifully drawn characters, and a sapphic love story that hits just the right way. I couldn't recommend Priory enough; it's a fantastic piece of literature.
Saga is the comic book I usually recommend to people who want to get into comics for the first time, and in my humble opinion, it is currently the best ongoing series in publication. It just returned after a long hiatus, so this is the perfect time to get in on it too! If you like space fantasy, found families, heartwrenching turns, and surprisingly deep musings on life, all told through absolutely gorgeous art, give it a chance... and prepare to be hooked.
Usually, I'm not into Matt Murdock's endless Catholic guilt and the frankly tedious ruminations of what it means to be a religious hero in a corrupt New York. But, there is one very good reason to read Zdarsky's current Daredevil run: Elektra. Matt's on-again-off-again flame/rival finally became a main character in her own right with real depth and a kick-ass new costume that makes me want to beg Marco Checchetto to redesign all of the other ridiculously oversexualized superheroine getups too. Anyway, if you like street-level superhero stories and ladies who kick butt, this Daredevil run will be right up your alley.
The only reason why G. Willow Wilson's 2014-2019 run on Ms. Marvel is not my favorite comics experience of 2022 is that she just wrote a new Poison Ivy series this year that's even better—although I didn't think that was possible. Wilson's Ms. Marvel is a gem among the industry's samey superhero comics. It stars Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager living in New Jersey with her family. When an incident gives her superpowers, she decides to take up her icon's—Captain Carol Danvers's—old identity, and take care of Jersey City as the new Ms. Marvel. Shenanigans ensue while a beautiful coming-of-age story unfolds. I could write several thousand words on why I love Ms. Marvel (the art! the colors! the wacky sci-fi hijinks! the endearing supporting cast!), but I want to be short, so here's my key takeaway: it has the most heart out of any comic books I have ever read.
As I'm writing this list, I'm starting to realize that 2022 was the year of awesome female-led comics for me, and Jed McKay's 2019-2021 Black Cat run was another prime example of the trend. Look, this series probably won't win any awards or leave you with new insights into the human condition. But boy, is it fun! McKay has a knack for writing Felicia in a way that replaces her usual two-bit femme fatale depiction with a flawed, sometimes vulnerable, but wicked smart, capable and funny antihero. Now just let Marco Checchetto redesign Felicia's costume, and I'll be all set for 2023, thank you very much!
A mouthful of a title that is also somewhat misleading, because not only there is no Wonder Woman in the story, it's not even a superhero comic book. Instead, it's a retelling of how the immortal warriors, the amazons came to be. DeConnick constructs her story like a Greek myth, but with a modern feminist subtext that is clear, crunchy, and super satisfying. I think the writing alone would make this book worth reading, but the art is what elevates it to something else entirely. Especially the first issue done by Phil Jimenez. Every page he has created is a sheer flex of skill, a tour de force of comics artistry. I had to search for my jaws multiple times and I think you will too if you pick up this book.
I loved this manga about a regular guy working for Tokyo's special kaiju cleanup unit. See, monsters attack the city on the regular basis, and after the heroes dispatch them, somebody needs to cut up and cart away the huge beasts. That somebody is Kafka Hibino... and his co-workers. I don't want to spoil any more of the story because it has some unique and hilarious twists, so I'll just leave you with my enthusiastic recommendation. Read Kaiju No. 8, it will delight you, I think!
And finally, my favorite series of the year—another G. Willow Wilson joint. I think as our understanding of the world is getting more complex, it's getting harder to write superhero comics; a genre that has traditionally thrived on black-and-white morality and punchable culprits for our woes. Instead of avoiding this problem, Poison Ivy confronts it head-on and pulls off an entirely new kind of "superhero" story that's gripping, heart-wrenching, and occasionally hilarious. There are multiple lines from Ivy that stuck in my head long after I read them, and Marcio Takara's gorgeous art is the perfect companion to Wilson's prose. If there is only one comic book you ready in 2023, make it this one.
Movies, TV shows, and documentaries
I had to check my notes, but yep, I saw Don't Look Up in January 2022, and it came out on December 24, 2021. It feels like at least five years ago. Time really is a flat circle... Anyway, I recommend this movie if you still have some unresolved rage about how humanity handled the coronavirus pandemic, global warming, or any other large-scale problem in its existence. It won't provide you with solutions, but you probably will feel an incredible amount of dark glee at the conclusion of the movie.
I'm generally wary of things that are hyped up by everyone and their grandmother as well, but Arcane was the rare piece of art that lived up to its immense reputation. A gripping story, gorgeous art and animation, and a science-fantasy world that felt fresh. Check out this series if you want to see how to adapt a video game the right way.
I recommended Succession to enough people to know that you will either love this black comedy of a Shakespearean tragic or absolutely loathe it and can't stand the Roy family. If you're in the former group, the third season will give you more of the maneuvering, backstabbing, utterly amoral Roys, while also serving probably the best season finale of the show.
We watched this documentary with our film club and it was probably the one movie that sparked the most debate among us. Raise the Bar follows an unorthodox basketball coach in Iceland who's trying to break down gender stereotypes... with a sledgehammer. When the Icelandic Basketball Association doesn't allow his all-girl team to play the boys in an upcoming tournament, the coach and his protegés plan a drastic response.
One of my favorite writing techniques is when a story starts out in a relatively mundane place, then gradually takes weirder and weirder turns until you find yourself descending into something truly bizarre—but looking back at the end, each step still feels logical. Sick of Myself uses this technique masterfully and the result is a shocking, hard-to-watch but also hard-to-look-away movie that will take you on a wild ride.
I avoided the new Harley Quinn animated series for some time, especially because it was touted as Kaley Cuoco's pet project and I wasn't a huge fan of her based on The Big Bang Theory. Well, this was a mistake. As it turns out, TBBT held back Cuoco considerably, and unleashed here as both the star and one of the executive producers, she quickly became my favorite Harley Quinn—beating out even Margot Robbie. If you want an example of how a funny, over-the-top, chaotic neutral animated series can tell very human stories about love, identity, and trauma, give this one a chance.
The poster boy of the "What if superheroes, but realistic?" genre returned for a third season this year, and it is still one of the best-written shows on TV right now. This season is an exercise in intricately weaving together conflicting character motivations until you get an explosive finale where multiple unexpected, wild turns happen, but you still come out of it saying "Well, yes, that was totally what that person would do." Watch it, it's wicked fun!
After the brilliant first season of The Great and its finale, I was a bit afraid if the creators could find a way to take the story forward. Fortunately, my fears were completely unfounded, and the second season is just as charming, witty, and deliciously grey in its morality as the first one was. If you want a historical TV show with a tremendous amount of heart and humanity, watch The Great. You won't regret it.
For my penultimate recommendation, a cozy blanket of a series, and my favorite TV show of 2022. Even though the premise is about solving murders in an upscale New York apartment building, the three main characters have so much heart, kindness, and humanity to them that what I remember most is how much I loved to be around them. It's also a nice mystery show, and occasionally hilarious, so it's really the whole package.
And finally, my favorite movie of the year and one I still think about regularly. Triangle of Sadness is about all of us in this weird modern time where some of us buy Rolexes for pretty influencers for willing to take a photo of us sitting at a bar alone, while others are called Toilet Managers because cleaning lady is iffy from a social justice standpoint, but we still need someone to clean up our shit for a minimum wage. If you want to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of the times we live in, I highly recommend watching this movie.
Aaaaand, that's it! That was the best of my 2022 media diet. Hope you found something new to try in 2023, and I'll see you back here in January 2024 for another roundup of excellent books, comics, and motion pictures. Take care until then. 👋