Welcome to your NYC apartment search! For a quick crash course on your living options, the first thing to know is that the New York City metro area consists of the 5 boroughs, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. In addition, many daily New Yorkers commute from Jersey City, via the PATH train, Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, or more exotic methods (the ferry or the generally less convenient bridges). Other longer commutes come from the north of the Bronx, notably Westchester, New Rochelle, and Scarsdale, or northeast from Connecticuit (both via the Metro North stopping at Grand Central). Another fairly large group commute from Long Island via the much loved and hated Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).
Whatever your choice, know that there are crucial tradeoffs in your decision. Most people will want to start in Manhattan, presumably because you are moving here for work, and there is a high probability your work is somewhere on the central island. You may have watched too much Sex and the City, Friends, or Seinfeld and decided that you will settle for nothing less. However, with great convenience and glory comes a high price tag (and a smaller apartment). In 2016, almost studio in Manhattan will start at least around $1600, and that's already finding near the bottom of the barrel in budgets. The median studio south of 96th street is closer to $2300, and even for a no frills walkup, the selection under $1900 a month will not be ideal. Once you factor in a modern, doorman elevator building, you will be hard pressed to find anything under $2500.
Brooklyn / Queens
Hopefully, that above hasn't been too discouraging. Moving to other options, Brooklyn and Queens are the next most popular. The trendy areas are the ones along the East River, including DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Long Island City (a bit confusing, Long Island City is the neighborhood in Queens just across the river overlooking Manhattan). As expected, the more happening neighborhoods are not going to net much if any savings, but you will feel a lot more like you are in a residential area instead of a tourist trap. As you go farther into the outer boroughs, the deals get better and the gentrification less severe. Be mindful of your commuting options, relying primarily on the MTA subway lines. For Brooklyn, the 2/3 and B/D lines tend to be very fruitful, while Queens residents rely a lot on either the 7, E, or N/R. It's almost a disservice to include these two boroughs in simply one section. Truth be told, from our data it appears Brooklyn is easily winning the war as the most up-and-coming alternative to Manhattan.
Next up is Jersey City. Why not Staten Island or the Bronx? Frankly, the Jersey City community probably feels more connected to mainstream New Yorkers than many outer borough residents. The commute can be extremely short; only 15 minutes door to door as opposed to the 45-60 minutes from the far reaches of Flushing or Bensonhurst. A popular option is the PATH train to the downtown West Street area, where bankers and traders are one stop away from work, while saving thousands in lower income taxes by living outside of NYC (they pay tax to New York state, just not the city, and almost nothing to New Jersey). In Jersey City, you will almost certainly live in a doorman, elevator building. The majority of buildings are once luxury high rises showing some age from the 1990s, but newer developments are always cropping up.