Hello and welcome again to another edition of The Anime Pulse! This week I want to tackle a question that was actually asked of me by a couple of people in recently. After I was asked this question, a light bulb popped on in my head and I said, “Oh hey, I should do a column about this!”
The question was: “I was thinking about getting into/back into anime, what would you suggest?”
It’s such an easy question to ask, but such a difficult one to answer. When people hear “anime,” they automatically think of things like Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and all of the other mainstream anime out there when there are so many different genres, each with their own masterpieces and failures. Answering that question with a simple, “watch this show” isn’t really going to cut it.
First and foremost, I would actually tell someone NOT to start watching things like Naruto, Bleach, etc. If someone is just starting to watch anime for the first time, the last thing you want to do is overload them with a series with several hundred episodes. It’s also important to note that long-running series like that also contain filler episodes that they won’t be aware of because it is unlikely that they will read the manga first; with a multitude of filler being complete and utter garbage (with some exceptions), you wouldn’t want them to get the wrong impression of a show.
There are PLENTY of anime shows out there that have 12 or 13 episodes or 24 to 26 episodes. These shorter shows could be watched within a day or two. I would highly recommend starting somebody off with a shorter series. The next thing you want to find out is what they are interested in. I had a friend of mine come to me and say he wanted a space mech adventure anime. Obviously, anime such as Robotech and Heroic Age immediately came to mind as well as Suisei no Gargantia which starts off in space and then ends up with a twist. So if you know the genre that they’re looking for specifically, it’s easy to make recommendations.
What if they don’t know EXACTLY what they are looking for? What if what they want to see is a broad spectrum like “I want to see something with magic, or with battles, or slice of life, etc. etc?” That’s when things start to get a little rough because there is so much to choose from. Not only are there different types of each genre, but you also have know which anime were good and which are bad so you don’t leave a negative impression on them. So what I’m going to do is break down some pretty popular genres and give you some recommendations… about three main recommendations with some suggestions for a follow up show for each genre. They should serve to be nice starters for you to watch for yourself if you’re starting out, or to recommend to friends so they, too, can start enjoying anime.
Slice of Life
Here is a genre where you won’t find a lot of your typical scenarios in anime. Scenarios such as aliens, magic powers, demons, skilled swordsmen, big evils bent on world domination, etc. We’ll talk about those later. Slice of Life is just that… animes that take a look at ordinary people in ordinary situations and making it entertaining as possible. I’ve seen quite a few really good ones over the years and after narrowing them down, here’s what I’d recommend:
Clannad: Clannad does have SOME weirdness in it that wouldn’t really be considered slice of life (like the Fuuko ghost arc), BUT, the majority of the show is about a teenage boy experiencing the trials and tribulations of life and growing into adulthood. Plus, this anime is famous for making even the most manly of men cry (myself included). The show is broken up into two seasons (Clannad and Clannad: After Story), with season one containing 23 episodes and season two containing 24. The first season serves as a way to introduce you to the cast of characters and season two is really where the story goes into full swing and hits home pretty hard. That’s not to say that the first season isn’t important because it really is. Getting to know the characters really enhances what happens in season two. It’s a great anime by the studio KEY and writer Jun Maeda. If you like this, I would suggest checking out the studio’s other works such are Air and Little Busters. Angel Beats was produced by P.A. Works, but Jun Maeda also wrote that one. AnoHana is also another great slice of life show about a group of childhood friends who grew up, but became distanced from each other over time and how a girl named Menma brings them back together.
Genshiken: Here is an anime that’s just plain awesome for people who are into anime, manga, video games, going to conventions, creating their own doujinshis, etc. It’s about a group of college students who are a part of the Genshiken club which is a shortened term for the Study of Modern Visual Arts. They basically read manga, watch anime, and play video games all day until the student council threatens to shut their club down because they’re not getting any new members and they never participate in school activities or club fairs. This leads them to band together in order to save their club. This anime currently has three seasons (Genshiken, Genshiken 2, and Genshiken Nidaime) out and contains 12 episodes in the first two seasons and 13 in the third season. If you end up liking this anime, Bakuman is a must-watch as it deals with two high schoolers and their journey to becoming Manga artists for Shounen JUMP magazine. Bakuman has three seasons with 25 episodes per season so it does go against my “short series” rule from above, but I think this one is good enough for an exception to be made. Comic Party is a decent follow up as well, which is almost the same thing, but it focuses mainly on making manga and going to conventions.
Hanasaku Iroha: This one is about a girl leaving the city to go to the country to work for her grandmother’s traditionally-cultured inn. Ohana is kind of an outcast, but she always keeps a positive spirit. She endears herself to the staff that eventually warm up to her. It’s just a down to earth feel-good anime all around that’s pretty enjoyable. There’s 26 episodes in the series as well as a movie that is a pseudo-sequel (Hanasaku: Home Sweet Home). If you end up liking this and want another feel-good anime, I’ll also point you to Non Non Biyori which is about a group of kids of different age ranges living together in a small country village and a transfer student trying to adapt to living there. If you want a dark comedy about being an outcast and trying to fit in, Watamote is a great recommendation and with 13 episodes (12 + 1 that comes with the Blu-ray release), it’s nice and short and it’s something I feel a lot of people can relate to.
Here’s a huge category filled with plenty of anime. In fact, a new anime season just simply can’t go by without one of these shows popping up. This one was a bit hard for me, but I did narrow it down to three picks.
Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin): My last column talked about Sword Art Online creating a Love/Hate type of fanbase. Attack on Titan did that all the same, but someone who is new to anime isn’t really going to be overly critical of shows so they will take it at face value and at face value, Attack on Titan is an epic adventure about super-sized humanoids threatening the last surviving humans who have taken refuge behind the walls of a vast city. It follows three childhood friends joining the Survey Corps and trying to rid the world as well as solve the mystery of the titans. Of course there is more to it than that, but spoilers and all. There is a second season on the way, although we won’t see it for a while. The first and only season available has 25 episodes. If you like this, then an anime that’s currently airing called Terra Formars might also be of interest to you as it has the same premise, but replace the titans with giant space cockroaches.
Accel World: This one is a bit unique given that the main character isn’t some toned teenage heartthrob with awesome abilities, but rather a short, out-of-shape chubster who is basically an outcast at his school until he learns about Brain Burst, which sends you into a virtual reality game where you can battle other players. The problem is, if you lose all your points, you lose the ability to interface with the equipment and can never play the game again. This aired at the same time as Sword Art Online and many fans of this genre created crossover fan fictions and some even said that, while not as popular, Accel World handled the whole virtual game situation a bit better. Accel World has one season with 24 episodes in it. You can also refer to Anime Pulse #2 for a bit of information on Sword Art Online if you want to try that. There is also Log Horizon which is currently airing its second season as well. No Game, No Life also takes it a bit further by transferring people to an alternate dimension where everything is decided by games as well. If you want a comedic twist to this genre, I’d highly recommend Ixion Saga DT as a good follow up.
Fate: I shortened this because there are a couple of series here. Fate/stay night and Fate/zero. Fate/stay night aired first with Fate/zero airing second, however, Fate/zero is a prequel to Fate/stay night. Got that? Good! This is about the war for the Holy Grail which can grant any wish to the victor of the war. Seven mages are chosen to summon forth seven heroic classes such as Saber, Berserker, Lancer, Archer, Caster, Rider, and Assassin. Each class is powered by a hero from the past. When a servant “dies”, they go back and wait for the next war to be called upon. They are also linked to their mages for mana. Fate/stay night has 24 episodes with Fate/zero having 12 episodes for season one and 13 for season two for a total of 25. Ufotable, which produced Fate/zero, is remaking Fate/stay night which is currently airing as of this column’s writing. It’s called the Unlimited Blade Works edition if you want to differentiate it from the original. There is also a 1 episode OVA called Fate/Prototype which takes place before Fate/zero. There was also a high school spinoff called Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Ilya which spawned a second season (kaleid liner Prisma Ilya Zwei), but I wouldn’t recommend the spinoff. While this anime is pretty much a league of its own, Sekirei is a good alternative as well if you happen to like the Fate series.
Magical Girl Anime
Wait… what? Why would I put this out here? Because there are some great magical girl animes out there not named Sailor Moon that are suitable for both men and women alike. While this could have been in the Fantasy Battle section, Magical Girl, over the decades, has become a genre all on its own!
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: You knew this was getting recommended! Gen Urobuchi trolled the world by showing off a cutesy trailer which got all little girls excited… when it aired however, the REALLY dark vibe of the show caused quite a stir that resulted in a high number of complaints to the anime studio which lead to a public apology by Urobuchi himself. The show itself has said to have redefined the magical girl genre to the point where some shows even tried to copy it. For a 12 episode series, this was brilliantly done and spawned three movies. The first two were a recap of the anime and the third movie was its sequel. In fact, this show was so popular, the final episode aired in THEATERS. Yes.. in actual movie theaters. If you want to see the show that tries to be Madoka Magica, but doesn’t come close (even though I did find it enjoyable), I’ll point you toward Gen’ei wo Kakeru Taiyou. Vividred Operation was also surprisingly decent if you can get past the loli fanservice the show brings about itself. Also, as an aside, Gen Urobuchi also helped write Fate/zero!
Shakugan no Shana: Yes, this is a magical girl anime despite the fact it centers around one girl, but she does have magic powers, thus being the very definition of a magical girl. This one is a bit on the long side. It’s a trilogy with each season having 24 episodes, but like Bakuman up above, this one, I feel, is an exception to my rule simply because it really pulled people in with a very interesting story about a boy named Yuji and how he is known as a Flame Haze. Shana is trying to protect him from a group of demons who want Yuji for something mysterious that resides inside of him. Also, when I talked about tropes in my first column, I talked about the tsundere character and Shana is, arguably, one of the biggest tsundere characters in the anime world. In fact, this anime even inspired me to make melon-pan one day (and I think I did a decent job of it haha) which is a bread bun with a sugar cookie coating. Zero no Tsukaima is a similar anime and it even features most of the voice cast from Shakugan no Shana as well and is probably the only anime that comes close in comparison so if you like Shana, you’ll probably like Zero.
Kill la Kill: Whoa! Hold on there! Am I actually going to call Kill la Kill a magical girl anime? Well let’s see here. Is Ryuoko Matoi a girl? Yes. Does she have a transformation sequence? Yes. Is what she wears a resemblance of a school uniform typically seen in magical girl animes? Yes. Does the suit come with abilities that could be passed off as magic powers? Yes. Does it take place at a high school? Yes. Did it have a villain that was god-like and wanted to enslave or destroy the world? Yes! Well damn.. I guess Kill la Kill actually was a magical girl anime in a pretty big disguise after all! The fact that it hid the itself about being a magical girl anime with its over the top action and plot, really serves as a testament to how good of a show it is. It centers around a girl named Matoi who attends a high school run by counsil president Satsuki, who is the suspected murderer of her father. It’s Matoi’s journey to find her killer.. until all hell breaks loose. This is the show that had many people claiming that “anime was back.” It brought forth a breath of fresh air of the craziness that anime used to be known for with shows such as FLCL and Gurren Lagann. In fact, I’ll just recommend those two because while those aren’t magical girl animes, Kill la Kill falls into the same bizarre category as the other two and if you can get into the warped nature of Kill la Kill… FLCL and Guerren Lagann will feel like natural choices.
There is a great abundance of mystery anime out there that really makes you sit down and think about things. Typically these are shows where you have to sit down and pay attention to the details because they will test you mentally. Here are a couple of recommendations.
Death Note: This 37 episode classic should be at the top of everyone’s list. Light Yagami vs L in a battle of wits over who is actually doing justice in the world all centered around a notebook that can kill people simply by writing their name into it while picturing them in your head. It was one of the most epic mangas as well as anime adaptations to come out of Japan. Many say it really set the standard for psychological thrillers and it even has a pretty decent English dub, to boot (if you can get past the potato chip scene). In fact, it’s a show that I would actually recommend to watch in English over the Japanese sub! That’s a rarity.. trust me on that one. The creators of this show also created Bakuman.. another previous recommendation of mine! A similar show which just finished airing is Zankyou no Terror, about teenagers who become terrorists with a twist.. they blow up buildings with the goal of not killing anyone. It also features a battle of wits between them and a detective.
Witch Hunter Robin: This one is a bit slow-paced, but if I were to sum up this show, I’d say that this is the Japanese anime equivalent to The X-Files. It’s about a girl named Robin who joins a special investigation team in Japan to hunt witches. Being a witch herself, she hopes to solve the mystery of how witches came to be. It’s a great 26 episode series that mixes backstory and action pretty well… plus Harry’s bar is just gorgeous to look at and I wish I could just live there. I’m not going to make any follow up recommendations for this one because the ones I have in mind are going into the next suggestion.
Ergo Proxy: In this show, the world’s hyrdo methane layer was destroyed and humans are forced to live in cities protected by Earth’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Humans are assisted by AutoRievs.. automatic servants. One day a virus breaks out to cause them to go haywire and it’s up to Re-l to uncover the truth behind it. Ergo Proxy is 23 episodes in length and is pretty slow paced. This show forces you to pay attention and to use your mind when watching it. It is definitely a thinker’s anime. Although there are multiple series/movies/OVAs, etc, Ghost in the Shell is another good mystery show that tries to figure out just who the Laughing Man is by an agency in which some are human and some are androids.
There is a LOT of science fiction out there. I do have my top three choices, but I will be making many recommendations within them! It is a very broad spectrum as far as a genre is concerned, but because of the scope limits of this column, I’m going to try and condense this as much as possible.
Steins;Gate: My all-time favorite anime, hands down. I think it really comes close to nailing down the essence of time travel. It’s not perfect by any means, but I don’t really think there is anything out there that is perfect when it comes to time travel, but Steins;Gate does a great job of trying to achieve it. It centers around Okabe Rintaru and the Future Gadget Lab. They hook a cell phone to a microphone and end up sending text messages back in time. It begins to alter time itself by not changing the past or future, but, instead creates a new time line where everything is the same except for that one thing that’s different. It’s not without its plot holes, but what show isn’t? I even did a review for the show not that long ago so feel free to check that out! A similar recommendation for this would be Mirai Nikki which involves cell phones as diaries which have the ability to predict and change the future as well.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Some people would list this one under horror, however, there is a sci-fi aspect to this show. This is a three-part series (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei) in which the small town of Hinamizawa has a curse and keeps looping over and over and over again. The first season sets up the time loop scenario while the second season unravels it. The third “season” is more or less just a filler series that’s not really needed. Higurashi has 26 episodes, Kai has 24, while Rei only has 5. If you want some bloodshed styled sci-fi animes then Elfen Lied comes to mind instantly which is about a science project gone wrong that escapes into the world, but suffers from intermittent amnesia. Another (not as in another show, but rather the title of the anime) is also about a classroom with a curse that also leads to people dying. Another is a lot shorter than Higurashi, but still has a similar feeling. Shinsekai Yori is another great recommendation as the high-tech world of today was blown back into the stone age, practically, and a village as well as the world, has a strange curse about it that a group of childhood friends embark on an adventure to try and unravel.
Shiki: This is a story about a town that has to fend off vampires that moved into a mansion on a hill overlooking the town. What makes this show so good is that it makes you hate the vampires and feel bad for the humans until they start to display the ugly side of humanity and you do a complete 180 on your feelings toward the characters. It starts off rather slow, but when it picks up.. it REALLY picks up. This show made me go from saying (sarcastically) “Oh yay.. another episode of Shiki” to “OH MY GOD WHY ISN’T THE NEXT EPISODE HERE YET!?” Everything is just played out so perfectly. It is one of the few shows I own on Blu-Ray because I love it so much.
I have a plethora of other shows I’d like to recommend in this genre, but just don’t have enough room to run them down, but Durarara!!, Darker than BLACK/Darker Than BLACK Ryuusei no Gemini, Black Bullet, 11eyes, Crystal Blaze, Mnemosyne, and Mekakucity Actors are all really good shows in this genre as well.
I know the column is getting a bit lengthy so I’ll wrap this up with one final category.
Everything doesn’t have to be powers, battles, drama, murder, or science fiction. Sometimes you just want to sit back and have a good laugh. Japan, in and of itself, has a very unique sense of humor and that comes through rather well in anime. Here’s some good recommendations for this genre.
Working!!: This one is split into two seasons (Working!! and Working’!!), both rather short. It takes place inside of the anime equivalent to Denny’s called Wagnaria. It’s filled with a cast of characters that each have their own nuances. Takanashi loves small things, Poplar is small and wishes she could grow big, the manager is lazy and eats constantly, Mahiru has androphobia, etc. etc. It all comes together in a melting pot of comedy. While it’s not really the American equivalent to the movie Waiting, it does its job in creating some great laughs, regardless. Hataraku no Maou-sama (The Devil is a Part-Timer) is a great follow up to this show. Satan crashes on Earth, loses his powers, and is forced to work at McDonalds where he gets into a war with KFC while trying to find a way for him and his partner to regain their powers. That one just writes itself from the description.
Baka to Test to Shokanjuu (Idiots, Tests, and Summoned Beings): This show has a little bit of everything with comedy front and center. Fans of role-playing games will love the chibi battles in here while it does cross into the battle anime and sci-fi realms (albeit just a little) as well. Akhisa is poor, he’s an idiot, and he’s stuck in Class F with all the other idiots. They end up challenging other classes in order to prove that they belong alongside them academically. There are two seasons, each spawning 12 episodes each. There’s a Christmas special as well as a short OVA series. It was one of the better comedies I’ve in seen in a while and I don’t know if anything really compares to this show to recommend a follow up to it.
Haiyore! Nyaruko-san: Another two-season anime (the second being Haiyore! Nyaruko-san W), each with 12 episodes per season, is heavily based on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos of stories. Add in the fact that most of the references point to American culture and this show will have you laughing from beginning to end. In fact, at one point, they are summoned to space in order to deal with a massive interstellar war, when in reality, the war was over new video game consoles to poke fun at the Xbox One and Playstation 4 launches. They even took off into space in a DeLorean ala Back to the Future. This show has its awesome moments, for sure and I highly recommend this to all who love Lovecraft or just geek stuff in general. Hyperdimension Neptunia is not only a video game, but an anime that also pokes fun at video games and would be a good follow up to Haiyore!
Well, that’s going to do it. This column was a bit wordy and I know it seems like I just threw out a bunch of shows to fill the column, but this is how your typical conversation might go with someone. Someone would ask for A… as in singular… recommendation, and you… the anime buff, will just sit there and make one recommendation, think of another, which leads to another, and all of a sudden, you’ve dumped about thirty shows onto someone’s lap. I could have written a 100-page column with all of the shows I could recommend, but this was meant to be a starter’s guide and I think it accomplishes that nicely.
So if you’re thinking about trying anime or if you know someone who is thinking about it… try some of the shows above. I tried to keep most of them recent, but if you start getting into anime, I would recommend you go back and start checking out some of the older classics such as Cowboy Bebop, Tsubasa, Trigun, Black Blood Brothers, and… see? There we go again just naming show after show! It’s so easy to do that.
But in seriousness… I think the best way to approach anime is the way I approached it. I was given a show to check out by a friend. He gave me a follow up after I liked the show. I watched it and then I began to explore on my own. If they need some help in self-discover, then show them the charts for upcoming anime seasons to see if there is something they would like and set them free into the anime world so they don’t have to keep relying on you. Being told to watch something is fine, but when you start researching your own shows, you start to gain a better understanding of what’s good, what isn’t and one day, maybe you’ll be on the internet writing a column to set someone else down that same path.
As always, I am open to feedback. Send your questions, comments, suggestions, and all the like to JoshPIedra@theouterhaven.net and I will include them in a future column! Also, if you feel inclined, feel free to follow me on Twitter @Pulsein
Until next time…