Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Code Geass is often brought up when talking about the best mecha anime, and for good reason. It’s a hugely complex show that’s just mecha on at first glance, but underneath weaves themes of political strife, psychological problems, moral ambiguity, and more.
Code Geass revolves around a young boy named Lelouch, who after getting trapped in a terrorist attack gains a strange otherworldly power that lets him bend other people to his will. The world of Code Geass takes place in an alternate timeline where Earth has been separated into three superpowers; the Holy Brittanian Empire, Chinese Federation, and European Union.
The show weaves a lengthy, complex narrative with Lelouch at its center, as he tries to force the world to change with his newfound powers. As a main character, Lelouch is quite similar to Shinji from Evangelion, suffering from psychological issues and a checkered past, despite being so young.
The show also does a great job of fleshing out its other main and side characters and explaining those that appose Lelouche, casting even more doubt on the main character’s morality. If you’re looking for more mecha series with complex themes, Code Geass should be at the top of your list, and it’s yet another show that more than earns its status as an all-time classic.
Knights of Sidonia
Knights of Sidonia is another post-apocalyptic mecha series that has humanity defending itself from an overwhelming alien menace. The big difference here, though, is that humanity is even worse off in Sidonia than they are in Evangelion.
The show takes place in the year 3394, after Earth has been obliterated by a shapeshifting alien races known as the Gauna. The remnants of humanity now drift through space on a massive colony ship called the Sidonia, with no knowledge on if any other ships or humans still live.
The Sidonia uses powerful mech suits called Guards to fight off the Gauna, but the show doesn’t put an emphasis on its mecha action. Drama and character development are put in the spotlight, while each fight with the Gauna feels like a gritty, violent battle. These aren’t the by-the-numbers mecha fights you might see in other shows, as each fight in Knights of Sidonia feels like it has real weight and stakes.
A gorgeous CG art style also helps separate Sidonia from other shows, and it’s easily the most imaginative of all the shows adapted by Polygon Pictures, also responsible for Ajin, BLAME, and Godzilla: Monster Planet.
Knights of Sidonia is a must-watch if you enjoyed Evangelion.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Madoka Magica is one of the only non-mecha anime we’ll talk about on here, but it’s perhaps the show that’s most like Evangelion in the end. You know how Evangelion deconstructs mecha? Well, Madoka Magica is a complete and total deconstruction of the magical girl genre, and boy does it get intense.
The setup is about what you’d expect, in the fictional city of Mitakihara, a middle school student named Madoka Kaname and her friend Sayaka have a chance encounter with a mysterious cat creature named Kyubey. It offers them a contract; Kyubey will fulfill one wish for the girls, in exchange for them gaining magical powers and entering a contract to battle witches.
Without spoiling anything, things quickly take a decidedly dark turn. Despite the sweet exterior, Madoka Magica ramps up the horror and violence throughout the show. However, as Madoka Magica isn’t just about surprising violence; it’s a show that thoughtfully approaches adult themes, and the minds of its young characters.
Outside of Evangelion, Madoka Magica is probably the most successful genre deconstruction that anime has ever seen. That alone makes it worth a watch.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is basically a mecha anime in disguise, and you’ve probably already heard about how dark and violent the show is, something that easily makes it relatable to Evangelion.
Attack on Titan takes place on a dystopian planet, where humanity has been forced to the brink of extinction by horrific giant monsters called Titans (kinda sounds like the Angels in Evangelion, huh?). Now humanity lives within the enormous walls of one final bastion, hiding away from the Titan menace.
Apart from the obvious story and thematic similarities, Attack on Titan is a deconstruction of the shonen genre, like how Evangelion is a deconstruction of the mecha genre. Attack on Titan’s story often delves into the world of ethics and existentialism, totally flipping what you might expect from the usual shonen anime.
Eren in Attack on Titan is also an unlikely hero, hellbent on revenge to a ludicrous degree, and surprisingly violent and ruthless at times.
Surely you’ve already heard plenty about Attack on Titan, right? It’s only been the biggest anime of the last decade, so go watch it.
In the heyday of the 90s, anime mecha became a hugely popular genre, and Gundam Wing easily sat on top of the throne. This is the series that catapulted the Gundam franchise to popularity in the west, and it’s gone down as one of the all-time classic anime, not just in the mecha genre.
Gundam Wing takes place in the distant future of Earth, where humanity now resides both on the planet and in massive floating colonies out in space. As with most Gundam stories, the colonies suffer under tyrannical rule from the Earth government, known as the Organization of the Zodiac, or Oz for short.
Five brilliant scientists defect from Oz, secretly train youths to be ace pilots, and send them to Earth in highly advanced mobiles suits called Gundam, in order to fight a guerilla war against Oz.
Although Gundam Wing may not have the same dark themes of Evangelion, it is filled with higher level storytelling. The show is rife with political warfare and ideology, in particular questioning the nature of violence, war, and pacifism.
Each of the five main characters of the show are incredibly troubled and conflicted youths, and they each have their own fleshed out plotlines. If you like mecha in any way, Gundam Wing is one of the kings of the genre, and needs to be watched if you haven’t done so already.
That’s right, another Gundam. While Gundam Wing may be the most classic show in the series, Gundam 00 is probably the one that’s most comparable to Evangelion. Taking place on a futuristic Earth, the world is wracked by war as different nations fight over three different orbital elevators that lead to massive solar power collectors, due to the planet’s fossil fuels running out.
In the midst of all this war mysterious organization called Celestial Being appears, announcing their mission to end all war forever, by force. At the heart of Celestial Being is four powerful Gundams, piloted by elite young pilots.
While this setup certainly sounds similar to Gundam Wing, it’s a bit different in terms of its themes. Each of the four main pilots have quite horrible pasts involving things like human experimentation, dual personalities, and child warfare.
The show deals with some seriously heavy topics, and isn’t afraid to delve into the dark side of human nature. Add in some fantastic animation and imaginative fight scenes, and you have one of the best modern mecha anime around.
Turns out Gainax, the makers of Evangelion, can make lightning strike twice, as they have yet another classic mecha series in Gurren Lagann. There are definitely similarities, but the tone of the two shows are quite different from beat-to-beat.
Evangelion has a dark hopeless tone, while Gurren Lagann more often opts for a lighthearted comedic tone. If Evangelion is a deconstruction of mecha, Gurren Lagann is a complete embracing of the genre.
The show takes place in the future, on an Earth where the Spiral King rules and forces humanity to live in subterranean villages. Gurren Lagann has fantastic animation and action, with some truly fun combat scenes and characters.
In truth, there aren’t a ton of similarities between Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, other than the fact that Gainax makes them. However, the two shows just contrast so well, really highlighting how expertly the studio can handle the genre.
Darling in the FranXX
Darling in the FranXX clearly takes inspiration from Evangelion, as the two shows’ setups are strikingly similar. However, Darling definitely tries to take a bit more of a lighter tone and art style.
The show takes place in a dystopian future where adults and children live in separate societies. Adults have achieved immortality but procreation and relationships have become rarer and less desirable. Artificially-created children called “parasites” are created and kept in a separate society, trained to pilot massive mobile suits called Franxx from the alien threat of the klaxosaurs.
Let’s check off the similarities between the two shows. Training young children to fight monstrous aliens, check. A main character wracked by depression and haunted by the past, check. A main heroine that wears a red suit and is an expert pilot, check.
Darling in the FranXX may not hit the same heights as Evangelion, but it’s a good alternative if you’re looking for another show to watch.
The Big O
Another staple of classic 90s anime, The Big 0 has a fantastic sense of style. The series is set in the fictional location of Paradigm City, owned by the monopolistic Paradigm Corporation who’s turned it into a dystopian police state. The show takes place 40 years after an incident has caused all of Paradigm’s citizens to lose their memory and it follows Roger, one of the city’s top “negotiators.”
When the need arises, he calls on the Big O, a giant powerful mech suit from the city’s past. The Big O is a wholly unique show that brings a bit of a film noir element to mecha sci-fi. The first season is very episodic, showing the problems of people that live in the city and Roger’s place in all of it, however, the second season of the show contains one single serialized story arc.
The Big O has some fantastic action and classic animation, mixing in super surreal elements and psychological themes. The film noir aspect really does add unique flavor to The Big O, and Paradigm City has a Gotham-like quality to it.
The Big O is one of the most unique mecha shows from the 90s, and a surefire watch for any fan of Evangelion.
Yet another entry in the insanely dark mecha shows list, Aldnoah Zero is rife with weighty themes and storytelling. In 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission, humanity discovers alien technology that allows for near instantaneous travel to Mars, and they begin colonizing the planet.
When settlers discover even more powerful technology, however, they declare independence from Earth and become the Vers Empire. Years later, they declare war on the Earth after rising tensions hit their breaking point. Despite this setup, the show focuses on a group of teens who join the war and end up getting in far deeper than they want to.
Aldnoah Zero lays the drama on thick, but it mostly succeeds at it, and plays with plenty of weighty themes in the process. Mental disorders, alcoholism, xenophobia, and more are all looped into the story.
What makes the show particularly comparable to Evangelion, however, are the plot twists. Aldnoah Zero constantly keeps you guessing about what’s going to happen next and layers on plot twist after plot twist, much like Evangelion does.
Alnoah Zero is one of the modern classics of the mecha genre, and while it may have its own problems, the good far outweigh the bad.