Getting into anime can be rather confusing. First of all, there are heaps of it, with more coming out each season and there are four seasons in a single year; second of all, there are so many different genres and subgenres, some of which are listed in Japanese and don't even exist in any other medium; and last but not least, if we're being honest, some of it just looks plain weird that some casual viewers or newcomers might get turned away. But, all of these things can actually be advantageous. Yes, there's a lot of anime out there and that number keeps growing, but that just increases your chances of finding something that's tailor-made for you. Sure, all the genres and subgenres can make your head spin, especially when a single anime lists like six or seven of them, but once you research what all those words mean, they can help you decide what is and isn't for you. Sometimes, there's much more than meets the eye to the weird-looking anime, although that's certainly not always the case. Some of it is just bizarre, and if that simply isn't your cup of tea, there's still plenty of anime out there.
Whether you want to get into anime yourself, or you have a friend you'd like to convince to give anime a chance, we've compiled a list of 20 anime recommendations for newcomers. From action-packed battle shows, to philosophical thrillers and wholesome dramas, we've got you covered. Hopefully, you will find something to your liking.
20 SAILOR MOON
Magical girl is a subgenre of fantasy manga and anime that features girls with magical powers, pretty self-explanatory. One of the most popular magical anime is Sailor Moon. If not for Sailor Moon, the magical girl subgenre would probably not be as popular as it is today.
Sailor Moon follows Usagi, a clumsy underachiever who is suddenly given the ability to transform into her magical alter-ego Sailor Moon and is tasked with protecting the world from the Dark Kingdom. Sure, it’s repetitive, silly, and dated, but it’s also a classic. And, most importantly, it's established itself as a great gateway anime. The show was immensely popular in the 1990s (both in Japan and in the West) and has helped introduce tons of new fans to the medium.
No good deed goes unpunished, and no one knows this better than Dr. Kenzo Tenma. Faced with a moral dilemma (whether to save the life of a young boy or the town’s mayor), Tenma saves the child and the mayor passes. Soon after, the doctors who opposed Tenma are eliminated, the boy disappears, and Tenma is suspected by the police, but with no evidence against him, no arrest is made.
Years later, Tenma is the Chief of Surgery and discovers that the boy he saved turned into a real monster. Vowed to fix his mistake, Tenma sets out to find the monster and uncovers something truly vile. This thematically-rich story tackles age-old moral issues within a brilliant narrative that will turn anyone into an anime fan.
18 HELLSING: ULTIMATE
Hellsing: Ultimate is a ten-episode OVA that centers around the government-sponsored organization called Hellsing, tasked with keeping the existence of vampires hidden from the general public. Led by Integra Hellsing, the organization must stop a long-thought perished group from waging a world war.
Luckily, the organization has the very first, and strongest, vampire on their side. Alucard and Integra are joined by the newly-turned vampire (and former police officer) Seras Victoria in an epic battle for mankind’s survival. With only ten episodes, Hellsing: Ultimate is perfect for those who prefer to binge their shows, and it offers loads of action, gore galore, and an interesting plot. Just the right thing to get you started.
Though Trigun failed to find success in Japan, it was a major hit in North America. The show developed a cult following and stands as one of the best and must-watch anime of all time. This sci-fi space Western follows Vash the Stampede, an amnesiac with a sixty-billion, double-dollar bounty on his head as he tries to save lives using non-lethal force, which often causes him serious injuries.
Trigun is a whirlwind of action and comedy that will appeal to newcomers as well as those already well versed in the world of anime. The animation may be a bit dated, given that the show came out in 1998, but the story, the characters, and the soundtrack more than make up for any shortcomings in the animation department.
Baccano! follows a series of seemingly unrelated characters and events that all come together by the end of this thirteen-episode masterpiece. The story isn’t only told from various perspectives, but it is also told out of order, which makes piecing the story together incredibly gratifying and the viewing experience all the more fun. If you’re a Christopher Nolan fan, Baccano!’s non-linear storytelling should be right up your alley.
Set in the 1930s, the story follows all kinds of characters, including alchemists, thieves, thugs, and the Mafia. Filled with loads of humor and packed to the brim with action, Baccano! will keep you entertained from start to finish. Oh, and we kid you not, the train that the characters travel in is called The Flying Pussyfoot. Have we piqued your curiosity?
15 THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a delightful slice of life story with just a dash of sci-fi to spice it up. The premise of the film is simple: Makoto is an average high school girl who’s having yet another mundane day when she suddenly discovers she’s somehow developed the ability to leap through time.
If this were a superhero story, Makoto would use her powers to save the world, but instead, she uses time leaps to sing karaoke longer and fix mistakes in class and her love life. Well, until reality kicks in with a surprising twist. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a heartfelt story brimming with youthful energy and positivity, which makes it an excellent introduction to the medium.
14 A SILENT VOICE
The 2016 anime movie A Silent Voice found success both in Japan and worldwide. The film follows Shoya, a young boy who, together with his group of friends, antagonizes a deaf student named Shoko. One day, the teasing goes too far and Shoko is forced to leave the school.
Shoya ends up shouldering all the blame and when he encounters Shoko again, he finally gets the opportunity to make up for his mistakes. A Silent Voice takes a hard-hitting look at this behavior without pulling any punches. It can be hard to watch and it will probably leave you in tears, but it’s well worth it. The story and the characters are relatable and relevant no matter where you're from or whether or not you’ve ever watched anime before.
This recommendation is ideal for fans of Philip K. Dick’s work and Blade Runner. In the dystopian 22nd century Japan, the government is using a system that actively measures the minds and mentalities of citizens and asses their Psycho-Pass. When a citizen’s Crime Coefficient (index) exceeds the accepted threshold, they are pursued, apprehended, and, if need be, ended. The story follows a team of Investigators and Enforcers as they clash with a man whose Psycho-Pass surprisingly cannot be measured.
The anime explores deep societal and psychological themes, like the price of living in a society free of stress and crime, the value and existence of free will, etc. With a thought-provoking narrative, fascinating characters and, stunning animation, Psycho-Pass is a thrilling anime from start to finish.
Time-travel stories are fairly common in anime. In winter 2016, A-1 Pictures produced a time-travel, mystery thriller anime titled Erased. The series follows Satoru Fujinuma, who has the ability to go back in time moments before a life-threatening event to prevent it. When his mother is eliminated by an unknown assailant, Satoru is sent all the way back to elementary school. His task is to prevent the capture of three elementary-school children that resulted in their demises.
While Erased may not satisfy hard-core mystery fans, fans of nail-biting thrillers should find it more than enjoyable. In its short twelve-episode run, this anime provides just the right amount of excitement, suspense, action, and heartfelt drama.
11 ONE-PUNCH MAN
One-Punch Man tells the story of Saitama, an extremely OP superhero who can defeat any opponent with just one punch, hence the name. The absence of a challenge in his fight for justice causes Saitama to grow bored and seek out a worthy opponent. As a resuklt, he joins the Hero Association in order to find a challenge, become a certified hero, and become famous.
Now, if this concept sounds hilarious, that’s because it is, and it only gets more bizarre as you delve deeper into the universe of One-Punch Man. Whacky comedy abounds in this fantastic parody of the superhero and shonen genre. If you like superheroes, but you’ve had enough of the classic tropes that plague the genre, One-Punch Man is the right anime for you.
10 GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX
Masamune Shirow’s manga Ghost in the Shell has had numerous adaptations over the years. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a TV anime adaptation consisting of two seasons and a movie, with the third season slated for 2020. Centered on the special-operations task-force Public Security Section 9, which investigates cybercrime and other cases, the series is set in the year 2030, where many people have become cyborgs.
Much like the manga and the critically acclaimed 1995 film by Mamoru Oshii, the series deals with sociological issues, consequences of technological advancement, individuality, and consciousness, but to a lesser degree. Precisely because SAC is more action-oriented and less laden with deep philosophical debates, thus, appealing to a wider audience, we’re recommending it over the movie.
9 COWBOY BEBOP
Some of you may remember seeing Cowboy Bebop on TV in the early 2000s. It may even have been your first anime. This neo-noir, space Western is set in the year 2071 and follows a crew of bounty hunters aboard a spaceship called the Bebop.
The episodic nature of the series allows it to cover a wide range of genres and themes. Although the focus is mostly on existential crisis, loneliness, and difficulties of escaping one’s past. The characters in Cowboy Bebop are engaging, mysterious, and likable misfits one can easily sympathize with. Known for being incredibly popular in the west and having one of the best English dubs out there, Cowboy Bebop is an excellent first anime. Fans of Firefly, especially, should find it to their liking.
8 SWORD ART ONLINE
The mass appeal of Sword Art Online is undeniable, even if there is a lot of debate about its qualities or lack thereof. But, we’re gonna put a pin in that particular can of worms and focus instead on what makes SAO a good show for those new to anime.
The story is set in the world of an MMORPG, in which the characters have become trapped and their demise in the game will result in the same fate in the real world. The popularity of shows with a sense of lethality and the very concept of such games made Sword Art Online THE anime to watch back in 2012. SAO has an interesting premise and does an excellent job at hooking the audience.
Following the self-proclaimed “mad scientist” Okabe Rintaro, and the members of his Future Gadget Laboratory, Steins;Gate is an emotional, time-travel story with interesting characters and an engaging intertwining storyline. Without spoiling too much, Okabe and his lab members accidentally discover a way to send text messages, or so-called D-mails, into the past.
As they go about conducting their experiments and changing the past, the organization known as SERN, who’s been researching time travel, tracks them down and puts their lives in great jeopardy. Okabe must find a way to use time travel to avoid being captured by SERN, save the lives of his friends, and ultimately save the world. Steins;Gate starts off a bit slow, but the pay-off is well worth the wait.
6 ATTACK ON TITAN
Attack on Titan probably needs no introduction. The 2013 anime, based on Hajime Isayama’s manga of the same name, is currently in its third season. Set in a world where humanity is forced to live surrounded by walls due to humanoid beings called Titans (who devour humans), the story follows three teenage friends as they join the Military in hopes of ridding the world of them.
This high-octane, post-apocalyptic adventure fantasy took the world by storm. The gorgeous animation, the beautiful soundtrack, the intriguing story, and the fascinating world that the series takes place in makes Attack on Titan a highly enjoyable watch. The anime has already created tons of new anime fans and it will probably continue to do so in the future.
5 MY HERO ACADEMIA
If there ever was the perfect anime for a comic book fan, My Hero Academia has to be it. The series revolves around Izuku Midoriya, a boy who lacks superpowers in a world where everyone else has an ability. One day, Deku encounters the world’s greatest hero, and his idol, All Might, who shares with him his quirk (known as superpowers).
Deku then starts his training and enrolls in the prestigious UA High, where he meets tons of heroes-in-training, faces real villains, and learns what it means to be a hero. This wholesome story is filled with exciting fight scenes, heartfelt character moments, and tons of comedy. It has a lot to offer to seasoned anime fans, as well as newcomers.
4 YOUR NAME.
Makoto Shinkai is known for making breathtakingly gorgeous movies and in 2016, he created his magnum opus (well, at least for the time being). While Shinkai’s previous works have been criticized for favoring aesthetic over narrative, Your Name was finally able to satisfy the critics and the audience on both perspectives.
The stunning film tells the story of Taki and Mitsuha, a boy from Tokyo and a girl from the countryside who unexpectedly start swapping bodies Freaky Friday style. As this supernatural love story unfolds, we find out that there’s much more to the story than meets the eye. Your Name is a gorgeous, heartfelt movie that abounds with charm and beauty. It speaks to the heart and can make anyone fall in love with anime.
3 FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD
Based on the critically acclaimed manga by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood focuses on alchemy as brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric search for the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies after a failed attempt at human transmutation.
Ed joins the military as a State Alchemist in order to fund his philosopher-stone-searching escapades and gains valuable allies in Colonel Roy Mustang, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, and other members of their team. The anime deals with mature themes, for which it received high praise, as well as its outstanding character development and narrative, and virtually perfect ending. Brotherhood is legitimately one of the best anime in existence and it’s a great one for beginners.
2 DEATH NOTE
If you want a surefire way to introduce your non-anime fan friend to anime, Death Note has got you covered. Standing as the most popular anime on MAL, Death Note is a mystery, supernatural thriller that guarantees to have anyone at the edge of their seat the whole thirty-seven episodes. The story follows a high school prodigy named Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook that allows him to end people just by writing down their names.
Tasked with finding Light, a.k.a Kira, is the brilliant detective known only as L. The two geniuses enter a cat and mouse game of major proportions and dire consequences. Death Note is a well-paced thriller with remarkable characters, thought-provoking themes, lots of unexpected twists, and fascinating battles of wit.
1 ANYTHING BY HAYAO MIYAZAKI (STUDIO GHIBLI)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and a massive boulder at that), you must know about Studio Ghibli. The great Hayao Miyazaki is credited for Ghibli’s most successful movies and you’ve probably even seen at least one of his masterpieces as they are immensely popular even in the west.
My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Grave of Fireflies, and, of course, Spirited Away, are just some Ghibli movies that anyone who wants to get into anime can, and should, watch. Miyazaki’s works often incorporate themes such as environmentalism, love, family, and more. The stories are heartwarming, and at times, heartrending, but they're always full of warmth and charm. Everyone should be able to find at least one Miyazaki film that resonates with them.