Full disclosure: I write this as someone who, up until last year, looked at the spinoffs and brushed them off as ‘silly’ or ‘not worth my time’ and just laughed at them without ever giving them a shot(save for GX). My general reaction to seeing that there was another series was ‘another one? really?’
So, with that cleared up,
Why you should totally give the Yu-Gi-Oh! spinoffs a chance.
So, you’ve seen the original series(which I shall refer to as DM(Duel Monsters) from here on out) and maybe you’re kinda curious about the other series, or you want to know what the buzz is about and if they’re really that good. But, which should you check out, there are 5 of them after all.
All of them, you should give them all a shot.
Le’s go down the list, stating with GX.
This is the one that’s the ‘high school au’ one.
This is your protagonist for 4 seasons(180 episodes)
His name is Judai Yuki. Probably the most normal and realistic looking of the ones on this list. I mean, brown hair and eyes, that’s pretty uncommon for a protagonist in this kind of anime.
He’s the protagonist a lot of people seem to refer to as the ‘annoying hyper one’. I blame the 4Kids dub* for this. Because, watching that, you wouldn’t believe he’s 15. Yeah you heard me. 15. A year younger than Yugi. He is most definitely not the ‘annoying and hyper’ one.
He’s the only protagonist to have a confirmed end-game love interest(as in, he canonically ends up with someone), and they’re not female.
The show allows him to make mistakes and face the consequences of his actions, and they aren’t always pretty.
*I will probably recommend you watch the subs for all these. Because honestly, after DM (and ymmv on what you thought of that dub) I feel like 4K just treated the spinoffs as a joke. They butchered the hell out of them and you lose a lot. Unless you want to watch the dub and laugh at it.
If you’re fresh off DM, or hold that one dear and aren’t sure if you want to let go of the characters you love yet(and you don’t need to let go, you can love all of them), this might be a good place to start, because cameos.
Yup, see GX is set in the same universe/timeline as DM, just about ~7(10 in the dub) years later, so we get a few cameo appearances from past characters.
Pegasus appears in 3 of the 4 seasons, Yugi appears in the first and last episodes, Kaiba gets a few brief shots and Yugi’s Grandfather even gets an appearance dung the second season as a helper to the protags(which gives us a number of nods back to DM and Battle City in particular.
The foreshadowing in this series is, amazing, and the sort of thing you don’t catch till you rewatch it.
It is slow to get started admittedly, unless you like slice of life, then you’ll enjoy the early portions of season 1, because it has a lot of slice of life type episodes/episodes to establish the characters and the world before the plot kicks in.
If you can hang around until season 3 it will be worth your time. I promise. I can’t even compare it to anything in DM because, cripes it’s worse than season 4(the Doma arc) with how dark it gets. Season 3 is basically the embodiment of the ‘Break the Cutie’ trope. With ‘cutie’ being, that one up there.
Also, the character development in this series is phenomenal! Probably the best out of all the series.
So if you like DM and the characters and you’re not quite ready to say goodbye, this is a good place to start.
*I have a bit of a personal bias b/c this one is my favourite.
aka the card games on motorcycles one.
Yes, it’s a silly idea. But they pull it off enough well enough that you can look past it.
So, your protagonist for this 152 episode series.
Yusei Fudo. He is the oldest protagonist at 18.
Do not be fooled by that serious face, he is a massive sweetheart and very nice.
If you like action this is one you’ll like. If you enjoyed Kaiba you’ll probably enjoy Jack Atlas (the rival/Kaiba expy for this series). This one also has more of the ‘ancient magic from thousands of years ago’ that DM had. Except from Egypt, it’s from Peru, and involves the Nazca lines.
Unlike GX,which starts out slow and is very slice of lifey, this one just, drops you head first into the story, action right off the bat. You need to watch a few episodes to adjust to the vast difference between this one and the previous two.
You may have heard of the 10th anniversary movie Bonds Beyond Time, a crossover between DM, GX and 5D’s. Yes, that means that this too exists in the same time line as DM. Just, a few decades or so after GX (though it’s not clear how many). There’s no character cameos, but you do get a few nods back to DM, including a mention about Kaiba Corp as well as the brief appearance of an old duelling platform from season 1 DM.
This is also the first one to introduce a new summoning method(that isn’t Fusion or Ritual), called Synchro summoning.
The first season(up to episode 64, the end of the Dark Signers arc) is worth checking out at minimum and you can totally stop right there and not really lose anything.
The second season is, kinda clumsily handled. There was a massive controversy with one of the actresses and she was replaced and a massive chunk of the script rewritten due to said controversy and, it shows. Season 2 has more of the ‘slice of life’ episodes. And it has some fun mini arcs interspersed with the plot(like watching Jack fight the literal devil, and a wild west themed mini arc).
Again, I recommend the subs. The dub is, eh. The second season is just, bad because there are literally chunks of episodes, in the middle of arcs, undubbed. And the last chunk of the series isn’t dubbed, it ends something like halfway through the final arc. So subbed is the only way to see it through till the end.
So 5D’s is worth checking out for sure, or at least the first season and BBT.
This one seems to be a bit of a blacksheep in the YGO, it seems to be the one to get a lot of flack. :/
Anyways, our protagonist for this one. It is 146 episodes.
Yuma Tsukumo. Sweet cinnamon roll that must be protected at all costs.
Yes, he has weird hair, but so does everyone in this series so you’ll adjust(and some are even odder that his). Also please note he s 13, making him the youngest protag. So keep that in mind when judging his actions.
If you like DM, this is also a good one to check out for sure because of all of the parallels between them.
From the relationship between Yum and Astral and Yugi and Atem(amnesiac spirit tied to an artefact and host that is helping them recover their memories…), to ‘former bully turned best friend of the protagonist’, to something that happens at the very end of the series. It’s like a great bit DM reference, with season 2 being a massive GX reference.
It also has great themes on friendship, forgiveness, family, as well as never giving up and giving it your all. Yuma’s ‘kattobingu’ is silly but wonderful. Yuma is a ball of sunshine and happiness that eclipses everyone else on this list.
It’s plot is also an interesting thing, going from a seemingly clear cut, black and white situation where you go ‘they’re good and they’re bad’ to a very grey and muddied one where it’s really hard to tell who’s right and who’s wrong in the conflict and asking the question ‘is this really right?’
While there are no past character cameos, we DO get an episode with monster cameos from DM and GX(including BWED and Dark Magician, and Neos and Rainbow Dragon). If this is in the same universe or a different one from the previous three is unclear. Knowledge of them is not needed to watch and enjoy this one.
Like 5D’s, which introduces Riding Duels and Synchro Summoning, Zexal introduces us to Xyz Summoning and D-Gazers(the duels are projected into VR space that only those wearing a D-Gazer can see/interact with, and the trouble as a phone/communication device of sorts). It catches you up fairly fast on what both of these are.
Much like GX though, it starts off semi slice of life-y with plot, and then the next season hits and it goes dark. Really, really dark.
But it’s great.
Also, it has arguably one of the greatest villains in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Vector. Just, just Vector.
Think like Yami Bakura, if he were actually competent and thought his plans through and knew what he was doing. And more of a twisted, manipulative person. He’s a ‘love to hate him’ character because he is so good at what he does and fun to watch, but at the same time, the things he does are just awful.
And this one has some pretty good foreshadowing too-there s a line in the, second episode that suddenly makes sense when you get to season 2 and more is revealed.
So if you love DM this one is definitely worth checking out.
This one isn’t missing any episodes from the dub.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc V
This one is a bit longer than Zexal at 148 episodes long
This is Yuya Sakaki. You’ve probably heard people call him ‘tomato child’. Yeah, the hair is why. Also he is 14.
Again, like Zexal everyone has crazy hair, so he isn’t too unusual in terms of colour(I mean his best friend has pink hair).
This one is a bit different.
See, while you could watch any of the previous three in any order without having seen any of the others and they would still make sense, this one makes frequent references to GX, 5D’s and Zexal as well as using their summoning methods(Fusion, Synchro and Xyz). You don’t *need* to watch the previous ones to watch this and understand it, however you will get the tiny references faster if you do(which adds to the fun).
It is definitely a fun one to watch, taking all the liveliness that is duelling and doing something with it. Action Duels. So no more just, standing there shouting at one another. Now it’s running around, riding the monsters and shouting at each other.
So if you liked the action from DM, you’ll enjoy this.
And much like Zexal and 5D’s, this one introduces Pendulum Summoning as its new summoning method, while utilizing all the previous summoning methods.
One thing people like to point out is its deconstruction of many past YGO tropes(esp the ‘we duelled so we’re friends’ trope.) and it does, frequently. Also I think it’s the first one to feature a tournament arc, where the tournament doesn’t get finished. And female characters that DO shit and get shit done. And a lot of them too.
And yes this is the one with the guy and his lookalikes. Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it seems. If you can keep straight and past and present selves in DM, counterparts is a non issue(especially since they are introduced gradually so you get to know them).
The plot is kinda slow to get going, as it bounces between two main characters for the first while, yet still keeps from being boring, but once it hits, it HITS. Like, by episode 7 you know something is up and this is going to be more than just ‘duelling for fun’ and a rivalry between schools, and it goes from there. And then, for lack of a better descriptor, ‘shit gets real’ once you reach the 30′s.
And it’s all down hill from there.
*This one is my other favourite.
This is the newest one, hot off the presses (and only 6 episodes long at the time of writing)
Meet Yusaku Fujiki, 16 years old.
A bit of a loner, withdrawn and more or less friendless(a first in YGO). He’s also blunt and speaks his mind, even to the point of rudeness, even if unintentionally(he doesn’t know how to socialize all that well). He’s also a hacker.
But he has an alter ego, the vigilante duelist Playmaker. Did I mention he gets a transformation sequence?
Cause he does.
The magical boy/magical girl jokes write themselves honestly.
(gifs by kaiba-cave – the gifs did not show up in the gif search unfortunately)
VRAINS introduces us to a new kind of dueling, VR dueling, where one logs onto the Link VRAINS (which stands for Link Virtual Reality Artificial Intelligence Network System) server to duel in the online world under an avatar(that usually looks/sounds different from their real world self). It also introduces Link Summoning to the game.
If you thought the Virtual Reality arcs in DM were something, VRAINS takes it up a level(also if you are at all familiar with the mobile game Duel Links, then the rules of the Speed Duels that are used in VRAINS should be familiar to you). I
All we know about the plot at the moment is that the world of Link VRAINS is under attack from a group of hackers called the Knights of Hanoi who seek to destroy it.
I’ve head comparisons made to .hack and SAO, but as I’venev seen eithe can’t vouch for them.
Also, if you like consistent animation quality, GX is the way to go, with Zexal and Arc V following close(VRAINS is looking pretty good to but only time will tell). No where near as many wonky episodes like DM had(Doma arc and Memory World Arc come to mind). Sure they have their off episodes in terms of animation(what doesn’t?) but not to the degree that DM had.
GX is fairly solid in terms of animation, especially in season 4 where it shoots up, a lot. While Zexal and Arc V are just, stunningly animated, and very bright and colourful (so when the animation dips for an episode or two you can tell).
5D’s has some good and some bad.
And the character designs, the character designs are fucking great ok? For all of them.
Where to watch!
Of course, the most important thing, after picking which one sounds interesting to you, is were to watch it.
I highly, highly recommend the subs over the dub(though you can watch the dub if you want, just take it with a grain of salt at times)
Of course, supporting the official release is best idea. Gx, 5D’s, Arc V and VRAINS all have official subs on Crunchyroll for your viewing pleasure, with VRAINS being simulcast! This means subs come up the same day the new episode comes out(every Wednesday). This is the first time it’s ever been done for Yu-Gi-Oh!
Ideally, this would be the way to go. However, CR does not have subs for Zexal(it does have the dub though so, maybe one day), and VRAINS is region locked in certain places(like Canada) meaning you will have to seek fansubs elsewhere. Gogoanime is my recommendation. Torrenting/downloading is the next best option.
If you want decent Gx fansubs, I recommend these ones.
All in all, they are all good, for various different reasons and definitely worth checking out, especially if you were/are a fan of the original. Or if you watched any of them dubbed and want to check out the uncut/unedited original versions, which are worth it.
Don’t just pass them over because ‘oh they’re spinoffs, they can’t be that good’. Actually, they can and are.