If you’re unfamiliar, “anime” is just the Japanese word for cartoon, so in Japan, all cartoons are anime. In the western world though, anime is a more restrictive term, referring primarily to cartoons that are Japanese in either origin or style. That’s the super condensed definition and like, some people way nerdier than me are probably horrified with it, but whatever.
You might think of Japanese cartoons and think “oh yeah, like Pokémon probably… except you’re an adult so why do you watch that?” And you’re right, Pokémon is anime. But anime isn’t a genre. It’s a style. So while there are kid’s anime shows like Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, or The Last Airbender, that only scratches the surface of the anime world. It’s probably safe to say that anime is actually geared for adults most of the time.
So if you’ve read this far and are still with me: Congratulations! You’re my real homie now. We gonna get real nerdy <3
1. Death Note
Arguably the most famous and successful anime, Death note started as a manga (sort of like an intense Japanese comic book? Please don’t hate me, manga experts!) and was made into a 37 episode TV show in 2006. This was the first anime I ever seriously watched, and it is seriously one of the best written shows ever. There is a Netflix original movie that came out last year, but it is absolute trash and shouldn’t exist; ignore it completely. Willem Dafoe as a giant demon creature is the only redeemable thing about it.
To briefly sum up the plot, the protagonist, Light Yagami, finds a notebook, and if you write down a person’s name in the notebook while thinking of them, it will kill them. The notebook is owned by Ryuk, a Shinigami, or demon like-creature, who has to stay with the notebook but can only be seen by the holder of the notebook. Light is like a super genius, and decides to use it to kill bad guys, which is noble-ish, right? The FBI get wind that the person killing all these bad guys is a serial killer, and they assign their senior homicide detective to the case, and begin to try to find and stop this killer. Eventually they hire “L”, an equally intelligent consultant who believes he can outsmart the killer. This all sounds a little crazy I know, but ultimately this is a brilliantly written game of cat-and-mouse and I was completely captivated the whole way through. If you love a good thriller/mystery, then this one is definitely for you.
Read: Hey, I wanna talk about Emus.
2. Attack on Titan
This one is… a little more difficult to explain. Basically, in the future, there is a plague of giants (Titans) that eat people. The entirety of human civilization is contained within three impenetrable walls, and the ever-present threat of the Titans is kept relatively low – that is until a colossal Titan with no skin smashes a hole into the outermost wall layer…
Attack on Titan (or Shingeki no Kyojin) is like, super intense. It is definitely not for the faint of heart as far as drama is concerned. In the first episode, our kid main character Eren watches his mother get her legs crushed, and then she is eaten by a Titan right in front of his little baby face.
And let me be clear, these Titans don’t look like Bigfoot or some crazy monster thing. These giants look like creepy, happy people with too many teeth. (They’re also naked but have no genitals and they run like 2-year-olds on crack, so that’s pretty cool)
AOT is so well written that at the end of every episode, you will feel like you have more questions than answers. The show is currently still running, and we are anxiously awaiting season 3, which is sure to again, bring us more questions, since season two left us with a HUGE FREAKING CLIFFHANGER. I have cried a lot watching this one, so if you’re more of a sitcom watcher, maybe stay away from this one.
3. One Punch Man
One Punch man is my favorite, favorite, favorite show, maybe ever. It’s definitely in my top 3, anyway. (One Punch man, Parks and Recreation, and Bojack Horseman, thanks for asking). This show is so incredibly funny and self-deprecating that it’s basically an anime that makes fun of anime.
Our hero, (my hero, the perfect hero, the only hero, etc) is named Saitama, and he is just “a hero for fun”. He’s so strong though that every villain he faces is vanquished in just a single punch. He is incredibly dissatisfied by this and is often devastated at how easy it is to win a fight.
He lives alone, and is a fully regular guy (except for the punching) and is constantly getting himself into shenanigans without realizing how incredible he is.
A cyborg, Genos, finds him and wants to make Saitama his Sensei (teacher). Saitama hesitantly agrees, because he can’t get Genos to leave him alone. Look, take my word for it, It is freaking hilarious and perfect. This show is also still running, and I am waiting on pins and needles for season 2. For an incredible article about One Punch Man and its brilliance, read The Upside Down Heroism of One Punch Man (WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS)
Read: God bless Pidgin English
Some important things to know about anime:
There is a constant debate about “subs vs. dubs”, that is Japanese shows in Japanese with English subtitles vs. Japanese shows dubbed over by English voice actors. I am torn on the subject, though I am by no means an expert. Some shows are popular enough that the English dubbed versions are really good. Death note and Attack on Titan for example, have really good English dubs. Watch those. Some shows, like the classic Cowboy Bebop, are actually better with dubs. You get the tone of their dialogue so much more easily.
Some shows though, like One Punch Man, do not have good dubbed versions. I 1000% prefer the subtitled version of One Punch man, because the dubbed version sounds weird and is bad.
A lot of anime is available on Netflix, but not all anime is created equal. Neo Yokio, for example, is an anime, though it is 100% American. It’s voice-acted by Jude Law, Jaden Smith, and Susan Sarandon, for crying out loud. It is, in my opinion though, just okay. It’s a good concept with some good goofs, but overall the execution is weak.
You just can’t think about anime as a genre. It is a style, and just like any style, there are really good examples, and really bad examples.
There is a lot of anime that is wildly inappropriate, but there is also a lot of anime that is for kids. A ton of anime exists that is romantic or fantastical or science fiction-y or whatever. I would say start with these three I’ve mentioned, and then you can branch out from there.
Let me know what you think! Try the shows! Get back to me! I need people to talk to about these because my husband and I have exhausted all possible talking points! K bye!
That is all