The problem with getting into anime is that there is so much of it, and it’s all so incredibly different. Anime is a medium that’s full of its own genres and tropes, it can be confusing and even a little intimidating to figure out where to start. Not to worry! This guide is here to help you on your journey exploring the many varied, colorful worlds of anime. Here, I’ll list different series that would be the best animes for beginners to start with and explore. I’ll also explain what some of the different genres are so that when you see other shows described under the same umbrella, you’ll have an idea what to generally expect in those as well. Let’s dive right in!
If you want to skip straight to an anime classic: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Let’s say you just want to get right to watching the show every anime fan has seen. This show is going to be on almost every starter anime list you will see because it will be on almost every best anime list. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a must-watch if you plan to get into anime.
After failing to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric search for the Philosopher’s Stone so they can regain the bodies they lost in their experiment. Now with one brother without an arm and one whose soul is confined to an inhuman suit of armor, the two uncover the truth behind alchemy and behind existence itself.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has comedy, action, and not a small amount of philosophy. Just take the internet’s word for it and check it out, trust me. You can find Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Crunchyroll, among other streaming platforms.
Other Recommendations: Cowboy Beebop (a classic with cowboys in space), Hunter x Hunter (if you want a classic shōnen adventure), and One Piece (If you want a classic about pirates and have about one month to sit and binge-watch).
If you like superheroes: My Hero Academia
Do you prefer a story about underdogs? Did you love it when little Steve Rogers became Captain America? Are you a fan of schools for the supernaturally enhanced? Look no further than My Hero Academia.
In a world where most of humanity has super abilities, Izuku Midoriya is a powerless high schooler with the lifelong dream of becoming a Pro Hero one day. When his idol All Might gives him a chance to inherit his powers and attend the top school for hopeful Pro Heros, Midoriya embarks on an adventure to become the best hero he can be.
My Hero Academia has a charming cast of quirky characters and non-stop action. It has many well-executed tropes typical to shōnen anime (‘anime for young boys,’ but it’s just action, adventure, and competition), so it’s an excellent starter show. There are tournament arcs and power-of-friendship galore! It’s also ongoing, so you can catch up and enjoy the ride. You can find My Hero Academia on Crunchyroll, among other streaming platforms.
Other recommendations: One Punch Man (If you want a comedic overdog story, or are tired of stories with a lot of focus on teenagers).
If you like sports stories: Haikyuu!!
Sports anime are their own beast to tackle. There are a lot of them, about as many as there are sports. Plenty of them are worth checking out, but Haikyuu!! reigns supreme in the genre.
After being brutally defeated in a middle school volleyball match, pint-sized Shoyo Hinata makes his way to his dream school Karasuno High School to win Nationals, and get revenge on the boy who beat him. When his rival and genius setter Tobio Kageyama ends up on the same team as him, the two must sort their issues out and work together to become the best players they can be.
I don’t know how to tell you that you are going to care so deeply about fictional high school volleyball. As someone who has never cared about a sport in my life, Haikyuu!! had me on the edge of my seat pretty consistently. It’s a show built for hype. The characters are lovable, there’s killer action (yes, the volleyball somehow reads as action scenes), and yet again, the power of friendship comes through. 10/10 would recommend. You can find Haikyuu!! on Crunchroll.
Other recommendations: Kuroko’s Basketball (for some unrealistic high school basketball), Ace Of Diamond (baseball), Ping Pong the Animation (self-explanatory), Yowamushi Pedal (Biking), SK8 The Infinity (If you want unrealistic skateboarding but gay), Yuri!!! On Ice (if you want figure skating but gayer).
If you want an introduction to shoujo: Fruits Basket
I was deeply tempted to put Ouran High School Host Club here instead, as it was my first anime. But that’s a satire so trope-heavy it might be difficult to parse for people unfamiliar with the shoujo genre (“anime for young girls,” but it’s just romance, relationships, and personal growth). Instead, let’s go with Fruits Basket. This series is the bread and butter of shoujo. It walked so others could run.
Recently orphaned Tohru Honda accidentally comes across the secret of the Sohma family – 13 of them are cursed to turn into embodiments of the Chinese zodiac animals when they’re stressed or if they touch a member of the opposite gender. After moving in with them, she grows closer to the family and uncovers more of their secrets.
If you want to check out a shoujo many people grew up watching, this is the one! It’s got plenty of well-executed staple tropes, as well as a fantastic heart and a moving story. Although, I recommend the remake rather than the early 2000’s version, as it’s closer to the manga. You can find Fruits Basket on Crunchyroll and other streaming platforms.
Other recommendations: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (if you want a shoujo parody), Ouran High School Host Club (if you want an even bigger shoujo parody), or Princess Jellyfish (if you want to check out josei, which is for adult women).
If you like crime thrillers: Death Note
It was a given that this series would be on this list. Death Note is a classic and the first anime many people watch, for good reason. It’s an insane supernatural crime thriller with about as many twists and turns as you could fathom.
The gist is this: one day a bored death god drops a book with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it onto Earth. A high school student (and son of a police officer) named Light picks it up, speed runs a god-complex, and decides to use it to fix the world. Stumped at the string of unexplainable suspicious deaths, the police bring in L, the world’s best detective. Shenanigans ensue.
Death Note is mind-game central. It’s a lot of internal monologuing about genius schemes but it’s done so well that it will make you pause the show and run laps around your house to calm down. This show has everything: political commentary, battles between serial killers and detectives, potato chips, cursed objects, supermodels, and more. It is absolutely worthy of being your first anime. You can find Death Note on streamers such as Hulu, Netflix, among others.
Other recommendations: Baccano! (if you want a wackier tale of people trying to kill each other, this time on a train!), or Banana Fish (If you want another classic crime thriller, but one that will traumatize you)
If you want to cry for a very long time: Your Lie in April
There’s no shortage of animes that will make you scream-cry in the bathroom at 3 am, but let’s start you off with a classic. Your Lie in April is the story of a piano prodigy, Kosei Arima, who lost the ability to hear the sound of his piano after his mother’s death. After Kosei meets young violinist Kaori Miyazono, the two of them form a beautiful relationship and relearn what music should be.
Most people I talk to about this show have told me “I don’t know what to say other than I felt every emotion and I think I need to learn an instrument.” This is a story about grief and the beauty of life set to some amazing music, what more could you ask for? You can find Your Lie in April on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Other recommendations: Given (another music-based story about grief), A Silent Voice (if you want to confront the nature of grief but only have time to watch a movie), I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (see the former), Grave of the Fireflies (see the former but with added war), and Erased (just trust me).
If you like spies, assassins, and comedy: Spy x Family
If you want a heart-warming Mr. & Mrs. Smith, might I recommend Spy x Family? Set during a cold war, a genius spy from Westalis, an assassin from Ostania, and a mind-reading child must pretend to be a happy family. The only issue: neither “husband” nor “wife” knows they’re on opposite sides as a spy and an assassin. But their adorable adopted kid Anya knows everything.
This anime is alarmingly feel-good for the amount of on-screen murder that takes place. It’s a mix of found family, espionage shenanigans, and hilarious comedy all wrapped up in some gorgeous animation. It’s been plenty of new anime watchers’ first show and should be pretty accessible to people who don’t know tropes. Give it a watch! You can find Spy x Family on Crunchyroll and other streamers. A new movie, Spy x Family CODE: White, is releasing in Japan later this month, and in the US in 2024. You can find the trailer here!
Other recommendations: Kaguya-sama: Love Is War (If you want a similar romantic dynamic, but set in high school and with the same intensity for absolutely 0 stakes).
If you enjoy watching something weird: Mob Psycho 100
Are you a fan of the profoundly wacky? From the OP of Mob Psycho 100 alone, you will know that you are in good hands.
Mob, a middle school student and powerful esper with immense psychic power, struggles to contain his emotions to keep his power in check. Under the diligent tutelage of Arataka Reigen, a con man who is using the powers of Mob to run a business, he tries to control himself and live a normal life. As trouble pursues Mob, can he keep his power under control? Can he live a normal life?
This show is so much fun. Its unique sketchy art style and fantastic character writing make it infinitely rewatchable. It’s a great pick for someone just starting to watch anime. With some of the most well-animated fights in anime, a fantastic emotional heart, and some outlandish laughs, Mob Psycho 100 is a must-watch. You can find Mob Psycho 100 on Crunchyroll and other streamers.
Other recommendations: Soul Eater (also weird and magic-y), Mononoke (if you want something weird in a highbrow artsy way), Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (It’s in the name).
If you like bloody psychosexual action: Chainsaw Man
This anime might suit you if you’re a little more cinematically inclined. With plenty of references, both visual and narrative, to classical art and American cinematic history, Chainsaw Man is great for film fans. It’ll also suit you if you want to see a guy with a chainsaw for a head tear through some devils and drink their blood in pursuit of his quest to touch some boobs. Chainsaw Man is multifaceted like that.
Denji is a dirt-poor teenager who gains the ability to turn parts of his body into chainsaws after making a contract with his lifelong friend, a dog-shaped devil. After not a small amount of extortion and manipulation, he joins the Public Safety Devil Hunters to fight against devils that threaten Japan.
A perfect balance between explorations of what it means to be human in a world that will do everything to exploit you, and zany bloody romp, Chainsaw Man is absolutely fantastic. Check it out! You can find Chainsaw Man on Crunchyroll and other streamers.
Other recommendations: Devilman Crybaby (if you want your bloody psychosexual action to have a lot more biblical references), Neon Genesis Evangelion (see the former, but with added robots), Jujutsu Kaisen (if you enjoy the demon hunting and constant character death, but want the psychosexual-ness turned down).
If you want magical girls: Madoka Magica
You’re going to have to trust me on this one. The magical girl genre (young girls getting special powers and saving the world in fun outfits) might be better encapsulated for beginners with the likes of Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura, but Madoka Magica is a must-see.
It’s almost tradition to go in not knowing what the plot is. This show has a different take on the genre, and that is all I will say. Best to go in pretty blind! You can find Madoka Magica on Crunchyroll and other streamers.
Other recommendations: Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura (for the traditional magical girl experience), Revue Starlight (magical girls in an idol anime with swords).
What are your favorite anime series?
That’s it for my list of the best anime series for beginners to watch. What are some of your favorite animes you’ve seen so far? Is there anything you wish would be made into an anime? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord.
Other anime favorites from The Cosmic Circus: Editor-In-Chief Lizzie Hill loves My Hero Academia, Spy x Family, Bungo Stray Dogs, and Demon Slayer. Writer Alex Perez also recommends: Bungo Stray Dogs, Blue Lock, Black Clover, Dragon Ball, Tokyo Revengers, My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, Jujustu Kaisen, and Chainsaw Man.