Unfortunately, Netflix Streaming’s anime selection has seen better days. Its current offerings include few of the style’s real standouts. Don’t expect to find anything by Katsuhiro Otomo, Satoshi Kon, Hideaki Anno or Studio Ghibli here. But among the dross, there’s still a handful of worthwhile titles for anime fans and novices alike.
10. Eden of the East the Movie I: The King of Eden
King of Eden occupies a strange space in that it’s a movie sequel that never rises to the level of the TV series that originated it. Eden of the East is concerned with a complicated mix of online gaming, social networks, and terrorism, intelligently taking stock of the contemporary world with fantastic animation and a large, complicated cast. Unfortunately, though, Netflix offers only the middle chapter of the series, and for a series this complicated skipping the TV show renders the movie almost impenetrable. So this recommendation goes only for those who’ve seen the original series and wish to see what happens afterwards… and even then, you only get the first part, as the second movie isn’t available on the service either.
9. Fruits Basket
Japanese comedy rarely translates well to the United States, so Fruits Basket is the only comedy on our list, as well as the only offering in the frequently problematic “harem” genre. The show stars a high school girl living with men who are possessed by the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac animals who revert to their animal selves whenever embraced by anyone else. So Fruits Basket isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s one of the better offerings the genre and puts an interesting spin on the concept.
8. Last Exile
The joy of some anime shows is largely one of exploring its beautiful, strange world, and that’s the case of Last Exile, which stars two pilots carrying messages across lines in a dangerous, steampunk reality. LIke many more recent shows, Last Exile’s animation is frequently marred by the use of cheap-looking CGI. Its characterizations make it worth sitting sitting through CGI airships, and it’s simply a matter of the show’s imagination going far past its production budget.
7. Origin: Spirit of the Past
Set in a post-apocalyptic world governed by an all-powerful forest spirit, Origin uses themes and stock characters common all too common in the form but manages to put them together exceedingly well. Admittedly it’s not the deepest film, but that doesn’t take away from its craft Look past its slightly didactic sermonizing and Origin is a fantastic adventure flick, a ride that takes as much from Spielberg as it does from Miyazaki.
6. Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai’s story, about a warrior trying to obtain a magic headband to become a god, is pretty stupid. That doesn’t really matter,though, because the show is all about style… and what a style it is. Its fluid animation is supplemented by a soundtrack by RZA and voice acting by Samuel L. Jackson himself. The end result is a violent, semi-mindless show that looks and sounds utterly fantastic.
5. Darker Than Black
Darker Than Black is anime for those who love the conspiracies of The X-Files or Lost but prefer their intrigue tempered with action. While its storytelling and characters are a bit too bland to make it truly great, Darker Than Black scratches that itch for deep mythology and multi-layered conspiracies, rewarding viewers willing to invest real attention.
4. Samurai 7
Using Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as a foundation, this TV series begins with the same essential story and then gets significantly weirder. Samurai 7 adds giant, vaguely steampunk robots to the mix, which sometimes works and sometimes just makes suspension of disbelief impossible. Although the show is frequently marred by attempts to mix CGI and traditional animation in ways that just don’t work well, it’s still fine entertainment that gets more interesting as it drifts away from its source material later in the series.
In contrast to almost all other television anime, Mushi-Shi trades frenetic action and slapstick comedy in for a languorous, thoughtful tone. Feeling at times like it was made by a more adult-centric Hayao Miyazaki, the almost plotless show drifts through scenic worlds and places emphasis on atmosphere and theme. While certainly an acquired taste, the show’s maturity makes it stand out amongst a sea of anime targeted at adolescents.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist
Set in a vaguely steampunk world where alchemy exists alongside post-industrial technology, Fullmetal Alchemist follows a pair of alchemist brothers as they try to bring their mother back to life. Its childish character designs are deceptive, and while its visuals aren’t particularly distinguished, it excels in character development and surprisingly sophisticated storytelling. An anime show for people who need more than just slick designs to keep them interested.
1. Samurai Champloo
While the show never reaches the heights of Shinchiro Watanabe’s masterpieces Macross Plus and Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo still has its creator’s magic touch. Its set-up, following the adventures of an Odd Couple-esque pairing of samurais, may be a bit cliched. However, Watanabe’s voice and impressive style always rises above the material and its takes on classic stories are beautifully realized. The best introduction to anime currently on the service.