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Best anime: 20 all-time great series you can stream right now

(Image credit: Netflix)

Looking for the best anime shows around? There's never been a better time to be an anime enthusiast. We're not saying anime in 2020 has never been in better, but it's never been simpler or cheaper to get new and old series through dedicated anime streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and more into your deserving corneas. Forget expensive western DVD releases or even more expensive imports: now more of the best anime around that even the most hardcore of fans could possible watch. So where do we start? 

Every season Japan pumps out dozens of new anime, and you can find it on sites like Crunchyroll, in English, the same day they air. Older shows from the '80s and '90s are rarer, but we've highlighted some of the finest available here. Whether you're brand new to anime or just need a new show to watch, these are our top picks of 20 stellar series ready and waiting to be streamed right now. They run the gamut from action-packed shonen, to sports, mecha, and heartwarming slice-of-life.

Best anime on Netflix, Funimation, Crunchyroll, Hulu and more

  • Mob Psycho 100
  • Ping-Pong the Animation
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • My Hero Academia
  • Hyouka!
  • The Promised Neverland
  • Lupin III S4
  • Haikyuu!!
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • Natsume's Book of Friends
  • Samurai Champloo
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
  • Mushishi
  • Hunter X Hunter
  • Paranoia Agent
  • Castlevania
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes
  • The Tatami Galaxy
  • FLCL

Mob Psycho 100

First aired: 2016 | Episodes: 25
Where to watch it: Crunchyroll, Funimation

Mob Psycho 100 is simply the best action series of the past several years, thanks to the peerless animation of Studio BONES, imaginative characters, and a whole lot of heart. Mob is a middle school kid who happens to have incredible psychic powers, and he inevitably uses them to fight other psychics in outlandish battles. But Mob Psycho 100 deviates from most series of its kind by being a surprisingly deep character study, especially in its second season. 

Mob is gentle to his core, and cares deeply about growing up into a better person without taking advantage of his psychic gifts. His mentor, Reigen, has no psychic powers but is an inveterate fraud and constant comic relief. Mob Psycho 100 manages to be surprising at every turn, smarter and more thoughtful than any of its contemporaries. And better-animated, too. The creator cut his teeth with the parody series One Punch Man, which is great. Mob is better.

Ping Pong the Animation

First aired: 2014 | Episodes: 11
Where to watch it: Funimation

Most sports anime are comfortable, trope-y hang-out shows with a fun cast of characters that are content to trundle along for a couple hundred episodes. Ping Pong the Animation, despite telling a conventional story about a pair of friends trying to become champion ping pong players, is nothing like that. And it probably looks like no anime you've ever seen. Director Masaaki Yuasa retained the art style of the manga, by acclaimed artist Taiyō Matsumoto, characters rough and exaggerated, scenes cut up into panels just like a comic. 

At first it may even come off as ugly, but stick with it to see the animation blossom in expressive, surreal ping pong matches that reflect the psychology of the characters as much as the real action of the sport. It has style to spare, but it's ultimately the relationship of friends Smile and Peco that makes Ping Pong an all-timer.

Cowboy Bebop

First aired: 1998 | Episodes: 26
Where to watch it: Hulu, Funimation

The quintessential anime gateway drug. Cowboy Bebop is an ensemble series about a crew of misfit bounty hunters, scraping by as they meander around our solar system. The genre is as eclectic as the cast: generally it fits somewhere into the realm of a space western (think Firefly), but one episode it may veer off into treasure hunting, then the next into horror and the next yakuza drama. 

Cowboy Bebop gets silly and weird on occasion, but is overall more adult than most anime series, and more subtle with its themes than Japanese writers tend to be. There's a good reason it's still beloved enough to get a live action Netflix adaptation more than 20 years after it aired. (And if you like jazz, be ready for the best soundtrack ever written for a TV show).

Neon Genesis Evangelion

First aired: 1995 | Episodes: 26
Where to watch it: Netflix

Evangelion is so monumental, so influential in the history of Japanese culture, that it's worth watching no matter what. Even if you don't like mecha shows about giant fighting robots, which is what Eva is at a high level. Even if you can't stand protagonist Shinji Ikari, a depressed teenager who can't deal with his hormones, his daddy issues and the insane save-the-Earth circumstances he finds himself in. 

Even if you're disappointed that by the end, Evangelion doesn't really know how to follow through on the mysteries, themes, and characters it's developed along the way. There's just so much in Evangelion: it's dense with biblical imagery and psychoanalysis and what-the-hell moments that have inspired countless games and anime since the '90s. After watching Evangelion, we guarantee that there's at least one reference in something you've watched or played that will belatedly make you go ohhh, now I get it.

My Hero Academia

First aired: 2016 | Episodes: 80+ (Ongoing)
Where to watch: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation

The best shonen (teen) action series currently going. My Hero Academia is the anime take on the X-Men, except most humans, rather than a rare few, develop Quirks, which are strange powers. The series follows a group of high school kids training to become the next wave of heroes, and thanks to a fun cast and brisk pacing, it's a prime candidate for binging. 

My Hero Academia is unabashedly earnest, which in the wrong hands could end up trite, but here it just works, and will likely have you pumping your fists when protagonist Midoriya and his classmates fight with all their hearts. Maybe the most surprising thing about My Hero is that it stars an honest-to-god smarter, more nuanced take on Superman than we've ever seen in a movie or TV adaptation of the DC hero. All Might is a treasure.

Hyouka

First aired: 2012 | Episodes: 22
Where to watch: Funimation

Hyouka is a slice-of-life show about a group of high school friends in an after-school club that's ostensibly about literature, but in truth is mostly about solving mysteries. Its real depth quietly sneaks up on you: it's lighthearted and breezy at first, finding delight in tiny everyday mysteries (who's the murderer in an unfinished movie? Who's stealing things from around the school?). 

But there's a lot more to these characters than it appears. The joy of the show is watching them grow up and get to know each other in small steps. Most anime in Hyouka's genre tends to be full of over-the-top emotion and grand gestures, but this show revels in the ordinary, and that makes spending time with the characters so much more rewarding.

The Promised Neverland

First aired: 2019 | Episodes: 12 (Ongoing, season 2 October 2020)
Where to watch: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation

It's hard to describe The Promised Neverland without giving away at least one of its many shocking twists, but it's the anime version of a page-turner—every episode ends with the tension dialed to 11, and you simply have to see what happens next. What briefly seems like a heartwarming story about the kids in an idyllic orphanage quickly turns into a psychological thriller, as the three oldest children try to plot an escape. 

The Promised Neverland loves to show how smart its characters are with I knew that you knew that I knew one-upmanship, but hell, the cliché works when the characters are this much fun to watch together, and the twists come this fast and furious. Watch a couple episodes, and it's hard not to immediately devour the rest of the series.

Lupin III: Part 4

First aired: 2015 | Episodes: 26
Where to watch: Crunchyroll, Funimation

Lupin III forever. The Japanese icon has starred in multiple anime TV series, half a dozen films and some 30 TV movies, and he's still going strong. This 2015 series is a great entry point for new fans: in modern fashion, it's a mix of serialized storytelling with treasure-of-the-week episodes that is fun, stylishly animated, and concentrated on a recurring cast of guests. Legendary thief Lupin, his gunslinger partner Goemon, and frequent teammates Goemon and Fujiko lie and steal their way across Italy.

Lupin kinda gets married to a rich celebrity/adrenaline junkie, crosses paths with the CIA, and is, as always, chased by square-jawed international supercop Zenigata. Each side character gets some adventures of their own, and the overarching story adds some nice structure to Lupin's typical one-off capers. Once you've cut your teeth on this one, dive into the far bolder series from a few years earlier, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, the classic film The Castle of Cagliostro, and so, so much more.

Haikyu

First aired: 2014 | Episodes: 65 (Ongoing)
Where to watch: Crunchyroll, Netflix (Only 2/4 seasons), Hulu (Only 2/4 seasons)

Don't mind don't mind! is what the members of Haikyu's high school volleyball team say to each other whenever they lose a point, and that positivity radiates throughout the entire show, which casts volleyball as the most thrilling sport in history. Haikyu is a conventional sports anime, but tuned to perfection, with a cast of underdogs bonding over their love for the sport as they compete against increasingly skilled rival schools. 

The show really works because of the dichotomy of pint-sized, endlessly energetic spiker Hinata and arrogant setter Kageyama, who make an unbeatable pair as they learn to work together. We promise you don't have to care about volleyball to love this show. They're just such good boys, and they deserve to win.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

First aired: 2009 | Episodes: 64
Where to watch: Netflix, Hulu, Funimation

You can't go wrong with either animated version of Fullmetal Alchemist, but the second adaptation of the manga, Brotherhood, is ultimately the better of the two. It stays faithful to the manga's plot and moves briskly through an imaginative story that weaves together politics, mystery, war, and science (or, let's be real, basically magic). The heroes and villains using alchemy to reshape their bodies and the environment makes for spectacular and clever fights, and you can count on animation studio Bones to always make it look great. 

Brothers Alphonse and Edward Elric are the anchor, a pair of wunderkinds searching for a mythical philosopher's stone to repair the damage they caused to themselves in a transmutation gone horribly wrong. What starts as a grand adventure slowly and confidently expands into a deeper story, as concerned with the morality of war and political corruption as it is flashy action scenes.

Natsume's Book of Friends

First aired: 2008 | Episodes: 74
Where to watch: Crunchyroll

Growing up hasn't been easy for Natsume, because he's an orphan, and also because he can see yokai, or spirits, that no one else can. This makes him a bit of an outcast, but when he inherits a book from his late grandmother, his life suddenly makes a lot more sense. She could see spirits, too, and "bound" many of them to her in the Book of Friends, which is why they now hound poor Natsume. 

The simple premise of the show is that Natsume seeks out these spirits in order to restore their names to them and unbind them. It's a show that manages to be melancholy and heartwarming from episode to episode and even moment to moment. It's a slice-of-life series with a touch of the supernatural, but what makes it great is how it uses those supernatural encounters to tell human stories. Getting to watch Natsume grow across many seasons keeps the formula from feeling rote.

Samurai Champloo

First aired: 2004 | Episodes: 26
Where to watch: Hulu, Funimation

Director Shinichiro Watanabe's follow-up to Cowboy Bebop is very nearly as good. It trades space for samurai-era Japan, and jazz for wonderfully anachronistic hip hop. Samurai Champloo follows the same loose structure as Cowboy Bebop, with a trio of misfits – wild ronin Mugen, quiet and precise ronin Jin, and chipper young girl Fuu – encountering all kinds of oddball situations as they travel across the country.

Most episodes are standalone adventures, but Fuu's central quest to find 'the Samurai who smells of sunflowers' gives it structure, popping up every so often. The characters all have their own mysteries that slowly unravel over the 26 episodes, and the action scenes are some of the most stylish samurai battles ever animated. As in all Watanabe's shows, the music really sets the tone for the show, and his use of modern hip hop gives Champloo a wholly unique tone.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

First aired: 2007 | Episodes: 27
Where to watch: Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll

No show better exemplifies the Japanese theme of fighting spirit better than Gainax's exuberant, over-the-top mecha masterpiece Gurren Lagann. This is the same animation studio that made Evangelion in the '90s, but the two couldn't be more different in how they use giant robots. Gurren Lagann begins with humanity cowering in underground societies, scared of the surface above. It ends with giant (and we mean giant) robots in space throwing literal solar systems at one another.

Every step of the way it's a story about the power of the human spirit, having the strength to never give up, and using that will – plus a giant fucking drill – to pierce the heavens. The rare show that can make your heart soar with excitement and make you cry within the same episode. Every time you think it can't get more dramatic, more emotional, more over-the-top, it will exceed your expectations. The absolute pinnacle of unrestrained anime action.

Mushishi

First aired: 2005 | Episodes: 46
Where to watch: Crunchyroll, Hulu, Funimation

A contemplative, melancholy series about a wandering doctor/researcher who specializes in "mushi," paranormal creatures that feel conjured from myth and folklore. Every episode feels like a meditation on life in some form, and they're all self-contained stories that leave you with something to think about when their 20 minutes are up. 

The protagonist, Ginko, deals with the tragic and the mundane, dispensing words of wisdom while curing a young boy's hearing loss or helping a man search for a mystical rainbow you can reach out and touch. Mushishi's approach to the relationship between man and nature is quieter and more contemplative than the movies of Studio Ghibli, but you can definitely draw parallels there.

Hunter X Hunter

First aired: 2011 | Episodes: 148
Where to watch: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu

A beloved adaptation of one of the most beloved shonen manga of all time. Hunter X Hunter starts out conventionally: young boy Gon goes on an adventure and meets an odd cast of characters undertaking the Hunter's Exam, a ridiculous test of endurance, smarts, and fighting ability that leaves most dead and a select few licensed to basically go anywhere in the world and do anything they want. 

It's fun from the get-go, a breezy action series with likable characters, especially the eternally upbeat, pure-hearted Gon. It's a slow burn to get to the stuff that elevated Hunter X Hunter to an all-time genre classic, with far more care paid to character development and psychology than who can out-punch who. It's an ever-evolving series, and especially adept at planting seeds that will pay off in big, revelatory moments a dozen hours down the line.

Paranoia Agent

First aired: 2004 | Episodes: 13
Where to watch: Funimation

A mysterious boy with roller blades and a bent metal bat starts attacking people on the streets of Tokyo, at crisis points in each of their lives. What at first appears to be a horror show is far more than that. Creator Satoshi Kon, who died from cancer tragically young, is famous for films like Perfect Blue and Paprika that explore the human psyche and brilliantly use techniques of animation to blur the lines between what's real and what's imaginary. 

Paranoia Agent is a series of dense character studies, at first seemingly unrelated, that link together into a larger story. It's weird, it's funny, it's creepy, and there's just nothing else like it. Except, of course, Satoshi Kon's movies. Chase them down once you devour Paranoia Agent.

Castlevania

First aired: 2017 | Episodes: 12 (Ongoing, season 3 March 2020)
Where to watch: Netflix

A western-made, anime-styled TV series based on a video game has no right to be this good. And yet it is: it blends some incredible fight scene animation with fun character dynamics, especially in the relationship between bitter vampire hunter Trevor Belmont and the half-human son of Dracula, Alucard. 

The fantastic second season really elevated Castlevania into a smart, confident show, with much of its time spent on the politics of Dracula's vampire court, and a deft handling of a grief-stricken Dracula mourning his murdered wife. Relatable villains? Magical teleporting castles? Lusciously animated magic whips decapitating vampires? It's all there, and then some.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

First aired: 1988 | Episodes: 110
Where to watch: Hidive

There's no series quite like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a sprawling space epic made across more than a decade. It doesn't focus on action, but instead the politics and commanding officers of the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire. The cast is huge, though its stars are military leaders on both sides, the Empire's Reinheart von Lohengramm and the Alliance's  Yang Wen-Li. 

Legend of the Galactic Heroes examines its long-running war from many angles: the tactics of battle, the human lives lost, the systems of government they fight for, the greatness and fallibility of heroic figures. There are other anime series (based on long-running manga) that run for hundreds upon hundreds of episodes, but they're essentially designed to run forever, keeping characters largely the same. That is not Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

The Tatami Galaxy

First aired: 2010 | Episodes: 11
Where to watch: Funimation

A surrealist, visually resplendent series that charts the many disasters of an unnamed college student as he joins club after club, only to profoundly fail time and time again. The structure takes some cues from Groundhog Day: the very end of every episode rewinds, taking you back to the beginning of his college experience so that next time, he can try another club. Our poor protagonist is inextricably linked to a troublemaker named Ozu by the "black thread of fate," – their friendship continuously causes everything to go awry. 

The animation is bold and unique, so expressive that you can tell the entire personality of each character at a glance, and every episode is so dense with narration and quick dialogue that you can barely keep up. Follow closely, or watch more than once, to catch every detail (and how the protagonist's many fates are connected). A semi-sequel film, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, is also a must-watch.

FLCL

First aired: 2000 | Episodes: 6
Where to watch: Hulu, Funimation

There are a couple ways to tackle coming-of-age stories. You can explore the conflicting emotions of teenagers and their relationships gradually, showing their growth across many methodical episodes. Or you can have your main character grow a literal horn out of his head because he's horny, represent the power of adulthood as a badass fighting robot, and use guitars as blatant symbols of sexuality. 

This, of course, is FLCL, a series so heavy with surreal symbolism that on a first viewing, a lot of it probably just comes across as wacky and random. It is wacky – but none of it is random. It all means something, from the moment the wild, pink-haired, Vespa-riding Haruko smashes tween Naota in the head with her guitar and sets off his journey through adolescence. FLCL doesn't realistically show what it's like to go through puberty, but you don't have to understand all of it to realize it brilliantly expresses what it feels like. Wild, overwhelming, confusing, sad, empowering – it's all in there. And the robot's really cool, too.