(This post will ignore the big 4 for a variety of reasons: Dragonball, Avatar, One Piece, Naruto- if you are still only watching a combo of those 4, this article is for you too!)
Give me one chance to sell you on Anime. You got to trust the Mike Hays stamp of recommendation by now. Think about it, what if I told you there is an amazing TV show out there, with hours of content and you are missing it! But you and your BIASES won’t start it just because of some preconceived notion about Anime, come on guys it’s 2021 let’s cast those biases out. I’m here to tell you, there is legitimately good TV just one click away on your streaming service right now and you are MISSING. OUT. I get it, it’s overwhelming, there are a thousand options and the only cartoon you’ve ever watched is Family Guy. But let me lay out some options for you, let’s call them gateway Animes. Shows that first time Anime watchers will enjoy. Your time is valuable, you don’t want to waste several hours watching a TV show you aren’t going to enjoy (Like every time I watch Nascar). So I am fully aware I only get one crack at this, so here we go. Five choices, I am going to sell you on one.
Watch On: Hulu
American TV Comparison: Heroes, X-Men, Marvel
Do the characters talk in English: Yes
Seasons: 5 and counting
Age Rating: I would say 10+ but I don’t have a 10 year old so don’t take my word for it.
My Rating: 9.5/10
This one is so easy. This show is just so simple and yet so good. Take a group of high-schoolers training to become super heroes, with that classic underdog twist, and it’s a formula that just works. A coming of age story for twenty different classmates as they grow up together and overcome hurdle after hurdle in each of their unique ways. What MHA does extremely well is develop not only it’s main character, but all of the heroes from his class as well. I find myself suddenly rooting for people’s hopes and dreams I felt I hadn’t cared about previously almost every episode. It also does a great job at touching on the emotional side of what being a super hero in training would actually be like. What constant injuries to our High School student would do to a worried mother? Dealing with the fact that you can’t save everyone. The emotions of a Master and protégé relationship and all the complicated feelings that can bring about. It makes the world feel so believable. A world so believable, I sort of feel that “I too can become a superhero!”
I would say MHA doesn’t do anything risky or unique but instead does everything about the super hero genre extremely well. If you grew up enjoying Naruto, Dragonball, or Avatar on Channel 60 (Toonami) late at night like I did. My Hero Academia takes that formula and has 20 years of time to improve upon to give us what we have now. This is a great one to watch with your spouse, your slightly older kids, or by yourself. Add that to its mainstream popularity, you’ll have plenty of people around you to discuss and talk about it with for many years to come. I recommend this show almost completely universally for people who enjoy TV about superheroes and are new to the Anime genre. I can admit that veteran Anime watchers think that this show is tame or cliché, but I’m not making this list for you, am I?
Watch On: Netflix
American TV Comparison: Firefly, Samurai Jack
Do the characters talk in English: Yes
Seasons: 1 and Done
Age Rating: 14+
My Rating: 9/10
Originally released in 1998, Cowboy Bebop falls squarely into the classic category. You might’ve caught this one on Toonami after One Piece a time or two as a kid and thought, “hey this is pretty cool!” And I am here to proud to report, your childhood instincts were correct. Cowboy Bebop just radiates coolness- saying the words Cowboy Bebop out loud will make you feel cooler right now– (it didn’t your talking to blog post out loud). The protagonist is a smooth talking hit man with an unclear agenda, and you’ll spend most of the show peeling back the layers of our man Spike. But from the first episode where he takes on the baddy in a poncho and supplies a glorious beat down. “You trust your eyes too much Asimov” (I can’t stop fanboying, one of the best scenes ever, the music, the action, all of it). To the last episode where he…. (I better stop). Spike is just one of the TV characters you can’t take your eyes off. Part of the brilliance of Cowboy Bebop is the fact that it is just one season, it feels like a show that could’ve never ended but also one that never overstays it’s welcome. It has no problems taking an episode to do something completely unique, followed immediately by a plot thriller which advances the arc drastically, just to turn around and hit you with an episode about how the crew on the ship is very hungry. Each episode has its own little bit of masterpiece in it, and that is what makes it so consumable, and thus it will be over before you know it. But every time I think back to my time watching, I can’t help but grin this goofy grin and be so tickled with the show for what it was.
Oh and it has the best intro to a TV show ever created and it isn’t even close.
Plus a live adaption is coming soon (reserving my judgement for that one).
Watch on: Hulu
American TV Comparison: Rocket Power, One Tree Hill
English? : Yes
Seasons: 4 and counting
Age Rating: Everyone
My Rating: 7.5/10
You can see I am struggling to make an American comparison here (Rocket Power LOL) because until you’ve seen a sports Anime you can’t really describe it. It somehow takes the drama of sports (which we all love, but typically see in movie form) and captures it in a way that is so entirely unique. Haikyu does a fantastic job at showing how interweaving personalities are what make a good team, and I think that is the major hook here. Oh did I mention the sport the show is about is VOLLEYBALL? I think that makes it even more fun, I am a novice at best volleyball player and Haikyu does a fantastic job at explaining some of the complexities of the sport and by the end it will have you feeling like this. Watching a team come together is fun, and while the pacing of Haikyu is entirely too slow for me, those big payoff moments are some of the best in TV. I’d also like to commend the show for keeping the drama being about the sport and not off the court. Yes the off the court stuff is there and interesting, but the major plot every episode? Are they going to win? (The answer is not always yes.) And that is a truly a breath of fresh air for a TV show about sport. It is ABOUT the sport. Not just a sport in the background of the characters ruining each other’s lives (looking at you One Tree Hill). Do you have to be a Volleyball fan to enjoy or appreciate this show? Absolutely not. In fact I would say being totally blind to how volleyball works on a deep level makes this show even more fun, because it is broken down and explained so well. Haikyu is light, airy, enjoyable, and fun. If you are already watching this kind of TV you should probably give this one a chance. Surely better than your sixth watch-through of Gilmore Girls…. right?
Okay I’m a little worried you are still laughing for saying “watch this volleyball anime” so if you are still unconvinced watch this major spoiler and tell me it doesn’t get you HYPED.
Watch on: Netflix
American TV Comparison: Lost, Westworld
English? : Yes
Seasons: 1 and Done
Age Rating: 18+
My Rating: Somewhere between a 3 and a perfect score
In a world where extraterrestrial beings come to attack Earth, only one thing stands in the way between them and total annihilation. A research group called NERV, on the foremost front of science and technology, have developed these gigantic mech units far more powerful than anything the military have ever created.
This is the short synopsis of NGE, and also has absolutely NOTHING to do with why the show is good. The show is good because it has MASTERED the dangled carrot in front of your face. Is the carrot the fate of humanity? Ehhhh sort of, but not really. I’ll tell you what is the real carrot: Do you enjoy watching shows like Westworld and Lost? You know the ones… Where you start off knowing absolutely nothing about what is going on and after each episode you know 1% more but still actually know nothing? That is the real carrot. NGE did this to me in a way that made me physically uncomfortable with how badly I wanted to know what happens next. I was sacrificing friends, family, sleep, even video games. On top of all this it does not pull any punches in terms of gut wrenching emotional twists and touching on some deep interpersonal emotions I felt like I had previously tucked away (what I had hoped was for forever). I would often have a hard time falling asleep after watching because I would just have a RUSH of emotions and feelings circling in my brain.
When the show concluded I had reached the pinnacle of all these rushing emotions. But it didn’t feel very good. I wanted the rushing river to hit a waterfall that it never did. Instead even as I type this, I feel a pit in my stomach when thinking about this show. Every single episode left me wanting more and then the show ended and I feel like in a way I didn’t get the payoff I deserved. But also simultaneously kind of felt like that was the lesson it was trying to teach me all along?
I hated it. I loved it. I hate that I loved it. If it really is about the journey than the journey was simply incredible. I’m a
better different person who does a better job at searching my internal emotions because of this show. But wait, this emotion… this emotion I’m feeling is the DESTINATION. I HATE this destination. I HATE IT-I HATE IT-I HATE IT. I loved the journey, and hated the destination. I could type a 5000 word article on this show but I think it’s better if you just watch it. Wait on second thought, don’t watch it. Why did I recommend this one again? If you like art museums and psychology you will probably like this one. Would you recommend Lost after finishing it? How about Mass Effect 3? (Yes mark that one down for the weirdest qualifiers for a recommendation I have ever made.)
Watch on: Netflix/Hulu/Probably Youtube by Now
American TV: Jumanji, Tron
English? Yes – But maybe go with subtitles on this one
Seasons: There are a lot more than 1 but stop at 1.
Age Rating: 16+
My Rating: 7/10
This one is really hard to talk about. Sword Art Online was my gateway to Anime so I feel like it deserves a spot on the list. Yet SAO is almost universally disliked by Anime fans. I think there is a lot of nuance as to why that it is, but for all the reasons it is hated by die-hards, it makes it great for first time Anime fans. First of all SAO falls under the anime genre known as an Isekai, a genre where the main character is transported from their original world to somewhere new (typically magical). This genre is fun, except this is the MOST over-saturated genre in Anime now. This one happens to be a VR game where everyone gets trapped in it and if you die in the game you die in real life! That is an exciting premise, and it is an exciting formula! Secondly, new Anime consumers won’t realize the classic trick of “gamer dude suddenly has lifetime of skills that make him amazing” is one of the oldest tricks in the book yet. So naïve we are! The clichés and tropes we have come to loathe are aplenty in Sword Art, but for first time watchers these things will be enjoyable to consume. For all its criticism, Sword Art does a lot of really clever things in terms of what living in a Video Game world would actually be like, and that is what makes this a great gateway Anime for gamers. From trying to glitch pass levels to straight up grinding your cooking skill up to level 100, SAO is constantly doing fun things from within it’s magical VR walls. If you want to skip this introductory Isekai and jump straight into the HEAVY-WEIRD-VERY JAPAN stuff then try Mushoku Tensei instead. (You deserve that little hidden gem for making it this far.)
I don’t expect a lot of views on this one and that is quite alright. All I need to do is hook 1 person in and it will all be worth it. Let me know if you try picking one of these up and of course make sure to tell me when you hate it (you won’t). — I wouldn’t have it any other way.