This article is regularly updated as more titles join Netflix.
It seems like every week Netflix adds a new Japanese anime to its massive library of titles. This is, of course, because anime is popular and good. The service has reportedly invested truckloads of money into this segment of its programming, producing original series and movies, as well as making big-ticket licensing acquisitions for world-famous franchises like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cardcaptor Sakura, Saint Seiya, and others we see on the platform.
But with so many options available, it’s hard for newcomers to know where to start, and Netflix doesn’t help by lumping its whole library under an “Anime” genre category. Anime encompasses countless different genres and subgenres and caters to several distinct demographics and tastes, just like live-action TV and film in the States. Anime is also distinct from but has always been part of a positive feedback loop of cultural influence with animation and art around the world. Much of the anime on Netflix and other streaming platforms has influenced or was influenced by TV made in America and elsewhere. All this is to say you should give anime a shot if you haven’t already. And if you were confused by seeing wildly different shows like Devilman Crybaby and Pokémon sitting next to each other, this list is for you.
Fans of hip-hop and swordplay alike should vibe with this latest show from LeSean Thomas, who worked on Black Dynamite, The Legend of Korra, and The Boondocks before leaving the States to direct anime in Japan. Yasuke is loosely based on the life of the real-life Black samurai of the same name who fought under his lord Oda Nobunaga. The anime, which premieres April 2021 weaves fantasy into the samurai’s story as he gradually befriends and defends a young girl with magical abilities. A lead performance from LaKeith Stanfield gives Yasuke a guarded and terse sense of gravitas, and Flying Lotus handles the show’s laid-back soundtrack.
Watch it if you love: Black Samurai, Michonne in The Walking Dead
Anyone looking for a good action anime and who misses Attack on Titan since Netflix yanked it should check out Demon Slayer. one of the biggest recent anime properties. It ticks many of the same boxes: crisply defined fight scenes from anime studio Ufotable, a secret war against demons, and a family tragedy that immediately makes that conflict personal for the young hero. To give American newbies an idea of how popular this title is, Demon Slayer’s sequel film, Mugen Train recently became the highest grossing film of all time in Japan, breaking several records in the process (including those previously held by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away).
Watch it if you love: Frankenstein, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Adapted from Tsuina Miura and Takahiro Oba’s manga of the same name, High-Rise Invasion is a deliriously deadly good time. Blood and gore galore await those who sit through its episodes, in which schoolgirl heroine Yuri Honjō finds herself on the run from mysterious masked killers across a labyrinthine world of skyscrapers. Her terrors are the audience’s as we watch her navigate and deduce her situation, dispatching her enemies and finding allies along the way.
Watch it if you love: Ready or Not; the video game Mirror’s Edge
What if you could travel back in time and prevent a tragedy? Erased, like so many of these stories, presents the snowballing blowback of playing god with the natural order of time, doing so not through the eyes of a superhero or a killer but the meta casting of a young manga artist who also works part-time. Erased is as endearing as it is exciting, thanks to its tight pacing and the journey for justice that its hero takes down the rabbit hole.
Watch it if you love: Looper; DC Comics’ Flashpoint
“Tiger, you reading me? We need you to hold for a 30-second commercial,” is a line that sets the tone early on in Tiger & Bunny — a gleeful send up of the superhero genre. In Tiger & Bunny’s world (like our own) superheroes are the faces of a capitalist system, at the mercy of ad revenue, buyouts, and corporate consolidation. The anime directed by Keiichi Sato is different tonally from his previous Stateside hit, Toonami’s The Big O, but both worlds carry an arch critique of the grip society has on people. Tiger & Bunny just happens to do it in costumed tights.
Watch it if you love: The Boys; The Tick
A spinoff of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, this is fully the show of Kisibe Rohan, a narcissistic manga artist and side character of that series, who in this show works as a sort of Nick Carraway–esque narrator of supernatural and violent self-contained stories, pulled from his globe-trotting endeavors. Despite its title, it has little connection to Nietzsche; it’s original Japanese title apparently translates, loosely, to “Rohan Kishibe does not change,” a true enough statement.
Watch it if you love: Wuthering Heights; The Great Gatsby
Japan Sinks: 2020 felt almost too on the nose when it came out in 2020. The latest work by visionary director Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby, The Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong the Animation), the 10-episode series is based on Sakyo Komatsu’s award-winning disaster novel Japan Sinks and updated for the modern day, following a pair of siblings who must escape Tokyo in the wake of a massive earthquake.
Watch it if you love: The Quake; Earthquake
Based on a manga by Kousuke Oono, The Way of the Househusband pits a former yakuza boss, Tatsu, nicknamed the Immortal Dragon, against his most fearsome opponent yet: household chores. In a delightful bit of feminism, he ditches his gangster lifestyle in favor of making a home for his wife, who pursues career goals of her own. At home or running shopping errands, Tatsu is the ultimate fish out of water, and he often needs to make use of what he learned in his past life to stay afloat.
Watch it if you love: Analyze This; Married to the Mob
Who among us hasn’t woken up one day with amnesia and discovered that we’ve been turned into a giant lizard (!) and also now house a humanoid head that’s [checks notes] residing inside of our gullet? Such is the plight of Caiman, the soul-searching protagonist of action anime Dorohedoro. This show is violent; it’s all bloodletting, finger-snapping, and teeth-gnashing from the jump as Caiman searches for the truth in one of the most inventive, absurd premises you’ll ever see. The beauty, though, is in the show’s seamless blend of CGI and traditional animated line-work and hyper-detailed backgrounds. Dorohedoro may look vintage, akin to ‘80s and ‘90s anime classics like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, but has modern production value through the roof.
Watch it if you love: Memento; Hellboy
Much like its Production I.G. sibling show Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball is a sports anime that will make you care about sports. It really sings when it focuses on the interiority of its characters’ interior lives and team dynamics, as well as the tactics they deploy to win at high school hoops. Kuroko’s Basketball is directed by Shunsuke Tada, an alumnus of several classic anime like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, The Prince of Tennis, and Samurai 7.
Watch it if you love: Friday Night Lights
Like the best romantic comedies of error, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun thrives on misunderstanding. When high-schooler Chiyo Sakura confesses her love for a classmate, Umetaro Nozaki, he mistakenly believes she is a fan of the romance manga that he secretly illustrates under a pen name. Rather than clarify the crush, this kicks off a farce in which Nozaki hires Sakura to be his inking assistant on the manga. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun functions as both romance and parody, sending up the tropes that define the shōjo anime and manga category even as it capitalizes on them.
Watch it if you love: You’ve Got Mail; Much Ado About Nothing
This may be an example of donghua, or Chinese animation, but we feel it makes sense on this list, since it’s great and since Netflix itself logs it under anime as well. A sweeping and romantic tale of Chinese fantasy, Heaven’s Official Blessing is a “boy’s love,” or yaoi, story of the relationship between Xie Lian, a prince and god who ascends to the heavens only to be banished back to the mortal realm, and Hua Cheng, a powerful ruler of demons, who strives to protect him.
Watch it if you love: Love, Simon; Moonlight
Veteran anime storyboard artist and director Toshiya Shinohara and prolific writer Mari Okada are responsible for this anime about a group of ocean dwelling kids who must mesh with children on the surface when their middle school closes. The young pre-teens slowly have to learn how to overcome their differences and befriend each other, as well as adapt to the unfamiliar environment — and navigate happenstance like getting caught in surface dwellers’ nets. Like most great pre-teen anime, obviously there are crushes.
Watch it if you love: West Side Story; Disney’s The Little Mermaid
A wonderland of cultural parody and discursive riffing, Pop Team Epic isn’t really like any other title on this list. Based on a digital web manga, the series is made up of individual sketches anchored by the two hosts/protagonists Pipimi and Popuko. The segments vary wildly in art style, alternating between traditional anime designs, CGI, chibi character models, stop-motion, and a lot more. As an animated variety show there’s something for everyone if you’re willing to run with Pipimi and Popuko’s frenetic format. Did I mention their voice actors change every episode?
Watch it if you love: SNL; Robot Chicken
Children of the Whales plays with the idea of a postapocalyptic world racked by ecological disaster, this time as a global desert instead of an ocean. A pocket of survivors now lives on a giant floating city called the Mud Whale, and a majority of them developed psychokinetic abilities. Its 12 episodes explore what happens when the Mud Whale encounters another island with very different beliefs, and the conflict that follows. And while that’s all interesting, its stylized animation, watercolorlike backgrounds, and slow pace put the show in a class of its own.
Watch it if you love: Dune, Mortal Engines
One day, this show will join the great pantheon of witch media, and it’ll be thanks to its protagonist Akko, the endearing “little witch” herself who works her butt off at a witch school for girls. As someone with a non-magical background, Akko isn’t naturally gifted and has to practice really, really hard to get her spells right, often getting them wrong and giving her friends furry tails or animal ears in the process. But she never gives up, which is a big part of why fans keep clamoring for a new season.
Watch it if you love: the Harry Potter series; Hocus Pocus
In a sci-fi action comedy where clothes are superpowered AI, sometimes the underage heroes have to get basically naked to save the day. Is this gross, objectifying fan service? Yes. But Kill La Kill flips the concept by empowering its female protagonists and villains throughout and emphasizing the bonds between them. (As other writers have noted, the show passes both the Bechdel and Reverse Bechdel Test.) Very few anime or “prestige” live-action series alike outline arguments against constricting social ideas around fashion, body image, and mental health, but Kill La Kill shreds through them with complex characterization and an electric-guitar–fueled soundtrack. Like a cherry on top, several of its fight sequences kinetically toggle between animation styles, à la Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Watch it if you love: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Alita: Battle Angel
In a world more tightly gripped by fascist ideology than ever, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood feels essential. This blockbuster soars on rich character relationships, bravura displays of light and magic, and a plot vibrating with tension. Brotherhood’s heroic brothers Ed and Al are alchemists seeking the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies after the cosmos punished them for trying to resurrect their dead mother. Meanwhile, the authoritarian government they work for — led by a mustachioed swordsman called “Fuhrer” — has its own sinister plans for the Stone. In 64 episodes, Brotherhood never falters, using philosophy to unpack the consequences of unethical scientific experimentation, xenophobia, state violence, and more. It also balances its darkness with plenty of humor.
Watch it if you love: the Star Wars movies; Raiders of the Lost Ark
Think “high investment, high reward” if you get lost amid Mobile Suit Gundam UC’s jargon and sprawling backstory. The space-opera franchise is 40 years old and running, so this one isn’t easy for newcomers, but it pays off. The setup echoes previous entries: Teenage boy pilots a robot (called a Gundam) and encounters friends, enemies, and Jedi-like extrasensory powers in armed conflicts between Earth and its space colonies. Politics and power plays drive the show, but UC balances them with intimate scenes like this one, fluidly animated space battles, and even LSD-trip dream sequences. And the ultimate reveal of the show’s MacGuffin, “Laplace’s Box,” beats anything else you’ll catch on American TV.
Watch it if you love: 2001: A Space Odyssey; the appendices of The Lord of the Rings
War may be hell, but sometimes what comes after is worse. After a bloody career as a child soldier that stole her arms and her emotional development, a girl named Violet has to adjust to a world at peace. It doesn’t help that her new job involves ghostwriting letters for people with her prosthetic hands. This slow-paced show is obsessed with feelings: what they are, how we voice them, and why they affect us in ways we don’t anticipate. Violet’s trauma cut so deep that she shut herself off from her feelings, and her struggle to find them again illustrates the power of writing, therapy, support systems, and patience.
Watch it if you love: The Best Years of Our Lives; Léon: The Professional
If supportive and vulnerable portrayals of bros gets you going, Gurren Lagann will get you going. The show is packed with lines like “Believe in the me that believes in you” and similar affirmations between characters invested in each others’ self-actualization. Those over-the-top overtures pair nicely with its exaggerated animation and duels involving drill-shaped robots called “Gunmen.” All that said, like many shonen anime, Gurren Lagann remains a problematic fave. Its women and gay characters suffer from fan service and grossly persistent stereotypes, but many still consider it a classic.
Watch it if you love: the Fast and the Furious movies; making fun of Fight Club
Death Note’s Light Yagami may be one of the most sinister Macbethian villains of the last 20 years. Over the course of 37 episodes, he murders countless individuals by writing their names in the show’s titular magic book, lies incessantly to practically everyone in his family or social circle, and seeks to establish his own utopia as a god of death. He meets his match when a genius investigator named L starts to close in on him with his own mind games, propelling the show into a dark, suspense-heavy cat-and-mouse chase for the ages.
Watch it if you love: The Silence of the Lambs; any Sherlock Holmes story
You’d be forgiven for thinking the core “lie” in Your Lie in April is the false promise that pain and hardship beget great art, but this tearjerker is both more literal and introspective than that. When a young piano prodigy named Kousei loses his domineering mother to a terminal illness, he finds himself suddenly incapable of hearing musical notes. The story picks up years later, as he falls in love with a talented violinist, Kaori, who inspires him to play again. Your Lie in April expresses the fallout of traumatic loss on children with tremendous empathy, at times dropping dialogue almost entirely and using classical music and colorfully abstract animation to convey Kousei’s inner feelings.
Watch it if you love: A Star Is Born; Immortal Beloved
No purer commentary on male adolescence exists than having a demon possess you, but that setup is tame compared to where Devilman Crybaby’s ultraviolence eventually goes. In its ten-episode run, you can expect depravity and horror from humans and demons alike, all realized in a muted color palette and gorgeously grotesque character designs. The Devilman himself, a cool teen named Akira Fudo, wants to use his diabolical powers to keep his family, friends, and humanity at large safe. But he may not be able to; sometimes all you can do is cry.
Watch it if you love: The Walking Dead; Lucifer
Cocktails, existential dread, sartorial excellence, and squid-ink fettuccine take center stage in this anime starring Jaden Smith, created by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, and storyboarded by Rurouni Kenshin and Mobile Suit Gundam UC’s Kazuhiro Furuhashi. Its production pedigree and glib roasting of materialism through the magic-using preppy Kaz set it apart from the majority of animated and live-action series alike. And while it’s not exactly revolutionary, the writing is fresh, its seven episodes don’t outstay their welcome, and the voice cast is stacked with the likes of Jude Law, Rashida Jones, Steve Buscemi, and Desus and Mero.
Watch it if you love: The Boondocks; The Royal Tenenbaums
Aggretsuko’s world is much like ours: The day job is crappy, the co-workers are worse, and Instagram eats people’s souls. Retsuko, the show’s millennial heroine, has one outlet — HEAVY METAL — and her werewolflike transformations when she finally cuts loose are what make this show special. For such a deceptively simple concept, each episode of Aggretsuko touches on the challenges that urbanite young people deal with in the 2010s, be they dating troubles, finding genuine friendship, or knowing when to assert yourself at work. Its wry comedy, simplified art style, and dramatic soundtrack all make it compulsively bingeable.
Watch it if you love: The Office; Metalocalypse
Puella Magi Madoka Magica was written and produced by master anime deconstructivist Gen Urobuchi with the express intention of upending your expectations. Explicitly marketed as a standard entry in the “magical girl” anime genre, Madoka Magica famously subverts several of the tropes that define that genre. Without spoiling too much here, the show makes no bones about killing off main characters, withholding exposition from the viewer, or turning the tables on the characters’ ethics (Urobuchi once compared them to Al Qaeda). If you’re cool with the cutesy veneer, Madoka Magica’s ambitions are obvious and fully realized through its writing and trippily surreal animation.
Watch it if you love: The Matrix; the Game of Thrones approach to character death
In Dragon Pilot, dragons hide inside aircraft and are piloted by young women from inside the dragon’s esophagus after getting swallowed whole. They also love eating cell phones and look adorably cuddle-worthy. No other anime series looks quite like Dragon Pilot’s uncluttered character designs, and its grainy backgrounds that call back to vintage film photography. The flight sequences typically feature intricate, fully animated jet-to-dragon transformations, and the scale and speed that the artists manage to convey in each episode is intoxicating.
Watch it if you love: How to Train Your Dragon; The Right Stuff
This deliciously gothic take on the Boarding School of Horrors trope puts the students of Death Weapon Meister Academy in charge of hell’s cleanup needs. Their job: to serve Death by claiming the souls of 99 evil humans and one witch before graduating to the next level. Soul Eater is a tonal playground of Hot Topic references, macabre color schemes and background designs, and characters who relish in roasting each other. There’s some gratuitous nudity in it, so maybe think twice before watching on public transit.
Watch it if you love: The Nightmare Before Christmas; Beetlejuice
Given that it’s about a pink-haired teenage boy with psychic powers, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K gets a lot of mileage out of the purely mundane aspects of his life: going to school, or interacting with his parents, or even, uh, watching anime. Like any moody kid, all the eponymous Saiki wants is to be left alone and mind his own business, but the need to keep his secret from most of the people around him gets in his way. His deadpan delivery and ever-present internal monologue drive the show, and each episode delivers a new, deliciously meta comedy of errors.
Watch it if you love: Sabrina the Teenage Witch; the character Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Pokémon (multiple series)
Maybe you’ve heard of it? This long-running anime adaptation of the massively popular video-game series isn’t intended for adults, or even adolescents, but it does teach kids a very important lesson: You will lose — often when it counts the most. Ash Ketchum, the show’s hero and the boy who wants nothing more than “to be the very best,” has never won big at the Pokémon League Championship after well over 1,000 episodes now, but he’s never quit and rarely been a sore loser about it for very long. The series will endure as long as Pokémon games stay popular, but that lesson carries weight, whether you (or your kids) grow out of the show or not.
Watch it if you love: Scooby-Doo; Sesame Street
If eerily humanoid robots beating the hell out of one another won’t pull you into Evangelion, its psychologically rich character studies of child soldiers and broken adults confronting the end of humanity probably will. Creator and director Hideaki Anno poured himself into this massively popular series, and what he got was a kaleidoscope of animation illustrating a postapocalyptic war between the titanic “Angels,” who are hell-bent on destroying mankind, and the ragtag organization that opposes them with experimental weaponry piloted by 14-year-olds. Look out for daddy issues and formal experimentation galore in this classic, which Netflix made available in the U.S. for the first time in years (and not without some controversy).
Watch it if you love: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Twin Peaks
If you cross Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger and The Crow’s Eric Draven, you might get Lelouch vi Britannia: an intoxicatingly skilled political manipulator with mind-control powers who is on a mission of vengeance against his family, which rules the world. Code Geass has sci-fi combat, bureaucratic backstabbing, teen comedy, and a future in which imperialism and caste systems keep the populace underfoot. Like practically every revolutionary in history, Lelouch isn’t particularly noble in his pursuit to overthrow the power of the family he is estranged from, but he is fascinating to watch.
Watch it if you love: Cruel Intentions; Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
If the world ended and you were left behind, how would you react to the knowledge that you were, in fact, picked for the B-team in humanity’s last hope for survival? That’s what the protagonists of 7 Seeds grapple with as they navigate a world of giant bugs and cities reclaimed by nature and flooding. Guided by enigmatic handlers and forced to survive or die, they travel across a Japan full of landmarks they initially don’t recognize until suddenly they do, as in one scene when they realize the Nagasaki they once knew is now underwater.
Watch it if you love: Lost; The Road
The secret to One Punch Man’s hysterical, action-packed sauce: the quarter-life crisis of its protagonist, Saitama, a hero who can easily trounce every opponent that comes at him but who nonetheless feels unfulfilled and wayward. When you can beat any enemy with one punch (it’s a brilliantly simple conceit), where do you go from there? One Punch Man shows us Saitama trying to answer that question through the eyes of his cyborg mentee, Genos, along with earth-shattering fight scenes and the machinations of an organization of ranked heroes that Saitama and Genos try to break into.
Watch it if you love: Ip Man; Thor: Ragnarok
The Naruto franchise spans 720 episodes of television, 11 animated specials, and 11 films, plus 700 chapters of manga, and that’s before you get to the supplemental stuff. Naruto and his friends work together as a team of ninjas, doing everything from taking odd jobs to taking out enemies. Naruto’s humor, long-term character development, and crisply animated ninja sequences are masterful and have made it one of the most beloved shōnen (intended for boys ages 12 to 18) anime series of the past 20 years. The “Naruto run” went viral for a reason.
Watch it if you love: WWE; Power Rangers
Depression lies, and no other anime on Netflix externalizes the layers of its protagonist’s lies quite like March Comes in Like a Lion. The show revolves around 17-year-old shogi player Rei and how he copes with the loss of his family. At various points, Rei is buried under the weight of his emotions, and the art direction depicts his struggle in animation that shifts between clean lines, painterly watercolor backgrounds, decadently saturated multicolor haze, jarring black-and-white sketches, and other stylistic changes depending on Rei’s mood. It can feel more like a tone poem than TV — far from a bad thing.
Watch it if you love: Ordinary People; Six Feet Under
When in doubt, let your characters duke it out. That was the approach manga artist Yoshihiro Togashi took with his other series, Yu Yu Hakusho, and it’s the tack he took with Hunter x Hunter — to dazzling effect. The titular “hunters” are an elite class of warriors who track down rare animal species, treasures, and human heads for bounty, and Hunter x Hunter is the story of one boy who wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps to become a hunter, even after his dad abandons him. Note that there are two adaptations of this series, and Netflix has the later, 2011 one — largely considered the superior run.
Watch it if you love: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; How I Met Your Mother
The historic and the supernatural collide in this epic anime about a high-school girl, Kagome, who is flung hundreds of years into the past only to meet a half-demon, Inuyasha. Their misadventures take them across Japan, collecting shards of a magic jewel as the nascent country’s chaotic Sengoku period rages. Along the way, they accrue a merry band of friends who join them in their quest to find the shards and slay the demons that get in their way. At 193 episodes, Inuyasha is a lengthy saga but one driven by slow-burning character plotting and the slaying of grim beasts.
Watch it if you love: Outlander; Xena: Warrior Princess
Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, King Arthur, and other historical and mythological figures talk smack at each other before violently clashing in this circuitous history of a secret war for the Holy Grail. The Fate franchise is a bit dense, requiring a small glossary if you don’t want all the “Noble Phantasms” and “Dead Apostles” to bog you down, but Fate/Zero is full of rewards: armchair philosophizing, dozens of colorful characters, and good ol’ fashioned hacking and slashing. It’s also worth noting that the dialogue is batshit, especially that of Alexander the Great (a.k.a. Iskander): “Do you swear that once I defeat one of the other Servants, you will go and buy me a modern pair of pants so that I can go outside?”
Watch it if you love: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; the extensive mythological references in 1994’s Gargoyles series
The respected Japanese studio Kyoto Animation made this infectious little comedy about a high school’s light music club. The girls in the club need recruits to prevent the school from disbanding it, and as they staff up, they make friends, drink tea, play lively J-pop, and deal with the existential pressures of high school. K-On! is tonally one of the cheeriest shows on this list, and a testament to Kyoto Animation’s gorgeous work (by salaried employees, not freelancers as is the case with most animation houses) and tendency to tell intimate, women-focused stories. K-On! has very few major narrative twists, but like any great rock band, K-On! feels like more than the sum of its notes and instruments.
Watch it if you love: School of Rock; Glee
There are very few notable, let alone great, volleyball movies or TV shows, so by scarcity alone, Haikyu!! may actually be the very best of the bunch. When rival volleyball players Hinata and Kageyama find themselves playing at the same high school, they have to bury their bullshit and learn to feed off each other’s talents in order to come out on top. While the premise sounds like an after-school special, the animation from Production I.G and deep passion that each character has for the sport, unveiled slowly over a “getting the team together” run of several episodes, make it a powerful coming-of-age story.
Watch it if you love: Side Out; The Mighty Ducks
For those who deal with trauma, daily interactions can often feel the hardest to overcome. Clannad seems to understand that, revolving around a boy named Tomoya whose mother died at an early age and whose home life with his father is a series of tacit surrenders to inertia. The action begins — and Tomoya’s life begins to turn around — when he meets five girls in high school; their collective empathy helps him work through his depression. Along the way, he helps solve their various problems too. Clannad may be slow-paced, but its emotional payoffs are entirely worth it.
Watch it if you love: The Spectacular Now; It’s Kind of a Funny Story
In many ways this show feels like vintage Shinichirō Watanabe. The creator of legendary anime series Cowboy Bebop brought this show, which is set on a futuristic Mars, has pop songs as the episode titles, and features financial desperation as the animating concern of his protagonists. In other respects, it’s totally new: Carole and Tuesday the characters are musicians, not bounty hunters, and Carole and Tuesday the show is about chasing your dreams, rather than running from them. This show hasn’t ended yet, but what we’ve seen so far has been excellent.
Watch it if you love: Empire Records; Josie and the Pussycats
Practically every entry in the long-running Gundam maxiseries is about the human cost of using child soldiers in combat, but Iron-Blooded Orphans makes its metaphors much more explicit. The main characters of this show are members of Tekkadan, a private security firm made up of young kids who are referred to as “human debris” throughout the series. When they happen upon a powerful weapon (the titular Gundam), they rise up against their masters and go into business for themselves. Iron-Blooded Orphans pulls no punches, down to the creepy blood-squelching sound effects used when the young soldiers jack in, Matrix-style, to their mecha.
Watch it if you love: Beasts of No Nation; Johnny Mad Dog
As it did with Evangelion, Netflix has taken over English-language stewardship of the original Saint Seiya cartoon and re-released it with a new, uncensored dub — and this one’s actually pretty good (and also available in the original Japanese with subtitles). The anime classic, based on the manga by Masami Kurumada and alternately known as Knights of the Zodiac, follows the battles of five warriors who wield magic armor linked to the constellations. They fight valiantly for the Greek goddess Athena and look badass while doing it.
Watch it if you love: Wonder Woman; Clash of the Titans
Yes, you can wrap this one up in under 45 minutes, but you should really watch it because it’s directed by the great Makoto Shinkai, the anime film director known for his photorealistic and meditative protagonists (see: Your Name and Weathering With You). The Garden of Words was his precursor to those smash hits, using gorgeous images of lush nature as the stage for its two leads’ melancholic emotions.
Watch it if you love: Rainy days; Columbus
Kaiju are nothing if not a metaphor for the turbulent messiness of childhood, and Dino Girl Gauko makes that clear through its protagonist Naoko, who turns into a fire-breathing dinosaur girl when her rage boils over. This is emphatically a kids show, but the super-simplified 2D animation, silly concept, and short runtime (nine-minute episodes!) make it worth the watch if you’ve got little ones of your own, or a niece or nephew that you’d like to entertain. This is the latest work by Akira Shigino, a director with a long career in goofier, child-oriented fare just like this.
Watch it if you love: Inside Out; the whimsical parts of the Anne Hathaway film Colossal
If there’s one Netflix show that’s a true successor to the legendary crossover anime Cowboy Bebop, it’s Cannon Busters. Created by LeSean Thomas, it follows the misadventures of the outlaw Philly the Kid as he dodges bounty hunters, cracks wise, and leads his companions to the location of a prince. With episodes directed by the likes of Natasha Allegri (Adventure Time), Martin Pasko (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), and Thomas himself, in addition to character designs assisted by the comic artist Joe Madureira (Uncanny X-Men), the show’s style is impeccable, down to the pink Cadillac.
Watch it if you love: Firefly; The Boondocks
The thing that saves you when a friend dies is having more friends around you to share the pain and remind you that it’s OK to move on. Anohana is an 11-episode series entirely based around the grief a young friend group experience when they lose one of their own, who reappears like a ghostly figure in their lives and haunts their day-to-day until they can learn to accept the fact that she’s gone and that, sometimes, life works out this way. Anohana may be artful and tragic, but it’s ultimately hopeful, because that’s what you need to keep going.
Watch it if you love: Manchester by the Sea; I Kill Giants
Part high-school melodrama, part slow-burn horror, and part unabashed furry fantasy, Beastars is terrific. It’s all about the tensions that inevitably come up when you throw herbivores and carnivores together and add hormones, but you don’t have to squint to see its commentary on social diversity. The show’s soul, however, is the central relationship between Legoshi, a male gray wolf, and Haru, a female white dwarf rabbit.
Watch it if you love: Zootopia; Cruel Intentions
“What if all your bodily functions were lowly proles?” is the premise here, and the concept of Cells at Work couldn’t be more relevant than in a pandemic. This is the rare anime with episodes that double as lessons in human physiology. Our heroes are AE3803 and U-1146, a red blood cell and a white blood cell; every episode, they contend with a different problem in their community, aka some pour soul’s body, whether that’s “Food Poisoning,” “Influenza,” “Scrape Wound,” or more.
Watch it if you love: Osmosis Jones; the “Inside Ralphie” episode of The Magic School Bus
Netflix is currently developing a live-action version of this long-running anime classic, so it’s no surprise that the first 130 episodes of One Piece’s mammoth run (929 and counting!) are now available to watch. One Piece follows the journey of Monkey D. Luffy, a boy in a straw hat and magic, rubber-limbed powers who dreams of becoming the world’s most notorious pirate. And the show’s massive cast of pirate players, who are designed with flair in the early seasons by Noboru Koizumi, make it a reliably fun, goofy watch.
Watch it if you love: Pirates of the Caribbean; Black Sails
“Bizarre” doesn’t really capture how over the top JoJo’s can be, given its transparent references to classic rock and pop culture (characters named Dio Brando and Robert E.O. Speedwagon) and the herculean musculature of its character designs. But the trappings of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure are very much the main event. You don’t watch it for deep insights into the human condition, you watch it to relish the fights between bros with biceps the size of truck tires.
Watch it if you love: Bloodsport; Mortal Kombat
Few shows can depict the wonder of open sky quite like Drifting Dragons does. Its heroes are “drakers”: dragon hunters who take to the winds in search of lucrative dragon meat and dragon oil. The visuals are a delight in Drifting Dragons, which is awash with color and vibrant dragon designs that look more like the angels seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion than the dragons you might see on Game of Thrones. Just about every episode presents a fun dragon meat recipe, which helps flesh out the world.
Watch it if you love: Moby Dick; TaleSpin
In the ‘90s, Cardcaptor Sakura helped set the template for a certain type of “magical girl” anime. The show is more or less an elementary-school take on Sailor Moon, focused on the fourth-grader Sakura and her quest to retrieve a set of magical cards that she released into the world. Sakura is a lovable firecracker and one of the all-women manga artist group CLAMP’s most iconic creations.
Watch it if you love: Wynonna Earp; Lizzie McGuire
This show will make you ask questions like: “Why is this character orgasming after eating a squid tentacle with peanut butter on it?” Such is reality in Food Wars!, an unabashedly horny, strangely mouth-watering show about a young chef who engages in cooking competitions at culinary school. Food Wars! turns cooking — basically — into a sports anime, which are a distinct sub-genre all their own, and part of its fun is how it sexualizes everything related to the food its characters cook. An acquired taste, yes, but rich nonetheless.
Watch it if you love: Top Chef; Samurai Gourmet
The alien invasion is coming, but the one that tried to take over your mind and body fudged it. Parasyte is what happens when a human, Shinichi, and an alien worm, Migi, decide to work together to save themselves and the Earth. Parasyte is a fun spin on a symbiote story, mostly thanks to Migi’s humor and the innovative designs originated by the manga’s creator Hitoshi Iwaaki and adapted for anime by Tadashi Hiramatsu.
Watch it if you love: The Yeerks in Animorphs; Venom
This Chinese martial-arts action anime is unlike any on this list. Its hero is a wannabe professional assassin who screws up his assignment. His recourse: go undercover as a hairdresser in a salon. The offbeat humor of Scissor Seven’s premise and mumbling, grumbling characters pair nicely with the show’s jagged, thick-outlined art style and action. The show’s heroes may be scum, but we don’t mind.
Watch it if you love: Grosse Pointe Blank; Barry
Wrapped in the darkness and angular character designs that creator Kazuto Nakazawa is known for, B: The Beginning is a supernatural crime saga. Our lead is an antisocial super-detective named Keith Flick who is brought back into service to investigate a serial killer. B’s plot may be tried-and-true, but its execution is flawless, and fans have been agitating for a second season from Netflix since the show dropped in 2018.
Watch it if you love: True Detective Season 1; Constantine
Like many of the others on this list, Netflix’s Baki series is a long-running franchise that’s been given a refresh, and, like its predecessors, how much you enjoy it will depend on how into watching comically burly men pummel the hell out of each other. Baki’s plot is basically nonsense — blah blah underground fighting, something something dark martial arts, “Dad!!” — but that doesn’t really matter. The animation is lovely and the show is a lot of fun. Disbelief is overrated anyway.
Watch it if you love: the idea of the Cleganebowl; George Butler’s Pumping Iron movies
Eric Vilas-Boas was the co-editor of the animation website The Dot and Line.