2023 shoutouts

10 recommendations from my year

Published on

What follows is a list of things that brought magic to my life this year.

Please be advised that the Beating Heart Baby and Castle Swimmer sections contain discussion of suicide.

The New Parkway Theater

This theater in Oakland, California is so much more personal and community-oriented than the chain theaters that I’ve gone to in the past. For example, instead of typical theater seating, they have a variety of couches and chairs, like you’d find in a living room. They also sell house-made food served in reusable dishes. An employee typically speaks to the audience before each screening, asking patrons to be tidy and to bus their dishes. They also donate pre-screening ad spots to local organizations, and allow them to use their space for events. All in all, it’s a really special place to watch a story unfold.

Riceboy Sleeps (2022), dir. Anthony Shim

I sometimes resent Instagram, but I love to find people on there who made things I enjoyed. I think it’s interesting to see parallels between each creator’s Instagram account and their other creative work, and to see hints at how that creative work fit into the context of their life. The account I found for this film had shared posts focusing on the cast, crew, and process behind the movie, which makes sense to me, because the movie felt like the product of a lot of care. It was self-contained, beautiful, and moving.

I Think Our Son Is Gay by Okura

The main three characters in this manga series are so sweet and funny, and the storytelling is enjoyable and easy to understand. I recommend this series even if reading about gender and sexuality isn’t normally your cup of tea.

Desire, I want to Turn Into You by Caroline Polachek

This album has been widely acclaimed already, but I, too, love these songs, and they are frequently stuck in my head.

Young Royals

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this series as much as I did. I started watching with little prior knowledge, after I learned of its existence through Instagram; I think I saw it being associated with Heartstopper in a Reel, so I imagined it would be similar, but less wholesome and more out of touch. I wasn’t totally wrong, but there are a lot of elements that I didn’t anticipate. The show prominently features a neurodiverse character, and regularly incorporates dialogue in three languages. Ultimately, more than any one detail, I think what most caught me off guard was the show’s emotional core. The main characters, and the main tensions, feel resonant and compelling to me.

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

This WWI book was horrific, but had a lot of heart put into it, and it gave me a much better sense of what that war was like. Haters will say it’s not original because so much of the book is based on actual historical descriptions of events, but I think this just makes it more compelling and haunting.

Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min

This YA book had a lot of imaginative detail, which was sometimes a chore to read, and I actually wrote a draft of a review that was basically a rant about how frustrating it was to be constantly bombarded with details like names of obscure bands, movies, and dishes. But once I made it through, I was left with my memories of this lively, unfamiliar world the author had created, and it stuck with me.

I read it while one of my closest friends was largely absent from my life; he wasn’t fully ghosting me, but he had withdrawn from my life. I missed him a lot, and I remember thinking that Santi reminded me of him. I thought about texting my friend to tell him this, but I was insecure about why he had reduced contact with me, and embarrassed by how much I thought of him.

A few months later, he ended his life.

This brought about a strain of pain I’d never quite experienced before. It was difficult to focus, and to reconcile his departure with the rest of my life. He had been a few years younger than me, but his knowledge of popular and local culture surpassed my own, and a lot of our friendship consisted of him showing me things that he loved. It felt like he knew all the good stuff, so for him to turn away from life called into question whether there was really enough good to keep living for.

I don’t think that’s a simple question, but those irksome details of Beating Heart Baby reminded me how much amazing stuff is out there. My friend demonstrated this, too, by introducing me to wonderful people, places, and things in our time together. I’m grateful to both of them for reminding me that, as @coyotesnout wrote, “THERE ARE LITTLE JOYS WE HAVEN’T FOUND YET.”

Castle Swimmer by Wendy Lian Martin

This pelagic series has the best illustration I’ve seen in a webtoon. I love the character designs. The premise is sort of complicated, but the story is largely about burdens that beings place on each other, how they feel about them, and what agency they have. I find it poignant. There are typos and Season 2 dragged, but it’s definitely been worthwhile as a whole.

Also: like Santi in the last section, Kappa from Castle Swimmer reminded me of my friend. In the weeks after his death, I started writing down information that could help me describe him, and those were the two characters I remembered thinking were like him.

staredown. by soycisoy

I would describe this webtoon as chaotic good; sure, it jumps around a bit, but it has substance and a lot of relationships that I find interesting. I also love the fanart, the author notes, and the comment section. I’m not generally in the habit of reading comment sections, but they’re pretty wholesome on webtoons, which I imagine is because people generally seek out later episodes because they’re interested in them, and not because some recommendation algorithm brought them there.


It’s not perfect, but this website provides concise summaries of the state of knowledge on various health topics. I looked at a lot of their nutritional guidance pages this year, and it informed a lot of my dietary choices. I hope to learn more and continue to take better care of my body in 2024.