11 anime science fiction films you should watch while staying at home

These films range from whimsical to psychedelic, tackling some of our favorite science fiction tropes in entertaining and original ways.
Donovan Alexander
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Did you grow up watching anime as a kid? Perhaps you are one of the millions of people who enjoy watching anime right now in your free time.

Anime, or Japanese-styled animation, is one of the most popular subgenres in the world, enjoyed by viewers in almost every country. Just in 2016, the Japanese animation industry generated an eye-popping 17.7 billion in revenue, a number that is up 10% from previous years. If you still don’t believe us, know that Naruto, Sailor Moon, and Goku are the official mascot of the 2020 Olympics. 

For the uninitiated, anime might be boiled down to simply flashy cartoons. As a massive anime fan-boy, I can tell you that is far from the truth. Yes, there is anime out there that can be flashy, but most great anime deal with mature ideas and philosophical questions, and the occasional action-packed scene. One of the best sub-genres of the genre is science fiction. 

Now, you are probably very familiar with the science fiction genre in the world of film as it is one of the most popular and prevalent film genres in the world. As mentioned in our previous articles on science fiction, the genre holds a special place in our modern times. Sci-fi films nowadays do an excellent job of exploring humanity’s relationship with technology in the near or distant future. Just take a look at some of the most impactful films of the past decade. 

As Frank Herbert once stated, “The function of science fiction is not always to predict the future but to sometimes prevent it”.  What happens when you explore the science fiction genre with Japanese-style animation? Pure magic. Some of the best science fiction films in history were produced using anime. Upon closer inspection, you will even probably notice the anime has influenced some of your favorites

Today we are going to take a look at some of the most impactful anime science fiction films in history, great films to binge while you are locked in trying to avoid the coronavirus. 

1. Gantz:O 

Plot: Random people around the world who have recently died are brought back to life to partake in a horrifying life-threatening game. Players of these games are supplied with high-tech weapons to defeat armies of shape-shifting monsters in their home cities.

Now you either love the Gantz series or not. The consensus is that the manga is far better than the actual anime series. However, the Gantz film is something entirely different and stands alone as a well-written, engaging, action-packed science fiction film with an original concept. The plot may seem overly simple but it is not at all and is a great introduction to the series. You do not need to read the manga or watch the anime before enjoying Gantz:O. Even more so the CGI in this film is amazing. Just check it out if you want a straightforward science fiction film. 

2. Akira 

Plot: In a dystopian Tokyo, 31 years after the Japanese government dropped an atomic bomb on the city as the result of ESP experiments going awry, Kaneda, a bike gang leader, tries to save his friend Tetsuo from a secret government project in this dystopian world. Things get weird when Tetsuo’s supernatural powers begin to manifest themselves exposing the corrupt government. 

You may not have seen Akira before, but you have for sure heard of it. Akira is considered one of the greatest films of all time, with major studios trying to bring to life a real-world adaptation of the film to the big screen for the past decade. Yet, what makes Akira so good? The film is simply stunning from start to finish meticulously drawn to fully bring viewers into this dystopian world. The plot is fantastic and is a powerful commentary on post-war Japan. Take a brief scan of pop culture and you can see Akira’s influence just about everywhere. 

3. Castle in the Sky 

Plot: After being abducted by Colonel Muska, the young orphan Sheeta and her kidnapper are flying to a military prison when their plane is shot down by pirates. Due to the mysterious magic crystal around her neck, they narrowly escape a mid-air collision. Meeting another orphan, Pazu, the two of them join forces to discover the mythical city of Muska, sending them on another crash course with pirates eager to get their hands on the legendary city’s treasure. 

Being the very first film of Studio Ghibli, this whimsical science fiction adventure is considered one of the greatest anime science fiction films of all time. If you never got into the Studio Ghibli craze, this film is a great place to start. The film is also packed with a lot of fantasy elements and hints of steampunk that you are sure to enjoy. It is a nicely paced feel-good movie for a Sunday afternoon. 

4. Wonderful Days (Sky Blue)

Plot: Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the earth has almost been completely destroyed by environmental pollution, the city of Ecoban has resorted to using pollution to actually power the city itself. This, in turn, has created a group of elite people who think they are above the system and refuse to let anyone else live in Ecoban unless they are manual laborers. The story is thrown into motion when the main character, Shua, begins to question his own existence in this broken world. 

A great science fiction film, with a potent environmental message that is relevant today. The animation style is very different compared to some of the other anime science fiction films on this list, matching the dystopian setting of the plot. However, buried in the dystopian story is a tightly written story about love that makes the film much more dynamic. 

5. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Plot: In the year 2071, Spike Spiegel and his lovable bunch of bounty hunters travel to Mars in pursuit of a massive cash reward for the capture of ex-military officer Vincent. Vincent, the now biological terrorist, is planning to use nano-bots to destroy a local city if his demands are not met forcing the inevitable collision of the bounty hunter team and an ex-military officer. 

Cowboy Bebop is just one of those classic TV shows that you have to watch at some point in your lifetime. The mature, poignant, funny, and often philosophical anime is equally charming and action-packed. Taking place in a not-so-distant future, where space travel is common, the show has managed to garner a cult following for years. The sci-fi film is just as good and will keep you engaged from start to finish. Though some prior knowledge of the Bebop crew is required upon viewing, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a great place to start if you always wanted to get into the Bebop series. 

6. Paprika

Plot: A scientist by day and dream detective at night, Dr. Atsuko Chiba and her colleagues are working on a device called the DC Mini. This device could lead to a medical breakthrough, helping psychiatric patients. However, in the wrong hands, it can be used to destroy people's minds. When a prototype is stolen, Atsuko must find the culprit and the device before the damage is done. 

When people discuss Paprika, the anime science fiction psychological thriller created by notable director Satoshi Kon, they mention the stunning animation. The film draws you into its story with its seductively animated world that perfectly matches the major themes of the film. People who watch this film also might mention that Paprika reminds them of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Well, Paprika actually came first. In fact, Christopher Nolan has gone on to state that Paprika was a major influence on his science fiction film. Paprika is almost psychedelic, playing on the idea of dreams versus reality.  

7. The Empire of Corpses 

Plot: In an alternative past during the 19th century in London, corpses are reanimated to be used for manual labor. After a series of odd events, a young medical student is given the opportunity to become a member of a secret society and is sent on a mission to find the lost writings of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. 

This steampunk science fiction film is a fascinating concept with some great heady ideas. Filled with a few odd unexpected twists the film really picks up steam when our young medical student attempts to bring back the dead with their souls intact. 

8. King of Thorn 

Plot: After a horrible viral infection known as the Medusa virus ravages the planet, turning people into stone, Japan decides to cryo-preserve a select group of patients to save humanity with the promise they will be awoken when they find a cure. Upon waking up, Kasumi, along with 159 other people, quickly discovers that the world is very different, terrifying, and packed with monsters. As they try to survive the new world, they do their best to discover the mysteries of the past and the ways of this new world. 

It should be stated that this film is packed with a lot of stunning action, but is very dark. The mystery anime science fiction film will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. If you appreciate horror in your anime or science fiction, be sure to check out this film asap. 

9. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Plot: After discovering she can leap through time, teenage girl Makoto Kanno decides to begin exploring her power doing what any young adult would do. As she begins to play with the past, and her future she quickly learns that even the smallest changes can have big consequences on her life and the people around her. 

Time travel movies rarely work but when they do, they can be a thrilling treat. This award-winning film was a major hit when it was released, avoiding all the plot pitfalls of a standard time travel movie. The science-fiction anime film is packed with fantastic heartfelt moments, great character development and a few good twists that make this film a nice film to revisit even after you have seen it a couple of times. 

10. Ghost in the Shell

Plot: Set in 2029 Japan, cyborg federal agent Major. Motoko Kusanagi is investigating The Puppet Master, a being who illegally hacks into the minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Her investigation into the hacker leads to a journey towards her self-discovery sending the investigation and overall story in an unforeseen direction.  

What can be said about Ghost in the Shell that has not been said already? The animated science-fiction film is critically acclaimed and highly influential, spawning a whole new era in the cyberpunk genre. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, the stunning film beautifully explores the ramifications of a world where humans and machines have merged. If you love a great philosophical film this film will be your cup of tea. It tackles one of the central questions in philosophy, the hard problem of consciousness. 

11. Metropolis 

Plot: In a futuristic society where humans and robots coexist, tensions begin to rise when anti-robot sentiment and discrimination begin to spread throughout the city of Metropolis. Detective Shunsaku Ban and his sidekick Kenichi are searching for rebel mad scientist Dr. Laughton to arrest him and capture his humanoid creation Tima. Hoping to stop Tima before she is turned into a weapon, the duo is taken on a wild adventure that explores humanity. 

Metropolis does take some aspects of its storyline from the 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis. In a world, where people fear that artificial intelligence will take their jobs, this is a great film to watch. The film showcases a world in which robotic labor is replacing humans, going as far as to argue if robots can be more efficient than people, can possess consciousness, and tackle major philosophical questions.