If you’ve been watching anime for a long time, you must’ve stumbled across the term “ONA” at least a few times. But odds are you still don’t know what it means, and that’s why you are here looking it up.
So, the following article will explore the term, what it means, the content it features, its length, and how it differs from an “OVA” and a few must-watch ONAs.
“ONA” stands for “Original Net Animation,” which describes an anime video released directly onto the internet (typically via some online streaming service) instead of getting aired on TV, in theatres, or even through DVDs.
Though this defines an ONA, there is more to this animation format. So, let’s take a deeper look:
What Does ONA Mean in Anime?
As stated above, ONA is an acronym for “Original Net Animation.” That means ONAs are made for worldwide online audiences, and therefore, these are not limited to only Japanese TV viewers or DVD enthusiasts.
Since ONAs are released directly onto the internet, they are not strictly regulated through censorship boards. And so, there is no restriction to what an ONA may feature.
But most ONAs feature background stories, spin-off ideas, unaired or censored clips, alternate timelines, or the best moments of a popular anime TV series.
Though such ONA episodes may shed light on the motivations of certain characters or events in a canonical anime storyline, these are not part of canon animation. In other words, fans can usually enjoy an anime TV series without watching any of its ONAs.
But ONAs can also be released in a ‘series of original episodes’ which may have no link to any previous TV anime. Such ONA series resemble ‘anime seasons’ that are simply published online instead of receiving a live broadcast.
Consequently, ONAs are frequently called “Web Anime.”
However, once an ONA episode or a series becomes popular enough, it often gets aired on TV and may even be sold on Blu-ray DVDs.
The History of ONAs:
Though an ONA episode doesn’t affect an anime’s canon plot, it can impact its marketing.
For instance, director Fumiaki Asano from studio ‘Ajia-do Animation Works‘ released the first ever ONA featuring a 4-minute short story from a four-panel comedy manga, i.e., Azumanga Daioh, on December 28th, 2000.
The ONA outperformed all its expectations even though Japan was still suffering from the economic stagnation of the “Lost Decade.” Consequently, studio J.C. Staff animated Azumanga Daioh into a traditional anime of 26 episodes.
Later, the success story of Azumanga’s ONA instigated several producers to opt for similar marketing strategies or to simply test the audience’s interest.
In one such incident, the creators of Papillon Rose promised 25 episodes of “Original Net Animation” in 2001, thereby coining the term “ONA.” Though that ONA series was never released, studio Kelmadick aired a traditional TV anime of Papillion Rose in 2006.
However, the expression “ONA” was so catchy and accurate that, to this day, all those series streamed directly online without airing or receiving DVDs are called ONAs. So, in 2002, studio AIC released the first ever ONA series ‘Magical Play’ containing 24 episodes.
Back then, the online release was mostly free, leaving only a little room for profit margin.
Meanwhile, the recession in the American economy culminated in anime suffering a HUGE financial blow because DVDs became hard to obtain and even harder to sell. However, this caused several anime fans to shift toward online streams. So, by 2010, the demand for ONA episodes skyrocketed.
Today, ONA series are available on popular streaming services, including Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and even Bilibili. Therefore, they are not only used for marketing purposes but also to generate significant revenue for their producers.
Since there is no restriction to ONA content, timeline, quality, purpose, or even its length, therefore, ONA series presents a diverse mode of animated entertainment.
How Long are ONA Episodes?
Again, there are no rules dictating the number of ONA episodes or even their run time.
So, some anime series may have a single ONA episode of 2-3 minutes, but others may have a collection of more than 20 episodes with over 15 minutes of animation each.
For instance, Hololive Alternative contains only two ONA episodes of about 1 minute each, with the first ONA releasing on May 21st, 2021, and the second ONA debuting on June 11th, 2022.
Meanwhile, the ONA series Yi Nian Yong Heng which aired from August 12th, 2020, to July 21st, 2021, contains 52 episodes of roughly 19 minutes of running time each.
Generally, a typical ONA series associated with a TV anime may contain about 5-10 episodes of 2-5 minutes of animation each. Meanwhile, an original or independent ONA series may feature over 20 episodes of about 25-minute run-time each.
But that’s an observed trend and not an ONA animation rule.
Nowadays, ONA episodes are released before starting an anime production to create hype and gain record viewership for the canon story premiere.
That said, the freedom of content accorded in ONAs is also observed among OVA episodes. So, you may be wondering how the two terms differ.
OVAs vs. ONA – What’s the Difference?
The term “OVA” or “OAV” stands for “Original Video Animation,” while “ONA” corresponds to “Original Net Animation.”
Both modes of animation don’t receive live broadcasts for their debut. Furthermore, they both can feature side stories, promotional content, alternate plots, certain celebrations, or even backstories. But, OVAs are first released on DVDs, while ONA debut directly online.
If they receive massive recognition, both OVAs and ONAs may later get a live TV Broadcast.
Despite no written rule, OVAs usually have fewer episodes but longer running times compared to ONAs. For example, an anime series may feature two OVA episodes of 1 hour each, but the same anime may feature over fifteen ONA episodes of 20 minutes each. It’s more like ONAs are modern OVAs as they feature ‘online shorts’ compared to long DVD episodes.
This makes ONA episodes more suitable for Gen Z’s taste than OVAs.
But it still doesn’t reduce OVAs’ significance as they feature long hours of unaired and uncensored elements of anime production. Their mature nature and ability to explore alternate timelines in depth make them exceptionally appealing to otakus.
That said, ONAs are increasingly becoming more abundant than ever seen before.
It may be that several anime studios release ONA before releasing canon anime. But it seems to have much to do with Crunchyroll contracting Korean Webtoons for ONA adaptations to test if respective audiences will be interested to see a traditional anime made from the comic.
For instance, an ONA of 1 min & 43 sec for the Korean webtoon, The God of High School, was published on the internet in May 2016. But it received worldwide recognition, causing MAPPA to pick the webtoon for an anime adaptation of 13 episodes that aired from July to September 2020.
ONAs that market an anime are often renamed PVs. Meanwhile, if an ONA series gets aired on live broadcast, it may also get retitled as a TV series.
Now that you know what an ONA is all about, you may be hoping to binge-watch some of the ONA series. So, here are some titles:
While there are numerous ONA series, I am listing only a few of the must-watch ONAs:
1. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (2013)
A 16-minute ONA episode of the anime, The Disastrous Life Of Saiki K., was released on August 4th, 2013, that features a high school boy named Kusuo Saiki trying to absurdly act normal even though everything around him is abnormal because of his very psychic abilities. Later it got a proper anime adaptation that aired on TV.
2. Time of Eve
Consisting of 6 episodes, this ONA series features a world where robots are commonplace but are treated like house appliances. Amid this, Rikuo Sakisaka discovers a peculiar message on the activity log of his housekeeping robot – Sammy, who may be acting independently.
3. Baki (2018)
The ONA series of 26 episodes revolve around Baki Hanma, who won an underground fight and is preparing to defeat his father, Yuujirou, the strongest man alive. But his friend Tokugawa Mitsunari informs him that the ten deadliest death-row inmates are here in Japan to defeat him.
The Baki series released in 2018 is the ONA series, not the prequel series, Grappler Baki!
4. Devilman Crybaby
Consisting of 10 episodes, the ONA series revolves around Akira Fudo, who is led by his friend Ryo Asuka to discover the presence of an ancient ‘Demon’ race. But Akira overpowers a demon, becoming a Devilman who now stands as the last hope for humanity’s survival.
5. Kengan Ashura
Currently containing 24 episodes, the ONA series features the Japanese Edo Period, where businessmen sponsor gladiators in ‘Kengan matches,’ and the winners take it all. But gladiator Ohma Tokita aka “Ashura,” is new to the scene and wants to fight against strong opponents to prove his strength.
6. Japan Sinks
The ONA series of 10 episodes is based on Sakyo Komatsu’s disaster novel. The series features an ordinary family trying to survive as massive earthquakes cause the Japanese Archipelago to sink. Now, they only have their willpower to guide them.
7. Link Click (Shiguang Dailiren)
Consisting of 11 episodes, the Chinese ONA series revolves around two friends who provide special services to people with regrets through a ‘Time Photo Studio.’ Cheng Xiaoshi can travel back in time to a moment captured in a photograph, while Lu Guang can keep track of events in real time.
But they can only resolve issues within a 12-hours window without disturbing past timelines.
I hope this article answered all your queries regarding “ONA,” what it means, its length, and how it differs from other formats like OVAs and canon episodes.
The ONA examples that I included here are a few of my favorites, but if you think there is a better ONA series I missed, please let me know. And I’ll update the relevant information accordingly.
Let me know if you still have some doubts about this anime format. If not, and if you are completely satisfied with the information you just read, then make sure to share the article with your other otaku friends so that they never have to ask the question, what does ONA mean in anime, because they will already know the answer!