A Beginner’s Guide to Anime Seasons: When, Where, and How to Watch

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A Beginner’s Guide to Anime Seasons: When, Where, and How to Watch

Twenty years ago, keeping up with the official American releases of anime series involved spending $30 per disc on DVDs containing three or four episodes of shows that were probably already two or three years old in Japan. How dramatically things have changed: today, you can stream almost every new anime to air in Japan within hours of its original airing. If you’re someone who wants to start following more new anime as they air, here’s a guide to when and where to watch such simulcasts, as well as the quirks and frustrations to be aware of.

Anime Seasons Explained
If you want to start a new anime series as it’s airing, you’re almost always going to do so in one of four months: January, April, July, or October. Anime seasons (sometimes called “cours”) operate on a quarterly schedule, lasting three months and typically 12 or 13 episodes. The majority of anime tell (or at least attempt to tell) a complete story within that limited timeframe, with a handful of two-cour (24-26 episode) series continuing from the previous season.

Then there are the few ongoing anime to which seasons don’t really apply. These tend to be shonen action series like One Piece and Boruto (among the most popular anime internationally) or kid-oriented sitcoms like Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan (these anime are typically the only ones not released in America despite their popularity at home). Japanese TV doesn’t really do reruns, so these shows keep pumping out new episodes week after week. Episode counts for such series would make The Simpsons blush: as of this writing, One Piece has aired 1,045 episodes since 1999, while Sazae-san holds the world record for the longest-running animated series with 2,640 episodes since 1969.

The demands of producing an episode a week for years can take a toll on quality. For serialized shonen, one of the biggest problems long-runners face is the need for “filler” arcs, designed to fill time to let the manga source material get far enough ahead in the main story to provide more to adapt. In recent years, there have been far fewer of these constantly-running anime to avoid these issues. Instead, current shonen hits like My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen take extended breaks between two-cour seasons to keep the animation quality higher and avoid filler.

Where to Stream New Anime

When it comes to simulcasting anime in the States, there are basically two games in town: Crunchyroll and HIDIVE. Crunchyroll started as an illegal anime pirating site in 2006, but in 2008, it made the unprecedented move of officially licensing new anime for streaming. Now a fully legit service, Crunchyroll was officially acquired by Sony in 2022, merging with its former competitor in anime licensing/streaming Funimation. Not only does Crunchyroll release subtitled episodes right after their Japanese premieres, but it also produces a number of “simuldubs,” which are made available either the same day as the subbed version or (more commonly) a few weeks later.

HIDIVE is the streaming service for Sentai Filmworks, an anime distribution company that emerged from the older ADV Films. Sentai and HIDIVE were acquired by AMC Networks in 2022. Since this acquisition, HIDIVE has been simulcasting a greater number of shows per season, though it’s worth noting that their line-ups tend toward more niche otaku interests while Crunchyroll gobbles up the more mainstream titles. For comparison: Crunchyroll’s big Winter 2023 shows include the Trigun reboot and an adaptation of the hit videogame NieR:Automata, whereas the most popular show on HIDIVE’s Winter 2023 line-up appears to be the fourth season of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Netflix follows its own rhythm when it comes to releasing anime. Some of the anime marketed as “Netflix Originals” do in fact premiere on Netflix in the same full-season batches that the streaming service releases most of its shows. However, many so-called “Netflix Original Anime” premiere on TV in Japan and are merely licensed by Netflix internationally. For a long time, Netflix released such shows in binge batches weeks if not months after the end of their seasons in Japan, frustrating fans used to simulcast. Fortunately in the past couple years, Netflix has started releasing episodes of some anime weekly, not quite as simulcasts but only a couple weeks after the episodes premiere in Japan. Winter 2023’s Vinland Saga Season 2 will mark a rare true simulcast for Netflix; the viking action series will also be simulcasting on Crunchyroll.

Two wild cards worth paying attention to in the anime sphere: Hulu/Disney and Adult Swim/HBO Max. Hulu has traditionally licensed anime from other companies, often getting Funimation’s most popular shows in a given season, but parent company Disney has started directly licensing anime for streaming. Thus far, only the highly anticipated Bleach:Thousand-Year Blood War has been simulcast by Disney on Hulu; their other anime licenses have been released internationally in the Netflix-esque binge style. Adult Swim has been in the business of producing its own anime for the Saturday night Toonami block; these shows used to stream on Crunchyroll, but now HBO Max is their streaming home. They typically have one original per season at most, but it looks like their original output will be increasing in 2023 if Uzumaki, the new FLCL seasons, and Rick and Morty: The Anime arrive according to schedule.

Ready to get started? Check out some of our watch guides below:
Best Anime on Hulu
Best Anime on Netflix
Best Anime on Crunchyroll
Best Anime Series of All Time
Best Anime Series of 2022
Gateway Anime for Fans of Prestige TV

Reuben Baron is the author of the webcomic Con Job: Revenge of the SamurAlchemist and a contributor to Looper and Anime News Network, among other websites. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndalusianDoge.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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