Best Steampunk Anime
Combining two unique and popular genres, the best steampunk anime offers a new twist on fan favorites.
Steam-powered castles, anachronistic firearms, mechanical dragonflies - when you’re craving steampunk there’s nothing like anime to give you a fix. The perfect mix of sci-fi, machinery and famous Japanese animation, the best steampunk anime has something for the fans whose interests span many genres. From the classic Metropolis to Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and Steam Detectives, these shows and movies should be on the must watch list for every steampunk and anime junkie! Adjust your goggles and get ready for a roundup of the best steampunk anime around!
This is the steampunk anime to start and end them all. If you love watching the proletariat rise up and cry revolution, you’ll love Metropolis. This retro city of the future, drawn in incredible detail and artistic vision, is filled with robots and moves to the sound of an old-time 1920s jazz score. You really can be drawn into the underworld and feel the class-based struggle and how close the city is to the brink of chaos; it can be a very emotional film, even with the distraction of the gorgeously rendered world. Named after the 1926 silent film of the same title and based on a 1949 comic book, Metropolis asks that age-old question “Can a machine love?” Whether you are new to anime or a long-time fan, this is a staple on the list of the best steampunk anime.
Nobody does steampunk anime better than THE master of animation (do we even need to say his name?), Miyazki. In a sci-fi industrial setting, an engineer’s apprentice and a girl who falls straight out of the sky team up to flee both the government and space pirates in this 1986 Jules Verne influenced classic. Even though the film just predates the actual use of the phrase “steampunk” (first coined in 1987), the giant airships, floating castle, and amazingly ingenious robots are clearly right in line with the genre. Throw in the abandoned island mysteriously drifting through the sky, crazy flying contraptions, and a magic crystal and you’re headed for steampunk anime heaven. Complemented by Joe Hisiashi’s flawless score, this is one deeply mythological story that you won’t want to miss.
One of the best steampunk anime ever has got to be Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) for actually giving us a reason for the old fashioned, yet high tech, fun. In this world (a parallel one to ours) the other sciences were eclipsed by alchemy, meaning that the year 1910 has a whole lot more advanced technology than real-life Victorians ever dreamed of. Along with some pretty sick weapons, FMA features automail, armored prostheses to replace missing limbs. There’s no lack of gripping, rich plot that pulls you along at a breakneck pace through a story filled with class tension, human sacrifices, a search for the philosopher’s stone, and artificial humans known as Homunculi. FMA is a longtime fan favorite of those seeking the best steampunk anime.
Based on a light novel series, this deeply philosophical story is centered around Kino, a female protagonist who is anything but defined by her gender. She moves through her world seemingly unconcerned by the roles of women and men and this lets her character really shine through. The far-flung civilizations she visits give the viewer a taste of many different worlds - futuristic cities controlled by robots contrast strikingly with the early stages of flight. Many profound problems present themselves to Kino (and the steampunk anime fan). You’ll enjoy, not only the beautiful world she travels through physically, but the world of the mind you find in the situations she encounters. The story plays out like a surreal dream, understated and otherworldly, and is without a doubt one of the best steampunk anime for the philosophers among us.
Another Miyazaki classic that was steampunk before steampunk began (when you’re Miyazaki, you don’t have to worry whether or not your genre has been created yet). Airships and goggles abound in a retro-futuristic world teeming with pirates, insectoid monsters, and God Warriors, giant biomechanical beings responsible for scorching the post-apocalyptic world our heroine finds herself in. Like many of Miyazaki’s films, there’s a definite theme of environmentalism amid the whirling airships and the beauty of flight amidst desolation. It’s also not surprising to see a young, innocent Nausicaa standing against the fray, bravely standing up for herself and humanity despite her inexperience. Once again, Miyazaki’s collaborator, Joe Hisaiashi creates a score so haunting yet beautiful that it echoes in your mind long after one of the best steampunk anime films is over.
If you devoured Neon Genesis Evangelion, this is where you want to go next. The same creative geniuses set this Jules Verne inspired masterpiece in 1889, and much of the action takes place on the Nautilus (yes, the same one from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). The protagonist of the title, a mysterious young woman, travels with Jean, an inventor, on an adventure that can ricochet from serious to silly and back again in an instant. The animation here is refreshingly different, and each character in the story is a round, real, living breathing person (or creature), totally believable in their own right. This is one of the best steampunk anime not only because of the characters but also because of the fast-paced action and terrifying moments of suspense. There’s nothing cynical about it. You can hop right on the Nautilus and enjoy being entertained.
Here’s one you won’t want to miss that is especially unique because of its setting: Japan. It’s unusual to find steampunk anime not set in Europe or America, but of course Japan was perfect for a story loosely based on The Seven Samurai, one of the very best samurai movies ever created. Ancient Japanese feudalism plus brutal half-machine warrior villains to defeat? Yes please. One of the best things about Samurai 7 is the excellent pacing and the way each episode moves steadily toward the climax. The quality of animation is also unbeatable. And who doesn’t want to watch a warrior deflect LASERS with their katanas?
It’s in the name, so you really can’t deny it. The much-loved Katsuhiro Otomo created this love letter to steampunk anime in a Victorian setting, and it’s been one of Japan’s most costly anime movies to date; it also took 10 whole years, so that’s saying something at the very least. The main character, Ray, finds himself facing up to deadly enemies after being given a strange machine from his grandfather. There are deep messages here about power, science, capitalism, and government that transcend the fun of watching giant machines clank and whirr. Though the plot may be simple, the visual effects are unbeatable, and if you’re a steampunk anime fan already, this film is definitely worth the watch.
This is definitely one of the best steampunk anime series for kids, but it transcends any age group with its total embrace of the genre. Last Exile is set in a golden age of aviation in which resources are slim, the lower classes are oppressed, the leaders are corrupt, and fearless pilots fly retro-futuristic vanships. This is one story that requires a little patience; much of what occurs in the first half of the story isn’t fully explained until the second half, so don’t give up early! Flying battle ships contrast in classic steampunk fashion with vintage elements like musketeers and honor codes from European battles. The characters feel real, with real emotions and real dialogue. Perhaps the best reason to watch Last Exile is Alex Row, a legendary man of mystery that it doesn’t pay to underestimate.
Set in a dystopian world, Desert Punk has a ton of fun with the classic steampunk machinery, weapons, costumes, and so on. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world and centers around a teenage protagonist, Desert Punk, who lives a hedonist’s life while still managing to pay his bills by working as a professional mercenary (since Japan has been turned into a desert by a nuclear catastrophe, living out in the sand is the only way to survive). The story begins in a more lighthearted manner but becomes more serious as Desert Punk becomes involved with political matters. Though some find Desert Punk’s obsession with sex and attractive women off-putting, others may enjoy the gritty realism of the story. And if you enjoy this one, Prison School is another one of the best steampunk anime for wacky humor, big guns, and intense rivalries.
With its surprisingly different design, Turn A Gundam is an anime fan favorite, and for good reason. The human race finds itself beginning again and this time, it’s with a distinctly dieselpunk flair; for the uninitiated, dieselpunk is a sub-genre focused specifically on the time period from World War I and continuing on to post World War II. That means airplanes crafted from wood, clothing taken from the early 19th century, and airships. It’s both futuristic and retro-futuristic. Loran, the incredibly brave protagonist, is one of the most likable characters around, and the masked villain character who seeks to thwart her intrigues even seasoned anime viewers. With a stirring score by Yoko Kanno, you’ll find yourself drawn into the world of Turn A Gundam, arguably one of the most unique entries in all of Gundam and one of the best steampunk anime.
In dark, dirty, London-inspired Steam City, a boy, a nurse, and a Megamaton (yes, it’s names like those that make us love steampunk all the more) must work side by side to defeat the criminals, villains, and ne’er-do-wells who lurk in the city’s white mist. The main character, Narutaki is a child genius and orphan (of course), who investigates crimes in a similar manner to Sherlock Holmes. His nurse, Ling-Ling, owns Goriki, a Megamaton with a human brain implanted inside him. The stories are episodic in nature, like many mystery.crime-solving series. This is another one of the best steampunk anime for kids, but the noir setting makes it fun for everyone to watch.
The best steampunk expands from the television screen to the pages of a book or the screen of your Kindle in Larry Blamire's Steam Wars. Complete with sci-fi and Victorian elegance, Steam Wars is a great reading choice for any fan of the genre.
Set in 1897, but the technology is anything but relevant to the era. War is fought with steam-powered machines and look like armored warriors. In the age old tale of the underdog, Duff, Cribbs and Tunney, steam crewmen, put it all on the line in a courageous and reckless endeavor. Written by Larry Blamire who is also an actor and director, Steam Wars is one of his many successes in the world of sci-fi and fiction.