Sci-fi and fantasy anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell are well known, but there are many smaller, lesser-known series to talk about as well. Some of these series haven’t even received dubs, but they’re still worth a watch and interesting in their own right. So if you’re looking for some sci-fi and fantasy anime to get into, this list might be a good start! This is by no means a complete catalogue, so feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments and maybe we can make a whole new list!
Dennou Coil is 26 episode anime produced in 2007. The series takes place in the near future of 2026 where virtual glasses are incredibly popular with young people- these glasses allow access to a virtual world that overlays with the real world, allowing access to virtual pets, virtual superpowers and so-on. But the virtual world is plagued by “illegals”- mysterious black blob like computer viruses that infect anything virtual. They come from mysterious voids called “obsolete space” and it’s unsure where these voids lead, but this space is referred to as the “other side”. A robot runs around town deleting these viruses, but also often harasses the children using the glasses and tries to delete virtual pets.
The protagonist of the series is a young girl called Yuko, who goes by the nickname “Yasako”. She gets involved with a cyber-investigation agency and soon finds herself confronted with a mysterious conspiracy- there are rumors that kids who look too hard into the nature of “the illegals” are being killed- and their spirits might be trapped in the mysterious digital void of “the other side”. Yasako meets a girl who seems to know something about this conspiracy and who is pursuing the illegals with all her might.
Dennou Coil is an overlooked gem of a series- part coming-of-age story, part mystery and part sci-fi thriller that looks into the tenuous nature of virtual reality. The animation is lovely and has an endearing Studio Ghibli-esque quality to it, and the story is emotional and heartfelt, even though it’s not afraid to delve into the unsettling and tragic.
It touches on issues of trauma, grief, death and explotation, but also focuses on the healing power of human relationships. What starts out as a seemingly simple adventure story turns into something very moving both children and adults can enjoy.
An imported version of Dennou Coil can be purchased on Amazon.
The Twelve Kingdoms is a 45 episode anime produced in 2002. It tells the story of a high school girl named Youko Nakajima, a meek girl who tries her best to please others. One day, a strange man approaches her, swears fealty to her and tells her she is in danger. Before she knows it, a demon is pursuing her, she’s got a sword and she’s been infused with a spirit that gives her fighting skills. She is taken to the strange, magical world of the Twelve Kingdoms by the man, only to be separated from him before she can receive an explanation. Now she has to fend for herself in a hostile world full of demons and people who believe her arrival is a bad omen- can she find the strength to survive?
The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my favorite stories of all time. It’s a great example of thoughtful character development and world-building. Youko’s journey of growth is messy and complicated, but she changes so much throughout the series. The complex politics and mythology of this Chinese-inspired fantasy world are well constructed and the story explores a lot of important themes like prejudice, classism and oppression very well.
The Twelve Kingdoms can be purchased on Amazon.
Xam’d: Lost Memories is a 26 episode anime produced in 2002. Akiyuki is a normal high school student, but when his island is wracked with explosions, he is exposed to a strange light and transforms into a strange creature called Xam’d to fight off the monstrous invaders. A girl called Nakiami finds and tells him she can teach him to control his powers and if he doesn’t come with her he’ll turn to stone. So he boards her airship to learn more.
Xam’d’s plot is a little all over the place, but it’s characters are interesting and endearing for the most part and the animation is excellent- the aesthetics of the show definitely take a lot of inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki (Nakiami is pretty similar to Nausicaa) so it’s a lot of fun to watch. The relationship between the lead and his parents is especially well-done.
Xam’d can be purchased on Amazon.
Beast Player Erin is a 50 episode series produced in 2009. It follows a girl called Erin as she grows up. Erin wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become and “Beast Tamer” and care for animals like the dragon-like Touda and the Griffin-like Ohju. However, she comes face to face with the cruelty of her kingdom that uses the Tohda for war and is forced to question the ethics of keeping these animals at all.
Erin is a slow-paced, subdued series, which might turn off some. However, when it wants to, it gets incredibly intense, especially near the end of the story. Overall, Erin is a beautiful coming of age story with amazingly solid word-building that really explores both the consequences and ethical pitfalls of working with wild animals and addresses both the danger and potential of exploitation in the profession.
The series is available on Crunchyroll.