The anime community is overflowing with “must-watch” series. Ask any fan what they think you should watch and you will most likely be privy to an inundation of endorsements. Dragon Ball, Naruto, Ranma 1/2, Gundam and the list goes on. There’s one problem those recommendations share, though: they’re all obscenely long. Each of the previously mentioned series has over a hundred episodes to its name and some viewers will understandably be turned off by the massive time investment. Even if you’re the kind of person who can binge through 5 seasons of any given show in one sitting, it will probably be pretty daunting to go into a show knowing you’re in for a longer combined running time than the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sometimes you just want a show that, while still very good, can be finished in a week during your after work hours and for that I’ve compiled this list of 10 great anime (in no particular order) with a maximum of 12 episodes, which is usually the lowest episode count you can reasonably expect from a televised series. Speaking of which, I am indeed only counting anime television series, not OVAs or ONAs, those can have their own list sometime.
I mentioned that these series would be easy shows to watch after work and what better way to unwind after work than to watch other people work? Denkigai no Honya-san’s 12 episodes give you just that by focusing on the work lives of the various staff members of the Umanohone manga store. A series following the exploits of comic shop workers is such a fun concept for a tv show that I’m legitimately surprised that I haven’t seen it be done before or since from either Japanese or American television. The characters in this series are fairly simple and you can explain most of them in only a few words. Hiotan is the ditzy and clumsy one, Fu Girl is the introvert, Kameko is the moe one etc. The limited characterization isn’t such a bother though, as most of the plot and comedy of the series comes from how the various characters go about being fans of manga. My favourite of these interactions tend to center around the boss of the store, who is convinced she has what it takes to be a great manga artist, until she needs to make her manuscripts at which point the stress and pressure reduce her to a crying baby. We’ve probably all known at least one fan like this who aspired to be like the creators they looked up to but had their reach exceed their grasp and it’s that kind of familiar charm that makes this show worthwhile.
Sadly, light comedic fluff can only keep you engrossed for so long before you need a story with more meat on its bones and when that happens, Natsuyuki Rendezvous may just be the show for you. Like most romance stories, this series focuses on a love triangle between its main characters. The twist is that the fellow acting as protagonist Ryosuke’s rival for the affections of the lovely Rokka is her husband, Atsushi, the other twist is that Atsushi happens to be dead. This is a show that is driven by its character dynamics: Atsushi wants to keep Ryosuke away from Rokka even when he’s just a ghost but because his romantic rival is the only one who can see him, Atsushi must depend on Ryosuke to do just about anything. Of course, Rokka also has her own conflict but in her case it’s more internal than the other two. Her blossoming romance with Ryosuke is consistently restrained by her very present love for her late husband, providing an arc that may be even more gripping than the increasingly immoral actions Atsushi takes to haunt Ryosuke into leaving Rokka. This does not mean that the show is a complete downer though, as while it has more than its fair share of melodramatic moments it has just as many upliftingly charming ones. In fact, many scenes are given a light and comedic tone giving viewers a well rounded romance in only a mere 11 episodes, each of which is sure to stick with fans of the genre.
I should stress that when I called Natsuyuki Rendezvous a well rounded romance I really meant well rounded as a romance. There’s nothing wrong with a good romance and Natsuyuki Rendezvous has everything you could want from one, but sometimes you need a raw adrenaline rush the likes of which only an action show can give you. A recent example of such a show is Mob Psycho 100, adapted from the manga of the same name by One Punch Man creator One. The story is set in a world where psychics with strong and diverse powers are emerging and follows the life of a young boy named Mob who is easily the strongest psychic of them all. Unfortunately for the show’s many fight-happy espers, Mob doesn’t really care about his powers and would rather spend his time working out like a normie (with comically minimal success). This tale is one of humility and of how hard work and self betterment are more important to one’s character than natural talent and of course it wouldn’t be where it is in this list if it didn’t have some great action. The action sequences in Mob Psycho 100 are absolute spectacles each one overflowing with motion, color and impact that rival even One Punch Man itself. Also like One Punch Man, the series has a lot more going for it than just some nice looking fight scenes. One’s classic wit makes a stellar return in Mob Psycho 100’s comedy and I could spend all day talking about the great characters from the shy Mob who’s emotions are usually restrained but explode into tremendous psychic power once they reach their 100% capacity, to his infinitely endearing mentor Reigen, who happens to be one of the story’s most accomplished psychics despite using only regular con artistry. In the end though, all you need to know about Mob Psycho 100 is that it’s an exciting anime that will leave audience members cheering for the cast the entire way.
But if you don’t want to cheer for the main cast of a show you can always watch them get taken down a peg, like with a good horror series. And boy, does Mononoke take its characters down all the pegs. In Japanese mythology a mononoke is a vengeful spirit that torments those who have wronged it in some way so it’s a natural fit for a horror anthology. The show focuses on a nameless medicine seller who travels Japan while exorcising such monsters, but the people he saves from the mononoke are not blameless victims by any means. While they may initially feign innocence and ignorance the show gradually peels that façade back to reveal what they did to enrage the spirits and their actions are often almost as horrific as the supernatural punishments of the mononoke. I’ll admit that I am cheating a bit with this one, because while it is only 12 episodes it’s also technically a spinoff of the Ayakishi: Samurai Horror Tales. I’m still counting it though, because it functions as an expansion to a short story seen in the other show and not any sort of continuation. I haven’t even seen Samurai Horror Tales but that didn’t stop me from loving every intense and suspenseful minute of Mononoke. There truly is never a dull moment with any of this show’s gut wrenching tales of revenge.
The only thing better than to have your gut be wrenched, mind you, is to have it be busted by an excellent comedy, possibly one that appeals to your inner gamer, like D-Frag. The story follows the high school misadventures of Kenji Kazama, who wants people to see him as a total badass. The problem is he hasn’t done anything to earn such a reputation and doesn’t seem like he’s about to either. Through a series of comic mishaps, he ends up as a reluctant member of his school’s Game Development Club and everything from there is mostly just a vehicle for jokes. Of course, the jokes are the main draw of any comedy series and they almost all land. Editing is usually not an aspect of anime that sees much discussion but D-Frag shows just how important it is. No jokes linger awkwardly but at the same time none of them go by too quickly. Every scene is cut in a way that maximizes comedic timing and the jokes are all memorable enough for friends to quote even the shortest of gags.
Speaking of your friends, if they watch anime they’ve probably talked a lot about the isekai genre wherein normal people are transported to a fantasy world to have magical adventures. It is, after all, an extremely popular genre comprising many of the most popular shows of recent memory from the outright terrible, like Sword Art Online and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, to the phenomenal, like Konosuba and No Game No Life. But despite the genre’s following, it contains one very good show that everyone seems to forget about. Enter Outbreak Company, a series that sees otaku shut-in Shinichi Kanou as he is hired into his role of isekai protagonist by the Japanese government. Unlike other stories, where the main character is forced into a world known to no outsider but himself against his will, Outbreak Company’s world is one that the Japanese military has already been investigating in secret and Shinichi would like nothing more than to be a part of it. The government employs him as a cultural ambassador to the new world where he will use his knowledge and love of manga, anime and video games as a catalyst for cultural exchange between nations. The show thankfully doesn’t focus on politics and meetings, however. Instead we follow the journey of Shinichi and the friends he makes in this new world as they try to save it from war and catastrophe and lampoon anime and manga along the way. The series is fairly light and comedic but the plot is legitimately captivating and the characters play off each other very well. It’s a perfect fantasy series to satisfy the geek in you.
So far I’ve been trying to list shows that are exemplary of a wide variety of genres, but what about a show that covers a wide array of genres? If that’s what you want, then Generator Gawl has you covered. When the eponymous Gawl travels back in time with his friends Ryo and Koji at the start of the first episode the series acts as a sort of comedic slice of life show. It still has an action edge to it (we are following a trio of transforming heroes travelling back in time to undo a huge calamity, after all) but initially this is only a peripheral aspect of the narrative. Once the halfway point rolls around, though, the show has become a dramatic and dark plot driven action series, but the beauty of it is that it remains entertaining no matter what it’s going for. The show is extremely stylish too, which is no surprise when you consider it was directed by Fullmetal Alchemist and Shaman King director Seiji Mizushima who brings the show a unique visual flair to round it out.
If you came to this list because you really wanted a short anime to watch then you may be wondering which entry is the shortest series. Well, here it is: Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou. Do you like hip-hop and Japanese fast food? I don’t actually care, you should watch this series regardless. While it hits our maximum of 12 episodes, those episodes are only about 12 minutes long each, meaning that the overall runtime is about half of most of the shows on this list (it even has the shortest blurb on the list as well). What we have here is a straightforward coming of age story, but told with unique visuals and soundtrack that match perfectly with the urban sub-culture it finds itself immersed in. This show manages to be endearing because of the creator’s genuine passion for cooking and eating tonkatsu as well as party culture, mixing the two unrelated subjects together into a comedically captivating story of self-discovery.
If you want a longer tale of self-discovery, you can find it in Girlish Number, a show about a young anime voice actress finally getting her big break in a starring role. Oh, and it happens to be salty as hell. Our heroine, Chitose, was not picked for her lead role because she could act well (she can’t) but instead because the series’ producer thought she was cute enough for promotions at live events. The show she stars in is also terrible, being one of those poorly animated adaptations of terrible light novels that you see pop up every season or so. Yes, this is indeed a takedown of the modern anime industry that shows viewers everything that goes into making a bad, yet successful, show. But, the beauty of the series is in how it doesn’t stay that way. Girlish Number could have easily been a cynical look at the uncaring and often incompetent production of popular anime for its entire 12 episode run, but that alone can be fully explored in just a few episodes and it would have gotten redundant if it had been the sole focal point throughout the entire story. Instead, the series takes a hard turn halfway through and shows us the driven and passionate side of anime production that was previously missing. By showing us both sides of the coin the show leaves us with a nuanced “warts and all” portrayal of the industry behind our favorite shows that still manages to be uplifting in the end. I won’t spoil how, but Chitose’s character arc ends in the final episode with one of the most enrapturing payoffs a character’s development can have and I’m honestly not sure what greater compliment I can give a show.
Let’s mark the end of this list with a series that marked the end of an entire company. Studio Manglobe was an exceptional production studio that produced multiple fan favorites like Samurai Champloo, Deadman Wonderland and The World God Only Knows. Unfortunately, as Girlish Number teaches us, the quality of an anime series is not necessarily proportionate to its financial success and the studio filed for bankruptcy on September 29th 2015, a mere two days after the airing of the 12th and final episode of Gangsta, their final show. Gangsta begins simply as a gritty crime story, but it all escalates from there. Tragic backstories, betrayal, superpowers and more are all thrown into the story at a lightning fast pace while being well explained and never feeling out of place. The core appeal of the series centers on our two protagonists, Worick and Nicolas. Their chemistry forms the emotional pillar of the story, which was not easy to do considering Nicolas is deaf. The staff understands these characters so well that they manage to get the nuances in their interactions across without needing them to use dialogue, which is absolutely amazing. I don’t even remember the last time I saw that in an anime, hell, I don’t even remember the last time I even saw a deaf character in any fictional medium. It’s these subtleties between the characters that make this show one of the many great offerings from a studio that we lost far too soon.
I hope I helped you find a show you can spend a good few afternoons on with this list. I tried to stick to shows that are less talked about so that I could avoid just recommending shows you already know about or have seen already. I also tried to cover as wide a variety of genres as I could to increase the odds of you finding something that speaks to you. With that in mind, I hope you were able to find something you feel like watching and of course if you have other short shows that you like, let everyone know about it in the comments and keep the discussion going.
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