The 12 best anime movies every fan should see—and where to stream them

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Building a list of the best anime movies of all time is nearly impossible. The very nature of what makes anime special, its incredible variety, so a definitive list subjectively undoable. Still, in the age of streaming, it’s excusable not to have a guide to the best anime movies around. We’ve dug through every service imaginable to find the best anime movies you can stream at home.

Keep in mind that due to the licensing issues, many classic titles just aren’t available these days. We mourn their exclusion and plan to add more titles as they become available. In the meantime, here are best anime movies of all time that you can watch right now.

The best anime movies of all time

1) Akira (1988)

best anime movies of all time : Akira Screengrab via YouTube

Perhaps the most famous anime movie ever, Akira is still regarded as a high-water mark for adult animation. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the film attempts to distill thousands of pages of manga into a two-hour st

ory of friendship and psychic warfare. While the result can occasionally be confusing, its animation holds up against anything produced today. Set decades after an unexplained explosion in Tokyo initiated a third World War, Akira takes place in the city rebuilt on Tokyo’s ruins. Biker gangs, protesters, and citizens live in chaos while the police state keeps everyone in line. When two young bikers, Kaneda and Tetsuo, encounter a mysterious child during a gang fight one night, they suddenly become military targets.

Kandea is taken into to custody by the army, and the teenager begins to develop incredible psychic powers connected to the mysterious child and an unknown force known as Akira. Tetsuo attempts a rescue only to discover his childhood friend has become a monster of unimaginable power who could destroy Tokyo for the second time. Heralded as a  cornerstone of the anime genre, Akira was the most expensive animated film of all time upon its original release. Its dense plot can be hard to follow, but those who take the time to soak it in will understand why this film remains a classic.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Hulu.

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2) Paprika (2006)

best anime movies : paprika Screengrab via YouTube

Four years before Christopher Nolan used dreams as the setting for his action movie Inception, director Satoshi Kon perfected the idea. Paprika, Kon’s final film before his death, is a far more psychological affair, using dreams as a setting for thrilling adventure and personal discovery. A device known as the DC Mini allows psychotherapists to record and navigate the dreams of their patients.

By day, psychiatrist Atsuko Chiba works with patients. But she spends her nights as a dream detective, exploring people’s mental depths free of the rules of the lab. But when two of the devices are stolen and used as a form of mind control, people’s dreams start to enter the real world, unleashing technicolor chaos. Chiba and her colleagues must dive into the mess to set the world right. Paprika is a film where reality can’t be trusted, so some viewers might need to watch it twice to fully understand the plot. Thankfully, it’s one of the most beautiful films, animated or not, ever made, so you’re in for a treat both times.  

Where to find it streaming: Stream for rent on Amazon.

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3) Perfect Blue (1997)

best anime movies : perfect blue Screengrab via YouTube

For all the eclectic anime titles that make their way from Japan to North America, few psychological thrillers ever hit our shores. But at least we have Perfect Blue, a masterpiece on par with Silence of the Lambs or Seven. When singer Mima Kirigoe retires from her ultra-successful pop trio to become an actress, there’s a reasonable period of adjustment. Then a series of murders begins plaguing the set of her first film. Mima falls into a deep depression as the killings pile up and a mysterious fan claims to be committing the crimes for her.

Who is behind the killings, and will Mima’s sanity be their final victim? Combining anime drama with elements of Italian Giallo slashers, Perfect Blue is a deliberately paced shocker full of horrific chills. In anime, the nightmares hiding in the dark usually come from hell. In Perfect Blue, however, they’re terrifyingly based in the real world.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on YouTube.

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4) Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

best anime movies : grave of the fireflies Screengrab via Hulu

Studio Ghibli is known for its family-friendly tales of wonder, but Grave of the Fireflies is a dark exception to the rule. Hailed by Roger Ebert as one of the best war movies of all time, Grave of the Fireflies is a historical story about two boys who survive the 1945 firebombing of Kobe, Japan. Seita and his young sister Setsuko wake up after the bombings to find their hometown in ruins. They struggle to find food as they work to survive in the barren wasteland left behind by the bombs.

Some films show horror through violence and bloodshed. Grave of the Fireflies unflinchingly shows the cold aftermath of combat, as the people who survived learn their struggle has just begun. Watching children love each other through their suffering is harrowing, but the story’s harsh ending is bookended with hope. Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating, artistic achievement by director Isao Takahata. This is a rare anime title that will leave you speechless.   

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Hulu.

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5) Spirited Away (2001)

best japanese anime movies : spirited away Screengrab via YouTube

Picking just one Hayao Miyazaki film for a “best anime movies” list feels like an unfair challenge. Each of the legendary director’s films is a unique work of art worthy of celebration. However, the first Miyazaki film you should watch if you’re new to his work is Spirited Away. A wrong turn on a family trip becomes an unexpected adventure for 10-year-old Chihiro after her family wanders into what they assume is an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro’s parents are magically transformed into pigs for stealing food, and she discoveries the park is a resort of sorts for spirits and other supernatural beings. Tasked with working to earn her family’s freedom, Chihiro is warned never to forget her name if she hopes to ever break the spell and leave. Spooky without being scary, Spirited Away is a paranormal story full of heart, perfect for families and children of all ages.  

Where to find it streaming: You can stream the movie Archive.org; however, this feels like a mistake since the film isn’t in the public domain. None of Miyazaki’s films are officially available for streaming at the moment. We promise it’s worth a trip to the video store or library to pick up a copy.

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6) Ninja Scroll (1993)

best anime movies : ninja scroll Screengrab via Hulu

One of the best-known anime titles of the ’90s earned its reputation as a classic thanks to its clever character designs. Even the random robbers from the first scene are memorable years after the fact, despite being throwaway characters. Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s martial arts classic follows a government agent tasked with assassinating the Eight Devils of Kimon, armed with only his wits and blade. Unflinching in its violence, Ninja Scroll’s true charm is in its variety. Each battle with the Eight Devils follows a unique pattern, set up like an epic video game boss fight. While its brief sexual violence remains an unfortunate addition, Ninja Scroll as a whole is a staggering achievement in action, direction, and design.  

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Hulu.

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7) The Boy and the Beast (2015)

best anime movies : the boy and the beast Screengrab via YouTube

Many anime fans see Mamoru Hosoda as a modern-day Hayao Miyazaki. He crafts mature, otherworldly tales of fantasy that delight adults and children alike. His masterpiece is The Boy and the Beast, a stunning technical achievement of animation and magical world-building. Kyuta is an orphan who accidentally stumbles into a world where anthropomorphic animals reign. He’s adopted by a lonely warrior named Kumatetsu who’s in search of an apprentice, and Kyuta helps his master train for upcoming battle to become lord of the Beasts.

However, the mystery of how Kyuta crossed into this world puts both universes in danger. The Boy and the Beast’s cutting edge animation is enough to land it a spot on this list, but Mamoru Hosoda has built something beyond a traditional buddy movie. The relationship between Kumatetsu and Kyuta is beautifully developed, giving legitimate weight to the dangers in the third act. If you’ve ever wished Alice in Wonderland had sword fights, The Boy and the Beast is your answer.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on the Funimation app.

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8) Fist of the North Star (1986)

best action anime movies : fist of the north star Screengrab via Crackle

For a long time, anime had a reputation for being almost pornographically violent and over the top. You can thank films like 1986’s Fist of the North Star for that reputation. While dated by today’s standards, Fist of the North Star is still an incredible achievement in animation history. Essentially Mad Max if Max could punch people so hard they explode, Fist tells the story of Kenshiro, a warrior wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland on a quest for revenge. The plot is as thin as it sounds, but the fight scenes are psychedelic wonders of carnage. The splatter on display cemented anime as a subversive genre, but unlike so many grim titles from the era, this one remains fun as hell to watch.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Crackle.

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9) Vampire Hunter D (1985)

best anime movies : vampire hunter d Screengrab via YouTube

If you discovered anime in the ’90s, your options were usually limited to whatever you could find on off-hours cable or at a local video store. Fortunately, the Sci-Fi channel, Cartoon Network, and Blockbuster Video all thought Vampire Hunter D deserved to be seen by the masses, leading to this title’s continued popularity today. Taking place in a distant future where monsters hunt humans with impunity, Vampire Hunter D uses the setting to build a western steampunk society. D, a quiet hunter who lets his massive sword speak for him, is hired to protect a young woman who has been marked by a powerful vampire lord.

Vampire Hunter D’s plot is simple by modern standards, but its chaotic world is full of brilliant action and monster designs that ignited the imaginations of countless anime fans. Most importantly, its creative approach to bloodshed keeps it from becoming a disgusting gorefest even when guts start flying. Massively influential, Vampire Hunter D still stands as a visual feast for classic animation fans.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on YouTube.  

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10) Wicked City (1987)

best anime movies : wicked city Screengrab via Crackle

Based on a novel by renowned horror author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City is a supernatural film noir that will entice Lovecraft fans with its dark delights. At the end of the 20th-century, humanity lives in uneasy coexistence with the demon world. The Black Guard, a secret organization of police, are humanity’s only defense. When agent Renzaburō Taki is almost eaten by a one-night stand, it leads Taki down a path towards a dark conspiracy that threatens to consume the world. Full of dark sexuality, cruel violence, and a horrific monster designs, Wicked City is a classic of horror anime. It’s also the second film by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who would go on to direct Ninja Scroll.

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Crackle.

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11) Colorful (2010)

best anime movies of all time : colorful Screengrab via Daily Motion

If you think anime is just monsters and clever fight scenes, you should grab a box of tissues and rent Colorful. Keiichi Hara’s 2010 masterwork follows a soul that, upon entering the afterlife, is given a chance to live again. But there’s a catch. The soul is reincarnated into the body of Makoto, a middle-school-aged suicide victim. Given just six months to discover why Makoto took his life, the soul sets out on a journey of understanding. Using the supernatural to explore life’s meaning, Colorful is a heartwarming drama about the sometimes hard-to-see value of life. Colorful would have been an Oscar-contender as a live-action drama. If that were the case, though, we would have missed out on its beautiful, otherworldly approach to color design.

Where to find it streaming: Stream for rent on Vudu.

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12) Your Name (2016)

best anime movies on amazon : your name Screengrab via Amazon

Your Name has the distinction of being the highest-grossing anime of all time, with over $357 million earned worldwide. Normally money doesn’t mean much, but in this case, those numbers are well earned. High schoolers Taki and Mitsuha are strangers separated by distances neither can imagine. One night, they suddenly switch bodies, waking up in new lives they don’t recognize. When the switching continues, the two start living days as the other. Before they revert to their own bodies, however, they communicate by leaving letters. Finally, Taki sets out to find the girl from his dreams, only to discover that body-switching isn’t the only magic at play.

Your Name is easily the most beautiful animated film we’ve ever seen, a technical achievement in every way. But its real strength is in its twists, which manage to weave complex themes into an easily understood package. Romantic, tragic, and brimming with youthful innocence, Your Name is a sci-fi drama that doesn’t use action to thrill. Instead, the film uses magic to explore the idea of destiny. Ultimately, Your Name explores whether some connections transcend time and space.    

Where to find it streaming: Stream on Amazon.

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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

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John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond

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.