Updated for April 2020.
Isn’t it just the worst when you’re out with friends at your favorite restaurant and everyone’s discussing Kakegurui –Compulsive Gambler and you’re unable to jump in? How about when you’re waiting for the bus to arrive and people are discussing the latest Overlord plot twist? Or when your cashier at the supermarket tries to make small talk and naturally namedrops the eternal equalizer, Neon Genesis Evangelion, 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! For both the obsessive anime fan and those entirely new to the form, here’s a list of the top 15 anime that are currently streaming on Netflix!
One-Punch Man is overblown action in the best possible way. The series is about Saitama, the eponymous “One-Punch Man”, a superhero so powerful that he kills all of his enemies in one punch. Because of this lack of a challenge, Saitama has developed a blasé look on life as he searches for someone stronger than him. The fact that this extremely overpowered person looks like this is the perfect unassuming icing on the cake.
It’s encouraging to see how well One-Punch Man nails the action and humor that it goes for, and it’s funny that in a year that has seen people clamoring for (and receiving) more Dragon Ball, this is the series that seems to be satisfying most of these people’s desires for overblown, God-level battles (the work done in the first season finale is truly a sight to behold in both animation and fighting). On the other extreme of this, the series is also very interested in the hierarchy of these superheroes, designating them classes, rules and restrictions, and through this we get a number of delightful ancillary low-level heroes that kind of out-Venture Bros the Venture Bros. Here you’re getting such absurd fighters like Tank Top Vegetarian, Superalloy Darkshine, Handsomely Masked Sweet Mask, Metal Bat, Pri-Pri-Prisoner, Spring Mustache, and License-less Rider, who is simply a cyclist who uses his bike as a weapon. I dare you to watch that theme song and not want to give this adrenaline shot a peak.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K has been one of my greatest anime pleasures over the past year and it’s partly due to how recklessly random the style of this show is. To begin with,Disastrous Life of Saiki K began airing as daily bite-sized four-minute anime installments that offered up glimpses into the chaotic life of secret psychic, Saiki. Then, after enough time had passed the series began to be packaged as a conventional 24-minute series that would bundle up five of these short-form episodes into one full-length episode. As a result of this, a weird schism in the community has formed regarding whether Saiki should be consumed in small doses or full-sized endeavors, but the show absolutely works regardless of which style you prefer.
There are a number of series to come along about psychics and everyday school life, but what makes Saiki stand apart from the rest is how invested it is in its own rules and mythology. The series builds up a truly unique set of rules for Saiki’s many abilities that you get acclimated with at a surprisingly fast rate. There’s such a clear joy for the world that’s been built here as Saiki simultaneously tries to get through the day drawing as little attention to himself as possible. Unpredictable psychic powers, constant cliffhangers, and an impressive list of side characters that you won’t want to leave anytime soon all point towards The Disastrous Life of Saiki K being one of the most fun and creative shows to come out of the season.
Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler is the best anime about gambling that you’ll ever watch, but it’s also so much more than that. Yumeko Jabami transfers to Hyakkaou Private Academy, an institution that’s full of the children of Japan’s wealthiest and most influential. Accordingly, it’s also become a hotbed for extreme gambling that runs a toxic underground culture at the school. The losers are turned into slaves and “house pets” of the winners and that’s just the beginning. Yumeko is special because she simply wants to gamble for the thrill and rush that it provides her, not because she seeks any financial gain or to dominate the student campus. Her unique fascination with how the school’s culture works catapults her to the top of the campus, but Yumeko’s proficiency at gambling isn’t why this show it’s great, but rather it’s how exaggerated her excitement and love for the act becomes.
Each episode sees a character gamble their entire savings and livelihood for some spontaneous wager. Yumeko is an incredibly meek and reserved girl, but she does a complete 180 whenever she gets in the vicinity of gambling and experiences tantric full body orgasms. It’s not just that her entire attitude changes, but it’s like she becomes a demon. Her eyes take on an evil glow, the pitch of her voice drops, and she becomes otherworldly. Yumeko’s behavior is incredible, but the way in which the show’s animation and style also loses control during these moments is incredible. Kakegurui handles something as basic as rock, paper, scissors, or a hand of poker, but also covers more extreme games, like Russian Roulette, where actual lives are on the line.
This anime turns something normal into something insane and treats gambling like it’s a fight between superheroes. It embraces an absolutely demented point of view that elevates this madness to something mandatory for fans of the extreme. Just watch the show’s opening credits and tell yourself that you don’t want to see more. With a second season on the way soon, now’s the perfect time to check out this insane anime.
High Score Girl
High Score Girl is likely the only “Arcade Love Story” out there on the market, but it should be mandatory viewing for any fans of retro video games or sweet love stories. The series is set during the height of arcade culture in the 1990s and looks at Haruo Yaguchi, a boy who doesn’t care about anything other than video games. He suddenly meets his match at the arcade in the form of Akira Oono and the two are immediately in each other’s orbits in this unconventional love story.
One of the best things about High Score Girl is the very real passion that the series and Yaguchi have towards video games. The love here is very addictive and the series highlights plenty of formative titles like Mortal Kombat, Splatterhouse, lots of Street Fighter II, the release of the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, and the general transition from video games in arcades to the console market at home becoming more feasible. It also makes such a difference that these are all real video games that High Score Girl uses for its examples (and it often shows actual footage from the titles). This anime is such a goldmine for fun history and nostalgia towards ’90s video games—especially if you grew up through that era—but it also tells a sweet, humble love story between two kids. Plus, it’s impressive that Oono doesn’t say a word throughout the entire series, yet you still completely empathize with her and want to see her be happy.
The Devilman franchise has been going strong in Japan since the 1970s. It tells a typical story of corruption and lost identity when an unsuspecting soul has his spirit mixed up with that of a demon. As a result, Akira has access to the extreme powers of Devilman, but he still retains his humanity. As Akira tries to come to terms with his transformation, this tug of war between good and evil wages on inside of him while he attempts to use the darkness to defeat demons, but not let it consume him in the process.
There’s nothing too special about Devilman at its surface level, but Devilman Crybaby is such a worthwhile reboot of the property entirely because the legendary Masaaki Yuasa is in the one in charge. Yuasa injects the Devilman narrative with his typical eye-popping animation and art direction and helps this story ascend to something special. Yuasa has no limits when it comes to the series’ level of gore or how ridiculous the animation will become. You won’t want to take your eyes off of a single frame of Devilman Crybaby, but therave scene at the Sabbath party from the first episode is an excellent primer for just how much this anime is a batshit, psychedelic fever dream. Nowhere else will you find nipples mutating into big, hungry mouths.
It’s hard not to fall in love with this concept right away: Death Note is about Light, a high school student who finds a notebook that whenever he writes a name inside it, that person dies. Pretty nuts, right? It’s not long before Light is trying to cleanse the world of evil by using this notebook to play God and create a better world. That’s some deep subject matter to get into and Death Note handles this rise to corruption beautifully.
As Light’s carnage begins to grow, a detective, L, tries to take him down. So add to that one of the best subversions to the cat-and-mouse detective genre that I’ve seen, and you’ve got an even more infectious hit on your hands. Waiting for these two to come across each other is such satisfying stuff, especially when even more death notebooks and Shinigami (demons) are thrown into play. The strong energy that the series gives off explains why there have been a number of movies and off-shoots to crop up in Japan over the years. People just need more of this.
Gurren Lagann is set in a future dystopian take on Earth where most of humanity is forced to live underground in remote villages. Two teenagers who are eager for more out of life and desperate to venture out to the surface come in contact with a powerful mech, the Lagann, and use it to brave the dangers above ground and challenge the evil Spiral King, Lordgenome’s, tyrannical rule.
Here’s the thing about Gurren Lagann, it starts off very slow and definitely takes some time to get going, but once it does there’s nothing holding back its awesomeness. The whole point of the series is that events build and domino into each other, so although the series starts at a small place in scope, it’s absolutely ridiculous to see the level that everything’s at by the end of the series. Hang through the opening chunk of the show and the rewards that follow will be well worth it. There are many great mecha series out there, but Gurren Lagann deserves respect for its slow build and how out of control the series gets before you even realize what’s going on.
Kill la Kill
Mashing together a bunch of things that shouldn’t work, but do, based on sheer will alone, Kill la Kill is the best sort of crazy. Pulling from a lot of different anime, the series follows Ryuko, who has just transferred to the Honnouji Academy after the death of her father. At this Academy, everyone wears certain quasi-sentient uniforms that imbue them with superpowers due to the “Life Fibers” that they’re made from. Ryuko seeks to take down the Academy’s villainous headmistress, while getting vengeance for her father and finding the owner of the other half of the Scissor Blade that she wields.
That’s a lot to juggle but Kill la Kill balances it all well while also building real excitement as Ryuko slowly gets close to her end goal. The series’ animation may not be the most elegant, but that doesn’t stop it from attempting some really ambitious battle set pieces, not to mention some of the transformations that go on in this show are just bonkers. You wouldn’t think that clothing and fighting would go together so well but after Kill la Kill you’ll never want to separate the two.
Ajin: Demi-Human might actually happen to be on your radar due to it being one of limited anime that Netflix has chosen to embrace and co-produce. The series is your basic demon-out-of-water story where a boy named Kei gets hit by a truck and ends learning that he’s actually an ajin (basically a demon) and incapable of dying. That’s all cool and dandy for Kei, only for the fact that ajin aren’t looked at too fondly in the community with the creatures being hunted and kept in camps. This naturally has a rough schism form between the humans and ajin that has revenge at its core and Kei getting caught up in the middle as he tries to mediate and find peace between everyone.
There are a number of series out there where some member of the “outcast race” tries to bridge things between their kind and humanity (I mean, look no further than Tokyo Ghoul, which is also listed here), but Ajin stands out by offering complex characters that take time to define, as well as some super impressive monster designs that won’t soon leave your mind. With a recent live-action film adaptation making this property hot again, Ajinis one that you want to put on your radar!
Violet Evergarden tells the delicate kind of sci-fi friendly story that would feel at home as the plot in a Phillip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov story. The anime presents a thoughtful spin on the science fiction genre as it attempts to turn the sometimes cold, distant environment into something incredibly emotional and human. Violet Evergarden is an Auto Memory Doll—a person whose purpose revolves around writing letters for others or conveying the emotions that they cannot—and she attempts to find purpose and figure out who she is as she carries out these personal tasks for others.
Violet Evergarden is also a former soldier who’s part robot and she struggles to function after the war is over. The series fluctuates between glimpses of Violet’s PTSD and her various Auto Memory Doll jobs for others. The series adopts a structure that’s almost anthology-like in nature as Violet helps a new individual whose words have gotten away from them. Violet Evergarden’s script can occasionally be wonky and its presentation of gender roles is absolutely problematic, but it’s also one of the most gorgeous shows to come out of Kyoto Animation and its grasp on small-scale storytelling hits such heights.
Retsuko the Red Panda is all of us and we are all Retsuko. Aggretsuko is one of Sanrio’s most popular creations in recent years and while other mascots for the company like Hello Kitty or Keroppi capitalize on the sugary sweet demeanor of their cutesy characters, Aggretsuko instead taps into the inner rage that fills us all. Each vignette in Aggretsuko sees the mild-mannered red panda attempt to do her job, hang out with friends, or just get through some mundane aspect of her day.
Retsuko does a fairly good job at keeping her cool around the constant frustrations that pop up around her, but it’s only a matter of time until something pushes the red panda over the edge and Retsuko explodes in a rage of unfiltered honesty and banging death metal. Aggretsuko is simple, low stakes anime, but there’s something endlessly relatable about these stories of a person being pushed to their limit. Everyone has the kind of days that Retsuko does, so why not commiserate with this character’s deeply cute temper tantrums? With a second season also on the way, thankfully the red panda freakouts are far from over!
Neon Genesis Evangelion
There are dozens of worthwhile giant mecha anime out there, but Neon Genesis Evangelion is the Godfather of the genre in many ways. The series became notorious for its avant-garde deconstruction of the mech genre and the psychologically delicate areas that the series pushes its subject matter and characters. The series follows the basic setup of a select chosen few needing to pilot Evangelion suits in order to fight the invading “Angels” and prevent another Armageddon. Many series follow a similar mold, but Evangelion holds its characters in darkness and doesn’t relent. It’s no secret that the series’ director, Hideaki Anno, suffered from severe depression while working on the series and that’s all beautifully up on the screen in a way that only David Lynch gets close to recreating anywhere else. So yes, Neon Genesis Evangelion is full of stunning animation, beautifully choreographed battles, and an electric soundtrack, but it will also force you to reckon with the human condition in a way that so few other series can achieve.
Neon Genesis Evangelion isn’t perfect, but it’s earned its notorious reputation and absolutely deserves to be seen. It’s been years since the anime has legally been available in the United States, so Netflix securing the streaming rights for the spring is kind of a huge deal for the anime community. It’s just a shame that their plan seems to be to re-dub the series, since the original dub is almost as legendary as the anime itself at this point.
Little Witch Academia
Trigger is one of those animation studios that whenever they take on a new project, it’s something that you want to put on your radar, regardless of its topic, because it’s going to end up being one of the most beautifully animated anime of the year. Little Witch Academia started off as a film (and a sequel), but the property has seen such popularity that a television series exploring the world of Luna Nova was made a priority. Little Witch Academia follows Akko Kagari, a witch superfan who is excited to be enrolling in the esteemed Luna Nova Magical Academy. Not only that, but Akko comes from a non-magical background making her enrollment at Luna Nova a bit of a double-edged sword.
A lot of this show is about celebrating the beauty (and responsibility) of magic, but there’s also much charm in the fact that Akko is not good at magic. You’re following a character that struggles to even ride a broom properly, not some pro. Akko also has a good group of varied witch friends to bounce off of with their banter being a fun aspect to the series as well. Little Witch Academia tends to avoid serialization and larger story arcs, which gives the show a nice boost of freedom where every episode is something completely different. One week can be about a dragon. Another about a renegade skeleton looking for his lost love. There’s much less urgency with this show, but it’s such a pleasant, beautiful looking anime that will sneak up on you in other ways.
Carole & Tuesday
Shinichio Watanabe is best known for formative anime like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, but in all of his works music plays a fundamental role. Carole & Tuesday is the antithesis of that and it’s an anime that revolves around the beauty and power of music as it tells the simple story of two people who run away from their lives with the hopes of forming a band that can inspire the world with its music. Carole is a refugee orphan from Earth who’s passionate about the piano and Tuesday flees from her spoiled lifestyle with just her guitar by her side. These two opposites attract in a huge way and the series is simply content to focus on their love for their craft as they struggle to make a name for themselves.
All of music in this show is addictive and incredible, the characters are deeply authentic, and it’s set in a fascinating futuristic world that’s a pleasure to experience. There’s even a shonen-like quality to the series where instead of battles Carole and Tuesday just perform songs against other musicians, yet it never strives to be anything more. It’s an anime where the music is truly enough and Carole and Tuesday are wonderful characters to spend time with.
Beastars is a fascinating meditation on individuality, society, and the roles that people are pushed into. It’s easy to get hung up on the show’s childish look—it exists in a universe of anthropomorphic animals—but it’s within those animal characteristics that the show finds it’s brilliant premise. Society is split between the carnivores and the herbivores and the gentle balance that exists between them is broken when an alpaca is found murdered by a carnivore. The series is set within the perspective of Legoshi, a wolf who is having a hard time coming to terms with his carnivore instincts and his relationship with his species becomes even more complex when he becomes friends with a kind, innocent rabbit. Beastars is an amazing character study wrapped within a compelling murder mystery and it’s an anime that actually uses computer graphics to its advantage when it comes to developing an art style.
Also Available on Netflix: Fate/Zero, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Rurouni Kenshin, Castlevania, Inuyasha, Baki, Full Metal Alchemist andFull Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, Blue Exorcist, Naruto, Bleach, Attack on Titan(One Season)