There are few fandoms as dense as anime, and I don’t mean that in the way British people say dense to mean stupid, although that may have some merit too. To outsiders, Japanese animation, comics, and nerd culture might as well be from Mars. It’s confusing, absurd, and far too ingrained to appear be user friendly from the get-go. You think, maybe If you ever thought about breaking into it, you’d find yourself swarmed and intimidated by the task of familiarizing yourself with countless series listed as ‘prerequisite’ for becoming an anime fan.
In reality, anime isn’t the big scary kaiju that it’s made out to be, but it takes a little getting used to. You can’t just dive head first into the hot spring, you’ll give yourself a heart attack. Don’t worry, though, I’m here to help you dip your toe. Let’s start with a few tips.
LESSON 101: ‘Anime’ is not a genre.
If somebody told you they were a “TV fan”, you wouldn’t assume they were into literally every television show. You’d ask a follow up question, maybe something like “What kind of shows do you watch?”, and the answer you’d receive would vary widely dependent on who you asked. Maybe the person would be a horror junkie who loves late-night slasher shows. Maybe they’re an amateur detective who spends all their time watching police procedurals. Maybe they’re a little romantic and love to curl up with their favorite soap operas.
Television offers tons of shows that appeal to a wide variety of specific tastes. The same is true of Japanese animation and comics. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to approach anime the way you’d approach any other kind of television show: Watch a few ads and, if it looks interesting, give it a shot. Just because you watch Doctor Who doesn’t mean you have to like The Mindy Project. Just because you watch Attack on Titan doesn’t mean you have to like Azumanga Daioh.
Part of the biggest issue people have with anime starting out is the idea that they have to like all of it from the get go. This is where we run into the fundamental limitations of the word “Anime fan”. The world of anime is vast, and encapsulates many kinds of stories and genres. Shonen, or action anime, is what we usually think of here in the west, due to the popularity of shows like Gundam, Dragonball, and Naruto being the main citable examples of the genre’s success oversees. But anime is intended to cater to the tastes of all kinds of viewers from drama and romance, to slice of life comedies, to high fantasy epics, to sports.
According to AnimeNewsNewtork.com, among the ‘Top-Selling Manga in Japan by Series” in 2014, we have familiar names One Piece, Naruto, and Attack on Titan topping the list. However, In 4th place we have Haikyu!!, a school drama about volleyball. 5th is a manga about basketball, 7th is about baseball. In 15th is Silver Spoon, a comedy about a genius attending agricultural school. In 16th place is Hozuki no Reitetsu, a drama about lovers from rival Yakuza gangs.
So yes, rounding out the top of our list are the examples you’d expect, but even within those three are a ton of variation. One Piece is a story about pirates on a sea of fantastic adventure. Naruto is a tale about ninja warriors. Attack on Titan is an intense survival story about the last gasps of hope for humanity. High concept combat and adventure manga, known as Shonen, are hugely popular, but they’re not the only game in town. Past those three examples we move onto some incredibly divergent stories.
There’s a lot of anime out there, but that’s not supposed to feel like a mountain you’ll have to climb, but rather a garden. Variety is the spice that makes anime so much fun to enjoy, and you can pick and choose whatever series you want to. Maybe you’ll find a ton that you’ll want to watch, or maybe just one. A friend of mine maintains that Death Note is the only anime series she will ever watch. Another only watches Naruto. One of my guilty pleasures is wrapping up in a huge blanket and watching Polar Bear Cafe.
ASSIGNMENT 101: Explore
Pick an anime and watch the first episode. Don’t choose one that was recommended to you, or one that anime fan’s say ‘you just have to watch’. The more obscure the better. Go to Hulu, look at some series descriptions, and pick the one you find the most interesting. You’ll be amazed by the variety this style of story telling can deliver.
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