To a certain extent, I think that analytic number theory really is magical, and there's a limit to how natural and motivated it can be. Of the accounts I have seen, the one in Donald Newman's book *Analytic Number Theory* comes the closest to helping you see how you might have come up with the key ideas, but even Newman occasionally pulls things out of a hat (in my opinion).

Having said that, I think that there are a few guiding principles that you can keep in mind as you try to learn this material. The first piece of magic has to be the Euler product
$$\zeta(s) = \sum_{n\ge 1} {1\over n^s} = \prod_p {1 \over 1 - {\displaystyle 1\over \displaystyle p^s}}.$$
Though the proof of this formula is easy, I think it is no accident that it was someone of Euler's caliber who dreamed it up in the first place. It provides a crucial link between a discrete and somewhat chaotic-looking set (the primes) and a smooth function of the complex numbers.

Once you accept that $\zeta(s)$ is relevant to understanding the primes, even if you don't understand yet just how that is going to work, then it should make sense that you should try to understand $\zeta(s)$ thoroughly. A second piece of magic enters in, which is that holomorphic/meromorphic functions have strong uniqueness properties, and in particular if you can extend $\zeta(s)$ to a meromorphic function on the entire complex plane, then there is a *unique* way to do so. This is in stark contrast to real analysis. It may require ingenuity to see that $\zeta(s)$ can indeed be extended in this way, and it may be a miracle that it satisfies a nice functional equation, but since we know that the end result is *canonical*, we can employ whatever means necessary to analytically continue $\zeta(s)$, without worrying that we're introducing arbitrary choices of our own making.

Infinite sums are usually more tractable than infinite products, so that motivates studying $\log \zeta(s)$. This is going to blow up at the zeros, so if we want to understand limiting/asymptotic behavior, we have to understand the zeros.
A third piece of magic enters here, namely the Cauchy integral formula and the residue theorem. In analysis we are always interested in power series expansions, and from our calculus classes we might think that the way to get at power series coefficients is to differentiate (Taylor series). But a basic principle of analysis is that differentiation tends to be less well-behaved than integration (because integration keeps small quantities small, while differentiation might not), and so if you can get at power series coefficients using integration rather than differentiation, then you'll generally prefer that.

Hopefully this at least explains in outline why complex analysis enters the picture. It's natural to wonder whether all the stuff about meromorphic continuation and the Cauchy integral formula is just a convenience or whether it's really necessary. The fact that to this day, the only "elementary" proofs of the prime number theorem are even more mysterious than the complex-analytic proofs suggests that complex analysis is in some sense the right approach to the subject, even if it is not strictly necessary for the prime number theorem itself.

Possibly you're aware of all the above already, but are still finding it hard to wade your way through all the actual calculations with series and contour integrals and estimates. It may be helpful to consult Edwards's book on the Riemann zeta function. Edwards presents a translation of Riemann's original paper and walks you through it, using the benefit of modern knowledge. Riemann's paper is short and he was introducing highly original ideas for the first time, so you can really see the outline of the main ideas. Riemann's paper isn't easy to read in isolation, but I think that with Edwards's accompanying exposition, it can really help you see the big picture. **EDIT:** One additional remark—a beautiful feature of Riemann's work is that he gives an *exact formula* for the prime-counting function in terms of the nontrivial zeros of $\zeta(s)$. Especially if you're more comfortable with "soft" analysis than "hard" analysis, this gives you a clean conceptual picture of the relationship between counting primes and the zeros of $\zeta(s)$, without any need to get your hands dirty with concrete estimates and approximations.

**ADDENDUM.** The answer by Kostya_I inspired me to make some additional remarks about the following basic question, which is often not stressed in elementary courses but then is taken for granted in more advanced texts:

What do asymptotics have to do with singularities?

As Kostya_I suggests, it is helpful to look at the simpler case of Taylor series first. Note that the Taylor coefficients of $1/(1-z)$ (expanded around $z=0$) are constant, the coefficients of $1/(1-z)^2$ grow linearly, and the coefficients of $\log 1/(1-z)$ grown like $1/n$. These simple examples illustrate that if you have a Taylor series around $z=0$ that has a radius of convergence of $1$ and that has a unique singularity on the boundary $|z|=1$ (in these examples, at $z=1$), then the behavior of the singularity controls the asymptotic growth of the Taylor coefficients. If there are multiple singularities on the boundary then you potentially have to consider them all. This relationship is explained in great detail in (for example) Flajolet and Sedgewick's wonderful book *Analytic Combinatorics*, where they show that the asymptotic enumeration of many combinatorial objects can be accomplished by writing down an ordinary or exponential generating function for them, and analyzing the singularities.

In analytic number theory, one is also interested in generating functions, but now the most relevant generating functions are *Dirichlet series*:
$$\sum_{n\ge1} \frac{a_n}{n^z}.$$
The main reason for using Dirichlet series rather than Taylor series is that if the sequence $a_n$ is (completely) *multiplicative*, meaning that $a_m\cdot a_n = a_{mn}$, then we can write down an Euler product formula. Now, you might worry that Dirichlet series and Taylor series are radically different and that the theory of Dirichlet series has to be developed from scratch, but in fact some of the basic theory follows exactly the same lines. This is made clear by (for example) Serre's treatment in his *Course in Arithmetic*, where he defines a generalized Dirichlet series as follows:
$$ \sum_{n\ge 1} a_n \exp(-\lambda_n z).$$
If we set $\lambda_n := \log n$ then we recover ordinary Dirichlet series, but if we set $\lambda_n := n$ and $x:=\exp(-z)$ then we recover Taylor series. By considering generalized Dirichlet series, Serre thereby gives a uniform proof of the basic facts about the domain of convergence. The Dirichlet analogue of a disc with a singularity at the radius of convergence is a *half-plane* of convergence with a singularity on the boundary line $\Re z = a$ for some $a$.

The point is that the Dirichlet series for the Riemann zeta function $\zeta(z)$ obviously has a singularity at $z=1$, and so if you are used to the idea that the asymptotics are governed by the behavior at the boundary of the natural domain of convergence, then it becomes natural to expect that, to first order, the asymptotic behavior of the primes should have something to do with the behavior of $\zeta(z)$ on the line $\Re z = 1$. There is an extra twist, because the Euler product invites us to take the logarithm (or the derivative of the logarithm, which turns out to be easier to work with), and hence the crucial question is whether $\zeta(z)$ *vanishes* on $\Re z = 1$ (rather than whether it has any other singularities on that line).

One final comment is that Dirichlet's theorem on primes in arithmetic progression may be an easier example to understand than the prime number theorem. At first glance it might look more complicated because now you have to absorb the definition of a complex character and of an $L$-function, but if your background is in algebra then that should be no sweat. The key thing is that the analytic part of the argument is easier, because it turns out that all you need to prove is that the $L$-functions are nonvanishing at the point $z=1$ (rather than on a whole line). Historically, Dirichlet's proof preceded the prime number theorem, and even preceded Riemann's famous memoir on the zeta function, so that is perhaps some indirect evidence that it's an easier theorem. Again, this is all proved in Serre's *Course in Arithmetic*. If you want to understand the more complicated case of the prime number theorem and of Riemann's (or von Mangoldt's) exact formula in terms of the zeros of $\zeta(z)$ in the critical strip, then you'll have to look elsewhere (such as Edwards's book), but hopefully by that time the motivation for the calculations will be clearer.

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