Anime is impressively versatile in terms of finding specific subgenres to get into, especially with the likes of Spy x Family, Chainsaw Man, and Mob Psycho 100 flexing the genre’s tonal diversity and premises. There’s bound to be something to suit any fans’ particular tastes, and the sci-fi subgenre is one with a high ceiling of creative potential that’s comparable to fantasy.
Many of the anime series that fall under this category take place in distant futures to make the most of their respective settings. The recent Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is one such smash-hit sci-fi anime, but classics like Cowboy Bebop are also great examples of anime with these far-future premises.
Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)
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Cowboy Bebop is a bona fide classic regardless of the subgenre or setting, and it stands the test of time as one of the most remarkable anime series available to stream now for veterans and newcomers alike. The series takes place in a dystopian sci-fi future where mankind has been forced to colonize the outer reaches of space after countless years of corporate greed rendered Earth nearly inhospitable for humanity.
It follows the unlikely bounty hunting crew of Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and their corgi Ein, as they tackle bounties across the galaxy to simply make ends meet. Cowboy Bebop has an irresistible sense of style both in artistic direction and score, perfectly complementing its gloomy sci-fi/noir atmosphere. It also gets deeply intimate through its main cast in exploring various existential themes.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022)
Stream On Netflix
The most recent anime sensation comes in the form of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, taking a visually and narratively stunning take on developer CD Projekt Red’s action RPG and the tabletop game it adapts. The anime takes place in the year 2076, one year before the events of the game, and David Martinez aims to become a titular mercenary Edgerunner in a cybernetic-obsessed and corporately-ruled future where the odds are stacked against the average citizen.
Given the fact that it’s a Studio Trigger production, vibrant color palettes and action-packed spectacles are to be expected, but Cyberpunk: Edgerunners also achieves the feat of being an emotionally gripping narrative as well.
Gurren Lagann (2007)
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Often regarded as a modern classic and one of the highest-ranked anime series on MyAnimeList, animation studio Gainax’s Gurren Lagann is so much more than the mecha subgenre would normally let on paper. The series never strictly labels its years, but it certainly takes place in a futuristic sci-fi setting. It takes place in a world where the imposing Spiral King has ruled over life aboveground, forcing the vast majority of humanity to live underground in squalor.
The series follows Simon and his best friend Kamina as they aim for higher aspirations and take back their lives on the surface. The mecha element is mostly a vehicle for what unravels into one of the most emotional and inspiring anime showcasing the durability of the human spirit.
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While not quite as revered as its aforementioned contemporary Cowboy Bebop, veteran studio Madhouse’s adaptation of Trigun is a classic in its own right with a similar mashup of subgenres. Trigun is heavily characterized by its blend of sci-fi and western and, despite leaning harder into the latter for its setting, it takes in a bleak dystopian future.
The series opens in an upbeat episodic fashion that uses a solid dose of comedic relief, but it gradually evolves through its protagonist Vash into an introspective and complex sci-fi focused plot. It proves to handle darker, more serious themes well along with tasteful comedic elements where Vash’s relationships with the supporting cast are the show’s major hooks.
Space Dandy (2014)
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Taking a break from the psychologically and emotionally intensive futuristic anime, Space Dandy is a sci-fi series that wears its influences on its sleeve and is fully self-aware of what it is. And it’s in good part for those reasons that it’s such a beloved series. In a way, it’s a great alternative anime to watch for fans of Cowboy Bebop, as it stars the titular intergalactic bounty hunter tackling a series of episodic adventures.
There’s no hard date as to when Space Dandy takes place either, but it’s in a distant future that simultaneously uses heavy ’80s-inspired aesthetic for its art direction. The anime has frequently and affectionately been described as a colorful anime amalgam of Star Wars‘ Han Solo, Futurama‘s baffoon-ish Zapp Brannigan, and Elvis Presley.
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Megalobox manages to be arguably one of the strongest modern sports anime as well as sci-fi. Taking place in the late 21st century when boxing has taken a new form where the athletes fight wearing cybernetic exoskeletons to enhance their physical strength, the story follows the downtrodden Joe as he goes from fighting fixed underground fights to competing in Megalonia — the most prestigious megaloboxing tournament.
The series started as an homage to the classic boxing series Ashita no Joe, but it has since evolved into a worthy contender on its terms. What makes Megalobox exceptional is how grounded its story manages to be with the sci-fi elements, as its sci-fi boxing is more of an exciting backdrop for character-driven drama.
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Another cyberpunk anime, Psycho-Pass made an impressive name for itself in the more modern age of anime. This sci-fi thriller series takes place in the year 2113 when the Japanese government forcibly imposes biometric technology that detects an individual’s criminal potential and takes brutal — and even fatal — action if they don’t pass their “Psycho-Pass.”
The story is viewed from the perspectives of the cynical and jaded Inspectors that help enforce these laws. As many cyberpunk-themed series do, Psycho-Pass takes inspiration from the likes of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and crafts its world, exploring its moral and psychological themes through a dystopian lens.
Land Of The Lustrous (2017)
Stream On Amazon Prime Video
The source material has been widely acclaimed despite fans agonizing over its drip-fed chapter publications, and animation studio Orange’s adaptation of Land of the Lustrous has been similarly praised. Its strong critical reception is not just toward being a faithful adaptation of the manga, but also for being a rare showcase of how brilliant CG animation can be when handled tastefully.
The story centers around Phos, a member of a jewel-like species of beings stuck in a conflict against the Lunarians that are trying to harvest their bodies. It takes place in a distant future where Earth has been decimated six times by falling meteorites.
Dr. Stone (2019)
Stream On HBO Max, Crunchyroll, & Fumination Now
While there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Dr. Stone as a shounen series due to its character tropes and flavor of comedy, it’s certainly refreshing and creative in terms of its premise. It cleverly combines heavy elements of prehistory in its world, but it’s quickly revealed that Dr. Stone takes place in the year 5738.
Protagonist and eccentric scientist Senku Ishigami is brought back from stasis in a world where what remains of humanity has reverted to stone age-esque lifestyles. From there, Senku and his growing cast of friends aim to rebuild civilization after humanity was mysteriously and collectively petrified 3,700 years ago.
Legend Of The Galactic Heroes (1988-1997)
Stream On Hidive
Originally a series of Japanese novels by Yoshiki Tanaka, Legend of the Galactic Heroes was since adapted into a sprawling anime classic. It’s received new adaptations in recent years through Production I.G, with both being solid choices for newcomers looking to delve into it. The lore spans over 1,000 years worth of continuity, with the series sometimes cited as “Game of Thrones in space.”
It mainly follows a war that’s lasted over a century between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance and the rise of Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-li as they rise to power in their respective factions. Much of the story revolves around intense political intrigue set against the backdrop of enticingly complex science fiction.
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