As a social experiment, mention the word “anime” in the public sphere and you will spark a debate faster than a Michael Moore comment at a Ron Paul convention.
The group against accepting anime as a legitimate art form would argue that it is rather base, presenting as evidence the Kamehameha wave that takes three episodes to materialize. The proponents, who often consider animation to be more compelling than real life, would likely not respond, instead focusing on finding the right mascara to emulate the look of L from Death Note.
However, it is grossly unfair to only cite popcorn entertainment such as Dragon Ball Z because anime is certainly more than that. Like any other medium of storytelling, the artistic merit of Japanese animation varies greatly based on the quality of the writing. Therefore, for all who have taken an oath to never approach the genre, here are five series to change your mind.
1. Naoki Urasawa’s Monster: Cited by Time Magazine as the guilty pleasure of Pulitzer prize-winner Junot Diaz, Monster tells the story of Kenzo Tenma, a doctor who sacrifices his career to save the life of a young boy that goes on to become a serial killer. The story, spanning several years in duration and incorporating dozens of nations, prides itself in creating a world of conspiracy, hate and brutality. Moving at a tense, deliberate pace but constantly increasing the complexity, the writer and the actors come together to create a tale that really gets to the heart of human nature and the disturbingly realistic inclination towards violence. In searching for a monster, Dr. Tenma loses his own soul and finds that humanity is equal parts beautiful and cruel.
2. Nana: When Nana Osaki and Nana Komatsu meet on a train bound for Tokyo, neither one of them realizes how quickly or how thoroughly their lives will intertwine. Be it mutual friends, similar interests or simply the convenience that proximity brings, the two roommates eventually become an integral part of each other’s lives. The musical score is consistently brilliant and the story does incredibly well in demonstrating how two friends can grow close and apart, without ever having stopped loving each other. Do not let the effeminate designs dissuade you; if there has ever been a friend in your life that you have cherished and lost, this is a story you cannot miss.
3. Honey and Clover: With an unapologetically nostalgic feel and visual design that is nothing short of serene, Honey and Clover tells the story of six friends that attempt to navigate life as college art students. With protagonists that have a desire to succeed but lack any definite sense of direction, the story works to highlight how life often takes beautiful and unexpected turns, even if one must often withstand heartbreak to truly appreciate them. The plot moves at a relaxed, often lethargic pace and the moments of hyperactivity are few and far in between, though they usually succeed in being rather humorous. Most of all, however, the series succeeds most when it shows realistic solutions to life’s daily struggles in a manner that is absolutely uplifting.
4. Hikaru no Go: A tale for the child that adulthood forces us to abandon, Hikaru no Go tells the story of Shindou Hikaru, a young boy who comes in contact with an ancient strategy game and forms a fantastical bond with the spirit residing within the ancient board. However, just when one starts to assume that this is the classic tale of an imaginary friend, the story does well to stay grounded as a realistic tale of a young boy who knows it is time to grow up. With an appropriate level of drama, the story perfectly demonstrates the anger that one feels when they are warned of their limitations and are too young to understand them. We become adults that day we decide to stand for something that will require commitment and pain on our behalf; it is this lesson that Hikaru learns throughout the work.
5. Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy: Perhaps the only anime, save for Shin-Chan, that increased in quality following an English dubbing, Ultimate Muscle tells the story of a young man who reluctantly visits Earth to defeat an army of evil wrestlers determined to take over the world. As insane as that statement may sound, the series is assuredly crazier. If pro-wrestling were to increase its lunacy by nearly tenfold, it would begin to resemble Ultimate Muscle. The ludicrousness, not to mention the lewdness, demonstrates that the show knows how ridiculous both animes and pro-wrestling generally are. However, instead of trying to change that, Ultimate Muscle embraces the madness and the end result is unparalleled creative design and a sense of humor most are not proud to display in public.
Of course, this is merely a condensed list and there are dozens of other shows that deserve to be highlighted but for those that do not trust animation, these are likely the safest bets for traversing into such unfamiliar skies.