Free! has everything you could want in an anime: boys, the power of friendship, and swimsuits.
Kyoto Animation and Animation Do’s adaptations of Kōji Ōji’s High Speed! light novels have been a staple of sports anime over the past decade. Free! has resonated with fans the world over, who have devoured three TV seasons and seven theatrical films across nine years.
Directed by Hiroko Utsumi and featuring the character designs of Futoshi Nishiya, the anime adaptations began with 2013’s 13-episode season, Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. A second season directed by Utsumi, Free! – Eternal Summer, released the next year.
Kyoto Animation and Animation Do took a different approach in adapting parts of Ōji’s novels to create the prequel film High Speed! Free! Starting Days. Released in 2015, the standalone film directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto featured familiar characters and many new faces that would return to the main cast in future seasons and movies.
The first of the series’ recap films Free! Timeless Medley: The Bond, and Free! Timeless Medley: The Promise, were both released in 2017. The two films recapped the events of Eternal Summer. It was the first time Free! series veteran Eisaku Kawanami directed an entry of the franchise, and he would remain director for all remaining entries of the series. Kawanami’s first original entry to Free! followed quickly in the same year with Free! Take Your Marks, which saw Haru and many of his teammates graduate.
With the characters now in college, the third TV season Free! – Dive to the Future, released in 2018 and took the series to new locations and bigger pools than ever before. The next year, a recap film of the season released as Free! Road to the World – the Dream.
In 2019, a new project in the Free! series was announced, but wouldn’t come to the screen for two years following an arson attack at Kyoto Animation’s main studio and production delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Free! The Final Stroke eventually released in 2021, or at least the first part of it did. Part two released in April of 2022, the final entry in the franchise.
Putting everything in order
Release order is the way to go here, although you will probably want to skip the recap films. In that case, the best watch order would be:
- Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club
- Free! – Eternal Summer
- High Speed! Free! Starting Days
- Free! Take Your Marks
- Free! – Dive to the Future
- Free! The Final Stroke
If you did want to watch the Free! anime series in the order each takes place, then you’d want to begin with the prequel film High Speed! Free! Starting Days before moving to the first two seasons, Iwatobi Swim Club and Eternal Summer. Next you’d jump to Take Your Marks and back to Dive to the Future, or its recap film Road to the World – the Dream, before finishing the journey at The Final Stroke.