Don't you dare call them cartoons
Japanese animation, commonly known as “Anime” in the West, has reached heights of popularity we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.
With scant few dubbed and heavily-edited shows airing on US screens, fans resorted to swapping bootleg VHS tapes and later digital video fan-subtitled copies from the internet. Now every major streaming service has a healthy library of anime anyone can watch at the press of a button.
Netflix is a particular standout because of its investment in original anime productions. These are shows they either paid to produce or bought the exclusive rights to broadcast. While there are very few actual duds from the library of Netflix Original anime, these five shows represent some of their best work, in our opinion.
“Devilman Crybaby” is a new adaptation of Go Nagai’s hit Devilman manga. It’s a highly-stylized and ultra-violent take on the original work. So it certainly isn’t a show for the faint of heart.
This anime tells the story of Akira Fudo, who attains the powers of a powerful demon named Amon. Along with his friend Ryo, they battle demons who hide among humanity. Devilman Crybaby is disturbing, dark, violent and nihilistic. The previous anime adaptation of Devilman wasn’t exactly family-friendly either, but this version is definitively the most graphic version of the story.
If you’re okay with dark and violent entertainment, then “Devilman Crybaby” deserves the title of masterpiece. It’s beautifully crafted, the voice acting is top notch, and its tragic story is one that will stay with viewers long after the end-credits have finished rolling.
Anime and manga are well known for telling incredibly niche stories. Whether it’s about tennis or, in this case, a very specific era in the history of video games. Set in the 90s, “Hi Score girl” tells a romantic story of Haruo Yaguchi and Akira Ono.
One is an average underachiever, the other the refined daughter of a powerful family. What they do have in common is an utter obsession with video games. Especially competitive arcade fighting titles such as Street Fighter II.
While the show’s CG presentation might not be for everyone, it’s a charming story and retains the original manga’s emphasis on period-accurate representation of video games. If you like cute romantic tales, the 90s or classic video games, then “Hi Score Girl” is absolutely worth a watch.
If you’re looking for a beautiful, sedate and haunting show, “Violet Evergarden” might just fit the bill. Based on an award-winning light novel series written by Kana Akatsuki, it’s now an award-winning anime series as well.
In the world of “Violet Evergarden” we meet the titular character just as she returns from war. A wounded ex-soldier with prosthetic hands, Violet looks for employment as an “Auto Memory Doll”. These are essentially professional typists and ghostwriters. People come to them and ask for letters, either dictating them or having these skilled wordsmiths choose the words for them.
Violet comes across as rather emotionally stunted, more like a cold robot than a human being. The last words her superior said to her still haunt her as she can’t understand their significance. In the story, we accompany her on a journey of understanding her own humanity and coming to grips with being a weapon of war in a post-war world.
Apart from the main 13-episode series, there are also two specials on Netflix at the time of writing. Which helps flesh out the story and circumstances surrounding this enigmatic woman.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” looks like a typical shonen anime at first glance. Shonen anime and manga are generally aimed at young boys and include properties such as Naruto, Bleach, My Hero Academia and Dragon Ball Z. Though, of course, people of all genders and ages enjoy them.
If you give it a chance however, you’ll find a story that’s more than meets the eye. A unique and fantastical mishmash of Arthurian mythology and western fantasy seen through the lens of Japanese animation sensibilities.
“The Seven Deadly Sins”, as we first meet them, are a group of super-powered criminals accused of a serious crime. Hunted by anyone who wants a chance at glory. As the story progresses, we realise things may not be as they seem at first glance.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” offers gorgeous scenery and character designs, with exciting battles and fascinating lore. A must watch for fans of any of the aforementioned shows.
“Beastars” is a quirky show that both adds variety to this list of Netflix Original anime, and completely deserves to be on it. In this strange story of a society that consists of anthropomorphic animals, the main tension comes from the difference between carnivores and herbivores. Which is exemplified when it comes to the soft-natured main character, the grey wolf Lagoshi.
He falls in love with a small rabbit girl named Haru, but has to deal with his own predatory nature. At the same time, there are larger political issues at play, not to mention a love triangle involving another main character.
The animal faces of the characters may be more symbolic than anything else, but there’s no doubt that “Beastars” is a wild ride from any perspective.
Honorary Mention: Castlevania
The last title on our list is not anime, but hear us out for a minute. Castlevania is an American production, but it’s based on a beloved Japanese video game franchise. The animation itself is reminiscent of anime films such as “Vampire Hunter D”, and the storyline would certainly not be out of place in your typical anime feature either.
Which is to say, if you didn’t know it was an American program, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a dub of a Japanese show.
As for the story itself, it takes place in a dark and gothic world where powerful supernatural creatures terrorize humans. The event that kicks off the story involves the all-powerful vampire Dracula, his human wife and a misunderstanding that leads to him seeking revenge against humans. Now Dracula must be faced down by our heroes Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades and Alucard. Dracula’s own half-human son.
This is possibly one of the best animated series ever made in terms of production quality and compelling storylines. If you’re a fan of anime specifically and have given this one a skip because it’s American in origin, do yourself a favor and give it a chance.
Anime Ga Suki Desu Ka?
This might very well be the golden age of anime, with easy widespread access and plenty of international money flowing into the industry. Those of us who have been long-time fans for decades have always wished for this medium to be easily accessible to everyone.
That day has finally come with Netflix Original anime. If you want to taste some of the best modern anime out there, this list is a fantastic place to start.