As an avid anime fan, I relish talking with people about the different shows I’ve watched. Whenever other people who are not as involved with anime join the conversation, rather than not being invested in the subject matter, they actually express either polite or genuine interest in the content being discussed. What I have always found a challenge is narrowing down an easily digestible selection of anime recommendations for newcomers to soak in and get a grasp of the medium. To help, I created a list, in no particular order, with each entry being a great choice for dipping your toes into the world of anime. I would advise you all to buckle up as we dive into the depths of casual weebdom!
You fall into one of three camps when it comes to Sword Art Online. You are either a massive fan, hate it with all your heart and soul, or passively enjoy it while acknowledging the subpar quality of the writing. I am a resident of that last one, while very rarely visiting the first.
Sword Art Online is not one of the best anime shows out there. It’s not that great a show, period. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s a very simple series to get into, with characters that are distinct from one another but aren’t overly developed for the most part. SAO tends to draw a lot of heat for how popular it is in contrast with the quality of the story, but there are far worse anime shows you could be watching. The animation is crisp, the plot is straightforward, and the characters are likable enough, and that’s good enough for me.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Dragon Ball had to pop up somewhere on this list. While it may seem intimidating to get into at first, this franchise has long been one of the most popular anime/manga properties ever created. No other franchise can claim to have fight sequences this long or quite the obsession with power levels as Dragon Ball does. You don’t even have to start with one of the series; you can even check out one of the many direct-to-VOD anime films that are a part of the continuity. Wherever you end up finding yourself in the story’s timeline, just know that there is likely to be a hefty amount of action.
You have a spiky-haired protagonist, an insane number of curvy women, magic, and a never-ending stream of humor that never clashes with the pacing. Yep, this is a prime example of a shonen anime, and it rocks. Fairy Tail tells the story of a group of young wizards who complete contracts in the mystical land of Fiore. Hijinks regularly ensue, and there’s a decent chunk of fan service for both the men and the ladies. But the story does gradually unfold, and the final major storyline of the anime is set to debut next year. So, if you plan on hopping aboard the Fairy Tail train, now is a better time than ever before.
Tell me, what would you do if you were suddenly dumped back in time to feudal Japan, encountered a bitter half-demon, and shattered a magical jewel into dozens of pieces and thus possibly doom the entire human race? That should give you a good overview of this series’ tone.
“Adventure” is this show’s middle name, and it’s easy to get into because it has a simple premise while further elaborating on the characters’ histories and personalities over the course of the story. Maintaining that classic struggle of good vs. evil and then switching focus to the darker realities of the Sengoku period that most of the series takes place in adds layers to the narrative while never feeling overbearing.
In assembling this list, I began to realize that the shows I was writing down were all shonen (material aimed at young boys and adolescents). I had to throw in at least one anime that broke up the monotony, and I can’t think of a better one than Ouran High School Host Club. The story is that a young girl, in order to pay off a debt, has to join a host club and pretend to be a boy alongside six male students. From there, hilarity ensues, and gender archetypes begin to be deconstructed and satirized. One of the things that make Host Club so enjoyable is the quality of the writing. There is a keen interplay between creating genuine drama and maintaining consistent comedy. Haruhi, as a protagonist, is very gentle, and seeing her grow through her interactions with this group of boys –not just because they at first believe she is male, but because they get to know her – is endearing. I don’t think it gets recommended nearly enough, and it’s only 26 episodes long. Get on it.
Ninjas? Check. Hyper-male protagonist? Check. That cool supporting character that balances out the other supporting character people don’t like nearly as much? Check. Overdramatic story that still manages to make the viewer emotional? Check, check, and check. Naruto, in many ways, is the baseline for anime. You have a typical underdog that overcomes his challenges, either through luck or hard work, imparting a good message to younger audience members. On top of that, the series is long – and still ongoing with the third series, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations. The first two series alone total 720 episodes combined. Yeah.
Despite that, it is one of the definitive anime shows out there, and you should at least try it out to see what all the fuss is about, at the very least.
The most recent entry on our list is a series that first premiered only a few weeks ago. Set in the modern day, this series shows us a hidden world full of magic, wonder, and terror hidden from most humans. The story follows the bizarre but endearing relationship between a young woman and her master/future husband as she trains to be a mage.
The blend of the real and magical world, the sheer breadth of imagination on display here, and the softly-implemented character drama make The Ancient Magus’ Bride a treat to watch so far. I wanted to include one show that was new and would thus be easy to catch up with. All you need is a Crunchyroll subscription, and you can watch the latest episodes almost immediately after they air.
Heard the uproar behind that horrendous Netflix adaptation a while back? Yeah, that’s because it’s nowhere near as good as the anime adaptation. The story is that a young man named Light Yagami incidentally becomes the owner of a supernatural notebook that allows him to murder anybody whose name he writes in it. Light quickly becomes corrupted, coming to blows with the greatest detective in the world, going by the moniker of L, as the former tries to cleanse Earth of all criminals and instill his “perfect” global society, which he will rule over as its god.
Death Note is a very grim and, at times, outright dismal series tonally. What also separates Death Note from most other anime series is its dry sense of humor coming from the mental duels between Light and L, and that is when the show is at its best.
What do you get when you mix a vertically challenged young man with a brother whose soul is trapped inside a suit of armor? One of the best anime shows ever made.
The original Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation is still beloved by fans, but by contrast, this second adaptation – which closely adapts the storyline of the manga it’s based on instead of deviating from it – has garnered an even stronger reaction. Totalling 64 episodes, Brotherhood has zero filler and keeps the main plotline going at a brisk pace, changing very little about the original story. With better animation quality, great voice acting, and consistent payoff, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a show for any anime fan. It’s on Crunchyroll, for those interested.
I said I wasn’t numbering this list, and I’m sticking by that, but I put Cowboy Bebop at the very end for a reason. It’s only 26 episodes long and the most compact of the different series mentioned here. Stylish, fluidly animated, and with a motley crew of layered characters, Cowboy Bebop has been cited as a gateway drug into the greater realm of anime because of its shorter length, neo-noir setting, and storyline. Spike Spiegel, the show’s protagonist, is one of the most well-developed and three-dimensional protagonists in the medium’s history, with his past being the prime catalyst for the show’s plot. It would be simple to depict the cast as a pack of jerks and fire off a bunch of dumb jokes to try and create substance, but the actual plot is engaging, adventurous, and tragic.
It’s available on Hulu right now, with Crunchyroll only having the sub version available. Believe me; you will not be disappointed with it.
In closing out this article, I sincerely hope you were all able to find a good selection of anime recommendations to start with. And remember, this is just a list to get you started. I encourage you to dive into similar series and get a feel for what you like watching most. The amount of anime out there is almost scary to think about for a new viewer, but I guarantee there will be something for you.