How To Get Into Anime

So you want to get into anime. Buckle in. From outside, it looks like a big, scary and potentially fatal undertaking. And that's because it is.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Anime is a medium that contains all the dazzling peaks and deep, deep troughs of human imagination. When it's good, it's brain-bending sci-fi plots, mirthful belly laughs, involuntary squees and tears upon heartbreaking tears. And when it's bad, you'll find yourself head-in-hands, bemoaning the garbage race that is humanity.

Getting into anime is all about avoiding the caltrops and finding the glistening, gold nuggets. And there are a lot of them.

Your Mindset

There is so much god damn anime. And if you know anything about anime culture, it's that its fans are, often, mega-fans. Anime fandom can be intimidating for newcomers. "Oh, you've seen this obscure anime? Well, have you watched this one?", "Have you seen every episode?", and so on are questions that maladjusted people ask. Not everyone is like that. Ignore those people.

Watch what you like. Stop watching what you don't like, even if otaku tell you it's "foundational" or "classic". You have limited free time. Don't spend it all binging on Evangelion if, by episode 12, you're screaming, "Shinji: Get in the fucking robot."

Also: Anime is a medium, not a genre -- so unlike sci-fi movies or romantic comedies, you simply can't consume (or enjoy) it all. Sure, there are "anime" tropes such as adorable magical pets, high-school transfer love stories and 15-episode boss battles, but these are not guiding principles. Think of anime the same way you think of "cartoons". You might like Adventure Time, but not Invader Zim; Steven Universe but not Tiny Toons. A cartoon can cover any topic in any tone, so there are extreme differences between shows. The same goes for anime. The main difference is that anime is specifically produced in Japan and bound by some artistic similarities, such as large eyes and pointy chins.

Sailor Moon Crystal

What to start with

First, let's talk what not to start with. The most popular shows, such as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and Sailor Moon, are, a little counter-intuitively, not great places to begin your anime journey. They're long. They're a lore-heavy. And they're kids' shows for a reason. I won't throw shade on everyone's favourite nostalgic programming, but I will say that immediately interesting anime for adults is super easy to find (and is often better-written).

When it comes to where to dip your toes in, it really depends on what you like. Movies by Studio Ghibli are good palate-teasers. Most approach the heights of style and beauty that anime can harness: Wind-swept panoramas, a bath house for the spirits, a cat bus, two warrior princesses who fight climate change. For our Ghibli recommendations, check out this post. Personally, I recommend Nausicaa and My Neighbour Totoro. (For my top picks for anime movies that aren't Studio Ghibli, check this post). I have found, however, that first-time anime viewers will often just watch more Ghibli movies without venturing into the larger world of anime. And we don't want that!

I try to recommend shorter series without gratuitous anime in-jokes, alienating fan service, or an intended audience below the age of 13. I will gladly break one of those rules for exceptional shows. And there are many. Below are my top beginner's recommendations for each major anime genre along with one-sentence descriptions and reasons why I think they're great. (They're all series.)

Samurai Champloo


Cowboy Bebop: A rag-tag team of bounty hunters track down criminals and grapple with their sordid pasts in jazz-backed adventures across the galaxy. It's a sharp, action-packed classic full of James Bond one-liners and wildly creative world-building.

Samurai Champloo: Two samurai -- one a breakdancing degenerate and the other a buttoned-up goody-goody -- accompany a scrappy girl on her journey to find a "samurai who smells of sunflowers". It's a killer combination of Edo-era aesthetics and modern hip-hop culture with hilarious and emotional sequences in equal parts.

Fooly Cooly: An alien investigator in the form of a strange, boundary-breaking woman shakes up a depressed 13-year-old's life in this punk-backed acid trip of a show. Fooly Cooly is an addictive and totally original combination of style and strangeness.

Ruroni Kenshin: In 19th century Japan, a wandering swordsman helps those in need across the countryside after vowing to never kill another person. This anime, and its prequel Samurai X, will immerse you in a beautiful, cherry blossom-filled world where values are stricter and fights are meaningful.


(Disclaimer: Most comedy anime I'd recommend derive their humour from well-trod anime tropes. If you're unfamiliar with those tropes, this can be a hard genre to get into!)

Ouran High School Host Club: A female scholarship student at a prestigious school encounters a club of six dashing men whose jobs are to flatter women, and after she breaks their expensive vase, she's forced to pay it back by being a host, too. This show is over-the-top ridiculous and always puts me in a good mood.

Hetalia: Axis Powers: A ridiculous series of five-minute episodes in which World War II's Axis and Allied powers are personified (and satirised) as cute anime boys. It's amazing?


Nana: Two girls, both named Nana, meet on a train to Tokyo -- one wants to pursue her ambitions as a punk rock star, and the other wants to be close to her flaky boyfriend. With confidence, I can say that Nana is in my top three anime ever. Its cast of characters, ranging from a tight-knit punk band to a very empathetic hamburger griller, are realer than any I've experienced in any other media.

Clannad: One sarcastic, mediocre high schooler gets to know six extraordinary girls, all of whom betray their vulnerabilities and talents throughout his journey from delinquency to altruism. Clannad is full of likeable characters and, in the span of an episode, you'll be taken on a ride through any grab bag of emotions.

My Love Story: A total mensch with no luck at love and a too-attractive best friend falls in love with a shy girl who eventually confesses that she loves him in return. This is just such a sweet show that will make you feel very, very warm and fuzzy.


Berserk (1997): A wandering mercenary cuts down demons and delves into the darkest parts of humanity in this medieval-themed fantasy. Berserk is intense, deep and incredibly powerful.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A savant child alchemist and his brother attempt to bring their deceased mother back to life -- a major taboo -- by joining the State Alchemists and finding the famed Philosopher's Stone. This show has everything: Political intrigue, magic, religion, demons and love. Its story has a ton of momentum, pushed forward its dynamic, morally ambiguous characters.

From The New World


Kaiba: A psychedelic sci-fi romance set in a world where people's memories are stored on chips, which the rich buy in bulk for entertainment. It is like nothing you have ever seen. Just trust me.

From The New World: Millennia after humans decimate each other with psychic powers they developed genetically, a tranquil school in a bucolic countryside teaches its students how to harness their powers -- but not about the human race's dark history. This is a smart, well-paced show with mind-bogglingly good world-building.

It hurts to not include so many of my favourites, but some things (Perfect Blue, One-Punch Man, Madoka Magica) are just better saved for later.

Where to watch anime:

Subscribe to an anime streaming service. Crunchyroll and AnimeLab, which respectively for subtitles and both sub and dubs, have a ton of shows, and many new simulcasts. HiDive, Daisuki and Netflix are full of good anime, too.

I suggest paying for anime. Animators make next to nothing. If there are absolutely no other options aside from free streaming services, I don't know what to tell you. Buy the manga?

How to watch it:

Anime is best enjoyed alone or with a close friend or significant other. Snacks are necessary. A lot of anime breaks boundaries in ways that are rewarding when you can invest yourself in it entirely. So I'm still hesitant to watch my favourite shows with acquaintances. Sneering and judgement are pretty common responses to anime (and a lot of the time, it's warranted!). I don't want that maiming my anime experience. Maybe you're not me! That's great.

That's it! Go in with a good mindset, be discerning, choose your poison and run with it. Watching anime can be an incredibly rewarding hobby that brings you to new emotional and psychological heights. But make sure to remember: You don't have to watch everything.


    Anime is like wine. Some people don't care for it at all, but everyone else should taste as many as they can to find out what kind(s) they prefer.

    I've used Steins;Gate as a gateway anime for my friends, with outstanding success. It has a great balance between humour, cuteness and drama.

    Also, Berserk is cool and all... I really wanted to know more about Guts in his metal arm version at the start of the anime but it goes straight to flashback territory!

    Flashbacks! Damn them I say, blame One Piece..

      That's being made right now and... be careful what you wish for.

    It's sad to see that the 'Action' list hasn't changed in 10 years.....

    Samurai Champloo/Cowboy Bebop are my personal fav's and it sucks that nothing has surpassed them in over 10 years.

      Attack on Titan has gotta be right up there, but the list obviously represents the authors taste, which might lean slightly nostalgically

        I tried AoT but stopped after the first season. It was violent which was good, but it still had far too many anime tropes (wimpy kid being annoying af, silent mysterious lady, main kid having titan super powers ect.) for my liking.

        Is season 2 much of the same?

          Nah, S2 improves upon just about everything. The long time between season 1 and 2 and a few other projects that studio worked on seam to have let them really figure out how to deal with some of the shortcomings of s1 (like most you mentioned.) Its paced really well also which is something AoT S1 was fucking terrible with.

            That is only partially correct. Season 2 has half as many episodes so things need to move quicker, bit at the same time, there are 3-4 episodes which are completely unnecessary! For a season with only 12 episodes, thats 30% of wasted content...

      I don't think it's not that it hasn't changed but rather, that the stature of those series as classics makes them always jump to mind first. What about Black Lagoon? Michiko to Hatchin? The first half of Sword Art Online?

        I read Black Lagoon's manga and it was good, didn't watch the anime however (looking at the trailer on YT the animation is so-so). Michiko to Hatchin however looks real nice, I'll give it a shot!

        Maybe I'm just too picky - I like 'realistic' violence and interesting animation

          Give a shot to Black Lagoon as well! Not sure which parts you saw that seemed poorly animated, but the action scenes are fantastic and it really gets better as it goes on. If you like realistic violence, I hear Gangsta is also quite a treat.

            Oh, and how could I forget, Baccano! It's more "cartoony" than all those other shows but really there's not a better anime with regards of the "good old ultra-violence", other than, I guess, Berserk.

    I'd put up Death Note. I think most people can get hooked by its twists and turns.

      I'd second that. I know it's fashionable for a lot of anime aficionados to look down on it, but I still think it's one of the best.

    First, let's talk what not to start with. The most popular shows, such as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and Sailor Moon, are, a little counter-intuitively, not great places to begin your anime journey. They're long. They're a lore-heavy. And they're kids' shows for a reason.

    I am so triggered, I am literally shaking RN. I sat down and watched 10 episodes of Dragonball Super last week and I am not a kid, I'm a well adjusted adult!! *shivering*

      DBZ is more of a kid/teen show really, as for DB it has quite a few pervy moments which is definitely not aimed at kids, it seems they toned that down a bit for Z. Except for that episode with 18's breasts.. Yeah, i wouldn't be calling it kid friendly with those scenes! Not seen any DB Super yet.

      Haha I am with you. I just saw the end episode of a certain arc of Super and I was almost jumping up and cheering furiously because it was so cool. However, I kind of see the point of the author. I don't know if I'd feel the same if I just got started, if all these characters weren't my childhood friends living in a fantastic world with fantastic lore that I know intrinsically.

    Uh ...One punch man? Humor, action, romance. It's...just..not...long....enough ;'(

      It's mentioned. Nearly all of the humour is anime injokes or tropes turned on their head.

    Full metal alchemist brotherhood is one of my fav shows of all time. Its somthing that I feel is enjoyable to anyone and the english dub is really good.

    Black Lagoon, Gansta, Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphan, Heat Guy J
    One Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100, Trigun

    I'd recommend Erased, on Animelab. I feel like it's one people new to anime could like, and it's really good! And one that probably isn't for newcomers, but is weird and kooky and fun and worth mentioning anyway... Toriko.

      Definitely this. My gf and I don't watch anime, but we watched Erased. It's gripping, and and incredibly well thought out story.

      Erased is certainly good, however I dont think I would recommend it to someone new to anime, a little too deep into this rabbit hole.

    From the synopsis you've never seen Full metal alchemist as it's wrong. The goal of the series is to get Al's body back

      Well technically it's to restore BOTH their bodies, but your point still stands.

    I'd say Steins Gate and Code Geass. Gurren Lagaan is my favourite but probably way to much for first timers.

    For movies you've got heaps of good options - Sword of a Stranger, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, and Summer Wars are all good stand alone titles.

      Hmm, I tried Code Geass with only one other anime under my belt and I kind of hated it. Maybe I'd like it more now, but my main impression of the series at the time was the Pizza Hut advertising.

    I think the first anime i ever watched when i was a kid was Tenchi, it was on CN & i remember there being scenes that didn't make sense.. or seemed slightly sexual? Which was odd for CN i thought at the time, didn't really get it.. but i hear there are cut scenes from what aired on TV so that makes sense.

    I'm open to a quite a lot of anime tbh, i also don't get the snobs who think a 7 rating or in the 7's range is bad, I've seen a few western films with ratings in the 7's and thought they deserved higher scores. This is why i don't pay much attention to IMDB or other sites that give scores, there are simply too many trolls who purposely down vote something for the sake of it. And they usually give 1-2 stars to rub salt in the wound.

    When i see people review stuff they don't like, it's usually because of fan service or too much violence.. well here's news for you, it's anime! What do you expect? It really irritates me that i see the odd review saying something like "Oh it's about a lonely pervy school girl, no thanks!" then give 1 star.

    Some people are stupid. Anyway quite often the stuff I've watched i think are easily 7.5's or 8's when the overall rating is around 7.. but in the end i don't let others influence what i watch, that would be boring to be a constant sheep follower.

    Code Geass, Deathnote or Full Metal alchemist, all great shows, all with pretty good dubs so your dont have to ask a newcomer to watch it in Japanese.

      Too bad Season 2 of Death Note is bad. Loved the first season, couldn't make it more than 2-3 episodes deep on the second

    And when it's bad, you'll find yourself head-in-hands, bemoaning the garbage race that is humanity.INB4 "This show is trash and so am I"

    I could go on about how wrong some of the choices are for first timers. But we all have different tastes. I mainly disagree with the comedy recommendations though. I would have said Nichijou. The 2 chosen by the poster are very specific and are both aimed at a female audience. Nothing wrong with that. But if you are writing an article you should try and either specify they are for a male/female demographic or give recommendations for both. Yes any gender could potentially enjoy any show regardless of targeted audience. But I don't know any male that likes either of those shows so XD

      What? What part of Hetalia makes you think it is a show aimed at girls? Just because the protagonists are all male eye candy? It's actually pretty biting and smart satire and mostly non-gendered humour.

    I've always wanted to get more into anime, but I find that anime fans can often be quite elitist to newcomers.

    For example, I LOVE Cowboy Bebop, but I've had a anime fanatic friend tell me "Cowboy Bebop isn't a real anime" implying that it was made for Western audiences and not legit enough for true anime fans. That and my anime friends' fascination with all things "kawaii" and "chibi" always put me off dipping my toes in further.

    For the record, I dug Samurai Champloo as well, generally like Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films, but personally I thought Evangelion was a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

    I might get into Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as I've been told it's the sort of thing I'd like, since I loved Cowboy Bebop. But it's kinda like how I tell people they should watch Vikings since they're into Game of Thrones, but it just falls on deaf ears. I get it though, sometimes we don't have the time or are too stubborn to try new things...

    Last edited 18/07/17 9:29 pm

      FMAB is just a great show, beyond genres. It's something that can be enjoyed by any, in my opinion.

    I just read the title, saw the header image and nodded sagely. Yes, indeed, Brotherhood is all you need to get yourself started. The one thing that may make me hesitate about making it my top 1 "get into anime" recommendation is its length. Still, so worth it.

    Also, if you have been paying attention, by episode 12 of NGE you should be shouting "Shinji, for the love of God, do NOT get into the fucking robot! :P

    I would NOT recommend Kenshin for initiates, (though I'd probably recommend the manga to people wishing to dip their toe into those other waters). The first season of Kenshin is poorly animated, overly long and stuffy with rather inane filler, slow to get off the ground and riddled with a very silly, very Japanese kind of humour. Whilst it has some genuinely amazing moments, they are--in the first season--rather few and far between. Then you get an utterly fantastic second season... and a hair-pullingly disappointing and unsatisfactory third season that doesn't finish the main story arc. I'd still recommend Kenshin, but only to people who have already developed a love of anime and patience for the kind of low points I mentioned.

    Some alternatives:

    Attack on Titan Humanity has brought to the brink of extinction due to the sudden apparition of giant, near-invulnerable human-like creatures who mindlessly kill and devour humans known as titans. The last known remains of humanity are huddled together behind circular walls vastly taller than the tallest titan and leave in modest safety for decades until a massively enormous titan appears and breaks the wall. It falls to the budding generation of titan-killers to repeal the following invasion as well as they can manage while desperately trying to find the truth about the nature of titans to put a definite end to the threat.

    Black Lagoon A bland, unremarkable white-collar worker at the bottom of the corporate ladder is chosen by a corrupt CEO to meet with a gang of unsavory mercenaries to seemingly pay off an extortion fee, but unknowingly he's been made the sacrificial bait in a trap to have the mercenaries eliminated by the CEO's own mercenaries. As the gang is forced to escape with the white-collar worker as a hostage, he decides to break clean from that boring office life and join the gang.

    Michiko & Hatchin A beautiful but crude and reckless woman escapes prison and kidnaps a level-headed little girl from her abusive foster home as she believes that the girl is the daughter of a man she was infatuated with before going to prison and her best clue to finding him. Although polar opposites, the duo become inseparable as they constantly get in trouble with the police and the criminal underground in their quest to find the girl's daughter.

    A new species of beings with unknown origin appear on Earth and need to attach themselves to other lifeforms in order to survive, taking over their brains and assuming control and then devouring humans for sustenance. A young man is assaulted by one of those lifeforms but it accidentally gets bonded with his hand instead of his brain, allowing him to retain control. He then sets off to destroy all of the other creatures using the abilities he gained from the creature in his hand.

    My Girlfriend, the Ultimate Weapon If the potential initiate likes drama but dislikes sugary outcomes and everyday circumstances, this is a better alternative to the ones in the article. A heartwrenching drama set in a bleak future World War dystopia where a young man finds that the sweet high-schooler with whom he wanted to have a not too serious fling has been experimentally modified to become a living weapon and who is slowly withering away and losing her humanity as the weapon grows in power.

    School Rumble
    A crash course in the Japanese style of comedy, it starts with a simple high school love triangle between a kind but air-headed girl, a boy that for reasons forced himself into the role of a typical delinquent youth and an extremely bland but somewhat odd boy that seems to only love instant curry. The series slowly but surely devolves into situation comedy, then the kind of full-blown absurdity that can be found in many other anime series.

    Sword Art Online A new MMORPG with a run-of-the mill medieval sword and sorcery kind of setting that offers full VR immersion with a proprietary software is launched to massive popularity but it turns to be a trap by its creator who included in the set technology that causes the user to die in real life if they die in-game or if they attempt to disconnect from it before they "beat" it. This is a great, short 15-episode series. Do not believe internet sites claiming that there are more episodes after that. Just trust me on this.

    Psycho-Pass In a future where a super intelligent AI has been allowed to govern the society of a major city, criminals can be identified and profiled by the AI from behavioural changes right before they are about to commit the crime. A rookie police-woman must learn the ropes of what being a cop means in this new reality while pondering the fairness and humanity of it all.

      Good choices all round, except for SOA. That's really good for the first half season and then devolves into crappy harem bait tropes. Log Horizon or Overlord are better "stuck in an MMO" seasons but I'm not sure I could recommend them to first timers.

    i'd recommend anything studio Ghibli, Rurouni Kenshin and Irresponsible Captain Tyler.

    lol! Start at Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy, then move forwards from there... :)

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