Even though Sci-fi has a tendency to get too stuck up in the technical details, few would argue with the fact that it’s the characters that matter. Any good narrative needs figures we can relate to in one way or another, either as a means of living out our own fantasies or as a mirror of ourselves. Science fiction has always been concerned with humans, and, more specifically, our relationship with technology.
In many ways, anime in particular and cartoons in general go hand-in-hand with Sci-fi. Scenes that would be impossible to include in conventional movies can easily be put to the screen in an anime. And, maybe more importantly, from the late 80s Japan became almost synonymous with one of the greatest sub-genres of Sci-fi: cyberpunk. Along with Mecha, cyberpunk has had a long-lasting impact up to this day – largely thanks to classic Sci-fi anime like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Gundam Wing or Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The focus of this list however isn’t necessarily the series themselves, but the characters that made them memorable. You’ll definitely see some of the most beloved and well-known characters, but also a couple you might’ve never heard of. There are a lot to pick from, but this is what we decided on; Let’s time-warp into our Top 10 Sci-fi Anime Characters!
10. Hoshino "Hachimaki" Hachirota from Planetes
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2003 - April 2004
Planetes was similar to movies like Alien in that it didn’t feature a cast of super-intelligent scientists on a mission to the discover the mysteries of space, but instead focused on regular people performing regular day activities, in a future where space-travel is as commonplace as the trans-European railway is today.
In the center of all of this we have Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino, a moody, loud member of the ‘Toy Box Section’ of the Space Debris Section of a big space station – essentially just a garbageman in a spacesuit. He’s a simple-minded guy, and is somewhat socially awkward, especially when it comes to the opposite sex, but is also somewhat of a dreamer, with a goal of owning his own spaceship one day. Hachirota is an average joe but by no means simple character, managing to evoke sympathy in the viewers as he tries to solve the minor and major problems of his life.
9. Atom Tetsuwan (Astro Boy) from Astroboy
- Episodes: 194
- Aired: January 1963 - December 1966
‘Soaring high in the sky/He may be small but only in size’
Probably one of the most recognizable cartoons ever made, the Astroboy franchise was created by the ‘father of anime’ Tezuka Osamu. Despite the initial likeness with Pinocchio, Atom Tetsuwan isn’t as much interested in becoming a real boy as he is fighting the various forms of evil he encounters on his path.
Atom was modeled after the deceased son of a scientist, but is later given to a circus when his father realizes he’ll never grow like a regular human being. His childish personality is contrasted to his incredible ‘seven amazing powers’, including both the ability to fly and superior intellect, as well as his built-in moral compass which helps him distinguish between good and evil as he pursues his quests.
8. Gally from Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
- Episodes: 2
- Aired: June 1993 - August 1993
After being found in a scrapyard by a cybermedic expert, an amnesiac cyborg is revived and it is revealed that she still remembers an old form of martial art known as Panzer Kunst. Gally, as the cyborg is called, uses this skill to make a living for herself as a bounty hunter in a dystopian future which has society divided between the rich and the poor.
Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita) was cyberpunk before cyberpunk became a household name, and Gally was the center of attention, and one of the most kick-ass cyborgs of all time (the other of which you’ll find longer down on this very list).
7. Nausicaä from Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: March 1984
Nausicaa is in many ways the stereotypical Ghibli/Miyazaki heroine. Strong-willed, idealistic and maybe a bit naive, she’s ready to stand up for what matters – the environment in this instance – and fight injustice in any way she can.
One of the film’s novelties is that it doesn’t reduce her to a means to convey the movie’s environmentalist message, she is genuine and believable, and the fact that she’s one of the most memorable Ghibli character says a lot.
6. Lum from Urusei Yatsura
- Episodes: 195
- Aired: October 1981 - March 1986
Just the fact that Lum is still featured in Japanese commercial proves how iconic she really is; Cool, sexy, sweet and caring, this alien invader was one of the first ‘magical girlfriends’ in anime, and although she was originally just supposed to appear in a single episode, she ended up stealing the show in Urusei Yatsura.
Her fans include American power pop musician Matthew Sweet, whose video ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ introduced her to foreign fans. She’s not perfect though – there’s a reason why she’s regarded as one of the first ‘tsundere' characters.
5. Lain Iwakura from Serial Experiments Lain
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 1998 - September 1998
Seeing Lain hunched in front of her computer, one can’t help but thinking of those teenagers doing the exact same thing with their smartphones at the Tokyo subway – not only is the posture similar, the impact technology has had on their lives are also comparable: Like most people do nowadays, Lain lives a schizophrenic existence with (many) totally opposing personalities outside of and inside in the ‘Wired’ – the series internet-like social media (in 1998!).
The impact the ‘Wired’ has on Lain is one of the central elements of the series, and it is probably easier to relate to this geeky, sometimes mysterious, sometimes creepy character now than when it came out in.
4. Tetsuo Shima from Akira
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: July 1988
Akira was an obvious pick, the difficult part was deciding who to pick. The definitive anime movie has a vast array of interesting characters, but ultimately Tetsuo is the one that stands out. After having spent his whole life in the shadow of his buddy Kaneda, he suddenly gets amazing telekinetic powers after he crashed with a mysterious, child-like figure on a highway.
Although he is ultimately good at heart, he quickly gets corrupted by his new-found power. His megalomania is fueled by his inferiority complex, and he is ultimately a tragic figure.
3. Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bepop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 - April 1999
Spike Spiegel is the personification of Cowboy Bebop’s iconic, fast-paced James Bond-esque opening theme. His ‘masculine’ coolness doesn’t put Humphrey Bogart to shame, and he could probably take on many a kung-fu movie protagonists. Under his charming appearance lies a past as a gangster, as well as a tragic love story.
2. Kusanagi ‘Major’ Motoko from Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: November 1995
No matter whether we’re talking about the introspective movie version or the more ‘tough cop with personal issues’ Major we meet in Stand Alone Complex, she’s one of the more intriguing characters of anime. Her issues related to her ‘mysterious past’ and her nearly fully cybernetic body raises many questions about gender, identity and humanness, but is also a full-worthy action hero, a ‘deep’ character if there ever was one.
1. Ikari Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 - March 1996
Evangelion was, in contrast to series like Gundam, about what would actually happen if you put a bunch of teenagers in charge of saving the world. Forced by his father to control Evangelion Unit-01, Shinji suffers from all the complexes known to modern psychology, be it inferiority, mommy-issues, father-issues, identity, depression, sexual repression, cowardice, insecurity, just to name a few.
Shinji is Evangelion, he’s the main character and his inner struggles are what gives Evangelion it’s momentum. He’s by no means a hero and is genuinely unlikable, but we’re all bound to see some parts ourselves in him, even though we might now want to admit it.
That’s our picks for the top ten Sci-fi anime characters! Was your favorite left out? Be sure to let us know in the comment section.