How to Create a New Anime Fan

by Paul Jensen,

People love to talk about the importance of first impressions, mostly when they're trying to “help” college applicants by scaring them to death right before an interview. First impressions apply to anime just as much as anything else, and a good introductory series can make all the difference when welcoming new fans into this endless time-sink we call a hobby. Not every great show makes for a great first experience, and the key ingredients for minting a new fan can change a lot from person to person. Everyone has varied tastes and interests, but the right introduction to anime always has a few things in common. Keep these qualities in mind to avoid giving your curious friends a bad impression!

You need an easy way in

Nobody likes feeling out of the loop, especially when they're watching something that's supposed to be entertaining. There are some excellent shows out there that assume a certain level of cultural knowledge from the audience, and those assumptions can leave normal folks baffled, bored, or both. Imagine watching Shirobako without knowing at least some of the industry jargon that the characters toss around. Even worse, picture yourself taking on Bakemonogatari without knowing all the tropes and genre conventions that it plays with. If you need a notebook full of definitions and explanations in order to enjoy a series, it's probably not the best place to start.

Comedies can be great ambassadors for the medium, but they can also be some of the worst offenders when it comes to assumed knowledge. As much as I love otaku-centered shows like Genshiken or WATAMOTE, they wouldn't be nearly as much fun if I weren't in on the joke. As contradictory as it may seem, comedies that rely on confusion can be much easier for newcomers to follow. Cromartie High School was one of the first anime comedies I ever watched, and I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn't supposed to make sense. Dropping a robot, a gorilla, and Freddie Mercury into a class of teenage delinquents requires no explanation.

So the best series for newbies are the kind that avoid leaving anyone lost in translation, but a good English dub can also be invaluable. As much as they might make subtitle purists' skin crawl, the simple fact remains that humans are lazy creatures of habit. We're more likely to give something new a chance if we can watch it in our native language, and it obviously helps if the script and voice acting are up to par. Anime is a visual medium, and it's easier to appreciate a creative art style and flashy animation when your eyes are free to follow the action. A bad dub doesn't help anyone, but a good one can make for a great starting point.

You need a reason to stick around

The most accessible anime story in the world isn't worth much if nobody wants to watch it. I was pretty easy to please in my early days: I was a ten year-old boy when Gundam Wing first aired on Cartoon Network, and it had giant freakin' robots in it, so I was sold inside the first ten minutes. For grown-up would-be fans with slightly more discerning tastes, you might need more than giant freakin' robots. Start with a compelling cast of characters, add a plot that holds together from start to finish, and serve it all up with marathon-ready availability. The basic fundamentals that make a series enjoyable for jaded veterans still apply to bright-eyed newcomers, perhaps even more so.

Above all else, a good first show will forge some kind of personal connection with its audience. Sometimes it's as direct and obvious as choosing a story that tackles a subject the viewer already cares about. If you have a relative who's fascinated by the space race, show them Space Brothers ASAP. Personal connections can also work on a more abstract level. Attack on Titan owes at least some of its success to its ability to resonate with young adults who've grown up in a world that always seems to be on the brink of disaster. We want Eren and company to survive because we want to believe that things will work out for us as well. If the audience can see themselves reflected in the characters, they'll stick around to see what happens next.

You need the right kind of magic

There's a world of difference between enjoying something and feeling an irresistible urge to tell the rest of the universe about it. A great introductory series makes people want to talk about it right after they watch it. Sometimes it's because of a unique visual style or a memorable soundtrack. It might also be an impressive scene or a surprising plot twist that gets people really excited. I've shown the first few episodes of Black Lagoon to many friends over the years, and they all raved about the “torpedo boat ramps into the sky and blows up a helicopter” scene. It's often worth sharing something a little crazy to leave a lasting impression.

On a less explosive level, it doesn't hurt to give the audience something to think about. Some of us enjoy having our brains fried by complex shows like Psycho-Pass, but a good first anime will often just pose one interesting hypothetical question. Assassination Classroom is a good recent example. Once you start thinking about how you'd go about trying to kill Koro Sensei, the show's got you right where it wants you. Giving the viewer something to mull over after the credits roll helps a series outlive its running time.

You need a good follow-up

Even the world's best introduction to anime is incomplete without another good show waiting in the wings. This final step is much easier than it used to be thanks to binge-friendly streaming services, but there's no replacement for a well-informed friend when it comes to fostering an anime addiction. That's where you come in, dear reader. Your friends and loved ones need someone to say, “If you liked that, then you should enjoy this too!” More importantly, they need someone who knows their tastes, able to ignore any of my previous points when relevant. If you've got a friend who loves foreign films, then forget about searching for a good dub. If your friend thrives on puzzling through complex stories, then maybe you don't need to worry about a mountain of lore or culture clash. After all, the perfect first series is the one that's the most fun for the individual viewer. Forget all the big hits and top ten lists, the power is yours. Get out there and make some new fans!

Have you ever successfully turned someone into an anime fan? What was your secret? Let us know in the comments!

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