While the likes of Howl’s Moving Castle and Kiki’s Delivery Service have rightfully managed to break through to Western audiences, a whole wealth of Japanese animation is still waiting to be discovered.
And contrary to what Netflix’s singular “anime” category suggests, anime is vast and sprawling. The style spans numerous sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. From ultra-violent revenge tales and “chick flick-style” romances to emotional musings on adolescence and premises so wacky it’s tricky to describe them – anime has it all.
In a year where we’ve needed new forms of entertainment more than ever, people’s viewing palettes have expanded to encompass new genres and new languages – but if you’re yet to try anime then you can find a list below of titles to start with.
Spirited Away is just the tip of a beautifully animated iceberg.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Demon Slayer is one of the most successful anime shows right now. Its film adaptation last year became Japan’s biggest box office hit ever, usurping Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away after two decades at the top. Demon Slayer tells the story of a young boy Tanjiro Kamado who seeks revenge after his family is slaughtered by demons who have also cursed his younger sister Nezuko.
Your Lie in April
Not every anime is violent or action-packed; this tearjerker has more romantic inclinations. When a young piano prodigy named Kousei loses his mother – with whom he had a complicated relationship – he finds himself suddenly unable to hear the sound of his own playing. Then he meets Kaori Miyazono who helps him rediscover his passion for piano. The emotional component is only one aspect of the show’s appeal; its aesthetic as well as its musical qualities are second to none.
If you want to really sink your teeth into anime, the Naruto franchise is a good place to start. Naruto spans 720 episodes, 11 animated specials, 11 films and 700 chapters of manga. The show’s premise is simple enough: Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja who works with friends to complete various missions. Naruto is one of the most beloved anime of all time, known for its character development and action sequences.
The limited series consists of only 10 episodes, meaning you can knock out Devilman Crybaby in one sitting. Equal parts nihilistic and tragic, the series is a testament to just how narratively rich anime can be. Worlds collide when Akira becomes Devilman, a hybrid-being with the power of a demon and a human soul. The series is infinitely less cheesy than its log-line admittedly sounds.
In an unexpected turn of events, a teenager – Shinichi – and an alien worm – Migi – join forces to battle an onslaught of parasites that threaten to consume humans and take over the earth. Horror, gore and an offbeat sense of humour await viewers who stick it out past the absurd synopsis.
Netflix describes Baki in two words: violent and exciting. Suffice to say, the series delivers on both. The show is a long-running franchise – based on Keisuke Itagaki’s popular manga Baki The Grappler – that has been given a new lease of life thanks to the streaming giant. Taking place directly after the events of the original anime, Baki is an outrageous and fun ride about a young martial arts master who must evade five death row convicts who are out to get him.
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma
It’s difficult to describe the premise of Food Wars! without putting prospective viewers off. An aspiring young chef Yukihira Soma studies at the Totsuki Culinary Academy, where he faces off with other budding chefs in ridiculously over-the-top cooking battles that are called “food wars”. Slapstick comedy and a chef’s attention to detail make for a thoroughly entertaining, if bizarre, viewing experience. Be warned though, the idea of a “foodgasm” – a tasting experience so fulfilling, it’s described as sexual – is depicted rather graphically in this series.
Although Your Name is a film and not a show, it would be remiss to leave this masterpiece off any anime list. This romantic fantasy film will win over anyone with lingering reservations about a beginner’s guide to anime. The premise is simple enough (a bored girl living in the countryside and a high-school boy in Tokyo suddenly and inexplicably begin to swap bodies), but is brought to life through stunning animation and superb voice acting. Also available to watch on Netflix is The Garden of Words by the same director Makoto Shinkai.