See also: Coverage from Anime Expo 2011

Anime Expo will take over downtown Los Angeles once again beginning on June 29. For four days, anime fans, often dressed in elaborate costumes, will gather at the Los Angeles Convention Center to check out the latest shows from Japan, take in a few concerts and party until late in the night.

At Anime Expo, the focus is typically on the latest hit anime series and features. If you aren't a hardcore fan of Japanese cartoons, it can be easy to feel a little lost. So before you head out to the convention, catch up on your anime viewing with these five shows. All of the titles listed below will have some sort of presence at the convention, whether it's an appearance from one actor or the bulk of the team behind the series. Also, every one of our picks is available to watch for free online. Check them out before you hit the convention floor.

5. Blue Exorcist

Blue Exorcist is a great action series with a lot of heart in it. The story follows Rin Okumura, who grew up in the care of a priest who is also an exorcist and also happens to be Satan's son. The 25-episode series first ran last year in Japan and the U.S. and you can still catch streaming episodes on Crunchyroll, Hulu and Anime News Network.

Nobuhiku Okamoto, who voices Rin, will be a guest of honor at AX. Also, the president of Aniplex, who released Blue Exorcist, will be on hand at the convention. The fourth volume of the DVD set will be released in the U.S. on June 19.

4. Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed

Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed is a 12-episode supernatural anime centered around a mail carrier who delivers letters from the recently deceased. The letters contain information that was unknown during the writer's lifetime.

Shigofumi is an older show — it came out in 2008 — and there are only two episodes available on Hulu. It's well worth the watch, though, for its intriguing concept and solid writing. Tatsuo Sato, who directed the series, is a guest of honor at Anime Expo this year.

3. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

You've probably seen Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt mentioned on this blog before. The anime series, which came out nearly two years ago, was an immediate hit when it began simulcast broadcasts on Crunchyroll. The story revolves around angels, Panty and Stocking Anarchy, whose unruliness gets them kicked out of Heaven. They are rude and, oftentimes, downright mean, but they have the power to save the day in Daten City over and over again until they can get back home.

Both subtitled and dubbed versions of the NSFW comedy are available to watch on Funimation's website and the complete series will be out on DVD in July. Meanwhile, Jamie Marchi, who was the lead writer for the U.S. dub and voiced Panty, is one of the guests of honor at Anime Expo this year.

2. Tiger & Bunny

Every so often, a series comes out that really gets anime fans talking. Tiger & Bunny is one of those shows. This 25-episode series has everything you'll want in an anime, a futuristic setting, lots of action, cool character design and a good dollop of humor. The premise is simple– superheroes must save the world– but the execution, complete with show-within-a-show Heroes TV, is clever.

Tiger & Bunny came out last year in Japan with U.S. simulcasts (subtitled) on Hulu and Anime News Network. You can still watch episodes for free via those channels.

This year at AX, Nobuhiko Okamoto, who played Ivan Karelin (Origami Cyclone) in Tiger & Bunny will make an appearance. Let's hope there are a lot of Tiger & Bunny cosplayers this year too, because the superhero costumes on this show are pretty cool.

1. Fate/Zero

Judging from Anime Expo's roster of special guests, it's safe to say that Fate/Zero will be an important part of this year's conventions. The series' director, Ei Aoki, will be on hand along with producers Hikaru Kondo and Atsuhiro Iwakami. Lead voice actor Rikiya Koyama will also make an appearance, as well Koichiro Natsume, president of Aniplex, who released the show. Even Lisa, the singer who handled the series' opening theme, will be at the convention.

Fate/Zero is a prequel to the hit visual novel/anime Fate/stay Night. The story revolves around the fourth War of the Holy Grail, which is, essentially, a competition where the winner (if there is one), will receive a miracle. The show is filled with magic and drama. It also features a lot of characters and a nuanced plot, so it's best to watch this when you can give the series your complete attention.

Fate/Zero launched last year in Japan and the U.S. New episodes air on video site Nico Nico Saturday mornings at 8:30 a.m. PST. You can also check out the series on Crunchyroll and Hulu. The show is currently in its second season.

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