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The four-panel manga uses the most basic of frameworks to fire off gags at startling pace, as well as offering unexpected, haiku-like views into life’s little dramas. It’s all on that third step of what’s known as Kishoutenketsu structure; the climax, an unforeseen development. Like or loathe it, the web-yonkoma-turned-anime Pop Team Epic uses the four steps for its own kind of masterful nuts factor. But others, like our five favourite four-panel adaptations, bring us closer to happy reflection, and even meditation.

Kill Me Baby

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An assassin, a ninja and a regular idiot girl all attend the same high school. There’s enough hilarity in following the spirals of your thoughts from the premise alone, but there’s a special gut-punch to how the three heroines bounce off each other. To tease its eccentric brand of humour, a seafood sausage is right at the heart of a genuine roll-on-the-floor moment. There’s so much space for laughter in this trio never quite making friends, but learning to live with whatever weird dynamic they’ve fallen into.

K-ON!

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When people with a shared love come together, determined to do their best, anything is possible. K-ON! became a beautiful story of that power through music. Experimenting, creating and simply having fun makes Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Tsumugi and Azusa’s futures brighter, because these girls give everything their all. Even when we lack faith in ourselves, like anxious Mio, there’s always someone we can turn to for their faith in us. Just another powerful message of ‘oh, you mean that cute girls show’? Leaning on others doesn’t make us weak. We’re always stronger together.

Hidamari Sketch

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It looks a little creepy with its real-world object inserts, and it’s so relaxed it threatens to melt into a warm, puddingy puddle of itself, but these are the opposing angles which make Hidamari Sketch so charming. It’s a collage of the curiosities, slip-ups and self-discoveries which define the college years. The very fact this series steps out of the high school droves for something a tad more mature is admirable in and of itself.

I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying

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Most couples could probably relate to some facet of Kaoru and Hajime’s married life, even if its comedic basis is in the fact that he is an otaku, and she most certainly isn’t. Tenderly walking through the minor disagreements and odd days where you just don’t gel, this show is a celebration of love at its most real, its most mundanely wonderful.

Azumanga Daioh

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Here’s a sketch show that starts out much like any other; throw together a bunch of misfit, mismatched personalities and take a seat beside them in the lunch room as the fun bubbles away. But somewhere along the line, it becomes something much more. It’s a fond reminder of innocent blunders all written off by the next morning’s bell, so you never knew how much they were helping you grow.


Those are are top five of the tiny-form manga adaptations, each of them close and personal to our hearts for their own unique reasons. But which is the four-panel manga or anime you most treasure? Let us know in the comments, and do enlighten us on any we might be missing.

6 thoughts on “The pop team: our favourite four-panel anime”

  1. A very interesting post! I was unfamiliar with the four-panel manga. Do they usually have simple-narrative plots (ones that don’t often extend beyond the 4-panel group) or complex narratives (story extends beyond the 4-pannel groups)?
    Do you feel like this form of manga translates well into anime while retaining what you described as haiku-like captures of life’s little dramas?

    1. Thanks! Yes, four-panel manga usually tell short stories that can fit within the confines of the format, while sometimes vaguely telling a larger story as in I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying.

      In some ways I think it’s a perfect basis for anime, as it’s almost a short form medium in itself with its 20 minute episode structure. Slice of life and healing anime, even the original ones, are like a sequence of snaps of life’s uniquely beautiful moments. It’s a big part of why I love shows like Amanchu so much.

  2. While I can only say that I have watched one of the five of those picks to the end, it was truly an enjoyable experience. I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying is to me the kind of cute short form version of something like Genshiken with more a focus on comedy.Fun, sweet and oddly endearing. I haven’t really ventured much into this type of style of show much, and watching Pop Team Epic this season it seems intent on proving why I can’t binge them either. They are like odd tidbits of stories that act like a shotgun blast of elements that is at times hard to register to me. I am a fan of longer run series, but I am always interested in trying out more of this format so I will make sure to check out some from this list.

    1. If you’re not feeling the machine gun gag pace so much, Azumanga Daioh might be a good one for you. It has a similar relaxed feel to I Can’t Understand, slightly more on the bizarre side but so funny if that’s your sense of humour.

  3. Given the titles here, I should probably just accept that I’m not a big fan of this format because not one of those titles really appeals and I’ve tried most of them though haven’t finished one.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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