A Guide to Becoming an Otaku


I recently began writing for Anime Maki, the anime/manga blog created by my former DVDTalk/AnimeTalk cohort, Todd Douglass.  I just finished my first review for that site and am still in full-on anime geek mode.                

There are many who claim to have no interest in anime, but underneath the veneer of indifference there’s that nagging curiosity in your mind. That little spark of interest could grow into a wildfire of anime addiction if you allow it to, but you’ve never taken the plunge. Today is the day you walk the path of the otaku (that’s Japanese for anime nerd). Allow me to guide you.                

Some people have preconceived notions that anime is just giant space robots or those perverted Japanese bondage cartoons. Well, there is a shit-ton of that available. However, there are so many subgenres in anime, that there truly is something for everyone. This is why I’m floored when somebody tells me that they don’t like anime.               

You do not want to begin your otaku journey with something unthinkingly complex or bizarre. Stay far, far away from those Twelve Kingdoms DVD’s. You’re not ready. Also, hold off on the subtitles. Americans, especially, are immediately put off by subtitles. “I have to read a TV show?! Pffffft!” Watching anime with the subtitles flipped on will likely destroy your curiosity. That said, there are also some truly awful English dubs out there like the original Dragon Ball Z series. Be wary. These are even more harmful than subtitles.               

Based on your tastes, here’s a guide of tried-and-true anime that’s proven to break in new fans:                

Give Me Blu-ray Or Give Me Death

This is for type of person who needs the latest technology to enjoy a show; the type who will stream a standard-definition, Netflix Instant Watch shartbomb before they will taint their precious Blu-ray player by inserting a DVD.  You demand to be wowed. For some golly-gee-whiz Blu-ray action, fire up Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. This series is easily the best anime series released in the past decade. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has it all:  stunning visuals, epic battles, a deep storyline, compelling characters, hilarious jokes, and one of the best soundtracks, like ever.               

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Edward Elric about to unleash an alchemic asswhoopin'. Blue rays! Get it? For Blu-ray?


So, Zen, why not just sit all new anime fans down and let them bask in the Fullmetal Alchemist glory? Glad you asked. For one, it sets the bar stupidly high. But more than that, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood often resorts to manga-influenced tropes such as super-deformed mode sight gags. These tend to scare off anime newbs. Seeing a character like Alphonse inexplicably morph into a wiggling wet noodle just reinforces their opinion that anime is that weird Japanese tentacle shit that only kids or social retards watch.               

The sights and sounds of Fullmetal Alchemist will dazzle techie-nerds and distract them from those moments of Japanese weirdness. As they watch the pretty colors on their high-priced home theater system, an incredible storyline will unfurl and suck them in.               

Since I mentioned Netflix, there are some great anime shows available on Instant Watch, such as Fullmetal Alchemist (not Brotherhood, which is the shiny, new retelling), Clannad, Castle of Cagliostro, and Last Exile. Just avoid Queen’s Blade like the plague. Don’t be lured in by promises of bouncy boobage. It sucks.                

Anime Is Dumb, Giant, Robot Cartoons For Kids.

Sci-fi makes up a huge portion of anime releases, but it’s not all robots, space lasers, and punk-ass kids with spikey hair. The best show to dispel the “kiddie robot cartoon” stereotype is Death Note. This series is an intricate game of one-upmanship between a virtuous murderer, Light, and a super-genius investigator known as L.               

Death Note

Light and Ryuk ponder who the mysterious L could be


The plotting in Death Note is unparalleled in anime. It’s as if the creators wanted a challenge, so they wrote their characters into a corner every single episode just to see if they could write their way back out. Death Note will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire ride. Unlike many other complicated anime series, it’s also accessible to casual and non-anime fans. And if you can’t bear to watch the anime version, there are two successful, live-action films that play like the “Best Parts Version” of the cartoon. In either case, Death Note is must see.                   

For The Girlfriend, A Storybook Action-Romance. Emphasis On The Action.

If your significant other is into chick flicks, there is an endless supply of shojo (girly) anime to choose from. Fushigi Yugi is an awesome shojo series that men can watch without checking their underwear to make sure there’s still a fly. It’s an old-school, epic series built around a touching love story. Awww.               

Fushigi Yugi

Miaka! Tamahome! Miaka! Tamahome! Miaka! Tamahome! Watch it. You'll understand.


Yeah, that and Fushigi Yugi also packs a healthy dose of ass-kicking in a Neverending Story-esque plot that makes it an enjoyable watch for both of you. Cuddle up, drink some sake, and immerse yourself in this 52-episode series with your better half.                 

Am I The Baddest Mo-Fo Low-Down Around This Town?

You don’t want icky-sticky romance. All you want is for bad guys to get beat up and the heroes to get beat up even worse. Die Hard is your idea of the perfect movie. Action fans need to look no further than Dragon Ball Z: Kai or Rurouni Kenshin to initiate their new addiction. The choice is really based on age. Although both series should hook most action fans, the never-ending fight sequences of Dragon Ball Z will have greater appeal to kids.               

Dragon Ball Z: Kai

Goku, the most powerful fighter on Earth, faces off against the galactic overlord, Prince Vegeta


Adult action fans, on the other hand, will appreciate the nuances of Kenshin’s dual personality as well as the wealth of sword fighting techniques that are detailed in loving excess. Both series span an absurd number of episodes, so you should probably start with a story arc or two and then move on to other series to avoid burn-out.  Also worth noting is that Rurouni Kenshin also includes several stand-alone OVA's (Original Video Animation. Think straight-to-video release, which in Japan, can actually be a good thing) known as Samurai X. The image in these releases are far superior, but the stories lack Kenshin's personality. They're still good and have tons of sword-fighting action, though.             

Rurouni Kenshin

Kenshin: nice guy who will never kill or Battousai the Manslayer?


And before the Dragon Ball Z fans mist their panties, I recommended Dragon Ball Z: Kai over the bloated original series due to the vastly superior English dub, the remastered image, and the elimination of all the filler. Trust me, I had to qualify this recommendation. I once gave a Dragon Ball Z movie a bad rating and caught some hell from the faithful. Dragon Ball fans scare me.                

History Buffs Or Anyone Who Refuses To Sit Through Hours Of Silly Cartoons

Until the movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, Americans were not really exposed to many stories about the Japanese side of World War II. Grave of the Fireflies is a critically-acclaimed movie that follows the journey of boy and his little sister trying to survive the fire-bombings of Japan late in the war.               

Grave of the Fireflies

Seita catches a firefly for his little sister, Setsuko.


Warning: Grave of the Fireflies is sad—like you’ll be depressed for days after watching it, sad. It’s also frequently lauded as not only one of the greatest anime ever, but one of the greatest animated films ever. You be the judge. History buffs will appreciate this different perspective on a topic that is widely covered in cable television documentaries. You’ll also have the strange urge to stock up on candy tins.                

Decapitations and Disembowelings. These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things.

If you are a sick and twisted horror fan who dyes your hair black and has piercings in the bridge of your nose, then Elfen Lied should satiate your bloodlust. It begins as a shameless gorefest. As Lucy butchers her victims, every drop of blood is detailed in this beautifully animated series. Then the unthinkable occurs and Elfen Lied evolves into a thought-provoking story that explores the depths of human cruelty.              

Elfen Lied

Lucy. She'll cut you.


If you are not put off by limbs flying, blood splattering, and a little nudity, then Elfen Lied will keep you eagerly pressing the Next Button on the DVD remote to see the following episode. The innocently creepy soundtrack is also pretty cool and one that I keep handy on my iPod.               

The Catch-All

Tenchi Muyo especially will appeal to new fans that at least somewhat enjoy sci-fi. Tenchi has been released in many different flavors, but by far, the best series is the original OVA.                 

Thousands upon thousands of anime fans can probably trace the roots of their addiction to watching Tenchi Muyo. This miniseries is highly accessible to fans of all genres because it features a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi, action, romance, and slice-of-life. Tenchi does a little bit of everything. It handles each aspect so well that it is difficult to find a potential anime fan that will dislike this series.             

Tenchi Muyo

Sasami, Ayeka, Mihoshi and Ryo-ohki (the cat-rabbit-spaceship-thing) look concerned.


There are better series out there, but not many appeal to as broad an audience as Tenchi Muyo. Take comfort in knowing that Tenchi has been converting anime fans for over 15 years. Everyone loves it and you will, too.              

All of the links included in the post were for the DVD/Blu-ray releases. Here are the titles I could find for free at Hulu--you know, where it's legal to watch them:           

There, now you see the path to a lifetime of otakudom. Follow it and join us. One of us! One of us!             

Tenchi Muyo

Tenchi readies his lightsaber, I mean light sword.

Comments (14) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Just so there is at least one comment, I will provide. I always liked Akira, and Vampire Hunter D. That is all.

  2. If you’re already on the geek-squad, you might as well watch. Everyone already assumes that you cosplay.

    As for everyone else, here are a few more tips to help ease the transition. First, add 7 years to the stated age of any female character dressed in a school uniform. Second, just go with it when the characters deform. Third, accept the strange names and words. Most series repeat terminology often enough that you’ll eventually catch on. If not, just ask your friendly, neighborhood, Google. Fourth, get the full experience by trying some of the quirky foods.

    Finally, I highly recommend Gantz for new and old viewers. Does anyone else have favorites that we missed?

    • Happy Valentine’s Day Mrs. Z! Great suggestions especially with the quirkiness–it’ll grow on you.

      I almost recommended Gantz over Elfen Lied for the Decapitations and Disembowelings section. I liked that show better overall, but it has a bullshit ending.

  3. As a recent convert to Anime thanks to Mrs. Zenestex, I would have to say Speed Grapher is pretty cool. It’s dark and gritty in a Sin City-equse way, and I am currently watching Blood+. So any new suggestions would be welcome.

  4. I am not into anime, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like some of it. My favorites would be…Fist of the North Star(the anime movie, not the series), Street Fighter II V(and the anime Street Fighter II movie), Akira, Trigun and Pokemon(don’t turn your nose up at me). I don’t know if any of the Transformers series’ counts, but the first episoded I saw from Armada were subtitled. I also have a couple of VHS tapes a friend gave to me years ago with a few different animes on them, He said Record of Lodoss War were pretty good. Any thoughts?

    • I loved Pokemon! Played the original games and I own a few DVD’s. I always used Pikachu in Super Smash Bros–that’s only he was a cheap bastard with his Lightning move. “Pika! Pika! Pika!”…

      Lodoss War is something you’ll probably like if you’re into fantasy/D&D type stories. A new fantasy series coming out is Guin Saga. Haven’t seen it yet (pre-ordered), but I’ve heard good things.

  5. Oh!! Forgot to mention Ninja Scroll.

  6. nice. i guess i’ll have to make myself check out some of these ‘recent’ anime series. death note seems to have potential. but i really like the older series. that tenchi screencap took me back to my days of watching anime on the sci fi channel late at night, when i was first realizing there was more to anime than just sailor moon. watching akira for the first time a couple years ago was finally achieving a childhood dream i had long forgotten about. very satisfying.

    any personal favorites outside of these recommendations for a more acclimated fan looking for a new (old) series? i’ve got a few ready to watch (elfen lied is one of them), but once i run out, i’ll need more.

    • Depends on your tastes really. Any preferences for genre? Since you mentioned Elfen Lied, I’d definitely chase that with Gantz–just know that the ending is garbage.

      For older series some of my favorites are Mysterious Cities of Gold, Maison Ikkoku, Nadia, and Evangelion (worst ending ever but the journey is incredible). I also think movies such as Perfect Blue, Galaxy Express 999, or pretty much any movie by Hayao Miyazaki (Castle of Cagliostro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away to name a few) are worth watching. If you liked Tenchi, then El-Hazard The Magnificent World is a good watch.

      • awesome! thanks for the suggestions!

        will totally check out gantz when i get to it. a couple of those older titles might be a bit TOO old for my tastes, but there’s good stuff here. nadia looks right up my alley. i love miyazaki films (though i haven’t seen them all), and recommend “the girl who leapt through time” if you haven’t seen it. and i’ve watched perfect blue too! it was creepy as shit.

        also, i was a big fan of the end of evangelion. the movie. i went through a period where i watched it practically every night. have you seen the rebuild films? they’re incredible. it’s basically the show, but faster paced and darker.

        • Just checked out the trailer for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’m sold and it’s now on my To Watch List. I have the Blu-ray for the first Evangelion rebuild movie. The 2nd should be coming in soon. Loving the direction. Hopefully they don’t fuck up the ending again.

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