The rise of the Internet has come hand-in-hand with anime's explosive growth in popularity and reach. A genre that just a couple decades ago was only available stateside through informal networks trading VHS tapes—the original fan-subbers—has gone mainstream, winning Oscars, breaking box office records, and fostering a rabid online fanbase.
And that fan base isn't just here for the tsundere school girls in knee high socks and too-short skirts, the themes and devices of many modern anime series closely mirror cutting-edge technology from real life. Dennuo Coil was doing the Google Glass thing before Google Glass was even a thing. The $1.35 million Kuratas robot—an obvious nod to both the Gundam and Evangelion series. And you only need to look as far as Ghost in the Shell to glimpse what life nearing the singularity will be like.
Hulu and Netflix: For high quality and current anime, you don't have to look any farther than your friendly neighborhood streaming service. Both Hulu+ and Netflix have large catalogs of the most popular licensed anime. I prefer Hulu personally, its selection is both larger and fresher (premiering the day after the original air date) than Netflix's and the anime subbed rather than dubbed. Each service is available in both conventional and mobile formats, and retail for around $8 a month.
If you're just getting started and have Hulu, here are some of the more popular series currently available:
- Sword Art Online
- A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun
- Naruto and Naruto Shipuuden
- Tenchi Muyo
- Sword of the Stranger (technically, a movie)
- Guilty Crown
Crunchyroll: For the hardcore anime fan, there's the Crunchyroll streaming service (think Hulu but with more anime and nothing of any other genre aside from K and J dramas). Crunchyroll actually started off as a fansub group, and a very popular one at that, but eventually grew into a legitimate, licensed service with a catalog of more than 600 shows available. The free edition of the app allows you to watch over a WiFi connection and access the latest episodes a week after they air. The premium version, which costs $7 a month, allows for watching over WiFi and mobile networks, access to new episodes an hour after they air, no ads, and access to 1080P video on the Crunchyroll website (otherwise it's 720). The app is available on both iOS and Android.
Buying from the Big Three: If you know you're going to be stuck somewhere for multiple hours without a WiFi connection, say an airplane, or doesn't allow streaming, say an airplane, you can instead download your favorite shows from iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. There are limitations, of course: Apple and Google feature a rather limited selection outside of feature-length movies and Amazon only downloads to a laptop or iPad. But even so, it's still a better option than spending $9 on the inflight flick. And if you're looking for a hard-to-find DVD or Blu-ray series, you're likely to find it at AnimeNation.
Anime News Network: From industry news and con coverage to op-eds and and reviews, the Anime News Network (ANN) covers everything anime. The site's encyclopedia section is helpful for figuring out the basic thematic structures of anime—like what moe actually means and why the Gundam series needs so damn many spinoffs.
AnimeVice: AnimeVice (AV) is another solid news outlet and isn't nearly as overwhelming as ANN, with a stronger emphasis on reviews, manga, and cosplay than industry news. The site also fosters a sizable community of user pages and reader reviews.
Anime Nano!: Anime Nano! is a fantastic aggregator for anime, manga, and figurine news and reviews. The UI may be a bit sparse, but the volume of content is staggering. Plus, iOS users can download the Anime Nano! app for iPhone and iPad.
Anime Music Radio: If you find yourself humming along to credits or wake up with the themesong from Hataraku Maou-sama stuck in your head, give Anime Music Radio a listen. This app for both iTunes and Google Play aggregates more than 70 anime related internet radio stations to deliver a constant flow of anime OST, J-Rock, J-pop, and anime news.
Anime Otaku: So you think you know your anime by this point? The Anime Otaku app on Google Play will take you to task identifying more than 1500 current and classic characters. If you do well, you can also submit your score to the global leaderboard.