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.
*Titles added for fall 2021 are denoted with an asterisk.
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).
Blood of Zeus
A clear spiritual offspring of Castlevania is Blood of Zeus, a new anime that launched this past October with the story about Heron, a demigod son of Zeus who's caught up in a war between his almighty father and stepmother Hera, as well as a war between the Olympian Gods and the long-dormant Titans. The spawned demon army that multiply as viciously and quickly as vampires even kind of look like the blood-sucking horde from the show's predecessor. It's a little like a B-list Castlevania in that way. It's not quite as skillfully realized between the acting, lip-syncing, and animation. And yet, it's still so much fun, especially for anyone with an obsession with ancient Greek mythology. It's a strong, entertaining filler to hold viewers over for the next Castlevania season.
Watch if you: bought D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths from your elementary school Scholastic Book Fair and are now grown to appreciate Poseidon being a total badass with his triton.
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.
Before Yasuke, animator LeSean Thomas published a fantasy comic book series in 2005 about an immortal outlaw with a transforming pink Cadillac who bands together with a droid duo, who are looking for a missing prince. Thanks to Kickstarter, Thomas was able to adapt the comic into an anime series, and now we have a fantasy story that is funny, dynamic, reverent, and absurd in all the right ways. A fun tidbit: Thomas grew up in New York City but relocated to Japan out of a love for anime and to further his career in animation. Cannon Busters features plenty of homages to the anime works that have come to have an impact on him. And here's a little scoop: Speaking with EW in March 2021, Thomas said there will "absolutely" be another season of the anime. "I can't get into too much detail, but Cannon Busters and Yasuke were projects that were already slated to be made," he said. "I'm really excited about coming back to the world of Gearbolt in Cannon Busters. That's all I can really say for now."
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!"
Castlevania is one of Netflix's big flagship titles that helped launch the streamer's new obsession with making a library of anime-inspired originals pegged to U.S. audiences. That's because Castlevania is such a bloody good time — not just for all the blood that comes with the vampiric filleting and medieval battle sequences. In adapting the classic videogame, the first season brought its main antagonist, Dracula, to the centerfold, but the show has since broadened to become its own unique fantasy world, complete with Game of Thrones-esque political dealings (trade the Lannisters for the vampire empire), dynamic action set pieces, and displays of sorcery that sometimes take cues from Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Syphia's flight by fire-bending is no doubt an Azula homage.) The fourth and final season dropped on Netflix May 13.
File under: the night is dark and full of terrors.
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.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
The one movie slaying the international box office during the pandemic is the anime Demon Slayer — or rather, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train. The movie has bested even Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away to become Japan's highest-grossing film of all time. So, if you want to go back to where it all started and catch up on the story of Tanjiro, his demon sister Nezuko, Thunder Breather Zenitsu, and the wild and crazy Inosuke, watch Demon Slayer, the anime series, on Netflix. Set in a 20th century Taishō-era Japan that is plagued by man-eating demons, Demon Slayer follows Tanjiro, whose family was slaughtered by demons and his sister was turned into one of these entities herself. He sets out to find a cure and ends up joining forces with the Demon Slayer Corps., a secret society of... well, demon slayers who use mystical Breathing Styles to grant them superhuman abilities.
File under: This anime slays.
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.
The anime medium has seen a lot of oddities grace the screen, so a man with the head of a mutant lizard shouldn't raise too many eyebrows. This fun and at times gnarly ('cause of all the blood sports) series, based on the manga by Q Hayashida, is the story of Caiman who lives in a city called "the Hole" in which a bunch of sorcerers have been kidnapping people to use as guinea pigs for their magical experiments. That's how Caiman found himself lying on the street with a bad case of amnesia and a giant lizard head where his human one used to be. He then makes it his mission to run around the city killing sorcerers in the hopes he'll kill the right one to break the curse. He's kind of like Deadpool in some ways. He's got an ugly face and two blades. Just no fourth wall-breaking.
Watch if: you're obsessed with King Shark in The Suicide Squad trailer and want to pre-game with more humans with animal heads.
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.
Remember Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper? Well, Netflix raises with a show about a bunch of skyscrapers connected together by suspension bridges and filled with creepy masked individuals à la The Strangers who are hellbent on killing everyone they come across. High-Rise Invasion is a blood-soaked thrilling romp of a good time. Yuri Honjo, a high school student, finds herself in this strange world of interconnected buildings called "abnormal space." She ends up pulling a Ready or Not situation and decides to fight back against these sadistic attackers in order to survive and get the heck out of this place. If the smiling masks weren't creepy enough, these figures don't go for the full-on slaughter to dispose of their victims. Instead, they generally try to get them to commit suicide. Fun times!
File under: The Purge with skyscrapers.
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.
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.
Marvel Anime: X-Men
The world of the X-Men told through the visual style of anime? You seriously love to see it. The 12-episode anime series that aired in Japan starting in 2010 arrived on Netflix in December. Kicking off with the death of Jean Grey by way of a Phoenix Force overload, the show quickly segues to the X-Men — Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, and Beast — heading to Japan to help a kidnapped mutant, Armor, and face a cult, one that's not too far off from the cult that manipulated Phoenix Jean. The pure joy comes from seeing such abilities like the weather manipulation of Storm and the acrobatics of Beast given the energy that comes from anime. Then there's also Marvel Anime: Wolverine, a companion show that's also on Netflix about the adamantium-laced berserker fighting a crime syndicate, also dropped on the platform.
File under: the original X-Factor.
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.
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.
Neo Yokio arrived with little fanfare on Netflix in 2018, compared to the amount of trailers and marketing materials usually reserved for the streamer's premiere offerings. But it's one of the more notable titles from the anime vertical with Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig aboard as series creator and Jaden Smith voicing the role of magistocrat Kaz Kaan, who fights demons in a futuristic New York that is partially submerged in water. ("The Sea Beneath 14th Street" is what it's called.) Even without that supernatural element, it's already wild and silly because it's equally about the characters' obsessions with topping a city-wide ranking of the most eligible bachelors. It's an anime-inspired show that was made by someone who really likes anime, so there are also lots of nods to things like Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, and other shows from Koenig's list of interests.
File under: Fan-made anime
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.
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.
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.
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 became such a wild international sensation that sparked 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. Only season 1 of the original Indigo League era is on Netflix, but there are multiple other entries in the Poké-verse to check out, including the Sun & Moon saga.
Watch if you: Wanna pika-chew on a show for a long time.
Sailor Moon Crystal*
In the name of the moon, you shall watch the Sailor Moon offerings Netflix has to offer. Of all the magical-girl anime, the story of Princess Serena and her Sailor Guardians are still by far the most well known. While the main Sailor Moon series is still on Hulu, Netflix acquired all three seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal, considered a reboot of the original anime that veered more closely to the manga on which it's all based. The platform also has the Crystal two-part sequel film, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie, an adaptation of the Dreams manga in which dark entities shroud the earth in an eclipse and target each of the Guardians by playing on their nightmares.
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.
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.
LeSean Thomas, the creator of Cannon Busters on Netflix, sees his work as "gateway anime" to bring in new audiences to the medium. Yasuke accomplishes that. In fact, for those who have no clue where to start when first diving in, this fantasy saga, inspired by the world's first African samurai of the same name, is a great place to dip one's toes. Judas and the Black Messiah Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield voices Yasuke in this alt-history series. After a life of violence, the lone ronin is trying to live a peaceful existence as a boatsman to a small village when he comes across a mysterious girl who wields immense supernatural power that is coveted by nefarious forces. Compelled to help her, Yasuke picks up the sword once more. It's a show that feels wholly unique while also paying homage to some classic anime. Plus, it's got Glee alum Darren Criss voicing a giant robot.
Watch if you: are obsessed with Michonne on The Walking Dead.
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.