I admit that the anime I talk about tend to be mainstream. I blame my status as an English-speaking fan, mainly because it makes it harder for me to watch and enjoy titles that don’t get an English release. I was grateful for the day fan subs became a thing; now, I have an open catalog to pick from.
It’s downright surprising what slips under the radar. As a medium famous for being weird and super creative, it’s shocking how many of the stranger, more unique pieces slip through the cracks of mainstream viewing. As such, I always encourage new anime initiates to dig a little deeper – because what you’ll find is fantastic.
Sometimes The Best Ideas Are Tucked Away
In the world of movies/media, we have the term “cult-classic.” Basically, this refers to an entertainment product (movie/song/show etc…) that’s only popular with a specific group of people. Movies along the lines of Rocky Horror Picture Show or songs like “Disco Duck” hit the right notes for a few people but generally don’t draw in the majority of people.
Anime, naturally, has a deep selection of cult classics that just never made muster with the mainstream. But some of the stories behind them are legitimately brilliant and deserved to be exposed to a wider crowd. You’ll easily find someone who’s seen Ghost in The Shell and Akira, but far too few people have seen Paprika or Tokyo Godfathers.
The next “Classic” may be hidden somewhere among the forgotten gems. Much like how The Princess Bride only became popular later on, some anime that fell to the wayside may be about to rise, and it’d be good for you to be on top of it.
Some Variation in Tropes Will Do You Good
Let’s be honest with ourselves; popular anime like to repeat popular tropes.
How else does an anime rise in the ranks than to use the cliches and story elements that people love? Your average, popular shonen anime will feature a plucky young male protagonist who 1. Has a sad backstory, 2. Has a big old dream, making him the underdog, and 3. Fights alongside an equally outcasted group of friends. I’ll even admit that one of my favorite anime, the ever present One Piece, follows so many popular tropes it isn’t even funny.
Though I would argue they do it creatively
Now, none of these tropes are bad on their own. But variety truly is the spice of life, and stories can experiment with all kinds of other tropes. Lesser known shows like Baccano! and Samurai Champloo play with history and anachronisms like crazy, or take the time to smash the established images we’ve gotten used to like Revolutionary Girl Utena did with the magical girl genre. No one’s telling you not to like the tropes that are popular (they’re popular for a reason) but it can really be eye-opening to see other experimental pieces.
A Variety of Characters
In that mixture of new tropes and ideas, you’ll find yourself faced with a variety of characters as well. As a writer myself, I am in full belief that it is the characters who make the story and certain characters do tend to make reappearances in the anime community. Now, you’re gonna be hard-pressed to finding something wholly original, but you can find characters that play around with their known “types” and provide something wholly fresh.
For example, Your Lie In April at least appears like a typical Manic-Pixie Dream Girl, ready to fix the life of the broken and humdrum protagonist. But anyone who’s seen that anime will tell you that Kaori is not your typical Manic-Pixie, and the existence of a female childhood best friend in the show forecasts something very dark or tragic on the horizon.
And yes, this counts as lesser known. Despite the movie, you are far more likely to find someone who watches Fullmetal Alchemist or SAO rather than this one
All in all, these shows that didn’t grab the spotlight can still feature some spotlight worthy stars. I’d encourage any budding Otaku to give them a try just to see the lengths writers will go to when it comes to character shaping and creation.
Look at Dat ART!
If you happened to be an anime fan and decided to take an art class, I’m sure you had an awkward moment where you drew something in the anime style and your teacher didn’t go for it. I know I certainly did, several times in fact, and they almost always ended with me redrawing the image. It used to really boil my blood because I knew anime was capable of some downright beautiful artwork. But, now that I have a deeper toe in the anime scene, I’ve realized that your average person probably isn’t aware of how diverse the art in anime can be. And that’s because, sad to say, the anime in a lot of popular shows look very similar.
Not a fan of either show; no hate if you are.
Ah, but slow your roll there. That doesn’t mean that every anime is stuck in the similar look. All you have to do is watch Mononoke, Space Dandy, or Ergo Proxy to see the wide range of styles and colors that the medium is capable of. Really, the only thing that limits the medium is the imagination of the user and what kind of wacky colors they wanna throw onto the page.
I choose ALL OF THEM!
The traditional way to draw anime is a legitimate way to draw, obviously, and the anime ultimately breaks down to having a good story. But if you’re going to be watching a show for several hours on end, wouldn’t it be awesome to have some jaw-dropping visuals to go along with it?
Wrapping it Up
In a golden age of information sharing – in a sea of streaming services like Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hulu – it seems a shame to me for the average anime fan to focus all their time on Fairy Tale or another mega-mainstream title. I’m not suggesting the show isn’t good or worthy of attention, but we now have such a cornucopia of material to work with that any Otaku can only benefit from stepping out of their comfort zone and picking something less popular. Anime is just a medium, a means of making art, and it’s up to us as the consumers to seek out the art.
So, feel free to continue watching the popular shows (they’re popular for a reason) but definitely consider digging for hidden gems.