SnYves' List of 20 Shows You Must Watch If You Call Yourself an Anime Fan (Part 1)

Jared Popelar · June 7, 2017

So in my last editorial I briefly brought up the concept of “staples” in anime fandom and left the door pretty wide open for interpretation on that front. Some of my readers may know I have a background in TCGs, so when I use the word “staple,” I’m talking about anime series that most fans would at the very least be familiar with, either through watching it, reading about it, talking about it, or even just by reputation.

In its most dull sense, if I walked up to someone who watched anime on a far less regular basis than I do and asked him what some of their favorite series were, there’s a good chance they’ll list off a few staples.

There are a few issues with that definition, however, and one of them is that there are a metric ton of series out there, and everyone has wildly varying opinions on them. Nevertheless, there’s an air of expectation among the anime fandom in that most of its constituents have at least a base level understanding of quite a few shows. And if you’re new around these parts, especially if you’ve tried talking anime to people online and seen forum posts citing shows you may not have heard about, it’s easy to get lost in the jungle so to speak.

Henceforth, I’ve done a little bit of thinking this week and come up with a list of twenty anime series that new fans should consider watching to give themselves a base level understanding of the genre. On the more probable chance that you’re not new here, then this might be a good chance for you to get caught up on some shows you haven’t seen in a while and think back on what made these shows so good in the first place. For us, these shows are etched into our minds as shows of importance, and many of our critiques and analyses of shows airing now use most if not all of these shows I’m about to list as reference points.

Either way, strap in, enjoy the ride, keep discussion of this list civil in remembering that this is my personal recommendation list essentially, and in no particular order let’s begin the countdown with:


20. Sword Art Online Season 1

My first editorial piece for Kotatsu Club was on SAO and why anime fans, love it or hate it, should at least acknowledge it for the things it does well in addition to its multiple shortcomings. I’m putting it on this list (with a note that readers should not be going anywhere near Season 2 expecting it to be even okay) to pretty much reiterate what I said then. SAO is a very pretty show that had plenty of potential to become a great show but squanders it if we try to analyze it beyond its presentation value. Now, I don’t say that to rag on fans of the show, and if you just like good action setpieces and colorful settings, with the actual story and characters set aside as secondary issues, then this show will take good care of you. For people like me who actually need a pool to dive into as opposed to a puddle, SAO serves to highlight the fact that good art direction alone does not a good anime make. It’s a good lesson to learn right out of the gate, and that’s why SAO is on the list here.


19. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

When it comes to subverting audience expectations and providing me reasons to mutter expletives under my voice at plot developments, there’s no better show out there right now than Madoka friggin' Magica. Let’s face facts, there are so many submissions into the magical girls genre by this point, so many of them feeling like copy-paste clones of each other, that the only ones that anybody remembers anymore are either gimmicky (Cute High, Taruto), flat-out ridiculous (Kill la Kill, Twintail), or stand up on their own merits (Sailor Moon, Yuki Yuna). Madoka falls into the third category not only for being a really damn good show, but for providing a direly needed take on a genre that really wasn’t evolving in any notable sense. It’s a magical girls show that goes to some dark and pretty screwed up places in telling its story, and even if this genre isn’t for you, make an exception for this one.


18. Shirobako

It’s an anime about making anime; doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. While on the surface level it’s a sitcom stationed inside of an anime studio, with producers, art directors, voice actors, and the works, Shirobako really emphasizes just how chaotic and stressful making good, passionate shows can be. It’s an enchanting little show that leaves its audience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the effort that goes into making some of their favorite series. It also helps a ton that Shirobako is itself a pretty solid show on all fronts, making this a good anime focusing on how to make good anime in a grounded, realistic, respectful way. I Dr. Seussed the hell out of that last sentence, but I think I made my point.


17. Something directed by Satoshi Kon

Depending on who you talk to, Kon was either an anime genius with a distinct, iconic art and storytelling style or a total weirdo who produced some of the most disturbing and unsettlingly psychedelic shows in modern anime history. Either way, there’s no denying that he left a very bold mark on the industry, and to fully grasp just how influential and memorable his work was, you actually need to sit down and watch one of his productions at some point. The man was a king of visual storytelling and show-don’t-tell worldbuilding, techniques that, in my opinion, we don’t get nearly enough of in modern anime today. As to what you should actually put on, I’d recommend Millennium Actress if you just want to sample what Kon was capable of, or the whole of Paranoia Agent if you’re one of those people who goes through seven bottles of hot sauce at Mexican restaurants.


16. Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)

The best thing about anime for me personally is that it connects to me in ways other art forms don’t. When done correctly, it can tell motivating, emotional, heartfelt stories in beautiful, colorful, striking ways, and when I think of shows that do that almost perfectly, I think of Your Lie in April. One of the best dramatic shows to have come out this decade, Your Lie is one of the best-written and emotional series I’ve seen, and it makes this list because it demonstrates just how powerful a medium anime can be. This show can make you care about competitive music the same way a show like Haikyuu! can make you care about volleyball, and it doesn’t miss a beat (forgive the pun). Speaking of which…


15. Haikyuu! and Yuri!!! on Ice

Similar to how shows can hook you in with great writing and a compelling plotline, other shows look to attract readers by looking downright gorgeous. And no, I’m not talking about SAO again, because frankly good animation is all that show has and even that’s inconsistent. No, I’m looking at shows where the animation and production values enhance the show’s story and make it feel like a complete package. Sports anime are particularly competent at this, and two recent series, Haikyuu! and Yuri!!! on Ice, absolutely nail this idea. While I strongly recommend both series, just one of them should be enough to get the point across. Haikyuu! is a little more contemporary with its setting and characters and therefore is the easier of the two to get into, while Yuri!!! has a richer story, a tighter focus on our lead characters, and a dog. Pick your poison; either way, can’t go wrong.


14. Cowboy Bebop

At other times, you’ll want a show’s characters to be the prime attraction, and not many series out there come close to matching Spike Spiegel and the rest of the Cowboy Bebop crew. While the art and animation were amazing for its time and haven’t aged too badly for the modern day either, many fans of Bebop will agree that the dialogue and characterization of our protagonists is absolutely top-notch. Drawing on elements from the James Bond movies and indirectly inspiring Firefly to some extent, Bebop is one of the most well-scripted shows I’ve seen, and considering it’s pushing twenty years old, that’s one hell of an achievement.


13. A Studio Chizu film

Yeah, considering who’s writing this list, this recommendation really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Look, I know I’m fanboying over Mamoru Hosoda more than a teenage girl over prepubescent Justin Bieber, but I really mean it when I say Studio Chizu is right alongside Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli guys as legends of feature-length anime. They opened with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, and ever since then they’ve been putting out charming, thought-provoking, impactful films like clockwork. Really, take your pick of the lot - Summer Wars, Wolf Children, Boy and the Beast, the aforementioned Leapt Through Time - and just enjoy it. Then, much like me, you’ll have plenty of time to cry for a minute, eat a can of Pringles, and talk about it ad nauseam on the internet.


12. Psycho-Pass

I consider myself to be a pretty well-read individual, and even though my current literary diet consists mostly of light-novels, webcomics and bad fanfiction, one of my favorite novels of all time is George Orwell’s 1984. I expect most of my audience is familiar with the setting: a futuristic, totalitarian dystopia in which society is closely monitored at all times, and if a citizen so much as thinks about questioning the regime, its doctrine, or the status quo established by it, that’s probably the last you would hear from them. As it turns out, there’s also an anime about this as well, and when I first bumped into Psycho-Pass, I couldn’t have been happier. It’s a well-directed, engaging psych thriller (how appropriate) where a computer system determines how likely you are to commit a crime at any given point and gives authorities the appropriate tools to deal with it. If you haven’t read 1984 yet, or have and love the setting as much as I do, then you have no excuse for not seeing this one.


11. A mecha anime

It doesn’t really matter which one frankly. Neon Genesis Evangelion is arguably the best in its genre for the time being, though if you prefer a more modern feel to your animation Knights of Sidonia and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet are both very solid choices as well, and if you really want to step back in time, Zoids and Gundam also exist. The point of this exercise is to not just get your feelers out for the genre, but also to understand how influential anime can be as a medium when you look at things like Transformers, Pacific Rim, Power Rangers, the list goes on. I picked out mecha anime for this since I find the genre to be the most prominent in Western culture, and once you start finding the parallels, it’s kinda hard to stop.

And that’s the first half of the list there! I’ll be back on this week after next after my next review. Until then, I think you have a show or two you need to watch.

EDIT: Part 2 of this list is up and you can jump to it here.

Next time: The lowest common denominator

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