For many, the word ‘Anime’ cites images of schoolboys, magical girls, and giant robots
While that might be accurate for some sub-genres of the medium, anime is actually a broad spectrum of animated media originating in Japan. Meaning ‘animation’ in Japanese, the term refers to any video production where key characters are drawn with exaggerated expressions and actions to bring them to life.
With over 350 anime series launched each year and new ones launching almost every day, it can be difficult to know where to start. This guide will help you understand what exactly anime is; its history, its major genres, and some of the best anime show available today.
Keep reading to learn more!
What is Anime?
Anime is a unique art form that has become a global phenomenon. Often referred to as Japanese animation, the term “anime” is a shortened version of the Japanese word “animation.” While many western cartoons are also “animated,” there are a few key differences between anime and other types of animation.
First, anime is generally fluid and has a more “drawn” feel to it. The characters are often very lifelike, but with exaggerated facial expressions and overall movements. This makes anime feel more like a graphic novel than a typical cartoon.
Second, the stories of anime are usually more complex and character-driven. It’s common for the narrative of an anime series to include subplots, recurring themes, and lots of dialogue. This is generally not the case for other types of animation.
Third, anime is often rooted in Japanese culture and values. Many anime storylines are inspired by Japanese myths or modern-day issues. Certain genres of anime are also rooted in Japanese history or values, such as samurai culture or bushido. You’ll often see Japanese words or phrases used in the dialogue of an anime series too.
History of Anime
The history of anime is closely tied to the history of Japanese animation as a whole. Japanese animation and comic books (manga) have a long and intertwined history, which means that much of the early anime that was made was manga-inspired.
The first ever anime was made in 1917, and it was called “The Dancing Cigar.” Although this short film is now considered a lost film, it was revolutionary for its time. The next decade saw the release of many animated films, but these were mostly propaganda pieces intended to inspire nationalism.
The turning point for anime came in the 1940s when the nation was at war. The government seized the studios and distributed many of the animated films as “educational” documentaries. In the late 1940s, with the war at an end, the government allowed the studios to produce anime for profit once again.
During this time, the American occupation of Japan helped pave the way for anime to spread beyond Japan’s borders. The first anime that was aimed at Japanese children were released in the 1950s. It was called “Astro Boy,” and it was a mix of animation and live-action footage. The 1950s also saw the first adult-oriented anime series. These series were released in a magazine called “Anime Guild” and were intended to shock readers with their graphic violence and sexuality.
Major Anime Genres
Anime has many sub-genres and different genres within it, but there are a few that stand out as the most popular. Each of these sub-genres has its own set of tropes and recurring themes, so there are many different kinds of anime in each category. If you want to get into anime, it’s helpful to know which genres are the most popular.
- Action – Action-based anime features characters who are constantly fighting against someone or something. These plots are often driven by a conflict between two people, two countries, or even two species.
- Thriller – The plots of thriller-based anime take place in a setting that is filled with danger and uncertainty. That means that the characters don’t know what is coming next and they are constantly on edge.
- Comedy – Anime comedies come in all shapes and sizes, but they are generally over-the-top and silly in nature. They often feature exaggerated character designs and ridiculous storylines.
- Fantasy – Fantasy anime are set in a fantastical setting, one that is heavily influenced by magic and supernatural elements.
- Romance – Romance-based anime features love stories between two characters.
- Fantasy Romance – This sub-genre is a combination of the fantasy and romance genres. It usually has fantasy-based storylines and characters who are romantically involved.
- Sci-Fi – The storylines of sci-fi anime are set in a futuristic world, one that often includes advanced technology or alien life forms.
- Shoujo – Shoujo-based anime is aimed at a female audience, featuring characters who are often girly and dramatic.
- Shounen – Shounen-based anime is aimed at a male audience, featuring characters who are often energetic and adventurous.
- Josei – Josei-based anime is aimed at an adult female audience, featuring characters who are often serious and mature.
The Importance of Japanese Culture to Anime
The history of anime tells us that many of the best anime series is heavily influenced by Japanese culture. In fact, the best anime shows often explore specific aspects of Japanese history or culture. Although anime is often an exaggerated version of reality, it can be helpful to know what some of the real-world inspirations are behind these characters and storylines. That way, you can understand the full meaning behind these animated stories.
- Anime Characters – Anime characters usually have big eyes, large foreheads, and small mouths. It’s common for them to have black hair and pale skin as well. This design choice was inspired by traditional Japanese theatre, as well as early manga style.
- Japanese Theatre – Traditional Japanese theatre features exaggerated facial expressions and costumes. This style is heavily reflected in anime characters, and it has become a key staple of the art form.
- Manga – The exaggerated facial expressions found in anime are inspired by the artwork style of manga comics. Manga is a very popular form of Japanese comics and graphic novels that are often printed in black and white. Many popular anime series are based on manga series as well.
- Japanese History – Japanese history is filled with periods of war, violence, and political change. Many of these events have been explored by the best anime series, but there are a few that stand out. The rise of the samurai, the fall of the samurai, and the fall of the emperor were all explored in the top anime shows.
The Best Anime Shows for Beginners
If you’re just starting out with anime, here is a list of some of the best anime shows to watch. These shows are examples of several different genres, and they each showcase a wide range of different themes and plots. These are all great anime shows for beginners to start with.
Dragon Ball – This is a classic shounen series that follows the adventures of a young boy and his group of friends. There are tons of different storylines, but the series follows the boy as he trains to become a great fighter and saves the world multiple times. The series has been running for 30 years, so there are tons of episodes to catch up on.
- Fullmetal Alchemist – This is a josei series that follows two brothers as they try to search for the Philosopher’s Stone. The series explores themes like a sacrifice, war, and what it means to be human. The series has been running for 14 years and has a huge fan following.
- Cowboy Bebop – This is a sci-fi series that follows a group of bounty hunters as they travel through the galaxy looking for their next target. The series has a stylish and retro art style, and it explores themes like friendship and getting by in tough situations.
- Death Note – This is a thriller series that follows a young man as he realizes that the Death Note he found is an actual book that can kill people. The series explores themes like power and justice and has a huge fan following.
Anime is a broad spectrum of animated media originating in Japan. The best anime shows are often influenced by Japanese culture, and they feature storylines that explore war, justice, and sacrifice. If you are just starting out with anime, it’s helpful to know which genres are the most popular and where to start.