In the process of writing my Mecha that Changed Anime posts, I unavoidably also thought about what I’d say here.
These are my top ten (plus one) favorite mecha anime. (Note there are series with some mecha elements that I’d consider better than some of these, but aren’t quite “mecha” enough to belong on this list: Magic Knight Rayearth, Tekkaman Blade, and FLCL come to mind.)
10: Mazinkaiser – For when other robots just aren’t invincible enough. The action is great, there are some hilarious comedy moments, and it has the best adaptations of certain parts from the original Mazinger Z manga; literally everything else on this list is deeper, but this OAV is just plain fun. (Those who really dislike fanservice can skip episode 4 without missing much.) Turbo Smasher Punch!
9: King of Braves GaoGaiGar – All fans of either Transformers or Voltron are encourage to check this one out; just like another show later on the list, it surpassed its toyetic original reason for being and became the first “anti-Evangelion“. With courage, 1% is as good as 100%; that’s what it means to be a hero!
8: Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! (Shin Mazinger Shougeki Z Hen) – Possibly the most disputed one on this list, but I really like this one. Contains the only animated appearance of Energer ZETTO!!
7: Neon Genesis Evangelion (including End of Evangelion) and Rebuild of Evangelion (they diverge more than enough to be counted separately, but for recommendation purposes I’m not doing so) – Divisive in its own way, but as long as I try to not hold the cost-cutting tricks made necessary by the TV series’ budget issues against it, this is where it goes for me, and it many ways being able to do everything it did despite its limitations was one of its strong points. And of course Rebuild has no such problems to begin with. Don’t go into it expecting a typical mecha action show, but do watch it at least once if you haven’t already. There are (not) enough therapists.
6: Macross Plus – The rivalry between two test pilots crashes into the idea of obsolescence in the face of advancing AI. The movie and OAV versions have just enough differences that it can even be worth it to watch both. Just cut your engine and ride the wind.
5: G Gundam – Yasuhiro Imagawa’s take on Gundam is one of the most unusual. I have doubts that the concept of a fighting tournament with Gundams could have been even a fraction this good under anyone else, and it took a certain streak of rebelliousness to even try since some of the higher-ups literally wanted just a show that had nothing to it other than showing the Japanese Gundam win against a foreign one every week, and the whole reason it had so many different Gundams was just to sell models. Instead, we got a show that examines the nature of conflict better than a lot of the more conventional Gundam series, an overarching plot with Gundam’s most unique antagonist, a theme of international cooperation amidst the competition, and romance saving the day in the end. Also the cheesiest and most ridiculous Gundam designs ever, which is why some of the more serious-minded Gundam fans never gave this one a fair chance. Gundam Fight, ready go!
4: Full Metal Panic! – Sousuke Sagara has been on the battlefield his whole life and knows all about war, but when he’s assigned to attend high school and protect Kaname Chidori, he’s completely clueless. His misreading of common situations is played for maximum comedy, and the occasional drama when you remember the reason for it. I’m also including the sequel series together with it, though all-comedy Fumofu‘s “mecha” status is limited; The Second Raid is conversely more dramatic due to the leads spending more of the series separated from each other. Not to be confused with Fullmetal Alchemist (which is a coincidence), or with Full Metal Jacket (no matter what Sousuke thinks).
3: Gunbuster – The oldest thing on this list, but not to the point where I can really understand anyone holding that against it. Noriko is still one of the greatest female anime protagonists of all time. (And certainly the best character ever at screaming). Any 6-episode series that can start off slow and still make everything work deserves credit for that too. Hard work and guts!
2: Gunbuster 2 (Diebuster) – Different enough from the original to be listed separately, even if I did end up ranking them consecutively. It’s the sequel to the original Gunbuster, but in style it’s also the missing link between FLCL and Gurren Lagann, and every bit as incredible as those comparisons make it sound. Oh, and there’s yuri subtext that stops barely short of being explicitly canon. Welcome homɘ.
1: Gurren Lagann – It’s practically the cliche choice for the number 1 spot here, but backlash against its hype is the only reason it wouldn’t be at least near the top. Honestly, a few missteps early on mean that the average quality of the series is lower than the previous two…but the high points include several of my favorite anime moments ever. Row row fight the power!
0: Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – Every once in a while there comes a truly special anime that is so far from typical of at least one genre that it technically belongs to that you can’t recommend it as a good example of that genre, but any fan of that genre should watch it anyway because it is just that good. Among mecha, a case could be made for putting both Evangelion and Magic Knight Rayearth in that category. But most of all, there is Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. I don’t think I would call it the greatest mecha anime of all time (which is why it’s not number 1); but it is a serious candidate for the greatest anime of all time.
And as a bonus, my favorite mecha manga is Getter Robo – none of the Getter Robo anime I’ve seen were at all bad, but it’s still one of the clearest cases of “the manga was better than the anime” out there.