Detective Conan is one of the premiere detective series in Japan with a long legacy of entertaining kids and adults. It is a wonderful combination of mystery, humor, suspense, action, and even a little sweet romance. After so many years it has a robust and colorful cast of characters who rarely wear out their welcome. But Conan isn’t changing the face of anime, it isn’t deep, and it won’t make you contemplate the meaning of life however it will entertaining you. I find it easy to fall in love with if you let yourself.
With any long running series it can be extremely intimidating to try to decide how to jump into the franchise. With over 60 manga volumes, 500 anime episodes, 14 movies, OVAs, specials, and a live action spin-off as of when this article is being posted it might seem impossible to casually start watching the adventures of Japan’s favorite animated detective. Do you just start from the beginning when the series might be rough? Do you pick a movie and hope it is self-contained and representative of the work as a whole? Do you watch the latest offering and hope you are not totally lost? Don’t panic. We are going to offer you the basics to let anyone with even a casual interest jump into the franchise.
What to know: Conan is so long running that remembering all the little details can be a challenge so we’re going to give you the most basic pieces that will allow you to start anywhere in the Conan library.
- 17-year-old Shinichi, already well-known as one of the best sleuths in Japan, one day runs afoul the Black Organization and is given an experimental poison that regresses him to elementary school age. He is forced to take the alias Conan Edogawa as he tries to find a cure for his condition.
- Conan moves in with with former childhood friend Ran and her father P.I. Kogoro. Since Kogoro is rather incompetent Conan is almost always forced solves the cases and make it seem like Kogoro solved them instead. Conan has gadgets to knock out Korogo and impersonate his voice in his collection. Ran’s best friend Sonoko often gets involved in cases and Conan will sometimes knock her out if Korogo is not around.
- The “Detective Boys” (even though two are girls) are Conan’s friends in elementary school and consist of the lumbering Genta, timid Mitsuhiko, and cute Ayumi. Later, stoic Ai, a former member of the Black Organization who took the same drug as Conan to escape them, joins the group. These kids are often in toe with Conan and get into plenty of mischief.
- Dr. Agase provides all of the gadgets Conan uses throughout the series and is looking for a cure for Conan’s condition, he is good-natured, a bit daffy, and helps the kids in their adventures. He takes Ai in after she escapes the Black Organization.
- Conan normally works with is Inspector Megure. He is almost always seen with his trademark hat and trench coat. There are other regular police officers who appear on and off in both the Tokyo police department and other law enforcement agencies but they usually serendipitously mention who they are to remind viewers.
- Heiji is the son of a police chief and also a teenage detective often considered on par with Shinichi. At first he is a rival but the two become friends.
- Kaito Kid is a charming phantom thief who is one of Conan’s few criminal rivals. He is a jewel thief who doesn’t kill.
- The Black Organization is part of the central plot, viewers still only know minimal details about them. They are usually involved in some monstrous illegal activity that is tangentially related to a case Conan is involved with. All the high ranking members of the organization have code names based on alcohol. Conan is always on the lookout for the nefarious long-haired Gin who is responsible for Conan’s condition.
What to expect: If you know Conan only by its name, there are few things to know about the show in order to really enjoy it and accept it for what it is.
- Detective Conan is a children’s show or more accurately a family show. Therefore it has a little bit for everyone, there are funny and child-wish-fulfillment moments for the kids and tense mystery and logic for the adults.
- In earlier seasons and films they recap the basic plot and characters of Conan at the beginning so you can jump in fairly easily. Also they often throw up name plates for characters both new and old. This has unfortunately stopped with newer additions to the series probably because they assume everyone knows Conan nowadays.
- Conan himself uses his sharp mind and attention to detail to solve the cases. He is a genius on the level of Sherlock Holmes so don’t expect to figure out everything in each mystery. In fact, it is a lot easier to determine who the culprit is (though still difficult) than their motive many times.
- Not every case is going to be epic. Some play out more mundanely than others and some can be downright goofy at times. But there are plenty of great head-scratchers.
- Conan uses super science, he has a ton of gadgets that help him through each episode, kind of like Batman. However, super science doesn’t solve the cases; the gadgets exist purely to buoy his being trapped in a 7-year-old’s body. All cases make a good effort to follow Knox’s Rules; while things outside the case can be affected by super science the actual facts of the case are not, nor is super science used to commit the crime.
- There is a variable level of violence in the series, each episode is different so you never know what you’ll get, how graphic it will be, or how macabre it will go. The series is fond of gruesome and grisly murders including decapitation.
- The overarching plot of Detective Conan comes in few and far between spurts. For example, the Black Organization appears in the first two episodes and not again for the rest of the first season.
- Our advice is don’t marathon this show or at least keep it under 10 episodes at a time. Some of the fun is removed from long viewings and you start to pick up on the formula of the episodes.
Where to start (and not start): Most things you start at the beginning, and while you can certainly do so with Conan it isn’t necessary. In fact if you want to experience Conan the best we have a few things you may want to try first.
- It is totally okay to just watch the Conan movies. They are the biggest blockbusters for obvious reasons and they tell you what you need to know at the beginning of each movie.
- Do start with Last Wizard of the Century (movie #3) which has a wonderful blend of suspense, history, and intrigue that keeps you guessing. It also boasts a huge portion of the cast in its story including Kaito Kid.
- Don’t start with The Timebombed Skyscraper (movie #1) because it just doesn’t quite have its footing making it easy to see that it is the first one. Unfortunately, this means you shouldn’t watch Countdown to Heaven (movie #5) because it ties into the first.
- Do start with episode 11 (11 and 12 in the Funimation release) which is a one-hour special that is equal parts mysterious, haunting, and baffling.
- Don’t judge the series based on any random episode. As we mentioned they are variable and can swing from silly kid stuff to deadly and everything in between which means you never know what that week’s tale is going to offer.
- Do start with The Raven Chaser (movie #13) it is one of the latest so it has slightly updated character designs and more slick animation. It also involves the Black Organization which guarantees a flashy, dangerous, and climactic ending.
This list is more about helping you decide if you want to watch Detective Conan for real. The starts we mentioned really give you a taste of what Conan can be and will let you know if you should continue on with the series. The main thing to remember when watching Detective Conan is to have fun with it!
In the future we will have individual guides to the movies and each season of Detective Conan. These subsequent guides will tell you what episodes are essential to the main plot, which episodes things are introduced such as characters and gadgets, and which are the best episodes to watch because they showcase how good Detective Conan can be.