Hello, Class, and Welcome to Anime 101

Until fairly recently, Americans have long considered cartoons to be kids' fare, only suitable for Saturday mornings and after school. Animation follows a different path in Japan, where there are comic books and cartoons for every conceivable interest. Without the preconceived notions that cartoons are just for kids, the Japanese animation industry has risen to the challenge to create entertainment that just happens to be inked and painted.

So if you're ready to take the anime plunge, TV.com is here to help you with the basics.

Anime is more than just Pokemon

A lot of anime is aimed at kids, but that's because a lot of television is aimed at kids. You wouldn't judge the American television industry just by looking at kids' shows, because TV comprises everything from Sesame Street to Dexter. Actually, anime is less of a television genre and more of a storytelling a medium. Animation is a cheaper to produce than live-action series. And in Japan, where cartoons aren't just for kids, anime is an accepted method for telling all kinds of stories—from ironic comedies to elaborate historical dramas.

The Sci-Fi Connection: Japan is the Future

From the very beginning, anime has told stories of robots and cyborgs and artificial intelligences of all stripes. Astroboy? Robot. Gundam? Fighting robots. Ghost in the Shell? Robot bodies with human brains. What's the deal with the robot overload? Everyone knows Japan is ahead of the rest of the world technologically. Sci-fi anime series are often set in the near future, and the most important series tell stories of what humanity ends up doing with all this technology. Hint: Things rarely end well.

Angels and Demons

Though Japan is thought of as a technological wonderland, it still has a rich and ancient mythology that's heavy on the supernatural, with demons, gods, and monsters and the humans who hunt and/or fall in love with them. It's no wonder that a lot of anime series comb through those legends and myths in order to tell (and retell) the past. Case in point: A few of those cute little Pokemon characters are based on mythological Japanese creatures, and even Naruto picks through legend to find basis for a lot of those jutsu. Meanwhile, Bleach takes an unorthodox view of the afterlife and what happens to a soul after its body dies.

And don't think the West is ignored in this aspect either. Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most popular anime series of all time, features protagonists who fight against gigantic monsters that are named after Biblical angels. Need a vampire fix? Anime has tons of them, including Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, Blood +, and Vampire Princess Miyu, among others. Oh, and there's magic, too: Anime tells stories of magic schools that are worlds apart from Hogwarts, many of which warn of the dire consequences that result when wizards go rogue and start using their powers against plain old human beings.

A Slice of Life

Anime series set in high school are popular in Japan, and can run from the silly to the angsty and anywhere in between. There are stories about teens who build up cred as street racers (these stories existed years before The Fast and the Furious) and stories of young rock bands struggling to achieve stardom. And yes, there are the prerequisite love triangles and rectangles and other polygonal shapes.

Technically, anime isn't restricted to a specific genre. There is sci-fi anime series and fantasy anime series and sports anime series and plain old soap opera drama anime series. There are stories of all kinds waiting to be told—the one constant is that they all happen to be in cartoon form.

What follows is a rundown of some of the most popular anime titles of all time. If you don't know where to begin, start by watching one of these.

Astroboy (1980)

One of the first anime series brought to the US, Astroboy is a modern take on the well-known story of Pinocchio. After a scientist's only son is killed in an accident, he builds a robot in his son's likeness. The stories focus on Frankenstein-inspired questions: Is it ever okay to play God, and what does it mean to be human? Based on Osamu Tezuka's long-running manga (comic book) series Tetsuwan Atom, Astroboy has become an iconic symbol for anime. The big-eyed illustration style is so prevalent in today's anime shows that the medium seemingly owes a huge debt to Astroboy, but Tezuka reportedly based his original design for the boy robot on an American cartoon character named Mickey Mouse. Do you see the resemblance?



Robotech (1985-1988)

Many of today's anime fans were introduced to the medium by Robotech, and the series sets the bar high. A generation-spanning epic of mankind's first contact with aliens, Robotech must have been pretty heavy fare compared to the rest of '80s afterschool TV: In this sci-fi story, characters acted like real people. There were love triangles and even character deaths (and not in the cartoony blown-up way where the "deceased" returns two seconds later). Heavy stuff for an after-school "cartoon."



Fullmetal Alchemist (2004-2006)

Set in an alternate ancient Europe where technology exists hand-in-mechanical-hand with magic (known as "alchemy" in the series), Fullmetal Alchemist has become one of the more popular anime series of the past few years. The premise centers on two brothers as they seek redemption for their unforgivable sin of trying to raise the dead. The first episode not only sets up the universe that the Elric brothers roam in, but also offers a great introduction to how alchemy works.



In the next few weeks, we'll tackle a few more of the most popular and influential anime series, all available for you to watch right on the site. Stay tuned!

Comments (34)
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Feb 24, 2010
I love anime with subtitles. They have a air about them of class and sophistiaction. Plus they Fing sweet.
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Feb 23, 2010
Professional subtitles are more often than not direct transfers from the English script the VAs use. Any (good) company will forgo literal translations. Beyond that, "VA-work not being intrinsic to the actual product"? So, you'd watch anime, or anything, without voices? Universally, most roles weren't written for one actor/actress, not just with anime.
Cowboy Bebop for one (Shinichiro Watanabe admits it himself) has a much better English audio track, while Gundam SEED (my second favorite Gundam series) has absolutely horrible English, and wonderful Japanese. Open your minds people, give both sides a chance.
Also, I'm guessing the author meant "most influential in the AMERICAN MARKET". While DBZ and other battle-shounen series are fairly popular now, it was the highlighted series that brought anime into the "mainstream" western households. Nice article for the newbies.
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Jan 31, 2010
Remember when it was called Japanimation?
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Jan 31, 2010
Hilariously bad logic, Kravyn81. Beyond VA-work not being intrinsic to the actual product (and most roles certainly weren't created with one specific VA in mind), not to mention anybody who watches a program in a non-native language loses out on subtlety and nuances. Beyond that, subs usually endorse terrible dictionary direct transliterations that completely mutilate both the style and content of the original work.
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Jan 26, 2010
they seem to have forgotten one of the most popular series.
One Piece, about pirates non the less there really is something for everyone in the anime ranks lol
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Jan 24, 2010
You forgot one of my favorites (and what got me hooked on anime) Sailor Moon!



I fully expected it to be on here, since it's very popular and still has a fanbase that's going strong, but pretty good list, anyway, eventhough it could be longer.
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Jan 17, 2010
I feel like you've done a good example of the genres that would educate a person who knows little/next to nothing about Anime. I do agree that perhaps you should have mentioned DBZ/Super-powered anime because that is a large genre. But also don't forget about Detective Conan/Case Closed... that anime has been around for 20+ years and it's a part of the Mystery Genre.
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Jan 17, 2010
Ok Robotech was groundbreaking over here but no mention that its a mash up of 3 different anime, and no mention of Lupin 3rd or Cowboy Bebop makes this article suspect at best
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Jan 16, 2010
I'm definitely a proponent for subs not dubs. It stands to reason that the Japanese voice actors are being directed on how to read the lines in the script which is in Japanese. Therefore they are reading it as it should be read and giving all the emotions, inflections, tones, etc. that the Japanese director wants to best convey what's happening on screen. You lose this feel of authenticity when you bring in an English cast and dub the lines. Now you're going from the original Japanese direction to people trying to impersonate the performance of the original voice cast. It more than always sounds ridiculous, fake and forced and never replicates the original performances.



I have yet to hear a dubbed performance that I feel was better than what the original Japanese actors were able to give.
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Jan 13, 2010
*TJfuller0 I'll be honest with you, I haven't heard the English dubb for Cowboy Beebop so I can't comment too much on that one. I did like the Japanese voice actors for it though, I thought they all fit very well with the look and mannerisms of the characters... even if Ed was annoying... but I think she was supposed to be annoying. I will also concede that the Japanese actors have a few things in their favor. 1) They require subtitles (for me) and therefore watching becomes a mesh of watching a movie and reading a book, and therefore it's possible that I attribute to them some of my own emotion when reading the titles. 2) You are right their vocal patterns and mannerisms are a little different so it is harder for me to tell when there is cheesy voice acting happening (a boon for a sarcastic guy like me) not so with the English voice actors with whom I am overly critical due to my own (albeit limited) acting background. 3) They have a tendency to overact, which for me lends itself perfectly to the exaggerated medium of animation, and allows them to end up with a balance. Whereas the English actors act normally (or, heaven forbid, try to use cutesy voices) and end up getting left behind by the animated portion (to my ears).

Heh, I will claim a personal reason to listen to Full Metal Alchemist in Japanese though, the voice actor of Ed Elric is Romi Park, my favorite voice actress. ^_^

I'll also concede that the English voice actors for Howl's Moving Castle (if you want to consider it anime, it's in the same boat after all) were just as good as the Japanese actors. There were still strange points like Sophie's disappearing accent (she gets old and poof, almost no accent). But overall a fantastically done movie.
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Jan 13, 2010
Anime goes through censorship when they cross over the the western side of the world.

Look at YuGiOh. They edited out the guns to make it look like the guards are holding invisible guns. Many giggles were had.
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Jan 12, 2010
I grew up at a time before the word was coined "Anime", so I watched Astro Boy, Gigantor, Eighth Man, Prince Planet, Marine Boy, StarBlazers, et al when they were first imported to the States in the B&W/early color TV era. Most of the early fare was at least as good and often better (art-wise) than the (primarily) Hanna/Barbera offerings of that time period. However, unlike their American counterparts, the Japanese studios got better while the American studios (big surprise there !) began to circle the crapper.

The breakthrough (and IMO the beginning of the Anime era) was Robotech in roughly 1986 (an 8.5 out of a possible 10.) Robotech/Macross captured all of the best of old Japanimation (ROBOTS !) with a long-form story arc, a multi-decade saga. Much more recently, there is Inuyasha (8/10), while it lacks robots, offers characters on a fascinating journey though ancient Japan. Full Metal Alchemist is pretty good (7/10), but is indicative of my biggest beef w/ Anime/modern Japanimation: writing, writing, writing !!!

Nowadays, if you miss the early episodes of an Anime series, you're pretty much left clueless about the whys-and-wherefores of the central story. For example, mute the volume on 'Monster', running on SyFy's Ani-Mondays and you can't figure ANYTHING OUT ! I read the Wikipedia article about it before watching my first episode and find it to be the MOST boring, pretentious claptrap on television ! One of last night's episodes was essentially talking heads with NO ACTION/ACTIVITY to move the story along ! Supposedly, the series is a landmark story about the pursuit of a serial killer, but I haven't seen a single scene involving the so-called serial killer ! And please don't buy into the fanboy's dub-vs-sub nonsense, as the reason that stories don't make sense to everyone. I watched **every** episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion (typical stupid, irrelevant title), even read the Wikipedia articles (obviously written by fawning, non-critical fanboys), and can only convey that I DETEST the characters and the ENTIRE idea of NGE (especially the maximally PRETENTIOUS Wikipedia articles !)

Don't get me wrong, I WANT to watch Anime/Japanimation, but often I'd rather watch the old cheesy shows, like Astro Boy than the latest thing like Bleach, because as bad as they are Astro Boy or Gigantor make more sense story-wise. I LOVED the original Robotech/Macross, but saw (what I believed to be) the entire run of Macross Plus on SyFy and HATED IT !

So there's the other side, for what it's worth.
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Jan 12, 2010
TK, what of Cowboy Bebop? That series was very well dubbed, and no matter how the Japanese track sounds, I can't imagine myself listening to it otherwise.



Besides, vocal patterns and mannerisms are different between there and here, so using voices that act the same as the viewers' is a good thing. While there is the trouble of bad, spotty, and a bit off dubs, this does not disqualify the merit of well-directed English voicework, especially if the series or movie takes place in a non-Japanese (or even, English-speaking) location (Fullmetal Alchemist, for example above, is set in a European landscape).
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Jan 12, 2010
Hmm and while we are talking about anime here. How about a plug for anime not to be dubbed into English here, to bring it to the US just use subbs. It will help lazy people to read and read faster, and it will save on production costs. Not to mention I haven't heard a single anime that sounds better in English.
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Jan 12, 2010
I have to wonder what you mean by "even Naruto." Don't be fooled by how it's been edited and marketed for kids in the US. Naruto jokes are immature in the beginning because Naruto was a pre-teen at the time. In current episodes I'm finding Naruto (which has big supporting characters die and deals with issues of betrayal and revenge) to be more mature than Bleach (in which none of the good guys die... not to mention it has simply become a filler infested fight-fest lately).
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Jan 10, 2010
actually now that i take a better look, the sentence under the Angels and Demons title could be a reference to Inuyasha. Since it talks about demons (Inuyasha), and the humans (kagome) who fall in love with them.
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Jan 10, 2010
My first anime ever was Inuyasha, and it is still my favorite. They should've put that in the intro.
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Jan 09, 2010
tkpanda, I think you have anime confused with hentai anime is a style of animation while hentai would be the "naked cartoons" you are talking about.
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Jan 07, 2010
The selections make for a terrible introduction to anime. Instead of tossing in a joke title like FMA, they should've opted for Bebop or another widely liked & appreciated title. And even something like Robotech isn't as popular as the Gundam franchise. Plus, as far as kiddy anime goes, Speed Racer was much better known in the USA than Astro Boy.
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Jan 07, 2010
I'd have to say anime to anybody should be well liked by the population of many countries if they give it a try and watch, they can still stick to the other shows they watch but why not introduce a little anime to thier lives, my favorite anime is Code Geass, with Blood+, Rosario + Vampire, Death Note, Vampire Knight, Romeo X juliet, and Naruto following, all of them are great animes
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Jan 07, 2010
For me, as a little kid, it was Tobor, the 8th Man and Prince Planet. But as a teenager Star Blazers premiered, and man was I hooked. It was the first animated series I had seen with a fully realized story, dimensional characters and sub plots.
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Jan 07, 2010
Should have included Black Lagoon, that anime is the best...and alos one piece (pirates between ninjas any day in America, afterall)
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Jan 07, 2010
My first contact with anime was Robotech and then I was all in.The funny thing is that my current girlfriend is a fanatic of Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist and I introduced her to Death Note and Bleach.If I manage to fix the "Grey's Anatomy" problem,maybe I'll marry her!
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Jan 07, 2010
Great article to into people to anime. I found it by accident years ago and now I love it. Most people still consider it kid-like, thanks to shows like Pokemon. However, there are more adult animes that they could get into like Ghost in the Shell, Samurai Champloo, Death Note, Trinity Blood, etc. While my first love is still Naruto, I have many animes that are in my favorites now!
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Jan 07, 2010
Lets try not to ruin the reputation of anime by having people watch the Dragon Ball, or Yu-gi-oh series' please. This is meant to be an article for older folks to inform them that not all anime is for children, which both of those series' are.
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Jan 07, 2010
Don't forget Dragon Ball, DBZ and DB GT, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Yu-Gi-Oh!GX, Yu-YU-Hakusho,
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Jan 07, 2010
Don't forget Death Note!
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Jan 06, 2010
Some good stuff up here, but I don't think any list is complete without Shinchiro Watanabe's work, more commonly known as Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, both of which are widely regarded (at least in all the anime circles I know) as 2 of the best series' ever made.
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Jan 06, 2010
Cool promotion of anime. I think you forgot about Dragon Ball Z, Speed Racer and the Transformers series. Speaking of which I think Speed Racer should be credited for introducing anime to the mainstream. There were also a few other 80's anime shows like Voltron. Though I'm happy that you are helping promote anime, I don't think it's been quite as popular as it used to be.
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Jan 06, 2010
Great start! Can't wait to see what other series you cover.
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Jan 06, 2010
Very good start! Keep it up!
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Jan 06, 2010
No StarBlazers ( YAMATO ) ? You suck !
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Jan 06, 2010
You definitely must include Death Note in this list. It draws from the Bleach-like concept of Shinigami, and good and evil souls. There are a total of 30-40 episodes. So its fast paced, and keeps hitting you with new twists, and the plot turns would make "Dexter" fans weep with ecstasy.
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Jan 06, 2010
A pretty Good overview
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