Where do I start? An anime guide for newbies

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Being bad ass in Attack on Titan

In 2012, I fell into the rabbit hole that is anime, and I have yet to come back out.

I don’t remember why I decided to spend a few hours one night watching English-dubbed Sailor Moon episodes from the ’90s. I do know that magical blonde high-schooler lured me into a story-telling art form that I have since fallen deeply in love with. The story arcs, the relationships, the character development, the magic, the grit, the color, the fan art… anime lights my story-loving/comic-nut fire.

So while I’m still fairly new to anime and am definitely not an expert, I’m trying to get more well-rounded in my knowledge. Feel free to follow my breadcrumb trail, Offbeat Homies, and lose yourself to this world forever.

What if I’m intimidated?

Anime has some hurdles to overcome, no doubt. The art takes some getting used to (“god, they must love slo-mo”), the dubs can be really bad, the fan service can be worse (“does every shoujo manga have to have a beach scene?”), and there’s enough of a culture barrier that Westerners can feel a bit lost sometimes (“why is he pissed she called him –chan instead of –kun?”). Combine that with the vastness of the anime canon itself, and finding a story you’re really into can seem like work.


But how do I know what I’d even like?

Like I said, Sailor Moon was my gateway drug. It’s a well-known example of shoujo, or stories for high-school girls. These shows tend to be light, funny, kind of innocent, and a little romantic. Other common genres are shounen (aimed at young boys with sports, action, and so on), hentai (porn), harem (romance with one boy and multiple girls — expect a lot of fan service), reverse harem (romance with one girl, multiple boys — not as common as harem), yaoi (boy on boy love, but more innocent than hentai), and the less common yuri (girl on girl love, again more innocent than hentai).

Okay, so how do I find it?

Google is your best friend, but I’m sure you already know this. After I finished Sailor Moon (or so I thought), I learned there were episodes that never got released in the U.S. (the Western world being a tad prickly about gender bending). Once I finished those, I wanted MOAR and found r/Animesuggest. Search for a title you’ve enjoyed, and I guarantee you that some angelic redditor has found at least five other shows they think are similar.

Tumblr is for fandoms. It’s a great resource for learning what else the fans of your shows watch, and oh my stars, the fan art can be beautiful.

If you just want to start watching something everyone’s heard of, consider the big three: Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece.


Now where do I watch it?

I started out watching English-dubbed episodes on YouTube and quickly realized there had to be a better way. There so is! Crunchyroll has some shows for free but I recommend the subscription service, and AnimeFreakTV lets you watch decent quality in exchange for sitting through a few long ads.

Most of the shows on these channels are subtitled, not dubbed, but that’s absolutely a good thing. You won’t learn Japanese by reading subtitles, but you’ll pick up a few words here and there (the first one will be baka, I guarantee it), and you’ll probably get an ear for pronunciation, food names, and honorifics.


So… what are your favorites?

So glad you asked! I still gravitate toward shoujo, but I love me some shounen too:

  • Attack on Titan. This dystopian shounen has got a Game of Thrones approach to character development — it’s all about the layers, man, and I still have mixed feelings about some of my favorites. Everyone has a likeable quality, but everyone seems to have a demon, too.
  • Durarara! What we have here are some great theme songs, beautiful, gritty, urban art, and multi-layered characters in a very bizarre criminal underworld.
  • Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. This show began life as an advertisement for Kyoto Animation in early 2013. Tumblr went nuts for the 30-second promo, ‘shipping the characters left and right before anything much was known about the show. A year later, we have a legitimate season, and it is chockfull of the sort of fan service you’d expect in a story about swimming. Helps that it’s funny as hell, too.
  • Fruits Basket. This late ’90s manga has a relatively stiff artistic feel, but the loveliness of finding your own family still makes me cry. Def watch the anime if you’re not into long reads.
  • Hozuki no Reitetsu. If Adventure Time were made in Japan, this is what it would be. Don’t try to make sense of this hell-as-a-government-office arc. Just enjoy the randomness. Start with episode two, if you’re unsure.
  • Noragami. Shounen, oddly enough. I probably would have guessed shoujo. A god of calamity accidentally half-kills a girl and tries to make it up to her. And fails a lot. Fucking beautiful artwork.

So what’d I miss, Homies? Where have you gone in the anime world, and what should I see next?

Comments on Where do I start? An anime guide for newbies

  1. Nice article! HOWEVER, to fully appreciate anime though… One must journey farther, MUCH FARTHER, than the titles noted here. Anime and manga’s legacies obviously go far and away back to the late 60s and of course onward. The earlier influences, of such as Tezuka, Takahashi, early works of Miyazaki, Takahata, Ishiguro, Matsumoto, Anno, and others. The sheer litany and wealth of amazing titles still awaits, with over even 250 titles in TV shows, OVAs, and movies even pre-dating 1996. Legendary classics from such studios as Tatsunoko, featuring Casshern, Gatchaman, Tekkaman Blade. Other scifi classics like Space Battleship Yamato, Space Pirate Caption Harlock, and Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, and the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Romantic comedies, further on like Ranma 1/2, Kimagure Orange Road, Maison Ikkoku, Marmalade Boy. Ones with fantasy like Fushigi Yuugi. and Vision of Escaflowne. Action/crime/adventure comedies like Cat’s Eye, City Hunter, Lupin the 3rd, and You’re Under Arrest!
    Not to mention other classics such Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories, Robot Carnival, Silent Mobius, Bubblegum Crisis, Riding Bean, Record of Lodoss War, and Vampire Princess Miyu , and others. To truly experience anime, take a trip down memory lane with these gems!

  2. Been watching anime and reading manga for YEARS.

    “Hellsing” is a great older one of you like vampires.

    “The Pet Girl of Sakurasou” is a cool coming of age series about high school students at an art school. Pretty artwork.

    “Super Sonico” is a super kawaii anime based on a video game character. It’s about a sweet high school girl who plays in a band, models, and has 6 cats.

    “Space Dandy” is a fun one that is done by the guy who did “Cowboy Bebop” (which is an awesome one too). The only way to describe Space Dandy would be to think Bruce Cambell in space. 😉


  3. Loving this! As a massive anime fan, I am excited to see this here!
    My best tips for getting into anime are:

    1) Make yourself a http://www.myanimelist.net account. Not only can you keep track of what you’ve seen, how far you’ve gotten, what you want to see, etc. you can also get recommendations based on what you’ve watched and loved. I love it!

    2) Aside from Cruchyroll, Hulu has a surprising amount of anime. Mostly subbed, but a fair amount of the best anime I have ever seen are not dubbed, so unless you have problems with reading subs, I highly suggest watching them! I very much encourage people to watch anime legally online, as it helps the industry. ^_^ You can also read manga and watch Korean Dramas on CR, so that is a plus, too!

    3) Be familiar with types of anime. This article just touched on the broader genres! Just like live action TV and movies, not all anime in a genre are created equally or similarly. “Slice of life” anime can be shoujo, shounen, or something all it’s own. Some anime may be both horror and comedy. Shounen can have crazy amounts of cute, romantic moments. “Ecchi” means the show is PG-13 at least, and contains adult content, but not full-on porn like Hentai. Sports, School, Slice of Life, Magical Girl, and Mecha anime are some of the “sub genres” that have a pretty vast amount of titles, and there are plenty more!

    4) http://www.anichart.net IS YOUR BEST FRIEND FOR FINDING NEW ANIME BEFORE THEY BECOME INSANELY POPULAR. Just like any kind of TV, new anime are scheduled to come out each season in Japan, and sites like Crunchyroll and Hulu, etc will allow you to watch each episode after it airs every week. Anichart will tell you months in advance what anime are coming out, what they are about, and how long (right to the minute) until the next episode airs. I generally pick a few promising-looking ones each season to follow, and it’s awesome. (My favorites so far this season are Ore Monogatari!!, Shokugeki no Soma, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, and The Heroic Legend of Arslan.)

    5) Anime conventions. This may sound daunting or just super weird, but finding a small con to go to just for an afternoon can be an extremely fun way to learn more about anime. I recommend going with someone who knows the anime/con world well and can act as your guide. I went to my first con as an extreme newbie but still had a blast because I was with someone who knew what was going on. I suggest campus cons, which a lot of universities host. Once you’ve decided you love cons, going each year to a larger one(s) is amazing! You can even find some crazy talented cosplayers to follow and drool over! 😉

    And lastly, my list of favorite anime!
    Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Shounen. (Oh my. This anime… it’s perfection, to me.)
    Clannad, but more Clannad:After Story. Shoujo (Be prepared for Kleenex… I cry over AS.)
    Working!! or Wagnaria!! Comedy/Slice of Life. (This show is a scream.)
    B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time. Comedy/Ecchi/Romance. (It’s on Netflix. It sounds weird when you read the synopsis, but I promise you it is one of the funniest, most confusingly cute anime I have ever seen. My husband loves it and recommends it to all the couples we know!)
    Berserk. Action/Supernatural/Horror. (The anime, NOT the movie. I have watched this about 7 times through. It’s intense.)
    Romeo X Juliet. Shoujo/Romance/Fantasy. (This one is beautiful. Art and story are gorgeous)
    Toradora! School/Romance/Comedy. (Hilarious and stinking adorable.)
    Attack on Titan, as mentioned in the article.
    Parasyte: The Maxim, Action/Horror/Sci-fi. (Crazy intense and I am loving it to bits.)
    Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul: A. Holy freaking heck. I love this show. It is amazing and somehow manages to make me crazy happy whilst breaking my heart into tiny pieces. Season Three (Tokyo Ghoul:re) is coming soon, and I’m so insanely happy!

    I could go on and on, but I will just leave a link to my personal MyAnimeList. ^_^ I am in the process of updating it, but it has my list of completed ones and how I have rated them.

    Happy watching! And totally friend me on MyAnimeList if you want (it’s anonymous/uses screen names). I’m always up for talking anime!

  4. Oh wow everyone has so many great suggestions. I kinda fell out of watching anime for a while (my husband isn’t really into it) and now I am getting back into it. Most of my suggestions are a bit older.

    My favorites:
    Chevalier D’Eon – A really wonderful anime semi based on the Chevalier D’Eon who was a spy in service of the Louis XV. There is a lot of intrigue, politics mixed with a supernatural element, and cross-dressing. I could only watch 1-2 episodes at a time because there was so much to process.

    Rosario + Vampire – A human accidentally enrolls in a school for monsters. Fun and a bit campy with a fair bit of fan service. This is also a manga.

    Case Closed (Originally called Detective Conan) – Mystery series about a teenage detective who is poisoned during a case and ends up in the body of a child. He spends his time searching for the criminals who poisoned him and solving other cases. One of my absolute favorite animes! This is also manga.

    Love Stage! – is a cute shonen ai or boy love anime. Izumi is the youngest son in a family of celebrities. His family is insistent on pushing him into the spotlight even though he’d rather just create his own manga. When he meets Ryoma, a famous actor/heartthrob, Izumi starts questioning his dreams and desires.

    Revolutionary Girl Utena- about the girl who wanted to be a prince. Utena spends her time at school dueling other students and protecting Anthy. Watch the series BEFORE the movie or the movie will make no sense.

    Beautiful but depressing:
    Haibane Renmei – The plot is pretty conceptual and the art is beautiful. I’m not sure how else to describe it without spoiling anything.

    Worth checking out:
    Twelve Kingdoms – based on Chinese mythology. The setting is richly developed and almost a character of its own. The major story arc follows Youko in her journey from our world to that of the Twelve Kingdoms. This is another one to watch in small chunks to process everything.

    And I am seconding these ones that others have already mentioned.
    Death Note
    Fullmetal Alchemist (I have mixed feelings about Conqueror of Shamballa the FMA movie. Check out the movie after watching the series if you are interested.)
    Black Butler
    Vampire Hunter D
    Lupin III series and movies but especially Castle of Cagliostro
    And of course anything by Hayao Miyazaki (Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away are my favorites)

  5. I’ve been into anime and manga since I picked up my older sister’s Neon Genesis Evangelion back when I was 8 years old. I’m nearly 29 now. I will say I’m more of a manga fan than I am anime…as most anime (not all) tends to be based off of the manga and the anime tends to ruin it…Skip Beat is a prime example…(compresses the storyline, gets rid of important personality traits in characters, etc). So here’s some that I’ve enjoyed to watch:

    – Inu-Yasha (historical shonen with romance)
    – Naruto (ninja action comedy)
    – Samurai Champloo (historical comedy with some action and bits of drama)
    – Cowboy Bebop (space cowboy bounty hunter comedy with drama…SO GOOD)
    – Michiko & Hatchin (comedy action about two girls travelling across South America trying to find a ‘lost’ man)
    – Soul Eater (comedy action about soul collectors)
    – Vandread (comedy romance mecha about male-only and female-only societies)
    – NOIR (action drama about female assassins)
    – Witch Hunter Robin (action drama about a witch hunter organization)
    – Neon Gensis Evangelion (classic mecha drama)
    – Fullmetal Alchemist (action comedy about alchemist brothers searching for a way to restore their bodies)
    – Full Metal Panic!/Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu/Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (comedy mecha action about a teenage anti-terrorist member who has to protect a high school girl. Fumoffu is a full-on comedy in between the two series)
    – Death Note (action drama about a teenager who finds a death notebook so he can dole out his own “justice”)
    – Ouran High School Host Club (comedy about a girl gets sucked into joining a men’s host club when she’s mistaken for a boy)
    – Sailor Moon (if I have to explain this to you then stop right now)
    – Mushi-shi (beautiful episodic anime about a Mushi master)
    – Kino’s Journey (another beautiful episodic anime about a traveler and her talking motorbike)
    – Azumanga Daioh! (comedy about high school girls. So ridiculous!)
    – Baccano! (action comedy multi-POV/multi-timeline story set in prohibition-era USA where the storylines all eventually converge)
    – Last Exile (steampunk/fantasy action drama about a delivery team during war)
    – Monster (mystery drama involving a doctor seeking out a serial killer)
    – Trigun (action comedy about insurance girls seeking out the world’s most wanted man)
    – Studio Ghibli (anything. You can’t go wrong)
    – Vision of Escaflowne (romance drama about a girl who gets transported to another world)

    That’s only a small sampling of what I’ve seen. My husband would also probably recommend Wolf’s Rain, Rahxephone (too much like Evangelion for me), Berserk, Macross Plus, Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Great Teacher Onizuka, Initial D, .hack.//Sign, Serial Experiements Lain (although I didn’t enjoy it), Hellsing, Elfen Lied, and Scryed.

    My all-time fave animes are: Mushi-shi, NOIR, Azumanga Daioh!, Full Metal Panic! series, Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, Kino’s Journey, My Neighbour Totoro/Ponyo/Nausacaa: Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away (all Studio Ghibli).

    Echoing what people say about Grave of the Fireflies…I haven’t seen it, but I know what it’s about/happens and I get teary just THINKING about it.

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