The 13 best anime on Netflix

From bathing spirits to time travel, hand-drawn delights await you on the world's most popular streaming service. Updated for April 2020

In addition to possessing an intimidating library of live-action TV and cinema, Netflix has also invested in some fantastic anime series that you'd be mad to overlook – plus obtained the rights to stream most of Studio Ghibli's movie output.

The selection of anime pales in comparison to some of the streaming site's more popular categories, but its select acquisitions have been shrewd choices. Dedicated anime sites such as Crunchyroll require users to sift through a catalogue of questionable shows to reach the gems; Netflix's collection is, on average, of a much higher standard. Whether you're a Breaking Bad fanatic or go nuts for Battlestar Galactica, there's almost certainly an anime out there that's also right up your street.

Additional words by Sam Kieldsen

Spirited Away

Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-winner showcases director Hayao Miyazaki’s filmmaking at its very best: Spirited Away is magical, thought-provoking and utterly absorbing. When the average Western animated movie is considered sophisticated if it tosses in a couple of clever references for any adults that happen to be watching, this film approaches universality from an entirely different place.

Its story of a young girl losing her parents and being forced to dwell in a strange land of spirits, witches and demons effortlessly touches on themes with which we can all identify: friendship, love, family, growing up and taking responsibility. All this makes it an engaging watch for viewers of all ages, helped on by its beautiful animation and soundtrack.

Watch Spirited Away on Netflix

Princess Mononoke

Another Studio Ghibli banger, this time set in a semi-historical Japan in the midst of rapid change. Civilisation is expanding, leading to the destruction of the land’s woods, rivers and other wild places. As humans come into conflict with the god-like nature spirits who maintain the delicate ecological balance, our young hero Ashitaka finds himself caught in the middle playing peacemaker as things edge ever closer to outright war. Alongside him is San, a wild, mysterious girl (and the former princess of the film’s title) raised by giant wolves, someone with ties to both sides of the conflict.

Like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke exhibits a level of maturity and nuance that’s rare in Western animation. It makes for a great entryway into the fantastical world of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies.

Watch Princess Mononoke on Netflix

Sword Art Online

This manga-turned-anime is about to reach peak relevance as we approach the dawn of VR.

Sword Art Online is the story of a virtual reality MMORPG that takes a sour turn. As the revolutionary game launches, its excited throngs of players discover, much to their dismay, that they are trapped inside the game and that anyone attempting to leave Sword Art Online will immediately have their brains scrambled. To make matters worse, anyone whose health bar drops to zero will suffer the same treatment. The only option for escape is to complete all 100 levels of the gargantuan MMO.

As you might expect it all goes a bit Lord of the Flies as the players' primal instincts take over. An exceedingly strong opening half is slightly marred by Sword Art Online's more curious narrative meanderings in its latter segment, but it's worth watching all the same. Characterisation and art style score highly, as does the show's depiction of societal breakdown among the trapped denizens of the MMO.

Watch Sword Art Online on Netflix

My Neighbor Totoro

Managing to be wholesome and emotionally charged without coming across as lightweight or sentimental is a tough trick to pull off – but Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have done it time and time again, and 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro is a perfect example.

This film, in which a pair of young sisters move into a new house and befriend a forest spirit in post-war rural Japan, really does have something for everyone: an overarching sense of wonder; hand-painted bucolic beauty; a convincing depiction of family life; a soaring, playful score from the masterful Joe Hisaishi; and of course the wonderful Totoro, a now-iconic Ghibli character representing… well, all sorts of things if you care to think about it.

Netflix has pulled off a coup by getting its hands on Ghibli’s catalogue. If you’re going to start somewhere, why not here?

Watch My Neighbor Totoro on Netflix

Tokyo Ghoul

They look like you, they sound like you, but with one key difference: their only sustenance is human flesh. In this bloody anime series humans live alongside ghouls in Tokyo's bustling districts, but the latter must keep their identities secret for fear of capture and death at the hands of the Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG). 

Given it's unpalletable subject matter, Tokyo Ghoul is a surprisingly sensitive anime that often finds itself preoccupied with the psychological torment of its central character, Kaneki. This unlucky sod finds himself forced to enter ghoul society after an inter-species organ transplant leaves him half human, half abomination and desperate to devour the body of his fellow man. There are flavours of Neon Genesis Evangelion here, as well as the recent smash hit, Parasyte, and the whole affair is handled with an equally delicate touch.

Netflix has only made one series available, but there is also a second on offer at Funimation for anyone who thinks the series is too ghoul for school.

Watch Tokyo Ghoul on Netflix

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

What's the worst thing you've ever done? Burnt the toast? Failed to record Strictly Come Dancing? Whatever it is, it's probably insignificant in comparison to the defining sin of Edward Elric, whose attempts to revive his dead mother result in the complete disembodiment of his little brother and the loss of his right arm. So begins the pennant journey of Edward and Alphonse, who seek the return of their lost bodies in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

This sprawling series is one of the largest anime available on Netflix, standing at 64 episodes. Don't be mistaken though, the quality here is as plentiful as the quantity - the series is regularly ranked as one of the top ten anime ever created.

Watch Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood on Netflix

Knights of Sidonia

Mecha, the genre where giant robots beat the heck out of each other, mile-high monsters, or whatever else they can get their hands on, is one of anime's most simple pleasures. Thanks to its forward-thinking programming team, Netflix decided to jump on the bandwagon and produce a mecha anime of its very own: Knights of Sidonia.

In the far-flung future, the remnants of humanity must survive the onslaught of sprawling xenomorphs known as 'gauna', which are relentlessly pursuing the spaceship Sidonia in the hope of a chowing down the last survivors. How to combat monolithic alien beasts? Easy: employ an army of humanoid robots equipped with space thrusters and 40ft lances. Zero-gravity jousting with abundant slash slash and pew pew noises ensues.

Some might find Knights of Sidonia's computer animated style jarring, but we'd advise you to stick with it as the quality dramatically improves in the show's second season.

Watch Knights of Sidonia on Netflix

Fate / Stay Night

Once you've moved past the awkwardly punctuated title of Fate/Stay Night, there's a great series to be enjoyed/loved. The series focuses on the events of the 'Holy Grail War' where combatants must summon fearsome warriors known as the Servants in order to prove they are worthy of the ancient artefact's phenomenal power.

More than any show on this list, this anime relies on the traditional 'power level' battles structure where the skirmishes become increasingly grand as the show progresses. However it's clever presentation of dark themes and superb visual style makes Fate/Stay Night an exemplary anime that is well worth your time.

Watch Fate/Stay Night on Netflix

Porco Rosso

Another classic Studio Ghibli movie, Porco Rosso is set in the 1930s Adriatic – a place where airborne pirates harass tourist cruises until they’re hunted down by our titular hero, a louche, middle-aged Italian pilot who has (for reasons never truly explained) been cursed with the face of a pig. When the pirates hire a brash American fighter ace to take Porco out of the picture once and for all, his easy life takes a drastic turn for the trickier.

With all this set against the backdrop of rising Italian fascism, Porco Rosso is richly served with subtext and themes; as with all Ghibli films, they don’t smash you over the head with a metaphorical hammer – they reveal themselves expertly through the story and its characters.

Watch Porco Rosso on Netflix

Steins;Gate

Don’t let the totally redundant semi-colon in the title put you off, Steins;Gate is one of the most Charming;Anime we’ve ever seen. The star of the show, Rintarō Okabe, is a “mad scientist” whose Future Gadget Laboratory is little more than a shabby apartment above a shop. That is, until an experiment involving a time-travelling banana and a microwave sets off a chain of events which set the space-time continuum to Oh-Jesus-My-Brain-Is-Melting setting.

If you’re a fan of time travel - and let’s face it, who isn’t? - then Steins;Gate will satisfy as it understands perfectly how to spin a chronologically garbled yarn. But it’s the excellent characterisation and witty dialogue that will keep you coming back for more. The fights over missing fried chicken, the banana-related double entendres, it’s all perfectly tuned to ensure you’re invested in the Okabe and his crew when things start to unravel.

Side note: it also features the most blood-curdling, realistic scream we’ve ever heard in a TV show. Wait for it.

Watch Steins;Gate on Netflix

One Punch Man

What seems at first a totally ridiculous premise for a show quickly reveals itself a stroke of genius.

Saitama is a superhero in a world filled with heroes and monsters. But unlike most of his caped counterparts, Saitama is able to dispatch villainous mutants, super-sized crabs, or any of the various and creatively designed fiends the show presents, with a single punch. That’s it.

The result is a show which gleefully mocks the ‘get stronger, fight bigger enemy, get stronger, fight even bigger enemy’ setup of other shonen anime. The order is often reversed (Saitama finds himself fighting skyscraper sized enemies in the first few episodes), and instead of finding himself increasingly challenged, Saitama finds himself bored and struggling for recognition amid a pantheon of heroes.

Importantly, One Punch Man manages to do this without sacrificing drama. The parody also doesn’t take away from the mind-blowingly beautiful fight scenes in which whole city districts go kaboom and single swings are meteorically powerful. The show’s animation department does an incredible job of conveying power overwhelming, creating a show of style and substance that will keep you glued to the screen.

Watch One Punch Man on Netflix

Erased

If you could jump back into the past and change one event in your life, what would it be? It’s an oft-asked question which is hardly a novel idea for a piece of media in 2018, but Erased pulls it off in style.

The show follows Satoru Fujinuma as he is dragged backwards in time to solve, and prevent, a series of child murders in his hometown. What follows is a surprisingly competent thriller that manages to deftly juggle different tones, and keep you on your toes.

If you’re seeking chronological confusion, or a wildy fragmented narrative, then Erased probably isn’t for you: it doesn’t mess with the timeline anywhere near enough to boggle the brain. The real drama lies in the whodunnit mystery, alongside a story of abuse and neglect which is at times difficult to watch.

Watched Erased on Netflix

Castlevania

Hearts were sent aflutter when Netflix announced that it was producing an anime series of the hallowed Konami Castlevania games from the 80s and 90s. With acclaimed story-man Warren Ellis (of Marvel fame) joining as writer and executive producer, anticipation reached a fever pitch.

What eventually arrived was short, at only 4 episodes, but undoubtedly the best anime series which Netflix has commissioned to date. It’s a gruesome realisation of the dark and muddy world inhabited by Dracula, who is on a fiery rampage after his wife meets a nasty end at the hands of humanity. Be prepared for lots of blood, lots of demons, and a somewhat unrelenting tide of nasty deeds. Thankfully it’s realised with such a deft hand, both in terms of script and visual quality, that you’ll be enamoured with the grotesque spectacle of it all.

In slightly less bleak news, a second series is on the way, with Ellis at the helm again. We’re excited to see how he expands on the game’s universe in what must be recognised as one of the most successful translations from game to film / TV yet.

Watch Castlevania on Netflix