best of 2023

The Year in Culture

Our critics pick the shows, movies, albums, and other highlights worth enjoying before you turn the page on 2023.

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Simone Joyner/Getty Images, Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic, Keith Lee via TikTok, Crunchyroll, Joan Marcus, François Duhamel/Netflix, Insomniac Games, Amazon Studios, Liane Hentscher/HBO
Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Simone Joyner/Getty Images, Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic, Keith Lee via TikTok, Crunchyroll, Joan Marcus, François Duhamel/Netflix, Insomniac Games, Amazon Studios, Liane Hentscher/HBO
Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Simone Joyner/Getty Images, Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic, Keith Lee via TikTok, Crunchyroll, Joan Marcus, François Duhamel/Netflix, Insomniac Games, Amazon Studios, Liane Hentscher/HBO

Each year, as holiday season bears down on us, Vulture’s minds gather to partake in our messiest annual tradition: the making of Top 10 lists. In a year marked by the highs of Barbenheimer and the lows of protracted Hollywood strikes, there was a lot to survey. Is the movie franchise era dead? Is A.I. a main character? Was it the best year for video games … ever? The articles below tangle with those questions and more, in the process highlighting which pieces from 2023 rose to the top—and why.

And if you’re looking for the most popular stories that we published this year, we’ve got you covered.

Skip to: Art | Books | Comedy | Movies | Music | Online | Podcasts | Theater | TV | Video Games


The Best New York Art Shows of 2023 Queer cutouts, portable candies, and a retrospective of an American master.

Art: © Henry Taylor. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photograph by Denis Y. Suspitsyn

Art is always supposedly in the midst of some crisis of aesthetics; the critics say we’re just rehashing the past. Leave it to artists themselves — new, old, and at the margins — to prove them wrong. At David Zwirner, Dana Schutz took on all of art history and her own demons. Tracey Emin gave us pain, love, and universal suffering at the new gallery White Cube on the Upper East Side, while the young Agata Slowak created surreal paintings filled with desire in the teeny-weeny Fortnight Institute in the Bowery.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

The Best Books of 2023 Works from authors whose original ideas challenged our preconceived notions of the world.

In a year when many un-consenting authors found their works being used to train artificial intelligence, it feels extra crucial to celebrate original thinking. From heavily reported nonfiction on topics that were hitherto obscured, to thrillers that shocked us after we thought we’d seen it all, there was much to enjoy—and even more to challenge our thinking.

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

The Best Memoirs of 2023 A parade of perspectives on what it means to be a person.

The beauty of memoir is its resistance to confinement: We contain multitudes, so our methods of introspection must, too. This year’s best memoirs perfectly showcase such variety. Some are sparse, slippery — whole lives pieced together through fragmented memories, letters to loved ones, recipes, mythology, scripture. Some tease the boundary between truth and fiction. Others elevate straightforward narratives by incorporating political theory, philosophy, and history. The authors of each understand that one’s life — and more significantly, one’s self — can’t be contained in facts.


Every Celebrity’s a Writer Now

Photo: Vulture ; Photos: Getty Images

It’s never been a better time to send a series of playful or traumatic voice memos to a ghostwriter and let ’er rip. The year kicked off with the release of Prince Harry’s explosive Spare, and then what felt like everyone, from Paris Hilton to Werner Herzog, Barbra Streisand to Julia Fox, got their last autobiographical word in — for now.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Oluwaseye Olusa/HBO, Amazon Studios, HBO, Greg Endries/HBO

The Best Comedy Specials of 2023 Hours that reached for transcendence through gravity and sheer goofiness, often at the same time.

There were transcendent specials in 2023, but it was also marked by too many that could not extend beyond the sense of just checkin’ in. The year’s best specials arrived both from relative newcomers, like Zainab Johnson, and established comedians like Beth Stelling and Gary Gulman, who both find ways to build jokes that are personal while also reaching toward broader ideas about themselves, their audiences, and comedy as an art form.


Our 78 Favorite Comedy Moments of 2023

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk; Photos: Netflix, Patti Perret/Orion, Jonathan Browning/Netflix, Marcus Russell Price/Netflix

Ask any two people what made them laugh the hardest in 2023 and you’re bound to get two completely different lists reflective of their unique tastes, biases, and consumption habits. Ask enough Vulture staffers, though, and … well, you’ll still get a list reflective of our unique tastes, biases, and consumption habits, but one that veers slightly closer to a representative cross section of the 2023 comedy landscape as a whole. From the elaborate bits that had us cackling, like Cunk on Earth’s use of the song “Pump Up the Jam,” to the little line deliveries that tickled us, like Nadja saying “mall” on Shadows, here are some of our favorite comedy moments of 2023.


The Best Comedy Books of 2023

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

Comedy books aimed inward in 2023: We got long-awaited glimpses into the backgrounds, motivations, and creative processes of some of the most steadfastly original comedians out there in the form of their memoirs. We also got new works of boundary-pushing, self-conscious funny fiction from provocative new authors and comedy gods alike. Another group of authors turned out grad-school-level texts on the historical, cultural, and emotional fallout of comedy, if not exhaustive looks at towering comic phenomena. There’s a particular joy in picking comedy apart to see how and why it works when it works, and the best comedy books of 2023 did just that.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Focus Features, MUBI, Neon, Marvel Studios, François Duhamel/Netflix, Universal Pictures, HBO, Seacia Pavao/Focus Features, Cinedigm

The Best Movies of 2023 Has one film era ended — and another already arrived?

Is the franchise era over? In 2023, a slew of franchise blockbusters earned hundreds of millions of dollars and still failed to make back the money required to produce and market them. Not even Tom Cruise, 2022’s box-office savior, could rescue a Mission: Impossible movie from the installment fatigue that has set in across multiplexes. It speaks to an uncertainty that raises an obvious question: If franchises are dead, what’s next?


A Year of Movie Endings

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Apple Original Films, Jessica Miglio/Marvel, Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

With the end of the year upon us, it makes sense to think about movie endings. Not just the actual endings to movies — though this year certainly gave us a few notable climactic final scenes, from John Wick 4 to Oppenheimer, and some other notably bathetic ones — but also a general sense that some of the biggest trends we’ve seen in recent years might be coming to an end. Is that a good thing? Or a Careful What We Wish For situation?


John Waters Chooses His Favorite Movies of 2023

Photo: A24

Why does John Waters keep a secret apartment in New York City? “To see fucked-up foreign movies with frontal nudity — that’s why.” Here are his picks for the best films of 2023, which he advises you watch “not at home but in a Gotham art house with a full ticket price.”


Photo: Franziska Barczyk

The Best Albums of 2023 Releases that survey disorder, seek companionship, and offer glitzy escapism.

The best albums of 2023 offered a wealth of helpful solutions and coping mechanisms for our everyday problems. Pop provided glitzy escapism, and jazz and dance music luxuriated in the ever-unfurling present. Indie rock, folk, and country cut to the quick of various civic and emotional matters, while hip-hop paired activism with arrogance. Punk and metal surveyed disorder, while R&B, música urbana, and Afrobeats sought companionship.

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Erika Goldring/FilmMagic, Terry Wyatt/WireImage, Backwoodz Studioz, Kristy Sparow/Getty Images, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images, Josh Brasted/FilmMagic, Rob Kim/Getty Images, Simone Joyner/Getty Images, Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

The Best Songs of 2023 Anthems for revenge fantasies and psychedelic journeys.

In a year when Taylor Swift established a near-monopoly on media attention, artists large and small continued the long trudge uphill, attempting to stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Despite the hurdles — amid a seemingly endless stream of corporate consolidation and A-lister-prioritizing algorithms — there is a lot of great music being made, from less-than-Yoncé-level-but-still-mainstream artists like Lana Del Rey to fresh acts bubbling just under the surface like Maiya the Don.


All the Music I Didn’t Get to Write About This Year (Until Now)

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Netflix, Paras Griffin/Getty Images, Courtesy of Kassa Overall, Electro-Harmonix

I spent most of 2023 writing about major albums and stand-up specials and video games and cultural boondoggles, sorting through heaps of lyrics, archival interviews, debates, and essays, trying to chisel out a big-picture understanding of whatever hopefully prickly subject I’d chosen that week and maybe grasp at contextualizing the person or people behind it. I thrive on that cycle of absorption and expulsion, of disappearing into someone’s world and sharing what I’ve learned from a few dozen hours of monomania. I am the friend in the group chat who’s up at 2:30 a.m. getting cosmic. This was the routine before I wrote professionally, and I like to think of a piece as a kind of brief filibuster moment in a longer conversation, a different manifestation of the same impulse I get to try to synthesize and simplify a dispute outside of writing. But that’s not the only way I engage with music, and the critic’s life at the mercy of the roiling whim of the release calendar leaves a lot I’m interested in that doesn’t necessarily get mentioned in this space, which then surfaces in a year-end albums list juggling R&B and doom metal. Here’s a loose addendum to that. —Craig Jenkins

Online Culture

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Dream via YouTube, Kyle Gordon via TikTok, Keith Lee via TikTok, Colleen Ballinger via YouTube, Billy Bennight/ZUMA Press Wire, Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images, Elon Musk via X, Flyana Boss via TikTok, Sabrina Bahsoon via TikTok

2023 Had an Era for Everything Online trends that marked the passage of time.

Even with an estimated million people leaving the platform that will forever spiritually be known as Twitter, life online still feels crowded. By the time you’ve figured out why people on TikTok are arguing about “time blindness,” another influencer’s old tweets have resurfaced — and all the while, grim headlines from the Offline World are constantly intruding. The only way to make sense of things anymore is to categorize our life into pathologically specific categories. Going for a walk? That’s me in my athlete era. Taking a shower? That’s me in my cleanliness era. Wearing an oversize blazer? That’s me in my business-casual-Scandi-chic-clean-girl-Matilda Djerf era. In 2023, there was an era for everything, including your year online.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

The Best Podcasts of 2023 A world that remains vast in its pleasures despite a tough year.

The podcast market may or may not have hit rock bottom, but once it finally does, the rebuilding will begin. In the meantime, there’s still fun, interesting, impactful, and memorable stuff being made by all sorts of people. This year welcomed strong narrative releases from established teams and newer voices alike. We saw the full return of a veteran, and a long-running operation rising to meet the cultural moment. We continue to enjoy an independent space that never fails to be interesting. And of course, there is the increasing intersection between podcasting and the Hollywood ecosystem. We used to think that would mean movie-size fiction podcasts, but what it turned out to be was podcast-size reality television.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk; Photos: Joan Marcus, Ahron R. Foster, Matthew Murphy, Julieta Cervantes, Chelcie Parry, Monique Carboni

The Best Theater of 2023 New work born of the pandemic, and revivals embracing unsolved mysteries.

This fall, we saw a blessed onstage reminder that humans are better at writing plays than A.I. will ever be. But if you were seeing theater regularly, you’d perhaps have figured that out on your own, given the array of Irish classics well retold, understated revivals of classic musicals that mostly reminded us how much pleasure and heartbreak they can still deliver, and a play about just how hard it is to make an album when there’s a gallon-size bag of cocaine sitting right there in the studio.


2023 Brought Exhilarating Reactions to a Troubled World

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Emilio Madrid, Joan Marcus, Marc J. Franklin

The hottest ticket in town at this very moment is the reverse-threaded Merrily We Roll Along, and we are likewise similarly ready to scroll back through the year and consider how we got here. A couple of related themes emerge: the recovery (partial, fitful, extremely incomplete) of commercial theater after the pandemic and the pointedly high number of plays this year that engaged with themes of illness and isolation.


Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Andrew Cooper/Netflix, Tina Thorpe/Peacock, Merrick Morton/HBO, Shane Brown/FX, Chuck Hodes/FX, Sandy Morris/HBO, David Russell/HBO, Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Best TV Shows of 2023 Series came, series went.

It’s tempting to dwell on what was taken from us, whether at the hands of craven capitalism or creator control, when looking back on the year in television. A beloved show ending on its own terms is undeniably preferable to a nascent series getting killed by a corporate merger, but it doesn’t change the fact that we had to say good-bye to some of the best TV of the last decade over the past 12 months. Yes, it’s better to have loved and lost, but those losses still sting, especially in an industry that’s openly struggling to navigate its post-peak era.


All About the Algorithm

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Peacock, Gareth Gatrell/Marvel, Chris Saunders/FX

Once upon a time, TV told stories about intelligent machines that take over the world and algorithms that prevent people from making their own choices, and it felt like distant, fanciful science fiction. This year, as actors and writers remained on strike for half a year — in part over the threat AI poses to artistry and the opaque algorithm that dictates viewership — this kind of storytelling felt a little more present than future tense.


Vulture’s 25 Most Popular TV Recaps of 2023

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk; Photos: Chuck Hodes/FX/Everett Collection, HBO, Barbara Nitke/HBO, Bravo, Nicole Weingart/Bravo/Everett Collection

For a year likely to be best remembered for its twin Hollywood strikes and a blockbuster movie meme pairing, there sure was a lot of noteworthy television—and as always, just like ATN News, Vulture’s TV recaps were here for you. Below, you’ll find the 25 series that visitors spent the most time reading about in 2023, along with the most popular individual recap from each show and some highlights from the hundreds—if not thousands—of comments those recaps generated. Thanks as ever for helping us keep the TV conversations going. Let’s do it again next year.


The Best Anime Series of 2023

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Crunchyroll, Disney, Sentai Filmworks

Reincarnated idols, disembodied detectives, pacifist gunslingers, you name it. This year delivered debuts such as the Astro Boy–inspired Pluto to comfort food like Skip and Loafer, to the exciting conclusion to the latest show in the Gundam multiverse. A number of creative and thoughtful works across a range of styles pushed the medium this year, through the gorgeous high fantasy of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End or the chilling post-apocalypse of Heavenly Delusion, or the boldly expressive 3DCG experimentation of Trigun: Stampede.

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: TechnotronicVevo, Chuck Hodes/FX, HBO


The 10 Best TV Needledrops of 2023

Sharp writing and layered performances are the bedrock of good TV, but when a showrunner wants to make a moment sing, they bring in the big guns: the music supervisors. The just-right song can turn a memorable scene into an unforgettable one, and 2023’s new and returning shows offered plenty of moments that prove just that.


The Weepiest TV Moments of 2023

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk; Photos: Disney+, Netflix, Shane Harvey/HBO, Amazon Freevee

I weep, you weep, we all weep for … TV. Okay, it doesn’t exactly rhyme, but we’re emotionally compromised! Have you seen all the devastating, gutting, sob-inducing stuff going down on our favorite scripted-television shows this year? Well, we have and we’re exhausted. But exhausted in a good way — crying is cathartic, remember. And don’t worry, not all of this year’s weepy TV moments are sad; there’s been great joy and some wistful bittersweetness, too. All cries are welcome here.


15 Late-Night TV Moments You May Have Missed in 2023

Photo: Jimmy Kimmel Live via YouTube

Late-night television, like Tibetan sand art, is an ephemeral art form. Sure, you can glue it down, but the point is to be in the moment, you know? A new horrible thing happens in the news, and the late-night Jimmys, et al., process it with you in real time. Through the “This Week in Late Night” column, I do my best to pin a few waves upon the sand every week, but some great clips invariably get left behind. Here’s to all the fallen bits of 2023: the George Santos impersonations, the Angela Bassetts doing the things, the support of the SAG strike after the WGA strike ended and allowed late-night chat to return. We’ll never forget you … except for that we absolutely will, once 2024 brings new horrors and new jokes with which to cope.

Video Games

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk ; Photos: Epic Games, Larian Studios, Round8 Studio, Nintendo, Tour De Pizza, Capcom, Insomniac Games, Nightdive Studios

The Best Video Games of 2023 An industry that bent genres and made history.

After a down few years due to COVID delays, 2023 was surprisingly flush with exciting video games. Major releases, offbeat indies, consecrated remasters, and long-gestating sequels kept us plenty occupied, with many gamers declaring this the best year for video games in their living memory. This year we traveled the Milky Way, got behind the wheel of an F1 car, fought dinosaurs in a mech suit, explored Night City without any game-breaking bugs, went web-slinging across New York Citytripped out with Mario, and enjoyed a bit of Hylian engineering with Link and Zelda.

The Year in Culture