For me, there are two things that are absolute necessities in the kitchen. They can make or break you, and the option of cutting corners or shirking on high standards do not exist.
When it comes to knives, they’re multitudes of different types and brands that are available for either the home or pro cooks. I’ve been to some cooking supply stores and seen entire walls of glittering, honed, hanging pieces of death dealing weapons, ranging from pinky-lengthed paring knives to mass-murderer butcher knives.
When I first made my first forays into knife shopping, I was really tempted to just buy a block of various knives, and get more and more to fit every single little niche of carving meats, veggies and so on. But I was fortunately advised by a good friend of mine to just buy 1 or 2 top quality knives. In my kitchen I have a total of 3 knives, one 8 inch Calphalon forged chef knife, one paring knife and one serrated chef knife. I don’t really need a serrated edge knife but its good to have one that cuts baguettes without squishing them flat.
When knife shopping, there are two main types of categories: stamped and forged. The final difference is that stamped blades are harder to sharpen at home, more durable, can hold their sharpness longer and are lighter, while the forged blade is opposite. It all depends on what you want from it. I personally like forged blades as I like the weight they have when cutting, and the are more stiff and don’t bend as much. Forged blades are usually a lot more expensive then stamped blades.
As for knive sizes and types, each type is slightly different from the other according to purpose. Santoku knives for example are made to be able to slice meat thinly (think of sushi) as well as chop. Chef knives are made for all around cutting. The tips are more curved and thus allow you to rock the knife back and forth for fine mincing.
When shopping for blades, things you should look is the top of the blade, the blade itself, the tip and whether or not it is full tang, meaning the blade metal is part of the handle (this helps against the blade snapping off the handle). The tip of the knife should be sharp and not broken or squared off in any way and the top of the blade should have a gradual decrease in thickness until it comes to the point.
Manufacturers are continuously trying to market their knives to the average consumer. You can get a set of stamped Henckels knives from target for a mere $30. I cannot remark on the quality, but the brand is one of the top makers of knives. Other notable (affordable) brands include Wusthoff, Victorinox (Swiss Army knives), Kuhn Rikon and Chicago Cutlery. Probably the easiest way to shop for knives and make sure that you are getting the most value and quality for your money is to do a simple Amazon search. Unless you intend on plunking down thousands of dollars for a knife, Amazon pretty much has all of the brands and types that are commonly used in the home kitchen.