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The 70 Best Anime Movies and TV Shows on Netflix Right Now

Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Netflix

This article is regularly updated as more titles join Netflix.

Every month, Netflix shuffles in more and more Japanese anime to its massive library of titles. This is, of course, because anime is popular and good. The service has invested truckloads of money into this segment of its programming over the years, producing original series and movies, as well as making big-ticket licensing acquisitions for world-famous franchises like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Attack on Titan, Cardcaptor Sakura, and others 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 streaming platforms has influenced or was influenced by the TV and cinema of America and elsewhere. All this is to say you should give the art form 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 in a feed, this list is for you. We’ve divided the list into two categories: 20 of Netflix’s best anime films, followed by 50 of its best anime series.

Use these links to jump ahead, if you like:

The Best Anime Movies on Netflix

The Classics
➽ The Deep Cuts

The Best Anime TV Shows on Netflix

 The Classics
The Deep Cuts

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The Best Anime Movies on Netflix

Five classics, followed by 15 next-level faves.

Anime Cinema 101

Five anime titles on Netflix now that any self-respecting student of the medium really should expose themselves to, ASAP, if they haven’t already.

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

This first film directed by animation master Hayao Miyazaki may be about a gentleman thief and his rascally friends, but it softened the edges on manga creator Monkey Punch’s devil-may-care Lupin III considerably. Rather than a conniving con man, Lupin turns romantic hero in The Castle of Cagliostro, endeavoring to save a princess named Clarisse from an arranged marriage to a dastardly count. The castle itself is the star, though. Miyazaki (who would return to several gigantic castles throughout his directing career) and his team clearly meticulously mapped it out, utilizing its construction in as much of the physical action of the plot as possible — an attractive visual showcase and the ultimate challenge for a practiced second-story man like Lupin.

Watch it if you love: The Pink Panther series, Roger Moore’s Bond films

The Mobile Suit Gundam film series

Okay, fine, this is a cheat: These weren’t all originally movies, exactly. The Mobile Suit Gundam film trilogy is a compilation and truncation of the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series. They still absolutely rule if you appreciate giant robots, meditations on the nature of war and peace, and obvious textual comparisons to the rise of Nazism. The series by Yoshiyuki Tomino, with designs by the talented Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, spawned a sprawling franchise that was comparable in Japan to the hype around Star Wars in the States. To dip your toe in: Start with the first film to get a taste, and if you like what you see, finish the trilogy (or watch the full TV series on Funimation), then track down the excellent direct sequel Zeta Gundam (also on Funimation), then watch Char’s Counterattack on Netflix, easily the best film of the franchise. Also on Netflix: several other seasons of various Gundam TV series, in case you haven’t had enough.

Watch it if you love: Battlestar Galactic, The Forever War

Mirai

Most firstborns who have had to welcome a younger sibling to the house can probably relate to the plot of Mirai — in which 4-year-old Kun finds his world shaken up by the arrival of his newborn sister. Made before Belle, this one of director Mamoru Hosoda’s recent efforts, and though it’s not quite as visually eye-popping as a film set in virtual reality, it’s story is more intimate and, frankly, way cuter, as any film about a small child’s imagination tends to be.

Watch it if you love: Bridge to Terabithia, The Skeleton Twins

In This Corner of the World

Several anime films have reflected on the civilian tragedies of World War II (including the classics Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies), but director Sunao Katabuchi sat with them longer than anyone else. In This Corner of the World, set in Japan’s Hiroshima and Kure in the years 1944 and 1945, is the longest animated film ever made, and its watercolor backgrounds and simple linework illustrate the uncertainty and rationing of wartime life at home as well as the terror of learning that your family and hometown were wiped out in a cloud of fire and light. The story of its heroine, Suzu, who does everything she can to hold herself and her family together, is devastating and remarkable.

Watch it if you love: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Life Is Beautiful

A Silent Voice: The Movie

The defendant: Japanese studio Kyoto Animation. The charge: a persistent focus on the inward selves of messy main characters. In A Silent Voice, that’s Shoya, a high-schooler growing so deeply depressed that he has begun imagining Xs on people’s faces, has to ask his classmates point-blank what the protocol is for making friends, and has even considered ending his life. Things turn around for him when he reconnects with Shoko, a deaf girl he used to bully mercilessly in middle school. Shoya’s rocky, emotionally fraught redemption isn’t easy, nor is it terribly exciting. This isn’t an action movie or a traditionally grand romance. Director Naoko Yamada is a favorite of video-game auteur Hideo Kojima, and in her character study, less is more. The final verdict: a must-watch.

Watch it if you love: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now

Visionary film favorites

Fifteen daring and dynamic titles from animators whose names may not yet be on everyone’s lips but should be.

Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

A darling teen rom-com, Kyōhei Ishiguro’s Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop jumps off the screen in bright, saturated colors. Every cel of this movie, fittingly, looks like it was spray-painted in neon hues, a tone that complements both its energy and the creativity and vulnerability of its heroes, Cherry, a haiku poet, and Smile, a braces-wearing influencer. They fall to their insecurities and fall for each other as they pick themselves back up. If you’ve seen the director’s series Your Lie in April, you may enjoy this latest serving of teen puppy love and music, but take heed: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop has a happier ending than that series.

Watch it if you love: Eighth Grade; Ingrid Goes West

Children of the Sea

If surreal, swirling water animation and marine biology are your thing, you could do far worse than this new classic from Studio 4°C and director Ayumu Watanabe. After a young girl gets too aggressive on the handball court, she’s benched and winds up hanging out with a pair of sea-faring kids raised by dugongs. The three find themselves connected to the sea and water itself: feeling it, manipulating it, and maybe even … becoming it? We’re not totally sure. This movie is slippery when wet, but nonetheless stunning to look at.

Watch it if you love: Finding Nemo; The Shape of Water

Lu Over the Wall

Like Devilman Crybaby, another Netflix title from director Masaaki Yuasa and his animation studio Science Saru, Lu Over the Wall follows cool teens as they collide with adversity, dope music, and ancient magic. In this case, it’s merfolk who emerge from the sea to dance and jam out. Yuasa’s detailed, exaggerated character models are omnipresent, aiming guitars and body parts right at the camera and firing torrents of water magic across the screen.

Watch it if you love: The Little Mermaid; Disney Channel original movie The Thirteenth Year

The Berserk: The Golden Age Arc films

The late manga creator Kentaro Miura’s Berserk has seen a few anime adaptations now. While the ’90s series is still undefeated, this more recent reimagining as a film trilogy is just as brutally intoxicating. Directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka of Studio 4ºC, the films’ use of CGI is a mixed bag — the faces at times looking unnaturally stiff even as action scenes faithfully replicate Miura’s gore and bloodshed — but overall they are a worthy introduction to the series and powerful artworks unto themselves.

Watch it if you love: The Witcher; Dark Souls

Flavors of Youth

This gorgeous collaboration between CoMix Wave Films, the Japanese studio behind anime megahit Your Name, and the Chinese animators at Haoliners Animation League is an anthology set in different regions of China. Flavors of Youth tackles the complexities of young love, fashion, and delicious noodles and renders each subject in clean, attractive linework. The three short films vary in length, style, and presentation, but they share a wistful, hopeful sense of beauty and their protagonists’ self-actualizations.

Watch it if you love: Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales; Night on Earth

Fireworks

Directed by Nobuyuki Takeuchi (a longtime Studio Ghibli animator) and Akiyuki Shinbō (director of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and March Comes in like a Lion), Fireworks’ pops of creativity come through in the visuals more than they do in the writing. This movie can be confusing. Is the marble a tool for time travel? Do these kids talk about anything other than fireworks being round or flat? Is it all just a big “what if” scenario? But Fireworks’ visual expressiveness is also what makes it cool, with images of explosions surrounding the lead characters, or the seemingly infinite swirls inside the marble, or a swimmer’s hands and body slicing through water. Fireworks may be about a fantasy love triangle among some kids, but it’s really about the vibe, man.

Watch it if you love: A Wrinkle in Time; Primer

The Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters films

Those cringing at the idea of a CGI-anime Godzilla movie should rest easy, as this trilogy of films was made by pros. Directors Kōbun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita collaborated with celebrated writer Gen Urobuchi on Planet of Monsters, City on the Edge of Battle, and The Planet Eater, which are movies in which Godzilla faces off against the future, aliens, Mechagodzilla, and — eventually — King Ghidorah. Admittedly, this isn’t the best spot to start your Godzilla bingeing, which will always be 1954’s Godzilla, but it’s a great futuristic adaptation of the kaiju themes and action of the series.

Watch it if you love: 1954’s Godzilla; Prometheus

Gantz: O

An alien horror film as explicitly gory as it is mind-boggling, you’ll practically have to wipe entrails off yourself after watching Gantz: O. The action heroes du jour are a futuristic strike team made up of people who have almost died, but instead of kicking the bucket, they’re playing a seriously messed-up game where they have to kill as many alien monsters as possible. Whoever wins can either go back to their past lives, obtain some super-powerful weapon, or revive a dead person. Keiichi Sato’s film is better than it sounds, even if you might need to read up on the Gantz franchise a bit to understand everything going on in it.

Watch it if you love: The Suicide Squad; Ender’s Game

A Whisker Away

Cats may be cute, but trapping yourself in one’s body forever isn’t. Such is the Faustian bargain young Miyo struck: choosing to become a fluffy kitty in order to be closer to her beloved crush, Hinode. It backfires on her, of course, as she learns that she can’t translate her purring and snuggling into human affection. Directed by Tomotaka Shibayama (Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Your Lie in April) and Junichi Sato (series director of Sailor Moon’s first two seasons), the cutesiness of A Whisker Away is its appeal, and its design — particularly, the secret island of cats in the third act — is spellbinding.

Watch it if you love: The Private Life of a Cat; Magical Girl

Blame!

Blame! is the dark, literally. The atmosphere of director Hiroyuki Seshita’s film is oppressively grim, set in a largely lifeless, incredibly massive metal-worked “City” populated by humans and cyborgs all trying to get through their days without being erased from existence by the City’s so-called Safeguard, a defensive system that can no longer be shut off. It’s as if we only followed the real-world resistance of the heroes of The Matrix films as they traversed the cavernous deserts of long-abandoned machinery, negotiating killer robots as they did.

Watch it if you love: Autómata; Natural City

Expelled From Paradise

A hunt for a hacker along the ravaged plains of Earth turns into an odd-couple buddy movie led by a prideful investigator raised in cyberspace and given a cloned body and her roguish human partner. Their target is an individual responsible for ravaging the systems of the space station DEVA, a sort of cloud-storage refuge for people who have chosen to upload their consciousnesses rather than remain on Earth. Written by Gen Urobuchi and directed by Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa), Expelled From Paradise asks serious questions about personhood and identity between its mech battles.

Watch it if you love: Ex Machina; Total Recall

Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury

Muscle cars, burly swordmasters, guts, and cyberpunk ultraviolence define practically every moment of this 40-minute extended music video from Sturgill Simpson and XX. Like Daft Punk and Linkin Park before him, the outlaw country musician partnered with respected anime creators on his way to branching out. Junpei Mizusaki of Batman Ninja led a directing team that included Kôji Morimoto (Akira), Michael Arias (Tekkonkinkreet), Arthell Isom (The Weeknd’s “Snowchild” video), and others to create a multipart action spectacle that doesn’t waste a single second. What it all means feels almost intentionally opaque — it’s an album-length music video — but its cuts are deep.

Watch it if you love: Animated music videos; Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

Okko’s Inn

This charming ghost story, directed by Kitarō Kōsaka of Madhouse, may feel a bit like a Studio Ghibli film because he worked on the studio’s films for decades before taking on this first feature. After losing her parents in a harrowing car crash, Okko moves into and starts working at her grandmother’s traditional Japanese inn, haunted by ghosts still reckoning with their own mortality. As Okko works, she comes to understand her own grief over the loss of her mother and father. The inn itself, which welcomes all visitors, becomes a warmhearted representation of the love its characters need to persist.

Watch it if you love: Casper; The Lovely Bones

Modest Heroes

An anthology of three shorts by Studio Ponoc, Modest Heroes runs to under an hour and focuses on unexpected protagonists: a family of crabs, a boy allergic to eggs, and a literally invisible man. Directed by former Ghibli animators Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita, each short is made with a stylistic flourish that gels with its protagonists’ personality or pain, be that the chaos of underwater life or the dour overcast of a man struggling to be seen by those around him.

Watch it if you love: Miranda July movies; The Florida Project

Child of Kamiari Month

Running long-distance races isn’t easy, yet Kanna doesn’t collapse out of exhaustion, but instead because she is grieving her mother, who used to encourage her at the finish line before her death. But what Kanna soon learns in ​​Takana Shirai’s Child of Kamiari Month is that her mother was also a god of footracing, and now it falls on Kanna not just to accept her grief but to embark on a quest delivering offerings to the gods at Izumo-taisha Shrine. Along the way, Child of Kamiari Month dramatizes the interplay between deities in the forms of dragons, cows, rabbits, and more. Keep a Wikipedia tab open to read up, if you’d like.

Watch it if you love: The Odyssey; the Horcrux arc of Harry Potter

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The Best Anime TV Shows on Netflix

Fifty unforgettable titles, from the classics to the deep cuts.

Anime TV staples

Twenty-five anime series on Netflix crucial to understanding the medium, its popularity, and its creative breadth.

Cardcaptor Sakura

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 EarpLizzie McGuire

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba

Anyone looking for a solid action anime should check out Demon Slayer, one of the biggest anime properties of the last few years. 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, 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: FrankensteinBuffy the Vampire Slayer

Neon Genesis Evangelion

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 OdysseyTwin Peaks

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

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

One Punch Man

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 (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 ManThor: Ragnarok

Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden

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: WWEPower Rangers

Little Witch Academia

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

Kill La Kill

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 WorldAlita: Battle Angel

Violet Evergarden

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. Both the show and film are on Netflix.

Watch it if you love: The Best Years of Our Lives; Léon: The Professional

Gurren Lagann

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 faveIts 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

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

Your Lie in April

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

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-DooSesame Street

One Piece

Netflix is currently developing a live-action series of this long-running anime classic, so it’s no surprise that several seasons of One Piece’s mammoth run (981 episodes 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 CaribbeanBlack Sails

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

“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: BloodsportMortal Kombat

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma

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 ChefSamurai Gourmet

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K

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, delightfully meta comedy of errors.

Watch it if you love: Sabrina the Teenage Witch; the character Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation

March Comes in Like a Lion

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 PeopleSix Feet Under

Hunter x Hunter

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. 2How I Met Your Mother

Inuyasha

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: OutlanderXena: Warrior Princess

Fate/Zero

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

Ouran High School Host Club

Despite its debut in the decidedly less woke mid-aughts, this gender-bending lampoon of Japanese otaku and host-club culture is chock-full of graces and rewards. After our teen hero Haruhi Fujioka is initially mistaken for a man and becomes part of her prestigious academy’s host club — a group of dashing young men who entertain their female classmates with sweets and tea — she treats her gender as fluid, embracing her tomboyish dress and no-bullshit attitude. She’s also far from the only LGBTQ character in the show, which Alenka Figa of The Mary Sue once pointed out had a “straight-to-queer ratio” of 50-50.

Watch it if you love: Asia Kate Dillon’s character in Billions; Twelfth Night

Cowboy Bebop

Fueled by style, swagger, and big, blasting horn sections, Cowboy Bebop is emphatically not its misbegotten live-action adaptation. The original anime locked four broken individuals (and a cute Welsh corgi) on a spaceship together and turned them into a kind of existentialist bounty-hunting family. The show barely has an overarching plot, and part of its appeal is in watching the leads’ hearts slowly melt for each other as they individually reckon with their past lives. Bebop is as classic as it gets among action anime, and fans like to say, “This is what you watch if you’ve never watched anime,” because so many of its influences defined an American zeitgeist at one point or another: Nods to film noir, cyberpunk, Westerns, rock n’ roll, jazz, Bruce Lee, and even Ridley Scott’s Alien permeate its episodes.

Watch it if you love: Enter the Dragon; The Long Goodbye

Attack on Titan

The squeamish should avoid Attack on Titan like they would avoid any other depictions of brutal naked giants ripping bodies apart with their teeth. The show, while an excitingly action-packed, utterly engrossing narrative, can be a tough pill to swallow. Its eponymous Titans are gruesome, zombies and its protagonists are traumatized children who slowly come to understand the totalitarian regime they live in. (Attack on Titan’s fascist subtext is widely controversial.) What the show does well is depict the flawed and messy ways those children respond to the violence around them.

Watch it if you love: Tokusatsu films; Rogue One

Otaku-pleasing deep cuts

Twenty-five titles for those who need no introduction to the medium but crave something fresh.

Great Pretender

“I’m Japan’s top scam artist,” boasts Makoto Edamura in Great Pretender’s first episode, which — for creative reasons — is partly delivered in Japanese, even in the English dub. It’s all part of the con of Great Pretender, a show that will absolutely zig exactly where you would expect it to zag. Edamura himself, for example, rarely has the upper hand, despite being the series’ leading con man. Meanwhile, his closest associate, Laurent, is the true expert con artist but uses his swindling prowess for good, screwing over only the rich assholes who deserve it. An especially nice touch: Using Freddie Mercury’s “The Great Pretender” as the closing theme song.

Watch it if you love: Mad Men; The Sting

Sword Art Online

Within the first few episodes of Sword Art Online, its characters are trapped in a virtual prison, face the mounting mental-health crises of their peers, and are forced to team up to survive. Any show about playing a video game could risk getting old fast, but Sword Art Online ratchets its stakes up immediately, giving leads Kirito and Asuna plenty to fight against and to glean from their compatriots within the titular game as they learn its rules and solve the mysteries of the players who exploit them.

Watch it if you love: The eeriness of Pleasantville; Mr. Anderson’s new job in The Matrix Resurrections

Megalobox

Created by Yō Moriyama, Megalobox is a kind of love letter to Ashita no Joe, a stone-cold classic boxing anime of yore. In its corner sits Junk Dog, a.k.a. Gearless Joe, an athlete who fights in Megalo Boxing matches — fights where the boxers wear several pounds of mechanical equipment that make their punches land harder and faster. Like Ashita no Joe, there’s a grungy grit to Megalobox’s art style; the whole show looks as if it had been pounded into the dirt. But that doesn’t stop the action from moving exactly as fast as you want it to.

Watch it if you love: Creed; Tony’s return to the ring in Taxi

Yasuke

Fans of hip-hop and swordplay alike should vibe with this show from LeSean Thomas, who worked on Black DynamiteThe 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 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

High-Rise Invasion

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

Erased

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 & Bunny

“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 BoysThe Tick

Japan Sinks: 2020

Japan Sinks: 2020 felt almost too on the nose when it came out in 2020. The latest work by visionary director Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman CrybabyThe Tatami GalaxyPing 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 QuakeEarthquake

Dorohedoro

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: MementoHellboy

Kuroko’s Basketball

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 HeroesThe Prince of Tennis, and Samurai 7.

Watch it if you love: Friday Night Lights; The Last Dance

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

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 MailMuch Ado About Nothing

Heaven’s Official Blessing

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, SimonMoonlight

A Lull in the Sea

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

Pop Team Epic

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: SNLRobot Chicken

Children of the Whales

Children of the Whales plays with the idea of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged 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: DuneMortal Engines

Devilman Crybaby

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

Neo Yokio

Cocktails, existential dread, sartorial excellence, and squid-ink fettuccine take center stage in this anime starring Jaden Smithcreated 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, it doesn’t outstay its 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 BoondocksThe Royal Tenenbaums

Carole and Tuesday

In many ways this show feels like vintage Shinichirō Watanabe. The creator of legendary anime series Cowboy Bebop delivered this show with a similar vibe in 2019, setting it on a futuristic Mars, with pop songs as the episode titles and 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.

Watch it if you love: Empire RecordsJosie and the Pussycats

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

The thing that saves you when you lose someone is having a support network 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 SeaI Kill Giants

Beastars

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: ZootopiaCruel Intentions

Cells at Work!

“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

Parasyte

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 AnimorphsVenom

Scissor Seven

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 BlankBarry

Baki

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 concept of Cleganebowl; George Butler’s Pumping Iron movies

The Way of the Househusband

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. 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 ThisMarried to the Mob

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