Best Netflix Anime Series And Movies To Discover The Classics
Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into anime... Maybe there’s just nothing left on Netflix for you... Either way, we’re all stuck at home and there’s never been a better time to get into one of Japan’s best exports.
If you think all anime is just Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, you might as well say all cinema is The Avengers or Fast & Furious sequels. For every big, ballsy thing designed to please teenagers, there’s a thousand smaller, subtler, weird pieces of art for you to sink your teeth into. Luckily, Netflix has been stepping it up the last few years, giving you some of the best shows in the world to give yourself a proper intro. So here are the best Netflix anime series and movies to watch.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist (in all forms) follows two brothers – Alphonse and Edward Elric – in a world in which “alchemy” exists as a magical art that requires a price be paid equal to the power of the incantation. As children, missing their dead mother, Edward tried to bring her back from the dead: this resulted in him losing an arm and Alphonse losing his body and now residing in a suit of armour. Now the Elrics find themselves in a growing conflict with seven homunculi – embodying the seven deadly sins – who want the world to be under their thumb. What follows is a beautiful study of how grief, panic and power hunger can corrupt absolutely. It also has one of the best dubs around: particularly notable are the voice actors for Lust and Roy Mustang – who are married in real life – who get a notable scene together that is just astonishingly good.
Akira Fudo is a timid high-school student whose prodigious, handsome childhood friend reveals there’s a clandestine race of evil demons masquerading as humans. After Ryo actively encourages demons to slaughter people at a nightclub, Akira is changed forever into a “Devilman” – a sort of demon/human hybrid who is much more confident (and attractive) than he ever was before. What follows is a nihilistic, bitter exploration of whether the malevolent demon race or humanity itself is more brutal and unkind. In a bloody show full of tragedy, genocide and finally the invasion of hell itself, you will see exactly how far anime can go as a medium.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion (even the creators don’t know what this means) is about Shinji Ikari, a young boy brought to a post-apocalyptic Tokyo-3 by his elusive, emotionally abusive father Gendo. The purpose of the move is for Shinji to come work for secretive agency NERV, who fight giant alien invaders called “Angels” by piloting enormous robots called “Evas”. At first it seems like another show about teenaged boys and robotic weapons – standard Saturday morning fare – but Neon Genesis Evangelion is more than its premise: from the moment it opens, it is a show about depression, alienation and sadness much more than a show about giant mechas. By the end, it becomes a surreal, probing study of the human condition, where the war between Angels and mankind becomes one about whether suffering is fundamental to living or not. Worth noting: Netflix's dub is not the well-known 1990s Gainax version fans know – sometimes this is to its detriment and sometimes it vastly improves on it.
The End Of Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion’s descent into Jungian allegory also meant that its finale ended up wildly different from what Anno originally had intended. Reasons given differ wildly, but luckily Anno’s ideal ending exists in the form of a movie. While episodes 25 and 26 still apply as the ending of Evangelion, they effectively take place within the movie End Of Evangelion, a look at what happens to all the characters we knew and loved before and after the show’s last episodes. That makes it sound like it’s cathartic, satisfying or comforting in any way… reader, it's not. Some of the things The End Of Evangelion puts you through should be illegal. The images that come when the song’s iconic song, “Komm Susser Tod”, starts playing will haunt you for the rest of your lie.
Puella Magi Magica Madoka
Evangelion proved that subverting mecha anime could produce a beautiful story that explored human sadness in a way hitherto unseen. Madoka does the same with the “magical girl” genre – Sailor Moon is the most famous example – in which teenaged girls receive a magical item that gives them a new outfit and a powerful weapon every time it’s activated. In Madoka, the entire system of creating “magical girls” is riddled with complicated rules and traps designed to hurt and destroy the vulnerable girls granted the power to transform. There is an episode later in the show, in which we learn the motives of the gloomy Homura Akemi, that turns the entire show so completely on its head that you have to sit there for a long time afterwards to truly contemplate how huge it is. Even if you’ve never seen a magical girl show before, Madoka is a genuinely sublime piece of storytelling and character work with some of the most sumptuous visuals out there.
During cofounder Hayao Miyazaki's tenure at Studio Ghibli, the company produced much of its best work. A bunch has been added to Netflix, with new drops to come over the rest of the year. Right now you can watch some of his best, including Spirited Away: a movie about a girl called Chihiro forced to work in a bathhouse for spirits to pay for her parents freedom, after they were turned into pigs. Charming and weirdly malevolent, like all of Miyazaki’s best, the film ends with an ensemble of completely inexplicable characters teaming up to try and save the day. Plus: a mournful but perfect score by the amazing Joe Hisaishi referencing the works of Ryuichi Sakamoto and a beautiful, soulful story of the things we learn when we grow up.
If you want to continue with Ghibli, but perhaps fancy a return to the darkness of some of our earlier suggestions, then Miyazaki’s other masterpiece – Princess Mononoke – is worth a watch. Set in Japan’s Muromachi period (between the 14th-16th centuries), Prince Ashitaka, poisoned by an ancient demon, finds himself thrown into the middle of a conflict between the supernatural gods of the earth and the humans who are frittering aware the planet's resources. It does everything a good epic should do: finding microcosmic moments that explore a battle that is raging just out of frame at all times. The dub features excellent voice acting from Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver and Billy Bob Thornton (if you can’t tell, it’s from the 1990s).
One of the most acclaimed animes to ever come out of Japan, Cowboy Bebop is worth watching for the soundtrack alone: the work of one of Japan’s best composers, Yoko Kanno, with a purpose-built band called the Seatbelts, it spans all genres and tastes to create an interplanetary score of funk and blues. Want a taste? Try listening to his famous opening song – “Tank!” – on Youtube now. Following a crew of bounty hunters as they travel through space on their ship called Bebop, each crew member has a heartbreaking story of loss and acceptance they go on. At its core is that of Spike Spiegel, who defected from an intergalactic crime syndicate. He's now hunted by former ally Vicious, while also searching for his lost love Julia across the stars. It’s a show that moves from slow and mournful to sexy and high-octane in a second.
Attack On Titan
Set in an ancient walled city that houses the last of humanity, Attack On Titan follows childhood friends Eren, Mikasa and Armin as they join the crack squad of warriors designated to kill “titans” – surreal, half-human giants and trolls that killed their families mercilessly many years before. The first six episodes in particular are perhaps the most intense opening to an anime ever: where usually shows build to their big shock moments, they never seem to stop here.
If you love taut, gripping thrillers, then Death Note is for you. It features a simple but ingenious premise that its creators wring for every drop of potential and it's very satisfying to watch. Light Yagami is a teen prodigy who, one day, finds a notebook from the world of demons called a “Death Note”. The book comes with a set of rules and essentially allows Light an astonishing power: if he writes the name of a person he can visualise within its pages, they will die 15 minutes later. Using this power to slaughter known criminal masterminds, “Kira” – as he becomes known – is hunted down by the enigmatic criminal mastermind L in one of the great cat and mouse chases.