With Netflix’s hefty resources and freedom from advertisers, anime studios in Japan have embarked on a new era of unconstrained creativity. This daring acceptance for unconventional stories has cultivated a refreshing lineup of Netflix original anime free from the stifling hand of Japanese television networks.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the best Netflix works that have emerged from this trend. While they aren’t made by Netflix themselves, they are either produced or licenced by Netflix, and all are marketed as ‘Netflix Originals.’ From martial arts manga to classic shonen, here are 6 of the best original netflix anime!
*The following is the personal opinion of the author.
Devilman: Crybaby (2018) Drama/Horror
Kicking us off with a bang is Devilman: Crybaby, a grotesque and enigmatic interpretation of the trailblazing 70s shonen manga by Go Nagai. Made with a distinctive blend of traditional and flash animation by avant-garde director Masaaki Yuasa, this modern rendition refreshes the dated narrative with a much-needed technological and cultural update. While not for the faint of heart, the initial parade of edgy gore, drugs, violence, and sex soon gives way to reveal an intensely deep exploration of punishment and morality. While just 10 episodes long, each one packs a punch, with the last few being absolutely devastating.
B: The Beginning (2018) Crime/Action
Thanks to a series of failures from superficial scripts trying (and failing) to mimic the storytelling of masterpieces like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), original anime in Japan is on its deathbed. Instead, production committees demand new anime be sourced from popular manga, even if the serialization hasn’t yet finished. Thankfully, Netflix is open to studios returning to their roots to restart the golden age of originality through fresh works suited to the talents of their staff.
The essence of this resurgence is seen perfectly in B: The Beginning. While complicated, through clever writing and steady pacing B: The Beginning manages to pull even casual viewers into its multifaceted narrative with ease. Balancing gorgeous action, fascinating characters, realistic dialogue, and creative worldbuilding, its bold take on the detective genre will hopefully open the door to a new age of creativity in Japan.
Baki (2018) Fighting/Drama
Baki chronicles the ultraviolent fights between the titular martial artist Baki and his allies and enemies. While based upon a cult 90s manga no stranger to adaptations, this latest version is undoubtedly the most faithful rendition of the story’s unrestrained insanity. With each character more bizarre, deranged, and powerful than the last, you can’t help but watch in anticipation of what horror will be coming next.
With a loose plot, huge list of characters, and uneven pacing, Baki shouldn’t be good, but it definitely is. Its willingness to ignore moral boundaries and storytelling conventions makes it totally unpredictable. The characters are also surprisingly endearing, despite their grotesqueness, with loads of great dialogue backed up by an A-list cast of voice actors.
Great Pretender (2020) Crime/Drama/Comedy
A love-letter to the long-dead heist genre of filmmaking, Great Pretender is a refreshingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated anime with a gorgeous splashy art style. Smart and absorbing, it’s the kind of anime you’d proudly show to a first-timer to get them hooked on Japanese media.
With several stories taking place across the globe, the show reinvents itself multiple times during its modest episode count, keeping it fresh and compelling. While the heists themselves are not the most genius ever written, the witty dialogue, ever-developing character relationships, and creative settings will leave viewers deeply satisfied by each unique ending. It’s clear that the writers behind the scenes are all intelligent, worldly people with a hefty arsenal of pop-culture knowledge liberally deployed throughout the series. While there is currently no word of a follow up, a growing fan-base is making the possibility more and more likely.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K (2016) Comedy/Drama
Japanese comedy has, for me, rarely hit the mark. While language and cultural barriers may somewhat obscure its charm, it often comes across as loud, obnoxious, and juvenile. Like Monty Python without any of the wit.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K was a milestone in my journey to discover something in Japan to make me laugh. Its central premise, the day-to-day life of a teenager with Dragonball level powers simply wanting to live a normal life, allows for boundless escapades ranging from saving the world to everyday teenage troubles. While other comedies struggle to stay fresh past their initial gags, Saiki K keeps us hooked with a colorful cast of side characters and their developing relationships. Backed up by zinging one-liners, dry satire, and hysterical physical comedy, those who have previously avoided gag anime, I implore you to give Saiki K a chance!
Aggretsuko (2018) Comedy/Drama
Netflix’s flash-animated series Aggretsuko tells the struggles of a single, young anthropomorphic red panda in the traditional Japanese workplace. Overwhelmed by the selfish expectations of those around her, along with her stifling work culture, she unleashes her pent up frustrations through secret death metal karaoke before fixing her smile and returning to life.
While those unfamiliar with Japanese society may miss the finer criticisms, much of Aggretsuko’s astute critiques can be easily transplanted to all kinds of cultures. With marriage pressure from her mother, a boss who thinks she’s totally useless, and friends who seem to have it all figured out, a shared sympathy for these universal headaches has spawned a dedicated worldwide fanbase. As the series progresses, the equally relatable troubles of the side characters are also revealed, creating a well-rounded, multifaceted narrative looking at the world from a number of unique perspectives.
Each of these original Netflix anime offers fans and newcomers alike a refreshing change of pace from the usual lineup. And with an exciting catalogue planned for this year and next, including a second season of B: The Beginning, Aggretsuko, and the final round of Baki, it seems safe to say that the future of anime on Netflix looks very promising!