The Best Anime on Netflix [Winter 2020]
Anime’s popularity in the West has come a long way since its introduction in the 20th century. Though anime dates back to early 1900s Japan, the art form didn’t reach America until the 1960s, nearly two decades after the conclusion of World War II, starting with Astro Boy in 1964. The premiere of Astro Boy was a game changer in terms of bringing anime to the United States, and the next few years saw series like Kimba the White Lion and, of course, Speed Racer all appeared on television to close out the decade.
In the fifty years since, anime has grown from a niche artform in the West to a fandom with a massive backing. The influence of series like Dragon Ball Z or Gundam helped to inspire major blockbuster films like The Matrix and its sequels or Pacific Rim. Shows like Cowboy Bebop and Death Note have attracted fans even from outside the world of anime, falling love with the world of both series and eventually moving onto other series. Movies like Ghost in the Shell and Akira have both taken from and contributed to western culture, with the former credited for inspiring filmmakers such as the Wachowskis and James Cameron, while the latter gave way for films like Looper, Inception, Chronicle, and Midnight Special.
Throughout the 2000s and again starting in 2012, Cartoon Network’s Toonami block was often seen as the gateway into anime, an easy way to start watching anime and to dive into Japanese culture. Since its revival, it’s become a new staple in American households for teens and 20-somethings around the country. But, perhaps more appropriately, the age of the internet has allowed for fans and newcomers alike from around the world to start watching new and old series from the start, revelling in the best the artform has to offer.
If you’re looking to check out some new anime or test the waters of the genre, Netflix is a great place to start. Not only does the streaming service offer a ton of popular and classic anime series, but Netflix has also been doubling down on their efforts to produce or distribute brand-new, original anime content for their subscribers, leading to some surprisingly great content. From comedies to historical fiction, fantasy to sci-fi, Netflix has something great in every genre. No matter what you’re looking for in anime, we think we have something to recommend for you. This is the best anime on Netflix for winter 2020, listed in alphabetical order.
Aggretsuko is a Netflix original based on a series of shorts that originally aired on Japan’s TBS Network. The series follows Retsuko, an anthropomorphic red panda, who feels frustrated by her place in the world. She works in the accounting department of a Japanese trading firm, and spends much of her day dealing with her bosses and co-workers, pushing the 25 year old panda to feel frustrated by the world. At night, Retsuko heads to a karaoke bar, drinking and singing death metal to let her emotions out. Despite the show’s cute aesthetic (Sanrio, the company behind Aggretsuko, is best known for creating Hello Kitty), the series treats Retsuko with respect, as she deals with her misogynistic boss and tries to navigate the nightmare that is modern life. Two seasons are streaming.
Adapted from the manga of the same name, Attack on Titan is one of the most popular anime series to premiere this decade, attracting fans and newcomers to the genre alike. The series is set in an alternate reality from our own, where humanity has taken refuge within cities protected by giant walls. Outside the city are the Titans, giant humanoid beings that eat humans without care or reason. The series starts in the Shiganshina District, following Eren Jaeger, his adopted sister Mikasa, and their friend Armen, who are forced to face the consequences of a Colossal Titan breaching the walls of their hometown, allowing smaller Titans to flood the city. When his mother falls victim to a Titan, Eren and his friends join the Scout Regiment, the soldiers who dedicate their lives to fighting the Titans once and for all. Three seasons of the anime have premiered, though only season one is on the service as of writing.
Castlevania is a four episode anime series based on the video game of the same name. Whereas a Castlevania film would likely flop (as most video game-related films do), the anime series is able to use its stylish approach to the material to tell a fascinating story. After losing his wife to being burned at the stake for witchcraft, Count Dracula declares all citizens of Wallachia to be his enemies. With the world overrun with monsters, Trevor Belmont, a disgraced demon hunter, begins to fight back against the Count, aided by magician Sypha and Dracula’s half-son Alucard. The series is based directly on the third Castlevania game, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, released in 1989 in Japan for the NES, but the artwork is far more similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, still considered one of the best games ever made. Two seasons are streaming, with a third on the way.
Based on the popular manga of the same name, Death Note is routinely hailed as one of the best anime series of the 2000s, and is well-known as a great starter series for someone looking to dive into the artform. Death Note follows high school student Light Yagami, a seemingly-typical high school student, who finds a notebook outside his school grounds. Finding a note that claims the book can kill anyone whose name is written on the pages, he tests the book out only to discover the powers are indeed real. Joined by a shinigami named Ryuk, the original owner of the book, Light decides to rid the world of evil and to become the god of a new, more peaceful world. All thirty-seven episodes are streaming on Netflix, as is a Netflix original live-action film; fans of the anime, however, will tell you to stay far away from the 2017 adaptation.
Devilman Crybaby is based on the Devilman manga that originally ran in the 1970s. The show follows Akira Fudo and his best friend Ryo Asuka, who informs Akira that an ancient race of demons has returned to Earth to take it back from humanity. Ryo, believing the only way to defeat the demons and stop them from taking over the world is to fight fire with fire, suggest Akira fuse with a demon to gain their powers. When the demon Amon fails to possess Akira’s body properly, Akira gains control of his powers and becomes Devilman, possessing all of Amon’s powers but still retaining the human soul of Akira. The series adapts the entire run of the manga into ten hyper-violent, hypersexual episodes, the show has been praised as one of Netflix’s best original anime series yet.
From Aaron Ehasz, the head writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Justin Richmond, the director of Uncharted 3, comes The Dragon Prince, an original fantasy tale designed to fill the same void of comedy and action for families designed 15 years ago by Avatar. Set in a fantasy world where humans and elves battle it out in war, the story begins when the elves attempt to murder the human king Harrow and his heir, the young prince Ezran, in revenge for the human murder of the dragon king and his egg. When the young elf Rayla, along with Ezran and Callum, discover the dragon king’s egg wasn’t destroyed, they attempt to return the egg to the dragons to prevent war, only to be challenged by Viren, a mage who is intent on starting a war with the elves. Despite a controversial animation style, the show proved to be popular. Three seasons are streaming.
Adapted from the manga series of the same name, Fairy Tail isn’t quite as limited a series as many of the other shows in our list. Fairy Tail is set in Earth-land, a fictional land where wizards and magic run rampant across the world. The plot begins when novice wizard Lucy Heartfilia joins the guild of Natsu Dragneel, a member of the Fairy Tail wizards’ guild, who is searching for Igneel, a dragon. Together with his cat-like partner Happy and fellow wizards Gray Fullbuster and Erza Scarlet, the guild of five must journey outside of their comfort zone to attempt a forbidden S-Class mission, in order to save Galuna Island and to make some money. Although the show has produced more than 270 episodes over seven seasons and a spin-off titled Fairy Tail Zero, Netflix only has the first season of the long-running anime, running from episode 1 to episode 48.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second adaptation of the popular mango Fullmetal Alchemist, which was first adapted into an anime series in 2003. Unlike that show, which loosely followed the events of the manga, Brotherhood follows the books almost exactly, adapting all 27 volumes of the original manga into a full series. Brotherhood does assume you’ve seen the original series, only giving the original arcs a few episodes before it dives into the content not touched by the original series. As with the original FMA, Brotherhood follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, raised in a remote village by their mother. When she dies, the two try to revive her using alchemy, only for Al’s body to be obliterated in the process and for Ed to lose his left leg. Ed, in a last-ditch effort, sacrifices his right arm to bring his brother back to life using a suit of armor nearby. The two begin the journey into alchemy, only to discover a full-blown conspiracy along the way. Both the original series and the entirety of Brotherhood are streaming on Netflix.
One of three anime films on this list, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a Netflix Original film produced by Toho Animation. The 32nd film in the Godzilla franchise and the first-ever animated feature, Planet of the Monsters begins in 1999, when large monsters begin appearing all over the planet. When a plan to defeat Godzilla with Mechagodzilla fails, humanity is forced to evacuate Earth, leaving for Tau Ceti e. The film follows the aftermath of this decision, including mutiny, the conflicts of religion, and the mutation of Earth thanks to the existence of Godzilla over many years. The film can be watched in Japanese with English subtitles, or in an English dub. Planet of the Monsters is the first in a trilogy of films, followed by Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle and Godzilla: The Planet Eater.
Loosely based on the Niantic mobile game of the same name (the predecessor to Pokemon Go), Ingress the Animation is an all-new original anime series coming to Netflix this fall. The story follows special police investigator Makoto Midorikawa, who contains a magical power to read the memories of any object he touches. While investigating a lab explosion, he touches the wedding ring of the woman who was the sole survivor of the catastrophe. Upon seeing a horrifying vision of a conspiracy surrounding an unknown substance known as XM, he finds himself surrounded by dangerous enemies as he sets off on the run for his life.
You’ve watched JoJo grow from an underground hit to one of the biggest anime airing today, and now it’s time for you to actually watch the show. The first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has arrived on Netflix, and there’s never been a better time to jump in. Based on the manga of the same name, season one of JoJo adapts the first two arcs of the narrative, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. Netflix might only have the first season, but thankfully, it tells a complete story in its narrative, and the second arc, Battle Tendency, happens to be one of our favorites. The first arc follows Jonathan Joestar, a young man who becomes involved in battle with Dio Brando, a man posessing the power of the mysterious Stone Mask. The second arc takes place decades after, as Jonathan’s grandson Joseph attempts to fight the creators of the Stone Mask, the Pillar Men.
K follows Yashiro Isana, a high schooler who has lived a relatively normal life in the advanced Shizume City. He attends high school on an island outside of the city, and generally gets along with everyone he meets in his day-to-day life. While running an errand for one of his classmates, Yashiro (Shiro for short) runs into trouble when he is chased down by members of a local gang, the HOMRA clan. When he’s saved by Kuroh Yatogami, everything seems in the clear—until Shiro is threatened by Kuroh’s sword and presented with video evidence of a man who looks like Shiro murdering another person. Framed for a murder he didn’t commit, Shiro must go on the run to clear his name. If you enjoyed Durarara!! and its sequel, check this one out for a similar story and tone.
From the same studio that produced cult-classic FLCL, Gurren Lagann is a mecha anime that hits all the right notes: action, adventure, and a bit of goofiness thrown in for good measure. Gurren Lagann is set in a world in which most humans have been moved underground beneath the surface of the Earth, living in underground cities to escape the dangerous earthquakes that occur on the surface of the planet. The series follows fourteen-year-old Simon and his younger friend and little-brother-esque Kamina, who live underground until discovering a mecha (named a Gunman in the universe of Gurren Lagann), along with a girl from the surface named Yoko. Epic battles for the above-ground follow, as Earth itself is put at risk. Originally released a decade ago, the original 27-episode run stands up today as one of the best mecha animes ever released, and you can catch it all on Netflix.
Based on the manga of the same name, Little Witch Academia has three titles currently streaming on Netflix. The first, simply titled Little Witch Academia, is a 2013 short film based on the manga and was created as part of the Young Animator’s Training Project in Japan. The short received praise and popularity around the world, and in 2015, a second short film was released as a sequel, titled The Enchanted Parade, this time with a running time of 55 minutes. The popularity of both of these shorts allowed for the series to receive a full order in 2016 for a 25-episode first season, which is currently on Netflix as an original property (the first season is split into two seasons on Netflix). The show takes place at Luna Nova Academy, a school for young witches, and follows a new student named Akko Kagari as she begins her training to become as good of a witch as her idol, Shiny Chariot.
In this spin-off and prequel to the popular anime Magi, Adventure of Sinbad follows the origins of Sinbad prior to becoming the King of Sindria, as he is in the original anime. When Sinbad loses his father to war against the Rein Empire, Sinbad is forced to spend his teenage years taking care of his ill mother and helping local villagers with their problems. That is, until he meets and shelters Yunan, unaware he is the Magi. Yunan agrees to guide Sinbad on request of Sinbad’s mother, instructing him to challenge the Dungeon “Baal” that appeared on the border of the two warring nations. Fans of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and Magi: The Kingdom of Magic will find plenty to love in this spin-off following a fan favorite character. If you want to start from the beginning, you have that option too: both Magi animes are also streaming on Netflix, giving you plenty of options for material to watch.
The second film recommendation, Miss Hokusai is based on the 1980s manga of the same name, adapted into a 90 minute feature film from 2015. The film follows alternating episodes between the lives of O-Ei and her father Tetsuzo in the early 1800s, as painters from around Japan come to visit. The film presents O-Ei as a talented artist who helps Tetsuzo with his artwork, including assisting to fix a painting of a Japanese dragon that was damaged the night before it was to be delivered. The film also follows O-Ei as she visits her blind half-sister, whom her father refuses to visit due to her blindness and his fear of disease. The film is a heart-wrenching look at family, talent, art, and ambition, and is most certainly worth watching on the service. One of the few projects streaming on Netflix based on historical events, Miss Hokusai is well-worth watching; the film holds a 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
From creator Ezra Koenig, best known as the frontman of indie rock band Vampire Weekend, comes Neo Yokio, a Netflix original anime series set in the titular fictional city. The six-episode first season follows Kaz Kaan, a wealthy young Magistocrat (rich magicians who live in the upper echelon of this fictional society) voiced by Jaden Smith, and his mecha butler Charles (Jude Law), as he tries to balance the life of a rich, melancholic adolescent with his demon-hunting responsibilities as governed by his stern Aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) following a break up with Cathy (Alexa Chung), an investment banker. Also featuring the voice talent of Jason Schwartzman, Richard Ayoade, Willow Smith, John DiMaggio, and many more. The show hasn’t been confirmed for a second season yet, but Koenig has said the show isn’t dead. A Christmas special, Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas, premiered in December 2018.
One of the most popular and influential anime ever produced has arrived on Netflix, and it’s absolutely a must-watch. Neon Genesis Evangelion has had an impact on everything from Pacific Rim to Metal Gear Solid, not to mention the countless anime that arrived after the series aired. Evangelion is set fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm destroys much of the Earth as we know it. The show follows Shinji, a teenage boy who is recruited by his father to the shadowy organization Nerv to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha called an “Evangelion” into combat with alien beings known as “Angels.” Though the series features combat, it focuses on the mental state of Shinji and the other pilots as they try to prevent the Angels from causing another cataclysm. The film conclusion, The End of Evangelion, is also streaming on Netflix.
While some of the anime on this list, like Little Witch Academia or Attack on Titan, are known as solid gateway anime titles, One-Punch Man is not that. Despite the hype around the show, with the first season becoming one of the most popular anime series in North America since the release of Attack on Titan three years prior, One-Punch Man is an anime comedy for anime fans, those who know the culture and the tropes inside and out. The series, based on the webcomic of the same name, follows Saitama, a human man who, prior to the start of the series, trained himself to become the best superhero in the world. And he does, losing his hair—and his joy for the job—in the process. Able to destroy his enemies in a single punch, One-Punch Man follows Saitama as he tries to feel anything from his superherodom. The first season is streaming, with the second season airing in English as we update this article.
If you’re looking for some kid-friendly anime, Pokemon the Series: Sun & Moon might be the perfect place to start. The newest season of the long-running series to appear on Netflix, Sun & Moon is based on the games of the same name, placing Ash and his friends in the sunny and tropical region of Alola. If you’ve been watching the series since it premiered in the 1990s, you might notice a new look to the series, giving Ash a brand-new makeover and giving the whole show a friendlier, funnier vibe. All 43 episodes of Sun & Moon are on Netflix, with the current season, Ultra Adventures, currently airing on Disney XD. If you’re looking for more Pokemon fun, the series previous seasons XY and XYZ are on Netflix, as are several of the Pokemon films. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, the original Indigo League series is also streaming.
Madoka Magica is a 2011 anime series in the magical girl genre, that aired for a single season and garnered critical acclaim for its writing, visuals, and the soundtrack score of the series. The story follows a group of female middle school students in the fictional city of Mitakihara, Japan, after Madoka Kaname and her sister Sayaka Miki encounter a small creature named Kyubey, who offers the girls the ability to become magical so long as they agree to fight witches. When Madoka and Sayaka, while considering the deal, meet upperclassman Mami Tomoe, they agree to follow her on a witch hunt to see if they can handle the responsibilities. While only one season of the show was made, the series developed a cult following that led to three films being created: Beginnings; Eternal; and Rebellion. Both the series and all three films are streaming on Netflix.
Though not originally developed for Netflix, The Seven Deadly Sins is an anime adaptation of the popular manga and one of Netflix’s early anime distribution deals. The series follows the same basic storyline as the manga, picking the story up when we meet the third princess of the Kingdom of Liones, Elizabeth. She’s on the hunt for the Seven Deadly sins, a group of Holy Knights who were disbanded after the kingdom was overthrown; since then, they’ve gone missing. She enlists the help of Meliodas and Hawk, an original member of the Seven Deadly Sins and their ex-captain, to assemble the remaining members of the crew in order to fight back against the corrupt Holy Knights and take the kingdom back. Seasons one and two, along with a four-part middle chapter, entitled Signs of Holy War, are streaming.
From the manga of the same name, Your lie in April is an anime for those who enjoy more realistic depictions of anime than what we’ve seen from much of this list. Your lie in April tells the story of Kōsei Arima, a former child prodigy who gained recognition when he was younger for his talent at playing the piano, becoming nicknamed the “Human Metronome” for his impeccable mechanical accuracy. This all changes when Kōsei’s mother died, leaving him unable to play the piano in his grief. Your lie in April picks up two years later, when Kōsei meets a girl named Kaori, his classmate and a talented violinist who introduces Kōsei to the world of music he used to love so much. Together, Kaori shows Kōsei that he can learn to play unrestricted and unfettered from the mechanics and rules of music he had known so well as a child.
Another kid-friendly anime to go along with Sun & Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh (technically Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters) is based on the manga of the same name and aired for five seasons from 2000 to 2004 in Japan, and 2001 to 2006 in the United States. Yu-Gi-Oh tells the story of Yugi Moto, a young boy who owns an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Millennium Puzzle, gifted to him by his grandfather. Upon completing the puzzle, he unlocked the soul of the man trapped within it, an unknown presence known only as Pharaoh, with a hidden and forgotten past. The show begins as Pegasus, the creator of a popular dueling card game known as Duel Monsters, traps Yugi’s grandfather’s soul in a card, forcing him to compete in a tournament. All five seasons with 224 episodes total are streaming on Netflix. A spin-off, Yu-Gi-Oh: Arc V, is also streaming on Netflix, though it features an all-new cast of characters and a completely different game.