For the most part, anime series aren’t known for great pacing. The shonen genre is perennially popular, though notorious for failing on the pacing front. Fight scenes can last for fifteen episodes, filler arcs go on and on, and some series show few signs of ever reaching a proper ending.
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But beyond the shonen genre, some anime are masterful at pacing. And while a quick pace is fantastic for action and suspense series, a show that knows exactly how to take its time is also an impressive feat. In Japanese, the word ma refers to appreciating the delicate balance between time and space: taking a moment to slow down and allow things to grow. Whether a fan’s seeking ma or looking for a rollicking good time, there are definitely anime that can deliver.
10 The Eccentric Family Balances Whimsy and Woe With Precision
The Eccentric Family was written by Tomihiko Morimi, the same author who brought the world The Tatami Galaxy. As any Miyazaki fan can attest, combining creative whimsy with genuine emotion is a challenging act, and few anime attempt to scale those heights.
An anime that balances magical elements, a lively setting, and genuinely tragic family dynamics, The Eccentric Family documents the lives of a shapeshifting tanuki family living in modern-day Kyoto. The story barrels forward even as the characters dwell on the past, fixated on the brutal death of their beloved father, who was eaten in a hotpot. A great testament to pacing is asking whether a single episode could be axed. In the case of The Eccentric Family, every moment feels vital.
9 Parasyte Rarely Stumbles
Countless anime have outstripped their source material, leading to flubbed endings or no ending at all. Parasyte: The Maxim benefited from being adapted from a completed cult-classic manga. Whatever pacing issues the manga did exhibit are mostly remedied by concise direction of the 2015 anime.
A sci-fi story that boasts a delicate balance of action, body horror, and genuine human pathos, Parasyte is as thoughtful as it is action-packed. The elements of Parasyte are sometimes horrific and sometimes mundane, but the series never wavers, culminating in an ending that makes sense and ties up all its loose ends.
8 Fruits Basket (2019) Does Pacing Right
Few anime reboots have been as successful as Fruits Basket (2019), a show in which every single episode contains a full emotional arc. The original series attempted to adapt a manga that wasn’t yet finished. This, combined with mediocre animation and an overabundance of dated shojo tropes, means the 2001 show is difficult to watch today.
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The new adaptation takes the best elements of the beloved manga and enhances them with fantastic animation, precise pacing, and thoughtful direction. Fruits Basket is finally the show it always should have been: a deeply human story that delves into some of the darkest aspects of living and questions the damaging impact of cycles of familial abuse. No episode should be missed.
7 The Comedic Timing Of Daily Lives Of High School Boys Demands A Deft Hand
For stand-up comedians, there’s nothing so painful as the empty space where an audience fails to laugh. Comedy is all about timing and delivery, and that translates into pacing when it comes to onscreen comedy. Though many shonen series feature comedic elements, many fail to deliver their punchlines.
Not so in the case of Daily Lives of High School Boys, a veritable master-class in comedy. Each episode is divided into individual sketches, though callbacks and recurring characters are prevalent. A viewer doesn’t have to know these characters to appreciate the humor, but as the characters become more established the jokes only become funnier. Each time an episode ends, the audience is still laughing.
6 Made In Abyss Wastes Hardly A Moment
Fantasy worldbuilding can be a real bugbear. It’s difficult for creators to balance giving a story enough context with propelling a plotline forward, and many anime fall prey to an inevitable spate of info-dumping. Yet Made in Abyss presents an ambitious, strange world without overloading its audience.
The audience learns about the Abyss and the characters who delve into it over the course of the whole season, a little at a time. The audience descends into the story just as Reg and Riko descend into the giant hole in the world, never left confused or bored. While a second season seems vital, the first season is a great example of how to deliver a fantasy story right.
5 Gurren Lagann Doesn’t Let Up
Studio Trigger didn’t exist when Gurren Lagann debuted, but the creators who helmed this show, Hiroyuki Imaishi and Masahiko Otsuka, would leave Gainax behind and go on to found their own groundbreaking studio.
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Gurren Lagann is fast-paced and heavy-hitting. From the moment Kamina and Simon break through the surface of the world and reemerge from the caves they grew up in, the stakes continue to escalate without leaving viewers much time to breathe. By the end, the story has grown into a galactic beast, and yet it remains full of heart. In lesser hands, this series would have been bogged down by its own weight. Instead, Gurren Lagann is over before you know it.
4 Madoka’s Pacing Is Measured and Effective
The phenomenal, enduring success of Puella Magi Madoka Magica virtually guaranteed the series would receive sequels and games and theatrical releases for years to come. And yet there’s no one true sequel to Madoka because as a story, it’s perfectly self-contained. It took director Yukihiro Miyamoto just 12 episodes to completely redefine what a magical girl anime could be.
While fans might argue that the first episode is off-putting, those who stuck with the show soon came to appreciate how carefully this harrowing story about adolescence and the expectations society puts on young girls comes together. Madoka is a quick, decisive punch to the gut that can’t be ignored.
3 To Your Eternity Is Already A Master At Pacing
To Your Eternity’s first episode is a cinematic masterpiece, and no bones about it. The pilot, which tells the story of a boy befriending an alien entity in a frozen landscape, feels like a feature film, some strange hybrid of Miyazaki and John Carpenter. It seemed inevitable that every subsequent episode would feel like a disappointment…but it hasn’t.
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To Your Eternity is a series that measures its worldbuilding through the lens of a creature that is both immortal and, initially, far from empathetic. It does so with grace and aplomb, broadening the world by way of other characters, forcing the audience and Fushi, the protagonist, to encounter the world together. Halfway through the show’s first season, it hasn’t lost its footing and has never been anything but riveting.
2 Baccano! Is A Concise Hat Trick
It’s fair to say that Baccano! is, at first, really frustrating to watch. The first episode feels like a deliberate mess: this story about a train robbery in the Prohibition era is full of colorful characters who don’t seem connected, and the story, directed by Takahiro Omori, is told out of chronological order. Yet the show manages to be just compelling enough for fans to stick with it.
By the end of the series’ run, it has pulled off something nearly impossible: it’s told a fantastic, weird historical fantasy story out of order, and told it in full, without once sacrificing characterization or plot twists. Baccano! demands a rewatch, a fantastic hat trick to the end.
1 Mushishi Is Perfectly Slow
Just because an anime can be described as “slow-paced” doesn’t mean the pacing is poor. Few series in any medium are as measured as Mushishi, which documents the encounters of humanity with Mushi, strange organisms that blur the line between ghosts, plants, and animals. Each episode of Mushishi is a beautifully self-contained story, and almost any given episode features the seed of an idea that could fuel an entire series.
Telling short stories is no easy feat, especially in a medium where audiences expect to be blown away by action sequences. Mushishi is ma personified: a show that asks its viewers to stop, breathe, and think.
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About The Author
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Leah Thomas is a young adult author currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her books have received critical acclaim; her first book, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, was a Morris Award finalist, and her fourth novel, Wild and Crooked, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Leah has also been a guest at San Diego Comic Con and, as an avid cosplayer, loves nothing more than geek culture. Find her on Instagram (@fellowhermit).
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