HBO Max has officially entered the streaming wars and while it brings with it an impressive library of content—both old and new—it’s also realized how important a decent anime selection is to users. Warner Brothers has ties with companies like Studio Ghibli and anime specialty services like Crunchyroll, which they’re able to pull from for content.
17 titles from Crunchyroll have debuted on the service with other heavy hitters like Death Note and Hunter x Hunter already announced for later this year. Since HBO Max has an impressive anime library to work through, here’s a helpful guide to some of the best titles that are now available.
Princess Mononoke is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most powerful and important films, which is saying something. Here the prolific director weaves a stunning story about man’s negative effect on nature. It’s a traditional theme, but the movie unpacks this with incredible characters and tells a story that pits man against God and animal in a stunning free-for-all where everyone is fighting for the same thing, albeit in different ways. Ashitaka remains one of Miyazaki’s strongest protagonists and the stunning battle sequences and disturbing moments of infection make great use of the gorgeous animation. Princess Mononoke starts off slow, but it has one of the greatest payoffs of any of Miyazaki’s films.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Masaaki Yuasa is one of the most exciting directors working in the anime industry at the moment and literally every project that he’s worked on has been innovative in a way that pushes animation to its limits. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! isn’t Yuasa’s craziest series, but it comes from such a genuine and personal place that it’s hard to not fall in love with it. The anime looks at a trio of students who form a club together with the aim of making the world’s best anime together.
Yuasa’s typical rule-breaking flair towards animation is present, but the series lovingly looks into each stage of the animation process. It’s an amazing look into how anime comes together from someone who has such an unbridled love for the medium. This should be mandatory viewing for anyone who has an inkling of interest in the animation industry. It’s also another series that’s only 12 episodes, so not only is Eizouken! very easy to digest, but it’s an anime that you’ll wish was at least twice as long.
Kill la Kill
One of the best things about anime is that there are often premises that could only be done in this insane medium. Sentient clothing that makes high school girls engage in combat? Yeah, that’s definitely anime for you. Kill la Kill thrives on this ridiculousness and the scantily clad nature of its cast reflects a self-aware nature of the genre and its audience.
Ridiculousness aside, the series features incredible fight scenes with bonkers weapons (scissor swords!) with a story of revenge that’s basically “Shakespeare, but anime.” TRIGGER Animation is one of the best studios in the business and the work that they do on Kill la Kill is a perfect example of why they’ve turned into a household name.
Erased is pure anime crack and it’s easy to just binge through all 12 episodes of the unconventional murder mystery. Erased explores a man named Satoru who experiences something called “revivals,” which allow him to go back in time a few seconds in order to help save lives from accidents like negligent drivers. One day Satoru’s revival sends him back 18 years into the past and he realizes that he needs to solve the mystery of a serial kidnapper whose crimes in the future lead to the death of Satoru’s mother. Satoru befriends the victims in a bid to change history, but as his efforts continue to fail, his revival puts him into a trial and error process to fix the future in what’s a brilliant take on the mystery genre. In addition to the trippy science fiction elements, Erased is also a show where you genuinely care about the characters and want Satoru to succeed, as well as the introduction of a seriously frightening villain.
Berserk is gritty, bloody hardcore animation that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “restraint.” Guts is a traveling mercenary who crosses a dark world and eliminates hordes of monsters along the way. Guts is a brooding hero who wields a sword that’s nearly as tall as he is, which is a good indication of the over the top nature of the anime’s blood and violence. Monsters are cleaved in half and viscera rains down. People that are looking for something that scratches that Game of Thrones’ itch will love Berserk and its unflinching battles.
Grave of the Fireflies
There are plenty of films from the Studio Ghibli library that tackle fantastical ideas and make perfect viewing for younger audiences. Grave of the Fireflies is not one of those movies and it’s likely to reduce even the hardest of souls to tears. The movie tells a devastating story that’s set against the tumultuous times of World War II. Two innocent siblings struggle to survive through the war and a beautiful picture of loss gets painted. The film remains a testament to how anime can also be a great place to find gripping emotional dramas, too.
91 Days is another powerful revenge series that pulls inspiration in everything from The Departed, to Batman, to The Untouchables. Angelo Lagusa infiltrates the mob with the hopes of taking down the very people who killed his family, but this emotional story is also set in Prohibition Era Chicago, which is a fun change of pace for an anime. Something that’s extremely fun about this series is the ticking clock element that it places on itself. Angelo has 91 days to pull off his revenge scheme against the mafia and each passing episode informs the audience of how much closer he is to that deadline. It’s a great way to build tension in what’s already an exceptional drama series.
All of Hayao Miyazaki’s films exhibit such a passion for the impossible and how animation has the power to let fantasy mix with the real world in unbelievable ways. Spirited Away is one of Miyazaki’s most celebrated and popular projects and it’s an example of where the director is truly unleashed and doesn’t hold back. The story looks at a young girl who unintentionally ends up in a resort for supernatural beings and must pay off her family’s debt at the unusual destination to help save her parents. Spirited Away’s story has less to say on a global level, but it’s just a deeply enjoyable adventure that takes the basics of something like Alice in Wonderland and then provides their own twisted take on it.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Imagine Attack on Titan, but with zombies, and that’s basically the chaotic premise at work in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. It’s an inspired steampunk approach to a zombie invasion where a resilient society works to stave off infection and rebuild the world. The series has some creative spins on the zombie premise, like the specific way that these undead must be killed.
There’s also some typical anime plotting at work where the series’ protagonist, Ikoma, is a human-undead hybrid who learns to live with the virus and is caught in a tough place between humanity and the danger. Expertly plotted in an addictive 12 episodes, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is pure fun and looks amazing at that.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood does the amazing manga series justice in two seasons that tell the incredible journey of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, who will do anything for each other. Their search for a powerful stone that can help fix their family traps the siblings in supernatural circumstances as well as putting them on the radar of many dangerous enemies. The creative fight choreography and use of magic helps Brotherhood stand out from the other action anime, but it’s the series’ strong family values that give it such an emotional center.
Your Lie In April
Your Lie in April is an interesting breed since it’s a music-centric anime, but one that’s deeply dramatic rather than lighthearted. A piano prodigy suffers a breakdown after his mother passes away and he’s left unable to hear the sound of his piano playing and begins to see the world in grayscale. He retreats from the world of music and resigns to a broken existence until he meets a passionate violin player. Soon, his love for her reignites his musical ability. It’s a fantastic series about the power of love and music, but it’s also a true emotional gauntlet that preys on the fact that it creates such likable characters.
In/Spectre is the perfect blend of slice of life high school romance with supernatural ghost detective shenanigans. Kuro is a seemingly normal high school student who becomes the romantic pursuit of Kotoko. The catch is that Kotoko claims to be the Goddess of Wisdom and an important mediator that monitors the border between the human world and the supernatural one.
Things get even more complicated when Kuro turns out to be an immortal monster who’s also in disguise. The two tow the line between school and Kotoko’s surreal world. Crazy monster designs and entertaining mysteries help In/Spectre stand out.
There are plenty of samurai and action-heavy anime where blades are constantly slicing and dicing, but one of the fundamental series in the genre is Rurouni Kenshin. The anime sticks pretty closely to the honorable staples of Samurai narratives, but Kenshin still expertly executes Himura Kenshin’s wandering tale of redemption. Set in Meiji era feudal Japan, Rurouni Kenshin provides a welcome episodic approach to sword fighting and soul searching without overcomplicating the formula.
KONOSUBA – God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
KONOSUBA started as popular video game series, but the anime has quickly become as popular as the RPGs and cleverly uses the structure and trappings of video games to its advantage. An example of the popular “isekai” genre of anime, Kazuma is a normal teenager who dies in a car crash, only to reawaken in a fantasy world that’s not unlike those found in RPG titles. Kazuma suddenly finds himself a member of a powerful party and that he can actually do good for once in his life. KONOSUBA is light viewing, but the awkward dynamics between Kazuma and the females in his group lead to some excellent comedy that mixes well with the series’ magical fight scenes. With the first two seasons on HBO Max, with a film also available and a third season on the way, KONOSUBA is the perfect fantasy series for those that have the time to dig into something longer.
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s earlier efforts from the ’80s, but it’s still one of his best and most iconic pieces of work. The movie fits into Miyazaki’s typical wheelhouse where two young girls go on an adventure with the outrageous spirits that they meet in their new house and the nearby forest. The cat-like spirits that welcome Satsuke and Mei are some of the most cherished creatures from Miyazaki’s library, but the joy that they usher in is played against a tragic tale about Satsuke and Mei’s ill mother. Miyazaki offers up escapism like no one else and My Neighbor Totoro elegantly taps into childhood wonder.