Japanese anime is in high demand, as fans across the world delve into the genre’s vast and complex world. But for newcomers to anime, it can be hard to know where to begin. We spoke to two experts from the Miso Soup podcast about the best way to discover the genre. They recommended the following six series, which are all available on streaming platforms.
‘Banana Fish’ (Amazon Prime Video, 24 episodes, 2018)
It’s 1973 in Vietnam. On the battlefield, a soldier goes crazy and starts attacking his own comrades. All he can say is: “Banana fish.” Years later, 17-year-old Ash Lynx receives a package from a dying man who, before his death, utters the same words as the fallen soldier. Another character, Eiji Okumura, who has just arrived in New York to do a report on street gangs, finds himself investigating with Ash the story behind the words “banana fish.” This thriller by Hiroko Utsumi follows the two protagonists as they walk the tense streets of New York. It’s a story that sucks the viewer in and leaves a mark on you: Banana Fish is impossible to forget.
‘Chainsaw Man’ (Crunchyroll, 12 episodes, 2022-)
Chainsaw Man takes the fantasy genre and pushes it to the extreme, making it bloodthirsty, erotic, challenging and new. The series, made by MAPPA (Japan’s answer to Marvel) is an adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s cult manga about a crazed mercenary who can transform parts of his body into chainsaws. Lying somewhere between a Tarantino movie and the TV series The Boys, the anime is an in-depth review of superhero morality and a sarcastic fable about the senselessness of living to work. The animation is rich in color, while the fast-paced action sequences make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster. This exciting, if at times nihilistic, anime can be streamed on Crunchyroll.
‘Violet Evergarden’ (Netflix, 14 episodes, 2018-2020)
Violet cannot forget the words she heard in the trenches. These words were spoken by someone she valued above all else. Words that, however, lack any meaning because Violet cannot understand or distinguish human emotions. She was trained to serve in battle, where she is known as “the weapon.” When the war ends and the android must accept a job as an automatic memory doll – a kind of emotional transcriptionist – she has to learn to feel sadness, joy, grief and love in order to capture the most intimate thoughts of her clients. The Kyoto Animation series is an inner journey through a fantastic universe, which is told in self-contained stories. It has a poignant message: never forget that we exist through our feelings.
‘Haikyû!!’ (Amazon Prime Video, 77 episodes, 2014-)
Haikyû!! is a sports anime that follows the lives of the volleyball players at Karasuno High School. The story follows Shoyo Hinata, who is determined to become a great volleyball player despite his small stature. Like other sports anime, Haikyû!! has an entertaining range of characters, who are radically different from one another. In this show, each player is given a lesson in sportsmanship, the importance of not giving up and teamwork. Haikyû!! is a show for the whole family, one that makes you smile – and even laugh – without resorting to simplistic characters and plots.
‘The Tatami Galaxy’ (Disney+, 11 episodes, 2010)
To understand independent anime, it is important to watch the work of Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa, who is behind series such as Devilman Crybaby (Netflix), Ping Pong (Crunchyroll) and Adventure Time (HBO Max). For The Tatami Galaxy, which is based on the novel 4½ Tatami Mythological Chronicles, Yuasa teamed up with the prestigious studio Madhouse. The series, which runs for 11 episodes, explores how a young man’s life would have changed had he joined different student societies in his freshman year. From the tennis team to the cycling group, the protagonist jumps between timelines to discover what his life may have been like. A spirited and colorful comedy, Yuasa’s series break down prejudices and sparks new ideas for the future of animation.
‘Evangelion’ (Netflix, 25 episodes, 1995-1996)
Evangelion by director Hideaki Anno follows the story of Shinji Ikari, a teenage boy who is recruited to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha. It’s his job to protect the city of Tokyo against the attacks of the “Angels,” a race of extraterrestrial monsters with forms and powers beyond human comprehension. But beyond the alien invasion, the series is a psychological study of its cast of deranged young heroes, tainted by years of defeat and unparalleled violence. Evangelion began with a very limited budget, which forced the animators to be more creative.
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