Digital or Physical Anime – Which Do You Prefer?


In recent years the entertainment industry has seen some drastic changes to how you acquire media. Not too many years ago, you had to have some sort of physical storage device in order to, for instance, play movies or television programs. VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray; neither of these are required anymore. Providing that you have a good bandwidth and a stable Internet connection, it is today possible to access a vast library of entertainment via your computer or TV within mere seconds. This is all thanks to streaming.

What I want to focus on in this text is anime in particular, although you could argue that what I will say here could be applied to movies too. After all, they are similar, if not almost the same, when it comes to digital distribution.

If you wish to watch anime, there are mainly two ways to do it. You could either buy a physical copy of the anime in question, or you could watch it streamed digitally online via websites such as Crunchyroll, Daisuki or Hulu (and more). There is a third option too, which is downloading, but that will not be discussed.

Out of these two methods, I personally prefer the digital alternative. When it comes down to it, streaming is simply so much more convenient than buying a physical copy.


For starters, I can easily access the currently airing anime from Japan. In addition, it also allows me to try out a whole variety of anime without worrying about losing any valuable money. I value these two examples as very important, which is why streaming is much more appealing to me. However, there are also other bonuses, like not having to be concerned about shelf space or losing my physical copy. Plus, the typesetting (e.g. signs) is generally a little easier on the eyes compared to physical anime releases.

However, that is not to say streaming is without its disadvantages. If your Internet connection is poor, you may have to watch anime on a low video quality. However, even if you have a great Internet connection there is still always a risk of the video having to stop due to buffering. Furthermore, what if disaster strikes and you end up without any Internet connection for several days or weeks? Then you will not be able to watch anime at all!

With physical anime releases, you do not have to worry about this issue. You buy the anime and then you can watch it as much as you want. Additionally, physical anime releases have superior sound and video quality compared to streaming which in itself is very attractive. There is also the ability to lend out your copy to friends and the feeling of ownership. Certain anime also come with bonuses, such as art books or video commentary! The latter has, surprisingly, yet to reach digital distribution as far as I know.


NIS America’s release of “Natsume’s Book of Friends”.

So, there are certainly advantages to both digital and physical anime. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer anime digitally thanks to its convenience. However, there are actually two more reasons I feel this way.

The first reason is that anime is not as popular in Europe, where I live, at least if we judge by the physical anime releases. My personal favorites, Aria the Animation and Toradora, are completely absent on this continent. Naturally, a lot of anime is being released in Europe, but in comparison to North America it is miniscule. If my favorites were released here, then I would most likely consider buying them. Even so, physical anime releases can be rather expensive.

The second reason I prefer anime digitally is the ability to watch episodes in a row without any unnecessary breaks. When an episode is over you can immediately start the next one without any hassle. You will still be immersed in the atmosphere and do not have to change discs in the video player. It may seem lazy, but it is merely the fact that I do not want to ruin an intense or emotional moment because of format limitations.

What about you? Which do you prefer: digital or physical anime?

36 thoughts on “Digital or Physical Anime – Which Do You Prefer?

  1. I like physical copies because I like owning shows that I love. Streaming from a computer as a primary method of video consumption is not ubiquitous enough to make it the same. Some people just have a TV with a Blu Ray player and it’s nice to be able to pop something in and watch it. Streaming also isn’t owning, it’s renting. A Crunchyroll sub doesn’t guarantee that Crunchyroll won’t go out of business tomorrow and then who knows where and when you will get access to your favorite titles again. I also don’t see a reason why you can’t do both. Plenty of people have a Netflix account, cable with VOD, and also purchase movies and shows that they love. It’s also a way to express loyalty toward the brand. A Crunchyroll account does eventually filter down to the individual titles, but what if you want to show extra support to a show you really liked? In that case merch is one good option but so is buying a physical copy.

    • Marow says:

      Agreed with your points, although there is one we (might) differ on:

      A Crunchyroll sub doesn’t guarantee that Crunchyroll won’t go out of business tomorrow and then who knows where and when you will get access to your favorite titles again

      Since you pay to subscribe, you don’t pay for individual titles (much more Netflix etc). As such, I would not have any issues with the service being deleted since I never specifically paid for titles I will never be able to access again.

      In comparison, I would go mad if Steam would cease with their video game platform since I have games I paid for.

      This discussion is rather important, I feel. What rights do you have when you purchase a digital copy? None.

  2. Well, when it comes to watching a show once (as if it happens often for me every season), I’ll go digital release (Hulu, Daisuki, CR). If it is a show that I like a lot and/or rewatch over and over, I’ll go for a physical copy, though I tend to go for the bargains where possible.

  3. 123 says:

    Nice article :-). It’s definitely digital for me. I find it much more convenient to download streaming anime, and it’s great to get it when it comes out in Japan so I can watch it at the same time as reading anibloggers’ reviews. Of course, there are perks to physical format as you said like quality, but my screen isn’t super high resolution or anything so it doesn’t matter to me that the digital videos are lower quality.

  4. Di-Dorval says:

    I only stream anime mostly unless there is some special sub I want that I have to torrent. I would love to buy physical copies of my favorites series though only to let them gather dust on my shelves and because I feel guilty given that I only watch them on free sites. But DVDs are just so expensives..

    My PC is actually connected to a tv screen and a pc screen at the same time so I just switch chair to watch anime. Gotta have that big sofa and the big screen for the best experience! Plus it make watching series with my sister/friends easier.

    • Marow says:

      Watching anime on the TV screen certainly feels different, but it has been a while since I last did it. Perhaps I should try setting something up… I get more emotionally invested when sitting at the computer, however. Weird, but true!

  5. John Samuel says:

    Streaming for initial viewing, Blu-ray/DVD for quality viewing.

  6. Hurvilo says:

    I pirate every series I watch, pretty much. The streaming services can’t – at least for me – compete with the “locked” quality of downloaded files. There is just too much uncertainty involved.

    But this last year I’ve also started buying anime on blu-ray. Madoka Magica, Code Geas R1 + R2, Panty & Stocking, Claymore and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are the titles I own thus far. Sure they are expensive as shit, but this way I can give money to the IP:s, creators and distributors that I ACTUALLY care about, and I think have done a good job.

    Plus, those boxes are really, really nice a lot of the time. ❤

    • Marow says:

      “Locked quality” is a good way to put it, honestly. Especially if you want to stitch photos together, which can be nigh impossible with streaming due to the quality varying at times.

  7. Foxy Lady Ayame says:

    Well, digital is practical considering you can actually buy the digital in your country. But certainly when the chance given I’ll buy physical copies of the most beloved ones to support both the industry and indulge in the extras. For example, Utena’s awesome box set was on discount by Right Stuf and since I gave 70 euros, 10 more for the shipping is nothing.

    • Marow says:

      You support the industry when going digital too, you know?

      And yes, physical releases can be rather awesome. I haven’t seen the Utena box, but I love the one for Natsume I showed in the post.

      • Foxy Lady Ayame says:

        What I meant was: I can’t access most of the anime crunchyroll or similar sites offer -and which I’m interested in- due to regional limitation. So, till then… I don’t have much of an option, do I?

  8. Dorry-kun says:

    I also live in Europe and buying pretty much any merchandise is difficult for me. Some distributors don’t ship to my country at all, thanks to our import taxes I pay about twice as much for anything I can order and last time I checked CR’s offering for this region was quite limited.
    If I had the choice though, I would prefer digital anime just like you although for slightly different reasons. 1/ I don’t really appreciate hard copies of movies in general – that all feels like a waste of space. (On the other hand I am willing to buy volumes upon volumes of manga, which takes up significantly more space.) 2/ It would be financially out of my reach.
    To humor you: the only anime released here are some of Miyazaki’s films and Bible Black. Additionally their quality cannot be properly described without the use of swear words…

    • Justin says:

      1) …Why Bible Black?!?!

      2) “Additionally their quality cannot be properly described without the use of swear words–”

      S-surely they can’t be that–*realizes you get less anime, then realizes the people working on the anime may not be into anime*…

      …Carry on.

    • Marow says:

      (On the other hand I am willing to buy volumes upon volumes of manga, which takes up significantly more space.)

      I suffer with you there. Got heaps of manga sitting on my shelves. Wonder if there will ever be a digital alternative outside of USA… VIZ Media doesn’t seem eager to open up their limitations.

      Bible Black

      This is a joke, right? Please?

  9. When I saw the title of this post, I thought it was about digital animation and hand-drawn, but ah what the hell.

    For me, pretty much the only reasons to own an anime in physical form are either because it’s that good a show that and you want to express your gratitude to the producers through buying it, or so you can keep it, admire the box, and occasionally feel up the cover.

    Digital copies are cleaner and far more resilient, since I can copy them over to a new hard drive whenever mine is about to die. DVDs and Blurays you can’t do that with, and if the drive gets scratched because you have a sucky player, you’re pretty much screwed.

    • Marow says:

      You are right that digital copies are more resilient. Besides, I think the PC format will remain more unchanged than a possibly new DVD/Bluray format (although streaming is most likely the future in that area).

      When I saw the title of this post, I thought it was about digital animation and hand-drawn, but ah what the hell.

      Wish I had the knowledge, but I don’t 😦

  10. Overlord-G says:

    When it comes to video games, I prefer physical copies due to my PS3 not having that much space. I do buy digital copies in case they aren’t available to purchase locally or they are digital exclusives.

    With anime on the other hand, I don’t care. Physical or digital, as long as I get to watch the show, it’s all good. This would be my answer but when it comes to “mainstream sweethearts”, I will ONLY watch them on TV or at a friend’s place. I refuse to pick up shows loved by millions, download them and watch them alone. SnK is the only exception because it fits my purposes.

    • Marow says:

      When you mention PS3, it makes me think of the next-gen consoles’ new architecture which renders backwards compability null (for now, at least) 😦

      when it comes to “mainstream sweethearts”, I will ONLY watch them on TV or at a friend’s place. I refuse to pick up shows loved by millions, download them and watch them alone.


  11. Silvachief says:

    I like to own the things I enjoy and be able to see a physical representation of them, so I have to go with physical all the way. When it comes to anime (or visual novels for that matter), however, I will only ever buy series with official English translations because I want to reward companies that see us as a worthwhile audience. I actually have a list of things that i’ve watched/played that I plan to buy in the future.

    • Marow says:

      May I ask how long that list is? Anime is quite expensive, I mean 😮

      • Silvachief says:

        I would say there are about 5 series on there at the moment. I haven’t watched a huge amount and out of the ones I have watched there aren’t many that are really good AND have official releases. The only series I actually own at the moment is Angel Beats because I got that as a birthday present.

        I believe in paying the studios that do a really good job. I only download anime because I have resolved to do so.

      • Silvachief says:

        I should also add to my original answer that subscription-based viewing wouldn’t work for me because I watch series pathetically slowly.

  12. chikorita157 says:

    While I never tried streaming for the fact that I was against it in the past, but of course the quality of the subs got better and there is a wide selection, so I probably try it out as an experiment for one month. Otherwise, I usually buy physical releases of DVDs for shows that are my favorite, but I would like if there was a wider digital release selection since not everything is available for digital download. But aside from that, I own quite a handful of DVDs.

    As for other types of media, I tend to prefer physical over digital for the fact that it’s not tied to an account and I do this especially for music and video games. For music, I prefer ripping my music to a lossless format as it has a higher sound quality opposed to digital copies, which are usually lossy quality. As for video games, I prefer physical since memory cards are expensive (especially for the Vita) and that its not tied to an account in case hackers decide to bring down Playstation Network, etc or they discontinue the online shop.

    • Marow says:

      You should try some streaming today, honestly. It has improved a lot. Besides, quite a few fansubs out there are basically stream rips with minor, if any, changes.

      And yes, I agree with your second paragraph. Digital is still, sadly, not a very safe format. Especially not for a long-term investment. That’s why I like subscription fees where you can grab whatever you want.

  13. Neomo says:

    Hard to say because I actually like both. While us Europeans are kind of pushed aside when it comes to anime shows, I don’t mind since I can always import the shows I really want (or buy them when I go out there).
    But one thing that does bother me a lot about physical releases is the possibility of Western distributors translating them wrong, or worse, chopping the show up just to please those who don’t understand Japan (eg. their school system, currency, home life, food, etc.). I just think it’s wrong, and I like anime to remain as it was when it was originally shown.

    • Marow says:

      Yes, the things you mentioned can be rather bothersome. I do remember reading some terrible issues with some European release of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime (perhaps it was a Swedish release?). It was even mistranslated!

  14. […] Of course, it’s a balancing act to make sure a blog is seen as a blog rather than just a shitty forum. And while Marow generally hits this balance with articles born from meaningful thought (, at other times it feels like the posts are just commentbait that could have consisted solely of the title ( […]

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