For Netflix binge-watchers like myself, finding a decent TV series to gobble up is an inherent skill. However, finding good anime to watch in Japan for those with little-to-no Japanese ability is another story altogether. Luckily, Netflix Japan is filled-to-the-brim with loads of animated releases — both old and new — across every genre. While changing your language settings to English does optimize the menus and provide synopses in English, that doesn’t mean that all the titles available on Netflix Japan will have English audio or even English subtitles. Unfortunately, while it contains plenty of anime titles, few have been dubbed or subtitled in English. It does include some great titles that anime veterans and newcomers alike should check out, though.
Here are five of the best Japanese anime you can watch on Netflix Japan as of May 2018. All of the shows on this list stream with either English audio, English subtitles or both. They are listed in order of lowest to highest rating on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
5. Children of The Whales
Released last October, Children of the Whales is one of the newer shows on this list. Created by the director of the hit cyberpunk animated television series Psycho-Pass, Children of the Whales is set in a fantasy world where people live on a floating island or vessel, but instead of drifting on a sea of water they are borne about on a sea of sand. The people are magic users who wield a power called “thymia.” Their day-to-day lives hold strange, unexplained rules and customs but they live peacefully until one day another island drifts alongside them and changes everything.
What struck me most about this one was its unique visual style. While the characters were created using traditional two-dimensional celluloid graphics, the backgrounds look almost pencil-drawn — similar to what you’d see in a children’s fairy tale picture book. This difference provides a strong and glaring contrast between the characters and the backgrounds, which is as beautiful as it is distinctive. It’s quite unlike the art style of any other anime.
- IMDb rating: 7.3/10 based on over 400 user reviews.
4. Sword Art Online
One of the most popular anime series to come out in recent years is Sword Art Online. It was so popular, in fact, that it sparked a sequel, Sword Art Online II, as well as numerous film and video game adaptations. The plot follows Kirito and Asuna, high school students trapped in the world of Aincrad, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) similar to World of Warcraft or Phantasy Star Online.
The creator of this fictional game — for reasons unknown — hacks it to reset the headsets of all its 10,000 players, trapping them in the game and forcing them to complete it — or die inside of it.
For those new to anime, Sword Art Online is very mainstream, widely-adored internationally and is a great place to start as a first foray into the genre.
- IMDb rating: 7.5/10 based on over 25,000 user reviews.
3. 5 Centimeters Per Second
5 Centimeters Per Second is an animated film from director Makoto Shinkai, the highly-esteemed creator of Kimi No Na Wa (“Your Name”). While Kimi No Na Wa is the title that broke box office records and brought Shinkai to international fame, his first big hit was this offering, released in 2007. It follows Takaki and Akari, and their innocent romance that begins in elementary school. Unfortunately, the circumstances of life get in the way and because of their parents’ jobs, the two are forced to move farther and farther away from each other.
You can visit many of its real-world locations around Japan, such as Shinjuku (Tokyo), Sangubashi station (Shibuya, Tokyo) and Tenagashima Island (Kagoshima) should you get truly immersed in the story and feel like making a pilgrimage to spots featured in the film.
- IMDb rating: 7.7/10 based on over 38,000 user reviews.
2. Tokyo Ghoul
One of the goriest and most grotesque anime I’ve ever seen is Tokyo Ghoul. Being a short, 12-episode series, the plot is incredibly fast-paced. However, the story never feels rushed. Set in a modern and very normal present-day Tokyo, everything is the same as our real world except for one thing: human flesh-eating ghouls are terrorizing the city and everyone lives in fear. These evil spirits look exactly like humans and it’s impossible to tell them apart based on their appearance alone. Some are kind and don’t enjoy harming humans, instead they try to live peacefully among them. The others are merciless killers.
The story follows Ken Kaneki, a young college student who is attacked by one of the creatures and becomes half-ghoul, half-human. If you aren’t squeamish, can handle the blood and don’t mind a bit of horror, Tokyo Ghoul is the anime for you.
- IMDb rating: 8/10 based on over 20,000 user reviews.
1. Violet Evergarden
The story of Violet Evergarden follows a beautiful young woman who survived the treacheries of war. Nameless and abandoned as a child, she was found and handed over to a military officer named Major Gilbert to be used as a military “tool.” Instead, Major Gilbert shows compassion and raises her, teaching her how to speak, read and write. He names her after his favorite flower. When Gilbert dies in battle, his last words to her are: “I love you.”
After the war, Violet gets a job as an “auto memory doll,” scribes who write letters for the blind or those who can’t write or express their emotions. With her only goal in life being to understand what Gilbert’s last words meant, she tries her best in her new position.
The high-quality animation is visually superb and the light novel that the anime is adapted from won a Kyoto Animation award under the “Novel” category. This anime is far from the mainstream in both art and style. Those looking for an anime with heavier themes should definitely give Violet Evergarden a try.
- IMDb rating: 8.5/10 based on over 1,900 user reviews.
Since arriving on small screens in Japan, Netflix has racked up a wide array of Japanese programs that give you a chance to get acquainted with what’s currently trending here — although not all of them have English or other language options. These top rated anime, however, all come with subtitles or dubbing baked right in and are a great way to sink your teeth into some current pop culture — and keep you awake all weekend as you consume each and every episode of the series!
Are you a fan of any of the anime mentioned above? Have an anime you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments below!