Anime is often made fun of, even by people who enjoy other animated shows like “The Simpsons,” or “Family Guy.” There’s a number of reasons for that mostly having to do with stereotypes about just what anime is (octopus rape!) and the typical anime fan (people who enjoy said octopus rape). However, there are also people who admit to having liked the classic movie “Akira” or the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Others might have seen a show or two they caught on TV and liked.
When I was younger, the only anime I had really watched was “Dragon Ball Z” and years later I came back to it and re-watched it. After that, I decided to try some more anime despite being one of the people that had been down on anime before that. I immediately became a big fan and started watching everything I could get my hands on. Since then, people have asked me what shows I’d recommend to people that aren’t fans or are looking to start getting into anime. I decided to put together a list of 5 shows I consider great starting points for non-fans or anime beginners.
Bebop is probably the king of “anime for people who don’t like anime.” I’ve had many conversations with people who will say they just can’t get into anime but then say they really enjoyed Bebop. What is it about Bebop that gave it such crossover appeal? A big part of it was the show’s music. A band was specifically formed just to create the soundtrack for the show, which gives you an idea of the level of effort put into it. The principle focus of the music is Jazz and each episode has its own musical theme and the titles borrow from famous albums and songs such as “Wild Horses” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Another of the unique strengths of Bebop was that you didn’t need any knowledge of Japanese culture to jump into the show. The art style of the show is also different from a lot of anime and not as jarring as it might be for transitioning into other shows. The mix of advanced Sci-Fi settings and things you’d see today like theme parks, shopping malls, and Native American Shamans also sets it apart from both typical anime and other Sci-Fi in a way that the American live-action show, “Firefly,” would also do a few years later.
When you combine it all with a stellar plot and one of the most memorable casts in anime, you get an all-time great show I recommend to anyone. “Cowboy Bebop” ran for 26 episodes (and a movie, called OVAs in Japan). Adult Swim has several episodes streaming and Blu-Ray/DVDs are easy to find on Amazon, DVDPlanet, etc.
“Azumanga Daioh” is not your typical “slice of life” school comedy but is also one of the best. The focus of the show is entirely on the girls and their friendship to the point where, aside from one pervy male teacher, there are no reccurring male characters. Although, two of the girls do often picture/dream of Chiyo’s father as a giant talking cat but that’s a whole different story.
So what is it about Daioh that makes it worth checking out? Its big strength is its sense of humor; which can go from the completely absurd (the mystery of Chiyo’s Father and Osaka’s daydreams) to the every day mundane. One of the best running jokes revolves around Sakaki and her obsession with cats, which of course hate her. The show has so much warmth and cuteness (“moe” in Japanese) that it can almost be too much at times, but it never feels like pandering and it avoids being so much that it becomes unsettling.
If you’re looking for a good laugh and a show that you can probably watch with younger kids than this is a good one to check out. Slice of life and School comedies are a staple of anime and if you want to know if you’ll like any of them then try Daioh on for size.
Sadly I couldn’t find any legal streaming sources for Daioh nor does it seem to be on Netflix or anywhere else so you’ll have to look for DVD/Blu-Rays which are readily available.
What do you get when you mix together Edo period Japan (mixed with quite a few time inappropriate pieces, on which more later), a unique and striking art-style, and a hip-hop soundtrack? If you’re lucky the answer is “Samurai Champloo.” This show takes many real historical events from 17th Century Japan and puts its own twist on them to add just a hint of authenticity to its setting, of course at the same time it depicts roving gangs of bandits as “gangstas” and even includes some rapping.
The true strength of this show is the interactions of the three main characters with each other over the course of the series. Mugen is more of an anti-hero and his fighting style is heavily influenced by breakdancing (Champuru Kendo in the show), while the traditional Jin is much more what you’d expect of a samurai but adds in a number of unique character traits to make him special. His fighting style is also based on a real discipline. Fuu is the glue that holds both of those characters together, and the show itself. She’s not just there as a plot device or to be completely useless either, like so many female characters in anime or TV in general. Fuu is an entertaining character in her own right and has a serious impact on the growth of the other characters.
The strong characterization combined with the pervading sense of “cool” lent to the show by its soundtrack and look is the big reason I recommend this to people. It also has, nearly, the perfect mix of action and comedy with some history and romance thrown in here and there for that extra spice. Check out the opening to the show to give you something of a sense of its feel. It’s a personal favourite of mine.
You can watch Champloo on Hulu @ Samurai Champloo It’s also currently (as of the middle of November 2013) available on both Netflix USA and Canada.
The reason I recommend this show is because it has great storytelling based on Japanese legends but is also easily enjoyable for anyone. On top of that, it doesn’t have a lot of complicated storylines so it’s very easy to follow or even watch episodes sporadically without feeling like you’ve missed anything major plot wise. Add the gorgeous look to that and it’s an easy choice.
Mushi-shi can be found in full (both in subtitles and in English dubs!) on Hulu @ Mushi-shi It is also (as of the middle of November 2013) available on both Netflix Canada and USA.
Along with “Cowboy Bebop” this show may be THE “Anime for non-anime fans.” “Death Note” is a show you can describe the rough concept to people and normally they’re into it. “So he gets his hands on this book where if he writes a person’s name in it they’ll die anyway he wants… can you imagine what you’d do?” “Damn that sounds cool.” I’ve had that conversation a few times followed by a mournful discussion of ex-girlfriends we don’t need to get into. The basic premise is great but what makes it even better is the battle of wits between Light and L as well as Light’s battle with temptation and madness when it comes to the Death Note. How can you resist all that power?
The look of the show is also something that gets a lot of praise for good reason and sets it apart (or at least did before subsequent shows copied it) from other anime. The soundtrack is intense and everything is geared to putting you through a psychological roller coaster. I recommend this show to everyone and I haven’t had any complaints yet. Why? Well, he gets his hands on this book…