The 20 Best Anime For Beginners

The 20 Best Anime For Beginners

Despite the fact that anime is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world, it can be incredibly difficult for potential fans of the genre to actually start watching. This is largely due to the fact that the most popular anime tend to be incredibly long, with some even being made up of over a thousand episodes, and they often run concurrently to extensive manga stories.

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Consequently, a good starter anime should be relatively short (at least at the time of writing), allowing for potential fans to easily catch up with the plot without the daunting and fatiguing task of watching over a thousand episodes.

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Updated on April 7th, 2022 by Amanda Bruce: Over the last 20 years, anime has certainly found a more mainstream audience as fans see more Western dubs and subtitled series make their way across the ocean. Anime cosplays are just as common at conventions as comic book superheroes. That expansive world can be intimidating for those looking to start watching, but there’s something for everyone. Not every anime is a superhero story or a romance, and these starter anime are great ways to test the waters.

Cardcaptor Sakura (1998)

Sakura gains a new card while wearing her frog costume in Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card

The first two seasons are available to stream on Netflix while the rest are available for purchase on different platforms

Inspired by the CLAMP manga of the same name, the original series has four seasons worth of episodes about Sakura Kinomoto accidentally releasing a deck of magical cards – and then having to recapture them. It’s a Magical Girl series that doesn’t feature the typical team or love story since Sakura is only 10 years old when the series begins.

It’s a fun series with a slowly building mythology that fans can revisit in the sequel series if they like. The first season of Cardcaptor Sakura: The Clear Card Arc didn’t release for another 20 years!

Toradora! (2008)

Ryuugi and Taiga have a discussion in the classroom in Toradora episode 8

Available to stream on Netflix

With no magic in sight, Toradora! is a teen romantic comedy that has plenty of dramatic moments. Two teenagers find common ground when they realize they both have crushes on unattainable classmates. They decide to help one another with their crushes, but in true rom-com fashion, fall for one another instead.

Watching the friendship grow between Taiga and Ryugi is one of the strongest aspects of the series as they both often proclaim that they can’t stand one another, but are clearly the closest of friends as the story goes on. They also learn a lot from one another long before they admit their feelings, and the larger cast of characters are just as compelling as they are.

RWBY (2013)

Weiss, Ruby, Yang, and Blake stand with the staff in RWBY

Available to stream on Rooster Teeth

With eight seasons so far, some new to anime might not think of the series as a great starter anime, but it is because it’s deceptively short. Despite a large number of seasons, the early episodes of RWBY are incredibly short. Some of them are only two minutes long! The series is a very quick watch.

It follows the titular Team RWBY and their allies in a world plagued by monsters called Grimm as they work to become Hunters. Along the way, they end up on an epic quest to defeat the mysterious Salem. It’s an action-adventure series that features a lot of familiar fairy tales woven into the RWBY mythology as well.

The Promised Neverland (2019)

Available to stream on Hulu

A relatively new anime series, The Promised Neverland only has two seasons so far. It initially seems like it might just be a coming of age story for a group of children living in a group home. That’s not entirely the case.

Some fans will see the darker twist in the series coming, but others will be surprised as the story takes a turn for an adventure. It’s one of those series that no one wants to spoil for new anime fans once they’ve started watching.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)

Toph, Katara, Suki, Sokka, Zuko, and Aang watch the Ember Island Players in Avatar

Available to stream on Netflix

While a lot of starter anime aren’t epic quests or nearly 100 episodes, Avatar is a great one to make an exception for. Like RWBY, it’s a Western anime, as in it’s primarily developed outside of Japan, where anime originates. It’s not exactly the same style as more traditional anime, allowing someone who is used to classic US cartoons a bridge between the two styles.

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It’s also a story that doesn’t deviate from its quest. There aren’t meandering filler or recap episodes that do nothing for the series. Instead, those episodes provide for valuable character development. It’s also got one of the best villain-to-hero transformations in animation.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (2017)

THE ANCIENT MAGUS BRIDE

Available to stream on CrunchyRoll

This animated series takes place in a magical version of modern England, where Celtic and Scandanavian monsters and fairies live unseen in the wilds, far beyond human civilization. It’s almost like a fairy tale out there.

Viewers can easily relate to the familiar critters of this series, from a church grim to dragons and the famed Titania and Oberon. That and the fascinating skull-headed Elias can make for a compelling watch, all in 24 episodes.

Cells At Work! (2018)

Available to stream on CrunchyRoll

A few works of fiction have portrayed the inner workings of the human body in this fashion, and Cells at Work! does it in true anime style. The human body is a vast city of apartments, furnaces, and aqueducts, and hardworking cells keep it all running.

The animation is gorgeous, the cells are well-explained (this is an educational show), and the humor is spot-on. There are action scenes too, when white blood cells and killer T cells do battle with bacteria and viruses (and even cancer cells). The show has two short seasons, and for those who would like a darker take, a spinoff called Cells At Work: Code Black that spotlights the inner workings of an unhealthy body.

Dr. Stone (2019)

Available to stream on HBO Max

Here is another educational animated series. The plot: a mysterious energy wave turned all people to stone, and 3,700 years later, the brilliant teenager Senku Ishigami awakens from his stony silence.

He’s in a new Stone Age, and with the power of science and faith in the human race, he’s going to rebuild everything, one rediscovered invention at a time. He’s the kind of guy who can make functioning light bulbs in a 200,000 BC-style setting.

Plastic Memories (2015)

Available to stream on Hulu

Fans of sci-fi and heartbreak alike may enjoy this series, which has elements of Blade Runner and The Fault in Our Stars (quite the combo). In this world, realistic androids are a reality, but they have limited life spans and must be manually retired (sometimes against their will).

Male lead Tsukasa Mizugaki is a newly hired robot retirer, and his companion is Isla, a robot who is on the verge of being retired herself. Tsukasa comes to love Isla with his very human heart… just in time for it to get broken.

Little Witch Academia (2013)

This version is currently unavailable to stream. The 2017 series is available on Netflix.

This anime may have been a significant influence on the later series My Hero Academia. In both series, a non-magical child is inspired by his/her hero, then enrolls at a magic school to emulate that hero.

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In this case, the heroine is Akko, who is dying to become a witch to help people and make them happy. Her magic powers are minimal, but she’s trying, and she makes many lovely friends at witch school.

Parasyte The Maxim (2014)

Available to stream on Netflix

Parasyte the Maxim may be one of the most underrated anime of the past decade. Based on a classic manga series from the ’90s, Parasyte tells the story of a young man named Shinichi who wakes up to find that his right hand has been eaten and replaced with an alien parasite.

The alien, eventually called Migi, is part of an invading force that has been taking over various humans. Migi, however, was unable to take over Shinichi’s brain and eventually forms a close bond with his host.

Yuri On Ice (2016)

Yuri On Ice Yuri and Victor

Available to stream on CrunchyRoll

Anime Yuri on Ice is one of the few examples of LGBT+ love stories in anime. The series follows the titular Yuri, a Japanese figure skater who is considering quitting the sport, eventually catches the eye of Victor Nikiforov, one of the world’s most renowned figure skaters.

Victor becomes Yuri’s coach as Yuri rediscovers his love for the sport and a charming love story begins to develop between the two characters.

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Cowboy Bebop Sunrise

Available to stream on Netflix

Anime Cowboy Bebop is one of the most iconic and important anime of all time. Taking inspiration from western imagery and stories, Cowboy Bebop is essentially a Wild West story that is set in space and brings together a group of mismatched characters on adventures across space.

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The series only lasted for one season and a movie but has remained popular in the years since its release. If you’re thinking of starting to watch anime, this would be a fantastic jumping-on point.

One Punch Man (2015)

Saitama in One-Punch Man KO

Available to stream on Netflix

Anime One Punch Man started as web manga that eventually took over the world after it was the subject of a massively successful anime adaptation, with the property even spawning its own video game. The series follows Saitama, a man who has trained his body to such an extent that he is able to defeat enemies with one punch.

The series is a satire of the hero and anime fighting genre and it truly is fantastic with its material. The series is also relatively short which makes it an easy series to catch up on.

Re: Zero Starting Life On Another World (2016)

Available to stream on HBO Max

Despite only receiving one season, at the time of writing, Re: Zero Starting Life on Another World is one of the most popular anime of the past few years, with the characters of Rem and Ram being particularly widespread across the anime merchandise.

The series follows Subaru, a young man who ends up being transported from the modern world into a fantasy world. In this world, Subaru learns that if he is killed, he resets to a ‘checkpoint’; allowing him to alter his actions and try again.

Attack On Titan (2013)

Attack on Titan Anime

Available to stream on Hulu

Anime Attack On Titan is one of the most popular due to its incredible first season, with many referring to it as the Game of Thrones of anime due to its intense and graphic plot. The series is set in an apocalyptic future in which humanity hides behind a walled city in order to keep out the Titans, who are these giant creatures that feed on humans.

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The series has some of the most compelling mysteries and intense anime action scenes of the past few years, meaning that it is certain to hook any new anime fans.

Death Note (2006)

Available to stream on Netflix

Death Note is an iconic and highly influential series that is perfect for beginners due to its compelling story. Death Note follows Yagami Light, a high school student who discovers a Death Note at this school. This book gives Yagami the power to kill anyone whose name he writes in the book, with Yagami using his power to enact vigilante justice.

Yagami’s actions eventually bring him into conflict with an eccentric detective known as L, leading to a compelling game of cat and mouse between the two characters.

Erased (2016)

Available to stream on Netflix

In a similar vein to Parasyte, Erased is one of the most underrated anime of the past decade. The 12 episode series is a dark and intense story that follows a 27-year-old man called Satoru Fujinuma, who possesses the ability to ‘rewind’ to avoid a tragedy. However, after a murder brings back forgotten memories of his childhood, Satoru rewinds to his childhood past.

The series is as intense as it is heartwarming, with Satoru having to use his knowledge of the future in order to solve the murder in the future and catch the killer.

My Hero Academia (2016)

Available to stream on CrunchyRoll

My Hero Academia is quickly becoming one of the most popular anime of the century. The series is set in a world in which superpowers, or quirks as the anime refers to them, are held by around 80% of the population, which eventually leads to a hero/villain society.

The series follows a young man named Izuku Midoriya who is given the quirk of the legendary hero All Might and joins the most prestigious hero school in Japan, UA. It is a lengthier watch at five seasons (and still going), but it’s a fun watch that makes the time fly by.

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)

Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist

Available to stream on HBO Max

In a similar vein to Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is one of the most iconic and influential anime of the past few decades. The series follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse as they try to heal the damage inflicted on them both during an ill-fated ritual.

The series has some of the most intense action, compelling characters, and heartbreaking episodes in anime history, making it a perfect contender for someone’s ‘first anime’.

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Sam Hutchinson
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Writer living in Adelaide, Australia. Long-suffering post-graduate student and lover of pop culture from Game of Thrones to DC.
Twitter: @samchinson

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