Undeniably I’m the kind of person who over-thinks things, which is part of the reason why I don’t give a numeric score or use a star system or the like for my anime reviews. So when someone asks me for a recommendation for something to watch, my first impulse is to internalise and start sifting through everything I know about that person and every possible anime option that might apply. Needless to say I end up either listing dozens and over-whelming them or draw a complete blank as I mentally cross out each and every title.
I decided I’d like to stop that practice and actually just answer the question and so I started wanting to break down some of the issues with answering this question. Keep in mind, this isn’t the same as trying to select a watch list for the purpose of review, which is something I’ve looked at previously in a feature. In that case the assumption is that the person wanting to select the anime already watches a great deal of anime and is simply trying to narrow down their options, rather than someone new to anime who is trying to pick something that might actually make them want to watch more.
Does making an anime recommendation
stress you out?
For me, making an anime recommendation is stressful. I start thinking through all the what-ifs. What if the person doesn’t like the anime? What if they think I deliberately got them to watch something they hated? What if they really like it and want another recommendation? And round and round in circles the argument goes. It is worse when I know I’m going to watch the anime with them because I end up watching them more than the anime and try to gauge how they are responding to it. Nothing is more disheartening than seeing someone pull out their phone and start to text during an episode of a show you absolutely love.
But even when you think you’ve gotten it right, there’s always those moments you forget about. Recently I had to explain why a character’s nose started spurting blood mid-episode in an anime and I realised just how many things I simply accept without even noting them at this point because of how many anime I have viewed. For someone new coming to anime so many of these seemingly incidental moments are actually quite extraordinary and can be a little off-putting.
Am I recommending an anime
for me or is it for you?
There’s also the question of whether I have an ulterior motive when recommending something. Did I recommend that anime because I thought the person would genuinely like it based on what I know of their viewing experiences, or am I recommending it because I like it and I want to talk about it. Admittedly, if I’m close enough to someone in the real world that they actually take an interest in the various anime I’m watching and ask me for a recommendation, there’s a fair likelihood we have similar tastes and something I like will work for them, but that isn’t always the case.
Most recently I talked someone into watching Astra Lost in Space with me. Partly this was because I genuinely believed the person in question would enjoy it, maybe not as much as I was but enough, but part of the motivation was definitely that I wanted to rewatch the first couple of episodes to confirm a few points that I needed confirmation of in order to think through where the story was going. Fortunately, the person did end up really enjoying the episodes and we’re now working through the rest of them and he should be up with the most recent episode by the end of this weekend, but I definitely think that recommendation was more for me, even if it was a valid recommendation.
Perfect ingredients don’t
necessarily make a perfect anime
The other complication here comes from the subjective elements of entertainment. There are countless examples where something is the right genre, has great characters, good visuals, and is a solid production in general and yet for whatever reason ends up missing the mark for some viewers. Even taking into account everything you know about a person and thinking through what kinds of shows they like, just because the show you recommend might tick all the boxes it still might be a swing and a miss.
This makes the entire process of choosing an anime even harder. Let’s be honest: you want the person to like it. You want them by extension to then like anime, or at least be willing to try more. Otherwise, there’d be no point to the entire exercise. And yet, just because an anime is objectively great doesn’t mean someone it is actually the perfect choice. I’ve introduced many a person to anime via Sword Art Online, and while the anime community is heavily divided on that and some will still insist it is the worst thing ever, that anime is ridiculously easy to get new viewers sucked into its story and they end up genuinely wanting to see Kirito escape the game (admittedly, with new anime viewers I tend to stop once they wake up from SAO because Fairy Dance is a whole other story).
How to know what anime
So how do you know what anime to recommend?
Honestly, there’s no right answer. Over time, through trial and error, I’ve learned that Sword Art Online works well for fans of action and fantasy but DanMachi doesn’t if the person is less familiar with anime in general. Snow White With The Red Hair works great for fans of romance and Disney but My Love Story seems to be a bit harder for the same audience to get into. Psycho Pass almost never misses with fans of Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Psychological stories however Death Note depends on whether the viewer finds something interesting about Light or not.
You have to match the recommendation to the person, and you also have to think, weirdly enough, about how ‘anime’ the anime is. While you still might not get it right, at least you can learn which shows are definitely off-limits until the person has a bit more anime experience.
What happens when your anime
recommendation is wrong?
If even after thinking it through your anime recommendation is wrong… well, maybe the person won’t pick up anime viewing as a hobby, maybe they’ll try another title you suggest, or maybe they’ll find something else on their own anyway. It isn’t the end of the world.
This is something I need to keep reminding myself of and just answer the question when asked what anime should someone try.
But the questions I have for my readers are: How do you feel when someone asks you for a recommendation and what anime do you recommend to someone who hasn’t watched much anime?
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