Cyberpunk dystopias, mechs, and sci-fi motorcycles - these are the best sci-fi anime movies and shows out there.
Anime is an expansive medium. Despite years of being considered a niche medium reserved for nerds, anime has now broached the mainstream. Thanks to online services, and a broader understanding, it’s not unusual to find relatives or friends who are into anime these days without them considering anime to be cartoons for children.
Even if you’re not into anime, there are some true sci-fi classics out there that you really shouldn’t miss. From adult-focused series to family movies, sci-fi has had an enormous impact on Japanese animation, and that has led to some truly great content for everyone to enjoy. The only problem is that sci-fi has had such a significant impact on anime that trying to figure out which ones are the must-see shows and movies is quite an undertaking.
That’s where we come in. With this list, we hope to give you a comprehensive guide to the best classic sci-fi anime for you to try, even if you’re not an anime fan already. Once you’ve finished the stuff on this list, you also might want to check out some of our best space anime recommendations as well.
5. Promare: Best sci-fi anime for unique animation style
- Released: 2019
Promare is only a couple of years old, but it’s hard not to see this as a classic in the making. Promare tells the story of a future ravaged by dangerous people who spontaneously developed pyrokinetic powers during a great calamity that destroyed half of the world’s population. A firefighting team, known as Burning Rescue, works to stop these pyrokinetics from destroying the city or people’s lives.
The storyline of Promare has a lot to offer. It’s action-packed, has an exciting premise, and remains engaging throughout. The real star here, though, is the visual style. One of the companies behind the film, Trigger, is well-known for its incredibly kinetic visual style, and Promare is the most polished and refined it’s ever been. Everything looks fantastic, from the intense action scenes to wacky comedy moments and has such a unique style that you’re not likely to forget this film anytime soon.
4. Paprika: Best sci-fi anime for surreal visuals
- Released: 2006
Famed director Satoshi Kon had a knack for making unique films. Paprika is possibly one of the most visually interesting things he ever produced and follows the story of a future where scientists have discovered a way of viewing people’s dreams. One of the doctors uses the device to try and help psychiatric patients, but the machine goes haywire over time, causing dreams and reality to merge and wreak havoc across the city.
Paprika is a treat for the eyes as well as for the mind. The storyline itself is interesting, but when you throw in the insane trippy scenes that visualize a person’s dreams, the movie becomes a fever-dream that it’s impossible to stop watching. So if you’re ready to be completely mesmerized by a film, then strap in for the ride of your life and watch Paprika.
3. Ghost in the Shell: Best sci-fi action anime
- Released: 1995
This is a name that many people may already be familiar with, mainly because it was recently made into a big-budget Hollywood movie. While that version may not have been amazing, the original is stunning. Ghost in the Shell tells the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg public defence officer who must hunt down a dangerous hacker before he can enact a sinister plot against the people of her city.
Much like Akira, Ghost in the Shell also has stunning visuals of a cyberpunk city throughout. However, the main draw that sets Ghost in the Shell apart is its themes. The central concept at play here is self-identity in a world filled with technologically enhanced people. At various times, the question of “what even is a human?” comes up, and honestly, after watching this one, you might struggle to answer it yourself. Even better, there’s a follow-up movie to enjoy and three seasons of a show, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, if you’re longing for more.
2. Akira: Best sci-fi anime story
- Released: 1991
If you’re more in the mood for something that you can watch in a single sitting, then you should consider Akira. This movie tells the story of a not-so-distant-anymore future and revolves around a Japanese teenage biker gang called a Bōsōzoku. The leader of the gang, Kaneda, and his best friend, Tetsuo, spend their nights violently racing through the streets and their days being delinquents. However, events start to spiral when Tetsuo acquires telekinetic powers during a battle against another gang, resulting in him becoming a threat to the entirety of Neo-Tokyo.
The well-written storyline and interesting characters are part of the reason why Akira is such a well-loved film, but the key elements here are the visuals and style. The futuristic city of Neo-Tokyo is perfectly captured, leaving you with nighttime scenes awash with the high-contrast glow of neon lights and daytime scenes of a washed-out city on the brink of falling apart. Not only is this a great sci-fi movie, but it’s also one of the main reasons that anime became such a success outside of Japan in the first place.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Best sci-fi anime overall
- Released: 1995
If you’ve never heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, then you’ve not been hanging around anime fans much. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story about a world ravaged by giant monsters called Angels. To combat these monsters, humanity has formed Nerv, a paramilitary force with giant robots known as Evangelions, or just Evas for short. The story revolves around the lives of three teenagers in charge of piloting the Evas to protect what’s left of humanity, dealing with their interpersonal struggles in one of the most tumultuous times of their lives.
There are several reasons why Evangelion is considered a classic. Firstly, the franchise focuses on characters rather than solely on the incredible visuals and intense fight scenes between giant monsters. There is plenty of that as well, of course, but the cerebral storyline and the themes of depression, coming-of-age, and strong use of religious imagery really does elevate the show and movies into the realms of true art.