Getting into anime can seem like a daunting task, what with the unfathomable depths of shows already available; and it is a long list. It’s certainly an imposing prospect, but that’s what we’re here for!
If you are looking to get into anime, lucky you, for articles like this are here to guide you in the right direction. Fair warning, don’t blame us if we set too high a benchmark.
Little Witch Academia (Netflix)
Anime Harry Potter is the best way to sum this one up. It never really got more mature than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (that’s a positive, by the way). This show never takes itself too seriously and keeps a light-hearted, comedic tone, but without the pitfalls of that “overly anime” humour that sometimes turns people off exploring more of the medium.
Expect a lot of very well animated visual comedy and highly likeable characters. Plus, if you like this show, it’s a great way to fall down the Studio Trigger/Gainax rabbit hole, which will suck up a lot of your time if you let it. You’ll open yourself up to early 2000s gems and modern classics like Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (for which March Supa-Star Leah Clark was a script writer!) and Space Patrol Luluco.
Death Note (AnimeLab)
When you want to watch a story about a character with good intentions who is slowly corrupted by power, you either watch this or Code Geass, both of which are solid recommendations, but in this case, we have to go with Death Note because of its longevity and pedigree.
Chances are you’ve heard of it even if you don’t watch anime, because it’s that huge. But if not, it’s the ultimate battle of wits and mind games between the world’s best detective and his contender; a genius highschooler with a notebook that can kill anyone, as long as you have their name and face.
Obviously, it gets far more complicated, with a slew of rules thrown into the notebook, and insane back and forth action between the two rivals that escalates to ridiculous proportions. It’s a smart show, but unlike some other “mind game” shows like No Game, No Life and Problem Children Are Coming From Another World, Aren’t They?, this one makes you feel smarter for watching it.
If you tell any anime fan that you’re going to get into this wonderful medium, there are going to be veteran fans who will rightly tell you to watch Cowboy Bebop. But guess what, we’re not going to give you the easiest answer, the most obvious entry. We ain’t about that here. If you really want to impress people with your impeccable taste in Space Westerns, drop this one on them: “I’m sure Cowboy Bebop’s good, but have you seen Trigun?”
These two classic anime juggernauts began airing just two days apart and have the same number of episodes, but Trigun differentiates itself from its real-folk-bluesy counterpart with its novel setting; the lawless, more classic Western-inspired Planet Gunsmoke, and its more fanciful characters and crazier action.
The tone is decidedly unrealistic, but that doesn’t make it harder to take seriously; you will take it seriously when it gets dark. The Space Western is a seemingly dead genre now, which is a real shame. You’ll be left wanting more after Trigun and its 2010 side-story film Badlands Rumble, but hey, you can follow it up with Cowboy Bebop.
Samurai Champloo (AnimeLab)
Speaking of Cowboy Bebop, whenever director Shinichiro Watanabe’s name gets thrown around, the fervour of Cowboy Bebop praise often leaves his other great works under-appreciated. 2014’s Space Dandy is a great example of this, a brilliant show narrated expertly by R. Bruce Elliott, as well as Kids on the Slope, which is beautiful and touching, but you don’t want to get too bogged down with drama when you’re just starting out.
One show of his that you absolutely should watch is Samurai Champloo. The show fuses ‘90s American hip-hop and rap culture with an Edo-period Japan setting and aesthetic, anachronisms that set the tone for the show. Traditional samurai spar with break-dancing warriors and yakuza members who are more reminiscent of gangsters from GTA. Cap it all off with gorgeous animation and a soundtrack featuring Nujabes and other Japanese and American hip-hop artists, and you have a show that broke ground in a lot of ways.
This show demonstrates why anime is such a great medium, that it’s capable of crossing cultural boundaries to create a truly unique piece of art. For something similar, see Afro Samurai, or Aaron McGruder’s animated show The Boondocks.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (Netflix)
It is true that the discourse around this show can make it seem like an insurmountable obstacle to tackle, with people saying it’s either the worst thing ever, with meaningless symbolism that only exists as a vehicle for creator Hideaki Anno to wax lyrical about fandom and escapism, OR that it’s (rightly) an incredibly complex masterpiece that is intentionally confrontational with its audience and tries to obscure its meaning with shounen tropes like fighting robots and waifus, in order to deconstruct them… but it’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself to find out which camp you land in.
It can be hard to get into because it asks a lot of the viewer, but that’s what makes it so legendary. If you end up loving it or hating it, it’s worth watching anyway just to have an opinion on what is quite possibly the most divisive anime of all time. And to understand the memes. Definitely the memes. As for alternate recommendations, maybe some Freud literature? Any psychology textbook?
Fans of the original ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ dub can catch voice actors Spike Spencer (Shinji Ikari), Tiffany Grant (Asuka Langley Soryu) and Amanda Winn Lee (Rei Ayanami) at Supanova this March and June.