One month into the new year and our anime department is proud to bring you the second of our monthly collaboration articles. Last month, we discussed how Christian stories could benefit from anime adaptation. This month we tackle a question held by many fans who want to bring their friends into the otaku foray: What is the best gateway anime?
Cooper D Barham
First of all, I think it’s best to get the obvious out of the way: if you are trying to convert a friend to anime (or are considering taking the dive yourself) then standard interests should be taken into account. As great as Cowboy Bebop is, if the person searching for their first series doesn’t enjoy science-fiction or westerns, then it’s probably not a good suggestion. Age should also be considered, though I won’t belabor this point too much. If you’re trying to turn a seven-year-old onto anime, do not start with Monster,Parasyte, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul, Berserk, or a thousand other clearly inappropriate series for a child of that age to be viewing. Ash has been kept as a ten-year-old in Pokemon for a reason. I myself started viewing anime at the ripe age of four, with my earliest exposures being My Neighbor Totoro and the original Speed Racer. The former is still a good suggestion. The latter has become almost completely unwatchable.
With those bases covered, I have two default suggestions for people when considering where to start with anime. First, and this is my most successful pitch, I recommend Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Over the years, I have had no less than fourteen friends and acquaintances dedicate themselves to this series, and that’s only counting the ones who either didn’t care about anime or were deliberately against it. Every single one of them thanked me afterwards, and most went on to watch it again. One of my favorite stories to tell people is the one where I was in college, arguing with a buddy about why he should watch FMA:B, when his roommate walked into the room. Roommate asked what we were talking about, and my friend said “Cooper is trying to get me to watch anime.” Roommate then shook his head, as I expected he would, and affirms, “Yeah, anime is lame.”
I then asked Roommate if he’d seen FMA:B, and his eyes lit up. “Oh,” he said. “Except that one. Fullmetal Alchemist is amazing.”
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood covers the entire emotional spectrum, and with brilliant execution. It can fall into some pretty dark territory, but it does so only to help the audience understand that, yes, darkness exists in our world. It never stays there. FMA:B is ultimately a fun story with a grand narrative, formidable adversaries, introspection, hope, humor, music to engage your spirit, and a cast studded with more personality than near-most anything else I’ve watched in my twenty-five years of living. I should note: there is a difference between Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I am suggesting the second series for technical and narrative purposes.
My second recommendation sits in my back pocket, and I pull it out in more specific situations. While I think FMA:B can be enjoyed by nearly anybody, there are some crowds who look for more specific things in their media. I speak of predominant, intellectual themes. FMA:B is definitely not short on philosophy and intelligent conversation, but those traits are not a cornerstone of the series, as they are in Death Note, which is what I suggest when I think somebody might not take to FMA:B right away.
Death Note is one of the anime champions of this century, being enjoyed so deeply that its influence has punctured a little further into the cultural conscious than most of its kind. It is definitely a thinker’s anime, as its tension and appeal spawns heavily from bouncing between the cat-and-mouse mind game played between Light and L, the two mega-genius protagonists of the series, and their attempts to expose and destroy one another. Beginning to end, it’s a truly remarkable series.
But that’s not why I keep this one on hand. I recommend Death Note almost exclusively to the crowds who can’t stand the over-the-top, often ludicrous art styles found in many anime. Anime fans all have some degree of appreciation for these styles, but for those outside the otaku circle, the humor and intrigue is often lost or even jarring. Death Note is devoid of such things. The tense, serious atmosphere donned by the series would be shattered by those sorts of artistic and narrative quirks, so it discards them altogether. For this reason, I keep Death Note at the front of my mind when talking anime to new people. It is aesthetically realistic and user-friendly.
Both series are amazing and worth your time. They are also two of the only anime which I can tolerate in both the dubbed and subbed versions.
Honorable mentions include: Sword Art Online, Naruto, and nearly anything made by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki.
I await the torches and pitchforks of those whose first anime was Dragon Ball Z. Come at me, bro.
It was a chilly day in September. I was six years old, and I was starting school in a brand new town. We’d just moved in, and I knew nobody. So when my mom led me into the building and I found myself ushered into a bustling classroom full of noisy first-graders, I was suddenly struck with the horrible reality that I might be alone.
But it was God’s grace that brought Andy to me, a cherubic smile on his face and a crisp blue card in his sticky hand.
“Do you like Pokémon?” He asked me.
I shook my head. I had never heard of such a thing. “What is that?” I asked, gesturing to the now thoroughly sticky card.
He grinned. “It’s my Oddish.”
“It is odd,” I agreed.
Andy laughed. “No, no. It’s Oddish, the Pokémon. Here: I have two. You can have this one.”
And thus began my lifelong love of anime.
Whenever I am faced with the question of what my “gateway” anime was, I usually say Pokémon. Like many 90’s/2000’s kids, I grew up watching Ash take on the Indigo League, one gym at a time, one adventure after another. And who wasn’t jealous of the freedom those kids had to travel the world? I would’ve given my left hand to be able to travel the western Johto region with Pikachu, Ash, Misty, and Brock.
Now, of course, the debut of Pokémon GO! has ushered in a world where adults and children alike are donning the Pokéball design on everything from pocketbooks to pantyhose. Of course, I’m glad it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. The quality time spent explaining what a Pikachu is to Grandma never hurts.
Your first anime never quite leaves you, I’ve found. And Pokémon sure is a staple piece of every weeaboo’s collection. So get out there and catch ‘em all!
I’m going to go off the beaten path with my recommendation. Most people will usually suggest a popular anime as a “gateway” title. Generally speaking, I usually see the same handful of titles pop up whenever someone asks for a good “starting place” for watching anime. Instead, I’m going to recommend my personal favorite anime. It’s a show that most have probably never heard of, and that’s a shame. That anime is… BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad.
Why BECK? What is it about? Well, I’m glad you asked! BECK follows Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka, a middle school student looking for something more in life. When he runs into a childhood friend that he hasn’t seen in years, Koyuki is introduced to the world of music and to the genius guitarist, Ryusuke Minami. Over time, the course of Koyuki’s life changes as he finds passion in playing the guitar, ultimately being recruited to Ryusuke’s band, BECK, whose lives are also followed throughout the course of the show. I don’t want to say much more for the sake of word count and the fact that I will be publishing an official review soon enough.
So, why is this obscure title my idea of a good starting place for anime newbies? Well first, because it’s awesome! Okay, so that’s a subjective point. I still stand by it. To be a little more objective, BECK avoids a lot of the usual elements that make people look at anime as this weird, alien thing. While the art style marks it as anime, BECK avoids the huge, “moe” eyes anime tends to be known for. To put it another way, the art style is closer to Cowboy Bebop than it is to, say, Naruto.
BECK also presents a story that is undoubtedly mature, providing a way to break down the misconception that “anime = cartoons” and is therefore meant for children. While the term “mature” certainly applies to some of the content of the show (particularly the language; BECK has a lot of language), I am applying it more to the tone that the show takes. Along that same line of thinking, the story of BECK is also grounded in reality (with the exception of one supernatural dream), meaning that new anime viewers won’t have to deal with strange concepts that may be present in more fantastical anime. Not that I have anything against those types of shows (fantasy and sci-fi are two of my favorite genres), but there is no denying that anime stories can be… weird. BECK, on the other hand, is about a group of guys forming a band and chasing their dream (to heavily simplify it), with the subject of chasing dreams being something that pretty much every person on the face of the Earth can identify with.
Let’s wrap this up with a recap: BECK is a good gateway anime because it avoids many of the tropes common to anime, including the stereotypical art style that tends to be a turn-off to some people. While the story may follow a middle (eventually high) school student, it presents itself in a way that feels mature instead of childish. Finally, the plot is real, down-to-Earth, and relatable, making it easier for new anime viewers to connect with the series on a deeper level.
Oh, yeah, and the music is awesome! Of course it would be: it’s a music anime. But, seriously, this show has one of the greatest soundtracks ever! Just… do yourself a favor and check out the dub. Not only is the cast phenomenal, but they also bring the songs home in a way the Japanese voice actors don’t, in my opinion.
A couple of goofy frames from Your Lie In April.
I think the best gateway anime offer a sense of “realism” in their style of storytelling and animation, even if the story itself isn’t necessarily “realistic.” I think what can make anime unattractive to the newcomer are the types which randomly and sporadically switch between styles of animation when trying to portray or emphasize an intense emotion and/or reaction. Oftentimes, it’s very abrupt and–to those who are new to anime–can be considered especially bizarre. This sense of realism also applies to the way characters act/react in general. In some anime, the characters are over-the-top, which can further add to the “this is weird” feeling. If the style of animation imitates a live-action movie or TV show the best that it can, it helps ease new viewers into the medium.
In addition to this, another factor which seems to come into play for anime and tends to successfully attract new viewers is if the story contains generally interesting/deep ideas, themes, or characters. This can obviously be subjective, but there are some anime which have proven to do the job better than others in piquing initial interest.
From my experience talking with others and being a viewer myself, here are several anime series which follow the guidelines I’ve laid out above, and are recommended as must-sees by a good majority of people (both those who are huge anime fans and those who are not):
Attack on Titan
Sword Art Online
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (this seems to be a hit or miss with brand new viewers)
Most of Hayao Miyazaki’s films
Personally, I default to ToraDora! as my go-to gateway anime when suggesting what non-anime-watching friends should try watching to get into anime as a whole. I’ve successfully gotten multiple friends (one of whom swore they’d never watch anime) into anime via this show.
I think ToraDora! tends to work well as an entry point because it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. It’s a nice blend of comedy and romance. I’m probably a tad biased because it is one of my favorite anime series (particularly in terms of rom-coms), and I identify with Taiga more than I care to admit some days, but I think the show is truly well-done (its 8.45 myanimelist.com score backs this up).
For people who haven’t seen any anime, ToraDora! is a good place to start because it’s not too heavy on the “weird” factor (e.g. no giant humanoid titans, magical girls, or trap characters). The characters are relatable and the situations are ones we see paralleled (not exactly, but loosely) in real life – especially when it comes down to people whose personalities don’t match their appearances and the general drama that can come about from high school romances. It’s a cute tale of two very different people learning to overcome stereotypes in order to be friends (and later, more). We’ve pretty much all been in, or know people who’ve been in, similar scenarios, which makes ToraDora! easy to watch. It’s almost like the animated, improved version of North American “reality TV.” Ironically, ToraDora! wasn’t even close to being my first anime (Ghost Hunt was my first), but the fact that it’s gotten multiple people I know into the genre suggests it’s a decent gateway anime.
I hope you enjoyed the Geeks Under Grace anime department’s second collaboration article. If you have any questions or concerns, you are, of course, encouraged to leave a comment. Our February issue is going to take a bit of a spin as we depart from wider subjects and narrow down to something more specific: “Avatar’s ‘Bending’ in Our Modern World.”
God bless and thank you for reading.
Featured images credit to Rebekah Ann Kjetland. Find her photography work here and her Star Wars: The Musical work here.
Cooper D Barham
Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'
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