Let me take you on a journey
Over the past few decades, the Japanese anime industry has grown to over four hundred animation studios, producing hundreds of titles every year. With anime exploding into popularity within the Western market in recent years, it’s not uncommon to feel completely overwhelmed at your choices. From the mixing pot of genres, to the anime terminology or endless catalogue of series, if you’re new to anime, it’s a confusing maze to navigate. Luckily, I’m here to be your guide as you journey into the growing world of anime. Your introduction will be broken into two parts. In Anime 101, I’ll get you up to speed on some of the common terms you’ll run into and recommend some anime classics to get you started. In Anime 102, I’ll take a closer look at each specific genre and recommend some recent anime series that you’ll enjoy.
Grab some Japanese snacks and soda, because here we go.
“The key to enjoying anime is figuring out what types of anime you enjoy the most.”
Like traditional TV series and movies, anime can be categories by specific genres. Thankfully, these overlapping genres share the same concepts and tropes between western media and Japanese anime. While we’re familiar with Action, Comedy, Drama and Supernatural – to name a few – anime has a number of unique genres that can often be confusing.
The two most defining genres in anime are Shoujo and Shounen. Shoujo defines anime series that are targeted at young females, usually focusing on romance and relationships. Shounen is targeted at young males and usually focuses on fighting, super powers and action. Josei and Seinen are their respective sub-genres that are targeted towards much more mature viewers.Anime series will typically be considered either a Shoujo or Shounen anime and from there, additional genres are used to describe the anime. Here are some of the more common genres you will see, that aren’t common within western shows:
- Ecchi – Often delivers fan-service in the form of sexual innuendo. It is often used for humour and does not describe any sexual acts.
- Fantasy – Set in a mythical world, quite different from modern-day Earth. Frequently the world has magic or mythical creatures such as dragons.
- Game – The central theme is based on video or trading card games.
- Harem – Anime that involves one male protagonist with numerous female supporting characters. A reverse harem is the same, but with the gender roles swapped.
- Mecha – The central theme is based on mechanical systems, usually giant robots.
- Music – Anime that focuses on singers and idols, or people playing instruments.
- School – Anime that is mainly set in a school environment.
- Slice of Life – Anime with no continual story line. It mainly focuses on the main characters and their everyday lives.
A full list of genre explanations, check the “More” section at the end of this article.
The best place to start is figuring out what genres you enjoy watching from western shows and finding something similar within anime.
There are a lot of phrases that you’ll constantly hear when talking about anime. Some may make sense to anyone, but we often take this for granted and some phrases can be quite confusing if you’re new to anime. So here are some terms you may run into during your anime session.
- Chibi – Japanese word meaning “short”. Also describe an art style where characters are drawn in a miniature version to look cute.
- Dub – When the voice overs in anime are translated into another language, from Japanese.
- ED – Refers to the anime’s ending song and credits.
- Kawaii – Japanese for “cute”.
- Mahou Shoujo / Magical Girl – Literally means a girl – typically of a younger age – that is able to use the power of magic.
- Manga – The originating source for the majority of anime series. It is essentially a Japanese comic.
- OP – Refers to the anime’s opening song and credits.
- Otaku – A term for people with obsessive interests, commonly anime and manga.
- Sub – Subtitles.
- Tsundere – A character personality who is usually cold or hostile to the person they like, while still showing their feelings for them.
Within every genre, there is at least one anime that has stood the test of time. These series are often the first names you’ll hear when you start looking for recommendations and for good reason. Here are a small of anime classics and what western shows they are similar to. Each series will also have their genres listed, so use this as a guide if you aren’t sure what to pick.
[toggler title=”Claymore” ]In this world, humans coexist with demonic predators called Yoma. These demonic beasts feast on human innards and can blend into human society by taking on human appearance. As a counter force, a mysterious organization created half-human, half-Yoma warriors known as the “Silver Eyed Witches” or “Claymores,” after the huge claymore swords they carry. They are detested by humanity however necessary.
The story begins with a young boy, Raki, who has lost everything in a Yoma attack, and the Claymore, Clare, who is generally detested by society. Throughout the series, Clare and Raki show their deeper qualities, powers and Clare’s never ending devotion to the goal she swore to fulfill in her childhood.
(Source: MyAnimeList Rewrite) [/toggler]
Recommended if you enjoy Game of Thrones (Series).
Genres: Action, Adventure, Demons, Fantasy, Shounen, Super Power, Supernatural.
Where to watch: FUNimation[toggler title=”Cowboy Bebop” ]The year 2071 A.D. That future is now. Driven out of their terrestrial eden, humanity chose the stars as the final frontier. With the section-by-section collapse of the former nations a mixed jumble of races and peoples came. They spread to the stars, taking with them the now confused concepts of freedom, violence, illegality and love, where new rules and a new generation of outlaws came into being. People referred to them as Cowboys.
Meet Spike and Jet, a drifter and a retired cyborg cop who have started a bounty hunting operation. In the converted ship The Bebop, Spike and Jet search the galaxy for criminals with bounties on their heads. They meet a lot of unusual characters, including the unusually intelligent dog, Ein, and the voluptuous and vexing femme fatale, Faye Valentine.
Recommended if you like Star Wars (Movies).
Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi, Space.
Where to watch: FUNimation
[toggler title=”Death Note” ]A shinigami, as a god of death, can kill any person—provided they see their victim’s face and write their victim’s name in a notebook called a Death Note. One day, Ryuk, bored by the shinigami lifestyle and interested in seeing how a human would use a Death Note, drops one into the human realm.
High school student and prodigy Light Yagami stumbles upon the Death Note and—since he deplores the state of the world—tests the deadly notebook by writing a criminal’s name in it. When the criminal dies immediately following his experiment with the Death Note, Light is greatly surprised and quickly recognizes how devastating the power that has fallen into his hands could be.
With this divine capability, Light decides to extinguish all criminals in order to build a new world where crime does not exist and people worship him as a god. Police, however, quickly discover that a serial killer is targeting criminals and, consequently, try to apprehend the culprit. To do this, the Japanese investigators count on the assistance of the best detective in the world: a young and eccentric man known only by the name of L.
(Source: MyAnimeList Rewrite) [/toggler]
Recommended if you enjoy Dexter (Series).
Genres: Mystery, Police, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Where to watch: Hulu (US only), Netflix (US)[toggler title=”Elfen Lied” ]The Diclonius, a mutated homosapien that is said to be selected by God and will eventually become the destruction of mankind, possess two horns on their heads and have a “sixth sense” which gives them telekinetic abilities. Due to this dangerous power, they have been captured and isolated in laboratories by the government.
Lucy, a young and psychotic Diclonius, manages to break free of her confines and brutally murders most of the guards in the laboratory where she is being held, only to be shot in the head as she makes her escape. She survives, falling off a cliff into the ocean and manages to drift along to a beach where two teenagers, Kouta and Yuka, discover her. Having lost her memories, she was named after the only thing that she can now say, “Nyuu,” and the two allow her to stay at Kouta’s home. However, it appears that the psychotic side of Lucy is not dead just yet…
Recommended if you enjoy Lucy (Movie).
Genres: Action, Drama, Horror, Psychological, Romance, Seinen, Supernatural.
Where to watch: Amazon (US), Hulu (US only), Netflix DVD (US only)[toggler title=”Fruits Basket” ]Tooru Honda is a 16-year-old orphaned girl who gets invited to live in the house of her classmate, the handsome boy Yuki Souma, and his cousins, 16-year-old Kyou and 27-year-old Shigure. However, these young men and parts of the rest of their family (both close and distant) hold a curse; if they are hugged by the opposite gender, they transform into animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Everyday is an adventure for sweet Tooru, as she gets to know everyone in the large family better (especially Yuki and Kyou), in both common and bizarre situations. But, the Souma family curse is certainly no laughing matter… It also holds horrible cruelty and heartbreak.
(Source: FUNimation) [/toggler]
Recommended if you enjoy romance stories.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Supernatural
Where to watch: FUNimation[toggler title=”Full Metal Panic!” ]Equipped with cutting-edge weaponry and specialized troops, a private military organization named Mithril strives to extinguish the world’s terrorism and all threats to peace on earth. The organization is powered by the “Whispered,” individuals who possess intuitive knowledge and the remarkable ability to create powerful devices and machinery.
Seventeen-year-old Sousuke Sagara, a sergeant working for Mithril, has been assigned to protect Kaname Chidori, a Whispered candidate. He is ordered to join her high school class and be as close to her as possible to prevent her from falling into enemy hands—that is, if he can safely blend in with their fellow classmates without revealing his true identity.
Sousuke, who was raised on a battlefield and has very little knowledge of an average high school student’s lifestyle, must adapt to a normal school life to safeguard Kaname. However, enemy forces have already begun making their move, and Sousuke is about to find out that the adversary coming for the Whispered girl may be a lot more familiar than he expects.
(Source: MyAnimeList Rewrite)[/toggler]
Recommended if you enjoyed Ender’s Game (Movie) and if Evangelion seems too dark for you. It is a light-hearten and cheerful anime about Mecha.
Genre: Action, Comedy, Mecha, Military, Sci-Fi.
Where to watch: FUNimation, Hulu (US only)[toggler title=”Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” ]In the not so distant future, mankind has advanced to a state where complete body transplants from flesh to machine is possible. This allows for great increases in both physical and cybernetic prowess and blurring the lines between the two worlds. However, criminals can also make full use of such technology, leading to new and sometimes, very dangerous crimes. In response to such innovative new methods, the Japanese Government has established Section 9, an independently operating police unit which deals with such highly sensitive crimes.
Led by Daisuke Aramaki and Motoko Kusanagi, Section 9 deals with such crimes over the entire social spectrum, usually with success. However, when faced with a new A level hacker nicknamed “The Laughing Man,” the team is thrown into a dangerous cat and mouse game, following the hacker’s trail as it leaves its mark on Japan.
(Source: MyAnimeList Rewrite) [/toggler]
Recommended if you enjoy The Matrix (Movies).
Genre: Action, Mecha, Military, Police, Sci-Fi, Seinen.
Where to watch: Hulu (US only), iTunes[toggler title=”Great Teacher Onizuka” ]Onizuka is a reformed biker gang leader who has his sights set on an honorable new ambition: to become the world’s greatest teacher… for the purpose of meeting sexy high school girls. Okay, so he’s mostly reformed.
However, strict administrators and a class of ruthless delinquents stand between Onizuka and his goal and they will use any means, however illegal or low, to drive the new teacher away. Perfect, because Onizuka’s methods won’t be found in any teaching manual; he cares about the difference between legal and illegal activities about as much as he cares for the age difference between himself and a high school girl.
So get ready for math that doesn’t add up, language you’d be slapped for using, and biology that would make a grown man blush… unless of course, you’re the Great Teacher Onizuka.
(Source: MyAnimeList Rewrite)[/toggler]
Recommended for mature viewers.
Genres: Comedy, Drama, School, Shounen, Slice of Life.
Where to watch: Crunchyroll[toggler title=”Neon Genesis Evangelion” ]In the year 2015, the Angels, huge, tremendously powerful, alien war machines, appear in Tokyo for the second time. The only hope for Mankind’s survival lies in the Evangelion, a humanoid fighting machine developed by NERV, a special United Nations agency. Capable of withstanding anything the Angels can dish out, the Evangelion’s one drawback lies in the limited number of people able to pilot them.
Only a handful of teenagers, all born fourteen years ago, nine months after the Angels first appeared, are able to interface with the Evangelion. One such teenager is Shinji Ikari, whose father heads the NERV team that developed and maintains the Evangelion. Thrust into a maelstrom of battle and events that he does not understand, Shinji is forced to plumb the depths of his own inner resources for the courage and strength to not only fight, but to survive, or risk losing everything.
Recommended if you would enjoy Pacific Rim (Movie) if it had a much darker and twisted story. Evangelion will definitely mess with your mind.
Genres: Action, Dementia, Drama, Mecha, Psychological, Sci-Fi.
Where to watch: FUNimation[toggler title=”Trigun” ]Vash the Stampede is a wanted man with a habit of turning entire frontier towns into rubble. The price on his head is a fortune, and his path of destruction reaches across the arid wastelands of a desert planet. Unfortunately, most encounters with the spiky-haired gunslinger don’t end well for the bounty hunters who catch up with him; someone almost always gets hurt—and it’s never Vash. Oddly enough, for such an infamous fugitive, there’s no proof that he’s ever taken a life. In fact, he’s a pacifist with a doughnut obsession who’s more doofus than desperado. There’s a whole lot more to him than his reputation lets on—Vash the Stampede definitely ain’t your typical outlaw.
(Source: FUNimation) [/toggler]
Recommended if you like Western Movies or gun-fights in general.
Genres: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi.
Where to watch: FUNimation
Now that you’re armed with some basic knowledge about anime, it’s time to take your first step. If any of the anime classics seem interested to you, give them a watch. Unfortunately, some of the series are only available for streaming within the US, so if you’re outside of the states, check to see if it has been licensed in your region.
If you want to read more on anime genres, you can find a full list in the “More” section below.
In Anime 102, I’ll be giving recommendations for recent anime series based on genres. Before then, try and figure out what genres you really enjoy and what doesn’t work for you. Until then, watch more anime![toggler title=”Full Genre Details” ]
Action – Anime that focuses on the clash of physical forces. Typically, these animes sacrifice a deep storyline for high energy scenes with flashy animation.
Adventure – Exploring new places, environments or situations. This is often associated with people on long journeys to places far away encountering amazing things.
Cars – Anime whose central theme revolves around cars and sometimes car races.
Comedy – Multiple characters, events or scenarios causing hilarious results. These stories are built upon funny characters, situations and events.
Dementia – Anime that have a mind-twisting plot.
Demons – Anime that are set in a world where demons and other dark creatures play a significant role.
Drama – Anime that often show life or characters through conflict and emotions. In general, the story usually has a message that is bigger than just the storyline itself.
Ecchi – Anime that contain a lot of sexual innuendo. It is common for there to be undergarments shown, situations with “sudden nudity” and of course, subtle hints of sexual thoughts. Ecchi does not describe actual sex acts or show any intimate body parts except for bare breasts and buttocks. Most of the time, ecchi is used for humour.
Fantasy – Anime that are set in a mythical world quite different from modern-day Earth. Frequently this world has magic and/or mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns. These stories are sometimes based on real world legends and myths.
Game – Anime whose central theme is based on a non-violent, non-sports game, like go, chess, trading card games or computer/video games.
Harem – Anime that involves one lead male character and many cute/pretty female support characters. The lead male typically represents the average guy who is shy, awkward, and girlfriendless, while each female character possesses attractive physical and personality traits. A Reverse Harem is the situation where there is one lead female and many male supporting characters.
Historical – Anime whose setting is in the past. Frequently these follow historical tales, sagas or facts.
Horror – Anime that focuses on scaring the audience.
Josei – Anime that is targeted towards women in their late teens on into adulthood. It is similar to the Shoujo genre, except that it depicts more realistic romances and contains more mature storytelling.
Kids – Anime whose target audience is children.
Magic – Anime whose central theme revolves around magic. Things that are “out of this world” happen – incidents that cannot be explained by the laws of nature or science. Usually wizards/witches indicate that it is of the “Magic” type. This is a sub-genre of Fantasy.
Martial Arts – Anime whose central theme revolves around martial arts. This includes all hand-to-hand fighting styles and weapon combat. This is a sub-genre of Action.
Mecha – Anime whose central theme involves mechanical things. This genre is commonly in reference to giant robots. While human-size androids are in general not considered “Mecha” but “Sci-Fi”.
Military – An anime series/movie that has a heavy militaristic influence.
Music – Anime whose central theme revolves around singers/idols or people playing instruments.
Mystery – Anime where characters reveal secrets that may lead a solution for a great mystery. This is not necessarily solving a crime, but can be a realization after a quest.
Parody – Anime that imitate other stories for comic effect by exaggerating the style and changing the content of the original. This is a sub-genre of Comedy.
Police – Anime where a police organization are a major part of the story.
Psychological – Often when two or more characters prey each others’ minds, either by playing deceptive games with the other or by merely trying to demolish the other’s mental state.
Romance – Anime whose story is about two people who each want (sometimes unconsciously) to win or keep the love of the other. This focuses on the emotional relationship between characters and not the physical attraction.
Samurai – Anime whose main character(s) are samurai.
School – Anime that is mainly set in a school environment.
Sci-fi – Anime where the setting is based on the technology and tools of a scientifically imaginable world. The majority of technologies presented are not available in the present day and therefore the Science is Fiction.
Seinen – Anime that is targeted towards men in their late teens on into adulthood. It is similar to the Shounen genre, except that it focuses on more mature topics such as politics, relationships, sports, etc.
Shoujo – Anime that are targeted towards young girls. Usually the story is from the point of view of a girl and deals with romance, drama or magic.
Shoujo Ai – Anime whose central theme is about a relationship (or strong affection, not usually sexual) between two girls or women.
Shounen – Anime that are targeted towards young boys. The usual topics for this involve fighting, friendship and sometimes super powers.
Shounen Ai – Anime whose central theme is about a relationship (or strong affection, not usually sexual) between two boys or men.
Slice of Life – Anime with no clear central plot. This type of anime tends to be naturalistic and mainly focuses around the main characters and their everyday lives. The overall typical moods for this type of anime are cheery and carefree.
Space – Anime whose setting is in outer space, not on another planet, nor in another dimension, but space. This is a sub-genre of Sci-fi.
Sports – Anime whose central theme revolves around sports.
Super Power – Anime whose main character(s) have superhuman powers. Often it looks like magic, but can’t really be considered magic; usually ki-attacks, flying or superhuman strength.
Supernatural – Anime of the paranormal stature.
Vampire – Anime whose main character(s) are vampires or at least vampires play a significant role in the story.