Spinoffs are often seen as cynical attempts to cash in on the popularity on a successful series. However, that’s not entirely fair. Often times, spinoffs will provide the viewer perspective on what made the original work so enthralling. Sometimes they’ll lovingly poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of the series they’re based off of. Other times, they give us new insight into the world that the main story couldn’t properly include.
So, it should come as no surprise that there are a plethora of anime spinoffs to choose from. With all the spinoffs out there, however, it can be difficult to pick which ones are worth watching. We’ve decided to help you out with that. In this list, we’re choosing the top 10 best anime spinoffs based on how well they service the source material. That way, if you’ve seen the series it’s based off of, you know it’s good for supplementary information.
10. Aa! Megami-sama!: Chichaitte Koto wa Benri da ne (Oh! My Goddess: The Adventures of Mini-Goddesses)
- Episodes: 48
- Aired: April 1998 – March 1999
Based off of one of the most prolific anime of the 90s, The Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses is perhaps the originator of the SD anime parody spinoff. Despite what the title may say, the series follows a rat by the name of Gan, who just wants to live a normal rat life. His new neighbors, on the other hand, seem to have a different idea. They are miniature versions of Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld from the Oh! My Goddess franchise, and all they want to do is mess around. For some reason though, they always wrap poor Gan up in their mischief.
You’re not going to find any sort of meaningful discourse about the relationship of celestial beings and rodents in this series. Often times this series goes into bizarre antics that feel like the animators and writers decided to say “Screw it” and do whatever the heck they want. It does allow Urd and Skuld to take the limelight away from Belldandy some though, but mainly, this is a series that’s great for fans of the original that just want to have some fun. It shifts focus away from the courtly romantic tensions between Belldandy and Keiichi and gives some much needed levity to the franchise.
Aa! Megami-sama!: Chichaitte Koto wa Benri da ne trailer:
9. Naruto SD: Rock Lee no Seishun Full-Power Ninden (Naruto Spin-Off: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals)
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: April 2012 to March 2013
This absurdist take on the Naruto franchise stars fan favorite character, Rock Lee. Naruto SD follows Rock, along with his teammates Neiji and Tenten, and their team leader, Might Guy on their adventures in the world of Naruto. Whether they’re training diligently, completing missions for the Hidden Village of the Leaf, or just goofing around, Rock is working towards his goal of becoming a ninja. His only problem is that he is unable to actually use any form of ninjistsu, barring basic martial arts. Will Rock Lee fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a master ninja even with his shortcomings?... Maybe, but this series probably won’t answer that.
Naruto SD follows the common anime spinoff format of taking the characters from its source, super-deforming them, and turning them into gags. What sets Naruto SD apart from others of its type is that it prominently features a beloved character that goes painfully ignored in the main line franchise. Rock Lee fans were incredibly disappointed when he barely showed up in Naruto Shippuden. Thankfully though, Rock Lee finally gets his due and gets to outshine even Naruto in this fun little romp.
Naruto SD trailer:
8. Gundam Build Fighters
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2013 to March 2014
One of the more unique anime spinoffs to make our list, Gundam Build Fighters is based on the popularity of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Gundam Build Fighters mirrors our own world, where Gundam has exploded in popularity and model kits, known as Gunpla, have taken Japan by storm. The only difference is that the discovery of the Plavsky particle has made it so that Gunpla can actually be controlled. People now battle their Gunpla in gladiatorial combat, and main character Sei Iori hopes to one day become the champ!
What’s fascinating about Gundam Build Fighters is that it embraces its own fandom. Rather than simply building a comedy based around common Gundam tropes, it builds a series based off of one of its most beloved traditions: building models. Fans can actually relate to its characters for their enthusiasm over the process of putting together their favorite mecha. It’s a unique way to help draw in its main audience.
Gundam Build Fighters PV:
7. Magi: Sinbad no Bouken (Magi: Adventure of Sinbad)
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: May 2014 to July 2015
Here’s a spinoff that almost qualifies as a prequel! Sinbad no Bouken shifts the focus from main character Aladdin onto the ever popular Sinbad, and follows his adventures 15 years before the events of Magi. Sinbad sets off from a Parthevia port with a lust for adventure after meeting Yunan, a mysterious man who instructs him to acquire the “power of the king”. This is only possible by making it to the end of strange labyrinths that started to pop up around the planet, called “dungeons”. Sinbad, relishing the challenge, sets off on the journey he has waited for his entire life.
Really, Sinbad no Bouken works because it gives fans the backstory on Sinbad they so desperately needed. It’s more of a reference for his character that we see in Magi and how he became the man he is now. But, even more than that, it has more of the great action and world-building that we came to know from the original Magi. It almost feels like another season of Magi than it does even a spinoff!
Magi: Sinbad no Bouken trailer:
6. Shingeki! Kyojin Chuugakko (Attack on Titan: Junior High)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2015 to December 2015
Getting sick of the long wait for the second season of Shingeko no Kyojin? You might consider checking out this fun parody spinoff. Kyojin Chuugakko follows the trio of Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert, now in junior high and still hunting the iconic titans known from the original series. The twist? Instead of eating people, they’re going around eating their classmates’ lunches!
What makes Kyojin Chuugakko work so well is how straight-faced the parody is played out. A lot of SD anime series exaggerate their gags to be as jokey as possible. Kyojin Chuugakko, on the other hand, plays it pretty straight, bringing back the soaring choral music from the original Shingeki no Kyojin to play over silly recreations of famous scenes from said series. This shows how when just altering small things like the animation and what the characters are holding, can give an entirely different effect to our perception.
Shingeki! Kyojin Chuugakko trailer:
5. Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu (The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan)
- Episodes: 16
- Aired: April 2015 to July 2015
Based off a parallel world proposed in Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu, this series follows the fan favorite character of Yuki Nagato. Rather than an alien tasked with observing Haruhi Suzumiya, in this series Yuki is a normal highschool girl. She, along with her friends Kyon, the main character of the original anime, and Ryoko Asakura must keep their high school literature club from being disbanded. There may be something that Kyon is hiding from Yuki though, and Yuki is drawn to this about him. Can she woo Kyon into finally loving her?
It’s the details about Yuki no Shoushitsu that make it. In classic Haruhi fashion, there are tons of details for fans to pore over in hopes of connecting it to the main series. It also gives some hopes to people who like to ship Kyon and Yuki together in the main franchise. Much of the series revolves around Yuki badly wanting to finally confess her feelings to Kyon, but for some reason never being able to. The plot delves deeply into the ramifications of this, and in the end connects it back to the main story, thus making it a great watch for fans of the original.
Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu trailer:
4. Pokemon: The Origin (Pokemon Origins)
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: October 2013
Hyped up on Pokemon thanks to the one-two punch of Pokemon Go and Pokemon Sun and Moon this year? Rather than catching reruns of the original Pokemon anime, consider checking out this special created to coincide with the release of Pokemon X and Y a few years ago. Following the story of the games, Pokemon Origins follows the story of Red, a young trainer from Pallet Town who sets out to become a Pokemon Master and finally defeat his childhood friend and longtime rival, Green. Along the way, he’ll have to thwart the plans of the evil Pokemon smugglers, Team Rocket, and collect the 8 badges from Pokemon Gyms so he has a chance to take on the Elite 4 and have a shot of becoming champion!
Look, we all know the story. We’d be shocked if anyone reading this article hadn’t played the original Pokemon games. But, while the original Pokemon anime follows a loose interpretation of the games’ stories while getting its lead characters into side adventures along the way, Pokemon Origins animates the story as we experienced it. We weren’t forced into picking Pikachu because we were late to meet Professor Oak. We chose Charmander because we saw the cool dragon on the cover of Pokemon Red. We didn’t fight in a single elimination tournament with a bunch of trainers we never met. We fought our rival in a daring showdown and finally proved to him once and for all that we were the better trainer. By capturing what we remember from Pokemon Red and Blue, Pokemon Origins fulfills that secret desire we had watching the original show.
Pokemon Origins English Dubbed trailer:
3. Neko no Ongaeshi (The Cat Returns)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: July 2002
Even Studio Ghibli can’t resist a spinoff every now and then. In this feature film that originally started as a short for an amusement park, The Cat Returns follows Haru Yoshioka, a selfless girl who saves a cat that is about to be hit by a truck. This cat is actually Lune, the Prince of Cats, and, as thanks for saving him, he offers to marry Haru. Lune misunderstands her response as a “yes”, and now Haru must travel to the Land of Cats to rectify this!
The Cat Returns stands alone as its own film. In fact, watching it, you may not even be aware that it’s a spinoff of a prior film by Ghibli, Whisper of the Heart! It’s actually based on the story that Shizuku Tsukishima wrote after being inspired by a similar situation in her own life. So, on its own, The Cat Returns is a fun fantasy adventure film, but taken in context, it actually gives us a view into Shizuku’s own life. We see her frustrations with indecisions and being misunderstood in what is perhaps the most elaborate visual metaphor for a character ever put onto screen.
The Cat Returns trailer:
2. Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: July 2013 to September 2013
Often overlooked in the grand spectrum that is the Fate franchise, Fate/kaleid is an interesting take on what you can do with a magical girl spinoff. The series stars Illyasviel von Einzbern, the foster sister of Fate/stay night main character, Shirou Emiya. Living as a normal elementary school student, Illya’s fate changes when meeting Kaleidostick Ruby, a talking wand that decides she must collect the seven Class Cards, which hold the Heroic Spirits from legend in place of Ruby’s original master, Rin Tohsaka. However, she is met with a rival in this take in the form of Miyu Edelfelt, younger sister of Luvia Edelfelt, and the two must eventually learn to work together to complete this quest.
The idea of a magical girl spinoff of a popular series is not new. It’s actually a pretty common sub-genre of spinoffs. But what makes Fate/kaleid unique is how it takes this concept and twists it in a manner unique to the Fate franchise. While there are some laughs to be had about Illya’s naivety or making fun of magical girl tropes, the series can get into some pretty dark subject matter. Enemies become more and more monstrous, Illya comes to realize she doesn’t actually have to fight, despite what she’s been led to believe, and the series even plays with our expectations regarding certain characters from the Fate franchise. It actually uses our knowledge of Fate/stay Night against us and makes characters that were once heroes into villains, letting us view those characters in a different light.
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya PV2:
1. Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: August 2003 to October 2003
Sousuke Sagara is a teenager with a strict military background and currently works for the mercenary group, Mithril. In the original Full Metal Panic!, he was tasked with protecting a high school girl by the name of Kaname Chidori, a young woman with a spitfire temperament who inexplicably holds the knowledge of secret technology in her mind that even she is unsure how to access. While the original series had moments of comedy, it was mostly a serious military drama about Sousuke and Kaname’s growing relationship. Fumoffu, however, amps up the comedy tenfold and solely follows what it’s like for Kaname to have to live with Sousuke constantly hounding her, incorrectly interpreting common everyday things as terrible threats, and never giving her a moment’s rest.
Fumoffu is something of a transition piece that’s meant to serve as a bridge between the original Full Metal Panic! and Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid. It serves as a spinoff in the sense that you don’t need to watch Fumoffu to appreciate either of the main shows, but in a way, that’s Fumoffu’s biggest strength. Even though there aren’t really any big strides of character development throughout the show, watching how Sousuke and Kaname interact with one another in their everyday life helps us appreciate their struggles when they are suddenly ripped away from that in the main series. While Sousuke may claim Kaname is just another target for him to protect, and Kaname may claim Sousuke’s a giant burden to put up with, Fumoffu helps establish that these are two people who really depend on one another emotionally, and makes the events that lead up in Second Raid all the more heart-breaking.
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu trailer:
And there you have it. Hopefully this list helped you see some spinoffs in a different light, or gave you a good idea of some to check out. Did we miss anything though? Please, comment below if you have any other suggestions!