10 Greatest Anime Sci-Fi Movies
These are the top ten best anime science fiction films of all time!
Counting down the best science fiction anime movies is a massive challenge…but we said what the hell and took a shot at it anyway. For those not familiar, Anime is hand-drawn or computer animation that originates from Japan. The earliest anime originates in Japan as early as 1917!
During the 60s, manga artist Osamu Tezuka (and Astro Boy director) took inspiration from classic Disney animation techniques to create a more steady workflow process and because of these processes it accidently defined the look for an entire medium. Since its early origination its become a worldwide phenomenon and a brilliant medium to explore complex themes in storytelling.
The anime medium is beloved worldwide for its visuals and unique aesthetics, let alone its engaging and thought-provoking scripts. Nowhere is this more true than when anime takes the form of a feature-length film, and especially when it is a science fiction film. Here are ten of the best sci-fi anime films of all time.
Macross: Do You Remember Love (1984)
Macross: Do You Remember Love, directed by Shoji Kawamori and Noboru Ishiguro with animation primarily done by Tatsunoko Productions and production by Studio Nue & Artland, is a film adaptation of the seminal anime sci-fi series, Super Dimension Fortress Macross (released in the west as Robotech). Director Shoji Kawamori was also the creator of Super Dimension Fortress Macross.
As an adaptation of the original series, Do You Remember Love follows similar plot beats to the 1982 original. This film is about a lost transforming spaceship fortress, the titular Macross, and its crew as they try to make their way back home to Earth while being pursued by the evil Zentradi space empire.
Macross as a whole is one of Japan’s seminal mecha series and is often cited as one of the big three alongside Gundam & Evangelion, with its animation style going on to inspire countless other works. It is even noted as part of the birth of the idol genre in anime, thanks to one of the main female leads, Lynn Minmay.
Steins; Gate: The Movie- Load Region of Déjà vu (2013)
Steins; Gate: The Movie is a film sequel to the modern classic 2011 anime, Steins; Gate, which was in and of itself an adaptation of a visual novel by the same name. Directed by Kanji Wakabayashi with animation done by White Fox, the animators of the TV series, Steins; Gate: The Movie follows the main cast after the events of the show as they navigate their way through the new timeline created in the finale with main characters Rintaro Okabe and Makise Kurisu still trying to figure out their feelings for each other, and Okabe trying to deal with his own trauma. These goals are upended as Okabe begins to disappear from reality and everyone’s memories.
Steins; Gate: The Movie serves as a conclusion to the TV show’s open ending and works perfectly in tandem with it while also seeking to tell its own story continuing the themes of love, loss, and how far one would go to save those they care about. The film is referenced and homaged in the midquel series, Steins; Gate 0, affirming its place in Steins; Gate canon.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie aka Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, directed by series creator Shinichiro Watanabe with animation done by Sunrise and Studio Bones and production help from Bandai Visual, is a midquel film that operates pretty much as a longer length episode of the iconic TV series, Cowboy Bebop, set between Episodes 22 and 23. While visiting Mars, Faye Valentine is witness to a biological terrorist attack. The ensuing bounty causes the rest of the Bebop’s crew to dive into trying to catch the terrorist behind it, only to discover a deeper conspiracy involving the shady Mars government.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie has the expected gorgeous animation of Cowboy Bebop on a bigger budget with some of the most iconic action scenes in the sci-fi anime, such as Spike Spiegel’s fight with Vincent on the train. While also serving to be thematic and important in hindsight to Spike’s development in the show itself, making it much more than just a cash-in.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (1988)
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino (the original creator of Gundam) with animation and production done by Sunrise, is the culmination of the story that began in 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam which continued through Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. Char’s Counterattack focuses specifically on the final battle with series protagonist Amuro Ray and the titular series antagonist Char Aznable.
After the events of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ where leader of Neo-Zeon, Haman Karn, died, Char Aznable (after going missing following the events of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam) takes control and starts up the war once more between Zeon and the Earth Federation. Meanwhile, Amuro Ray tries to figure out what Char Aznable’s true crime is before it’s too late.
While intended to be viewed after watching the original three Gundam series, Char’s Counterattack is perhaps one of the most defining pieces of mecha sci-fi anime ever. With a young Hideaki Anno early in his career working on its animation, the film still stands up as some of the best in mecha work to this day. The movie serves as a conclusion to this stage of the Universal Century timeline (the name for the original Gundam universe), delivering superb performances from Toru Furuya as Amuro Ray and Shuichi Ikeda as Char Aznable, while still delivering Tomino’s typical anti-war messaging.
The End of Evangelion (1997)
The End of Evangelion, directed by the icon of Japanese film and television, Hideaki Anno, and with animation and production done by Studio Gainax and Production I.G, serves as the true finale to Neon Genesis Evangelion after Anno’s funding was cut last minute leading to the series’ infamous finale. After the success of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno was allowed to come back to do his intended finale as a theatrical film.
End of Evangelion picks up right after Episode 24 of the series with Shinji Ikari in a catatonic state after being forced to kill his love interest, Kaworu Negisa, and more isolated than ever with Asuka Langley Soryuu still in a coma and the new version of Rei Ayanami being more inhuman than ever. However, even amongst Shinji’s trauma, the sinister SEELE are ready to fully enact their plans and launch an attack on NERV headquarters while Gendo himself launches his own plan.
The End of Evangelion is perhaps one of the most iconic TV continuation films ever, not just in the medium of anime, and it is easy to see why. Gripping, emotional, and filled with some of the best animation that has stood the test of time, End of Evangelion is an iconic piece of media in its own right, even if divorced from its equally iconic TV show.
Paprika is the final film of acclaimed director Satoshi Kon before his unfortunate passing in 2010 with animation and production done by Madhouse. Paprika is about a research team who has invented a device to go inside people’s dreams for the sake of therapy; however after the device is stolen, the research team must partner with Detective Toshimi Konakawa who the head therapist, Atsuko Chiba aka Paprika, is counseling to get it back and, in the process, survive the surreal world of dreams.
Paprika is perhaps one of the most creative sci-fi anime films of all time, making expert use of surreal visuals and aesthetics to explore its dream landscapes. The film is also incredibly influential, with many people drawing comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception.
Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)
Patlabor 2: The Movie, directed by the seminal Mamoru Oshii with animation and production done by Production I.G., is a sequel to the film adaptation of the Patlabor TV series, itself adapted from a manga which Oshii had a hand in creating. The film remains relatively disconnected from both the TV series and the manga, and it does not require viewers to have seen the first film to understand it.
Set two years after Patlabor, Patlabor 2 continues the story of Section 2, a group of law enforcement officers who use mechs in a world where mechs are now as conventional as cars, as a range of terrorist activities begin to occur without a clear purpose, leading Japan to inch closer and closer to complete martial law as Section 2 works to find out who is behind the attacks and apprehend them before it’s too late.
Patlabor 2 is a seminal work in the mecha genre, having been listed as an inspiration by Guillermo Del Toro for Pacific Rim, while also tackling themes about Japan’s place in the world and Japan’s pacifist stance. It, and its predecessor, are also in many ways the precursor to Oshii’s later works such as Ghost In The Shell.
Memories is an anthology film adapting three short manga stories by the creator of Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo. The first short, titled Magnetic Rose, was animated by Studio 4°C and directed by Koji Morimoto, with special mention to the scripting by Satoshi Kon, the writer and director of Paprika and numerous other influential anime.
In Magnetic Rose, a crew of space salvagers get a strange SOS from a ship graveyard that is merely music from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. As they go to investigate, they discover a strange and ethereal ship that holds more than it seems at first glance. The second short, titled Stink Bomb, was animated by Madhouse and directed by Tensai Okamura.
Inspired by the real-life mysterious case of Gloria Ramirez, Stink Bomb follows a lab technician who, after taking a mysterious pill, becomes a walking bioweapon because of the stink cloud that has formed around him. This transformation causes the JSDF and US Military to try to kill and capture him, respectively. The final short, titled Cannon Fodder, was animated once again by Studio 4°C and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Cannon Fodder follows the day in the life of a fascistic city state at war with an enemy they can’t see, merely firing day in and day out to the detriment of everyone in the city.
Memories is one of four sci-fi anthology films by Katsuhiro Otomo, though it is perhaps the most influential in many ways, one of the biggest reasons being that it is one of the first works of Satoshi Kon. Beyond that, however, Memories has become a beloved cult classic.
Ghost In The Shell (1995)
Ghost In The Shell is the absolutely iconic film by Mamoru Oshii, with animation and production done by Production I.G, and with additional production done by Bandai Visual and Manga Entertainment. This film is an adaptation of a manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow.
Ghost In The Shell takes place in a cyberpunk future where humanity has become almost entirely composed of cyborgs, and follows Section 9, an investigative task force in New Port City, Japan, who track down and prosecute cyber crimes led in the field by Major Motoko Kusanagi. During a routine mission, the team discover a deeper conspiracy about something called the Puppet Master that ties into the United States and their very own ranks all while Motoko feels herself disconnecting more and more from humanity and more drawn to what the mysterious Puppet Master is saying.
Ghost In The Shell is perhaps one of the two most important anime sci-fi films ever made, inspiring numerous creatives such as the Wachowski sisters who directly credited it for helping to inspire The Matrix, which served as the lead-up to their own anime anthology film, Animatrix. Beyond this, however, Ghost In The Shell’s themes of loss of individuality, mistrust in capitalism and the United States as a whole, and what it means to be human have remained important topics to explore.
Akira, perhaps the most iconic anime film outside of Ghibli, was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who was also its creator and mangaka, with animation and production done by Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS). Akira takes place in the aftermath of World War 3 following the mysterious destruction of Tokyo in the city of Neo Tokyo, where biker gangs and civil unrest define its neon streets. During a massive protest, a mysterious child escapes from a government lab when he is nearly run over by Tetsuo, a young gang member. After this encounter, Tetsuo begins to develop psychic powers as the truth of what happened to Tokyo in the war begins to come to light.
Akira is maybe the most important anime sci-fi films to ever be released, tackling themes such as Japan’s mistrust in the US and the rising issues of street gangs and violence being perpetuated by juvenile delinquents. Akira is also the main reason behind high budget high concept anime films being created, serving as the genesis for many future projects like the aforementioned Ghost In The Shell, Memories, and many others.
It was also the main drive behind the West’s renewed interest in anime in the 90s, which led to the modern anime boom. It has been cited by many filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg as one of the best animated films ever made and its themes and animation still continue to be lauded to this day.
What are Your Favorite Anime Sci-Fi Movies?
Science fiction should be a way to understand the past so we can prevent a faulty future. It’s a way to show a what-if and warn us or inspire us of things to come. Science fiction can be advanced tech, crazy alien civilizations, time travel, and exploring the vastness of space. But it can also be one of the most personal and humanizing genres in storytelling.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the greatest anime sci-fi movies! Any underappreciated gems we left out? These are just ten of the best anime sci-fi films in our opinion, so feel free to chime in and say which are your favorites on Twitter.