Curious? Here's how to dip your toes into anime.
If you’re anything like us, anime has been in your peripheral vision for years. You remember the popularity of Sailor Moon, but you're not sure if you ever watched it. For a little while, all your friends could talk about was Avatar, but you never quite got on board. But as streaming keeps expanding its borders, media gets increasingly international, and the slight stigma around watching anime wears off (sorry, anime fans, we were wrong, okay?), you might be considering dipping your toes into the weird, wild, and wonderful world of anime. There are a lot—a lot—of shows to choose from, but we won't throw you in the deep end. Here are our top three picks.
Erased is first on this list for a simple reason: it's short. One season, 12 episodes. That's not all we care about, of course—we can and will sing its praises. But if you're daunted by the commitment of starting a show with multiple seasons (honestly, we feel you), Erased can act as an appetizer.
Erased is a mystery with dashes of a thriller. Satoru Fujinuma, a guy in his late twenties, has a subtle little superpower: he can travel back in time, but just enough to right things. He passes a little girl who drops her ice cream cone, and is automatically zapped back to grab it before it can fall to the ground. All well and fine—until the unthinkable happens. Satoru's mother is murdered, and Satoru suddenly finds himself in his 10-year-old body, "sent back in time 18 years to prevent the events leading to his mother's death." It all begins "with a series of kidnappings in his 5th-grade year," and Saturo, now a child, must figure out what happened 18 years ago. Thematically, the show can get quite dark, but because most of our main characters are children, it's also funny and sweet.
Courtesy of Aniplex USA (YouTube)
Check out this tight, warm, and engaging thriller. It's a suspenseful, good-hearted story that might just encourage you to explore some of the other stories anime has to offer. Watch it on Netflix subbed—which means the voice acting is in Japanese, and you follow along with English subtitles—or on Hulu, dubbed—which means the voice acting is dubbed over with English voice actors. Since it's animated, there's no discrepancy with mouth movements, etc. Subbed is the favorite of purists, but dubbed can also be a great way to experience anime, especially if you're just starting!
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
There's some debate as to whether Avatar: The Last Airbender (heretofore referred to as Avatar, but not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan's painful adaptation, The Last Airbender, or James Cameron's Avatar) is true "anime," since it's produced by a Western studio. For our purposes, we'll call Avatar anime-lite. It's a great introduction to the kinds of story arcs, characters, and cultural elements you might find in anime, but featuring English-speaking voice actors (no subbed vs. dubbed debate here!), easy access (watch it on Netflix), and cultural cachet.
Avatar is a fantastic escape into a fantasy world based around the four elements, with fleshed-out characters, playful humor, moving arcs, insightful politics, and, honestly, just a lot of cool stuff (mainly, the power to control said elements, "bending," and Appa, the protagonist's ... flying bison, who's every bit as cute as he sounds). It's a children's show, but especially if you like fantasy (and if you watched Game of Thrones, you do), it still holds plenty of appeal for the older crowd.
Full-Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-2010)
If you thought Avatar had an intriguing world and politics, wait until you get your hands on Full-Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (hereafter FMA: Brotherhood, because anime names are long, alright?). In a world of state-sponsored alchemy and an ever-looming government, two young brothers, Ed and Al, attempt to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life. In the (taboo) process, Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body. Ed, equipped with prosthetics, and Al, whose soul is now housed in a suit of armor, seek to recover their full bodies through the legendary Philosophers Stone. As they do, they uncover a government conspiracy that goes way back—and in all directions.
Courtesy of All the Anime (YouTube)
FMA: Brotherhood is consistently listed as one of the best anime, and for good reason. It's cheeky and clever, suspenseful and exciting—but for all its thorough, intriguing world-building, FMA: Brotherhood shines because of the, well, brotherhood at its core. Watch it subbed on Netflix or dubbed on Hulu and HBO Max.
A warning, I repeat, a warning: DO NOT mistake this for Full-Metal Alchemist. FMA: Brotherhood is the second, almost 1:1 adaptation of the FMA manga series, and is widely considered the best.
We hope this list is a helpful starting guide! Which anime shows are you curious to try? Let us know in the comments.