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The cold void of space is a well-worn setting for some of our favorite anime, and it’s easy to see why. Mankind’s desire to traverse the galaxy, as well as our increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the universe works, is the creative spark for many excellent shows. The exotic nature of the setting is the perfect canvas for a wide variety of themes and visual styles. With that in mind, let’s dive into our Top Ten Space Anime.
10. Space Battleship Yamato 2199
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2013 – September 2013
A reboot of the beloved Space Battleship Yamato series popularized in the 70s, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 takes a classic anime and makes it better. Set in a bleak future where humanity is on the ropes after being nearly extinguished by aliens from Gamilias, Earth is a radioactive shell of its former beauty. Mankind ekes out a grim existence underground until a benevolent alien race from the planet Iscandar intervenes, and provides blueprints for an advanced spaceship capable of traversing the galaxy to search for humanity’s last hope, the Cosmo Reverse System.
The United Nations Cosmo Navy uses this technology to resurrect the iconic Japanese WWII flagship, the Yamato, and send a brave crew to search the galaxy, all the while testing their mettle against the tenacious, ruthless Gamilians. Outside of the space-age action, this show has a lot going for it, particularly the way it explores both sides of the conflict, on the battlefield and politically.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (2012) New Trailer
9. Outlaw Star
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 1998 – June 1998
Set in a future timeline of Earth dubbed the “Toward Stars Era,” humanity discovers the secrets to Faster-Than-Light space travel after an asteroid containing a mysterious mineral crashes into a Chinese desert. As mankind explores the vast “new west” of space, outlaws, assassins and pirates abound, and it isn’t long before four major powers stake their claims on astral frontiers, and impose a type of order.
Outlaw Star is a space opera/western that has aged incredibly well. The main characters, led by roguish jack-of-all-trades Gene Starwind, traverse the galaxy in their state-of-the-art pirate ship, the “Outlaw Star,” taking on all sorts of odd jobs while on the run from the powers that be, and at the same time, are on the hunt for the galaxy’s reputedly greatest treasure, the “Galactic Leyline.” With a memorable cast of characters and a great atmosphere, it’s easy to see how this show helped popularize the genre for Western audiences.
Toonami Outlaw Star Promo
8. Knights of Sidonia
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2015
Knights of Sidonia is a sci-fi anime set in an idyllic, somewhat dystopian future where the last vestiges of humanity survive in space, adrift on “seed ships” crafted from the remains of an Earth destroyed by giant, shape-shifting aliens called “Gauna.” Unable to communicate with the “Gauna,” humans have no choice but to battle for survival in giant mechs called “Gardes” to change the fate of humanity. It follows the story of Nagate Tanikaze, a human raised below the surface of the seed ship Sidonia. After being inducted into the Gardes pilot program, it’s up to him and his co-pilots to ensure the safety of Sidonia.
One thing that sets this apart from other entries on the list is its uniquely brutal animation style, and the mysteriously antagonistic, almost omnipresent threat of the “Gauna.” The show deals with themes that are existential in nature, alternately contemplative and impressively violent, but always mature, such as what it means to be human, and the tensions that arise with social castes. Plus, talking bears!
Knights of Sidonia – Official Trailer
7. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- Episodes: 110
- Aired: December 1988 – March 1997
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one of the longest-running anime series in history, and highly regarded by space anime aficionados, and it’s easy to see why. The series takes place in our very own Milky Way galaxy, in a distant future where humans have expanded their dominion through the terraforming of planets. There are two major powers engaged in a seemingly endless conflict for dominance; the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance.
The drama of the series unfolds from two perspectives, the Empire’s coldly ambitious hero, the “Golden Lion” Reinhard von Lohengramm, and the Alliance’s compassionate, tactical genius Yang Wen-Li. The two engage in epic space battles centered on their mutual respect for their opponent’s military prowess, while the series explores the more subtle political conflict that is the foundation for the war itself. Although the animation style is a bit dated, the show has a very humanizing element expressed through its characters, and isn’t afraid to address questions that are still relevant in our constantly shifting political landscape.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes Trailer
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2003 – April 2004
While most anime set in space center around epic battles and vast, galaxy-wide conflict, amidst it all is an unsung hero that almost no one mentions – the garbage man. In an environment where all that’s keeping the cold, heartless void from devouring you is an airtight sheet of metal, even the tiniest piece of garbage floating by fast enough can spell doom.
Hachimaki and the other members of the DS-12 Space Debris Section of the Technora Corporation spend their time floating through space picking up garbage to ensure the safety of satellites, stations, and spacecraft orbiting Earth. While the section is looked down upon by other members of their company, much of the story unfolds from their perspective. Like anyone stuck in a dead-end job, they all have their own reasons for being there, and grander dreams for their future. While there are overarching plots with larger implications, it’s the characters that carry the show, rather than large-scale battles and grand political conflict.
Planetes Trailer Anime HD 1080p
5. Macross Frontier
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2008 – September 2008
For the uninitiated, the Macross series takes place in a future where humanity has taken to the stars, living on a fleet of spaceships, searching for a habitable planet for humans to resettle and call home. The story starts with the inhabitants of the starship, the Macross Frontier, en-route to the galactic center, under attack by an incredibly powerful insectoid alien mech species, the Vajra. Like other entries in the series, the ensemble cast is the heart of the show. The drama revolves around the personal and combat-related trials of three main protagonists, effeminately youthful ace pilot Saotome, space-age pop star Sheryl Nome, and part-alien sweetheart Ranka Lee.
Frontier combines many aspects of the series that fans came to love with an aesthetic and production more in line with what contemporary viewers have come to expect. The love-triangle at the heart of the story is a well-worn trope throughout the series, but the slick space-age action and the more nuanced conflict help bring it to a new generation of viewers.
Trailer Macross Frontier
4. Toward the Terra
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2007 – September 2007
After the Earth was left an uninhabitable ruin due to war and pollution, mankind left the planet under the care of hyper-intelligent super computers known as “Superior Dominance.” The elite, seed remnants of humanity are all born in vitro, and forced to take a compulsory “adulthood” examination, where failure means immediate death, and passing allows acceptance into an idyllic, brainwashed community.
One such youth, Jomy, is about to have his memories erased by Superior Dominance. He is rescued by Soldier Blue, a member of Mu, a rebel group of humans who have evolved with psionic abilities. Mu are engaged in a behind-the-scenes struggle against the oppressive AI that controls everyday existence, with the ultimate goal of returning to Earth, and freedom. The show deals with a lot of mature themes, including the merit of safety vs freedom, as well as the importance of understanding our environmental impact.
Toward the Terra – Pilot Trailer
3. Space Dandy
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 2014 – September 2014
For something completely different in tone, we turn to Space Dandy. A space opera centered on the roughshod adventures of dim-witted, pretty boy alien hunter, Dandy, his handy vacuum-cleaner turned robot QT, and sentient alien cat, Meow, Space Dandy employs a more lighthearted, non-linear form of storytelling compared to other entries on the list.
Dandy is an idiot savant; a regular at the space-age version of Hooters who one day dreams of buying out the franchise, his job is to search the galaxy for new life forms and register them with the Space Alien Registration Center. But he is a man of many inscrutable talents; in order to avoid spoilers, let’s just say there’s more to him than meets the eye. Definitely take a look at this series; it transcends linear time and space, mortality, and the boundaries of good taste in the name of comedy.
Toonami Space Dandy Trailer
2. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
- Episodes: 49
- Aired: April 1995 – March 1996
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is perhaps among the best-known entries in the widely popular Mobile Suit Gundam series. It takes place in the distant future, where mankind has established space colonies that live under the yoke of the centralized government on Earth, the United Earth Sphere Alliance. In order to gain independence, the space colonies implement a secret program and send five young pilots of specially crafted mobile suits, the titular Gundam, to Earth.
The action comes at a mile-a-minute, whether it’s in the form of larger-than-life mobile suit battles sweeping through the atmosphere, or the equally compelling drama of human politics taking place on terra forma. Each of the Gundam pilots present unique character traits and foibles, and watching them grow throughout the course of the conflict of the series, where heroes become villains and motivations change faster than a Zaku’s paint job, is as rewarding as all the silent, life-extinguishing explosions in space.
Gundam Wing Trailer
1. Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 – April 1999
Unsurprisingly, the critically and fan acclaimed series rounds out the list. If you’ve somehow missed this show despite its meteoric rise to popularity, it centers on Spike Spiegel. He’s a former hitman turned “cowboy” in a future in which mankind has colonized most of space, and established a contract-based bounty hunting force to supplement the Inter Solar Space Police. Partnered with his former officer friend, Jet Black, the pair scour the galaxy for big scores and pick up a few more members of their rag tag bounty hunting outfit, including bombshell Faye Valentine, and a Mensa-level Corgi.
The show utilizes a non-linear form of storytelling, with episodes often taking a “case of the week” style arc influenced heavily by different genres of music. Peppered throughout is the overarching plot involving Spike’s rival, Vicious, a member of Spike’s former crime syndicate and rival in a deadly love triangle.
The action is as stylish as it is visceral, whether it’s a high-speed chase through the farthest reaches of space, or the bone-crunching kung-fu taking place on the ground. Episodes encompass a wide variety of mature themes, but comedic beats prove the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. Check it out, space cowboy.
Cowboy Bebop - Japanese Blu-ray Trailer [HD]
Wing of Honneamise
The list of beloved anime could expand as far as the boundless reaches of space, but unfortunately we have to stop at ten. What do you think of our selections? Are there any series that explore the boundless void that make your personal top ten list? Sound off in the comments below, and let us know.