Understanding the emergence of the Animal Kingdom is one of the major challenges of modern evolutionary biology. Many genomic changes took place along the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to the Metazoa. Recent research has revealed the role that co-option of old genes played during this transition, but the contribution of genomic novelty has not been fully assessed. Here, using extensive genome comparisons between metazoans and multiple outgroups, we infer the minimal protein-coding genome of the first animal, in addition to other eukaryotic ancestors, and estimate the proportion of novelties in these ancient genomes. Contrary to the prevailing view, this uncovers an unprecedented increase in the extent of genomic novelty during the origin of metazoans, and identifies 25 groups of metazoan-specific genes that are essential across the Animal Kingdom. We argue that internal genomic changes were as important as external factors in the emergence of animals.