Within the past couple decades, there’s been a noticeably strong growing interest in anime – or Japanese animation – in the United States. At its height, it was seemingly everywhere you looked, whether you realized it or not.
But, for those of us who found the genre early, our interests have changed. I mean, sure, for nostalgia’s sake you may still spend an occasional Saturday morning watching Gohan completely own Cell, but there’s an undeniable need for more to satisfy our new tastes. The good news is that anime has grown with us and has some pretty great series to offer. But trying to dive back into the genre or venture in for the first time without a safety net can be pretty overwhelming.
So, if you’re interested in seeing what other kinds of great productions have made their way out of Japan, here’s a list of some good gateway anime to start off with. Some are critically acclaimed classics that have been around for a while, and others are more recent releases that are doing a good job at changing the genre while staying true to its roots.
Cowboy Bebop has something for everyone: action, depth, character development, and a great soundtrack that pulls from multiple genres. Throughout its 26 episodes, the series establishes a futuristic universe where bounty hunters – also known as “cowboys” – travel through space to catch wanted criminals for profit. The series’ main character, Spike Spiegel, is still considered to be one of the most popular anime characters ever created.
Bebop is credited with playing a major role in the growing popularity of anime in the U.S. To be honest, getting the series on Blu-Ray inspired me to write this list in the first place.
Hip-hop music blends really well with Edo-era Japan. At least, that’s the case with Samurai Champloo, which follows the story of two samurai that are complete opposites of each other in every way, ranging from their personalities to fighting styles, and a young girl on a mission to find someone from her past. This series is considered to be a fan favorite, probably because it’s viewable for stream on Netflix.
Attack On Titan
So far, only one season of Attack On Titan has been released, but fans are eating it up anyway. Think The Walking Dead except the walkers are over 12-feet-tall (sometimes taller), aren’t falling apart, can run faster than you, and have humanity on the brink of extinction. That’s the world that Eren and his companions have to live in. It looks like things are about to get pretty big for AOT in the next year, with two live-action movies on the way.
A lot of anime series are less than 30 episodes. But every now and then you get one that can go on for a while. And by a while, I mean over a decade; for example, Naruto. If you’re looking for a show that’s all about fighting, this is right up your alley. But of course there’s a detailed plot to explain everything and make you want to see how things end up.
Note: The Naruto manga ended recently enough for people to still be upset about it. So it may be wise to avoid talking about it in public to avoid spoilers.
Yu Yu Hakusho
As a kid, I found Yu Yu Hakusho more adult-focused than the stuff I watched when I got home from school. Now that I actually am an adult (or pretend to be), I’ve learned that there’s far worse out there. So this story of a teenager battling evil demons with the help of his friends is still exciting enough for someone that’s looking to watch good anime, but not so juvenile that you can’t take it seriously.
Imagine a world where people are policed based on their mental and emotional stability. Before they ever get a chance to crack under the pressures of life, they’re arrested and dragged away to a facility to get them back on track. If they’re already too far gone, well, they’re dealt with. That world is given to you in Psycho Pass.
For the past few years, the two most popular, long-running anime/manga series have been Naruto and One Piece, the story of a boy that aims to become the king of all pirates with the help of his crew. Oh, he also ate a special fruit that gives him the power to make his body rubber. The only price is that now he can’t swim. Pretty tough if you’re trying to be a pirate.
One Piece admittedly feels rather campy and light-hearted at the start, but as you get deeper, the series gets darker and grows along with its audience.
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online explores the video game player’s fantasy: virtual reality. In SAO, a young man named Kirito gets trapped inside of a game, along with millions of other people, where the only way out is to win. If you die before then, you die in real life as well.
If you had the power to eliminate any threat, at any time, in any way you wanted to, would you? Death Note forces you to ask yourself questions similar to that as it tells the story of a genius named Light Yagami that gains the ability to kill people almost at-will with the use of a special book. If you watch this with a group of friends, like I did, it’ll be sure to spark up some interesting conversations about capital punishment, instant gratification, and god complexes.
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is about a pair of brothers that study alchemy and replace parts of their bodies with metal after a major accident in their youth. Pretty on the nose title, huh? This series is a reboot of an earlier attempt at bringing the manga to the screen that dropped the ball after a certain point.