Isn’t it just the worst when you’re out with friends at your favorite restaurant (masked up, of course) and everyone’s discussing Inuyashiki but you’re unable to jump in? How about when you’re waiting for the bus to arrive and people are discussing the latest Happy Sugar Life plot twist? Or when your cashier at the supermarket tries to make small talk and naturally namedrops the eternal equalizer, Re: Creators, and you just have to quietly look at your shoes?
Okay, so anime’s presence might not be quite at that level, but the popularity of the once-niche area of the animation industry only continues to blossom and become more mainstream. Not only are there now ample anime series that are available on popular streaming services, but this is even used as a selling point in some cases! There have never been more anime titles readily available to audiences, which is certainly exciting, but it can also be overwhelming.
Not only are more legacy titles being added to streaming services every month, but there is also a steady stream of new series that are being added. To guarantee that the various libraries of content at your disposal don’t swallow you whole, we’ve done the hard work and narrowed it down to just the top and most important titles!
Inuyashiki: The Last Hero
Inuyashiki is easily one of the best anime to come out in the past few years. Its storytelling even rivals that of great American serialized television. It’s just that good. Right from the start it presents the sort of story that immediately gets your attention and lets you know that you’re watching something special. Inuyashiki is an elderly man whose family seems to hate him and are totally unappreciative of his existence. One night he goes for a walk in the park and some sort of alien explosion rocks the area. When Inuyashiki comes to, he appears to be a super powered robot with insane abilities. He uses these new powers to help those in need and even learns that he can heal and bring people back to life. Suddenly Inuyashiki has a purpose in life and watching him reawaken straight up made me cry on multiple occasions.
A bratty teenager is also at the park when the explosion happens and he turns into the same robot that Inuyahsiki becomes. This kid, however, is a psychopath and begins mass murdering individuals at an alarming rate. It’s terrifying how callous he is and what this power brings out in him. Some scenes are genuinely hard to watch and it doesn’t take long for him to become one of the most dangerous murderers that the country has ever seen. Suddenly Inuyashiki has a “rival” and the two are pit against each other in a bizarre, infinitely interesting way. This series is a thrilling examination of what people do with power and it balances humble moments of humanity with disturbing violence and insane action. Everything it does hits hard and its ending is perfect in its precision and poignancy. The animation is also stunning in its depiction of these human/robot hybrids and the “minimalist” (ie. finger guns) approach to the violence.
Inuyashiki is a series that I will be absolutely shocked if some savvy American director doesn’t opt to turn into a movie within the next few years. It’s an absolutely beautiful story that boils down to the universal concepts of good and evil. Catch it now and get ahead of the game. At eleven episodes it’s an extremely easy commitment that you’ll wish was longer.
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment is a bleak, surreal mystery that plays with time and space in a way that feels fresh and exciting. Juri Yukawa is your typical underachieving teenager who’s failed to find her calling. Kokkoku quickly pulls the rug out from under the viewer and transforms this slice of life anime into something substantially trippier. Juri’s brother and nephew get kidnapped by a cult and Juri’s uncle reveals that their family has the power to stop time, which is exactly what they’re going to do to save them.
It’s fascinating to watch Juri learn more of the secrets about her lineage as well as her own unique powers. When Juri and her grandfather freeze time, this frozen world is called Stasis, but there are also terrible monsters that lurk in Stasis that prey on those who stay in there for too long. Kokkoku creates such a rich, fully formed story with a deep history to it, but it also initially keeps the audience in the dark to simulate the same overwhelming experience that Juri is going through. Kokkoku slowly parses out answers as Juri and her grandfather become more entwined in the world of Stasis. It’s such an engrossing story that’s so much bigger than the characters and what they’re caught up in.
Happy Sugar Life
Happy Sugar Life is one of the darkest series that you’ll ever come across, anime or otherwise. It may even cause some viewers to tap out due to its extreme subject matter, but those that stick around will see a gripping character study that chronicles cyclical abuse and the worst versions of Stockholm Syndrome.
Happy Sugar Life looks at Sato Matsuzaka, a high school girl who kidnaps a small child named Shio because she’s madly in love with her. Now this isn’t a sexual love, but purely romantic and this child is just so innocent and pure that she tunes out all of the darkness in Sato’s life. Sato goes to any lengths necessary (like murder, for instance) to keep Shio locked in her home and a secret to the public. The series follows the very worst of deviants, but its dark perspective and Sato’s sugary sweet fantasies make for a strangely addictive curiosity.
Re: Creators is extremely awesome in the sense that it delivers sprawling, insane battle sequences, but is also all about the struggles of creation and failing expectations. Sota Mizushino is an avid manga and anime fan and hopes to one day create his own series that finds an audience. Suddenly, characters from all across media—manga, anime, video games— get brought to the real world and Sota somehow becomes the middleman between two factions of creations where the fate of the Earth is at stake.
Re: Creators is far from the typical “lost characters need to get home” narrative and it manages to continually add surprises throughout the season (it also features one of the more creative takes on the “recap episode” that you’ll ever find). The series mixes existentialism with flashy fight scenes and Re: Creators creates something very bold and memorable in the process. It’s a great deconstruction of the medium in general.
Vatican Miracle Examiner
Vatican Miracle Examiner is essentially “The Exorcist: The Anime” and isn’t that all you really need to hear? The series follows two priests from the Vatican who investigate alleged “miracles” and supernatural faith-based murders. Vatican Miracle Examiner operates with a fun episodic approach for the most part where each new miracle that the duo go to explore put them in the orbit of things like demonic possession, deals with the devil, and killer clowns. As the anime gets further into these investigations, it becomes clear that there’s a much deeper conspiracy afoot where a shadow organization aims to take control of the Vatican. Immortality is also on everyone’s minds and you’d almost expect Indiana Jones to show up in the final stretch of episodes.
Vatican Miracle Examiner feels like it shouldn’t be an anime, but it’s definitely refreshing to see supernatural and conspiratorial elements worked into religion and faith in an anime series.
Pop Team Epic
Pop Team Epic doesn’t give a fuck if you like it or not—in fact it probably hopes that you don’t—and it’s why this manic, insane series is so special. The show is a parody sketch anime that operates with unpredictable, frenetic pacing. Any topic is fair game, but the animation style also radically changes without notice and the series tries to break itself down more than it presents a polished anime. Hell, the end of every episode even presents a “Next Time On…” preview for Hoshiri Girldrop, a fake series that they made up. Just watch the show’s legendary “Hellshake Yano” sequence to get a glimpse of its crazy style and fall in love with it.
If the show’s unleashed attitude wasn’t enough, each episode is basically eleven minutes long and then the following eleven minutes is the same footage that preceded it, but with minor differences. The voice actors will be changed the second time around, animation touches will contrast, but it’s an incredibly bold experiment to play with the audience and their patience. There seems to be an equal split on the people that love and hate the show’s “Bob Team Epic” halves, but they have people’s attention. With Pop Team Epic recently joining the irreverent Adult Swim’s Toonami lineup, the cult series has become more popular than ever.
Sagrada Reset is set within the town of Sakurada, a special community where everyone that lives there possesses some kind of special ability. Kei Asai, for instance, has an exceptional case of photographic memory to the point that he hasn’t forgotten a single thing that’s happened to him in Sakurada. Kei eventually comes in contact with Misora Haruki, who has the ability to reset time for as far back as three days. This is an exceptional power, but through these resets Kei still retains his memory of the now-deleted time. Accordingly, Kei and Misora team up and use their powers in tandem to help out individuals and solve a much larger mystery that’s afoot in Sakurada.
The dynamic here between Kei and Misora is so loving and beautiful, but the show also creates an interesting world where special abilities are not only common, but monitored by a shady corporate board. One of the biggest joys of the series is watching how various abilities overpower and cancel each other out. Kei and Misora have to put some real quick thinking into play to get out of their problems and this thoughtfulness to the stories is why the idea works so well.
Okay you guys, Onara Gorou isn’t freaking Shakespeare, but it’s a supremely weird series that looks at the antics of Gorou, “the most admirable of farts.” Gorou attempts to help out individuals (all while connected to the human that’s producing him) and every moment of this show elicits questions that you’re not even sure that you want the answers.
Onara Gorou almost feels like the early seasons of South Park where this crudely presented idea looks juvenile at its surface layer, but there’s something more intelligent going on underneath. Make no mistake, Onara Gorou isn’t a smart series, but it’s unrepentantly silly and it will make you laugh and question the laws of nature in a way that more shows should. How did you live your life without having this show and its nightmarish ending theme in your world!?
GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka
Great Teacher Onizuka is such a twisted morality story that it sneaks up on you slow subtly that you don’t even realize what’s happened. Eikichi Onizuka enters the series as slacker ex-gang member with few prospects. After an unattractive teacher steals Onizuka’s date, he determines that teachers must hold a strong sexual power over their students. This random event reshapes Onizuka’s entire life and he becomes a teacher! However, through the process he inadvertently develops a strong sense of morals and is no longer interested in doing something as depraved as hooking up with students.
As Onizuka’s quest goes on, he finds himself hungry to become the best teacher of all-time and happy to dispense his unique outlooks on life to help his class. Onizuka turns into an inspiring mentor to dozens and it’s amazing to see how this “bad guy” finally figures out what his passion is in life. Great Teacher Onizuka will make you feel warm inside, but it’s also funny as hell. Onizuka’s embarrassing antics never disappoint and the show finds the perfect rhythm for its comedy. With 43 episodes available, Great Teacher Onizuka is the kind of comforting comedy that’s there for you to binge watch and relax. Live your best life.
Vinland Saga is the kind of anime that’s absolute joy for not just fans of brutal action, but also historical dramas. The anime is set during the height of conflict between warring Viking nations and the series does not hold back from the violent nature of these battles. The anime centers around Thorfinn, a child who is forced to come of age during this conflict after his father meets his end courtesy of the enemy. What follows is an impressive look into Thorfinn’s gradual evolution into a warrior as he matures. It’s a painful saga that’s both epic and personal and Vinland Saga manages to make its antagonist, Askeladd, just as compelling as Thorfinn and a complex anti-hero in his own right. It’s the perfect series for anime fans who want something a little more adult.
Kaiba is a 12-episode anime masterpiece by auteur Masaaki Yuasa that’s really like nothing else out there. It’s almost as if Charlie Kaufman tried to write a Philip K. Dick story and the thing that honestly feels closest to Kaiba is Duncan Trussell’s The Midnight Gospel, but that still only scratches the surface of this anime’s unique, curious, and chaotic nature. Kaiba exists in a world where society is divided by wealth and bodies and memories are treated like rejuvenation tools. The aristocracy effectively live forever by coasting between different bodies and there’s an incredible story that’s told here about identity.
Kaiba wades in thoughtful territory, but it also utilizes a warped, fluid art style that reflects the incestuous themes of replication and individuality. The anime is as gorgeous as it is emotional and there’s a deeply cathartic payoff to everything. Kaiba’s story is so beautiful that you won’t want to leave this universe. It’s one of the most enriching and satisfying anime series on Amazon Prime Video and there are so few programs that create the awe-inspiring energy that drives Kaiba.
Lupin The 3rd, Parts 1 And 5
Lupin the 3rd is one of the longest-running anime institutions and prolific names in the industry like Hayao Miyazaki even cut their teeth on the Lupin franchise. The anime tackles the “gentleman thief” archetype with an elusive protagonist who always finds a way to evade capture and outsmart the authorities, even if he’s simultaneously a bumbling mess. Lupin the 3rd offers a strong variety of both episodic and serialized storytelling that’s perfect for anyone who’s a fan of mysteries or procedural crime programs. Amazon Prime Video has the first and last series of Lupin the 3rd, which highlight the diversity of the crime and adventure hybrid series.
Lupin the 3rd, Part 1 introduces Lupin and the eccentric cast of characters that become linked together, for both better and for worse. There’s a balance between adult-themed crimes as well as broader and more fantastical schemes that are appropriate for all ages. Lupin the 3rd, Part 5 offers a more modern take on Lupin’s hijinks with advanced technology like drones, the dark web, and cybercrimes playing major roles in the season’s cases. It’s very easy to get lost in these affable characters and the fast-paced and surprising mysteries that are Lupin the 3rd’s specialty.
Flame Of Recca
There are dozens of shonen anime series and many of the weaker examples can feel interchangeable and derivative of the action genre’s basic archetypes. Flame of Recca is a shonen series from the 1990s that is emblematic of its time period in the best way possible. Recca Hanabishi learns that he’s the descendant of the Hokage, a powerful group of ninjas, and that he has the ability to manipulate fire.
Recca aligns with many others with impressive and contrasting supernatural abilities and even though Flame of Recca also touches on the typical shonen touchstones like a demon enemy who’s hungry for immortality and an extensive tournament, it feels refreshing rather than lazy. At only 42 episodes, Flame of Recca doesn’t drag on like other anime of a similar nature. It’s not bogged down in filler so it’s able to just deliver satisfying action. Flame of Recca is an underrated shonen title that deserves the same level of attention as Bleach or Yu Yu Hakusho.
Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress
Attack on Titan is airing its final season and about to conclude, which means it’s the perfect time to check out Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, an anime that cultivates a very similar energy. The series is set during an alternate version of the Industrial Revolution where a gruesome plague of undead vampire-like monsters known as the Kabane wreak havoc on humanity. The only way to kill these monsters is to pierce their iron-coated hearts. There’s a heavy steampunk vibe present with the weapons that get developed and the wall that’s erected around the city to keep the people safe.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress does an excellent job in how it mixes action and horror and it makes the Kabane threat feel real and dangerous. At the same time, it’s also careful to make sure that its characters are actually people that the audience cares about. Much like in Attack on Titan, the brilliance of the humans and the strategy that they develop is some of the most gripping material and it’s an exciting take on a deadly outbreak that’s completely different from the norm.
Elfen Lied is easy to dismiss as it looks like the kind of disposable, generic content that gives anime a bad name, but not judging a book by its cover is exactly the point of Elfen Lied. The anime follows Lucy, a mutant experimental reject that is hungry for revenge against humans for their negligent treatment towards her. Lucy looks almost identical to a human, which allows Elfen Lied to unpack a deeper commentary on themes like prejudice and social ostracization.
Part of what makes Elfen Lied stand out so much is that it’s decked in bright colors and an expressive and soft art style, only to juxtapose this with an extreme amount of blood (Adult Swim even deemed that Elfen Lied was too violent to air on their Toonami block, even in an edited form). Elfen Lied is constantly shocking and will make the viewer wince, but it succeeds in its bold and memorable message.
Also Available On Amazon Prime Video: Made in Abyss, Black Jack, Land of the Lustrous, Blue Submarine No. 6, Samurai Pizza Cats, Monster Rancher, and a number of excellent anime feature films like Redline, Robot Carnival and Toriko the Movie