If we’re being honest, anime has a reputation in the west that it does not deserve. At most, people might be able to reel off the handful of Japanese animations that have successfully made their way into western media. Spirited Away? Banger. We love Haku. Pokémon? We love to see it. But for many others, this is usually where the general understanding of what anime is—or, more importantly, what anime can offer—ends. Many popular culture mediums and offerings are overwhelmingly created by and for the English-speaking audience. Even then, many people expect popular, non-English pieces to be remade and catered to them—think English dubs and Netflix adaptations directed by white American men. Foreign art and stories have an ostensibly bigger hurdle to overcome in this respect; even when they do cross that border, many of them are often dismissed as novelty hits.
Despite a growing fanbase of anime lovers globally, there still exists plenty of misconceptions among the general public about what anime truly is. Some write it off as a genre for children, some say it’s for incels, and others say they’re shallow. Anime is, of course, none of those things. It’s not even a genre. It’s a medium of art, just one way for spinners of yarns and creators to do what they do best— communicate a message.
Anime’s presence on the Internet is nearly inescapable at this point. Perhaps you’ve seen your friends crying over a bunch of digital men on your Twitter timelines, or you’ve been around the city on the same day an anime convention is going on, and you’ve seen some people in elaborate cosplay. Or maybe you’re just looking for something new to sink your teeth into now that the semester is over. Either way, your interest is piqued, but you have no idea where or how to start. We get it, there are so many decades' worth of brilliant offerings to pick from that you’re spoiled for choice. Whether you’re a beginner weeb, a weeb hopeful or a weeb veteran, Farrago has done you the favour of compiling a list of 10 anime series—a smorgasbord of genre-spanning brilliance—for you to use as a gateway into the boundless universes, stories and adventures for you to uncover.
Cowboy Bebop (1998 – 1999)
Trying to compile a list of gateway animes for the weeb-curious and not including Cowboy Bebop is some sort of crime. A classic in every sense of the word, Cowboy Bebop has been heralded as the pinnacle of anime brilliance for nearly three decades now. Shinichiro Watanabe’s neo-noir science fiction masterpiece is an extraordinary fusion of old Western atmosphere, cyberpunk flairs and combat action that makes for some of the most aesthetically charming media pieces to date. Its characters are as cool as they are complex, and its salient themes of existentialism dig poignantly deep. That said, please ignore Netflix’s recent live adaptation—we refuse to acknowledge that here.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 – 1996)
You might have seen little traces of Evangelion across the Internet—probably in the form of that one meme of Shinji sitting on a chair with his head in his hands—but it’s so, so much more than that. Despite being billed as a mecha anime, Evangelion was a series that was genuinely unafraid to go beyond the parameters of genre. There are so many emotional layers to unfurl below its surface, painted with gargantuan cyborgs and cataclysmic events, that many of its themes have remained as relevant today as they were three decades ago.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (2012 – 2018)
Saiki was this writer’s gateway anime because I love a good, absurdist comedy. Touted as a slice-of-life comedy, Saiki is a lighter watch than other series on this list because of a substantial lack of an overarching plot. Each episode—which only runs for about four to five minutes on average—features a different day in Saiki’s life as he attempts to blend in as a regular high school student despite having every single superpower in the book. This is perfect for people who don’t have a particularly long attention span and those who love bizarre, deadpan humour.
Haikyu!! (2012 – present)
I personally feel as though no other medium is able to make high school sports as riveting as anime does, and I have yet to be proven wrong. Contrary to popular belief, prior knowledge of how volleyball works is absolutely not necessary to enjoy Haikyu!!, a heartfelt slice-of-life anime that follows the journeys of athlete hopefuls at Karasuno High. In fact, I think not having any understanding of the game makes it a lot more enjoyable—you’re able to grow and learn alongside this motley crew of teenage boys, who pour their heart and soul into the game. Even then, it’s so much more than just being about a bunch of kids taking high school sports too seriously. It’s about camaraderie, hard work, determination, passion and drive. Before you know it, you’ll be so deeply invested in the well-being of the Karasuno team (and even the teams of other high schools who star in this show) that you won’t stop binge-watching.
Asobi Asobase (2018)
This one is an understated gem. If you look up its plot on Wikipedia, its synopsis appears fairly pedestrian on paper. A middle school slice-of-life series about a group of girls who are part of an after-school club? Nothing about that sounds appealing in the slightest. But Asobi Asobase throws you a curveball the minute you give it a chance: it’s unhinged in the best possible way. Middle school girls are not always as demure, innocuous and gentle as many animes tend to portray them to be. Instead, Asobi Asobase depicts them as they should be depicted: insane, weird and sometimes mean. Perhaps the epitome of this characterisation is the main protagonist Olivia. This blonde girl poses as a non-Japanese-speaking international student to get out of certain situations, despite actually being ethnically Japanese and her ability to speak the language fluently. This author can say without doubt that this is one of, if not the funniest anime, period.
Fruits Basket (2019 – 2021)
Although many anime tend to blur the lines of genre, Fruits Basket is a reigning masterclass in doing so. This series has been billed as a slice-of-life series for much of its existence, but to put it in a box like this seems almost reductive, especially when you consider how much love and care has been put into producing the series. It’s an emotional hodgepodge of the supernatural, East Asian folklore, romance, family and friendship. Everything from its intricate animation, voice acting, music and the progression of its plot across three seasons and a movie unfolds in due process. Thus, it feels like you are growing and learning alongside its whole roster of characters. If you’re looking for a solid tearjerker that will make you laugh and seethe in equal measure, Fruits Basket is the perfect watch.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (2019 – present)
Perhaps one of the most popular, mainstream-leaning anime in recent memory, Demon Slayer really does live up to the hype. An animated adaptation of Koyoharu Gotouge’s (completed) manga series of the same name, Demon Slayer, is a rich tapestry of well-rounded storytelling. It is so meticulously crafted from the very first minute that it has been clear from day one that this series was always meant to go places. Demon Slayer’s layered characters, simplistic storyline and even the fact that it’s so deeply rooted in the culture of Japan’s Taisho period are evidence of the care that went into bringing the manga to life. It’s no wonder its movie, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, surpassed Spirited Away to become the highest-grossing film in Japan to date.
Bungou Stray Dogs (2014 – present)
In the Bungou Stray Dogs universe, there exists a population of gifted human beings who can wield supernatural powers. In our main protagonist, Atsushi’s case, his signature ability is to transform himself into a berserker white tiger, which prompts Osamu Dazai—an eccentric supernatural human—to recruit him into the elusive Armed Detective Agency. Bungou Stray Dogs is another anime on this list with genre-splicing proclivities. Still, this series balances tonal shifts between fatuous, sometimes slapstick humour and intense action with ostensible ease. But if there’s one thing this anime absolutely nails, it’s creating and elevating characters you can’t help but love (I’m talking about Dazai).
Jujutsu Kaisen (2020 – present)
There is no doubt that Jujutsu Kaisen is very much up there with Demon Slayer in terms of mainstream popularity. Although they are both shounen anime focusing on suspense-inducing combat scenes, Jujutsu Kaisen is for those of us lore buffs and found family trope lovers. The worldbuilding might be slightly rushed in the first few episodes, but Jujutsu Kaisen becomes very easy to enjoy once you overcome that hurdle. Its specificity, personality, slick animation style and brilliant voice acting make this some of the most watchable animes on this list.
Violet Evergarden (2018)
Based on Akiko Takase’s light novel of the same name, Violet Evergarden follows its titular female soldier who struggles to reintegrate herself back into society after the Great War. After being abandoned as a baby and subsequently raised as a soldier during the war, all Violet knows is how to fight. When the Great War ends, Violet—who has lost both arms and has had them replaced with high-tech, prosthetic ones—secures herself a job at a specialised agency, where she writes love letters for those unable to find the right words themselves. Violet Evergarden is a deeply nuanced and emotionally crushing story that eloquently raises questions and covers themes of war, feminism, trauma and love, nicely and neatly polished by immaculate animation (it didn’t win the Best Animation award at the 2019 Crunchyroll Anime Awards for nothing) and steampunk aesthetics.