Okay, so you’ve definitely seen some anime. Maybe you watched Pokemon as a kid, or went on a Dragonball Z binge in high school, or even watched some Naruto on a sketchy website that may or may not have stolen your dad’s bank information. Still, now you’re curious about trying a show a bit deeper into the anime genre than that entry-level stuff.
But where to start? There are hundreds of shows that people mention on the internet. Which one should you watch? Well, you could ask your friend Cody who doesn’t know shit about fuck. Or, you could ask me, a completely random stranger on the internet who has seen many anime series and also doesn’t know shit about fuck. But at least I’m better than Cody. Everyone is.
People have asked me for recommendations a lot over the years, and so I’m going to slap together a list of shows you can suggest to your friends if they want to get into anime — or if you’re new to the genre yourself. In putting together this list, I want to mention a few things. First, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are many shows that would be good ones to start with, and it’s very subjective. Second, the shows here were chosen because of many factors: they’re considered objectively good by the community; people I’ve recommended them to have liked them a lot; they are somewhat friendlier to Western audiences than other shows might be; they don’t have niche appeal; they cover several popular genres; and I personally like them to at least some extent. Finally, there are plenty of series intentionally omitted from this list because they fit my subjective definition of entry level. Entry level for me includes shows geared towards kids like Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-gi-oh as well as shows very commonly aired on TV worldwide such as Naruto, Dragonball Z, Bleach, and One Piece. They’re not on the list because that defeats my objective in making the list.
These are in no order whatsoever and I will also briefly describe the show.
Without further ado, here are the twelve series you or a friend should try watching!
1. Death Note
Death Note is a show about a very intelligent young man, Light Yagami, who finds a notebook on the ground outside of his school classrooms. He soon realizes that the notebook has a special feature: any name that you write into the notebook dies of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Light certainly does not shy away from using this power to pursue his ambitions toward creating a better society, and he’s kept company along the way by an invisible god of death who enjoys apples. Light’s special powers do not go unnoticed, and genius detective “L” begins tracking down the source of the killings, leading to an epic battle of wits that you absolutely will not be able to tear your eyes from. This shit is eight-dimensional Polish backgammon, seriously.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
This show involves two brothers who are able to use alchemy to do nutty things like shoot spikes from the ground, create hand-held weaponry, and attempt to resurrect their mother from the dead. Unfortunately, trying to resurrect the dead is a huge faux pas. In the process of failing to resurrect their mom, the younger brother, Alphonse, loses his body while the older brother, Edward, loses one arm and one leg. Alphonse’s soul is captured within a suit of armor, allowing him to remain sentient on Earth and move around at will, and Edward gets a replacement metal arm and leg. After this, they embark on a quest to get Alphonse his body back and engage in alchemy fights along the way. This show is a really touching story of the bond between two brothers and explores the ethics of killing and genocide while still retaining a lot of humor and kickass fight sequences. I dare you to dislike this anime. If you decide to watch it, make sure not to watch “Fullmetal Alchemist” from 2003 and instead watch “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” from 2009. Brotherhood is more faithful to the manga and is generally considered to be way better.
Toradora is a romantic comedy about a scary-looking high school dude named Ryuji who has a crush on a girl named Minori. Over the course of the series, he becomes close to two other women named Taiga and Ami and to another dude named Yusaku. Which of the women is he interested in romantically? The small and fiery Taiga, the smug fashion model Ami, or the sporty and bubbly Minori? Will any of them like him back? Hey maybe he ends up with Yusaku too, I’m not gonna spoil anything.
This one is a really good series, pretty funny, and a lot deeper and more endearing than a generic harem.
Hey guys, wanna watch a series about high school men’s volleyball? No? Are you sure?
Well, I can’t make you watch it, but if you don’t, you’d really be missing out. As a big fan of sports anime, I really appreciate Haikyuu for being not only high quality, but also a great gateway for people to get more into the sports anime genre. The show is about a team that hasn’t been very good in its recent history, but has some promising rookies in the pipeline who are motivated to take the team to the very top. The main character is a very small kid who experiences a lot of hardship in volleyball due to the tall height of the net, but who has some serious jumping skills, speed, and passion to make up for it.
It’s very funny, the music is iconic, the animation is beautiful, and you really feel the impact of every serve, the tension building in every set, and the disappointment in every failed attempt at a diving save. The team has a lot of members, but the show goes out of its way to develop the characters and make you care about each and every one of them. Most importantly, there are few shows that deliver this much hype around every new strategy, technique, and villain. Maybe sports anime aren’t your thing, but can you really be sure if you don’t try?
5. My Hero Academia
Everyone loves super heroes. The dozens of Marvel movies topping the box office over the last dozen years have proven that. But you know what’s even better than super heroes? Anime super heroes. In a world where 80% of the world is born with super powers, called Quirks, a boy named Izuku Midoriya has large ambitions to be a super hero and fight evil — but unfortunately, he does not have any super powers to effectuate these dreams. This changes when he attains powers anyway by proving himself worthy of inheriting the super power of his idol and new mentor, All Might. Midoriya then begins a life at the prestigious UA, a high school that prepares students for life as a pro hero. Of course, in a world with heroes, there have to be villains. Most of the plot consists of Midoriya either fighting against said villains or training his super powers to smash said villains. With exciting, well-animated combat and a very likable supporting cast of classmates, it’s really no wonder that this show has taken the world by storm over the last few years.
6. Attack on Titan
Speaking of anime that have taken the world by storm, Attack on Titan also did that a couple of years before My Hero Academia. This anime takes place in a world where all humans have desperately huddled together into a single, walled-off settlement. Why did they do this? They’re being constantly swarmed by giant, grotesque-looking, human-like creatures, called titans, who attempt to breach the wall and eat all of the humans inside like some sort of fucked up tower-defense game. The humans defend themselves by swinging around through the air on ropes like Spider Man and hacking at the necks (their weak spot) of the titans with swords. These titans killed the protagonist’s mom, so he tries to enroll in the military to fight for humanity. This show has Game of Thrones vibes, as no character is safe from being killed, and it is certainly not for the squeamish. Still, if you find darker themes and brutality to be a plus, this show is for you.
7. Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo is a story which takes place in Edo Period Japan. It’s about two samurai and a waitress who go on a quest across Japan, getting into samurai fights and shenanigans as they attempt to locate “the man who smells of sunflowers.” While Mugen, one of the samurai, has a rough, rude, and creative attitude, Jin, the other samurai, is very serious and collected. These traits are reflected in their styles of fighting. This show references a lot of Japanese history without being confusing or intimidating, and it would be ideal for history buffs or people who just think samurai are cool. Many people also love this show for the hip-hop soundtrack and vibe of the late Japanese artist Nujabes.
8. Code Geass
Lelouch Lamperouge, our protagonist, is granted the power of the Geass, which allows him to issue a single command to a person upon locking eyes with them. This command cannot be disobeyed and is communicated through thought, making it imperceptible to outside observers. Code Geass is very similar to Death Note, mentioned above, in that both main characters are gifted an extraordinary power and attempt to use it in combination with genius-level strategy to reform society to their liking. The show as a whole is an exciting thrill ride with countless plot twists that make it difficult to stop yourself from going to the next episode, and it’s a fun underdog experience to see a single person attempt to take down an empire that spans a huge chunk of the globe. Making it all spicier, Lelouch is unafraid to sacrifice pawns for a chance at checking the king, which is another similarity to Death Note’s protagonist Light. There are also a lot of giant robots involved, which is an additional perk if that’s your thing.
Fate/Zero is a battle royale combat story involving seven people, called Masters, who summon seven ancient and powerful spirits from the past, called Servants, in order to fight against the other Masters and Servants until one Master remains. The remaining Master at the end of the carnage claims the Holy Grail, which grants any wish that they desire — as you would imagine, this is pretty appealing. Fate/Zero features beautiful animation, exciting battles, and an interesting array of different powers and strategies that make it difficult to tell who has the upper hand or who will be eliminated next. Making the concept even cooler is that many of the Servants are historical figures that the average person would have actually heard of, such as King Arthur, Gilgamesh, and Alexander the Great.
The Fate universe spans many other titles and genres as well, so if you really get attached to the series, there are alternate universes and direct sequels which will sate your appetite for more. This includes a cooking slice-of-life, a magical girl show, and a comedy. The only caveat to Fate/Zero is that the first episode or two starts off a bit slow, as they want to fully explain the world and the parameters of the battle royale, so keep that in mind!
Psycho Pass is set in a dystopian society where people are constantly being scanned by devices that measure one’s “crime coefficient,” which is a number that can predict how likely a person is to commit crimes in the future. If this crime coefficient gets above a certain number, they are basically either arrested or killed by the police. Police officers in this society enlist the help of latent criminals called Enforcers, which are essentially armed minions for the police to order around at will. Our protagonist, Akane Tsunemori, is a kind and justice-motivated rookie officer on this police force and struggles with the ethical dilemmas involved in her new job, including a friendship with Enforcer and cool guy Shinya Kogami. Tsunemori’s unit is tasked with hunting down various criminals, including mastermind Shogo Makishima. This is a great anime for people who are interested in the niches genres of dystopias and cop shows.
11. Your Lie in April
Your Lie in April is a drama anime for those who enjoy series that will make them emotional. The series follows Kousei Arima, a past piano prodigy who stopped playing the piano when his mother died due to a mental breakdown. A few years after this, he meets Kaori Miyazono, who plays the violin and essentially makes him perform with her in a music competition. Over the course of the series, we explore his trauma involving his mother and watch to see if he can regain his love for and ability to play music. Some of the characters also have some romantic entanglements, which are are interesting and painful to watch. This is a beautiful series that you should watch only if you’re in the mood for drama, but for an article like this, a series that covers that niche is definitely important to include.
12. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
The final anime to watch or recommend if you or a friend wants to try getting into anime is Hunter x Hunter (2011). Until recently, the show has been a bit of a hidden gem, always scoring high in terms of anime rankings but known by comparatively few. However, it has received a bit of a jump in popularity since being added to Netflix — it deserves the attention. This show stars innocent young lad Gon as he attempts to become a “Hunter.” In this world, “Hunters” are licensed professionals who are hired by members of the public to go on missions using their top-tier combat ability, whether that entails literally hunting animals, exploring, or fighting other individuals. Gon wants to become a Hunter in order to follow the footsteps of, and find, the father who abandoned him to be a Hunter when he was younger. Along the way, Gon is joined by three main comrades: a young assassin named Killua; a boy named Kurapika with a calm outward demeanor but filled to the brim with seething rage underneath; and an aspiring doctor named Leorio whose focus in life is heavily geared toward money. Gon’s bright, empathetic, and innocent nature contrasts stunningly with the serious world he has thrown himself into, and the arcs of the series set up really interesting objectives for the characters at every turn. There’s an examination arc much like the chunin exams in Naruto, there’s a tournament arc that you might see in many series, and there’s an arc that takes place in a video game, just to name a few. The anime is a bit long, clocking in at 148 episodes, but for people who enjoy really getting engrossed fully in a universe, that’s no problem at all!
Thank you for reading this list, and I hope this can help people get started watching anime. When you or a friend is deciding which of these series to watch, make sure to keep in mind the specific things they usually like in shows or are feeling in the mood for right now! Sometimes you want an adventure, sometimes you want a romantic comedy, or sometimes you want a darker show or thriller. The important thing above all is that you enjoy it.