Much like the fantasy subgenre, science fiction invites endless creativity in anime, with the likes of Mob Psycho 100 and Chainsaw Man soon to be showing their own twists on it. Going to the far future or alternate timelines are popular premises for works of fiction in general, anime or otherwise, but some of the best anime series have used sci-fi in some capacity.
IMDb has curated the best sci-fi shows within the genre, making up an impressively diverse list. Anime like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Cowboy Bebopare the most popular choices to enrich sci-fi elements, but others like Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Steins;Gate also help flex this subgenre’s depth.
10/10 The Mysterious Cities Of Gold (1982-1983) – 8.7
Stream On Amazon Prime Video
The Mysterious Cities of Gold is an older anime classic from the ’80s that uses an alternate history angle in tandem with science fiction for its setting. It tells the tale of young Esteban, a Spanish boy from Barcelona who joins the expedition for the New World to discover the legendary Seven Cities of Gold and his missing father.
Esteban was born with the power to call upon the sun, earning him the title of “Child of the Sun,” and part of his voyage to the New World is to uncover the truth behind his parentage following his adoptive father’s death. The Mysterious Cities of Gold was well-received for its adventurous tones that effectively balanced imagination with grounded realism, as well as reeling in a generation’s worth of young fans into the anime space.
9/10 Gintama (2011-2012) – 8.7
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While the likes of One Piece and Hajime no Ippo take the lion’s share of the spotlight when it comes to excellent and extremely long-running shounen series, Gintama is a fan-favorite anime more than worthy of being in that same conversation. It opts for a wild take on sci-fi, as Gintama is a colorfully vibrant mashup of several genres.
Mixing science fiction, comedy, and a historical setting, the series takes place in an alternate rendition of the late Edo period of Japan (1603-1867) that’s conquered by aliens. It centers around freelance samurai Gintoki Sakata and his friends as they take on various jobs, which naturally spins out into an array of wonderfully bizarre adventures. Gintama has been consistently praised for its balance of comedic relief, creativity, and vintage shounen action.
8/10 Code Geass (2006-2008) – 8.7
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Code Geass is another example of a beloved anime original series. The show blends a dystopian sci-fi setting with an alternate history premise, chronicling the story of Prince Lelouch. He’s given the Power of Kings and forges a team of allies to fight back against the tyrannical and imperial Holy Britannian Empire.
Code Geass is an exciting combination of spectacle-focused action and grandiose storytelling with thematic undertones of overcoming the authoritarian rule of older, power-hungry generations. So long as audiences are willing to see the charm in the admitted melodrama of its dialogue, Code Geass should prove an engaging watch.
7/10 One-Punch Man (2015-2019) – 8.7
Stream On Netflix
Writer ONE’s aforementioned Mob Psycho 100 is wrapping up its exciting coming-of-age sci-fi story with season 3 courtesy of studio Bones, but the creator is likely most known for his One-Punch Man series. The first season was particularly lauded for its mesmerizing and high-octane action in the animation work, but the world, story, and characters as a whole are a fun take on science fiction and the superhero genre.
One-Punch Man is a satirization of the shounen demographic manga/anime series and the superhero genre, with the story focusing on Saitama’s exploits as a bored hero since he’s effectively the strongest being in the world. The series is an impressive showcase of over-the-top action, animation, and clever use of self-aware comedy.
6/10 Future Boy Conan (1978) – 8.8
Stream On Amazon Prime Video
A vintage anime from the late ’70s, Future Boy Conan is a series that’s received a welcome and warm reception in retrospect. It’s a series that strings together adventurous tones with post-apocalyptic and steampunk elements for its premise, with the story beginning in 2008 when humanity faces extinction from its own folly.
Conan is the only child born on an island where people fled from the disasters caused by ultra-magnetic war weapons. Future Boy Conan is an endearing sci-fi adventure that’s been well-received for its nuanced themes and anti-war social commentary, making for a timeless story all these decades later.
5/10 Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996) – 8.8
Stream On Funimation/Crunchyroll
Dragon Ball Z is an undeniable juggernaut within the community, as it’s one of the most noteworthy anime classics of the ’90s. Akira Toriyama’s story picks up after Goku defeats Piccolo at the Tenkaichi Budokai, with DBZ exponentially growing out the worldbuilding with new heroes, villains, and the concept of a Super Saiyan.
This upbeat and bombastic anime series incorporates colorful elements of science fiction, from futuristic space crafts to aliens to dinosaurs roaming alongside humans. Even though it’s far from being among the more nuanced anime out there, it knows exactly what it wants to be and excels at it.
4/10 Steins;Gate (2011-2015) – 8.8
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One of the more contemporary sci-fi anime hits, Steins;Gate is one of the most gripping and subversive TV series out there. It’s arguably among the anime worthy of being called a “modern classic,” as the story expertly weaves the psychological-thriller genre into its sci-fi premise.
Steins;Gate follows the eccentric and self-proclaimed “mad scientist” Okabe Rintaro and his friends who help indulge his wild personality and ventures, until they suddenly — and accidentally — discover the technology for time travel. Opening as almost a slice-of-life anime, Steins;Gate lulls audiences into a sense of security before unraveling into an intense sci-fi conspiracy story with an investing cast of characters. The show spawned a sequel movie, as well as a midquel/sequel series titled Steins;Gate 0 that explores a darker timeline.
3/10 Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999) – 8.9
Stream On Netflix
A landmark series also coming from the ’90s, Cowboy Bebop is an icon that still stands as one of the greatest anime available on Netflix. It stands the test of time even 27 years later, with this story taking a gloomy dystopian spin on the sci-fi genre. Even more creative, Cowboy Bebop combines sci-fi with the western and crime-noir genres, as well as an irresistible use of acid jazz in its score to help set the atmosphere.
The series follows the unlikely band Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and their corgi Ein as they work as space bounty hunters to make ends meet. Set against the backdrop of a future where humanity’s corporate greed rendered Earth almost inhospitable for all life, Bebop intimately fleshes out its cast of characters through riveting existential, emotional, and poignant societal themes.
2/10 Legend Of The Galactic Heroes (1988-1997) – 9.1
Stream On Hidive
Should fans want a unique and retro anime icon with an enticing flavor of Game of Thrones-like political intrigue, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an excellent choice. Adapted from author Yoshiki Tanaka’s series of novels, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an expansive sci-fi anime that details the ventures of Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-li, two figures rising through the ranks of the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, respectively.
Taking place in the 36th century, the plot revolves around a war between these galactic political factions. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has been regarded as a landmark anime, as it’s been widely acclaimed for its intricate storytelling, its cast of characters, and layered in-universe lore. The original anime ran for 110 episodes, effectively telling an engaging and sprawling story rich with space opera-themed character drama.
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There was an original Fullmetal Alchemist anime before this, but the second go at adapting Hiromu Arakawa’s manga with Brotherhood proved to be the definitive take. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the most faithful adaptation of the source material, following the globetrotting quest of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. They search the world for the coveted Philosopher’s Stone to give Al his human body back.
The series has been widely acclaimed for its masterful mix of emotionally profound themes, nuanced storytelling, and immersive worldbuilding punctuated by thrilling action sequences. Brotherhood uses alchemy as the crux of its sci-fi elements as well as fantasy and industrial-era aesthetics to set the stage for its world.
NEXT: 10 Best Seinen & Mature Anime, Ranked By IMDb