Whether you’re a neophyte hoping to catch senpai’s attention or a wizened otaku extraordinaire, we have the best ways to watch the finest in Japanese animation.
The juggernaut of anime streaming services that has swallowed Funimation and VRV
The leading streaming service in the world has a large number of exclusive anime produced for its platform
A collection of old school and highly influential anime that works as both entertainment and a historical library
Anime used to be for only the hardcore. The same people who obsessed over Marvel back issues, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek would huddle around thrice-recopied VHS tape collections featuring the latest martial art spikey-haired aliens, romantic magical girls, and planet-conquering mechs. But much like Marvel comics, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek, anime has long since mainstreamed. From highly acclaimed works like Your Name or the output of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli to blockbuster action franchises like Dragon Ball or the recent Jujutsu Kaisen, anime is quintessentially Japanese yet internationally appealing. You don’t have to be a nerd (or, as anime fans call themselves, otaku) to want to watch anime. And you no longer have to put up with bootleg tapes or import prices. Everyone wants to watch anime. And because it’s 2022, everyone wants to watch anime online.
To that end, there are several dedicated anime streaming services out to deliver the content fans old and new crave. There are even more general-entertainment streaming services that have given anime a prime position within their platforms—the only exception would be the U.S. version of Disney+, since the also-Disney-owned Hulu platform houses all their anime. Choices abound, but are they any good? Will you get your daily dose of body-switch comedy, high-school dramedy, or high-octane sports stories? Of course you will, and we’ll guide you to the very best anime streaming services.
Using a combination of personal experience, testimonials from colleagues, friends, and family, as well as reviews and opinions from around the internet, we’ve come up with a list that frankly covers all the bases. If we don’t mention a service in this article, chances are that it’s just not a great choice for viewing anime (even if some anime is available on it).
Our awards are based mostly on the breadth or type of anime offered. Even the most expensive of these services is still less than $20 a month and even the least technologically advanced is still relatively easy to navigate and use on multiple devices, so price and tech didn’t swing many of our decisions. Anime is a medium, and like most mediums, there’s the stuff you love, the stuff you like, and the stuff you couldn’t care less about. Our goal with this list was to steer you toward more of the first two.
Our evaluations on this list were made almost exclusively based on the different available titles in the libraries of the services, as even the non-free options are quite inexpensive. While stream quality is noticeably better on the big mainstream services like Netflix and Hulu, anime is by and large not produced in 4K or with surround sound, so lower-quality streams are still entirely adequate and did not factor into our recommendations.
While every streaming service is available via a webpage for viewing on a laptop, one of the most important things you’ll need to consider is whether your home viewing platform of choice has a native app. If you’re watching on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device (phones, tablets, and some smart TVs), you have nothing to worry about, since those very popular platforms are supported by every service on our list. Roku is another highly supported platform and another one that smart TVs sometimes have automatically. When it comes to streaming through game consoles, the options can be more limited. Check under each listing to see the compatible devices.
Another consideration is the fidelity of your screen and sound. Newer anime is quite a feast for the ears and eyes. Make sure you have a Full HD (1080p) or better screen and a solid speaker set or headphones. Most of the streaming services won’t offer 4K resolution but that is less of a detriment than you’d expect, as very little anime is created in 4K with the exception of some theatrical films. Of course, if you happen to have a 4K or 8K television or monitor, even Full HD streams will look better. As for sound, usually there will be some basic surround options for newer anime, and especially theatrical anime, so having a system that can handle surround sound well will benefit you. Even if the signal is in stereo, a good soundbar makes a world of difference.
Though it’s a minor concern for most customers, do keep in mind that most of these services are geolocked to the United States, and if you log in from another country’s IP address, you won’t be able to watch. The exception is Netflix, which is available in other countries but alters the libraries due to different rights in different regions. Typically, Netflix-produced content is available in all regions. A concern with Netflix and traveling is that English subtitles are not always available in non-English-speaking regions. For example, one of the most popular anime in the world at this moment, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba is available on Japanese Netflix, but without English subtitles. Meanwhile, it’s released nearly simultaneously with Japan in the U.S. on American Hulu, with subtitles. (You can always attempt to get around geolocking by using one of the best VPNs, or virtual private networks. It’s not illegal to do so, but it is technically against the terms of service of these streamers, so do so at your own risk.)
Why it made the cut: The long-time pacesetter within anime streaming got even bigger in the last year after being acquired by Sony and merging with the Funimation and VRV services.
Crunchyroll is a juggernaut. While it started in the mid-’90s as a platform for user-uploaded video content, mostly East Asian in origin and much of it in violation of copyright law, it quickly pivoted a few years later to offering streams of anime shows that had only just recently aired in Japan. Prior to Crunchyroll, anime fans usually had to wait months and possibly even years for their favorite anime to make it to American DVD or TV; Crunchyroll cut that down to hours. From there, Crunchyroll built its reputation and library, eventually being acquired by huge media conglomerates AT&T/TimeWarner and, more recently, Sony. At that time, Sony already owned the Funimation and VRV streaming platforms, both of which heavily focused on anime, and the libraries of both those services have migrated to Crunchyroll as of early this year.
Thus the Sony corporate backing has been a huge boon to Crunchyroll’s ability to acquire massive numbers of titles, some of them exclusives. The selection of anime on Crunchyroll far outnumbers any of its competitors, though, as with most big-library services, browsing without using the search function for specific titles can be laborious. As for new content, Crunchyroll tends to acquire simulcast rights to nearly every big TV anime each season. Every day of the week sees new episodes posted so, as a customer, you’re never out of date. If anime is the primary medium for your entertainment consumption, Crunchyroll has what you crave.
Crunchyroll’s two pricing tiers differ only in the number of simultaneous streams (so that multiple family or household members can enjoy Crunchyroll at the same time) and in the availability of off-line download viewing (which is available only on the $9.99 tier). A year-at-a-time price of $79.99 is available on the higher tier, offering a substantial discount. The free tier is a strong offering on its own, using ads to generate revenue. Not everything on Crunchyroll is available to free users, but it’s still thousands of hours of content. Simulcasts within hours are only on premium, the wait is a week for free users. Two-week trials are available on both paid tiers. Crunchyroll has native apps for every mainstream platform, so there’s no worry about support.
Most TV anime in Japan these days is produced in Full HD with stereo sound and Crunchyroll’s streams mimic that, so while those options seem meager compared to live-action films and shows that offer 4K and surround sound, they are still the “native” settings for anime. Note that HD streams are only available for paid users and older content may not offer HD resolutions. One audio area where Crunchyroll does excel on many selections is allowing you to pick from subs (subtitles) or dubs (often in multiple languages, though watch out for the occasional mistranslation and censorship if you go the English avenue).
On the whole, Crunchyroll is the premier streaming service that is anime-focused. There’s almost only anime—aside from a small collection of Japanese comics—but it’s got pretty much all the anime you need, and comes highly recommended. Only a small selection of newer series—most of which are exclusive to either Netflix or HIDIVE—are not available on Crunchyroll.
Why it made the cut: The mainstream streamer has tons of original content, including anime produced just for its platform that isn’t available anywhere else.
You know Netflix. If you have any streaming services, you probably have Netflix. Netflix started the streaming boom and leads it even today. While, initially, it acquired most of its content from other producers, the focus for the company in the last decade has not just been to be a distributor, but to be a producer, and a few years ago the company moved into anime.
These original productions are the backbone of Netflix’s anime offerings. Several high-profile anime beloved by fans are only available on Netflix, such as Baki, Beastars, and Castlevania. In the United States, Netflix is the primary home for much of Japan’s original theatrical anime, such as recent films Bubble or Children of Kamiari Month. There’s something for everyone, from the slick ultraviolence of Devilman Crybaby to the cute workplace satire of Aggretsuko (from Hello Kitty maker Sanrio). There’s stuff for young kids, casual fans, and serious otaku. What you won’t find is a lot of older titles. The offerings from yesteryear are few and far between, but the content that is new and exclusive is very much worth checking out.
Netflix doesn’t gate content behind their tier pricing, so the cheapest $9.99 tier will let you watch everything. What higher tiers give you is more simultaneous screens (1, then 2, then 4) and more devices that can hold downloads (same). HD (1080p) streaming is only available at the $15.49 and $19.99 tiers and Ultra HD (4K) streaming is only available at the $19.99 tier. Those higher-level visuals and better audio are available on a few anime. Netflix-produced Sol Levante is one of the few anime produced in 4K, and many of the theatrical anime Netflix offers have theater-quality sound. While that’s not much content now, the production of Sol Levante is proof of Netflix’s commitment to pushing the technology of anime forward.
Where the 4K and surround sound mostly will come into play is with the non-anime offerings on Netflix, which are copious. In addition to the anime, Netflix has several live-action films and series from Japan based on anime (such as Full Metal Alchemist or Alice in Borderland), so while not anime in the strictest sense, it’s a kissing cousin. Netflix doesn’t offer a simulcast of any TV anime in Japan, as it typically only releases series in bingeable seasons/parts or in episode clumps across a short period of time (such as its four-episode-a-week reality TV releases).
Netflix, while alarmingly climbing in price and facing a crowded general-entertainment streaming market, makes a lot of buzzworthy and bingeable content, including anime. While it doesn’t work as a one-stop-shop for your anime needs, the high-quality original offerings make it a very tempting supplement to your habit, and an auto-subscribe if you’re interested in its additional massive non-anime library.
Why it made the cut: Razors focused on the “golden age of anime” from the 1970s to 1990s, RetroCrush is either cheap or free and works as an education in some foundational series.
RetroCrush is a new player to the anime streaming game, having launched in mid-2020. Their focus is on classic anime from 20 to 50 years ago, and while they offer a paid tier for ad-free viewing, the vast majority of their library is available free with ads. Essentially, while you may not watch RetroCrush often unless you are a fan of old titles, there’s no reason not to download the app to your devices or bookmark the homepage.
The library is very much a garden of hidden delights. Older anime fans will be reminded of their youth by some of the really important, popular VHS anime from the mall movie stores of the 1990s, like Project A-Ko and Wicked City. These aren’t titles that burst through into the mainstream, but ones that true anime nerds have fond feelings for. RetroCrush is filling the gap that the larger streamers, who want the huge titles only, are leaving.
While there is one paid tier, there are actually three account types. An unregistered account can watch all-ages content with ad support. A free email-registered account can make playlists and watch age-restricted content. And the $4.99/mo or $49.99 premium account removes ads and unlocks a small premium exclusive library as well. The live stream, which does not feature any of the age-restricted content, is available at every tier.
The quality of the RetroCrush stream is limited by the quality of its titles. Very few of these titles were made or remastered in HD and even fewer ever had more than a stereo soundtrack. That said, the stream consistency is high even if the top-end quality is low by its nature. Unfortunately, there’s no option to customize your stream quality based on your bandwidth; instead, RetroCrush will just run at the highest bitrate available.
If you’re relatively new to anime, there’s a lot to discover on RetroCrush. If you’re an oldhead, you can get some fuzzy nostalgia. Truth be told, I can’t see you spending a whole lot of time on the platform unless this niche is your specific jam, but any fan should download the app to their devices, because at the free tier there’s absolutely nothing to lose with RetroCrush, and you might just discover your new favorite classic anime.
Why it made the cut: Offering a smaller library than competitors with a more mature and focused aesthetic, HIDIVE offers a smattering of exclusive anime at a reasonable price, with an eye on the anime purist rather than the neophyte.
HIDIVE rose from the ashes of defunct anime stream service Anime Network Online, licencing most of that service’s content after its discontinuation. Since then HIDIVE has carved out a niche in the market by being the exclusive carrier for a number of licensed titles from Sentai and Section23, anime imprints familiar to dedicated fans that tend to have more cult titles than mainstream hits.
This exclusive library is the leverage HIDIVE has against the bigger players, as it’s the only service other than Netflix (which produces its own content) to have new anime that Crunchyroll does not. Overall, HIDIVE’s offerings are very appealing to anime’s biggest fans. A lot of the anime in HIDIVE’s library has that distinct “anime for fans by fans” feel to it. Their simulcasting is quick and high-quality, and their turnaround on dubbing for their simulcast anime is incredibly fast (sometimes as little as two or three weeks). While most of the anime isn’t particularly mainstream, they are the exclusive home of simulcasts of the most recent version of Lupin the 3rd, a relatively well-known property.
There are two ways to buy into HIDIVE: $4.99 a month, or save 20% by spending $47.99 a year. This grants full access to the entire library through the webpage or any of their apps. Streams are consistent, offering Full HD and stereo sound. HIDIVE is by-and-large TV anime, and their “schedule” tab on their website is a welcome, easy-to-navigate way to see what will be available soon on their service, right down to the hour.
Unless you’re already a relatively hardcore anime fan, you might find HIDIVE somewhat lacking. There are a few water-cooler titles that you’re going to find with huge online fanbases. But for the discerning anime fan, HIDIVE offers a strong selection of anime fan-focused options at a very reasonable price.
Why it made the cut: The best of the general entertainment ad-supported free streaming services for anime fans, Tubi has a surprisingly robust library of choices, though it suffers from lower-quality streams and library inconsistency.
One of the ignored elements of the current streaming wars is the ad-supported free streaming platform. Everyone thinks about Netflix vs. Hulu vs. HBO Max vs. etc. but just as important are services like Viacom’s Pluto TV, Amazon’s Freevee, the Roku Channel, and Tubi. These services have the backing of major media players. In Tubi’s case, its parent company is the Fox Corporation. Having sold nearly all of its entertainment production to Disney recently, Fox’s only non-news player in the streaming wars is Tubi, and they’ve done a good job of supporting the platform with a lot of licensed content. Most relevant to us is the surprisingly robust anime library.
The anime available here includes some surprising heavy hitters. Hugely popular titles like Cowboy Bebop and Naruto have seen some or all of their episodes available on Tubi. Tubi’s sweet spot seems to be these slightly older mainstream series. Even 1990s megahit Ranma ½ has been featured.
Tubi is free but ad-supported. On TV episodes, the ads will show before the episode and during appropriate ad breaks. On films, it can be a little more annoying, as there are no ad breaks but an ad will interrupt every 15 minutes or so anyway. If you ever stop your stream, you’ll have to watch an ad before you resume.
The streams are unfortunately not of the highest quality. Tubi tops out at 720p, which is HD but not the “Full HD” of 1080p. Audio is stereo. However, the price is free, so it’s hard to fault Tubi too much for saving some money on bandwidth.
While Tubi isn’t a replacement for Crunchyroll or even Netflix when it comes to anime, it’s free and widely available (in the US, Canada, and Australia). If you have a device that can stream content, chances are there’s a Tubi app for it, and chances are there’s some pretty great anime available to watch, even as the library of available titles fluctuates. Like RetroCrush’s free tier, Tubi is a supplemental source of excellent anime worth checking out.
Why it made the cut: Chances are if you have a smartdevice, you have one of these streaming services—and it has anime. While we wouldn’t recommend Hulu, HBO Max, or Amazon Prime as a primary source, we’d be remiss not to mention them.
The big boy players in the streaming space know the power of anime. Every service includes some nowadays. Hulu is the best of the bunch, with the strongest commitment to the form and includes simulcasts of some series including major title Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba. HBO Max has the exclusive license for Studio Ghibli in the US, the crown jewel studio of film anime. Amazon Prime Video has less to offer than the others but still manages to have some key titles, including interesting exclusives like Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter.
These services’ main selling point isn’t anime, but their other exclusive content. If you’re already watching What We Do in the Shadows on Hulu, Westworld on HBO Max, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime Video, there’s no reason not to enjoy the anime as well.
Hulu and HBO offer ad-supported cheaper tiers (at $6.99 and $9.99 respectively). Ad-free plans will set you back slightly more ($12.99 and $14.99). Hulu also has a bundle deal if you’re interested in being a member of Disney+ and ESPN+. Amazon Prime Video is available as one aspect of the larger Amazon Prime membership that offers a ton of different Amazon-related benefits for $139 a year or a la carte for $8.99 per month.
These streamers offer the highest quality options, with HBO Max, in particular, offering some really amazing sound (Dolby Atmos) and video options (4K HDR). Of course, because anime is produced at lower audio and video levels, you’re unlikely to find those options on anime content.
Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video offer a little anime as part of a larger, much more attractive package. Their anime offerings are not quite to the level of Netflix (thus they didn’t get their own individual award) but they’re all excellent across-the-board services with a lot of great content, some of which happens to be anime.
Going solely by the available library, it’s Crunchyroll without a doubt. While Crunchyroll isn’t perfect—its UI could use some work in particular—it has nearly everything you want and need as an anime fan, with a near-guarantee of having the newest TV anime available within hours of its airing in Japan.
All of the mainstream general-entertainment services make sure to offer dubbed content, but Netflix is the best at this. Nearly all of Netflix’s anime content has dubs available, and anything Netflix produced is dubbed from Day One. On other services, if a dubbed version has been produced, it’s likely available. For simulcast anime on Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, or Hulu, there is no dub, only a subtitled version initially. Dubs usually show up on the service a few weeks to a few months after the initial air date. However, for archived content, dubs are plentiful on Crunchyroll, often in multiple non-English languages.
Good news! As of March 2022, Funimation and Crunchyroll are no longer competitors but, rather, are the same service (which kept the name Crunchyroll). This is a result of the acquisition of Crunchyroll by Sony, which had already owned Funimation. Previously, the services competed for rights, especially for new anime simulcasts, but now all previous Funimation content is available on the Crunchyroll platform.
It’s a similar story with AnimeLab, an Australian and New Zealand anime streaming service. Sony acquired Madman Anime, the parent company of AnimeLab, through a series of mergers in 2019. First, AnimeLab was folded into Funimation in 2021, and then Funimation was folded into Crunchyroll in 2022.
These aggressive acquisitions in the English-language anime streaming market by Sony mean that Disney-owned Hulu is Crunchyroll’s final “competitor” for simulcast anime in the U.S. Except it’s not truly a competitor. Hulu has archives of some of anime’s biggest series (such as the 20-year juggernaut One Piece and the recent phenom Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba). However, it does not have any exclusives; everything available on Hulu is also available on Crunchyroll. Hulu is fine if you just dabble in the biggest anime trends, but it’s no substitute for the depth of availability on Crunchyroll.
All the services we mentioned are legal, with all the commercial rights to stream their libraries in the territories that they are available. Early in its existence, Crunchyroll was simply a hosting platform and hosted a large amount of illegal content, but those days are far behind it. While there are lots of illegal streaming sites out there–and if you happened to stumble upon one, watch out for the copious amounts of malware they will attempt to install on your computer–there’s pretty much not a single anime release that’s not legally available with some form of English these days.
With anime streaming services, the best anime-focused service is very clear and got even clearer with recent acquisition deals. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of other ways to watch anime online without having a service that is only anime. Especially supplemented by the free options from RetroCrush and Tubi, you may find that the general-entertainment streaming services you already have (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) are enough for you. However, if the newest shows available as soon as possible are your anime jam, Crunchyroll is a must. Calibrate your desires and enjoy your sojourn into the land of the rising fun.
Nicholas Ware was born and raised in Montgomery, Ala., but has since spent time in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, California, and Japan. At PopSci, he contributes reviews and round-ups focusing on tech, audio/video products, and video games.
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Whether you’re a neophyte hoping to catch senpai’s attention or a wizened otaku extraordinaire, we have the best ways to watch the finest in Japanese animation.