Anime is a tricky thing to get into. It's vast and often pretty daunting, with huge shows that have different incarnations, and there's some seriously creepy stuff out there. But there's also some absolutely amazing shows with fantastically intelligent storytelling... you just gotta know where to look. So here's a guide to some of the best action adventure anime Japan has to offer, and why you need to check these shows out!
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Adapted from the internationally popular manga by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an excellent introduction to anime.
Blending action with supernatural elements, Fullmetal Alchemist tells a compelling and exciting story of war, love, and family. The main protagonists are Edward and Alphonse Elric who are on a quest to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone so they can restore what they lost after they committed the worst sin an alchemist can commit. Along the way they help out the military in combating threats to their home country, but end up unraveling a conspiracy that reaches back into the country's greatest conflict, and has a personal connection to their own past!
Honestly, Fullmetal Alchemist is really difficult to summarise. The best I can tell you is that this anime is fun and action packed, but also absolutely heartwrenchingly sad at times. The characters defy stereotypes, while the story is intriguing and exciting. It contains some fantastic commentary on the responsibility of soldiers in war, colonialism and genocide, and grief. It's also pretty hilarious...
And features some amazing female characters (who are never sexualised or reduced to love interests), if you're about that...
Plus, the ending is epic, every plot thread is resolved, and you'll finish the show feeling very satisfied and probably ready to rewatch right away (which is definitely not what I did... *ahem*)
Watch this if you like: (honestly, this show is so original I can't think of any live action TV parallels)
Fusing scifi with samurai and Western influences, Cowboy Bebop is an iconic anime with an amazing jazz soundtrack. It's probably the coolest thing you'll ever watch.
With its fusion of genres, epic fight scenes, and stunning animation, Cowboy Bebop was one of the first anime shows to be shown on American television and around the world. It's another anime that works well as an introduction to the medium. The plot follows ex-hitman Spike Spiegal as he and his ex-cop partner Jet Black try and make a living in a tough solar system. Along the way they pick up amnesiac conwoman Faye Valentine and the excitable hacker prodigy Radical Ed... oh, and a genetically engineered corgi.
Bebop really broke new ground, blending existentialism and poignant plots with exciting action sequences. And I really can't rave about the soundtrack enough - check out the opening number!
If the plot sounds familiar it should - Joss Whedon was heavily inspired by Cowboy Bebop, and Firefly is essentially the live action equivalent. Ultimately, this is a fantastic show that is a must-watch for anyone, regardless of whether they want to get into anime or not.
Watch if you like: Firefly, Kill Bill
Alright, this one's a little niche but bear with me. Actually, bear with the whole first episode, which is a bit of a clusterfuck, throwing tons of plot at you that you probably won't understand until much later. Having said that, the first episode is still fun and thrilling, and acts as a sort of trailer for the rest of the show.
Do you love 1930s gangsters? Do you love alchemy? Do you love serial killers, pyromaniacs, and psychopaths? Then this is the show for you! With a complex plot that spans centuries, Baccano's story jumps between several different years, though its main setting is Prohibition Era New York City. The characters are whacky and fun: you've got mobsters, kid gangs, crazy scientists, mute assassins, and uh... well there's no real way to describe Isaac and Miria but they are super cute, super dumb, and occasionally super badass.
Another one with a fantastic soundtrack, at only 16 episodes Baccano is easy to marathon and only improves on rewatches. The plot is very intricate though, so this is definitely one for people who like hunting for hints and Easter eggs! Oh and also, there are many awesome fight scenes atop a moving train - who doesn't love that?!
Watch if you like: Some Like It Hot, Casino Royale
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Just a heads up - this show is weird. But it's also one of the most iconic mecha animes of them all, influencing tons more anime shows as well as Hollywood feature films. It's also a pretty vast franchise, with plenty of manga spinoffs and movie reboots to keep you occupied.
Borrowing elements from the horror genre, and cramming in plenty of Christian symbolism (purely for effect, apparently), Neon Genesis Evangelion is part fun high school show, part terrifying robot vs alien battle, part existential crisis. The plot is again, pretty darn intricate, and almost every episode features an exciting battle between the invading aliens and humanity's robot defenders. Piloted by 15 year olds. Yeah, cos that's just going to go so well. The characters of this show are fairly stereotypical for an anime, but they're still compelling: Asuka's development in particular is really heartwrenching.
Check out on of the show's best battle sequences, which is only improved by the fact that the pilots spent the entire episode training for this fight by playing Dance Dance Revolution (or the Japanese equivalent) until their moves synced perfectly....
If you're going to watch the dub it's worth noting that this was made in the mid-nineties, and anime dubs then tended towards the melodramatic. There are still some fantastic actors who lend their talents to the dubbed version, and it's well worth a watch.
Watch if you like: Pacific Rim, Sartre's Being & Nothingness
Of course there are tons of other action animes out there (Soul Eater and Attack On Titan are also worth a mention), but for a first timer these shows definitely offer a good introduction to the medium, as well as being some of the best Japan has produced. Remember to post your reactions on Moviepilot if you check any of these shows out!