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We've Found The Perfect Gateway Anime Series

Starting in the mid-1990s and well into the 2000s, Japanese anime was heavily marketed to children in English-speaking countries, such that shows like "Dragonball Z" and "Yu-Gi-Oh!" felt like mainstream popular culture as much as anything else on TV. Now, kids who grew up watching these series have helped anime become cool and marketable in the present day — not just to superfans of Japanese animation, but more-or-less to the general public. Take, for example, a hoodie adorned with a character from modern classic anime "One Piece" retailing for hundreds of dollars on high end streetwear site SSENSE, or the fact that Season 5 of "Jojo's Bizarre Adventure" cracked Netflix's Top 10 list.

While anime may be cooler than ever before, simply enjoying some of the most popular anime series can necessitate a great deal of investment from new viewers. "One Piece," for instance, is more than 1000 episodes long and still in the midst of airing (via Crunchyroll). Enjoying a hit romantic comedy like "Kaguya-sama: Love Is War," meanwhile, is entirely possible without context, but understanding what it means if a character is a tsundere certainly helps.

Fortunately for those entirely new to the anime world — but looking for a good entry point — "Spy x Family," which premiered in 2022 and is available to stream on Crunchyroll, may just be the perfect gateway series.

Spy x Family introduces common anime tropes in a non-fantasy setting

Technically, "anime" is simply a Japanese word for animation (via Tanoshii Japanese), and is therefore an umbrella term broadly referring to cartoons produced in Japan. What an anime can contain, then, is bounded only by the confines of animation as a medium. That said, many of the most popular anime shows share a common language, consisting of everything from stock character types to exaggerated facial expressions that function as shorthand for certain emotions.

A new anime viewer approaching, say, the wildly popular action fantasy series "Demon Slayer," must therefore learn both the rules of its intricate fantasy world and some of the broader anime tropes at work in its presentation to enjoy all it has to offer. By contrast, "Spy x Family" takes place in a fictional European country with very few fantastical elements. Those new to anime should have no trouble grasping the rules of its largely realistic setting, and can then become quickly accustomed to some of the common conventions it employs from time to time. Furthermore, as a mainstream anime quite possibly attempting to appeal to the growing international market (via AJA), such tropes are few and far between. This means that, thankfully, knowing the definition of "tsundere" is entirely irrelevant to enjoying "Spy x Family."

English-speaking viewers should recognizes its main sources of inspiration

Although "Demon Slayer" may be an extremely popular anime series in the West, a comprehensive understanding of its setting requires some knowledge of Japan's Taisho era (via Anime News Network), making for more difficult viewing for those with no knowledge of Japanese history. By contrast, while "Spy x Family" is similarly built on existing cultural touchstones, its principal points of references are genres with which many Western viewers are likely already familiar.

Namely, as the show's title suggests, the spy genre serves as the principal source of inspiration for the overarching plot of "Spy x Family." In a broader sense, each member of its central trio of characters are hiding considerable skills from one another, both likening them to the cast of a team-up narrative like "Ocean's Eleven," and stories about sustaining a lie, like Disney's "Aladdin."

So, while like most anime, a comprehensive understanding of "Spy x Family" requires some outside knowledge, most of the required reading, so-to-speak, consists of works or types of works which are well-known to non-anime viewers.

Virtually anyone can relate to its story

Arguably the biggest contributor to the low barrier of entry to enjoying "Spy x Family" is that it's thematically a story about — again, as its title makes clear — family. Simply put, everybody has a relationship to the notion of family, be it positive or negative, and "Spy x Family" explores the meaning of family with a great deal of nuance.

The first protagonist viewers meet is superspy Loid Forger. He's tasked with infiltrating a gathering at a prestigious elementary school, and therefore adopts a secretly psychic girl with a troubled past named Anya to enroll in the school, earning him access to its social events. Loid then marries an assassin named Yor who's in search of cover for her illicit assassination gigs — thus, the makeshift family at the center of the series.

Although Loid, Anya, and Yor are all using one another for varying ulterior motives, this story works because they all appear to be good people who care about their familial relationship in spite of its insincere foundation. Rather than an unlikely hero using a new superpower to defeat a world-ending evil — a common anime scenario that may well alienate total outsiders — "Spy x Family" simply asks its viewers to root for family.

While the show can be enjoyed entirely on its own merits, anyone interested in approaching the anime medium as a complete newbie would have a hard time finding a better point of entry than the grounded, Western-influenced, family comedy of "Spy x Family."