Should you be familiar with the analogy of tent-pole programming, you’ll understand that some shows in a library are considered essential viewing. Pardoning the pun, it’s clear that Attack on Titan most certainly stakes its claim.

Attack on Titan began as a one-shot manga in 2006 when its creator, Hajime Isayama, was only 20 years old, and has since gone on to have incredible success. It would join the ranks of serialisation in 2009 as part of the monthly Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine, and is closing in on the top 10 bestselling manga of all time.

An anime adaptation would follow in 2013 that would span three seasons across several years, with its fourth and final season set to premiere this December. Of course, you’ll be able to watch all four seasons here on AnimeLab, as well as the live action adaptations and comedic offshoot… More on that in a bit.

Set in a fictional land that resembles Europe in the early 1900s, Attack on Titan tells the story of the last pocket of humanity. Gargantuan, mindless beasts roam the plains, causing extraordinary destruction in their wake. These are the Titans. Little is known about their true origin or motives, beyond their insatiable hunger for human flesh.

In a desperate attempt to salvage some semblance of peace, walls are erected and townships are built within. To mitigate extinction even further, interior walls are set in place, and in turn, a hierarchy is established. The outermost wall, Wall Maria, is where the majority of the people reside. These are your commoners and blue collar workers, and even among them, smaller communities have been strategically placed on the fringes. Wall Rose comes next, acting as a safeguard and refuge, while Wall Sina houses the royal family and remaining members of society.

Due to these herculean efforts, the dwindling members of humankind enjoyed a century of tenuous calm, unafraid of the predators dwelling nearby while ultimately living as prisoners of their own creation.

This was until an irregularly large and aggressive unit of Titans broke a hole through Wall Maria, and in doing so, wiped out most of the population. Among the affected is Eren Jaeger and his friends, and he vows to take revenge upon the beasts that stole everything from him.

 

Nice to meet you. Nicer to eat you.

Titans come in many different shapes and sizes, with the average height somewhere in the realm of 5-15 metres.

For the most part, they are emotionless monsters, and indeed, there’s a childlike innocence to the their mannerisms. When not plodding along, they move in a disorganised fashion, often with a friendly smile on their faces. Once they have captured their prey, they proceed without malice, biting them in half and feasting merrily.

They have no reproductive organs or even a digestive tract, and though they can be temporarily immobilised if their achilles tendon is severed, the only way to properly destroy one is by targeting the nape of their neck.

If you miss this tiny area, the Titan’s body will eventually regenerate and it will continue on its way. Your options are to either be accurate or dead, but achieving the former is easier said than done.

Making matters worse, some Titans display unusual malice and are considered especially dangerous. The Colossal Titan is the most notable, and true to its name, it stands head and shoulders above all others. The destructive force of this foe is unlike anything seen before, and many wonder whether it even has a weakness at all. Maybe it’s… ticklish?

Addendum: the Colossal Titan is not ticklish. Please do not approach it with feathers.

 

Welcome to the front line, troops!

With their tiny little world thrown into chaos, the people look to the military to stave off their horrific demise. Eager cadets sign up to be put through the wringer, and upon graduation, they’ll be promoted to one of the three regiments.

The regiments’ crests (L-R): Garrison Regiment, Military Police & Scout Regiment.

The Garrison Regiment is tasked with maintaining the walls. They’re the first line of defence in case of a breach, and if they’re outmatched, it falls upon them to evacuate the townspeople. In times of tranquility, several members are notorious for slacking off and getting drunk.

Meanwhile, the Scout Regiment has the unenviable task of venturing beyond the safety of the walls, hunting and studying Titans in their natural habitat. Only the bravest and/or foolhardy need apply, as the average lifespan is alarmingly ephemeral.

The top 10 graduates are presented with a third option, enlisting with the Military Police if they so choose. These soldiers are considered the most elite, maintaining order within the town’s inner walls. Due to the cushy position, this regiment is unfortunately riddled with corruption.

But how best to thwart the Titans themselves? They aren’t likely to be felled with a stern finger wagging or a hefty fine. The most versatile tool for the job is omni-directional mobility gear, commonly referred to as ODM gear. Using this, soldiers are able to propel themselves through the air, latching onto surfaces with grappling hooks connected to the apparatus. It requires tall objects to optimise its use, and it consumes an obscene amount of gas in a short span of time.

In-hand, soldiers wield a pair of detachable blades. They’re sturdy enough to pierce the flesh of Titans and swift enough to wound or kill several in a row, however taking on such intensive pressure quickly dulls them. As such, carrying multiple backup blades at a time is crucial.

Like the gas in their ODM gear, the supply of blades in the heat of battle can prove devastatingly finite, and alas, the Titans are not patient enough to allow you an opportunity to source a replacement. At this point, hapless soldiers will soon discover exactly how crunchy they are. Ouch.

 

Prisoners of war

The cast of Attack on Titan is filled with characters you’ll grow attached to, but if you want to avoid heartbreak, make sure you don’t get too attached. This world is plagued with dangers great and small, and pretty much anyone could die at any moment. It’s equal parts thrilling and tragic.

The hero of this tale, Eren Jaeger, knows this truth all too well. As a young child, he idolised the exploits of the Scout Regiment and dreamt of a life beyond the walls. This ambition soon turned to seething hatred the day the Colossal Titan stole his innocence. Eren is a fiery, competitive young man who will never back down from a fight, for better or worse.

Wherever he goes, Mikasa usually isn’t far behind. The Jaeger family took Mikasa in at a young age, and she feels indebted to protect Eren at any cost. She’s absolutely capable of doing so, far surpassing him in hand-to-hand combat. She’s withdrawn to the point of seeming aloof, possessing a detached world view that belies her fiery spirit.

Speaking of spirit, that’s Armin’s MO. He’s the final member of this inseparable trio, wise beyond his years and adept at devising elaborate strategies to overcome the odds. Armin’s greatest weakness is his crippling self-doubt, and he sometimes finds himself frozen in place as he watches the horrors around him unfold.

Their closest link to the exploits of the military is Hannes of the Garrison Regiment. He’s well intending, but is quite the lush and spends most of his time playing cards and promoting tomfoolery. Fortunately, the perilous Scout Regiment features more awe-inspiring troops.

Steely nerved, even keeled and courageous, Erwin is the epitome of the perfect commander. Even when things look their most dire, he’s plotting his next move two steps ahead. His stoic countenance is enough to inspire legions of soldiers to follow his command, though perhaps you shouldn’t actually look into his mortality rate if you want to stay inspired.

His second in command, Captain Levi, is driven by a supreme sense of duty. What he lacks in charm, he makes up for in ability, carving up Titans in dazzling displays of violence. He’s basically what happens if you mix the unamused emoji with a pair of swords.

Section Commander Hange, on the other hand, is the antithesis to Levi’s dour demeanour, with her upbeat, obsessive personality. Formidable as she may be, she would much rather gush about the fascinating discoveries one can glean from Titan research.

This hardly skims the surface, but half the pleasure comes from learning about the engrossing denizens of this embattled community as you go.

Especially the gluttonous Sasha. She’s best girl, no arguments accepted. Potatoes for everyone!

 

[SPOILER] Humanity’s greatest weapon

In these beginner’s guides, we try to stray away from spoilers as much as we can, however one of Attack on Titan’s most significant plot points is in fact a major spoiler, and to omit it would feel disingenuous.

As such, if you want to go into this anime with only the essentials and be surprised as you go, please feel free to jump ahead to the next section. For the rest of us, we’re going to spoil the spoilers so spoilery we’ll feel downright spoilt.

…All right, the word sounds weird now. I think we can proceed.

When it looks as though all is lost, Eren discovers a latent power lurking deep within him that can finally turn the tides of battle, reclaiming hope for humanity after a generation of misery — the unprecedented ability to transform into a Titan.

How and why he is able to perform this prodigious feat is unknown even to him, and nobody can be certain of just how safe or stable it is. It certainly puts him on a more even footing with his foes, and watching him lay waste to hordes of Titan drones is quite the sight to see.


Perhaps something a little lighter?

So maybe all of this has piqued your fancy, but you’re after a more upbeat anime at the moment? Never fear, because Attack on Titan: Junior High offers all of the above in a festive package.

This spinoff comes completely out of left field, and that is undoubtedly part of its charm, lifting some of the most traumatic scenes from Attack on Titan and recreating them in chibi form.

As the title suggests, this version takes place in a high school setting, taking the cast’s playful quirks and greatly amplifying them. The attention to detail is bewitching (Mikasa’s running form is the epitome of kawaii), and in a lot of ways, it even gets to further explore the personalities of minor characters who didn’t last long enough to showcase themselves in the original AoT.

Throw in some of the famous tropes of the high school comedy genre like sporting events, summer festivals or tests of courage, and you’ve really got the perfect recipe for a feel-good, goofy anime that is wonderfully self-aware. It’s even better if you consider it a parodic companion piece, reliving every grim fatality without the severe consequences. People probably won’t die in a Titan encounter here, but their reckless carnage remains just as oppressive as ever.

It is relentless like its source material, albeit in a different sense; constantly keeping you engaged with its liveliness. Even the episode previews are spoken with the same solemn gravitas.

You simply won’t stop giggling the whole way. If Attack on Titan is the main course, Attack on Titan: Junior High is definitely the perfect dessert!


A true titan of anime

Attack on Titan transcends categorisation in a lot of ways. At its heart, it is a shōnen franchise, packed with action and intrigue, while crossing frequently into the realm of horror or science fiction, and even dabbling in comedy when the situation calls for it.

Make no mistake, though, because this series is suitably dark, and that’s even beyond the Titans gobbling everyone up. There is a grisly, sinister narrative underlying everything that has brought humanity to this point.

The world within the walls is rife with politics, petty crime, and all other manners of temptation. The people have taken their lives of uneasy safety for granted, rarely questioning the place they call home — a place where even the history of the walls themselves is cause for suspicion.

This is a story that hooks you in with its premise before truly opening your eyes with its resonance. Even if things were as simple as “big monsters eating people”, Attack on Titan would be a delight. However, this acts as a precursor to the true horror that’s yet to be discovered.

It’s sombre, gripping and merciless. Even the soldiers with a solid handle on the situation, such as Levi, operate with a kind of resignation that has dulled their senses to the bloody carnage. For seasoned veterans, it’s just another day in hell, and it could easily prove to be the last.

Consider it pragmatic misery if you will, but you can never truly prepare yourself for its heartrending bombshells, as they come so brilliantly out of nowhere. Feel safe and secure? The plot twist Titan is about to rock up on your doorstep and gobble you up, homey.

Much of the imagery of the grotesque Titans has made an indelible mark in anime’s history, and really, that’s just scratching the surface, as the human counterparts at their feet are just as entrancing. Needless to say, it simply has to be watched to be appreciated to its fullest.

With all that said, it’s time to strap on your ODM gear, equip some extra blades, and pack a tasty lunch… lest you become one yourself!