Anime is cool now. Or, at least, cool people like Michael B. Jordan are now willing to say that they’ve thought anime was cool all along. (Pity the nearly forgotten Lupe Fiasco, who rapped about the classic series Lupin III long before he put out an album literally called The Cool.) Which means, dear Paste reader, that even if you didn’t think you could before, you can definitely now plop yourself on your couch, pull up Netflix, and throw on an anime and still be able to claim something resembling social cachet.
What’s anime, you ask? (Unless you don’t, since you’re already so cool.) Well, in Japan, “anime” just means “animation.” Outside of Japan, though, the term refers to Japanese animation and its particular style of drawing and animating, rooted in manga, or Japanese-language comics, which has since spread to countries like the United States. And Netflix, in addition to bringing a whole lot of great Japanese animes, both classic and current, to its streaming platform, is getting involved in financing and producing its own anime as well.
That means that there’s usually a whole lot of anime on Netflix, and for the average watcher, that might be hard to sift through. That’s especially true now that some of the platform’s offerings, including Western remakes like Aggretsuko and original shows like the decidedly non-Japanese Castlevania, are pushing the boundaries of what would even be considered anime by purists. Someone who’s just trying to find a good example of the genre to watch in their spare time and not, say, freaking out about the particular order of our 50 Best Anime Series of All Time list might have a hard time knowing what’s what.
That’s where Paste come in. We’ve rounded up the 25 best anime TV series (and, in one case, film series) on Netflix—yes, Western shows and Netflix originals included—to give you a hand in figuring out just what to watch when you’re craving big-eyed teenage school romance or sword-swinging action with that particular hunger only anime can sate. Dig on in. (And come back soon to see where Neon Genesis Evangelion ends up on our list).
25. The Devil Is a Part-Timer!
Original run: 2013
In the mythical archipelago of Ente Isla, magic is real and demons roam the Earth. Satan, the ruler of demons, mounts a campaign against the kingdom of humanity with the aid of his four generals. After nearly being felled by the holy knight Emilia, and with his armies decimated, Satan vows to enact his revenge before blindly fleeing through a wormhole with his servant Arciel and plopping smack dab in Tokyo, Japan. His powers depleted, and with no obvious recourse for returning to his world, Satan assumes the human identity of Sadao Maou… and takes on a role as part-time cashier at a local chain restaurant. The comic absurdity of a demonic king being forced to contend with navigating the pressures of financial independence as a young adult is this series’ most charming quality, like Coming to America by way of Little Nicky with an anime twist. Based on Satoshi Wagahara’s original light novel series, the 13-episode run of The Devil is a Part-Timer! is a hilarious slice-of-life action-comedy that’s as fun as it is compulsively watchable. And with no sign of second season on the horizon despite significant fan interest, this series is probably best savored for as long as one can. —Toussaint Egan
24. Attack on Titan
Original run: 2013
Attack on Titan was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon when it burst onto the scene in 2013. Adapted from Hajime Isayama’s ongoing manga series, the anime depicts a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is pitted in unending struggle against a race of cannibalistic humanoid giants dubbed Titans. Eren Yeager, a youth raised in one of the last remaining cities on Earth, enlists in the military’s Survey Corps as a way of defending his homeland and avenging his family. A David vs. Goliath conflict infused with the velocity and violence of high-tech superhero drama, Attack on Titan has it all: Goya-esque monstrosities devouring hapless villagers, political intrigue and subterfuge, the smoldering tension of a unrequited romance, and a host of memorable characters that make the mounting mortal costs of humanity’s last stand deeply personal in addition to a battle worth fighting for. —Toussaint Egan
23. Case Closed
Original run: 1996
With more 900 episodes and counting since it premiered in 1996, Detective Conan (or Case Closed, as it’s more commonly known in the West) is one of the longest running anime series to date. Based on Gosho Aoyama’s manga of the same name, the series follows the story of Jimmy Kudo, high-school soccer player and private detective prodigy. When Jimmy is abducted by members of an insidious criminal organization and forced to ingest an experimental poison, he survives, but at the cost of being transformed into a child. Adopting a new identity as boy detective Conan Edogawa, Jimmy sets out to track down his one-time captors for the antidote to his condition while solving various mysteries on the side. As of this writing, Netflix has only one “season” of Case Closed available to stream, consisting of episodes 748 through 799. The series’ plot remains sharp and entertaining as ever, and with an emphasis on episodic cases in lieu of a concise arc, one could pop in and out of any installment at the leisure and still get the gist of the show’s appeal. —Toussaint Egan
22. Berserk: The Golden Age
Original run: 2012-2013
The first adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s brutally visceral and viscera-laden manga Berserk, a TV series from 1997, is considered a classic. And while the first two films in this triptych from 15 years later receive a rather scornful treatment from most anime experts, its final offering is as riveting a watch as the form has to offer—and as violent, too. This grimdark fantasy, set in a feudal world clearly modeled on medieval Europe, follows a sellsword named Guts, who is forced to join the mercenary group called the Band of the Hawk once its leader defeats him in single combat twice in a row. From there on out, it’s all blood and Guts as an absolutely vicious cycle of battles, assassinations, sieges, duels, and the like pulls humans, bears, and demons alike into its vortex, with all parties vying to rip each other to shreds in the names of sex, power, and greed. And by Descent, the third entry, it’s as riveting and depressing as Game of Thrones at its best. —John Maher
21. Little Witch Academia
Original run: 2017
Originally commissioned as a 25-minute short film through the Japanese government’s Young Animator’s Training Project, Little Witch Academia follows Atsuko “Akko” Kagari, a human girl who attends the prestigious Luna Nova Magical Academy in hopes of becoming a great witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot. Alongside her best friends, Lotte and Sucy, the three stumble into numerous misadventures and startling revelations on their journey to becoming full-fledged witches. So, an anime take on Harry Potter, essentially. Directed by Yoh Yoshinari of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fame, the series is an action-comedy coming-of-age romp, with the first season functioning as an episodic slice of life before shifting gears into a full-on serialized adventure-drama in its second. The original 2013 short and its 2015 follow-up The Enchanted Parade were, and remain, two of the best anime films Netflix has to offer, so it comes little surprise that its television adaptation would carry that same standard of excellence and critical reception. —Toussaint Egan
20. One-Punch Man
Original run: 2015
Even by the ridiculous standards of the superhero genre, One-Punch Man’s ballpark craziness is a league all its own. When a 25-year-old college graduate rescues a rosy-cheeked, butt-chinned boy from the murderous clutches of a lobster man-monster (see what I mean?), he abandons his search for a salaried job and devotes himself to a rigorous three-year training regimen with the intent of becoming a hero. Naturally, his hair falls out. With a Jim Lee-esque physique and face that would feel right at home in a Charles Schultz comic strip, Saitama is the world’s strongest hero, gifted with the awesome power to defeat enemies with a single punch. The crux of One-Punch Man’s appeal, aside from its exemplary animation and fight scenes courtesy of Madhouse, is the series’ commitment to being a superhero show filtered through the overactive imagination of child, a comedy of preposterous serial escalation, with every otherworldly adversary that rises up being swiftly smashed to viscera from the force of Saitama’s herculean indifference. —Toussaint Egan
19. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Original run: 2011
Known amongst fans simply as Madoka, which is also the name of the show’s lead character, this dark tale focuses “magical girls,” the anime fan lingo for young women with superheroic powers. However, this is not your average heroes-save-the-day show. In fact, it can be quite tragic. Madoka focuses on the turmoil that unfolds when the girls sacrifice more than they expect taking on their roles and world-savers. Meanwhile, one girl struggles to decide whether or not she too should agree to enter the magical girl life. With only 12 episodes, this is a perfect series for a one-day marathon. Make sure to check out the related films, also on Netflix, when you’re done. —Liz Ohanesian
18. Dragon Pilot
Original run: 2017
Hisone Amakasu is an outspoken yet skittish student who enlists in the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Stationed at the Gifu Air Base, the rookie cadet is recruited into the clandestine “Organic Transformed Flyer” program as a D-Pilot, or Dragon Pilot. As she masters the challenges of becoming a pilot and bonds with her dragon partner, Masotan, Hisone and her team are called on to rise to the tremendous responsibility of a mission that will decide the fate of not only a nation, but the entire world. Supervised by directors Shinji Higuchi (co-director of Shin Godzilla) and Hiroshi Kobayashi (animation director on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), with character designs by Yoshiyuki Ito and animation by Studio Bones, Dragon Pilot’s staff boasts a veritable who’s who of top-shelf anime talent. With gorgeous backdrops, charming humor, endearing characters, and a powerful message of perseverance in the face of adversity, Dragon Pilot is an earnest shonen comedy with a big heart. —Toussaint Egan
Original run: 2018
To many viewers, nothing says “anime” quite like small, adorable animals with big ol’ eyes. And Rareko, the director who has helmed a series of Japanese animated shorts called Aggretsuko since 2016 and launched a Western remake as a Netflix “original series” this year, clearly knew this just enough to turn that assumption on its head. Retsuko, a 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda working as a dead-eyed accountant at a trading firm, is the star of this workplace musical comedy, which quietly showcases the righteous power of a woman’s anger. Not so quietly, actually, as the musical numbers come from Retsuko’s nightly venting sessions at her local karaoke bar, where she shrieks out her frustration by singing, and screaming, death metal. This show truly does something new, and delivers a satisfying, character-driven narrative to boot. —John Maher
Original run: 2017
Bar none, this will be the most controversial inclusion on this list. Already, I can hear the din of dissent from anime purists and naysayers crying out at once, “Castlevania isn’t anime!” And, were the situation different, I might agree. But Castlevania’s role as a Netflix streaming property throws a wrench (or whip) in the spokes of that argument, so before you start sharpening your pitchforks and setting fire to effigies in my likeness, hear me out. In the five years since Netflix made the push into original content, the platform has been a destabilizing force not only in how people consume television and films, but in how they’re produced. Through the service’s role in marketing, funding, and decentralizing the means of production behind its original anime properties, Netflix is a major catalyst for anime’s cross-cultural future, probing at the porous categorizations that until now have delineated “anime” an island unto itself in the sea of world animation. We could quibble about whether Castlevania qualifies as an “anime” or “anime-inspired derivative” or some Cronenbergian hybrid until the sun goes down and the wraiths pick our bones clean, but none of those speak to the quality of the series itself. Building from the groundwork of the series’ truncated yet promising debut, the second season of Castlevania fulfills on the promise of its premise and sets the stage for even more exciting adventures on the horizon. As of this writing, it’s a damn good show; one that any avowed fan of animation or the franchise itself would be remiss to miss out on. —Toussaint Egan
Original run: 1985
Big battle robots are an anime staple, from Mobile Suit Gundam to Super Dimension Fortress Macross to Neon Genesis Evangelion and their many spinoffs and successors. In fact, Robotech is one of them. This American adaptation reinterprets and combines the characters, stories, and animation styles of three unrelated Japanese animes: the aforementioned Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The premise is simple: Humans discovered advanced scientific technology, called robotechnology, in a crashed alien starship in the South Pacific island. That technology allowed the nations of Earth to create giant robots—many of which, like the giant robots in the Transformers series, can turn into vehicles—called mecha. That’s good news for humans, too, as, for the rest of the series, three different generations of humans spend most of their time fighting off three separate invasions from hostile alien armies. It’s surprisingly mature considering the time in which it was made, and while far from perfect, it’s a consistently compelling classic. —John Maher
14. Mobile Suit Gundam UC
Original run: 2010-2014
Set 16 years after the conclusion of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and three years after the events of Char’s Counterattack, Mobile Suit Gundam UC revolves around Banagher Links, an orphan living a normal life aboard the Industrial 7 installation within the Earth Federation’s inner rim space colonies. After rescuing a young girl named Audrey in the midst of a siege on his home by a mysterious enemy force, Banagher is thrust into the role of piloting an advanced experimental Gundam codenamed “Unicorn” in order to fend off the attack. When the specter of war reemerges to ensnare humanity in another mortal conflict, Banagher must set out on a race to uncover Laplace’s box: a treasured object fabled to hold either the keys to humanity’s salvation… or its utter annihilation. A seven-part OVA (original video animation) series directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi (1999’s Hunter x Hunter) and produced over four years, Mobile Suit Gundam UC boasts some of the highest production values in the entire Gundam series and is ideal watching for both fans and newcomers alike. If you’re looking for an exemplary mecha anime that strikes a balance between dazzling action and a resonating ethos of anti-war philosophizing, there’s nothing else quite like Gundam. —Toussaint Egan
Original run: 2006-2007
The second anime adaptation of Type-Moon’s Fate franchise of light novels, this 25-episode seinen, directed by Ei Aoki, follows a group of mages as they compete in a battle royale called the Fourth Holy Grail War over a mythical chalice (decidedly not the Cup of Christ, but sharing its name) capable of granting the wish of its possessor. Three families of mages have traditionally fought for control the Grail, but each war is waged between seven mages, called Masters, who summon Servants, immensely powerful figures of legend and world history, to fight as their representatives in the conflict—meaning that adrenaline junkie history buffs who have always wondered who would win in a battle between King Arthur (again, it’s really not that Holy Grail) and Alexander the Great will find this show plentifully rewarding. The somewhat bananas premise is counterbalanced by a gorgeous animation style, complexity of character, and legitimately heartrending plot twists. —John Maher
Original run: 2004-2012
One of the greatest fantasy action anime tropes of all is the BFS—that is, the “big fucking sword.” That’s true of Naruto, Claymore, Berserk, Rurouni Kenshin, and Inuyasha—and it’s true of Bleach. Our protagonist, Ichigo, has plenty more going on than his giant sword, of course; he’s compassionate, brave, and as a “Soul Reaper” he is responsible for defending humanity from evil spirits. But let’s not kid ourselves. Bleach is all about the sword. Like, it’s not as if Netflix skipped the sword when they made a live-action Bleach movie. It’s not like this would have run for eight years, 366 episodes, and even more pages of manga without kick-ass action with a big fucking sword. His sword is a zanpakuto named Zangetsu, and it’s awesome. —Eric Vilas-Boas