Remember when Netflix used to be the underdog? It hasn’t been the underdog for a while now.
Netflix is spreading its wings. Having dropped the content no one was watching, the service is investing heavily in original TV series and movies. And, as always, it’s steadily producing high-quality and award-winning documentaries. But Netflix is also exploring another area that you probably weren’t aware of: animation.
We’ve already compiled a list of the best Western animation shows and family-friendly animated films. Now it’s time to look at Netflix’s collection of anime shows, which is both impressive and growing.
1. Death Note
Death Note is arguably the most popular anime series of all time. Unlike most anime, which focus mainly on action and/or comedy, this one’s a psychological thriller. Not only is this an underexplored genre in the anime world, but Death Note knocks it way out of the park.
The series follows a student who comes across the “Death Note” — a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written within. He begins using it to cleanse the world of criminals, which grabs the attention of a world-renowned detective and leads to a mind-bending game of cat-and-mouse.
Death Note is so popular that Netflix is creating a live action film based on it. Slated to debut in August 2017, the film will be closer to a reimagining than a direct adaptation, and fans are cautiously optimistic about it. But if you’re interested, you can already add it to your Netflix wishlist so you don’t miss out when it’s released.
2. Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is the perfect mix of strong characters, well-choreographed action, and an atmosphere dripping with eerie dread. The story is about humanity on the brink of extinction as it fends off the persistent attacks of so-called Titans — huge monsters that have insatiable appetites for humans.
It’s hard to explain Attack on Titan‘s success and popularity. Perhaps it comes down to how well it resonates with the struggle of millenials and modern youths: life is an endless climb out of an ever-growing hole, yet no matter how futile it seems, we must persevere and carry on.
3. Your Lie in April
Your Lie in April follows a gifted pianist who falls into a deep depression when his mother passes away. After two years in his lifeless slump, he meets a beautiful violinist who slowly brings joy back into his days. It’s a masterfully written story of one man’s road to restoration.
If you only enjoy action-heavy anime, then you may want to skip this — but you should at least watch a couple of episodes to see whether you like it. Your Lie in April starts off lighthearted and soft, but by the end proves to be surprisingly emotional and heartfelt.
4. Gurren Lagann
In the future, humanity is forced to live in subterranean dwellings and prevented from having any contact with the surface. But when two boys discover a weaponized robot and use it to escape the underground, they discover that Earth is at war with the Spiral King to reclaim control of the surface.
Gurren Lagann evokes a kind of energy that few other series have managed. Not only is it fun, but in many ways it’s also unconventional. You may not like this one if you aren’t into the “mecha” genre of anime, but you should definitely give it a shot anyway. It’s the kind of show that appeals to viewers outside the intended target audience.
5. Hunter X Hunter
Hunter X Hunter centers on a young boy who dreams of becoming the best Hunter in the world. The reason? So that he can use those skills to track down his Hunter father who abandoned him years ago. This difficult journey takes him on a wild adventure filled with friends, foes, and monsters.
The 148-episode run means you’ll need to commit about 50 hours to finish the series, but it’s well worth the investment. Unlike a lot of long-running anime, Hunter X Hunter maintains a steady quality from beginning to end.
Fate/Zero centers on a survival battle royale between seven magical participants, all vying to win one grand prize: the Holy Grail, which grants a wish. It is the prequel to Fate/Stay Night.
There are many reasons to love Fate/Zero: beautiful art, strong characters, intriguing supernatural aspects, all wrapped up in a great balance of action and drama. While the story is on the mature side, the plot may seem a bit simplistic when compared to other, deeper anime series. Nonetheless, it’s a fun watch, and that’s ultimately all that matters.
7. Ajin: Demi-Human
The world is plunged into chaos when mysterious immortals, known as Ajin, suddenly appear all over the planet. When one student discovers that he’s an Ajin himself, he goes on the run as he’s wanted for capture, interrogation, and experimentation.
Right off the bat, you should know that Ajin uses a strange 3D animation style that can feel clunky at times. But if you can get through the first episode or two, you’ll stop noticing it. The real draw of Ajin is the pervasive mystery surrounding the Ajin phenomenon and the drive to learn what’s going on.
Naruto follows the eponymous main character, an outcast boy whose dream is to become the best ninja in the world. As he pursues this dream, he learns that it won’t be as easy as he thinks, and that life is a lot more complex than he could ever have imagined.
There are supernatural elements (ninja techniques are basically magic) and lots of excellent worldbuilding, but character development is the heart of this show. The cast is mostly comprised of youths, but the stories told are deeply human — they’ll resonate no matter how old you are.
Note that this is only Part 1 of the anime. There’s a Part 2, called Naruto: Shippuden, which consists of an additional 500 episodes and is only available on Hulu as of this writing. Even though I think Netflix is better than Hulu, this is one reason why I subscribe to both.
Bleach shares a lot in common with Naruto, which isn’t too surprising since both were produced by the same animation studio. It’s an action-heavy, meant-for-teenagers anime with strong character development and mature themes that elevate it above mindless supernatural fighting.
The reason why I rank Bleach below Naruto is that the story arcs of Bleach can start to feel repetitive over the 366 episode run. Don’t get me wrong: the journey is enjoyable, but I don’t recommend binge-watching it. Take a rest between major story arcs and you’ll like it much more.
10. Sword Art Online
In the near future, a virtual reality online role-playing game called Sword Art Online captures the world’s attention. But things take a turn when the players realize that logging out is impossible and that dying in the game means dying in real life.
Up front, I’ll admit that I hated this anime — so much so that I couldn’t finish it. My biggest gripes include too much of a focus on romance and a squandered premise that isn’t explored deeply enough. However, lots of people love the series, there’s an enthusiastic fan community, and it’s one of the most popular anime of the last decade, so don’t take my word for it.
What Are Your Favorite Anime Series?
If you were to watch all of the above anime series from start to finish, you’d have enough to fill your plate for the next year or two. If you don’t want to dedicate that much time, then I at least recommend the shorter series. In particular, Death Note, Attack on Titan, and Your Lie in April.
If you had to pick your favorite three anime series, whether they’re available on Netflix or not, what would they be? Please share your choices with us by leaving a comment below!