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Anime 301: The Long And Winding Shows

On anime that stretches into hundreds of episodes.

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If you're been intrigued by what you've seen with Anime 102 and Anime 201, and are now curious about shows that require a slightly longer-term commitment, you've come to the right place. These shows have massive fanbases both inside and outside of Japan, and have established themselves as long runners--shows with literally hundreds of episodes to their name, many of which are still ongoing.

All shows are listed in alphabetical order, and all lengths are in episode counts (as of November 2011).

1. Bleach

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Genre: Martial Arts / Adventure / Drama.

Concept: Fifteen-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki's sudden death was only the beginning of his career as a shinigami -- a soldier of the afterlife who stands on guard against renegade spirits of the dead (the "Hollows") and prevents them from feeding on the living. Before long he's swept into the turbulent politics and behind-the-scenes clashes of the underworld, where yesterday's friend could become today's enemy ... and your real-world buddies could either become sacrifices or the most powerful allies you ever had.

Length: 350+, plus multiple standalone feature films and OVAs.

Appeal: Another case of a smash-hit manga becoming an equally hit anime, both at home and abroad. Bleach's sprawling cast and slow-burning plotlines have commanded a massive fanbase over its sixteen seasons, and for many of the same reasons Naruto did: its hero's blunt determination to do what he must in the face of impossible odds, and its intricately-detailed alternate world. Note that many episodes do not correspond to any matching storyline in the manga (which will bother most viewers not at all, but fans of the source material watch out).

2. Case Closed / Detective Conan

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Genre: Mystery / Thriller / Adventure.

Concept: Teenage detective Jimmy Kudo is poisoned by a mysterious organization, and his body devolves into that of a ten-year-old boy's. But his mind remains unaffected, and with the help of his friends and some deep connections in Japan's police organizations he solves one complicated case after another.

Length: 639+, but only 104 released in English, plus feature-length films.

Appeal: Most of the longer shows featured in this article are about action and adventure, but Case Closed is in a markedly different vein: it's about brains, not brawn, with the kid genius at the center of the show unraveling one knotty puzzle after another. Think of a slightly more serious (although not too serious) take on the goings-on investigated by the Scooby-Doo gang. Also, unlike the other shows here, the episodes tend to be more self-contained adventures, with only the most incremental advancement in the overall storyline across the series.

Case Closed also serves an example of the biggest problem experienced by the licensors of many longer anime: licensing the whole series is often prohibitively expensive, especially given the size of the potential audience, and so there's been no talk of offering more of the show in English in the future.

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3. DragonBall / DragonBall Z

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Genre: Martial Arts / Adventure / Drama.

Concept: The saga -- well, two of them, actually -- loosely (very loosely) adapted from the Chinese epic of the Monkey King. The first sticks slightly closer to the source material; the second (Z) focuses on the next generation of heroes and their exhausting, long-standing clashes with various evil alien forces.

Length: 153 (DragonBall), 291 (Z), plus specials and spinoffs.

Appeal: Few other shows have garnered such a fervent, devoted English-speaking fanbase as the DragonBall franchise. It has many of the same elements as the other shows described here -- a large cast, an epic storyline -- but what it brings most to the table is action. So much so that a single fight between two characters can span multiple episodes; so much so, in fact, that an edited-down edition of Z (DragonBall Z Kai) was produced to trim down some of the repetition and padding without cutting into the action. It isn't a deep show, but it doesn't need to be one: it's "what will they do next?" storytelling at its most primal.

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4. Fairy Tail

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Genre: Fantasy / Adventure.

Concept: Lucy's plan was to run away from home and use her budding magical skills to join Fairy Tail, the most notorious wizard's guild around. She gets her wish -- but also discovers life in Fairy Tail is both a lot less predictable and a lot more chaotic than she imagined it would be. Doubly so when she becomes sidekick to the fire-breathing (and -eating) wizard Natsu Dragneel, who's about as easy to deal with as a grenade with the pin pulled.

Length: 107+.

Appeal: Long but not intimidatingly so, this series has the same spirit of endless adventure as One Piece, albeit expressed in a totally different way. Rather than having one hero at the center, Lucy and Natsu alternately bring each other back down to earth and send each other flying (she's the relatively straight-laced one; he's nominally the hero). They also end up attracting a sizable cast of supporting characters, but it's Lucy and Natsu who remain at the center of the story through it all. It's high-spirited, rollicking adventure all the way through.

5. Gintama

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Genre: Comedy / Martial Arts / Drama.

Concept: Japanese history, played for slapstick laughs. The arrival of Western influences in Japan in the 1860s is transmuted into the arrival of aliens on earth, with many of the same historical developments (the end of the samurai, mainly) stood on their head and lampooned broadly. The "Gin" of the title is a former samurai, now a ne'er-do-well who ekes by with an odd-jobs business that generates more debt and damage bills than anything else. But somehow he and his cadre of friends and hangers-on manage to get through the day, and maybe even occasionally come out ahead.

Length: 237+.

Appeal: The original manga -- and the show spawned from it -- were sizeable hits back in Japan, although they didn't touch off quite as explosively elsewhere. Its dependence on tropes from Japanese history for most of its laughs explain why it hasn't broken out as extensively: it's more than a little difficult for the uninitiated at first. But the sheer screw-loose atmosphere of the show wins out, and Gin himself is a great antihero -- always looking for the easiest way to accomplish something without ever actually having to do any work. (The various people who drift into his orbit are not much better, either, which makes their clashes all the more fun.)

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6. Naruto / Naruto Shippuden

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Genre: Martial Arts / Adventure / Drama / Comedy.

Concept: Juvenile prankster Naruto is nobody's idea of a master ninja, but after coming under the right tutelage and being surrounded by the right peers, he matures into a powerful and headstrong hero -- just the man his home village might need to help save the world from one of his own fellow trainees gone rogue. The original series and Shippuden are separated by a gap of several in-universe years, and a concomitant shift in tone and focus.

Length: 220 (Naruto), 242+ (Naruto Shippuden), plus multiple feature films.

Appeal: In its manga form, Naruto remains one of the hottest sellers in English; its anime counterpart is no less a success. And for good reason: it gives us a forthright, brash hero who's worth rooting for and never lets even a hopeless situation get the best of him. Beware many long arcs of the show that were created outside the continuity of the original comic, and which are mostly there to mark time while the original author produced new material.

7. One Piece

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Genre: Adventure / Drama

Concept: Back when he was a kid, Monkey D. Luffy accidentally ate a rare magic fruit that turned his body into elastic. As a young man, he's got it into his head that he wants to become "King of the Pirates," and so sets about assembling himself a crew of shipmates and a vessel for them to set sail in. Their goal: the elusive One Piece, the greatest treasure in all the seas. But the navy -- and a whole assortment of equally-powerful baddies -- all stand in their way.

Length: 525+, plus multiple feature films.

Appeal: This is the animated version of what goes on in kids' heads when they play at being pirates. That's the most succinct description for the freewheeling, sky's-the-limit feeling of adventure exuded by One Piece, which borrows just as freely from folk myth and tall tales as it does from the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson. As with many of the other shows here, its gigantic cast -- even the list of regulars stretches into the dozens -- its ready-for-anything hero and its "what'll they think of next?" storytelling all have lasting appeal.

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