Anime isn’t always the easiest thing for Westerners to digest. In addition to cultural differences, anime often relies on tropes that are unique to the medium. It used to be difficult for Westerners to wrap their minds around the concept of a cartoon for adults but shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and Archer have taken care of that problem.
For many, trying to get into the anime fandom is intimidating. Some shows have over 200 episodes. Others are heavily steeped in Japanese culture or tropes (or both). For all the novice anime watchers out there, here is a list of ten amazing anime that are more accessible for adolescent and adult beginners. There’s a little bit of everything, so every fan should be able to find at least one anime that piques their interest.
Black Lagoon is a fairly mature anime about a group of mercenaries called Lagoon company. The series takes place in the 1990s in the fictional city of Roanapur, Thailand. Black Lagoon is comprised of two seasons and an OVA (Original Video Animation), Roberta’s Blood Trail. It’s a show for older teens and adults, as there’s lots of violence, some sexual content, and adult themes.
One of the interesting things about Black Lagoon is that most of the truly badass characters are female. Primary protagonist Revy is a Chinese-American ex-con who is famous for her ability to dual-wield guns. Balalaika is a terrifying Russian mob boss operating in Roanapur. Roberta, star of the OVA, is one of the scariest ladies ever to exist in an anime. The ladies here are killing it, and they’re all complex characters with great writing, voice acting, and animation.
Black Lagoon is a fun anime for anyone who likes action and adventure. There’s some comedy and a (tiny) bit of romance, but it’s mostly an action-adventure show about a crazy life of crime.
No, Excel Saga is not about the Microsoft spreadsheet program. It is a comedy anime about the secret organization Across, which plans on conquering the world. The first step is to conquer one city, and then move on from there. There are three people that make up Across: officers Excel and Hyatt, and leader Il Palazzo. Excel does everything she can to impress Il Palazzo, though usually to no effect.
Excel and Hyatt live in an apartment in the city, along with their pet dog Menchi who is also their emergency food supply. (A recurring gag consists of Excel trying to catch Menchi to eat her. Also, Menchi literally translates as “mincemeat”.)
Excel Saga is a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t make much sense. It’s a silly, slapstick comedy with some dark jokes slipped in. The final episode is one of the funniest in all of anime, as Excel Saga explores its doujinshi/hentai roots. This one’s not for kids, but it’s funny and accessible, if a little weird.
Hellsing: Ultimate is easily the most violent anime on this list, but it’s a horror anime about ancient vampires and Nazi werewolves, so that’s to be expected. Hellsing: Ultimate is the OVA series based on the manga Hellsing. Another anime with the same name was released in the early 2000s, but it did not follow the manga as closely.
The primary protagonists of Hellsing are Alucard (yeah, Dracula backwards) and Seras Victoria. Seras is Alucard’s first vampire offspring since Mina Harker, hundreds of years before. Seras and Alucard fight for the secret organization called – you guessed it – Hellsing. The Hellsing organization fights supernatural beings around the globe. It’s good, gritty, violent vampire horror in the same vein as Vampire Hunter D, only more gratuitous.
While Hellsing: Ultimate is strange at times and falls prey to some hardcore anime tropes, it also features intelligent writing with regards to the characters and absolutely gorgeous animation. This one’s perfect for horror fans.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the most well-loved anime of all time. Just saying the phrase “see you, space cowboy” can evoke an emotional response in most fans. It’s a brilliant sci-fi action-drama about a crew of bounty hunters. The varied crew consists of former crime syndicate member Spike, military man Jet, bounty-huntee Faye, kid genius Ed, and dog genius Ein.
Over the course of its 26 episodes, Cowboy Bebop deals with themes of loss, trauma, and abandonment with grace and maturity. Each of the members of the crew is lost in some way, and the show details their triumphs and failures as they travel through space. The characters are multi-faceted with complex backstories. As Cowboy Bebop goes on, the characters almost begin to feel like family.
Cowboy Bebop features outstanding animation, voice acting, and writing. It’s a tightly-woven story about finding hope among the hopeless. It’s brilliant, and one of the best introductory anime shows out there.
Don’t get me wrong, FLCL is really, really strange. The six-episode anime is a coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old boy called Ta-kun. Ta-kun lives a fairly normal life and only wants to be seen as mature. Enter Haruko, an extraterrestrial police investigator who begins the series by running Ta-kun over with her Vespa. She gives him CPR and hits him on the head with her guitar-gun, and Ta-kun develops the ability to have robots from another dimension come out through a portal in his forehead.
FLCL (pronounced Fooly Cooly, if you were wondering), is absolutely insane, but it’s a blast. The story is confusing, and the characters are big weirdos, but there’s a ton of heart at the center of this anime. For anyone with a short attention span (six episodes and lots of action!) and a weird sense of humor, FLCL is perfection.
Ah! My Goddess
Say you’re not interested in all of that violence, weirdness, or science fiction. You just want an entertaining anime series with some pretty animation, neat costumes, and an easy-to-follow story. You’re in luck, because Ah! My Goddess fits the bill.
The series focuses on the relationship between college student Keiichi and goddess Belldandy. Belldandy first appeared to Keiichi to grant him a wish, but his wish ends up changing both of their lives and defines the anime’s plot. His wish, “I wish for a goddess like you to stay by my side forever”, binds Belldandy to Earth and creates a whole mess of problems for both of them.
Ah! My Goddess is silly, lighthearted fluff. It’s a romantic comedy with goddesses who grant wishes via a telephone-style system with a fairly basic story. There are four different Ah! My Goddess anime, but each is entertaining in its own right.
There is an entire genre of anime and manga called “harem” anime, meaning the plot focuses around a harem of one gender all vying for the attentions of a single person (usually of the opposite gender). For the most part, these anime focus on a group of women all vying for the attention of one man. They’re a bit of wish-fulfillment, but they can still be entertaining and fun for folks who don’t see the appeal of living in a house with a bunch of crazy women.
Tenchi Muyo is an essential harem anime. It is split into a number of spin-offs and OVAs, but each is accessible without having reference to the others. The original series is still the best, and features a hilarious cast of characters including a space pirate, alien princesses, and an ancient mad scientist woman.
Tenchi Muyo is one of the only anime on this list that’s appropriate for younger teens. There is some sexual humor, but the series isn’t particularly violent or upsetting. It’s fluffy fun with lots of romance.
Beserk follows just slightly behind Hellsing: Ultimate with regards to violence, so this one’s adults-only. (There’s also lots of sex and really disturbing material. Seriously. This one’s for the grown-ups.)
Beserk has been adapted from manga to anime a couple of times, though the most recent adaptation in 2016 is the best and most accessible. The original anime features good writing and voice acting and some really fun outtakes, but the animation is pretty godawful. The new series has much better animation (though it is still occasionally low-budget and dodgy).
So what is Beserk about, anyway? The 2016 anime tells the Conviction Arc part of the manga, in which medieval sword-wielding antihero Guts and his comrades try to rescue Casca from the Tower of Conviction. Casca is the only woman Guts ever loved (and he’s “loved” a lot of them), and she is the primary female protagonist of the series. Beserk takes place in a medieval-esque fantasy world, with demons, magic, and all kinds of weird happenings. This is a good anime for anyone who likes sword-and-sorcery stories.
Full Metal Panic!
Full Metal Panic! is based on a series of light novels of the same name. It follows Sousuke Sagara, a member of a covert anti-terrorist private military group known as Mithril. He is ordered to protect a spirited high-school girl named Kaname Chidori. He moves to Japan and enrolls as a student in Chidori’s school so he is close enough to protect her.
Full Metal Panic! is a mecha anime that doesn’t rely too heavily on the giant robot aspect of its story. The mechs add action and a fun twist on an otherwise rote anime love story. Full Metal Panic! is funny and often sweet. It’s easy to understand and appreciate and is great for anyone interested in stories about high school, covert agencies, or giant robots.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex tells a different story than the Ghost in the Shell movies, but both center on the career of the Major, Motoko Kusanagi. Focusing on elements from the original manga, Stand Alone Complex tells the story of a special operations task-force called Public Security Section 9. The Major works in Section 9, an elite domestic anti-crime unit. They fight all kinds of cyber crimes, crimes committed by members of public offices, and high-profile murder cases.
Stand Alone Complex takes place in the “near-future” of 2030, though the technology in the series is far more advanced than we’re likely to see by the actual 2030.
Stand Alone Complex is an incredibly smart, well-written anime with good voice-acting and animation. It’s serious stuff, and features a number of science-fiction theoretical ideas. While it’s an anime series that doesn’t require much knowledge of the medium, it is more for those who are science or tech-minded.