While Yu-Gi-Oh! has been something of an institution in the anime world over the last twenty years, the one we all remember the most is the original series, Duel Monsters. We all remember Yugi’s epic battles against Pegasus, and Joey’s maturation as a duelist from complete chump who tried to win a duel with only monsters to someone capable of topping at multiple national tournaments.
And of course, everyone remembers Kaiba’s over the top antics and attempts to summon three level eight monsters with zero tributes to a completely empty field. So with the latest Yu-Gi-Oh! series VRAINS on its way out and the new series coming next March, this list takes a look at the original series, and ranks all of its arcs from worst to best.
10 KAIBA GRAND CHAMPIONSHIP
No one ever talks about this arc, and with good reason. While the other arcs have purpose and move the story forward (or at least have character development or cool moments when they don’t), the Kaiba Grand Prix doesn’t really do any of that.
It’s just filler that exists to pad things out a bit so they can adapt the end of the manga. It’s just Kaiba holding another tournament that Joey and Yugi hope to win so they can go home, only to get dragged into more nonsense that happens because Kaiba’s a jerk.
9 DUNGEON DICE MONSTERS
Immediately after Duelist Kingdom, we get a cool down arc featuring Yugi and the others confronting a character named Duke Devlin. Devlin defeats Joey in a duel then tries to humiliate him, leading to Yugi challenging Duke. Things is, Yugi winds up playing a game of Devlin’s own devising: Dungeon Dice Monsters.
There’s nothing wrong with this arc and the mechanics of the game represent an interesting shift from Duel Monsters, but it lasts less than 10 episodes so there really isn’t much to it.
8 WAKING THE DRAGONS
Waking the Dragons is another one of the many filler arcs that Yu-Gi-Oh! has, but it at least has some pretty neat moments to it. The arc involves the Egyptian god cards having their power stolen from them by the order of Orichalchos so they can revive an ancient dragon known as Leviathan.
This arc features the return of many older characters like Weevil and Rex, brainwashed by the Orichalchos, along with Yami making a grave error and resulting in Yugi’s soul being lost because of his hubris. This along with other standout moments makes it one of the better filler arcs.
7 CAPSULE MONSTERS
4Kids was responsible for a ton of questionable edits to the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, and arguably even for outright whitewashing much of the Japanese culture from the series. However, this arc specifically commissioned by 4Kids as an additional series? Not bad. It gave the fans a small taste of what they’d always wanted of having the heroes actually fight in a world alongside their monsters.
There’s even some cool bits where Yugi and Joey get to fuse with their ace monsters, battling other monsters in the show themselves. Airing after the original series finished, this was a neat little send off to the most iconic characters in Yu-Gi-Oh.
6 BATTLE CITY, PART 2
If this feels a bit like cheating, know that Battle City itself is split in half thanks to the existence of the Virtual World arc. Coming out of the Virtual World, the characters travel to an entirely new location for the remainder of the tournament, going from a city and Kaiba’s blimp to the Duel Tower.
This arc saw the four-way duel between Joey, Kaiba, Yugi, and Marik, along with Joey’s near-victory over Marik, and Yugi finally triumphing over Kaiba and Marik in the same tournament, gaining the power of all three Egyptian god cards. All in all it’s a strong story, though not quite as over the top as what came before.
5 VIRTUAL WORLD
In the middle of the Battle City storyline, our heroes are taken off course and placed into Noah Kaiba’s virtual world. This world is completely under the control of Noah, and they’re all forced to survive in a world that resembles the land of the Duel Monsters to battle against Noah Kaiba and the Big Five, the former heads of KaibaCorp.
This arc had some great moments, including a “new” format for Duel Monsters where each character got to use their ace monster’s special ability to spice the duel up. It also ended with one of the most epic duels in Yu-Gi-Oh!, with Yugi’s epic 100 LP vs. Noah’s 10,000.
4 DAWN OF THE DUEL
Dawn of the Duel finally allows the story of Yami Yugi to come to a close after nearly 200 episodes. This arc sees us view some of Yami’s past, while also finally paying off Bakura’s actions over all the seasons. We get all sorts of great scenes in this arc as we lead towards them defeating Zorc Necrophades, with Yami, Yugi, and Seto all working together to defeat this one last villain.
Then in the end, we’re given what most of us didn’t even know we wanted: one final duel between Yami and Yugi to see if Yami can truly move on. This was a great close to a legendary series.
3 BATTLE CITY, PART 1
It’s also where people who like the card game learned how to actually play, as there were finally formal rules established for the card game. This arc has drama, cool duels, and the introduction of some of the most legendary monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh!: the Egyptian god cards.
2 SEASON 0
Long before Duel Monsters was ever a thing, there was the “original” Yu-Gi-Oh! series. Having more in common with series like Kaiji or Kakegurui, Season 0 would feature characters challenging one another to dangerous games. While Yami Yugi is mostly seen as a calm dude who simply wins duels at any cost in the main series, in this one he operates as a dispenser of vengeance.
People who lose in his Shadow Games are transported to worlds where they experience horrible punishments, like Kaiba being killed 100 times as a Duel Monsters card. Edgy, but with just the right amount of the characterization we remember, this is still a great watch despite being twenty years old.
1 DUELIST KINGDOM
Admit it, when we think of the original Yu-Gi-Oh, this is the season nearly everyone’s thinking of. It features the introduction to all of the characters we’d come to know over the next 200 episodes, and a delightfully absurd high concept. After Yugi’s grandfather has his soul stolen by the villain Pegasus, Yugi and his friends are forced to travel to Pegasus’ island to participate in his tournament.
While there, they learn that here in the “Duelist Kingdom”, the rules work differently than what they’ve been taught, and Joey and Yugi must win as many duels as possible to stand a chance at saving their family members. It’s got all the drama, all the memes, and some of the most entertaining duels. This has to stand as the best arc in the show.