Getting Started in Anime, part one

Hanasaku Iroha follows the adventures of one seriously plucky lead (center)

Often people from the social sciences/ religion/ family side of my life express interest in anime, but don’t know where to get started. The impressive body of work that stretches back to 1917 can be intimidating. Where to begin; do they need to start with older titles and work forward? I put together the first draft of this guide for a friend, but have adapted it for a wider audience. My suggestion for where to get started is to find a genre, sub-genre, of show that interests you and watch at least three episodes. If you find that you have liked the show use online resources (like writing to this site) to find another show that may introduce new elements. Over time the number you may find that you want to go back and pick up some “classic” titles. You may find that you don’t like shows, you may decide that this medium doesn’t do much for you. That’s OK, at least you tried.

The first thing to remember about anime is that it is a medium, not a genre. Artists and storytellers use this medium to tell lots of different stories, not all stories are designed for all audiences. Anime is often broken down into four large categories based on intended audience: shounen- boys, shoujo- girls, seinen- young men, and josei- women. In part one of this guide we’ll cover shoujo and its respective sub-genres. I’m recommending that you watch the original Japanese audio with English subtitles with very few exceptions (and I’ve pointed them out). Recommended titles are italicized (some will include links to licensed streaming); I’ve also stuck this: [HR] after the titles that I highly recommend. Have fun!

  • Shoujo: This broad genre is aimed at girls from childhood to adolescence. It frequently features a plucky main protagonist who with earnestness and hard work overcomes challenges; she is often in high school. These titles will sometimes focus on romance, but it is not a requirement for the genre.

    • Hanasaku Iroha [HR] is about a girl who moves from Tokyo to the rural inn that her grandmother runs. It features many of the hallmarks of this genre: plucky lead, emphasis on relationships with friends, strained relationships with maternal authority figures.
    • Fruits Basket is one of the few shows that I recommend the English dubbing. This show features the cursed Souma family and the changes that are brought in by the orphaned girl who starts to live with them.
    • A classic example of the Reverse Harem, Ouran High School Host Club features something for every taste

    • Hana Yori Dango is considered a classic of the genre, so I’m throwing it in, but since it features an otherwise smart and strong character putting up with a boy-behaving-badly partake at your own discretion.
    • Karin is about a vampire who doesn’t fit in at school or at home. It plays with horror tropes in fun ways and is generally pretty silly and enjoyable.
    • Ghost Hunt [HR] features an ecumenical group of clergy and psychics who deal with supernatural menaces
    • Reverse Harem: this is a sub-genre within Shoujo and features multiple male characters and a single female character. The two I’m recommending pretty standard for the sub-genre. Hakuouki is an alternate view of the shinsengumi, a military/ policing unit from the 19th century. The men of the titular Ouran High School Host Club [HR] each form an important relationship with the girl who suddenly appears in their midst.
    • Romance: this sub-genre has numerous titles all along the “love-hurts spectrum” The few I’ve included are pretty low on the scale.

      Friendships provide the primary dynamic in Slice of Life titles like Sora no Woto

      Kimi ni Todoke [HR] is about the romance of a girl with an unfortunate resemblance to the ghost in The Ring. Lovely Complex is about the relationship between the tallest girl and the shortest boy in class (neat side note: this show features the regional dialect of Western Japan). Otome Youkai Zakuro features examples of “cat ear” characters and is about the relationships between half-human fox spirits and Japanese soldiers set in the late 19th century.
    • Slice of Life: this sub-genre is noted for it’s casual relationship with exposition, plot, and conclusions. Shoujo slice of life titles often feature a group of four or five girls who form a school club. Sora no Woto instead features five girls who are stationed at a sleepy military installation.

    So there you go. There are, of course, other sub-genres I didn’t cover (sports come to mind just off the top of my head), but this should be a good start into shoujo anime. Shocked that I left out Sailor Moon? Horrified that I included…whatever I included? Let me and others know by responding below.

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