1. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I could stop the list right here and feel confident that I’ve given you a good start. I’m not kidding. This series has it all: comedy, plot, emotions, great characters, you name it. It’s an all-around favorite of the anime community and stands as one of the highest quality pieces out there, and it’s a great place to start because it will subvert your ideas of what anime is and what it can do. When you’re searching for it on your streaming service, you’ll probably come across another series just titled “Full Metal Alchemist,” but make sure you’re watching Brotherhood for the best experience.
2. Death Note
Death Note is a classic series that’s pretty well-known for attracting people to the anime community. It’s intelligent, clever, and has an interesting plot that’s sure to keep you interested. It’s a bit on the darker side, but is still pretty comedic and doesn’t feel too gloomy. It’s even a little bit on the shorter side if you’re looking for a series that you can pop out quickly.
3. Spirited Away (or Studio Ghibli in general)
Studio Ghibli is a pretty important keystone in the world of anime, and Spirited Away is a good one to start with to help you understand the mood and vibe to expect from it. All Studio Ghibli works are movies rather than series and they all have a very distinct kind of personality to them. They’re artsy, light, and childish in all the right ways. After you watch Spirited Away, consider hitting up Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro!
4. Attack on Titan
Attack On Titan isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a beautiful series for those who can handle a little bit of blood and gore. It’s also one of the newer anime on this list, so you’ll notice a higher quality of animation, sound, and color than some of my other recommendations. And don’t get me started on that soundtrack!
A quintessential classic. Inuyasha is a fantasy series with a light sprinkling of comedy and drama. It’s also 20 years old, and you’ll be able to tell its age when you watch it. Still, the plot holds up and the characters are really quirky and interesting, so you’ll be able to have some fun while you explore the roots of modern anime.
6. Devilman (1987)
If 20-year-old Inuyasha isn’t classic enough for you, try 40-year-old Devilman! This series is for the historian; it inspired pretty much all of modern anime, including big series like Naruto, Evangelion, Digimon, and more. It even inspired Attack On Titan, #4 on this list! It’s heavy on sex, violence, and gore, so be careful if you’re sensitive to those topics, but I do think it would be interesting to watch Devilman early on and look for its influence in other, more modern series. Did I mention that it will make you really existential and emotional, too? If you like the classic Devilman, you can also watch its many remakes, like Amon Apocalyse and Devilman Crybaby. Be warned: the remakes are even bloodier.
7. One Punch Man
One Punch Man is one of the most effective comedies I’ve ever seen, and it’s a perfect mood-lifter. It follows a bored superhero who can’t find a rival who matches him and features plenty of other goofy characters. I’d recommend this to people who typically enjoy superhero movies because it will take advantage of the tropes they’re already very familiar with and spin them in a fun, refreshing way!
Here’s a confession: I’ve never watched Haikyuu. I’m not the biggest fan of sports anime or anything slice-of-life, so this just isn’t my cup of tea, but I hear that this is one of the most essential series for those genres. Sports anime are their own breed; they feature tons of drama, energy, and (I’ll admit it) some pretty dope animation. If you don’t think the more dramatic, violent series on this list will vibe with you, Haikyuu will certainly do the trick.
9. D. Gray-Man
My D. Gray-Man phase was extremely long, and I still look back at it with a lot of fondness. It’s a great series that’s just the right mixture of dark, hopeful, fun, and existential (you might be noticing a theme here!) that keeps me interested and engaged. It also has some of the best characters out there, so be ready for some heavy character development! It gets better as you watch it, so if the first few episodes aren’t catching your interest, give it some time before you give up completely.
10. Assassination Classroom
I didn’t actually expect to like this one as much as I do, but I was charmed by it pretty quickly. It’s about a teacher who is training his students to be successful assassins, and the ultimate test of their skill is to kill him: their mentor. It’s super clever, funny, and surprisingly light-hearted for a series about assassins. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is still action-packed and interesting, Assassination Classroom is a fantastic choice.