But for those first couple of steps, don't worry about missing a bit of cultural context that confuses the rest, or that sub-par translations ruin the plot. All of them have excellent English voiceovers. Each is a solid classic in its genre, and if you are into animation at all, you can likely find something on this list that will take your time.
If you've seen any anime at all, you've probably already seen these first few suggestions. This first collection is aimed at all newbies.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
For those who like: adventure, fantasy
Ha! Yeah you got me I cheated. Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American television series, not a Japanese one. But it's one of the best works of television animation in the country, an instant classic that immersed itself headlong into the wide arc episodic storytelling that is usually avoided in other American shows in favor of stakeless slapstick.
In a world of elemental magic in which "benders" are born who can manipulate air, water, earth or fire, Aang is the reincarnation of the one soul who can manipulate all four. After running away from home and accidentally burying himself in an iceberg for a century, Aang wakes up and finds himself the last Airbender in existence. His homeland and people were wiped out in a genocide; The Fire Nation is well on its way to subjugating everyone else.
Allegedly aimed at children, Avatar is deeply and successfully engaged in big issues, especially morality itself. Genocide, terrorism, bigotry, corruption – Aang's small group of allies around the world finds and has to cope with all of this. Each "bender" area is at least a superficial representation of the real cultures of the eastern or northern indigenous people. The show is immensely successful in portraying its unlikely heroes, all children, as children; The theme of the show is their own growth into adulthood, with war and adventure being the stage on which growth takes place. Each of the characters are both believable and personable. The show values smarts over strength and shows both cultural differences and physical disabilities as things to be celebrated: Toph, Aang's future earth bending tutor, is a rich, blind, and allegedly frail young girl who uses her earth bending mastery to help to "see" the world around her, and stomp opponents in her secret career as earth-bending pro-wrestler. If you are not fascinated by this phrase I don't know what to tell you. You could be broken.
This is a solid watch. Avatar was followed by a sequel, The Legend of Korra, which didn't quite capture the same magic. It was also made into an infamous live-action movie by M. Night Shyamalan that is so botched and horrific that it is never to be seen. Ever. Ever.
For those who like: Firefly, crime novels, film noir
Missing Firefly can scratch the itch. The great classic cowboy Bebop follows a trio of for-profit bounty hunters aboard the slightly clunky spaceship Bebop. It is heavily borrowed from film noir and mixed with old westerns, cyberpunk, blues and jazz. Spike is a seasoned, aggressive, and moody bounty hunter who teams up with longtime partner Jet, current partner Faye, and bubbly, manic ultra-hacker Edward.
The star of this show is the music, a mostly blues-oriented mixture by Yoko Kanno, which can change from psychedelic to ballad as required. The mood is dark; Each of our characters is lost and broken looking for a salvation that will never come.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
For those who like: adventure, intrigue, magic, steampunk. But: some blood
Fullmetal Alchemist is a steampunk morale game with punching. And magic. And magic that improves punching I think.
Not for very young children because of some pretty intense scenes of bloodshed – and a specific dog – Fullmetal Alchemist follows two brothers who, as amateur alchemists, tried to bring their recently deceased mother back from the dead by an alchemical spell. The rules of alchemy require an equivalent exchange – that whatever is produced in a transmutation is exactly what was offered as a reagent – and the spell fails. Edward loses an arm and a leg; Alphonse loses his entire body, reduced to a soul that Edward desperately associates with nearby armor.
Armed with steampunk-inspired prostheses, Edward soon joins the military as a state sponsored alchemist and uses his duties to travel the nation in search of knowledge that will help him regain or restore his brother's body. However, he quickly learns a lot more than he wants. The brothers are supported by their childhood friend and crack mechanic, Winry, a tomboy obsessed with Automail who is furiously charged with mending the metal parts of both of them after every mishap.
Fullmetal Alchemist is alternatively dramatic and stupid, funny and bloody alike. It is also perhaps the best exponent of the shounen genre, adventure and fighting series, and animation, which are primarily aimed at action-seeking boys and young men. As with American entertainment, it's a dangerous genre by quality and best known for a few blockbuster hits you've probably heard of. More on that later.
Now for the tricky part: There are actually two Fullmetal Alchemist series. The first was done while the original manga (serialized comic) was being written, and reinvents the latter half of its plot from the ground up. The second, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, was created later and follows the manga storyline as the author intended. While the second is the canonical, "true" version preferred by most fans, it's also more silly and perhaps less focused. Both are currently available on Netflix. The English language versions are excellent.
For those who like: historical drama, swords, samurai
Despite all of our pompous talk of diving into the art of non-American culture for a change, neither Cowboy Bebop nor Fullmetal Alchemist have much to do with Japan. One is based on space; the other in a fictional European-style nation. Let's fix that.
Rurouni Kenshin, a rather unsubtle subtitled Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, does not take place in space or in magical fantasy worlds. Set in Japan's Meiji Period, the bloody period in the late 19th century when Japan transformed from feudal factions to a single imperial-led nation, it follows a wandering ex-assassin who has vowed never to kill again. That's not to say that the show doesn't have a lot of mystical and superhero-like elements in it, but its roots lie right in the fiction of the era.
The Meiji era is the subject of countless Japanese novels, romanticized stories about sword fighting and honor, and implausible skills that are directly comparable to much of the country's Wild West nostalgia. This is probably a (um) far more down to earth portrayal for newcomers than most of the others; If your introduction to Japanese history is the long-running hit show Gin Tama, bring your aspirin.
Our main character may have promised never to take a life again, but at a time known for its violence and corruption with a steady stream of challengers who are not bound by his self-imposed rules, it's not always clear whether ours Character not true is about idealism or guilty self-destruction.
Spirit in a shell: Stand Alone Complex
For those who like: The Matrix, Cyberpunk, Sci-Fi, Police Drama
The Ghost in the Shell franchise is made up of a lot more than the Stand Alone Complex, but the Stand Alone Complex is possibly the most self-contained part of the world that it explores. In a world of the near future where cybernetic implants are standard, an elitist, clandestine force led by the fully cybernetic major Motoko Kusanagi competes against the most violent and dangerous criminals. Ghost in the Shell may present itself as a mysterious police thriller, but it is obsessed with where the lines of emotion and humanity itself begin and end. How much can be mechanized before a human no longer counts entirely as human? And if artificial intelligence apparently creates living beings – for example military tanks disguised as giant spiders – do they count as living? What does it mean if it is you?
Known as the action-packed police drama, the series however presents a world of technology that is undoubtedly alien and uncomfortably close to becoming a reality in the near future. The results, as in many novels, are decidedly more dystopian than humanity intended.
However, if cyberpunk and dystopian futures aren't your thing, then you can skip them.
What about these other famous shows?
There are some shows that you've probably heard of because they're ubiquitous on American television screens. Many people who want to dive into the anime start with these and think that of course they have to be the best the medium has to offer. You … are not necessarily. In fact, you may not end up liking any of them.
Most of the long-running shows on American television are aimed at children, with the exception of the adult swim price. That doesn't mean these shows aren't classics, if only because of their success and longevity, but that they are careful. If you're looking for shows for adults who aren't particularly keen on selling you toys, these probably aren't for you.
Pokémon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh !: Everyone knows the Pokémon games. The same pock (et) mon (sters) can be found in seemingly countless iterations of television shows and movies. If you like it, great. As a link to the incredibly popular games, they concretize the world with more energy than would be possible on the various gaming platforms on which they have lived.
The Pokémon world is a world where kids are encouraged to travel the world collecting every possible variation of supernatural creatures, imprisoning them and getting them to battle gladiator-style tournaments to cheer bloodthirsty crowds . And you thought Cowboy Bebop was dark? Poof leasing.
Pokémon and its cousins are shows for kids with games and lines of toys for kids. There's nothing wrong with that, but while the writers manage to pull off some jokes for the grown-ups – see: some of Team Rockets' jokes – don't expect much from these. Similar:
One Piece, Naruto, Dragon Ball: Combat-oriented shows mainly aimed at wild boys. Type of. Most of time? These Shounen giants are well known and have roughly a million episodes in the case of the first two. The bad news is that half of them could be filler.
One Piece's art style is innovative and borders on the spectacular and (but?) Becomes more and more wantonly fancy over time. There's no denying that Naruto has a really interesting world with interesting premises. Dragon Ball is basically the hunt for the Infinity Gauntlet, but with marbles. It's older than, more famous than, and more universally loved than the other two.
But this genre of shows saddles viewers with what has now become one of the most infamous tropes in anime: they pull. Oh how they can draw. A Naruto fight could begin with the challengers in one episode facing each other, setting up their feet, and preparing their first attacks. Then they will seriously research their points of view.
In the next episode, we'll get some relevant backstories about this newest challenger.
As a result of this, we may get some relevant flashbacks from the protagonist to the attack they are thinking about next.
Subsequently, someone could move their feet and begin the attack they built on in that first episode. After reusing Standard Attack Animation # 13 two years ago, they emerge victorious. Cue probably more back story.
It's not always that bad, but it is sometimes that bad. If these shows are your cup of tea, good news: you won't just be well stocked through the rest of this pandemic, but 12 of them. But the viewers encounter these child-friendly blockbusters as an introduction to Japanese animation and are a little disappointed. They think repeating these battle of the week shows is the best the studios have to offer. Many or most of these types of shows also have … problems … in their portrayals of their own female heroes, mostly from sheer laziness.
Recording Dragon Ball – a beloved classic – is going to get me in trouble here. But it could still land in the "Not the best introduction for newcomers" garbage can. As well as:
Neon Genesis EVANGELION
This show is a famous, influential, and widespread classic that made it to America and … was a bit of a gamble as an introduction to its own genre. Our hero Shinji is one of the most impressive mecha shows, in which frightened teenagers control gigantic humanoid robots to fight alien monsters. He's a hard-to-compare maudlin little wailer who lets the plot unfold around him while mostly doing absolutely nothing to get rid of any of it. The animation is superb and the themes of adolescent anxiety, tortured creeps towards adulthood, and the general agony of wishing it all could go away come through, but you can't like it. A series that both encompassed the tropics of the giant robot anime and impaled them unsympathetically. The original series aired with an incomprehensible final episode after mismanagement led the production to literally run out of money. The series' fame made it possible for later films to erase that ending and replace the intended one.
It is definitely a work of art. I mention it here because it's so famous that it is on most of the top anime lists, but so blunt that it can be a love-it, hate-it entry.
These are all titles you may have heard of. Next, we'll look at some of the latest hits, including shows specially produced for a worldwide market. In other words, we're going to comb through some of the easiest breaking content to find and pick some that are worth the time.