Some uncultured swine credited Netflix for the increase in anime watching.
The only thing Netflix should have credit for is allowing an easy and seamless way for anime lovers to binge. Other than that, Netflix still lacks the plethora of even mainstream anime commonly viewed. Anime’s popularity spans way before Netflix, with many of us going through great lengths to find access. I, myself can’t pinpoint when exactly I started watching anime but I know exactly where.
Cartoon Network’s Toonami block.
This is a sort of Holy Grail for the OG anime. Many of the throwback originals aired during this block, which still serve as gateway anime. These were the shows that started the entrance into the fandom. They were the breadcrumbs leading to the gingerbread house of anime. Although Toonami has finally returned to us, the shows before 2007 were the ones that truly impacted our view of animation. Not to mention any obsession with Japan and it’s culture after the fact. So for the sake of basking in the memories of where it all began for us 90s babies, here are the gateway anime that still has a special place in our hearts.
Sailor Moon (1998)
Do I even need to explain this one? We see met 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino befriend Luna the black cat who gives her a magical brooch. This brooch enables her to become Sailor Moon. Along with her four new friends who become the Sailor Soldiers, they are destined to save the Earth from the forces of evil. What happens when an “average” girl, shrine maiden, a studious girl, a transfer student, and an aspiring idol team up? Unlimited adventures.
Dragon Ball Z (1998)
Ah yes, the most popular anime for male Blerds. Sliding in a few months after Sailor Moon, the series picks up five years after Dragon Ball. Living his life as the father of Gohan, Goku discovers he is part of a nearly extinct extraterrestrial race the Saiyans. Between knowing he was suppose to conquer the planet to having to sacrifice himself to save his son, these aren’t even the craziest things that happen to Goku here.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (2000)
In the distant future, Mankind has colonized space, with clusters of space colonies at each of the five Earth-Moon Lagrange points. The colonies wishing to be free of the oppressive, join together in a movement headed by the pacifist Heero Yuy. But Yuy is shot, which forces the colonies to search for other paths to peace. The assassination prompts five disaffected scientists from the Organization of the Zodiac, more commonly referred to as OZ, to turn rogue. The story of Gundam Wing begins with the start of “Operation Meteor”: the scientists’ plan for revenge against OZ. The operation involves five teenage boys, trained by each of the five scientists, then sent to Earth in extremely advanced mobile suits known as “Gundams.” Their mission is to use their Gundams to attack OZ directly.
The Big O (2001)
The story takes place forty years after a mysterious occurrence causes the residents of Paradigm City to lose their memories. The series follows Roger Smith, Paradigm City’s top Negotiator. He provides this “much needed service” with the help of a robot named R. Dorothy Wayneright and his butler Norman Burg. When the need arises, Roger calls upon Big O, a giant relic from the city’s past.
Cardcaptor Sakura (2001)
Ten-year-old Sakura Kinomoto accidentally releases a set of magical cards known as Clow Cards. Each card has its own unique ability and can assume an alternate form when activated. The guardian of the cards, Cerberus, emerges from the book and chooses Sakura to retrieve the missing cards. As she finds each card, she battles its magical personification and defeats it by sealing it away. Cerberus acts as her guide, while her best friend and second cousin, Tomoyo Daidouji films her exploits while providing costumes.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (2003)
With only two episodes airing on Toonami before moving to Adult Swim, Neon Genesis Evangelion is the robot anime of robot anime. Evangelion is set fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm, particularly in the futuristic fortified city of Tokyo-3. The protagonist is Shinji, a teenage boy whose father recruits him to the shadowy organization Nerv. He’s made to pilot a giant mecha called an “Evangelion” into combat with alien beings called “Angels.” The series explores the experiences of Evangelion pilots and Nerv who attempt preventing any Angels from causing another cataclysm. We also see them deal with the quest of finding out the real truth behind events and organizational moves.
Yu Yu Hakusho (2003)
The anime that started it all for me and another show moved from Adult Swim to Toonami. The series tells the story of Yusuke Urameshi, a teenage delinquent struck and killed by a car while attempting to save a child’s life. After Koenma, the son of the ruler of the Underworld, presents him tests, he revives Yusuke. Koenma appoints him the title of “Underworld Detective”, with which he must investigate various cases involving demons and apparitions in the human world. I definitely have vague memories of watching this in the basement when I was eight.
Rurouni Kenshin (2003)
This was a close second in my gateway anime as I saw this along with Yu Yu Hakusho. The story begins during the 11th year of the Meiji period in Japan (1878) and follows a former assassin known as Hitokiri Battosai. After his work against the bakufu, Hitokiri Battosai disappears to become Himura Kenshin. This new identity allows him to be a wandering swordsman who protects others with a vow to never take another life. He stays at the swordsmanship school of Kamiya Kaoru after defeating a fake Battosai, and she notes he is peace-loving. Although he gains many friends, he also deals with his fair share of enemies, new and old.
Rave Master (2004)
Before Hiro Mashima made Fairy Tail there was Rave Master. In 0015, Dark Bring, dark stones that bestow powerful magic to their owners, corrupts the world. Shiba Roses, the Rave Master, attempts to destroy the “mother” of all of the Dark Brings with the Ten Commandments sword. However, the aftermath causes a massive explosion, destroying one-tenth of the known world. Shiba, protected by his special guardian “dog” Plue, holds onto the Rave required to power his sword. Plue and the five remaining fragments of Rave, however, get scattered around the world. The series follows Haru Glory, discovers he is the second Rave Master. Shiba entrusts the Ten Commandments, Plue, and his Rave to him so Haru can set off on a journey to find the missing Rave stones. And yes, there are Rave Master x Fairy Tail crossover episodes.
Zatch Bell (2005)
Now this I remember very clearly and regret not following up when it left Toonami. Mamodos go to Earth every 1,000 years to battle to be king of the Mamodo world. Each Mamodo needs a human partner in order to use their spell book, a book that seals the powers of the Mamodo. When read aloud, the spells are cast by the Mamodo producing many effects. If the spell book is burned, the Mamodo is forced to return to the Mamodo world. The story follows Kiyo Takamine, a junior high school student. His father discovers an unconscious child named Zatch Bell while in a forest, and sends Zatch to live with Kiyo. Unlike the other Mamodo, Zatch lost his memory of the Mamodo world. Kiyo learns about the spell book when he reads a spell causing Zatch to fire lightning from his mouth. As Kiyo and Zatch begin to encounter different Mamodos, they discover that there are those who don’t wish to fight and those who fight for the wrong reasons.
Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (2005)
I know most of us try to forget this foolishness at times. In the year 300X, the world is under the tyrannical rule of the Maruhage Empire and their ruler Tsuru Tsurulina IV. His Hair Hunt troop captures innocent bystanders’ hair, leaving the people victims of the Hair Hunt troop’s head shaving. Standing against this evil is the heroic, but bizarre, rebel Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo who fights the Hair Hunt Troop with his powerful Fist of the Nose Hair. His team consists of the normal teen girl Beauty, the smelly teen warrior Heppokomaru, and the Hajike leader Don Patch.
The rebooted Toonami is good and all, but it’s early days still hold fond memories for us.
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Cute and Depressed Black Girl is a grad student who binges anime when she's supposed to be studying. She also reads and re-reads a lot of Gambit x Rogue fanfic after watching the Cajun Spice episode of X-Men Evolution multiple times. When she's not reading or binging, she's in the dance studio getting her queen on.