Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer

Want to recommend some anime or J/K-dramas and anime to a normal American who doesn’t know what to make of Japanese or Korean culture? You think they’d love what Asia has to offer, but don’t want to scare them away with too much moe or yokai or plot-lines involving getting kicked out of the family register.

Breaking your typical American viewer into Asian TV

I’m going to suggest anime and k/j-dramas that either have fascinating plots that no sci-fi/fantasy lover could resist, or are understandable plots between cultures. You won’t find any Studio Ghibli on my list because I, personally, found his stuff unattractive when I was first breaking into anime. His heavily Buddhist, strange-creature themes or more simple slice of life films could not be appreciated coming straight out of watching non-stop-action American TV. This isn’t going to make me very popular, but I wouldn’t recommend Ghibli to your average American viewer, personally. My recommendations are clean, relatively family-friendly shows and movies that aren’t so overtly Asian that you lose people. Things you could show your next-door neighbor without being labeled a weirdo nerd.

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Animated:

(Most can be found legally on Crunchyroll.com, and one or two on Netflix.com)

1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

7facd20f5216202349ad2fc3119e2e5b1329936788_fullYeah, I’m going there.  Honestly, this one has lots of bizarre elements, but the plot is so epic.  It is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, but totally works as a deconstruction of any superhero genre.  We Americans have been inundated with superhero movies lately, so a show that portrays the real psychological hardships of being a Black Widow or Scarlett Witch? Yes, please. I’ve shown this to most of my non-anime-watching family members, and it’s gone over pretty well.  You’re going to need to sit and discuss a lot of the final episode, however, as it’s big-picture epic with a lot of symbolism.

Warning: Violence and thematic elements in this one.  PG-13

2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

the_girl_who_leapt_through_time_posterStarts out like a Disney channel show with a little bit of teenage silliness, but quickly turns into a fascinating sci-fi plot.  I really enjoyed this one, and it was the very first anime I ever watched. Only movie-length (not a TV show), this will give viewers a taste of creative YA sci-fi from Japan that makes sense and tugs at their heartstrings at the same time.

Warning: One really stupid sexual line from a side character at the beginning that feels hugely out of place.  There is NO sexuality in the rest of the movie, so one just has to ignore it as bad writing in an otherwise squeaky clean movie.

3. Hotarubi no Mori e

hotarubi-no-mori-e-full-1174801My personal favorite.  Just a beautiful, beautiful little 45-minute film.  Totally an inspiration for the writing of my own book, Lucent Sylph, this movie is tragically gorgeous in every way, and one of my top favorite movies of all time.

Warning: There ARE Buddhist spirits in this one, and Buddhism has something to do with the main plot.  However, one can still follow the movie really well by ignoring this aspect – and, in my opinion, it doesn’t get too weird.  Nothing weirder than Star Wars. Make sure your child is old enough to know that forest spirits don’t exist.

4. Hyouka

A sweet, clean, and pleasant little family show, Hyouka is about an apathetic high schooler who is inspired by a group of friends, including a pretty cute, curious girl, to solve little mysteries for his school. He is intelligent and quirky, and his personal growth as a character is delightful. This anime also has some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen.  Just look at that eye!

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Warning: Japanese hot springs are very popular in anime. There is one episode where the characters go to a hot spring.  No body parts are shown, but one character gets woozy thinking about girls bathing behind a fence.  If you ignore this episode and chalk it up to the writer being in a weird mood that day, the rest is just charming.

There are 22 episodes in this show, and the pacing of the cutesy mysteries might be slow to some.  However, the characters themselves and their interactions make this one a favorite.

5. Kanon

56301Heading the liminal fantasy + break your heart open genres are works by the visual novel company, Key.  (visual novel = interactive computer game story) Many of their visual novels were turned into anime shows. Their best work, in my opinion, isn’t the Clannad series, but Kanon (the 2006 version). It’s not terribly long with a second season like the ever-popular Clannad, nor does it have over-the-top characters.  Instead, each of the Kanon girls have highly fascinating backstories. I was obsessed with this anime, and also watched it very early on in my anime career. The liminal fantasy was modest and subtle, instead of throwing us into a highly elaborate world.  It brought soft elements of fantasy to us, while still focusing on the inter-personal relationships and romance. The story could’ve been set anywhere, and there’s even an English dub (although I don’t think it’s a good one) for the viewer who’s set against subtitles.

The music is gorgeous, the girls are amazing, and you care about their deeply personal and often tragic stories. Highly recommend this one.

Warning: Thematic elements. There’s also a surprise violent scene or two but nothing graphic.  Still definitely a PG.

One character makes a joke about asking another character to buy a pornographic magazine for him.  She refuses.  Again, nothing else is sexual about the entire show, so the line was completely pointless.

6. Patema Inverted

patemainverted_dvd-fTruly gorgeous, imaginative movie, where the sky animation is so amazing you’ll get acrophobia. I showed my whole non-anime-watching family this movie at Christmas and even my dad enjoyed it. They said it was unique and a really entertaining story.

Basically, the world has been divided into two groups of people with opposing gravity, and one girl and boy find each other.  Think a younger Upside Down without all the terrible plot holes and bad pacing.  So much better.

Warning: None. Just a fantastic movie. The plot isn’t even set in Japan, so there’s nothing culturally confusing about it in the least.

7. RWBY

rwby_poster_contest_submission_1_by_vnixxir-d6etrosThis anime-style show is actually American, but is always grouped with its Japanese sisters. The art and graphics in the show get better with each season, but can take getting used to in the beginning. A story about hunters and huntresses in a magic-type school learning to defend their nation while working together.

Warning: Many of the females in this show are pretty immodest, so it might be one I recommend to watch by yourselves, ladies. The first season has silly teenage drama, but when you get to season 2, the plot thickens. By season 3, you’re thrown into an epic story that’s highly entertaining.  RWBY also has some of the best animated battle scenes I’ve ever seen.

8. Avatar: The Last Airbender

avatar-the-last-airbender-free-downloadAgain, this is American, produced on the Nickelodeon channel, but it’s no secret it was succeeded in borrowing a lot of Japanese anime elements.  Safe enough for kids (who can look past the Buddhist-undertones), this show thrilled many adults too. Highly recommend if you’re thinking of breaking into the anime scene but want a safe marriage between something American and something Japanese-feeling.  Poignant characters and huge battles between good and evil, it’s one of those shows where I wish I could wipe my brain just so I can rewatch it with all the delight of seeing it for the first time all over again.

Warning: Some New Age/Buddhist talk – maybe for the older, mature child and adults

 

Live Action (Korean/Japanese Dramas and Movies)

(Most can be found legally on Dramafever.com and Viki.com)

1. Bara no nai Hanaya

172252356144716358_9af14e52_medOne of the most Christian dramas to ever come out of Japan, this is a show with the most selfless male character I’ve ever seen.  In a slow-paced, beautiful display of love (both to his little girl, as well as to the woman pretending to be blind to cheat him), Shiomi Eiji is a fantastic character. I watched this drama a second time and showed it to my mom and sister.  My mom cried every single episode without fail, and then went out and bought the show for herself.

Unfortunately, though, this show is pretty unknown and hard to find.  One would like to imagine the writer was a believer himself, so maybe it wasn’t as popular in spiritually-dark Japan. This is a beautiful Christlike love story in every way.

Warning: There is the most random cross-dressing character that shows up for one quick scene near the end.  It makes no sense and has nothing to do with the story.

2. Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name (movies)

46791113980218_5e2be54e_c2xI don’t recommend the Death Note anime to American newbies, even though it’s fantastic, because the ending goes down a very strange path that frustrated a lot of people, including me. The Death Note movies clean up the ending and change it a bit to make it more tidy and sensible. If you want to get this highly intellectual, cat-and-mouse thriller, but you’re not a purist who needs it in its original manga form with its bad ending, choose the Death Note movies instead.

Basically, an intelligent high school student finds a notebook that claims if he writes someone’s name in it and picture their face, he can kill them on the spot. The highschooler is then forced into a moral dilemma of playing god and goes to battle against the world’s most brilliant – and quirky – detective.

Warning: There are a lot of warnings on this one.  Definitely a PG-13, there is a death god spirit who is pretty scary-looking who follows the main characters around. A very morbid set of movies, I recommend it for the mature viewer.  However, it’s not about blood, guts, and action like you’d have to put up with in America.  Instead, this slower-paced dark show treats the viewer like an intellectual equal by letting you into some really brainy heads. Very well-written.

Do NOT watch “L: Change the World” as it is a non-canon, highly violent side story that I couldn’t stomach or get through.  It has nothing to do with the original plot and should be ignored.

3. Dream Knight

w475oerl_fc8273_c2xIf you enjoyed High School musical, you can put up with the one or two song and dance numbers in this adorable short drama from Korea. A teenager’s dream, a girl has a group of guys magically show up when she’s alone and having trouble in school. The short series takes a very serious and meaningful turn, though, and I was enchanted by how much emotional sweetness they packed into the twelve 13-minute episodes. A really charming liminal fantasy highschool romance that would make sense to any American viewer who watched Disney channel.  I might have squealed out loud a time or two.  *cough*

Warning: (Cute) teenage drama, and a mention of suicide

4. Healer

fullsizephoto531120Have you ever wanted more Jason Bourne coupled with a sweet romance? You got it in Healer.  Having nothing to do with medical illness, “Healer” is the codename of a night courier, basically the Korean version of Jason Bourne, who faces a big moral dilemma when he starts falling in love with the woman he’s been hired to investigate and protect. This Korean drama has it all: action, love, backstory, political evil, mystery, a hilarious computer guru, and outstanding acting. I also had to watch this one through twice – showing it to my husband the second time, and I still enjoy reruns of my favorite scenes.

Warning: PG-13 for the action and thematic elements.  A couple is shown in bed after kissing, but it’s not clear that anything sexual happened.  A few scenes later the young man tells her father they didn’t do anything. Korean shows tend to be very modest, culminating the romance with kissing only, so even while sleeping they are shown entirely clothed and purity is often implied.

5. I Hear Your Voice

ihyv2Imagine if a little boy had the super power of hearing people’s thoughts, and was the only witness to his father’s murder, along with an older high school girl. Now imagine that girl grows up to be a lawyer and the boy a young man whose only goal in life is to protect her so that when the murderer gets out of prison, she can survive.

Mixing in great Perry-Mason-courtroom scenes with a budding “noona-romance” (younger guy with a woman older than he), I Hear Your Voice is a deep, thoughtful, psychological courtroom romance with a fantasy twist.

Warning: Definitely violence and scary characters.  There are a couple of murders and very tense scenes.  PG-13

6. Mirai Nikki (THE JAPANESE DRAMA)

63232769622524244_057fa50c_c2xI repeat again, the Japanese drama from 2012, NOT THE ANIME.  The anime is a piece of disturbing, violent nastiness that I refuse to see, being so revolted by the descriptions of the show I couldn’t sleep at night.

HOWEVER, the Japanese put out an 11-episode drama with the same name that supposedly bears only a slight resemblance to the manga and anime with the same name. This drama was a real treat! Fascinating mystery, kept us guessing the whole time, and, I repeat, CLEAN.  A great clean drama that we could enjoy without feeling in the slightest bit dirty. I highly recommend it to an American breaking into watching Asian dramas.  Just please avoid the anime.

Warning: Definitely psychologically tense and thriller scenes.  PG-13

 

Happy watching!  And remember to watch everything at your own risk.  My recommendation is, by no means, infallible for every viewer.  Do your research and enjoy eastern storytelling!  🙂

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer

  1. Pingback: Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type | Blonde RJ

  2. A lot of your “warnings” are for cultural tropes that pop up repeatedly. Exposure lessens the surprise a bit but I know what you mean about starting off gently with some of them. My first mangas/animes ever were Ranma 1/2 and Full Moon o Sagashite. <3! So we went to the anime store and the owner recommended Hot Gimmick. Well, I returned it a week later irate and he apologetically exchanged it for Marmalade Boy which was less shocking to my sensibilities. But now, after years of exposure, while I still wouldn't like Hot Gimmick, I wouldn't be nearly as shocked at the content just because I'm more familiar with the various tropes in Asian tv.

    We just recently watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and loved loved loved it. Then we went out and bought the hardback comic sequels. Korra, I'm less fond of (she's just kinda bratty) plus I've heard what it implies at the end.

    I'm definitely going to have to check out Patema Inverted as I liked Upside Down and would enjoy a better version of it. 😉 Other than Avatar, I haven't seen any of the anime you listed. Given a choice between live action and anime, live action usually wins in my book. But my daughter has been getting into anime so I'm going to look up your suggestions. 🙂

    Dream Night was very cute. Healer is on my list to watch, it's so popular. I'm looking forward to watching it. I Hear Your Voice is epic – so fantastically well done. One of my top kdrama faves. And I have used it before to hook a friend on kdramas. It's funny how we have such different tastes most of the time but we overlap here and there. 🙂

    So what's Mirai Nikki, the jdrama, actually about? I think you got sidetracked warning us away from the anime and forgot to tell us more?

    Personally, Hana Yori Dango has been my go-to jdrama for hooking most of my friends/family. Probably wouldn't work so well with guys but with girls it usually does the trick. 😉 Though it would need a slight warning, I suppose. Also, Kurosagi is a good one. I haven't watched many jdramas in a long time, though – they're harder to find (not nearly as many of them end up on viki or dramafever, it seems) and I prefer romcoms and those have been sparse.

    I find kdramas the most comparable to western tv so there's a lot more options so long as you avoid anything too makjang or sageuk. I like to introduce people to Brilliant Legacy, My Love From Another Star and/or Dream High. Vineyard Man, Secret Garden and I Can Hear Your Voice, too. There are more but those are my favorite go-tos.

    No Taiwanese dramas on your list? 😉 I go through phases and have been on a twdrama kick lately. They can be pretty wacky and take some getting used to, especially the romcoms. Smiling Pasta is one of my favorites for introducing newbies. And ToGetHer. And Mars for anyone who can get past the lower filming quality (since it's an older drama) and get hooked on a really good story with some deeper, darker themes. Oh, Black & White is another one that's supposed to be good with a darker, more action-packed story. Haven't seen it yet but I'm planning to soon.

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    • Thanks for the list of ideas!
      Yeah, I feel like tdramas can be a little culturally shocking, and the quality just isn’t as good. I can’t see an American used to extreme CG quality having any tolerance for a tdrama right out of the chute, but I could be thinking of my family in specific.
      I personally hated Hana Yori Dango, and I think the overacting of most jdramas would turn off an American used to subtlety. 😛

      Secret Garden is the classic of all classics, but it has a ton about Korean culture, including the overbearing mom who protests their relationship that I think would frustrate and confuse and American viewer who is used to “being an adult and doing what they want.” However, IF they really loved kdramas, I’d say, “Try Secret Garden next!”

      Hot Gimmick! I’m so sorry! I heard about that manga in a panel at a convention about how women are abused in manga. I don’t think it would take any amount of getting used to to have your heart hurt by something like that. I’m so glad they exchanged it!

      I call Marmalade Boy “Miscommunication Boy” because the whole thing would’ve been five episodes long if the two main characters just TALKED. Hahahahaha.

      Sorry, I really can’t describe much of Mirai Nikki without giving things away. Let’s see… It depicts a battle royale in which each combatant has a diary with entries from the future. 🙂

      Love to see all the different anime and drama preferences! It’s fun for people to find their niche, and I hope our lists just help them get started! 🙂

      Like

  3. Pingback: Top Posts of 2016! | Blonde RJ

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