Since the early days of anime, giant robots and mechanized suits of armor have persisted as pop culture icons through imaginative shows that commonly center on militaristic heroes defending humanity. But a chosen few mecha anime have risen above the tropes to become genuine classics.
By reflecting on landmark series that exhibit influential designs, compelling plots, emotional resonance, and thematic ambition, we can determine the cream of the crop – definitive selections no anime fan should miss.
Here are 10 of the greatest and most influential mecha anime of all time based on their iconic status, critical acclaim, originality, and lasting impact on pop culture.
- Eureka Seven
Eureka Seven’s coming-of-age story follows Renton, an average boy who joins the rebel Gekkostate group and bonds with the mysterious Eureka while piloting the powerful Nirvash mech, which transforms like the hi nu gundam.
Blending intense aerial mecha fight sequences with youthful self-discovery, Eureka Seven was acclaimed for its exhilarating, high-flying combat vividly animated by Bones studio and nuanced characters with depth like the complex A/V pilot Holland. Renton’s journey from an immature teenager to a brave hero protecting Eureka develops over the show’s episodes as he unlocks Nirvash’s evolving capabilities in climactic battles. Eureka Seven uses mecha action to tell a resonant sci-fi story with themes of love, loss, maturity, and alienation.
- Code Geass
The Holy Britannian Empire has conquered over one-third of the world, including Japan, which they renamed Area 11. The Britannians oppressed the native Japanese people, stripping them of rights and treating them as second-class citizens.
Lelouch vi Britannia was the son of the Britannian emperor but was exiled after his mother’s assassination. He took on the identity of Lelouch Lamperouge and vowed to destroy Britannia. By chance, he gains a mysterious power called Geass, which compels others to obey his commands absolutely.
With his Geass, Lelouch becomes Zero, the masked leader of the Black Knights resistance group. He manipulates events behind the scenes and performs miracle after miracle to build momentum for the rebellion against Britannia. Lelouch is a tactical genius and master strategist, using his intellect and Geass to outmaneuver Britannia.
Lelouch pilots the customized Knightmare Frame mecha unit, Gawain, equipped with advanced weapons and flight capability. He later upgrades to the Shinkirō. His ace piloting skills, combined with clever tactics, make him an incredibly formidable foe on the battlefield.
The anime follows Lelouch’s campaigns against Britannia as he plays a dangerous game of chess on a global scale. He walks a fine line between achieving his goal of an independent Japan by any means necessary and losing himself. Code Geass explores complex moral dilemmas as Lelouch wrestles with the costs of waging war for a just cause.
- Gurren Lagann
This cult favorite anime directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi follows the ambitious adventures of young digger Simon and his fiery bro Kamina, who yearn to reach the earth’s surface after living underground their whole lives. When Simon uncovers a powerful drill-shaped mech called Lagann, it sets the duo on a journey to break through and explore the wider world.
Together with the ragtag Team Dai-Gurren, Simon and Kamina pilot the combining mecha Gurren Lagann in over-the-top battles against the Beastmen enforcing surface oppression. With escalating action, eye-catching animation, boundless fighting spirit, and Kamina’s rallying mantra to “believe in me that believes in you,” Gurren Lagann delivers fun, optimistic escapism and cool mecha designs that make it a fast favorite. Its themes of fighting adversity with determination resonated with viewers.
- Full Metal Panic
Combining mecha and high school hijinks, Full Metal Panic! juxtaposes secret soldier Sousuke’s deadly missions and lifeguarding his ditzy classmate Kaname. The blend of military action and romantic comedy makes FMP! a uniquely genre-bending fan favorite.
In an alternate history where the remnants of an ancient hyper-advanced Martian civilization attack Earth, genius engineer Inaho Kaizuka and Princess Asseylum must fight against the Martian Kataphrakts using advanced mecha to defend Earth. Aldnoah.Zero provides meticulous robot physics and intense strategy.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
This epic masterpiece from studio Gainax centers on Simon and Kamina inspirational journey alongside the Gurren Lagann robot fighting the subterranean Beastmen. With continually escalating action and flashy animation, Gurren Lagann’s boundless fighting spirit captivates viewers.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
In the most famous alternate universe Gundam storyline, five teenage pilots complete daring missions using advanced Gundams to battle the oppressive military organization OZ and fight for space colonists’ independence. Gundam Wing made the franchise hugely popular internationally.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
The landmark dark psychological series Evangelion revolutionized mecha anime by meditating on the human psyche. Teen Shinji hesitantly pilots Eva Unit 01 against mysterious Angels threatening humanity in this highly influential modern classic from Hideaki Anno.
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
The first Gundam direct sequel expands the universe with the AEUG resistance and new Gundam prototypes battling the Titans. More mature war storytelling and Tomino’s direction culminate in the devastating finale, cementing Zeta Gundam as a masterwork.
- Mobile Suit Gundam
In the 1979 series that launched decades of media franchising, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s original Gundam depicts a futuristic war between the Principality of Zeon and Earth Federation mobile suits. Amuro and Char’s rivalry became iconic. The realistic robot designs and characterization as an anti-war story made Gundam revolutionary.
The mecha genre remains a vital anime tradition, producing many legendary series over the decades. But the masterworks on this list have transcended pop culture to become genuinely definitive touchstones demonstrating the storytelling heights anime can achieve. Their seminal fighting robots and human drama exemplify why audiences never tire of high-octane mecha sci-fi epics. These visionary shows launched the dreams of millions to pilot their giant robots.