The best anime movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu

The best anime movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu

Clockwise from top: Mary And The Witch’s Flower (Image: GKIDS); The Castle Of Cagliostro (Screenshot: Netflix); Grave Of The Fireflies (Screenshot: Hulu)
Clockwise from top: Mary And The Witch’s Flower (Image: GKIDS); The Castle Of Cagliostro (Screenshot: Netflix); Grave Of The Fireflies (Screenshot: Hulu)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the author’s name at the end of each passage for more in-depth analysis from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

We have lists for the best movies on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, but we decided anime films deserved their own spotlight. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (2) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as the streamers announces new additions to their library.

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2 / 7

Akira

Akira

Akira
Akira
Screenshot: Hulu

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, one of the most groundbreaking and influential animated films of all time, opens with an iconic motorcycle chase through the neon streets of Neo-Tokyo, a beautiful cyberpunk Metropolis built on the ruins of old Tokyo. The rest of the city, as explained in the opening text, was wiped out in an apparent nuclear blast in 1988 that plunged the planet into another devastating World War. The main events of Akira take place decades later, just ahead of 2020, but the impact left by the war quietly hangs over everything that happens in the movie in a way that feels surprisingly relevant to what’s going on in our very real world these days. [Sam Barsanti]

Stream it now on Hulu

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3 / 7

The Castle Of Cagliostro

The Castle Of Cagliostro

The Castle Of Cagliostro
The Castle Of Cagliostro
Screenshot: Netflix

The Castle Of Cagliostro is the first feature film written and directed by Princess Mononoke creator Hayao Miyazaki, is one of a few films “the Walt Disney of Japan” based on another creator’s work. The characters come directly from the popular Lupin III manga and anime series conceived by pseudonymous artist Monkey Punch. By the time Miyazaki was offered a crack at the franchise, super-thief Lupin, his laconic partner Jigen, their competitor/collaborator Fujiko, and their obsessive pursuer Detective Zenigata were already icons in Japan, with a popular comic-book series, two TV series, and two theatrical films—one of them live-action—already in release. Miyazaki, who had written and directed a couple of the TV episodes, stayed true to Lupin’s history and frenetic modus operandi, but he made him a young romantic who doesn’t hesitate to drop everything to help a pretty girl in trouble. The girl in question is Clarisse, princess of the tiny duchy of Cagliostro, the U.N.’s smallest member state. Count Cagliostro, a scheming distant relative acting on a hoary old prophecy about “uniting the dark and light,” has imprisoned her and plans to marry her in an attempt to find secret treasure. Zenigata, the Count, and Lupin do battle in a series of slapdash, high-energy comic chases and face-offs that showcase Miyazaki’s obsessively detailed, gloriously colorful animation style. This caper film possesses Miyazaki’s usual good-hearted charm, but he injects a manically energetic humor that his more sedate children’s films never quite achieve. [Tasha Robinson]

Stream it now on Netflix

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4 / 7

Grave Of The Fireflies

Grave Of The Fireflies

Grave Of The Fireflies
Grave Of The Fireflies
Screenshot: Hulu

Few wartime dramas are as heartbreakingly intimate as Grave Of The Fireflies, Isao Takahata’s 1988 animated tale (based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical short story) about a brother and sister forced to fend for themselves after the death of their mother during a 1945 WWII bombing raid. One of the most assured and affecting films ever released by Japan’s Studio Ghibli, Takahata’s story opens with tragedy (and mournful reunion) before flashing back to the Kobe, Japan home of teenage Seita and his younger sibling Setsuko, which is thrown into disarray when Allied forces rain flaming bombs upon the community. Emerging unharmed by this fiery attack, Seita discovers at a nearby hospital that his mother has been fatally injured. That, in turn, compels the kids to take up residence with their callous, selfish aunt, with the director maintaining a rigid focus on the emotional need, pain, desperation, and fear of his two young protagonists, left suddenly alone in a world that seems to be crumbling around them. [Nick Schager]

Stream it now on Hulu

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5 / 7

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Screenshot: Amazon Prime

Japanese comics artist Mamoru Oshii won a rare degree of praise in America for his chilly, labyrinthine cinematic experiment Ghost In The Shell, a movie that simultaneously explored the limits of 1995 animation technology and the limits of film’s ability to meaningfully adapt a lengthy, sophisticated book. Oshii protégé Hiroyuki Okiura hits many of the same chords in directing Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, a chilly, labyrinthine, Oshii-scripted meditation on humanity and brutality. The film takes place in an alternate-future Japan, where a Nazi occupation and withdrawal, followed by years of internal violence, left the country with an elite, fascistic police force and a terrorist resistance organization. The two groups frequently meet with explosive, bloody force, though apparently not quite bloody enough for some, as Constable Kazuki Fuse (animation voiceover veteran Michael Dobson) discovers when he fails to shoot a terrified young girl delivering a bomb for the terrorists. As his superiors come to doubt him, and plot to use him to uncover and eradicate The Wolf Brigade, a rumored renegade cabal within the Capital Police, Fuse seeks out and clings to the girl’s sister as if looking for an antidote to the violence in his life. It takes some effort to follow the film’s twisted story logic, which is heavily couched in visual metaphor stemming from the dark symbolism of an early version of Little Red Riding Hood. [Tasha Robinson]

Stream it now on Amazon Prime

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6 / 7

Mary And The Witch’s Flower

Mary And The Witch’s Flower

Mary And The Witche’s Flower
Mary And The Witche’s Flower
Photo: GKIDS

Mary And The Witch’s Flower is all but indistinguishable from the films that its director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, made at Ghibli: The Secret World Of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. In other words, it’s sort of Ghibli Lite—not as transporting as the best work of Miyazaki or his co-founder, Isao Takahata, but a gently refreshing change from the hectic plasticity that now dominates Hollywood computer animation, and even from most other anime. Yonebayashi apparently loves children’s books written by English women, which have provided the source material for all three of his features to date. Adapted from Mary Stewart’s 1971 novel The Little Broomstick, Mary And The Witch’s Flower takes place in some unspecified rural area on the outskirts of a forest, where Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the English dubbed version) whiles away one boring day after another with her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) while waiting for school to start and her parents to arrive. Mary’s adventure begins when she follows a neighbor’s cat into the forest and finds a miniature broom hidden amongst the trees, along with some unusually colored flowers. The flowers turn out to be magic, the broom springs to life (in a less threatening way than Mickey Mouse had to cope with), and Mary soon finds herself at the Endor School for witches and warlocks, where the headmistress (Kate Winslet) and a mad scientist (Jim Broadbent) mistake her for their newest pupil. [Mike D’Angelo]

Stream it now on Netflix

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7 / 7