It arguably has never been a better time to be an anime fan outside the genre’s domestic audience. Anime TV shows and movies have become far more embedded into western pop culture, with the likes of Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, and more making the rounds on the international stage recently. However, anime movies becoming more accessible has arguably been the biggest development in the genre’s growth in recent years.
2021’s theatrical release of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and this year’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0 are testaments to this, especially considering the impressive box office haul they pulled in the U.S. and elsewhere. And for those that are newer to the genre — or veterans simply looking for a reasonable way to watch their favorites — there are still plenty of great movies available to stream. The likes of Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and Netflix in particular are some of the best mainstream places to look for anime movies outside of Crunchyroll.
Katsuhiro Otomo and animation studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha’s Akira is one of those anime from decades past that made such an impact that the rest of the world couldn’t ignore. It’s a loose adaptation of Otomo’s manga of the same name, and this cyberpunk epic was a major milestone for anime, as well as cyberpunk and sci-fi in Japan. Akira drew comparisons to other classics like Blade Runner — in the best ways — for how it tackled meta themes in a sci-fi dystopian setting.
It’s a bleak yet thrilling tale, centering on two young biker gang members named Shotaro Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo Shima as the latter becomes subject to a secret military experiment gone wrong that turns him into a psychopathic and telekinetic monster. Akira‘s dense thematic explorations of religious fanaticism, political and military corruption, and neglected youth make this movie an arresting experience.
It’s practically impossible to point to a Hayao Miyazaki — or a Studio Ghibli movie in general — that wasn’t critically well-received. Princess Mononoke is one of the director/writer’s classics, taking place in a grandiose historical fantasy setting with all the emotional and sociopolitical themes longtime fans have come to expect.
The story revolves around a young Ainu prince named Ashitaka who’s on a quest to cure a curse inflicted upon him by a corrupted god who’s also ravaging the forest they all live in. He meets the titular princess San, who’s been raised by wolves and has hated humanity all her life for the destruction they left. There aren’t any clear-cut villains, just a compelling and introspective story about man’s conflict with nature, and vice versa.
Spirited Away is another all-time great from Miyazaki, as it’s become one of the director and studio’s definitive films. It’s veteran fans’ favorite Studio Ghibli movie in many circles of the fan base, and it’s easy to see why given its legacy and impact. The movie was the first anime to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, proving to be another landmark for the genre on the international stage.
Spirited Away is the story of a young girl named Chihiro, who’s on a mission to save her parents after they’ve been turned into pigs by a witch. Chihiro is accompanied by her curious spirit companion No-Face as she ventures through the spirit world. Spirited Away features social commentary critiquing modern Japanese society and Western consumerist greed through the nuanced lens of fantasy.
Spirited Away is available to stream on HBO Max.
For those looking for an exciting shonen-action romp, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and animation studio Trigger’s Promare should satisfy. It’ll be a particularly fun ride for those that are fans of Imaishi’s critically acclaimed previous works Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill.
The art style and color palette are reminiscent of both, with protagonist Galo Thymos looking like a reinterpretation of Gurren‘s Kamina. Promare‘s story follows Galo as he fights and uncovers the mystery behind a terrorist group of mutants known as the Mad Burnish. Trigger is known for its colorfully vibrant anime, and this should satisfy new and veteran fans alike.
Promare is available to stream on HBO Max.
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball franchise is a pillar of anime’s global popularity, as it was one of the shonen that brought on the mainstream wave of the ’90s and ’00s. The Super anime TV series was the first canonical continuation of Z‘s story, and Dragon Ball Super: Broly was a memorable movie in the franchise’s catalog.
Likewise, it was a major development in the main timeline, as this was the first time that the titular villain of circumstance Broly was featured in canon. This will surely appease those looking for a violently colorful joyride, as all a Dragon Ball movie needs in terms of story is one serviceable enough to move the likes of Goku and Vegeta from one jaw-droppingly chaotic fight to the next.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is available to stream on Hulu with the added STARZ plan.
Taking things down to a more grounded and slice-of-life level is Makoto Shinkai and studio CoMix Wave Films’ Weathering with You. It’s another beautifully down-to-earth anime that Studio Ghibli fans will feel at home with, as it’s a touching romance with light elements of fantasy.
Weathering with You is similar to Shinkai’s previous movie Your Name in terms of themes, with the former centering on two teenagers from different walks of life. Hodaka is a young boy who runs away to live in Tokyo amid a never-ending rain, but he quickly struggles into poverty. While in the city, he meets and befriends a girl named Hina who has the power to control the weather — but at a steep cost.
Weathering with You is available to stream on HBO Max.
This one might come with a big asterisk for some, as while Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the biggest legacy anime IPs, it can be a bit convoluted to get into. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 is the fourth movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion collection of movies that retells the original TV anime series. The series begins 15 years after the Second Impact cataclysm, where mysterious beings known as Angels wreak havoc on Tokyo-3.
A shadowy military group called NERV deploys children in “Evangelion” mechs to combat the Angels, with the secrecy surrounding them, their motives, and their young cast of characters getting unraveled as the story goes on. Thrice Upon a Time concludes the story, and it was a long time coming. The anime suffered numerous heavy delays and was finally released last year, receiving critical acclaim in the process. It’s an enthralling sci-fi and psychological watch for those willing to take the plunge.
One of Shonen Jump Magazine’s original “Big Three” manga, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece has been a phenomenon for anime and the shonen genre. Most of the other manga/anime it shares its genre with feel stale in comparison, but this colorful globetrotting pirate odyssey has been going strong since the manga’s 1997 debut. It’s a sprawling journey filled with creative art and character designs, emotional story arcs, bombastic action, and impressive worldbuilding, but it can also be intimidating to get into for the uninitiated.
As of now, One Piece spans over 100 volumes and 1000 chapters in the manga, and over 1000 episodes in the TV series. However, the movies (while non-canon) can serve as great jumping-on points. One Piece Film: Z is arguably the strongest of the bunch, telling the story of Luffy and the Straw Hats’ battle against Zephyr: a man threatening the end of the pirate era.
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