"You've never watched anime? You have to watch Akira!"
Before some idiot gets his panties in a wad and proves that I should block him for being an insofferable git, I can fairly say I've been hooked on some form of anime since at least the broadcast of Space Cruiser Yamato as "Star Blazers" in the early eighties, and in high school was swapping videotape copies to watch everything from Megazone 23 to Area 88 with no subtitles or dubs. Some of us with two VCR's were starting to edit to gether bits and pieces to music - the battle/space launch sequence from Honneamise works really well with Def leppard's "Rocket."
What drives me nuts about much of this crowd though is how insufferably tone-deaf a lot of them are, and yes, part of my anger is because I used to be one of those idiots until I better learned how not to be a useless git myself.
Take the common recommendation of Akira I commonly hear as a first movie, or Cowboy Bebop. Or Ghost in the Shell.
OK, to be fair, the second isn't as bad, but for someone who isn't already hooked, still has a fair number of quirks and overdramatization due to the stylized nature of Japanese storytelling that makes it less than ideal for a lot of people who're not already going "that looks cool, man".
Look, it's beautifully done, especially for the time, and still holds up. The mechanical designs are cool as hell. It was in part an inspiration for a Kanye West video, and the set pieces are stunning. But it's alien to most people's expectations, and often grotesque (though not pointlessly so). It also has the same kind of pacing issues that 2001 does.
So what's a good intro? The point is to get something close enough to what someone is already used to that nevertheless gives them a taste of what else is available, not to do the equivalent of showing off "the best movie evar." For my money, depending on the kind of story they're in the mood for, fairy tale or noir cyberpunk thriller, I'd go with Miyazaki's Spirited Away, or the series Psycho Pass.
The latter is a noir-ish story of a "utopian" future where people can have their emotional stability read in real time, and those too close to the breaking point are locked away, or killed. This is policed by people who are already on the borderline . The series asks and explores a number of interesting questions about life, humanity, what it means to live with emotions suppressed - and being a series explores this in more depth than Equilibrium - as well as looking at the impact of psychopaths, and other factors in the stability of this "utopia," - including the price paid to enforce it. Aurini also goes into the paralells to R/K theory in his video on bitchute:
So we come to Spirited Away, and why even it is difficult to use as a gateway.
Miyazaki is a genius who, despite the dark and gritty Mononoke, specializes in relatively innocent yet deep fairy tales. In some ways, his work is the epitome of Japanese story structure, yet some of the most accessible. Nevertheless, even Spirited Away can leave people wondering why things didn't make sense.
First, while the typical western dramatic arc can be fit into the more typical Japanese structure of Kishōtenketsu, the focus is more in setting up the situation, the characters, and the event/ twist that happens, then following through to the fallout and consequences. Repeat as necessary.
This results in some series spending tens of episodes showing you all the people involved and how they got to the point of the dramatic events, before resolving everything in a handful of episodes. This also means that the antagonists are often very well fleshed out - or not even bad people at all but having fundamentally incompatible goals. Miyazaki especially leans on the latter type, a lot. In Spirited Away, there are selfish and otherwise flawed people, but there is no leering bad guy. Chihiro has to grow up, learn manners, and persevere in order to save her parents, where she starts out a spoiled and shallow little brat. The logic of the world she finds herself in, of spirits and myth, is beautiful and terrifying - but the conflicts do not come through significant directed malevolence.
Nevertheless, there's an alienness in assumptions. Leaving aside all the cultural referents and touchstones I'm sure I've missed, a lot of people are thrown by how, and more importantly, why the parents are turned into pigs in the beginning. The answer is simple, and actually easily understandable by those who still take religion seriously. As they drive down the wrong turn, they see statues and shrines - the mother even explains the purpose of the mini spirit shrines. They are fundamentally decent people, who are aware of their cultural background. Yet, good modern materialists, they don't take it seriously. As they explore what appears to be an abandoned theme park and discover a feast laid out and prepared, the mother and father dig in, declaring they can pay the bill when someone comes around.
No-one attuned to a pagan or a christian background with roadside shrines, in a place rife with them, seeing a plate or meal set out for no-one, is going to assume that the meal is for them to freely dig in without asking first. Even if they would scoff at spirits, the food wasn't theirs to take. They didn't take the world around them seriously.
And so the extremity of the punishment. They went into fairy-land, or the underworld, and ate of the food there, and now were trapped.
Despite the alienness of some of the assumptions, the movie, as well as others of his, do translate well, and are worth watching. The trailer fairly sells what the movie is about - and if it piques your interest, you'll be rewarded.
If not - no worries.