Anime prequels are rare in the world of anime. When most shows want to talk about a character’s backstory or the history of a fictional world, they do it via flashback or conversation. This can be effective, but sometimes there’s so much information that it can’t be contained by a simple flashback. Sometimes, an anime needs more than that - it needs a prequel.
Whether they come in the form of a movie, an OVA, or a full-blown series, the best anime prequels don’t just provide additional context - they tell compelling stories that keep viewers interested without having to refer back to the first show. Magi: Adventure of Sinbad fleshes out a supporting character in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. This not only makes him more compelling in the latter series, but his story is fresh and fun on its own. Kizumonogatari provides crucial information about how Koyomi became a vampire, but it also features some of the greatest animation not just in the Monogatari series, but ever appearing in anything.
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The first time that anime fans meet Sinbad, he's a supporting character in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, also known as the High King of the Seven Seas. Magi: Adventure Of Sinbad makes him a main character, and describes how he went from a cheerful but impoverished young boy to one of the most powerful men in the world. If you're a Magi fan, it's a great way to get to know a minor character better. If you're new to the series, you can just as easily start with this one - you'll appreciate grown-up Sinbad all the more when you meet him in Labyrinth.
Fate/Zero isn't just one of the best prequels of all time, it's one of the best entries into the Fate series, period. It depicts the Fourth Holy Grail War, an event that takes place ten years before the first series, Fate/Stay night. This anime gives viewers a glimpse of what life was like for many of the primary characters parents when they were younger. More importantly, it depicts one of the most disturbing, unsettling, dramatic wars in anime history. If you love Fate, this prequel is not to be missed.
Goku's origins are among the most fascinating things about the Dragon Ball universe, which is why the story of his father Bardock is so compelling. Bardock is a clairvoyant who predicts that Frieza is going to destroy his home planet, so he sets about trying to stop him. As viewers of DBZ know, he isn't successful, but the process of watching him try is fascinating. This prequel offers an insight into the homeworld and ancestry of one of the most legendary characters in anime, and does so with a tight plot and heart-pounding fight scenes.
When Rurouni Kenshin begins, Kenshin Himura is a dedicated pacifist who has put his former life - as one of the most legendary mercenaries of his era - behind him. Because Kenshin's past is so integral to the story, it practically demands a prequel. Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal, begins with Kenshin watching the bandits who tried to enslave him be slaughtered. His rescuer takes him in, and teaches him to become a powerful swordsman. Kenshin is too kind to be fully satisfied by a life of violence, but he desperately wants to help others. How can he resolve this terrible tension - and what will be the consequences if he can't?