Beginner's Guide to Anime
In the past ten years, anime has taken America by storm. From hip-hop and clothes, to our own TV shows and movies, anime has infiltrated almost every aspect of today's pop culture.
However—with high raters, there are always haters—and for every new anime fan I meet, there is a naysayer; people who scoff at the idea altogether with statements like, “I don’t like animated shows,” or “Isn’t that stuff for kids?” To all those people who thumb their nose at anime, I understand. From the outside, anime may seem like one genre consisting of dramatic martial arts fighting and colorful outfits. I’m here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Anime is not a genre. There are stylistic similarities between the shows—and they’re all Japanese—but other than that, anime is as diverse and multifaceted as live TV. Calling anime a genre is like calling American TV a genre. If you want to enjoy anime, you have to find the genre and shows within that wide label that fit your specific likes and tendencies. There’s action, fantasy, science-fiction, drama, war, adventure, romance, crime, and post-apocalyptic, and that just scratches the surface. Find out what kind of anime you like, and you’re one step closer to appreciating the beautiful Japanese animated shows for the masterpieces they are.
Finding anime that you like is easier said than done. There are thousands of internet lists on which anime are best, but some of the “best” anime can be hard to get into for someone who has never watched any before. For example, some great anime might be too weird (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), confusing (Neon Genesis: Evangelion), or long (One Piece) to be easily accessible by someone new to the universe. That is why I’ve put together a diverse list of seven incredible movies and TV shows that are great introductions to many genres within anime.
If you’re stuck inside and running out of shows and movies to binge, give one of the animes on this list a try. What have you got to lose?
Cowboy Bebop is one of the most celebrated and influential anime series of all-time, as well as my personal favorite. However, that’s not why it’s on this list. The reason I recommend Cowboy Bebop to new anime fans is that with its action, drama, romance, beautiful animation, and incredible overarching storylines, Cowboy Bebop showcases so many of the aspects that make anime great.
The show follows four eccentric bounty hunters who travel the cosmos together, tracking down targets while trying to evade their sketchy pasts. The show feels like a noir space-Western, with a dazzling jazz soundtrack, smoky bars, and moonlit streets. With only 26 episodes and, in my opinion, one of the greatest TV finales of all time, Cowboy Bebop is a great quick watch that shows what anime can be at its very best.
Spirited Away may be the most popular, mainstream anime movie of all time, and there’s a reason for that. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the godfather of anime, the movie tells the story of a young girl who finds herself lost in an unfamiliar world full of both helpful and malicious spirits. The movie is a visual masterpiece and does an incredible job of reminding the viewer of what it feels like to be young and lost in the world.
One of the greatest perks of starting your anime experience with Spirited Away is that if you like it, there is a whole cache of other Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki movies waiting to be watched, including movies like My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Monoke. All of these Miyazaki movies are beautifully animated and sure to leave you craving more.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood follows Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers whose lives are plunged into disarray after they try to use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. Brotherhood can be a very dark show, but like the name suggests, there are also many moments of uplifting love between the Elric brothers. It is a great introduction to anime because it juggles three aspects that are prevalent in many shows. One is the focus on character development, showing the relationships and growth of the Elric brothers. Second is the fantasy aspect, with the art of alchemy being a major part of the series. The third is the way it focuses on larger problems of a nation by navigating politics, war, and death. If you like Brotherhood, there are many other animes that you can springboard into.
My Hero Academia
Do you love Avatar: The Last Airbender? If you do, My Hero Academia could be the show for you.
Lighthearted and fun, My Hero Academia follows a young boy living in a universe where 80% of Japan’s population has superpowers, which the show calls “quirks.” Izuku, the show’s main character, is determined to enroll in a prestigious hero academy where they teach kids how to use their powers to be superheroes. My Hero Academia has one of the fastest-growing followings in the United States, and it is strongly reminiscent of Avatar with its optimistic, hopeful young character going on a journey to fulfill his destiny. If you’re looking for a show that will cheer you up in dark times, check out My Hero Academia.
Naruto is the definition of classic anime. The show follows Naruto, a troublemaking young ninja who wants to become the strongest fighter in his village. There’s lots of action focused around jutsu, which are supernatural styles and powers unique to each specific ninja. This is the only long series on this list; however, I have many friends whose love for anime was born from watching Naruto, so I thought it was worth being included. The show is easy to watch, like My Hero, but Naruto never dumbs down its emotional message just to make the show lighthearted. With its old fashioned hand-drawn style and highly creative action sequences, Naruto is one of the bedrock series of anime, and an easy way to fall in love with the action-packed ninja genre.
Violet Evergarden is nothing like the other animes on this list. The show follows Violet Evergarden, an injured veteran formerly known as “the weapon,” who is unable to understand emotions like other humans. She returns from war and becomes an Auto Memory Doll—people that write letters for others—and Violet takes up this profession to try and understand the meaning of the words “I love you.” The show is serene and drawn in a fluid, intricate style that mimics the subject matter of the show. Unlike the other shows on this list, Violet Evergarden isn’t packed full of action or fantasy. Instead, it’s a slow burn that will make you feel all the emotions that Violet can’t, including love, happiness, and sorrow. Anime is full of romantic, emotional works that can make you feel more than a live show, and Violet Evergarden is a great example of this.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is one of the greatest, most creative, action-packed anime shows of all time. The show begins with a group of young soldiers who are training to fight titans—giant human-like creatures—using a grappling tool that allows them to fly through the air. The show has a great set of characters, but really it's all about mystery and action; killing titans and wondering where they come from. With a backstory that gets deeper with every season, Attack on Titan is a show that will suck you in with the action, but keep you around by wondering what the characters will discover next.
I’m putting Death Note below the rest of the list because, to be honest, I’m shaky on recommending Death Note to someone who has never seen anime before. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show (it was actually the first anime I ever watched), and I think the case can be made for it being the greatest anime of all time. But it’s also the type of show that could really send someone running from anime if they don’t like it. Here’s why:
Death Note is the story of Light Yagami, a teenager who finds a notebook dropped by a Shinigami—a god of death—that allows him to kill anyone he wants by simply writing their name in it. And he starts to write names. A lot of names.
Death Note is incredible because of the way it breaks down and contemplates the ideas of justice, evil, and madness. The plot is almost Shakesperian, and pits good and evil against each other until you wonder which is which. However, it’s not an easy watch. The show grows continuously darker and convoluted as it goes on, and at times the plot can move very slow. If you love strange, dark shows that will make you think, watch Death Note; it could become one of your favorite shows of all-time. If you want to get into anime for action, try something else first.