I've watched just the 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime series. I know there are other series in the franchise (Fate/Zero, Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya), as well as the Unlimited Blade Works movie, and the manga. I don't intend to read the visual novel since it's hundreds of dollars to import it, plus it's insanely long. What order should I take these works in, and are there any I can skip without losing out?
If you ask five people this question, you'll get six answers. There are conflicting opinions on this, and I'll try to outline the major options available in this answer. But first, a tl;dr
If you only want to watch anime:
- Watch Ufotable's version of Unlimited Blade Works (prologue, first half, second half)
- Wait for Ufotable's version of Heaven's Feel
- Then, watch the Fate/Zero anime (first half, second half)
If you're willing to do whatever:
- Read the Fate/stay night visual novel
- (Optionally, watch the Ufotable versions of Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel)
- Watch the F/Z anime.
It is generally agreed that Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero are the two core works of the Fate series. They both come in multiple forms. Whatever you do, consuming these two works in some form is the first thing you should do.
- Fate/stay night was originally a 2004 visual novel that had three routes - Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel (in that order).
- The 2006 anime by DEEN mostly adapted the Fate route.
- The 2010 movie by DEEN adapted a highly condensed form of the the Unlimited Blade Works route.
- Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 saw another adaptation of Fate/stay night, this time by Ufotable, which adapts the Unlimited Blade Works route.
- At some point in the future, Ufotable will release a movie or series of movies that will adapt Heaven's Feel
- There is also a manga series that (I believe) adapts the Fate route, but I'm going to ignore it, because it's generally thought to not be that great.
Fate/Zero is a prequel to Fate/stay night.
- It was originally a light novel series (2007). Fate/Zero has no concept of routes, so all media of Fate/Zero cover the same material, more or less.
- It had a manga adaptation (started in 2011; ongoing). It was pretty good, but if you want to read it, I recommend that you do so after watching the Fate/Zero anime.
- It was adapted into a 2-cour anime by Ufotable in Fall 2011 and Spring 2012.
Below, I discuss some possible scenarios for consuming F/sn and F/Z.
You want to stick to watching anime
In this case, the best option is:
- Watch Ufotable's version of Unlimited Blade Works. Then, once Ufotable's version of Heaven's Feel comes out, watch that. Finally, watch the F/Z anime.
The next-best option is:
- Watch the F/Z anime. Then, watch Ufotable's version of Unlimited Blade Works. When Ufotable's version of Heaven's Feel comes out, watch that, too.
There are pros and cons to watching F/Z first vs. watching F/sn first. Each one spoils material for the other. On the whole, though, I feel that watching F/sn first is the correct choice, since this is the "production order" of the series - the F/sn visual novel followed by the F/Z light novels.
For incredibly spoilery details on how they spoil each other, see below:
If you watch F/Z first, you know how messed up the Matou family is; you know that the Grail is corrupt; you know about Kiritsugu's affiliation with the Einzberns; you know that Sakura and Rin are sisters; you know that Kotomine is not a good guy. These are all major reveals in Fate and Heaven's Feel, and I think that knowing these things in advance impedes one's enjoyment of those routes.
On the other hand, if you watch F/sn first, you know how the Fourth Grail War ends - but this isn't a bad thing. That's how all the original readers of Fate/Zero went into it, and Urobuchi Gen wrote the light novels with that in mind - the dramatic irony that we know that everything's going to hell in a handbasket but they don't is what gives F/Z a lot of its impact.
I do not advise watching the DEEN F/sn anime (the TV series) it is poorly produced, both in terms of objective quality (art, animation, etc.) and in terms of faithful adaptation of the original work. If you really want to know what happens in the Fate route, I guess you could watch it, but honestly, lots of what happens in Fate is also referenced in UBW and Heaven's Feel, so you'll be able to piece it together after watching the Ufotable version of those two routes.
I also do not advise watching the UBW movie at all - Ufotable's version of Unlimited Blade Works is strictly better in every way that I can think of (animation, pacing, etc.).
But you already watched the DEEN F/sn anime
Well, in that case, you're sort of in an "ideal" position - now you can watch Ufotable's version of UBW and (when it comes out) Heaven's Feel, and at the very end, Fate/Zero. This best emulates the "production order" of the Fate series without having to go to the visual novel.
You are open to anything
You have one clear-best option.
Read the F/sn visual novel. Then, watch the F/z anime. Optionally ― if you can grok Japanese or tolerate fan-translated light novels ― read the F/Z light novels.
At any time after reading the UBW route, watch Ufotable's version of UBW; at any time after reading the Heaven's Feel route, watch Ufotable's version of Heaven's Feel (assuming it has come out). The Ufotable version of UBW has a few extra scenes, and is generally agreed to be a very good adaptation of the visual novel (given the constraints of anime as a medium). So, if you want to see your favorite fight scenes animated, or just want to hear more lines by your waifu, I'd say go ahead and watch it.
What about all the other Fate/asdfghjkl stuff?
In this section, I've mentioned the major Fate/ works that people often have questions about; if you have any other questions, leave a comment and I'll update.
Fate/hollow ataraxia is the sequel visual novel to F/sn (released in 2005). You can read this at any time after finishing the F/sn visual novel. It will probably be rather confusing if you've only watched the Ufotable versions of UBW and Heaven's Feel, since they do omit a fair bit of detail that is important to getting the jokes in Fate/hollow ataraxia.
If you can't read Japanese, this may be an unpleasant experience. The English translation patch is... not great.
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is a spinoff manga (parts one, two, three) that shares characters and universe concepts with F/sn and F/Z but is otherwise rather dissimilar. A 10-episode anime season aired in summer 2013 and another 10-episode season ("2wei") aired in summer 2014. A third season ("2wei Herz") is scheduled for summer 2015.
You can watch or read this at any time after finishing the F/sn visual novel or F/Z in any form. You will get more of the jokes if you've finished both and also gone through Fate/hollow ataraxia.
There are also a lot of spinoffs. To name a few, Fate/apocrypha, Fate/Grand Order, Fate/strange fake, Fate/Extra, Fate/Extra CCC, Fate/Unlimited Codes, Fate/tiger colosseum, and Fate/Prototype. You can probably read/play any of these after reading the Fate/stay night visual novel or watching the 2006 DEEN anime or Ufotable UBW or Ufotable Heaven's Feel. None of them are particularly "important", but you may find them fun.
The rest of the Nasuverse
The Fate/ series shares a universe with a number of other works by Nasu Kinoko (the author of F/sn), including Tsukihime, Kara no Kyoukai, and Mahoutsukai no Yoru. Some of these are dependent on one another, but they're all essentially wholly decoupled from the Fate/ series. Read them if you like, or don't. Whichever.
In my opinion (as senshin said, 5 people, 6 answer), if you are looking at the series from production release order, I'd do the following.
1) Fate/Stay Night Visual Novel
All works on Fate/Stay Night are adapted from this as
- The anime mainly follows the Fate Route
- Caster's Antagonist Role later in the anime is adapted from Unlimited Blade Works. (In Fate, she appears but is shortly killed. Her goal to prematurely summon the Grail was one of the main plots of Unlimited Blade Works).
- Sakura's attacks on Rin in their battle during Caster's Arc is adapted from Heaven's Feel.
- The Unlimited Blade Works Movie adapts the Route of the same name in the Visual Novel. However, it is more faithful to the adaptation than the original anime (I say faithful in a loose sense - you can't be faithful to a few hour long game in a movie).
- The Unlimited Blade Works Anime series by Ufotable adapts the Route of the same name in the Visual Novel. is a more faithful then the movie because it doesn't try to compress everything into one movie. it also expands on the fates of a couple of characters who simply disappeared inadapts the Route of the same name the route
- The Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel movie trilogy is suspected to adapt the Route of the same name (however currently only the first movie has been realsed)
In terms of which Visual Novel, Fate/Stay Night Realta Nua PC is your best bet as Realta Nua uses the same updated engine as what Fate/Hollow Ataraxia uses. Realta Nua PC is for all ages and in Japanese. There is an English Patch for it and it does add an option to view both the original H Scenes from the original Visual Novel and their Realta Nua Replacements (Shiro and Saber's Bed Scene, Rin's Contract with Shiro, Rider stealing Prana from Shiro).
Fate/Zero is a prequel to Fate/Stay Night. At the start of the Fate/Stay Night anime, you see Saber and Gilgamesh fight it out - this is sort of what happens in Fate/Zero (in the anime they don't fight but it may have been described in the Novel). Mainly, a lot of Fate/Zero is already revealed in Heaven's Feel like the state of the Grail, the Matou Family, and the true purpose of the wars.
Regardless of the route in Fate/Stay Night, they all start from the aftermath of Fate/Zero.
3) Any other anime
From this point, you will be well-versed on the events. As such, the anime titles will be an abridged version of what you've seen, but with more stylized fights (e.g. Archer vs. Lancer), which looks better animated in my opinion.
If you are looking at the series from chronological order, I'd do the following:
- Fate/Stay Night (anime, if you really have to)
- Unlimited Blade Works (I'd watch Ufotable's series over Studio Deen's movie)
- Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel movie trilogy
While you say you don't intend to read the Visual Novel, you would miss out a lot. The Visual Novel isn't constricted to screening times, as such you can get quite detailed explanations of Nasuverse terminology such as True Magic, Magecraft, The Throne of Heroes, and how it's used with the Holy Grail. A lot of these are explained in the Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel Route, The latter has has only just been released partially as a movie with more films to be released.
Also finally in Realta Nua, after seeing all 5 endings, there is -Last Episode- which is in 2 parts: the first is a review of the Fate Route, while the second part is the true conclusion to the Fate Route where 2 people fulfill the conditions to perform a Miracle. You can also see it as a conclusion to the Fate/Stay Night anime since both the anime and the Fate Route have the same ending, as such, -Last Episode- would continue on from both. The original visual novel did not have this and a separate patch to Mirror Moon's patch was required to add it in.
Outside of anime there are:
Fate/Hollow Ataraxia (Visual Novel) - This follows the Fate Route. However, it does expect that you've played all the routes in Fate/Stay Night as it has elements that transpired in Heaven's Feel.
The state of the Matou Family's as Zouken and Shinji are terrified by Sakura now that she is the head of the family and Alter-Saber being Saber's second personality
Fate/Extra (PSP Game) - This is set outside Fate/Stay Night. in the 1970's a certain event has drained Prana from the world. There are cameo's from Fate/Stay Night like Kotomine, Taiga, Rin's Lancer and Sakura, but their roles are different and not related to the original. Also, the Rin in this title, while looking like Rin from Fate/Stay Night, is not the same Rin but a descendant of Fate/Stay Night's Rin by at least 2 generations (implied to be either mother or grandmother).
Fate/Extra CCC (PSP Game) - A split from Fate/Extra like Heaven's Feel is to Fate/Stay Night. Sakura has a much larger role which also adds Gilgamesh into the mix. However, he's not so much as an ass as he is in Fate/Stay Night (though proudly showing off his naked body in front of Elizabeth as a weapon does show he's still got that ego).
Fate/Apocrypha (Novel) - If you've watched Fate/Zero or Played the Visual Novel then you know of the 3rd Holy Grail War. Fate/Apocrypha splits from the 3rd war where the Grail was stolen from Fuyuki. In this story, there are 2 teams of Servants and a new class, Ruler, which acts as mediator over the war. Also Mordred is summoned as Saber, keeping an established tradition in Fate series: the main Saber is related to Fate/Stay Night's Saber.
Fate/Prototype - This was what Fate/Stay Night could have been feature a Male King Arthur with a Female Master. the Holy Grail War also different with a different purpose.
Lord El-Melloi II Case Files - a side series following Lord El-Melloi II, AKA Waver Velvet from Fate/Zero, and Gray, a Descendant of Arturia's Bloodline, as they investigate mysteries in the thaumaturgy world generaly set around Clock Tower in London.
Fate/Labyrinth - set in the Seventh Labyrinth of Caubac Alcatraz (a Dead Apostle Ancestor) where someone had installed and activated one of the Subcategory Holy Grails in Caubac' labyrinth. Manaka Sajyou from Fate/Prototype appears but is now an existence connected to Akasha possesses the body of Norma who summons Arturia. this series is also one of the cases Lord El-Melloi II and Gray investigate
There are also other Nasuverse works such as Tsukihime and Witch of the Holy Night. Carnival Phantasm is a crossover of the Nasuverse like the heroes of Fate/Stay Night and Tsukihime trying to date all their heroines at the same time and alternate formats of the Holy Grail War.
I'll post this to help anyone like myself who can't get their hands on the visual novel. As said in another answers, it's best to start with Fate/stay night. The new version that comes out is based on the Unlimited Blade Works route of the visual novel. As such, I recommend this viewing order.
Fate/stay night (2006)
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014)
Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel
This viewing order avoids spoilers ruining the series and lets you see each route to completion before moving onto the next route. Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night (2006) have Saber as the female lead and thus the most connected.
I would like to mention that while the 2006 anime receives negative critiques regarding its animation, when I watched it I enjoyed it. Anyway, I have definitely seen worse anime. Although I am under no illusion that it is better than the visual novel, the source material is usually better than anime adaptations.
Anyway I just thought to post this since the original question was to exclude the visual novels.
After watching the series myself, I have the perfect answer. Watch Fate/ Zero first as it is incomplete, then watch fate stay/night by Ufotable (The newest version which is still being released in simulcast) I took forever making the decision and I am relieved I chose right. If you watch it the other way around you will have no idea what is really going on. Thus, just go in order with the actual timeline of the story. Fate/Zero, then Fate/Stay Night. Easy Peezy.