Anime for Beginners

This page is a work in progress, I will add more to it as I think of things that might be helpful.

Anime is a term used to describe animation from Japan. It is important to remember a few things when watching anime.

  1. Anime is created for Japanese audiences. It is the product of a different culture and language, therefore it is best to watch it with an open mind. Things that are considered offensive here might not be considered offensive there and vice versa. Also, translators sometimes take liberties in the effort to better convey what they feel was said.
  2. Anime is not a genre, it is a medium. In Japan, animation runs the gamut from hardcore porn to kids shows and everything in between. It is not generally geared for kids. US streaming services will shy away from straight up pornography, but adult themes are common. Trying to compare two shows from Japan because they are animated is like trying to compare I Love Lucy and Breaking Bad because they were both on television.
  3. Anime fans are a subculture in the US, with all the good and bad that brings. Talking about anime online can be, and often is, an unpleasant experience. Choose where you want to discuss things carefully. Every sub-culture has it’s bullies.

Where to watch:

Most anime are available for streaming on either or Some are available through Netflix, but these will be dubbed in English. This has drawbacks which I will mention further on. Crunchyroll has most of it’s shows available for free. Funimation has a lot of free shows, but it’s dubbed and racier shows require a subscription.

Some useful terminology and culture notes:

The internet is not a user friendly place and Japan is a quirky culture,  so here is some help in deciphering the anime fan’s lingo and some Japanese idiosyncrasies.

Simulcasts: Both sites listed above do simulcasts, where they make episodes available for streaming shortly after the episode airs in Japan. Without a membership, you will have to wait a week from when it first becomes available online. If some one refers to a season of anime, they are refering to simulcasts. There are 4 seasons per year, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, each with 12-13 weeks. Some anime will run for 2 seasons at a time.

Otaku:  Otaku is the Japanese word for geek.  In Japan however, this has more of a negative connotation.  Adults in particular are supposed to have grown out of such things.  By default the term otaku refers to anime and manga geeks, but it could also be used to describe someone obsessed with military history, cars, cosply, or anything else people get geeky about.

Fan Service: Fan Service are things that are used to highlight a character’s sexual appeal. It could be a swimsuit scene, a flash of underwear, or some unnatural boob jiggling. In Japan this is seen as a “service” to the “fans” of that character. Some level of fan service is usually present in an anime, even if it is subtle. Some shows, however, seen to be built around the idea. Fan service is rarely sexual in and of itself. If it is it would be better described as Ecchi.

Ecchi/Hentai: Ecchi means sexy or sexual and hentai means weird or perverted. Hentai is also used in the west to describe animated porn.

Harems and Haremshit: Shows frequently have a single male protagonist and who has a number of females romantically interested in him. Some US anime fans hate these shows with a passion and will quickly label any show with more females than males in the cast haremshit. Not all harems are awful, but it is sometimes used to facilitate male fantasies. Harem shows of this type will usually have a male lead with little or no personality to speak of.

Bland or Generic Protagonists: This is what male harem leads are generally referred to by the haremshit crowd. As mentioned above, this does happen, but it is nowhere near as common as claimed on the internet.

Big Sister/Big Brother/Senpai: It is common for the Japanese to refer to each other through their relationship, particularly if speaking to someone above them in rank or age. A senior student or co-worker are referred to as a senpai, teachers are sensei, and an older boy or girl will often be called big brother or big sister regardless of biological relationship. This frequently takes the place of an honorific. (like mister or miss)

Names: The Japanese refer to each other by their last names and an honorific after the name. Referring to someone without an honorific is very informal or even rude. First names are reserved for close friends or family. Common honorifics are –sama (master) –san (formal mister or miss) –kun (informal mister or miss) and –chan (very informal and usually used for girls or kids) As if all this wasn’t confusing enough, last names are always given first, and nicknames are very common among friends.

Physical Displays of Affection: Japanese people apparently don’t touch. There are no comforting hugs and adults do not hold hands or display affection in public. This can seem awkward to touchy feely westerners.

Parents are Never Home: Japanese business men and (occasionally) women work extremely long hours. Teenage children are often left by themselves, particularly in single parent households.

The Japanese School System:  The Japanese school system is set up to have their children attend elementary school through 6th Grade, 7th through 9th grade is middle school, and 10th through 12th is high school.  Grades in high school and middle school are reffered to as 1,2, & 3.  Classes are split up by letter or number.  So the three home rooms for the first year of high school will be refered to as 1-A, 1-B, & 1-C or 1-1, 1-2, & 1-3.  Most high schools are private, not public and will have entrance exams.  3rd year middle school and high school students spend much of their free time studying to get in to the high school or college of their choice.

The Japanese School year: The Japanese school year begins after their spring break in around April.  The first term runs until a 6 week break that starts mid-summer, the second term runs from September till around New Years, and the final term ends in the spring.

Slice of Life: A comedy show that has no action or central issue to be resolved, and either no or little romance.

Manga, Light Novels (LNs), and Visual Novels (VNs): This is the source material for anime. Manga are comics. Done in black and white and released in monthly or weekly chapters, these are immensely popular in Japan. Light novels are usually released in multiple volumes and are illustrated. They are not considered literature, but are considered to be on a similar level to manga. Visual novels are computer games with an decision element left up to the reader. There is little to no action, but the reader/player chooses the path the story takes by making decisions. Visual Novels with adult content are called Eroge.

The dubbed/subtitled debate: There is some conflict between fans of subtitled anime and dubbed anime.  In my opinion, subtitled is usually far superior.  This is because Japan has a much larger pool of voice talent and it is closer to the creator’s original intent.  There are a couple of cases where I will recommend the dubbed version, because it is that good.  For the most part though, I’d stick with subtitles.  Eventually you will barely be able to tell you are reading and you might even learn a couple of words in Japanese.

Tropes: This word has been kind of twisted in anime circles as a synonym for archetype instead of it’s dictionary meaning. A specific type of character common to shows of one genre will frequently be called a trope.


Common Archetypes in Anime:

The Childhood Friend- Grew up with the main character and has unvoiced feelings for them that they may or may not be aware of yet.

The Tsundere- Has feelings for the main character, but is in denial. Will alternate between a cold or even cruel personality (Tsun) and a more affectionate demeanor (dere). Expect more “Tsun” early in the show and more “dere” towards the end.

The Cool Beauty- The beautiful, smart girl who displays little or no emotion or is very proper.

The Ace- The Main character (MC) or occasional side character with so much talent they are successful at whatever they do.

The Trap- A very feminine boy that is usually mistaken for a girl by the MC.

The Reverse Trap- A boyish girl that is mistaken for a boy or is hiding her femininity.

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