Anime 101: Where To Start


Anime is a bit of a rabbit hole; once you go down that road there is no coming back. Finding that first white rabbit to follow, on the other hand? Not always so easy.

For those of us who are familiar with it, anime is a really cool form of storytelling. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but for some reason anime genuinely has some of the most unique, sometimes fantastically strange stories I’ve ever seen. Writers in Japan get things published that I feel like would never be given a chance in traditional US publishing, and the results are seriously amazing.

Those who aren’t familiar with anime on the other hand, often find it super confusing. There are so many different options spanning more genres than you can count, so it can be difficult to know where to start if you want to try to get into it. It can also be difficult for anime fans to know how to introduce their friends to it without scaring them off. So I decided to offer my bit of expertise on how to make the dive!

But I don’t like anime

Okay, so let me explain you a thing. Anime is not a genre for you to dislike. It is not like horror, or rom-coms. It is a medium. Saying you don’t like anime is as broad a statement as saying you don’t like live action movies. Which I suppose is possible, but it still sounds a bit absurd don’t you think? There are so many different options when it comes to anime that it is almost guaranteed that anyone going in with an open mind is bound to find something they will enjoy.

Think about what kind of stories you normally like when you read or watch TV. Anime is no different, it just can be kind of hard for you to know what you’ll like if you don’t know anything about it. So I’ve come up with some recommendations based on your interests! These are all shows that I have watched myself and have recommended to others in the past.

If You Like Fantasy and Adventure

Do you love unique concepts, worlds of magic, and following your favorite characters on dangerous adventures? Are you not one to shy away from the somewhat strange? Then you might enjoy…

(This is what I watch most of so that’s why it has more recommendations than the others. Sorry, yo.)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

how to start watching anime, fullmetal alchemist

Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one and only truth.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward (the attractive blonde in the red coat) and Alphonse (the living suit of armor) Elric. Their mother dies when they are very young and, desperate to get her back, they attempt to bring her back to life using alchemy, the single greatest taboo among alchemists. Alchemy relies on equivalent exchange, as explained in the above quote, and what could you possibly offer in exchange for a human soul? Their attempt takes a disastrous turn, Ed loses an arm and a leg and Al loses his entire body, becoming a soul trapped in a suit of armor. The primary storyline follows the brothers as they seek the philosopher’s stone, which will enable them to restore their bodies. But there are more sinister powers at work in Amestris, and the Elric brothers quickly find themselves in the dead center of it.

This is honest to god my absolute favorite anime, and one of the best stories I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I’ve yet to meet someone who has watched it who didn’t love it. I genuinely cannot explain how amazing the writing and the animation of FMA is. It does an excellent job of balancing humor with its extraordinarily dark content, the characters are real and complex, and it has one of the most satisfying and well written endings of anything I’ve ever read or seen. I seriously cannot recommend it enough. Oh gosh. Watch it. Just watch it.

FMA: Brotherhood is also a really great starter anime. It is unique, but not any weirder than something you might read normally. It is not super long (about 60-70 episodes) so it is manageable, but still has a decent length to it. It is the first anime I ever watched start to finish, which is maybe partially why it has such a special place in my heart, but it is seriously fantastic.

*Important Note: there are 2 Fullmetal Alchemist animes. Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are not the same thing. Brotherhood follows the manga almost to the T and is so, so much better than the first one; that is the one I am recommending. Watch the other at you’re own risk.*

Fairy Tail

how to start watching anime, fairy tail

As long as our friends are with us, we have nothing to fear! Even if we don’t have any magic power left, we won’t give up until the bitter end. That’s what it means to be in Fairy Tail.

Fairy Tail is the story of a- you guessed it- Fairy Tail, a guild of wizards who, despite having saved the world numerous times, are best known for their tendencies to be a bit destructive in the process.

In the world of Fairy Tail, wizards all specialize in a particular type of magic, and it is super cool getting to see just how many unique types there are throughout the world. Lucy is a celestial wizard, meaning she can call on celestial spirits to fight with her. Natsu is a dragon slayer who uses fire magic. Grey Fullbuster (hella attractive black hair guy on the right) uses ice magic. The list goes on and on, and honestly most of the magic is a bit to complex to try to explain in this post.

This is also one of those stories that does not really have a single plot line. There is an overarching plot going on in the background- hints at a slow building apocalypse sort of thing- but it is not always the center focus. Instead there are numerous story arcs, all of which contribute to greater storyline in some way, though you don’t always know how until later. As a result, Fairy Tail is consderably longer than animes like FMA: Brotherhood. Fairy Tail is still ongoing, so we don’t know how it ends yet, but things are definitely starting to come together where I am, though I’m far from caught up. I’m roughly 200 episodes in, though, so I’ve seen plenty enough to recommend it.

Fairy Tail is one of my favorites- I am actually planning on getting the tattoo at some point. It is really the characters that make this one fantastic. I get warm fuzzies when stories emphasize friendship and people banding together to fight against bullies and oppression and just, ahh it is so good. It also does a PHENOMENAL job in providing super complex characters. Very few antagonists are portrayed as solely evil, everyone is given an in-depth backstory. Its great.

I just have a lot of feelings about the Fairy Tail wizards. I bet you will too.

Soul Eater

how to start watching anime, soul eater

A sound soul resides within a sound mind and a sound body.

Remember what I said about needing to be able to embrace the strange? Just hear me out.

Soul Eater is about a group of students at the Death Weapon Meister Academy. The students are split up into two groups; some students are able to physically transform themselves into weapons, and the others are the meisters who wield them. Together, meisters and their weapons fight against those consumed by madness in order to avoid the birth of a Kishin- a god-like creature created by consuming too many innocent souls.

Meisters are also meant to help their weapons become Death Scythes (though they are not necessarily actually scythes) by helping them consume 99 Kishin egg souls and the soul of a witch, which then increases their power considerably and makes them worthy of being wielded by Death himself.

(I have a hoodie that says “I got 99 souls and a witch ain’t one.” It is my pride and joy.)

Are you still with me?

One really cool thing about anime is getting to see all the different art and animation styles, and Soul Eater has without a doubt some of the most gorgeous animation you will ever find. I mean look at this:

How fucking smooth is that??

The cast of characters for this show is diverse to say the least. The thing I really love about this show is that every character has a quirk, so even though the show itself can be quite serious, there is always something funny to break the tension. My personal favorite is Death the Kid (black hair, white stripes). He is the son of Death, so he doesn’t necessarily need to be attending the school, but he chooses to all the same. He quirk is amazing and hilarious and I don’t want to ruin it for you so I’ll let you find that out for yourself, but I will say that his character alone makes the entire show worthwhile.

Sword Art Online

how to start watching anime, sword art online

If we make it back to the real world, I’ll find you and fall in love with you all over again.

The first fully immersive virtual reality game- Sword Art Online- is released and gamers all over the world rush out to get a copy and dive into the new world. The dream quickly becomes a nightmare, however, when the creator of the game traps them inside. Death in game means death in the real world, and the only way to escape is for someone to beat the game.

Kirito, one of the lucky few who beta tested the game, is determined to finish the game and save everyone. A traumatizing event leaves him terrified of bonding with anyone in the game out of fear of being responsible for their safety, but he can’t seem to avoid running into Asuna, who is fighting with the strongest guild on the front lines.

I’ll be honest- I loved this anime until the second half of the first season. I personally feel like they totally undermined Asuna’s character after that and I wasn’t ecstatic about it. That said, I still kept watching through the second season and through all of the one shots they’ve released because I love the characters and I love the premise. It is 100% worth the watch, and this is another anime that is already finished, so you won’t have to worry about waiting for episodes to come out. Always a perk!

If You’re All About Suspense

If you love shows that keep you on the edge of your seat through every single episode, why not check out:

Death Note

how to start watching anime, death note

I am the god placed here to save the weak and create a perfect world.

I could only watch an episode or 2 at a time when I was watching Death Note because it just made me so freaking anxious I couldn’t take it. I loved it, but I could only take so much at a time.

Death Note is about high school genius Light Yagami, who stumbles upon a notebook in his school yard and discovers he can kill anyone he wants just by writing their name in the notebook. He decides to use the death note to kill all the criminals and corrupt people, in order to build the perfect world, as he sees it. This is, needless to say, a slippery slope, which is made even slipperier by the fact that the police are working with a genius detective, who goes simply by L, in hopes of catching Kira- the name quickly given to the killer by the Japanese citizens.

Death Note is a crazy ride from beginning to end as these 2 geniuses go head to head, literally and figuratively. And of course a number of other characters throw wrenches in Light’s plans as he desperately attempts to continue his pursuit of the perfect world while dodging the Kira investigation and L’s suspicions. Personally, L is my favorite character. He’s brilliant and quirky and kind of precious if we’re being honest. Light is…well…I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Attack on Titan

how to start watching anime, attack on titan

If you win, you live. If you lose, you die. You cannot win unless you fight.

All of humanity has been pushed behind the walls in a last desperate attempt to escape the titans- giant human-like creatures that eat humans. Charming, right? However, one day the Colossal Titan, a titan larger than any other they had ever seen, kicks a hole through the outer most gate, allowing titans to spill into the village. Eren Jaeger swears to kill every last titan, and flees the village determined to join the Scouting Legion, the military organization which goes out into titan territory in hopes of finding a way for humans to fight back, with his friends Mikasa and Armin  close behind. Slowly but surely it becomes clear that there is more to the titan mystery than meets the eye, and that not all of their enemies lie beyond the walls.

I HAD SUCH A HARD TIME DECIDING WHERE TO PUT THIS AAAHHH! It totally qualifies as fantasy/adventure/dystopian, but it is also hella suspenseful because you never know who’s gonna die next and this category needed another listing so here we are.

If Fullmetal Alchemist is my favorite complete anime, Attack on Titan is my favorite on-going one (or maybe like tied with Fairy Tail…it’s hard to choose okay?) Seriously though, I love this anime so freaking much. I do not read much manga, but I have actually been reading Attack on Titan because I simply could not wait until the next season to find out what happens, and I can confidently say it is only getting better as it goes on. The characters are fabulous- though my personal favorite takes awhile to be introduced- and you will grow attached to them, and you will regret it because absolutely no one is safe.

(This is Levi. He’s my favorite. Isn’t he pretty? He’s a certified badass and I love him.)

I will warn you that Attack on Titan is VERY dark and a bit gory. This is not a show that conveniently shifts the camera angle before someone dies, so be prepared to watch people be eaten.

As an aside: Attack on Titan also has quite possible the best work out music as its opening themes. Tell me this doesn’t make you feel like you could run a bloody marathon.

I would strongly encourage you to watch Attack on Titan subbed instead of dubbed (with English subtitles instead of English voice actors). The sub vs dub question is heavily debated by anime fans, but it is fairly universally accepted that the Attack on Titan dubs should only ever be watched ironically. Trust me on this one.

If You Have a Somewhat Short Attention Span

Some anime have been airing literally almost my entire life (looking at you One Piece and Naruto), and even if there aren’t already 600+ episodes, sometimes it is a bit daunting starting a series of any kind that you know from the start is going to be a huge time commitment. So here are a few fantastic anime that are only one season long.

Death Parade

how to start watching anime, death parade

I do not think humans are foolish. I have respect for people who live fulfilled lives.

When two humans die at the same time, their souls are sent to an arbiter who will determine whether or not they are reincarnated or permanently removed from the world. Decim is one such arbiter. When the souls arrive, they do not know they are dead, and they are told they must play a game with their lives on the line. The games are designed to bring out the darkness in their souls, so that the Decim can judge whether or not they are worthy of being reincarnated. But Decim is not your average arbiter; what happens when the judge questions his own game?

Death Parade is absolutely fabulous. It is a super interesting psychological anime that really calls into question what makes a person good or bad. What do you take into consideration? Can you really judge a person with a traumatic pass on the same scale as a person who does not share those experiences? Is it really fair to intentionally bring out the worst in a person and judge them on that alone? Important and interesting questions, yo.

I also just have a lot of feelings about Decim as a character. He is precious. I can’t even really explain why I love him so much without spoiling things, but I just really appreciate him as a character and I’m willing to bet you will too.

Eden of the East

how to start watching anime, eden of the east

Noblesse Oblige, I pray for your continuing success as a savior.

On a trip to Washington DC, Saki Morimi meets a man who introduces himself as Akira Takizawa. He is completely naked, has no memory of how he got there or anything about his life before waking up in DC, and has only a gun and a cell phone- which is loaded with 8.2 billion digital yen. Is it possible this stranger had something to do with the mysterious terrorist attack on Japan only a few months before?

This is a tricky anime to give you a detailed summary of without moving close to spoiler territory, but it is also a super short anime so if you are even remotely interested it is worth checking out. This is an anime you have to pay attention to- no multitasking- because it is a mite confusing if you miss any important details. The show was followed up with 2 movies that complete the storyline, so don’t panic if you get to the end and feel like something is missing.

Oh gosh there are so many more than I want to talk about, but this has already gotten way too long. It is just really hard to explain some of them concisely! I will do a separate post in the future the more slice of life/rom-com anime for those of you wondering where that list is.

I really hope this helps you find an anime or two that you are interested in checking out and that those lead you to many more. Like I said- anime is a rabbit hole, the only hard part is finding your first white rabbit to follow down.