In the early 1960s, Japanese animation (more commonly known as anime) would finally hit the television screen. It began with shows like Astro Boy, Gigantor, and Speed Racer. However, these shows were not just limited to Japanese televisions. American broadcasters began to pick up a few of these shows. It was not much, though the few shows picked up would be the first taste of anime for American audiences. They were small drops, though, compared to the floodgates that would open. In 1988, an animated feature-length adaptation of the manga Akira hit the big screen. Though it had failed in Japan, it caught like wildfire worldwide. It helped to open the gateway to anime for American audiences, with more anime programs hitting TV screens in the states. In fact, Cartoon Network had a block of programming devoted to anime which they called Toonami. Now, what had once been a niche market has grown to a more mainstream appeal. Of course, with so many shows and options out there to see, where should one start? Which shows could serve as a potential gateway for someone that has not seen anime before? Well, that is the purpose of today’s post. I have selected a variety of shows or franchises which I feel would make for a good starting point for someone dipping their toes into anime. Now, before I list my choices, let me be clear that this listing is in no particular order or ranking. Now, with that out of the way, time to list my recommendations of anime shows for first-timers.
1. Dragon Ball Z
Ever since the Dragon Ball franchise first started with a manga series back in 1984, the adventures of good-hearted and devoted martial artist Son Goku have been a landmark series and major influencer in the realm of shonen (young male demographic) entertainment. In terms of checking out this franchise, though, I recommend Dragon Ball Z. This portion of the series shifted gears away from the goofier antics of the series’ beginnings and more towards the high-energy battles that have become a main stay in the franchise, along with introducing classic characters like the hot-headed Saiyan prince Vegeta. Also, there are two options for it: you can check out Dragon Ball Z as it had first aired, or check out Dragon Ball Z Kai, an edited and redubbed version which trims some of the filler from the original.
2. Cowboy Bebop
In the year 2071, former hitman Spike Spiegel spends his days hunting down wanted criminals alongside a crew that includes former cop Jet Black, con artist Faye Valentine, eccentric hacker Ed Wong, and a corgi named Ein. Even as they hunt down that next bounty, Spike’s past begins to catch up with him and threatens to drag him under. This series is a great entry point, and not just because the overall quality is fantastic. It draws together a fine mixture of styles, such as cowboy Westerns, film noir, and Chinese action thrillers. The result is a mix that offers plenty of accessibility for a Western audience.
3. My Hero Academia
In a world where 80% of the world’s population has superpowers (here known as “Quirks”) and superheroes are a real profession, Izuku Midoriya is a Quirkless boy who idolizes superheroes. When an act of bravery on his part catches the attention of legendary superhero All Might, he finds himself granted with this hero’s Quirk: One for All, which gives incredible super strength. With this new gift, Izuki earns a spot at U.A. High School to train and become part of the next generation of superheroes. This series works as a good entry series thanks to its heavy influence from American superhero comics, while mixing it together with familiar tropes from Japanese shonen action stories.
4. Sailor Moon
Just as Dragon Ball was a major influencer in the realm of shonen entertainment, Sailor Moon made a big impact in the field of shoujo (young female demographic) entertainment. Its tale of Usagi Tsukino, a teenage girl who gains a mystical brooch and discovers that she is the reincarnation of a princess from the Moon, brought together the mystic fun and teenage tribulations of “magical girl” anime while mixing in the action of superhero-like Sentai television shows. As for checking out this series, there are two options. One could revisit the original ’90s anime, or check out the current series Sailor Moon Crystal, which provides a closer plot and visual style to the original manga source.
5. Death Note
When high school student Light Yagami ends up in possession of a mystic notebook known as the Death Note, he decides to become a God of Justice under the alias of Kira by using the book’s ability to kill others to murder criminals. This brings him to the attention of L, a young and eccentric but brilliant detective who will do anything to stop Light. Those looking for darker stories will find this as a good starter, with its gripping chess match of deceit and death between the fiery passion of Light and the cold calculations of L.
6. My Love Story!!
Takeo Goda is a high school students with a massive size and somewhat goofy face who has always been ignored by girls in favor of his best friend, the more conventionally attractive Makoto Sunakawa. When he saves a girl named Rinko Yamato from being harassed on a train, the two fall in love and begin to navigate the hurdles of romantic relationships. For those looking for something a bit more sweet with some romance, this series is a sure treat. Watching the inexperienced Takeo and easily flustered Rinko handled their feelings is adorable entertainment, while the plot nimbly avoids a lot of the usual stumbling blocks in romantic comedies.
7. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Ever since it first began in 1989 as a manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell has grown to become one of the classic sci-fi franchises in anime. Its themes of identity and the line between man and machine are rich substance to take in, explored through the police work of Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9. Though the 1995 anime film may be regarded as a classic, it might move a bit too slowly for some. That is why I would recommend Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as a good entryway to this classic franchise. It still has its exploration on the nature of identity, but delivers it with a quicker pace and thrilling action as Kusanagi takes on threats like the Laughing Man and the Individual Eleven.
8. One Punch Man
Saitama is a hero for fun with a rather unique problem: he is just too powerful. He is able to utterly destroy any foe with one punch, meaning that he has no challenge in his life. The result is a boring day-to-day that is occasionally punctuated with punching out a monster. Of course, the arrival of a cyborg named Genos wanting to become his disciple might offer just the change he needs. Much like My Hero Academia, this series mixes together elements and tropes from American superhero comics and Japanese shonen action manga. However, this series serves more as an affectionate parody of its sources, playfully poking fun at the ridiculous elements of both.
So, there are my recommendations on anime shows that might serve as a good gateway for first-timers. Hopefully, you might try one of these shows and find yourself with a new media outlet to enjoy.