19 Must-See Anime Series With Giant Robots

The Best Anime Series and Films for Mecha Fans

When one thinks of Japanese animation, odds are one of the first things that spings to mind are images of giant robots destroying cities and fighting each other.

While that's hardly the summation of the entire anime genre, there certainly are a variety of anime series and movies that do contain just that. Here are our top 19 anime series and movies that contain robots doing what we love best.

Edited by Brad Stephenson

Before Keiichi Sato and Kazuyoshi Katayama paired up to create Tiger and Bunny, they created another series that showed off their love of Marvel/DC-type superhero comics, The Big 0.

The Big O features a Bruce Wayne-like protagonist (complete with stoic butler), who uses a giant robot to keep the peace in Paradigm City, and to also try and solve the mystery of why everyone in the city lost their memories decades ago. The show originally, and inexplicably, did poorly in Japan, but gained a strong enough fan following overseas to allow a second season to be commissioned. Chief series writer Chiaki J. Konaka also worked on the moody, cyberpunkish Serial Experiments Lain, Armitage III, Texhnolyze, and Giant Robo.

A mecha series with a brilliant concept, Broken Blade is set in a world akin more to a sword-and-sorcery fantasy setting, where the mecha in question are powered by the local equivalent of magic.

Someone unearths a real mecha from a previous era (that is to say, ours), and all hell breaks loose. The series doesn't just rest on its conceptual laurels -- it's also fueled by solid writing and a fast-moving storyline.

Renton's first schoolboy crush isn't the girl in the seat next to him in class, it's the girl who crashes a giant robot through the ceiling of his house!

She's part of a renegade crew of pilots whom he's idolized for years, but joining up with them, and piloting the giant sky-surfing robot that's one of their key pieces of gear,  becomes more adventure than he's prepared to handle.

The Eureka Seven anime series features mecha designs by none other than Macross character designer Shoji Kawamori, and works as a reminder that even a mecha show is only as good as its characters.

This spectacular 1990s OVA project, Giant Robo, starts as a wide-gauge clash between forces of good and evil across the globe, and then mutates into something even deeper and better: an action epic with a heart and a soul.

The anime series was adapted from Mitsuteru Yokoyama's manga (Tetsujin 28, Sally the Witch) by G Gundam creator, Yasuhiro Imagawa. It's crammed with references from across Yokoyama's career, including characters from his adaptations of the Chinese classics Romance of the Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin. It also has more than a few passing nods to another live-action Japanese series, Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

Sadly, the Giant Robo remains unfinished.

Every child of the 1980s remembers Voltron, the anime series about five lion-shaped robots that combined into one giant robot to fight evil.

Originally called, GoLion, in Japan, this anime series was actually more successful in its English-language incarnation than it was in its original Japanese version. So much so that extra episodes were commissioned for English-speaking markets even after the Voltron anime was cancelled in Japan.

The original Gunbuster (a/k/a Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!) was a prime piece of 1980s giant-robot adventure courtesy of GAINAX, who a decade later would create the other prime piece of giant-robot adventure, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Gunbuster starts off on a fairly goofy note, a girl with ambitions to become a space pilot like her father eventually lives up to her dreams, but evolves over time into something a lot more ambitious and serious.

Diebuster, the spiritual sequel released two decades later, has only the loosest of association with the original, but even more of the loopy spirit and wide-eyed wonder of its predecessor. Note that Diebuster has been issued in both a cut-down feature-film format and a longer OVA version; get the latter version whenever possible.

Over the top. Those are the only words that do justice to Gurren Lagann which begins with a kid discovering part of a giant robot and ends, more or less, with giant robots flinging galaxies at each other like throwing knives. There's a great deal in between, the same mixture of ridiculous and sublime that one associates with the works of GAINAX.

If Mobile Suit Gundam was the Father of mecha anime and Evangelion the Son, Macross is at the very least the Holy Ghost.

The first installment in the franchise, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, premiered in 1982, a few years after the first Gundam came on the air, and despite the superficial similarities between franchises, giant robot warfare, armies in space, etc., Macross sported a flavor of its own that was a touch more personal and emotional, rather than the large-scale politics that drove the Gundam shows.

Macross also deserves mention for being the source material for Robotech, the 80s English-language show that introduced a great many audiences to anime.

Among the best of the Macross follow-ups is Macross Plus, an OVA with all the elements that made Macross great, a love triangle, spectacular aerial and spatial combat, and some speculations about life in the future, at full boil. A shame most of the rest of the franchise is trapped in litigation over its ownership and distribution.

A tongue-in-cheek farce that's part loving homage to mecha anime, and part sendup of its goofiest excesses, Martian Successor Nadesico features a young cook who'd rather slave over a grill than pilot a giant robot is drafted into fighting an alien menace as part of the crew of the Nadesico, under the command of the outwardly-bubbleheaded but astonishingly competent Yurika Misumaru.

A fair amount of the humor comes from the hero being a fan of the show-within-a-show, Gekigangar 3, but most of the laughs are derived from the way standard mecha-anime plot elements are stood on their heads ... or had their pants pulled down around their ankles.

Widely recognized as one of the first incarnations of mecha anime as we know it, Mazinger Z (released briefly in English as "Tranzor Z") came out in the early 1970s and was derived from Go Nagai's manga of the same name.

A nigh-indestructible robot, created out of Super-Alloy Z, falls into the hands of young Kouji Kabuto and becomes his weapon against the sinister Doctor Hell and his army of robot beasts. (The formula of giant robot vs. robot monsters was also recapitulated in Voltron, among many other shows.)

In a near-future Japan, robots known as "Labors" are used for construction work and other heavy-duty jobs. There's enough trouble with Labors that the local police have their own cops to deal with Labor-related crimes: the Patlabor.

Originally a late-Eighties manga series, an anime adaptation was brought to the big and little screens (as a theatrical film and OVA, respectively) by Mamoru Oshii (director of the big-screen adaptation of Ghost in the Shell) and Fumihiko Takayama. A TV series continuity, an entirely separate set of events, was comprised of a 47-episode show and a 16-episode set of OVAs.

Where it all started, more or less. Over decades and dozens of shows, the Gundam franchise used its future-war, man-against-his-brother scenario to spin out any number of tales of love, loyalty, duty, and treachery. The sheer size of the franchise can be intimidating to newcomers, but if all else fails you can watch what shows have been released in chronological order: begin with the original Mobile Suit Gundam and work your way up.

The original novels for the first show in the series, written by series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino as a way to restore material not permitted by TV censorship, have also been released in English.

Love it or hate it, there's little doubt that Neon Genesis Evangelion, in both its original 1990s edition and the more recent Rebuild of Evangelion edition, was as major an entry in the mecha genre as it was in anime generally.

The list of influences from Evangelion could easily fill a whole article: the angular, striking designs for the EVAs; the suits worn by the pilots; the relationship dynamics in the cast; the list goes on.

RahXephon was originally dismissed by many as an Evangelion clone, partly justified, given the sheer number of shows that have either imitated Evangelion or copied it outright.

As with that show, RahXephon involves a young man who can control a giant machine in a war against implacable alien invaders, but that's where the similarities end: much of the plot involves the power of music to change, heal, and destroy, and the way life is changed for people stuck inside an alien-captured Tokyo where time moves at one-fifth the rate of the outside world. It's if nothing else ambitious, and shows how it's possible to use many of the same basic conceits as Evangelion while at the same time moving in different directions.

A maverick mecha series, quirky and distinctive enough to be worthy of mention here. The "Ridebacks" of the titles are a bit like transforming motorcycles, and when a young ballet dancer suffers a career-ending injury she discovers her talents are of immense use in driving one of them.

Doubly so when she finds herself embroiled in a revolutionary movement, and has to choose between living a nice, quiet life and standing up for something. The more modest scope of this show, as compared to the galaxy-spanning likes of Gundam or Macross, doesn't work against it, if anything, it makes it all the more approachable and intriguing.

Sakura Wars is a franchise which originally began as a 1996 Sega Saturn game, but has since branched out to encompass multiple platforms and even multiple anime incarnations.

The basic idea remains the same, though: in an alternate-universe Japan in the first years of the 20th century, a crew of young women with varying degrees of psionic ability masquerade as members of a Takarazuka-like performance troupe ... that is, when they're not suited up in spirit-powered armor and fighting extradimensional monsters.

The TV anime incarnation of the franchise is probably the most satisfying and best-executed of the bunch, but the others (an OVA, various movies) are also worth checking out as follow-ups.

Another project from Big West, the same company that created the Macross series, Orguss involves a mecha pilot thrown into another dimension, where he becomes the idol of some of the locals ... and the enemy of others. Orguss 02, the follow-up, involves roughly the same plot conceit as Broken Blade (an "ancient" mecha is unearthed by a civilization that doesn't understand its significance), but moves it into unexpected and quite emotionally-involving territory.

Unfortunately, both are hard to find: the first series was never released in English and the second is apparently out of print.

Set in a future city where superheroes duke it out for corporate sponsorship, Tiger and Bunny deals with an old hand at this particular game (and one nearing the end of his profitability) being paired up with a fresh new face.

The two have to work together to defeat a bigger menace than either of their own egos. Splashy and stylish stuff, from the same creator as The Big O, and loaded with broad winks at both mecha anime and superhero comics.

Derived from a series of novels by Chohei Kambayashi (two of which have since been translated into English courtesy of Haikasoru), Yukikaze involves a fighter pilot and his war machine, protecting earth from further alien incursion via a dimensional doorway that leads to another planet.

The aerial combat sequences in the show are mind-blowing and are among the best of any anime in the genre.