By Erica Quinones
Anime fandom culture is daunting. With decades of content to explore, tropes which are an acquired taste, and extremely passionate fans, potential viewers often don’t know where to begin.
While this is far from a complete list, these shows offer some fantastic, gender-inclusive, and genre-bending entrances to the art.
“Mob Psycho 100” (2016-2019)
Viewers in need of a good laugh can find it in “Mob Psycho.” A show which thrives on subversion, it delivers a typical shōnen setting but, as Austen Goslin wrote for Polygon, rewards “empathy more than strength.”
The show follows Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a middle schooler with powerful psychic abilities, as he navigates adolescence. While Studio Bones’ battle animation is characteristically incredible, “Mob Psycho” finds its strength in its heart. Mob is simply kind, always willing to try his best and care for others. Tying the action and comedy together is a thread of wholesomeness which gives value to everyone it encounters.
The show uplifts its audience through both comedic and heartwarming moments, reminding everyone that they are more than they appear.
“Mob Psycho” can be streamed on Crunchyroll, Funimation, or HBO Max.
“Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” (2006-2008)
For those who love sci-fi and robot action, “Code Geass” is a defining pillar of and great entrance to mecha anime.
Taking place on an alternative history of Earth, the anime follows exiled prince Lelouch vi Britannia as he gains the power of Geass and wages war against the Holy Britannian Empire.
While mecha battles are a draw in themselves, what places “Code Geass” above other mecha anime is its political intrigue, ethical dilemmas, and psychological edge. But perhaps its greatest legacy is not the anime, but the hysterical abridged series.
Now a cornerstone of Internet culture, you’d be remiss to not know the story behind “I’m at soup.”
“Code Geass” is available on Netflix and Hulu.
“Revolutionary Girl Utena” (1996-1998)
“Utena” is required viewing for LGBTQIA+ anime fans. From the moment Utena Tenjou is introduced, her princely aspirations differentiate her from contemporary heroines. Dressed in her boy’s uniform and wielding stubbornness — and eventually a sword — it’s unsurprising when our gender nonconforming heroine becomes the hero of Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride who can “revolutionize the world.”
Beyond its barely veiled Sapphic themes, “Utena” is known for its surrealist atmosphere. Whereas early episodes are typical anime fanfare, the series’ latter half spirals into psychedelic symbolism, exploring sexuality, gender, and adulthood.
The experimental legacy of “Utena” lives in global animation, shaping the shōjo genre and is referenced in both “Steven Universe” and “She-Ra: Princess of Power.” Its influence on contemporary animation alone makes it an incredible viewing.
“Utena” can be streamed on Funimation.
“Princess Jellyfish” (2010)
A criminally obscure anime, “Princess Jellyfish” is a celebration of difference, exploring “gender identity in a way that still feels observant and fresh,” according to Lauren Orsini with Forbes. The show follows Tsukimi Kurashita, a reclusive otaku — or person obsessed with pop culture — with a love of jellyfish, and her relationship with the stylish Kuranosuke Koibuchi, a male-identifying fashion designer who enjoys cross-dressing and often passes as a woman.
Beyond its story of self-love and confidence, the show explores what it means to be a nerdy woman, treating them not as a rarity, but as people.
Add in a cast of colorful female characters with a variety of body types and it’s a show which, as Polygon wrote, teaches viewers that “everyone is beautiful and interesting and it should be a crime to not see yourself that way.”
“Princess Jellyfish” is available on Funimation and Crunchyroll.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” (2019-present)
For anyone paying attention to the anime fandom, this entry should be no surprise. “Demon Slayer” became a behemoth in 2019, not only claiming Anime of the Year at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards, but also crushing sales records for manga.
The manga sold over 40 million copies in 2020 alone, defeating industry titan “One Piece” for the first time in 11 years, according to Daryl Harding at Crunchyroll. Why “Demon Slayer” in all its mediums exploded in popularity is not initially clear.
The show follows a typical shōnen plot, beginning with the destruction of protagonists Tanjiro and Nezuko Kamado’s village. When Nezuko herself is transformed into a demon during the attack, the siblings leave to find a cure and slay demons. Despite its basic premise, “Demon Slayer” shines in its characters and fight animations.
Beyond fan favorite side characters like the feral Inosuke Hashibira, the protagonists of “Demon Slayer” are “the most likable male and female leads of the decade,” according to CBR’s Sage Ashford.
Polygon took their praise straight to studio Ufotable for their impeccable battle animation, their Staff collectively writing that “few shows over the last 10 years have so clearly or unabashedly made fights their focus, and absolutely none of them have done it as well as ‘Demon Slayer.’”
“Demon Slayer” may be today’s pinnacle shōnen anime, making it a must see for new and old fans alike.
It is available on Funimation, Crunchyroll, Netflix, and Adult Swim.
Anime is a wild and wonderful space to explore. Encapsulating all Japan-originated animation, anime can be sweet stories of cats getting adopted, sprawling tales of pirate adventure, philosophical explorations of human nature, and everything in between.
Its diversity makes the artform impossible to represent entirely, but perhaps these introductory series will spark your sense of adventure.
Featured Photo caption: These anime series provide audiences a little bit of everything — from star-crossed romance, to embracing individuality, to action and drama — for audiences to rally behind and watch during study breaks. Photo Courtesy of Dex Ezekiel.