10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

Categories: Asia | Cinema | Entertainment | World

Blurring the lines between Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Steampunk genre allows for some incredible creative possibilities in anime.

  • The best steampunk anime such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood blends world-building with engaging characters and compelling plots.
  •  Steampunk anime like Drifting Dragons and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress creatively combine fantasy with unique technology themes.
  •  Anime like Princess Principal and The Case Study of Vanitas offer unique takes on steampunk with spies and vampires.

The best steampunk anime proves what makes the genre so interesting. Blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy, the steampunk genre allows for some incredibly creative possibilities in anime. Coupled with the natural creative and imaginative possibilities present in the medium, the best steampunk anime of all time fully embraces the creative possibilities of the genre to create amazingly unique worlds and tell unforgettable stories.

Like other kinds of sci-fi and fantasy, steampunk stories in pop culture can vary in the details of their world-building. However, steampunk worlds do have several elements in common. In general, the world of a steampunk story resembles the real world between the late 19th and early 20th century. Technology in these worlds may surpass the real world, though it will be analog rather than digital or electronic, and steam-powered. Industrialization and its consequences on both individuals and society in general are common steampunk themes.


10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

10. Drifting Dragons - Steampunk Technology Faces Off Against Dragons
Based on the Manga By Taku Kuwabara & Animated By Polygon Pictures

Easy to miss among the many popular anime series that came out in 2020, Drifting Dragons feels like a kinder, gentler Moby-Dick. The sky is an ocean and dragons are whales. The crew of the airship Quin Zaza is steampunk whalers. Given the real-life reputation of whaling, that concept may be controversial or disturbing to some viewers. Still, despite the potentially uncomfortable aspects of the premise, it is an undeniably unique one.

Some anime viewers might also be turned away by the series' use of 3D, but it actually looks quite good in motion. Drifting Dragons's blend of steampunk and fantasy tropes helps it stand out and there aren't really many other anime series it can be easily compared to. The series' art direction also has a unique visual profile that helps complement the novel premise.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

9. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress - Steampunk Technology and Zombies Collide
Original Anime Series Animated By WIT Studio

Zombie apocalypses are getting played out as a premise, so it's becoming increasingly necessary to put a novel spin on that premise to stand out as a zombie story. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress does a very good job at setting itself apart from other zombie anime thanks to an imaginative spin on a zombie story and stylish art and direction.

In contrast to the many steampunk anime set in Victorian Britain, Kabaneri is set in an alternate history Japan devastated by zombies called kabane. The series' human characters have been driven into fortified train stations and travel between them in giant armored trains. The kabane themselves are horrifying, the action is intense and brutal, and the whole series has a cool steam-powered samurai aesthetic that creates a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and allows for some unique plot beats with the premise.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

8. D.Gray-man - A Steampunk Take on the Supernatural

The opening scene of the first episode of D.Gray-man helpfully establishes the series to be set in "The End of Fictional 19th Century." Technically, that makes D.Gra-mana a historical anime series. All in all, however, thanks in no small part to the presence of magic, the exact level of technology is wildly inconsistent and the series leans fully into the more fantastical aspects of its premise.

Series lead Allen Walker is a professional exorcist, doing battle with an adversary called the Millennium Earl, who creates minions out of captured souls forced into bodies of living metal. Despite fully embracing the supernatural in its story, D.Gray-man nevertheless remains grounded in the aesthetics of the 19th century to establish its visual identity and the prominence of dark, gloomy London-esque streets creates a lot of atmosphere throughout the series.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

7. Steamboy - Akira's Creator Makes the Most Expensive Steampunk Anime Movie Ever
Original Anime Movie Directed By Katsuhiro Otomo & Animated By Sunrise

Before the release of Ghibli's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Steamboy was the most expensive anime film ever produced. From Katsuhiro Otomo, creator and director of the legendary 80s anime movie Akira, Steamboy is set in an alternate history 1863 where the development of steam-powered technology has far outpaced the real world.

The central conflict of the plot is driven by the various factions trying to get control of three devices called Steam Balls, which are believed to be able to provide a limitless supply of steam power and greatly progress technological development. Steamboy is making the most of its high budget with great character design and animation. The alternate-history Victorian England setting also allows for some beautiful setpieces and backgrounds.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

6. Samurai 7 - Samurais Get a Steampunk Redesign
Based on the Film Seven Samurai By Akira Kurosawa & Animated By Studio Gonzo

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is regarded as not only one of the best samurai movies ever but a contender for one of the best movies ever, period. Given how popular and influential Kurosawa's movies have been over the years, it's not surprising that the general concept of "seven warriors hired to protect a village" has been borrowed so frequently in pop culture. One of the most interesting takes on the premise is Samurai 7.

On the one hand, it's a fairly direct adaptation of the original movie to the point that all the samurai have the same names and general personality as the corresponding character in the original, and Akira Kurosawa is credited as one of the series' creators. On the other hand, it greatly expands the story to fit a 26-episode runtime and introduces steampunk elements like airships, robots, and cybernetic samurai. Despite these unabashedly stylish flourishes, for the most part, Samurai 7 retains the gravitas and emotional weight of the original Kurosawa movie.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

5. Castle in the Sky - Miyazaki's Best Steampunk Movie
Created & Directed By Hayao Miyazaki, Animated By Studio Ghibli

While several other Ghibli movies can be considered steampunk stories, and even Princess Mononoke grapples with a lot of the questions of industrialization common in the genre, Castle in the Sky is probably Ghibli's best example of steampunk anime. Except advanced flying machines and airships, the world of Castle in the Sky greatly resembles the industrialized early 1900s and the plot is driven by the hunt for the lost ancient city of the title.

When Sheeta, the film's heroine, accidentally awakens one of the lost city's robotic guardians, the terrifying destructive power of the city's lost technology becomes clear and Sheeta and Pazu set out to prevent the power of that technology from falling into the hands of the evil Colonel Muska.

Like many other Miyazaki movies, Castle in the Sky delivers a powerful pacifist message and environmental themes. Muska's ambition to harness the powers of the lost technology as weapons is portrayed as unambiguously evil and the giant tree growing at the center of the lost city plays both a powerful symbolic role and becomes plot-relevant by the end.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

4. Princess Principal - Steampunk With Spies
Original Anime Series Animated By Studio 3Hz & Actas

Princess Principal's opening wouldn't sound out of place on the Persona 5 soundtrack and there are a surprising amount of parallels to be drawn between the two. Granted, the heroines of Princess Principal are spies rather than thieves, but they're at least broadly involved in the same sort of stealthy escapades and their spy costumes wouldn't look out of place among the Phantom Thieves.

Despite the stylistic similarities, Princess Principal establishes a distinct identity for itself. Steampunk Victorian Britain is a novel setting for a spy story and the main characters are all female further helps the series to set itself apart. The series' steampunk trappings combined with a plot with political intrigue and a handful of twists make Princess Principal a great watch for any anime fan.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

3. The Case Study of Vanitas - Steampunk Vampires Reign Supreme
Based on the Manga Series By Jun Mochizuki & Animated By Bones

The Case Study of Vanitas quickly establishes a few stylistic choices that help set it apart from other popular Vampire anime series. The opening scene of the very first episode narrates the history of Vanitas like a storybook or fairy tale with a unique ink-and-paper animation style resembling illustrations in a book. Fittingly, the actual Book of Vanitas, a powerful book of magic, plays a major role in the events of the plot.

Although the series' version of late 1800s Paris contains many steampunk artistic flourishes, up to and including giant airships shaped like buildings, it is nevertheless a recognizable recreation of the real Paris, with many of the city's famous landmarks identifiable. Although the series has a very idiosyncratic and established sense of humor, The Case Study of Vanitas blends that with emotional depth and the horror aspects to be expected of a Vampire story.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

2. Last Exile - A Steampunk Take on Space Opera
Original Anime Series Created & Animated By Studio Gonzo

Last Exile follows air couriers Claus and Lavie as they find themselves tasked with delivering a girl named Alvis to the crew of the pirate ship Silvana. While the military aspects of the series are reminiscent of live-action historical dramas like Sharpe and Master and Commander, but taking place in the sky rather than at sea, many of the plot beats come across as a steampunk version of classic Space Opera anime.

Last Exile is a pretty CGI-heavy series and, unfortunately, the 3D effects for the battleships and some of the environments haven't held up well. That's not because they're poorly done, it's simply the result of CGI technology coming a long way since Last Exile debuted in 2003. The soundtrack is phenomenal, with a jaunty Celtic style that wouldn't be out of place in a pirate story. The soundtrack and gripping plot alone are enough to make Last Exile an incredible steampunk anime.

10 Best Steampunk Anime of All Time

1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - The Undisputed King of Steampunk Anime
Based on the Manga By Hiromu Arakawa & Animated By Bones

Thanks to its engaging cast of characters and compelling plot, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has gone done as one of the most popular anime series of all time. Fullmetal Alchemist is a serious contender among fans for the best anime of all time. The world-building in the series is particularly impressive. With a setting based on early 20th-century Germany, Fullmetal Alchemist has a design aesthetic that sets it apart from other fantasy and steampunk series.

The details of the fictional world are quite impressive. Creator Hiromu Arakawa put a lot of thought into her world-building and magic systems. Notably, the way Alchemy works in the series is grounded in real historical understandings of alchemy, magic, and chemistry. More than just the worldbuilding though, what keeps fans coming back to Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is its characters and plot. All this combined is enough to make Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood the best steampunk anime of all time.

Keywords: Steampunk Animes | Best animes | Cinema | Fantasy | Fiction | Steampunk genres

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