Sometimes getting into an anime can be an intimidating endeavor. For many popular series, like One Piece or Naruto, you’ll find there’s over 600 episodes! In fact the longest running anime is over 7000 episodes (It’s called Sazae-san and it’s been running since 1969). It can get a little mindboggling. But for those who want to just dip a toe in the anime pool, there are plenty of bite-sized anime to check out that manage to tell a great, complete story in a very short amount of time.
So let’s talk about some of the best anime series that are 16 episodes or less! This covers complete series, though some of these do have movies or one-shot followups.
Kyousougiga is a 10 episode show about a dysfunctional family made up of priests, magical beings and couple demons. The father is a priest who has the ability to bring anything he draws to life and even drew the “mirror Kyoto” city his family lives in. The family’s parents abandon their children in the city for mysterious reasons and so the kids are left to run it in their absence. Then one day an energetic girl uses her giant magic hammer to bust in from another dimension and shake everything up.
The series is technically 13 episodes, only 10 episodes in terms of story content. Episode 0 is a just a (confusing) condensed version of the first part of the storyline. Episode 5.5 is a live action journey around the real Kyoto with the voice actors of the series. Episode 10.5 is just a recap of the show. They can all be skipped.
This is one of my favorites on the list. Kyousougiga is a fantastical, heartfelt series that incorporates Japanese mythology and history to great effect. At its core, it’s about the imperfect, struggling but ultimately beautiful bond a family can have.
It’s a high energy series full with cartoonish elements, wackiness, colorful, beautiful animation and over-the-top fight scenes starring a girl and her magic hammer. But it also focuses heavily on the tortured psychology of their characters and deals with abandonment, depression and suicidal feelings very heavily (there are scenes of attempted suicide). In my opinion, it does all this very well.
The characters series is full of quirky characters. The protagonist, Koto, is a scrappy and dynamic girl, who strains under the enormous burden she has to bear. The secondary, protagonist Yakushimaru is her cynical, world-weary counterpart who already been crushed under the weight of his burden. Despite a short amount of time, the relationships in the series are well-defined and all the characters develop to an extent.
The series starts in a slightly non-linear way, so you have to bear with it for a couple of episodes before it makes sense, but the payoff is worth it. The series is on Crunchyroll and I highly recommend taking a look at this “tale of rebirth”.
Baccano! is another favorite. This 16 episode series set in America during the Prohibition era with a huge cast of characters that include an airheaded but weirdly effective thief duo, a bunch of mafia heirs, an extremely panicky gang leader who tends to cry a lot, a sadistic murderer, a bomb enthusiast and an alchemist. On the day of fateful train ride, they all cross paths in various ways.
Baccano! is a complicated but fun story full of interconnecting plot lines. Structure-wise, think Game of Thrones but non-linear (this is another one that will take a few episodes to fully understand). The memorable, quirky characters and their weird relationships and the series uses its setting to great effect, boasting a wonderfully jazzy soundtrack and gaggles of gangsters. Check out the catchy and engaging opening for an example of the show struttung its stuff.
The series has action, intrigue, horror, sidesplitting comedy and it even delves into the supernatural. I’d actually recommend the dub for this one, since all the over the top New York accents add to the fun. It can also get somewhat gory, so if you’re really averse to that, don’t watch it. Check out Baccano! at Funimation if you want a wild ride!
Tsuritama is a 12-episode story about Yuki, a boy with social anxiety who lives with his grandmother. One day a boy named Haru shows up with a fishbowl on his head, claiming to be an alien and saying he’ll be living at Yuki’s house. Yuki’s grandmother is totally chill about this, but Yuki…isn’t. Things get even weirder when a man named Akira working for a mysterious organization shows up with his pet duck in tow. They end up forming a sort of fishing group with a boy named Natsuki…a fishing group that might eventually have to save humanity.
Tsuritama is good series for a light watch. It’s easy to understand and it has a lot of fun with itself. The relationships between the characters are often quite sweet and heartwarming and Yuki changes a lot over the course of the series. You watch to see these boys grow and also see how bizarre things will get. The animation is also often nice and the way Yuki’s panic attacks are portrayed is very creative and visually interesting. You can kick back and relax to this fun and fanciful fishing series on Crunchyroll.
Kino’s Journey is a 13-episode timeless tale of a girl and her talking motorcycle. The story follows Kino as she travels her fairy-tale like world, vowing only staying three days and three nights in each place. Each town she encounters has a unique story. For instance she encounters the “Land of Visible Pain”, where only machines seem to live and a land with a library that gathers all the books in the world. The stories are often a little melancholy and Kino often encounters tragedy and brutality, but the conceit of the series is that “the world is not beautiful, therefore it is beautiful”, meaning the ugliness of the world also makes it worth living in.
The series is often very low-key and philosophical and each episode is sort of a self-contained little journey that says something about human nature in an offbeat way. It might be a little too slow-paced or vague for some to get into, but others will find the creativity of the different settings and stories engaging. Kino is pretty unusual for female protagonist in anime (or let’s face it, anywhere) in that she’s androgynous and there are even a couple lines that could be taken to mean her gender identity is fluid. She’s also got quite a bit of moral ambiguity and depth to her character. All in all, it’s an anime that really stands out from the crowd, so I’d suggest checking it out on Hulu.
Angel Beats! is a 13-episode series about dead kids. That is, a boy named Otonashi who wakes up in the afterlife, with no memories of his former life or how he died. This world of the dead seems to be exclusively for teenagers who died tragically with regrets and it’s set up like a boarding school and the teachers and some of the students there are NPCs (literally fake people programmed to be there). Eventually, kids disappear from this world, though no one knows where they go. A girl named Yuri is not content to disappear, and instead wants to bust out of this world, find God and punch 'em in the face for giving them such crappy short lives. But to do that, first she must beat Angel, a girl with mysterious powers who is president of the student council.
Angel Beats! has a very interesting concept and it does some cool things with it. The series explores questions of life and death and fate, while also engaging in a ton of ton of slapstick and hijinks. Like, there’s one guy who mainly talks in English song lyrics and another who insists he’s Christ. The tragic backstories of each of these children and their struggles to find peace are very emotional and the answer to the mystery of what Otonashi’s life was like has a heartwrenching payoff. Yuri in particular is a great character, weighed down heavily by guilt and anger at a world that abandoned her and leading badass rebellion as a result. There’s also some cool fight scenes.
I can see how someone would find the series a little overly sentimental and overdramatic, even if it personally made me a mess of tears. There’s also a lot of gruesome bloodshed, most of it played for laughs (no matter how badly they’re hurt these kids can’t die so…). Child abuse is shown. The series is also pretty rushed with most of the cast underdeveloped because it was supposed to be twice as long. But the main characters are all pretty solid. The series is available on Crunchyroll.