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Whether you're new to anime, or are an anime aficionado, you'll enjoy OVAs (Original Video Animation). They usually have topnotch quality, since the home video format grants more creative freedom to the writers, directors and animation teams as a whole. Also, if you're too busy to marathon a hundred-episode series, but still want to sample the best of anime, OVAs are the way to go.
Without further ado, here are the ten OVAs you'll want to check out before anything else:
10. Denpa Teki na Kanojo
- Episodes: 2
- Aired: Feb 2009 - Dec 2009
At first glance, this seems like your typical boy-meets-girl anime. There's Juu Juuzawa, the antisocial high school delinquent, and Ame Ochibana, the eccentric pushy girl. Ame tells Juu that he was, in fact, a king in his previous life, while she was his knight. Understandably, Juu was freaked out by this strange declaration, and decided afterwards that he wouldn't touch Ame with a ten-foot-pole.
That is, until a friend of his gets murdered, and he realizes he needs her help to track down the killer. With a well-paced plot and clever twists packed into two 42-minute episodes, this anime will leave you wishing it's a full-blown series.
Denpa Teki na Kanojo PV (Raw)
9. Seto no Hanayome OVA (My Bride is a Mermaid OVA)
- Episodes: 2
- Aired: Nov 2008 – Jan 2009
If you want to laugh, and laugh, and laugh until your sides split open, this one is for you. Kicking off from the original 26-episode series, these shorts continue the (mis)adventures of Sun and Nagasumi, as they deal with third-year high school woes, damsels in distress, and other shenanigans that are bound to happen to a human-and-mermaid couple.
To be honest, you won't find a "deep" plot here. What you will find is outrageous, well-executed humor that makes the most of a 30-minute format. And isn't that a good enough reason to watch a series like this in the first place?
Seto no Hanayome OVA Trailer/Commercial/PV
8. Furi Kuri (FLCL)
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Apr 2000 – Mar 2001
Okay, I have to warn you: This is one of those anime that you'll either love to bits, or make you want to scream: "KILL IT WITH FIRE!"
It's about a typical sixth-grader named Naota Nandaba, who finds himself dealing with not-so-typical sixth-grader problems: His older brother goes to America, leaving behind a girlfriend who develops more-than-sisterly feelings towards Naota. One day, Naota gets run over by a woman on a Vespa, who hits him over the head with a bass guitar, which causes him to grow horns – and things get crazy from there.
Whether you'll appreciate this anime or not depends on your tolerance for absurdity, really. If you enjoyed series like Nichijou, Lucky Star or Joshiraku, you'll probably enjoy this one too. Otherwise, it will just leave you scratching your head and wondering what the heck's going on.
FLCL – Trailer – Available on DVD & BD 2.22.11 (English Dub)
7. Black Lagoon OVA: Roberta's Blood Trail
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: un 2010 – Jun 2011
Think the Black Lagoon anime couldn't get any more intense? Think again.
This OVA cranks up the violence (and sexy shots) up to eleven. It's basically about Roberta, a maid-slash-supersoldier who's out for vengeance, and other characters who want to either help or stop her. You'll probably appreciate this better if you watched the original series or read the manga, but it's still an interesting, high-stakes cat-and-mouse story in its own right.
Black Lagoon Roberta's Blood Trail Trailer
6. Boku no Chikyuu wo Mamotte (Please Save My Earth)
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Dec 1993 – Sep 1994
Despite what the cover art may tell you, this isn't an ordinary shoujo anime. It tells of Alice Sakaguchi, who discovers that she – along with six other classmates – is a reincarnation of a scientist tasked to observe the Earth from the moon. The seven friends decide to investigate into what this all means, only to find that their past lives have a stronger connection to their present than they realized.
The art may be typical of early 90s anime, but the story isn't. All of the seven main characters were developed so well, you'd forgive the OVA for not wrapping up the story properly (which is its only flaw, really). If you're into character-driven stories, try this one.
Please Save My Earth Advertisement (English Dub)
5. Hellsing Ultimate
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: Feb 2006 – Dec 2012
Unlike many OVAs, this one is a remake rather than a sequel, so you don't have to watch the original series to understand it. Its main character is Alucard, a nigh-invulnerable, anti-heroic and sadomasochistic vampire who serves the Hellsing organization, which keeps the world safe by destroying creatures of the night (read: ghouls and vampires).
If you're wondering why a monster would want to kill other monsters, you can't go wrong with this blood-soaked, visually-stunning and thrilling series.
Hellsing OVA 1 English-dub trailer
4. Aoi Tamago (Pale Cocoon)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Dec 2005
If dystopia is your cup of tea, you'll want to take a sip of this OVA. The story centers around Ura, who works in the Archive Excavation Department to discover why the world is the way it is: no continents, no oceans. One day, he stumbles across something that will shake up everything he believes in.
It's hard to pull off an original, compelling sci-fi story within 23 minutes, but Aoi Tamago's creators somehow managed to do just that. This OVA is more than just a ham-fisted message about the environment; it's also about looking into the past to make sense of the present. Watch it if you can; it will be the best 23 minutes of your life.
Pale Cocoon Trailer (Raw)
3. Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Feb 2002
Like Aoi Tamago, this one is a sci-fi story – with a bit of romance thrown in. It's set in 2046, when humans decide to send an expedition to Mars after discovering evidence of a now-disappeared alien civilization there. Mikako Nagamine, a junior high school student, is chosen to join the expedition, which will separate her from Noboru Terao, who's about to enter senior high.
Creator Makoto Shinkai skillfully balances all the mechas, space and other elements you'd expect from a work like this, with the tenderness of the relationship between Mikako and Noboru. If you like a sci-fi story that's more about the characters than the science, this isn't one to miss.
Voices of a Distant Star Trailer
2. Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu (Legend of the Galactic Heroes)
- Episodes: 110
- Aired: Jan 1988 – Mar 1997
At the moment, this holds the record as the longest OVA series ever. Its plot is similar to that of Star Wars (i.e. a war between a galactic empire and freedom fighters), but it is by no means inferior to the latter. In fact, you can argue that this OVA is better than George Lucas' world-famous series in terms of character development, plotting, and handling of both small-scale and large-scale conflicts between two sides.
Aside from this OVA series (which should probably just be a "series"), you can also watch Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Arata Naru Tatakai no Overture to appreciate this work better.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes Trailer (Raw)
1. Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen (Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal)
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: Feb 1999 – Sept 1999
If an anime fan were asked "What's the best OVA you've ever seen?", this is the most likely answer. This OVA takes us back to the Bakumatsu era, roughly a decade before the main Rurouni Kenshin storyline. It's basically Kenshin Himura's origin story: how he became Battousai, how he got his distinct X-shaped scar, and why he made a "no-kill" vow despite being a very capable killer.
Unlike the original series, there's zero comedy in this one – which is actually fitting, considering the time period. Also, the gorgeous animation, the memorable music, and the touching story are more than enough to make up for that. If you're going to miss most of the series on this list, at least don't miss this one!
Rurouni Kenshin – Tsuioku Hen – Trailer 2
Due to space constraints, we've unfortunately left out a ton of other great OVA here, like the Hunter X Hunter OVAs (before Greed Island), the Prince of Tennis OVAs and the Fullmetal Alchemist: Premium OVA Collection. If you have any other OVA recommendations that haven't been listed here, do share them in the comments!