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Best Anime to Watch Before Coming to Japan

By Sophia Wasylinko
May 16, 2024

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, bringing a series is an excellent way to prepare. We’ve compiled a list of the best anime movies and TV shows to show you everything from iconic locations (fictional and real) to local customs and traditions. What are you waiting for? Let’s begin!

Princess Mononoke (1997)

We kick off this list with a Studio Ghibli film. Princess Mononoke follows Ashitaka, who is forced to leave his village after being cursed. While seeking a cure, he meets San, raised by wolves and gets caught up in a war between nature and man. While it is beautifully animated and captivating, we don’t recommend it to younger viewers because of its violence.

Princess Mononoke on a wolf.
“Princess Mononoke” made Studio Ghibli famous worldwide. Image via Timeout Tokyo

With a strong environmental message, Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli’s best films. Its story and designs are inspired by the Muromachi period, several prehistoric eras, Shintoism, Yakushima, and the Shirakami-Sanchi mountains. Finally, its complex themes reflect real-world issues. You’ll be left feeling entertained and inspired to take action.

Love Live! School Idol Project (2013-2014)

Next up is the first entry in the Love Live! series. School Idol Project is about Honoka and her friends, who form the idol group μ’s (pronounced “muse”) to save their school, Otonokizaka Academy, from shutting down. Things aren’t easy as they face off against rival group A-Rise. Later, the μ’s participate in the Love Live idol competition. 

A scene from Love Live School Idol Project one of the best anime to watch.
This anime features great pop music! Image via Call Casting Club

School Idol Project has a likable cast and cute animation. It also gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at being a Japanese idol. And there’s a lot of catchy J-pop music for you to playlist. We warn you, though: you might start humming or singing aloud if you hear the songs in public!

Doraemon (1973-Present)

While this titular character is a recognizable mascot, his manga and anime series aren’t as famous outside Japan. Doraemon is a 22nd-century robot with a 4-dimensional pocket full of gadgets. He goes back in time to help kind-hearted but unlucky Nobita and teach him valuable life lessons. 

A scene from the Doraemon anime.
Doraemon is one of the most iconic anime characters worldwide. Image via One E-Sports

Because of the show’s intergenerational appeal, nostalgia factor, and essential messages, Doraemon became Japan’s first “anime ambassador” in 2008. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find many Doraemon souvenirs in anime and souvenir shops. If you’re in Kawasaki, stop at the Fujiko F. Fujio Museum named after Doraemon’s mangaka.

Pokémon (1997-Present)

This anime needs no introduction. Based on the video games, Pokémon introduces viewers to adorable pocket monsters and the humans who collect and train them. Ash and Pikachu are the faces of the franchise, but there are other famous characters, including Charizard, Team Rocket, and Mewtwo. Plus, there are some crazy designs regarding the evolutions and more recent Pokémon generations.

Ash, Brock and Misty from Pokemon Indigo League hanging out in the forest.
Which episode of Pokemon was your favorite? Image via Starburst Magazine

Pokémon takes inspiration from many real-life locations, including inside Japan, and has lots of fun and emotional stories. You’ll find Pikachu merch everywhere and tourist attractions like the Pokémon Mega Center and the Pokémon Cafe (both in Tokyo). Finally, Pokémon was one of the first anime dubbed in English and broadcast worldwide. That doesn’t mean it was perfect: we’ll never forget Brock’s “jelly donuts”!

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Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) (2016)

We can’t discuss the best anime without mentioning Kimi no Na Wa (or Your Name). High school students Mitsuha and Taki switch bodies during the day and switch back at night. The strangers learn to communicate with each other and adjust to their new surroundings. But the comet Tiamat threatens to break their new connection.

The male and female protagonist from "Your Name" one the best anime to watch.
“Your Name” is one of Makoto Shinkai’s most famous anime movies. Image via Frog-gun

Kimi no Na wa showcases two contrasting locations, busy Tokyo and quiet Itomori (set in real-life Gifu Prefecture). It also highlights traditions such as shrine visits, festivals, and the kumihimo (gathering threads) bracelet. And who can forget the fantastic soundtrack by Radwimps? This is one anime movie you have to watch.

Detective Conan (1994-Present)

Our last show is another long-running anime that’s underrated outside of Japan. Detective Conan (or Case Closed) is about high school detective Jimmy Kudo, who gets shrunk to the size of an elementary school student. Under the name Conan Edogawa, he helps the police solve mysteries while looking for clues to the sinister Black Organization. 

The main characters from 'Detective Conan".
Detective Conan is one of the best mystery anime in the world. Image via

Detective Conan is among the most popular animes ever, thanks to its interesting mysteries and engaging characters. If you plan to visit Tokyo, pay special attention to the settings, a mixture of real and fictional locations. And if you’re going to Hokuei, Tottori, check out the many Conan-themed attractions there. They call it Conan Town for a reason! 

These shows and movies are only some of the best anime that Japan has to offer! Do you have any other recommendations? Leave them in the comments.

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