Growing in popularity on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, anime might seem interesting but overwhelming. If you don’t know where to start, check out this list of the seven best anime series for newcomers.
First: What is Anime?
Anime can seem pretty intimidating (or, sometimes, just plain silly) to people who have never watched it before. Many mistakenly assume all anime is the same; they might see a large, confusing body of disparate work and be discouraged from watching.
However, anime is a drawing style category—not its own genre. Within that animation style, audiences can find the same classifications you’d find in live-action or other animated films: romance, horror, action…anime has it all!
Traditionally, most anime comes from Japan. It often incorporates certain tropes, cultural aspects, and jokes native to Japan and the Japanese language.
Translators do their best to convey these tropes to an English-speaking audience, but certain things just can’t be adequately expressed. Therefore, while each entry on this list is available with English dubs, you might want to consider the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, instead.
The 7 Best Anime Series for Newcomers
Widely hailed as one of the best anime shows ever made, both the original Fullmetal Alchemist and the reboot, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, are exceptional works of worldbuilding, art, and narrative.
Set in a fantasy world mirroring Germany before the first World War, two brothers named Ed and Al are skilled alchemy users, a combination of science and magic. After an experiment gone horribly wrong, the teens are forced to travel the world to find a way to undo their mistakes.
The reboot and the original tell two versions of the same story, but easily stand alone. If you only pick one item off this list, it has to be this one.
For people who enjoy shows like Breaking Bad (and trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else intellectually), Death Note is the anime series for you.
The main character is a high-schooler who believes that he can purify Japan by eliminating criminals sentenced to death row.
In his opinion, the death penalty is fine, but the Japanese criminal justice system is too slow to do any good,—so he takes matters into his own hands. Well, sort of.
Light Yagami finds a book, named the eponymous Death Note, which will kill someone magically if you write their name inside. As you might imagine, things quickly spiral out of control as he matches wits with one of the world’s best detectives.
For younger kids (or fun-loving adults) who want to explore the world of anime, Pokemon is a great series to get into. Just about everyone has heard about these adorable Pocket Monsters. Who doesn’t instantly recognize Pikachu?
The premise of the series is that a young boy decides to become a Pokemon Master, someone who is world-renowned for their ability to catch, tame, and battle creatures called Pokemon.
Although the idea of forcing your pets to fight for sport is pretty barbaric, Pokemon is still a kids’ show. They don’t die or become severely injured from their fights. Instead, a Pokemon becomes too tired to go on and faints, returning to the Pokeball where they usually live.
The franchise is decades old and has spawned countless sub-series and movies, but it’s best to start at the beginning with Season 1: Indigo League.
This show is pretty different, even by anime standards. It follows the mystery of someone nicknamed Lil’ Slugger who has been going around the city seriously injuring people. Two detectives are assigned to the case, and it’s bizarre from the very beginning.
Although Japan’s work culture is quite different from the rest of the world, the social commentary about the effects of work-related stress on the human psyche is fascinating and relatable.
This twisty narrative is expertly balanced with terrifying elements. Paranoia Agent is sure to scare you in the moment…then leave you with the creeping aftertaste of existential horror.
Higurashi When They Cry
Don’t be fooled by its distinctly cute artwork. With enough gore, body horror, torture, and murder to make even the most hard-core horror fans squirm with delight, Higurashi is not for the faint of heart.
The series makes good use of the concept of multiple realities, so every arc within the series is a different possible reality.
The central premise is that certain events will always happen but, based on a couple of crucial decisions by the main characters, something terrible happens in the sleepy town of Hinamizawa.
Yuri!!! On ICE
The genre of sports anime has become surprisingly popular in the past few years, although it certainly isn’t new. There is an anime for every sport you could imagine: football, basketball, tennis, volleyball….
Yuri!!! On ICE, as the fun title suggests, follows professional ice skaters. This show had a high budget, and a professional ice skater choreographed and performed all of the spectacular routines (while the team recorded the sounds of his skates on the ice).
Yuri, the main character, is a disillusioned professional skater taking a break from his career when he meets his idol, the Russian skater Viktor. Viktor comes to Japan to coach Yuri, and sparks quickly fly between the two men.
Unlike Yuri On Ice, which takes itself a bit more seriously, this show is about a group of high-school outcasts who want to have a swimming club.
The episodes focus on their friendships as they grow and change over time, but this is a silly show at heart with beautiful artistry, from improbably muscular men to gorgeously animated water.
If you’re looking for some zany shenanigans, this show is a great way to dip your toes into anime.
Anime’s iconic style can be both alluring and confusing when you first dive in, but these anime series for newcomers are a great starting point.
Another tip: think of the live-action genres you love most already, then go from there. Rest assured, the same genre definitely exists in the anime world (and the anime series, most likely, is way better).
For more animated fun, check out this list of the South Park characters who deserve more airtime.