Sci-fi anime series is one of anime’s most important genre. From Tezuka’s Astro Boy to today’s crime dramas, it has always played a big role in shaping the trends of anime and often represents the best the medium has to offer. Here I will present what I think are the best sci-fi anime, and what every anime fan should have seen to get an idea of what this genre is capable of. I tried to focus not just on anime set in the future, but on anime where technology and possible futures are the main focus of the story.
2012, 22 episodes.
2112. The discovery of a technology that determines the likelihood each citizen has to commit a crime, their “Psycho-Pass”, has reshaped the whole society in an authoritarian regime, where you can get arrested and lose your rights as a citizen simply for having a psycho-pass too high. Akane Tsunemori, young recruit in the Division One of the criminal investigations department, is lead to work on the case of a criminal whose Psycho-Pass is not recognized by the system. She then starts to realize the moral dilemmas and the dangerous consequences of the system she lives in. The dark and gripping story, masterfully written by Gen Urobushi (Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica) make this anime a fascinating watch ,at the borders of human morality. The fantastic visuals by Production I.G. really help to bring the cyberpunk setting to life.
2019. In the dark suburbs of Neo-Tokyo, Shoutaro’s the leader of a gang of young bikers. When the military kidnaps his young friend Tetsuo because of his potential psychic powers, Shoutaro decides to go rescue him. Thus begins a breathless narrative in the heart of the megapolis. Where Akira really shines is in the visuals department. Carefully crafted futuristic designs, detailed animation, and the masterful direction of Katsuhiro Otomo make this movie a classic of the Cyberpunk genre.
2008, 50 episodes
Lelouch, a member of the Britannian Empires royal family, exiled in a Japan that has became just one in many colonies of the authoritarian empire, lives as a brilliant student in Ashford academy. His life changes when he meets the mysterious C.C. in the middle of a car accident. This girl gives him a powerful ability: he’s now able to give each person he meets an unique order, this person will accomplish it no matter what. Lelouch will use this power and his brilliant mind to form a resistance group against the Britannian occupant, and try to accomplish his dream: taking his revenge against the royal family. This anime is an incredible ride to watch. The complex political intrigue, the twists and turns, the masterful plans, the very fast pace, a morally grey yet fascinating protagonist… It is one of the most entertaining action anime, and a very good introduction to the Mecha genre.
Legend Of The Galactic Heroes
1988, 110 episodes
35th century. The colonised portion of the galaxy is divided in two super-entities: The authoritarian Galactic Empire and the democratic but filled with corruption Free Planets Alliance. The story focuses on two main characters: Reinhard Von Lohengramm, from the Galactic Empire, a brilliant and passionate officer determined to climb the hierarchy and take revenge against the aristocracy that humiliated his family, and Yang Wen Li, a strategic genius from the FPA, that will be forced to fight for democracy by the circumstances, even if he hates war. The story follows these two charismatic protagonists through their lives and battles, and shows how those will intersect, in what probably is one of the most epic and important story ever told through animation. This anime’s old school style and limited animation will maybe put off some viewers, but the excellent writing of the anime more than makes up for it. Its length allows for a lot of development, excellent worldbuilding, nuanced characters and great payoffs.
1998, 26 episodes
Spike and Jet are two broke bounty hunters, travelling from planets to planets in their spaceship the Bebop in order to catch space criminals and put a bit of meat in their meals. Each episode of the anime tells a different, self contained story (but always following the central cast), sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes full of action, sometimes more contemplative, sometimes all of the above at the same time. Cowboy Bebop is known for its blend of genres: film noir, Western, space opera, all of this completed with the legendary jazz soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. It’s striking visuals, memorable worldbuilding and loveable characters have made it one of the most recognized and beloved anime ever made.
2008, 27 episodes
Simon is a young hole digger, whose job is to expand the underground town where he was born and is supposed to live all of his life. But one day, he finds a strange robot buried in the ground, and escapes to the surface with the help of his manly and confident brother Kamina and Yoko, a mysterious girl who came from the surface. There, they will have to fight countless beastmen and their giant robots, to break free from their oppression that has forced humanity to live underground. This anime’s epic narrative grows bigger and bigger each episode, like the spiral that is the show’s symbol. Full of over-the-top characters, ridiculous mecha-designs and larger-than-life narrative stakes, this anime takes a more free-spirited approach to science-fiction, as in the other works of beloved director Hiroyuki Imaishi.
Serial Experiment Lain
1998, 12 episodes
For one of the weirder entries of this list, the 1998 TV anime Serial Experiment Lain is a confusing yet fascinating story, more dense with meaning than most anime ever will be. All starts when Lain, the protagonist, a shy and reserved high-school girl, starts receiving messages from a girl from her school, who recently commited suicide. Trying to figure out who is writing these messages, Lain will start to explore the Wired, the equivalent of Internet, uncovering its deepest layers, and understanding that the Wired and the real world are intrinsically linked. With it’s confusing writing and powerful symbolism, Lain is recognized as a cult classic for all science fiction fans. It tackles more themes than I can list, from philosophical to sociological questions. Most fans will tell you that it is necessary to watch the whole anime three times to really understand its meaning. With just one watch though, you will be left with a lot to think about, and having lived one of the most unique experience anime has to offer.
2015, 24 episodes
Hundreds of parasitic aliens descend on Earth, infecting and controlling the body of humans, while being able to transform into powerful and terrifying monsters at will. Shinichi Izumi, a reserved high-school student, is infected, but manages to keep the parasite in his arm. With his arm now having a personality of his own, and being able to use it as a powerful weapon, Izumi will have to fight for his life against the aliens trying to take control over humanity. The dark but grounded story, typical from studio Madhouse, keeps the viewer at the edge of its seat, as the main character and his alien companion Migi are confronted to merciless fights and moral dilemmas.
Ghost in the shell
Continuing with one of the most recognizable franchise in anime, Ghost In The Shell. The first movie focuses on a criminal investigation, in which the Major Motoko Kusanagi, an woman with an entirely robotic body, and member of the cyber-crime investigation team, searches for the Puppet Master, a mysterious hacker who erases the memory of its victims. An intricate and complex story, tackling philosophical and deontological questions, and set in a beautifully depicted futuristic world, where technology plays a primordial role. The franchise features different iterations, including another excellent movie, “Innocence”, and the 2002 TV-serie “Stand Alone Complex”, which focuses on different technology-related crimes. With clever writing and excellent world-building, it is on of the best exploration of the role of technology in our society, of and what it could become.
2011, 24 episodes
Okabe Rintaro, self-proclaimed mad scientist and conspiracy-obsessed eccentric, makes all kinds of experiments and inventions in his apartment in Akihabara, along with his equally eccentric partners: the hacker Daru and his childhood friend the innocent but a bit lunatic Mayuri. Things are going well until Okabe accidentally creates a device allowing him to send messages in the past. After experimenting with his new creation, with the help of the brilliant scientist Makise Kurisu, Okabe realizes that it’s power can be very dangerous, as he quickly finds himself trapped in a He will have to use all the ressources of time-travel to get out of the “darkest timeline”. This anime is a very fun watch, with quirky and loveable characters, but can also be fascinating thanks to its complex story and clever use of time-travel mechanics.