It depends on your budget, but no matter what you spend there's a little bit of risk. Buying someone a knife is almost like buying them a pair of shoes without having him try them on first. You could buy him a $1,500 Hattori KD but if he doesn't like the feel in his hand it will spend all it's time in the block.
That said, the starting point is selecting a good quality knife. A knife that feels & handles great still won't be useful if it doesn't cut well or hold an edge. I really love my Henckels 7" granton-edged santuko. It fits my hand well and is extremely sharp. It's made of good steel that keeps an edge for a long time, even though I use it daily in a professional kitchen. It's light and has no bolster which improves balance a lot.
My favorite santuko, though, is my Shun Classic 7" granton-edge. It's scary sharp and very light & well balanced. I'm a big Shun fan in general, and for the money I've never used anything I like as much. Shuns hold an edge very well if you don't abuse them, but since they're ground to a very low angle you don't want to chop thru bones with them. And never use them on a glass cutting board! Beyond that just basic care will keep them sharp for a long time. The only caveat is that their D-shaped handles may not feel right for all users, and they make them specific right-handed and left-handed versions.
For under $35 I can't think of anything half as good as the Kershaw Kai Wasabi line. The Wasabi santuku is only $30 or so and sharp enough to shave with right out of the box. The blade is extraordinary for the price, but the handle feels a bit cheap (though I find it comfortable). You're gonna have to cut corners to keep the price that low. The only downsides I can think of is that the blade stains pretty easily if you're mincing herbs and they're not NSF approved. No big deal at home but I rarely take them to work for just that reason. It easily outcuts my Henckels one, at well under 1/2 the price.
Messermeister makes very good blades, too. Their santoku selection isn't vast, but the blades are keen and bolsterless. I have half a dozen Messermeisters of various designs and like them all.
If we're not supposed to eat animals, then how come they're made out of meat?