What is the MONOGATARI series, really?

A harem series? Well, the main character’s a guy and there are a whole bunch of girls, sure. The only thing is, our man Koyomi Araragi lands himself a serious girlfriend within the first few episodes. Plus, romance takes the backseat for several of the characters’ personal journeys, so overall, not exactly.

Supernatural, then? We’ve got vampires, snake gods and zombies galore. Believe it or not, though, they’re only important for a handful of episodes.

Slice-of-life? Comedy? Action? MONOGATARI has all these elements (and succeeds at some more than others) but personally, I can only call it nothing more than a simple coming-of-age story.

Screenshot, NISEMONOGATARI, Episode 2 - Crunchyroll
Your average adolescent, Koyomi Araragi

MONOGATARI is a series of character arcs wrapped up in four-to-five-episode-long vignettes.  Sometimes these vignettes are combined and released as a regular weekly series (BAKEMONOGATARI, MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON). Other times they’re released as the lone character arcs they are, dropping four episodes out of the blue and then vanishing until the next arc (HANAMONOGATARI, TSUKIMONOGATARI). Sometimes they can even be just a few minutes long and released simply as webisodes (KOYOMIMONOGATARI). Throw in the fact that these vignettes don’t even necessarily happen chronologically and you’ve got a real mess of a series.

And that’s the thing – MONOGATARI is a mess. It’s all over the place, both in terms of its in-universe timeline and its real-life release schedule. But don’t worry, because that’s where this guide, and I, come in.

For those who are curious about MONOGATARI but don’t know where to start, look no further. For those who watched some MONOGATARI once upon a time but forgot what happened, you’re at the right place. And for those who just need a refresher right before OWARIMONOGATARI II comes out this August, I got you.

MONOGATARI is a mess, but it’s a mess I love. Hopefully, this guide will inspire you to give it a chance for that, too.

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First, some background

MONOGATARI, BAKEMONOGATARI cover, Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogatari_(series)#/media/File:Bakemonogatari_Up.png
Cover of the BAKEMONOGATARI novel

Nisio Isin created MONOGATARI as a series of light novels, starting with BAKEMONOGATARI in 2005. Twelve years later, he’s still pushing out new content for it, with the twenty-third volume coming out this July. The anime has adapted up to the sixteenth novel so far through nine installments, with the tenth set to release in August.

Unlike most other series that last this long, MONOGATARI doesn’t exactly have an overarching plot. That is to say, the story isn’t about a single goal that the main character strives for. Instead, each book simply focuses on a given character’s situation and growth, with some supernatural elements mixed in.

Protagonist Koyomi Araragi starts the series as a fraction of a vampire (basically, he’s mostly human with some vampiric tendencies). As he lives his daily life, he encounters more people similarly afflicted by oddities and myths. These afflictions and their cures — if any — are the starting points of each character’s personal journey and ultimate development.

Events that happen in one arc may affect the next, or be affected by a previous one. However, Nisio Isin did not write the books according to the story’s chronology. For instance, the third book takes place before the first two, and the sixteenth actually happens at the same time as the seventh. It’s up to the readers to piece together MONOGATARI’s fractured timeline. In respect to this, the anime also released its installments out of chronological order.

So where to start?

My recommendation is to watch in the books’ original release order. To clarify, that is:

  1. BAKEMONOGATARI
  2. NISEMONOGATARI
  3. NEKOMONOGATARI: BLACK
  4. MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON
  5. HANAMONOGATARI
  6. TSUKIMONOGATARI
  7. OWARIMONOGATARI I

The series also contains two other installments (KIZUMONOGATARI and KOYOMIMONOGATARI) which I will address in more detail later.

Technically, the first installment of MONOGATARI is BAKEMONOGATARI. However, the events of BAKEMONOGATARI actually happen after the three-part movie series KIZUMONOGATARI.

Nisio Isin considers it easier to get into the series if you start from KIZUMONOGATARI. You can feel free to take his advice and try tackling the series chronologically from there. However, that can be tricky, largely thanks to MONOGATARI’s irregular release schedule and near-dizzying timeline.

For example, MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON came out as a normal twenty-two-episode show that released weekly. The installment after that, HANAMONOGATARI, came out as a four-episode arc that dropped all at once in a single day. Then, OWARIMONOGATARI I released weekly episodes for one season.

The first half of OWARIMONOGATARI I takes place somewhere in the middle of MONOGATARI S2; the second half takes place near the end of BAKEMONOGATARI. Meanwhile, the events of HANAMONOGATARI occur a few years after any of the other installments. Release order means nothing in MONOGATARI’s world, and watching chronologically is definitely a task, especially for those new to the series.

SEE: Take a look at our analysis on Uraraka from MY HERO ACADEMIA!

The extras

kizumonogatari theatrical poster
Kizumonogatari Part 2 theatrical poster

The aforementioned installments, KIZUMONOGATARI and KOYOMIMONOGATARI, are outliers here since they never aired on television.

KIZUMONOGATARI was a theatrical release. Although it originated as a single novel, it split into three movies that came out between 2016 and 2017. If possible, you should watch the three movies in order.

Otherwise, I personally think you can watch KIZUMONOGATARI on your own time regardless of where you are in the overall series. True, the movies detail the events before BAKEMONOGATARI. But you get enough of an idea of what happened from the other installments that you don’t need to watch the movies at any certain point.

KOYOMIMONOGATARI, on the other hand, released episodes on a mobile app of the same name. It’s an adaption of a compilation of short stories that each focus on a different character. Each episode is only minutes-long and generally doesn’t have much to do with the focus character’s overall story. Thus, like KIZUMONOGATARI, you don’t necessarily have to watch this installment at a certain point. Still, given that some of the characters featured don’t appear until the later half of the overall series, I’d advise putting it off until after OWARIMONOGATARI I.

A note on style

Screenshot, OTORIMONOGATARI, Episode 1 - Crunchyroll
Love that visual symbolism

One last important thing to keep in mind: MONOGATARI is stylistically weird.

Split-second shots of title frames reading the novel’s original text litter nearly every scene. Complex wordplay and puns intersperse the majority of characters’ conversations. Dialogue alone makes up for the majority of every episode. And that’s not even mentioning the anime’s inconsistent artistry.

Art shifts are liberal and shameless — at one point, a girl tells the story of her family’s past, which is visually represented through paper cutouts of live-action images. Another girl begins a monologue and essentially enters a stage play.

Furthermore, MONOGATARI’s world always appears exactly as the current arc’s main character sees it. Background characters don’t exist during Koyomi’s point of view — he’s too focused on what’s in front of him to notice those he doesn’t care about. In another character’s arc, though, the extras are multi-colored, faceless figures, signifying that character’s anxiety around other people.

When Koyomi is in the spotlight, shots are sexually charged and can get supremely uncomfortable. In fact, the first few seconds of the entire series features a panty shot (always a great way to set the tone). But place anyone else as the focus character and camerawork can range from repeated, paranoia-inducing closeups to cold and precise geometric framing.

In this way, MONOGATARI is a performance, albeit one that takes some getting used to. Don’t let it discourage you. The visuals can be odd at first, but their imagination and symbolism speak for themselves.

Mild spoilers ahead

Next, we’ll go into a slightly more detailed review of each installment. For those of you here just to get an idea of the series, be warned: we’re entering spoiler territory.

To be fair, we won’t go too deep here. Each section will provide a brief overview on what the installment covers and what you should expect going into it.

Keep in mind that after NISEMONOGATARI, the chronological placement of each character arc beings to jump around. Also note that because KIZUMONOGATARI and KOYOMIMONOGATARI have yet to be officially licensed and released online or on Blu-Ray in the U.S. as of this post’s writing, I will not be covering them.

SEE: If you need more convincing to watch crazy long series, try out our HUNTER X HUNTER article!

BAKEMONOGATARI

Screenshot, BAKEMONOGATARI, Episode 15 - Crunchyroll
Gang’s all here

BAKEMONOGATARI contains five character arcs: Hitagi Crab, Mayoi Snail, Suruga Monkey, Nadeko Snake, and Tsubasa Cat.

These arcs offer the first taste of what MONOGATARI is really all about. Blending fantastical elements with deeply personal character conflict, it introduces the key players of the overall series.

The girls all begin their arcs with a certain problem, and as Koyomi investigates, we learn that each problem is less the fault of haunting spirits and more a result of past actions and trauma. Despite similar themes in the casts’ issues, their solutions differ. Some problems are resolved completely; others are put aside for another day.

BAKEMONOGATARI is, first and foremost, an introduction to the world and its characters. We learn that, sure, monsters exist in this series. But those monsters are barely even the main focus. The real battles are the personal ones, as each character slowly but surely begins to come to terms with herself.

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NISEMONOGATARI

Screenshot, NISEMONOGATARI, Episode 2 - Crunchyroll
The Fire Sisters, Karen and Tsukihi Araragi

NISEMONOGATARI contains two arcs: Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix.

Here, Koyomi’s younger sisters, Karen and Tsukihi, have their own fantastical problems to deal with. Unlike in BAKEMONOGATARI, however, the main antagonists are real people, rather than personal demons. A con-man poisons Karen with a supernatural bee; a woman tries to kill Tsukihi because of her connection to a phoenix. As these separate, oddity-related hunters approach his sisters, Koyomi must act to protect his family.

NISEMONOGATARI is probably the series that is most uncomfortable and hardest to sit through. The fact that its two arcs focus on Koyomi’s little sisters, who are three and four years younger than him, doesn’t help matters in the least. Things get borderline incestuous, both through shamelessly sexually-framed shots and the characters’ actual actions. And in case you’re wondering, yes, this is the one that has the infamous toothbrush scene.

Fanservice aside (and there’s truly an absurd amount of it), NISEMONOGATARI is about 90% talking and 10% action. MONOGATARI characters generally like to talk, but nearly every scene here besides the arcs’ climaxes is just a roundabout conversation. Be ready for a lot of subtitle-reading, and I’d advise against watching it in public.

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NEKOMONOGATARI: BLACK

Screenshot, NEKOMONOGATARI: BLACK, Episode 3 - Crunchyroll
This barely scratches the surface of the show’s art shifts

Here is the series’ first instance of a standalone arc. NEKOMONOGATARI: BLACK, which contains Tsubasa Family, released four episodes all at once.

The events here actually occurred between those of KIZUMONOGATARI and BAKEMONOGATARI. Thus, viewers will already know how it turned out and what will eventually happen. The main purpose of this arc is to clarify the background on Tsubasa Hanekawa’s arc in BAKEMONOGATARI.

Well-executed reveals lend to the start of Tsubasa’s spectacular development throughout the series. Much of it was hinted at during BAKEMONOGATARI, even as far back as Hitagi Crab. As a result, we don’t gain a lot of brand-new information. However, the details behind Tsubasa’s carefully-hidden personal life and her emotions towards it are still good to know. It might be tempting to skip what’s essentially a character arc prequel, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

CLICK: Speaking of character development, take a look at our analysis of the characters of RE:CREATORS!

MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON

Screenshot, KOIMONOGATARI, Episode 2 - Crunchyroll
Everyone’s favorite god, Nadeko Sengoku

The series’ first two-season installment contains five character arcs: Tsubasa Tiger, Mayoi Jiangshi, Nadeko Medusa, Shinobu Time, and Hitagi End.

Tsubasa Tiger concludes Tsubasa’s character growth thus far, as she confronts a fire tiger on her own. Nadeko, meanwhile, experiences her own kind of supernatural development when she meets a snake god. Tying in with Nadeko’s arc, Hitagi hires a hires a con-man to take care of the local snake god. Mayoi Jiangshi and Shinobu Time offer a look at both the past and the future, and Koyomi’s influences on each.

In a deviation from previous installments, Tsubasa, Nadeko, and Hitagi’s arcs let each girl take center stage and walk their paths and their paths alone. In other words, Koyomi becomes a side character in their stories, allowing the girls to become their own protagonists. This makes for a refreshing experience, as we really see them grow into themselves without our male lead stepping in every second.

Shinobu and Mayoi’s handful of episodes don’t do the same. Whether that hurts them or not is largely up to you.

This installment’s title is a little confusing. Note that although this one is called “second season,” there is no MONOGATARI installment that is officially titled “first season.” Technically, BAKEMONOGATARI, NISEMONOGATARI, and NEKOMONOGATARI: BLACK combined are considered the first season of MONOGATARI, but again, there’s no official heading that refers to them as such.

HANAMONOGATARI

Screenshot, HANAMONOGATARI - Crunchyroll
Suruga Kanbaru prepares to play basketball. With the devil.

The second of the series’ standalone arcs contains Suruga Devil.

There’s a good deal of action and tension in this installment, which involves a literal deal with the devil. Suruga encounters an old sports rival collecting devilish body parts in an attempt to grant herself a new body.

Despite this, however, HANAMONOGATARI is actually one of the most personally relatable arcs. Suruga’s struggles to truly define and discover herself somehow stand out more than someone using cursed body parts to gain power. Consequently, this arc contains some of the deepest introspection and most rewarding character development in the series.

HANAMONOGATARI explores the issues of a lonely and lost high-school senior with an honesty and delicacy I’ve yet to find anywhere else. Self-worth, sexuality, goals for the future – this arc addresses them all. Its superb execution places it as one of my favorite MONOGATARI installments.

Although released months after the weekly broadcast of MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON, HANAMONOGATARI is still technically considered part of the second season. This is because in the novel series, Suruga Devil came out in between two of the arcs adapted in MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON. HANAMONOGATARI’s anime adaption was supposed to broadcast alongside those arcs, but for unknown reasons it got postponed until the following year.

SEE: For more on relatable character writing, read our article on SAKURA QUEST!

TSUKIMONOGATARI

Screenshot, TSUKIMONOGATARI, Episode 1 - Crunchyroll
Yotsugi “you’d never guess she’s a human corpse brought to life” Ononoki

TSUKIMONOGATARI contains the four-episode standalone arc Yotsugi Doll.

When a mysterious, oddity-related hunter suddenly kidnaps Suruga and the Araragi sisters, Koyomi and Yotsugi team up to save them. This is trickier than it seems, however, given that Koyomi has been temporarily restricted from fighting supernatural beings.

Unlike previous installments, there are no grand revelations or beautiful developments in TSUKIMONOGATARI. To some extent, that’s the point. Not much changes as of the arc’s close, but pieces have been placed for future chapters, which ultimately seems to be what the series was going for with this.

OWARIMONOGATARI I

Screenshot, OWARIMONOGATARI, Episode 1 - Crunchyroll
Ougi Oshino, a face you can trust

OWARIMONOGATARI I consists of four characters arcs: Ougi Formula, Sodachi Riddle, Sodachi Lost, and Shinobu Mail.

Interestingly, the first half of OWARIMONOGATARI has nearly nothing to do with the villains or fantasy. Ougi helps Koyomi solve a mystery from his past, which somehow involves Sodachi. Shinobu Mail, on the other hand, returns to classic MONOGATARI style when a magical samurai arrives intending to kill Koyomi.

Ougi Oshino and Sodachi Oikura are different from the girls we’ve met up until now, which makes for a refreshing experience. Ougi is more the instigator than victim of her arc. Meanwhile, Sodachi’s problems don’t involve the supernatural at all. It’s new territory for the character writing of MONOGATARI, and the three arcs pull it off wonderfully.

All this also makes Shinobu Mail feel like a comfortable return as it follows more familiar MONOGATARI beats. Additionally, the arc finally answers some questions put in place all the way back in MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON. Gotta love this series’ ability to look so far ahead.

OWARIMONOGATARI II

This installment will contain three character arcs: Mayoi Hell, Hitagi Rendezvous, and Ougi Dark. It will cover the events of the seventeenth novel, although the exact chronology of the arcs are still unknown.

OWARIMONOGATARI II will premiere on August 12th. We don’t yet know how many episodes this installment will have. However, we do know that the broadcast will end on its second day, August 13th.

CLICK: See this news article for more info on OWARIMONOGATARI II plus a promo video!

The sum of its parts

Screenshot, BAKEMONOGATARI, Episode 15 - Crunchyroll
Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love this composition

So yeah, MONOGATARI is all over the place. It’s a lot to take in at once, and a lot to keep track of even when you’re watching. But that’s what’s fun about it, too.

There’s nothing quite like the click in your mind when all the pieces set ages ago finally begin coming together. Piecing the timeline as you watch is interesting in and of itself, too. Circling dialogue is often more thought-provoking than tiring. Cinematography is genuinely inspired and, dare I say, enjoyable to analyze. Plus, character development has never been more satisfying. What more can you ask for in a show?

If you’ve managed to read this far, there’s nothing more I can say. I love MONOGATARI, good parts and bad, and I hope you’ll give it a shot, too.

The MONOGATARI series isn’t perfect, but it’s a truly fascinating and clever story. Creative visuals and emotional depth don’t even begin to cover it. And with that said, my last piece of advice is: do yourself a favor; don’t miss out.

READ: Want more anime recommendations? Try out some of these obscure shows!

All in-show images screenshotted from Crunchyroll.

 

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