As technology advances, so does the way in which we get our entertainment. From the theater to movies, every step of the way can be traced as scientists managed to create new forms to transmit information, and how producers and businessmen used said forms to create new industries. Anime is not an exception, as it started with shorts shown in movie theaters before the actual long films, then went to tv series, adding some straight-to-video series also known as OVAs or Original Video Animations, and finally, the ONA, or Original Net Animations, which are originally released through internet streaming services.
At first, they were short series with very short episodes, but now, with some international support, ONAs are indistinguishable from series and movies made for TV both in quality and length. And every year, we get more and more ONAs, so it’s obvious that this new format is here to stay.
With that in mind, let’s see what were the best ONAs that 2018 gave us, as we prepare for a new exciting year of animation in 2019.
10. Aru Zombie Shoujo no Sainan (Calamity of the Zombie Girl)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: July 2018
When you see a sign that reads “Only authorized personnel allowed” you should heed the warning. That’s what Sayaka and her friends learn when they sneak into the storage of their college library because they want to see if there’s anything of value to steal. What they find instead are two ancient Italian mummies, and Sayaka decides that the best thing to do to cut their loses is to steal the gem one of them is wearing. Unfortunately for everyone there, that gem was keeping the mummies asleep and now they are awake and ready to kill anyone who tries to steal the gem that granted them immortality.
Calamity of the Zombie Girl is a B-rated horror movie in anime form. This means that while the story is not the best, and it has some quite obvious tropes if you enjoy silly movies that are so bad they're good, it's going to be quite enjoyable. The fact that there are no clear heroes or villains–it's hard not to relate to Euphrosyne, the titular Zombie Girl, as she only wants her property back and the students, while trying to save their lives, end up betraying everyone–makes the story more intriguing and worth at least one watch.
9. Hero Mask
- Episodes: 15
- Aired: December 2018
When a serial killer that for all purposes should be dead attacks the headquarters of the elite high-tech police wearing a strange mask that seems to grant him powers, police officer James Blood has to start investigating the origin of the mask at the same time that attorney Sarah Sinclair is trying to figure out how to prove that her friend Monica Cambell’s death was actually a murder. Both investigations merge as they learn of the LIVE corporations and a dangerous web of corruption and inhuman experiments.
Hero Mask has a quite interesting view of superpowers and consequences. The first time we see the Masks, they seem incredibly powerful and a complete game changer in crime and crime fighting but little by little we realize that the powers they grant come with a heavy price as they cause rapid aging that will inevitably kill their user. Every character who wears them, and even those who work to create them, have different and sometimes understandable motives for their actions. This makes every one of them somewhat relatable and so helps to make the series quite memorable.
8. Otona no Bouguya-San (Armor Shop for Ladies & Gentlemen)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2018 – December 2018
Due to a misunderstanding, Kautz is now employed at the Adult Armor Shop, a place that specializes in the most risqué and sexy female armor around. He got the job as the store was close to bankruptcy because Narden, the owner, keeps prices ridiculously low in order to convince clients to buy his wares. Kautz finds himself trying to save the store not because he shares Narden’s love for risqué clothing, but because he really likes the store’s clerk, Lilletta.
If there’s a subject in role-playing-games that will get controversial and heated quickly, it’s sexy female armor. No matter what your position is on them, there’s going to be an argument. But Otona no Bouguya-San tackles the subject in a very lighthearted comedy, making it both a role-playing game with options, hp, and even dialogue options during the scenes. Since each chapter is only 4 minutes long, it can be binged quite fast, or be watched little by little as a bit of a pick-me-up between episodes of more dramatic stories.
7. Isekai Izakaya: Koto Aitheria no Izakaya Nobu (Isekai Izakaya: Japanese Food from Another World)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2018 – September 2018
When Nobuyuki Yazawa, known as "Nobu" to his friends and clients, decided to open Izakaya Nobu, he never expected to get clients from literally another world. The door to the building somehow connects to Aitheria, a medieval city in a world with two moons where Japan doesn't exist. Because of this, every dish and drink is a surprise for newcomers such as Hans, a young Palace Guard who falls in love with edamame and cold beer as well as with Shinobu Senke, the waitress of Izakaya Nobu. Each chapter brings a new dish to the clients and viewers, making a visit to Izakaya Nobu an unforgettable experience.
Izekai Izakaya: Koto Aitheria no Izakaya Nobu is a wonderful love letter to Izakaya, traditional Japanese bars, and Japanese food in general. For people who love anime because it offers a window to a different culture, this series is a genuine treat as we get to see gorgeous dishes and to hear both the explanation of how they are made and how they taste. It’s not a good idea to watch this series with an empty stomach because you will end up hungry and with a huge craving for good Japanese food.
6. Sword Gai: The Animation
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: March 2018
When Gai Ogata was born, he was cursed with tragedy: His father had just been murdered, and his mother committed suicide shortly after giving birth to him. The only reason Gai survived was that the blacksmith Amon was nearby and, alerted by the newborn’s cries, found him and decided to raise him with his own daughter Sayaka. By the time Gai was ten, he was working as an assistant to his foster father but an accident marked his fate once again: he lost his arm and Amon was forced to use a demonic sword called Shiryu in order to give him a new one. It's only then when Amon reveals that there's a long story behind the demonic swords and that Gai is now doomed to fight for his soul against both his sword arm and other demonic sword holders.
If you love epic sword fights and human drama mixed in with the inner fight between good an evil in your main characters, Sword Gai is going to be exactly your cup of tea. The end game of the villain, Grimm, is the utter destruction of mankind in order to turn what’s left of the planet into a bloody arena where the Busoma, the true forms of the demonic swords, can fight to their deaths so that only the strongest survive.
5. Emiya-San Chi no Kyou no Gohan (Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2018
In a parallel universe where the Fifth Holy Grail War ended without any bloodshed, and every pair of Master and Servant lives in the same town, Shirou Enma has decided to help them adjust to a more mundane life that doesn’t require killing everyone around them. He also wants to show Saber how to cook, so he takes her to the market every day and explains the traditions and meaning of each dish. They also have more time to know each other better, as Archer, Lancer, and Rin also get their day in the limelight and in front of the stove.
If you are a fan of the Fate/stay night series of novels, anime, and games, chances are some of your favorites have been mercilessly killed at some point. So Emiya-San Chi no Kyou no Gohan can give you a happy ending for all of them. Without the battles and the fate of humanity on the balance, Shirou and Saber have time to let their relationship grow in a series of lovely vignettes. And if you love cooking, the fact that Shirow shows very carefully how to make each dish step by step (although you'd need a written recipe for the quantities of each ingredient) is a very welcome addition to the story.
4. A.I.C.O. Incarnation
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: March 2018
In 2035, medicine has advanced to the point that researchers are working on creating artificial life. However, the experiments are not without consequences. For some reason that is unknown to the general public, there has been a “Burst” of artificial life and this “Matter” has completely invaded the Kurobe Gorge in Japan, making it uninhabitable to human life. In order to enter the Gorge and reach the research city where the Burst began, people need special suits and equipment as even the air has become toxic to mankind. By 2037, the Japanese government has forbidden access to the Gorge, but 15-year-old Aiko Tachibana is convinced by a transfer student named Yuuya Kanzaki that they have to reach the Burst’s origin point in order to save her family, and possibly the world.
A.I.C.O: Incarnation is a very intriguing thriller with some deep questions about human nature and identity. At one point, we’re following at least 3 different plots with the main characters, who have to make hard choices between being loyal to their friends, respect the laws, or betray everything they believe in. In the short span of the series, at the same time we realize how tragic the Burst really was, we get to know every character around Aico, in both sides of the situation. This makes the story even more tragic as we get to really understand everyone’s position.
3. Aggressive Retsuko (Aggretsuko)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: April 2018
Japanese office workers must follow very strict rules of behavior and keep a high productivity rate. This results in very high levels of stress that can even become deadly if the worker can't find a way to let the pressure go. Young Retsuko, a 25-year-old red panda, has found a perfect way to let that frustration and anger go: She goes to a karaoke bar and sings Death Metal about the daily grind until she feels better. Since she has to deal with a horrible boss who abuses and bullies her, it's quite obvious she needs to sing a lot, even in her head.
Aggressive Retsuko is a show of contrasts and masks, both in and out of universe. After all, it's possible to dismiss the series as a children-targeted story both due to the cute animal art and the fact that it's produced and created by Sanrio, the company behind the Hello Kitty! franchise, which is completely targeted to young children. But Aggretsuko is part of Sanrio's quite successful attempt at making products for a more adult demographic: the "cute animal" masking the dark subjects and rough language used in the series. Just like Retsuko's calm and demure demeanor masks her true feelings that come out when she sings.
2. B: The Beginning
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: March 2018
When faced between your loyalty for your country and finishing your father's life’s work, what would you do? That is the question that Keith Kazama Flick faces when he returns to service at the RIS of the Kingdom of Cremona after a long leave of absence due to the murder of his sister. On one hand, he has to help find a new serial killer code-named B who seems to be targeting very specific people and wanting to call as much attention to himself as he can. On the other hand, he still has to find who killed his sister to get some closure. And then things get really complicated when Kazama realizes that his father's last will was for him to protect Koku, Killer B himself.
B: the Beginning is another Netflix-produced anime and a really good example of a great psychological anime. The plot thickens with every episode, but not at the expense of the characterization, nor by lying to the viewers as some other mysteries do. Instead, with every episode, we get some answers to our questions, which are followed by more questions and clues to the final act. So if you are in the mood for a good story full of political intrigue and ancient conspiracy theories, B: the Beginning will be right up your alley.
1. Devilman: Cry Baby
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: January 2018
Ryou Asuka, a young 16-year-old prodigy, discovered a horrible thing when he was working with his mentor Dr. Fikira in the Amazon rainforest: Demons exis, and they are ready to possess and destroy humanity. In order to stop them, Ryou enlists the help of his best friend Akira Fudo and convinces him that if they get possessed by demons but manage to keep control of their minds, they can become “devilmen” and stop Satan’s army before it’s too late. Akira is a gentle young man who despises violence, but he agrees to Ryou’s plan. In a twist, while Ryou never manages to get possessed, Akira finds himself sharing a body with Amon, one of hell’s most powerful demons, and becomes Devilman, ready to protect his loved ones.
Based on the manga by Go Nagai, Devilman: Cry Baby is the first time the full story has been animated, as a previous OVA had only touched the prologue with Akira getting possessed and his first fight against demons, while a second adaptation just did away with the whole prelude and Akira’s struggle and went right into the final battle between Devilman and Satan. From the first episode, it showed how dark the story could go and it won a lot of new fans that hadn’t been familiar with Nagai’s stories. While not for everyone, Devilman: Cry Baby has gorgeous animation and a deep plot that makes it a great example of why anime is definitely an art form.
In the short years since the ONA format was introduced to the public, we've seen great changes in it; to the point that the only thing they all have in common is that they were created originally for streaming services. Some can be very short, with only four minutes per episode, cute stories that are just made to make the viewer smile ,and the equivalent of a four koma manga. Others are normal tv episode length and can have multiple seasons, that keep us glued to our screens no matter the size. But they all show how the animators work within the new technology, giving us new ways to access their creations every day.
While it's unlikely that the ONA will replace the TV series any time soon, what is true is that every year we will see more and more ONAs being created as they can reach a more wide audience all over the world. So we want to know: of the ones we saw in 2018, which one was your favorite? Is it on our list? Or did we miss it? Let us know in the comments below, and while we're at it, tell us which ONA you are more excited about in 2019!