Science-fiction anime is an action-packed genre, full of all the strange new technologies, giant robots, aliens, and cool lasers of live-action sci fi, but even more opportunities for creative storytelling.
For fans of amazing animation and glimpses into far-flung futures, these science-fiction anime shows and movies do not disappoint.
Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Creator: Hajime Yatate
Starring: Koichi Yamadera (Voice), Steve Blum (Voice)
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime, Sling TV
One of the quintessential anime series, Cowboy Bebop follows the adventures of the space cowboy himself, Spike Spiegel. He and his starship crew have some weird and wacky adventures during this short series.
It’s one of the few shows where the actual plot is much less interesting than the silly hijinks, and in-depth world-building as emphasized in many episodes.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Creator: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Megumi Ogata (Voice), Spike Spencer (Voice)
Where To Watch: Netflix
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most well-known science-fiction anime shows, and for good reason.
It has everything an audience could want: giant robots, girls in skintight futuristic spacesuits, mecha aliens, and a protagonist with crippling post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Well, maybe the last one isn’t on everyone’s wishlist—but it makes for thought-provoking television, nonetheless.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
Creator: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Starring: Toro Furuya (Voice), Richard Ian Cox (Voice)
Where To Watch: Crunchyroll
A war in space has broken out among the Principality of Zeon, who wishes to secede from the Earth Federation.
The show follows Zeonian forces as they battle against the Federation to be free.
They discover a new Federation weapon called a Gundam, a giant mecha that someone can get inside and pilot, in order to inflict massive amounts of damage.
Creator: Gen Urobuchi
Studio: Production I.G.
Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Voice), Kate Oxley (Voice)
Where To Watch: Tubi, YouTube TV, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime
In this anime resembling the science-fiction thriller Minority Report, the Sibyl System continuously monitors the citizens of Japan, looking for criminal thoughts and activities.
If people have too many dangerous thoughts, police are alerted to the person’s increased criminal index. The assessment is called a Psycho-Pass.
Inspectors are responsible for protecting the population from these potential criminals—and are allowed to use any means necessary to stop them.
Creator: Yosuke Kuroda
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosch (Voice), Masaya Onosaka (Voice)
Where To Watch: Hulu, iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon Prime
Vash the Stampede is an outlaw roaming around the planet Gunsmoke. Despite the high bounty on his head, he is always kind to strangers, and makes friends wherever he goes.
He has lost the majority of his memories of the past, and does his best to recover them.
A few members of an insurance company follow in his footsteps to try and repair some of the damage he supposedly causes, although the damage turns out to be the results of overzealous bounty hunters intent on his capture.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007)
Creator: Kazuki Nakashima
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosch (Voice), Katsuyuki Konishi (Voice)
Where To Watch: Netflix, Hulu
Set in the future, the human race is forced to live deep underground in caverns by their tyrannical overlord.
A young boy named Simon spends most of his time with his friend, who likes to be called Bro, dreaming of someday exploring the surface.
When Simon discovers a strange digging device mech, he and Bro are able to defeat a new enemy and finally break through to the top of the world.
They then find that there are humans living on the surface, and must contend with strange creatures that continuously attack.
Starring: Yuka Imoto (Voice), Rebecca Forstadt (Voice)
Where To Watch: Crackle, Amazon Prime
In this film, robots and humans live together in relative harmony, although the human race oppresses the robots.
Despite that persecution, many humans blame robots for stealing their jobs, and therefore try to destroy them whenever possible.
When a young boy finds a remarkably human-like robot, they develop a friendship that is sorely tested when her true nature is revealed.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002)
Creator: Kenji Kamiyama
Studio: Production I.G.
Starring: Crispin Freeman (Voice), Koichi Yamadera (Voice)
Where To Watch: Hulu, Youtube TV, Sling TV, iTunes, Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Netflix
In the future, everyone has become a cyborg with technological enhancements to their bodies.
The show follows a task force in the Japanese police that handles the worst kinds of crimes, such as corruption in major corporations and the government itself.
Public Security Section 9 works together to investigate, while keeping their existence under the radar.
Outlaw Star (1998)
Creator: Takehiko Ito, Hajime Yatate
Starring: Bob Buchholz (Voice), Ayaka Kawasumi (Voice)
Where To Watch: Hulu, YouTube TV, iTunes, Amazon Prime
Gene Starwind and his crew travel the known universe in their starship, far in the future when humans are capable of flying faster than the speed of light.
Internal conflict ravages galactic colonies, as a result of lacking laws and regulations. Gene and his bounty hunters, of course, take advantage of this dubious legality to make a profit.
13 Sentinels Aegis Rim (2020)
Publishers: Atlus, Sega
Starring: Kaiji Tang (Voice), Takayuki Ishii (Voice)
Platforms: PlayStation 4
This is a bonus entry, since it’s actually a video game. However, its art style is undoubtedly anime.
The characters find themselves in various time periods in the same city, from the 1940s to the 2040s.
As the plot thickens, they must work together to uncover the mysteries in the sentinels—giant robots which allow them to fight back against the kaiju invading their city.
While anime is often lumped together as one big genre, it’s as broad a category as live-action.
Science-fiction anime show and movies are an addictive rabbit hole to fall into, whether you’re new to anime or a longtime viewer, and this list is a great place to start.
For more recommendations, check out the best anime series for newcomers, the scariest horror anime shows, or this guide to the best bending types in Avatar: The Last Airbender.