The best anime movies to watch on streaming

There’s no such thing as too much anime.

At Polygon, we cover the latest and greatest Japanese animation has to offer, like the coolest upcoming premieres each season and the year’s best anime. With so many streaming services to choose from, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a new series or movie to watch. But how do you cut through the noise in order to get at the best anime movies available on Netflix, Hulu, Max, and more? That’s where we come in.

We’ve combed through the libraries of the most popular streaming services to bring you a list of best anime feature films currently streaming. From bona fide classics like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Hideaki Anno’s End of Evangelion to newer contemporary favorites from directors like Masaaki Yuasa, Hiroyuki Imaishi, and more, there’s an anime for everyone.


Kaneda skids his motorcycle in Akira

Image: Funimation

Genre: Cyberpunk action
Run time: 2h 4m
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Cast: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
Where to watch: Hulu

There’s anime before Akira, and then there’s anime after Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s post-apocalyptic epic about a futuristic Tokyo teetering on the brink of annihilation represented such a pure distillation of talent and artistry when it was released that neither the industry of Japanese animation nor the medium itself was ever the same after.

The story of Kaneda, the leader of a brash motorcycle gang, and his clash against his friend turned nemesis, Tetsuo, an angry youth gifted with immense latent psychic abilities, is one of the most titanic and heartbreaking feuds seen in anime. The opening 13 minutes of the film is one of the greatest sequences in animation history, while the world-building and the noh-inspired score by Geinoh Yamashirogumi continue to exert their respective influences on the world of cyberpunk media (and beyond). If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it. And if you find yourself yearning for more, I highly recommend reading the original manga series; you won’t regret it.

The End of Evangelion

A demonic-looking Eva Unit 01 bites the head off a body clutched in its hands in The End of Evangelion.

Image: Gainax/Netflix

Genre: Post-apocalyptic sci-fi
Run time: 1h 27m
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki
Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yūko Miyamura
Where to watch: Netflix

If you’ve never seen Neon Genesis Evangelion before, this movie should absolutely not be your first impression of the series. It’s right there in the name: This is the end of one of the most psychologically bracing and artistically transcendent anime of the ’90s.

Hideaki Anno’s apocalyptic mecha series centers on the members of NERV, a clandestine government organization that battles against a mysterious race of otherworldly creatures known as “Angels” who threaten to exterminate all of humanity. In its battle for survival, NERV deploys the “Evangelions,” biomechanical humanoid weapons that can only be piloted by teenagers like Shinji Ikari, the series’ protagonist. What starts out as a fairly boilerplate mecha premise slowly morphs into a intense psychological drama that probes at dark and unseemly questions hiding in plain sight. To reiterate, do not watch this movie if you haven’t already seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, as End of Evangelion picks up immediately after the events of the series. If you have seen the anime, prepare yourself for one of the most intense, heartbreaking, and cathartic anime finales ever conceived. You have been warned.


The ghost of Ava, suspended in a holographic sphere, sings a climactic ballad in Magnetic Rose

Image: Studio 4°C/Discotek Media

Genre: Sci-fi anthology
Run time: 1h 53m
Directors: Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, Katsuhiro Otomo
Cast: Tsutomu Isobe, Shouzou Iizuka, Kouichi Yamadera
Where to watch: Prime Video

Anime anthologies rock, and this one ranks as one of the best. After the release of Akira in 1988 and Roujin Z in 1991, Katsuhiro Otomo executive produced Memories, an anthology based on three of his manga short stories, directed by Kōji Morimoto (who would go on to direct Noiseman Sound Insect), Tensai Okamura (who worked as a key animator on 1995’s Ghost in the Shell), and Otomo himself.

Memories is a terrific example of what the medium of anime has to offer. Each short displays combination of comedy, melancholy, and artistic ambition that speaks to the respective talents of each of its three directors at their peak. The anthology’s last two shorts, “Stink Bomb” and “Cannon Fodder,” are wonderful on their own, but it’s the anthology’s first film, “Magnetic Rose,” that has gone on to amass a cult following in the years since the film’s release. Written by the late Satoshi Kon and directed by Morimoto, the film is a ghost story set in outer space following a crew of space salvagers who respond to a SOS beacon broadcasted from a graveyard of derelict starships. It’s a terrific short film, one of my absolute favorites, and one that makes the experience of watching Memories worth it alone.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

Hathaway Noa aims a firearm aboard a spacecraft in Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

Image: Sunrise/Netflix

Genre: Military sci-fi mecha
Run time: 1h 35m
Director: Shūkō Murase
Cast: Kenshô Ono, Reina Ueda, Jun’ichi Suwabe
Where to watch: Netflix

The first of a trilogy of films set 12 years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway tells the story of Hathaway Noa as he secretly leads a terrorist organization bent on defying the Earth Federation and preventing the further privatization of the planet. Directed by Shuko Murase (Witch Hunter Robin) and based on series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novel series of the same name, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is a brilliant entry in the long-running mecha franchise and a satisfying stand-alone entry in and of itself. The only drawback to watching the film is that you’ll have to wait like all the rest of us for the second installment, which is currently in production and set for release sometime in late 2024.


Promare’s mechs clashes swords and send pastel polygons flying everywhere

Image: Studio Trigger/GKIDS

Genre: Fantasy mecha
Run time: 1h 51m
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Taichi Saotome, Masato Sakai
Where to watch: Max

Fans of Gurren Lagann and the anime of Studio Trigger owe it to themselves to watch Promare. Director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima reunite to deliver a sci-fi action epic about a team of firefighting mecha pilots battling a terrorist group intent on destroying humanity through spontaneous combustion. Admittedly, that’s not exactly the true premise of the movie, but at the risk of spoiling the best surprises Promare has to offer, I will say no more. What I will say is that the film is one of Trigger’s most gorgeous productions to date, with beautiful cel-shaded backgrounds, creative character designs, and equal amounts of over-the-top action and humor. If you enjoy anime like BNA: Brand New Animal, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and Kill la Kill, watching Promare is a no-brainer.

The Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy

A distorted, eyepatch-wearing Asuka screams in Evangelion 1.0+3.0: Thrice Upon a Time

Image: Studio Khara/Prime Video

Genre: Apocalyptic mecha
Run time: 1h 38m [Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone]; 1h 52m [Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance]; 1h 36m [Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo]; 2h 45m [Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time]
Director: Hideaki Anno
Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura
Where to watch: Prime Video

Remember when I said earlier in this list that End of Evangelion was, well, the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion? That was both true and false, because while Hideaki Anno did originally intend to finish the series with his aforementioned 1997 film, he ultimately returned to the series in 2007 with the first in a tetralogy of films intended to open up the franchise to future creators, à la 1994’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam. That’s not quite how things ultimately panned out.

The Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy isn’t just a chance for Anno and company to reinvent the series for a new generation of viewers, but for the director to look at the work with fresh eyes as he further explores his relationship with these characters. The making of Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion is infamous for its behind-the-scenes difficulties tied to Anno’s battle with depression, and the Rebuild films feel like the evidence of an older and wiser director coming back to clarify the life-affirming themes inherent in his magnum opus while at the same time saying goodbye to it.

Spirited Away

a young girl and a water dragon gasp at something off-screen in Spirited Away

Image: Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

Genre: Fantasy
Run time: 2h 5m
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki
Where to watch: Max

The debate over which of Hayao Miyazaki’s films earns the distinction of being his “best” is never-ending, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just go with the movie that earned him his first Oscar. Spirited Away is indisputably one of the crowning achievements in Miyazaki’s inimitable body of work, a fantasy that combines Japanese folklore with an adolescent search for meaning to create a timeless work of enduring beauty.

Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who is accidentally transported to a world of spirits while moving with her parents to a new town. After her parents are transformed into pigs, Chihiro seeks refuge in the bathhouse of a powerful witch through the aid of Haku, a mysterious boy who seemingly knows her from her past. Encountering a colorful host of creatures and larger-than-life characters, Chihiro must brave the unknown and come up with a plan to save her parents and safely return to the mortal realm. There’s a reason why Spirited Away is touted as one of the most culturally significant anime films of the 21st century, and that’s because it really is just that good.

The Deer King

The warrior Van standing next to a deer-like creature in The Deer King.

Image: Production I.G/GKIDS

Genre: Fantasy
Run time: 1h 53m
Directors: Masashi Andō, Masayuki Miyaji
Cast: Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ryoma Takeuchi, Anne Watanabe
Where to watch: Hulu

For those aching in anticipation of Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming film The Boy and the Heron, this fantasy drama from a trio of Ghibli alumni is the perfect movie to watch while you wait. Co-directed by Masashi Andō (character designer for Princess Mononoke) and Masayuki Miyaji (assistant director for Spirited Away) and written by former Ghibli writer Taku Kishimoto, The Deer King follows Van, a once-proud warrior who escapes from slavery and takes it upon himself to protect a young girl amid the outbreak of a terrible supernatural virus that ravages their country.

While it may not exactly be this generation’s Princess Mononoke, The Deer King is nonetheless a beautiful and entertaining film about found family, survival, and the importance of embracing science in lieu of superstition and barbarism. Even separated from its loose association to Ghibli, The Deer King is one of the best anime films to come out this decade.

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

A short-haired girl drinking a soda by a river in Night Is Short, Walk On Girl.

Image: GKIDS

Genre: Romantic comedy
Run time: 1h 32m
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Cast: Gen Hoshino, Kana Hanazawa, Hiroshi Kamiya
Where to watch: Max

Masaaki Yuasa is a modern master of animation, known for his eccentric free-form approach to animation populated with mischievous and memorable characters getting into offbeat adventures. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is perfect example of this; it’s a rollicking late-night bar crawl that blossoms into a heartfelt romantic comedy.

Based on Tomihiko Morimi’s novel of the same name, the film is a spiritual sequel of sorts to Yuasa’s 2010 masterpiece The Tatami Galaxy, repurposing characters and the overall setup of university of misfits to tell another story of budding love and youthful abandon. There’s so many fantastic Yuasa-directed anime to choose from, from Devilman Crybaby and Ping Pong the Animation to Kaiba and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. If you’re looking for a solid feature-length introduction to his work, however, The Night Is Short is a fantastic place to start. Once you’re finished, you should check out the upcoming box set available later this year for a broader selection of the auteur’s greatest works.

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