In the modern day, there are so many anime franchises to choose from that it’s hard to decide what to watch, even for veterans. Time being of the essence, the likes of Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece may be prohibitively long to start watching from the beginning in between two shifts or two classes. Yet, it can be surprising to find that an anime doesn’t need long narratives or full-length episodes to be an enjoyable experience.
With studios releasing more adaptations than ever before, they prioritized shorter-form seasonal anime in batches of 13 to 26 episodes, with some having fewer episodes than 13. Other franchises instead opt to have shorter episodes than the usual 24 minutes. Not every release is great, but greatness comes in all shapes and sizes.
10. Hetalia: Axis Powers
52 Episodes, 5 Minutes
Hetalia: Axis Powers takes place during the Second World War and features anthropomorphic representations of countries. Hetalia does an amazing job of packing in countless historical references and jokes, even subtle ones, within only five-minute-long episodes.
Hetalia: Axis Powers‘ main strength comes from the interactions between the characters reflecting real international relations of the time with wit and accuracy. To gloss over the heavy topics of war and conflict, Hetalia takes a humoristic approach with puns and gags about geopolitics that make for an entertaining watch.
9. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
In only 11 episodes, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day tells a deep story about overcoming loss. After a group of friends drifts apart, one of them, Menma, dies in an accident. Years later, the group’s former leader, Jintan, starts seeing an older version of Menma. She had returned as a ghost to have one last wish fulfilled before she could leave for the afterlife.
Relative to its contemporaries, Anohana is fluidly paced and well executed. The series does deliver in terms of tugging at the heartstrings of its viewers, but it may be somewhat lacking compared to similar modern anime. Nevertheless, Anohana is among one of the greats.
8. Aggressive Retsuko
100 Episodes, 1 Minute
Aggressive Retsuko or Aggretsuko follows the 25-year-old red panda, Retsuko, through her daily routine working as an accountant in a Japanese trading firm. The story of her life is told through one-minute skits that combine comedy and commentary about working in Japan. Incredibly, Aggretsuko proves that Netflix can offer excellent Japanese animated content.
Anime often addresses Japan’s workaholic culture. It’s hard to find a reincarnated main character from an isekai who hasn’t died from working too much. As such, Aggretsuko excels at getting its message across in a very short format with a touch of slapstick humor.
7. Yuri!!! On Ice
Figure skating’s appeal turned these 12 episodes into an international sensation. Yuri!!! On Ice is an inspiring sports drama that follows Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki as he strives to become a champion with the help of his Russian coach, Victor Nikiforov.
Of course, Yuri!!! On Ice is known for its queer-coded subtext. That said, the dynamic between the two main characters is the main element that drives the narrative. Victor is more than just a coach, as he helps Yuri with raising his self-esteem and growing as a person in general. The sports anime boasts realistic and beautiful choreography that breaks the mold of the more flamboyant action-oriented series, like Prince of Tennis.
Gunbuster follows military cadet Nono as she tries to become a space pilot during an alien invasion. To achieve her dream of piloting the mighty Gunbuster, she will have to make sacrifices. This classic Gainax anime has a solid mix of dramatic storytelling and lighter moments between the cast of characters.
Gunbuster brilliantly combines an ’80s aesthetic with war stories through space and time. Though only six episodes long, Gunbuster stands out as Hideaki Anno’s directorial debut. In fact, many themes and motifs found in Neon Genesis Evangelion have visible roots in Gunbuster, such as an interesting but flawed female lead and brutal mecha warfare.
Over only six episodes, FLCL follows Naota as he navigates the strange world of adulthood with his Vespa-riding alien partner Haruko through both laughter and tears. FLCL is another Studio Gainax masterpiece that presents itself as a surreal action-packed comedy but tells a relatable and mature coming-of-age tale underneath.
FLCL had very few episodes in its first season but remains one of the most memorable animes to this day for its peculiar visuals and bizarre atmosphere. New seasons were produced after almost 18 years of dormancy to great fanfare. The director behind FLCL, Kazuya Tsurumaki, also happens to be Hideaki Anno’s protégé.
4. No Game, No Life
No Game, No Life follows siblings Sora and Shiro who have become bored by how easy life is in the real world. As such, the God of games, Tet, decides to bring them to Disboard, a world where violence is prohibited and disputes are settled through games. Using their talents, Sora and Shiro embark on a journey to conquer this new world through the power of gaming.
When No Game, No Life started airing in 2014, it rode the isekai wave started by Sword Art Online two years prior. Yet, this set of twelve episodes distinguishes itself with its unique take on the genre. Isekai generally involves combat, but since Tet banned violence from Disboard, the siblings have to progress with the power of their minds instead of the force of arms. Although the prequel movie No Game, No Life: Zero was released in 2017, fans have been clamoring for a second season.
3. High School Of The Dead
When a zombie infestation starts spreading, a group of high school students and teachers try to find safety in High School of the Dead‘s post-apocalyptic world. Childhood friends Takashi and Rei team up with several other survivors to fight against the horde of undead as the world falls into chaos.
High School of the Dead is mostly known for its risqué physics-defying moments, but it still finds time for character development and tells a compelling story. Unfortunately, this is twelve episodes that will never have a sequel after the manga’s author passed away in 2013.
2. My Wife Is The Student Council President
24 Episodes, 8 Minutes
Through snappy, eight-minute-long episodes, My Wife is the Student Council President follows high school student Hayato. The latter is unwittingly betrothed to the new student council president, Ui, who won her election against him by pandering to her voters with promises of liberating love.
It’s easy to dismiss anime with an erotic premise and lewd subtext, but My Wife is the Student Council President subverts the genre. Hayato and Ui’s relationship is not only wholesome but also realistic as they both learn from each other and mature as characters together.
1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
The first of 12 Puella Magi Madoka Magica episodes starts like any other magical girl series. A mascot-like character resembling a cute stuffed animal offers Madoka and her friend Sayaka the chance to become magical girls. Unfortunately, Madoka realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, and the Faustian bargain she made will only bring despair.
Madoka Magica can easily fool viewers based on first impressions. With a cutesy aesthetic that is reminiscent of previous magical girl anime like Sailor Moon or Precure!, it’s hard to imagine the horrors to come. Madoka Magica‘s dark magical girl story single-handedly ushered in a new era for the genre.