I’ve been watching anime now for almost 35 years. Crazy, huh? But that’s not to say that I’ve been an otaku for that long—just as with many of you, my original viewing of the medium was as a youngster and without realizing the origin of what I was watching. It wasn’t until years later that I became a real fan of the medium, gobbling up a ton of series and developing a long list of favorites. But while some of those early series I watched aren’t included among my all-time favs, they remain just as important to me for how they shaped my view of anime and encouraged me to watch more. Some were mile markers on my anime journey, while others came in at critical junctures of my otaku life, times when I was on the verge of moving away from anime altogether. These are the movies and series I want to share with you today—not necessarily my favorites, but those that were turning points in my fandom.
I hope you enjoy taking a peek into my timeline, but more importantly, I encourage you to share your own list of anime that have been significant in your otaku journey. I give eight below, but feel free to present as many or as few as you wish!
To be honest, I don’t remember Voltron that well (I’m speaking of the original series, not the more recent, critically acclaimed remake). But I do remember enjoying the show which, along with Speed Racer, was my very first anime series. I love-love-loved the series when I was a not-quite-ready-for-school kid, and I owned a heavy, metal action figure of Voltron to prove it. Of course, I wrecked said figure when I tossed it into the air to simulate flight. I still played with my Voltron a bit afterwards, but a missing leg mecha just didn’t do it for me.
2. Digimon Adventure
I felt very strange watching Digimon as a teenager—wasn’t I too old for cartoons, especially those obviously aimed at kiddoes? I wasn’t obsessed with the show—it was mostly background noise—but it became a gateway for me into fandom and obsession. A year or two later, I discovered fan fiction, and my favorite pieces were those involving the Digimon Adventure gang. I spent hours and hours reading AU stories from fanfic writers, and wrote close to a dozen of my own short stories. And thus, I learned there was more to anime (and all other pieces of entertainment) than just what was presented on screen.
3. Princess Mononoke
During college, I worked the electronics department of Wal-Mart, where one particular DVD stared me in the face day after day. I still didn’t really know what anime was at the time, though by this point I could tell that Ashitaka looked very different from the heroes of the animation I was used to. What really got me, though, was the tagline at the top of the release which declared that Princess Mononoke was the “Star Wars of animated features.” It made sense—after all, the cover featured Ashitaka in a fight, with his knife glistening like a lightsaber. I eventually caved in and bought it, and of course found that it was nothing like Star Wars…but I wasn’t disappointed, because the movie was more complex and beautiful and strange that I could have imagined, and I’ve rewatched it more times than any other anime.
4. Tenchi Muyo!
Everything changed in college because for the first time in years, I had cable, and with it, Toonami. Randomly flipping through channels, I came upon a show where a young, blonde pilot (Mihoshi) crash-landed into a Japanese lake, which at the time seemed to me to be a death scene (she survived). I was intrigued and started watching the show (and Cardcaptors, which preceded it) every chance I could get. For the first time, I realized that I was indeed enjoying this art form called anime.
5. Neon Genesis Evangelion
While it was Tenchi Muyo that really exposed me to the world of anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion is what convinced me that I was a fan. I did my research and decided to try out this series, which was accompanied by so much hype, and when I bought the first DVD, I was instantly addicted. Because of NGE, I decided to try out a plethora of other series, most of which I really enjoyed. Plus, it featured my first anime crushes—Misato and Rei.
6. Spirited Away
Already familiar with Miyazaki by the time Spirited Away came to U.S. theaters, I was pumped to see his new movie in person. I knew it was being shown theatrically, but I was without a car and without the confidence or motivation to find another way to a theater. However, when my friends decided to go watch The Ring, I joined them, but upon seeing that Spirited Away was also showing at the cineplex, I traded time with friends for a solo viewing of this anime masterpiece. It was the first of many anime I’d watch on the big screen, and remains one of my very top movie theater experiences.
As a young adult, I slowed my consumption of anime. I was in a relationship and spent a lot less time on my own and more time sharing entertainment choices with her—and she was not a fan of the medium. But eventually, after moving in with a roommate, I discovered that I had Anime On Demand as part of my cable package, and among the available series was Kanon. Again, I fell in love—not only with the show but with Key in general, and perhaps for the first time, I began to realize that anime had the power to really move my heart and even influence and change in my life. By the way, that girl I was dating later became my wife, and now watches more anime than I do. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…
Babies are hard to care for. Really hard. When my kids were tiny, I would be up at all hours of the night, unable to fall asleep. To fill my time, I returned to anime after again leaving it for a while. I tried Toradora on a whim, and it became my favorite series, offering surprising depth to its characters while keeping those basic elements of anime that I held so dear. It both engaged me and made me feel like a kid again. It also encouraged me to write about anime. And with Beneath the Tangles, of course, the rest is history…
Now its your turn. What are the anime, manga, visuals novels, and other anime-related properties that are more significant, most influential in your journey as an otaku! Please share those properties and your thoughts about them in the comment section below!
Featured illustration by 9水 (reprinted w/permission)