Born into a wealthy Osaka family in 1899, Yasunari Kawabata lived through a tragic childhood,…
There are few fandoms as enthusiastic and impassioned as the anime fan community. For this reason, it can be quite intimidating to figure out where to start when looking to get into anime. Hopping on Reddit and asking for the best anime for beginners will undoubtedly spark a heated debate that will leave you feeling lost and confused.
For this reason, we need to take a step back and look at what the best anime for beginners actually entails. Since anime (and anime fans) come in all flavours, it’s important to try to find an anime that matches your tastes, so here’s a list!
On this list of the best anime for beginners, we will consider different age groups and genders, as well as different genres of anime, what those genres are, and the best examples of those genres.
Bear in mind that this list is primarily intended for those new to anime looking for a safe but undeniably solid place to jump in. This list is not for anime fans who already know a lot. It’s not a list of the best anime of all time. It’s a list of good, solid anime that need no introduction and are perfect for budding anime fans to begin their journey.
With all that said, if you’re a potential anime fan who is intrigued by the medium but doesn’t know where to start, you should hopefully find something on this list that will tickle your fancy. You can also check out these lists if you’re interested in where to start reading manga or where to begin reading Japanese literature in translation.
Genres of Anime
Before we start throwing classic and modern anime at you in the search for the very best anime for beginners, it’s important to know a little bit about anime genres, because they can get a little confusing.
Most anime fans, no matter how much of the Japanese language they actually know, use a lot of Japanese words when discussing genres of anime, and it is worth knowing the very basics of this when discussing anime for beginners. Just like how it’s good to know your fantasy novels from your literary fiction, or your sci-fi movies from your Disney musicals, it’s great to know at least a little about anime genres. So, here’s a very quick primer.
Sometimes spelled as ‘shonen’, this genre of anime and manga is traditionally geared towards boys or young men, with the name roughly translating to “youth”. However, like all genres of media, shounen anime is more complicated than simply “anime for boys”.
In the broadest terms, shounen anime typically involves male protagonists, and is usually themed around adventure and personal growth. The protagonists are often fighters or heroes, and their goal is clear: defeat the threat. It can go a lot broader and deeper than this, of course, but that’s the basics.
Examples of shounen anime include: Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto, One Piece, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Demon Slayer.
For boys, there’s shounen. And for girls, there’s shoujo. Traditionally, shoujo manga and anime are geared towards girls and young women. They primarily feature female protagonists and are themed around love, friendship, and comedy. Shoujo anime often feature romantic story arcs and may or may not feature fantastic or magical elements.
Just like shounen, shoujo anime has its tropes and themes; it also has examples which buck those tropes and themes completely. And the elephant in the room for both shounen and shoujo is the stereotype of what is “for boys” and “for girls”. As a viewer, you can watch whatever the hell you want, of course, and I encourage you to. But the point here is to simply familiarise yourself with the names “shounen” and “shoujo”, and the themes that often define them.
Examples of shoujo anime include: Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Sailor Moon, Yona of the Dawn, Orange, and Cardcaptor Sakura.
Other Anime Genres
Beyond these two heavy hitters, anime is typically categorised by more familiar means. You’ve got sci-fi anime, comedy anime, romance anime, fantasy anime, slice of life anime, and so on.
A lot of these subgenres often fall into the bigger shounen and shoujo categories. For example, you’ll find many fantasy anime that might be called shounen or shoujo (depending often on the gender of the protagonist). Many slice of life anime also fall into the shoujo anime genre.
Anime can also be defined by how philosophical it can get. Anime is not so easily bracketed into age groups, and many anime that look suitable for kids actually carry some weighty and philosophical themes (the classic example being Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show with a young male protagonist piloting a giant robot that has some intensely deep philosophy stitched into its narrative).
What you’re going to see now is a list of classic and contemporary anime that fits into some of these genres and offers not only a great place to begin watching anime in general, but also a great place to start watching shounen anime and shoujo anime specifically.
We’re going to start with the classics and the best anime movie for beginners, then move into more modern anime that also offers a great place to start for budding anime fans. These are the best anime for beginners.
Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon
Let’s begin with two of the biggest hitters in anime history. Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon define the shounen and shoujo anime genres respectively. They both aired and found global success in the 1990s and both maintain a colossal fandom to this day. Their legacies have spawned sequels and movies, as well as an absurd amount of merchandise of every kind.
This is where so many anime fans around the world began their journeys (myself included). If you were a 90s kid, you were there for Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon: two anime about powered-up protagonists fighting the forces of evil in their own ways. Both have their lovable protagonists, comedy moments, vibrant art, and staple themes of good overcoming evil.
Given that both Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon remain so beloved to this day, they both also remain a great place to begin watching anime. They were the best anime for beginners 20+ years ago, and they remain the best anime for beginners today, as old fans continue to rewatch and new fans continue to discover these giants of the anime genre.
Other classic shounen anime to watch: Naruto, Bleach, Hunter x Hunter
Other classic shoujo anime to watch: Cardcaptor Sakura, Ouran High School Host Club
While this is not a list of the best anime of all time, it does still feature some of the best anime ever made. And few anime fans would disagree about Cowboy Bebop being one of the absolute greats.
What makes Cowboy Bebop one of the best anime for beginners is the fact that it’s only 26 episodes long. Too many anime series (Dragon Ball Z being a great example) seem to go on forever, and their length serves as an immediate turn-off. But Cowboy Bebop is a contained story of just 26 episodes which can be easily binged over a weekend.
The fact that it remains one of the best anime ever made is another great incentive to begin here. The story of Cowboy Bebop is set in a gritty sci-fi world where the human race as colonised most of our solar system, but crime is everywhere. Our protagonist, Spike is a Cowboy (bounty hunter) with a lot of personal issues which manifest in a devil-may-care attitude. He’s a rough guy with a heart of gold.
Cowboy Bebop explores some intense themes in a digestible way, and also features some of the most gorgeous art design in anime history. The world-building, narrative, and characterisation is all top-notch, and the show enjoys a lot of established tropes of the western, sci-fi, and pulp fiction genres.
Other classic anime to check out: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, Ghost in the Shell
Anime isn’t just about series long and short; it’s also a genre populated by some of the very best films in cinema. Most film buffs with no real knowledge of anime have still at least heard of the movies of Studio Ghibli and their most treasured writer/director, Hayao Miyazaki. For this reason, we’re going to circumvent Ghibli and their most iconic films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle etc) and instead focus on the biggest darling of anime cinema outside of Studio Ghibli.
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) is a 2016 movie written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. It follows an unconventional love story between two highschoolers who wake up in one another’s bodies and live each other’s lives. Eventually, they learn that they exist in two slightly different time periods, and one must move quickly to save the life of the other.
Your Name has an undeniably heartfelt tale of love at its heart, but what really makes it a modern anime classic is the film’s art direction. Both the design and animation of Makoto Shinkai’s films are unlike anything you’ll ever see. Bursting with light and colour, and directed with a dynamic smoothness that is unparalleled, they are the peak of what anime cinema looks like right now. If you want to start with a film rather than a series, Your Name is the best anime for beginners in that regard.
Other modern anime movies (not made by Studio Ghibli): Summer Wars, Wolf Children, A Silent Voice, Weathering With You
While Sailor Moon is an absolute classic of the shoujo anime genre, it does represent one specific style of shoujo: the “magical girl anime” genre. Magical girl anime has all the action tropes of shounen anime, but with female protagonists. Fruits Basket, however, represents the peak of non-action shoujo anime.
Another great reason to start with Fruits Basket is that it just got rebooted, and the reboot is a more faithful adaptation of the original Fruits Basket manga. The series follows a bubbly and headstrong young girl named Toru who, after losing her mother and having to live in a tent, winds up living in the country home (styled like a gorgeous ryokan) of a strange family, a few of whom are boys who go to Toru’s school.
The charm and fun of Fruits Basket comes from its magical and comedic elements. The members of the house that Toru ends up in are each cursed to transform into an animal of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. It’s a silly and sweet element that ends up taking some unexpected and dark turns as the story deepens.
Fruits Basket is a beloved classic, and the best anime for beginners who are looking to explore the shoujo genre but would prefer to avoid the action focus of “magical girl” anime like Sailor Moon.
Let’s make this as clear as possible: Nichijou is unfettered and absolute joy. Sometimes known in English as My Ordinary Life, Nichijou is an anime series based on a manga of the same name. It aired in 2011 and has a total of 26 episodes, making it another awesome short anime to binge (which you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing).
Nichijou (which translates to “everyday”) is a silly, absurd comedy series centred around a group of middle school girls in an ordinary Japanese school. It blends absurd scenarios and characters with average, mundane day-to-day happening to create some of the finest comedy in all of anime. There are few anime as sweet, funny, and light-hearted as Nichijou.
Another reason why Nichinou is one of the best anime for beginners is that it represents the peak of anime direction. There are “action” scenes in Nichijou that wipe the floor with the biggest and best shounen anime battles, at least in terms of how they’re animated and directed. When you’re a little more familiar with anime terms, do a quick google search for “sakuga” and then go back and watch the best action/comedy scenes from Nichijou.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
While the debate surrounding the “best anime of all time” will never end, there are countless anime fans who would put the crown on the head of Fullmetal Alchemist” Brotherhood. And it’s very hard to argue against that opinion.
Fullmetal Alchemist originally existed as a manga series by Hiromu Arikawa (a woman manga artist creating one of the best shonen manga will always be badass). It was then adapted into a short anime in 2003 and then rebooted again in 2009. That reboot, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is the one to watch.
The reason why Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is often called the best anime ever is because it’s a show that manages to satisfy every kind of anime fan, regardless of age or gender. It’s a show of middling length, featuring a pair of brothers who lose their mother and attempt to bring her back using alchemy. The attempt winds up taking one brother’s arm and leg and the other’s life entirely. In order to bring his brother back, Edward stores Alphone’s soul in a huge suit of armour.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an adventure anime which shifts between a monster-of-the-week formula and a larger overarching narrative. It features a diverse cast of characters, is set in a medieval/steampunk world inspired by central European aesthetics, features magic and alchemy, gorgeously directed battles, and deeply, darkly intense themes of love, loss, obsession, fear, and death. It’s political, philosophical, and deeply personal. To put it bluntly, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a flawless and timeless anime.
What makes this one of the best anime for beginners is that no prior knowledge of anime tropes or genres is required. It’s long but not intimidatingly so; it also has a lot of the same storytelling mechanics and themes of Western media, as well as a recognisably European setting. It’s a show so dearly beloved by all anime fans, and also one that is entirely welcoming for newcomers to the world of anime. There may be no better place to start watching anime than with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
My Hero Academia
If you’re looking to start with the biggest anime (and manga) in the world right now, that would be My Hero Academia. While Dragon Ball Z was the biggest shounen anime of the 90s, and Naruto was biggest of the 2000s, My Hero Academia is the crown shounen anime of today. It’s understandable that a lot of budding fans would want to start with the modern trends and, to that end, My Hero Academia represents the best anime for beginners.
My Hero Academia is heavily inspired by American superhero comics (in fact, if you’re a big enough fan, you can notice a lot of fun nods to classic Marvel comics in the pages and covers of the My Hero Academia manga). Its story is set in a world where almost everyone has some sort of unique power (known as a “quirk”) and those with powerful enough quirks can choose to study at a school for heroes and learn how to use their quirk as a force for good.
Not everyone has a quirk, however, and our protagonist Izuku “Deku” Midoriya is one such quirkless boy. After he finds out that he’s quirkless, Deku’s dream of being a hero is momentarily shattered. That is, until Deku’s role model, All Might – Japan’s number one hero – passes on his unique gift to Deku, thus allowing the boy the chance to study and become a hero himself.
My Hero Academia is the biggest and best shounen anime of today. It’s also a genuinely outstanding show by all accounts. Gorgeously directed action scenes; a varied and dynamic cast of colourful characters (students and teachers alike); and a series of intensely engaging story arcs which tackle some surprisingly deep and complex moral themes. The show almost never misses a step when it comes to story, style, or direction.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
While the reigning champion of shounen anime is, undoubtedly, My Hero Academia, an up-and-coming contender is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Which one you should start with really comes down to personal taste. While My Hero Academia is set in an alternate present-day Japan full of costumed heroes throwing punches, Demon Slayer is set in early 20th century Japan at the end of the Meiji Restoration and features a sword-wielding hero cutting down demons.
Demon Slayer is still a very new anime, having aired in 2019 , but it has already made such a colossal splash, and with very good reason. The story follows a young man named Tanjiro whose mountain-dwelling family are slaughtered by demons and his sister Nezuko has been transformed into a demon herself. Looking to restore his sister’s humanity, Tanjiro studies under a demon slayer to become one himself, before setting out on a demon hunt across Japan.
If you’re a fan of Japanese history and folklore, of samurai and ninja and yokai, Demon Slayer is the anime for you. It’s a show with intensely clever fight choreography, jaw-dropping art direction, and a perfectly unfolding story. Its pacing is solid, its characters lovable, and its world design mouth-watering. Despite how new it is, Demon Slayer is still one of the absolute best anime for beginners.
If you want an easily accessible anime in more than one way, but one that’s also modern and comes highly rated by everyone who watches it, consider beginning with Violet Evergarden. What makes this show such an easy one to begin with is that it’s a Netflix Original. So many anime are only available on certain anime-specific streaming sites like Crunchyroll or Funimation, but Violet Evergarden can be found on the world’s biggest streaming service, making it delightfully accessible. So, in terms of accessibility, Violet Evergarden is the undisputed best anime for beginners.
But Violet Evergarden shouldn’t just be watched because doing so is simple. It should also be watched because it is drop-dead gorgeous. Made by the powerhouse animation studio Kyoto Animation, who are renowned for consistently making the very best-looking anime, Violet Evergarden is an absolute treat for the eyes and the ears. What Your Name does for cinema, Violet Evergarden does for TV.
This short 13-episode show defies genre and centres around a protagonist of the same name. Violet Evergarden was an orphaned child who went through a series of traumas, including being engineered as a child soldier. After the war ends and her commanding officer (a man she dearly cared about) dies – all in the pilot episode – Violet is recruited as an “Auto Memory Doll”, someone who ghostwrites letters for people who cannot write or who cannot express themselves well in writing.
Having lived for war, Violet must now fight to reintegrate into ordinary society (in a beautifully realised world reminiscent of 18th/19th century Britain) while also attempting to understand human emotion – love, most of all. The world of this show is deliciously and vibrantly realised, with unparalleled character design and writing. Violet Evergarden is a quiet, sweet, sorrowful, and beautiful show full of heart and love.
The secret to finding the best anime for beginners is to pick a genre you already care about (fantasy, sci-fi, romance, comedy) and to find the best anime of that genre. But you also need to make sure that the anime you choose isn’t bogged down with tropes and meta-jokes (which is why there’s no One Punch Man or Konosuba on this list) and isn’t intimidatingly long (hence no Naruto or One Piece).
Every anime on this list of best anime for beginners is a stellar, top-quality show in its own right. All are easy to jump into and enjoy immediately, with no background knowledge required. All are beautiful, fun, well-directed, and well-written. And they are all anime which are popular with the anime community as a whole, meaning you won’t feel out of place when talking about them. They’re beloved and popular, whether they’re classic or contemporary. So, wherever you choose to start, I hope you have fun!
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