From action epics to cartoon comedies, here are 13 animated movies you should stream soon

The world of animation is as boundless as it is extraordinary, brimming with more classics than any one person could hope to see in a lifetime. The variety of animated films available across streaming, well … not as expansive. But impressive nonetheless! When you’re not too busy catching up on the latest streaming releases to hit VOD this weekend, why not saddle up for some actual Saturday morning cartoons?

We’ve combed through the most popular streaming services and cherry-picked 13 of our very favorite animated features. From Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress to The Road to El Dorado, and recent releases like Children of the Sea and New Gods: Nezha Reborn, there’s tons of exciting, bold, and medium-defining animation out there to choose from.


Akira

Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

Kaneda skids his motorcycle in Akira Image: Funimation

Let’s just cut to the chase here: Akira unambiguously slaps, full stop. Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic, adapted from his influential manga series of the same name, is a certified “must-see” film for any discerning anime fan. The story of biker gang ne’er-do-well Kaneda and his best-friend-turned-psychic powered nemesis Tetsuo has loomed unconquerably vast over the collective imagination of Japanese pop culture in the decades since the film’s release. Japan was even originally planning on organizing the 2020 Olympic games around Akira’s iconic visuals (until COVID-19 happened). With a live-action Hollywood adaptation perpetually ensnared in production hell and a new Akira anime series currently in development, now’s as perfect a time as any to either revisit or experience for the first time one of the most indelible touchstones of anime cinema ever produced. —Toussaint Egan

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Where to watch it: Stream on Disney Plus

Kida in a blue spirit form Image: Disney

Atlantis: The Lost Empire was supposed to change the face of Disney animation, but it ended up quietly disappearing. Following plucky academic Milo Thatch who dedicates his life to finding the lost city of Atlantis, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a riveting adventure with a fun and colorful cast. It’s action-packed with a lot of humor and heart that just operates by the rule of cool with its lumbering steampunk/dieselpunk aesthetic and gorgeously rendered ancient civilization. This hidden gem mesmerized a generation of kids who grew up watching it on home video and now it’s right here on Disney Plus. —Petrana Radulovic

The Black Cauldron

Where to watch it: Stream on Disney Plus

The story of The Black Cauldron is, to be perfectly frank, dark as fuck. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain, directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich’s 1985 fantasy drama was steeped in production woes and would go on to nearly sink the company when the film earned only $21 million against its reportedly $40 million-plus budget; at the time it was the most expensive animated film ever made. Tthe film’s aforementioned spooky-ass plot finds a young bard and princess’ questing to deny the Horned King, a terrifying Skeletor-meets-Mumm-Ra lookalike, from obtaining the Sauron-like powers of the Black Cauldron and transforming the land of Prydain into a ghoulish hell on earth. In short, not what audiences had come to expect of Disney animation up to that point. In any case, The Black Cauldron is a fascinating footnote in Disney’s illustrious history and merits a watch for the sheer novelty of its existence alone. —Toussaint Egan

The Castle of Cagliostro

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

Lupin and his partner Jigen speed down the highway in a yellow beetle car in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. Photo: Manga Video

Hayao Miyazaki’s feature length debut is a rollicking fun heist caper that takes Monkey Punch’s lascivious and cunning criminal mastermind and transforms him into a gentleman thief with a heart as big as his next score. As Polygon’s Tasha Robinson wrote in her review of Lupin III: The First last year:

It’s true that Cagliostro is the most famous Lupin story because of Miyazaki’s reputation, which eventually helped get the film international distribution, drawing in curious viewers who might otherwise have not heard of Lupin. But it’s just as true that Cagliostro helped earn Miyazaki the early reputation that drew investors to Ghibli. It isn’t just a stellar installment in the ongoing Lupin adventure, it’s a Lupin story so specific and carefully calculated that it helped define the character for decades to come.

Children of the Sea

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

a girl swims in the sea Image: GKIDS

Ayumu Watanabe’s Children of the Sea is a feast for the senses. Adapted from Daisuke Igarashi’s manga of the same name, Watanabe’s film follows Ruka, a young girl who befriends two boys who possess a strange and otherworldly power over the ocean. As Ruka grows to acknowledge and understand the same power within herself, Ruka is drawn into the mystery that will thrust her into the most beautiful and harrowing depths of the sea. From our review,

The movie portrays water in such a breathtaking way that it’s difficult to not get drawn in. Every gil, dorsal fin, and flipper feels so vividly drawn that it’s like being in the actual ocean. As the film progresses, the underwater scenes grow in complexity, highlighting the ocean’s natural beauty. But these scenes feel earned rather than overwhelming, as if the entire film has been building up to the unification of the ocean and the audience.

Grave of the Fireflies

Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

A grubby child stands outside under a torn paper umbrella in Grave of the Fireflies Image: Studio Ghibli

Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most devastating and remarkable films Studio Ghibli has ever produced. Based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical short story of the same name, the film follows Seita and Setsuko, two siblings who struggle to survive after their hometown of Kobe is firebombed during the last months of World War II. Prior to his death in 2018, Takahata rebuffed the popular and critical characterization of the film as an “anti-war” movie, instead describing it as a story of human perseverance and enduring love in the face of inevitable tragedy and despair. However you want to split the atoms of that hair, Grave of the Fireflies stands as an indisputable classic. Whether you consciously recognize it or not, I guarantee that if you come to this movie with an open heart and mind, you will not be the same person you were before for having watched this film. —TE

Memories

Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

The ghost of Ava, suspended in a holographic sphere, sings a climactic ballad in Magnetic Rose Photo: Madhouse

Produced by Katsuhiro Otomo following the release of 1988’s Akira and his work on 1991’s Roujin Z, Memories is an anime sci-fi anthology film made up of three stories based on Otomo’s own original manga stories published in his collection of the same name. The first and the most well-known of the three shorts is “Magnetic Rose,” which finds a group of spaceship salvagers responding to a distress signal in the depths of a cosmic graveyard, only to discover a uncanny terror beyond their wildest imagination. The anthology’s other two films, “Stink Bomb” and “Cannon Fodder,” the latter of which is directed by Otomo himself, are fine and entertaining on their own, but never quite measure up to the pedigree of the first. That said, Memories easily ranks as one of the best anime anthologies ever produced and absolutely merits a watch if you’ve never seen it before. —TE

Millennium Actress

Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

Chiyoko stares at a portrait of her younger self among the ruins of a devastated city Photo: Madhouse

Millennium Actress is the second of four features produced by late Japanese director Satoshi Kon, and arguably his greatest work. A love letter to cinema, the film is a magical realist odyssey experienced from the perspective of Chiyoko Fujiwara, an actress reflecting on career at the behest of a passionate documentarian working to create a tribute to her life. From references to 1954’s Godzilla to Kurosawa’s 1957 classic Throne of Blood, to achingly beautiful and surreal sequences of Chiyoko and company jumping back and forth through as she recollects over her past, Millennium Actress is one of the most beautiful and unique anime films ever produced. —TE

New Gods: Nezha Reborn

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

New Gods: Nezha Reborn: A hero in red armor stands in a factory with a flaming sword Image: Netflix

New Gods: Nezha Reborn is a steam/cyberpunk-ish take on the Ming dynasty novel Investiture of the Gods that follows the story of Li Yunxiang, a young motorbike delivery driver who discovers that he’s the reincarnation of Nezha, the child-god nemesis of the powerful Dragon Clan which reigns over the land with an iron fist. It falls to Li to master his newfound powers and face off against his pursuers in order to settle his ancestor’s 3,000 year old grudge. From our review:

New Gods: Nezha Reborn draws heavily on pan-Asian folklore and myth for its narrative spine. Nezha in particular has been a popular character for centuries, evolving from god to general to child to spirit in myths as disparate as the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, China’s 1979 animated hit Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, and the 2019 Chinese CGI feature Nez Ha, also currently streaming on Netflix. (That film takes a much more slapstick-driven approach to Nezha’s heavenly guardians in particular, and the visual approach starts off cartoony and child-centered compared to Nezha Reborn. But it eventually develops its own resonant emotional drama, and its own staggering action sequences. The two films make an enjoyable double feature, just to see two radically different interpretations of the same classic characters.)

The Road to El Dorado

Where to watch it: Stream on Peacock

tulio and miguel, mighty and powerful gods Image: DreamWorks Animation

This hilarious adventure buddy-comedy set in South America (not to be confused with the other hilarious adventure buddy-comedy set in South America that came out in 2000) absolutely tanked at the box office. But The Road to El Dorado has grown into a certifiable cult classic at this point, finding a second life via the internet, be it shitpost groups, reaction gifs, or the rich shipping culture. It’s a movie caught between the animated musicals of the Disney Renaissance (there are songs, but with one exception no one sings) and the more comedic leanings of the next wave of animated movies, that just oozes with fun. —PR

Shrek & Shrek 2

Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

Shrek holding hands with his wife Fiona in Shrek 2 Photo: DreamWorks Animation

There is no denying the sheer impact the Shrek series has had on 21st-century pop culture. The first movie was an oddball, a deeply cynical and totally obvious “fuck you” to the Disney empire that DreamWorks didn’t even really have faith in, and yet it singlehandedly shifted the tone in Wester animation into edgy comedies. It’s also deeply funny! The original feels like a very directed jab at Disney, but the second movie, which chooses the glamor and glitz of Hollywood as its target and thus doesn’t seem as … personal, really shines. Also, no one needs an excuse to watch the “I Need a Hero” scene. —PR

Wolfwalkers

Where to watch it: Stream on Apple TV

a girl riding a wolf Image: GKIDS

Cartoon Saloon has been making gorgeous, evocative movies since 2009’s The Secret of Kells. Wolfwalkers continues the studio’s rich, folklore-inspired tradition and tells the tale of a young apprentice hunter in Ireland who meets a free-spirited wolf girl in the woods. The animation is beautifully stylized like woodblocks with warm, autumn-tinged colors. And the story itself, of man versus nature, of confronting prejudice and the unknown, is powerful in and of itself. Only available on Apple TV Plus, Wolfwalkers feels like the best sort of fairytale. —PR