Though it still has its niche, anime has recently started to slip into the mainstream; modern American cartoons have started to incorporate elements of anime, streaming services offer a wide variety of anime catalogues, and Netflix is working on producing 30 original anime series, including the recently released Neo Yokio.
Suffice to say, Japanese animation is finding its way into the hearts of American audiences, even those who aren’t fans of animation in general. Perhaps it’s because anime offers stories for all demographics, unlike American cartoons — which offer only kids shows or adult sitcoms — but that’s a whole other article on its own.
To put it simply, Anime is big right now, and its only gonna get bigger. However, getting your friends into this strange new medium can be kind of difficult, especially with series and films that rely heavily on knowledge of Japanese culture. But, the world of anime is diverse and expansive, and there’s plenty to choose from.
If you’re trying to convince someone to watch anime, it’s best to start with a “gateway anime,” anime that are easily accessible, easy to pick up and can be compared to well-known pieces of American pop culture. If you need a few suggestions, we’ve got five for you right here:
Attack On Titan
Similar To: The Walking Dead
Attack on Titan takes place in a world where giant humanoid monsters known as titans have driven humans to the brink of extinction. The last survivors of the human race live within the safety of giant walls, protected from titan attacks. After 100 years without an attack, a colossal titan penetrates the outermost wall, bringing forth a new struggle for survival. One survivor of the attack, Eren Yaeger vows to destroy every titan on earth, joining the Survey Corps to bring the fight to them.
Attack on Titan is a great starter anime for Walking Dead fans who have started to sour on the show’s recent lackluster performance. Plus, its far more action packed, bringing in some surprise elements that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Further, it’s fair to say that Attack on Titan sort of paved the way for the current spike in anime popularity, since the initial buzz about the series got a lot of non-anime-watchers into the medium.
Available On: Netflix, Hulu
Similar To: Blade Runner
Cowboy Bebop is a quintessential anime for any sci-fi nerd. It takes place in a noir-future where the solar system was colonized after Earth became uninhabitable. In this world, Spike Spiegel, a bounty hunter, tries to make a decent living taking in criminals with his partner, Jet Black, aboard their ship, The Bebop. Along the way, they’re joined by a corgi named Ein, femme fatale Faye Valentine, and hacker prodigy, Edward. The premise of this show is interesting enough, and hopefully draws in some Blade Runner fans, but the influences are what make this show great.
Cowboy Bebop combines space-operas with westerns and film-noir, mashing it together with a Jazz soundtrack, Bruce Lee movies and Buddhist philosophy. Bebop is an amalgamation of the awesome influences of creator Shinichirō Watanabe (one of which was Blade Runner) and composer Yoko Kanno. Everything about this anime screams “cool,” and the popular dub makes it easy for anyone to get onboard the Bebop.
Available On: Hulu
Similar To: Pacific Rim
Love Pacific Rim? Well it was basically Guillermo del Toro’s love-letter to the giant robot genre of anime, and the best of the best is arguably Gurren Lagann. It tells the story of Simon and Kamina, two adoptive brothers living in an underground city who find a giant robot and break out of their oppressed lives. On the surface, they learn of the beast men, animal-like creatures ordered by the Spiral King to keep humans underground. Stealing the beast men’s robots, Kamina and Simon lead a rebellion of humans to take back the surface. The story is a classic tale of rebellion, but in Gurren Lagann, everything is dialed up to 11.
The giant robots all look like giant faces, attacks are bonkers and over-the-top, and the scale of the battles get bigger and bigger until they literally reach astronomical levels. Gurren Lagann, like Pacific Rim, is a satirical tribute to mecha anime, and while that might be a bit too much to handle as a first anime, Gurren Lagann manages to sweep up the audience into a never-ending wave of emotion and excitement. There are tons of “fist in the air” moments in Gurren Lagann guaranteed to excite even the most reluctant anime-watchers.
Available On: Netflix, Hulu
FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD
Similar To: Supernatural, Game of Thrones
The first law of alchemy is equivalent exchange: to create, something of equal value must be lost. This is the main theme of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, an anime about the Elrics, two brothers who lost their bodies to a failed alchemic transmutation in an attempt to bring their dead mother back to life. The younger brother, Alphonse, lost his body in the transmutation, and the older brother, Edward, lost his leg, sacrificing his arm to bond his brother’s soul to a suit of armor. The brothers travel around the country in search of information on the philosopher’s stone, a legendary substance that can transmute without equivalent exchange which they plan to use to restore their bodies.
This might all sound complicated, but Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood manages to pace things incredibly well. It’s very hard to get lost as the series unfolds, and there’s plenty of twists, turns and background political drama that should attract plenty of Game of Thrones fans. Further, fans of Supernatural might like the relationship between the two brothers, how they stick together through thick and thin. This one might take more convincing to get a non-anime-watcher in to, but we guarantee once they start, it’ll be hard to stop.
Available On: Hulu
Similar To: Minority Report
In a dystopian Japan where the criminal mind-set can be monitored and detained before a crime is ever committed, a rookie inspector must take town a criminal who’s mind cannot be scanned, no matter what horrific crimes he commits. Psycho-Pass might sound strikingly similar to Minority Report, but it kind of does it better. Instead of predicting the future, every citizen is subject to a brain scan to find out their crime coefficient, and if it’s too high, they are imprisoned. Psycho-Pass is action-packed and the mystery keeps you on the edge of your seat as themes of innocence, sin and dystopian society are explored.
If you’re a fan of police procedurals and sci-fi, the Psycho-pass is an excellent starter anime. The world is both ideal and scary at the same time, and every interesting character gets their own time in the limelight. The dystopian world is perhaps the greatest aspect of Psycho-Pass, since it sets up the plot and shows us how this justice system affects its inhabitants. For a great sci-fi gateway anime, check out Pyscho-Pass.