Best anime: 12 all-time great series you can stream right now

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There’s never been a better time to be an anime fan. That doesn’t mean the anime coming out in 2020 is the best it’s ever been, but it’s never been easier, or cheaper, to watch new and old series through dedicated anime streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and more. Instead of expensive western DVD releases or even more expensive imports, we have thousands of shows available at our fingertips. So what the hell do we watch? 

Every season Japan pumps out dozens of new anime, and many of the best anime series is now available to stream on sites like Crunchyroll, in English, the same day they air. Older shows from the ’80s and ’90s are rarer, but some of the best are still available. Whether you’re brand new to anime or just need a new show to watch, here are our recommendations for 20 stellar series available to stream right now. They run the gamut from action-packed shonen to sports, mecha, and heartwarming slice-of-life.

1. 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. The 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.

The 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 surprised 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.

2. 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 of 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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?).

7. 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.

8. Haikyu!!

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

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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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 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.

12. 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.

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