The Best Memes of 2023

From aliens to Alabama, here are 2023's wildest, funniest, and most questionable memes.

Complex

We lived. We loved. And we IJBOL’d through one too many memes in 2023

From the summer of Barbenheimer to the meteoric rise of AI, this year posed a unique time for the Internet, where we all found ourselves acutely united over making fun of everything. Unlike the meme lists of Internet years past, 2023 was particularly special because we were all wilding as soon as the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2023. There were no dry months this year, and even in the face of unprecedented political (or climate) calamity, the Internet still found something to laugh at. 

Whether it was the swarm of M3GAN memes that took over in January, the killer whales unionizing against yachts, or even Vince McMahon crying, we’ve had a good run this year, and there’ll probably be some meme spillover into 2024. In the meantime, let’s take a look back at some of this year’s best memes (listed in chronological order). Long live the Internet. 

1. The year of AI

Best uses: Fan edits of cartoon characters (or any character really) being silly 

2023 was a game-changing year for AI. From advancements on a larger scale to just about everyone launching their own generator, AI was everywhere this year, for better or worse. Most of the time, it was for the worse, but there was a small sliver of good times with AI online that made for some of this year’s best memes. 

Twitter: @24hrken

Whether it was the NBA or Pixar, no character, celebrity, or industry was safe from being meme’d to no end with an AI edit. Our personal favorites were all the edits of fan-favorite characters with grillz, but the meme potential of AI is truly boundless. While the ethical line of AI is still widely blurred, namely with issues of copyright and stealing artists’ work, maintaining its use to just make goofy edits with no serious consequences is what we should all be getting behind more. —Yasmeen Hamadeh   

2. The Apple Vision Pro

Twitter: @fireship_dev

Best uses: Laughing in the face of our ongoing dystopian nightmare 

For decades now, Silicon Valley has marketed virtual reality headsets as the "next big thing." But all the slick advertising can't make up for three main downsides, which hinder the headsets' mainstream appeal: They're prohibitively expensive. They cause eyestrain, nausea, and anxiety as a byproduct of their immersiveness. And—anyone who wears them out in public looks like a massive tool.

Now here comes Apple, with its latest attempt at a wearable, lifestyle-integrated headset—the Apple Vision Pro. And almost immediately after its unveiling, the Internet's pushback was as vicious as it was hilarious. Case in point: the EyeSight feature, which digitally projects the user's eyes onto the front of the device, was intended to make the technology more accessible but struck many people as creepy and dystopian.

Twitter: @kirawontmiss

And then there's the price. The Apple Vision Pro will set you back by $3,499, which is, as CNET points out, more than the average American adult makes in three weeks. Wearing a digital barrier between yourself and your loved ones has never been more affordable. —Kevin Wong

3. The Grimace Shake

Twitter: @loo_lurky

Best uses: The demonic possession memes

Who would have thought that we’d all care about Grimace’s 52nd birthday? McDonald’s famed purple mascot took the Internet by storm in June when the fast-food chain dropped a limited-edition berry-flavored milkshake to celebrate his big day. Was the milkshake actually good? We still can’t tell. But TikTok and Twitter had a field day imagining the terrifying effects the ludicrously purple drink would have on anyone who drank it. 

From fake medical emergencies to full-blown demonic possessions, the Grimace shake could turn you into anything and everything. The trend paved the way for some of the Internet’s most creative memes ever, with users putting their acting and editing chops on full display. It’s all Grimace now. —Yasmeen Hamadeh  

4. Canadian Wildfire Smoke Takes Over New York

Twitter: @Bornakang

Best uses: Reminding us that we're all a lit match away from a Cormac McCarthy novel. 

Back in mid-May, the annual Canada wildfires burned out of control, damaging more forest than any other wildfire season in Canadian history. The resulting smoke drifted south. And in mere days, New York City went from clear blue skies to a reddish brown, briefly making it the most polluted city on Earth. It was the first time that we measured our pollution by number of cigarettes; there were days when simply breathing the air would have done the equivalent damage of smoking six cigarettes in a single day.

Twitter: @ChanelMurder

And in the face of an unprecedented, terrifying climate catastrophe, the Internet reacted exactly how we all thought it would—making memes to quell the fear and to kid everyone into thinking we’re all going to be OK. The memes delivered, comparing the NYC skyline to everything from Blade Runner 2049 to the "Mexico filter" of Breaking Bad to the planet Mars. It was a terrifying reminder that just because it doesn't happen within our borders, that doesn't mean it won't affect us. But at least we now all know how the Internet’s going to behave when the water wars begin. —Kevin Wong

5. A wise man once said, “Combination”

Twitter: @TheFadeWW

Best uses: Whenever you need a one-word response to anything 

It’s no secret that Drake has a unique ability to make waves online. Whether by choice or not, it seems like anything The Boy does becomes a headline, and in 2023, Drake found himself at the center of yet another viral trend: people using his “combination” phrase. The clip—a short two-second video from his “On the Radar” freestyle with Central Cee—was everywhere, and for several weeks you couldn’t go online without seeing someone using the phrase in a different way. From unexpected pairings in pop culture, to unconventional solutions to everyday problems, the video had limitless potential for classic memes. Was the trend hilarious or completely dumb? “Combination.” —Jacob Kramer

6. Barbenheimer

Twitter: @abcdefghi8k

Best uses: The beginning, before it became *waves hands aggressively* 

‘Twas 2022 when the Internet first realized that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer were releasing on the same day—and we all know what happened after. A spontaneous marketing plan injected with steroids, Barbenheimer was everywhere for the entirety of July. Anywhere you looked, there was another Barbenheimer meme, opinion, or even product ranging between anything from stickers to full on T-Shirts. 

Twitter: @balumcarnes

While Barbenheimer may have felt tired pretty quickly, it was still without a doubt a great time for community on the Internet, and it even got people going to the movies for a double feature (which is pretty rare these days!). Although we were glad to bid it farewell, Barbenheimer will likely always be remembered as one of those “you had to be there” moments. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

7. Girl Math

Twitter: @itsmariannnna

Best uses: Trying to convince ourselves we all have more money than we actually do 

If you pay for something with cash that means it’s totally free, right? So goes the logic behind the girl math phenomenon that swept over TikTok and Twitter over the past few months. For anyone still confused as to what girl math actually is, it’s simply a train of thought many girls find themselves using to rationalize their purchases. For example, if one girl pays the entire tab for dinner, and all her friends pay her back for their shares, it feels like she actually made money. YES, we all know that’s not how it actually works, but it also feels like it works that way—let us live!  

Twitter: @sthebee

Girl math is an intuitive feeling. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. And that’s OK! Although the meme was quickly soured by “boy math,” it still was a cute moment for girls online. And you’ll probably hear the women around you continuing to use the term for quite a while. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

8. The Alabama Brawl

Twitter: @shannonsharpeee

Best uses: The WWE lore and all the MCU comparisons 

You just had to be on Twitter the day the Alabama brawl went viral. On Aug. 5, a group of white individuals in Montgomery, Alabama’s Riverfront Park attacked a Black co-captain after he asked them to move their illegally parked pontoon. As the unfair (and entirely racially motivated) conflict escalated, a swarm of Black folks hopped in to defend the co-caption, making for a brawl that can only be likened to a Renaissance painting.

Twitter: @ComplexPop

Someone began throwing a chair. Someone literally jumped off a dock and swam to the captain’s defense. A hoard of people were filming the brawl at all angles and cheering as if they were an audience in a WWE match. And clips just kept coming in on Twitter. As more angles of the fight surfaced, the memes only continued to grow. There were stakes involved, heroes, dare we say, an emotional plea for the underdog to win. The Alabama brawl is a meme built on the awareness of Montgomery’s racial history, and as much as it stands as an ode to Black resistance, it equally stands as one of the most triumphant moments on the Internet. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

9. Kevin James takes over the Internet

Twitter: @SanVansterdam

Best uses: Literally, anything 

On a brisk, cozy September evening, a ripple in Twitter’s space time continuum was felt across all the chronically online—Kevin James had entered the chat. For a good week on Twitter, which in Internet time feels like a year, stock photos of Kevin James flooded everyone’s timelines with the former being used as a reaction photo for the silliest situations. The original photo that went viral was a picture of James on set of his sitcom The King of Queens, but it soon opened a rabbit hole of Kevin James Getty Images in which the actor was pictured doing the exact same pose…? Every time…? 

Twitter: @LucaGuadagnegro

His sheepish shrug and meek smile that screamed “oopsie daisie” captured everyone’s hearts and then some. There's a Kevin James photo for any situation, and the comedian’s unique servitude has lent into what’s possibly one of the funniest, most wholesome reaction pictures to ever hit the TL. At a loss for words? Use a Kevin James stock photo. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

10. Aliens are among us

Twitter: @yeahrightgirlhg

Best uses: Twitter realizing that they’d roast the aliens to no end when they finally come clean to the world

Following the declassification of alien and UFO files from the Defense Department, the Internet had a lot to say about our newfound friends. In fact, we’re all ready to welcome the aliens the best way we know how—memes. From the lady on the plane freaking out over that man not being real, to the swarm of memes that came after Mexico’s unveiling of mummified aliens, our outer-space friends were everywhere around us this year, and we didn’t let them breathe for a second. 

Twitter: @ComplexPop

Amazon’s Ring feature even hopped on the trend, offering anyone who was able to capture real-life footage of an alien on their Ring camera $1 million. Yes, it’s been a wild time for aliens. But it was terribly hilarious. While we all wait for their imminent arrival, we’ll continue enjoying all the memes as they come. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

Twitter: @pubity

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