If you really want to up the amount of animated television you watch, then it’s necessary to migrate away from the narrow confines of Netflix. Though the streaming service has some great offerings, including the exclusive streaming rights to Knights of Sidonia, Netflix is notoriously lacking when it comes to quality anime and other animated series.
Fans of Bojack Horseman might disagree, but if you want quality streaming anime and other animated shows, you’re better off looking somewhere else. Hulu has perhaps the best selection outside of anime-focused platforms like Funimation and Crunchyroll, but you’re going to have to rely on all three of them to get the absolute best.
Between Amazon Streaming, Hulu, Funimation, and Crunchyroll, here are the nine best animated and anime series you should watch right now if you haven’t already. Among them are some Western magical fantasy series or foul-mouthed sci-fi adventure, and of course we’ve got a collection of truly great anime.
Ghost in the Shell
In its many iterations, Ghost in the Shell follows the members of Public Security Section 9, a special-operations task-force. Many of the characters, like the protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, have cybernetic parts or other technological enhancements. In the Major’s case, her entire consciousness exists in a cyberbrain, and her body is literally a shell for what’s basically the ghost of who she once was.
As a mechanical super-soldier, the Major battles robots and cyber-terrorists while grappling with her own humanity.
- Both Hulu and Funimation have selections from Ghost in the Shell’s vast catalogue, which include movies and different iterations of the shows.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Though the World of Avatar and its two accompanying animated series might not be considered “anime” by most — both series were written and produced in the West — they both nonetheless represent some of the absolute best animated adventures around.
In a world with connections to the Spirit Realm, elemental energies can be harnessed by special people called “Benders,” there exists a single individual known as the Avatar that can wield all four elements — Earth, Air, Water, Fire — and bring peace. Functionally, the Avatar is much like a magical, combat-oriented Dalai Lama; the symbolic influences are undeniable.
Culturally speaking, the world of Avatar is divided into nations determined by their elemental ruling. The Fire Nation is about to instigate a world war. Out of fear, the 12-year-old budding Avatar, Aang flees his home with the Air Nomads and winds up trapped in the ice for a hundred years. He awakens into a world he doesn’t recognize, plagued by war and in need of a hero. It’s up to him to train to master the four elements so he can face Fire Lord Ozai and bring peace to the world — all with the help with a small group of new friends, of course.
The Last Airbender is an exciting and fun adventure that has wide appeal for various audiences, despite being primarily marketed to children.
- Available on Amazon Prime Streaming.
The Legend of Korra
In the follow-up to The Last Airbender, the newest Avatar from the Southern Water Tribe is Korra, a hot-headed young woman whose combat mastery doesn’t quite overcompensate for her lack of connection to the Spirit Realm, a necessary aspect of being the Avatar. Korra was sheltered for much of her life and emerges into an industrialized world very different from the one that Aang adventured through with his companions.
In Legend of Korra, the title character has to learn how to foster peace in an industrialized world that comes to revere technology and innovation more than it does the power of benders and the Avatar. Whereas The Last Airbender could be immature at times and more fun-loving as Aang essentially matures into a fully-fledged Avatar, The Legend of Korra is less world-wandering and more political and mature in its scope while being so much more focused on how the Spirit Realm relates to the human world.
While The Last Avatar might have a wider, more lasting appeal, The Legend of Korra is a solid animated adventure in its own right with a tone and aesthetic that’s just different enough while also expanding the same universe.
- Available on Amazon Prime Streaming
Largely considered a classic American animated series, ThunderCats chronicles the adventures of catlike humanoid aliens that flee their dying planet to find refuge on Third Earth. There’s Lion-O, Cheetara, Panthro, Tygra, WilyKit, WilyKat, and Snarf. During their time on Third Earth they battle their long-time foes, the Mutants of Plun-Darr, and the demonic, mummified sorcerer known as Mumm-Ra.
ThunderCats is a silly, campy mess of a show that definitely shows its age, but it holds up as an early, ambitious animated series.
- Available on Amazon Prime Streaming.
In this dramedy Western, Vash the Stampede is a mythic figure with with a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to play nice and make friends wherever he can, toting the phrase “Love and peace!” as often as possible. Initially, Vash is an enigma, but over time you begin to see a darker personal history unfold. Think David Tennant or Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor on Doctor Who but in a spaghetti Western. He’s got a veneer of silliness hiding personal trauma and against his wishes and intentions, he’s forced to engage in plenty of duels and gunfights.
Tokyo Ghoul is shaping up to be the “next big thing” in anime with a live-action adaptation due out July 2017 in Japan. Quiet youngster Ken Kaneki is unassuming at best, but he’s exposed to a society that’s alien to him after a terrible accident when his date tries to devour him. “Ghouls” are monstrous cannibals that can pass as humans but have hidden predatory organs to help them maul and devour humans. After a devastating accident and failed attempt at making him a bit of prey, Kaneki himself is transformed into the very thing that terrifies him most: a Ghoul.
In this dark story, Kaneki plunges into the Ghoul subculture while discovering his newfound powers and ferocious appetite.
Cowboy Bebop is an undeniably iconic anime that chronicles the adventures of a ragtag crew of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop in the year 2071. Earth has become uninhabitable and colonies of humans have sprung up across the solar system and beyond. A colorful cast of characters makes for a solid blend of lighthearted comedy with thundering action as the crew hunts down criminals.
This jazzy cyber- and steam-punk space Western is the coolest show you will ever watch. With a recently announced live-action TV treatment coming, there’s never been a time to pick it up for the first time or revisit the show that probably got you into anime.
Rick and Morty
Everyone’s favorite brazenly crass sci-fi animated duo is Rick and Morty. Though the foul-mouthed series is the furthest thing from anime possible, Adult Swim’s flagship series will whet the appetite of any fans of hard sci-fi mixed with fart jokes. Whether or not there’s much overlap between the two doesn’t matter, because Rick and Morty will only get better in its upcoming Season 3.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
One of the greatest anime of all time, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is a charming but brutal coming-of-age tale following the adventures two brothers in a violent magical fantasy world. Alchemy, the mystical science of transmutation that behaves an awful lot like magic, is at the heart of the series.
When Edward and Alphonse Elric lose their mother to an illness, leaving them orphaned, they learn the forbidden kind of alchemy that could theoretically resurrect her. When things go horribly wrong and the experiment fails, Ed loses an arm and a leg to mysterious magical forces and Al loses his entire body and gets his soul bonded to an empty suit of armor.
Throughout the series, the two brothers join the government as magical soldiers and explore the lands governed by Germanic occupation in an attempt to find the resources they need to restore their bodies.