The Top 10 Science Fiction Anime

After reading this news blurb on SciFi about a proposed live action Ghost In The Shell movie (which I thought was called The Matrix), I thought I’d list my personal favorite top 10 science fiction themed anime shows/movies (which you should watch before watching a remake…). Some notes before hand. First, if you’re into anime, you’ll noticed that one, maybe two popular anime series aren’t on the list. I’ll explain afterwards why. Second, this list is heavily weighted toward TV series, and newer series at that. Those are the ones I typically get from Netflix. If there are movies I’ve missed, then please enlighten me. I haven’t been keeping up with the anime scene recently as I used to, I have too many other things to occupy my time. Third, if you don’t see your favorites here, remember this is my list. Feel free to comment on what you like. Flames will be ruthlessly ridiculed. And last, I’ve rated them pretty much on the “Would I watch them again if I saw them on TV?” criteria. Hence the ordering.

With that out of the way, on to the list!

  1. Neon Genesis Evangelion – One of the most popular anime series, ever. Its got aliens, mechs, angst, interesting characters and a complex,some would say incomprehensible, plot. The Earth is being attacked, at regular intervals, by unknown alien entities. The Evangelion units, basically biological mech units, are sent out to fight the aliens and, hopefully, defeat them. Each Eva is piloted by a teenager who has his or her own personal problems to deal with. This leads to the angst. But of course, there is also a lot of action. As the series progresses, the plot becomes deeper and more complex, almost requiring multiple viewings. I placed Evangelion 10th almost exclusively because of the plot, which became a chore to try and figure out, and the way the creators handled the ending of the series (two nonsequiter episodes and two movies). Evangelion is basically filled with a mishmash of psuedo-Christian trappings mixed with the usual ‘hubris of mankind’ morality play. Still, it belongs on any Top 10 list, especially considering how it affected the anime watching public.
  2. AkiraAkira is probably the one anime movie that introduced many American fans to anime in the late 1980’s. I know it did for me. In the annals of anime, it is considered a classic. From its story to its striking, for the time, visuals, Akira is a standout movie. I haven’t watched it recently, but I do remember re-watching it and thinking it didn’t hold up so well the second time around, with the story being complicated to follow, whether this is due to translation issues or the writing I have no idea, and the visuals being inferior to much of what is out now. Still, for the time, it was an influential movie and is one I still like.
  3. Full Metal Alchemist – OK, so FMA is pushing the bounds of SF, being basically fantasy, but there are quite a bit of SF ideas here, and its mix of fantasy and tech certainly fits. When I first started watching, there were a couple of early episodes that were decent, but it felt like the show was just wandering. Then, with about episode 20, things got kicked into high gear and the show rocked its way to its ending after 52 episodes. Surprisingly violent and gory, FMA is also filled with lots of humor, sibling rivalry and unexpected warmth, especially between brothers Alphonse and Edward. I wasn’t expecting an action/adventure story to focus on the characters so much, but I am happy they did. The human elements add a deeper meaning to the actions that occur, and really ratchet up the suspense during the final episodes. I can’t recommend this one enough.
  4. Serial Experiments Lain – (SF Signal review) – SEL is a surreal, complex show, most closely resembling Ghost In The Shell or The Matrix. SEL forgoes the action in those two movies and instead focuses on the philosophical underpinnings of humanity, reality and living in a connected world. The visual serve this idea well, being sufficiently strange and using the power of animation to show us things that would be hard to do in a live-action show. While SEL is a slow moving anime, it is only 13 episodes long. But they pack quite a lot of interesting stuff into 13 episodes. And being a sucker for tech-centered, philosophical shows, SEL is placed at #7.
  5. Scrapped Princess – (SF Signal review) – Yes, Scrapped Princess is SF, for reasons I can’t really go into without major spoilage. Suffice it it say, Scrapped Princess relies heavily on its characters and their interactions to carry the story, and they do it well. I was pleasantly surprised at how the story progressed, as I was expecting a basic fantasy-themed show. I got something more. The visuals are clean and interesting, and the music, especially the opening and closing themes, are great. I’d definitely watch this one again if it were to ever make to American TV.
  6. Castle In The SkyCastle is another masterpiece from the Japanese animation guru, Hayao Miyazaki, best known for his films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Castle In The Sky is basically the tale of the long lost heir to a powerful empire discovering her identity and destiny. In other hands, this would be a cliche-ridden film (think Titan A.E.), but Miyazaki brings his talents for story and character to the table and produces a wonderful and fun movie anyone can enjoy. Full of interesting ideas and characters, Castle moves from scene to scene, to its ultimate, bittersweet ending. The one thing that pulled me out was that Mark Hamill’s voicing of General Muska kept making me think he was the Joker, from the later Batman animated shows.
  7. Last Exile – (SF Signal review) Everything about this anime is top notch: characters, worldbuilding, visuals, and story. It has a very steampunkish feel, but there is a heavy SF element lurking underneath everything. Again, this was another anime I wasn’t sure about that sucked me in and made me want to watch all of the episodes right now. Definitely one anime fans shouldn’t miss.
  8. Cowboy Bebop – (SF Signal mini-review) Cowboy Bebop is an exceptional anime. Starting with its setting: a future, widely colonized Solar System. We see a colonized Mars and a ton of orbitals and space stations. But, at the same time, there is a tired, run-down feeling present. This is echoed in the main characters, Spike and Jet, down-on-their-luck bounty hunters just trying to get by till the next big mark. Bebop doesn’t have a big, overarching plot, but there is a small one the runs throughout. Instead, it relies on each episode to extend our understanding of the characters. The visuals are very nice and the music works extremely well with the story. The one sticking point for American audiences may be the ending, which is very Japanese. Otherwise, an outstanding show.
  9. Planetes – (SF Signal review) Planetes almost made it to #1. This fantastic anime show is a hard SF look at a near future Earth and is very character-centric. The creators have gone to great pains to show realism in their vision of the future, with no sound during space shots, rotating habitats for gravity, less gravity on the moon, and even to the chosen occupation of the main characters: earth orbit trashmen. Yes, they pick up trash in Earth orbit that may, or is, a danger to ships. And while an episode or two may be a bit slow, the characters are interesting to carry the show and it doesn’t end up where you’d expect. I’d say anyone interested in SF in general should watch this show.
  10. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Season 1 – A long title for a very impressive anime show that’s can go toe to toe with any anime out there. Not a remake of Ghost In The Shell, rather SAC is a re-imaging. It contains the same two major characters as the movie (Kusunagi and Bato), but in a more character focused format. Think of it as a police procedural drama, focusing on a special forces like group and tinged with the same themes of humanity, reality, AI and such as the movie. Everything here is a standout. The storyline, while a bit tough to follow, is very interesting, and seems to follow from the high level of integration between humanity and technology depicted. The characters also get more screen time and, as such, are much more interesting than in the movies. Plus there is more screen time for the minor characters. All this adds up to a cool SF anime every SF fan should watch.

Now, I know there are several anime fans out there screaming, “What?! Ghost In The Shell or Ghost In The Shell: Innocence isn’t here??”. Well, no. I remember GitS being somewhat of a letdown and Innocence, while visually amazing, wasn’t anything we haven’t seen story-wise before. That’s not to say they aren’t good, just not good enough to make my top 10. I’d probably put them at 11 and 12. As for the ordering here, I’d say that 5 – 10 are pretty close to each other, and I could have re-swizzled them and been happy. This is based on my recollection of how I felt after viewing them. So that means, that yes, in my opinion, 1 – 4 are that good, I’d say that anyone SF fan would enjoy watching them. The others would be more hit or miss depending on taste. Now I’m off to add the second season of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex to my Netflix queue!

46 thoughts on “The Top 10 Science Fiction Anime”

  1. If you like Evagelion, I highly recommend “Aim for the Top” (aka Gunbuster) and the sequel “Aim for the Top 2″ (aka Diebuster). They are both animated and directed by the same people behind Eva.

    FYI – Gunbuster is going to be re-released on DVD on February 20. Gunbuster 2 was just announced to be released in April.(H)

  2. I’ve got to preface this by admitting I’m not a big anime fan. The one show I really got into was FLCL. I loved the music, the writing, the dialogue, the weirdness and the creativity. I’m sure a lot of you will tell me I can find these things in other anime, but nothing has ever pulled me in like FLCL.

    My wife is an anime fanatic and I do see one or two shows in your list that she may not have seen, so thanks for the recommendations.

  3. PapayaSF: “no Project A-ko?”

    Nope. Saw, didn’t like it. See here for a bit more info.

    Bob, I’ll keep an eye out. Looks like Netflix doesn’t have either one listed.

    Matthew, FLCL almost made the list, but ultimately, I felt it was too short and just a bit to obtuse to break the top 10. That said, it sure is funny and a lot of fun to watch. And the music rocks, even if I don’t speak Japanese (and I don’t).

    Maromi: “How you can go without mentioning Paranoia Agent is beyond me.”

    Ooooo, that’s easy. I’ve never seen it! I can’t list what I’ve never seen. I’ll add it to my Netflix queue. (We should be getting some sort of love from Netflix, considering all the mentions here…). Actually, upon further review, I do have the first volume of PA in my queue. At #19. I’ll get to it in a couple of months.

    E_I: “What about Crest of the Stars and Banner of the Stars I/II? Stellvia??”

    I found Crest Of The Stars to be boring beyond belief. I just couldn’t watch it and I gave up after episode 12. As you can imagine, I’ve never seen Banner. As for Stellvia, I liked it, I thought it was decent enough, but not good enough to crack my top 10.

  4. Call it heresy, but I like RahXephon better than Evagelion.

    But I’m glad to see Scrapped Princess in there. It managed its genre transition surprisingly well.

    Personally I’d put Stellvia higher than you (actually on the list), but while I like A-Ko is doesn’t really fit per se.

    And I’d probably have Outlaw Star and Patlabor in there.

    And out of curiosity, if you found Crest boring (I really like Crest and Banner) what did you think of 2001?

  5. 10. NGE (this reminds me of the recent comment of Steven Brust about books and food, this one is IMHO celery)

    09. Akira (great movie, and despite some heavy changes compared to the manga it’s excellent in its own right)

    08. FMA (the first half of the series is brilliant, the second half of the series went nowhere and became worse with each episode)

    07. Lain (another celery series like NGE)

    06. Scrapped Princess (not bad, but I thought the ending was too rushed)

    05. Laputa (brilliant like most Ghibli movies)

    04. Last Exile (I liked the begin, but somehow never really connected to the characters, overall it was okay)

    03. Cowboy Bebop (I liked this one, but the ending was a letdown)

    02. Planetes (this one was brilliant)

    01. GitS SAC Season 1 (not bad, but at times too convoluted for its own good, excellent world building thought)

    My own list would look like this:

    10. Ghost in the Shell SAC S1

    09. Patlabor 2

    08. Laputa

    07. Nausicaä

    06. Patlabor OVA

    05. Armitage III OVA

    04. Ghost in the Shell 1

    03. Akira

    02. Planetes

    01. Wings of Honneamise

  6. The anime show that left an indelible and incalculable influence on me is Robotech the Macros Saga. I was surprised not to see it included.

  7. I feel sorry for you having to get all this through netflix when you could just spend a day downloading every season of every anime or tv show you want. But hey not like i care, its your loss.

  8. That’s funny… I’ve seen an awful lot of anime, and while your picks aren’t bad (they are all great shows) I don’t know if i would pick them as the best scifi anime. It’s more like you picked popular shows that have scifi elements to them, then the best of the scifi shows.

    I would really recommend some of the lesser known ones that never really caught on to the anime community, but are fantastic. Noein (first few eps are confusing but it’s worth it), Juuousei, and the sadly underrated Fantastic Children (if you don’t mind the art)

  9. No Naruto, no gundam wing, no Rama… jeeez!!! While I am not a major anime fan ( I still love it though) you should be grateful a real anime fan hasn’t seen this list yet, they’d rip it apart. Then again maybe they have and decided it’s not worth the effort.

  10. Ranma, Naruto and Gundam Wing are three of the most widely publicized anime series in existance. Naruto isn’t sci-fi and neither is Ranma, Gundam Wing is generally held to be bowhere near as good as other gundam series.

    I’m more dissapointed theres no Outlaw Star, since though it is very very popular, its also very very good. Along with that theres an argument to be made that Hellsing is sci-fi, Escaflowne, and a heap of others.

    This list is basically a top ten scifi anime that are overpublicised. GITS never grabbed me, Evangelion is painfully badly made further into the series as the budget tightened, Akira is excellent but makes no sense compared to the manga, FMA I’m not buying as a sci-fi show, Bebop is incredibly well done and deserves first place of the series you’ve listed here.

  11. Count me as another Scrapped Princess fan.  FYI, it’s currently on ComCast’s OnDemand selections.  And it surprised the heck out of me.  I found it tightly plotted with complex characters.  But it got an ‘ATTA, Boy’ on SF signal, just makes me go WOW.  And there are lots of folks making fun of me for liking it, too.

  12. well the list is good but i suggest you should consider Darker than black and Macross frontier

  13. Now and Then, Here & There. (My absolute favourite Scifi Anime. Have watched oodles of the stuff over the years and found this as a cheap boxset @ a local retailer. Bought on a whim :) An absolutely must watch! Beautiful animation. Tragic story. Action packed. Twists galore. Scifi masterpiece!)

    Macross 

    Cowboy Beebop (slick on every front!)

    Metropolis (Underrated Gem)

    Akira

    Cyber City Oedo 808

    Wicked City

    Cyborg 009

    Gantz

    I really the enjoyed the jouney of ‘Ergo Proxy‘ but felt it was seriously let down in the last couple of episodes.

     

    But all in all I like your list, has some good suggestions for series. I’ve collected Last Exile, but am yet to watch. May have to blow the dust off that. FMA & Planetes have heard alot of good reports about these series. Neon Genesis: I’ve only watched on free to air many years ago and never in sequential order, will have to change that very soon!

     

     

  14. Yea i really liked Ergo proxy,its crazy how many people dont know this anime!!I truly think its the most beautifull animated anime-series i’ve ever seen.In fact i thought the art-work was so good i couldnt watch allot of other animes after that because i simply saw how cheap other series were in comparison to E.P.I cant stand certain animes now that i used to like and have become very picky..xD

    Also the story is very compelling,because it doesnt explain everything right away it leaves you guessing and forces you to “think”,drawing you into this dark sci-fi world and actually making you care about the characters!

    The anime is all about distopian future,very dark science-fiction settings(later on)mental issues,the supression of emotions,the fear of technology,competition,bloody violence and most of all…great animation!The whole anime is vey serious and has almost no humor.It also doesnt have little coulorfull teenage-girls with gigantic eyes fighting in even more coulorfull giant robots(thank god for that),all characters are very realisticly drawn and the violence is also very realistic (one hit,one kill).As i said,if you like insanly-happy little pre-teens hopping around in “all the colours of the friggin rainbow”mecha-suits then dont wath this!                                                                                                   However,if you like serious,dark and gory sci-fi and you are sick of all the kiddy-animes then i strongly suggest you watch this.

                        Bye

     

  15. Sorry to necro this post but I just found that Netflix has a few cool Anime shows on its instant watch service – Ghost in the Shell, Lost Exile, and more.  I appreicate it because this is the way I’ll be able to watch them ;).

  16. outlaw star and ergo proxy are some of the best i’ve seen they sould be on list.

     

    posting for heck of it in case anyone sees this.

  17. Sorry to toss in my two cents, but I would also add for your consideration:

    Eve no Jikan (aka The Time Of Eve) – A thoughtful look at what Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics would REALLY mean to an android.

    Eatman – You can’t get more science-fictiony than a man who can eat anything and then excrete it, WHOLE AND REPAIRED, through his hand. Science fiction is supposed to make you think. Personally, I wondered how he goes to the bathroom. Even the music makes you want to “enjoy new life in the offworld colonies”.

    Galaxy Express 999 – Yeah, it’s old. Yeah, it’s hokey. Yeah, there’s a lot of recycled scenes. Still, you must admit it has a very Star Trek “exploring strange new worlds” feel to it.

    Trigun – You might say it’s just a western, but the ideas behind the world and the way it’s explored make it a worthwhile watch… even if it does have Evangelion-levels of angst.

    (My counter-argument to FMA being science fiction)

    Other titles to consider: Samurai 7, Vandread, Heroic Age, The Big O, Zegapain, Chobits, Dual: Parallel Trouble, Tenchi Muyo GXP, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Paprika, and Mezzo Danger Service.

  18. Can’t believe no-ones mentioned the awesome Megazone 23. Easily one of the best science fiction animes about, The wachowski (Whatever=P) brothers (Matrix) have blatantly copied a lot of the ideas from this film which was released a good 10 years before the Matrix. If you haven’t allready i sincerely suggest you scope it out, its a hidden gem. Soundtrack is awesome too ;). Also Legend of the 4 kings and 3×3 eyes are hidden gems, sorta sci-fi but not in the strictest sense ;).  Patlabor and wings of honnemeainiseeee were pretty boring when i watched them as a youth, might be worth a re-watch though.  – King Dan The Third.

  19.  

    My top 10 science fiction anime would be:

     

    1- Ergo Proxy

    2- GitS (both the series and the movies… taken alone, Innocence would be top 1 probably)

    3- Blame! (7 OVAs)

    4- Serial Experiments Lain.    

    5- Gantz

    6- The Animatrix short movies (I thought they were too short to compeer each by itself, and since they have more or less the same theme, i.e. explaining the origin of the matrix and some of its facets, I regrouped them)

    7- Beyond the clouds

    8- Paprika

    9- Eureka Seven

    10- Cowboy Bebop

    11- Blue Water

    12- Toki o kakeru shoujo

    13- Heroic Age

    14- Nausicaä

    15- Trinity Blood

  20. Should have

    • Kaiba
    • Haibane
    • FLCL
    • LOGH

    TV series wise. Movies-wise there are too many missing to mention.

  21. Totaqlly desagree with the list.

    Akira should be number one, along with Memories from Katsuhiro Otomo.

     Nausicaä is also another great movie and a personal favorite: Blue Submarine No. 6

  22. Love your list dude … i agree with absolutely everything .. kuddos on not adding the plague of the anime world : naruto >.>. Some retards dont seem to understand that this is a Sci fi list

  23. I don’t understand why the original Gundam or Zeta Gundam never really get more credit. They really set the standard for most of the sci-fi anime out there today. Sure they’re outdated but they establish a functioning universe that you rarely see in the flash of modern anime series. Also the material covered and politics involved in the story have a real depth to sink in to. If you have not seen them before at least check out the movies. Remember to keep in mind that these series were pioneers of anime, one of the first series to really take the genre seriously, and whenever you see something and think “oh that’s so cliché!” remember that you are watching the reason it is “cliché”, because Gundam did it first.

  24. I’ll update this list of sci-fi anime and put “Steins; Gate” in the list. It’s a fairly new anime which was recently released this 2011. It’s a straight forward anime which introduces a little complexity that uses Time Travel as the core concept of the plot.

  25. Woah Woah Woah! No Mobile Suit Gundam Wing?

    “With high expectations, human beings leave earth to begin a new life in space colonies… however
    the united earth sphere alliance gains great military power and soon seizes control of one colony
    after another in the name of justice and peace…. The year is after colony 195 operation meteor, In a
    move to counter the alliances teireny, rebel citizens from certain colonies
    scheme to bring new arsenals to the earth, disguising them as shooting stars… However…
    The alliance headquarters caught on to this operation”

    BEST INTO EVER!!!!

  26. Very good list, thanks for sharing. Ghost in the shiel SAC and GITS are by far my favorites.
    Hard to believe nobody has said it yet, but Martian Successor Nadesico is also on my top ten list. It’s a great story of a crew on a ship, although comical. What makes it good for adults is the movie that followed, flawlessly wraps up the story with a darker twist.

    1. Wish I could edit my comment, also “Voice from a distant Star” is worth a watch for any Sci Fi fan!

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