Not everything in anime is about schoolgirls and tentacles—sometimes it can be entrenched in realism; other times larger than life. Whatever your fancy, anime likely has you covered in that regard, even though taking that first step into the Japanese medium can be daunting, what with the hundred upon hundreds of titles to watch. So where do you even begin? A great way to start is to find a narrative genre that you already enjoy. To get you started, here is a list of anime recommendations for fantasy lovers.
If you enjoy classical fantasy, you may like Slayers
Photo credit: FUNimation
Slayers follows the adventures of Lina Inverse, a powerful young sorceress and her wandering swordsman companion Gourry as they travel the world slaying demons, evil sorcerers, and whatever other baddies cross their path. It begins as a lighthearted romp, but don’t let that fool you: this one can get very dark and tense at times. The Slayers universe has a rich lore rooted in an eternal battle between dragons and demons—perfect for folks looking to really get immersed. Lina wields a dragon magic so powerful that can possibly destroy the world if she were to use it. Start with Slayers, then move on to Slayers NEXT followed by Slayers TRY if you enjoy it.
If you want to watch anime in English, you may like Fullmetal Alchemist
Photo credit: FUNimation
Maybe you want to slowly wade into the waters of anime and would prefer to listen to English voice actors. That’s totally okay. Dubs have come a long way in recent years, and Fullmetal Alchemist has a great one. FMA is a show about two brothers—Edward and Alphonse Elric—sons of a famous alchemist. When their father vanishes and their mother passes away, the boys delve into the art of alchemy, only to discover the high cost of playing gods. The series delves into some pretty serious content including war, racism, death, and betrayal. Something to note is that there are actually two versions of the anime series: Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. You can watch one or the other; they’re both great. FMA was created before the manga was complete, so even though it has a different story, it’s still compelling. FMA: Brotherhood follows the manga more closely. If you want to try both, start with the original. There is a mystery of who the homunculi are that’s more drawn out in the original though, so if you watch FMA: Brotherhood first, you’ll kinda be spoiled.
If you enjoy darker fantasy, you may like Berserk
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Much like Game of Thrones, Berserk is a slow burn; dark and bloody and chock full of testosterone. The story begins following Guts (yes, that’s really his name)—a legendary Black Swordsman as he travels the country slaying evil. Sounds a little meh on paper but still with it. Because then it suddenly rewinds to his gory birth, and we watch Guts grow up to become the legend he is today. The supporting characters and relationships also have a lot more depth than expected. Guts actually has…dare we say…feelings. He even develops a relationship with a woman who’s just as tough as him. Give it some time, and this series will be a pleasant surprise.
If you enjoy young adult fantasy, you may like Magic Knight Rayearth
Photo credit: CLAMP
There are several series where the basic plot follows schoolchildren who get whisked away to a magical world only to discover their true destinies. Magic Knight Rayearth is one of them. Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are teen girls from different schools who all happen to be on a field trip to Tokyo Tower when they’re yanked out of reality and dropped into the world of Cephiro. Cephiro is protected by Princess Emeraude—who lives in a constant stasis—praying for the world to keep it from collapse. The girls learn they have been called to awaken the Rune Gods and become the legendary Magic Knights to free Emeraude and save the world. It seems straightforward until the end of the first season when a twist at the end puts a new and exciting spin on the adventure.
If you enjoy a lighthearted adventure that will last, you may like Fairy Tail
Photo credit: FUNimation
Fairy Tail is a bit more difficult to describe. In the world of Earth-land (yeah…), about 10% of the population is able to wield magic. These mages have to make a living somehow, but instead of wandering aimlessly (like we assume all wizards do thanks to D&D), these talented ten percenters join guilds where they’re hired for jobs like treasure hunting and vanquishing evil. Lucy is a summoner who really wants to join the Fairy Tail guild. Fairy Tail has some of the most talented wizards in the land, but they’re known to be a bit…destructive at times. Lucy teams up with a fire wizard named Natsu and his cat-companion Happy. The series starts off following their odd jobs and silliness, but like most anime, finds a plot eventually. Fairy Tail gets drawn into battles with the evil guilds and terrifying monsters. As the series progresses you get to meet several badass heroes who balance out the wackiness of the main cast. It’s a fun one if you want to ease into anime.
If you enjoy some science in your fantasy, you may like The Vision of Escaflowne
Photo credit: Bandai
Escaflowne is a series everyone should watch at some point in their lives. There’s something truly timeless about the story which is why it serves as an excellent starter series for just about anyone. Psychic teenager Hitomi has a vision of a young man named Van battling a dragon. Van and Hitomi are connected by fate—or so it seems—and after encountering one another, Hitomi unwillingly returns with Van to his world Gaea. The pair then discover that she is the key to awakening a legendary mecha (giant robot) named Escaflowne that will supposedly save Van’s home from the evil Zaibach empire. The fun part about the series is how it questions the existence of fate and whether or not it can be altered through science. The enticing characters and twists will surely leave you wanting to watch more with each episode.
If you enjoy romance in your fantasy, you may like Fushigi Yuugi
Photo credit: Madman Entertainment
Yep, another “teen gets whisked away to a magical world” anime—a very common anime trope, and Fushigi Yuugi is no different. Miyaka and her best friend Yui wander into a restricted section of the library one day, coming across a book titled The Universe of the Four Gods. As the girls read the story, they get sucked into the book, becoming its main characters. And just when you think the girls are going to have a marvelous adventure as best friends, the story wrenches you in another direction where the girls are pitted against each other in a race to awaken gods and obtain the ultimate power of their wishes. There are love triangles galore that will have everyone rooting for their favorite pairings, and there is a fantastic fight sequence between two potential suitors that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Don’t worry, no spoilers.
What other fantastical anime series would make your personal list? Leave ’em in the comments below!
Image Credit: Bandai