Get your tin foil hats and plastic ray guns ready because the UFOs are descending, and the aliens are prepared to invade. The alien invasion genre has become a world-wide phenomenon, inspiring movies and TV shows since the birth of the medium. People are obsessed with the idea of life beyond the stars, of interstellar neighbors just wanting to be found. Others fear this possibility, with their potential advances in technology creating some of the most terrifying villains in film history. No matter which side you fall on, though, there is a film or TV show for you out there.
Not to be outdone, Japan has created some of the most popular animated portrayals of aliens in the history of the genre. With anime’s penchant for unique designs and dramatic storytelling, these alien stories have helped define the genre for the modern day. Included in this list are 15 of the absolute best anime that deal with aliens. Whether they be comedic, action-packed, or horrific, these series show many different perspectives as to what may live in the vast final frontier, and friend or foe, they’re ready for a first, second, and third encounter with the human race.
15 Edens Zero
With Edens Zero, manga creator Hiro Mashima deviated from his traditional action-fantasy genre to take flight into the final frontier. Shiki is a young man who grew up in a theme park on a distant planet, with the caretaker robots as his only friends. One day, the planet is visited by Rebecca Bluegarden and her robotic cat, Happy, and together, they begin an adventure to track down Mother, the goddess of the cosmos.
After being gifted the Edens Zero warship, Shiki sets off to build a crew of aliens, humans, and robots. However, the creator of Edens Zero, Ziggy, has reawakened, and he is none too happy to see his ship in their hands.
Mashima made his career writing series like Fairy Tail and Rave Master, fantasy series with a heavy comedic bend. With Edens Zero, he masterfully transitions to deep space. The series features the same eclectic group of heroes that you would expect from a Mashima tale, along with plenty of references to past series. Given that every character is from a different planet, even the very human characters are alien, but there are some wild character designs. The series feels like a love letter to Star Wars, with plenty of the same science-fantasy elements at play. Also, the Eden Gear abilities are interesting, distinguishing the series from others in the same vein.
14 Space Dandy
What would happen if you took Cowboy Bebop’s stylistic storytelling, space exploration, and world-building but took away the serious tone? You’d get something like Space Dandy, the wild, over-the-top space adventure anime from animation studio Bones. The series follows Dandy, a pompadoured bounty hunter, and his crew as they search the galaxy for new and undiscovered alien species.
Alongside his robotic ally QT and the cat alien Meow, Dandy hopes to one day earn enough money to buy out and run the “BooBies” restaurant franchise across the galaxy. Until then, he’ll use his meager earnings to visit as often as he can.
If you can’t tell from that brief description, Space Dandy is weird. The series is known for its twisting narrative and reality bending antics, its loose continuity allows for anything to happen episode to episode. Characters have died, been zombified, and traveled the multiverse, but they always show up to the next episode as if nothing happened. The series deals with multiversal concepts and the fabric of reality, but it never once takes itself seriously, instead choosing to focus on its ridiculous characters and their bizarre motivations. If you’re looking for a fun alien comedy with incredibly low stakes, Space Dandy is the series for you.
Robotech’s production took a unique trajectory. While most anime are a mostly 1:1 adaptation of the Japanese dialogue and animation, Robotech is an amalgamation of three separate Japanese series: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA.
Despite being a Frankenstein’s monster of three distinct series, Robotech held its own as a mecha anime, though it was largely overshadowed by the Mobile Suit Gundam series. While the designs weren’t as groundbreaking as other mecha series at the time, Robotech still managed to tell a serious and interesting story of alien invasion.
Robotech opens with the discovery of an alien spacecraft that had crashed on Earth. 10 years after the discovery, humanity has repurposed the ship into the mobile fortress SDF-1, and they have developed new machines utilizing the ship’s technology. However, an alien force of giant warriors known as the Zentraedi invaded Earth in order to retake the SDF-1. Utilizing their Robotech mecha, machines that can transform from a jet to a robotic fighter mode, humanity engages the Zentraedi in battle. However, these giant warriors are only the first wave of a much bigger invasion force, and Earth is about to become a war-zone.
12 Blue Gender
If you’ve ever had a phobia for bugs, then Blue Gender may not be the anime for you. The series takes place in the year 2030, after an alien species of massive bug monsters called Blue has overrun the Earth. Humanity has migrated to a space colony known as Second Earth, in orbit around their original home.
Having just awoken from a 21-year cryogenic stasis, Yuji Kaido isn’t prepared for the savagery of this new world. Traveling with a group of soldiers and their armored Shrike mechs, Yuji learns of humanity’s struggles against the alien menace and that he could be the key to ending the war for good.
Blue Gender is an underrated anime series, one that hasn’t received the same level of acclaim of other mecha anime. Perhaps it is the insectoid enemies or the dour, depressing tone, but far too many people have slept on this series. It is a dark take on the mech anime formula, with the characters’ mission oftentimes feeling hopeless.
In that way, Blue Gender is an incredible horror series as well as a great example of science fiction anime. While the alien designs aren’t groundbreaking (they are just different types of bugs), their wild ferocity and the many deaths they cause on screen make them one of the scariest antagonists of the modern era.
11 To LOVE-Ru/ Urusei Yatsura
These two anime share a place on this list due to their similar plot structures. While To LOVE-Ru is a lot more adult in its humor and willingness for fan service when compared to Urusei Yatsura, they both follow the same basic plot structure. Despite this, they are two of the most beloved science-comedy-romances produced, and as such, they both deserve a spot on this list, even if they have to share the same ranking.
After all, most of the series presented here are action or horror-oriented. Aliens are typically a terrifying subject in this genre. To LOVE-Ru and Urusei Yatsura showcase how creative writers can actually introduce some friendly aliens.
Urusei Yatsura opens with an alien invasion. The Oni aliens reveal that they will leave if a human contender can catch one of the Oni. Ataru Moroboshi is chosen as the representative of Earth. He is paired against Lum, the princess of the Oni, and defeats her. A misunderstanding occurs, though, and Lum believes that Ataru wishes to marry her, moving in with him and ruining his current relationship.
To LOVE-Ru sees Lala Deviluke escaping her planet to avoid an arranged marriage. She meets Rito Yuuki. When one of Lala’s people arrives to drag her back home, she says that she will marry Rito. This misunderstanding is just the beginning of one of the most popular “harem” anime ever made.
10 Knights of Sidonia
Knights of Sidonia is a chilling, horrific, and deeply philosophical take on the alien invasion subgenre. The story follows the spaceship Sidonia which escaped Earth after the invasion of the Gauna. These fleshy, shape-shifting aliens can take on any shape, often assuming gargantuan forms to decimate the Sidonia. The humans have developed Gardes, piloted mechs designed to withstand the brutal power of the Gauna and that utilize Higgs Particle weapons to defeat the creatures.
Knights of Sidonia is a heady science-fiction narrative that takes clear inspiration from stories like Alien and The Thing, showcasing just how terrifying space can actually be. The Gauna are terrifying, especially as the series carries on, and they start to evolve to better match the human threat. The meaty design of the creatures evokes some real chills when they are on the screen.
Some anime studios have dabbled with 3D animation in recent years, but few have executed it as successfully as Knights of Sidonia. The action sequences are thrilling. The story beats are properly dramatic. There’s a talking bear maid (they’re not afraid to get goofy). What more could you want?
Gantz is, by far, one of the darkest series on this list. After all, the story only starts after its leads have died. In an attempt to save a homeless man, Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato are hit by a train and killed. However, they don’t ascend to some afterlife, instead arriving at a bare apartment with a strange black sphere in front of them. Kurono and Kato have been chosen to participate in a game.
By defeating targets chosen by the sphere, most of which are aliens living on Earth, they gain points. At 100, they have access to a special reward, one that can revive them from the dead. What follows is a deadly test of their skills. Characters will die in horrible, bloody ways, and they will die often.
Gantz is the sort of series that perfectly proves that not all animation is meant for kids. With its intensely dark themes, violent storytelling, and sometimes overt sexuality, the series stands out from other anime. It isn’t a perfect series, with some of its events feeling edgy for the sake of edginess. However, it is this sheer insanity that has drawn fans in. While it has fallen a bit into obscurity, a CG animated film released in 2016 titled Gantz: 0. This is also a great jumping on point, although it does change several key aspects of the original story. If you have the stomach for Gantz’ intense storytelling, then you need to check this series out, no matter which version you choose.
One of the best things about our modern retro-loving culture is that beloved shows from the past have started to make their comeback. Of course, a number of these comebacks fall flat on their faces, but Netflix’s Ultraman is one of the few that actually works. Utilizing 3D animation techniques, this anime series has received three seasons and doesn’t seem to be losing momentum.
Part of the success of this series is the fact that it isn’t a reboot. It is a sequel to the original Ultraman tokusatsu action series. This allows for plenty of references and homages to the original without retreading and potentially upending old, beloved storylines.
Ultraman is the story of Shinjiro Hayata, the son of the original Ultraman, Shin Hayata. Working secretly with the Japanese government, Shin has helped develop a specialized task force to take down alien threats to Earth. While many aliens live peacefully on the planet, others seek to invade or destroy, necessitating a response team.
When a massive threat arrives on Earth, Shinjiro is chosen to don a suit of mechanized armor meant to resemble Ultraman and replicate his powers. However, in a world with so many threats, one Ultraman may not be enough. Luckily, Shinjiro has an entire team behind him.
Most alien anime are set in modern or futuristic worlds, giving the humans of these Earths the ability to fight back against the alien threat. Gintama flips the script, instead choosing to have the alien invasion arrive in Japan during the Edo period. The samurai were ill-equipped to battle the alien threat, and their cowardly leader made a deal with the aliens, allowing them control of the country.
Gintama takes place years after this inciting event. Gintoki Sakata is a former samurai who has built a freelancing business. The series is an episodic comedy, focused on the day-to-day life and work of Gintoki and his allies.
Gintama is an interesting mix of genres, with elements of historical fiction blending with comedy, science-fiction, and lifestyle storytelling. Gintoki is eclectic and draws plenty of other weirdos to his aid, and it is this bizarre cast that gives this story its charm. There are some dark story arcs dealing with terrorism and rebellion, but overall, Gintama doesn’t take itself too seriously.
It’s a fun period piece for most of the series, playing with the strange blending of alien and Japanese cultures. It is this exact disconnect that has made the series stand out for so many fans, with unique design work and interesting character dynamics drawing them in from the first episode.
6 Assassination Classroom
The story of Assassination Classroom starts off like so many alien invasion plots. An alien arrives on Earth and declares that, in one year’s time, he will destroy the planet. However, what he does next is highly unconventional. Koro-sensei becomes the homeroom teacher for class 3-E of Kunugigaoka High School, and despite the lessons in assassination and murder, he’s actually a great teacher. The students excel under his tutelage.
That is, when they aren’t trying to murder him. You see, the Japanese government has put a price on Koro-sensei’s head, and the students of class 3-E are racing to see who can claim it first.
Assassination Classroom brilliantly blends science-fiction action with comedy, giving this series a wholly unique feel. There is only one alien in this series, but Koro-sensei proves his power within the first few episodes of the series. When he arrives on Earth, he has destroyed most of the moon, turning into a persistent crescent. He also wields incredible superpowers, which turn the students murder attempts into comedic farces, as the tentacled teacher turns every attempt into slapstick. The series isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it is ridiculous and fun as well as action-packed, making it stand out in the sea of alien anime.
5 Outlaw Star
It seems that no matter where humans end up, outlaws and pirates follow in their wake. It seems inevitable, especially in the world of Outlaw Star. In this space-opera-western, humanity has discovered dragonite, which has given them the ability to travel faster than the speed of light and explore the galaxy. With the development of interstellar colonies came the development of a new type of criminal.
Gene Starwind is a bounty hunter who takes down these criminals for the right price. However, when he is given the keys to the Outlaw Star, an experimental spaceship made to track Galactic Leylines, he undertakes a whole new adventure into the depths of space.
For fans of Cowboy Bebop who felt the interstellar action needed more aliens, Outlaw Star is for you. It takes itself a little less seriously than its fellow space western, but the interstellar bounty hunting makes Outlaw Star a fantastic follow-up to its more popular cousin. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any serious storylines in this series, but it also leans a little more heavily into the fun of the bounty hunting gig. The series also has a lot of fun with its character designs, playing with the alien species in new and interesting ways. In all, Outlaw Star has far fewer fans than it deserves.
4 Space Battleship Yamato 2199
A remake of the 1974 anime classic, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is an intense series. The plot focuses on Earth after its first contact with the alien species Gamilas. The Gamilas declared war on Earth, bombarding the planet’s surface with massive asteroids and driving the population underground.
Another alien race known as the Iscandarans took an interest in Earth’s plight and offered technology to help them fight back. In order to retrieve this technology, the peoples of Earth built a new Cosmic Navy vessel named the Yamato, sending it on a voyage through enemy territory.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a brilliant remake, taking everything that worked about the original and amplifying it with better animation and voice work. The series is dark, focusing on the struggles of humanity and a last ditch effort to survive. This is full on interstellar war, with humanity outnumbered and outgunned. The story is all about the resiliency of humanity in the face of overwhelming odds, just set on a backdrop of stunning space battles and unique spaceship designs. There’s nothing quite like seeing a literal naval battleship flying through space with a rocket attached to its back end, dodging a barrage of lasers.
3 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Angels have come to Earth in Neon Genesis Evangelion, but if you’re picturing the flowing hair and glistening wings from a Sunday School painting, you are dead wrong. These alien creatures have invaded Earth for unknown reasons, apparently seeking only to destroy. In order to fight back, the Nerv paramilitary unit has developed Evangelion biomachines that bond with a pilot’s nervous system.
Shinji Ikari is the son of Nerv leader Gendo Ikari. Gendo convinces his son to pilot EVA-01, alongside two other pilots. However, Nerv holds many secrets, and Shinji, Asuka, and Rei don’t yet know what they’ve signed up for.
Since its release, Neon Genesis Evangelion has gone on to become an icon of the mecha genre. Its deeply philosophical storytelling, excellent character development, and thrilling battles have drawn fans into the series. While its continuity has gotten a bit shaky with the release of sequel films that alter the series’ ending, the entire franchise has taken over pop culture.
Fans have spent years dissecting the series, attempting to fully understand the ending and the bizarre philosophies at play. This is so much more than a mecha anime, than an alien invasion story. It is deeply human, something that every anime fan needs to experience.
2 Parasyte: The Maxim
If you’re looking for science-fiction body horror, then look no further than Parasyte: The Maxim. The invading aliens in this series are a species of tiny, worm-like creatures that drill into their hosts and overtake their brains. This allows the Parasite to control not only the mind of their host, but also their body, manipulating it and changing its shape to fit their needs.
17-year-old Shinichi Izumi was nearly a victim of one of these parasites, the alien burrowing into his hand instead. With both retaining their minds and personalities, Migi and Shinichi agree to work together to stop the other Parasites and potentially save the human race.
For fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing, there is no better anime than Parasyte: The Maxim. The series is one of the best examples of body horror in the genre, with the shapeshifting aliens allowing for some truly chilling moments. However, this series is so much more than a horror story. Like many of the stories on this list, it focuses deeply on what it means to be human, on morality.
Shinichi’s relationship with Migi helps bridge the gap between the two species, forcing each to recognize the successes and failures of each. You’d never expect a series with a talking hand to be this deep, but Parasyte somehow makes it work.
1 Dragonball Z
The entire Dragonball franchise is a cornerstone of the combat shonen genre, influencing its trajectory since its release in 1984. For almost 40 years, Goku and his merry band of warriors has faced numerous enemies, gained immense new power, and even traveled through time.
The entire cast of the series are some of the most recognizable characters in the world, but it’s easy to forget in the heat of their many, many fights, that this series is a science-fiction juggernaut. Clones, space battles, androids, and aliens aplenty make up the foes that these warriors face, and Dragonball Zhas some of the most iconic alien characters of all time.
From Picolo to Frieza to Majin Buu, the alien designs are fantastic, leaning into Akira Toriyama’s strengths as an artist. They are simple, yet stand out in the grand scheme of alien invasion storytelling. Even Goku and his fellow Saiyans may seem like simple humans on the outside, but their ability to transform and increase their power has made them legends of anime.
While the series has refined itself in the years since the original anime released, Dragonball Z is the series that propelled the franchise to its current prestige. It may have started as a humble adaptation of Journey to the West, but this franchise has become so much more as it evolved.
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