Anime is more than just Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes-style cartoons. Anime is complex, with realistic, intricate characters, beautiful animation, and interesting stories that aren't afraid to go deep and comment on serious issues. These are the elements of anime that made me fall in love with this style all those years ago and made me want to build a career around it. Whenever I want to get a non-anime fan into anime, I always recommend the short, sweet shows that I adore, so I made a list of the top six anime shows that I would recommend to a non-anime fan. Disclaimer: these are my opinions and what I, personally, would recommend. Every anime fan is different in their own opinions and may recommend other shows.
1) Ouran High School Host Club (桜蘭高校ホスト部)
Ouran High School Host Club is set in Ouran Academy, a school where the most powerful, rich, and elite family’s kids attend. The protagonist, Haruhi Fujioka (16), however, is a commoner attending this academy on a scholarship. While searching for a quiet place to study, Haruhi accidentally stumbles onto Ouran’s Host Club, a group of six boys who use their good looks to flirt with the female student body. Flustered, Haruhi accidently breaks an expensive vase. Now in debt to the Host Club, Haruhi must become a host to repay the debt. There’s just one problem, Haruhi is actually a girl. Cue the hilarious antics in this crossdressing comedy.
This anime is a popular gateway into anime. This show may seem like roses, fluff, and hilarious antics on the outside, but it has a more complex and deeper appeal later in the show when characters’ backgrounds are revealed. There are two aspects specifically that draw me to this anime. The first is how this anime paints a Host Club, a form of adult entertainment popular in Japan, and sets it in a high school setting. A Host Club is a night-time entertainment industry where women go to clubs and pay for men to flirt and entertain them in a very PG-13 kind of way. We really don’t have an equivalent in America, the closest being a PG-13 prostitution ring without the sex. This form of adult entertainment being set in a non-adult setting is satisfying and one of the many charms of this anime because it establishes that though these characters are teenagers, they are being put in adult situations, which they must solve on their own. This can be seen as a form of symbolism for Ouran High School Host Club, since many of the characters make the transition into adulthood at an early age. This aspect of putting an adult-setting and playing with adult themes is one of the charms of anime as a whole genre. The second element that I love about this anime is the fact that it takes a harem situation, in this case a reverse harem situation, and does not solely focus on who Haruhi will romantically end up with. In anime, harem and reverse harems are a sub-genre which often feature one male protagonist with four to nine female love interests. The reverse harem is the same situation but with the genders reversed. Ouran High School Host Club establishes Haruhi as an independent, strong female lead that doesn’t need to end up with anyone. Instead of focusing on the club as love interests, they’re all a part of this large metaphorical family, which is the appeal of this show. Because of these reasons, as well as the overall humorous element to the whole show, is why this would be one of the first anime shows I would recommend to a non-anime fan.
2) Yuri On Ice!!! (ユーリ!!! on ICE)
Three words to describe this anime: Gay Figure Skating. Yuri On Ice!!! is about a Japanese ice skater, Yuri Katsuki (23). Down and out after losing the Grand Prix Final, Yuri returns home to Japan to sulk. During this time, Yuri shows his childhood friend a routine he has been practicing for a while. This advanced routine belongs to his idol, Russian figure skating champion Victor Nikiforov. Unbeknownst to Yuri, he was being recorded, and the video of him skating Victor’s routine goes viral on the internet. When Victor sees the video, he is impressed and, on a whim, flies to Japan to become Yuri’s coach.
This anime rose to popularity because of the normalization of a gay relationship that this show featured. Don’t be off-put about the figure skating element, which is about 90% of the show, but focus on the deep character relationships, their personalities, and the beautiful animation that brings the figure skating to life. With the diverse cast of supporting characters, a rarity for anime, as well as the realistic portrayal of a gay relationship, this anime is a unique gem that easily become anyone’s gateway into the anime world.
3) One Piece (ワンピース)
One Piece is one of the classics of anime, like the Godfather but with pirates instead of the mob. One Piece is set in a fictional pirate world in which our lovable idiotic protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy (17), aspires to be the Pirate King just like his idol, Gold D. Roger. Luffy has made it his goal to find the legendary “One Piece,”Gold D. Roger’s treasure that he hid. As Luffy searches for the One Piece, he acquires a colorful cast of characters as his crewmates, including Roronoa Zoro, a swordsman as a first mate, Nami, a cat burglar with a love for tangerines as a navigator, Usopp, a compulsive liar with great marksmanship, Sanji, the lovesick cook, and Tony Tony Chopper, a talking reindeer as a doctor, just to name a few. Oh, and I forgot to mention, when Luffy was a young kid, he ate a magic fruit, one of many, called the Gum Gum Fruit, making him become a rubber man, allowing his body to stretch and expand like rubber--just one draw back, the magical fruit takes away his ability to swim. Yep, an idiotic pirate who can’t swim, what could go wrong? The answer: everything.
One Piece is about adventure, illustrating that it’s not about the end goal but the journey, the very long journey. With hilarious antics, lovable characteristics, and interesting villains, this anime has won the hearts of many, including mine when I was a child watching this show on the 4kids channel. These are also the elements that has made this anime one of the more successful ones out there, with the anime still going strong at 800--something episodes and the manga even further than that. What I love most about this show is the fascinating world that has been depicted, a fictional world of pirates, marines, and a fantastical element that makes this world unique in its own right. The characters are also a great anchor to grab onto when watching this show,
since this anime features powerful characters, characters that can rival Superman or Batman, with flaws that can make them human and lovable.
4) Big Windup (おおきく振りかぶって)
If you love an underdog story and baseball, even if your love for the later is nonexistent, then this anime is for you! Big Windup follows a new boys baseball team full of freshmen, all led by a female coach that’s a threat to be reckoned with. Mihashi (15/16), the main protagonist, is the ace pitcher with extremely low self-esteem and excellent control of the ball. Along with the short-tempered catcher, Abe, and the hyperactive cleanup batter, Tajima, this is a classic tale of an underdog team with powerhouse players.
This is my favorite anime, and it is extremely underrated, mainly for the fact that this show came out just before the big sports anime boom and ultimately got little to no love from the western audiences of its time. This resulted in this anime to fall into obscurity with only two seasons. I love this anime for the psychological aspect that the original author of the manga series, Asa Higuchi, adding a realistic aspect to baseball that many other sports anime lack. Big Windup is real, with real hardships, hilarious moments, and painstaking efforts, as this little baseball team tries to reach their goal of playing Koshien, the national high school baseball championships. Going into this, I wasn’t the huge sports fan. But this anime turned me around and made me start to kinda like baseball.
Like many other sports animes, Big Windup dramatizes the sport, making it captivating to watch as it lets the reader into the heads of each of the players. Not only will you learn so much information about baseball after watching this anime, you’ll learn many psychological aspects as well. This anime made me laugh, cry, and fall in love with this team of six boys and that is why I would not only recommend this anime to a friend, but I would rewatch the crap out of this show.
5) The Saga of Tanya the Evil (幼女戦記)
Where to begin with this anime? This anime starts with a modern, middle-aged Japanese salaryman as it depicts his cold, atheist lifestyle. In the moment of being murdered by being pushed in front of a train, time stops and an unknown being speaks to him. It is assumed to be God, or at least a form of him, though the main protagonist doubts his existence and dubs him “Being X.” Being X gives the man an ultimatum: either start believing in his existence in his next life or never be reincarnated again and have his soul sent to Hell. At those words, the man is killed and immediately reborn as a young girl in a fictional world in the brink of a World War. This young orphan girl is named Tanya, though she still has the mental capabilities of a middle-aged Japanese salaryman. Upon learning she has magical abilities, a common occurrence in this world, she immediately enrolls into the military at the age of five and goes on a quest to go up in rank and secure a safe life for herself, as well as to stick it to Being X.
Yes, this anime is about a little girl fighting in a World War, which is a hybrid of our WW1 and WW2, for “The Empire,” which it’s safe to assume is the anime’s version of Germany. And the soldiers use said magic to fight in the war. Additionally, Being X, or God if you will, is the overpowered antagonist of the whole show. If this does not entice you to want to watch this show, then nothing else will. The concept of this anime is what makes me love it so. With both the action and comedy aspects, two main features found throughout this list, this anime is fascinating and unique. The Saga of Tanya the Evil plays with the concept of war, religion, and child-like innocence like I have never seen before, as well as taking kid soldiers to a whole new extreme. Tanya (9), the main protagonist, doesn’t act like any other young child between the ages of five to seven, she acts like a middle-aged man with the ruthlessness, strict, and maniacal thought process that I have never seen before. She is an evil villain, who God is personally trying to stop, and the reader is forced to root for her because she is the protagonist. Putting the whole protagonist-being-the-good-guy archetype on its head.
6) Yu Yu Hakusho (幽遊白書）
Yu Yu Hakusho ia an oldie but a goodie. This anime starts with the protagonist’s death, a young delinquent by the name of Yusuke Urameshi (14), who spent his time skipping school, getting into street fights,and being a delinquent. One morning, however, he saves a young boy who wanders into the street chasing after a ball, pushing the boy out of the way of a speeding car. He saves the boy at the cost of his own life. This is a shocking act, and the Grim Reaper, a young blue haired girl by the name of Botan, states that the Underworld had not prepared for Yusuke’s death. King of the Underworld’s son, Koenma, gives Yusuke the option to be resurrected and return to the living world through a series of tests. The rest of the series follows Yusuke’s life after he gets resurrected and is tasked to become a Spirit Detective for the Underworld, defeating demons that have entered the human world.
Their action-packed adventures, cast of colorful characters, and humorous antics make this anime my final recommendation for this list.
Though there are many other amazing anime out there that everyone should check out, these are my top six anime that I would recommend to a non-anime. Each of these recommendations display the best aspects of anime and are shows that many people can easily get into, hence why I have chosen them.
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