Anime has some of the greatest pieces of content out there, but it isn’t always an easy genre to get into.
Everyone has to start somewhere…
The first time you watch an anime is a surreal moment; you know you’ve seen something different and maybe you want to see more of it.
Anime is an interesting medium of entertainment because of the sheer variety of content that you’ll find. It’s also one of the harder mediums to get into.
Imagine you’ve never seen an anime before and a friend recommends a particular series that you end up hating. You may never want to watch anime again. It’s very easy to generalize anime as one thing or another. You could easily be put off by some of the content – which poisons your experience with the medium as a whole.
Every anime fan needs to starts somewhere and I thought it’d be fun to look at some titles that would be good introductions for first time viewers.
So here we go, the Top 15 Perfect Anime Titles for First Time Viewers.
Number 15: Angelic Layer (2001)
Kicking off this list is a sports/sci-fi series: Angelic Layer.
Misaki Suzuhara is a girl who moves to Tokyo from the countryside and discovers the titular game of Angelic Layer. The gist of the game is simple; two players each place a doll (called an Angel) onto a virtual reality arena and the two fight it out. The victor is decided when one angel is thrown from the arena, can no longer fight or has more damage than the other at the end of the match.
Misaki soon makes a name for herself in the competitive scene and makes many new friends along the way.
This is a slightly older series so it’s not as well-known as some of the others on this list. Released by CLAMP, Angelic Layer ran for 26 episodes from April 1st to September 23rd of 2001.
I watched this one a few years back and while I don’t normally do cutesy sports type series; this one was a lot of fun. The art style is fantastic, the characters are fun and interesting and there are some great themes of friendship to go with it all.
Overall this is just a good series to start off with.
Number 14: D-Frag (2014)
Okay, so this is one of the funniest anime series’ I’ve seen in years! Every episode had me in stitches; it’s a genuinely good comedy series. It’s also one of the more recent titles on this list airing 12 episodes from January to March of 2014.
The story follows a delinquent by the name of Kenji Kazama as he ends up shanghaied into his school’s game creation club. He spends the series just trying to maintain his sanity and it’s glorious!
There’s a lot to like here; the art style is beautiful, the music is great (particularly the opening theme) and the performances are absolute gems. Let’s face it, most comedy series’ just aren’t funny; or if they are it’s typically for the wrong reasons.
Thankfully, D-Frag isn’t lacking for genuine comedy. If anything, it’s actually very self-aware of itself, and that’s always a plus.
Number 13: Dragon Ball Z (1989)
Now, wait a minute; don’t throw things at me just yet DBZ fans – let me explain first.
Based on the latter half of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball manga, Dragon Ball Z is kind of like required viewing in terms of anime. It’s the title that got me and many of my friends into anime as a kid.
DBZ follows the adventures of one of the most iconic anime heroes Goku, and is set five years after the previous series.
Running for 291 episodes from 1989 to 1996, this is by far the longest series on this list. The animation and fight scenes are beautiful, the villains are suitably scary and the heroes are likable.
So, if it’s really all that great; why is it so low on this list? Well, here’s the thing; the series is great – there’s no denying that; but it’s also something of an acquired taste. This series is primarily about the fighting; that’s kind of how it feels to me. Yes, character relationships are explores and yes, there are some deeper thematic elements but at the end of the day; this is a fighting series.
Between the fights are these long periods of nothingness where the characters just scream at each other until one of them is magically powered up and is stronger than the other.
That can be a bit of a problem but I think this one would still be a good one to start with. It’s heavy enough that you actually care without feeling overwhelmed; first time viewers would certainly get quite a kick out of it – excuse the pun.
Number 12: Black Lagoon (2006)
Okay, this one kind of flies under the radar for the most part and it’s not as…erm…friendly as the previous 3 entries on this list. It is, however, a reasonably good jumping off point for first time viewers who are looking for something a bit darker, a bit more serious.
The story follows a group of mercenaries as they go about their day-to-day lives and complete various jobs.
Once again, the artwork is fantastic, the characters are likable and the music is great. The action scenes are so fluid and cool you’d swear you were watching a good action film!
As I said before, though, this series is a bit more adult than the other 3 entries and as such it’s not really something the whole family can watch. Just something to keep in mind.
Number 11: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (2002)
If I were to pick a series to introduce someone to the franchise it would be Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. Why? Well, firstly it’s the series that introduced me to the franchise and secondly, it’s the easiest for first time viewers to watch.
Let’s get this out of the way, the Gundam franchise is freaking huge! It’s an anime juggernaut that’s been cruising along since 1979.
The story follows Kira Yamato, a civilian who ends up dragged into a war between Earth and the space colonies.
It’s not ultra-violent but it is a bit heavier than most of the entries on this list. Perfect for sci-fi fans, the show balances drama, action and exposition perfectly to tell a good war story.
Well worth watching if you’re a sci-fi fan looking to get into anime.
Number 10: King of Thorn (2010)
This is a very obscure title on this list so don’t feel too bad if you haven’t heard of it.
The basic story is that a virus has broken out and is turning people to stone – yes, really – this virus is christened ‘Medusa’ and everyone is susceptible. A project is put in place to put a group of people into cold sleep to be woken up on the day that a cure is found.
Can’t say too much more or I’ll spoil the whole thing for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
King of Thorn is a highly underrated title and while it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at times it’s still one heck of a ride. Being an unknown title actually helps in this case as you kind of go in blind. No idea of what to expect or when to expect it.
First time viewers on this one may be a bit confused sometimes but with great visuals, spectacular music and voice performances, this is a pretty solid choice to start getting into anime.
Number 9: Black Cat (2005)
Train Heartnett is ‘black cat’, a legendary assassin who becomes a sweeper (bounty hunter) following the death of a friend. He sets out to capture as many criminals as possible living the carefree life of a stray cat.
I saw this one years ago and it’s a really good action piece. Cool characters, great humor, fantastic fights, beautiful art and music…what’s not to like?
Now, admittedly; the performances can be a bit stilted at times but they’re still a lot of fun to watch. These guys really threw their all into this series and their effort and dedication is well appreciated.
So, yeah; another really good one for a first time viewer of anime to start with and if you haven’t seen it then I highly recommend it.
As a side-note; I actually read the manga that the series is based on a few years back and that really heightens the experience when you’re watching the anime.
Number 8: Hellsing Ultimate (2006)
Okay so first time viewers might find this one to be a little off putting.
Hellsing Ultimate is a 10 episode OVA that aired from 2006 to 2012 and follows the exploits of Integra Hellsing (the great-granddaughter of Abraham van Helsing) as she leads the Hellsing organisation in the fight against all supernatural threats.
So, a bit of backstory real quick; the first Hellsing anime was released in 2001 and aired for 13 episodes but since the manga wasn’t yet completed they had to make a few changes. This first anime adaptation ended its run in 2002.
Four years later, with the manga now completed a new anime series was put together; this time following the manga’s story more closely.
Since I haven’t read the Hellsing manga I can’t really say to what degree they followed the story. I’m given to understand that they used pretty much the entire manga and put everything on screen.
This is another brilliant action piece, with pretty good mystery and horror elements included for good measure.
So, why would this be off putting for first time viewers?
Simply put; if you don’t like gore then this is one you should probably skip. Every episode is blood-soaked and gloriously gory but if you’re not into that kind of thing, maybe give this one a miss.
On the other hand, if the gore doesn’t put you off, the slapstick humor might. Still, Hellsing Ultimate is a reasonably good one to start out with.
Number 7: Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters (2000)
You know the whole “playing cards on motorcycles” thing? Yeah, this is where that started out…sort of.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters is the second anime adaptation of Kazuki Takahashi’s Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. The series aired 224 episodes from 2000 to 2004 and has spawned a number of spin-offs and films as well as an official card game since its initial run.
Essentially the series follows a group of friends as they go on various misadventures to save the world by playing a children’s card game.
To say that this series had an impact on young Greg would be a huge understatement. Duel Monsters was one of the very first anime series’ that I watched as a kid. As a kid I tuned into Channel 2 every afternoon and watched an episode. I also got into the card game and had a lot of fun with that too.
Yes, it’s silly but with great characters, beautiful artwork, awesome music and a good story (in spite of 4Kids Entertainment’s censorship); it’s a good series to start with.
That said, the series is very formulaic and the constant friendship speeches in the series can be really, really irritating! Still, if you’re looking to get into anime and you don’t mind the minor annoyance of a constant friendship speech; check this one out.
Number 6: Sword Art Online (2012)
A more recent series, Sword Art Online follows a group of people as they get stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG with the only way out being to beat the game – the catch being that if they die in-game they’ll die in real life too.
I must admit I’m a little bit torn here. On one hand, I like the series; the characters, visuals and music are all great and the concept is interesting.
On the other hand, the series is very cookie cutter in terms of its storytelling aspects. Everything seems to happen very quickly with little time to develop the characters and setting
Still a decent – if bland – series to use as an introduction to anime.
Number 5: Nisekoi (2014)
The son of a Yakuza boss and the daughter of an American gang boss are forced to pretend to be in love to prevent a war between the two factions.
I don’t think I’ve seen a series like this before. Nisekoi is a fantastic comedy series with a number of heartwarming scenes throughout. The voice cast’s performances are brilliant and the gorgeous artwork and music just create a series that anyone can watch.
The tone for the series is fairly consistent and the humor is fantastic so this would be a good starting point for first time anime watchers.
Number 4: Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex (2002)
Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a television series that ran for 2 seasons from 2002 to 2005.
The story is simple: a special team of cyborg cops fight crime in a future Japan. It’s heavy on action, relying more on visual storytelling than having characters spewing exposition every 5 minutes.
Now, I will admit that this choice is a bit biased on my part – I’m a huge Ghost in the Shell fan – but this really is a good entry point; not just for anime but also for the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole.
Thematically, the ideas of identity and what it means to be human are still present but you don’t really notice them the first time you watch the show.
Check this one out if you’re looking for some new sci-fi stuff.
Number 3: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2004)
D is a dhampir (although it’s pronounced ‘dunpeal’ in the film for some reason), a human-vampire hybrid who hunts vampires. When a young woman is taken by a vampire, her family hires the hunter to retrieve her and kill the vampire.
Of course, not everything is quite what it appears to be and D’s hunt could be more complicated than he’d first realized.
What I like about this film is just how cool it is. Although technically a sequel to 1985’s Vampire Hunter D, this film is more of a separate entity. You can watch Bloodlust without having watched the older film. The visuals are great, the characters are fantastic and the music is hauntingly beautiful.
The story is okay. It’s not very original but it’s executed better than I thought it’d be and the fight scenes are absolutely glorious. It’s a bit slow but that helps to build the atmosphere of the film.
If I had one complaint it’d be that the villain of the film felt a bit like a nothing character. I’ve seen this one multiple times it’s great for first time viewers who are into the dark stuff of film and television – without being overly gory.
Number 2: Attack on Titan (2013)
Mankind is on the brink of extinction, surviving within a series of walls. Outside of the walls are the titans – giant man-eating creatures of dubious origin. When titans breach a section of the wall, three of the survivors join the military to fight the man-eating threat.
This series is fantastically animated, has great music and good characters. I saw this one a few years back and, in spite of my misgivings, gave it a chance.
Initially I wasn’t too sure about the series as I didn’t like the main character of Eren Jaeger at all. Still I wanted to see what all the hype was about so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.
What I found was an adrenaline rush of a show that knew just where to push to get your emotions going. If that tickles your fancy, then check it out; as a newcomer it’ll be an interesting first watch.
Now, let’s look at our number one spot! Drum roll please!
Number 1: Princess Mononoke (1997)
I’ve probably angered a few Studio Ghibli fans with this selection so let me explain myself while I have a chance.
The story is your typical hero’s journey; a young prince kills a forest god and is cursed. He leaves his home in search of a cure. Along the way, he meets a mysterious girl called San and they work together to save the ruler of the forest.
I am a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan and have seen a lot of his animated work. As such, it was very difficult to pick a film from his selection. My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle were good. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was a fantastic film – a bit slow in places but definitely worth a watch and Spirited Away, of course, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003.
Of all these films, however, Princess Mononoke has to be my personal favorite.
The artwork is gorgeous. All the characters and performances are fantastic. It’s all backed by consistent pacing excellent music. You could sit someone down in front of this film who has never watched a Miyazaki film before and it’d likely blow their minds.
Fun Fact: When the film was being marketed for an American release, the company that was supposed to release the film in the USA – Miramax – wanted some changes made. Miyazaki apparently sent Miramax Films chairman Harvey Weinstein a katana with a message reading: “No cuts”
Final Thoughts: Plenty of anime to watch
Well, there you have it; 15 anime films and series for first time viewers. I’d love to know your thoughts on this list so hit me up on Facebook and tell me what you think of my selection.