Anime has been granted its boom in the West. Shows and movies that might've only been found on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s, and only watched by nerdy kids, have weaved their way into mainstream culture—in lyric references, on Kim K’s Instagram, and even at the Oscars. What’s all the talk about? And why do so many rappers rap about going “Super Saiyan?”
If you’ve been wanting to get into anime, the huge array of options available (thanks to online streaming) makes it daunting to choose a starting point. Here’s an overview of what’s popular, what’s worth your time, and where you can find some shows to help you get started, whether you’re a fan of thrillers or rom–coms.
Lovingly dubbed “the big three” for their massive success and long–time popularity, One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach have dominated the action anime genre for nearly two decades. One Piece follows a group of pirates on their search for an unknown treasure, Naruto details the life of an ostracized ninja, and Bleach follows a young adult who is suddenly forced to become a death god. All three boast hundreds of 20–minute episodes aired over many fans’ entire childhoods, and only Bleach has reached a full conclusion. However, due to directorial and funding changes over time, each show’s quality can range from incredible to downright awful depending on which set of episodes you might choose to watch. If you’re in the mood for long action sequences and you’ve got an absurd amount of time on your hands, give any of these three a shot. But if you’re looking for your first anime, steer clear from the big three. Excessively long and admittedly sometimes boring, these behemoths are only worth your attention if you know your anime niche, and if that niche revolves around the power of friendship.
Instead of diving into the deep end with the big three, FMA:B is a shorter variation of the fantasy action genre. The show follows two brothers who are severely injured after a failed transmutation and begin searching for a way to fix their bodies. A perfect blend of tragedy, diverse characters, and social and political commentary, FMA:B is a streamlined anime that showcases the peak of what storytelling in anime can be in less than 100 episodes. If you like FMA:B, you might find merit in checking out the big three.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is streaming on Netflix.
From Me to You (Kimi ni todoke)
If you’re less of an action fan, From Me to You is an appropriate introduction to anime romance and slice–of–life. The show follows a shy girl who comes out of her shell with the help of a kind, extroverted boy. Romance in anime can be touchy—harems and unnecessary fan service saturate the genre, and finding respectable, innovative stories in a sea of money–grabbing, identical shows is difficult. From Me to You falls into the traps of many anime romance tropes, including the introverted girl/popular guy dynamic and lots of cherry blossoms, but it’s sweet overall—and a solid introduction to what romance in anime largely looks like.
From Me to You is streaming on Crunchyroll.
The most recent anime of this compilation to air, and the best representation of the current evolution of anime, is Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan. Hisone is chosen to be the pilot of a dragon and struggles with her newfound emotional responsibilities. Visually, the show is unique, bold, and very round—a blend of the overly cute, regurgitated facial features of Kyoto Animation and the bright colors of Mob Psycho 100. Heavily character–driven and equal parts heartstring–tugger and cool dragons, Hisone and Masotan is a well–rounded presentation of anime as a whole.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is streaming on Netflix.
Dragon Ball: Where “Super Saiyan” comes from. Dragon Ball follows Son Goku as he searches for the seven Dragon Balls, which grant a wish when brought together. A 35–year–old franchise, Dragon Ball is similar to the big three and is a daunting series with a lot of lore—sure to please any fan of dramatic fight scenes, but difficult to estimate enjoyment levels of if you’ve never seen an action anime before. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Cowboy Bebop: Slated for a Netflix live–action show, Cowboy Bebop follows a group of bounty hunters as they make their way across different planets. The show is targeted towards an adult audience, and boasts a beautiful soundtrack on top of a mature, contemplative plot. And it’s episodic, so you can pick it up from any point you’d like. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
This list in no way fully encompasses all anime genres, but it's a start—and there's a lot more out there if you're still interested.