Anime‘s sphere of influence has become well-globalized over the years, especially recently – the prevalence of online streaming services has certainly played a massive role in its seemingly unstoppable surge in popularity. Netflix has commissioned various anime projects in both serialized and movie form and has also obtained the rights to several other features.
Compared to series, anime movies can be harder to come by, particularly if they are not produced by a company like Studio Ghibli. Netflix’s selection of anime features provides an accessible entry point for those who have yet to dip their toes in Japanese animation, along with making it simpler for fans to track down new and older movies. What are the best anime movies on Netflix?
Each anime’s Japanese title includes a link to the movie’s U.S. Netflix page.
Drifting Home (2022)
A recent addition to Netflix’s anime movie catalog, Drifting Home has a fascinating premise about a group of children who, after entering a strange apartment building, find themselves drifting on an expansive ocean removed from space and time. This concept is inherently exciting and allows plenty of room for intense action sequences and mystery; in execution, Drifting Home blends a lighthearted tone with heavy themes that deal with grief and forgiveness. This mix makes for an oddly structured film that slightly dulls the stakes of its premise.
With projects like Penguin Highway and Burn the Witch under its belt, Studio Colorido can be relied upon to deliver gorgeous animation that ranks among the best in the business. Story-wise, the company’s output tends to be polarizing, and Drifting Home is unlikely to change that perception. At two hours, the movie overstays its welcome, but there are more than enough high points to make this a trip worth taking.
A Whisker Away (2020)
Miyo Sasaki is an awkward teen with a complicated home life and a crush that she probably makes a bit too obvious. One day, Miyo meets a cat spirit who offers her a mask that will allow her to transform into a cat, an ability she uses to get close to her love interest.
Even with its supernatural twist, A Whisker Away‘s narrative plays out like a straightforward love story about two teenagers who struggle to communicate effectively. Although not completely lacking in depth or insight, the movie is firmly driven by emotion rather than logic or analysis; as such, it is best to go in expecting a slightly unusual and charming rom-com. Where the movie really shines is in its animation, as Studio Colorido put together an absolutely gorgeous production.
Okko’s Inn (2018)
Okko’s Inn flew under the radar when it came out in 2018, but it is well worth a watch for those seeking a smartly written slice of life that touches upon some tough subjects. After a family tragedy, Okko, a young girl, starts to work at her grandmother’s hot springs inn. Along with the standard guests, this inn also seems to welcome less orthodox visitors.
Okko’s Inn falls in the “healing” anime subgenre of slice of life, so expect a slow-moving narrative and plenty of scenes of nature. However, this anime is literally about healing as it deals directly with its protagonist’s grief. The movie also handles this theme well.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway (2021)
The Gundam series can be difficult to jump into for the uninitiated since there are just so many series and movies to watch. Netflix covers a decent amount of content, including some classics such as Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. Hathaway’s Flash is the franchise’s most recent animated venture, and it is only the first entry in what will be a trilogy.
The animation is wonderful, and the plot has an interesting premise as it focuses on a group of terrorists led by Mafty. The film does require prior knowledge of the series to appreciate, particularly Hathaway’s backstory, but longtime fans of the mecha franchise should find a lot to enjoy here.
Flavors Of Youth (2018)
|Genre||Slice of Life|
|Studio||CoMix Wave Films|
Split into three shorts with themes that are loosely connected, Flavors of Youth is primarily concerned with reminiscing on the days gone by. A Japanese-Chinese co-production, this anime is at its best when highlighting the unique taste presented by its Chinese culture. While none of the films deliver much in the way of surprises, they manage to be endearing and emotionally effective, particularly the final segment.
- The Rice Noodles (Hidamari no Choshoku) tells the story of Xiao Ming, a guy living in Beijing who misses the special noodles he enjoyed as a child.
- A Little Fashion Show (Chiisana Fashion Show) follows two sisters who have been slowly growing apart since one of them became a fashion model.
- Love in Shanghai (Shanghai Koi) is all about young love, chronicling the romance between Li Mo and Xiao Yu. Using cassette tapes as portals to the past, this segment tackles heartbreak, regret, and unbreakable connections.
Stand By Me Doraemon Movies (2014; 2020)
Doraemon is an institution, so anyone unfamiliar with the franchise might be hesitant to jump into two modern movies. The Stand By Me Doraemon films adapt some of the series’ stand-out short stories, and they are quite welcoming to newcomers. Both movies are coming-of-age stories, ones that deal with themes of family and anxiety.
Heartwarming, charming, and profound, these films serve as a testament to Doraemon‘s longevity. They are so good, these movies might just inspire someone to track down the anime series (the 2005 one is pretty great) or one of the other 40+ movies. There are hundreds of reasons that explain Doraemon‘s longevity, and Stand By Me highlights quite a few of them.
Kuroko’s Basketball The Movie: Last Game (2017)
The final hurrah for the Kuroko’s Basketball anime, Last Game finds the Generation of Miracles reuniting to take on a U.S. team that looks down on Japanese players. Unsurprisingly, this film does not hold much value for those not familiar with the series; however, for fans of Kuroko’s Basketball, Last Game presents a rare opportunity to see the Miracles united as a singular force.
Solid animation, a thrilling final match, and a healthy helping of comedy, Kuroko’s Basketball The Movie: Last Game distills everything that was great about the sports anime into a digestible 90-minute sit. If nothing else, this sequel lets fans spend a bit more time with these iconic characters. There is no downside to that.
Mamoru Hosoda has cemented his place in anime history with Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and The Boy and the Beast. Mirai doesn’t reach the same level as any of those movies, however, the 2018 release is still a fun watch with a wholesome message.
Mirai is about Kun, a spoiled boy who begins to act out when his parents start to pay more attention to his newborn sister. In order to deal with these outbursts, Kun goes on imaginary adventures. Although a bit too formulaic at times, Mirai has great animation and a handful of supporting characters that complement Kun quite well.
Violet Evergarden: Eternity And The Auto Memory Doll (2019)
Violet Evergarden helped establish Netflix as a legitimate anime streaming service, one that might not offer the quantity of Crunchyroll but can match its competitor in quality. Violet Evergarden: Eternity And The Auto Memory Doll tells the emotional tale of two sisters separated by space who are connected through Violet’s postal service.
The animation is unsurprisingly gorgeous, and the story’s warmth makes for a cozy watch. The film tackles the subject of family, and how it goes deeper than just blood.
Violet Evergarden: The Movie (2020)
Serving as an endpoint for the series, Violet Evergarden: The Movie is the perfect encapsulation of the anime’s strengths. The sequel contains three stories that are set in the past, present, and future; while they aren’t tied together all that tightly, the narratives act as a satisfying study of Violet’s development throughout the story.
Violet Evergarden: The Movie is a tearjerker that earns every emotional outburst. Along with a plot that hits hard and provides closure to both the protagonist and the audience, the film’s animation and music are also top-notch.
Tiger & Bunny: The Rising (2014)
Tiger & Bunny is now available on Netflix, with season 2 of the anime debuting earlier this year. The entire franchise can now be streamed on the platform, and that includes 2014’s The Rising. A sequel to season 1, this movie introduces a new superhero, Ryan Goldsmith, as Barnaby Brooks’ partner, replacing the aging Kotetsu T. Kaburagi. Although powerful, Ryan quickly proves to be anything but heroic.
The Rising largely captures the magic of the series, even if the movie does feel somewhat like filler since it reverts things back to normal by the end of its runtime. Barnaby and Kotetsu get a lot of attention, but the film does not neglect the rest of the cast either; in fact, The Rising is at its best when it focuses on Nathan Seymour, a character who faces discrimination on a daily basis.
One Piece Film Strong World (2009)
Netflix has a couple of One Piece movies in its library, including 2012’s enjoyable Film: Z. While an argument can certainly be made for that release representing the franchise at its cinematic best, Strong World is also a contender for that throne. Written by Eiichiro Oda, this film finds the Straw Hats going up against Golden Lion Shiki, a powerful pirate who takes a personal interest in Nami.
One Piece‘s movies are limited by their inability to introduce or change anything about the characters’ status quo. However, these adventures provide opportunities for fans to see the Straw Hats as a unit, something that has become quite rare in the last decade. More than anything, Strong World is just a fun shonen anime movie, one that comes with a memorable villain, awesome fight scenes, and even a few laughs.
Godzilla Trilogy (2017-18)
Polygon Pictures’ Godzilla CGI trilogy is a tough sell for a variety of reasons. The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, has a painfully slow start and focuses nearly exclusively on its human characters, most of which do not start to become interesting until the sequel films. The trilogy also makes the risky creative decision to delay the reveal of its central kaiju for more than an hour, all the while keeping the fact that this big arrival is imminent under wraps. Lastly, CGI anime do not have the greatest reputation, even though there are a number of solid shows that use this style of animation.
All these criticisms are valid, but these movies do improve considerably as they go along, with the second entry being notably superior to its predecessor. That said, this recommendation is primarily for kaiju movie veterans since the trilogy’s pacing and themes make it a less-than-ideal introductory point to the subgenre.
Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame! is a gripping work of art that ranks among the great sci-fi manga of all time. Unfortunately, there has yet to be an anime that adapts the source material in its entirety. Netflix’s 2017 release merely scratches the surface of this lengthy story and complicated world. The movie focuses on a short arc and comes across as a sample of Blame!‘s brilliance rather than a complete experience.
Still, there is a lot to enjoy here, particularly for long-time fans who wish to see Killy in animated form. Polygon Pictures’ CGI is an acquired taste, although it does fit the mechanical and cold metropolis that Blame! takes place in. While the movie is a worthwhile addition to the franchise, newcomers to this universe should start with the manga.
Mobile Suit Gundam Compilation Trilogy (1981-82)
1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam is not only a classic but one of the most influential mecha anime of all time. The series should be required viewing for fans of the franchise’s subsequent releases or the genre in general; however, the show’s age can translate to a difficult watch. While the storytelling and world-building hold up beautifully, the anime’s animation and pacing leave a lot to be desired.
Sunrise’s Mobile Suit Gundam movie compilation trilogy condenses the 43-episode series into roughly six hours, and it is the best way to experience this groundbreaking anime. As is always the case with these sorts of releases, the trilogy speeds through the plot at a blistering pace, even cutting some crucial moments out entirely. That said, the movies also underline Gundam‘s themes and ideologies, all the while presenting a more consistent tone than the show. Both versions of this story have their positives, and the trilogy ranks among Netflix’s best anime movies.
Considering the pedigree behind this anime, it is difficult to shake the feeling that Bubble should be better than it actually is. Directed by Tetsuro Araki (Death Note, Attack on Titan) and written by Gen Urobuchi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero), Bubble is a visual tour de force; frankly, it might be the most gorgeous anime movie on Netflix. The stunning animation is backed by fantastic music and great character designs, so from a technical perspective, this film hits it out of the park.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo that has flooded streets and bubbles everything, the story centers around an extreme parkour sport and two characters who are drawn to each other. The former concept is tailor-made to allow Wit Studio to flex its muscle as frequently as possible – mere movement is a pleasure to watch in Bubble. Sadly, the film’s plot and characters are quite weak, making this a rather superficial experience.
Altered Carbon: Resleeved (2020)
Altered Carbon is such a weird show. The sci-fi franchise has produced two seasons with distinct main actors and surprisingly different tones, although they share a number of things in common. This change in lead is possible as the story revolves around Takeshi Kovacs, a person who transfers his consciousness into different bodies (or sleeves).
Altered Carbon: Resleeved has a distinctly Japanese flavor to it that goes beyond just its animation style. The story revolves around the yakuza and codes of honor, all the while still hitting similar beats as the main show. Narratively, Resleeved does not add too much to this world’s mythos since it largely sticks to the basics; however, as an action spectacle, this short movie is quite entertaining.
Modest Heroes (2018)
Now for something slightly different, Modest Heroes consists of three short films that cover a surprising range of genres and tones. As is often the case with anthology projects, some segments work better than others, but all three stories included in this compilation have their strengths.
- Kanini & Kanino revolves around two humanized crab siblings who leave the safety of their home to search for their father. Overall, this is the weakest segment in Modest Heroes due to uneven animation and pacing. That said, it is still charming.
- Life Ain’t Gonna Lose tells a more intimate story. This short follows a boy who is allergic to eggs and the way this condition impacts his daily life along with that of his mother.
- Invisible is about a man who is ignored by those around him, causing him to gradually go invisible. The short deals with his struggles in living in a world that does not register his existence.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End Of Evangelion (1998)
This is the ’90s anime about big giant robots that’s not really about big giant robots. Neon Genesis Evangelion was part of a brave new genre called anti-mecha, which took the concept of “deus ex machina” and flipped it on its head.
Neon Genesis Evangelion ended its run on two episodes that were made on a shoestring budget, resulting in one of the most infamous finales in anime history. In response, The End of Evangelion was created as a new conclusion, and the movie is a trip unlike any other. Similar to the show, the film tackles heavy themes and contains plenty of uncomfortable scenes, be it due to extremely graphic violence or psychological turmoil. EoE is not an easy sit.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2021)
Going by slightly unnoticed, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a charming rom-com that takes the genre’s conventions and gives them a pop-art aesthetic. Visually, Signal.MD and Sublimation’s anime is gorgeous, and the movie’s vibrant and stylish art sets it apart from other post-Your Name releases.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is not just a feast for the eyes, as the film tells a simple but charming story about the blossoming relationship between two socially awkward and insecure characters, Cherry and Smile. The anime also has a fantastic soundtrack, one that is integral to the story’s presentation.
The Summit Of The Gods (2021)
The Summit of the Gods is a special case since it is a French production, however, the movie deserves a mention as it is based on a manga by Jiro Taniguchi. A realistic tale about an obsessive man seeking to scale Mount Everest, the story has a unique twist as it follows a photographer looking to chronicle the life and eventual ascent of the previously mentioned climber.
The Summit of the Gods is brilliantly animated, powerful, and grounded. While not an anime, fans of the medium with a Netflix subscription should make sure to check out this film.
Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution (2019)
A viewer’s mileage may vary with this one. Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a CGI remake of 1998’s Pokemon: The First Movie, a childhood classic for a lot of people. As the 2019 version changes nothing about the story or characters, the visuals will determine whether someone enjoys this flick or not.
Anime has slowly dipped its toes into CGI, and the results have been rather mixed. There are a few great CGI anime, but only a handful genuinely benefit from this artistic choice. While certainly not the best example of this movement’s potential, Evolution‘s animation is high quality, and CGI is actually a good fit for the Pokemon themselves; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the human characters. Ultimately, long-time fans might enjoy seeing a tweaked version of this story.
Children Of The Sea (2019)
At an aquarium, the young Ruka meets two brothers who are more in touch with the ocean than the land. Before long, the girl finds herself drawn to water while a strange migration happens that sees sea life moving out of their natural habitat.
Children of the Sea has beautiful animation, and many of the ocean scenes have a sense of wonder and whimsy that is typically reserved for Studio Ghibli productions. Narratively, the movie steadily expands in scale, reaching ludicrous magnitudes by the final act. Even if some aspects of the film, such as the characters, are underwhelming, the overall experience is a success.
A Silent Voice (2016)
2016 was a strong year for anime movies, with both Your Name and A Silent Voice delivering near perfection. Although not as instantly accessible as the former, the latter is the type of film that sticks in someone’s mind indefinitely.
The anime deals with bullying, forgiveness, and guilt; as a child, Shoya harshly picked on the deaf Shoko. Eventually, Shoko had to leave the school, and everyone turned on Shoya in response. The movie centers around Shoya’s efforts to atone for his actions. A Silent Voice is heartbreaking, uncomfortable, uplifting, and touching; this anime is a complex beast.
Bonus Section: Great Anime Movies On Netflix In The UK & Canada
Here is a look at some of the best anime movies on Netflix outside the United States.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
|Japanese Title||Tonari no Totoro|
|Genre||Slice of Life|
Who says anime has to be bloody or terrifying? There’s plenty of anime you can watch with kids of all ages that adults will also enjoy, and My Neighbor Totoro could be the most famous example. This movie is famous for its stunning animation that includes elaborate forest monsters and verdant countryside covered in fields and forests in a time before CGI.
The storyline follows the daily lives of two precocious sisters as they adjust to life in a new house and their mother’s chronic illness. It isn’t hard to follow and is free of explosions, superheroes, smartphones, and teenage jargon.
Spirited Away (2001)
|Japanese Title||Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi|
Chihiro and her family were on their way to a new house in the countryside, but they ended up taking a detour into a haunted amusement park and a bathhouse for various gods. In the tradition of other Studio Ghibli films, there’s a lot to look at and it’s all beautifully rendered, with plenty of CGI seamlessly woven into the traditional hand-drawn cells. The movie was so popular that it held several box office records in Japan until the recent release of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train.
The stakes in Spirited Away are higher than in other Studio Ghibli movies, as the main character has to rescue her parents from being turned into pork chops, and the monsters here tend to be more terrifying. It’s definitely for older audiences as opposed to other movies in the same genre like My Neighbor Totoro.
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
|Japanese Title||Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä|
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind tells the story of a badass princess before it was cool. It’s too bad the concept didn’t really exist on an international level.
The movie fell into the children’s market when it was first imported, and therefore most of the best material (including the more dramatic moments and meaningful action) was edited out. Even the title was changed to Warriors of the Wind to reflect that the titular character had been relegated to a limited role. Thankfully, the modern version you can watch on Netflix is the unedited version as opposed to the limited theatrical cut that was released decades ago.
Porco Rosso (1992)
|Japanese Title||Kurenai no Buta|
Behind that bright red plane and devil-may-care countenance are a sad past and a tragic secret, even though we never find out exactly what it is. What we do know is that our friend Red Pig is an ace pilot without peers.
The setting is post-World War 1 Europe, specifically the Mediterranean coast, and the story of Porco Rosso is a surprisingly hopeful one given the subject, which is what makes it so good. Viewers will also be struck by how timeless the message of resistance is, and the final lesson that love and innocence will triumph over evil.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
|Japanese Title||Mononoke Hime|
Princess Mononoke wasn’t just gorgeous to look at, it was one of the first Japanese movies to attract a star-studded cast for the dubbed English version and proved that anime could attract a mainstream audience on a global scale. Gillian Anderson and Billy Bob Thorton, big names in the world of 1990s entertainment, are two noted examples.
The aesthetic of the film is steeped in Japanese mythology, but the themes of loneliness, guilt, and greed are universal — which is one reason this movie got so much love. The movie has the added benefit of revolving around a timeless environmental message that everyone can understand, along with respect and understanding. Whether it’s for the land, the animals, or your fellow human beings.