After hearing news about the upcoming Berserk anime will be fully animated in 3D, we think it’s the best time to make a top 10 on 3D or computer-generated anime. Now, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the 2D era. Anime will stay 2D for many, many years to come, but we can’t deny anime is also trying to move forward using new technologies and techniques.
Seriously, bringing anime art style (big eyes, weird angled noses, triangle mouths) to the third dimension is, more or less, very ugly. 2D is safe for now. *ahem*
For this list, we’re going to show you our Top 10 3D Anime out there with the best 3D or CGI graphics. The anime doesn’t have to be fully computer generated for as long as the CGI is part of the art style and/or is frequently used.
Let’s get to it! Oh, and you can throw those 3D glasses away. You don’t need them here.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2000-December 2000
In the far future, humanity left Earth to colonize outer space. A group of colonists have segregated the genders to separate planets. Taraak, the homeworld of the men and Majere, the homeworld of the women declared war on each other and this is where the story of Vandread begins. Tokai Hibiki is a third class citizen who wants to prove himself to his peers that he is not all talk, so he took the challenge of stealing a Vanguard mech from one of the armories. Things didn’t go too well and he ended up being a stowaway and caught in the war between men and women.
Little do they know that there is a looming threat amongst the stars and the two genders must set aside their differences and unite to defeat this unknown enemy. This is a battle of the sexes on a galactic scale!
While the show has 2D drawn characters, Vandread is one of the first anime who added fully rendered 3D models to every scene. At the time, the results were amazing: The mechs, ships, and outer space were all computer generated CGI. Looking at it now, the models look primitive if you compare them to current 3D modeling techniques, but they were carefully made and it gave the anime a unique visual flair, a sense of chaos, and personality.
9. Macross Zero
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: December 2002-October 2004
The story of Macross Zero takes place one year before the alien race, the Zentraedi, arrived on Earth. Kudo Shin is your typical cocky ace pilot who is assigned on a mission to face the anti-UN forces in the Mayan islands. Shin is stranded on one of the Mayan islands after being shot down by an enemy jet that can transform into a humanoid robot. While under the care of the local natives of the islands, Shin soon discovers the secret of the myth of the Birdman - a creator of legend that is said to shaped humanity.
Macross Zero is the first anime in the franchise that fully transitioned from hand drawn mechs to full 3D CGI, followed by Macross Frontier and the currently airing Macross Frontier. Having all mechs and ships in 3D means more dynamic camera angles and more fluid movements. Sometimes the 2D characters blend in with the third dimension and they’re interesting to look at. Every dogfight is intense to the point of almost dizziness thanks to the pilot’s acrobatic skills, and the dynamic use of the camera.
8. Itoshi no Muco (Lovely Muuuuuuuco!)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2015-March-2016
Much 3D. So Doge. Muco is an energetic Shiba Inu who loves her owner Komatsu very much and the show is mainly about our cute dog doing cute doggie things every day.
Yeah, it’s understandable modeling anime to 3D is iffy due to limitations of the technology, but what if you use that limitation to your advantage? The 3D modeling in Itoshi no Muco is simplistic at best, but the style fits with the show’s cute and child-friendly stories. If Muco was rendered in great detail, it’s doubtful she’ll be funny and appealing to kids.
7. Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova (Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova-)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2013-December 2013
Apparently, Global Warming is actually a thing so water levels have risen so high, cities and lands were lost to the sea. To make things more complicated to humanity, a fleet of unknown warships called the “Fleet of Mist” started attacking human ships around the planet, rendering the seas risky or unsafe for human travel. Seven years later, a mysterious girl that goes by the name Iona approached young man Chihaya Gunzou to be her captain. It turns out Iona is the humanoid form of a captured Mist submarine named I-401. Gunzou, with the help of Mist traitor Iona, sets out to the open ocean to defeat the Fleet of Mist and save humanity.
Aoki Hagane is a different take on the girls and ships theme of Kantai Collection: The girls are the ships themselves instead of girls wearing equipment/parts that represent the ships they’re based on. But what makes Ars Nova very different is the anime has fully 3D rendered human characters. Though not perfect, it is one of the few examples that anime—known for exaggerated and non-symmetrical art style—can be visually appealing with an added third dimension.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2016-April 2016
Ajin is a unique kind of species that has the power of immortality. It is unknown how these kinds of beings exist, but what’s known is Ajin is walking amongst us. Nagai Kei is just your average high school student working hard to reach his dream as a doctor. Unfortunately for him, his life turned upside down after he was killed in a traffic accident and came back to life in front of people and his friends. Kei is now running for his life as one of the feared beings called the Ajin.
Mixed criticisms from fans aside, Ajin is one of the few anime with fully rendered 3D characters. Aside from the main character Kei, the art direction gave the anime a realistic feel to almost horror-like by giving the IBMs or the ghost forms of the Ajin an eerie look.
5. Gankutsuou (Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2004-March 2005
Gankutsuou is loosely based on the 1844 novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” by French author Alexandre Dumas, with added elements of science fiction, mechs and the supernatural. The story begins with aristocrats and best friends Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay came to the planet Luna for the annual Carnival. After meeting with fellow aristocrats, Albert met a mysterious noble known only as the Count of Monte Cristo. Albert soon befriended the Count and the intriguing story of friendship, love, trust, betrayal, and vengeance unfolds.
In some respects, Gankutsuou is one of the most unique anime ever made with its very dazzling and oftentimes eye-searing visual style. While the characters and certain scenes are hand-drawn, a majority of the anime, especially the vistas, are all rendered in 3D. The resulting CGI effects gave the anime a mysterious and alien-like atmosphere that is very hard to describe. Most anime with CGI backgrounds are plain and static and Gankutsuou is an exception: The world is alive brimming with artistic detail.
4. Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014-June 2014
After an alien life form called the Gauna devastated Earth and almost wiped out all living things, humanity left the planet by creating massive vessels called “seed ships” to travel the stars in search of a new world to colonize. The story centers around one of these seed ships named Sidonia as the crew search the vastness of space for a new home and avoid the Gauna that’s been hunting them for more than 1000 years.
Knights of Sidonia is also animated by Polygon Pictures, the same studio who animated Ajin, so the CGI is more or less of the same quality. However, KoS’s 3D art style fits more in the sci-fi setting than the realistic, present world of Ajin. Let’s be honest here: 3D animation isn’t appropriate if the setting works better with hand drawn animation. KoS is more sterile, robotic and symmetrical — 3D animation and art style work better here.
3. Bubuki Buranki (BBK/BRNK)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2016-March 2016
Kazuki Azuma is a young man searching for answers about his mother and the Buranki Oubu. After returning to Japan after 10 years, he meets companions who wields weapons with a mind of their own called Bubuki. What are the Bubuki and why is Azuma looking for the Buranki Oubu and revive it? What truly happened 10 years ago?
The 3D CGI is more polished than Arpeggio, Ajin and Knights of Sidonia with more polygons and an art style that’s close to 2D anime. The typical criticism for 3D anime is the animations tend to be stiff. Though it’s not the animators fault or their computers are slow, the slow framerates were intentional so the CGI moments are close to anime (which are around 12-19 FPS). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Bubuki Buranki is at the latter because the animations have more frames in them so they don’t look stiff… most of the time.
2. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: September 2005
Advent Children takes place two years after the RPG Final Fantasy VII, and it focuses on Cloud Strife who distanced himself from his comrades and the rest of the world after the defeat of Sephiroth. After saving their world Gaia, a plague called the Geostigma spread across the planet and infected the people, including Cloud himself. What is Geostigma and why did it appear after defeating Sephiroth? And who are these silver-haired soldiers that have appeared before Cloud?
There’s no denying it, Advent Children is the most beautifully 3D rendered anime of all time. Unlike every anime on this list, everything is so realistic in Advent Children that it’s hard to tell the characters are real people or not. Backed with stunning vistas and jaw-dropping action sequences, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is not only beautiful to look at, it’s also fun to watch… unlike Final Fantasy the Spirits Within.
But wait, Advent Children is not number on the list?! Is there an anime that is visually superior?!
1. God Eater
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2015-March 2016
In the far future, man is facing extinction following the emergence of monsters called the “Aragami.” Having immunity to conventional weaponry, the Aragami ravaged the land, consuming everything in their path. To combat this threat, an organization called “Fenrir” send out God Eaters —special humans infused with Oracle cells—to fight and destroy the Aragami. The story begins with Utsugi Lenka, a new God Eater recruit seeking revenge against the Aragami.
So why is this number one instead of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children? On the technical side of things, God Eater is inferior to Advent Children, but what made God Eater stand out and better is it retained the look of traditional anime while being mostly 3D CGI. God Eater uses advanced cel shading to give the 3D characters a convincing 2D look, and unlike other anime, say, Ajin, or Knights of Sidonia, the models of God Eater look like they’re hand drawn and it’s hard to tell the characters are 2D or 3D.
Advent Children is more realistic, but that’s not what anime should be in the future. What are the reasons why we love anime? It’s the beautiful and unique art styles. 3D CGI anime is very limited because it’s impossible to mimic 2D art with inconsistent proportions. What will happen if you bring an art style that favors drawing the mouths on the side to the third dimension? God Eater is not perfect by any means, but it shows us a brief glimpse that, if ever, IF EVER 2D animation is going away, we can be at ease that 2D art style will carry over to 3D with little consequence.
This is partly about how 3D CGI anime evolved over the years. At first 3D modeling is restricted to symmetrical objects like buildings, cars, and robots, and as technology improves, 3D modeling for characters are slowly improving. We see the characters improve by watching anime like God Eater and the like. Not all of you will appreciate 3D animation and that’s alright. 2D animation is still widely used because it’s cheaper and offers more artistic freedom, but given enough time, 3D animation will be on par with 2D. It’s an interesting future for anime.
So what do you think of the list? Do you still prefer 2D animation? Are you okay with mixing the two together? Please tell us by leaving a comment below!