We are getting very close to the completion of our Beginner’s Guide to Anime. After this week’s article we’ll have one more. Then you’ll have a comprehensive guide to get you started on anime.
Today’s list is all about the thriller genre. Thriller stories usually revolve around drastic events changing people’s perspective on life. They take a new approach on the world and usually choose a more active role than their previous spectator position.
A battle of wills is a very common occurrence here. They scheme and strategize to become the victor over their opponent. That opposition could be another person, an organization, or sometimes just life itself.
The psychological aspect of these anime or what create suspense and rushes of excitement. Action plays a supporting role in these stories. You’ll notice that character development is also key. Without it, characters become too linear and the atmosphere falls flat. You can’t be engaged in a story that contains an unrelatable or static cast.
Complexity may be the most important detail when it comes to thrilling stories. It creates tension. A maze or a minefield of challenges creates a puzzle for the main character to solve. But, the key is to create a complex atmosphere that doesn’t lose the audience.
You want them to stay engaged with questions and clues. And these three recommendations below excel in that area.
1. Death Note
Death Note Synopsis - From Anime News Network
One day he finds the "Death Note": a notebook from the realm of the Death Gods, with the power to kill people in any way he desires. With the Death Note in hand, Light decides to create his perfect world, without crime or criminals.
However, when criminals start dropping dead one by one, the authorites send the legendary detective L to track down the killer, and a battle of wits, deception and logic ensues...
Death Note Trailer
- 37 episodes
- October 4, 2006 - June 27, 2011
Why Should You Watch Death Note?
Death Note is easily heralded as the best anime of this genre. Chance are you’ve already heard of this show. Only 1 or 2 other shows even come close to its level. It’s difficult to re-create the relationship between Light and L. The character development and the psychological games between them are the real driving force behind the series.
It’s rare that the you find yourself backing both teams in a game. But, that’s exactly what happens here. You want L to figure out who Kira is. While, you secretly want Light to avoid detection. If you disagreed with Light’s convictions from the start, you will still want to see him continue to plot and scheme. Even if it’s just to extend the game of cat and mouse.
Besides the psychological game, you watch a young man’s fall from idealism into something much darker. Morality and justice are called into question. Does the world need someone to protect it from the actions of evil people? Is killing people the right thing to do? Who decides what is right and wrong? These are just a few questions this anime throws your way.
This is one of the most recommended animes ever, and for good reason. You may as well begin with this pillar of the genre and then work your way around from there.
2. Terror in Resonance (残響のテロル Zankyō no Teroru)
Terror in Resonance Synopsis - From Anime News Network
The perpetrators are two boys who call themselves "Sphinx." The attack was just the beginning of the grandiose game they are playing that will envelop all of Japan.
Terror in Resonance PV
- 11 episodes
- July 11, 2014 - September 26, 2014
Why Should You Watch Terror in Resonance?
This one is much more action-based than Death Note. There are also some elements borrowed from espionage movies. It’s the most realistic out of this article’s three recommended anime.
There are two main characters that carry out these “terrorist” attacks throughout Tokyo. You would think that the hunt and possible capture of these two would be what pulls in the audience. But, it’s not.
What’s more intriguing are the motivations and history behind their actions. What drove them to seek revenge on Japan’s government? How are these young men able to pull of these elaborate plans while escaping the law enforcement? What is their overall plan? And possibly most important, why are we rooting for them to succeed?
From the beginning, you are attracted to their personalities. Even though they are blowing up parts of Tokyo, you get a sense that what they’re doing isn’t inherently wrong. They aren’t just agents of mayhem.
By now, you’ve probably realised that I love learning about a character’s history and seeing their motivations come into view. This show does that extremely well, especially for the amount of episodes it has.
Combine that with planting bombs, clues based on mythology, and geniuses trying to one-up each other and you have a strong non-stop action thriller.
Steins;Gate Synopsis - From Anime News Network
He and his friend Itaru Hashida inadvertently create a gadget able to send messages to the past. The discovery and experimentation of this instrument become the catalyst of fundamental alterations to the present. Oblivious of the consequences of their actions, Rintaro and his friends end up creating modifications of grievous proportions.
He must then try to find a way to return as close as possible to the original timeline in order to save his precious lab members.
- 24 episodes
- April 6, 2011- September 14, 2011
Why Should You Watch Steins;Gate?
Time Travel. There you go, one of the best reasons to watch anything. But, it isn’t about a show where time travel occurs. It’s not one of those shows where characters are thrown into a random time period and then forced to find a way to return home. The whole story revolves around time travel, the manipulation of time, and the cause and effect of using it.
Most media (anime, books, movies, TV shows) have tried their own take on time travel and have come up short. But, Steins;Gate hits a homerun in this department. It sticks to some key rules that don’t allow for deviation or confusion. You are always thinking about what is happening and what could happen, but you don’t get lost in the mess of infinite possibilities. The core story and motivations are easy to follow.
The mad scientist tries to desperately change (specific) events to save his companions. So, of course the audience follows along and tries to ascertain how he can use time manipulation to get the ultimate result he’s looking for. Though Okabe’s adventure is central to the story, I would argue that there is another (possibly deeper) element to this show.
You could view this anime from an entirely different perspective. Without giving away key plot details, I’ll simply say that the majority of the show could be simply Okabe’s imagination. He does display some schizophrenic tendencies. Plus, he experiences some very traumatizing events. So, it is not too far-fetched to think his psyche may have fractured and he created this grand story of time-travel to help deal with his own personal reality.
As I said, that is simply another way to view this show. But, it definitely adds another layer of psychological depth. And after all, isn’t that what this thriller genre is about?
If you enjoy these shows then I strongly urge you to check out some of our recommendations for anime similar to Death Note
I’m sure that once you’ve finished these you’ll want to move on to other series. So take a look at our Tips for choosing anime.
Also, be sure to check out our Guide to streaming anime so that you can watch these and other great shows.
This is an article in a series written for anime beginners.
Here is a previous article written about action anime. And one more about sci-fi anime.
In a Series Written for Anime Beginners.
Thank you for reading this and the previous beginner’s articles. As I said earlier, we have one more article left in this guide. Stay tuned for that!