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The best Netflix original anime
Netflix is quietly making its mark in the world of anime.
Netflix original anime is quietly winning over fans and critics. In the last year, the streaming service has released five original anime series, along with a Godzilla movie, and there’s a lot more in the works. More importantly, Netflix has obtained exclusive international distribution for some great anime selections. While the company has yet to have a breakout hit on par with Yuri on Ice, taken as a whole, Netflix has one of the strongest anime collections around.
It’s a lot to take in. For this list, we’ve gathered summaries of our reviews for every Netflix original anime released to date, as well as the anime series exclusively distributed by Netflix in the U.S. To make this Netflix anime guide as comprehensive as possible, we’ve also rounded up what we know about Netflix’s upcoming anime releases.
The best Netflix original anime
These Netflix original anime series are available right now on-demand.
1) Devilman Crybaby
The latest adaptation of influential manga artist Go Nagai’s 1972 series readapts and recontextualizes its story for the modern day. Mild-mannered Akira Fudo and troubled, enigmatic Ryo Asuka seem like an unlikely pair, but the two are best friends. Ryo reveals to Akira that a race of demons are planning to start a war with humanity in order to re-conquer Earth, which they consider to be rightfully theirs. The best way to fight them is to fuse with demons themselves, transforming Akira into Devilman. Akira must battle not on the behalf of all humanity, but to remain himself despite the demon inside him. Devilman Crybaby, with its ultraviolence and graphic sex, may look like violent snuff porn at a glance, but at its core lies a hauntingly tragic love story. —Caitlin Moore
This Netflix original anime follows the life of Retsuko, a young professional red panda trying to make it in the big city. She’s “single, a Scorpio, blood type A” with a demeaning office job and two obnoxious supervisors, but she also has a secret: She has a death metal karaoke persona—an aggressive Retsuko, if you will—Aggretsuko. In other words, angry is the new cute. —Christine Friar
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B: The Beginning tells two parallel stories, both taking place in the fictional European archipelago nation of Cremona. In one, detective Keith Flick returns to the force after years in isolation to find his sister’s murderer, who he believes may be connected to a series of killings by a man the local police have named Killer B. In the other, a young man named Koku uses his superpowers to fight a group of genetically-altered humans called “Reggies” in a search for his lost childhood friend. It’s a weird mish-mash of two completely disparate stories, held together with spit and glue. —Caitlin Moore
4) A.I.C.O. -Incarnation-
It’s been two years since Aiko Tachibana lost her parents in a terrible lab accident. The accident, known as the “Burst,” involved an artificial lifeform called “Matter” breaking out and running wild. The once-bustling city around the research was cordoned off and abandoned, but Aiko, now 15, is about to enter it with a team of professional divers. Why? Because a transfer student told her there’s a secret in her body, and the answer lies at the core of the Burst. A.I.C.O. is a solidly entertaining science-fiction story with interesting imagery, but it seems to regard things like “character development” and “thematic exploration” as silly and extraneous. This, ultimately, holds back what could have been a great series from ever becoming anything more than a diversion. —Caitlin Moore
5) SWORDGAI The Animation
The title may refer to the main character, Gai, but it’s hard not to think of it as SWORD GUY, because that’s pretty much everything SWORDGAI The Animation is. Gai has been possessed by the sword Shiryu since his mother, who was herself possessed, died giving birth to him. Now a young man, he wears Shiryu as a prosthetic arm. He is not the only one possessed by a demonic weapon, and the organization Shihodai exists to collect them and treat their wielders before they become irrevocably transformed. SWORDGAI The Animation offers up some pretty good sword fights and a delightfully stupid and shallow main plot—the kind of series you watch to laugh at, though definitely not with. —Caitlin Moore
Netflix original anime: Exclusive distribution
Netflix might claim these anime titles as original, but truthfully, the service has merely obtained exclusive distribution rights for outside of Japan. Regardless, it’s a lot of great anime anime that’s available exclusively on Netflix.
1) Ajin: Demi-Human
Kei Nagai was just an average student before the accident. Perhaps he could stand to be a little more empathetic, but what teenager couldn’t? Then he was hit by a truck, revealing himself to be an Ajin, a superhuman being of incredible and terrifying power. Now on the run from the government, Kei must decide if he will live his life fleeing from the authorities or if he’ll join the resistance against his persecutors. Ajin: Demi-Human travels well-worn territory in the anime genre but manages to keep things fresh, thanks to stunning CGI animation and its original take on how the Ajin’s powers work. Netflix has the complete anime, made up of 26 episodes, but at 23 to 24 minutes apiece, it’s easy to binge the whole thing. It’s nice to see a series deal with the psychological impact of being hunted and discovering you have incomprehensible power, but when the action pops off, you’ll be quickly reminded this isn’t just a thoughtful meditation. Fans of David Cronenberg should take note of this dark sci-fi nightmare. —John-Michael Bond
Children of the Whales tells the story of Chakuro, a young man living on a giant vessel known as the Mud Whale that floats aimlessly through a sea of sand. The people of the Mud Whale lead peaceful lives, but when a ruined boat holding a young woman chances to drift by, they find that there is a much wider world out there. With a fascinating speculative world, truly stunning animation, and a compelling premise, Children of the Whales could have been one of the best fantasy series of the decade. Instead, it’s dry, exposition-heavy, and fails to deliver on any of its early promises—a master-class in wasted potential. —Caitlin Moore
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If you’ve been considering getting into the Fate franchise on Netflix and weren’t sure where to begin, here’s a tip: Don’t start with Fate/Extra: Last Encore. This latest anime to come out of the long-running multimedia franchise is as newbie-unfriendly as they come. Although there is plenty of exposition about the features unique to Fate/Extra, such as the SE.RA.PH. system and Dead Faces, the script presumes the audience is familiar with the fundamentals of the Holy Grail War that has been the centerpiece of the franchise since Kinoko Nasu’s original visual novel. And while Fate/Extra: Last Encore isn’t a good starting place for newbies, with weak writing and characterization and a dour outlook, it isn’t much fun for established fans either. —Caitlin Moore
4) Knights of Sidonia
This series concerns a futuristic human society aboard a giant spaceship, fighting to survive against a species of killer aliens. The premise—a young space cadet is unexpectedly thrust into battle—is very clichéd, borrowed from everything from Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers to Starfighter. It’s the incredible, VR-inspired animation and a thorough take on human gender and human engineering in a sci-fi age that makes this series worth watching. —Aja Romano
5) Little Witch Academia
This charming anime short about a young girl attending a Harry Potter-style magical academy won the hearts of anime fans when it began circulating in 2013. Originally a standalone short film, Little Witch Academia made such a splash that Studio Trigger was able to launch a lucrative crowdfund for the follow-up. The result is a winsome, delightful fantasy adventure featuring magic, dragons, and a host of adorable little witches. What’s not to love? —Aja Romano
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Violet Evergarden follows a former child soldier in an ambiguously European country in the late stages of a vaguely World War I and II-inspired conflict. Her commanding officer’s final order was for her to live and love freely before he went missing-in-action. But Violet, after spending her life being treated as a killing machine, doesn’t understand how to follow through. Violet Evergarden may be Kyoto Animation’s most gorgeous series yet, with visuals bordering on theatrical quality and nary a stiff or off-model shot. But the stories carry the nuance of your average Hallmark film, falling somewhere into the uncanny valley between calculatedly maudlin and embarrassingly sincere. —Caitlin Moore
Netflix anime list: Everything else
- Cyborg 009: Call of Justice
- Glitter Force
- Glitter Force Doki Doki
- Last Hope
- Adventures of Sinbad
- The Piano Forest
- The Seven Deadly Sins
New anime on Netflix: Coming soon
Here’s an overview of the Netflix original anime you have to look forward to in the near future.
1) Last Hope
Date: Sept. 14, 2018
Not much is known about this Netflix original anime, and its page on Netflix doesn’t currently exist, but it’s scheduled for release in September, and the company has released a rather long synopsis. From Netflix:
In 2031, the world goes through a drastic change after a next-generation quantum reactor fails catastrophically in an incident known as the “Xianglong Crisis.”
The energy that springs forth from beneath the ground swallows up city buildings and covers the earth, eventually leading to the emergence of new organisms called B.R.A.I. that are both organic and mechanical.
Seven years later, Xianglong has been reborn as the fortified city of Neo Xianglong. It is the last bastion of hope for humanity against the rapidly evolving B.R.A.I. threat that has pushed mankind to the brink of extinction. Leon, Chloe, Queenie and Doug are led by destiny to gather at Neo Xianglong. Cecile, Cain, Jay and Gren welcome them into the defense force. The special unit Pandora is born to fight for the survival of humanity.
The hope of everyone lies in their hands.
2) Dragon Pilot
Date: Sept. 21, 2018
Already streaming in Japan, the colorful anime created and animated by Bones finally arrives stateside. From Netflix:
Recently stationed Air Self-Defence Force rookie Hisone Amakasu is chosen by a dragon concealed within Gifu Air Base to be his pilot.
3) Forest of Piano
Date: Sept. 28, 2018
Netflix secured the exclusive streaming rights for this new anime based on Makoto Isshiki’s Piano no Mori (Forest of Piano), which follows two young boys—one the son of a prostitute, the other from a prestigious musical family—who bond over their love of piano. You can count on this show to have a great soundtrack and an awesome anime theme song.
Kai grows up playing an old piano discarded in the woods; Shuhei’s father is a famous pianist. Their chance meeting transforms their lives and music.
4) Lost Song
Date: Sept. 28, 2018
A musical fantasy anime, starring pop star Konomi Suzuki and Yukari Tamura. The series was released online in late March in Japan. From Netflix:
Rin (Konomi Suzuki), an energetic girl who loves to eat, lives in a verdant frontier village. Deep within the royal palace in the bustling capital city, the songstress Finis (Yukari Tamura) spends her days in solitude. Both share a special power no other person has. A miraculous power that can heal wounds, create water and stir the wind — the power of song. Guided by destiny, the two young women each face an arduous journey with the power of song. The shadow of war looms over the kingdom, tainting even the miraculous songs with the blood of innocents. Loved ones meet their deaths as silent screams echo through a stone prison. As two destinies intersect, will the final song be one of despair, hope or…?
Date: Summer 2018 (Japan), Fall 2018 (U.S.)
The massively popular manga about martial arts champion Baki Hanma and his battle against death row inmates is being turned into a 26-episode series, produced by TMS Entertainment. From Netflix:
The protagonist, Baki Hanma, trains with an intense focus to become strong enough to surpass his father, Yujiro Hanma, the strongest fighter in the world. Five of the world’s most violent and brutal death row inmates are gathering to face Baki. Their objective is to taste defeat — their unmatched strength and skill have led them to grow bored of life itself, and they now seek out Baki in the hopes that he can overwhelm and utterly crush them. In this crisis, other underground martial art warriors gather to fight by Baki’s side: Kaoru Hanayama, Gouki Shibukawa, Retsu Kaioh, and Doppo Orochi. An epic showdown between violent death row inmates and Baki and his friends begins!
Based on the manga by Homura Kawamoto and Toru Naomura, this decidedly dark series is about a gambling system that helps determine the hierarchy of a private school for the wealthiest and most politically connected kids in Japan. From Netflix:
There is one absolute rule in gambling—at the end of the day, there is a winner and a loser. The winner gains riches and prestige, while the loser is branded a failure and left with nothing. In the silence leading up to the moment that separates winners and losers, instincts are sharpened and desires reach the point of ecstasy. This is a harsh microcosm of life in a capitalist society. Why are people captivated by a world filled with risk? What lies beyond the madness? As the class system of modern society crumbles, an unprecedented adrenaline-pumping anime sweeps the world.
Date: March 1, 2019
LeSean Thomas’s beloved fantasy comic is finally getting the animated adaptation it deserves, following a successful Kickstarter campaign and a promising pilot. From Netflix:
Created, directed and executive produced by LeSean Thomas (Children of Ether), the series follows the adventures and exploits of S.A.M, a high-end, royal-class friendship droid who’s joined by a quirky, discarded maintenance robot and a brash, deadly fugitive. Together, the unlikely trio embarks on an unforgettable journey in a fantastic and dangerous world in search of S.A.M’s best friend, the heir to a powerful kingdom under siege.
8) Rilakkuma and Kaori
Date: Spring 2019
This stop-motion animation series brings the popular merchandise character to life, and it looks impossibly cute. From Netflix:
Rilakkuma is a bear costume who showed up one day to live with an office worker named Kaoru. It spends its days lounging around the apartment. Although there’s a zipper on its back, what’s inside is a mystery. It loves pancakes, rice omelets, custard pudding and “dango” rice dumplings. It’s friends are Kaoru’s pet bird Kiiroitori and a small white bear cub named Korilakkuma who also showed up out of the blue.
Date: Spring 2019
Created by Makoto Uezu and produced by Larx Entertainment, Kengan Ashura tells the story of an underground fighter who battles in something called “Kengan Matches.” From Netflix:
Kazuo Yamashita is an ordinary56-year-old man who one day is summoned by the chairman of his company and hired as a gladiator. He learns that these hired gladiators engage in battles called “Kengan Matches: to protect the corporate rights of the businesses they represent. Kazuo Yamashita is assigned to battle a mysterious Kengan fighter named Ohma Tokita. Both men join the “Kengan Zetsumei Tournament” with the hope of winning the spot as chairman of the Kengan Organization.
Date: Spring 2019
The iconic Japanese hero is getting the full CGI anime treatment. The series will be a sequel of sorts to the live-action TV show, and it’s being directed by Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed Alpha). From Netflix:
An action drama centered around a man possessing the spirit and DNA of the legendary hero “Ultraman” as he wears a metallic ultra suit and fights against evil.
Date: Fall 2019
The augmented reality mobile phone game gets the anime series treatment via animation studio Crafter. From Netflix:
“After scientists discover a mysterious substance that can influence human minds, two factions wage an all-out battle to control its awesome power.”
12) Seis Manos
A groundbreaking original anime series from Castlevania producer Powerhouse Animation, Seis Manos transplants a traditional martial arts narrative to 1970s Mexico. From Netflix:
Set in Mexico in the 1970s era, Seis Manos centers on three orphaned martial arts warriors who join forces with a DEA agent and a Mexican Federale to battle for justice after their beloved mentor is murdered on the streets of their tiny border town.
13) Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya
The classic ’80s manga gets rebooted once again, and it looks gorgeous. From Netflix:
Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya follows modern day adventures of young warriors called “Knights”, who are sworn protectors of the reincarnated Greek goddess Athena. Each Knights wears a powerful armor based on their chosen zodiac constellation, and are called Knights of the Zodiac. They aid Athena in her battle against powerful Olympian gods who are bent on destroying the humankind. The series is comprised of 12 episodes and is produced by Toei Animation.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.