With roots dating back to the late '50s, the mecha genre is easily one of the oldest and most varied in all of anime. The genre has been used as a vehicle to tell stories about war, featuring kids barely in their teenagers barely holding it together in a world where every day could be their last...and it’s been used as a way to sell as many toys to as many children as possible.
It can be a bit daunting to figure out ones way around this world where there are hundreds of possible shows to watch. Fortunately, this list will focus on ten of the best mecha anime series of all time, so new viewers can have a place to begin and more experienced ones can feel superior for having watched them all...or figure out what series they’ve got to watch next.
10 ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS
Chirico Cuvie was a special forces Armored Trooper pilot in the Gilgamesh Federation assigned to an espionage mission. When his mission goes bad, he is abandoned and left to enemy forces of the Balarant Union. After making a narrow escape, Chirico goes on the run to discover the truth behind his mission.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS exists for the mecha fan that enjoys gritty action, with scenes and sometimes entire arcs being reminiscent of the Vietnam War or D-Day. Though later parts take away some of the realism, most of the series feels like someone wanted to create a cyberpunk universe but add giant robots to it.
9 NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
Hideaki Anno and GAINAX’s Evangelion is one of the most well-known and popular mecha anime series of all time. A deconstruction of popular mecha anime of its era, NGE influenced both the mecha genre and anime in general, which it continues to do so nearly twenty-five years after it’s release.
Nonetheless, very few of those subsequent series match up to the original, which is what makes it a must-watch. For any mecha fan looking for something different, whether it’s plotting or character development, or even something as “simple” as mecha design, Evangelion has that in spades.
8 GUNDAM BUILD FIGHTERS
Gundam Build Fighters gave a much needed shot in the arm to the Gundam franchise as a whole. Vastly different from anything that came before it, Build Fighters takes place in a universe where Gundam is just an anime, but special technology has allowed them to move plastic Gundam models and use them in Gundam battles and tournaments.
Build Fighters doesn’t just pay homage to some of the best Gundam designs across all eras of the franchise, it also features cameos from so many Gundam characters some fans have taken to calling it Gundam Heaven. Aside from being a cute series that can be watched by children, Build Fighters has some of the best fight scenes not only in Gundam but in mecha history.
7 KING OF BRAVES GAOGAIGAR
Takara finished off their “Braves” franchise with a bang, as GaoGaiGar leans as heavily into the realm of hot-blooded heroes and Super Robot action as possible. The series sees the secret organization Gutsy Geoid Guard stand together against the Zonderians, an alien race seeking to turn humans into robots.
Although the anime is definitely meant for kids, GaoGaiGar is still entertaining enough in the first half (and drama-filled enough in the second) that anyone could enjoy. Plus, the mecha designs were done by the creator of the original Transformers, which should be enough to lure in any giant robot fan with a love of the ’80s.
6 TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN
Studio GAINAX has a great track record with mecha anime. In the mid-’90s, they deconstructed robots with Evangelion, and in the late 2000’s they presented the world with one of the best Super Robot anime in Gurren Lagann. The series begins when Simon and Kamina, two teens who live underground, find a giant robot and make the choice to go to the surface, where they learn of an alien force battling humanity to keep them as slaves underground.
Gurren Lagann contains all the hotblooded energy anyone could ever want from a Super Robot series, as the show continuously tops each insane feat with something more over the top almost every episode.
5 SUPER DIMENSIONAL FORTRESS MACROSS
Macross proves that it’s easy to combine two things which theoretically should have nothing in common to create something great. Essentially, it’s like the Reese’s of anime. After an alien battleship lands on Earth, humanity experiences rapid growth in technology as they figure out its tech...just in time to wind up locked in battle with a different alien race known as the Zentraedi.
While Macross is loved for its dogfight combat scenes, what really helps it stand out are all the love stories happening in the background. Oh, and the addition of an idol whose songs wind up helping to bring peace to the galaxy. There’s nothing quite like Macross in the mecha world.
4 GUNDAM 00
What if Gundam Wing were done with a more coherent storyline and an equal focus on all the main characters? That’s Gundam 00, a series which takes the very similar approach of Gundam Wing by having a group of teenage boys piloting superior mobile suits and attacking locations around the world.
In Gundam 00’s case though, that group is Celestial Being, an organization dedicated to forcibly stopping all conflict in the world by shutting down both sides with superior military might. Though the movies get a little weird, the two television shows boast some of the best storytelling and mecha designs that Gundam has ever had.
3 MACROSS FRONTIER
Though Macross 7 never quite gets its just due, series creator Shoji Kawamori still managed to bring the franchise back to prominence with 2008’s Macross Frontier. Set 50 years after the original Macross series, Frontier focuses on the colonization group aboard the actual Macross Frontier ship.
Acknowledging the popularity of the musical aspect of the original series, Frontier sees not one but two different idols: Ranka Lee, a young girl working towards becoming a legendary singer, and Sheryl Nome, the so-called “Galactic Fairy” already known across the stars. Both girls get involved with Alto Saotome, a pilot protecting the Frontier, just as a new alien threat known as the Vajra appear.
2 MOBILE POLICE PATLABOR
The Special Vehicles Unit is a group of officers assigned to deal with crimes involving Labors, large robots designed for industrial usage. Patlabor is vastly different from nearly any mecha anime show most people have ever viewed, being as much a police procedural as it is a giant robot series.
In truth, the show has more in common with the Barney Miller Show than it does an average Gundam series, with the primary characters spending as much time filing reports and performing maintenance on their giant robots, as they spend solving crimes. For fans who were looking for a series that can do comedy and slice-of-life adventures as well as it does action, Patlabor is the perfect show.
1 MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: The 08th MS TEAM
08th MS Team is flawless. Its beautiful '90s animation is just as good today as it was when it first released. It manages to be a better “Real Robot” than even the original Gundam series by jettisoning all the talk of NewTypes and psychic connections and sticking to being a war drama in the sweltering jungle.
Without all the absurdly talented pilots, every combat encounter is tense and it’s always in question which side will find a way to win. That said, the series doesn’t take itself overly serious either, managing to sneak a romance in as well as discuss the downtime that all soldiers (even ones at war) are inevitably stuck with.