Definitive and totally unbiased guide on how to enter the Toaru series (and why you should!)

index-cast

Art by ラコソレガシ

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the Toaru series for a long time. Alongside the likes of Key and When They Cry, the Toaru series has proven to become one of my more recent hyperfixations. And since I don’t run a website dedicated to Toaru, I may as well post about it here!

Lots of people come to me asking how they should first get into Toaru. …okay, maybe it’s more like I try to tell them that they should get into Toaru. And the thing is, despite how much I love this series, it’s a reeeeally hard sell. The early arcs of the Index series are filled with a lot of bullshit that can really turn off potential audiences, and since the story spans so many different forms of media, it becomes really daunting to newcomers, simply due to the fact that they have no idea where to begin tackling such as massive franchise. The good news is that it’s not all bad. While there is some bullshit in the early arcs, there are some really big highlights to hook potential audiences, and it really does help to know that Kamachi grows significantly as a writer after the first 11 volumes, so the promise of a phenomenal latter half (latter three quarters?) should entice newcomers whose interest is captured early on. As for not knowing where to start with the franchise, maybe this guide can help!

For this guide, I’ll be listing all of the story arcs in a vaguely chronological order, detailing how important each arc is and my personal recommendations on how to experience it. While my guide may piss off some purists who insist you should just read all the light novels, considering how much of a time investment it involves for not so much gain, I feel like my guide will help people who want to get the most out of Toaru in the least amount of time. But before we get to that, I need to introduce some basic premises first.

Introduction to the setting

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The Toaru series is set in a world that bares a strong resemblance to our own planet Earth, but with some key differences. In the world of Toaru, there is a conflict between science and magic. While magic is a relatively secretive and unknown practice, the Toaru world uses various myths and legends from Earth’s history as a basis for conjuring miracles of magic. In Kamachi’s world, Jesus Christ can be described as a wielder of powerful magic, and saints are some of the most powerful magic users in the world. Everything from Christianity and Judaism to Norse and Egyptian mythology serves as a basis for constructing magic, and what we end up seeing is that various religious groups employing the use of magic to secretly achieve their goals. Just envision secret assassins sent by the roman catholic church who wield powerful magic to purge any threats to their faith, and that’s pretty much Toaru what you’re getting into with Toaru.

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Toaru is however set in a modern day world, where science is already proving itself as the predominant doctrine of the people. But what adds a bit of spice to the world of Toaru is the main setting. The heavy majority of Toaru takes place in a small independent city-state near Tokyo called Academy City. Here, it is said that their level of technology is “30 years ahead of the rest of the world”. So while everyone else outside is playing with their brand new iPhones, Academy City is a canvas of awesome science fiction, much of which you can really see actually existing in a decade or three. That is, with the exception of Academy City’s main attraction, the Esper Development Program. So if magic users wasn’t enough, you also have an entire city full of X-Men with powers ranging from being able to keep flowers from wilting without water to being able to create an entire army of autonomous soldiers out of exotic matter. And it just so happens that the magic organisations of the world don’t like Academy City due to a fundamental incompatibility between their doctrines, so the world is currently suspended in a sort of supernatural cold war. Sound cool? Well sorry but we have more pressing matters to attend to, like whether or not Touma is gonna get to the grocery store before closing! That may sound a big kick in the nuts, but I feel like that’s one of the major charms of the Toaru series. Even when the world is literally on the brink of destruction, the story reminds us that even heroes have a daily life to return to. Just, you’ll need to give the story a bit of time before we examine this global conflict in further detail.

The Multiple Series

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Okay, now that you have a basic understanding of the setting, I can explain how the different series work. Toaru Majutsu no Index / A Certain Magical Index began as a light novel, and is the basis upon which all the other series’ are spin-offs of. Index follows the life of Academy City resident Kamijou Touma, “the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere”. Despite being a member of the Esper development program, he is completely powerless, ranking Level 0 in terms of Esper powers. That is, except for a mysterious power in his right hand that can’t be described as either magic or science, that has the unique ability of negating all supernatural phenomena it touches. Touma believes that his hand is actively negating god’s blessings, which he blames for the constant misfortune he experiences in his daily life, often taking the form of happening upon girls naked and getting punched or worse. Yeah, it’s very trashy light novel stuff, but that’s exactly Index’s element. And as the story progresses and you see Kamachi develop as a writer, you’ll get to watch him play with these trashy tropes in really interesting ways. Just, give him a bit of time. Being the main plot, Index is full of crazy ambition and develops the world unlike any of the other series. It portrays story arcs that are heavily magic-focused, others that are heavily science-focused, some that are a bit of both, and later on some that focus on the conflict between science and magic. Also, Index is long. Really long. More on that later.

On the other side of the coin (heh) is Toaru Kagaku no Railgun / A Certain Scientific Railgun, which follows the perspective of Touma’s acquaintance Misaka Mikoto, a Level 5 Esper and the third most powerful Esper in the city, according to their ranking system. Her power allows her to freely manipulate and generate up to a billion volts of electricity, and even manipulate electromagnetic fields, which has an enormous number of potential applications in battle. While Touma is kind of a loser in a school filled with powerless students, Mikoto lives in a prestigious girls school filled with powerful Espers. What makes Mikoto appealing to audiences is that despite being a member of the elite, she never lets it get to her head, and always remains cool and friendly to her peers, treating everyone as equals. Basically she’s just a really well-rounded and likeable female protagonist, with a surprising absence of any sexual fanservice to be found in her series. What distinguishes Railgun from Index is the fact that it is entirely set inside the confines of Academy City, and therefore has little to no interaction with the ‘magic world’. Railgun is almost exclusively science fiction, with a healthy dose of feel-good slice of life (particularly in the anime) thrown in-between exciting and dangerous Esper battles. Basically, it’s a recipe for success, and there are many who think Railgun is superior to Index for these reasons. What Railgun lacks is ambition, since they never want to out-do Index. What Railgun does offer is an alternative to Index. The later arcs of Railgun all overlap with story arcs of Index, and offer us different perspectives on the same series of events (or even different events occuring at the same time as Touma’s adventures), so it’s really cool if you’re into that kind of parallel worldbuilding. But admittedly, it’s a bit complicated chronologically, which is why I’m here to help with this awesome, cute and pop guide for you all. There’s also some extra stuff like Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator which I’ll mention briefly, but that is so far a much smaller series (and I haven’t read it) so I won’t be spending too much time on it. Now then, time to get to the guide. I won’t be including the Index manga here since it’s very incomplete and doesn’t really add anything as a viable alternative to the anime, but hey, feel free to browse that at your own leisure.

Stage 1: Index Arc

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LN Vol. 1 / Index Season 1 Eps. 1-6

The question of where to start is already pretty divisive. Some people will tell you to watch/read Railgun first since it begins chronologically earlier than Index, but I feel like it’s very odd to start with a spin-off if you fully intend on experiencing the main series. Given that, I strongly recommend starting with the Index arc. This comprises episodes 1-6 of the Anime and Volume 1 of the light novels. Despite some things I may say about other arcs, the Index arc sets the beginning of the story off on a great note, and does an excellent job of introducing the concepts of magic and science to first-time readers. While the anime adaptation is decent, I have to recommend reading the light novel here, since it goes into considerably more detail in explaining important information than the anime does, which is more of a skim over the main concepts than a proper explanation. Exposition aside it’s also got some really solid drama and action, so it’s a great at providing those hooks to people curious about the series. If you don’t enjoy the Index arc, then maaaybe Toaru isn’t for you. If you did enjoy it at least somewhat, then please press on! Much greater things are to come. Also, I hope you like the character Index, because she’ll be sticking around. No, she doesn’t get any character development after this arc. This is may be the only time she’s a likeable character, so soak it up, her character only goes downhill from here.

Skipability: Level 0. Read this, don’t watch it!

Stage 2: Level Upper Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 1-14 + OVA / Manga Vol. 1-3

Now we’re gonna get to that Railgun thing all the kids are talking about. Reading Railgun doesn’t inherently add anything to your experience of Index (barring one exception), but it has a lot of value in it’s own right, so it’s up to you if you want to give it a look alongside your experience of Index or consume it at another time. But the purposes of this guide, I definitely recommend giving it a look after the Index arc.

Of all the Railgun arcs, Level Upper is pretty great, and introduces some of the issues Academy City faces on a societal level, with it’s own refreshing slice-of-life stuff thrown in for good measure. People will tell you how it’s chronologically set before the Index arc, but this is a largely irrelevant detail since there’s virtually no overlap between the two stories. This is a completely independent story arc which serves to better introduce us to academy city and Mikoto’s life. However, this is also the point where the anime and manga diverge. While the manga will continue straight into the Sisters arc, the anime stuffs around with looots of anime-original content after this, which features a lot more SoL and a lot less interesting plot, so proceed according to your personal tastes. Moving forward I’ll be listing the arcs in a vaguely chronological order, and skipability will come into question. My suggestion? Jump into Deep Blood Arc of Index.

Skipability: Level 2. You can continue with Index if you like, but because of Sisters arc I strongly recommend giving this a look! It’s also a great intro to Academy City.

Stage 3: Big Spider Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 15-16 (Anime Original)

See above.

Skipability: Level 4. Only watch if you’re already quite enjoying the Railgun anime!

Stage 4: Poltergeist Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 17-24 (Anime Original)

See above.

Skipability: Level 4. Only watch if you’re already quite enjoying the Railgun anime!

Stage 5: Deep Blood Arc

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LN Vol. 2 / Index Season 1 Eps. 7-9

This is where the Index sell becomes a bit more difficult. Deep Blood arc, while cool in some aspects, is plagued with some very problematic and boring writing that really becomes a grind to get through. Fortunately, the anime only spends 3 episodes on it, and later on the novels try to actively forget it ever existed (let’s say it poses some problems to the consistency of the story’s universe). While skipable, I wouldn’t recommend skipping any of the main Index novels altogether. Purists may tell you to read the light novel as god intended, but my recommendation is to just watch the anime, it’s not long.

Skipability: Level 3. Bad and unimportant arc, just watch the anime.

Stage 6: Sisters Arc

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LN Vol. 3 / Index Season 1 Eps. 10-14 / Railgun S Eps. 1-16 / Railgun Manga Vol. 4-7 (Ch. 18-39)

Okay remember when I said early Index is shit? Well LET’S JUST NOT INCLUDE THE SISTERS ARC IN THAT because hoo boy is this a good arc. Some even argue that this is the best arc of all of Index, but I’d say some later Light Novel arcs eclipse it. (many Toaru fans haven’t read the light novels!) Nonetheless, this arc is really really good, but it introduces some problems for new viewers. See, this arc has been adapted in multiple formats. It all started in Index Vol. 3, which spans 5 episodes of the anime. And it was really awesome. But then fuckin Railgun moves in and is all “Hey guys, mind if I make your Index arc seem completely inferior with my god-tier adaptation?”. The Railgun version of this arc is Index but stronger. They spent more than half of Railgun S (the second anime season) on this damn arc; they know how strong it is. But the Railgun version just offers so much more detail and context for everything that’s happening that it makes the final confrontation where Touma appears on-scene so much sweeter. My honest recommendation is that you ignore Index for a bit here and just watch episodes 1-16 of Railgun S instead. Accept no alternative, this arc deserves the best adaptation it has. This is why I recommended at least experiencing the Level Upper Arc before moving ahead with Index, because you need that context to appreciate the Railgun adaptation of the Sisters arc. I mean if you’re a real purist you could just read the light novel, but then you’d be missing out on so much beautiful storytelling. Seriously guys, hear me out on this one. At most just skim over the Index anime in case you’re afraid you missed anything. In terms of narrative significance, this introduces us to our anti-hero and second protagonist, Accelerator, and marks the beginning of his story.

Skipability: Level 0. Watch the Railgun S adaptation. Accept no substitute!

Stage 7: Silent Party Arc

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Railgun S Eps. 16-24

Having watched the first 14 episodes of Railgun S you might be compelled to finish it. But be warned: it doesn’t even compare to the first half. I was really let down by what was left, it just felt so bland and shallow compared to the first half. But hey, completionists gonna complete.

Skipability: Level 5. Bad and insignificant. Go back to Index.

Stage 8: Angel Fall Arc

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LN Vol. 4  / Index Season 1 Eps. 15-17

This one is kinda divisive. Some found it very amusing, others found it very boring. But nonetheless, it does introduce some concepts that will be pretty important later on, and it is referenced quite a bit, so you probably shouldn’t skip it. This is kind of the point where Index dips into mediocrity for a good few volumes before getting good again. It may feel like a grind, but hopefully there’s enough to come that will keep you at least a little interested for the amazing story arcs on the horizon. My recommendation for the next few is gonna be pretty consistent: don’t bother with the novels, watch the anime instead.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 9: Three Stories Arc

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LN Vol. 5 / Index Season 1 Eps. 18-20 + Season 2 Ep 1 (Yeah it’s weird)

While a little on the boring side, this arc does introduce some pretty important plot developments, so it’s definitely worth watching. Don’t worry about the chronology of the anime not matching the light novels, just keep on keeping on.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 10: Kazakiri Hyouka Arc

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LN Vol. 6 / Index Season 1 Eps. 21-24

This one is at least decent. Not Index or Sisters level good, but one of the higher points of the lull. Still, I recommend watching the anime over the light novel unless you really find it appeals to you. Like always, there’s a lot being introduced here which is pretty important to the lore of Toaru, so you can’t exactly skip it.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 11: Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator (Necromancer Arc)

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Accelerator Vol. 1 to Current

I must confess that I haven’t read Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator / A Certain Scientific Accelerator yet, but my sources tell me that it takes place some time after the Three Stories Arc. In-between seasons 1 and 2 of the Index Anime seems like a good place to pick it up, if ever. Dunno how good it is either! It might be really good. Considering it’s modern day Kamachi it’s probably really good.

Skipability: Level Unknown. It’s probably really good as an independent story!

Stage 12: Orsola Aquinas Rescue Arc

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LN Vol. 7 / Index Season 2 Eps. 2-5

This is one of major magic-side arcs, and it does get us more intimately acquainted with the roman catholic church faction, but I dunno, it just ended up feeling kinda flat to me from a storytelling perspective. Definitely one of the weaker arcs for me.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 13: Tree Diagram Remnant Arc

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LN Vol. 8 / Index Season 2 Eps. 6-7

In terms of development, this feels like a sort of prototype Railgun arc before Railgun was a thing, with Railgun being published the following year (likely in response to positive reception). The story focuses on the relationship between Shirai Kuroko and Misaka Mikoto, and Touma only plays a supporting role. Of this lull in Index arcs, this feels really refreshing and entertaining, but had the unfortunate side-effect of making me dislike the magic arcs in comparison to the science arcs for a while. It’s actually really quite enjoyable for what it is though. Light novel or anime, I’ll leave this one up to you.

Skipability: Level 1. Might even be worth reading!

Stage 14: Daihasei Festival Arc

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LN. Vol 9-10 / Index Season 2 Eps. 8-13

This marks a sort of turning point for Index, as it’s the first story arc to take place over multiple volumes of the light novel. The Daihasei Festival is a pretty big event that takes place across all of Academy City, and features Touma running around all over to save everyone. It’s very fast-paced and frantic with lots of fun stuff going on, but as far as it goes compared to other Index arcs, still a little on the weak side for me. It’s okaaay, tastes will certainly differ here. Some will like it more than Tree Diagram Remnant, for example. The good news is that we’re aaaalmost out of the lull. Only a little more to go!

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 14-B: Daihasei Festival Arc (Railgun Manga)

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Railgun Manga Vol. 7-10

Assuming you skipped the Silent Party arc, you get to enjoy this next arc of the Railgun Manga after a huge timeskip. The funny thing is that this arc is significantly more interesting than the Index arc taking place at the same time, but unlike the Sisters arc, the Railgun version is a very independent story arc, and doesn’t really have much crossover with Index at all despite occurring at the same time. So no, this won’t serve as a replacement for the Index arc of the same name, but will compliment it nicely. I won’t go so far as to recommend this straight after watching the Daihasei Festival Arc in Index, but keep it in mind and come back to the Railgun manga sometime. This arc is really good, and cements Railgun’s position as an independent story with it’s own unique value distinct from Index.

Skipability: N/A. This arc is non-essential, and you can come back to it whenever you want from this point onward! Definitely recommended you read it at some point.

Stage 15: La Regina del Mare Adriatico Arc

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LN Vol. 11 / Index Season 2 Eps. 14-16

Ehhhh. This arc is kinda cool, very action-focused, but I just found it boring for some reason. Personal bias aside, this arc properly introduces us to the conflict between the roman catholic church and academy city, with Kamijou Touma at the forefront of a minor conflict. This is, you could say, the spark that ignites Index’s true potential. Even if you don’t enjoy this arc itself, rest assured, it only gets better from here.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 16: Academy City Invasion Arc

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LN Vol. 12-13 / Index Season 2 Eps. 17-22

Congratulations, you did it! You stuck with Index and got over the lull. This is where shit gets good, as it officially marks the beginning of Index’s first overarching story arc: the Gods Right Seat story arc. The Academy City Invasion Arc itself is super intense and exciting, showing us the first true conflict between Science and Magic that we’ve been promised all this time, and really ramps up the scale of things. Shit’s hype, and only gets you interested for more of what’s to come! There is some bad news though, and that’s the the anime is kinda, about to end. From here out you’re gonna need to break open the light novels if you want to continue. But if you read the Index arc in light novel format, you’re at least a little prepared for the level of reading required. Given this, I actually recommend people read the novels of this story arc over the anime. Don’t get me wrong, the anime adaptation of this arc is solid, but now is the best time to get into the right attitude for reading the light novels. If you want, watch the anime after your reading to see how it was adapted, but you should definitely be getting into the light novels around this point.

Skipability: Level 0. Now’s the time to start reading the light novels!

Stage 17: Skill-Out Uprising Arc

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Toaru Majutsu no Index SS Light Novel / Index Season 2 Eps. 23-24

Wow. They actually ended the Index anime on a fucking side story. After all the hype of the Academy City Invasion Arc, they end on this? What a boner killer. That said, this arc is kind of important even as a side-story, because it introduces us to our third main protagonist of the Index series: Hamazura Shiage. Wait, is it a spoiler to say that that loser will become a protagonist? Well yeah, he’s kinda important, so you should definitely read this despite it’s label as a side story. But it is kinda slow, so yeahh, way to kill the hype set up by the last arc.

Skipability: Level 2. You can read or watch this one.

Stage 18: Document of Constantine Arc

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LN Vol. 14

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. This is the first light novel exclusive arc, and it’s really damn cool. Arguably not as cool as Academy City Invasion Arc, but it does continue the Gods Right Seat story and I personally loved it. This one really does a great job of further highlighting the conflict between magic and science as tensions between the two sides grow ever higher.

Skipability: Level 0. You’re in for the long haul now!

Stage 19: Battle Royale Arc

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LN Vol. 15

This is one of the story arcs often cited by people as one of the highlights of the entire series. This one is entirely science side-focused, kind of like a Railgun arc but with no Misaka in sight. This time it’s all about Hamazura, Accelerator, and a bunch of newly introduced groups of characters doing battle in Academy City. I think it’s really fucking cool, and while it doesn’t add that much to Touma’s story, it really cements the appeal of the Toaru universe. You can just keep adding side-stories and we’ll lap that shit up! *slurping noises*

Skipability: Level 0. Good shit fam.

Stage 19-B: Dream Ranker Arc

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Railgun Manga Vol. 11 to Current

This is where we’re at with the Railgun Manga at present. Most of it seems to be taking place concurrent to the Battle Royale Arc, but showing a different perspective and different story. I’m enjoying it a lot so far, but feel free to pick this one up whenever you feel like it.

Skipability: N/A.

Stage 20 Onwards

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From here on, you have the rest of the Index light novels ahead of you. I could talk about how amazing the Acqua of the Back and British Royale Family arcs are, but by this point you’ve either given up on Index or are in it for the long haul. If Academy City Invasion, Document of Constantine and Battle Royale Arcs did anything for you, then you’re gonna love the rest of what Index has to offer. And you know what the best (or worst) part of this is? In terms of light novel volumes, you’re not even halfway through what’s been released of Index yet! You have so many amazing story arcs ahead of you that you’re gonna love. You can read SS2 whenever you want from here on, and the rest of the extra arcs are available to you now as well. And when you’ve caught up to date with New Testament, come back to me, and we can gush about the series together. Because despite the rocky beginning, the Toaru series has SO MUCH to offer, to the point that it’s become a huge obsession for me. And really, if you stick to the anime for the early part, it’ll go by in no time! Let’s recap once more with my personally recommended route of progression through the Toaru franchise.

Read Vol. 1 of the Index LN
Watch Episodes 1-14 of the Railgun Season 1 (Or skip if you wanna focus on Index)
(Watch Episodes 15-24 of Railgun Season 1 ONLY IF you’re really into the characters and atmosphere)
Watch Episodes 7-9 of Index Season 1
Watch Episodes 1-16 of Railgun S (Or read Vol. 3 of the Index LN / Episodes 10-14 of the Anime if you’re a Railgun hater. I don’t endorse this!)
(DO NOT WATCH THE REST OF RAILGUN S UNLESS YOU HATE YOURSELF OR HAVE SHIT TASTE)
Watch Episodes 15-24 of Index Season 1
(Maybe read Accelerator manga here, or whenever)
Watch Episodes 1-16 of Index II
Continue to Episode 24 if you really want, otherwise you should get into the mood by reading Vol. 12, 13 and SS of the LN.

Vol. 14 of the LN onwards has yet to be animated, so continue reading on and enjoy the rest of the awesome series of Index!
Read the rest of the Railgun Manga sometime.

With about 3 days work, you’ll have experienced everything necessary to dive into the light novels! Some parts may be a bit of a grind, but there should be enough good content there to keep you going. At the very least, you should have a good idea of whether or not Toaru is for you or not after the first volume. If you like when you see, then press on, and you’ll be greatly rewarded. I hope this guide is helpful for some of you getting into Toaru for the first time! In conclusion…

WHEN’S INDEX SEASON 3?!?

About Aspirety

Australian J-geek with a passion for Gaming and Writing. Psychology student, Nintendo/Key/Ryukishi07 fan.
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One Response to Definitive and totally unbiased guide on how to enter the Toaru series (and why you should!)

  1. Kai says:

    This is an amazing guide. My fire for the series died out after waiting forever for season 3, and even now I still kinda hesitate to read the LNs since I got too used to the anime’s amazing visuals and music. Might refer to this guide if I ever want to revisit the series again.

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