Genre: Comedy, (Quasi-) History
Creator: Hidekazu Himaruya
Length: 120 episodes (5 minutes each)
Highlights: See the song above
Originally a web comic created by Hidekazu Himaruya, Hetalia (loosely meaning “useless Italy”) is a comedy series where each character is an anthropomorphic personification of a specific country. Originally focusing on the three Axis and five Allied states of World War II, it eventually expanded to cover historical nations, many other European countries, and eventually to states all over the world. It is drawn in such a cutesy way that it is often assumed to be for small children, although the humor is often decidedly off-colour.
Hetalia is unabashedly silly, occasionally educational, and often offensive (depending on your taste in humor). Much of the humor comes from giving each country the national stereotypes associated with them. So for example, Italy can’t do anything but hit on girls and cook pasta, Germany is strict and efficient, Japan is soft-spoken and polite, and America is loud-mouthed and obnoxious. If you are one to get highly offended at this kind of humor stop reading now. The rest of the jokes stem from the show retelling actual history in a silly way through its characters; one example is an explanation of how France founded the modern Olympics because he wanted to run around naked with other men.
Originally commissioned as an ordinary anime series, the television broadcasts were cancelled during production for reasons that remain unclear. In order to better fit its new internet distribution method, the show was restructured so that each episode is only five minutes long. Because of the shortened length, watching all 120 released episodes only takes about the same length of time it would take to watch an ordinary anime series that is 24 episodes long. Because of its odd situation (and because it is very popular in Western markets), multiple seasons of Hetalia have been produced. The first two seasons (episodes 1-52) were produced under the name Hetalia: Axis Powers, while seasons three and four (episodes 53-100) were made under the name Hetalia: World Series, and season five (episodes 101-120) under the name Hetalia: The Beautiful World. Season six is unconfirmed but widely believed to be in production. In addition, there was a movie released called Hetalia: Paint it White, which saw the countries dealing with an alien invasion. However, much of the movie is actually reused footage from the show.
While telling the history of the world with a bunch of dysfunctional personifications of countries isn’t exactly the most normal of premises for anime (and that's saying a lot), Hetalia manages to be funny, cute, and occasionally even emotional touching. That, combined with its short run time and internet distribution method, makes it one of the easiest but funniest anime series for new fans to get into.
Oh, and I recommend watching the English dub; the goofy accents just don’t come across as well in Japanese.