Well fortunately, I’m here to help you. Welcome to Carter Sigl’s Guide to AnimeLand.
For starters, let’s clarify some definitions. The word “anime” refers to all Japanese animated productions; this usually refers to either hand drawn or computer-generated productions, but also includes claymation and any other form of animation. The two keys are that (1) it is produced in Japan (content from other Asian countries is not included), and (2) that it be a television or cinematic production (Japanese-created videogames are not included). Anime is often paired with “manga”, which are Japanese comics and graphic novels. As an addendum, anime does not include any animation made in Western countries, even if it is highly influenced by anime (Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel The Legend of Korra are often mistaken as anime, but they are created in America).
However, you may be skeptical. “Why should I watch anime?” you might object. “Cartoons are for kids!” Well, here is your first lesson. While American culture has a preconception that just because a movie or television series is animated, it must be for children, Japanese culture does not suffer under such preconceptions. Anime is a serious story-telling medium, frequently dealing with issues extremely relevant to all people. Topics around which anime plots often revolve around include morality, truth, love, redemption, the meaning of life, death, religion, spirituality, philosophical concepts and more. Many anime series are extremely complex, nuanced, and mature, often putting mainstream American television to shame in terms of plot and characterization.
While there are certainly anime shows aimed towards younger children, including some that many of us watched as kids without even realizing it was anime (Pokémon, YuGiOh, Dragon Ball Z), these will not be covered in my guide. Conversely, there is also a misconception that anime is full of excessive blood, gore, nudity, and profanity. While there certainly are some series like that (as there are in all forms of entertainment), the vast majority of series only use these as story-telling tools. The few series that do glorify sex or gore will also not be covered in this Guide.
Another thing to note about anime series is that they are produced differently from American television. In America, creators will keep a series going as long as the ratings stay good, and the network cancels it once the ratings start to fall. When creators at an anime studio decide to make a series, they write out the entire series with a certain number of episodes, make those episodes, and then it ends. There are no seasons, only a set number of episodes. This means that many anime shows have a very tight and concise plot, with story arcs that span the entire show. Although there are a few series with hundreds of episodes, the vast majority are much shorter; the average episode count for most series is around 24-26. A few shows do have second seasons, but they are almost always considered a sequel to the original rather than a continuation of it.
Furthermore, anime series with such story arcs rarely hold the viewer’s hand the way American shows do. Because they do not have to worry about getting renewed next season, series will often be structured that it is vital to watch every episode, and you will often be thrown into the deep end and expected to keep up with the plot with little help. Anime often requires more of an investment in a series than American media, but the rewards are exciting plots and deep character development.
All that being said, do not be too intimidated. Anime series often deal with very serious topics, and it can be hard to put such a time investment into a TV show. But anime is still entertainment. It’s fun and funny along with telling a good story, and spans every genre from fantasy to scifi to romance to sitcoms. There are thousands of anime series, and everyone has different tastes (I tend to prefer darker and more serious shows, for example), but there is something for everyone.
Which is why I am writing this guide. In the glut of thousands of anime series of varying quality there are some that stand out like gems in the rough. I am here to guide you toward these gems, and to help you on your anime journey. By the time we are finished, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a shōjo and a shōnen series, you’ll be able to define the term “tsundere” and know which characters it applies to, and you’ll figure out which types of anime you naturally gravitate towards.
It is a daunting task, so if you turn back now, I will understand. But it is also an enjoyable one, and I hope that you will join me each week as I examine another anime series or film. So, if you’re ready, then follow me…