The reason most TV anime runs for 13 episodes— or something close to that, or a multiple thereof— is that Japanese TV seasons run for 13 weeks. The overwhelming majority of anime series, even popular ones, only get that one chance. For a series to run for longer than that, it’s either a major, mainstream hit (My Hero Academia), a kids’ toy sales juggernaut (Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh), or the beneficiary of a passionate cult following (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure).
So an anime that’s survived a run of 50 or so episodes is something special. Below, we’re recommending a few such series, in case you’re not going anywhere for awhile and you’re interested in anime that’ll last beyond a weekend’s binge.
Here’s a two-for-one recommendation: One Piece, the adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s pirate epic is currently at over 900 episodes, and will absolutely crack a thousand before it finishes. (That, plus 14 movies, too!) Are 400 hours of TV anime worth it?
Yes, and so is the manga. The premise of young dreamer Luffy setting out onto the high seas to assemble a pirate crew and find a legendary treasure sounds like pretty standard stuff, and it’ll take a legitimate time investment to even get to a point where you realize you’ve been watching a perfect gem.
For me, that spot was chapter 51 of the manga. Luffy’s first crewman Zolo, a master swordsman obsessed with training and strength, recklessly challenges an impossible foe in the form of Dracule Mihawk, a man who’s introduced slicing a massive pirate galleon in half with a single slice. The fight that ensues is one-sided, to put it gently: the master humiliates Zolo with nothing more than a pocket knife, but spares the upstart’s life out of respect for his sheer tenacity.
This meeting is about a lot more than a character’s power level. It presents us a glimpse of the enormity of the world that Luffy and his friends will eventually challenge, how far behind they’re starting from, and the sheer grit they will need to confront it.
One Piece’s sheer scale is a big part of what makes it work. It is boundlessly imaginative and silly, grounded by a deep humanity and empathy. Every new place the crew visits is a wacky adventure, every backstory a tearjerker, and every battle impossibly massive. I’ve never asked myself “how does someone even think of that?” so many times.
Having read 600 chapters of the manga, I can attest Toei Animation’s anime adaptation is faithful and frequently beautiful, but can move at a snail’s pace — or more specifically, a Dragon Ball Z’s pace — compared to the original work. This isn’t to dismiss the adaptation; you just don’t have to watch every single episode. When a scene really makes my jaw drop in the One Piece manga — like the tragic battle at Marineford, or the rescue at Enies Lobby — I like to check up on the anime and see how they handled it. It’s a treat every time.
Stream One Piece on Crunchyroll
Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an unabridged, uncompromising adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka’s sci-fi novel series directed by the late Noboru Ishiguro of Macross fame. The main story consists of 110 episodes, with 53 side story episodes and two movies. There’s nothing like it in anime science fiction, and there likely never will be again.
The series chronicles a turning point in the intergalactic war between the Free Planets Alliance, a republic in a decline that’s unsettlingly like our own, and the dying Imperial Empire. In this age of upheaval, the series follows the lives of two talented “heroes” on opposite sides of the war as they ascend to the tops of their respective militaries. The stunningly detailed scenes of large-scale space combat — lots of stoic men yelling “Fire!” over classical music — are LOGH’s signature.
A broad focus and sympathetic worldview are what make this series really special. Legend of the Galactic Heroes boasts a cast of over a hundred, diving deep into the lives of admirals, fighter pilots, money men, farmers, activists, terrorists, and everyone who makes this universe move. I can also promise that it won’t let you down at the end.
The original Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exclusive to the niche anime streaming service Hidive, along with a motherlode of classic 80s sci-fi anime like Armored Trooper Votoms and Space Runaway Ideon. There’s also a very good modern remake entitled Die Neue These (which you can watch for free), but it’s only a quarter of the way through the main story and is unlikely to be finished for years to come.
Stream Legend of the Galactic Heroes on Hidive
As the effects of inequality run more and more rampant, this over-the-top class warfare thriller only feels more relevant. Born loser Kaiji Itou co-signs on the wrong insurance policy and finds himself dragged into a criminal underworld where bored plutocrats force desperate debtors to stake their lives in increasingly absurd and deadly gambles. Round one is “rock, paper, scissors” to the death, and the challenges only get wilder in the remaining 51 episodes. An entire season revolves around Kaiji’s battle against an uncrackable pachinko machine … and it’s riveting.
Original manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto has a gift for presenting the abstract terror of staking one’s life on a coin flip, mercilessly wringing every turn for maximum suspense and crawling all the way into his characters’ heads as they contemplate the unthinkable. The author’s atmosphere is oppressive, and the anime carries that through. If you can’t handle extremely tense, sometimes gruesome situations, disregard this recommendation.
The protagonist himself is the key to making all this as engaging as it is. To call Kaiji an underdog perhaps downplays it; he’s cowardly, quick to tears, and the moment he gets comfortable he’s guaranteed to screw everything up. But when Kaiji has his back to the wall, you can’t help but root for his big comeback. And Kaiji always makes a comeback: the question is what he gives up to stay alive.
If Fukumoto’s bleak, ugly, long-nosed world resonates with you, also try his other gambling series Akagi, or the office comedy spin-off Tonegawa. Kakegurui (on Netflix) is heavily inspired by Kaiji, but it swaps the gender of the participants and drenches the proceedings in sadomasochistic sexual tension, if that’s your thing.
Stream Kaiji on Crunchyroll
In one episode of Symphogear, our heroine punches a perfect horizontal slice out of the mountain K2. The camera immediately cuts back to a guy at the base yelling “Demoting K2 to the rank of third-highest mountain in the world!” This show is way too earnest to be called parody ... but it knows what it’s doing.
Imagine if Michael Bay directed a magical girl anime musical — obsessed with raw spectacle, willing to do anything for a shock, written by the seat of its pants — and you get a series close to Symphogear. Our heroines are idol singers who are also secretly transforming superheroes, battling threats to world peace with heavy weapons and the power of song. The show embraces the ridiculousness of the setup, takes its absurdity seriously, then finds ways to become even more ridiculous.
The character Tsubasa likes to say “I’m a sword,” and it’s a big part of her character development. As a viewer you take it as metaphor, the way she lives her life, but once she’s conquered her demons, she starts showing up everywhere standing on a massive blade the size of a large building. Then she slices an airplane carrier in half, and you realize that, no, Tsubasa really is a sword.
Symphogear runs 5 seasons, and from the big James-Bond-style action scene that opens each one, the show covers the same ground in progressively more explosive fashion. The girls challenge a cackling cartoon villain, the girls work through their relationship issues, and finally, the girls triumphantly save the world by simultaneously singing their hearts out and punching someone harder than it was previously thought possible to punch, because you know what? The power of love is in that punch. Symphogear is big, dumb comfort TV that never ceases to shock and delight.
Stream Symphogear on Crunchyroll
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