What Anime Are Most Significant for Your Otaku Journey?

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!

1. Voltron

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.

Voltron can be streamed and purchased on Amazon.

2. Digimon Adventure

Digimon Adventure gang
illustration by 徳浦 (reprinted w/permission)

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.

Digimon Adventure can be streamed on Hulu and purchased on Amazon.

3. Princess Mononoke

san and wolves
art by snatti (reprinted w/permission | dA / insta)

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.

Princess Mononoke can be purchased on Amazon. And here’s that “Star Wars” DVD version of the film!

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.

The first two Tenchi Muyo OVAs can be streaming on Funimation and purchased on Amazon.

5. Neon Genesis Evangelion

evangelion unit 03
art by 啊嘞怀表怎么停了 (reprinted w/permission)

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.

The Evangelion TV series can be streamed on Netflix and purchased on Amazon, but at a pretty penny.

6. Spirited Away

chidiro and haku dragon
art by anonamos (reprinted w/permission)

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.

Spirited Away can be purchased on Amazon. A special collector’s edition will be coming out in November.

7. Kanon

Ayu Tsukimiya snow

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…

Kanon can be streamed on Funimation and purchased on Amazon.

8. Toradora

ryuuji taiga minori ami yusaku
art by Paja (reprinted w/permission)

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…

Toradora can be streamed on Crunchyroll and purchased on Amazon.

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)


11 thoughts on “What Anime Are Most Significant for Your Otaku Journey?

  1. From middle school to about middle of college I watched: Pokemon, Princess Mononoke, Final Fantasy Advent Children, Naruto, Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, Death Note, Code Geass. That was my introduction to anime. Basically Shonen pahahaha.

  2. In no particular order: Pokemon (first time I watched everyday in the morning during high school; it was very addictive, seeing a character struggle to do his best, despite failing time and again, though he also won spectacularly as well), Yu-Gi-Oh! (intriguing story using card games, though at the time I didn’t know it was the butchered dub of 4 Kids!), Card Captor Sakura (pretty good characters and action, though I only watched a few, and again the atrocious 4 Kids dub), Digimon Adventure (definitely addicted to this one when it aired on FOX Kids), Neon Genesis Evangelion (I actually cared for the mecha action; the story on the other hand didn’t draw me), Kanon 2002 (first time I got introduced to Key; though much inferior to its 2006 remake, it got the ball rolling for me to find anime outside of mecha, shonen etc.), Record of Lodoss War TV and OVA (my high school friends introduced me to these and they were really good; even now they hold up well, the OVA more than the TV series), Akira (at the end of high school, I found this gem and was intrigued by the story, characters, everything about it; hard to believe the animation holds up much more than many modern series), DBZ (Toonami on CN, need I say more).

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Paul! It was a lot of fun reading through your journey—I remember watching almost those series myself, including the Record of Lodoss War TV series back on Toonami’s short-lived digital streaming service!

  3. I think one of my good friends is ‘to blame’ for getting me into anime a few years ago back in Middle School. Since then I’ve found some favorites: Cardcaptor Sakura (probably the first anime I’ve ever watched), Squid Girl, Sailor Moon Crystal, Nichijou, and MHA (which I recently started watching).

    But there’s one I’ve been obsessing over that sticks out from the rest:

    I don’t know about your opinion, but I count RWBY as an anime. Even though it’s not from Japan, I still think it is heavily inspired by anime to the point that it could truly be considered one. The more I watch it, the more I feel like it is one of the most influential anime I’ve seen through my “otaku journey.”

    1. Thanks for sharing, Rachel! That’s very cool that RWBY has influenced you so much—if it is considered anime (not that it matters too greatly), RWBY is probably among the most popular and influential anime series—if not the most—of recent years.

  4. Well, when I watched FMAB at University, I remembered the feeling of fantasy novels I’ve read up to my senior year in school, and couldn’t find anymore. Erased got me hooked to the genre, and I started searching for more, which lead me to BTT. That were my beginnings.

    Then there was the time in which I tried the list and after that, what the different commentators here liked the most, and I gradually discovered what I liked and what I didn’t. Madoka and Now and then, here and there convinced me of the potential of anime for hopeful stories, while Nichijou influenced me a lot, and helped me at a time when I needed hope and wonder, reminding me of the kind eyes of the Lord on we incomplete humans. And Little Busters was the VN which showed me what kind of multi-layered, deep stories VNs can be.

    After that, I watched Shirobako at the same time I got my first job, and it gave me an entirely new perspective on anime. I rewatched a lot of shows with my younger siblings. Toradora was a show I loved, and also the one I probably enjoyed most when rewatching with my younger siblings. Haruhi, in particular, resonated with me a lot and gained a lot in rewatch. Chihayafuru and Boku no Hero were big events in my household: we even invented a version of karuta to play it ourselves.

    For a time, I had the unconscious prejudice that the best shows were those of 2000-2010, with some exceptions. Mugen no Ryvius lead me to look for older anime too, and as for now, The Promised Neverland has convinced me that there are incredible things ahead. This year, with Boku no Hero 4, Chihayafuru 3 and OreGairu 3 all anounced, will probably be a different year, one of episodes of the week and long-awaited developments.

  5. Akazukin Chacha – arguably the very first anime I’ve seen as a toddler
    Rurouni Kenshin – the first “serious” anime I saw at around 5 years old
    Kimi ni Todoke – the manga/anime that helped push me to be more to reach out to people in late high school
    Fairy Tail – helped me push the momentum to find and cherish my friends when I studied college in the Philippines
    Your Lie in April – was heavily present during the transition period of me preparing to study abroad
    My Hero Academia – helped me to push myself to do my best while studying for my undergraduate in Australia
    The Promised Neverland – the current significant series that highlights my transition from student to employed adult

  6. I forgot to add the 2019 Fruits Basket reboot to my list, because it seems to be slowly influencing me right now as well, with how surprisingly deep and meaningful the story is

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