The Ideal Number of Episodes

Nowadays, most anime are around the 10-20 episodes mark, some rarely goes above that, and even some “long running shounen” like Sket Dance or Gintama didn’t last long. Sket Dance ended at only 70+ episodes while Gintama ran for only 50+ episodes after it’s first hiatus (though the show’s airing once more this fall). Unlike before, it was not even surprising for uncommon anime like Law of Ueki, Kiba, Kyou Kara Maou and others to reach 50-80 episodes in length.

Perhaps anime studios had finally understood the inferiority of airing anime consecutively, and this certainly holds true for some shounen series. There are a lot of problems once an anime reaches a point where they caught up with manga, either they make fillers, create an original branching storyline of their own, or perhaps put the show on hiatus. The first problem is the most common, especially for most shounen anime, like the Big Three. Putting in fillers make the story draggy, and it’s sometimes worse when the fillers don’t even blend in with the plot of the current arc.

If you had been following the latest anime in the charts, you will easily notice that anime studios now had a new marketing scheme. They create something which I like to call a “stopping point”. Anime now tends to break down themselves into different seasons, even when each season doesn’t have much of a conclusion, some examples I could give includes Bakuman and Nurarihyon no Mago. Both of these anime are perfect candidates for being a long running shounen series, but they scrapped that idea, and instead stopped themselves at certain fixed periods (20+ episodes), before continuing in a new season. There are even some anime like Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange, which, even though they were originally 20+ episode series, were divided into halves, with the latter half airing a little later (note that I said “halves” instead of seasons, since I don’t really see them as separate seasons).

I believe that the anime industry is going in the right direction in this regard. Having a stopping point allows anime studios to slowly gather resources; they could wait for more original source materials while their “first season” had ended, instead of adding more recaps or fillers, which downgrade an anime’s overall quality. For original anime, the stopping point allows them to take a break and brainstorm the other half of the plot structure and to hopefully, construct a perfect, conclusive ending. If their budget is getting low, the stopping point could help them for obvious reasons as well. This will ultimately creates an anime with good, constant quality animations.

Having a series too short is tough when you need to give viewers a lot of information within that period, making the plot feels rushed. Having a series too long may feel draggy, especially if the series went out of details. I myself disliked anything more then 30 episodes, and this new direction of prioritizing anime length in 10+ or 20+ episodes is a good thing for me. In the end, it all comes down to these two choices for me, 10+ or 20+, which is the more ideal amount of episodes? My choice would be a 20+ episode series. It is not too long, yet not too short, a length perfect for ample developments, progressing plot points and finishing up with a conclusive ending. It however, still depends on how the anime studios divide the plots and spread it along the 20+ episodes, there are some which even though they had this ideal number of episodes, they still couldn’t bring out a decent, flowing story. But still, I think 20+ episodes is the most idealistic length for most anime, and is also a good length to induce a “stopping point”.

This entry was posted by Kai.

26 thoughts on “The Ideal Number of Episodes

  1. There are rarely 12 episode long shows where I felt really satisfied in the end. Nanatsuiro Drops fitted perfectly in 12 episodes haha how I loved that anime (๑>ᴗ<๑). Well back to topic, you never know if there will be a new season which adapts the next events of the manga "correctly". I hated what J.C. Staff did with Yumekui Merry for example, the manga is so different and still ongoing.Then I rather see a more or less finished story with 20+ episodes.

    The longest show I've watched were Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Cardcaptor Sakura.
    As long as the story keeps focused on the story, I have nothing against longer shows.
    So far I haven't started to any of the big three long runners, a wall of 200+ episodes scares me to be honest.

    • Yumekui Merry was one of the few instances were I agreed with others that the translation from manga to anime didn’t quite work, and I haven’t even (yet) read the manga. Actually, I really, REALLY liked the anime, but I could tell there was something odd about the flow and the way it ended that seemed off.

      • That reminds me of Rosario+Vampire. Even before reading the manga, I can already feel that the sense of flow and pacing about the anime just seems off, which makes me turns towards the manga in the end.

    • Indeed, I feel that 10+ episode may be a bit too short to do much, though there are some studios which still managed to accomplish a lot in just 10+ episodes. Haven’t watch Nanatsuiro Drops so I got no way of knowing though ;x That’s true too. If they created their own original branching storyline, then new future seasons will have to follow along that original plot of theirs, which certainly isn’t a good thing.

      That’s “medium” length for me ;p But that’s coming from someone who even watched more then 500 episodes from a show, lol. Those 2 shows you mentioned are around 60 episodes each, and I got to admit they indeed does not feel draggy, though I remember there are one or two recaps on Brotherhood.

  2. I’ve found that generally the shows in the range of 20-25 episodes seem to “work” best in terms of story and character development for me, though there should be and are exceptions. For example, I’m probably one of the few Angel Beats! fans who though 13 episodes was about right, as it seems most wanted more. Also, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica was just right at 12 episodes.

    And then, some get the job done in just 3, 2 or even 1 “episode” or ‘movie’ format. I thought Voices of a Distant Star told one hell of a story in just 24 minutes, for instance.

    Funny – “just” 12 episodes, not counting OP and ED, is about 20×12=240 minutes, twice as long as “full length” feature movies.

    The longest running show I’ve seen is InuYasha, which finished at 193 episodes. While overall I though it was a decent story and few problems with the length, I did think most, if not all, of one particular arc could have been skipped without any impact to the story at all, and possibly even improve it.

    On the other hand, I put several currently airing (or just recently finished) long running shows on hold, now that I look at them apparently for different reasons. For instance, Fairy Tale and SKET Dance because I was watching them with my son and he lost interest in them, but I hope he’ll come back to them. The new Hunter x Hunter because I was getting slightly bored with it and think I might go back to it at a later date.

    • I’ve noticed that shows trying to portray a message generally do better when they are 11-14 episodes. For example, Madoka Magica has some colorful characters, but I don’t think they were ever the primary focus. Their roles were to clearly define and represent several aspects of humanity. For that reason, any extra episodes would have just drawn further, unnecessary attention to the lack of true character development.

      Now lets look at Nodame Cantabile which puts a lot more emphasis on character development. This allowed it to stretch across nearly 50 episodes without overstaying its welcome. It benefited from splitting into separate seasons too, which gave them a chance to refocus and change direction. You could say Natsume Yuujinchou takes advantage of this also with each season focusing on a different emotion (loneliness, acceptance, etc.).

      Of course you’ll always have shows that defy this stereotype. You pointed out Voices of a Distant Star which is arguable one of the best romance anime despite only consisting of a single 24 minute episode.

      We can try all we want to form an objective stance on this topic, but the ideal episode count is just too dependent on the type of anime and even the personal preferences of the viewer.

      • That’s a pretty interesting point. There’s also the case of sometimes “over-development” of a character. Sometimes, I feel that a character may had been too much developed, so much that it had started to stray slightly from the original theme.

        As for Nodame Cantabile, the subtle style development it possess makes it spread across 50 episodes without feeling draggy or unnecessary. And of cause, it benefits from the “stopping point” too, as you said. I haven’t watch Natsume Yuujinchou but looking at how it breaks down each seasons like that, the show does seem like it makes good use of “stopping point” too. And once again, I haven’t watch Voices of a Distant Star so no comment there ;p

        There are certainly one or two anime which might strays from the “20 episode” nor the “stopping point” concept. But it is a fact that most anime are more or less following this concept.

    • Indeed, I find that the best too. Ever since I had been following the charts, most shows I watched tend to be around that length, and almost naturally, it became a comfort zone for me. I had different thoughts in terms of Angel Beats. I think with 20+ episodes, it will have more time for it’s extremely huge cast to shine. Too bad most of them aren’t able to, and it’s really disappointing since some of them are really great characters. There’s also the infamous infodump episode somewhere near the end too. I do think Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is indeed about right, which is awesome considering they are compressing so much details in just 12 episodes.

      I never watched an anime in less then 6 episodes, unless they are OVAs (not sure if you’re actually talking about OVAs) but if that’s true, then kudos to them. That’s really awesome.

      And yet ironically, I rarely watch movies.

      That’s exactly it, the most common problems are from shows like these with more then 100+ episodes. It’s impossible to keep airing without an episode or arc feeling like a “waste of space”.

      It is easy to lose interest in it if it gets especially draggy. However, Sket Dance was just completed recently and I might have to marathon the hell out of it soon. Never watch the new Hunter X Hunter though I might check it out if it adapts the insect mutant arc too.

  3. Lengths have been always a double-edged sword. While a large amount of episodes like 50+ has the tendency to drag the story out with reduced animation quality, 12 episodes on the other hand isn’t enough, especially for visual novel/video game adaptations. It merely depends on how the writers present the story. For instance, Kyoto Animation was able to fit most of the story from the Air visual novel in 12 episodes (2 additional for the missing details in the Summer arc). Of course, not everyone is capable of doing it and as I saw with Shining Hearts covering like 1/8th of the game I’m currently playing on my Vita. Ideally, visual novel and video game adaptations should at least have 24-26 episodes to cover everything sufficiently. For others, 12-13 episodes is enough, unless it’s Kyoto Animation who nowadays do 24 episodes for their series (K-ON first season, Haruhi, Full Metal Panic, and Air are exceptions.)

    • That’s indeed why 20+ episodes is the best or most comfortable area for most. It’s not too long, meaning it won’t feel as draggy, and it’s not too short, meaning it’s the perfect length to adapt content from games/visual novels/light novels or other medias with really huge content. Air is (not 100% sure though) indeed a much shorter VN compared to other Key VNs. Most of other Key-adated KyoAni anime after that are all 20+ episodes. Though there is indeed Angel Beats with it’s 13 episodes, though we could easily see how it turns out. Never even watched that, and lose my interest when the only thing most bloggers talked about that show is the “bread”, lol. There are some manga-adapted anime which I think still works best in 20+ episodes though, like for example, Bakuman. I don’t think I would feel as comfortable watching Bakuman in 10+ episodes interval.

  4. You’re always going to want more of better anime and less of worse anime. I don’t think there is a “magic number” because of the diverse array of styles and genres. On average, I think most anime do better in the 12-20 range merely because it prevents a dragging story or filler episodes. In that sense, the episode count doesn’t make it better, but it does stop it from being worse. That being said, a well directed anime can easily exceed that episode count while maintaining quality plot and character development.

    • That’s actually an interesting way to think about it. I only think about this generally and I didn’t think about each genres. I guess anime with slice-of-life is good at 10+ episodes, then again, if you were to add drama to that formulae, SOL + drama, I feel 20+ episode is still better. It just depends, I guess. I still do feel generally speaking, 20+ episode is overall the best, in terms of balance. Though 12-20 is a weird number, very seldom saw anime ending with last digit number (18, 19, 29, etc..) Indeed, in the end, it still depends on the skills and planning of the anime makers, they could have the ideal amount of episodes, but still messed it up.

  5. Yeah I see a lot of numbers up above. Perfect number eh? That’s a tough question. I think the best answer is the cop-out (that there’s no perfect number). But perhaps the number can be less of a goal and more of a tool for the creators of the anime. As windy turnip points out, the creators can focus a particular message more sharply in a short season, character development on the other hand may require a little more exposure. So I guess the perfect number depends on the skill of the creators and what they want their audience to leave thinking.

    • Oh, so you’re purposely using the “depend” answer to avoid posting more numbers! Sly, you xD (jk)

      In my own two cents, I do think 20+ episode is certainly the most comfortable zone most anime creators can stay accustomed to, but of cause, that’s not necessarily the case all the time indeed. There are some exceptional anime which could acheived success despite having a limited amount of episodes (as per some examples above) which is certainly awesome. And also the type of genres too, some genres I admit doesn’t necesarily need a big amount of episodes.

  6. For long running series, splitting up the episodes feels a lot more appropriate in some cases than for others. I like how they’re doing it with Jojo, since that was never meant to be told in one continuous string of episodes. At the same time, I wonder why they would for stories like Bakuman, which has a single ongoing plot, or Gintama, which is episodic and shouldn’t have many good stopping points. Maybe in cases like that, it really does come down to the budget or energy of the studio more than anything else.

    • I know I’m missing out a lot but I haven’t watch the anime, nor read the manga. But if I’m not mistaken, the manga has a huge amount of chapters. I saw in MAL that the anime only aired in a few OVAs and it’s only this year that they finally started airing the TV series (not sure if they are connected as sequels/prequels, or alternate retelling, etc..) but isn’t it hard to adapt so much details? Then again, I haven’t watch/read it yet so I couldn’t be sure.

      For stories like Bakuman, I would actually prefer they do it to avoid fillers. If I’m not wrong, the anime hardly has any fillers, not even a few seconds (I’m not 100% sure though), and that’s saying a lot coming from a shounen. Gintama did aired in one continuous string before. The original first run started in 2006 and “long episodes” were still the hype back then, fast forward to the present, I guess it is now following what others are doing, breaking down itself with “stopping points”.

  7. Honestly, as WindyTurnip has said, the length depends on subjective factors such as the genre and viewer preferences. For those very reasons, I avoid the Big Three like the plague. The insane amount of episodes don’t really help either.

    However, I do agree that occasional breaks can do wonders for a show like Fate/Zero. Sure, you might lose some of the hype and excitement during that space in between, but at least you can deliver a quality product that packs a punch in sales. As Mario maestro Shigeru Miyamoto (allegedly) said: “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is forever bad.”

    • And indeed he made pretty valid points, while I do keep the skills of the creators in mind. Genres and viewer prefernces are very major points too. There’s actually one technique you can use, lol. Watch all the “real” episodes, and skip out all the fillers. It’s very easy to notice the fillers and if you’re feeling doubtful, you can check wiki list of episode guides. However, for all the long-running series, I recommend to at least try out Gintama if you haven’t, that anime is so good even it’s creative recaps and fillers are top-notch.

      I never had problems with anime ending in halves like those, but Fate/Zero sure end at one awkward moment. I would had hoped it ended at a much more “stopping” moment instead of such a “cliffhanging” moment but that’s just my slight pet peeve of mine. And that man speaks the absolute truth! :D

  8. To be honest, the only time I pay attention to how many episodes a show lasts is when I want more and when the show is aired on TV. Otherwise, do what you gotta do and hope your content gets viewers. Simple as that in my view.

  9. I personally do not like the trend of stopping at a certain point before resuming again after a few months, especially when the series is gaining momentum and I’m much invested in it. Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange lose their appeal after a season’s break. It had a strong run at first, but things started going stale in the so-called second season. The only series that survives the sort of “stopping point style” is Bakuman. It has a solid combination of strong characters and strong plot. But this is probably just me. I prefer to watch a story in whole and consecutively (doesn’t matter if it’s marathon-style or weekly basis).

    I share your sentiment in regards with super long running series like the Big Three, with the many fillers and whatnot. It’s tiring so I change my viewing strategy, choosing to watch them in bulk or per arc.

    My ideal number of episode now is 12-13. I said now because it changes from time to time. I used to prefer 20+ episodes series. The preference of fewer episodes probably is because of the genre I’m more attached to at the moment and also lack of time. So 12-13 episodes sound just about right.

    • That is one of the cons of a stopping point indeed, especially when the series’s fame is at it’s peak, stopping at midway destroy those excitements. I don’t feel Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange became stale though but perhaps that’s just me, and looking at both the series as a whole, they are even more better then I ever hoped for. For Bakuman, I slightly disliked how it ended when “midway point” (remember in season 1 when Bakuman ended “perfectly” just when they got a new editor?). Hmmm, that’s usually what I prefer too, and it’s probably why I rewatched both the first halves of Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange before starting on the new ones.

      As for me, I just skipped the whole fillers arc and only watched the major manga-adapted ones. It’s very easy to notice the atmospheres of these fillers anyway.

      I see. I feel that it may be a bit short but it does work with most simple slice-of-life.

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