Do you, oh humble reader, ever look at this anime shit and think: “Slap my ass and call me Timothy, I sure want some of this in my life!” Well I was once in your position, so I’d like to lend a hand and give you some series and film recommendations, especially for those more familiar with western animated works, dividing things up into kinda-sorta categories.
(By the way, you have no idea how long it took me to figure out how to spell “recommendations”. I may be an idiot.)
One thing to bear in mind about anime as a genre or medium or art form or new wave or whatever, is that alot of it is distinctly Japanese, and Japanese culture, when viewed by a western audience, comes across as really weird. Anything particularly, opaquely Japanese will be mentioned in the given case.
When I hear about new classics of anime and great starting points for a western viewer — I know many people make comparisons to the big HBO dramas — Steins;Gate is a name that comes up alot in both cases. Steins;Gate is the character-driven, intelligent high concept sci-fi story that you expect from one of the golden age authors like Heinlein or Clarke. It has references to things like maid cafes and the general otaku culture, but not too much is lost by the amateur viewer. Essentially, Steins;Gate is a show about this guy, his friends, and the time machine they make out of a cell phone and a microwave. It’s a little weird and a little silly on first bluff but it quickly gets serious, and by the halfway-point of the series, things take a complete one-eighty.
Death Note is in a similar vein to Steins;Gate: that kind of serious, adult and dark drama with some slight comedy and supernatural or science fiction themes that people usually associate with more western television. Death Note may be familiar to someone only casually familiar with anime, but a synopsis may still be necessary. A high school student–intelligent, athletic, charismatic and quite popular–discovers a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it, but things quickly spiral into chaos as he looses control. There was a recent live action adaptation on Netflix, but it was quite poorly received and looks, frankly, like ass, so please ignore it.
Studio Ghibli is one of the most popular animation studios in the industry, often called the “Japanese Disney”, and Spirited Away is an excellent gateway to their work. A fantasy story about a young girl “spirited away” to another world full of strange creatures and surreal landscapes. Containing some of Ghibli’s best animation, most interesting characters and enchanting music, Spirited Away is a must-watch for any anime fan.
For comedies, I have two recommendations, one more Japanese, and one more a bit more familiar. The first show is I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, a two-season series made up of three minute episodes revolving around a normal office-lady wife and her otaku house-husband. Both an actually pretty cute love story and a really funny comedy, the entire show can be blown through in an afternoon. This might not be the best starting show because of all the references to anime, manga and games, but alot of the humour is still going to shine through.
The second series I want to recommend is Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt. Panty & Stocking is certainly the most American-influenced show on this list. With an artstyle more reminiscent of Cartoon Network and a story about foul-mouthed angels who got kicked out of heaven and have to fight ghosts to get back in, the series is best watched in the English dubbing. Lots of neat animation tricks and some decent action scenes stand alongside fart and sex jokes.
Cowboy Bebop is another all-time, must-watch classic of anime. A mix of classic noir, hardboiled western and cyberpunk, the show follows the crew of the titular Bebop as they hop from bounty to bounty in episodic adventures but with persistent character stories. There’s action, comedy, drama, romance; really there’s a bit of everything in each story. The English dub comes recommended.
Gurren Lagann is probably my favourite off this list, one of the few mecha shows I like and one of the best to start with. If you want awesome action, watch Gurren Lagann. If you want a show that starts small that ramps up so hard it’s like a screaming rock guitar solo right in your face, watch Gurren Lagann. If you want actual character development with characters you love, watch Gurren Lagann. Basically watch the show, is what I’m trying to say.