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The sheer length of some of the most famous anime series can be something of a turnoff for newcomers. Friends may enthusiastically recommend Naruto, One Piece, or The Legend of Galactic Heroes, but those shows, classics that they are, have hundreds of episodes, making them something of a time commitment, to say the very least.
Maybe a viewer is new to anime and isn’t sure that they want to sink that much time into a single piece of media, or maybe they’re a longtime fan who simply doesn’t have the time or patience to sit through another 70 episodes until they finally reach the story arc their friends keep raving about. Luckily for the time-pressed out there, anime has a lot of excellent shorter shows that aren’t held back by their length, coming in at 13 episodes or less.
Updated on July 25th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: From Spy X Family to the second season of Komi Can’t Communicate and everything in between, there’s been a ton of quality anime content released thus far in 2022, and, while that’s great, many fans just can’t keep up. Notorious legacy anime series such as Dragon Ball and One Piece represent serious time commitments, but even standard-length series can sometimes come across as a bit too time-consuming.
Fortunately, there are plenty of short, single-season anime series for fans who don’t have all that much time on their hands. Spanning all genres and eras, no one should miss out on these fantastic franchises.
Katanagatari (12 Episodes)
Adapted from a light novel by Nisio Isin (of Bakemonogatari fame), Katanagatari tells the story of an ambitious woman and her somewhat dull-headed warrior guardian on a quest through Japan to collect 12 legendary blades. Featuring striking anime character designs, outstanding animation, and engaging dialogue; Katanagatari is not to be missed.
One caveat is that, while there are only a dozen episodes, each has a forty-five-minute runtime, meaning that Katanagatari will be a bit of a time sink relative to other single-season anime series.
Gunbuster & Diebuster (6 Episodes)
1988’s Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster is notable for being an early work from the venerable Studio Gainax, the producer of a range of classics such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Also of note is that Gunbuster is the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno, the mastermind behind Evangelion. Part campy ’80s training montage and part war story about the horrors of relativistic time during space travel, Gunbuster deserves its reputation as a classic.
Gunbuster also has a more recent sequel—also coming in at 6 episodes—in 2004’s Diebuster. Although it is somewhat controversial compared to its predecessor on account of its wildly different presentation and tone, the two stories are still parts of a whole and deserve to be considered on their own merits as well as in relation to one another.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (12 Episodes)
When recommending Madoka, it’s best not to say much about it other than to stick with it until the fourth episode at the very least. Madoka challenges the genre in a number of extremely interesting ways; it’s just that they don’t reveal themselves until a viewer has settled into the show a bit.
Although Madoka works excellently as a self-contained twelve-episode series, there are also a number of sequels and side stories in the form of movies and other adaptations. Fans typically consider some of these entries to be essential viewing, so those who find themselves wanting more can continue happily after finishing the original series.
FLCL (6 Episodes)
Combining an outlandish visual style with wild setpieces and excellent animation, FLCL (or Fooly Cooly) is one of the best-regarded OVA offerings from Studio Gainax. Naota is an ordinary boy living in an ordinary town, that is until a woman from space strikes him in the face with a guitar which leads him to sprout a fighting robot from his forehead.
Although its presentation and concepts might be bizarre at face value, FLCL is actually a surprisingly mature exploration of the transition into adulthood and what exactly adulthood ought to look like once one actually gets there. It’s a classic single-season anime, and it’s only six episodes, so there isn’t really a good reason not to watch it.
Kaiba (12 Episodes)
Don’t be deceived by the distinctly simple and disarming aesthetics of Kaiba; this is a show that isn’t afraid to venture into the territory of the thoroughly dark and tragic. The show’s characters inhabit a world where memories can be stored in special chips, allowing eternal life for a select few. The protagonist wakes without memories, his only possession being a locket with a photo of a woman in it, and things escalate from there.
Touching on the role memory plays in the nature of being and on class divisions and the conflicts they create, Kaiba is as visually inventive as it is thematically engaging.
No Game No Life (12 Episodes)
No Game No Life features The Blank, a duo of elite gamers named Sora and Shiro who spend much of their time online due to their status as social outcasts. After defeating the god Tet in a game of chess, they are transported to a new realm known as Disboard and must conquer the land’s various kingdoms in order to once again face Tet.
While No Game No Life may sound like relatively standard Isekai fare, it’s bolstered by its flashy neon visuals and impeccable art direction. Though the series only includes twelve episodes at the moment, rumors of a second season have been circulating for some time.
A Place Further Than The Universe (13 Episodes)
Four high school girls pursue a seemingly impossible goal to great lengths and with great determination in A Place Further Than The Universe, with the „place“ in question being Antarctica. Despite the seemingly outlandish setup of the anime, the procedural struggles that the characters have to go through feel extremely realistic, making the show seem believable and compelling.
Watching the characters develop individually and as a group is a joy, as well; in just twelve episodes, the audience comes to know them exceptionally well, and an emotionally charged climax seals the deal on an inspiring and uplifting anime.
Death Parade (12 Episodes)
After death, souls arrive at a purgatorial parlor and are made to compete in games like darts, billiards, and bowling while their demeanors are surreptitiously observed. After the game, those deemed worthy are reincarnated, and those deemed unworthy are sent to a place known as The Void.
An anthology series of sorts, the tone and key characters change throughout this short anime series, though the otherworldly atmosphere remains consistent. It’s a surreal and, at times, disturbing or outright horrifying outing, but its excellent presentation and thought-provoking premise make it a worthwhile watch for anime fans of all kinds.
Anohana: The Flower We Say That Day (11 Episodes)
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day concerns Jinta Yadomi, a young shut-in who is haunted by a tragedy that occurred in his past. One day, Menma, the ghost of one of his old friends, returns and asks him to grant her final wish so that she may move on to the afterlife. Jinta then reunites with his old friend group so that they may discover what it is that must be done to appease Menma.
Gripping and overtly-emotional, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is a must-see for those who love tear-jerking anime. As short as it is poignant, Anohana will stay with viewers long after the credits roll after the eleventh episode.
Tatami Galaxy (11 Episodes)
Fans of the romance/college slice-of-life/existential time-loop nightmare genre look no further; Tatami Galaxy has it all. Directed by visionary industry veteran Masaaki Yuasa—director of Devilman Crybaby, among others—Tatami Galaxy’s unique aesthetics, funky tone, and memorable structure make it beloved among anime fans the world over.
It’s also a pretty weird show, albeit in the best possible way. The show follows a college student who is hopelessly in love and a malicious demon-boy set to thwart him at every turn. He’s also caught in an endlessly repeating time loop ala Groundhog Day which complicates things, but it’s also a huge part of the reason why the show’s structure is so interesting.
Haibane Renmei (13 Episodes)
One of the most deeply imaginative works ever, Haibane Renmei tells the story of a young girl without memories of her past, born as a being called a „Haibane“ in an unfamiliar world. The show follows the main character named Rakka as she learns more about her fellow Haibane as well as the mysteries that seem to pervade this new world.
Haibane Renmei‘s strength is in its subtlety, and it can be difficult to explain what makes the show so great without revealing too much about it. Be assured, though; although it might be a slow burn, the show’s fixation on the internal conflicts of its cast produces some exceptionally nuanced characters. Add in an engrossing and unique setting, and Haibane Renmei becomes a must-see.
Paranoia Agent (13 Episodes)
Relentlessly weird and difficult to follow at times, Paranoia Agent is often hailed as one of the very best horror anime of all time. Principally concerning a series of attacks perpetrated by a mysterious baseball bat-wielding boy nicknamed Lil‘ Slugger, the series explores the backstories of the attacker’s various victims as well as the police officers assigned to track him down.
Constantly shifting between characters, concepts, and sometimes even genres, Paranoia Agent packs quite a bit into a short, single-season run. It’s probably not going to attract those who aren’t already predisposed to horror content, but fans of the similarly weird Elfen Lied or Serial Experiments Lain may well enjoy this.
Sora No Woto (12 Episodes)
Set in a world caught up in a slow decline, five young soldiers man an unimportant fort in a faraway town at the tail end of a cataclysmic conflict. Sora no Woto is surely anime’s most peaceful war story, and the show is largely content to focus on the day-to-day experiences of its main cast, giving it a sort of slice-of-life tone.
There’s an undercurrent of melancholy, though. The backstory of this world is dark, and there’s a sense that forces larger than the show’s characters are intent on edging the planet closer and closer to its demise. Still, the show finds beauty in such a setting, stressing that, although it might be a world of great sadness, there are still things in it that are worth protecting.
Erased (12 Episodes)
A 2016 twelve-episode adaptation of the manga of the same name, Erased was directed by industry heavyweight Tomohiko Ito, who is best known for his work on series such as Sword Art Online and Death Note. The story focuses on Satoru Fujinuma, a man with premonitory powers, who is cast eighteen years into the past in order to prevent a murder.
High-concept and cerebral, it’s a top-tier psychological thriller that avid anime viewers must see. Plus, with just a dozen episodes, fans won’t have to wait too long to get to the bottom of the show’s many mysteries.
Serial Experiments Lain (13 Episodes)
Serial Experiments Lain is a mind-bending anime about technology, connectivity, and, in particular, alienation that can be brought about by the increasing interconnectedness of the human race via technology. One of the wildest things about it is that it was produced in 1998, putting it way ahead of its time in terms of predicting how the internet might impact humans as a species.
Fair warning, though, the presentation and story of Lain is shrouded in some deliberately opaque imagery. It’s one of the most deeply strange anime out there, and seems to be extremely interested in upending any pretenses of being telling a „normal story.“ Questions are left unanswered, images are open-ended, and the viewer is ultimately invited to draw their own conclusions from this messed-up techno-thriller.
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