The Quick and Easy Guide to Watching Evangelion

The Quick and Easy Guide to Watching Evangelion
Eva Unit 01 is ready for battle. (Screenshot: Studio Khara)

Today Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time officially releases outside of Japan, bringing an end to a wait nearly a decade in the making, and a journey to re-imagine one of the most beloved mecha anime of all time that stretched for even longer beyond that — for now at least. It also means that there’s never been a better time to dive into the series if you’re a newcomer, so here’s our guide to making sense of those confounding titles and where to start.

How Much Evangelion Is There?

This is a complicated question, as Evangelion is perhaps on par with something as culturally dominant as Star Wars when it comes to tie-in media, manga, side stories, and, of course, all kinds of absurdist merchandise. But in terms of Evangelion to watch, the answer is pretty simple, and can be split into two distinct groups. First off there’s the original TV series and its two movie spinoffs, which released through 1995 to 1997:

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion, the 26-episode animated series.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth, a two-part animated “film” that serves as both an updated recap of the first 24 episodes of the TV show and a preview of the final chapter of the Evangelion movie duology…
  • … The End of Evangelion, a movie that offers an expanded perspective — or, depending on how you interpret it, a completely different alternate rendition — of the events that take place in Neon Genesis Evangelion’s final two episodes.

Then, releasing all the way from 2007 to 2021, there is the project known as Rebuild of Evangelion, a four-movie re-imagining of the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion at large:

  • Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone
  • Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
  • Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo
  • Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time
The opening moments introducing Shinji Ikari to audiences, in both the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the opening of Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. (Screenshot: Studio Khara) The opening moments introducing Shinji Ikari to audiences, in both the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the opening of Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. (Screenshot: Studio Khara)

Should I Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion or Rebuild of Evangelion?

Ideally, the answer would be both — both versions of Neon Genesis Evangelion are in conversation with each other, not necessarily just through their lore and their character work but in what they have to say about the series’ themes of human connection, faith, and identity. But if you’re just intrigued by the hype and want to get a flavour for why Evangelion has become such an iconic, constantly discussed, and endlessly analysed franchise, you’re perfectly fine just picking either the TV show and its movie follow ups or the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. If you like it, check out the other! If you don’t, hey, you tried — and that’s perhaps the most important thing you can do when it comes to Evangelion.

If you do watch the TV series though, a word of advice: you can just skip Death & Rebirth entirely. You don’t need a recap of the series if you’re watching all 26 episodes yourself, and you can just go straight into The End of Evangelion.

Screenshot: Studio Khara Screenshot: Studio Khara

Do I Have to Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion to Understand the Movies?

Once again, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Rebuild of Evangelion is, as the name of the series implies, an overhauled re-imagining of the events and basic premise of Neon Genesis Evangelion: a post-apocalyptic society where the final remnants of humanity battle for survival against an onslaught of attacks from almighty, supernatural techno-organic entities known as Angels.

It’s designed to be viewed as an onboarding story to Evangelion, rather than a direct continuation of the events of the TV show, and it’s not particularly a spoiler to say that the movie series very quickly veers off from simply directly adapting the original show. The parts of it that are mostly 1:1 with the TV show are primarily in the first film, You Are (Not) Alone, meaning you’re essentially introduced to characters, plot points, and scenarios in the same manner as people who watched the TV series were, albeit in a more condensed format.

That said, part of the joy of the Rebuild movies is watching them with the knowledge of what came before them. It’s not an incomplete experience to see the movies first and try out the show afterwards if you’re still hungry for more Evangelion, especially with how divergent the two eventually become. But it is satisfying to be able to pick up what’s changed, how, and why, if you have a familiarity with the original series that can enhance the Rebuild series.

Image: Studio Khara Image: Studio Khara

Where Can I Watch the Evangelion TV show and Movies?

After years and years of languishing on out-of-print media, in the past couple of years it’s become easier than ever to stream both the Evangelion TV series and the Rebuild movies. Let’s start with the TV branch: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Death & Rebirth — under the updated, alternate name Evangelion: Death (True)2 — and The End of Evangelion were all added to Netflix in 2019, the first time the series was legally available for streaming internationally.

Amazon Prime Video also recently added the first three Rebuild of Evangelion movies to the Prime Video catalogue, the first time they’ve been made available to stream outside of Japan. Quick heads up: you’ll see them listed on the service as 1.11, 2.22, and 3.33 respectively. Don’t be alarmed! These are just the names they were released under after their theatrical debut — they have animation tweaks and some bonus scenes, so don’t worry that you’re watching the “wrong” version!

If you are interested in physical copies, GKids is planning an “Ultimate Edition” Blu-ray collection of the original TV series and its films this year, with more details coming soon. Meanwhile the first three Rebuild movies — You Are (Not) Alone, You Can (Not) Advance, and You Can (Not) Redo — are available on DVD and Blu-ray. 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time is currently available for streaming only outside of Japan.