[Titlecard courtesy of Frobman ]
Hello! Welcome to anime! You’ve probably been curious about anime ever since you curiously watched that one episode of Naruto or Sailor Moon and thought it was pretty neat; or you saw some cosplayers milling about your hometown during a convention and wondered what the hell was going on…or you might have watched some random stuff that your one friend linked you to. Either way, anime has gotten you curious in some shape or form.
Since the start of this year, I’ve watched over seventy different anime series; some that will stick with me and others that will fade from memory…and some that I wish would. It’s made me think about which series someone new to the medium should get interested in; to help build up their interest further and keep them keen. There’s a lot of debating and everyone is perfectly entitled to their opinion but here is a list of the shows I recommend to anyone getting started. Please note I am not including shows like Naruto, Bleach, Dragonball Z because they have managed to breach the mainstream to some extent. This list comprises twenty series that we fans hold in high regard and wish to shout their praises from the rooftops. Let’s get started!
Akira: The game changing movie from the 1980s which broke cover thanks to a plucky US distributor. Since then, the dystopian setting of Neo Tokyo has generated a strong interest in anime outside of Japan. There had been nothing else like it before then when it came to animation and it set the trend spectacularly.
Azumanga Daioh: This little comedy is a perfect example of the slice-of-life genre with a lot of comedy thrown in. It might seem a little bizarre, but it’s perfect at demonstrating to newcomers that anime can be weird and surreal whilst also tugging at the heartstrings at the same time.
Berserk: Most newcomers to anime had probably seen Akira and were captivated by the shocking visuals and epic plot. Berserk takes that and puts it into a medieval setting with a lot of sadistic and twisted imagery which has endured for nearly a quarter of a century in some form of media. If you like knights and warriors killing each other gruesomely with an undertone framed around the theme of witchcraft and devilry then you’ll love this!
Cardcaptor Sakura: We’re not talking Cardcaptors; we’re talking about the original cut. There’s a lot more to this series than the initial English release portrayed. If you felt something was off, there was. You need to go the original source and find out what you missed. Not to mention it’s probably one of the best magical girl series of the nineties.
Code Geass: More giant robots! I think why there are loads of mech shows on this list is because it’s something that all boys and men can get behind; it’s machines and these machines are blowing up other machines! Not to mention it manages to sustain drama in more sophisticated ways too meaning it’s accessible to anybody in some manner!
Cowboy Bebop: This has to be here out of sheer coolness. A western-themed space opera with action and spaceships and adult themes. It’s a very mature series that can also be quite quirky as well. Spike and friends collect bounties in an unforgettably gritty drama which has become ubiquitous in anime circles.
Death Note: In 2006, anime upped the ante. This series was at the forefront of that movement. A story about a guy who is bestowed the gift of death for those who he has deemed worthy of such a fate. Everybody has a moment where they wish they had that kind of power and Light Yagami [our lead] gets it; doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride. A superb art style, a kille soundtrack and one of the most iconic stories out there.
FLCL [FuriKuri]: This anime is quite polarising. Some love it because it’s rather avant-garde and surreal, especially for the early noughties. Others hate it because Haruko [the leading lady] who can be very grating and causes heaps of trouble for our lead male Naoto. Although the characters and premise are strange at times, this short six-episode series is worth a look because it pushes the boat out narratively speaking and isn’t afraid of that.
Fullmetal Alchemist…Brotherhood: Although this and the original 2004 series are both great, the re-imagining of the story of the Elric brothers gets the nod for this list on the grounds that it is a more faithful adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s vision. If you love supernatural powers mixed with tons of guns and brotherly love, this is a good start!
Gurren Lagann: How could I not have this here? Gurren Lagann takes the giant robot concept and goes nuts with it. The level of style, detail, uniqueness and technical mastery at play makes this a grand candidate for this list. It is also rather accessible as it isn’t modelled on a particular country; it’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by original characters and amazingly dazzling robots!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure [and the manga]: If you’re bored of what’s on TV and in the cinemas, then look no further. JoJo is crazy good fun which is recently going through another surge in popularity. If you’re not sure what it’s about, I’ll try to sum it up in one sentence. Men being fabulous and kicking each other’s asses mixed with TONS of references to Western rock music! Need I say more?
Kanon: I choose this over its sister anime Clannad [which I like too] because it’s the more rounded and simplistic story from the Japanese game studio Key [which made the original source material for both shows]. Both have a strong cast of girls to choose from but Kanon takes the cake simply because of the sheer drama and empathy that I felt whilst watching.
Lupin III: One of the longest running franchises in anime. Over forty years old and still going strong, Lupin III is one of the world’s greatest criminal minds as well as being one of the most likeable, ingenious and hilarious. You don’t care he’s stealing millions of dollars’ worth of jewellery, you love the guy! He also has the best team behind him and the most inept detective chasing after them which leads to a timeless formula where the bad guys come out on top and you’re OK with that.
Martian Successor Nadesico: My FAVOURITE anime. If you are looking for some satire when it comes to giant robots then this show is your best bet. I recommend this over Neon Genesis Evangelion because it does the whiny robot pilot gimmick a lot better and also I’ve not seen all of Evangelion so I cannot recommend it nor do I particularly want to! A colourful cast, a great looking ship and robot coupled with a serious message about bureaucracy overriding humanity and people putting a stop to it. A masterclass at balancing comedy and drama. Skip the movie though.
Mobile Suit Gundam: You thought Transformers was awesome? Wait until you see Gundam. This put the giant robot squarely in the minds of boys everywhere since 1979. Dozens of series owe Gundam a huge favour and it’s not hard to see why. It set the standard of what a series about mechanical warriors requires: killer robot designs, super powers, SWORDS and tons of weaponry. Noteworthy series from the Gundam universe include the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Gundam Wing, Turn A Gundam, Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.
Outlaw Star: It is a fantastic sci-fi tale with tons of action and comedy but it’s a lot more light-hearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you find Cowboy Bebop a little heavy, this show is the way to go!
Ranma 1/2: If you want to get a good understanding about what Japan is and some of its cultural traditions whilst being entertained, then this series is your best bet. Made by Rumiko Takahashi, this romantic comedy is a classic which should not be ignored. Plus it’s got PANDAS!
Steins;Gate: I’ve not seen this series come up often on recommended lists; that surprised me. This epic sci-fi tale explores the intricacies of cause and effect and other aspects of time travel whilst impeccably sustaining high drama. It also knows when to have a laugh every now and again to relieve the stress levels a little bit. A masterpiece of the modern era which is a little more cerebral than most would expect.
Studio Ghibli Films: Hayao Miyazaki is often described as the Japanese Walt Disney and with good reason. He and his team formed a studio which has made some of the most iconic, emotional and inspirational films in the past thirty years and acted as a global ambassador for anime and why it’s so great. Most of their movies are worth a watch but the five I recommend to watch right now are Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies, Laputa, Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke.
Tenchi Muyo: Like Ranma 1/2 but containing a lot more supernatural elements. Plus the cast of characters is more colourful and outlandish. One of the best examples of the harem anime genre.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: This 2006 production was a turning point in anime design and look. Haruhi Suzumiya and her supernatural gang of espers, time travellers, aliens plus the token normal guy put a studio on the map because of its fantastic premise, catchy music and eye-catching visual style. The first season is stunning, the second season is worth watching but be aware of the Endless Eight, that’s all I’ll say.
Urusei Yatsura [AKA Everybody Hates Ataru]: One of the first anime I watched. It’s a very strange show based on space devils, love triangles and comedic storytelling. A good example of explaining the origins of the harem anime.
Usagi Drop: This sweet story about a girl who has recently become an orphan. Daikichi, whose grandfather was the father of this girl [Rin] takes her in after the rest of his family practically disown her on the grounds that Rin’s mother was a mistress and therefore illegitimate. This unlikely move on Daikichi’s part changes the character unequivocally and is the ultimate display of human compassion.
This list is a starting point for you. From here you will find shows like the ones I mentioned or shows that break the mould I’ve established; in the end, it’s all good! There are more shows I want to recommend but that requires a little more understanding of anime before viewing. This list is here to gently introduce anime and what it is. These shows have things in common with western media and act as a great interim production. In any case, good hunting!
What do you think of this list? Are there shows I missed out or you would recommend yourself? Leave a comment below and let’s spread the word of anime.