Wow, check around the internet for cutlery forums and you'll hear many different opinions. From what I've read, most chefs/cooks in the US use more of the Wustof/Henkles type of western knives. Personally the Global handles hurt my hand if I do much cutting, but then I tend to use the pinch grip on the blade when chopping a lot of veggies. They sure are neat looking and have great blade shapes though.
Shun would be my preference of what's been mentioned, the Santaku from many different brands is pretty popular right now but I gave my Henkels to my daughter, I just wasn't comfortable with it – you'll see a lot of the chef's on the cooking channel using them but my own experience and from what I've read, an 8" chef's knife does all of that and more, being more versatile. If you lay a Santoku knife along side a chef's knife it'll look like someone just cut of the pointy end and flattened the curve of the blade a little, with less rocker, also the Santoku usually is thinner for vegie cutting but if you're not wanting really thin cutting, i.e. a lot of the asian style of cooking, then I really don't think it makes that much difference. Go with what's comfortable and gives you confidence.
I kind of like a 9 1/2" Japanese Guyto/chefs which is a western style (with a western grip like the Wustof's) of the Japanese blades and I just find them waaaaay sharper and thinner which works well for my own cooking and because of it, working with the knife has become a much more interesting and artistic part of my cooking. The Cuisinart food processer sits in the closet even on the big jobs simply because I'm enjoying the knife work, especially on vegies which I eat a lot of. (Yes I know, I actually like ending sentences with a preposition...I talk that way too...)
My particular Guyto is a Tojiro DP 240mm (9 1/2") which is probably the cheapest of this style of knife and yet still excellent with an amazing blade. Also, a very light knife in the hand. But I wouln't really reccommend it unless you're willing to take the time to learn how to sharpen them with a stone or some varieties of sticks. This style is also thinner and more easily damaged if you do any twisting or hitting on a bone.
If I were to continue in the kitchen with a German style chef's knife I'd choose a Wustof Classic or even more preferably, my Eberhard Schaaf Goldhamster chef's knife, much heavier than either the Japanese knife or the German Wustof, my guess would be that the Wustof chef's knives are the most popular here in the US. Personally I've had both Henkels and Wustof and there's slight bit of difference between them but not a big deal...it's all a matter of choice.
Many have found in most home kitchens that the most used knife is the 3-3 1/2" paring or something around a 4-6" utility knife, if the person isn't used to larger knives they tend to be intimidating for regular use.
Also the Shun and Global are I believe a lot harder to sharpen and do it right. The softer steel of the German kinves is easier to use something like a steel on and for most home use it appears to me to be a good fit.
An 8" chefs knife, 3-3 1/3" paring and a bread/slicer knife will probably take care of most needs, possibly include a 5" boning knife – myself I am learning about this still but find I use my 9 1/2" chefs/guyto and a 3 1/2" Wustof for almost everything, the chefs is so sharp I don't even bother with my bread knife anymore, matter of fact I'm not sure where I put it.
I think a lot of people hardly ever sharpen their knives, I know I didn't until I started learning more and appreciating my knives and what I've learned to do with them more. Now I touch them up frequently, but at their dullest, they're not so radically much sharper than my old ones used to be on their best day...but not something you'd want around children.
If you're on a budjet but really want something decent, get a Wustof Classic 8" chef's knife and a Wustof Classic 3 1/2" paring and I think you can buy them in a set, the alternative would be to get the set they have with a 7" Santoku and 3" vegetable paring, also a good choice. If you're doing lots of roasts, meat etc, then get the three knife set with a 8" slicer, 8" chef's and 3 12" paring. These are a really good start which if you take care of them will probably be all you need, well maybe sometime along the line a bread slicer and boning knife, but there's so many choices, this is just a good place to start with really good quality knives. But you can get by quite well with less.