Selecting the best anime on Netflix is pretty much like choosing the best Netflix TV show: there are hundreds of titles and thousands of forehead-vein-popping fans ready to jot your name into a Death Note if you flub the rankings. Well, we’re just going to not rank them. So there.
While “anime” is just a term derived from “animation,” the word denotes art specifically made in Japan. If it’s animated and written, drawn, and produced in Japan, it’s probably safe to call it “anime.” Cartoons anywhere else in the world—even those which adopt similar animation styles, techniques, or storylines—don’t pass the definition test. So while we love Avatar: The Last Airbender, which pays tribute to various forms of Asian art, both animated and otherwise, we have to leave it on the bench. Only Japanese shows and movies get to play.
Aside from some of our favorites, we’ve also decided to choose shows and movies with genre significance—which means commercial properties serious fans might not consider worthy are here anyway. Deal with it.
Of course, those serious anime fans probably don’t frequent Netflix, anyway, given the myriad of foreign (and usually illegal) sites housing every season of One Piece and every production ending in “Miyazaki.” Those of us who find ourselves on Netflix are probably just—how should we say it?—filthy casuals. But, hey, at least we’re not—how can we put it politely? —weebs.
So pat yourself on the back for every one of these you haven’t discovered yet. (We envy anyone who can watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood for the first time.) Here are the best anime movies and shows currently on Netflix. The rabbit hole to weeboo awaits.
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-2012)
Elsewhere, we ranked FMAB as the #4 animated series of all time, so it’s not just good anime; it’s good TV, period. Something like an rated-R Avatar: The Last Airbender, FMAB is part family drama, part war epic, part political allegory.
One Punch Man (2015- )
While you may want to do your satirical due diligence and watch other anime first—One Punch primarily makes fun of its own genre—the series still stands alone. It subverts power-up anime by granting its hero literally all the power. His struggles then become more … mundane.
Attack on Titan (2013- )
Giant skinless creature inexplicably exist and randomly crash the gates of a pan-medieval era city. While the concept looks absolutely stupid in live action, the anime series absolutely rocks. It’s a mystery-box storyline full of some of the most violent and emotionally gutting scenes in TV. It also may or may not be a giant political allegory. As is the case with most of these, apparently.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Neon Genesis helped rejuvenate critical attention to the anime genre and has since become one of the most influential Japanese series of all time. Set fifteen years after a near-apocalypse event, the series explorers everything from world religions to mental health and depression.
Demon Slayer (2019- )
One of the newer anime sensations, Demon Slayer is adapted from one of the most successful current Japanese mangas. The series has so far delivered big, with some of the best action scenes in recent memory. High hopes for this one.
Code Geass (2006-2007)
An exiled prince uses a super power to lead a rebellion against the ruling empire. Within that premise exists one of the most complete animes on this list. Action. Character. Music. It delivers.
Naruto is exactly the kind of anime One Punch Man was written to parody. While it may be more difficult to come to Naruto later in life, the series remains one of the most culturally influential animes ever. Watch it for a cultural education—and to learn why those kids in your freshman dorm ran through the hallways so weird.
Pokémon (1997- )
While Netflix only has one season of the original Pokémon—maybe the most iconic anime of all time—don’t let that stop you from reliving your childhood for the umpteenth time. Then go for a walk with your phone and hatch some eggs. #Pokémonforever.
Of all mediums, anime may be the one best making use of science-fiction. Erased, in particular, deploys time traveling to devastating effect. It’s one of those shows it’s best not to know too much going in. Just watch.
March Comes in Like a Lion (2016-2018)
While many of the anime thus far have been violent, explosive, and other-worldly, the genre is also full of narrative realism—sometimes employed for melodrama, as we’ll see below, and sometimes employed for what we might call “slice of life” drama. March Comes in Like a Lion is a great version of the latter.
Death Note (2006-2007)
A teenager finds a notebook that allows him to kill anyone written on the page. What follows is maybe the darkest and most cerebral anime on this list. It also lead to some real-life copycat murders. The series was even initially banned in parts of Asia.
One Piece (1999- )
One of the longest-running animes out there, One Piece is also one of the medium’s most beloved properties. This might be a good time to mention that Netflix doesn’t really include every season of every anime. They have four seasons of One Piece. The show has been around for two decades.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012- )
For some inexplicable reason, Netflix only has the second season of the adaptation of this hugely influential manga. We’re not gonna tell you to go elsewhere to illegally watch the first chapter, but ….
It’s like those what-was-going-through-your-head post game athlete interview questions, except the answer lasts for an entire soliloquy. A soap opera on the volleyball court? Maybe. But who cares.
Aggretsuko (2018- )
Like One Punch Man, Aggretsuko is primarily satire, this time taking aim at corporate life. An anthropomorphized red panda is locked in epic battles with … coworkers and superiors. It’s bleak and hilarious and maybe a little too real for young professional viewers.
Kill La Kill (2013-2014)
Kill La Kill is excessive and frenetic and, at times, kind of stupid. It’s also just a hell of a lot of fun. The series is mostly focussed on the fighting and battles, and we have absolutely no problem with this decision.
Parasyte: The Maxim (2014–2015)
In the West, the closest to what you might call “horror animation” is maybe just Scooby-Doo. Parasyte: The Maxim is brutal and dark and legitimately unnerving. Of course, it’s not just horror for the sake of horror. It does so much more.
Hunter x Hunter (2011–2014)
Dopey as it may look, Hunter x Hunter throws some serious emotional punches. It’s a fan favorite anime that only gets stronger as the episodes progress.
Part Arthurian romance, part fantasy epic, Fate/Zero is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. With some of the best visuals and a mesmerizing soundtrack, it’s definitely one to add to your list.
Your Life in April (2014-2015)
Back in the world of (slightly more) realism, Your Life in April makes for a slower, more emotional ride. But it’s one worth taking, with the series shirking lots of romantic clichés so many other animes embrace too eagerly.
Castlevania (2017- )
Vampire hunting can either turn out to be very good or very bad for film. Castlevania somehow gets better with every season. It may be the best cinematic property based on a video game.
Great Pretender (2020– )
A crazy spy-vs-spy-like saga between conmen, Great Pretender is fun, weird, and definitely different. It’s also a pretty quick watch you can binge in an afternoon.
Sword Art Online (2012)
It looks like a video game, because it kind of is. Thousands of people get trapped in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The mission: escape.
Food Wars (2015– )
Food Wars is utterly ridiculous. Maybe the most intense culinary show out there, the series dramatizes an already frenetic industry and basically injects it with PCP. Watching on an empty stomach is not recommended.
Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Alright, let’s turn to some movies. Castle of Cagliostro, currently the only Miyazaki movie on Netflix (c’mon, Netflix, make a deal!), is also the legendary director’s first feature-length project. Check it out and then watch the rest of the Miyazaki cannon.
In This Corner of the World (2016)
The corner of the world is Hiroshima during the Second World War. Amidst food rations and scarcity, a recently married woman prepares meals for her family. It’s beautiful and emotional and basically everything we’ve come to expect from good WWII-set anime.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)
While some fans were upset Mary didn’t live up to its Studio Ghibli comparisons, the film is still a stunning work of animation and well worth the watch. Plus, it captures the delight of those classic works of anime, so what else can you ask for?
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (2012-2013)
While not quite at the level of the 1997 original, this series of movies makes for great action. If epic animes seem of interest, but you’re not yet willing to commit to an entire TV series, let Berserk be your gateway anime.
A Silent Voice: The Movie (2016)
A boy bullies a deaf girl so much she moves away. Later, after considering suicide, the boy seeks redemption. A Silent Voice appropriately tackles themes of anxiety, depression, and bullying. It’s one of the most emotional stories on this list, and that’s saying something.
From Mamoru Hosoda, Mirai uses sci-fi to tell a multi generational family story. It’s gorgeously animated (as is all Hosoda), fun, light, and a great summer afternoon choice. It’s at the end of our list, but maybe the Netflix anime you should watch first.
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