If you’re here you probably already know how cool anime is, so let’s skip that whole thing. The Japanese animation industry is a super machine, churning out amazing anime for everyone’s taste. However, anime is mostly aimed at a Japanese audience, and the fact that anime is so internationally popular still draws gasps of disbelief among many Japanese. This is precisely why an anime newbie needs to dive in carefully, so that they have the best starting experience.
— diego-dkan (@DkanDiego) April 1, 2020
I’m excluding series that are too long – I’m looking at you, One Piece, reaching 1000 episodes soon. It’s too intimidating and too much commitment for a newcomer who is still checking anime out. Naruto and its fillers – out! BLEACH is good, but nothing much happens for 10 to 20 episodes, so a beginner might lose patience as early as episode 3. However, once you get into anime, by all means, delve into the shounen behemoths.
I’m also excluding any anime deeply rooted in Japanese history – we don’t want to burden people with homework just so they can watch an anime. Who’s Oda Nobunaga, you ask? Let’s talk about it some other time. Don’t click on the DRIFTERS anime. And despite how many people say GINTAMA is the best (I agree), shelve it for now if you don’t know Edo history. If it so happens you’re an anime newbie, but a history buff, you can dive into history-based anime right away.
That brings me to comedy and parody. Both require some degree of knowledge of other Japanese pop culture, life and society, and then there’s the dreaded language barrier. One of GINTAMA’s best episodes involves a Buddhist funeral and a lot of puns that even the best translator would struggle with. You’ve also heard about the hilarious ONE PUNCH MAN. However, it’s only hilarious if you’ve gotten tired of the shounen anime tropes, as it mocks the genre. Same goes for the amazing MADOCA MAGICA, an anime that subverts the magical girl anime genre where SAILOR MOON reigns supreme. You’ll get there, and you’ll love these, but don;t start with them.
I’m also excluding extremes – anything too gory, or too childish. NO adult genres.
Finally, I’m excluding anime films, so anything Ghibli merrily flies out the window. And probably everyone and everyone’s grandma have seen a Ghibli film by now.
All that aside, here are five anime series – not too long, not too confusing, not too many inside jokes, not too much culture-specific context to know in advance, not too weird. A great start to your anime journey!
Let’s roll out the masterpiece, the one that’s not going to let you sleep until you finish it. The premise is a Death God dropping his Death Note(book) on Earth, and someone super smart and super jaded finding it. The notebook has Grim Reaper powers, setting an avalanche of events in motion. Death Note is fast paced, thrilling, full of unexpected turns and a lot happens in 37 episodes. The themes are universal – corruption, crime, vigilantism, justice. Anyone who likes thrillers, noir, detective movies, superhero movies, would probably like DEATH NOTE.
Already watched it? Try CODE GEASS or MONSTER next, for more twists and turns.
This anime deserves all the hype – even 10 years after its release in Japan it’s incredibly touching and engaging. Be sure to watch the series with BROTHERHOOD in it, as the earlier Fullmetal Alchemist anime adaption is longer, unfaithful to the source material of the manga and generally disliked.
The story follows two brothers alchemists – but wait for it – one of them, Al, is a soul in a metal armour, while his brother, Ed, is the one nicknamed Fullmetal Alchemist. On their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone they join an army of alchemists and, as many shounen anime go, become heroes. The 64 episode will fly by, and you might get hooked on the great OST too.
— 鋼の錬金術師が好きすぎる！ (@hagane_no_) April 25, 2016
Already watched it? For similar medieval European aesthetic with supernatural elements, try FAIRY TAIL or FATE STAY NIGHT where legendary heroes are resurrected by magicians. SOUL EATER is a cool and funky supernatural anime taking place in a world reminiscent of that dark vampire Eastern Europe aesthetic.
*note that European aesthetic in anime is common, but not aimed at foreign fans. Much like Westerner’s love of Japanese culture, the Japanese are often charmed by what is distant and exotic for them such as European culture.
Moving to something very recent, DEMON SLAYER is a new anime that premiered in 2019 in Japan. It’s still ongoing, with a new season to be released in 2020. The manga made a huge splash a couple of years prior, dethroning some of Shounen Jump’s most successful manga series by sales number. The premise is focused on a demon slayer brother and his demon-turned sister, journeying to slay demons on their way until they find the head demon. The story unfolds quickly, avoiding that anime sin of dawdling forever until introducing some major plot points. Most importantly, it is steeped in Japanese aesthetics, while still being accessible to those that don’t know that much about Japanese culture. Expect to see katana fights, kimono-clad characters, traditional masks and houses and so on.
Already watched it? If you want to keep watching new and fresh anime try MY HERO ACADEMIA, that is a perfect blend of Japanese and American comics. Another ongoing one is DOCTOR STONE, exploring a world where what’s left of humanity is back in the Stone Age.
Let’s move from the shounen genre, and on to the more grown-up drama and romance genre. NANA is an absolute treasure, both the manga and the anime adaptation. It was marketed towards girls and young women, but it’s a story that is universally liked, and not deserving of being gendered. The story follows an unlikely friendship between a cold and cool rock singer named Nana, and a cute emotional girl trying to find herself, also named Nana. Their meeting is kismet, and they start opening to each other as both their professional and love lives are in turmoil.
Already watched it? Try PARADISE KISS by the same manga author of NANA, or KIMI NI TODOKE for some more romance.
Anime does cyberpunk, sci-fi and dystopian future so well, that it has been revered by fans abroad for decades now. Anime films like AKIRA, and GHOST IN THE SHELL as well as EVANGELION (both series and films) have seen an international cult-like following, exhibitions in art galleries celebrating their artistic skill and they have inspired Western filmmakers and creators in general.
However, they can feel like too big to chew for someone just coming to check out the genre and/or anime in general. That’s why, it’s best to start with PSYCHOPASS, which was created to be a successor in a way to Mamoru Oshii, the creator of Ghost in the Shell, and it has been compared to Blade Runner, both in themes and aesthetics. An intelligent dystopian series that still gives you enough information to understand the world, PSYCHOPASS is engaging and thought-provoking. It has 3 seasons, but each one is self-contained.
Already watched it? You can move on to ERGO PROXY or FROM THE NEW WORLD (Shin Sekai Yori), before delving into the legends mentioned above.
— PSYCHO-PASS サイコパス 公式 (@psychopass_tv) November 29, 2019
There’s 5 great starting points, whether you like fights and adventures, supernatural, katanas, romance and drama, cyberpunk and sci-fi. In addition, you can check out the similar anime to these, and then surf on from there. If you get hooked, see you in Japan on an anime pilgrimage!
Feature photo by DkanDiego on Twitter