Ever since July, when Stack Magazines announced the nominees for best magazines of 2016, the world’s independent mag-makers have waited with bated breath for the results of this year’s Stack Awards. Twice the size of last year’s competition in terms of entries, and that much more prestigious for it, the 2016 edition saw three new awards categories added, as well as a more elaborate judging process, involving a month-long period of reflection before a full day of hot debate at London’s Ace Hotel. The awards were presided over by a panel of industry experts, including Gail Bichler, design director of The New York Times Magazine, Debbie Millman, former president of AIGA and creator of the Design Matters podcast, and Jeremy Leslie, creative director of magCulture. Sounds tempestuous to me.

We actually had a day of very consensual judging,” says Stack’s founder, Steve Watson. “There were certainly differences of taste, but we didn’t have any sessions in which the judges saw things completely differently.

“One difference from last year was the grouping of the winners and commendations; last year we mainly had strong groups of magazines within the categories… but this year there were a couple of instances of one magazine being the outright winner by a wide margin, and then a close race for the commended places. For example, the winner of Launch of the Year was everyone’s favorite by a long way, but then we had a long discussion to separate two commended titles from a very strong field.”

Also more prestigious this year was the calibre of entrants, with established titles like The Gentlewoman and Eye competing for recognition from the Stack audience. “It’s brilliant to have The Gentlewoman taking part in the awards,” says Watson. “I’m totally in awe of what they do, and to have them involved is a huge deal for us. But then we also saw exceptional quality across a whole range of titles.”

So what makes a winner in this year’s awards? “The judges definitely responded well to magazines that have a reason to be,” says Watson. “Ladybeard, for example, was widely praised for its dedication to representing minority perspectives. But that was really just one part of it—Voortuin completely blew the judges away with its totally original take on magazine making, so incredibly intricate, but also full of lightness and humor.”

Newness also proved attractive, but Watson was keen to make sure that novelty didn’t dominate the winning titles. “I think that’s the advantage of the judges living with these magazines for a month before they come together for the judging; they’re not just dealing with names of titles listed on a piece of paper, they’re speaking about magazines they’ve actually spent time with.

“I really hate the idea of magazine awards being judged by entry forms, and it happens all the time. At best you get to see the magazines for a few hours on the day you have to make your decisions. I don’t understand how anyone can make an informed decision in that time—you need to take the time to appreciate what these magazines are actually saying, and how they’re doing it.”

What’s particularly refreshing about this crop of magazines is that the winners aren’t just the usual suspects. How many of our readers can say they’re deeply familiar with MacGuffina title that dedicates each issue to a new mundane object, or have gotten to grips with Parterre de Roisa Milanese biannual providing a fresh take on popular culture? While familiar titles like Elephant and Eye are acknowledged for their longevity and stamina, it’s the innovative upstarts that have dominated the honors list.

Now that you know about the criteria, here are all this year’s winners:

Magazine of the year: MacGuffin 

Commended: LadybeardThe Gentlewoman

Launch of the year: Real Review 

Commended: RacquetLadybeard 

Editor of the year: The Happy Reader

Commended: EyeFlaneur

Art director of the year: Voortuin

Commended: LostElephant

Cover of the year: Parterre de Rois

Commended: Water JournalShellsuit Zombie

Best use of photography: Gather Journal

Commended: 212The Exposed

Best use of illustration: Ladybeard

Commened: Amuseum, The Ride Journal

Best original fiction: The White Review 

Commended: American ChordataThe Lifted Brow

Best original non-fiction: The Outpost

Commended: Oxford American, American Chordata

Student magazine of the year: King’s Review

Commended: Nii JournalMetazine

Stack subscribers’ choice: Drift

Commended: Ladybeard