Why you should care

Because it’s creating a new generation of anime fans,

It’s a picture of near annihilation. Humanity has been hunted almost to extinction by the Titans, man-eating giants. The remaining citizens have sequestered themselves within circular walled cities: the leaders in the inner circle, the commoners on the outer walls. “We’re cattle, cattle!” rages 10-year-old Eren Yeager, who wants people to rebel against their confinement. But when the Titans break through the walls, the young lad’s life takes a tragic turn: A Titan decides Eren’s mother will make the perfect afternoon snack and crushes her body between its giant jaws.

This is not your traditional anime — no hearts and flowers here. And instead of sparkly ponies and blushing maidens, the action in Attack on Titan is dark, scary and decidedly unpretty: The animation style is stark, the colors muted and the characters drawn in simple slashing lines. But what makes the nightmare-inducing show such addictive viewing is its story. So if you think all anime is Sailor Moon, read on.

[It’s] shaping up to be a gateway show for Western anime fans.

Lauren Orsini, anime blogger and editor of OtakuJournalist.com

With nowhere to go and nothing left to care about, Eren and his orphaned friends sign up as cadets, and the story follows his journey for vengeance, freedom and self-discovery. Naturally, there’s a twist — without giving too much away, Eren has to decide whether or not to ally himself with evil for the greater good. The psychological twist and corresponding self-doubt add dramatic pathos, the high-energy fight scenes keep viewers glued to the screen and there’s a host of lovable supporting characters if you want to root for someone less self-involved than Eren.

The show, which first aired in 2013, came to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in 2014, where it reached approximately 1.5 million views a week. Season two, released this April, has been similarly successful. It’s an adaption of a Japanese manga of the same title written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. It’s sold 66 million copies worldwide, spawned two live-action movies and launched a dizzying number of franchised spinoffs. There is an Attack on Titan–themed ATM in Tokyo and branded hot dogs and video games. In 2015, hundreds of people descended on San Francisco’s AT&T Park to play “Escape the Walled City.”

Attack on Titan is “shaping up to be a gateway show for Western anime fans,” says Lauren Orsini, an anime blogger and editor of OtakuJournalist.com. “It shows the contrast between the sanitized kid shows that Western fans grew up with and the appeal of Eastern cartoons that are absolutely not for kids [and] introduces people to a completely different style of animated entertainment.” Attack on Titan, Orsini says, is creating a new generation of fans, similar to how Sailor Moon hooked people in the ’90s.

Attack on Titan is not the only anime to dip into the darker side of animation. Japanese anime Death Note, which features the anti-hero murdering people by writing their names in his journal, is arguably more disturbing. Attack on Titan has a lightness that counterbalances the serious themes. You get attached to the complex characters and flawed fighters and feel connected with their desperate fight to save themselves and their world.

If guts and gore aren’t your thing, this probably isn’t the show for you. But if you want to explore something strangely real, Attack on Titan makes for compelling viewing. Watch it before the inevitable Hollywood remake — one is in the works, to be produced by David Heyman of Gravity and I Am Legend fame — comes out and ruins it all. To quote Eren Yeager, “If you win, you live. If you lose, you die. If you don’t fight, you can’t win.” Make of that what you will in these tumultuous times.

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If you’d want to drink it, eat it, wear it, ride it, drive it; if it’d be cool to see, listen to or do, we’re writing about it.