The following is some excellent advice on buying your first knives, from Darren72.
The first question: do you want to buy a packaged set? Most serious cooks wind up using somewhere between two and four knives, so, really, those humongous sets of knives are a bad idea. You get more knives than you need, and sometimes you end up with a high quality, expensive version of something that would would be just as fine cheap. On the other hand, very small sets (i.e., 2-4 knives) do save you some money, and come with asharpening steel, kitchen shears, and knife block. They’re worth it if you can find a set with exactly the knives you want. But note: different stores sell different sets from the same brand. So shop around for small sets.
And if you decide to buy knives individually, spend the big money on your chef’s knife. Most people start off with an 8-inch chef’s knife; a good one will usually cost between $75 and $90. Depending on your cooking style, you’ll also want a good-quality paring knife (3- to 5-inch), and a good-quality utility or boning knife (6- to 8-inch) or a Santoko knife. Serrated knives, such as bread knives, don’t gain much from being high quality–go ahead and get a cheap stamped blade. If you want to save more money, buy a cheap paring knife. Think about multitasking before you buy, too. Bread knives can be used to cut tomatoes; you don’t need a specialty tomato knife unless you cut an awful lot of tomatoes. Flexible utility knives can also be used for boning; unless you do a lot of boning, you probably don’t need a dedicated boning knife. Your chef’s knife will be your most-used knife for everyday chopping and slicing tasks, so it’s worth spending the money for a good forged steel model.
There are a number of good brands for top-quality knives, like Wusthof Trident and Henckels. But most of the differences between the high-end brands come down to feel and weight distribution. Research has limited usefulness; it’s better to just go into a store and ask to hold and practice cutting with various chef’s knives so you you know which brand feels best in your hands.
Storage: you want to store your knives in a wooden block, a knife magnet attached to the wall, or a specially-designed knife-holder for your kitchen drawer. Don’t just throw nice knives into a drawer! And don’t put them in the dishwasher.
Sharpening: you need a sharpening steel, which will cost about $20. These don’t actually sharpen the blade; they straighten it. You need to use the steel every time you use the knife. Then, about once every six months to a year, you need to go to a professional sharpener and get your knives actually sharpened. Go to a pro. It’ll cost a few dollars per knife, and will be way better than any do-it-yourself sharpening kit. But do some research to find a good professional knife sharpener who knows what he or she is doing and won’t grind your blades away.
Finally, buy a good cutting board. You want something large, but not so large that you’ll never use it. Wood is nice because it’s heavy and doesn’t move. Oxo makes excellent plastic cutting boards that are light, dishwasher safe, and have rubber edges to hold them in place. Avoid glass cutting boards. Consider buying a few thin, flexible, small boards for quick little tasks.
Board Links: knife recommendations?