In 1956, the manga Tetsujin 28-go hit shelves. While this series has largely been forgotten, it launched a whole new genre that is today known as mecha. This genre has grown massively in both size and scope, with each year bringing one or more new mecha shows to our screens.
The mecha genre is an amazingly varied one. While it primarily focuses on giant robots, each series approaches and uses these hulking behemoths in different ways. Over the years, the genre has been used for everything from hard-sci-fi war epics that discuss the nature of human conflicts to comedy series that use their machines for gags and japes.
Because of genre’s varied nature, it can be hard to know which mecha series to start with when commencing with a bingefest. Never fear ⏤ we’ve compiled this list of the top 10 best mecha series ever created so you can begin your viewings straightaway.
Created by the legendary Gainax, Gunbuster was the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno, the man who would go on to redefine the anime industry. Hitting screens in 1988, the series puts a very different spin on mecha tropes, creating something that must be seen to be believed.
Gunbuster is set in a world where humanity is taking its first steps into space. This move upsets a group of aliens called the Uchuu Kaijuu, who attack the earth. This forces the earth to create new mechs and weapons, including a massive weapon called the Gunbuster. A specific pilot is needed for this weapon, meaning that several up-and-coming pilots are pitted against each other in a school to see who gets the honor of using the Gunbuster.
A fun mix of genres, it’s obvious why Gunbuster put Anno on the map as one of anime’s best creative minds.
9. The Vision of Escaflowne
The Vision of Escaflowne was created by mecha trailblazer Shōji Kawamori, who would also work on Macross. The series follows Hitomi, a young girl snatched from Earth and taken to a planet called Gaea. On this planet, Hitomi learns that she has psychic powers and soon finds herself thrown into the middle of a war when the Zaibach Empire tries to take over Gaea. Hitomi and her new friend Van must find a way to stop this evil plan, and the powerful mech Escaflowne seems to be the key to the whole war.
The Vision of Escaflowne was an immensely original series during its time. While many later series have shamelessly stolen its concepts, it still holds up well, making it a fantastic watch for mecha fans.
8. The Big O
Often considered one of the most stylish anime series ever created, 1999’s The Big O was created by Sunrise. The series is set in the dystopian corporate-controlled Paradigm City. In this city, Roger Smith acts as a negotiator. Roger is aided by his butler Norman Burg and R. Dorothy Wayneright, a robot girl.
This job often sees Smith uncovering the mysteries at the heart of Paradigm City. However, Roger can also call on Big O ⏤ a giant robotic relic from the city’s past ⏤ for help.
7. Mobile Police Patlabor
When most people think of mecha anime, they think about action series. However, Mobile Police Patlabor alters the format by adding a dose of comedy.
Created by the artist group Headgear, which includes the legendary Kazunori Itō among its members, this series follows a special division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The division has some specially converted Labor mechs, dubbed Patlabor, at its disposal, and the series follows this division as they use these powerful robots to solve crimes, clear up accidents, and perform other police tasks.
Fun and full of heart, Patlabor is a massive franchise. It’s easy to see why, as while there are many different mecha series, none of them are like Patlabor.
6. Gurren Lagann
An undeniable cult classic, 2007’s Gurren Lagann is the anime that spawned a million memes. While fun, these memes do Gurren Lagann a disservice, as the mecha is one of the most creative and gripping shows ever created.
Created by Gainax, the show is set in a world where humans are forced to live in underground caverns under the oppressive thumb of Lordgenome, the Spiral King. A worker called Simon befriends a local delinquent called Kamina who runs a gang called Team Gurren. One day, Simon uncovers a tiny robot who sets off a chain reaction of events that will totally turn Team Gurren’s world upside down.
Packed with plenty of heart, mystery, and over-the-top action, Gurren Lagann is a cult classic for a reason. It’s an anime that every anime fan should watch at least once.
5. Aura Battler Dunbine
Aura Battler Dunbine was created by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Based on his Byston Well series of light novels, the anime follows Shō Zama, a young motocross prodigy who falls into a new world that blends medieval fantasy and high technology. In this new world, Shō Zama meets Drake Luft, a man who is trying to save Byston Well from being conquered. To do so, he needs people who can pilot the Aura Battler mechs, and only people from Earth have strong enough Auras to do so.
What follows is a twisted tale of political intrigue and war as factions clash and battle for power. All the while, bloodshed slowly overtakes this otherwise beautiful world.
4. Eureka Seven
Many anime fans describe 2005’s Eureka Seven as a forgotten classic, which makes sense given that the show presents a fantastic twist on the traditional mecha format. Created by the legendary Studio Bones, Eureka Seven focuses on Renton Thurston, a young man living a boring life with his grandfather who spends most of his time engaging in a sport called lifting, which is basically surfing through the air.
Renton’s dream is to join Gekkostate, a group of counter-culture lifters famous for their high-octane lifestyle. Renton gets lucky when a robot called Nirvash type ZERO crashes into his home. Inside this craft is Eureka, a member of Gekkostate, turning Renton’s life upside down and throwing him into the middle of a strange new situation.
3. Super Dimensional Fortress Macross
On paper, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross sounds extremely strange, but if you can overcome your initial confusion, then you’re in for a treat. Created by Studio Nue in 1982, this is an installment of the legendary Macross franchise.
In 1999, everything was fine until a massive object crash-landed on South Ataria Island. Over the next 10 years, U.N. Spacy studies the debris and repairs it. In the process, they realize this odd object is actually a spaceship, one that they dub SDF-1 Macross.
However, on the day of the ship’s launch, a group of aliens arrives. These aliens say that this ship was used by their enemies, and the craft suddenly fires on the aliens, causing a war in the process. What follows is a fascinating plot filled with intrigue and mystery as the real reason behind the war comes to light.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Categorizing Neon Genesis Evangelion as a strictly mecha anime is doing it a disservice. While the giant robots play a massive part in the show’s lore, the series is much more than that. Created by Hideaki Anno and released in 1995, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a subversive classic that puts an existential twist on classic mecha tropes.
15 years after a terrible event called Second Impact, a young man named Shinji Ikari is summoned by Gendo Ikari. Gendo is Shinji’s father and leader of a paramilitary organization called NERV. Shinji is convinced to pilot a giant Eva robot to fight a strange being called an Angel. If these Angels are not killed, an event called Third Impact will wipe out the entire world.
Evangelion is packed with symbolism and metaphor and is really a one-of-a-kind show. The plot will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime, and once you’ve watched it, the show will stay with you forever.
1. Mobile Suit Gundam
1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam is a classic that still holds up today. Created by the legendary Yoshiyuki Tomino, the series is set in an alternative world where humanity has expanded into the stars. However, when one colony, the Principality of Zeon, declares independence from the Earth Federation, a violent conflict erupts.
This war is fought with Mobile Suits, massive mechs armed to the teeth with weapons. Young Amuro Ray ends up piloting Earth Federation’s newest weapon, the RX-78 Gundam, as he tries to turn the tide of the war. However, the mysterious Char Aznable has other plans.
Mobile Suit Gundam is a complex tale of war, political intrigue, and revenge. The series is famous for creating the “Real Robot” sub-genre that used the mechs to tell grounded and realistic stories, and it still holds up today, delivering a gripping story with plenty of moral gray area.
After watching this, you’ll understand why Gundam has become a dominant global franchise. In fact, the Gundam franchise has become so massive that you could fill a list with just Gundam spin-offs, as the series is that much of a pop culture touchstone.