An Ultra-Comprehensive Primer to the Best Anime on Hulu
For all that Netflix is good for -- its original series, documentaries, foreign TV shows -- there is one category that Hulu has especially excelled in: anime. Before Netflix was even dreaming of producing original anime, Hulu had already amassed a treasure trove of titles that's only been getting bigger over the years. Which, obviously makes scrolling through the endless pages of anime intimidating for interested newcomers. If you're struggling, we've broken down what's available right now into the quintessential titles of different genres, and what to follow those up with when you're inevitably looking for more of the same.
My Hero Academia
My Hero Academia has the biggest following of any new anime series at the moment. The concept isn't revolutionary -- a once-powerless boy giving it his all to follow the same path as his almighty idol -- but its understanding of heroism gives the show a universal appeal. It’s impossible not to root for the young protagonist Deku, not to cheer for the heroes who offer psychological support and hope as much as their physical protection. The well-constructed arcs, convincing answers to classic superhero dilemmas, and thrilling action are the icing on an already enticing cake.
When you’re done with that, try:One Piece, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Hunter x Hunter
An adventure series unlike any other, even if Hunter x Hunter's modest beginning might lead you to think otherwise. What first starts with the young Gon facing some tests to become a Hunter -- a member of the elite granted the privilege to do all sorts of dangerous, unique activities -- ends up becoming a much more ambitious effort. Each arc becomes more inventive than the last, with an uncanny ability to switch entire genres and still bring them to fulfilling conclusions. The cast grows exponentially, but the series always finds a way to thread a tale that keeps all of characters relevant and well-realized.
When you’re done with that, try:Yu Yu Hakusho
Toradora! presents a fairly standard set-up when it comes to romantic comedies. Ryuji is a kind yet fierce-looking boy, frustrated by all the people who misunderstand him. Taiga, on the other hand, is an attractive but ferocious girl with a poor first impression of Ryuji. Once they find out that each other’s crushes are their respective best friends though, they make a deal for mutual help in love matters. They develop a strong bond of their own to the point of questioning who they actually want to be with as they grow more comfortable with each other after their rocky start. When the narrative makes the (maybe obvious) point that the two have great chemistry, you immediately believe it. If you’re in the mood for a tale of a charming relationship, Toradora! is an excellent choice.
When you’re done with that, try:Clannad, Kimi ni Todoke, Yona of the Dawn, Snow White With the Red Hair
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is name you maybe already know, since its serialization began in the '80s and is still going strong nowadays and its fandom is thriving all around the world. Though some things remain constant -- like the physical manifestations of powers named Stands, the musical themes, and the approach to confrontations that’s more akin to competitive puzzle solving than actual fighting -- Jojo manages to stay fresh thanks to its unmatched ability to reinvent itself with each season. Not many franchises could afford to transition from a worldwide saga versus a foe so dangerous the whole world might be at stake to a group of dorky friends keeping their small town safe, and turn them both into iconic stories all the same. The anime adaptation at its best also manages to render Hirohiko Araki’s colorful, striking art into equally inventive sequences.
When you’re done with that, try: Blood Blockade Battlefront, Trigun, FLCL
Attack on Titan
There are multiple reasons why Attack on Titan is among the most popular anime of all time. It’s an action blockbuster of a scale the medium has rarely seen, with humanity at siege by mysterious large humanoids called titans and very little hope for survival against the giant, maniacal foes. The slowly unfolding mystery and frenetic Spiderman-esque action setpieces in particular have captured viewers all around the world -- it's not uncommon to see people walking around in Survey Corps jackets or carrying bags with the winged logo on it. Sure, its relentless grimness requires you to be in the right mindset, and perhaps the reveals don’t always live up to the tension the series builds up, but it’s easy to understand why so many people were (and still are) addicted to this series.
When you’re done with that, try:One-Punch Man, Akame ga Kill!, Shiki, Tokyo Ghoul
The Fate franchise is now omnipresent in the anime world, having grown from a visual novel into a genuine multimedia empire. Fate/Zero is a good starting point for (adult) newcomers as the earliest chronological point in the primary storyline, but most importantly, gripping in its own right. The premise is nearly the same as every other in the Fate series: a battle for the Holy Grail. Heroes from the past are summoned and commanded by mages as warriors of different classes, depending on the attributes their legends granted them, and compete to the death. What makes this entry stand out is the dark, gritty tone, which comes from its focus on the sacrifice and loss inherent to the life of a hero, going as far as wondering if the Holy Grail Wars are all that worthwhile. The excellent production values and a few exciting confrontations are good vehicles for its overarching themes, so if you’re at all interested in getting into the franchise, this is likely the best starting point.
When you’re done with that, try:Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, Psycho-Pass, Madoka Magica
For a long time, Cowboy Bebop was the default recommendation for people who weren’t entirely sure if they’d enjoy anime at all. Its sci-fi adventures rooted in western and noir tradition, the unmistakable jazz soundtrack, the diverse episodic adventures that gradually advance an overarching narrative, every single element made attractive for its original Japanese audience and a very welcoming offering for westerners. Its enduring popularity is no surprise then, but it's still worth encouraging for younger audiences to watch who might have missed the phenomenon when it was at its peak in the late '90s/early '00s. Twenty years after its first broadcast, Cowboy Bebop is still an excellent gateway into anime, and director Shinichiro Watanabe’s unmistakable brand is singular.
When you’re done with that, try:Samurai Champloo, Space Dandy
Nothing better to follow a classic favorite like Cowboy Bebop than another iconic title. Akira is ingrained in pop culture to the point of perhaps needing no introduction -- it was largely responsible for the boom of anime aimed towards more adult, Westernized audiences, and the list of titles influenced by it never comes to an end. Kaneda’s misadventures in Neo-Tokyo were brought to life with a technical mastery that has hardly been matched, while also leaving a massive thematic and aesthetic imprint in the genre. If you never got around to watching this sci-fi masterpiece, no better time than now -- set in a post-apocalyptic 2019, Akira still feels prescient. Somehow, it even managed to predict Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics, further adding to the movie’s legacy.
When you’re done with that, try:Grave of the Fireflies
If you’re in the mood for an ultra-violent yet outrageously fun time, Baccano’s hectic exploits are right up your alley. Its narrative jumps around various groups of mobsters and even more dangerous lawful individuals, with some immortal characters thrown into the mix for good measure. The series is masterfully constructed, as it bounces forwards and backwards in time until a climactic convergence point where everyone’s madness turns out to play a role. The cast is immensely charismatic, and the animation is detailed enough to make you wince at the most gruesome moments.
When you’re done with that, try: Black Lagoon, Durarara
Spice and Wolf
Spice and Wolf’s is an unlikely triumphant romance anime set in an old fantasy world where the primary vehicle is… economics. Lawrence, a merchant, and Holo, the wolf deity he comes across, possess very different kinds of wisdom. That causes them to constantly butt heads, leading to some of the best banter anime can offer. That playful bickering increases in romantic tension to the point of becoming an awfully charming relationship that carries the entire show on its shoulders. Fantasy mercantilism is fine and good, but sometimes you just want to see a mischievous deity and a trader flirting.
When you’re done with that, try: Mushi-shi, Log Horizon
K-ON! can be concisely summed up as the adventures of a group of high schoolers who joined the pop music club, but stopping at that is a disservice to the series. What elevates it isn’t the what, but the how; K-ON! is about the downtime between rehearsals, goofing around with friends, that intangible yet universally relatable feeling of adolescence. Director Naoko Yamada’s uncanny ability to get inside the minds of her characters and let them live out their youths as real people is never at odds with the cartoon-y, plain fun side of the series. An amusing first season is followed up by a much more atmospheric and emotionally loaded sequel, which turns an unassuming premise into one of anime’s greatest accomplishments.
When you’re done with that, try:Girls und Panzer, Your Lie in April, Kids on the Slope
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
The dubiously titled My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU hides an interesting showcase of youthful bitterness. Its protagonist Hachiman is a socially awkward boy, smart but fragile, and with a tongue too sharp for his own good. He’s forced to abandon his solitary life and help fellow students alongside two other girls in the Service Club, and while his methods achieve results, his disregard of other people’s (and his own) feelings escalates to the point of becoming dangerous, self-destructive behavior. While most pieces of fiction would frame his sacrifices as heroic, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU understands that he’s doing more harm than good, not only hurting himself but also those who have come to care about him. Over two seasons, it builds a compelling case to strive for better and to love oneself as the first step to love other people.
When you’re done with that, try:WataMote
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Have you gotten to the point where you can easily identify anime’s romantic tropes to the point they make you roll your eyes a little bit? Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun might be exactly what you need. Chiyo Sakura’s crush on her schoolmate Nozaki takes a goofy turn for the bizarre after Nozaki misinterprets Chiyo's attempted love confession as a request for an autograph. Turns out, Nozaki is secretly a romance manga artist with a bit of a peculiar understanding of love and romanticism, which leads to many ridiculous exaggerations of genre staples involving the two and the couples that surround them. It's a hilarious anime that isn’t mean-spirited when it's poking fun at the genre traditions it sometimes whimsically indulges in as well.
When you’re done with that, try:Ouran High School Host Club
Steins;Gate’s time travel frenzy rides on an engrossing narrative that will keep you on your toes with wild yet well-established twists and turns. What at first appears to be an amusing time with Rintaro "Okarin" Okabe and his troupe of maybe-scientists ends up becoming a grand, tense, and sometimes tragic tale that won’t let go until you reach the end. Do yourself a favor and give it a try before reading up any more on the series since it’s the kind of show that rewards those who go into it blindly.
When you’re done with that, try: Death Note, Prison School
Sports anime is a world of its own. For a long time, they’ve captured audiences who seek the same thrills they get from real world competitions, but also those who don’t even like watching sports in the first place. The romanticized view of sports in fiction, with its ability to make us root for the underdog, is something that never gets old. One of the best modern examples is Haikyuu!!, which follows the young Hinata as he leaps towards his dream in the world of men's volleyball, in spite of having all odds against him because of his short height. Once the ball gets rolling, there are few anime experiences as exciting as the tense matches of Haikyuu!!, which also serve as an excuse to introduce many teams full of compelling characters -- a positive thing without a doubt, but also excruciating since you’ll find yourself questioning if you even want the protagonists to beat their competitors. Add to that the animation prowess to portray all of the impact volleyball requires, and you get an excellent example of the potential of sports anime.
When you’re done with that, try: Big Windup, Food Wars!
A fairy tale and ballet-inspired masterpiece, Princess Tutu builds a magical series around those concepts rather than simply borrowing them as an aesthetic choice. It’s hard to describe and perhaps better not explained to begin with, serving as a perfect introduction to non-standard anime that is in no way inferior to its more psychedelic peers. Ahiru’s adventures function as the perfect family show: enjoyable for children who want something cute, engrossing for adults who also get to appreciate the graceful integration of its themes.
When you’re done with that, try:Puella Magi Madoka Magica