At a Glance: Hayate the Combat Butler
Hayate the Combat Butler, also known by the Japanese title Hayate no Gotoku, is a comedy with a pretty familiar servant/master romance plot. But there's nothing cliché about this show, which is great for anime fans because it makes fun of anime tropes and references a lot of other anime shows.
Hayate is a student, supporting himself with a part-time job. He lies about his age in order to work, which he has to do because his parents are bad with money. A tough situation suddenly gets worse when said parents basically leave him to be enslaved by the yakuza to pay off their astronomical gambling debt. Luckily, while running away from the yakuza thugs trying to collect him, he runs into a rich girl, and she pays off the debt to help him. In return, he goes to live with that girl, Nagi, and insists on working for her as a butler to repay her. Hayate is determined to work hard to succeed at any cost, in not only helping out around the house, but in protecting Nagi as a bodyguard as well. Hence the "Combat Butler" part of the title.
Hayate the Combat Butler
Manga by Kenjiro Hata
2-volume light novel, 4 OVA episodes, 2 spinoff series, 1 film, 1 live-action drama
Hayate the Combat Butler has a lot of anime "in-jokes" and references to other anime. This makes it very funny for veteran anime fans, but it might be alienating for viewers unfamiliar with such references. It's a show that is very funny and also very heartwarming and romantic. The characters seem like people, not just like they're filling a character archetype mold, even though they all have some traits that make them recognizable as anime character types as well. Hayate is a male version of the common "plucky poor girl in a rich place" type of character, like Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket, or Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club. And Nagi is a twofer as both the rich girl and the tsundere.
Basically, expect wacky hiijinks and slapstick comedy, with a lot of references to anime and a lot of "breaking the fourth wall" type humor.