In the case of the Ah! My Goddess manga, it's "Growing The Ponytail". The series began somewhat crude and crass, and the main cast was comprised of only Keiichi and Belldandy, who then had long, silvery hair. As the series evolved and more characters were added, Kösuke Fujishima started making her (and her sister goddesses, Urd and Skuld, when they joined) look less Asian and more European. By the time Fujishima had gotten a firm handle on the character designs (with Belldandy in blonde hair in a bun and ponytail, with some dangling for good measure), the series had more or less become a light-hearted romantic-comedy.
The AKIRA manga picks up a lot of steam at the point where Akira demolishes Neo-Tokyo, transforming from an edgy cyberpunk story about unravelling the mystery behind a group of psychic kids to an intricate, psychologically and politically riveting post-apocalpyse epic. The animé ends just at the point where the manga gets much richer and more involved. This may have been a wise filmmaking choice, since it would have taken what, four, five hours to even dent the plot of the last half of AKIRA?
Attack on Titan: The Female Titan arc and the lead up to it, where focus diverts from the main trio and becomes more of an ensemble story is considered a vast improvement by some.
The manga was always a light hearted and cute Anime, but the third season (Named independently from the first three as "World Series") has a distinct Darker and Edgier feel, with darker colouring, more visible lines, better quality and more fluid animations, along with more original plots to go alongside the ones from the manga, it's also much funnier than the first two seasons. And it contains PRUSSIA! Which probably adds to the humour department.
The fifth season got a new name again ("The Beautiful World") and a new team with a noticeably more polished art style and has become a bit more focused (generally adapting only one story per episode, where episodes in earlier seasons would skip around between multiple storiess).
Berserk: Around volume 9 where stuff starts hitting the fan. The Manga's first arc (which looks like shallow torture porn at first) starts to grow the beard when the snail count visits his daughter. It's the first sign of the layered storytelling that the manga currently is known for. The anime had a well-written but very slow start. It really gets interesting at episode 15.
Blood+ gets a bit better around the time Saya grows her hair out. It makes sense since so many things happened right before her hair style changed: Her younger foster brother is killed, Red Shield's HQ is destroyed, its leader crippled, and her angst filled Quest for Identity is finally completed. Not that there wasn't more angst, but the second half of the series was both more entertaining and more memorable.
Blue Gender. The first ten episodes or so, out of twenty-six, are set on Earth. They're relatively lackluster, feeling more like a rip-off of Starship Troopers with a touch of Mobile Suit Gundam than anything else. They're also very episodic, and you can easily skip most of the first half... then Marlene and Yuji get to Second Earth, and the series takes a sharp turn towards fucking awesome. The introduction of Yuji's Evil Counterpart, Manipulative Bastard Tony, helps. The introduction of B-cells helps too.
Boku no Hero Academia: It's generally considered that the manga grew the beard thrice, in the sense that it bettered different aspects of its plot.
The USJ Arc is regarded as the point in which the stakes were raised with the introduction of the League of Villains and the plot's The Heavy Shigaraki.
The Sports Festival Arc is generally considered where the characters started to receive depth and development, as well as adding Todoroki to the main cast, fleshing out the characters that, otherwise, seemed to be flat and cliched in the process. It's also where the Early Installment Weirdness traits of several of these characters came to a halt.
The Stain Arc — though, to some, it's the Camping Trip Arc — is where the threat of the villains was truly advanced to be treated as a real threat, with the League of Villain's Vanguard members managing to score victories, some of which also became Ensemble Darkhorse.
While the lighthearted, villain-of-the-week style first half of Charlotte is entertaining enough, the show started its beard in episode six, with Ayumi's death. The beard reaches full mountain man status by episode nine, when time travel comes into play.
CLANNAD was always a decent high school romance comedy, but it REALLY proved its depth at the end of episode 18 when the other girls realised they had to give up on Tomoya because he loved Nagisa, and in episode 19 when Tomoya ran away from his broken home and moved in with Nagisa's family.
Similarly, after ~After Story~ trimmed its beard by falling back into high school filler for the first eight episodes, it came back with a vengeance in episode 10 when -get this- Tomoya graduates and gets a job! Not the kind of thing normally seen in high school romance comedy, is it? The beard grows even longer in episode 12 when Tomoya asks Nagisa to marry him and by the end of episode 16 when Nagisa dies in childbirth this series has the kind of beard you expect to see in The Guinness Book of Records.
Though the episodes before it had had their highlights, the conflict at Narita in episodes 10 & 11 of Code Geass marked the point at which the plot hit its stride and entertaining plotlines were produced both for Zero's rebellion and Lelouch's life at Ashford.
Digimon Adventure started out as a fun, if typical, Trapped in Another WorldMons series. Things picked up at around episode 21, but it wasn't until the introduction of Vamdemon/Myotismon (an incredibly iconic villain for children's anime, even after a decade) that the series really hit its stride.
Digimon Tamers: After some slow, character-building episodes, the show grew its beard with episodes 13 and 14, as the Director finally reveals the breadth of his roots in Horror to give a whole new kind of Digimon anime that's heartwrenching, terrifying, and awesome.
Digimon Savers starts off as "GeoGreymon victim of the week" series but starts to pick up with the introduction of Falcomon. Then Kurata shows his hand and the fun and genocide begins...
Digimon Xros Wars showed great improvement by the introduction of DarkKnightmon and began to really hit its' stride with the commencement of the Death Generals arc, the reintroduction of traditional evolution and the conflict with Yuu Amano.
With regards to the manga, this could be placed around the time Goku goes to train with Roshi. At this point, Toriyama dropped a lot of the Journey to the West stuff, stopped breaking the fourth wall, cut down on the gags, and refined the action sequences. Even though the earlier parts were entertaining, this is where the series really came into its own, and began its move towards that as which Dragon Ball is really known - a lengthy, fighting-based shounen saga.
The series started getting its own voice during the Universe 7 VS Universe 6 tournament. It had a very powerful plot twist with Frost being revealed to be Evil All Along, and featured some of the most tactical and well thought-out fights in the entire franchise, helped in no small part due to the U6 fighters having very unique fighting styles. The one thing that eventually won the fans over, however, was Goku combining the power of Super Saiyan Blue with the Kaio-Ken and breaking the very concept of time itself.
Many fans agree that the Future Trunks Arc was far better than almost the entire show leading up to it.
Eureka Seven was a quirky but tepid mecha anime for most of its first half, and most of its watchers were rather ambivalent towards it on its first [adult swim] airing. Then came the first-season finale, which, along with a marked increase in animation quality, set the stage for the rest of the show and was a wonderful Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in its own right. Then the real fun began. Some saw the improvement of the series purely in the fact that Renton wasn't beaten upevery other episode anymore.
Fairy Tail got way more serious and darker in the Tartarus Arc. Just to make a point, up until Tartarus Arc, only a few characters got killed during the series, and Hiro Mashima was widely recognized as being an author that did not kill his characters. Five chapters into the Tartarus Arc, and one of the members of Tartarus made an attack at the Council, killing all members but one, and a few chapters later, defeats even Natsu. Another one used her powers to kill possibly all the members of all dark guilds associated with Tartarus. Not much later, another member kills more than 100 people, and incapacitates the entire Raijinshuu Tribe. Another member was able to freeze and defeat a dragon, something not even the Dragon Slayers themselves were able to do. The guild master is also the strongest demon ever made by Zeref, which not even the king of the aftermentioned dragon was able to defeat. It's safe to assume that the overwhelmingly high praises for the arc are not misplaced.
Even before that, Fairy Tail had been steadily coming into its own. The first few storylines - pilfering Daybreak and fighting Erigor - were really goofy with a far greater focus on comedy. The Cursed Island of Galuna storyline, while still quite goofy at times, was the first point where the series began to really delve into the characters' tragic pasts and show that it could handle tear-jerking drama just as skillfully as it could handle badass action scenes and goofy comedy. The following storyline, involving the war with the Phantom Lord wizard guild, is where the series finally got the formula right, with exactly the right amount of drama, comedy, and action. The Tartarus arc might be where the formula was perfected, but Phantom Lord is where the series first got really good.
Fist of the North Star starts off as a series of loosely connected story arcs where one thing leads to another. It isn't until the introduction of Kenshiro's three honorary brothers in the ways of Hokuto Shinken and their dispute over who will become the successor is where the main story truly begins.
Quite early on, the first few stories seem to set the series as a Mystery of the Week format, where the two brothers journey around and solve various problems via alchemy. As soon as Edward and Alphonse reach Central and meet up with Mustang, the story turns into a longer single arc.
The 2003 anime version likewise picks up around the time of Hughes' death, splitting form the manga's storyline and evolving into a truly dark and compelling drama. By the time Ed fought and killed Greed, its beard had grown out to roughly ZZ Top proportions.
Full Moon o Sagashite does this in the anime. It takes a good 30 episodes of happy fluffy fun times (if you forget the protagonist is going to eventually become mute due to a throat tumour or, alternatively, die) before things start getting serious and very emotionally hard-hitting. The second half of the anime is very nearly unrecognisable from the first.
The first season of Fushigi Yuugi leads one to think it will be a Happily Ever AfterMagical Girl story. It's slightly violent, a few deaths of Mooks and the like, but the main characters always survive unscathed... until the first season finale, where the male lead's entire family is brutally murdered. From that point on, the series takes a much darker turn, and most of the main characters die.
Gantz, for the first nine volumes (and the whole anime series), consists of senseless killings; gory, horrific violence; Fanservice; and sex scenes. Thanks to the introduction of Tae Kojima and impressive Character Development for Kurono, however, the manga has since improved immeasurably.
The original Getter Robo manga, despite being an influential and important series for the Humongous Mecha genre, is still a fairly typical shonen action comic with some shaky art. When the series was revived 15 years later in Getter Robo Go, now under the full creative control of Ken Ishikawa, things really started to take off.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has a few rather unremarkable episodes at the beginning, basically introducing the members of Section 9 and the technology they use. With the fourth episode, the Laughing Man story arc kicks in.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ has one of these around episode 20. Up until then, the show had been incredibly light-hearted and silly, to the point where enemy elite mooks were painting roses in the sky with their mecha before going out to get shot to death. But during the short arc with Cecilia at Granada, Gottn tries to blow up a shuttle full of poor people in order to trap the Argama. This backfires when Cecilia discovers she has the bomb needed for this, and sacrifices herself to blow up Gottn's ship. Mainly considered to be Cerebus Syndrome, though.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is rather slow-paced for the first 30 or so episodes (basically, every episode generally follows the ZAFT-attacks-Kira-saves-the-day routine; that these episodes are more or less a remake of the original Gundam series doesn't exactly help), but after a few Wham EpisodesSEED finally escapes this routine and sets off on a path to its own original, epic Grand Finale. To its defense, the first episodes do a good job of familiarizing and endearing the characters to the audience.
The Anime adaptation of Gungrave opens with the universally acknowledged shithouse episode 1. However the episode is important as it is in medias res and gives an idea of where Brandon, Harry, Harry's friends/followers, Big Daddy, Maria and the Necrolyze research ended up but not HOW. Episode 2 begins a flashback that takes up more than HALF of the series consisting of seriously epic drama.
GUN×SWORD starts a bit slow and episodic... and then at the end of the sixth episode, Van asks a waiter if he's seen a man with a claw - a question to which the answer has always been "no." The response is as follows: "Yes. He's right over there." That moment starts the show's momentum going, and it never loses it until the end.
Watanagashi-hen (the 2nd novel) of Higurashi: When They Cry is commonly referred to as the point where the quality improves.
For the anime, it could probably be said that this happens in either Tsumihoroboshi-hen, or Kai. During the former, the series finally stops making its protagonists turn into insane,paranoidvillains who murder the remaining characters before either killing themselves due to the hate plague or being killed by some outside force. For once it stops focusing on paranoia and murder mysteries and focuses more on the theme of friendship, which leads to the first happy ending in the entire series, not that it lasts long. The latter moment of growing the beard answers several unanswered questions of the previous arcs, while finally giving the show more uplifting moments, the characters no longer at each others' throats. While the arcs still have the characters dying in the end for the most part, they usually get in some awesome or heartwarming moments which, unlike in the previous season, seem to be more heartfelt than just plain silly. The true villain and the reason behind the time resets are revealed to the audience, and the group seems more passionate about their friendship, giving the viewer more hope.
While InuYasha does get a lot of flack for its Arc Fatigue, many fans believe that the rebirth of Kikyo and the introduction of Naraku is when the series began to shift away from a simple quest for the Macguffin with Monster of the Week elements and focus on a more complex story involving the band of heroes facing off against a powerful and seemingly impossible to kill enemy, while experiencing developments as a characters.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? undergoes a noticeable shift in quality starting with Volume 5, where the story actually begins to challenge the main characters and the stakes become higher. The anime, however, does not do a very good job illustrating this, leading to criticism that the series arguably does not deserve.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure begins as what could best be described as Fist of the North Star with vampires for its first two arcs (Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency). With the Stardust Crusaders arc it really comes into its own with the introduction of battlespirits called "Stands" and does away with the Hokuto Shinken-esque martial arts used in the previous storylines (not to mention Joseph himself humorously grows a beard during it). In Part 4, the art noticeably begins to shift away from looking like Fist of the North Star and develops a completely unique style. Finally, during Part 7, as a result of shifting to the seinen demographic, the series becomes less about the fights and action and much more about the characterization and plot, and begins tackling adult subject matter that showed up now and again in the older parts in a more mature and direct fashion, not to mention the art becomes much more detailed as a result of being monthly instead of weekly. The animated adaptation also improves during the adaptation of Battle Tendency, with a better pacing compared to Phantom Blood, better animation and a better soundtrack.
Jubei-chan had about 7/10 comedy and 3/10 action. Then the sequel came, improved animation quality and turned that ratio on its head.
Okay, Kannazuki no Miko is a 12-Episode Anime, but it still grows a definite beard halfway through. Be patient with the silly mechas and shonen anime clichés — when Chikane's issues take centre stage, that's when things are about to get way the hell more interesting.
Katekyō Hitman Reborn! had a basically stagnant plot until Volume 9 with the arrival of Mukuro. The story and plot got a lot more interesting, hitting its stride during the Varia Arc and kept getting better from there (except the 'Future' arc which had many drop the series). Even the art got better.
Kiznaiver did this from episode 8 and 9 onward. Before that, it received mixed reviews from fans, some thought that the idea was better than the execution, that it suffered from Romantic Plot Tumor and that Maki Okada's involvement in the writing made the series overly melodramatic. After these episodes, the mysteries of the series set in, the Ship Tease is more fitting, the characters have more depth, their dramas seem more believable and sympathetic to the fans and many fans enjoyed the tear jerking and the dramatic tone the series took.
The later chapters of Kodomo No Jikan tone back the overaggressive lolicon antics in favor of much darker storylines deconstructing the reasons behind Rin's behavior, as well as changing the relationship between Rin and Aoki such that the latter is actually concerned for the former rather than annoyed by the unwanted attention. However, whether or not it managed to keep the beard is a hot-button issue amongst the fans.
Kokouno Hito starts off as a pretty typical shounen manga, with an antisocial main character discovering a love of climbing and joining the school's club, surrounded by characters who seemed to fall into pretty typical shounen roles, and an overall optimistic tone. However there is a very big turning point when The Mentor, instructor Ounishi, dies, and from that point on the manga pretty much shifts genre completely into a psychologically dense and mature seinen Comingof Age story with more nuanced and realistic characterization overall, especially with Miyamoto and Yumi who end up completely subverting their initial roles of The Rival and Love Interest respectively.
Last Exile spends the first three episodes with next to no plot development, only going into high gear around episode 4. Some fans push this ahead further to episode 7, when Dio is introduced.
The Lost Village did this from episode 7 onward. The series had a slow start, unsympathetic characters that were mostly bystanders, bland or screaming dumbasses, mysteries that made no sense and a plot that didn't really seem to go anywhere. From Masaki's witch hunt from there on, the characters are shown to be more complex, the mysteries start to get solved and things get clearer, and the fans starting to genuinely enjoy the series, rather than consider it So Bad, It's Good.
The anime version of Lucky Star suffered from a very poor director in its first four episodes. It was bad enough that the producers actually canned him and had him replaced, after which the series takes a noticeable turn for the better, with the sixth episode being a Beach Episode. Unfortunately, this is like many other cases in that it's hard to get your friends into it when the first episode spends twenty minutes talking about how to eat different foods.
Macross 7 picks up around episode 17, with the separation of City 7 from the fleet, and picks up once again in episode 27 with the creation of Sound Force.
The trend is continued in the following seasons, A's and StrikerS, as the story transforms into a psychologically complex, multi-dimensional saga.
There are reports of this happening in ViVid as well, with the author/s apparently having decided that the (rampant) Fanservice was getting in the way of the plot.
Magical Project S: Although it parodies the magical girl genre, never takes itself seriously and taking into account that this is a subjective trope from episode 19 you can see that besides the ever present jokes, there is an actual change of the status quo thanks to character development. It goes beyond being a parody show and adds psychological complexity to some characters (particularly Misao/Misa) that lead and from this point the characters were taken seriously beyond (but retaining) comic relief.
The Mahou Sensei Negima! manga does this around volume three, when it begins to switch from an Unwanted Harem comedy to an action series with the arrival of Evangeline. It really hits its stride at the end of the Kyoto Arc, around volume 6. Unfortunately, the anime adaptation didn't get that far.
Fans of Mai-HiME believe that it grew its beard at its eighth episode, with events (the killing of Harry by Miyu and subsequent "death" of Kazuya) that kick off an Ancient Conspiracy's intervention and cause a breakaway from the hitherto-formulaic plot.
Medaka Box starts off as a Slice of Life story of the absolutely flawless student president, Medaka Kurokami going on quirky tasks of helping students with their issues, but once Unzen the head of the Student Disciplinary Corps shows up, the story and art drastically improved with its Genre Shift to Shōnen.
Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro was a Serial Killerof the week mystery solving case till Sai shows up and the mysteries become much more emotionally investing. It takes another leap with the HAL arc brings forth far more dramatic tension that what it had before.
Monster really takes its time setting up its characters and situations, so that for its first 20-some episodes it appears to be a warmed-over Fugitive knockoff with a doctor on the run from the law helping people he meets while trying to find the real perpetrator. Then we get a complete shift in focus to Dr. Reichwein and some other new characters being affected by Johan's plans, with the series taking on a much stronger focus on uncovering Johan's backstory rather than simply chronicling Tenma's travels.
Muhyo and Roji gets quite a bit more interesting than a Ghost Of The Week series when Enchu is revealed as a Big Bad, but the series truly gets interesting after Rio is revealed as a traitor, when the plot shifts to the war against the evil Ark organization.
While the first arc of Naruto was well-received, the series started growing with the Chunin Exam Arc. We're introduced to the Big Bad of part 1 as well as many Ensemble Darkhorses, and characters such as Naruto and Sakura start showing their signs of Character Development.
Regarding the Shippuden anime, after the tragedy of bad animation throughout Pain's Invasion arc, and after the subsequent Filler Hell before and after the Kage Summit arc, the series started picking the hell up. First was Naruto vs. Kyuubi, an incredible climax to a lifelong battle. Then came Naruto's birth story, which had movie-quality animation and a new OST to boot. After that came the Fourth Great Ninja War, complete with new CG rendering in scenes (due to the tens of thousands of people/Zetsus).
While once very clumsy in execution, fillers have gradually gained more and more Hidden Depths, Character Development and flowing story starting with the Fourth Ninja War, especially with the new "Power" arc which has great movie quality animation and the use of subtle writing, along with Character Development and fighting sequences, with each episode bringing a new surprisingly shocking, but foreshadowed developments that turn the story in a better direction with each episode; especially if you compare it to the Filler of Part 1 and almost all the filler episodes prior the 4th Great Shinobi War.
Starting about halfway through the series (roughly around the 14th episode), the legendary anime Neon Genesis Evangelion abruptly swaps over from a lightnote -ish-hearted scifi shonen series about super robots fighting towering, nightmarish creatures, with special focus on its characters' relationships and insecurities, to a noticeably more postmodern, existential, and psychoanalytical work of character drama and art-text-mystery play. The robot-vs-creature fights, fewer and further between, become substantially darker and more traumatic, increasing emphasis is placed upon disquieting mysteries seemingly surrounding everything, and beloved characters who had been shown to be emotionally fragile and dependant are gradually revealed to be downright psychologically broken, or are emotionally tortured until they break. Eventually, around the last two episodes, the series grows its beard out to truly impressive lengths and abandons all its own narrative precedents to become a kaleidoscopic investigation into the psychology of the main character, thereby codifying the Gainax Ending. It ultimately becomes an experimental deconstruction of shonen anime and escapist fantasy fiction, exploring the symbolic relationships between the Humongous Mecha, the characters, creatures they fight, the organization that created the mecha, and the audience and creators of the show itself. It was these changes in tone that would provide Evangelion with much of its most rabid and enduringly massive fanbase, and bring it unprecedented levels of cultural respect both generally and, especially, within the humanities crowd, which at the time was extremely rare for a shonen anime.
Noir. The first few episodes were basically filler. The sixth episode "Lost Kitten" was a truly touching moral dilemma. After that it was crime thrillers and ancient conspiracy and female gunslinging action to the climax.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan started off as a fairly average shounen manga, about a quarter-youkai boy who's meant to be the next head of a youkai clan but just wants to live a normal life. But once he stepped up to accept his role as their leader, much of its fandom agrees that the story took a sharp turn upwards.
One Piece was always fairly unique as a shonen manga with its blend of action and humor. The first few arcs are decent, but not terribly notable. This changed with the Arlong Arc, combining great action scenes, suspense and character development that captivated the audience and made them really want to see Arlong rightfully ground into the dirt. And it's only gone up from there. This is the source of a common piece of advice for people considering if they want to read One Piece or not: "Read it up to the Arlong Arc. If you don't like it after that, it's not the series for you."
Ouran High School Host Club does this in the manga. It starts off as an Affectionate Parody and slowly begins to grow the beard as we learn more about the characters and their past. As the story has gone on we've seen considerable character development, particularly with Hikaru and Kaoru. Tamaki also matures a bit (while still remaining the lovable idiot), and Honey and Mori finally graduate as the series falls out of Comic-Book Time. Despite the story turning more toward drama, it hasn't sacrificed the humor.
The first few episodes of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt were by no means bad, but the show found its true balance between action, comedy, drama, and pop-culture references when Scanty and Kneesocks arrive in episode 6.
Prétear starts out as a rather lighthearted, episodic Magical Girl Show, at least until Takako shows up. Afterwards it takes a huge turn and shifts into darker territory before the lightheartedness returns at the end.
Princess Tutu is a good, but fairly typical Magical Girl series — until Kraehe shows up. And if THAT doesn't convince you, wait until after the Happily Ever After ending of episode 13. It doesn't stay that way for long.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica starts off as a thoughtful, if somewhat ominous Magical Girl series. Then, come episode 3, viewers were left screaming "Did Mami's head just get bitten off by that cakeworm!?", at which point it became clear just what sort of series they were dealing with. Word spread out of the mahou shoujo/general anime viewership with intense speed and it is now considered one of the best anime of recent years. Matt Kamen wrote, "With its...daring approach to a dated genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica essentially does for magical girls what Neon Genesis Evangelion did for giant robots." (From the other wiki)
Rave Master had been a Villain of the Week plot with Haru and co getting into different situations while helping the civilian of the week. Then Sieg shows up, bringing much more drama and overreaching plot and the introduction of Aetherion, it goes full throttle with the Tower of Din, which sets the epic tone of the story in addition to greatly improved art.
Rosario + Vampire started as a lighthearted, Monster of the Week, Unwanted Harem comedy with relatively little depth to the characters. Starting somewhere around the Witch Hill arc and introduction of Ruby, the series had already started to develop a more realistic artistic style and more dangerous villains. With Witch Hill, the series took a huge swerve by entirely chucking the whole Monster of the Week thing in favor of significant character development, the ongoing backstory of Tsukune's ghoul transformation, multi-issue story arcs, blurring the line on how "evil" many of the bad guys are and focusing on some truly depressing subjects. Season 2 is flat-out seinen with little resemblance to the series start.
Rurouni Kenshin's first season, while mostly good, is more episodic, occasionally silly, and bogged down with filler. The drama and character development ramp way up with the onset of the Kyoto Arc. Which starts with episode 28, so it's actually quite a lot of silliness and villain of the week that you're being asked to sit through before you even get a whiff of the real plot. The drama, character development and plot begin during the first Aoshi/Kanryu arc. It does take a break later before coming back in full in the Kyoto arc though.
R.O.D the TV starts off very slow and episodic, with only the most superficial of connections to Read or Die and a strange amount of time spent on Anita going to school. Then the show gets a kick in the rear when the entire Ancient Conspiracy of the British Library comes into play beginning with kidnapping Nenene and the destruction of the entire island of Hong Kong, and the main plotline becomes the focus and not the subplot.
Sailor Moon took some time to find its voice. Although the novelty of combining the Sentai formula with the Magical Girl genre was unheard of at the time, the first volume played out as more of a Sentai series with its associated tropes transplanted into a Shoujo cast. Usagi was a lovable ditz who more often then not shirked her responsibilities as a Sailor Guardian as she spent much of her time uncertain about her Will They or Won't They? crush on resident hunk Mamoru. The first five chapters are spent introducing each Guardian as they befriend and join Usagi's team with the vague connecting plot thread of the villains looking for the Legendary Silver Crystal and Luna's search for the Moon Princess. The girls were likable and had a nice chemistry between them, but it couldn't sustain what was an episodic Monster of the WeekExcuse Plot. With the introduction of Sailor Venus' entry into the story as a wiser, more serious counterpoint to Usagi, she completed the team, the girls and Mamoru fully awakening memories of their past lives, Sailor Moon's revealed status as the Moon Princess which brought some responsibility and darker elements to Usagi's carefree personality, and Mamoru's subsequent capture and Face–Heel Turn. Aside from these three major characters bringing full focus to the story's plot, the manga phases out Usagi's Cutie Honey-esque transformations and broader Sentai tropes, and becomes a full-fledged Magical Girl story with increasingly creepy and outlandish threats from space for the rest of its run. Rather humorously, Usagi's hair grows rather long as a result of her awakened identity parallel to the story's grown beard.
The first two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal were pretty divisive, with a lot of criticism going to the uneven pacing and (initially on broadcast streaming) lackluster animation, as well as some creative decisions regarding the Shitenou, as well as Chibi-Usa's usual reception across adaptations. Season 3 won praise for having a noticeable Animation Bump, made Chibi-Usa much more likable, and introduced the Outer Guardians as the writing became stronger and the fight scenes much improved.
The main series gets this treatment when the Silver Saints make their appearance.
Saint Seiya Omega grew a beard in episode 8, when the bearded Iolias, Golden Saint of Capricorn revealed himself as a Villain and a traitor, he is pretty damn badass for his age beating the snot out of Pegasus Koga.
selector infected WIXOSS was already an interesting show to start with; a card game show that takes a darker, deconstructive approach to the typical mindsets of tcg protagonists with a Magical Girl flavor. The fact that the Wixoss card game's rules are barely explained and largely glossed over put off some viewers, especially those that prefered the more over the top characters and situations of the genre. Despite that, if one sticks around, they'll find a lot of Slice of Life material and a lot of cryptic dialogue from the girl's companion cards called LRI Gs with only a handful of battles and a vague explanation of the overall goal of becoming an Eternal Girl to find their greatest wish. Keep at it and by episode 5 "This Invalidated Vow", resident cutie Hitoe actually loses her three wishes, having her own wish of making friends inverted into a curse, reducing her to a psychologically fragile Broken Bird. When the consequences are revealed about what the card game actually does to its contestants and LRI Gs, the extra time on characterization is used to give the cast a high degree of psychological complexity and misery that examines the motivations of girls willing to put their own desires over others, the selfish intentions behind personal goals, and the hangups that arise when a competetive game like Wixoss erodes friendships, showing the series has more in common with Madoka Magica than the standard card game series. It's also around this time that the manipulative Big Bad shows up.
SHUFFLE! really got better and more dramatic with the beginning of Nerine and Lycoris' arc.
Tenchi in Tokyo's low point has to be the thirteenth episode, 'Moon Mission'. Starting on the next episode however, the series takes a turn for the better, going exploring the family dynamic as the girls go their separate ways due to Yugi's plans.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The end of the first part with Kamina's death. Ironic, seeing how he's often regarded as everyone's favorite character, yet the series as a whole tends to do better without him, regarding him more as a fallen martyr to be idolized.
The World God Only Knows: The first 113 chapters / two seasons of the anime adaptation are quite light-hearted and fun, mostly comedic with very little lasting character growth. Then in the 114th chapter / beginning of the Goddess Arc of the anime, Kanon/Apollo is stabbed with a cursed magical blade and the story takes a turn for the serious. Keima pushes up his glasses in a signature character move and declares that it's time to Get Dangerous. What follows is the buildup to one of the best Tear Jerker moments of 2013.
The series started out as a sub-par Gotta Catch 'Em All series, not improving at all until midway through the show's run when they did a heel-face turn with Starscream (who became a much more shades of grey character as far as honor went) as well as introducing Armada's surrogate Starscream, the villainous, backstabbing Thrust.
The improvement first began with "Rebellion", when Sidways really starts to manipulate. By Starscream's Heel–Face Turn, the beard is full and bushy. By his SECOND Heel–Face Turn, it's like the show's face is one bristly hedgehog full of beard hair. Then Unicron showed up, also showing the first Unicron toy ever to reach mass release.
Also applies to Transformers Cybertron. After Armada had finished its run and been replaced by the dismal series known as Transformers Energon, fans were pleased to see humans who weren't annoying, a plot that made sense while staying strong throughout its run, a decent dub and enough awesome moments to make a very decently sized page.
Trigun's first few episodes can be accurately described as "The Wacky Adventures Of Vash & Friends". That all changed in the twelfth episode, which set up an overarching plot to a previously fillerish show. note This marks the point where the manga moved from a shonen to a seinen magazine.
Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- changed from a lighthearted series full of ShoutOuts to past CLAMP series into a much darker story once the group arrived in Acid Tokyo and several startling character revelations took place. Main character Fay also physically exemplified this trope by allowing his hair to grow out after this story arc. IF you consider Darker and Edgier to be better. Some fans were put off by the unrelenting gloominess of the next three arcs, but the complexity of the plot and characterization certainly mushroomed.
Umi Monogatari starts rather formulaic, with a fair amount of fanservice (especially surrounding Marin) and a monster of the week pattern—until the mood whiplash halfway through, when the story becomes much darker and laden with symbolism about intimacy and separation. The excellent music helps too.
There are several things about early episodes of Urusei Yatsura that make them less well liked by fans of the series than subsequent ones. The art style is very primitive, the scripts contain primarily simplistic slapstick humor, and the majority of the episodes consisted of two separate stories (each occupying half of the episode's running time). After about 20 episodes, the drawing style began to improve noticeably, the two-part episode structure was dropped, the humor became more subtle and sophisticated, and there were occasionally more serious stories.
The first couple volumes of Vinland Saga suffer from Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. While Thorfinn's quest for revenge against the man who murdered his father is interesting, the way he's just as immoral as his father's murderer makes it hard to root for him, and it's established early on that he's just too dumb to avenge his father. All the people Thorfinn encounters are likewise immoral. It's not until after the Time Skip when Thorfinn feels remorse for his actions that the story becomes tolerable (it's also when he grows a Beard of Sorrow).
Witch Hunter Robin was rather blah through its first twelve episodes or so, featuring a rather episodic plot involving the protagonists hunting down random witches in an almost Monster of the Week format. All that changed during "Loaded Guns", when Robin's organization betrayed her, using her roommate Toko as bait for a trap that nearly led the titular character to her death, an action which kicked off the main plotline of the series. Since Witch Hunter Robin was a single-season show it's probable that this was deliberate.
The manga originally is a fairly episodic series where Yami Yugi plays various dangerous games against one-shot bad guys to punish them for their evil natures. However, when former one-shot bad guy Seto Kaiba returned as aBig Bad and started an Amusement Park of Doom, it resulted in a story arc in which Yugi's friends finally learn of Yami Yugi's existence. From then on, things became much more story-oriented and dramatic.
The anime focusing on Duel Monsters, starts off as a Monster of the Week kind of duel, which lasts till the Battle City. At this point, the story becomes much more arc-reaching and more complex and the animation drastically improves. It helped, of course, that the duels began to become closer to their TCG counterparts in playstyle.
Yu-Gi-Oh! GX's third season is largely seen as this. After being largely a static Invincible Hero for the first two, Judai finally gets some much-needed Character Development, while the series introduces one of its strongest antagonists in Yubel along with a number of popular side characters, and launches one of the grimmest stories in the franchise. Unfortunately, the new cast and focus on Judai led to a few characters being Demoted to Extra in the process - something that the fourth season, thankfully, rectified.
Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL's first half was widely seen as one of the weakest parts of Yu-Gi-Oh! as a whole, with the main issues being a heavy focus on Monster of the Week, a protagonist who frequently dipped into Straw Loser territory, very simplistic duels, and an overarching plot that just wasn't very interesting. The show began to dig itself out of its rut with the introduction of the Arclight siblings, who offered an intriguing sidestory that bolstered the main plot considerably. When the show became ZEXAL II, though, it drastically improved in every territory, with tighter plotting, the protagonist's Character Development finally paying off, the duels becoming more creative and high-powered, and a story of warring dimensions that gave the story some very real bite, as well as the introduction of some of the best characters in the franchise.
YuYu Hakusho goes through this twice: the first notable increase in quality is when Yusuke comes back to life and becomes a Spirit Detective resulting in the series becoming more action-oriented, and the second is later on when the Toguro Bros. and Sakyo first appear, thus giving the series its first major over-arching villains.