The space opera is a mainstay of anime science fiction, and these are some of the best examples.
Anime and manga have always had a strong focus on science fiction. To speculate on what human life will be like thousands of years from now, some of animation’s most notable producers have used the medium’s natural artistic license to create fascinating extraterrestrial environments.
An anime science fiction staple is space opera, which includes classics like Space Battleship Yamato and Legend of Galactic Heroes in its illustrious ranks. In addition to the usual melodrama, these tales also feature a lot of romance, tragedy, and action, all taking place in space. After all, the vastness of space seems a perfect setting for epic tales dealing with universal themes.
1. Space Battleship Yamato
Space Battleship Yamato is the best anime space opera ever made, hands down. Space Battleship Yamato, arguably the greatest work of mangaka Leiji Matsumoto, is the narrative of a lone spacecraft on an impossible mission, but one that also represents the last hope of humanity.
The surviving governments of the planet place their final hopes on the battleship Yamato and her crew, sending them to the far reaches of space to break through enemy lines and recover a legendary device that may be the key to keeping humanity alive in the face of an unrelenting alien bombardment on Earth.
2. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor
But Captain Tylor’s lack of operatic flair is part of the idea of the space opera. In spite of the fact that Captain Tylor is more of a comedy than a sci-fi story of romance, heroism, and tragedy, it nevertheless qualifies for inclusion on this list because it mimics many of the other programs featured here.
Captain Tylor, the narrator’s protagonist, is irresponsible to say the least. He joined the Space Force because he thought it would be easy, not because he had high goals of independence or glory. This is bad news for him, because he keeps getting into high-ranking positions and solving life-or-death issues in space by pure chance.
3. Galaxy Express 999
We can only assume that when Leiji Matsumoto awoke one morning with the notion “trains in space!” he was inspired to develop Galaxy Express 999. Because the rich in this society can buy immortality by transferring their brains into mechanical bodies, class stratification is one of the most pressing challenges facing the galaxy in this poetic science fiction tale.
Tetsurou, the show’s protagonist, embarks on the Galaxy Express with an unknown woman after losing his mother in a horrific attack in the hopes of procuring one of these mechanical bodies for himself at the conclusion of the train. Along the way, the duo will encounter odd worlds and diverse cultures, lending the show an episodic feel akin to that of Star Trek.
4. Toward The Terra
After making their ancestral home on Earth uninhabitable, humanity has dispersed across the galaxy for tens of thousands of years. A.I. brains maintain the systems of government working well for everyone until some people begin to alter their behavior. A new kind of human being emerges in the furthest reaches of the human empire. With their latent mental powers called Mu, these people find themselves the victims of prejudice from the rest of humanity. They’ve come up with a plan to go back to Earth, the now-mythical origin of mankind.
Both the standalone 1980 film and the 2007 television anime with the same name are available to those interested in giving this series a try. Fans of 1980s anime aesthetics won’t want to miss out on the film version of the series, which is generally regarded as the superior of the two.
5. Space Battleship Yamato 2199
To live up to the reputation of the original Yamato was a huge challenge—that anime is regarded essential by many, and most agree that it represents one of the best science fiction anime ever made. Although Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a remake, it does exactly what a remake should do: it retains some aspects of the original while modernizing others to appeal to today’s audience.
So much so that some believe 2199 to be the better version of Yamato’s tale for its unexpected twists and its more nuanced stance toward the show’s adversaries. Both films are still worth seeing, but for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, I recommend starting with 2199.
6. Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Macross asks both its characters and its viewers, “Do you recall love?” To put it simply, this sci-fi war epic takes a love triangle and tosses it right in the thick of an alien invasion. The show’s conflicts are filled with both romance and tragedy, which seem to stem from both the fickle nature of the heart and an alien menace.
Super Dimension Fortress Macross is regarded as one of the greatest animes of all time, not just for mecha, but for science fiction and space opera in general. Macross, in contrast to its predecessor, is more concerned with the heroes, romance, and the power of love than it was with the grim realism of its predecessor.
7. Martian Successor Nadesico
Parody and love letter to anime, Martian Successor Nadesico tells the story of a group of misfits on board the Nadesico prototype battleship who accidentally become Earth’s final line of defense. Featuring frequent battles involving robots and spaceships, Nadesico frequently makes direct reference to the classic titles in its genre for the purpose of parody, only to fall back on the very tropes it lampoons to deliver some surprising emotional punches.
Despite the fact that it could appear to be at odds with the show’s structure, this makes it work. To some extent, the show serves as a meta portrayal of what it is that draws us to particular entries in the sci-fi anime genre while also parodying and cleverly exploiting some of its more prevalent cliches. From the outside, it may appear that things are a little funny, yet there is beauty in that absurdity.
8. Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Pirate of the Solar System Hear Captain Harlock’s heroic tale of his ship and crew’s journey to freedom as Captain Harlock leads them through the heavens. A pirate may be Captain Harlock, but he’s an honorable and poetic one who waxes lyrical about humanity’s future, human yearning for freedom, and upstanding individual virtues like courage and honor.
In a word, it’s swoon-inducing. Even if its concepts and unshakeable idealism appear a little outmoded at times, that’s precisely what makes it so appealing. If you’re looking for a tale of brave pirates battling insurmountable odds (in space!), Captain Harlock is your man.
9. Crest Of The Stars
A love tale and tense ship-to-ship combat action are intertwined in Crest of the Stars and its many successors, which take place in a galaxy full of rival factions and ambitious leaders. Some people may be pulled to the series by the romance or action, even if they aren’t as interested in science fiction politics as I am.
The environment also does a great job of grounding the show in reality. In this scenario, each interplanetary force at play has a fascinating backstory and intricate aims, which makes learning about this world’s history almost more exciting than watching warships bomb each other up.
10. Legend Of Galactic Heroes
Without Legend of Galactic Heroes, no list of space opera anime would be complete. When new fans realize that this long-running classic anime clocks in at nearly 110 episodes, including movies, they might feel a little bit intimidated.
Don’t worry about it. In spite of the show’s length, Legend of Galactic Heroes is a joy to watch because it’s well-paced and contains a wide and likable group of characters. LoGH is an epic that will stand the test of time thanks to one of the most complex depictions of battle, politics, and personal ambition that the medium has to offer.