Anime is a distinctive style of Japanese animation that has taken the world by storm and often features weird and wacky characters, outrageous hairdos and complex themes and storylines in bizarre and outlandish settings. Many will be familiar with the Pokemon anime but outside of this others may struggle to name any.
Ever-growing in popularity, Studio Ghibli and others have brought anime to the fore globally and not just in Eastern culture. Here we look at some of the best options to dive into if you've never watched anime before.
1.Howl's Moving Castle
Based on the English fantasy novel of the same name, this film tells the story of a young woman who is cursed to age incredibly and so seeks out the powerful wizard Howl to help her reverse the spell. Supplanting the action from rural England into a sort of Japanese view of a fantasy land Europe, its design and feel are beautiful and bright throughout.
With a strong anti-war message, the subplots in this film can become quite complex and convoluted but the way they are intertwined is a tribute to the amazing abilities of the Studio Ghibli storytellers who interweave pressing and mature themes into a children's tale.
2. Ghost In The Shell
This anime adaptation of a manga classic is chaotic, in-depth and insane with any attempt to explain the plot probably futile but, for the most part, it revolves around future cops who are cyborgs and can hack into any network. It moves at a great pace, is quirky as heck and makes the most of its unique visuals.
A live-action remake is in the works but it simply will not be able to keep pace with this madcap masterpiece. If it does, it may come across as very weird...but hopefully just as wonderful.
3. Death Note
A series following a teen who finds a notebook in which he can write anybody's name and then they die within a matter of seconds. It sounds simple enough but then the teen befriends a ghost and becomes involved in a cat and mouse game with a nameless detective trying to track him down and stop these murders.
Supernatural twists and turns galore as well as the feel of a genuinely tense thriller.
4. Sailor Moon
Starting out as a manga comic book series, a team of schoolgirls that turn into guardians of the universe as they search for the "Legendary Silver Crystal" to protect it from destruction and thus bringing about the end of the solar system. A bit like The Powerpuff Girls on steroids, it's bright, it's colorful and it is quirky as heck.
The TV series had around 200 episodes but there were also three films as well as video game tie-ins, stage musicals and action figures all adding up to make it a massive franchise.
5. Attack On Titan
This brutal, post-apocalyptic world is set in a dystopian universe where humanity has all but been wiped out by human-eating giants. It's soul-destroying stuff at times with its grim, dark and atmospheric narratives but it is also poignant and potent in its tales of human adversity in the face of becoming extinct.
By no means for kids, this series is as epic as it is stark!
6. Cowboy Bebop
A space Western of epic scope that features an amazing soundtrack of jazz, it's basically what would happen if you populated a universe with a load of Han Solo characters and then gave it a roaring 20s aesthetic...in space. It's as crazy as it sounds, but it's good crazy and has a genuine air of both quality nostalgia and unique sci-fi originality about it.
Full of bounty hunters and swinging beats, what more could you want?
7. Mawaru Penguindrum
Alright, this one sounds a bit mad but stick with it. Two brothers, who love their terminally ill sister very much, come across a spirit imbued penguin hat that will grant their sister longer life if they find an item called 'the penguin drum' for it. Okay, if that hasn't interested you, I don't know what will.
Yes, it sounds insane but the way it deals with real-world emotions is touching and poignant, even if the setting is a little off the wall.
8. Dragon Ball Z
The Dragon Ball franchise has become so epic in size and scope now it encompasses 42 manga comic books, 19 animated feature film, three television specials and two television series, the first of which being Dragon Ball, the second being Dragon Ball Z. The first is a great place to start but the second is far superior and although the franchise follows many different narratives and story arcs, it starts out with a monkey-tailed boy setting out to find the seven Dragon Balls which summon the dragon Shenlong to grant the user one wish.
One of the more enduringly popular anime series, you may have heard of this one due to its legendary and epic fight scenes and crazy characters.
As shapeshifting demons start to pick-off and prey on humanity, the heroine of the piece is a half-human woman with some amazing sword skills in a sort of medieval aesthetic that gives it a cool Game of Thrones vibe with solid fantasy tropes and quality fight scenes throughout, it is a bit different from the standard futuristic fare found in anime.
Heart-rending at times, it creates a mythology of its own that is in-depth and insightful.
In a classic rom-com style set up, a delinquent boy with a heart of gold teams up with a violent and passionate girl in order to get the attention of their respective crushes but, as is to be expected, it doesn't quite go to plan. With a focus on school days, it has a nostalgic feel to the whole thing and the rom-com tropes pile up thick and fast for those who like that sort of thing.
Funny and charming, it's a little lighter than many other things on this list and has more of a teen drama feel to it.
11. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
With a magic and science crossover feel to it, this eerie yet brilliant series follows two brothers who try to bring their mother back from the dead using alchemy. When this goes wrong, they mess up their own bodies and need to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone in order to restore themselves back to what they once were.
Dynamic and heartfelt, it is the relationship between these two characters that makes the show really great.
12. Fruits Basket
A young orphan girl goes to live with a new family, only to discover that they are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Whenever the family members are hugged by someone of the opposite gender, they turn into said animals and all hell breaks loose. Despite its seemingly odd premise, the series is rather sweet at times.
With touching moments and beautiful imagery, it is well worth a watch.
13. Neon Genesis Evangelion
With a complex, and sometimes convoluted, storyline, going into it in too much depth would be folly but suffice to say, watching it is a real thrill. Filled with angst, dramatic moments, it largely revolves around giant, fighting robots (although, that's not the be all and end all of it) that put things like Transformers and Pacific Rim to shame.
Filled with religious symbolism and the theme of humanity's overarching desire to survive, it can be dark but epic at times.
With a Western feel to it, the protagonist of this is a wanted outlaw who is wandering from town to town trying to avoid the bounty on his head for his part in the destruction of towns on his journeys. What you think might be a hardened criminal is actually a joyful and irreverent character with an obsession for doughnuts.
Strange, quirky and a twist on what you've seen a thousand times before, this is the bizarre storytelling of anime at its best.
Another high-school romance set-up that sees the school delinquent try and help a girl set-up up a drama club. Very teen drama-esque but with a lot of hilarious moments and the vibe of a John Green novel to it. It's tragic and funny as well as being full of high drama.
Although it may sound fairly straightforward, it's strength in depth is pretty impressive.
16. Tokyo Ghoul
A fantasy horror series that is something akin to a Stephen King novel. A type of flesh-eating monster stalks the streets of Tokyo known only as ghouls. But, after something goes badly wrong for our main character, they find themselves transformed into a half-ghoul hybrid thus gaining supernatural powers.
That all may sound very, Marvel-esque but it is far darker and more thrilling than your average superhero tale.
17. Vampire Knight
A high school for both vampires and humans, the humans are seemingly unaware of their vampire counterparts who go to classes at night and are just known as the special class. Of course, being in a high school setting, things don't go smoothly, romance blossoms and the two worlds inevitably collide.
Like a more melodramatic Buffy The Vampire Slayer (if that's possible), it's a strange yet scintillating concept.
A dark fantasy that makes Game of Thrones look like a walk in the park may pique the interest of a few but be warned, if you aren't good with gore, give this a miss. However, the underlying themes that question whether humanity is fundamentally good or evil will get the mind whirring and it is far more high-brow than just a blood and guts fest.
Although, that also comes into it as well.
19. Fushigi Yuugi
Two schoolgirls find an enchanted book about a story set in ancient China. Reading it aloud they find they are transported to the land of the story where they take on regal roles. This historical drama with a time traveling element should appeal to most fantasy fans as well as those that know about their Chinese history, although historical accuracy may be a little thin on the ground at times.
Quirky and charming but at times, also brutal.
20. Sword Art Online
An adventure of epic scope plays out in a fantasy realm that is reminiscent of many role-playing video games and it is for fans of these that this is really made for as it has many winks and cheeky nods to the video game tropes and stereotypes of this genre.
Players, plug themselves in online but should they die there, they will die in the real world too.
21. Lovely Complex
A very tall girl meets a very short boy and the two are always paired up in school classes for the comedic aspect. Eventually, romance blossoms and they go through all sorts of wacky trials and tribulations. It may not sound like the sort of premise to base a show around and it is a bit weird but that is what makes it work, strangely enough.
Cutesy, romantic and a little weird. Isn't that what we really all want in life?
22. Hunter x Hunter
Following the story of a young man who discovers his father he thought was dead, is actually a world-famous treasure hunter. In this world, this is a formalized job and you can enroll in schools to take the Hunter examinations, which is exactly what our hero does and thus leads to many treasure hunting, criminal finding adventures.
What's great about this is also the father-son dynamic and the ability for the story to go absolutely anywhere.
23. Elfen Lied
A young girl from a mutant species seeks to exact her revenge on humanity who have not treated her or her people well. Sounds grim and violent, which it is, but it also has a sense of a great psychological thriller about it as well as alienation, both literal and metaphorical, and isolation and deep, deep questions about the worth of humanity.
It will play with your emotions like they are nothing and is a captivating watch because of this.
24. Black Butler
A 13-year-old aristocrat wants to avenge the death pf his parents, fortunately for him, he has a demon butler, as you do. However, in order to get what he wants, he has to pledge his soul to this butler so that he may devour it once his task is complete. Dark as heck, the humor in this is very twisted but none the less hilarious.
The demon butler is incredibly charming, which adds malice to his nature and it all becomes very surreal, very quickly.
A punk singer comes to Tokyo to kick start her career and meets a woman who is looking for love in the city. They form a friendship and start living together and their tales of romance and woe in the big smoke is what form the basis of the series. Compared to all the spectacular fantasies we've detailed, why does this deserve a mention.
Well, because it is a story of female friendship and love and, honestly, how many of those do you see in the West? Yeah, exactly.
A chance encounter leads the main character to become a soul reaper. Like the Western idea of the grim reaper, a soul reaper must aid passing spirits into the world of the dead but they must also defend the living from evil spirits which provides an added dynamic to the whole power play of their relationship with humans.
A story arc that just keeps getting better and better, this is a genuinely interesting and well thought out watch.
27. Ouran High School Host Club
A school for very wealthy parents to send their children to has a host club, a club for attractive young gents to be...err gentleman and fussed over by girls? It seems odd but it gets odder when you find out the main character, a poor person who has won a scholarship to the school is actually a girl pretending to be a boy in order to go there.
Yes, it's very weird but the screwball comedy to it makes it entertaining enough to stick with it until the end.
Like a sort of cyberpunk interpretation of Minority Report, it turns out that certain personalities are more predisposed to crime and so the police set up a department that tracks down these people before a crime has even been committed. It's an action-adventure piece but with the psychological element of investigating the criminal mind.
A pretty good think piece with enough guns and explosions to keep the action addicted hooked.
29. Princess Mononoke
A stunning visual treat that encompasses Japanese legend and a theme of the struggle between conservation and industrialization as it follows the story of a girl trying to protect the forest and its gods from the march of human advancement whilst a fallen warrior joins her side to gain retribution.
Sometimes graphic, sometimes scary, this is probably one of the paciest of the studio Ghibli films and saw epic battles and fight scenes played out against glorious backdrops. At the time of its release in 1997, it was Japan's highest-grossing film ever made.
30. Spirited Away
The film that knocked Princess Mononoke off of the top spot for highest-grossing Japanese film was Spirited Away as it stormed the box office both at home and abroad and became one of Studio Ghibli's most famous features and won the Oscar for the best-animated feature film. A narrative of a young girl whose family gets trapped in a spirit world, she has to encounter several spirits, demons and witches on her journey to get them back.
Drawing on various Japanese folklore, it is somewhat akin to Alice In Wonderland in its faceted and mind-boggling creatures but with far greater roots in culture and depth in storytelling to it winning a slew of awards for its efforts.