holiday 2023

The Coolest, Weirdest, and Squishiest Toys of 2023

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

Every year, toy-makers release a flood of new products ahead of the holiday-shopping season. The challenge is to stand out in a sea of competitors and maybe even claim the coveted title of Toy of the Year. So brands are always looking for ways to capture the attention of kids, parents, and industry experts by playing on nostalgia (Tamagotchi, anyone?), upping the ante on past trends, or launching a toy that’s so outrageous it’s hard to look away.

As The Strategist’s resident toy expert, I get a first look at this annual influx, often even getting to play with new toys before they hit store shelves. So when something really cool or really weird comes across my desk, I can’t help sharing it with my colleagues — especially fellow parents who share my fascination with the sheer existence of toys that range from ingenious to adorably perplexing. This year was a particularly chatty one in that regard, so I’ve compiled a list to celebrate the toys we can’t stop thinking or talking about. Below you’ll find The Strategist’s 2023 toy superlatives, many of which would also make great gifts.

Most likely to make the neighbor kids jealous

This EV go-kart can go up to 11 mph, leaving other (less powerful) ride-on toys in its dust.

Most like plucking a chicken

Like some dog breeds, this fluffy unicorn has a double coat — and the only way to reveal the hidden layer is to painstakingly pluck the first. (Fun?) Then the makers encourage kids to save the pluckings and stuff them into the unicorn’s plastic outer shell to create a second toy they can squeeze and play with. (I can see the sensory appeal, but I hate the idea of all that fur sticking to every surface of my apartment, and I can’t stop thinking of dead poultry.)

Most confusing character backstory


“The world is in danger and the only way to save it is with BEASTS,” reads the product description for this toy that emerges from what looks like a toxic waste receptacle. To create said beasts, kids must open packets of powdered ingredients like “fossil fragments” and “skin scrapings” and mix them into the vessel. It feels more like a villain origin story than a hero incubator.

Most luxurious Disney-princess prop

If you’ve got a Beauty and the Beast fan at home, this precious (and pricy) crystal rose in a bell jar is the ultimate fancy gift.

Most actually wholesome yet titillating for tweens

Admittedly, the classic Magic 8 Ball is far from a new release. But it is experiencing a big resurgence in popularity. It has popped up on several 7- and 8-year-olds’ Christmas lists that we know of this year and was even at the center of heated carpool tiff a few weeks ago.

Most likely to sell out thanks to Taylor Swift

Letter-bead bracelets have become such a mainstay at the Eras Tour that some fan might choose to believe Taylor Swift invented them.

Most adorable niche (and unnecessary) baby toy

As soon as I saw this on the Toy Insider’s list of trending holiday toys I Slacked my editor to see if I should buy it for my then not-yet-crawling son. Her answer shut me down, but also saved me 90 bucks on a product that’s probably mostly good for making funny videos.

Most unsettling baby doll

Last year, the image of a then-new Barbie disguised as a fuzzy sloth stuffed animal parked itself in my head and would not leave. This year I see the trend has (d)evolved.

Most appealing Squishmallow alternative

I have considered buying this set of five squishy dudes a dozen times. They are so soft and very squishy, with a touch of old-school Beanie Baby vibes, and in my opinion they are nicer looking than most Squishmallows.

Most likely to be confused for an A.I. mashup

Power Pony Hoverboard Horse

Despite the clumsy look of this horse, it is a real toy, and the hoverboard is detachable. It can hold up to 200 pounds, though, so maybe I should test one out in 2024.

Most impressive marketing campaign

Since September, every single design-y or stylish kids’ brand, online retailer, and brick-and-mortar shop has been talking about Stapelstein stepping stones. We have all been influenced — the rainbow stack even made it into our guide to “unusually special” gifts.

Most likely to retain its scent for decades


This blobby, wide-eyed bunny comes out of its “oven” smelling of warm baked goods; it also warms up when you squeeze it. Based on its look alone, I’m willing to bet the scent lasts for at least as long as that of my childhood Strawberry Shortcake.

Most likely to be bought by adults for themselves

I discovered this brand’s beguiling illustrated fish bags thanks to Nook Books, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, children’s book and toy store. Weeks later, when I was still thinking about them, I shared the bags in Slack to resounding admiration and talk of a bulk order to save on overseas shipping costs.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Coolest, Weirdest, and Squishiest Toys of 2023