The 5 Longest-Running Anime Series Still on the Air

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV Anime
TV Anime

Anime’s popularity just keeps growing and growing. The first known example of the distinctive Japanese art form dates back to 1917. However, it wasn’t until Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 that animation was taken seriously. The film’s success inspired Japanese animators to create longer form content. This shift in thinking led to hit anime like Astro Boy, which premiered in 1963 and cemented anime’s place in entertainment.

The first anime to air on television was Keiko Kozonoe’s Three Tales (1960), a three-story anthology. In 1961, Otogi Manga Calendar became the first anime series to hit the small screen. It dealt with historical events seen through the eyes of a character experiencing them for the first time. But it wasn’t until 1969 when an anime hit the small screen that’s still running almost 50 years later. That show takes the top spot on our list of longest-running anime still in production.

Sazae-san

Premiere Date: October 5, 1969

Number of Episodes: More than 7,540 to date

What Is It?

Based on the Yonkoma manga series of the same name, the series follows a character by the name of Sazae.

First published in April 1946, Sazae-san was conceived, written, and illustrated by Machiko Hasegawa, one of the first female manga artists.

The character was controversially progressive. She rejected gender roles, preferring to spend time with her horse than dressing up and wearing makeup to attract a husband. She did eventually get married but wore the trousers in the household — something her neighbours disapproved of. Sazae eventually became a member of a local women’s lib group and while a lot of the comedy came from this, the stories were mainly about her very large family.

Not only does the series hold the Guinness World Record for the longest-running animated TV series, but it also qualifies as one of the longest-running scripted TV series in history.

Nintama Rantarō

Premiere Date: April 10, 1993

Number of Episodes: 2,017

What Is It?

The official English title of this series is Ninjaboy Rantarō. The series follows a character named Rantarō Inadera and his escapades with his friends at a ninja school. He’s a first grader with ambitions to excel at ninjary. Yes, that is a word. Trouble is, he’s easily distracted and often just mucks about with his friends instead.

One of the characters in the series suffers from a runny nose and bad hair days — both of which actually come in useful on occasion, with his hair able to be used as a weapon.

So far, there have been 25 seasons of the show, each with a varying number of episodes. There have also been two films based on the series. It’s so iconic that Takashi Miike even made a live-action version in 2011 called Ninja Kids!!!

Ojarumaru

Ojarumaru
Ojarumaru and the Oni Child Trio.

Premiere Date: October 5, 1998

Number of Episodes: 1,677

What Is It?

Like Sazae-san, Ojarumaru also began as a manga. It ran in a magazine called Ciao and was first published in 1993. The manga was cancelled in 2006, but the TV series is still running. In English, the series is known as Prince Mackaroo.

The story features a 5-year-old prince called Ojarumaru Sakanoue. Ojarumaru is from the Japanese Heian period (794-1185) but finds himself in the midst of adventure when he accidentally time travels to modern-day Japan after stealing a precious sceptre. Once there (or should that be then?), he befriends a boy called Kazuma Tamura and ends up moving in with his family as he comes to grips with modern culture. However, the owner of the sceptre has sent minions — in the form of his adopted children known as the Oni Child Trio — after Ojarumaru in an attempt to recover his powerful staff.

A film based on the anime was released in 2000, and the series has also spawned quite a few video games.

Soreike! Anpanman

Premiere Date: October 3, 1988

Number of Episodes: 1,399

What Is It?

Originally a picture book series, Soreike! Anpanman was first published in 1973 and ended in 2013 following the death of the author, Takashi Yanase. In English, it’s known as Let’s Go! Anpanman.

Following a one-off anime adaptation in 1979, the long-running second series first aired in 1988.

With its premise perhaps one of the wackiest on this list, it’s not surprising that the series is extremely popular with young children. Anpanman is a superhero with a jam-filled pastry for a head. His task is to protect the world from an anthropomorphic germ known as Baikinman.

There’s lots to love about this anime. Whether it’s the fact that its creator was inspired to create the character as a result of his experiences in the Second World War, when he faced starvation and dreamt of anpan, the pastry after which the character is named, or the more fanciful elements of the story.

Created when a shooting star entered Uncle Jam’s oven while he was baking anpan, Anpanman doesn’t need to eat or drink because his head is food, and, therefore, he’s self-sustaining. He is also able to help starving creatures or people by letting them feast on his head. After which, he simply gets a new head from Uncle Jam, who bakes him a fresh one. However, he does need to protect his head from water and dirt by wearing a special helmet.

The series has generated a movie per year since 1989. There are 29 currently, with the 30th due for release on June 30, 2018. There’s also a series of video games.

Chibi Maruko-chan

Premiere Date: January 8, 1995

Number of Episodes: 1,143

What Is It?

Based on the shōjo manga of the same name, Chibi Maruko-chan is aimed at teenage girls.

The series focuses on the everyday antics of Momoko Sakura — named after the author — a 9-year-old girl known to everyone as Maruko. The year is 1974, and she lives with her family — her mother, father, sister and grandparents. The coolest thing about this series is that it appears to be drawn by Maruko herself.

It was first adapted for the screen in 1990, but that series ended in 1992 after 12 episodes. The first 219 episodes of the follow-up 1995 series were written by the manga creator herself who now supervises the screenplays.

It airs on Japanese TV on Sundays, in the slot just before Sazae-san.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.
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