Anime Backlog Habits: What Makes You Prioritise One Series Over Another?


First World Problems – but hey, everyone’s experienced this. There is simply too much anime out there for one person, no matter how much of a dedicated fan you might be, to watch. So pretty much every anime fan has a backlog or a to-watch list floating around somewhere, whether it’s in your head or written down.

Here’s an interesting thought to ponder: assuming that everything on your backlog is something you want to watch, what makes you prioritise one series over another?

I’ve always been of the opinion that one’s taste in anime says a lot about you as a person, but I think an equally convincing case could be made about one’s viewing habits in general. As people, we all face choices in our lives, after all, and it’s our decisions that define who we are. So whether the thought process is conscious or not, something is making us decide what anime to watch during whatever occasion. We often watch anime because a friend or a critic recommends it, and just as often we pick up shows without knowing a thing about them beforehand. In these cases, while personal taste might factor into your choices, you wouldn’t actually know you will like it until you try it. In other words, there are other factors that determine our viewing habits.

I got my idea for this topic when I read Flawfinder’s post on Hajime no Ippo – namely, he pointed out how very few people have actually seen that anime, despite it being regarded as one of the landmark sports anime (It’s also getting a third season this Fall). This got me thinking: why would this be? Many anime viewers – including myself – prioritise newer, shorter anime over older ones, even though most current season anime is rather disposable. If you’re watching 20+ anime per season, chances are a fair few will seem mediocre and you’ll barely discuss them at all once the season ends. It’s a depressing thought, but that’s the reality for a lot of hardcore fans.

It was this realisation that prompted me to rethink my viewing habits and put most of the current season stuff I was watching permanently on hold (aka dropped). Don’t worry, I’ll live. Don’t get your panties in a twist. Instead, I decided to watch some older series, the ones which various friends of mine have strongly recommended to me and to which I have always said, “Yeah, I want to watch that! I’ll get to it eventually!” But you know how it is – you end up just putting it on your backlog where it just sits there for all eternity, no matter how much your friends badger you about how good it is.

My same thoughts, Ariel

So I did some thinking about what kind of logic would make you put up with mediocre shit (subjectively speaking, as in you personally think it’s okay but not all that great) over something other people constantly tell you is so utterly SUGOI and will CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER. I came up with a short list of factors:

1) Series length. Generally speaking, unless you’re a hardcore Shonen Jump fan (although in which case, you are more likely to favour manga over anime anyway) we prefer short series over long ones. A long series, no matter how well regarded by the critics, such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, can be very intimidating to start when you have limited time up your sleeve.

2) Hardcore fans of the medium prefer to have watched more series rather than simply investing time into just one anime. It makes it look as if you know what you are talking about when it comes to anime more than that guy who just watches Naruto and One Piece, even though that guy has probably technically spent more time watching anime than you have. MAL users are especially prone to this kind of thinking. Completed anime lists are like penises – you just can’t help but silently compare length size.


3) It’s easier to talk about ongoing anime than about series that aired many years ago. A show you just watched an episode of a couple of days back is fresher in your memory than something you watched months or even years ago. And even if you did recently watch an older series, it can be hard keeping up a discussion when the other person in the conversation can no longer remember all the finer details.

4) Hipster logic. Now, I don’t intend to paint that in a purely negative light. When people constantly praise shows on terms that you would personally not praise an anime with (e.g. [insert anime] is SO DEEP and LITERARY), it can be intimidating. It’s raising that anime up to the level of elitism and making it somewhat inaccessible for the rest of us. This is ironic when these shows are being lauded precisely because they rarely ever “feel” like anime. So arguably they’re more accessible to Westerners than the average Japanese cartoon. But it can be difficult getting over that “It can’t be that good” sentiment, unless you are feeling tired of regular anime.

Are these reasons or justifications bad things and is a person shallow because of their viewing choices? Not necessarily. For many fans, anime is as much a social activity as it is a personal hobby, so there is no requirement in watching older anime in order to feel like a better fan. I mean, how many of us can say we’ve watched Kimba the White Lion or DoraemonImportant though they might be to the Japanese culture and to the history of the medium, blah blah blah, there is only so much time and commitment we have for anime. We’re all better off watching things we enjoy and not thinking too hard about how it comes across to others.

But yes, I think it is at least worthwhile to think about what sort of values and priorities go into picking what we watch. How can we optimise our enjoyment? Are you watching something just because everyone else is watching it this season, or could you potentially have more fun by becoming invested in a long, deep and complex franchise, like UC Gundam or Macross? These are things you should definitely think about for yourself.

As for me, now that I’ve dropped pretty much everything this season, I am a happier Frog. It’s liberating not having to keep up with everything, and there’s plenty of interesting stuff in my backlog just waiting to be watched. For instance, I recently saw Kino’s Journey, which was a pretty cool show, and now I am actually watching Hajime no Ippo. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve lost all interest in ongoing anime – I will get back to it when I am in the mood, at my own leisure. After all, there’s the Infinite Stratos sequel next season. How can I say no to that?!


  1. I dunno about others, but the reason “I” prefer to watch anime as they’re airing rather than go back and marathon later is because most anime are easier to digest in weekly chunks. I can marathon the best of them sure, but most anime aren’t that good. Even stuff I kinda like this season are hard to watch all at once.

    Discussions are a good factor, but I can easily keep up with what’s going on with shows I dropped by reading forums or other blogposts, which is much shorter than actually watching the show. Now it’s true I haven’t been enjoying Eccentric Family or Attack on Titan (although the latter has gotten better) despite still watching them, but I’m almost finished with them, so meh. I could just do something else whilst they’re on the background if I have to. Like play Talex of Xillia (hehehe).

  2. First of all, that final picture made me crack up – your articles are always interesting and well-written, but this whole thing was worth it if only for that. Well, that and the penis comment.
    For me, I definitely think that series length is a factor in what I decide to watch. I’m often pretty busy, so if something looks like I’ll be able to finish it in a (relatively) short space of time then I’ll nearly always go for that before a longer series. Another major factor is whether the series is already on a second (or higher) season. I tend not to jump onto shows that have already been going for a while. There have been a few exceptions, but generally speaking I’ll only watch an older show if it’s completely finished airing. I don’t really know why this is though. And last but not least, the third major factor is what my friends think of it. There aren’t a lot of people I know in real life who are constantly watching anime, but of those that I do know, we usually have similar standards, so that’s fairly self-explanatory I guess.

  3. This post embodies how I got into the “real world” of anime. From watching old shows my friends recommended to keeping up to date with the Spring 2013 line-up.
    The defining factors were; my available time, and what I truly enjoyed (Summer 2013 just doesn’t do it for me :/ )
    Thus, it’s sort of perplexing to me why someone would prioritise and watch an anime they didn’t really enjoy just because it was current or mainstream. Is being part of a discussion or having said anime under your belt truly worth your time in that case?
    Hmm~ come to think of it, it sort of is if you want to be part of the anime community… The mainstream shows form a base-like platform where we can make comparisons to other shows, maybe even our preferred anime.

    Your second and forth points remind me of something I experienced regarding anime. I think I’ll make it into my first blog post…

    • Is being part of a discussion or having said anime under your belt truly worth your time in that case?

      Depending on my mood when you ask me that question, I’d probably give you a different answer. But in general, while I think it’s a good idea to have watched a couple of anime everyone else has watched, it’s best to just pick out the things you know you’d enjoy, right?

      Your second and forth points remind me of something I experienced regarding anime. I think I’ll make it into my first blog post…

      This sounds interesting. Link me when you write it?

  4. I think the main reason for me is just the old argument of marathoning vs watching weekly. I know this is very YMMV, but at least for me, I find shows much more memorable when I’m forced to pace myself. When I try to watch older shows, I tend to burn through them really quick due to my lack of self-control, I hype about the show for a week, and then proceed to completely forget about them. Shows I watch weekly work better for me since it gives me time to think about what I’m watching, and it stays longer with me as a result. So I’m usually pretty hesitant to invest the time watching older stuff unless I’m really in the mood to watch a certain show. I feel pretty bad when I can remember more from mediocre shows like Tari Tari than I do of superior shows like Cowboy Bebop. O_o

    • I feel pretty bad when I can remember more from mediocre shows like Tari Tari than I do of superior shows like Cowboy Bebop. O_o

      Holy crap, I know exactly how this feels!

  5. I am kind of regretting of putting shows on hold because I would be unable to pick them up again for a long time. This has happened exactly with Psycho-Pass and Love Live!, but I’ll try to pick them up during winter 2014.

    I prefer to watch anime weekly because I will be able to keep up with the discussions that happen. After all, when it comes to things like this people will just move forward so much that you can’t help but follow along.

    What makes me prioritize one series over another is basically how much I enjoyed them. For shows that I really like, I’ll just grab any subs available or raws if subs are not available when they comes out. For shows that I don’t enjoy as much, I’ll take a fixed schedule and watch them if there are subs coming out even if that means watching several episodes at once.

    Speaking of next season, I personally looking forward to (in order) Aikatsu!, Gundam Build Fighters and Gaist Crusher. All are kids stuffs, but I personally know that they will be better than what most people think. Hopefully the next season will be better than this season.

  6. I don’t really have a backlog of anime because I never have the time to watch, so I give up on them entirely. I just watch whatever anime I like from the current season, particularly keep an eye on series that are anime adaptations of my favorite light novels (Unbreakable Machine Doll is finally getting an anime adaptation! Worth buying all 11…going to be 12 in 25 September…volumes throughout my 2 years of collecting them). I’m more of a light novel fan, so my favorite animes tend to be those adapted from light novels.

    That is not to say I don’t watch original animes or manga adaptations. I watch those too, particularly those that catch my interest. Ususally I just skip the ones I don’t like or find boring. Maybe people like K’On or Neptunia or Lucky Star or Railgun, but I prefer series that includes main male characters (I don’t mind a female protagonist like Ai Austin or Chihaya, but if the cast is entirely girls, then I lose my interest in it).

    It’s interesting that there will be some people who compare lists of anime they have watched. I personally wouldn’t, because I know I’ll lose anyway. Like I said, I only watch anime I like, and don’t bother with the rest, so my list is relatively short compared to hardcore fans. It’ll be a walkover for them.

    That, and as I’ve said, I’m more of a producer than a consumer. I spend more timing writing my light novel (by the way, I should finish the first 3 volumes by next month – the first is already done but not uploaded) – about three-quarters of my spare time – meaning I only have an hour or less to watch two or three episodes a day (and there will be 2 days a week when I don’t watch any because I’m not interested in any of the series that are broadcasted then). So I wouldn’t even think of a backlog when I’m more interested in writing than watching.

    Well…..admittedly most of my current watchlists are usually battle school genre or stuff that involves fighting or action. Though I have a fair few that includes romance and comedy, which provides a refreshing breather from all the fighting.

    • Having written fanfiction on-and-off for seven years, I can see where you’re getting at. Prioritising writing over anime in general is something I do as well. Also, I get the feeling you must write what you read :)

  7. I feel boring now. I watch in alphabetical order unless I have a reason to watch a specific series (like Weiss Schwarz cards ^_^), though i’ll probably be saving those 200+ episode monsters for a particularly rainy day/month/year >.>

  8. I love reading your posts :-). They’re always so entertaining.
    I have a looooooong backlog of series that I intend to watch but of course most of them have been mouldering away for the last year or so. What I’ve been doing for the last half-year or so is watching a few ongoing and a couple of older series at the same time. I’m able to prioritise ongoing series over ones that pople say are brilliant and stuff but have finished airing because you only have to watch one ongoing episode a week. Sometimes it’s scary seeing 25 episodes in your folder…
    Sometimes though I just decide to watch something spontaneously because of an aniblogger’s review or comment. Or maybe what my sister recommends me ’cause she’s fussy. Like I just picked up Hyouka again after you said some stuff about it somewhere ^_^

    • Haha, thanks! Glad to hear you’re enjoying yourself. Hope you like Hyouka more this time around :)

      My decisions can be pretty spontaneous too. For example, I’ll plan to watch a certain show and then suddenly, I’ll pick up this random show I’ve never heard of instead. I watch whatever I’m in the mood for, pretty much.

      • Yeah I am enjoying it a lot more this time, it’s pretty much the only thing I’ve watched in the last few days! Although I did just pick up from where I left off so I’ve forgotten a bit.

        I pretty much just watch what I’m in the mood for as well, at the moment I’ve put more dark and serious stuff on hold and been watching slice of life.

  9. I don’t need to say much as I already wrote my experiences with backlogging several months back but basically I tend to backlog some shows because of lack of interest or time, but don’t want to drop them. I have like 17 listed in my backlog as I tend to finish the shows that are currently airing and I don’t watch everything since I don’t have the time and don’t want to overload myself and that I have other things to do as I’m working on my Master’s degree and teaching myself Japanese. I usually pick 3-5 shows in a given season and stick with those.

  10. What makes me prioritize is interest, since time limits me from watching as much as I want to. If I start a show from scratch, chances are someone tells me that it’s a show up my alley. And if I’ve started watching a long series, but haven’t watched it for some weeks, that still takes precedence over something new. Sort of. :P

  11. My life and viewing habits are still not dull enough for me to “go back in time”, so to speak, and pick up old shows I missed that were lauded by millions of Westerners…specifically. I don’t have many people in the real world to talk about old or new shows I picked up so I don’t worry too much about leftovers. Besides, I already accepted Captain Tsubasa as my “classic” sports anime and moved on. When will I go back in time? “When I feel like it”, is the best answer I can give for the moment.

  12. “Completed anime lists are like penises – you just can’t help but silently compare length size.” +1

    This is precisely why I, no matter how busy, will find myself some time for old anime. A good time for this is during the beginning stages of the new airing anime. As I’m the marathoner type, I prefer watching anime in chunks, and the time during the beginning stages of the airing anime is a good time (though sometimes, I also prefer using this period of time for gaming and visual novels).

    But indeed, it’s still difficult to keep up with no matter how much your friends keep pestering you how oh-so-good something is, since there are indeed a huge load of episodes for older anime. The Gundam franchise, for one, had been something I wanted to marathon since the very first sequel, I didn’t get to watch much before, so I wasn’t really attached to the franchise unlike most other people. But from the very first sequel to now, I don’t even want to count how many total episodes that is.. >_<

    On a side note, I actually watched and kept up with Hajime no Ippo (the anime at least), bwahahaha.

  13. I usually start every anime season watching about fifteen different shows (based on if I liked it for episode 1) and then slowly start dropping them as the season progress. I noticed that with the humongous flood of “cute girls doing cute things slice of life there is no plot don’t bother trying to find it we love slapstick and reaction comedy” in the industry I tend to drop those first. I also tend to avoid any kind of magical girl or fantasy washouts. This season, my final fully watched (well, starting next week) list was about nine titles.

  14. I think I end up putting off my backlog because of the fact that the show has been discussed/analyzed before, most often. Half the time I watch anime, I legitimately look and learn something from the shows (even now!), even if I don’t “think” I am. For older shows, with summaries, analyses, etc., this tends to be easy to mine without actually watching the show. So newer stuff seems…well, newer! Possibly prone to surprise me, and harder to predict (even if they do follow a manga adaptation). Plus, newer stuff seems more “timely”.

    But ultimately, that’s a very good point. I wonder when it is when we stop watching just plain old “anime” and start watching “currently airing” stuff. *muses*

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