This section is for people who are starting to get a solid grasp on anime and don’t mind getting into something a little more anime-esque.
The isekai (transported to a fantasy world) genre has been massively popular in recent years, but isn’t the most accessible. A lot of isekai shows rely on genre expectations or emphasize very anime-esque elements, making them difficult for newcomers. Out of all those, Grimgar stands as one of the more accessible entries. While it retains some of the videogame-like elements of its genre, Grimgar’s focus is primarily on developing its central cast. The main cast starts out as a group of adventurers who are barely strong enough to fight weak goblins, so the show’s emphasis is far more on their growth than simple showing off. That alone makes for an interesting setup, but Grimgar really comes into its own when tragedy strikes and it shifts to an exploration of grief and personal growth through that. I won’t go into any more detail to avoid spoilers, but trust me when I say that Grimgar’s focus on its cast and grief is as compelling as it is relatable. It’s a wonderful show that serves as an excellent entry point into the isekai genre without relying too much on genre tropes, and will appeal to anyone looking for a different kind of character drama.
For people interested in shonen but looking for something different, Hunter x Hunter (2011) is a great option. It starts off with a familiar shonen adventure story, but spices things up by taking a much darker look at its main characters and building its action around various tricks, puzzles, and mind games rather than raw power. It’s the sort of show that can be simultaneously fun and thought-provoking without needing to sacrifice anything from either. It’s not as accessible as the likes of My Hero Academia because it’s 148 episodes long and takes a little while to reach its peak, but don’t let that dissuade you. If you’re willing to make the time commitment and are interested in the shonen genre, Hunter x Hunter is another great gateway show.
What can I say about JoJo? Its particular blend of campy humor and weird action is hard to describe in any terms other than “it’s JoJo.” If you enjoy the weirdness, though, JoJo is a great show for shonen fans. It’s simultaneously silly and cool in that way that only anime can be, earning it one of the most passionate fanbases out there. JoJo’s action is so creatively weird that it somehow works, perfectly complementing its unique brand of campy humor and 70s/80s music references. JoJo is a difficult show to describe, but trust me when I say that it’s worthwhile for anyone who’s up for its weirdness.
As a parody of typical shonen action shows, One Punch Man is best watched once you’ve seen a few shonen and are familiar with the style and tropes of the genre. That said, it also has a ton of gorgeously animated action and deadpan humor, making it pretty accessible by anime standards. I’d go more in depth here, but you can figure out a lot of One Punch Man’s appeal from the title itself. It’s about a superhero who wins every fight with one punch and has to deal with the boredom that comes with such power. The premise sounds boring, but in execution the action is just as exciting as any other shonen, especially with its top quality animation. There’s something simultaneously hilarious and exciting about watching a superhero defeat world-ending villains while being more concerned about his grocery shopping than the fight in front of him. Strange as it sounds, One Punch Man’s battles don’t suffer in the slightest for ending in one punch. If you enjoy the other shonen on this list, One Punch Man is a great next step.
While a workplace drama like Shirobako might not seem like a strong hook for newcomers, don’t be fooled: Shirobako is a great show for people who are starting to appreciate anime as a medium and want to learn more about it. It’s incredibly informative about the creative process involved in making anime, but it’s also a very relatable story about following your dreams in spite of the difficulties you run into. Anyone who’s gone into their dream job only to discover that it’s harder they thought will instantly relate to the struggles on display here. Even though that sounds like a heavy idea, Shirobako maintains a light enough tone throughout its 24 episodes that it’s also very easy to watch when you just want to relax and enjoy yourself. If you’re just getting into anime and want to learn what goes on behind the scenes while also enjoying a high-quality anime in its own right, then Shirobako is the show for you.
What are your favorite gateway anime? Leave a comment with what got you into anime or what you’ve used to get others into anime! If you want more recommendations that might not be as beginner-friendly, check out my personal top list, as well as my top anime movies list.