For those of you like me who grew up with the social stigma that Anime was for losers/nerds/social outcasts and were terrified of actually watching any of them and secretly enjoying it; this list is for you! Here is a list of the shows that got me to fall in love with anime and respect it for what it actually is; art.
1. Xam’d: Lost Memories
This was the very first show to get me into anime. The animation in this show is absolutely stunning with a fantastic storyline, incredible characters, and painfully deep moments.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
For some strange reason I held off watching this show for years and instantly regretted it after finally watching it on Netflix. Easily one of, if not the best anime out there. The characters are amazing, the concept of alchemy makes superpowers look childish, and the storyline will keep you on edge till the very end.
3. Attack on Titan
This show is the Game of Thrones of Anime. Not so much the storyline, but the massive, massive fandom. Literally everyone loves this show and it’s absolutely brilliant. Not to mention having TWO supremely badass female main characters with an incredible host of other very in-depth characters that are hard not to get attached to. The second season is due later this year but there’s already a live action movie and video games in the works because of how fantastic this show is. The only reason why this show isn’t my number 1 most favorite anime is because there’s only 1 season so I don’t want you to start off with it first!
4. Samurai Champloo
It’s hard not to love this show. Amazing art/animations, fantastic music by the late Nujabes (RIP), characters that are very in-depth, and a solid storyline. The only deterent in this show is the ending which left some watchers unsatisfied but I’ll let you decide how to feel about it. Because many anime unfortunately leave us wanting more but never quench our thirst.
This will always be one of my most favorite shows purely for how in-depth the characters are and how fantastic the story-line is. Vash the Stampede is the main guy who is like a futuristic version of Jesse James the outlaw. But with a lot more integrity and not very good with the ladies.
6. Cowboy Bebop
For me Cowboy Bebop is basically a show about what it would be like following around Han Solo before he met Chewbacca. Space bounty hunters that are up to no good. It’s hard not to love all the characters in the show and get absorbed by the story.
Just finished this show recently and it also has a live-action adaptation. High school guy gets his arm infected with an alien parasite during the night where they are sprinkled all over the city. It has it’s own personality and has all these crazy abilities. This show can be a real gut-wrencher if you’re sensitive so beware those who easily cry. Amazing animations and great music as a bonus
7. Black Lagoon
This show is awesome. Very modern, extremely badass action, and full of over the top strong as hell female leads. If you’ve ever seen and liked Wanted with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy then you’ll really like this show. Best part is it’s in full English so no worries about subtitles.
8. Terror in Resonance
This show is a really good one for those who love crime shows or anything about anarchy. Really great storyline with crazy good characters and great animation art. This one is also available on Netflix so it’s fairly easy to dive in to.
9. Death Note
This show is a secret dark fantasy of everyone at least once in your life. What if you had a notebook that you could write down a name, time, and description of how you wanted that person to die and all you had to do was look at them while you did it; would you use it? I actually made the mistake of reading the wikipedia page about it after I couldn’t understand what the main protaganists name was. So don’t make the same mistake I did and steer clear of any wiki pages about it till you’re done.
10. Tokyo Ghoul
This show has a lot of positives. Great characters, very interesting storyline, and great animation. Basically this lonely kid gets turned into a “ghoul” which is like a vampire but with superpowers and they can go out in the light. Only complaint is I’m not in love with any of the intro’s/outro’s during the two seasons so I recommend fast-forwarding through them. Other than that this show is great.
11. Fooly Cooly
Fooly Cooly is one of those shows that when you bring up anime and first-time watchers, you have to bring up Fooly Cooly. It’s such a strange and hilarious show with the most oddball characters and storyline that makes literally no sense whatsoever. It’s very short and easy to run through if you’re just looking for a time killer.
UPDATE: Man you guys really liked this list! thanks for the feedback. Here is my moderate anime fans list & super fandom list of shows to watch:
Moderate Anime Fans: For those of you who have limited time and just want a new show to follow in your limited free time: Code Geass Gurren Lagann Soul Eater Gantz Eureka 7 Blue Exorcist Ghost in Shell Psycho-Pass Berserk Neon Genesis Evangelion Sword Art Online
Super Crazy Anime Fandom: For those of you who have a lot of time on your hands, binge watch episodes, and don’t mind filler content: Avatar Legend of Korra Dragon Ball Digimon Pokemon Naruto Fairy Tale One Piece Rurouni Kenshin Gundam Wing
Animated Films: These are fantastic animated films that are a must watch (thank you to mellow-humanitarian for the help!):
Spirited Away The Wind Rises Princess Mononoke Laputa Totoro Tales from Earthsea Kiki’s Delivery Service Ponyo Ocean Waves Only Yesterday Pom Poko The Cat Returns & Whisper of the Heart (have to be watched together) Porco Rosso Grave of the Fireflies Nausicaa of the valley of the wind
Paprika Time of Eve The Girl Who Lept Through Time Perfect Blue Garden of Words Barefoot Gen A Letter to Momo Colorful
I made this list to give new watchers somewhat of a guide that builds up their understanding of anime whilst also giving them a understanding of what they are getting themselves into without diving in the deep end too soon. There’s tons of websites out there that stream anime for free; I personally use animefreak.tv. They may not have all the anime movies but you can find those easily on websites like Viooz or Putlocker. But animefreak stream any show you can think of and usually have them in English dubbed. If the show only has English subtitles, DON’T BE DETERRED! Give it a chance, most of the time the Japanese voice actors are absolutely incredible and make it worth reading the subtitles.
I know, most of these are very well-known. However, this will give you a good sense of where I’m coming from as an anime-viewer. I’m always up to chat about any of these shows, and I’d love to hear about other people’s favorites.
Alright! First, the show that I would argue is the best anime of the past decade:
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
A well-crafted “coming of age” adventure set in an alternate early 20th century Europe, where “alchemy” exists in the place of science… yet this is “alchemy” stripped down to its philosophical ambitions and powered to the level of magic… and fully weaponized. Though the story follows two male youths as our heroes, in my mind, the female cast outshines, which is unsurprising, given that the manga was written by a woman.
While I also enjoyed the original 2003 anime (preferring its overall style and soundtrack), I was not a fan of the ending. “Fullmetal Alchemist” was such a popular story, that in 2009 when the manga was almost done, this new, very faithful adaptation came out. If for some reason you haven’t seen it, this Tumblr post really should sell it to you. (gif)
Ping Pong The Animation (2014)
“Ping Pong” is technically a “sports anime,” but while it certainly focusing on high school ping pong competition, the story is so much more about failure, self-discovery, and the relationship between friends, mentors, and elders than it is about ping pong. Along with that depth of story, it has one of the most unique art styles I’ve seen in anime, with transfixing imagery and themes that only make sense in the last scene. Very tightly plotted, there are only 11 episodes, which REALLY deliver in the end. And the opening credits are amazing…
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
In terms of darkness and insanity, NGE has few peers (fine, a lot of peers. We are talking about anime). This show is the definition of a head trip, and if you want to understand where Attack on Titan and other modern shows are coming from… Of course, it gets a lot of its notes from all the anime that came before it, as it is ostensibly a “mecha” anime. Very important to this show: the soundtrack is beautiful and made it to the top of the charts in Japan. However, it definitely has some issues, common to many anime, in terms of its treatment of women. Along with those issues, comes the problem of multiple adaptions, and deciding which “endings” to watch. There is an alternative ending movie called “End of Evangelion” that is utterly insane, and right now a series of movies called “Rebuild of Evangelion” is coming out. (gif by me, from the “Rebuild of Evangelion” movies).
Rurouni Kenshin (1996)
Specifically: episodes: 1:12, 23:24, 28:63, OR read the manga!
The “wandering samurai” story to end all wandering samurai stories. Historically based, action-packed romance set in Meiji Japan, the story follows Kenshin, a former revolutionary assassin, as he tries to find a way to protect those around him while maintaining his vow never to kill again. The main issue with this anime is the uneven quality of the animation, extensive filler… and that it didn’t finish the story. However, the manga is always there for you, to fill in the ending, and there are live action movie adaptions that just came out that are AMAZING! Great female characters, and the protagonist is meant to be read as feminine; in my opinion this show can be read as a feminist masterpiece, at least in some respects… (gif by heartcoma, I believe)
Space western! “Vash the Stampede” is the most feared man in the world, with a sixty billion double dollar bounty on his head… And two insurance agents are on the look out for him, hoping to minimize the damage he causes, and the inevitable insurance claims that follow. Starts with some light-hearted comedy but takes you to some dark and interesting places in a bleak futuristic desert landscape. It has an incredibly likable and small cast. But you do need to be committed to the transition from light to dark tone. Like Rurouni Kenshin, the story follows a mysterious and “seemingly goofy” protagonist who refuses to kill. (gif)
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
This anime seems to be your standard “Magical Girl” story (cute young girls gets magical powers and must then save the world), but this fairly short story quickly moves way, way past that. The ending is amazing, as in, I leapt out of my seat. You do need to buy in to the premise on which the magic is based; and if you aren’t aware of the tropes of magical girl anime, you might miss some of the significance. A story that is almost entirely about female coming of age, and female relationships. (gif)
Ouran High School Host Club (2006)
Wacky parody/comedy about a high school “host club” (boys “paid” to flirt with girls), with a no-nonsense heroine who acts as the straight man (pun intended). It has lots of heart and is legitimately funny. However, it is sometimes hard to get over the possessiveness and sexism of the male characters. Also, some of the jokes will go over your head if you aren’t aware of the tropes of “shojo” anime (I certainly wasn’t when I first watched it). (gif)
Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Episodic story of stylish bounty-hunters in space, with elements of western, jazz and noir. This is an absolute must-see, a revolutionary anime that was very much ahead of its time. It’s a bit morose, so you need to be in the right mood. As it is many people’s introduction to anime… probably doesn’t need much more introduction. (gif)
Samurai Champloo (2004)
From the same director as Cowboy Bebop, this show mixes of Edo Japan (around 1800) with a modern hip hop style. The constant threat of sexual violence to the female characters is very off-putting, but given the historical context, it isn’t necessarily unmerited; but it’s something to be aware of. The soundtrack is utterly transfixing, and if you can accept the show on its terms, the mix-up (the word champloo loosely means mash-up in Japanese) of the two cultures makes it totally unique and worthwhile. (gif)
Amazingly animated work-place drama set on a space station. However, the short-tempered protagonist, who plays the “jerk with a heart of gold” trope to the jerky extreme, can get overly tiresome. The female main characters are a great mix of jaded and naive, and the story develops slowly, only to build to an interesting (and still very relevant) climax. Quite a lot of realistic science fiction thrown in there (silence in space, the ways living in space affect the body). (gif)
Sprawling murder and mayhem mystery set mainly in 1920’s Chicago and New York, that impressively keeps you invested in a large cast as you try to piece together what the heck is going on. The soundtrack is a send-up to big band jazz, and is great. (gif)
Kill La Kill (2013)
This show also is a bit of a send-up of “magical girl” anime. It has a very distasteful premise (sexy anthropormorphic clothing that acts as armour while displaying the whole body). The show is trying to use nudity and the exploitation (and assault!) of the (female) body as a larger point; it is difficult to say if (and perhaps even controversial to imply that) it succeeds. But keeping it’s provocative nature in mind, it is an interesting watch. (gif)
Gurren Lagann (2007)
Humans have been trapped underground for generations by giant mecha called “Gunmen” and the “beastmen” that pilot them; a ragtag group of youths decide to change that. Viewers need to both get through annoying “fan service” (aka, blatant objectification of female bodies) at the beginning, and be prepared for a large tone shift partway through. But it is an amazing show, once you get through the first 8 episodes; there is a major plot twist that you definitely do not see coming. (gif)
The Eccentric Family (2013)
Stylish and interesting story about shape-shifting tanuki and tengu (mythical Japanese creatures) and their interactions and plots within their own society and the rest of the world. While a couple of the basic facts of the world as set up just don’t sit well, and some of the character’s motivations are questionable (evil manic pixie dream girl?), the show still has fascinating things to say, in a short 11 episodes. (gif)
Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun (2014)
High school student named Nozaki is writing and publishing a shojo manga? An art club member has a big crush on him, but he thinks she just wants to be his assistant? That can’t lead to hilarious results, can it?? This story is Incredibly adorable and funny, and the only thing I can say against it, is I guess just that I wanted there to be more (but the manga is still coming out, so never fear). (gif)
Chihaya was introduced to a traditional Japanese card game called “karuta” by a lonely boy named Arata in her elementary class. The game becomes her passion, even after the boy moves away. Once in high school, she gathers together four other students to starts a karuta club, perhaps hoping to reconnect with him? (gif)
Yowamushi Pedal (2013)
High school cycling club! Anime fan Onoda didn’t realize biking 90 km every week to buy anime in Akibara was actually turning him into a great cyclist… Once drafted into the cycling club, bicycles become an even greater passion for him. Certainly my favorite sports anime, living up to all the classic tropes, but with a “insert yourself here” main otaku character… Let’s just say there’s something for everyone. (gif by me)
Non Non Biyori (2013)
Adorable and refreshing “Slice of life” story about 4 girls living in the Japanese countryside, and the other members of their community. My answer to whenever anyone complains that anime is too male- or action- centric. (gif)
Silver Spoon (2013)
Academically-oriented student fails high school entrance exams, and ends up at specialty farming high school, hoping to escape his overbearing father. Over his first few years at school, he learns about farming and his own limits. The manga was written by the same woman who did “Fullmetal Alchemist,” so definitely worth a watch if you enjoyed FMA (which, come on, it is impossible not to enjoy FMA). (gif)
I’m assuming everyone knows to watch Miyazaki films (every one is worthwhile), but the following movies ones are great and not quite as well known (most are very well known, too).
Whispers of the Heart (1995)
A high schooler worries over her future, and her talent as a writer (Miyazaki helped write this one). (gif)
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Three homeless people (a young girl, and old man, and a transwoman) find an abandoned baby on the streets of Tokyo. (gif)
Inception before Inception. It has same (amazing) director as above, Satoshi Kon. A quick summary: a machine that allows entry into dreams is stolen. (gif)
Summer Wars (2009)
A shy math-genius boy is invited last minute by a female classmate to her grandmother’s 90th birthday party… The story contrasts “virtual reality” with a stranger thrown in the mix of a real family, and the ways the internet, generations, and real relationships all interconnect. Also super fun and well animated! (gif by me)
Two movies that are very important, but come with caveats.
Royal Air Force: The Wings over Honneamaise (1987)
A slightly fantastical reimagining of the development of manned space flight. (Note: trigger warning for attempted sexual assault, but this is a highly influential movie, especially to Neon Genesis Evangelion) (gif)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
A Studio Ghibli film, about a young man and his little sister trying to survive in Japan after WWII (note: you will weep uncontrollably) (gif)