If you are a looking for a few options, here you go! In this article I go into why I recommend each anime, as well as my experience discovering anime in my late teens and early 20’s.
Here are a few anime you should start with
In my opinion the first anime you should start with is Spirited Away by Death Note, Attack on Titan, or anything by Studio Ghibli. From Studio Ghibli, I would recommend Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or my personal favorite The Wind Rises.
So…i’m a guy who lives in Japan…and doesn’t watch (much) anime. THAT…is a little rare!
Hi, my name is Evan, and I’ve lived in Japan since early 2015. I started studying Japanese because some videos of foreign expats studying abroad in Japan somehow popped up in my recommended feed of one of my YouTube videos, back in around 2010 or 2011. I really don’t know how that happened. I don’t watch anime, and I really never had any real interest in Japan, or other languages or cultures growing up. At least, not in a direct way. Over the next few years I would dabble in the cultural differences between the US and Japan as a mild hobby, which I would eventually pursue as the main focus of my higher education and career as the years went on.
The moment I realized I was alone…oh, so alone and the moment I admitted it…:”I’ve never watched anime!”
I remember sitting in my first day of Japanese class in late August of 2013. The teacher looked around at all of the new students, and enthusiastically asked the class one question; “I want you all to tell me, why are you interested in studying Japanese?” It must have become routine from her. “How many people here are studying Japanese because they’re interested in anime?”
The hands shoot up
And I kid you not, I looked around the room, and of the around 30 students, i’m pretty sure I was the only one who didn’t raise their hand.
And this part is funny
The teacher, Nagase Sensei, wanted to know why I was there. I think I answered something like how I was interested in things like honne and tatemae (An important concept in Japanese society. I would summarize it as the difference between your ‘phone voice’ , and how you talk with your friends, only even more pronounced.) “Oh, and i’ve actually never really watched anime before.”
I swear I’m not making this up. I actually heard an audible gasp from somewhere in the room. Like, you know the kinds of gasps that are the only thing that can interrupt the kind of canned laughter you would find your average sitcom? That kind of gasp. And to be honest, people were kind of weird towards me from there on out. Once I passed their initiation and watched a few episodes of Death Note, One Piece, etc, then I was accepted a bit more into the weebdom that was that class.
So, I had never seen an anime until I was 18 years old and I’ve now been living in Japan for over 6 years.
Okay, that isn’t entirely true.
I was pretty obsessed with the Pokémon anime when I was 8.
does Pokémon even count as an anime?
Of course it does! I don’t care what you say! That being said, the English localizers went through some serious effort to strip that show of most of its cultural roots. Perhaps the most infamous example being when they spent what seemed like whole seasons walking around talking about… eating donuts? What they were actually eating was a Japanese rice ball (onigiri). But oh no…we Americans were much-too chunky to comprehend this ancient and foreign tradition known as a “rice ball”. DONUTS!… DONUTS! If it doesn’t have donuts, we ain’t having it. At least, that’s what whoever localized Pokémon in the late 90’s early 2000’s assumed. I remember also seeing the English dub for Dragon Ball when I was a kid…and I just couldn’t ever get into it. As much as it might make people angry, even when I was 8 years old, I just found the whole thing to be…weird…if I’m being completely honest. And now I live in Japan! It’s pretty rare to have never watched anime until you were an adult, and also be a foreigner that happens to live in Japan. Wow, look at me, so special!
Which anime should I start with? Anime is… weird right?
I thought this way. In fact, I still do to an extent (cue angry emoji meme). I will say that if you watch a few series, you do get used to the timing of anime. There are a few things that you will likely notice when you first start watching anime. First: the length and amount of monologues. Character monologues where they go through every move, every intention, what they had for breakfast…what they will have for breakfast…taking a potato chip out of a bag AND EATING IT (this is a pretty famous one if you don’t know), these are all things you will actually hear in anime. Another thing you will notice, kind of similar to the first point, is the amount of emoting and ‘gasp’ sound effects.
“He decided to eat some apple cobbler for breakfast. Adorned in fresh apples and decadent caramel sauce, he decided not to each it with a knife and fork. He was going to use his hands! He picked up the cobbler with his bare hands!” *GASP*.
There’s a Growkaru original, just for you. Did you like it? So, why is this the case? Why is anime chock-full of stuff like this?
Here are my 2 anime recommendations to start with if you have never watched anime before
1. Death Note
This is the one I started with, and I think it’s a great one to help ease you into many of the common anime tropes. The setting is relatively grounded and close to real-world Japan, and there have been a number of live-action adaptations. It’s just a great story, that tapers off a bit in quality towards the end of the series, but is definitely worth watching. I think that this anime is perfectly okay to study Japanese from, as well, since the setting is so grounded (although I wouldn’t copy anyone’s Japanese pronunciation in the series.)
What is the story in Death Note about?
Light is one of the brightest students in all of Japan! He’s also clearly a massive narcists because of it. One day, a mysterious notebook falls from the sky. It comes with instructions too (that’s convenient!) ;Any persons name you write in this notebook will die, in the manner you describe, at the specific time you describe (or something like this). The thing that makes this story so good, is that the main character considers almost every thing you are possibly thinking about how this might work, and how he should use it. Should he use the notebook to kill criminals or dictators? Can you use the notebook to decide your own death? Etc, etc. These rules get really convoluted, and interesting! The thing that makes the story phenomenal is the rivalry between the main character, Light, and the private investigator who begins tracking him down, codenamed “L”. Light is a traditional genius, while L is eccentric and thinks outside the box. The majority of the story is a battle of wits between Light and “L”, where Light tries to use the notebook, while also hiding his method of murder, and “L” uses mind games to track Light down. It’s great stuff. The first season in particular is oh-so-good. I…think I’m going to go re-watch it now!
2. Attack on Titan
If you’re looking for something that’s a little less dialogue-heavy, than this is a great choice. While I wouldn’t recommend you use this to study Japanese, this is one example of an anime that I think is actually much better than the manga. This is because of the amount of action, and because of the fact that…let’s be honest, Hajime Isayama is a MUCH BETTER writer than visual artist. Some of the art is the first few manga’s is just…yeah… But the story, characters, and action are great!
What is the story in Attack on Titan about?
I think this is one that is better to go into relatively blind. I’ll just say this; dual-katana wielding militia arm equip themselves with grappling-hook-like launchers that allow them to fight against giant man-eating…giants, that can only be killed by a slash to the neck. Oh, and everybody lives inside of a giant 3-wall layered city system, complete with all of the politics of who gets to live in center wall farthest away from the outside monsters, etc. It’s good action, propped out by good world-building. I will say, the animation quality takes a big dive after the first season. I’m not really sure what happened there. Nevertheless, it’s a good option to ease yourself into watching anime if you want a compelling story, world, and threat, but with less dialogue than Death Note. Plus, with the final season recently releasing, you can now watch the whole thing all the way through to the end!
Where can I watch it Attack on Titan?
Unfortunately, Attack on Titan is no longer available on Netflix outside of Japan, Thailand, and a few other countries. I do think that the first season is good enough to warrant purchasing, so I have included the link for the Attack on Titan Season 1 Blu Ray here.
*I am an Amazon affiliate, and receive a small percentage of profits it you purchase via the link above. I ONLY recommend products I generally like, and it’s a great way to support what I do and this site.*
Is the Attack on Titan movie worth watching?
Why there are so many monologues in anime?
Anime is full of these tropes, because almost all anime is adapted from manga. I’m willing to bet that you can probably read faster than what would typically be normal for a conversation, right? This is especially the case with manga, since it is a mix between a visual and written medium. Manga are designed to be flipped through FAST. This means that most readers go through conversations far faster than what would be possible to translate to proper voice acting, etc. Manga are designed to convey the ‘feeling’ of a scene. They thrive on doling out very specific details and character traits through the kinds of motion possible in a drawn-medium. This is why the infamous Death Note scene where the main character dramatically eats a potato chip…a maybe a little hammy in the manga, but is absolutely hilarious in the anime. A 2 minute-long montage about a potato-chip-eating-experience is much, much more to take-in than a few pages in a manga. Manga have a lot more freedom when it comes to the pacing of the story, however, every episode of an anime has to conform to a specific runtime, and needs to include a cliff-hanger or some kind of reason for the viewer to tune-in to the next episode. A lot of the time, these cliff-hangers or natural stopping points just don’t exist in the manga, so a lot of storylines in anime get dragged out. So, for this reason I prefer manga not only for the faster pace, but also because I find it to be a better Japanese practice tool, in my personal experience.
If you are thinking of studying Japanese
If you are ready to take the plunge and begin your Japanese-studying journey, you should do this with means other than watching anime! Anime is a good practice tool, but it’s a terrible study tool. So, if you are serious about learning Japanese, but you’re a bit lost on where to start, please check out some of the other articles I have written below.