Back when I was in middle school, my cousin Jen came over and showed me a video tape that blew my tiny mind apart. It was Sailor Moon, and it was unlike anything I had seen before. With its rich characterization, over-the-top action, and unique art style, what I saw on that grainy VHS tape utterly enthralled me and made me crave more. It was my first introduction to the weird, wild, wonderful world of anime, and it led me to discover countless other amazing series. But not everyone has an amazing cousin Jen to help guide their fledgling pop cultural preferences, and nowadays with so many shows to choose from, it can be a daunting task to dive into anime headfirst. Well, today on The Dan Cave, we’re here to help with a guide to some of the very best anime for beginners.
Death NoteImage: Viz Media
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it gets even worse if you’re a sociopathic high schooler with a god complex and a supernatural notebook that can kill anyone whose name is written inside of it. Such is the basic premise of Death Note, and it delivers a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse that will have you fiendishly binge-watching episode after episode. Throw in burning questions of justice and morality, creepy death gods, and genius detectives, and you have one of the most addictive anime ever made.
Image: FunimationDo you know someone who loves Firefly or Guardians of the Galaxy, or other really good stories about not-so-good people in space? If so, Cowboy Bebop is for them. At its core, Cowboy Bebop is the story of a group of bounty hunters gallivanting around the galaxy on their eponymous ship, the Bebop. With its charismatic cast of killer characters–including a hyperintelligent corgi named Ein–and a soundtrack full of jazzy earworms, Cowboy Bebop is more than just another space adventure. It’s a space adventure where everyone accidentally does Psilocybin mushrooms.
Little Witch AcademiaImage: Netflix
If Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them didn’t fill the Harry Potter-shaped hole in your heart, or if you’re like Rachel Heine and are addicted to all things witchy, then Little Witch Academia should be at the top of your to-do list. It’s a sweet, simple, spirited story of a young girl who, while attending an academy for witches, winds up in a deadly showdown with a dragon lurking in a dungeon most foul. The original video animation (OVA) runs only about 26 minutes, or approximately 13 Hot Pockets long… don’t lie to me. You were definitely going to eat 13 Hot Pockets in the near future, so you definitely have time to watch Little Witch Academia too. It’s called multitasking. Plus, there’s a Little Witch Academia TV series on the way in 2017, so what better way to prepare yourself than by brushing up on the original!
Hajime no Ippo
Everyone loves Rocky, right? The story of an unlikely hero busting his hump to become a badass boxer? Well, Hajime no Ippo will scratch that same itch, but with one hundred percent less Sylvester Stallone! It tells the story of a shy high schooler who goes from getting beaten up by bullies after school to becoming a world-class boxer. With ferocious fight scenes, a plucky and charismatic hero, and more heart than a Pixar movie, Hajime no Ippo will put a smile on your face faster than Connor McGregor can ruin a press conference. Yes, I know he’s an MMA fighter, but boxing is part of it, so let me have this.
Nothing in life is free. Any economics professor will tell you that (along with an extended monologue about opportunity cost). But perhaps the best illustration of this concept is Fullmetal Alchemist, the story of two brothers–Edward and Alphonse–who dabbled in the ancient art of alchemy in an attempt to resurrect their deceased mother. The experiment didn’t go as planned and it wound up costing Ed an arm and a leg… quite literally. Alphonse, on the other hand, lost his entire body and became some sort of weird spirit inhabiting a suit of enchanted armor. And that’s just the beginning. What follows is a journey across a land full of violence, political intrigue, and powerful magic. This is perfect for anyone who loved the epic scope of a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but wanted a lot more violence, personifications of the seven deadly sins, and secret Hitlers. And if there’s one thing we’ve always said Avatar was missing, it was secret Hitlers.
Note: While the original FMA anime is good, those who prefer the story to hew closer to the original manga should check out Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
What would you do if you could issue a command to anyone you saw and they would have to obey it? Would you use your powers for good or for evil? That’s the struggle at the center of Code Geass, in which an exiled Britannian prince named Lelouch lives in a futuristic version of occupied Japan. One day, Lelouch gains a powerful ability called the Geass. This enhancement allows him to issue a one-time command to anyone with whom he is making eye contact, and they are compelled to follow it, no matter what. He uses this power to lead a rebellion against the occupying imperial forces, and the series only gets more bombastic and explosive from there. It has giant mechs, political skullduggery, and more Pizza Hut product placement than you can shake a stick at. In other words, it’s better than a meaty Pizzone with an extra side of marinara sauce or whatever the hell that Italian cuisine-inspired, pizza-based Dr. Moreau reject was.
One Punch Man
In a world dominated by superhero movies, One Punch Man is the hero we deserve and the one we need right now. Saitama is a plain-looking guy who just so happens to be so incredibly strong that he can defeat any enemy in a single punch. Being that strong sounds like it would be great, but as we learn it can actually be pretty boring. It’s a deeply silly conceit, but it is expertly employed to skewer both the superhero genre and anime at large. But moreover, it is gorgeously animated and laugh out loud funny, which makes it well worth your time.
Everyone loves Disney movies, right? Well, Studio Ghibli is basically the Disney of Japan, so their films are the perfect entryway to anime for new fans. While many folks would suggest Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro as their go-to Ghibli film, I think the environmental parable of Princess Mononoke is a better choice. Violent without being gratuitous, wondrous without being childish, and packed to the brim with incredible mystical creatures, Hayao Miyazaki’s story of a cursed prince and a girl literally raised by wolves trying to protect the forest spirits from destruction by mankind is practically perfect. Plus, it has the Kodamas, which are without a doubt my favorite Ghibli characters of all time. Sorry, weird tanuki sctorums from Pom Poko; you’re a distant second.
Westworld may be done until 2018, but you can experience the visceral thrills of the Wild West with a heaping helping of sci-fi in Trigun. The series takes place on the planet Gunsmoke, a dangerous world full of deadly outlaws, superhuman assassins, and a donut-munching pacifist named Vash the Stampede with retrograde amnesia. Accompanied by a pair of overworked insurance agents and a cross-bearing outlaw priest, Vash struggles to uncover the mystery of his past while being hunted by a horde of merciless mercenaries with hilarious names. Case in point: one dude is named Midvalley the Hornfreak and uses a special saxophone to control sound waves to inflict incredible pain in his victims. Usually you have to go to see a high school jazz band concert for that level of sax-induced torture, but Trigun gives it up for free.
This ultraviolent medieval fantasy epic moves slower than molasses in a walk-in freezer at times, but it is so well done that you won’t notice or care. The series follows a soldier named Guts who hacks and slashes his way to become the leader of a mercenary group. It’s bloody, intense, and highly addictive, which makes it perfect for Game of Thrones fans who are getting itchy while they wait to see if Gendry will ever row his way back to shore.
Dragon Ball Z
This is, perhaps, the ultimate starter anime full of epic fight scenes, endless screaming, and badass characters. I’d tell you more about why exactly you need to watch it, but I need to finish charging up for three more episodes first.
And that, dear readers, is a handful of the awesome anime I would recommend to beginners looking to learn more. Which is your favorite? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Viz Media
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