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Sci-Fi Anime TV Shows

More than eye candy, the best sci-fi anime TV shows inspire insane imagery and compelling storylines.

By Isaac ShapiroPublished 9 years ago 15 min read
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Animation is a fantastic medium to portray what are otherwise unrealistic action sequences and over the top effects. Science fiction anime is only limited by an artist's imagination. World War II Japan has become the poster child for turning science fiction into science reality. Logically, Japan has become the most important producer of top quality sci-fi anime. Often, sci-fi anime serves as a backdrop for opening a discussion on difficult topics, such as the nature of consciousness, "war," or "artificial intelligence." Beautifully crafted worlds explore daunting philosophical issues. Each selection on the list is a prime example of the best sci-fi anime TV shows and is sure to stir deliberation among fan pundits.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a given when compiling a list of the top sci-fi anime TV shows. No other anime encapsulates William Gibson's "cyberpunk" landscape. Stand Alone Complex is based on the manga by Masamune Shirow and loosely connected with the film Ghost in the Shell, which is one of the best sci-fi anime films. High quality animation combined with the alluring musical score by Yoko Kanno make GITS a must see for any fan of sci-fi.

The series takes place in the year 2030, where many people have become cyborgs with prosthetic bodies. Primarily set in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama, Niihama Prefecture, the series follows the members of Public Security Section 9, a special-operations task-force made up of former military officers and police detectives. While the group investigates various crimes, both seasons feature ongoing investigations into two incidents that embroil the group in corruption within other branches of the Japanese government.

Space Dandy marks director Shinichirô Watanabe’s big return to science fiction fifteen years after his work on the seminal Cowboy Bebop, which is one of the best anime to watch on Hulu. It is not a hard science fiction anime. Instead, Space Dandy exasperates juvenile humor while mocking the idea of a continuous storyline. It is a homage to sci-fi of the past, like Flash Gordon, if the main character was obsessed with butts and breasts. The show is a series of ludicrous space adventures depicted by a gorgeous visual feast. Watanabe hired a new artist for alien planets, giving each world its own exotic and unique atmosphere. Space Dandy is not just a surreal comedy. Drama and philosophical investigation do ride right under the guise of ridiculous premises, making Space Dandy one of the best sci-fi anime TV shows.

The space opera series follows the misadventures of Dandy, an alien hunter who is "a dandy guy in space", in search of undiscovered or rare aliens with his robot assistant QT and a cat-like alien named Meow. Though he and his crew act with the best intentions, despite being normally dimwitted and next to useless, Dandy is unaware that he is being pursued by Dr. Gel of the Gogol Empire. Throughout the series, with the final episode explaining the reason of its loose continuity, episodes take place in an alternative universe where the main protagonists and antagonists end up dying, turn into zombies, or become trapped in different periods of time or dimension. There are also Easter eggs in the form of references to older science fiction, music, and anime.

Planetes takes a more serious approach to science fiction, encompassing what is possible for the future as Ray Bradbury said sci-fi should. Collecting garbage in space does not sound like a compelling premise, but Planetes paints a vivid world focused on the drama between characters as they chase after their dreams. Character interactions communicate larger themes about humanity, layered with comedic undertones to prevent philosophical points from overwhelming the show. A large chunk of the show explores political, moral, and economic questions. Some questions are left unanswered, and are mainly used to drive the characters' development forward. Unlike many of the best sci-fi anime TV shows, Planetes stays as close to realism as possible while still being entertaining. The realistic way that future technology is treated makes for more than a few tense, engaging, and exciting scenes. Space is a hostile place and even with the technology of 2075, a simple mistake can cost an astronaut his or her life.

The story of Planetes follows the crew of the DS-12 "Toy Box" of the Space Debris Section, a unit of Technora Corporation. Debris Section's purpose is to prevent the damage or destruction of satellites, space stations, and spacecraft from collision with debris in the Earth's and the Moon's orbits. They use a number of methods to dispose of the debris (mainly by burning it via atmospheric reentry or through salvage), accomplished through the use of EVA suits. Some episodes revolve around debris collection, but more often the concept of collecting "trash" in space is merely a storytelling method for building characters.

Gantz is not for the light-hearted, squeamish, or easily offended. The anime operates at the edge of what anime can do, including extreme violence, sexual content, and very mature themes. To watch Gantz is to be reminded that life can be dark and ugly, and sometimes downright cruel. While Gantz shoves extreme themes down viewers throats, it does so to gorgeous animation and cel-style CG that actually looks good.

Gantz tells the story of Kei Kurono and his friend Masaru Kato who die in a train accident and become part of a semi-posthumous "game" in which they and several other recently deceased people are forced to hunt down and kill aliens armed with a handful of futuristic items, equipment, and weaponry. After a mission has been completed, and points have been tallied up, the participants are then allowed to leave and live their lives as they see fit until Gantz summons them back again for their next mission.

The Evangelion series is set in a futuristic Tokyo, fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm. The main story centers around Shinji, a teenage boy who is recruited by the shadowy organization NERV to pilot a giant bio-machine called Evangelion. His mission is to combat monstrous beings known as Angels. The movies follow the experiences and emotions of the Evangelion pilots, and members of NERV, as they fight the Angels to prevent another apocalypse.

The creator of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno, had an excited interested in psychoanalysis and philosophical dilemmas. The connection between the EVAs and their pilots, as well as the ultimate goal of the Human Instrumentality Project, bear a strong resemblance to Freud's theories on internal conflict and interpersonal communication. The hedgehog's dilemma is a concept described by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and a regular theme throughout the films. Besides the references to Freudian psychoanalysis, there are also some minor references to the theories behind Gestalt therapy, a form of psychotherapy influenced by both psychoanalytic ideas as well as philosophical notions of a holistic self, personal responsibilities, and consciousness.

Gundam is not a single anime, but a franchise which has existed since April 7, 1979 with the launch of Mobile Suit Gundam. It was revolutionary for being the first anime featuring giant robots in a militaristic war setting. Gundam Wing is the most successful member of the Gundam series to date, and therefore one of the best sci-fi anime TV shows. It tells the story of five fourteen-year-old pilots sent to Earth from their respective colonies on a mission to free their homes from imperialistic Earth's control. Each of them has a unique and powerful Gundam at their disposal to combat the forces of Earth; but how far will they go to gain their freedom?

Gundam Wing is divorced from the original Gundam series to the dismay of many fans but the self-contained story manages to live up to its own hype. It is credited with popularizing the Gundam franchise among Western audiences. The series focuses primarily on the five Gundam pilots: Heero Yuy (an alias, not to be confused with the martyred pacifist), Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton, Quatre Raberba Winner, and Chang Wufei. Their mission is to use their Gundams to attack OZ directly, in order to rid the Alliance of its weapons and free the colonies from its oppressive rule. The series also focuses on Relena Peacecraft, heir to the pacifist Sanc Kingdom, who starts off as a seemingly ordinary girl until she gets caught up in the conflict between OZ and the Gundams, becoming an important political ally to the Gundam pilots (particularly Heero) in the process.

Code Geass takes the giant robot trope in anime and combines it with a strong lead character who is both manipulative and tactful. Lelouch Lamperouge has the mind of a cunning genius and the determination to overthrow a nation. The mech action sequences are beautifully sequenced and fast-paced, often fierce and brutal when compared to other anime in the same genre. As an anime drenched in war, it does not shy away from the effects war has on civilians either. Senseless death is abundant and shows the horrors of war. As a whole, the sci-fi anime TV show provides an epic story with, perhaps, one of the best endings in any anime television series so far.

The day is August 10th, 2010. The Holy Empire of Britannia put its plan on world conquest into motion and Japan is one of its many victims. The invasion of Japan was relatively easy because of Britannia's use of mobile humanoid armor vehicles called 'Knightmare Frames.' The dignity, rights, and pride of the Japanese people are extinguished and the nation is given a new name, Area 11. Lelouch Lamperouge is a cunning prince who was exiled from the Britannian Royal Family who wishes to bring down the Britannian Empire. Through a chance meeting with a mysterious woman named C.C. Lelouch—under the guise of the masked terrorist Zero—gains the power of the Geass, which grants him the ability to control anyone. It may seem that his dream of the destruction of Britannia is not far from reality.

Iria: Zeiram the Animation presents eye-popping animation and an engaging story driven by a strong heroine. Unique futuristic architecture paints an artistic display. The main character, Iria, has an arsenal of gadgets that would make comic book superheroes jealous. The animation expands upon the story presented in the Japanese live action film Zeiram.

The story begins with Iria as an apprentice to her older brother, Glen, a veteran bounty hunter, and his partner Bob, who work for Ghomvak Security along with a somewhat brutish hunter named Fujikuro. During a rescue mission to a hijacked spaceship called the Karma, they discover that the hijacker is actually a seemingly indestructible alien called Zeiram. The creature broke free from the cargo hold during transit and massacred the crew. Bob is critically wounded by Zeiram while evacuating the survivors, and Gren is lost while attempting to kill Zeiram by destroying the Karma. Returning to Myce, Iria finds herself targeted by assassins working for Tedan Tippedai, the corporation that owned the Karma, and discovers a cover-up plot to control Zeiram in order to use it as a weapon.

Steins;Gate is a series which beautifully orchestrates time travel without being cliché. It builds up characters, slowly, but it the characterization drives the story forward and pays off with a profound ending. Characters seem to be shrouded in childish nonsense, with annoying tendencies that may cause some viewers to abandon Steins;Gate before allowing the story to flesh out. Characters that start out immature grow into "adults" struggling with conflict that threatens their way of life. Time travel is at the center of conflict, threatening to drive characters apart. The slow build up of characterization ultimately pays off with one of the most satisfying climaxes in any anime.

The anime takes place in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. On July 28, 2010, Rintarō Okabe and his friend Mayuri Shiina head towards the Radio Kaikan building for a conference, where Rintarō finds a girl named Kurisu Makise laying in a pool of blood. As Rintarō sends a text message about the incident to his friend, Itaru "Daru" Hashida, he experiences a strange phenomenon and the people around him disappear, with no-one else noticing anything has changed. After running into Kurisu, who is strangely alive and well, and discovering the message he had sent to Itaru arrived a week before he sent it, Rintarō deduces that the 'Mobile Microwave' he and his friends had been developing is, in fact, a time machine capable of sending text messages to the past.

Cowboy Bebop is the intersection of Hollywood western films and space opera that makes Clint Eastwood wish he could be cool. Because of this, it is also ranked among the best old school anime. Bounty hunters set off for the stars set to the funky beats of Yoko Kanno. Cool, calm, and composed is the overarching attributes of nearly every character on the show. A self-contained episodic structure means viewers can pick the show up at any episode without being lost. What is great about Bebop is that it takes place after three epic stories. In Cowboy Bebop each of the three main characters, Spike, Faye, and Jet, are in the midst of recovering from the pinnacle climax of their lives and the audience only catches glimpses of their stories in brief flashbacks.

In 2022, a catastrophic accident occurred in the Earth's orbit during the development of the Gates, damaging both the planet and the Moon. The Earth's surfaces became heavily irradiated, forcing most of mankind to evacuate via the Gates and leave for the planets and moons of the Solar System. Old governments and ethnic groups were forgotten, and were soon replaced by new allegiances and affiliations as communities formed. The difficult times eventually brought rapid developments and the economy recovered. However, the widening gap between the rich and poor created a boom in criminal activity, leading to the rise of numerous criminal syndicates. As time passed, the planets and satellites became independent states, and a new generation grew up with no memories of the Earth. Gate technology became a trusted part of everyday life and a necessary tool for the people. Interplanetary crime fell under the jurisdiction of the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP), an organisation which also introduced a bounty reward scheme. Once registered, bounty hunters were licensed to bring criminals to justice in exchange for high rewards. This created a new class of bounty hunters known as "cowboys."

Psycho-pass is an intriguing adventure into a dystopian, cyberpunk crime fiction.

Psycho-pass takes place in 2113. The government utilizes brain scans on the population to determine each citizen’s propensity towards crime. The results of these exams culminate into a “Psycho-pass”. When the scans determine someone is likely to commit a crime, the individual is either apprehended or annihilated.

Psycho-pass explores the moral implications of growing technology. Akin to the Philip K. Dick book to film adaptationThe Minority Report, Psycho-pass questions the price of peace. Can you arrest, even kill, someone who has yet to commit a crime?

Gurren Lagann begins on an Earth set in the future. In this timeline, mankind is forced to live in subterranean villages. The timid boy Simon teams up with his older brother figure Kamina. Together, they make their way to the surface world and begin to battle the circumstances of mankind’s captivity.

Met with widespread critical acclaim, Gurren Lagann is both a parody and celebration of its Shonen ancestors. The anime emphasizes the idea of self-determination and teamwork. Gurren Lagann asks the viewer to contemplate their own circumstances and willpower and has fun doing so. The sci-fi anime TV show also explores the responsibility that comes with power.

Astro Boy, known as Mighty Atom by Japanese fans, was the first popular show that boasted the animation style later referred to as anime. The sci-fi anime TV show is set in a world where robots and humans live together. Astro Boy, the character sharing the same name as the series title, is an android created by Dr. Tenma. Tenma creates Astro Boy to replace his son Tobio, who died in a car accident. Dr. Tenma eventually sells Astro Boy to a circus, realizing he cannot fill the gap Tobio left behind. Professor Ochanomizu saves Astro Boy from the circus and becomes his caretaker. Astro Boy begins using his abilities to fight sinister forces.

Astro Boy is worth watching for historical value alone. In many ways, the roots of anime trace back to this pivotal science fiction manga and program.

Serial Experiments Lain is a sci-fi cyberpunk anime. The anime itself is of an experimental form. It follows Lain Iwakura, a young girl living in Japan. Lain is introverted and socially awkward. Her world changes when she receives an email from a student who supposedly committed suicide. The student, Chisa Yomoda, claims to be alive in the “Wired”, a series of networks not unlike the internet. The rest of Lain’s story delves into an adventure which questions the very fabric of human identity.

Trigun is a western sci-fi comedy-drama. The sci-fi anime TV show follows “Vash the Stampede," an expert Marksman. Vash comes off as a kindhearted individual, but his demeanor quickly changes to serious when in conflict. The government considers Vash so destructive he is no longer legally considered human. He is dubbed “The Humanoid Typhoon," and a large bounty has been placed on his head. Vash must fight against these bounty hunters, and the audience learns more about his past as the anime unfolds.

Trigun is equal parts entertaining and enlightening. Although the anime boasts many of the over-the-top elements which the Shonen demographic is known for, Trigun also asks the audience philosophical questions about peace and violence.

Sword Art Online is an action-adventure sci-fi anime TV show. The show is set in the not-too-distant future where MMORPGS come in the form of virtual reality. One such game, Sword Art Online, promises the user a fully entrenched virtual reality experience. However, when 10,000 users test the game, they soon discover they can’t log out. If they want to be free, they must beat the game’s final boss. The kicker? In-game deaths result in real-world deaths.

While met with mixed reviews, Sword Art Online is worth exploring for anyone interested in growing trends in virtual reality and gaming. The show is heightened by the pending reality of its sci-fi elements.

Ergo Proxy is a sci-fi anime produced by Manglobe and directed by Shuko Murase. The story takes place in the domed city of Romdaeu. The dome protects its citizens from the effects of a widespread environmental disaster. In Romdaeu, humans and androids live together in relative harmony. A series of murders committed by the androids begins to compromise this arrangement. Detective Re-L is assigned the investigation, and the larger plot begins to unravel.

Fans of science fiction mysteries will enjoy solving the mystery beside Re-L. The anime also blends 2D and 3D animation, along with digital special effects.

Blue Gender is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi horror anime. The 26-episode show follows Yuji Kaido. Yuji is diagnosed with a serious disease and is subsequently placed in a cryogenic state until a cure is developed. He awakes in 2031, to a war between super soldiers and insect-like creatures known as the “Blue”.

Fans that enjoy the blending of sci-fi and horror will enjoy the twists and turns of this rollercoaster anime. With a strong premise which hooks the audience, Blue Gender packs both shock value and genuine character development.

Tiger & Bunny is a 2011 superhero, sci-fi comedy anime. The story takes place in Stern Bild City, which is heavily influenced by New York City. The show follows established hero Kotetsu Kaburagi, known as Wild Tiger, as he takes on a partner in Barnaby Brooks Jr. The duo hold conflicting opinions on how a hero should act, all while trying to take down the dangerous “Lunatic” and solve the murder of Barnaby’s parents.

At only being 25 episodes long, Tiger & Bunny packs a punch. The anime blends Japanese and western-style animation with its focus on superheroes. With the surge of the superhero genre in modern television and film, Tiger & Bunny is worth exploring.

Space Battleship Yamato is alternatively known as Cosmoship Yamato and Space Cruiser Yamato. There is also an edited version of the show entitled Stay Blazers which aired in Australia and North America. The show is set in 2199. A race of aliens known as the “Gamilas” has devastated the Earth’s surface with radioactive meteorites, forcing the inhabitants to live underground. The human race isn’t expected to last more than a year. This grim forecast changes when a capsule on Mars offers the schematics for faster-than-light travel and a cure for earth’s radiation.

The anime should catch the interest of both anime fans and traditional sci-fi junkies. If wars with aliens, tachyon research, and space cruisers catch your attention, then Space Battleship Yamato is worth exploring.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was inspired by the works of Jules Verne, particularly the exploits of Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The series was created from a concept of Hayao Miyazaki by NHK, Toho, and Korad, and was directed by Hideaki Anno of Gainax. The series follows Nadia, a former circus performer wishing to return to her home in Africa, and a young inventor named Jean.

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About the Creator

Isaac Shapiro

When not scrounging the internet for the best content for Jerrick Media, Isaac can be found giving scritches to feathery friend Captain Crunch.

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