Why the Original Yu-Gi-Oh Anime is Still the Best

Yu-Gi-Oh! will be releasing the next era of the anime series next year, and several different series have been introduced over the near 1000 episodes of the anime thus far. Each new generation brings with it a new set of characters, new settings, and new legendary mythologies that result in the main character having some sort of edge over their opponents. The trading card game has impressively evolved right alongside the anime with each new set of rules changing the game in pretty huge ways, too. But no matter how much the series tries, it's never quite going to reach the heights of the original.

Many of the sequels and spiritual follow ups have their fair share of fans, but they can never hope to have the same strong impact of a young boy getting possessed by an ancient pharaoh and becoming extremely good at card games. You can get weirder, but never necessarily better.

To clarify, this isn't an argument for the now infamous "Season 0," which adapts Kazuki Takahashi's original manga series before the Duel Monsters card game was introduced. While it's a fun experience in its own right -- especially seeing just how much more twisted the series can be compared to lower risk card games -- Yu-Gi-Oh! really got off the ground when it hit the sweet spot between camp and legitimate shonen action.

Yu-Gi-Oh! completely redefined what it meant to be an action series running in Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. By introducing more of its "Magic and Wizards" card game, it shifted the action away from physicality and outright violence and moved it toward mind games. Characters began to strategize, battles now involved fantastical monsters and gods, and the series got that extra bit of competition that usually is only reserved for compelling sports anime.

As the original series continued and "Magic and Wizards" became more popular, the card game got a lot more elaborate (with a name change to boot). Rules were better defined, duel disks became portable, and it evolved along with the grander lore of the series. This original series balanced wild new ideas with an increased nuance in tone to great effect. One only need look to the Battle City arc for an example. Still remaining the best arc in the entire series, this is when Yu-Gi-Oh! fine tuned what kind of story it wanted to tell.

Ancient threats and powerful gods were being thrown around, and the trading card game was now a legitimate battle of souls. But even with the inherently ridiculous clashing of elements, Yu-Gi-Oh! stayed afloat by playing it straight. With a bold, loud presentation, every duel felt operatic. These were grand battles with everything on the line! But the follow up series just never nailed this same presentation in just the right way.

Some of the sequels tried to retain that initial dark and mystical hook of the original, and others shifted gears more toward how the card game is played. But in trying to tweak the formula, each sequel loses that spark of what works. Yu-Gi-Oh!'s original anime was really lightning in a bottle. Even it couldn't keep itself afloat forever -- as evident by the divisive reactions to the final Millennium World arc. But this original series still stands the test of time, and stands up to the challenge of its successors.

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It's a series both fans of the original Japanese release and English dubbed release can enjoy. The English dub is likely a bit more popular given how much it's contributed to the conversation around English language translations on the whole, but that's just another part of the series' massive legacy.

Yu-Gi-Oh's original anime series was so great, it launched sequels, spin-offs, and a major trading card game still being enjoyed today. That's something that simply can't be said about those successors. No matter what they try, they just won't be able to get out from under the shadow of that gloriously spiky hair-do.