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Hulu has poured an incredible number of resources into its anime series collection, but movie fans need to dig a little deeper. That doesn’t mean you can’t find gold. From influential classics that shaped the genre to modern masterpieces, Hulu makes the most of its limited selection. Instead of digging through the massive anime section for the few movies that are there, let us guide you. Here are the best anime movies on Hulu.
The best anime movies on Hulu
1) Akira (1988)
Thirty years after its release, Akira remains an audacious high point in the history of animation. This mega-budget feature has some of the most detailed animation in history, leaving it looking as fresh today as it did upon release. Meshing psychic warfare, ’80s Japanese cultural criticism, and sci-fi biker fights, Akira does its best to condense a massive manga series into a two-hour movie. While the result is occasionally confusing, Akira is a timeless film. As you’re watching, take note of every anime you’ve seen before that references Akira in some way. You’ll fill a whole notepad.
2) Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Anime is often thought of as an art form that can tell action stories, comedies, or romances, but little else. Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating example of the genre’s reach, a somber World War II story with a heartbreaking ending. Set in Kobe, Japan, following the firebombing of the city, Grave of the Fireflies explores two orphans’ fight for survival. The animation is truly breathtaking, a beautiful wrapping for an otherwise grim story. If you want to discover the dramatic possibilities of anime, make time for Grave of the Fireflies.
3) Ninja Scroll (1993)
Ninja Scroll was a global smash, spoken of in the same breath as Akira and Ghost in the Shell. The Wachowskis even cite the film’s over-the-top, gravity-defying fights as a significant influence on their Matrix trilogy. Set during the Edo period, the movie follows a wandering swordsman named Jubei, who is poisoned by a spy in need of help. In exchange for the antidote, Jubei must agree to help stop a vile warlord and his collection of mystical devil warriors. The story may be clichéd, but the inventive action is unbelievable. (Be warned: Ninja Scroll does contain one scene of sexual assault.)
4) Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010)
Trigun’s blend of kinetic action and post-apocalyptic world-building made it a beloved series. Badlands Rumble lets you get a taste without watching the entire series. Vash the Stampede is off on a new job, hunting down the legendary Gasback. Twenty years ago, Vash got in the way of one of Gasback’s heists. Now, word on the street is the criminal is back, with a $300 million price on his head. Vash heads out to get his slice of the profit, wading through countless bullets and bounty hunters along the way.
5) Afro Samurai Resurrection (2009)
Birthed from the mind of Takashi Okazaki, Afro Samurai was inspired by the artist’s love of hip-hop and American depictions of Japanese culture. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Afro Samurai, welder of the Number 1 headband, an artifact of godlike power. Resurrection is the second movie in the series, so the plot—involving finding the Number 2 headband—can get confusing. But you don’t need to keep up to enjoy the film’s breathtaking art and fight scenes. Instead, appreciate this brilliant sci-fi meshing of street art and classic ninja combat for the visual feast it is.
6) K: Missing Kings (2014)
One of the best parts of watching anime movies on Hulu is being able to catch up on the series first. Take K: Missing Kings for example. On its own, the film makes no sense. But if you take the time to watch season one of K beforehand, you’re in for a wonderful time. Unbeknownst to the population, the psychic Seven Clans of Color secretly control the world. Set after the events of season one, Missing Kings follows a group of warriors as they search for their absent ruler. Giving away more would be a sin, but this elegantly animated series is worth investing your time in to fully appreciate the accompanying movie.
Also known as Pyramid of Light, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie is an anime oddity. Designed and developed specifically for Western audiences, this film serves as a solid jumping-on point for new fans. Set after the third season of the show, the film picks up with Yugi, who’s become an international star following his victory at the Battle City Finals. Unfortunately, the Egyptian god of death Anubis has been unleashed and is on the hunt for our hero. Will Yugi’s deck prove powerful enough, or will the world fall to the forces of darkness? The whole family can find out, as this is one of the most kid-friendly anime movies on Hulu.
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8) Fafner: Heaven and Earth (2010)
Mecha combat has a deep history in anime even if it goes underrepresented in the library of anime movies on Hulu. Fafner: Heaven and Earth is a thankful exception. Set in 2148, after the original Fafner series, Heaven and Earth introduces viewers to a world recovering from a war with a powerful alien foe. Traumatized and injured, the people of Tatsumiya Island have begun to rebuild. But the discovery of a mysterious child on a crew-less submarine sparks the beginning of a new conflict no one could anticipate. If you enjoy the gritty mecha world of Gundam, give Fafner: Heaven and Earth 88 minutes of your time.
9) Sword Art Online Extra Edition (2013)
There should be more movies like Sword Art Online Extra Edition. Recapping the early seasons of the anime in movie format, Extra Edition is a simple way to acquaint yourself with the Sword Art Online world. Sword Art Online is set in a future where humans live and play in various online MMORPG worlds. Blending action, sci-fi, and some goofy fan service, Extra Edition is a fresh, funny, fast-paced anime crowd-pleaser. There’s a ton of Sword Art Online content on Hulu, but this is a great place to start.
10) Fairy Tail the Movie: Phoenix Priestess (2012)
Fairy Tail is a lovely anime series whose world of wizards and magic should be instantly familiar to anyone who likes fantasy. In Phoenix Priestess, Natsu and his band of magic warriors find themselves trapped in the Duke’s devious plot for immortality. Unlike many films that continue plots from a previous series, Phoenix Priestess is a blissful standalone experience. Save the research for another time and jump headfirst into the funny, magical world of Fairy Tail.
Still not sure what to watch on Hulu? Here are the best movies on Hulu, what’s new, the best shows on Hulu, the sexiest movies you can stream on the service, Hulu documentaries, anime, and the must-see Hulu originals.
John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.