My top pick for graphics tablet: artist 15.6 XP pen
Why I picked the XP Pen Artist 15.6: I spent a lot of time trying to find the best tablet that didn't 'cost an arm and a leg' during my starving-artist studies and the 15.6 was the tablet I ended up with after trying a bunch of tablets, having owned them or borrowed them from friends to test drive. For its price point, it does whatever you'd need it to, it's easy to set up and is a good place to start if you're starting out or if you've been painting digitally for a while now. I've had mine for over 3 years now and the only problem I've had was stepping on the pen, but I can't fault XP for that. If it's out of your price range I've listed another great budget-friendly option below!
What they could do to improve: I'd like a scrolling option, however, they actually incorporated this into the pro version of the 15.6! You can find it here on amazon: Artist 15.6 Pro on Amazon
Compared to the competition: Of all the tablets I've used this was not only a lot sleeker & lighter but easier to install and use. A lot of other graphics tablets require a bunch of extra cables to power the tablet and become such a hassle, not only to install but to draw with. It makes them incredibly hard to manoeuvre, especially if you're fidgety like me and like to move around a lot when you're working.
One tablet that I would consider moving to is Apple's Ipad Pro, every time I've used it, it's performed like an absolute dream. It's a fantastic tool for painting, but I couldn't justify the considerable price tag back when I bought my 15.6, but I've got my eye on the new 2020 version and it'll be something I'll consider upgrading to this year! You can learn more here if you're interested: Apple Ipad pro (4th Gen) on Amazon
My top pick for a budget-friendly graphics tablet: Wacom Intuos s
Why I picked the Wacom Intuos s: This was my starter kit, I spent years happily tapping away at this little tablet. At only 6 inches across you may think it's too small, but once you start playing with it it's much bigger than you'd expect! I quickly got used to it, despite having no screen which may be jarring if you've moved from traditional drawing/painting but that feeling will pass will use (I still don't look at the massive screen on my 15.6 because I used this tablet for so long haha)
What they could do to improve: As an introduction to digital painting this kit couldn't be more ideal. Currently, only at fifty pounds as I'm writing this its a steal, you can do almost anything the larger tablets can do. The pen pressure isn't as sensitive as some of the more expensive models out there, but it's still pretty high for a budget model at 4096.
My top pick for Software: Adobe Photoshop
Why I picked Adobe photoshop: Photoshop has been the leading industry design software for over 25 years, and for good reason. Adobe has built their software up over the years and can do almost everything you'd ever need to, from photomanipulation, painting and editing. Like most other design programs adobe comes at a cost, they switched their model to a monthly subscription last year, though affordable I understand if it's not in your budget just yet. A great alternative that I started with is Krita, its completely free to use and has great painting capabilities. You can download Krita for free here
What they could do to improve: I've been using adobe programs on and off for the past year, and they're by far the most advanced in terms of functionality. However, this can be daunting for first-time users compared to other programs, they aim to get around this with their tutorials all based on the app though so it's an easy get around.