Of the many genres explored in anime, space has to be one of the most interesting, whether it’s heavily involved in the main plot of the overall story or whether it’s just a setting for a small saga for only a couple of adventures at most. A fair amount of the most popular anime have examples of space exploration, human factions fighting war, adventures on different planets, alien encounters, etc. For a wide variety of Western fans, the first anime shows were exposed to them via the Toonami block on Cartoon Network, where TOM and his assistant Sarah traveled through space via the Absolution. Even now Toonami is still ongoing as it continues to bring anime to old and new fans alike on Adult Swim.
Space is definitely a big concept among anime TV shows, starting early on with Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and Cowboy Bebop to newer shows such as Space Dandy, Space Brother, and Knights of Sidonia. Although there may not be as many popular anime space movies, there are still a fair amount that represent the variety of different perspectives explore in the TV shows. Here are the Top 10 Anime Space Movies.
- Genres: Sci-Fi, Horror, Psychological, Drama
- Aired: Dec 23, 1995
Although this movie is technically 3 short stories and 2 of them aren’t related to outer space, the first short story, Magnetic Rose, is pretty impactful despite its length. A salvage ship known as the Corona responds to a distress signal coming from a space station located in a spaceship graveyard. The crew members, Heintz and Miguel, decide to explore the space station in order to find the source of the signal, and what they find is certainly the last thing they were expecting. While the overall premise of the story follows some traditional horror tropes in regards to the “exploring remains” genre, it’s a classic example of that type of story being set in space in addition to using outer space to further enhance the story, especially the ending. This is worth a watch if you’re into the horror genre as well as this aspect in regards to space exploration.
9. Space Adventure Cobra
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Space
- Aired: Jul 3, 1982
This movie may be pretty old and the animation pretty dated, but in terms of a classic space adventure story, Space Adventure Cobra definitely warrants a mention. A well-known space pirate as well as a playboy, Cobra is recruited by bounty hunter Jane Flower in order to rescue Jane’s sister. Along the way, however, Cobra finds himself mixed up in preventing an artificial wandering planet from falling into the hands of Crystal Boy and his group known as the Pirate Guild. Despite its cheesiness, Space Adventure Cobra is actually a pretty decent adventure story with well-balanced characters considering the length of the movie. If you’re a fan of space westerns and don’t mind characters being too cheesy at times, then Cobra serves as one of if not the original space cowboys, and it’s worth checking out the TV series as well as the movie.
8. Galaxy Express 999
- Genres: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Space, Drama, Fantasy
- Aired: Sep 1, 2006
Another really old but classic space movie, Galaxy Express 999 focuses on Tetsurou Hoshino, a boy obsessed with getting revenge on Count Mecha, his mother’s murderer, by somehow obtaining a mechanical body. Unfortunately, due to how expensive a mechanical body is, Tetsuro’s salvation lies in Galaxy Express 999, a space train that crosses the entire galaxy and whose last stop is a planet where mechanical parts are free. With the help of a strange woman named Maetel who agrees to get Tetsurou a boarding pass if he agrees to travel with her, the two new companions begin their journey. While this movie certainly uses the not-so-often seen concept of a space train, where it really shines is the emotional bond between Tetsurou and Maetel as they travel through space. If you’re a fan of stories where two companions travel together, then this space movie is for you.
7. Space Battleship Yamato
- Genres: Military, Sci-Fi, Space, Drama
- Aired: Aug 6, 1977
The first military space film on the list and an overall sci-fi classic, Space Battleship Yamato is set in the year 2199, where an alien race known as the Gamilon seeks to conquer humanity and declares war on Earth. Things have progressed to where humanity will be wiped out in less than a year, as Earth’s surface is completely uninhabitable and the underground shelters will soon give way. The only hope lies in the crew of the Space Battleship Yamato reaching the planet Iscandar in order to receive a device from Queen Starsha that can eradicate the destruction and radiation. While the characters don’t really have a lot of in-depth development, the animation overall is pretty impressive considering its age, bringing forth an interesting setting worth exploring. Definitely a military space film to consider.
6. Space Pirate Captain Harlock
- Genres: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Space
- Aired: September 7, 2013
A much more modern space military movie, Space Pirate Captain Harlock focuses on said character’s war with the Gaia Sanction. When around 500 billion people try to return home after depleting the resources in the rest of the universe, Captain Harlock is charged by the Gaia Sanction to defend Earth. However, Harlock turns against the Gaia Sanction after they let in a diplomatic elite Harlock believed should not have returned to Earth, and decides to release dark energy over the planet to make it completely uninhabitable. Not only does this fail, it also results in Harlock becoming immortal, resulting in 100 years of fighting until the main story takes place. In addition to the action packed scenes and unique use of CGI throughout, the movie also touches a fair amount on certain philosophical ideas about man as well as the worries people have regarding the environment. All in all, this outer space movie has a bit of everything, but if you enjoy military films as well as protecting the environment, this movie certainly delivers on those issues and more.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky
- Genres: Action, Military, Sci-Fi, Space, Drama, Mecha
- Aired: Jun 25, 2016
The Gundam Wing series is one of the go-to series regarding outer space, as there are many iterations full of fighting Gundams and beautiful shots of space itself. Thunderbolt: December Sky is no different, as it definitely gets grittier regarding how war is more gray than it is black and white through the fights between the Federation troops and Zeon forces. There are also more minor characters that suffer hardships in addition to the talented main cast and their Gundams. All in all, if you grew up a Gundam fan or are just a mecha fan in general, this movie can fulfill those needs.
4. Macross: Do You Remember Love?
- Genres: Action, Space, Mecha, Romance, Military, Music, Sci-Fi
- Aired: Jul 7, 1984
Unlike most of the other movies on this list, this movie makes a lot more sense if you’re already familiar with the events of the Macross TV series, as it takes place right in the middle of a war. That being said, this movie definitely set the bar pretty high upon its release due to both its soundtrack as well as its story. Not many space movies focus on the development of a romance, especially military focused ones, but Do You Remember Love does exactly that between pilot Hikaru Ichijo and idol singer Lynn Minmay. Between the romance, the warfare, and the concept of the 2 alien races being entirely male (the Zentraedi) and female (the Meltrandi), a lot of issues are explored, and if you’re a fan of both the romance and military genres, Macross: Do You Remember Love would be a good starting point.
3. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War
- Genres: Action, Space, Military, Drama, Sci-Fi
- Aired: Dec 18, 1993
The go-to space military movie, Overture to a New War focuses on the conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance and covers all aspects of the war, from the strategies that are created to the tactics used in order to implement them. Although there are a fair amount of characters involved in this drama, Reinhard Von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-Li are the main 2, as it is ultimately the two of them facing off against each other in order to gain the upper hand. In addition, unlike the Macross entry on this list, Overture to a New War is set at the beginning of the series, as the first half of the movie builds up to the Battle of Astate, which takes place in the 2nd half. With this setup as well as the fantastic space fighting that takes place, Overure to a New War is a fantastic space movie all-around.
2. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door
- Genres: Action, Space, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
- Aired: Sep 1, 2001
The all-around favorite space western TV show has its own movie, and it certainly delivers, although its best viewed towards the end of the show as opposed to the beginning for proper context. When Faye Valentine witnesses an oil tanker on Mars suddenly explode and the carnage that follows from a strange disease that is rapidly spreading, she and the rest of the Bebop crew seize upon the opportunity to collect the 300 million woolong bounty placed on whoever is responsible. As Spike, Faye, Jet, Ed, and Ein chase down leads across Alba City, they soon discover a massive cover up operation far beyond what they were expecting. With Spike and the gang being their usual selves, some great action sequences that are properly built up to, and a kickass soundtrack that goes right along with that of the TV series, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is quite simply among the best space movies anime has to offer.
1. Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
- Genres: Adventure, Drama, Music, Sci-Fi
- Aired: Dec 1, 2003
The visual realization of the “Discovery” album released by the band Daft Punk, Interstella 5555 is certainly a unique space movie in the sense that there is no dialogue, thus telling the story solely through the characters’ actions and emotional reactions as well as the songs from the album itself, as the movie covers the entire album. The premise of the story is relatively simple: 4 innocent aliens in a band together are kidnapped by a villain who turns them into humans and used mind control to enslave them. It is solely up to a space pilot from the band’s home world who heard the band’s distress call during their abduction to find them and rescue them before it’s too late. This mashup between Daft Punk and artist Leiji Matsumoto resulted in a very unique anime movie, and the space visuals that we get to see are beautiful. If you are looking for a movie where you can follow a simple story, listen to some great music, and observe the beauty of space, then this is the movie to watch.
Whether its space travel, fighting in space, aliens, or just the beauty of the cosmos itself, there are multiple avenues to pursue when it comes to watching something space related in anime. These 10 movies cover a lot of these perspectives, but what are your guys’ thoughts? Is there a film missing that should’ve made the cut? Should a certain film have been ranked higher or lower? Post your opinions in the comment section below!