The best anime on Netflix right now
Since becoming the dominant force in streaming — and now, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that stunted most other entertainment entities, Hollywood itself — Netflix has been slowly expanding its vast library of original and curated titles, including animation. While the streamer studio develops more original animated titles, it has also been acquiring assets left and right to become a prime destination for anime.
Traditionally, anime refers to Japanimation, i.e. animation of a unique and vibrant style of animation that spans hand-drawn and computer-generated artistry. But Netflix's roster — as in, titles that populate Netflix's dedicated anime genre — also incorporates anime-inspired works. Altogether, there's a lot to sift through and titles come and go with the ebb and flow of the acquisitions tide.
Here is EW's curated list of the best anime on Netflix right now.
Witness the birthplace of "the Naruto run" — i.e. running at full speed with your torso angled forward and arms thrown backwards. Its namesake belongs to a beloved anime franchise that spans TV series, TV specials, movies, video games, and the original manga on which the original show is based. It begins with Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who dreams of becoming a Hokage, leader of his village. Hundreds of episodes have chronicles his adventures and Netflix has carved out space for nine seasons of the show and multiple Naruto Shippûden movies.
Watch if you: even liked Power Rangers 'cause they also mimic the Naruto run.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
One brother with an affinity for alchemy loses a leg in a resurrection experiment gone wrong. The other brother, also into alchemy, loses his entire body. To bring back his beloved sibling, the first brother severs his arm in a ritual that places his brother's soul into a suit of armor. Fantastical adventures to secure the coveted philosopher's stone and restore their own bodies then ensue. This is the story at the start of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which also comes with the added bonus of resonating with modern audiences with the ideas of authoritarianism and fascism. An oppressive government has its own nefarious plans? You don't say.
File under: The anime is better than the live-action.
Here's a throwback to anyone who grew up on the Kids WB! cartoon block: the adventures of Sakura, a 10-year-old fourth-grader who's just trying to get through the pangs of growing up and the pressures of school when she accidentally opens a magical tome that spills all of its Clow Cards out into the world. Now she has to add sorceress to her list of responsibilities as she scrambles to wrangle all the mystical entities that are running amok.
Watch if you: Spent your childhood thrusting broomsticks into your parents' faces and screaming "release and dispel!"
The Death Note strikes an ominous chord with anyone even remotely familiar with the anime adapted from the Tsugumi Ohba manga. Despite the presence of a mystical tome that kills anyone whose name is scribbled within its pages and the seriously spooky death-bringer "shinigami" spirit, Ryuk, the show is fairly light on the fantastical elements. The phrase "cat-and-mouse game" has been overdone to death, but that's what it is —between Light Yagami, the disaffected high school teen killing so(oooooo) many people by writing their names in the book of death, and an international detective who goes by L. Netflix adapted the story into a live-action version that didn't quite capture the spirit. The original will never die.
File under: Toxic male rage.
One Punch Man
What happens when you're the superhero known as the "One Punch Man," meaning, for better and worse, you have a habit of defeating enemies with one punch? It's "better" because you remain undefeated. It's "worse" because you don't have a worthy opponent. What does that do to a person's psychosis? Well, for superhero Saitama, who has this very problem, he seems kinda nonchalant about it. In our superhero-obsessed culture, this fresh, fun take on the sub-genre will bring many laughs and wild moments. No wonder Sony is looking to make it into a live-action movie.
File under: Jockeying all the superhero stereotypes.
Attack on Titan
This isn't the attack on Titan — as in, the Avengers fighting Thanos on the planet Titan in Avengers: Infinity War. This is one of the most popular pieces of anime of all time. The world of Attack on Titan is constantly under attack by these giant humanoid creatures called titans. They are savage, both in look and practice; they often appear as gargantuan humans that have been turned inside out and they attack like zombies (i.e. there's lots of blood). At the heart of this not-for-the-faint-of-heart saga are children dealing with the violence that occurs around them. Some say it's more of a coming-of-age story. It's debatable... and, also, has been debated.
File under: Attack on my sensory processors.
You know the theme song. Chances are you can hum it in your sleep. There's a reason the exquisite art of capturing super-powered creatures inside technologically advanced container balls and training them for battle because such a wild international sensation that sparking multiple shows, movies, video games, toy lines, you name it. Pokémon maintains the themes of teamwork and sportsmanship, hard work and perseverance, and the power of friendship. How long will it take to watch every single episode and every single movie in order? Let's find out.
Watch if you: Wanna pika-chew on a show for a long time.
The popularity of Yu-Gi-Oh! and its trading card game featuring fantastical beasts rode on the back of Pokémon into the U.S. But it's very much it's own thing. Sure, the hero is still traversing around the globe, challenging people in games of Duel Monsters in the hopes of progressing through a tournament. But this hero, the kind-hearted Yugi, is possessed by a more bold, zealous spirit that goes by Pharaoh. And his goal isn't to "catch 'em all" and "be the best," he's trying to free the captured soul of his father. Dark stuff for a high school kid to handle. But still very kid friendly.
File under: Unleashing your inner gambler.
Mobile Suit Gundam
Introducing Japan's space opera. There are giant robots, teens piloting those robots, and an intergalactic feud. There's also some Force-like extrasensory abilities at play. At it all together and you get one of the big anime products of Japan, one that goes back 40 years. Netflix has both Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, an adaptation of the 2007 book, and another Gundam series called Iron-Blood Orphans. One is a battle for space colony independence. The other is about child security agents rebelling with mechs against their adult oppressors. It's one of those highly entertaining franchises with high concepts and poignant themes.
Watch if you like: A good Star Wars-esque blockbuster but with giant megazords.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Netflix acquired the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series that first aired in 1995, as well as two of the films, which was the first time in years the show was readily available. But it came with controversies. The original anime, another tackling the topic of child soldiers, told of humans piloting war machines to take on the threat of Angels, an invasive threat to Tokyo years after a cataclysmic event. As the show progresses, it delves more internally into its characters, including depictions of depression and psychological trauma. It flipped the mech robot series trope, essentially. When it arrived on Netflix, the show was redubbed, the popular Frank Sinatra "Fly Me to the Moon" was swapped out of the credits, and it seemed cursing and a prominent gay romance was erased. In short, there are complicated feelings going around, but they don't erase the legacy of the show as one of the great anime of our time.
File under: Legacy brand.
Sometimes the best way to fight demons is to merge your soul with a demon. That's what the young Akira Fudo does in this modern take on the Devilman series. Castlevania got more U.S. subscribers used to the sight of gnarly beasts raining down buckets of blood, and Devilman Crybaby is equally used to wading into the dark abyss of gross imagery. Disembowelment is a common occurrence as Akira tries so hard to protect his friends and family from the literal evils of the world. But when you become the darkness, it's hard to prevent the darkness from consuming you.
File under: Things with giant, gross tentacle monsters.
Little Witch Academia
Take a 180-degree turn away from the horrors of Devilman and you'll find yourself on the doorsteps of a school for witchcraft. Akko is a young witch who's trying so hard to be the best witch she can be, even though she doesn't come from a magical background and therefore most spells she tries backfires on those around her — but in cute ways. Not in a deadly exploding cauldron kind of way. It's all sunshine and sparkles as she keeps on keeping on.
File under: Good alternatives to magic school stories written by problematic authors.
This isn't your chain-smoking John Constantine brand of exorcism here. Teen Rin Okumura and his brother are the sons of Satan, who conceived them with a mortal woman. So, he's a half-demon of sorts. Only he's the only in line to inherit all of his devil daddy's powers, hence all the blue flame action he's got going on and all the daddy issues. It also writes itself with the themes of battling literal demons and inner demons. Rin goes to True Cross Academy where he tries to hone his abilities to become an exorcist. The show is just as entertaining as that premise.
File under: He Blue himself.
Japan Sinks 2020
Japan Sinks: 2020 hits a bit different in the context of the 2020 pandemic and the looming affects of global warming. Author Sayo Komatsu published his best-selling disaster novel in 1973 with the story of an earthquake hitting Japan and two siblings who try to flee the destruction with their friends and family. Netflix launched an adaptation of this story for a 2020 audience and if you can tell your own anxiety to calm down for a moment, you might appreciate the emotional story fueled by characters who are forced to make impossible choices.
Watch if you: Feel like basking in the glow of your own existential dread.
There's Zootopia, and then there's Beastars. It's not exactly that kind of anthropomorphic Disney fair, but there are definite parallels. This is just much darker. Take a bunch of carnivores, a bunch of herbivores, and throw them into a high school teen setting where meat-eaters are fighting their inner animal instincts to hunt and kill instead of puberty. It's not hard to see the metaphor for human divisions. As these characters struggle to coexist with each other, the central relationship is that of wolf Legoshi who falls for a white rabbit named Haru.
File under: Furry obsession (but not the kind you're thinking about).
Ouran High School Host Club
In the grand tradition of She's the Man and the Shakespeare play that inspired She's the Man — though it's really a parody of host-club culture and the gender stereotypes of anime — Ouran High School Host Club tells another story about a girl impersonating a boy. High school freshman Haruhi Fujioka comes to a prestigious school when she's mistaken for a boy by a club of guys who play romantic hosts to the girls of the school by entertaining them. Haruhi then becomes a part of the host club to pay for the expensive vase she accidentally breaks. The gender-bending is one of many LGBTQ elements on the show. While Haruhi embraces her tomboy style, many characters are more overtly queer, including her father Ryoji, who works as a drag queen and prefers to go by the stage name Ranka.
File under: Yasss kween.
Just like how Netflix is making a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series and so the original and the Legend of Korra sequel are now both available to stream on the platform, the studio brought the first hundred or so episodes of the original One Piece to the service in light of its upcoming live-action version. This massive series follows Monkey D. Luffy, a boy whose body acts like rubber ever since he ate a unique fruit, on his way to secure the treasure known as "One Piece" to become the ultimate pirate king.
File under: Sinbad but with Gumby.
Violet Evergarden is less about fantastically dramatic supernatural or sci-fi battle and much more emotive. A girl named Violet, who had a career as a child soldier and lost limbs as a result, tries to make a new life in a world now marked by peace. Her job, ghostwriting letters with her prosthetic arms and hands, forces a reflection on her own trauma through writing and how to move forward. The series is also stunning to look at, crafted with exquisite animation.
Watch if you: Want to feel something again.
The Seven Deadly Sins
Netflix got a hold of this popular manga-based franchise and released the first seasons on the platform in 2015. It's one of the better fantasy sagas on the service with its mythology around the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of knights with pretty infamous pasts, each one brandishing the tattoo of a different beast and embodying one of the... you know. In the 2014 anime series, which Netflix followed by dropping the film Prisoners of the Sky, a princess seeks out these warriors as the last hope of saving her kingdom from usurpers.
Watch if you: Need a new fantasy saga to get sucked into.