Before I started this website, I used to be quite obsessed with finding anime that would be ideal for getting beginners interested in the medium. I used to run a different blog that was eventually taken down, but I remember putting out at least one article in which I talked at great length about how Sword of the Stranger is a perfect example of an anime for newcomers.
My reasoning at the time stemmed from how I got into anime myself. I of course watched the typical long-form series that everybody watched in the 90s, but I became truly interested in anime after watching the 2001 version of Hellsing. Now that was a cool anime, with stylish visuals, lots of violence, and a gritty storyline. It felt mature and I must’ve rewatched the whole show at least a dozen times. When we then got Hellsing Ultimate some years later, I remember being disappointed with it and feeling like I may never have gotten into anime if I’d seen Ultimate first.
While it’s a visually-impressive series on its own, what “ruined” Ultimate for me were its comedy sequences. Lighthearted jokes with colorful animation and chibi characters, which are deliberately made to look jarring when compared with series’ otherwise violent nature. By then I’d seen a fair share of anime and I understood these scenes, but I feared that any newcomers to anime would think they were weird, out-of-tone Japanese nonsense and lose interest in the series, or even anime as a whole.
Also fresh in my memory at the time was the massive success of Death Note, another series that had a cool thriller storyline that didn’t mess around with silly animation or other anime tropes that would be offputting to newcomers. At least, I felt it didn’t; in retrospect Death Note had a lot of weird stuff in it. Death Note brought in a lot of new anime fans, and even today we can see similar shows achieve these results. Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan, these series do great at convincing people to try out anime.
I published a lot of advice back in those days. I told people to avoid comedy series or anime that used wacky animations or sudden shifts in artstyle, to stick with anime that were modern so they wouldn’t be turned off by outdated artstyles and lacking animation (God this one hurts to think back on), and to avoid series with esoteric storylines that may confuse casual viewers.
While some of that advice may still be somewhat helpful, I have come to realize that it may be futile to search for such mystical “beginner” series. In reality, people can get into anime for a variety of reasons, including liking its sense of comedy, old artstyles, or the bizarre stories. How many people were brought into anime by Naruto after all? What about Dragon Ball, One Piece, or even Sailor Moon?
A friend of mine was recommended Serial Experiments Lain as his first anime for a joke and he came back asking for more anime recommendations. A colleague of mine was a massive fan of Azumanga Daioh, which was his first anime. Another got into anime because of Blood-C. By trying to win people over by specifically finding anime that are more “normal”, we may be willfully obscuring some of anime’s greatest appeals. And for what purpose? To appeal to people that’d get mad if an anime ever used a trope like a comically-exaggerated sweat drop? I don’t think we have much use winning over people like that.
In retrospect, it may also have been rude to label series and movies as “beginner anime”. You wouldn’t find a professional swimmer in the kiddie pool, but many of the series I mentioned thus far, including Sword of the Stranger, have a lot to offer even for veteran anime fans.
What do you think? Is there value in finding anime for newcomers or does such a thing not even really exist? Additionally, what anime got you into watching more?