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We have done a Top War Anime list before, but what makes this list different from that is that the anime we are going to share tend to focus more on the military aspect of the series. That means how the structure works between the brass and the grunts, how a unit functions, and how they live their daily lives. In other words, we’re going to explore the genre in a more internal sense as opposed to the external conflicts between nations and factions.
Think of the classic Tom Cruise movie, Top Gun. While it is centered around the Navy, as opposed to being focused on war, it is focused on Maverick’s journey and rivalry with Ice Man at the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School in becoming the Top Gun. So what are some anime that are centered on the internal military culture that we can share? Read our list to find out.
10. High School Fleet
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr 10, 2016 – Jun 26, 2016
Taking place in Yokosuka, a Naval installation town just south of Tokyo (and the setting of Shenmue, the Dreamcast cult classic), is home to Marine Girls’ High School. The high school prepares its young ladies to become Blue Mermaids or female sailors. You can sort of think of the Blue Mermaids as akin to Starfleet from Star Trek, which has various functions beyond exploration and military, but to maintain political relationships with other nations as well.
Through this anime, we learn of how Misaki learns to be a proper captain of the Harukaze. Misaki learns to be a ship commander and the rest of the cast also have to overcome their individual adversities, master their jobs, and learn to work as a team. Despite how cute it looks on the surface with its moe designs, it knows how to be intense with its relationships and be serious with how the crew works together.
9. Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr 8, 2018 – Ongoing
In this spin-off to Sword Art Online, the cast plays the latest edition, Gun Gale Online, a more modern military oriented version to the titular online VR game. While it isn’t authentically a military anime, the foundational principles are still there for viewers to identify with. But when it comes to team play and taking out the enemy, it is important to coordinate with your unit in order to succeed.
In fact, some of the participants are former members of the JSDF and contribute their personal experiences to the game. But like in real life online military gaming, some people can take it too far when people threaten to get physical due to the adrenaline rush of immersing themselves into their roles. While Gun Gale Online takes place in the comparatively safe world of virtual reality, it still manages to capture a unique kind of intensity and high that feels like the real thing.
8. Youjo Senki (The Saga of Tanya the Evil)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 6, 2017 – Mar 31, 2017
So you’re a typical Japanese businessman, you’re an atheist, and you die only to be proven wrong. Yeah, you’re probably going to Hell for not believing in God but as a final chance, God, or Being X, reincarnates you to an early twentieth century-like magical war zone and gives the body of Tanya, a young Germanic lady. And if you can’t have the young lady die a natural death (and/or acknowledge the existence of God), then you’re going to suffer in Hell forever and ever for being an atheist. So what’s the plan? Rise through the brass and avoid the front lines!
Despite being a little girl, Tanya is a competent and manipulative commander. She is politically savvy and knows her way around the system. Some say business and the military go hand-in-hand. In fact, a lot of big-time businessmen tend to take inspiration from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Tanya in her previous life as a businessman probably did the same. On the same token, some famous businessmen come from military backgrounds as well. FedEx was founded by a veteran of the US Marine Corps, as was the founder of GoDaddy. As shown throughout the series, Tanya not only knows the structure but how to be an efficient battlefield strategist as well. So if you think businessmen can be competent military commanders, then try this series.
7. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Apr 7, 2013 – Sept 29, 2013
In order to maintain security within and outside the walls, you’re going to need some sort of security or military force. In the world of Attack on Titan, the walled cities have three special active units – the Survey Corps, the Garrison Regiment, and the Military Police Brigade. But before anyone can officially join, they must take part in some basic training or boot camp through the Training Corps. Try to think of that training arc of the series as akin to that basic training scene from Full Metal Jacket. Like in real life military units, people form cliques and it can get competitive for the sake to prove who he is the alpha male/female. In basic training, the cast members are taught how to use their three-dimensional maneuvering gear, the weaknesses of a titan, and the basics in mixed martial arts.
Upon completion of training, the top 10 graduates have the option of joining the Military Police Brigade, where they can enjoy the safety of the most inner walls. However, the top 10 of this series decide to join the Survey Corps, where they can venture outside the walls and fight the Titans first hand. As for the Garrison Regiment, they work guard duty within the walls and act as the defense while the Survey Corps is the offense.
6. Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri (Gate)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 4, 2015 – Sept 19, 2015
A lot of fans and critics can agree on one thing in relation to Gate, it’s an unapologetic love letter to Japan’s military, the Japan Self Defense Force, or the JSDF for short. Considering that the original creator was previously in the JSDF, it is rather obvious it goes to that extremity. However, it has also been a source of controversy.
In regards to present Prime Minister Abe’s desires to expand its military might at the expense of Article 9 of Japan’s constitution which denounces war, many domestic and international accuse Gate of being propaganda due to its portrayal of the JSDF as being heroes as they kick ass in an alternate dimension. Considering some of the extreme measures that the JSDF do in the alternate dimension that relates to modern warfare, these concerns are understandable. While the images of the characters have been used in recruiting posters in recent years, some can agree it might send the wrong message on an international scale.
5. Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai (Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 8, 2015 – Dec 24, 2015
In a world where the witches endanger people, a group of peacekeepers known as Inquisitors are tasked with protecting the people by using non-violent means. If someone wishes to be an inquisitor, they can join the Taimadou Gakuen or the Anti-Magic Academy. Like some of our anime listed here, Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai is unquestionably unorthodox but still manages to capture a unique spirit that is in-tune with military traditions of honor and unity. Takeru is a platoon leader that is always doing his best to look out for his soldiers. Oka, on the other hand, has to learn how to put aside her personal vendettas and do what’s best for her team.
As for the rest of the team, you got a sniper, an engineer, and a magician. As you watch this anime, you learn how Takeru has to deal with his team individually and as a unit so he can make them be all they can be. Like all soldiers, the cast here does have their personal issues and complexes, but they all learn to put that aside in order to be dependent on each other when it counts.
4. Girls & Panzer
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 9, 2012 – Mar 25, 2013
Forget high school sports like football and baseball, or quidditch from Harry Potter for all that matter. What if you could go to school and participate in tank warfare by using old German tanks? Well, that’s pretty much what you got in Girls & Panzer. Despite much reluctance, Miho joins her school’s tank team due to coming from a family of experts in tank warfare. And if her school doesn’t win the national championship, the school will shut down. This anime shows how each character contributes based on their role from being a commander to how a spy can change the outcome of the game.
While the characters and the school in Girls & Panzer aren’t officially military in nature, the concept of the anime brings viewers into that kind of world of military structure and how a unit has to function. Though the games play a part but the relationship building and the character development are what define the qualities of this anime in context of being military in nature.
3. Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu (Legend of Galactic Heroes)
- Episodes: 110
- Aired: Jan 8, 1988 0 Mar 17, 1997
What makes this anime very unique is that despite the external conflict being the drive of this series, a lot of the internal workings within both the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire are a significant reason why it qualifies for this list. In this series, you see how the respective successes of Wen-li and Reinhardt are of significance to the sides they represent, but also how it hurts the reputations of their superior officers who only care about their positions. The series shows how their militaries respectfully function and how the two main leads rise within their ranks and gain followers and detractors.
While Reinhardt’s initial motivations to join the military is to one day become the absolute monarch, Wen-li, on the other hand, joins because he wouldn’t have to pay tuition for college. This is also true with military academies in the US. In fact, a good number of Americans join the US military for GI Bill benefits, which includes getting one’s college tuition paid for at the expense of Uncle Sam. This quality as to why some people join the military for these reasons is why LOGH is still a relevant series to this very day.
2. Macross Delta
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 3, 2016 – Sept 25, 2016
In the latest addition to the Macross franchise, we have Delta. In comparison to other military anime listed here, Delta focuses on a contracting unit as opposed to an official government sanctioned one. In contrast to official military units, private contractors have a bit more flexibility and can be seen as more expendable. Even so, this anime proves that it doesn’t change the nature of that when one serves, it is for a country whether it is their homeland or an ally. In some instances, service is motivated by blind patriotism such as the case for the Aerial Knights for the Kingdom of Windemere, while Hayate wants to uphold a family tradition and prove something to himself.
And what makes Delta unique to other military anime is that the Delta Flight Squadron provides back up to Walkure, an idol unit that uses their singing talents to calm down the aggressions of a prominent virus. So if you want some military action with a flavor of Japanese idol singing, Delta is certainly one of those unique anime to check out.
1. Kidou Senshi Gundam Dai 08 MS Shoutai (Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 25, 1996 – Jul 25, 1999
Taking place during the events of the first Gundam series, this series focuses on the titular unit, the 08th MS team. While you see them out on the battlefield always defying the odds, the series focuses on how they form as a unit. Shiro is an idealistic platoon lieutenant who commands a group of motley crew soldiers with realistic issues. One member is Sanders, who many soldiers call a curse because he’s the lone survivor of previous units he has been assigned to. But thanks to the support of Shiro, Karen, and the rest of the team, they show that Sanders is truly not a curse as they survive mission after mission.
In addition, the series gives you a chance to learn more about some of the team members as individuals. With Michel, you are constantly reminded that he has a fiancee waiting for him and is always writing letters to her. For Eledore, the team’s sound analyst, he wishes to one day become a successful musician. On the Zeon side, you learn about the family dynamic of Aina, her brother Sahalin, and Norris’ paternal relationship with her. What makes this list number one is that this anime masterfully demonstrates that in the end, military units are pretty much family.
While some of these anime tend to focus on war, the anime we listed also do a great job of portraying the internal workings of military units as well. Though they are undeniably by no means an accurate representation of how real life military units work, but the dynamics of the relationships and the dreams of the individual soldiers bring audiences in touch with the human side of things.
So this is it for this year’s edition to what we consider to be the best in what military anime has to offer. So what are some militarily oriented anime should be listed that we missed? If you have anything, please give your thoughts in the comments.
Military is such a loosely defined genre that it’s really not even a genre in and of itself. Rather, it’s more of a collection in show’s that deal with settings or themes of war and conflict. A number of series take different approaches to the subject, as such, there’s something on this list for everyone.
Whether you want a sprawling, dramatic conflict that deals in depth with tactics or strategy, or a story about how war affects the world at large, you’ll do well with any show on this list.
10. Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Oct 6, 2006 to Jul 29, 2007
The world is dominated by the empire of Britannia, who possess Knightmare Frames which give their military an advantage across the globe. Japan has become Britannia’s latest conquest, and is now designated merely as ‘Area 11.’ Lelouch, an exiled prince of Britannia must throw in his hat with the nascent Japanese resistance movement in an attempt to remove the yoke of Britannian rule.
Say what you will about Code Geass, the series first season had some of the most compelling strategy-heavy action you’ll see in a long time. The show also had a very compelling character drama woven throughout. However, the battles between Knightmare Frames were truly the highlight, and you can tell the effort that was took in order to write interesting strategies.
- Episodes: 38
- Aired: Jun 4, 2012 to Feb 25, 2013
Kingdom is a fictionalized account of the warring states period in China. Shin and Hyou are war-orphans amongst the lower-classes in China. Hyou is taken by a minister away from the village, but returns as Shin meets a boy with a striking resemblance to Hyou, who happens to be the leader of the Qin dynasty. Shin must enter a power-struggle that will affect all of China.
Kingdom really goes out of it’s way to delve into the tactics and strategy of warring combatants. Shin is a refreshing main character, because it has less to do with him being an overpowered protagonist who can change a battle himself, and more with him fitting in with a strategy that requires numerous parts acting as one. Some of the CG is questionable, but there is definitely a lot to feel good about in this military series.
- Episodes: 7
- Aired: Apr 25, 1988 to Jun 25, 1989
Modern officers of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force set sail aboard the Mirai, one of the latest and most advanced surface vessels in the service. En route to a joint exercise with the American Navy, the Mirai goes through a strange storm, and comes out the other side in the heat of the Pacific War. Thrusted into a war they learned about in school, into a situation they don’t entirely understand, the crew must make tough decisions in joining, or avoiding the conflict.
Zipang has a really interesting premise that you won’t see often in Anime and/or Manga. Taken the well-warn time travel premise but given a different spin, the crew of the Mirai are torn over whether or not to enter into the conflict. It’s a show that really examines Japan and it’s relationship to the history of the Pacific war. It’s also got some really well-detailed attention to modern military hardware which will make military fans happy.
7. Sound of the Sky ? So Ra No Wo To
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 5, 2010 to Mar 23, 2010
Sound of the Sky is the story of volunteer Kanata Sorami, who opts to join the military in order to serve as a communications bugler. Though she’s inexperienced and somewhat childish, her bright outlook and unwavering optimism moves the soldiers in her unit to look for beauty in a world that has been torn asunder by a war.
‘Moeblob’ detractors aside, Sound of the Sky is more than a worthy addition to this list. The military genre is often defined by long-form, war dramas that focus heavily on the military or political sides of an armed conflict. Sound of the Sky takes a different approach, but is a meaningful and thoughtful story on how people try to make peace in a world with the threat of war everywhere.
6. Now and Then, Here and There - Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct 14, 1999 to Jan 20, 2000
Shu is an average Japanese boy, who seemingly cares more about his Kendo studies than anything. He intercedes on behalf of a strange girl named Lala-ru, and is then transported into an entirely different world. It’s a land where water is in short supply, and Lala-ru is being hunted for her magical pendant which holds a vast reservoir of water.
Now and Then, Here and There is one of the most depressing entries on this list, and deals heavily with the horrors of war. It’s less about the specifics of tactics and strategy, or a war drama, but it’s more of a moral story about how much prolonged conflict can do to the human condition. It’s a show that’s not for the faint of heart, but stand’s apart for showing how horrible war can truly be.
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Jun 4, 2012 to Feb 25, 2013
Berserk is the story of Guts, a talented mercenary who is recruited into the Band of the Hawk. Led by a talented, ambitious and enigmatic ‘Griffith’, the Band of the Hawk rise to a prominent position within Midland, who consistently relies upon the group for decisive moments in various battles. Though Griffith has a dream in his mind, Guts and fellow warrior Casca must find their own reasons to live and fight.
Berserk is one of the most beloved manga series to ever be written, and though the original anime series does not capture all of it’s glory, it does recount one of Berserk’s best story arcs. There’re a lot of things to like for fans of the military genre that’s typical, be it the detailed battles, the over the top violence.
But all in all, Berserk is a tragedy of truly epic proportions, and really makes you look at history’s famous, ambitious conquerors in a new light. Berserk is a story you don’t want to miss, be it the manga, anime, or recent film series.
4. Armored Trooper Votoms (Soukou Kihei Votoms)
- Episodes: 52
- Aired: Apr 1, 1983 to Mar 23, 1984
Votoms is the story of Chirico Curvie, the member of an elite unit for the Gilgamesh confederation, fighting their enemies in the Balarant Union. Chirico is put on a suspicious mission and is eventually betrayed, and branded a traitor. Chirico goes on to search for the truth and unearth the conspiracy behind both warring powers.
Votoms is an old series, which may be a barrier to those who try to watch it. It’s also without the name recognition of series like Gundam or Macross, however, it’s a pioneer in the ‘Realistic Mecha’ genre, and sometimes feel’s more like a typical military series as opposed to Gundam, which feels very Space Opera-esque.
This realistic approach has endeared fans of the military/war genre, even taking in some notice from those who typically don’t watch Anime.
3. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- Episodes: 110
- Aired: Jan 8, 1988 to Mar 17, 1997
Despite sounding like a cheesy 70’s B-movie, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, often abbreviated as LOGH, certainly lives up to the epic scope of it’s title. Often thought as the crown jewel of the Space Opera genre, LOGH follows the war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. Following the stories of the Empire’s Reinhard von Lohengramm and the FPA’s Yang Wen-Li, the two young commanders will attempt to make a difference in the conflict.
LOGH is a titanic plot in a pretty titanic (For anime standards) series length of 110 episodes in addition to some extra entry’s into the series. Be ready for the long haul, when going into this anime, because it’s by all accounts worth the time invested into it.
LOGH is simply another series you can’t leave off a list like this as it’s one of the most influential and acclaimed entries in it’s genre.
2. Mobile Suit Gundam
- Episodes: 43
- Aired: Apr 7, 1979 to Jan 26, 1980
It’s impossible to do this list and leave out Mobile Suit Gundam, Not only the original series, but also some of the OVA’s and Spin-offs that derived from it. The original series follows Amuro Ray as he pilots a new Mobile Suit called Gundam, fighting the forces of Zeon.
Still only a teenage, Amuro has to take the horrors of war head on. He and his Rival, Char Aznable, an ace of the Zeon, become bitter combatants and it seems that Zeon and the Federation will have to settle their disputes on the field.
There are so many entries into this universe, many of them worthwhile, many of them not so much, but the original is still a must-watch for all anime fans. There are bits and pieces of the Gundam franchise that everyone can get behind without being 100% familiar with one another.
For example, you can enjoy the OVA War in the Pocket, or the shorter series 08th MS Team without being 100 percent familiar with the original series, or vice-versa.
1. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 1, 2002 to Mar 25, 2003
War is nebulous, and even with today’s technology, we have little idea how the next generation of conflict will look like. This may be why Ghost in the Shell is such a stand-out. For those unaware, Ghost in the Shell follows Motoko Kusanagi and her compatriots at Section 9, a special unit technically part of the police but seemingly near independent in Japan’s byzantine labyrinth of a state security apparatus.
Ghost in the Shell is such a stand-out for a number of reasons. The first to me is the quality of the series writing and composition. Both seasons of Stand Alone Complex are a blend of incredible separate one-episode stories as well as those which tie in more closely to a central plot for each season.
Some of these one off episodes really make you wonder about how far technology will take us, and if the post-human world depicted in Ghost in the Shell will become a reality. As a military series, it’s captivating to watch a show like Ghost in the Shell spell out what could be a very possible, very near, and, in many eyes, a very unnerving reality that could soon be our own.
There’s a number of notable show’s that can be called ‘military series,’ and we hope we got some of your favorites. Did we miss any? Or should the list be rearranged? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!