I often have friends ask for anime recommendations, and having been a lifelong fan of the medium, I usually have one or two that I feel I could recommend to anyone given their tastes. Usually, I just give out a couple titles based on their popularity, but what I would like to do is write up a series of my favorite shows and movies, based on the genre; I’ll be labeling the series as [Favorites] //. So, I would like to kick things off with one of the biggest anime genres - mecha.
Synopsis: Evangelion is set fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm, particularly in the futuristic fortified city of Tokyo-3. The protagonist is Shinji, a teenage boy who was recruited by his father to the shadowy organization Nerv to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha called an “Evangelion” into combat with alien beings called “Angels”. The series explores the experiences and emotions of Evangelion pilots and members of Nerv as they try to prevent any and all of the Angels from causing another cataclysm, and as they deal with the quest of finding out the real truth behind events and organizational moves. (Wikipedia)
This seems like an obvious pick for the seasoned anime viewer, but Neon Genesis Evangelion (commonly reffered to as Evangelion, NGE, or Eva) is relatively unknown to the casual anime viewer despite its influence on anime since its debut in 1995.
You could take it at its face value about kids piloting giant robots, fighting monsters, and saving the world, however the series explores much more than that with themes such as religion, depression, isolation, and philosophy. There are plenty of video essays on YouTube exploring these themes in-depth as well as their impact, and this series is definitely worthy of a rewatch or two as you’ll probably pick up something new every time.
Where to watch: Luckily, Evangelion is coming to Netflix this June along with its conclusion, The End of Evangelion movie. For a long time, this show was not easy to obtain legally so its great that its finally available on such an accessible platform.
Related Material: If you enjoy the series and its conclusion in the End of Evangelion movie (or maybe if you didn’t like the ending), give the Rebuild movie series a try. The Rebuild of Evangelion movie series is a reboot, so you could technically just watch these instead, however the original is so good that its worth the watch. As of now, there are three movies with the fourth and final one slated to be released in 2020. The first movie starts parallel to the beginning of the series, but starts to deviate as the movies go on and end up telling their own story, so its not exactly a rehash of the original series.
Synopsis: In the year 2012 Japan was invaded by the Mu. Human-like beings from another dimension with blue blood. In the year 2015 Tokyo is attacked by invaders, who are repelled by a humanoid weapon called a Dolem. During the chaos, Ayato Kamina meets Reika Mishima, a classmate. During that same day, he is attacked by government officials but a woman named Haruka comes to his rescue, informing him that she was sent to get him by the Organization TERRA, and that Tokyo had been sealed in a time rift where time flows one third as fast as the outside world. He flees from Haruka onto a train where he sees Reika once more. Arriving at the Room of Rah, he follows her to a tremendous egg where the Dolem RahXephon is hatched from, and upon her singing his mother appears atop the Dolem that had stopped the TERRA Invasion. In the battle Ayato’s mother is injured, and Ayato flees Tokyo Jupiter with Haruka. (MyAnimeList)
Some may compare this to Evangelion, and rightfully so, however I think this show does a pretty good job of doing its own thing. Evangelion sticks with themes of Christianity and Judiasm while RahXephon goes with music, time, and Mayan mythology.
This show is a bit overlooked when most people think of mecha anime, as it wasn’t really as popular or influential as shows like Evangelion or Gundam, but I found myself enjoying it just as much. The protagonist, Ayato, is more likeable than Evangelion’s Shinji, and is less of a reactive character. There are some pretty cool plot twists and themes that I liked, especially dealing with time. The mecha designs are cool and the animation overall feels a little more current compared to Evangelion. The ending is a little more palatable to the casual viewer over Evangelion as well.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
Related Material: There is a RahXephon movie, however it is basically a condensed version of the show, and so a lot of stuff has gotten cut and edited. I would recommend sticking with the show on this one.
This one is a bit tricky since the franchise has spanned 4 decades now with multiple shows and even other alternate timelines. While I haven’t seen all of the Gundam series, I’ll be recommending ones from both the U.C. Timeline and the alternates.
First of all - what is the U.C. Timeline? Well basically this timeline (Universal Century) is the main continuity for Gundam. It centers around the conflict between the factions of Earth and the people living in space colonies who seek their independence. The biggest theme about Gundam is war, and has multiple perspectives from both sides thoughout the franchise history. The franchise does well to show that in war, things aren’t always in black and white, that there aren’t just ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Other Gundam series outside of the U.C. Timeline explore these themes as well in different ways. Some of the alternate timeline series are easier to jump into because they are stand alone, and don’t depend on the long history of the main continuity.
So here are my recommendations for both. I am excluding the original series, mostly because I didn’t enjoy it much. I had already gotten into Gundam before seeing it, so I was already familiar with the story and I found the original series to be somewhat boring with its slow pacing and limited animation. While it sets the foundation for the main Gundam universe, it could easily be summed up via its synopsis.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) Synopsis: Set in a fictional universe in the year 2179 (Universal Century year 0079 according to the Gundam Calendar), the Principality of Zeon has declared independence from the Earth Federation, and subsequently launched a war of independence called the One Year War. The conflict has directly affected every continent on Earth, also nearly every space colony and lunar settlement. Zeon, though smaller, has the tactical upper hand through their use of a new type of humanoid weapons called mobile suits. After half of all humanity perishes in the conflict, the war settled into a bitter stalemate lasting over 8 months.
The story begins with a newly deployed Federation warship, the White Base, arriving at the secret research base located at the Side 7 colony to pick up the Federation’s newest weapon. However, they are closely followed by Zeon forces. A Zeon reconnaissance team member disobeys mission orders and attacks the colony, killing most of the Federation crew and civilians in the process. Out of desperation, young Amuro Ray accidentally finds the Federation’s new prototype arsenal—the RX-78 Gundam, and manages to beat back Zeon forces. Scrambling everything they can, the White Base sets out with her newly formed crew of civilian recruits and refugees in her journey to survive. (Wikipedia)
If it interests you enough, I’d recommend checking it out. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it might be yours.
Pretty much all of the Gundam series in the main continuity take place before, during, or the One Year War. Some take place as side stories while others can be woven into the main plot. I’ll just be listing these series and linking them to MAL if you care to check out their synopses individually.
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
- Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt
I’ll probably catch flack for not seeing or recommending a lot more of the U.C. stuff, but this is the stuff that I enjoyed the most.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam - This one I can’t fully recommend as its not one I really liked, but I know a lot of people who grew up watching Toonami really liked this one when they aired it. It was just a little too wacky for me.
There is so much Gundam stuff out there, I’m sure there is going to be at least something for everyone who likes mecha. I could probably write a whole separate article about Gundam because it is so expansive; maybe another time.
Where to watch: Netflix (Gundam Unicorn), Crunchyroll (Iron-Blooded Orphans, Gundam 00, & Gundam Wing/Endless Waltz), Hulu (Gundam 00, Iron-Blooded Orphans, 08th MS Team, Gundam Unicorn, Gundam Wing)
Synopsis: Three decades after the great war between the humans and the Zentradi, in January 2040, the U.N. government is developing new technologies to use in their transforming fighter aircraft by running tests on the colony planet Eden. Military test pilots and former childhood friends, loose cannon Isamu Alva Dyson and the Zentradi mixed race Guld Goa Bowman, are selected to each pilot a new aircraft (Shinsei Industries’ YF-19 & General Galaxy’s YF-21) for Project Super Nova, to choose the newest successor to the VF-11 Thunderbolt variable fighter which is currently still in use by the U.N. Spacy military forces. Their own personal grudges end up disrupting the tests, and begin to wreak havoc on the program. (Wikipedia)
Some people may have seen part of the Macross series without even knowing it because it was hashed up and blended with a couple other anime to make what we in America knew as Robotech. One of the major parts of Robotech that might be more easily recognizable is the transforming fighter jets, which are from Macross.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the Macross franchise, this OVA works well on its own. Directed by Shoji Kawamori and Shinichiro Watanabe (director of Cowboy Bebop) with music by Yoko Kanno (who also did the music for Cowboy Bebop), this OVA is peak 90's anime aesthetic. The art is amazing and the way they animated the aircraft is so fluid it really holds up well even almost 25 years later. The dub had some quality talent as well, with Bryan Cranston voicing Isamu well before he was known as Walter White.
Where to watch: Amazon Video
Synopsis: Paradigm City, a city of amnesia and a place of belonging. It remains populated by forgotten pasts and the ruins of their labors due to a calamity 40 years ago. Shrouded in a fog-like mystery, it is up to people like Roger Smith to shine a light through the mist. Acting as a professional negotiator and suave agent, Roger is a self-tailored ladies man whose only love is for funeral black. However, as he gets deeply involved with his clients, what often starts as a simple negotiation evolves into Roger saving Paradigm from crime and peril.
In the process, Roger stumbles even deeper into the untold folds of the city. As a rule, things are hardly ever as they appear. Serving as gray knight in a gray world, Roger is not without allies. By his side are Norman, a loyal and widely skilled butler, and Dorothy, a human-like android with deadpan snark. Together with the relic Big O, a jet-black mecha of gargantuan size and weight, they help Roger serve iron justice to Paradigm’s lurking villains as he discovers the truth about 40 years ago. (MyAnimeList)
So, what if Bruce Wayne had a giant robot instead of dressing up like a bat? What would that be like? Well, Big O basically. And if this show seems like it was inspired by Batman, that’s because it was. In particular, it was influenced by Batman: The Animated Series and there are some strong parallels between the two shows. You see resemblances in the characters of Roger to Bruce and Norman to Alfred, but also things like the color palate of the two shows. They are both dark and carry a kind of somber feeling, with Big O also being heavily inspired by the noir genre.
Its an interesting mixture seeing an anime set in a Western city with that kind of vibe against your typical Japanese kaiju battles. The series does start off with the monster of the week formula, but moves into a deeper story surrounding the mysteries of Paradigm City.
Maybe the Western influence of this show is why it was better received in America instead of Japan, where it was actually cancelled after 13 episodes. It wasn’t until a few years later that the second half was made due in part to Cartoon Network co-producing it with Sunrise after a successful reception of the show airing on Adult Swim.
Where to watch: VRV
Synopsis: Hitomi Kanzaki is just an ordinary 15-year-old schoolgirl with an interest in tarot cards and fortune telling, but one night, a boy named Van Fanel suddenly appears from the sky along with a vicious dragon. Thanks to a premonition from Hitomi, Van successfully kills the dragon, but a pillar of light appears and envelopes them both. As a result, Hitomi finds herself transported to the world of Gaea, a mysterious land where the Earth hangs in the sky. (MyAnimeList)
This one is a little bit different from your standard mecha anime, which is why I wanted to include it. Where most mecha anime has a sci-fi aspect, Escaflowne leans on a fantasy setting with shojo elements. The mecha themselves don’t appear to be as mechanical and don’t do things like fly around or shoot lasers and instead are seen sword fighting as if they were giant armored knights. To me, this series almost had a Final Fantasy vibe. And as with Cowboy Bebop and the aforementioned Macross Plus, Yoko Kanno is working her magic on the soundtrack.
Where to watch: Amazon Video
Related material: A few years after the show had ended, Escaflowne: The Movie was released. The movie is a condensed version of the show, although the story differs to suit the run time and features all new animation, so its more of a remake than an adaptation of the show. I actually prefer the movie to the show since its a different story and has better animation. You can also find the movie on Amazon Video or on DVD/blu ray.
And that’s it for my mecha anime recommendations. Did I list any of your favorites? Are there any ones you would recommend that didn’t make the list? What genre should I write about next? Let me know in the comments!