Notice me, senpai! We have been waiting all year for this day—National Anime Day—when we can let our anime obsessions be acknowledged. Simply put, anime is Japanese animation, where a Japanese artist animates their creations into a storyline, with a style too distinct to simply be called a cartoon.
There are many different genres of anime, such as action, thriller, psychological, and romance. These often blend together in a single anime, appealing to everyone regardless of demographic. We’ve selected our top anime picks for beginners to get hooked on, or for seasoned anime lovers to rewatch, sorted by genre. We love pretty much all anime, so please appreciate how hard it was to only pick 12!
In the world of anime, there is something of a Holy Trinity that fans have dubbed “The Big Three.” These are works that have led the international anime craze, namely Naruto, One Piece and Bleach. These titles are some of the longest-running anime shows, revolving around the world of ninjas, pirates, and shinigami (gods of death) respectively. If you’re in the mood for an adventure with different themes like maturation, characterisation, and bits of tragedy, these are the perfect picks for you.
All three are centred around epic adventures but in different ways. Naruto and Bleach focus on character development, whereas One Piece focuses on world-building, which compliments the adventure. We hold Naruto particularly close to our hearts because this was the first anime we were exposed to.
All characters have different backstories that have the audience questioning their motives, their allegiance, even their philosophies and personalities. Whilst dramatic fights and spectacular ninja techniques are predictably present and correct, Naruto also has an overarching plot dotted with political intrigue and underground conspiracy. Ultimately, “The Big Three” also teaches us the true value of friendship despite everything that seems to be at risk.
A blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and psychological thriller, Tokyo Ghoul is a dark anime about a world where there are two kinds of beings: humans, and ghouls who look like humans but eat human flesh.
The protagonist, Ken Kaneki, is a college student in modern Japan who gets pulled into the twisted, inhuman world of the ghouls when he survives a ghoul attack and turns into a human-ghoul hybrid himself. He has to adapt to a completely new lifestyle and learn the ways of this new underground society and understand the human psyche. The anime shows both worlds through Kaneki’s eyes, who uniquely has a foot in each world as he struggles to reassert his identity and find the meaning of being human.
Expect lots of amazing fight scenes, gore, and violence, though you can try to look for a censored version if it’s all too much for you. After all, we’re talking about human nature and the human psyche after all—how can it not be violent?
If you prefer mature and serious tones in dark animes but with a hint of fantasy, then Attack on Titan would be the perfect dark fantasy anime for you. This immensely popular anime is set in a post-apocalyptic world reminiscent of the European countryside, where the last of humanity has retreated behind huge walls to protect themselves from man-eating giants called Titans. Protagonist Eren Yeager and his companions enter military service in a bid to protect humanity from being wiped out when the Titans unexpectedly break through the outer defence walls, learning to use special 3D equipment that enables them to fight in the air.
The storyline is well thought out and reveals are unpredictable, continuously intriguing viewers in as the story develops. With twists occurring every other episode and the survival of humanity on the line, tensions are set very high, even for an anime within the dark fantasy genre. The stark contrast between our civilisation and the anime’s reality of flesh-consuming violence draws you in, so much so that the series shot to stardom within the first few episodes airing. The creator has even debated changing the ending because he was touched by the fans’ love for the series!
If you enjoy the themes of philosophy, war, and conspiracy, then Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a great anime to explore. The anime is a touching story about two brothers who lost part of their bodies when they tried to bring their dead mother back to life—a taboo in the study of alchemy. Set in a world inspired by the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the Elric brothers then go on a journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone, rumoured to be able to restore their bodies, joining the military forces, and meeting other alchemists all the way.
The universal law of alchemy is abiding by the Law of Equivalent Exchange, that you “cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” The story also follows this principle during the brothers’ journey to truly understand and to stop the greed of others. There are impressive alchemy-based battles and conspiracies within the military empire as characters struggle between duty and morality, as well as the importance of family and being human.
Death Note is the classic anime if you are into crime and investigation that’s similar to CSI. The story starts off with a god of death dropping his notebook into modern Japan, which a high school genius named Light Yagami then happens to pick up. He soon realises that whoever’s name is written in the notebook will die, and uses the notebook to successfully kill a criminal.
Eventually, the god of death visits him and the high school student slowly begins to justify his murdering, routinely killing off criminals and hoping to make the world a better place. These deaths are soon noticed and a world-famous reclusive detective is enlisted to find the killer. The anti-hero and the anti-villain are both geniuses and they face off in a silent manhunt as both hide in the shadows.
Death Note challenges audiences to think about the issues of morality and whether killing criminals to reduce crime rates can be justified. It also takes a hard look at the themes of justice and sanity as both egocentric protagonists present their arguments and charms. You will have to decide which side you’re on since there really doesn’t seem to be a right answer.
As you can tell from the previous entries, not all anime is based in Japan; some also dip into historical fiction, taking bits and pieces from our real history. One of the more popular settings is none other than Victorian England, as is the case in Black Butler.
The story follows a twelve-year-old orphaned earl named Ciel Phantomhive who makes a contract with Sebastian Michaelis, a demon disguised as his butler; the pair search for the killers who murdered his parents. Sebastian is to act as the boy’s loyal servant until Ciel has taken revenge on those who killed his parents. Ciel tirelessly chases after his parents’ murderers, all the while doing jobs for the Queen as her loyal watchdog of the British Underworld.
You can probably tell by now that we prefer psychologically challenging animes, so here’s another one. Psycho-Pass is based in a Japan set in the future, where a system has been developed to monitor and scan the personalities and mental states of all citizens at all times. Should your mental state goes pass a certain index that displays your potential for criminal behaviour, the police are authorised to capture or even execute you on point. The protagonist Akane Tsunemori is a newcomer in the police force who begins to question the system that makes assessments on predicting crime and criminals before they happen.
The drawing style and soundtrack are very much in the cyberpunk genre, with special gear and weapons for confronting criminals. The anime also explores the human psyche even more so than other animes because of its focus on turning the human mind into data. The crimes are very grotesque, as some criminals try to justify their existence in a world that no longer permits crime. The simulation presented also provokes viewers to challenge the world we live in now—honestly, we think that is one of the best things about anime.
If you’re looking for some full-blown fantasy, you’ve got to check out Fairy Tail for an overdose of magic, spice, and everything nice. The story follows the female protagonist on her journey to becoming a powerful wizard. She meets a member of the wizard guild Fairy Tail and joins the crew.
There are many different members of the guild with all types of magical skills, such as dragon-slayer magic made for defeating dragons, ice wizards, and even magic swordswomen who can equip countless pieces of armour. They take on different missions to earn money and battle villains in an endless adventure, but never lose the focus on the importance of friendship. We love discovering all the different kinds of magic that pop up every episode!
Fans of massive multi-player online games are probably not strangers to anime, as there are famous games that have been adapted to anime shows. Sword Art Online is an anime inspired by this trend of multi-player online games, based in a futuristic Japan where virtual reality is embedded in daily lives.
A recent online game was launched connecting players to a virtual world using the help of special Nerve Gear helmets to fully connect their senses. In this virtual world, the players assume the role of medieval knights and fight monsters to clear levels. However, they soon realise they cannot log out of the game and are held captive by the creator until they can clear all levels in the game. Should they die in the game or if someone removes their helmet, they will also die in real life. The protagonist leads the resistance within the game to clear all the levels and return to reality as we know it.
Funny enough, the futuristic Japan depicted in the anime is supposedly the year 2022, which is not far from where we are now! The recent trends of A.I. and virtual reality are things that have been predicted in the world of anime for quite some time now. This title is a good start in the world of technology, and you can be the judge of whether it is a good thing or not.
Samurai Champloo is an anime that revolves around three main characters: a clumsy teahouse waitress and two samurais. After a fateful encounter, Fuu enlists the pair’s help as her personal bodyguards and embarks on a journey to find a mysterious samurai who smells of sunflowers. The two samurais do not get along with each other, so expect the journey to be quite a ride as the men constantly try to kill each other while fulfilling their duty to the waitress. The unlikely group travel through Edo-period Japan, coming into contact with different characters from all walks of life.
Jin is everything stereotypical about a samurai, whereas Mugen is a massive rebel sporting curly hair and shorts. A super cool hip-hop soundtrack accompanies the anime as the rogue rōnin continue to defy stereotypes of Edo Japan. This series is relatively short with only 26 episodes, but it’s chock-full of action and sword fights with its fair share of comedic moments too.
We love One Punch Man because it’s really hard not to. This anime follows the story of Saitama who becomes the most powerful superhero in the universe, so powerful that he can take out any opponent with a single punch. In fact, he’s so powerful that he’s no longer motivated by anything and is always unfazed by the criminal’s display of power.
This simple yet enticing plot really takes the superhero genre and adds a tongue-in-cheek spin as the protagonist’s stoic attitude to crime-fighting is refreshing and exciting, considering how boring the conventions of superheroes can be. There are no complicated storylines, just fully-fleshed out slapstick comedy and brilliant animation skills. With only two seasons at the moment, it is an easy watch for everyone!
How can we talk about anime without a bit of romance? Since we’re not really into the high school fluffy teenage girl dramas, we would recommend Ouran High School Host Club that has a bit more comedy in it.
The story follows an average high school girl Haruhi Fujioka who gets into a super-elite school for uber-rich kids with a scholarship. Mistaken for a boy, she is forced to repay a debt by becoming part of a club, consisting of teenage boys who entertain ladies: a host club. Viewers are presented with a reverse harem, where the sole female character is surrounded by members of the opposite sex, turning the anime norm on its head.
The best thing of all? The female protagonist is everything a high school anime character isn’t. Haruhi is a strong character unmoved by the students’ wealth and is unwilling to put up with the boys’ extravagant nonsense, so her straightforward character gives us a refreshing angle. This has got to be one fo the best ‘feel-good’ animes ever!