When I was young, being a western anime fan consisted of watching Ghost in the Machine, Miyazaki films that came to the small independent theater, and Cowboy Bebop on Adult Swim. Nothing matched anime’s pacing, a white-knuckle speed that only slowed down for slapstick jokes and off-the-wall sexuality in a style that never found an equal in American or French animation. I became instantly hooked with the dystopian futures, ridiculously wonderful fantasy adventures, and depth of characters and plots that showed animation clearly meant for an adult audience. Now, with the advantage of streaming video, some of the best anime series are available for an international audience. Here are the 12 best anime series currently available for streaming.
Cowboy Bebop (Hulu)
While most people who love anime have already seen Cowboy Bebop multiple times, this is the portal show to get all your friends addicted to anime, so we’re listing it (not to mention having this on TV in the background is always a good idea for any scenario). Spike Spiegel's adventures as a space bounty hunter with the accompaniment of the incredibly awesome soundtrack by The Seatbelts make one of the best anime series of all time. Every now and again, the promise of a live-action Cowboy Bebop movie makes headlines, but let’s not kid ourselves: There can never be anything as good as this series, which combined action with philosophy, outputting some of the best characters in animation history. It doesn’t get better than this, so open it up on Hulu again and remind yourself why you loved it so much when it came out.
Samurai Champloo (Hulu)
Much as Cowboy Bebop’s fast-paced action is encapsulated by the breakneck jazz title sequence, Samurai Champloo mixes hip-hop and rap beats with an anarchistic world set in Japan’s eda era to create a distinctive mood. While, in some sense, Samurai Champloo is the story of a young girl who recruits two swordsmen on a quest, many of the best episodes stand on their own without the need of an overarching storyline, and Mugen and Jin, the two swordmen, burst out of the anime as a highlight of the genre. The story also infuses slapstick comedy with the action well, so it’s not simply a samurai story, making it a must-see for any anime fan.
Stein’s Gate (Hulu)
It was just a matter of time before someone created a great time-traveler anime series, and Stein’s Gate is a plain masterpiece. Time-traveler movies and television shows tend to weird me out, since they seem like they all have their own rules about time. (Can you see yourself or will that destroy the world? If I give myself winning lotto numbers, doesn’t that butterfly-effect me from getting into a time machine in the first place, and what does that mean? There’re just so many questions). Stein’s Gate sets up the rules well (you can’t alter core realities, like if someone dies) and combines time-loop stories that somewhat play like Memento and that build on interesting, engaging characters. While the show, in itself, is a little bit of a mind meld, it’s a trip you’ll like to take again and again (in more ways than one).
Knights of Sidonia (Netflix)
Knights of Sidonia is the first anime from Netflix’s original programming lineup. The story takes place in the year 3394. Mankind has fled from Earth after an attack from the Gauna, an alien species about which, still, not much is known. Human existence is now on gigantic spaceships, like the Sidonia, that have tried to establish some sort of life. Their defense against the Guana creatures is the Gardes, a fighter ship that has equipped a Kabizashi spear for close combat. The story follows a pilot who is a bit of a prodigy after it is found that he learned how to fly from practicing on a pilot simulator every day. Of course, it’s not too long before the Gauna find the refugee humans, and he has to put his skills to the test. There are two seasons of the show available on Netflix, and they make for one of the best mecha-anime series available for streaming.
Attack on Titan (Netflix)
Imagine a small village that is guarded an epically tall wall. Outside that wall are the titans, a species of creatures that look to have muscles on the outside of their body and a horrific smile at all times, even as they invade and eat your family. They are terrifying to look at, making this one of the best, and most addictive, anime series online but also one of the best cosplays for any convention (we’re talking about winning contests people!). The series explores the divide between the world of training camps protected by giant walls and the outside world of the people-eating titans that will haunt your dreams. Probably the most famous anime of the last few years, producing multiple video games as well as a live-action adaptation, Attack on Titan is the anime that definitely lives up to the hype you’ve been hearing.
Akame Ga Kill (Hulu)
One of my favorite aspects of anime is that it often turns fight sequences into beautiful dances; works of art that seamlessly flow from one frame to the next as one character triumphs over another. Nowhere is this more evident than in the gorgeous Akame Ga Kill, a story about a boy from a poor village who goes into the big city and finds that the world is against him (also it kinda means to torture and kill him after taking all his money). The opposition against this fate is the Night Raid, an assassin group that fight against those in power, headed by the title character, Akame (the title of the series literally means, Akame Slashes). While most anime series feature a lot of eye candy, no other series holds the sense of elegance to the violence in the way Akame Ga Kill does. It’s a depiction of the rise against an unjust society in the most beautiful anime fashion.
The Seven Deadly Sins (Netflix)
The Seven Deadly Sins is the story of a Princess whose kingdom was under the threat of a group of knights called The Seven Deadly Sins. When the group were defeated by another set of knights, called the Holy Knights, they disbanded and went their separate ways. Unfortunately for the Princess, though, the Holy Knights decided that they wanted to take over the kingdom themselves, and have now become tyrants. The Princess decides that the only way to get her kingdom back is to put the Seven Deadly Sins back together and make a run at revenge against the Holy Knights. Oh, did I mention there’s a talking pig named Hawk? This is a show that is old fashioned fun and brimming with charm and humor (not to mention a lot of, well, groping and crotch jokes). It’s seriously one of the most fun ways to spend 30 minutes.
The Devil is a Part Timer! (Hulu)
The Devil has escaped to modern day Tokyo and now works in fast food in this somewhat ridiculous, witty anime series based after a light novel series. While many anime succeed through heart-pounding action or wacky fantasy, The Devil is a Part Timer! uses its smarts to deconstruct archetypical characters and their motivations to either save or destroy the world. It also looks at the societal notions of evil, building characters that break away from two-dimensionality into well-rounded, fully developed personalities that allow for a smarter storyline. There’s a lot of social commentary here (the devil works at a fast food restaurant called MgDonald’s) and the series succeeds at taking a fantastical situation and finding the hilarity that can ensue without making it ridiculous or outlandish.
No Game No Life (Hulu)
The perfect blending of gaming, anime, and The Seventh Seal, No Game No Life is about two step-siblings who are challenged to a game of chess by Tet, a god from another reality. The great thing about the siblings is that they complement each other well, as each sibling has a strength that coincides with the other’s weakness. They win the match and are invited to a world in which all conflicts revolve around games, which makes this a gamer’s fantasy world that, like all great anime, gets better and better as the series goes along. The real highlight of this premise is not building suspense about wondering if the siblings will win their matches but focusing on how they are going to achieve a victory and delighting in the sometimes beautifully over the top presentation. This is one of the most visually stunning anime series as the gaming world is fantastically brilliant in its colors and design.
One Punch Man (Hulu)
With so many anime series focused on weapons big and small, it’s pretty awesome to see a Shounen story of a man who can defeat any monster with one punch. As you can probably tell, this is going to be an anime series that highlights the comedic in tandem with the fighting, and One Punch Man triumphs, especially in putting an emphasis on the weird. There are monsters with car engines as heads, crab fighters that wear tighty whities, a gigantic, naked man that, luckily, moves with the clouds (if you know what I mean), as well as a list of others that are just too insane to describe. Fights are paired with electric guitar riffs combine for an absolutely crazy (to the best degree) type of show that provides for one hell of an entertaining time.
Highschool of the Dead (Hulu)
Imagine if The Walking Dead was paired with a sexually-charged teen CW show and converted into a manga anime serie,s and you have Highschool of the Dead. Sex and violence make the best recipe for a good time as the Japanese high school has all the characters you’d expect from anyone who’s seen Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club growing up (depending on your age, I guess). Together with the school nurse, the survivors try to avoid the zombie apocalypse as they search for survival amidst their hormones. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, which allows for a great amount of fun, and it's definitely worth a season or two of streaming.
My Hero Academia (Hulu)
Deku, a teenage boy, has dreams of being a superhero in a world full of superheroes (80% of the population) and finally, with the help of his idol mthe hero All Might, he is bestowed a special power that allows him to go to a high school focused on training the world’s heroes. Here you have your typical high school characters, but also the fun and excitement of the superhero genre. My Hero Academia also does a great job of providing touching moments in the relationship between Deku and his mother and adding a lot of humanity to characters that could easily stay two dimensional. This is the fun superhero show you’ve been wanting in manga form.