The 20 Best Animated TV Shows on Netflix

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The 20 Best Animated TV Shows on Netflix

This latest update of our list of the best animated TV shows on Netflix reflects how rapidly the platform has changed—and continues to change—in the animation space, especially. Beloved back-catalogue like Futurama, Family Guy, and Archer are long gone, as Netflix’s competitors batten down the hatches in the Streaming Wars, and Netflix original series, such as Castlevania and Disenchantment, are a growing proportion of the list.

The biggest addition? We’ve decided it’s only fair to consider anime series under the “animated TV shows” umbrella, and the service’s acquisition of all-timers like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has had a major impact on the list. (Speaking of, be sure to check out our dedicated list of the best anime series on Netflix, as well as our list of the best TV shows on Netflix overall.) Whether you’re in the mood for a Japanese import, a dark adult comedy, or something you can watch with your kids, Paste has you covered.

Here are the 20 best animated TV shows on Netflix:

20. Gurren Lagann

Up until to the release of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Gainax had always been a studio perilously skirting the line between disaster and success. The runaway success of Neon Genesis Evangelion had buoyed the studio from the brink of disaster, and in the intervening years Gainax found itself again in need of another boon. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s directorial television debut, a “hot-blooded” and “unconventional” super robot anime that functioned as a spiritual successor to the studio’s prior works like Gunbuster and Evangelion. With boundless charisma, meteoric stakes, and exponential heaps of absurd spectacle that laugh in the face of sensibility, Gurren Lagann delivered Gainax another cult classic and became the launchpad for the studio’s own successor, Trigger. On the height of Gurren Lagann’s success, Imaishi and co. pierced through the heavens and showed the world just who the hell they were. —Toussaint Egan

19. Trollhunters

This acclaimed adventure story features one of the final performances of the late Anton Yelchin, who left behind a wealth of recorded material before his tragic passing in 2016. Yelchin voices a young man who is chosen to the Trollhunter, a magical hero who fights against evil trolls and protects the world. The series is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) and Marc Guggenheim (Arrow), so it comes from an excellent pedigree for sci-fi adventure. The series is a bright, high-stakes adventure with gorgeous animation, well-rounded characters, and more than enough action to keep kids and adults engaged. —Trent Moore

18. Death Note

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Light Yagami is a bored honor student with a god complex—which only escalates when he discovers a Shinigami’s, or god of death’s, notebook, one that will kill anyone whose name is written inside. However, he’s not the only character who’s morally compromised; even the hero/antagonist L isn’t above deception, no matter how many tiny cakes he eats. Funnily enough, it’s the Shinigami community that’s most endearing, especially once Death Note starts unraveling. —Sarra Sedghi

17. Disenchantment

Netflix’s Disenchantment is not a revival, but it does mark the first new venture of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, in quite a while. And, despite its flaws—and it is an uneven show, to be sure—I can’t help but feel that it represents something positive in the face of all this retreading of past success: an iconic TV creator choosing not to strictly go back to the well but push himself forward in a few ways and chart out some new territory. With ten episodes that dive directly into each character’s malaise—thus propelling them into larger arcs—Disenchantment sees Groening taking the big narrative swings that the new era of bingeable seasons (for all its faults) allows. And, without spoiling anything, Dreamland’s status quo has been considerably rocked by the end of its freshman run. Is it reinventing the wheel of the serialized narrative? No, but the writing team’s fresh eyes on those kinds of plot developments do push Groening’s work forward in compelling ways. The second season will have to stick the landing of a cliffhanger in a way neither The Simpsons nor Futurama ever really had the chance to do. —Graham Techler

16. Devilman Crybaby

To put it lightly, Go Nagai is a man with a reputation. Aside from being one of the forefathers of the “Super Robo”’ subgenre of mecha for his creation Mazinger Z, he is also known for creating works that pushed taboos and prompted the anime industry’s shift from children-oriented fare to darker and more sexually-charged subject matter. Case in point: Devilman. Masaaki Yuasa’s contemporary reprise of Akira Fudo and Ryo Asuka’s “love” story is as orgiastically violent and unflinchingly risqué as Nagai’s original manga, a fitting tribute to both the creator’s oeuvre and the character’s storied legacy. Devilman’s influence can be seen everywhere from the Luciferian beauty of Berserk’s Griffith to the apocalyptic loneliness of Neon Genesis Evangelion. For all these reasons and more, Devilman Crybaby positions itself not only as one of the best series in recent memory, but one that will stand the test of time in the years to come. —Toussaint Egan

15. Your Lie In April

Junior high musical prodigies with lots of feelings are at the center of this resplendent yet melancholic 22-episode anime. Billed as shonen but having more in common with josei, director Kyohei Ishiguro’s adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa’s manga pulls none of the source material’s gut-wrenching punches, and the addition of the sweeping classical music, performed by the traumatized pianist protagonist Kosei Arima and his crush, the free-spirited violinist Kaori Miyazono, only adds to the atmosphere. (An original score by Masaru Yokoyama tugs at the heartstrings plenty, too.) Have a box of tissues on hand for this one, especially as the finale looms. —John Maher

14. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Contrary to popular belief, Lucasfilm did manage to create an engaging storyline set in the “prequel” universe. Enter Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Acting as a bridge between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the show finds Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, along with new character Ahsoka Tano, battling against the forces of Dooku and General Grievous. What started as a series full of fun, exciting space battles, however, soon grew into a much deeper and richer story that explored the complications and brutality of war. Moreover, The Clone Wars did more to set the stage for Anakin’s inevitable turn to the Dark Side than any moment in the films. While the show’s brand of photo-realistic animation may not be for everyone, there are few who will deny that the sophisticated storytelling on display would not have been greatly welcome in the traditional Star Wars movie universe. —Mark Rozeman

13. The Magic School Bus

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Welcome to the ”’90s Kids Will Remember” section of the list: If you’re a Millennial of a certain age (or the parent of one), chances are you’re familiar with Ms. Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin), the slightly dotty schoolteacher who shrinks her bus small enough to fit through a paper cut or powers it into outer space, all to teach her students about the scientific wonders of the universe. Though Netflix now has an updated version, The Magic School Bus Rides Again, with Kate McKinnon assuming the role of Ms. Frizzle, there’s no replacing the first adaptation of Joanna Cole’s charming children’s books, or the envy and awe it inspired in viewers. Best. Field trip. Ever. —Matt Brennan

12. One-Punch Man

Even by the ridiculous standards of the superhero genre, One-Punch Man’s ballpark craziness is a league all its own. When a 25-year-old college graduate rescues a rosy-cheeked, butt-chinned boy from the murderous clutches of a lobster man-monster (see what I mean?), he abandons his search for a salaried job and devotes himself to a rigorous three-year training regimen with the intent of becoming a hero. Naturally, his hair falls out. With a Jim Lee-esque physique and face that would feel right at home in a Charles Schultz comic strip, Saitama is the world’s strongest hero, gifted with the awesome power to defeat enemies with a single punch. The crux of One-Punch Man’s appeal, aside from its exemplary animation and fight scenes courtesy of Madhouse, is the series’ commitment to being a superhero show filtered through the overactive imagination of child, a comedy of preposterous serial escalation, with every otherworldly adversary that rises up being swiftly smashed to viscera from the force of Saitama’s herculean indifference. —Toussaint Egan

11. Violet Evergarden

Network: Netflix

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The key to Violet Evergarden is that it’s about the future. Violet, a former child soldier who survived a war and lost both her arms, has to face that future, and she can’t help but look backward. Her day job has her ghostwriting clients’ thoughts and memories. She endures PTSD-fueled echoes of her own past constantly. She yearns for her beloved superior officer who (we think?) died. And throughout, she struggles both physically, with her prosthetic hands, and socially, with everyone she meets. So much anime, including many titles on this list, focuses on conflicts during wartime; it’s rare to see one go all in on the conflicts that come with peace. Violet Evergarden’s argument—that those aftereffects are surmountable—is a compelling, important one. —Eric Vilas-Boas

10. The Dragon Prince

Network: Netflix

After already hitting the post-Avatar the Last Airbender jackpot once with Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos’ venerated Voltron: Legendary Defender, Netflix dipped into the AtLA creative well once more to tap Aaron Ehasz (AtLA head writer) and Jack De Sena (lead voice actor) for The Dragon Prince. Warm-hearted and gorgeously designed, the series’ short first season tread enough fresh water with its inclusion of dragons, elves and classically European magic to draw in viewers unfamiliar with the AtLA brand, while still giving jonesing Avatar fans a taste of that old Ehasz-penned Four Nations magic, focused as it was on a not-unfamiliar trio of young warriors/students of elemental power/heirs to a throne (and their endearingly weird pet) striking out on a dangerous quest. Building on AtLA’s progressive ethos further, is made especially strong by its inclusion of a biracial, blended royal family, a badass, ASL-speaking deaf lady general, and an awkward goth teen witch as one of its kinda-villains—all details which, not incidentally, have also snagged the series some of Tumblr’s choicest fandom real estate. Only nine episodes long and ending with our heroes very much just getting started, the first season of The Dragon Prince can feel more like prologue than anything—but if this is what draconic prologue looks like, next season’s real deal is likely to be excellent. —Alexis Gunderson

9. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Network: Netflix

The original She-Ra: Princess of Power of the 1980s may have flipped the gender ratio on cartoons of its time, but it didn’t exactly change the world. It was still a toy tie-in show, and when the merch didn’t sell, She-Ra got the axe. That history is partly what makes the revival so special. Showrunner Noelle Stevenson took the elements that made She-Ra great—butt-kicking girl power, an LGBTQ subtext, and deep female relationships—into the 21st century with all the resources of DreamWorks and Netflix. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a beautifully animated, thematically confident product that’s as willing to tackle action set pieces as it is the dark conflicts of its characters’ upbringings and heroic destinies. The revival hasn’t changed the real world yet, either, but it’s given us plenty of fascinating, flawed, badass ladies to appreciate. —Eric Vilas-Boas

8. Voltron: Legendary Defender

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly do so with a series about transforming robots and an intergalactic battle against fascism—as long as you put the right people in charge. That’s what eight briskly-released seasons of Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender taught animation fans with its relentlessly fresh take, which always felt more like a lively reincarnation than a defibrillated cash-grab. Showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos—known for their work on two of the most beloved shows in modern animation, Avatar: The Last Airbender and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra—brought along writers from the two series to saturate Voltron in empathy and imagination, such that the series’ true complexities lie in its interpersonal relationships. Whether the Paladins are fighting a giant space worm/manta-ray that projects optical illusions to lure its prey, competing on an alien game show, or navigating a white hole, every set piece and fantastical logline always resolves thanks to the personal development of a character. Voltron is delicious pulp with political subtext and personal relevance. —Jacob Oller

7. Aggretsuko

To many viewers, nothing says “anime” quite like small, adorable animals with big ol’ eyes. And Rareko, the director who has helmed a series of Japanese animated shorts called Aggretsuko since 2016 and launched a Western remake as a Netflix “original series” this year, clearly knew this just enough to turn that assumption on its head. Retsuko, a 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda working as a dead-eyed accountant at a trading firm, is the star of this workplace musical comedy, which quietly showcases the righteous power of a woman’s anger. Not so quietly, actually, as the musical numbers come from Retsuko’s nightly venting sessions at her local karaoke bar, where she shrieks out her frustration by singing, and screaming, death metal. This show truly does something new, and delivers a satisfying, character-driven narrative to boot. —John Maher

6. Rurouni Kenshin

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There was a moment, in 2003, when seemingly one in every three middle schoolers in America whose home boasted a cable television wanted to learn kendo—a martial art descended from kenjustu, the traditional Japanese art of swordplay. That would be thanks to Rurouni Kenshin, a shonen set during Japan’s Meiji Restoration whose protagonist, a scarred former assassin turned wanderer, pledges himself to protecting the innocent without ever killing again by wielding his reverse-bladed sword against all comers. The depiction of protagonist Himura Kenshin’s penance and a struggle to maintain control in the face of a reflexive return to past wrongs is perhaps the best redemption tale in any anime. The show’s second season, the “Legend of Kyoto” arc, is rightly revered in particular as an example of a near-perfect adaptation from manga to anime, with its original storylines fitting neatly beside those from the manga. A caveat: The property is deeply tainted by the actions of its author, Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was charged with possession of child pornography last fall. His involvement with the anime, however, was limited—and Kenshin’s own values, so centered on selflessly safeguarding those who need protection most at any cost to himself, serve as a resounding condemnation of his creator’s moral failures. —John Maher

5. InuYasha

Thanks to Adult Swim, everyone has at least heard of InuYasha. InuYasha has a little bit of everything—folklore, love triangles, anachronism, demon racism, villains that are just as relatable as protagonists (mostly Kagure, who will wreck your heart)—and nicely wraps it up in an intricately detailed story. There’s a lot to take in, especially if you watch all this and 2009’s InuYasha: The Final Act, but it’s hardly a waste of time. —Sarra Sedghi

4. Castlevania

We at Paste have argued that Netflix’s Castlevania became “the best videogame adaptation ever made” in its second season, but even that is fainter praise than the show deserves. After all, videogames have hardly translated to film or television with any success, leaving utter mediocrity as Castlevania’s knee-high bar to clear. Let that not take away from how high it flies. Adapted from the Konami franchise of the same name by award-winning comic book writer Warren Ellis, directed by Sam Deats and animated by the aptly named Powerhouse Animation Studios, the anime-style series’ sophomore outing is a bloody delight, a Gothic orchestra that both honors and deepens Castlevania’s dark world. Its first five episodes patiently establish motivations and stakes, building slowly but surely to the gloriously explosive payoff that is its last three episodes. At the heart of it all is a tortured Dracula (Graham McTavish), the best kind of villain: one with a point. “Mark my words—with Season Three we’re going after that EMMY,” executive produce Adi Shankar tweeted upon Castlevania’s recent renewal. We wouldn’t dare bet against it. —Scott Russell

3. Big Mouth

Netflix’s sophomore animated series, from creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, follows four friends through the earliest stages of puberty: Andrew (John Mulaney) sports inconvenient erections; Nick (Kroll) awaits his first pubic hairs; Jessi (Jessi Klein) begins menstruating at the Statue of Liberty; Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) conceives rococo ways to get off with his pillow. It’s wickedly bawdy—one episode’s end credits roll over an extended description of Andrew’s dad’s testicles—and devilishly funny—another uses a note-perfect Seinfeld send-up to explain the blowjob “head push” and the term “mons pubis”—but as implied by its theme song, Charles Bradley’s “Changes,” the series is sweeter than it appears at first blush. Its goal is to cut through the humiliations of sex, to break through the shame shellacked atop our “gross little dirtbag” selves to reveal the perfectly normal yearning underneath: for pleasure, for touch, for emotional connection; for approval, confidence, intimacy, love. By admitting, as Andrew does in the series premiere, that “everything is so embarrassing”—and not only for teens—Big Mouth squares a space in which there’s no question that can’t be asked, and no answer that applies the same way to everyone. It’s the streaming version of your sex-ed teacher’s anonymous slips of paper, except the laughs aren’t sniggers—they’re hard-won, empathic guffaws. —Matt Brennan

2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

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The best anime of all time, Cowboy Bebop, is not on Netflix. (It’s on Hulu, that weasel!) The second-best anime of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is not on Netflix, either. (At least for now.) So it’s a good thing that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Paste’s third-best anime of all time, is definitely on Netflix. Which, to be fair, is more than enough, because Brotherhood, like those other two series, pretty much has it all. A classic shonen anime—meaning it’s aimed at a teen male target demographic—Brotherhood strikes a remarkable balance of everything adventure anime does well. Its masterfully tragic storyline follows an ever-expanding cast of characters in a fantasy world resembling Europe in the early 20th century, where alchemy is a nearly magical science, allowing its most accomplished practitioners to perform wondrous acts—as long as there’s equivalent exchange. That’s a lesson the prodigiously talented young Edward Elric and his younger brother, Alphonse, learn all too well following the death of their mother. The Elric brothers attempt to bring back their only remaining parent via alchemy, only to leave Ed missing an arm and a leg and Al’s bodiless soul wedded to a suit of armor. (This is not even close to the last parentless child story in this series. Fair warning.) To return them to their original bodies, Ed joins the military, where he and Al and an ever-expanding cast of complex and fully-realized characters—including the ambitious Colonel Roy Mustang and his loyal lieutenant, Riza Hawkeye; the outrageously muscular softie Major Alex Louis Armstrong and his frigidly badass sister, Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong; Ed’s mechanic and childhood crush, Winry Rockbell; and the brothers’ absentee father, the mysterious alchemist Von Hohenheim—enter deeper and deeper into a government conspiracy for which none of them were prepared. This is a series that manages to deliver a serious meditation on the military-industrial complex and the societal and racial tensions behind civil wars, as well as make compelling villains out of the anthropomorphic manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins and a timeless being who wants to play God. As my colleague, Sarra Sedghi has written, the show “gets dark fast, like half an episode in, and being scarred by early and ultimate episodes alike is a universal experience in the anime community.” It’s a good thing that, all the while, Brotherhood manages to consistently and effectively lighten the mood with stereotypical anime silliness. Otherwise, unless your heart itself were made of metal, this show might very well rip it out. —John Maher

1. Bojack Horseman

That Netflix’s animated comedy manages to pinpoint the character of the zeitgeist and map a few of the ways through it is at the heart of its profound genius, always slipping, almost imperceptibly, from silver-tongued satire to pathos and back. The series doesn’t forgive the cruelties of washed-up, alcoholic actor BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett)—or anyone else’s—so much as suggest that cruelties are now our dominant form of currency, the payola that secures the White House for the wicked and Wall Street for the damned, the surest path to fame and fortune for the tiny few and destitution for the many. In BoJack, the backdrop to the characters’ familiar foibles—their unthinking insults, their unspoken apologies, their selfish choices, self-doubt, self-flagellation—is the even more familiar crassness of lobbyists, donors and campaign managers; of studio heads, ambitious agents, stars on the make; of cable news anchors, dimwitted columnists, “Ryan Seacrest types”; of a social order so inured to insincerity, whataboutism, political profiteering, environmental collapse that being kicked in the stomach starts to feel like a gift. In short, BoJack Horseman is the defining series of our time, and also a handbook for surviving it. —Matt Brennan

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