Ria is an avid anime and sci-fi fan who loves gushing about her latest favorite shows.
Alita: Battle Angel is looking like it may be much better than critics expected. This adaptation of a cult classic manga had been languishing in development for over ten years until producer James Cameron successfully brought it to life.
Movie fans without much knowledge of anime and manga may be curious as to how many other great Japanese sci-fi and fantasy series are out there. The bad news is that the original Battle Angel Alita, or Gunnm in the original Japanese, only got a two-episode anime adaptation. The source manga is excellent and worth a read if you love Alita’s premise, but if you prefer moving pictures, you’re a little out of luck.
The good news is that there is no shortage of fantastic anime with great action and emotional depth. Here are ten that explore some of the same core themes as Alita while offering a healthy dose of action.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Though the Ghost in the Shell live-action movie received mixed reviews, the franchise as a whole is loved by sci-fi fans across the world. In 2002, the franchise received an anime TV series called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which attained commercial and critical success. It has a action-packed dystopian premise similar to Alita's, but is slower-paced and more philosophical at times.
The series' premise revolves around a highly advanced society where the lines between man and machine have become blurred. Criminals have figured out how to carry out new kinds of crimes with the help of cybernetic implants, A.I.-controlled weapons, and much more. The main characters are the good guys responsible for restoring law and order, but their roles and responsibilities are never as simple as they seem.
Serial Experiments Lain
If the youthful protagonist of Alita appealed to you, then you will probably like Serial Experiments Lain. This 13-episode series focuses on a 14-year-old girl who is thrown into an advanced virtual-reality version of the internet - sort of. (It's hard to explain without spoiling anything!) The reluctant heroine ends up getting way more than she bargained for, with various characters trying to use her to accomplish their own goals, and her newfound powers giving her new responsibilities.
The series' short episode count means that it doesn't get to explore its world or characters much. It's also a little short on action, instead choosing to focus on the psychological aspects. Still, it's satisfying to watch, and its premise hasn't aged poorly at all.
The Mardock Scramble movie series shows the journey of a young girl who receives a technologically-advanced new body after someone attempts to murder her. As she uncovers who the culprit is, she has to dodge assassins and navigate a dangerous city.
This visually stunning tale only lasts about three hours, but it's a must-watch for any Alita fan who can handle it. It's surreal yet believable, and its imaginative set of characters will certainly keep your attention, even through the story's slower moments.
Heads-up: Mardock Scramble is quintessential grimdark cyberpunk with some emotionally heavy content. It's basically what you would get if you took Alita's story and made it as grim and miserable as possible.
For a more fun sci-fi adventure, check out Trigun, which stars a wanted criminal who really just wants to live his life peacefully. Since there's a gigantic bounty on his head, he ends up having to fight more often than he likes. As the series develops, it becomes obvious that there's more to him than meets the eye, and he and his companions have to wrestle with their own moral dilemmas.
Though Trigun is arguably a little too episodic at times and takes a while to develop the plot properly, it's a true anime classic. Alita fans will enjoy some of the eventual parallels (no spoilers!), and any sci-fi fan will enjoy the unique setting and well-animated action.
Like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop starts off relatively lighthearted and action-oriented before plunging into some truly compelling backstory. This story of bounty hunters in space has some episodic material that usually does a good job setting up the overarching plot, but sometimes falls a little flat. Still, by the 26-episode series' end, you'll be wishing there were more of those one-off episodes to keep the show going!
Though Spike is arguably the main character, the show is sometimes stolen by Faye and Ed, both of whom have great character development and well-written backstories. This makes Cowboy Bebop a breath of fresh air in a genre that's sometimes dominated by gruff male characters and flat femme fatales.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a different genre and premise than Alita, but it has similar themes and great action. The story begins as Ed and Al are tracking down the philosophers stone, a fabled power source that can help them get their original bodies back. With Al’s original body completely gone and Ed possessing two robotic limbs, the parallels with Alita are clear. There's also a great cast of supporting characters who usually help the main characters, but sometimes have goals of their own.
While the original 2004 anime TV series is excellent, the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood remake is more popular with fans. Either way, don't wait to jump in to this excellent franchise.
Ergo Proxy offers some of the best philosophical moments in all of anime, and the premise and animation have aged well. Main protagonist Re-l is investigating a series of murders that have been committed by virus-infected androids. As uncomfortable truths emerge about their world, the stakes get much higher for her and her companions.
In the end, Ergo Proxy ends up being more similar to The Matrix than to Alita, but it still has its parallels. The series' female leads are likable yet well-rounded, and the action never overwhelms the character development and relationship-building. At just 23 episodes, though, the show feels a little rushed and the worldbuilding ends up somewhat generic.
Obscure series alert! This entry is certainly similar to Alita in premise, but the characters are completely different, and the slightly disjointed nature of the story doesn't make it the strongest recommendation on this list. Its animation also hasn't aged well at all. Armitage III is a fun yet thought-provoking series, though, especially if you like watching tough women going after bad guys.
Armitage III has four direct-to-video episodes and a movie sequel entitled Armitage III: Dual-Matrix. It also received a movie re-adaptation of the first four episodes, but that version is really just a shorter version of the original. All of the entries in the franchise have some gratuitous violence and occasional nudity - you've been warned!
This underrated gem has more depth than you would expect. Don't let the goofy green hair put you off: SoltyRei's main characters are well-written and believable, and the series accomplishes a lot in its run. There are lighthearted moments, but at its core, the show is about humanity and family.
Like Alita, SoltyRei's protagonist on a cyborg girl with no memories but plenty of fighting abilities. The series also has a fantastic female cast, and while some of them fall into predictable archetypal roles, some of them far surpass those tropes. Though the ending is a little cliché, SoltyRei is still enjoyable and thought-provoking over its 24 episodes.
Criminal underworld? Check. High-tech robotic body parts? Check. Protagonist rescued by a doctor? Check.
Texhnolyze is fairly slow-paced, and it's so slow and light on the action at times that it barely made this list. Still, its riveting plot revolves around the same type of conflicts as Alita, and the main characters all have some kind of powered-up body parts. Once that plot develops, Texhnolyze has the same high stakes and fantastic cast of characters as Alita, making it a solid recommendation for sci-fi fans. It's also from the same screenwriter who wrote Serial Experiments Lain, so if you could deal with Lain's pacing, Texhnolyze won't feel too much worse.