So You Want to Watch Anime? Here are Ten Shows to Help You Get Started

in #anime3 years ago (edited)

People often ask me what they should watch if they want to get into anime or have watched only a couple of shows. Obviously, it pays to ask people what genres they like, as anime is just another sub-medium of television and TV, movie and book preferences are all valid. Some of the shows listed here are often noted to be aimed at people who are very knowledgeable about anime, but they are on the list because they stand on their own, and none of us are rookie media consumers.

This list is designed in part to present you with a variety of genres, so you could watch these shows in order to have a better place to start from when looking for additional material – based on what you like and don’t like. Future posts will cover movies, and some more shows based on genres and themes. All posts will be organized on this page.

Note, unless noted otherwise, episode length is roughly 23-24 minutes, with 3-4 minutes per episode spent on opening song (OP), ending song (ED) and next episode’s preview.

1) Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995):

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Introduction to Anime - Psychological mystery mecha classic.jpg

One of the most influential shows of the last two decades on anime, referenced in many other shows, from small cameos to scene composition, to whole motifs being taken wholecloth, aside from the fact Shinji, Asuka and Rei are the archetypes on which countless other main characters had been modeled. That of course isn’t sufficient, but it’s a well told story about a group of teenagers who must risk their lives, relationships and psyche in order to defend humanity.

The show begins slowly, but as you go, the emotional hits and the mysteries keep ramping up, until you find yourself with nary a time to take a breather in between. This show had been considered a reconstruction of the mecha genre when it aired, but the story stands well on its own, and with how influential it is I think holding off on watching this show can only be detrimental.

The “twist to mystery” which also often includes references to the supernatural and real-world mythologies at times had truly been ever-present in longer shows after NGE. Its effect on the anime world can’t be overstated.

Genres and Notes: Action, mecha, psychological, teenagers, mystery. Give it at least until episode 8, where it truly shows you what it has to offer. Watch the main series and then watch End of Evangelion, an alternate ending to the last two episodes. Skip Death and Rebirth as it is entirely superfluous. “Rebuild of Evangelion” (Evangelion 1.11, 2.22, etc.) are an alternate retelling via movies, and aren’t as highly recommended. I don’t suggest this show under the age of 15 – blood, violence, psychological wounds, etc. Often referred to as “NGE” or “Evangelion”.
Episode Count: 26 episodes. End of Evangelion is 90 minutes long.
Buy on Amazon: The complete series, limited availability. End of Evangelion had unfortunately been out of print for over a decade now.

2) Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007):

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann anime - Introduction to Anime - Over the top action.jpg

When this show came out it swept the anime watching crowds, with how over the top everything was, with how each time something occurred the protagonists would “power up” in order to overcome their enemies. The “Rule of cool” and the triumph of will are big draws to this show, which is quite unapologetic about how the campy and “Bro” nature it has, and elevates these elements to an art-form by cranking them up to 11. A fun romp at a neck-breaking pace, not for this show are multi-episode fights against the same enemies, but a show where the power levels and ridiculousness ramp up in an exponential manner, and it is fun – more than a little ridiculous, but not taking itself too seriously is a large part of the show’s charm and greater-than-life aspect of the characters.

This show is often referenced in other shows, and while it’s filled to the brim with references to older mecha shows, you don’t really need to watch them in order to follow this show. Note, first few episodes are a tad slower, but when it picks up it really picks up. Has some of the coolest characters and lines to ever appear in anime – if you ever read a “favourite lines” discussion about anime, lines from this show will be very prominent, and these lines and messages can fill you with energy, as you watch the show, and as you think back on them.

Genres and Notes: Action, endless action, mecha. There are a couple of weak episodes early, but then it doesn’t let up. Often referred to as “Gurren Lagann”.
Episode Count: 27 episodes.
Buy: The complete series, from Aniplex USA.

3) Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica / Magical Girl Madoka Magica (2011):

Madoka Magica - Introduction to Anime - Modern Classic.jpg

For a show from 2011, calling this influential or a classic seems like a rash decision, but this show is “important” in order to truly engage in discussions about anime in the west currently, and its importance can’t be overstated. This show is a “magical girl” show – where girls are given powers and don a shiny uniform as they battle the baddies – think Sailor Moon as the classic magical girl show. This show though is much darker and more mature by far than appearances would otherwise suggest. I can’t tell you too much in fear of spoiling this great great show. Good story, great characters, tough decisions. This is a show about hope and despair.

This show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, and many people say you need to watch other magical girl shows first – I say the story of this show stands tall on its own, and in the same manner as the two shows above it, you can watch it and appreciate it for what it is now, and come back to it later after watching more shows and appreciate it in a whole new light. This show can get more than a bit emotional towards its ending.

Genres and Notes: Magical Girl, psychological, deconstruction. Often referred to as “Madoka”.
Episode Count: 12 Episodes. There are 3 movies, the first two are a retelling of the show, while the third continues the show. The third is different, and isn't required, but can be a nice addition.
Buy: Quite expensive in the States, here’s episodes the complete series. Region 2 (Europe) has the complete collection on either BDs or DVDs. Rebellion (film 3).

4) Planetes (2003):

Planetes Anime - Introduction to anime - drama.jpg

This show is a drama, and is a very good introduction to anime by people who want “proper dramas” of the sort that western television is filled with but anime doesn’t have as many of. A story following the tale of a new space janitor and the crew she works with. Wait, space janitor? Sure sounds like a silly comedy – except it deals with the very real issue of space debris – items left in space after voyages into space or from old satellites, which can cause accidents.

We get to meet an assorted cast of characters, see how they interact with one another, see how they deal with weird situations and requests that come across their path, and get to see their “mundane” situations which seem very strange to our eyes through the eyes of the new recruit, who is the main protagonist. Also, a love story slowly unfolds.

Genres and Notes: Drama, romance, slice of life, space, science-fiction.
Episode Count: 26 episodes.
Buy on Amazon: Complete Series – Third party sellers only.

5) Genshiken (2004):

Genshiken Anime - Introduction to Anime - A proper comedy slice of life.jpg

This show is a “proper comedy”, with the comic moments arising from the characters’ personalities, the characters’ interactions, and the situations they find themselves in, without relying much on gag humor. The show covers a college club focused on geeky pursuits in Japan, including anime, building models, cosplaying (dressing up and acting as characters from anime, manga, etc.), manga-drawing, etc. The show is often funny, with the characters feeling like real and relatable people, for the most part, even though they are also quite ridiculous in their own way.

The characters are young adults, who are also facing the future-fright one often faces before joining the “adult world” and the work-force, and the show handles all these things with aplomb. The first two seasons and the OVA (extra episodes) that connect them all tell one story. Just recently a new season, called Genshiken Nidaime (or the 2nd generation) had been released, which covers the new members of the club and a couple of the remaining seniors from the old club. The show is still very well done, and also includes one of the best treatments of cross-dressing in anime to date. The voice actors for Genshiken Nidaime did change, however.

If you want to watch a comedy/drama that is closer to a SitCom, then this is the show for you. Many jokes make references to insider anime knowledge, but just like Seinfeld or other SitComs from the mid-90s, while you might miss these references, the show is more than strong enough to enjoy without catching all of these notes.

Genres and Notes: Comedy, geeks (otaku), slice of life, college, real life, drama(?). Very geeky, to be honest, and walks a fine line between joking with and about the characters. You can watch Genshiken season 1 on its own, Genshiken Season 1, the OVA and season 2, and/or just watch Genshiken Nidaime. I strongly suggest watching all of it.
Episode Count: Two seasons of 12 episodes each, connected by a 3 episode OVA in between. Genshiken Nidaime is 13 episodes.
Buy on Amazon: First season + OVA, Second Season. The newer Genshiken Nidaime ("Second Generation") is more readily available.

6) Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006):

Introduction to Anime - Code Geass - action and intrigue.jpg

The show begins with a boy-genius who decides to take over the world, basically. Early episodes have quite a few army-sized fights, but later we see an organization and media being constructed in order to wage war, and a psychological battle between our protagonist and his adversaries as they try to best one another. The “mecha” in this show are colour, and could’ve honestly been other weaponry, not making much difference to the show. The action never really stops, though after a while it’s less oriented on fights and is more political, psychological, and “intrigue” based.

Many people say the second season is considerably weaker, but I find it more emotional and an even better exploration of the main question of the show – how much are you willing to give up, to sacrifice, in order to achieve your goals? Fukuyama Jun, the main character’s voice actor, delivers us a master-class performance in his portrayal of Lelouch, acting over the top in a manner fitting the role Lelouch himself portrays within the show’s universe.

Genres and Notes: Action, mecha, intrigue, psychological, thriller, villain-as-hero. Note, there are more than a few moments of “fan-service” during the show, where girls are shown in suggestive poses, this is quite normal for anime. Also, there are a couple silly “high school” episodes, which pause the action at times. The art style is the distinct style of the manga-group CLAMP. Usually referred to simply as “Code Geass”.
Episode Count: Two seasons, 25 episodes each.
Buy on Amazon: First season, second season.

7) Steins;Gate (2011):

Steins;Gate Anime - Introduction to Anime - Time Travel Sci-fi thriller.jpg

A time-travel show, a mystery show. I also think of it as an “action” show but not for sequences of chases and fights, but for being a thriller. The show begins as a simple science-fiction story, about a group which realizes they have a time-travel machine, and the alterations they make to the time-stream, along with the way their relationships develop, but slowly they uncover and time-spanning conspiracy that threatens not just the world and its future, but targets them specifically.

The second half deals with a race against time, within the time-streams, and the emotional toll of endlessly repeating a horrible event on a man’s psyche. What had been done must be undone – the second half is quite a deal heavier in mood than the light-hearted feel of the first half. Also, there’s a romantic sub-plot here which showcases one of the more enjoyable to watch couples on screen.

Genres and Notes: Thriller, suspense, science fiction, mystery, time-travel. I suggest this show for those who love a good suspense-thriller sci-fi story, of the sort you most usually get in films, these days.
Episode Count: 24 episodes. A movie was added afterwards, very much not a required watching.
Buy on Amazon: Complete series, movie.

8) Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009):

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood - Introduction to Anime - Action, magic.jpg

This is a coming of-age story of two brothers, who after their mother had died had tried to return her from the dead, but the laws of alchemy (the setting’s magic) require equal-trades (and in general has internally consistent rules), so one of them had to trade an arm and a leg, and the other traded his body and now animates a walking suit of armour. The brothers are state alchemists, and we follow their journey for the Philosopher’s Stone, which will hopefully allow them to transmute their bodies back without having to trade more body-parts for the ones they are missing.

The show has action, and the siblings uncover a mystery as they travel the length of the land. The cast of the show is large, and aside from actions the humor is solid at times as well. You might note how many episodes there are, but this show is enjoyable throughout, and is actually a good example of a longer action show without running on for hundreds of shows as the more familiar “big shounen” shows do (Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, etc.). There’s a reason this is one of the most popular “gateway” shows in recent years.

Genres and Notes: Action, fantasy, coming of age. Not to be confused with simply “Fullmetal Alchemist” – the show is based on a manga, where the original show aired before the manga’s publication was done, and as such had to create their own story and ending from a certain point.
Episode Count: 64 episodes.
Buy on Amazon: Complete series.

9) Baka to Test (2010):

Baka and Test Anime - Introduction to Anime - Comedy and Anime-ism.jpg

Comedy and humor are pretty personal things, but I think this show is a good nod to humor in this series of posts (aside from the SitCom-ish Genshiken and the moments of levity spread throughout many of the other shows) – this show covers a school-setting where the students’ grades power up small fighting avatars, and the different classes fight, vying for better facilities. The show follows the lowest-ranked class, and their efforts to better their situation, and how they spend their time instead of studying – they aren’t ranked last for nothing.

This show has a lot of “anime conventions” and “cliched archetypes” – a pervert, a violent tomboy, a mild mannered bodacious girl, nosebleeds to signify someone is lecherous or aroused, and so on and so forth. I know this might sound a tad off-putting, but this show has undeniable charm that enables all these things to coalesce to an enjoyable whole – and that one can easily laugh throughout the entirety of the show certainly doesn’t hurt. Comedy is deeply personal, but humor is always appreciated.

Genres and Notes: Comedy, gag-humor, fan-service, anime-humor, high-school. The title translates to “Baka and Test”, where “Baka” means “Stupid” or “dumb”, with some nuances – often used by a girl to say someone’s dense for not realizing she likes him, in anime.
Episode Count: Two seasons, 13 episodes each.
Buy on Amazon: First season, second season.

10) Shigofumi (2008):

Shigofumi - Introduction to Anime - Heartbreaking and beautiful.jpg

Shigofumi, or Letters from the Departed follows the story of Fumika, who delivers “shigofumi”, the last letter someone can send after dying. Most of the series doesn’t revolve around Fumika, but is vignettes exploring the lives of characters – those who die and those who will receive the letters, the death and its effects on people, and then how they react to the letter they receive. The last few episodes deal more with Fumika’s past, and the secrets surrounding her.

This show is a master-class in showing you how you can be made to care for characters in less than 20 minutes from when you first get to meet them. While there’s certainly an element of emotional manipulation going on here, it’s just so well done, and the stories are all so poignant while being extremely bleak, that you can’t help but fall in love with this show. It’s one of my favourite shows of all times, but is relatively unknown.

Genres and Notes: Emotional, vignettes, drama, afterlife. Note, the show contains stories of bullying, abuse, sexual abuse, murder, suicide and more. It’s definitely not a light show, so some discretion is advised.
Episode Count: 12 episodes. Make sure to watch the first two episodes together, they comprise one story.
Buy on Amazon: Complete series.


Note on shows mentioned and their order in this post: The first three are the “influential” shows, listed in chronological order, I do think you should make sure to watch all three before delving deeper. 4-5 are shows which are more similar to western shows, as drama or comedy, to ease the transition. 6-8 are all “fun” action shows, thriller or fight oriented. 9-10 are good shows which round up what I’d often recommend, with 10 being a personal favourite, a true gem, showing you again what anime can do, emotionally.
There'll be a FAQ in the comment section for some questions encountered before.

Note on obtaining the shows: I linked to Amazon as someone requested it. Do pay attention to regions, especially of Blu-Rays (BDs). When it comes to BDs, even Amazon.co.uk usually sells Region 1 (USA and Japan) discs and not Europe’s region 2.
Here are the main anime-centric torrent sites, though I will not link to specific torrents or groups.
Nyaa.si – the main western anime-related torrent aggregate site.
TokyoTosho.info – Has many of the same things as Nyaatorrent, but more manga and non-translated things appear. Also has issues remaining online.


All the images in this post were made for promotional purposes and/or fall under the jurisdiction of fair use.
This post has originally been posted on my blog here, and has been reformatted and updated for Steemit. You can verify I am the blog owner by scrolling to the bottom of the right sidebar.
If you'd like to read years' worth of my media-related posts, feel free to check my blog, Geekorner-Geekulture, and particularly the "Reviews" and "Editorials" categories.

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It amazes me when I talk to younger people who are really into anime and they have never heard of NGE. Such a great series

I do wonder though, is it better to never have heard of NGE, or what I see in too many online communities, where people regurgitate NGE-related memes, and think they don't need to watch it because it exists to such an extent in the public space, while not actually knowing what it's like, and spreading misinformation about it?

But yeah, I think watching NGE helps a lot with understanding and watching the anime series that followed it.

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I want to know your personal opinion on Samurai Champloo . Would you recommend it to people that want to get into anime ? I started watching few episodes and I still have to finish the show at some point..

Thanks for the post and nice recommendations = )

I think Samurai Champloo is a good show, but I wouldn't recommend it to people just entering anime, due to its episodic nature and 4th wall breaking. Note, you can recommend episodic content to newcomers, but it generally needs to be a bit different, such as Mushishi. You can also try the director's more well known show - Cowboy Bebop.

But generally I recommend plot-driven shows with continuity because they make you want to keep watching. It took me a while to finish Samurai Champloo myself.

Alright = ) Thanks for the great recommendations and keep up the good work as always .

Neon Genesis Evangelion Soo good. Is it crazy that I have both theme songs on my phone??

The OP is my favourite anime OP of all time. What other theme song? The ED? If so, which version, since each episode's is different :D

Beautiful word. That song gets me every time.
It's from the first movie

sigh No one ever mentioned Ranma 1/2 :'(
Just messing, nice list. ^_^

You know, I sometimes think of how weird watching Ranma 1/2 would be today, with stuff like uncensored boobs just showing up on screen, and not being sexualized, just sort of being there. It's really evident Ranma 1/2 is the product of a different era, so to speak.

Also, one wouldn't recommend such a long series for this context.

And yeah, I know I'm joking, and thanks! :)

lol, I wasn't being entirely serious. It is indeed a long series. With a loaded premise, at that! ^_^;

Even though it was the first anime I saw, and I was probably about 12 when I saw it -- and by then I was already into Tarantino and mid-century foreign films -- I wouldn't recommend it as a first to anime noobs either unless I knew their tastes tended towards more zany entertainment with a martial arts focus. Heck, it was introduced to me as "something weird I might like." Anyway, I think I just take any opportunity to mention it because I see it as a highly underrated classic. <3

As for uncensored boobs on screen, hahaha, you make it sound like it was common and gratuitous... when in actuality, each instance of that casual toplessness (always Ranma) served as a marker in character development. And in hindsight, it might have also been a statement about the ol' toplessness double standard. But it became gradually less common as he grew into his situation. Then he found out those boobs could get him discounts, lol

In the words of Sally from Third Rock From The Sun: "They seem to have more power when they collide!"

My point on the nudity was exactly how it wasn't gratuitous. If anime today has boobs, then it wants to draw attention to them. Anime from the early 90s and onwards had breasts and even nipples as just part of the scene, as just something "normal" that's there.

And yeah, I like Ranma, but I think most people prefer a more continuous and less episodic content. I for sure do, though Gintama's continued and massive success might argue otherwise, heh.

Oh I see, I misread. Yea by comparison, the lingering gratuitous boob and panty shots are certainly more ridiculous these days. I wonder where it all went wrong...

You dropped this upvote, senpai.
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Thanks, Kouhai-kun.

Blackmailing Jumbo - Miura smirk smug 21-7.JPG

(Image from Yotsubato.)

Personally I would swap Madoka with Princess Tutu, the original subversion of the magical girl genre.

While we could talk endlessly over whether Princess Tutu is a subversion of the magical girl genre, and if it is, whether it's the original one, that probably should be saved for another post.

I will say these things: 1. Princess Tutu is incredible. 2. As noted above in the FAQ, there are only 10 shows here, and everyone might think something else might be better instead of something else, and at the end of the day I had to make my subjective call. 3. I think that Madoka is better for the purpose of helping people branch out, especially due to its massive influence and high standings in the current anime scape. Also, it actually presents a better image of what Magical Girl shows are like, for those who might want to pursue those.

Okay I think you are right. On another note, would you consider Cutie Honey to be a subversion of the magical girl genre?

By the way I just noticed that in your post you called Madoka a 'deconstruction'. Do you make a distinction between a 'deconstruction' and a 'subversion'? Very often I have found myself using the two terms interchangeably.

Once again on another note, I don't get why you used Code Geass instead Death Note. I get it that it is upto your subjective judgement. Personally I felt that there was already enough mecha. Was it because you like mecha more? I am just curious.

I think the first few series that someone watches sets the bar for the metric by which they will judge anime that they watch later and I wonder that if by starting off by watching so much good anime that is on your list whether that will set them up for disappointment.

  1. Hadn't watched Cutie Honey so can't comment.

  2. Deconstructing something is to take it apart and look at what makes up this genre, say. Subverting means taking your expectations and reversing them, or surprising you by banking on what you count on and doing something with this. Some shows that subvert tropes are deconstructions, and some aren't. I think Madoka is more of a deconstruction, and a "proper" Magical Girl show than it's a subversion.

  3. I think Code Geass is the better show. It's as simple as that. As for mecha, I wrote a piece about this, but I actually don't think of TTGL and Code Geass as "mecha shows," but rather as "Shows with mecha in them." Neon Genesis Evangelion is an actual mecha show.

  4. Here's a counter point, if you don't start with watching great anime, why would you assume someone would keep watching them at all?

I disagree that TTGL isn't a mecha show. I'm quite familiar with the mecha genre, and they're all very similar, especially with how the story is set up. I don't think I need to bring up Getter Robo as you're probably already aware that the writer of TTGL personally chief edited the Getter Robo Saga manga by Ken Ishikawa before he passed away in 2006.

As for Cutie Honey, there's a new series announced (Just made a post about it). Honey was different from the earlier 60s magical girl series like Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Sally the Witch. That said, Cutie Honey is also similar to Osamu Tezuka's Princess Knight.

I recommend reading my piece on "Mecha anime versus anime with mecha" to see my distinction. What the person who worked on TTGL worked on besides itsn't really relevant to the issue at hand.

One way to think about it is whether the mecha could've been an airplane, or a tank, and if they could've been, then it's "A show with mecha," and also "How much of a character is the mecha in the show?"

I think that this can be said for a lot of "mecha" series actually.

For example in Getter Robo, Getter rays (similar to spiral energy) drives human evolution forward. It didn't have to be a robot, it could have been a tank or an airplane as you said, as long as it runs on Getter energy, the enemies of humanity would want to destroy it considering they see it as a threat to the universe.

But many see Getter as a mecha series, not as a series with mecha. What about mecha series like Votoms, Vifam or even Giant Robo (OVA)? I'm a fan of mecha, but it was never primarily because of the mecha itself. Of course a cool looking giant robot with an interesting backstory helps, but it's rarely ever enough.

I call this "the primacy of colour," where people like "Sci-fi series", even if they're actually "Fantasy in space."

Sometimes they share certain themes, which then make them "mecha show" in another way.

Regardless, such semantic discussion isn't actually very fruitful :) And I recommended the shows I did regardless of them being mecha shows, or shows with mecha, but based on their other salient characteristics of genres (actual genres, such as "Drama, thriller, mystery, etc."), plots, and quality.

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"Look at me ma! I'm on top of the world!" :P

I've been watching anime for several years but I've never heard of Genshiken or Shigofumi before. I've heard of Baka to Test but never anything discussed about it. That strikes me as a red flag because if they're rarely talked about they might not be good entry level shows.

Please refer to the FAQ. There are dozens of "Gateway shows", most of which fall under a couple of categories. So I had to pick. Both Steins;Gate and Code Geass fill the same slot as Death Note, and I think they are the superior shows.

As to the other series, there's a very big slew to the new in the anime community, so older shows don't show up. If I only told people of shows everyone told them of, what would be the point?

I don't understand why you would suggest what are likely flavour of the season from several years ago as opposed to a show from a while ago that does specific things that could help to broaden horizons. I'm no fan of Ergo Proxy, but that sort of show would be a better thing to recommend than a generic comedy.

I think presenting a quintessential anime comedy is exactly the sort of thing to broaden one's anime horizons, by letting the viewer find out whether they care for such shows or not.

BTW, I'd say having never heard of Genshiken before is quite a hole.

For a comedy show I would choose something focused on the comedy, like Nichijou or The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. My view is that to broaden someone's horizons you should point them towards specific shows of different genres and styles. "A bit of everything" shows don't sit well with me when recommending because while they usually are alright in several ways, they rarely excel in any of them.

Gurren Lagan is best title ever)

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Good article, thanks!
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