Anime has never been more popular in the west than it is right now, and part of that success is down to wider availability on streaming platforms. Conveniently enough, investing in original anime productions also helped Netflix break into the Japanese market, building a library of original or exclusively licensed content that it could then make accessible internationally.
This near-perfect circle means there’s a lot of anime available on the streaming giant, and although the selection on Netflix UK is slightly threadbare compared to the US catalogue – largely down to territorial arrangements with Japanese licensors – there’s still a wide array of fantastic anime to experience, with enough genre variance to please all tastes. Here’s WIRED’s pick of the best anime currently on Netflix UK. You may also enjoy our guide to the best sci-fi movies and the best sci-fi books, too.
The second production from up-and-coming animation house Studio Ponoc – following 2017’s wonderful Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Modest Heroes is an anthology film, with three shorts exploring everyday acts of heroism from multiple perspectives. In Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Kanini & Kanino, two crab siblings must reunite with their father, navigating a stunning undersea world; Yoshiyuki Momose’s Life Ain’t Gonna Lose delivers a gentle slice-of-life tale following a boy plagued with deathly allergies, all painted in lush watercolours; and Akihiko Yamashita’s Invisible explores loneliness, with a man so ignored by society that he literally fades from view – until fate hands him a chance to be a hero. While the shadow of the legendary Studio Ghibli looms large over Modest Heroes – no surprise, given Yonebayashi helmed Arriety and When Marnie Was There for Ghibli – this carves out an identity all its own while showcasing a new generation of anime titans.
Carole and Tuesday
In the not-too-distant future, humanity has begun terraforming Mars – but all the technological advances necessary to get us there can’t make up for our culture devolving into a bland, algorithmically generated blancmange. However, when Tuesday Simmons, a privileged girl who abandons her rich family to live by her own rules, meets Carole Stanley, an orphan busker and skilled keyboardist, the pair strike up both an immediate friendship and a burning desire to create real music for the first time in decades. Like director Shinichiro Watanabe’s previous hits, such as Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy, Carole & Tuesday swirls multiple genres, styles, and musical influences into something fresh and exciting, while offering sharp critique of our own media landscape. Beautifully animated and full of heart, this is not to be missed.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
For most people, having super powers is a pleasant fantasy – who wouldn’t want to be able to fly, or read minds, or see the future? Saiki Kusuo, that’s who. Born with a cavalcade of paranormal abilities (and naturally pink hair), the gifted child has grown into a sullen teen, bored of seeing everyone’s thoughts and having no challenges. So instead of donning spandex and fighting crime, he puts his powers to better use – trying to fit into society and live a normal life. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy when his friends think they have powers of their own, his parents are at each other’s throats, and everyone else just won’t leave him alone! Packed with hilariously dry humour and social satire whether you watch the original Japanese or English dubbed version, this is one of the sharpest anime comedies in years.
One of Japan’s darkest ‘superheroes’, Devilman has been around in one form or another since creator Go Nagai put ink to paper back in 1972. This 10-episode run – while absolutely not for younger viewers – is the fullest and most accurate adaptation of the original manga yet seen though, following kind-hearted teenager Akira Fudo as he is forcibly bonded to the archfiend Amon, taking the beast’s phenomenal powers for his own to face down a swarm of ancient demons set on reclaiming Earth for their own dominion. Brilliantly realised by Lu Over the Wall director Masaaki Yuasa, this dark and horrific series modernises Nagai’s original concepts and delivers the full, shocking manga ending for the first time. If you’re left wanting more of the Satanic superhero though, it’s also worth checking out Cyborg 009 vs Devilman, a rare anime crossover featuring an alternate universe version of Akira battling the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori’s cybernetic super-team.
Created and directed by American writer and animator LeSean Thomas, and animated by Japanese studios Satelight and Yumeta Company, this sci-fi western is a hyper-kinetic treat for the eyes. A mashup of sci-fi, western, and giant robot influences, Cannon Busters follows unkillable outlaw Philly the Kid as he finds himself roped into protecting S.A.M., an advanced companion robot, and Casey, a naïve repair droid, as they search for the lost Prince Casey – a task that would be considerably easier without a host of assassins and bounty hunters on their tails! Influenced by action classics such as Trigun and Outlaw Star, this stands apart thanks to bold, weird ideas, distinctive character and mecha designs, and surprisingly emotional beats along the way.
When student Light Yagami stumbles upon a strange notebook marked as the “Death Note”, he gains a dark power – the ability to kill anyone whose true name he writes in its pages, by any method he can devise. Guided by the death god Ryuk, Yagami sets about creating a utopian society by killing those he deems unworthy of life, from common criminals to greedy CEOs and corrupt politicians. Under the alias of “Kira”, Yagami starts a movement – but attracts the attention of the mysterious L, a genius detective out to find the supernatural serial killer. Packed with moral quandaries and tense confrontations, Death Note is a modern classic that’s not to be missed.
From the creators of Hello Kitty comes… a really stressed office worker who relieves her tension by screaming death metal whenever she’s pushed too far. Aggretsuko – short for “Aggressive Retsuko” – shouldn’t work, but its combination of kawaii anthropomorphic animals and perfectly paced social satire make it resonant for anyone who’s ever had to put on a forced smile while dealing with condescending bosses, boring dates, or parental expectations. She may be a diminutive red panda, but Aggretsuko is a spirit animal for anyone who’s realised that adult life is rubbish.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Evangelion is one of those rare breakthrough shows – an anime series even people who don’t watch anime have heard of. That’s with good reason too, as this iconic mecha series remains both technically stunning and narratively potent, decades after release. Set in the wake of global disaster, the 26-episode show focuses on a group of teenagers who are the only ones capable of piloting the giant Evangelion constructs, using them to battle invading “angels” and stave off an even worse apocalypse. Yet what starts as a colourful ‘robots vs monsters’ outing quickly morphs into a dark and psychologically traumatising epic rooted in Kabbalah and Abrahamic mysticism. While Netflix’s re-translation of the original Japanese remains controversial to dedicated fans – mainly for minimising the relationship between two key characters – Neon Genesis Evangelion remains a deeply compelling stalwart of the medium, and a must-watch for anyone with even the slightest interest in anime. Don’t miss the movie End of Evangelion either – the true finale to the series!
A Silent Voice
When Shoya Ishida was younger, he bullied deaf Shoko Nishiyama relentlessly – and a flash of regret is the only thing that stops him from committing suicide. Seeking out his former victim, Shoya attempts to make amends, but must first navigate Shoko’s protective sister Yuzuru’s suspicions. Directed by Naoko Yamada, A Silent Voice is a contemplation on communication, kindness, and repentance, featuring lush animation and a gorgeous musical score – just remember to have tissues at the ready.
The Castle of Cagliostro
While the full Studio Ghibli catalogue is headed to Netflix, you can get a headstart here with the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, years before founding his own company. The second movie to feature Lupin III (a beloved figure in Japanese pop culture, created in 1967 by manga artist Monkey Punch and inspired by French author Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief Arsène Lupin), The Castle of Cagliostro finds the master thief matching wits with the scheming Count Cagliostry in order to steal his legendary treasure and rescue the Lady Clarisse – and snatch her heart in the process. Despite its 1979 vintage, this masterpiece displays Miyazaki’s talents in full force, with a tale of elaborate heists, desperate princesses, and zany stunts, all backed up by animation that still dazzles more than 40 years on from release.
One-Punch Man started out as a joke; a parody of Japanese superheroes and shonen manga, patterned after children’s character Anpanman. Don’t laugh too hard though: this gag turned into a brilliant deconstruction of superhero media, eschewing the typical Japanese formula of a main character constantly training to be the strongest fighter in favour of one who’s already achieved that goal – and found himself hideously bored as a result. In fact, protagonist Saitama is so tough he can take out any foe with, well, one punch, leaving him in desperate search of an opponent to challenge him. Until then, he’s content to distract himself with video games – leaving an array of other superheroes to tackle devastating threats that Saitama keeps missing! Packing in some of the most thrilling action and dynamic fights anime has seen in years, One-Punch Man is both examplar and parody of superhero anime.
Set in a world recovering from a brutal war, the eponymous Violet travels a wounded continent serving as an ‘Auto Memory Doll’, recording the records and memories of those no longer able to tell their own stories. Yet her own story may be the most important of all, with her past as a child soldier and the mysterious final words of her former commander, having ramifications for the whole world. Based on the illustrated novels by Kana Akatsuki and Akiko Takase – the first work to ever win the Grand Prize in the notoriously tough Kyoto Animation Award – this painstakingly animated series is a joy to behold. Once you’ve experienced the wonderful series itself, don’t forget to check out the Violet Evergarden Special, which Netflix lists separately.
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