Have you ever wanted to start watching anime, but were so overwhelmed by the choices, you didn’t know where to start? Or maybe the clips you saw intrigued you, but also scared you a bit with how strange they were. If either of those things are true, I’m here to help you out!
I have watched anime almost all of my life. My first-ever anime was Pokémon—I started watching it when I was six years old, when it first premiered here in the U.S. in 1998. Because I was so young when I started watching it, I have always loved the stories it tells and the beautiful animation style. Anime is sometimes a bit weird (some more than others), but I have grown accustomed to it and more often than not embrace the strangeness.
Anime or Cartoons?
Before we get into which anime are good start with and why, there is a very common misconception about anime we should clear up first. A lot of people think that anime is a cartoon, and therefore for children. Anime is the Japanese word for ‘animation,’ and outside Japan refers specifically to animation originating from Japan. The word ‘cartoon,’ on the other hand, is generally associated with Western culture. Both are animated but have two distinct styles and different content. Just as there are cartoons for kids and adults, there are also anime for kids and adults.
Where Do I Go to Watch Anime?
There are tons of ways to watch anime legally in 2019. You can find a plethora of anime on almost any streaming service. Anime has become easier to watch now thanks to the internet, as well as its rise of popularity into mainstream culture. There are now anime-only streaming services, with prices that vary, but usually are around the price of other streaming services. Many also offer free, ad-supported streaming if you don’t want to add another subscription to your list. Of course Blu-ray and DVD are an option if you want to own a series on physical media. For a free option, your local library carries many titles that you can watch to your heart’s content.
Subbed vs. Dubbed: Which One is Best?
You may be wondering what all the talk around subbed vs. dubbed is all about. Subbed—short for ‘subtitled’—refers to anime that uses the original Japanese audio and an English (or other language) translation along the bottom of the screen. Dubbed anime, on the other hand, uses English-speaking (or other language) voice actors to adapt the Japanese audio into a different language.
Which of these is best is going to come down to personal preference. If you would like to hear the original Japanese audio so you can hear how it was originally acted out, and you don’t mind reading, then subbed might be for you. Watch subbed anime enough, and you may start to pick up on common Japanese phrases and words. However, if you prefer not to read and just want to listen in English, then look for dubbed versions. Some people watch both, and that’s fine, too.Anime is the Japanese word for ‘animation,’ and outside Japan refers specifically to animation originating from Japan.
There is considerable debate among anime fans in the West about how we should consume anime. When dubbed anime first arrived in the U.S. in the late 80s to early 90s, the quality was typically very poor, with silly dialogue and ridiculous voice acting. The few dubbing studios that existed at the time would rarely hire trained actors, and often the mouth movements would be off, sometimes almost completely.
Today, voice acting is taken very seriously. These days the English voice actors are just as good—if not better—than their Japanese counterparts.
Some fans proclaim that if you don’t watch subbed, you’re not a true anime fan. Don’t listen to those people, and watch anime however you want to watch it.
So, What Should I Watch?
Here are eleven anime that I think are good jumping off points for beginners to watch.
1. Cowboy Bebop
If you like sci-fi and space westerns in the vein of Firefly or Guardians of the Galaxy, then this anime is for you. It’s a classic, and usually one of the first titles people recommend for newcomers to anime. Plus, it has an adorable corgi as part of the crew, and who doesn’t love corgis?
2. Fruits Basket (2019 reboot)
One of my personal all-time favorites, Fruits Basket is a romantic comedy that at first glance may seem clichéd and lacking depth. However, once you get into it, you find that at the core is actually a touching story of love, family, and loss. The original premiered back in 2001, but I recommend the 2019 reboot for the updated animation and story more true to the manga (the Japanese graphic novels that anime are often based on or inspired by).
3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the story of two brothers whose attempt to bring back their dead mother with alchemy goes terribly wrong. This anime is the perfect blend of humor, action, and a deep, emotional story that many put on their masterpiece lists. I recommend Brotherhood over the original Fullmetal Alchemist for a complete telling of the story from the manga.
4. Dragon Ball Z
If you love over-the-top action movies such as John Wick and The Fast and the Furious films, then Dragon Ball Z will be right for you. You may have heard of this anime before, as it is one of the most popular and successful anime of all time, crossing over to mainstream media for years now. For the best place to start, check out the Dragon Ball Wiki for all of the details on the story.
5. Spirited Away
For a family-friendly choice, Spirited Away is a wonderful film. Disney licenses and dubs all of the Studio Ghibli films (one of the most popular anime studios in Japan) and employs A-List actors to provide the English voices for the characters. A beautifully animated film about a young girl’s strength, kindness, and love for her parents, it won the Academy Award in 2002 for Best Animated Feature, a rare feat for an anime movie.
6. Death Note
If you had the power to kill the most evil people in the world, would you? Death Note explores this question in this dark thriller about Light Yagami, a teenage boy who one day finds a magical notebook called the Death Note, which allows him to kill people just by writing their name in the book. It’s a wild ride of a series that leaves you breathless until its satisfying conclusion.
7. My Hero Academia
Need a superhero fix? My Hero Academia is a wildly popular series, with three completed seasons and a movie, and a fourth season and second movie coming this fall. It tells the story through the eyes of Izuku Midoriya, who is a normal teen boy in a world where 80% of people are born with superpowers they call ‘quirks.’ He is among the 20% who do not have quirks. It establishes a surprisingly emotional story early on, complete with the usual exciting action and costumed characters we are familiar with in superhero stories.
8. Sailor Moon Crystal
Sailor Moon Crystal is a reboot of Sailor Moon, a popular 90s series about ‘magical girls’ who fight “evil by moonlight” and win “love by daylight” (according to the rewritten English version of the original Japanese theme song (my Sailor Moon-obsessed editor made me add this. You’re the best, April-Lyn!)). This is another one that you may have heard of with it making its way into the mainstream media. If you want a romantic story with beautiful girls fighting evil gracefully, you’re bound to love this series.
9. Attack on Titan
If you like post-apocalyptic stories and hyper-violence doesn’t bother you, Attack on Titan is a modern classic. The series follows Eren Jaeger as he joins the military to stop Titans, horrifying monsters that feast on humanity. It’s a captivating tale of survival with heavy emotional moments and stunning visuals that at times will make your jaw drop.
Psycho-Pass is a cool cyberpunk cop show that is one of the best of its genre. It deals with the psychology of why people become criminals. The detectives use special high-tech guns called Dominators to determine whether or not a criminal needs to be killed immediately, or stunned and thrown in prison.
11. The Devil Is A Part-Timer!
A comedy in the truest sense, The Devil Is A Part-Timer! is about the devil and his right-hand commander coming to Earth and working at a fast food restaurant as part of his plan to blend in. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and I guarantee you’ll be laughing until the end of this 13-episode series.
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Anime has some of the most unique stories and storytelling I have ever seen. It can teach you about another culture, what they value, and their unique struggles. The animation is also some of the most beautiful in all of media, which is what draws me into a series initially. I love anime, and I’m glad more people are starting to get on board with these incredible stories.