The world of anime series is so large and full of different flavors that it's sometimes hard to figure out where to start. To help new fans wade through the overwhelming waters of so many series, Wealth of Geeks offers new fans a selection of some of the best short anime.
I've compiled a list of fifteen of the best anime series that only ran one season. Whether they are six or twenty-six episodes, none of these series take more than a day to watch and are an excellent way for those interested in anime to dip their toes in.
I've done my best to include a variety of shows, from action classics to newer melodramas. There should be something here for everyone, so without further ado, let's get into the fifteen best short anime series to binge.
FLCL, sometimes pronounced “Fooly Cooly,” is a six-episode sci-fi, action, comedy, coming-of-age series that centers on twelve-year-old Naota Nandaba as his uninteresting life is turned upside down by the arrival of the Vespa-riding, bass guitar-wielding Haruko Haruhara.
Haruko is an alien, and when she strikes Naota on the head with her bass, the wound turns into a portal that allows robots to enter their lives.
And lucky that they do, because soon enough, Naota needs the help of these robots to save the world.
A Six-episode Sci-Fi, Action, Comedy, Coming-of-Age Series
FLCL never shies away from its ridiculous premise and instead leans into it, delivering one of the most over-the-top and joyous anime series you can watch. And to top it off, the show is also deeply invested in music and has an iconic soundtrack.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the most beloved anime shows ever made, and it's easy to see why. The twenty-six-episode series follows interplanetary bounty hunters Spike and Jet as they fly through the galaxy looking for bounties. Throughout the series, they are joined by the beautiful and always scheming Faye Valentine, child hacker Ed, and the biologically engineered hyper-intelligent corgi Ein.
Interplanetary Bounty Hunters
Cowboy Bebop is a great 1990s and anime series because it mixes episodic and serialized stories over its twenty-six episodes. The series has several standalone episodes focusing on our heroes hunting down a bounty. It also offers ongoing stories about each lead's past and their reckonings with those pasts.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Like Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most celebrated anime of all time. But unlike Cowboy Bebop, Eva (as fans often call it) is a much more complex show to summarize or even understand.
The twenty-six-episode series starts as a standard mecha anime story about a teenager being forced to pilot a mecha in a battle for global safety but slowly transforms into something much more introspective.
About a Teenager Being Forced to Pilot a Mecha
It's an iconic show beloved by millions for its emotionally powerful way of engaging with themes of identity, relationships, and mental illness while eschewing more traditional storytelling. But that's not to say that the series doesn't include the requisite action sequences that make mecha anime such a draw. In fact, Eva has several of the best mecha action scenes ever created in anime.
Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill may not be the most introductory anime to watch, but it is one of the most well-received anime. The twenty-four-episode series follows Ryuko Matoi as she enrolls in a strictly hierarchical academy searching for her father's murderer. Armed with a sentient article of clothing that allows her to transform into a more powerful (and closer to nude) version of herself, Ryuko fights her way through the school's social ladder.
A Search for Her Father's Murderer
Kill la Kill is one of the most eye-popping action anime ever made, and it's not just because of the sometimes absurd levels of fan service. Trigger, the studio that produced Kill la Kill, is known for their frenetic, almost hyperactive, but still clear action scenes, and this show is the best example of their style thus far.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru
It may be a bit of a surprise to see a stop-motion show rather than two-dimensional on a list of anime. Still, Rilakkuma and Kaoru is undoubtedly an animated series from Japan that carries many of the hallmarks (expressive faces, cute characters) that make anime what it is. The series follows human Kaoru and her three non-human roommates, who experience small adventures like going to local festivals and weathering storms.
Through it all, the series offers adorable and beautiful images made from the stop-motion world and characters. There is also a surprising emotional heft as Kaoru reflects on her life and choices.
Follows Human Kaoru and Her Three Non-human Roommates
It's a beautiful addition to the slice-of-life subgenre of anime and is easy to watch in multiple very short sittings or as a single sitting, as each of the thirteen episodes only runs twelve minutes. Those interested in more of this wonderfully cozy world can watch the sequel series Rilakkuma's Theme Park Adventure, which only runs eight twelve-minute episodes.
Keep Your Hands off Eizouken
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is directed by beloved anime director Masaki Yuasa, a major name for his series and his films, including 2022's Inu-Oh, which push the boundaries of what animation can do. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is a perfect fit for Yuasa's creativity, as the show is about anime creation.
About Anime Creation
The twelve-episode series centers on three girls determined to create the “ultimate world.” Background artist and lead protagonist Midori is obsessed with creating the perfect setting. Sayaka is most interested in making (and saving) money from their venture and acts as producer, while character artist Tsubame creates beautifully fluid animations within Midori's worlds.
It's a series that makes the most of its medium by allowing the animated world around the characters to change and reflect their creations in exciting and breathtaking ways.
Kyoto Animation is known for its stunningly beautiful animation, and Violet Evergarden is no exception. The thirteen-episode series starts with a bang that offers some of the most precise action in anime, as we meet super soldier Violet during a war.
Violet was raised from birth to be an effective soldier, but when Violet loses her arms, she can no longer fight, and when the war ends, she must find a new way to live.
A Super Soldier Loses Her Arms and Can No Longer Fight
She becomes an “Auto Memory Doll,” someone who transcribes the emotions someone wants to communicate but struggles to name. The show follows Violet as she meets new clients and helps them while also learning more about emotions herself. It's a sometimes melodramatic series that leans hard on its premise to draw out some big emotions and certainly succeeds.
Hellsing & Hellsing Ultimate
Undeniably a bit of a cheat to include two series as one entry on a list of series, but Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate are both adaptations of the manga of the same name by Kouta Hirano, and both fit the bill for “short.” Hellsing is a thirteen-episode TV series, while Hellsing Ultimate is a ten-episode OVA series with episodes that range from 42 to 68 minutes.
Defending England From Supernatural Threats
Both follow the titular Hellsing organization and the vampire Alucard who defend England from supernatural threats, with Hellsing taking some more liberties with the source material than Hellsing Ultimate. Each series are full of astounding levels of anime action horror gore without ever shorting the audience on either action or horror in their own right.
For those more interested in giving their tear ducts a workout with some powerful melodrama than their heart rate a workout with pulse-pounding action, Anohana is the place to start. The eleven-episode series follows a group of high schoolers who were close friends in middle school but drifted apart after the death of one of the children in the friend group.
The Ghost of His Lost Friend
Years later, protagonist Jinta barely interacts with the outside world but is pushed to reconnect when the ghost of his lost friend appears next to him one day. Anohana is a melancholy and bittersweet show that will make viewers cry at least once over its short runtime.
From Shinichirō Watanabe, director of Cowboy Bebop, comes another absolute classic of single-season anime: Samurai Champloo. Samurai Champloo is a period piece instead of a planet-hopping sci-fi adventure, but like the earlier series, it has a nice balance of episodic and serialized stories.
The twenty-six-episode show follows a pair of samurai saved from execution by a tea waitress who then enlists their help finding another samurai.
Follows a Pair of Samurai Who Are Saved From Execution
Samurai Champloo is perhaps most well known for its anachronisms, especially with music, as the series' score is all instrumental hip-hop. But music isn't the only area where the show plays with time; one of the most beloved episodes in the series is about baseball, that's right, baseball in Edo period Japan.
Perhaps one of the most infamous anime for its extreme violence, including sexual violence, Berserk is also one of the most celebrated anime of all time for its character development and complex plotlines. The twenty-five-episode dark fantasy series follows protagonist Guts as he serves in a mercenary group called “Band of the Hawk.”
A Dark Fantasy Series Infamous for Its Extreme Violence
The series follows the group's adventures, internal conflicts, and eventual dissolution with care for each lead's emotions and motivations. Berserk delivers on its name, but it's more than just a blood and guts fest. It's a show that offers as much thoughtful consideration to its characters' inner lives as its visceral action scenes.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
“Magical Girl” is a significant subgenre of anime, usually centering (as you can guess) on a group of magical girls who go on a variety of adventures. Most of the best series in this subgenre, including Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, are longer-running series than what we're considering here, but that's where Puella Magi Madoka Magica comes in.
A Group of Magical Girls Who Go on a Variety of Adventures
The twelve-episode series follows the titular Madoka, a regular middle school girl, as she discovers a world of magic that exists parallel to ours. Madoka and a friend are offered contracts by a magical creature that offers to grant them any wish if they agree to gain powers and fight witches.
It's a surprisingly dark series as Madoka and her friend soon learn that the life of a magical girl isn't one of light and joy but one full of violence and pain. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is sort of a subversion of the magical girl genre, but it's also one of the best series that subgenre has to offer.
Like Masaki Yuasa and Shinichirō Watanabe, Naoko Yamada is a creative superstar in the anime world. Yamada's work with Kyoto Animation is some of the most beautiful anime ever made, both visually and emotionally, and Tamako Market is no different.
Devoted to The Life of a Teen Protagonist, Her Family, and Her Friends
Originally developed as the third season of the longer-running K-On! series, Tamako Market became its own twelve-episode series devoted to the life of teen protagonist Tamako Kitashirakawa, her family, who runs a mochi shop, and her friends who frequent the shop. It's a simple slice-of-life show that doesn't offer anything groundbreaking narratively but is simply a cozy delight.
Paranoia Agent is the only series that writer/director Satoshi Kon created before his untimely death in 2010. Kon was, and remains, one of the most extraordinary minds in anime, with each of the four feature films he made between 1997 and 2006 considered classics of the genre.
Paranoia Agent is a thirteen-episode series Kon created from unused ideas in his films, allowing him to be more flexible with his ideas and the narrative.
Centers on a Series of Attacks by a Boy Using a Bent Golden Bat
The thirteen-episode show centers on a series of attacks by a boy known only as “Lil Slugger,” who uses a bent golden bat as a weapon. When the police first hear of the attacks, they are suspicious of their veracity, but as the attacks become an epidemic, the show begins to ask more significant questions than simply “who” and “why.”
It's a mystery show that's more interested in posing thought-provoking questions than satisfying answers.
Serial Experiments Lain
Science fiction is a staple genre in anime. Sci-fi is a significant part of anime, from space adventures like Cowboy Bebop to the entire mecha subgenre of shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion. But some shows are harder sci-fi than others, and Serial Experiments Lain is one of the greatest hard sci-fi shows ever made in any medium.
Follows a Teenage Girl After She Receives an Email From a Classmate Who Recently Died by Suicide
The thirteen-episode show follows teenage girl Lain after she receives an email from a classmate, Chisa, who recently died by suicide. Chisa's email says that she has not died but has given up her body to live in “the Wired,” a communication network that's essentially the internet.
The show is incredibly unnerving and often surreal, but it's also remarkably prescient and a must-watch for hard sci-fi fans looking to get into anime.
Like Kill la Kill, Elfen Lied isn't the most accessible anime, but it is very anime. The thirteen-episode show has one of the most exhilarating opening scenes of any show, live-action or animated, ever made. A naked teenage girl with psychic powers escapes from a lab and telekinetically rips everyone in her path to bloody pieces.
But Elfen Lied isn't only an edgy show full of blood and nudity; it's also often incredibly sweet, sometimes even sentimental.
A Naked Teenage Girl With Psychic Powers Escapes From a Lab
And it's that juxtaposition of tones that makes the show so fascinating. It can switch back and forth from shockingly violent and even cruel to scenes we'd expect from children's entertainment. Of course, it's a divisive show with just as many detractors as fans, but there's no denying it's incredibly entertaining.
Parasyte -The Maxim-
Parasyte -the maxim- is very clear about its major influence: John Carpenter's The Thing. The twenty-four-episode series takes place in a world where aliens that act as parasites have begun to invade Earth. These parasites usually take over the entire body and brain of their hosts. They can transform into horrific (or beautiful, depending on your point of view) forms reminiscent of the titular Thing's transformations in Carpenter's film.
Aliens That Act as Parasites Have Begun To Invade Earth
But when high school student Shinichi Izumi is attacked by one of these aliens, it's unable to take over his brain. Instead, it takes up residence in his right hand. The two then bond as they fight for survival in this world increasingly overrun by aliens that want all of humanity dead. It's a visually striking show with a surprising amount of heart as Shinichi and the alien in his hand develop a genuine affection for one another.
Another is a mystery horror anime heavily inspired by the wave of J-horror films of the late 1990s and early 2000s and may be a great entry point to anime for any fans of those films looking to explore the animated side of Japanese entertainment. The twelve-episode series centers on fifteen-year-old Koichi as he transfers into a new school and meets the mysterious Mei just as a series of deaths surround their classmates.
Fifteen-year-Old Koichi Transfers Into a New School With a Series of Deaths
The show follows Koichi and Mei as they attempt to discover what is causing the deaths and hopefully save their classmates from what seems to be a curse. It's a show that includes some horrific violence but is more interested in the dread these inexplicable deaths create for both the characters and the viewer.
SK8 The Infinity
As you can likely guess from the name, SK8 the Infinity is a show about skating. The twelve-episode show follows devoted skater Reki as he introduces new transfer student Langa to the world of intense underground skate races known as “S.” The races occur late at night in an abandoned mine and are the center of a thriving subculture.
Follows a Devoted Skater and The Intense Underground Skate Races
Langa is immediately taken with S and adapts his snowboarding skills (he moved from Canada) to skateboarding to become one of the most competitive racers in the sport. SK8 the Infinity is a lighthearted show that offers unique skating sequences and is an excellent place for fans of sports shows to start their anime journey.
Nichijou is a simple slice-of-life comedy anime that follows several characters' lives in a small town where extraordinary things happen every so often. It's a world where salmon fall from the sky, cats talk, and a professor creates a robot that wants to be a human. But the show isn't interested in any particular narrative so much as simply spending time with these characters.
Vignettes of Each of The Characters' Lives and Their Antics
The twenty-six-episode series comprises vignettes of each character's lives and the antics they get up to in the town. The show's character design and jokes are quintessential anime with big eyes and even bigger jokes about mundane things like dropping a piece of food. It's a show perfect for destressing and laughing at without worrying about anything like plot.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.