If you were an anime fan in the late 2000s, the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise was inescapable. The original series introduced many Western readers to the world of light novels, the hit anime put Kyoto Animation on the map and you couldn't spend a day at an anime convention without encountering a group of dancing SOS Brigade cosplayers.
Haruhi worship is less common today, due to a drought of new content, changing tastes and the simple fact that what was revolutionary in 2006 is inevitably going to feel less unique 15 years later. However, if you're curious what all the fuss was about, there's still plenty to love about Haruhi Suzumiya.
What's Haruhi Suzumiya All About?
The Haruhi Suzumiya light novels and anime are both told from the perspective of Kyon, an ordinary high school boy who has given up on his dreams of experiencing the supernatural. Kyon's life is turned upside down, however, when his new classmate Haruhi Suzumiya introduces herself by declaring her desire to seek out aliens, time travelers, ESPers and other such supernatural phenomena. Haruhi is an eccentric, forceful girl who drags Kyon and other students into her new club, the SOS Brigade (short for "Spreading excitement all Over the world with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade").
The SOS Brigade's membership includes the quiet bookworm Yuki Nagato, the anxious moe girl Mikuru Asahina and the always-smiling transfer student Itsuki Koizumi. Unbeknown to Haruhi, each member of the Brigade aside from Kyon is secretly some sort of supernatural being. Haruhi herself is also more than she appears, but the other Brigade members are working to keep this knowledge secret from her, lest she abuse her subconscious power.
How to Start the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels
Compared to the anime, the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa are arguably easier to get started on simply because there's a clear linear order to follow. Start with the first book, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and continue from there. The novels contain many stories which weren't included in the anime, though once you're caught up, be warned it might be a long time before another book comes out: there was a nine-year gap between the releases of The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya and The Intuition of Haruhi Suzumiya.
All 11 Haruhi Suzumiya light novels are available in English from Yen Press.
How to Start the Haruhi Suzumiya Anime
The best order to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime is a subject of heated debate. There are four different orders for viewing. The 2009 rebroadcast order, which mixes Season 1 and Season 2 episodes into one chronological order, is what's used for Funimation's streaming and DVD/Blu-ray releases -- but might very well be the worst way to watch the series. It's best to watch the original 2006 Season 1 episodes before Season 2.
For Season 1, you have the options of the "Kyon" order (the non-linear original broadcast order), the "Haruhi" order (the linear chronological order) and the Japanese/Bandai DVD order (same as the Haruhi order but placing "The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00" at the beginning). While a reference guide is helpful to keep things straight, the Kyon order is how the show was originally set up, offering both a funnier introduction and a more emotional finale than the Haruhi order, which starts off exciting but loses momentum after the first story arc.
After finishing Season 1, how much of Season 2 to watch is another subject of debate. The season premiere, "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody," is essential viewing, and "The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya" arc is relatively uncontroversial. It's the "Endless Eight" arc in the middle of Season 2, which repeats the exact same sequence of events with slightly altered animation eight episodes in a row, that infamously tests viewers' patience. If you can't go through with it all, feel free to skip the arc or watch only its first and last episodes to avoid such extreme repetition.
The movie The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was the final Haruhi Suzumiya anime made by Kyoto Animation, and the beloved studio's run on the franchise ended on a high note. If you crave more Haruhi anime after finishing the main story, there are two KyoAni-produced gag series -- The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Nyoron! Churuya-san -- as well as the alternate universe spin-off The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, animated by Satelight.
All episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya & Nyoron! Churuya-san and The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan are streaming on Funimation and on DVD/Blu-ray. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is available on DVD/Blu-ray.