Maybe you’ve toyed around with Dragonball Z or Pokémon in your youth, but you’ve never really gotten into anime – for whatever reason. That’s perfectly understandable; after all, anime is a medium, not a genre – its scope and variety can be downright daunting.
Death Note and Hamtaro couldn’t be more dissimilar; neither could Gurran Lagann and Attack on Titan, or Fullmental Alchemist and Mobile Suit Gundam.
Honestly, finding a place to start can be intimidating. It’s a complex world of Japanese storytelling, usually combined with Western influences – equal parts weird and wonderful, yet completely rewarding despite its initial inaccessibility. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a good example – discouraging newcomers with its incomprehensible premise and otherworldy characters, but eventually opening up and winning them over regardless.
Anime isn’t for everyone, admittedly; however – if you’ve always been hesitant to dive in – the following shows are likely to persuade you…
Neon Genesis Evangeion
Airing in 1995, Neon Genesis Evangelion revolves around the character, Shinji – an emotionally withdrawn student capable of maintaining a symbiotic relationship with a powerful bio-machine, Unit-01. In the show, the world has plunged into chaos following the emergence of the Angels – mysterious creatures of an unknown origin.
Somewhat deconstructive, Neon Genesis Evangelion is surprisingly intricate; the characters are relatable, and there’s nothing remotely disconnecting about the show. In fact, everything fits together into a neat collection of twenty-six episodes – complete with one excellent film, and a bunch more you really don’t need to worry about.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a complicated show – escalating in complexity the further down the rabbit hole you go, but its central themes- loneliness, isolation and rejection – are universal, handled with maturity rarely seen anywhere else.
Airing in Japan in 1997, Berserk revolves around the central character, Guts – a mercenary, recruited by cutthroats having been defeated by their leader, Griffith.
This relationship between the two principle characters forms the foundation for the show, transforming over the course of the series from a substantial friendship to a bitter rivalry. The pivotal moment in their relationship comes after Guts is savagely injured during an event known as the Eclipse, losing his left arm and one of his eyeballs as a direct result of Griffiths’ actions.
Berserk is a great show, centring its focus almost exclusively on characters and relationships, instead of pointless action sequences – never permitting extraneous details to overshadow the characters at the forefront of the story. For this reason, Berserk is utterly compelling.
Originally a video game, Steins;Gate began airing in Japan in 2011 – following the eccentric scientist, Okabe, and his assistances, Mayuri and Daru, who together form the Future Gadget Research Laboratory and spend the majority of their time in the lab working on makeshift inventions made from old hairdryers and microwaves.
The show really starts getting interesting once the group accidentally invents the Phone Microwave, a seemingly useless device that melts bananas into green goo, and also allows text messages to be sent back in time, dramatically altering current events.
There are only twenty-four episodes of Steins;Gate, yet the show manages to cover a lot of ground in a surprisingly short amount of time. It’s occasionally hilarious, as well as downright disturbing, engaging audiences emotionally despite its comedic appeal. In this case, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
Originally airing in Japan in 1996, Dragon Ball centres around seven mystical orbs that grant wishes to whoever gathers them together. At the forefront of the story is Goku – an orphan raised by his adopted grandfather in near isolation, who quickly develops superhuman strength, as well as a penchant for transforming into a giant, raging gorilla.
Joined by his friends, Bulma, Krillin, Master Roshi, Yamcha, Tien and Oolong, Goku must collect the Dragon balls in order to prevent antagonists like the Red Ribbon Army, Emperor Pilaf and King Piccolo from using them to achieve their nefarious ends.
Dragon Ball has been inspiring anime creators for the past three decades. So, when it comes to finding an anime to start you off, there aren’t many that would make a better choice than Dragon Ball. After all, it’s one of the foremost influential anime ever created.
Airing in Japan in 2013, Free! follows a group of students as they attempt to organise and run a swimming club for the Iwatobi High School. Competing with other schools and honing their skills, the four principle characters – Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei – spend their time recruiting new members and improving their school’s facilities.
The main drive of the show is the rivalry between Haruka and Rin – two former friends and competitors whose former friendship has malformed into a bitter conflict due to their intense competitiveness and desire to be the very best. Now in high school, the show picks up after a two-year hiatus with Haruka and Rin encountering one another once again, and almost immediately reigniting their intense rivalry.
The central concerns of the show are competition and friendship – two easily relatable themes that most anyone can relate to. There’s no overly complicated backstories with hundreds of side-characters to distance from the drama – just a central premise and some key names to remember.
Crayon Shin Chan
Following the adventures of a lewd, malcontent young boy, Shin Chan, Crayon Shin Chan is an anime so engrained into Japanese culture that it’s proven almost especially challenging for American and Canadian licensing companies to translate the series word for word.
As a result, the show has been heavily altered over the years; so much so that many of the jokes and references have been completely rewritten by American studios – such as Funimation.
Crayon Shin Chan has been through numerous iterations, making the show perfectly suited to Western audiences. At this point, the show is essentially a collaborative effort between Japanese animation studios and American writers and voice-actors, re-writing the show so as to make it more appropriate for non-Japanese audiences.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure
Based on the manga by Hirohiko Araki, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure follows the lineage of the Joestar family – a family of supremely powerful individuals, tasked with overcoming various sinister, superhuman opponents, each seemingly unrelated to the last.
The show begins as a story about vampires and Hamon – a mystical energy force that grants its users incredible powers over natural forces, such as air and water. In the third arc of the show, Hamon is replaced by Stands – strange creatures that form interdependent relationships with their human symbionts, granting them astonishing powers in the process.
The various arcs vary tremendously – each one introducing new stakes and a new, inimitable villain. Consequently, fans can jump in pretty much wherever they want. If you’re not enjoying the first arc, skip to the second or third; equally, if you’re not a fan of one protagonist, wait around and see what you make of the next one.
Airing in Japan in 1999, One Piece follows the crew of the Going Merry – a gang of Pirates led by their captain, Monkey D. Luffy. After the death of the King of Pirates, Monkey and his crew set out on the East Blue Sea in search of the legendary One Piece – a treasure of unknown proportions that’s available to whoever finds it first.
Though there are a lot of episodes – seven-hundred and twenty-five to be precise – One Piece is an extremely accessible show. The animations are great, there’s plenty of humour and energy, and the premise is simple and easy to understand. I’m not sure I can recommend watching the entire series from start to finish, but it’s the kind of thing that anyone can jump in wherever and whenever the mood takes them. No prolonged investment required.
Attack on Titan
Based on the manga by Hajime Isayama, Attack on Titan tells the story of Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman – two adopted siblings who have spent their entire lives in the Shiganshina district, safeguarded from the murderous and unstoppable Titans.
Essentially cattle, humankind prospers within the confines of the city, content in their small quadrant of the world; that is, until the Armoured Titan turns up from seemingly nowhere and tears down the one barricade between humanity and their most ardent foes.
While Attack on Titan does eventually become more complicated, its initial simplicity makes it hugely accessible to newcomers. The first dozen episodes are dedicated to one long, extended battle sequence that gives viewers time to adjust to the unfamiliar setting: it introduces the characters – dispatches quite a few them as well – and establishes the stakes involved.
Attack on Titan takes its time; rather than just jump right into the heavy stuff – the deep, thematic narrative stuff – the show takes a step back and gives you adequate breathing room. For this reason, it’s perfect for beginners.
Airing in Japan in 1998, Cowboy Bebop follows a crew of legalised bounty-hunters (known as Cowboys) as they track down high-profile targets for financial reward. Despite their success, the crew often find themselves in need of cash, taking whatever job comes their way in order to keep their ship (the Bebop) flying high.
The protagonist is Spike Spiegel – a nonchalant hero and former assassin for the Red Dragon Syndicate (the principle antagonists in the show). It is this very conflict that forms the basis for the plot; the rivalry between Spike and Vicious (an enforcer for the Syndicate), two former friends turned bitter adversaries.
Anime can a tough pill for Western viewers to swallow – mainly due to the particularities of Japanese storytelling – but, Cowboy Bebop has been praised over the years for bridging this gap between Western and Eastern audiences, creating a show that merges genres and cultural sensibilities in order to create a wonderful hybrid of American and Japanese storytelling.
The show’s also only twenty-six episodes long – so, it’s a perfect starting point for anyone who doesn’t want to invest too much time into any one thing.