In my opinion, a forged knife is hands down the best knife, ignoring brands, styles, size, etc. Of the forged knives I am a big fan of pattern welded steel often erroneously referred to as Damascus steel. Forging gives a knife wonderful strength, elasticity and crystal alignment that can't be done by stamping. The advantage of a pattern welded knife is that two or more different metals are forged together. At a microscopic level this gives a serrated edge with wonderful sharpness that in a sense re-sharpens itself as the edge wears since the different metals wear at different rates. My third favorite knife and quickly becoming my number one favorite is the sintered powder metal knife. Like the pattern welded knife it creates a microscopic serrated edge as it wears so it is brilliantly sharp. The fact that it is sintered allows for the use of some higher tech metals that are not available any other way.
I am opposed to buying a knife kit as I believe in buying the best knife for the job that is in my budget. My first knife was a Lamson-Sharp 10" Chef's Knife. GREAT knife. My only regret is that is isn't longer, but I didn't know that at the time. It's forged and made in the US. It didn't really come into its own until I began sharpening it myself with my two sided water stone and put a slightly narrower angle of edge on it. I use this knife every day in school and at home.
My second knife was a Nenohi Nenox G-Type Petty 5.9" (15cm) as I wanted to try one of the Japanese knives. This is a PM made knife and has an edge that boggles my mind. Some days I use this knife more than my chef's knife because it cuts so well and feels so good I don't want to put it down. This Japanese knife is a little harder to sharpen but once you get your technique down, it isn't a problem. One thing I learned from both of these knives is that sharpening them yourself will give you a better, sharper edge that lasts longer than what you got out of the box.
Third knife was a Ittosai Stain-Resistant Layered Steel Santoku 6.4" (16.5cm) as I wanted to try this new to me style and it was a pattern welded knife I could afford. Great knife but not as good as the other two. I really have not bonded well with this style but if I want to cut thin slices of onion, tomato or potatoes, this is a good one to use. But it normally stays at home rather than at school. Sharpness and edge retention is in between the Lamson and the Nenohi.
Next knife was a Glestain salmon slicer. I rarely use or require this knife but when I do, there is nothing better. Very sharp out of the box and I have not sharpened it yet. I am a little nervous about sharpening a 12" blade. Not sure as a culinary student when or if you would need to purchase one of these, definitely not at my school. It was a celebratory reward for myself.
Last knife I bought was a Misono Hankotsu for ripping up chickens. This was my first venture into single sided Japanese knives. This is a very heavy and menacing looking knife. Makes me feel like I should join the French Foreign Legion. While the edge out of the box is sharp, it isn't very good. It is not consistently sharp along the length of the edge. As before I think that sharpening this knife myself will get the maximum performance out of it. I just have not done it yet. I have to watch my DVD on sharpening first since I have never sharpened a single sided knife before.
For honing I use an F.Dick flat multi cut steel and highly recommend it. I don't do the razzle dazzle knife honing routine that every cook does. I think it is BS. I slowly pull the knife, at the proper angle, along the full length of the knife across the steel. After each pass I feel for a burr with my fingernail. If the burr moves to the other side then I hone that side. If I don't feel a burr on either side I don't bother honing the knife. I can usually hone a knife with three or four slow passes, though a knife that was used hard may need a few more. I hone them in the morning and then forget about it.
My recommendation for a first time purchase is to buy a good but not great nor cheap chef's knife, middle of the road. In my opinion, hands down, the Japanese steel is superior. But there is nothing wrong with the other's either. I highly recommend Lamson Sharp. Wustoff and Henckels are good too, but I would be sure they are forged. I have not been impressed with Dexter. Messermeister is better than Dexter. Regardless, this is a learning knife to learn technique, beat on, mess up sharpening, break the tips, etc. You won't be out much. Even an old Chicago knife is a good starter. Stay away from the cheap stamped Chinese crap. I don't like metal handles like Global but I think that is more of an individual preference, they are good knives. Buy a good steel and learn to use it. Buy at least a two sided stone and learn to use it, especially correct edge angle. I don't like oil at all but that is probably a personal preference. Do not ever ever ever rely on or use one of those pull sharpeners like fishermen use or an electric sharpener. Nothing will ruin your knife faster.