Anime for Beginners

Anime for Beginners

Introduction

Today we’ll be taking a look at five anime I think are great for those who are just getting into anime. While not all of these are the best anime (some are), I felt that they were all great introductions into the medium.

Since this post is targeted towards anime beginners, I’ll mainly be talking about why each one is a good starting point, and I’ll be skipping over what I actually rated them because I feel these anime each have something important to give regardless of their ratings.

However, even if you aren’t an anime beginner, I’d suggest watching at least most of these series if you haven’t seen them simply because some of them are pretty important for the current anime climate. I’ll get into that more as we go through each one.

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online anime cover art featuring Kirito and Asuna
Sword Art Online Cover Art

Sword Art Online isn’t the best anime and I have some fairly strong opinions about it, but it’s an important anime for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the third most popular anime on MAL (popularity is based on how many people have seen it, not how highly it’s rated).

Because so many people have seen Sword Art Online (SAO), it’s become something of a shared experience for many in the community. You can say something is like or unlike SAO and everyone else in the anime community will generally understand what you mean without explanation.

Basically, SAO is a good baseline to use for many comparisons simply because so many people already know it. However, maybe you don’t see yourself ever discussing anime and so you feel this doesn’t apply to you.

If that’s the case, consider this: due to SAO’s popularity, there are dozens of anime which have come out since then (and at least one per season) which were influenced by it. I think it’s fair to say that it’s the most influential recent anime, for better or worse. This alone is enough reason to watch it.

Finally, there’s the fact that SAO is a pretty easy anime for many people to get into. While I’d say even anime veterans should watch it for the previous two reasons, this final one is specifically for newcomers.

SAO involves both fantasy and games, and due to this it appeals to a wide audience. The content is also easy to understand without any real prerequisites. Unfortunately for anime veterans, you’ve seen better series than this one so it probably won’t have the same effect on you.

If it turns out SAO is your kind of anime, good news, there’s about a million other similar anime known as “isekai.”

Death Note

Death Note anime DVD cover art featuring Light Yagami and L
Death Note DVD Cover Art

Death Note is the most popular anime on MAL (which surprises me for some reason), but it’s also a bit better than SAO. While SAO was a gaming, fantasy anime, Death Note is a supernatural, psychological, crime anime.

Although I think that this series is more plot hole than plot, that doesn’t really matter if you’re watching the series for the first time near the beginning of your anime watching career. It’s an enjoyable watch regardless of how much the plot doesn’t really make sense.

As the number one most popular anime, this series is important to watch simply because everyone else has seen it, just like with SAO. However, despite being more popular, it’s not as influential (it’s still influential).

Really, I think Death Note is a great example of how anime doesn’t always have to be some colorful fantasy. It can be dark, graphic, and tell a compelling story (even if the story doesn’t hold up upon later inspection).

If you end up liking Death Note, there are plenty of other anime I’d recommend such as Psycho-Pass, Devilman: Crybaby, Parasyte -the maxim-, and The Future Diary to name a few.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist anime cover art featuring Edward and Alphonse Elric
Fullmetal Alchemist Cover Art

Fullmetal Alchemist is both objectively and subjectively the best anime on this list. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the highest rated anime on MAL as well as the fourth most popular, so just by those stats you know it’s good.

However, I suggest that everyone, not only anime beginners, start by watching the original Fullmetal Alchemist before Brotherhood. Brotherhood isn’t a sequel, it’s a different story which diverges from the original around episode 10 if I remember correctly.

And, while Brotherhood is widely considered to be the better version (I agree it has better art/animation since it’s newer and also has better OP/ED songs), Brotherhood assumes that the viewer has already watched the original (which I prefer due to it’s darker plot).

The first few arcs which are shared between Brotherhood and the original series are rushed in Brotherhood because of this assumption. That means that if you skip the original series, you’re missing out on half the content of the first arcs and so they don’t hit quite as hard.

Because Brotherhood assumes you’ve seen the original is just one reason to watch the original first, though. Since Brotherhood is longer and takes us to some different regions the original didn’t, it can be seen as a supplement to the original series.

Also, since it looks better, it may be harder to go back to the original once you’ve watched Brotherhood. Personally, I think it’d be a shame if someone missed out on the original series simply because it doesn’t look as crisp as Brotherhood, so I’d like for this to be avoided if possible.

I don’t think Fullmetal Alchemist is quite as influential on other anime as the previous two series I’ve mentioned (although it still has to some extent), but it’s definitely left an impression on the anime community at large.

If you like Fullmetal Alchemist, well, welcome to anime, so does everyone else. I can’t really think of another anime like this one off the top of my head, but that’s also part of the reason it’s so good.

Soul Eater

Soul Eater anime cover art featuring the main characters
Soul Eater Cover Art

Soul Eater is a bit different from the three anime I’ve mentioned so far, however, if I had to pick one I’d say it’s most like Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s a supernatural anime which uses a mixture of action and comedy, and as such is less serious than anything else on this list (possibly even the next entry).

I felt like adding Soul Eater to this list simply because it’s an enjoyable watch with a low barrier to entry. I don’t really think you need to know anything about anime to enjoy any of the series I’ve put on this list, but that’s especially true for Soul Eater.

If you’ve seen any of the big shōnen series such as Naruto, then you may recognize that some characters from Soul Eater act similarly such as Black Star and Naruto, but this series isn’t really making many obscure anime references that matter if you miss them.

I don’t really have much more to say about this series other than it’s enjoyable. Because of that, however, this is the one entry of the list I don’t consider a “must-watch” for any anime veterans who haven’t seen it. I liked it, but you don’t exactly miss out on anything by skipping it.

Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann anime cover art featuring some main characters
Gurren Lagann Cover Art

The final series of the list, Gurren Lagann, is also the one with the most history behind it. For any anime beginners out there, you don’t need to know anything about the history of the mecha genre to enjoy this series, but for anime veterans, this series references just about everything that came before it.

You could say that this series is a culmination of everything the mecha genre did up to the point of its release, but as I mentioned, you can still enjoy this series even if every single reference goes over your head. That’s how I originally watched and loved it, but now I can look back and appreciate it even more.

Just to mention one part of the history of Gurren Lagann, it’s an original anime created by Trigger, an animation studio which branched off from Gainax, the studio behind the legendary mecha anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. This alone adds a lot of weight to Gurren Lagann.

Although there’s a somewhat serious plot for the series, Trigger is best at making anime which are completely over the top in both their storytelling and art/animation style. Because of this, everything in the series is exaggerated to epic proportions, but that’s just part of the charm.

If you had to pick just one series from this list to watch, or one you want to start with, I highly recommend Gurren Lagann even though it’s not the highest rated or most popular anime featured here. Despite that, it’s probably the best for pure entertainment value no matter who you are.

Even if you don’t think giant robots are “your thing,” I guarantee you’ll enjoy this series.

Conclusion

For anyone looking to watch any of the five series I’ve mentioned here, you’re in luck! All five of these series are available to stream legally through both Netflix and Crunchyroll (and probably others as well). Because of this, they’re all very easy to access which is a huge plus for any anime.

Finally, if this post gets enough likes (amount TBD), I’ll be sure to write a “Part 2” with five more anime great for beginners. And, if you’d like some recommendations for more “intermediate” or “advanced” viewers, feel free to let me know down in the comments or over on Twitter @DoubleSama.

It’s official, Anime for Beginners II is available now!

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