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Top Ten Space Cartoons

Yamato
I don’t know what it is about cartoons set in outer space that just sent me into a tizzy of energy between the ages of 8 and, oh, I don’t know, now. I’m sure it stems from my lifelong love of Star Wars, but anything Space Opera-related is going to get at least a few watches out of me. Here, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite action cartoons set in space. I’m leaving off The Clone Wars because obviously that’s awesome, and I’m also leaving off Futurama because it changes genre so much. Everything else is up for grabs, so here we go!

10. Mobile Suit Gundam

There’s a whole spate of anime programs that have to do with mech suits and fighting in outer space. This pick is sort of a catch-all (or a cop-out, you decide), but it stands up to time, which is especially impressive seeing as it was sort of the first of its kind. It’s also important given that it was not particularly popular upon its release. It’s like people didn’t know that they wanted to see people piloting giant robot suits until it was gone.

9. The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

This is a show that taught us that there’s nothing we can dream that two visiting aliens can’t give us. What do we do once we reach outer space? Set up a frontier society with space cowboys riding robotic horses, of course. It’s like we can’t do anything that isn’t super Earthy. At any rate, I loved this cartoon and would walk around my house with my fake cowboy cap guns pretending I was in outer space. I also, now as an adult, really find show openings like this funny; describe the entire plot and premise before the crappy ’80s synth rock theme starts. So funny.

8. Space Ghost

Before he went Coast to Coast, Space Ghost was a serious action star in one of the coolest, and frankly weirdest, cartoons of the mid-’60s. He was a superhero who could fly on his own in space, yet he had a ship also so that his sidekicks, Jan, Jace, and Blip the monkey (?) could come with. Was he actually a ghost? Why would a ghost need power bands? At any rate, name me one kid out there who didn’t yell “Spaaaaaaaaace Ghoooooooost!” in Gary Owens’ voice whilst running around the house with a towel around their neck. I grew up poor; what do you want from me?!?

7. Battle of the Planets (aka Science Ninja Team Gatchaman

Do you suppose Sandy Frank had seen Star Wars before adapting this Japanese anime? I love that Earth would trust the complete safety of it and all its people from alien invasion to five young people who dress like birds. “Oh, they have super powers? Okay. I, guess we can look past the get-ups.” This show had the same basic set-up as Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, wherein each member of the team had their own, distinct vehicle with its own special ability, which was maybe the coolest thing for a little, toy-obsessed kid like me.

6. SilverHawks

Remember Thundercats? Well, SilverHawks was the exact same show, except in space. It featured a team of people who were “partly metal, partly real,” insinuating the metal was imaginary, who could fly around space and protect Earth from MonStarr and his minions. MonStarr could change shape to become even more monstrous (sorta like Mumm-Ra, huh?). The best character by far was Bluegrass, the guitar-playing, southern-accented member of the group. Like Thundercats, this show existed in a universe where there was never anybody except the heroes and villains. Who exactly are we protecting?

5. Ulysses 31

Mixing Greek Mythology with space adventure can be dangerous in some instances (like the ill-advised Lou Ferrigno Hercules movie), but it worked incredibly well here. Like all good anime (this one was a French-Japanese co-production), it knew the story it wanted to tell and did only that, lasting just 26 episodes. In essence, the show followed the plot of Homer’s The Odyssey. His ship was even called Odyssey. Having the Gods of Olympus as the antagonists is a pretty awesome idea. That theme song is the pits, though.

4. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars

Early ’90s for the win! There’s nobody better suited to battling imperialistic toads and evil lizards than a green rabbit and his crew of a magic cat lady, a four-armed duck with one eye, a robot, and a Betelgeusian Berserker Baboon. This series, based on a comic book, packed in humor at the expense of the baddies, especially Toad Air Marshal, but never skimped on the drama. An early episode has Bucky’s entire planet enslaved. That’s pretty harsh. And as far as theme songs go, this one will not leave your head for about 22 years.

3. Star Blazers (AKA Space Battleship Yamato)

In a well-trod theme of space opera, Star Blazers depicts Earth being nearly wiped out by an alien menace only to be saved by another, friendly alien race who also gives them lots of cool tech and the ability to travel through space in a big, giant battleship named Yamato that gets turned into a spaceship called Argo. I would have named it “Clamato,” but that’s just me. This is about as close as anime space opera got to Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica.

2. Exosquad

This show made no attempt to hide its attempt to be an American anime; in fact, it promoted itself that way. A rich and dense tapestry of characters and situations that made for smashing toys. The story concerns the epic battle between Earth forces, the Pirate Empire, and the Neosapiens, synthetic lifeforms created by humans. The serialized story was surprisingly deep for weekday morning cartoons and dealt with things from prejudice to sexism. And it was all about people flying around in personal mech suits, so, you know, it’s pretty great.

1. Cowboy Bebop

Bebop! Y’all forgot about Bebop! This show was part Film Noir, part Western, but all spacey. One of the best anime series of all time, each of the characters are memorable, likable, and heartbreaking in their own way. The Bebop is one of the coolest spaceships in all of sci-fi, and Spike and Faye each have their own very awesome individual ships. Yeah, a lot of the series takes place on the ground, but that’s true of all of the shows. Plus, it has maybe the best soundtrack of any show ever.

So that’s my top ten space cartoons. What are yours? Surely I left off your favorite, because the law of averages is the way it is. Thanks to everybody who helped me remember some of these great shows. Until next time, look to the stars!

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54 comments

  • A great article, which I’m thankful for allowing fans to name check their favorite space based cartoons / space based kiddie television – here are a few of mine (I could spend all day name checking, but chose to offer up a few quickly instead) :

    1978’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Uchū Kaizoku Kyaputen Hārokku) directed by Rintaro and produced by Toei Animation

    aka

    1985’s Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years

    1975’s Tekkaman: The Space Knight (Uchū no Kishi Tekkaman) which was produced by Tatsunoko Productions and also offered up as an English Dub syndicated cartoon in 1985 by the small independent company called William Winckler Productions

    1978’s live action (& low budget) Jason of Star Command from Filmation (syndicated from 1978 – 1981)

    1977’s live action (& also low budget) Space Academy also from Filmation (syndicated from 1977 – 1979)

    Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967 – 1968) was syndicated Stateside during the 70’s …. a cult classic that returned again in 2005 as a rebooted Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGT9_mKy_Zw

  • You need to put CAPTAIN STAR way up there! He is “the greatest hero any world has ever known.” PERIOD. That’s a quote FROM THE SHOW. So EVEN THE SHOW ITSELF knows it. And shows normally aren’t too bright…

  • I’m glad that Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and Bucky O’Hare are on the list. I also grew up watching Speed Racer, Voltron, Robotech, Captain Harlock, Force Five Shogun Warriors Danguard Ace, Mazinger, and Gaiking. Then I started watching Cosmo Warrior Zero, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Mazinkaiser SKL, Gunbuster 1 and 2, Dangaizer 3 and Detonator Orgun.

  • Voltron is not on the list because the cool one with the lions was based on a planet. The vehicle Voltron was is space. That is clearly the inferior Voltron and is rightly left off the list.

  • I would definitely have Robotech on a list of my favourite space cartoons. It was the first cartoon that I saw that didn’t just come out of the tv (we had to get the VHS tapes of it). It was also the first one that I saw that had that type of voice styling so I always associated it with Robotech and nothing else, so it didn’t bother me. Though I thought it was a stylistic choice and now I find that so many others sound very similar. :)

    My brother and I bonded over Robotech, and my brother and his now wife bonded over Robotech on their first date (yes they were adults by then). I still get chills from “we will win!”.

    If wanting to comment on Robotech makes a reader not want to actually watch it, that’s sad. Reading this article made me want to share my story on the space cartoon that was my favourite, and reading that others liked it as well, and well enough that they wanted it in the list, is pretty cool.

    I really want to check out some other things that are on the list and in the comments as well. It would be great if there was some comment on where we could get access to them (Netflix, iTunes, “good luck at the store”, amazon, etc.)

  • Ah, Cowboy Bebop. A show that was, for me, an introduction to the world of anime, and explained, by its very existance, why the genre is so beloved. For the music alone I would love it, but the stories, characters and that amazing world (galaxy? universe?) they inhabit are all fantastic. This list reminds me that I haven’t watched it in years, and should do so again.

  • Growing up in Québec in the 1980s was awesome. Saturday mornings, we had both the American action cartoons (GI Joe, Transformers, He-Man), we also had all the Japanese-French collaborations. I grew up with Grandizer (Goldorak), Albator (Captain Harlock), La Bataille des Planetes (Battle of the Planets), Les Mystérieuses Cités D’Or (Mysterious Cities of Gold). We had three channels with cartoons on the morning, so could could switch channels when girly or baby stuff came on. Saturdays from 7 AM until noon, wall to wall awesome cartoons.

  • So disappointed that anyone would put Silverhawks on this list at all. Robotech should be close to the top of the list and didn’t make it? SilverHawks was dreck for tween girls. Not sure who made the list but definitely pandering to the soft and squishy. Come On!

  • Does anyone remember Bravestar, it was pretty terrible. The Space Rangers cartoon kinda reminded me of it and gave me a flash back from 20 something years ago.

  • Although I’m a Macross fan from way back, IMHO Kyle’s omission of Macross or even Robotech is made up by his inclusion of Ulysses 31, which I think less people have seen (also, Shoji Kawamori, one of the two original mecha designers and current overseer of all things Macross, worked on Ulysses 31 before Macross).

  • Kyle, why even respond to negative comments regarding Robotech if your going to make a rebuttal in an equally, if not more, bitchy fashion. Let’s keep it classy San Diego :)

    PS: In my opinion other than Macross Plus … Robotech and Macross is a bit over rated.

  • Brah, we just want you to like enjoy the awesomeness that was Robotech. The list is made, it’s done man…Over! Nothing can change it now, but you brah…You can still watch some Rick Hunter goodness :)

  • I’m really surprised, and incredibly excited, to see Ulysses 31 on the list. Not nearly enough people remember this series. But as a fan of both space opera and Greek myth, it was pretty much the best thing ever for me.

    Still seems like something is missing to me, but I can’t place my finger on what. Either way, it’s a great list.

  • I was so jazzed to see Bucky O’Hare since I thought no one remembered it . I love Robotech/Macross ,but this is Kyle’s list and he has the right to like what he likes . I would recommend watching it ,if you want to ,but what ever you do is up to you .
    I would of added Transformers to the list ,especially season 3 ,also Teknoman ,and Space Strikers . Great list and some great shows ,I can’t comment on Battle of the Planets since I never saw it ,but if Mel is right ,you do lose a bit of your credibility as the writer of this article . I would love it if all these shows are made into DVD ,no I don’t like all of them ,but most are awesome .

  • As much as I love Robotech, I’d like to point out Star com: The US Space Force as a damn good animated space series. It’s not Robotech but it’s still quite amazing.

  • So when you say that the theme tune to Ulysses 31 is the pits, does that mean good or bad? If you mean bad you couldn’t be more wrong, that’s the thing myself and everyone I went to school with loved about it!

  • Kids loved giant robots in the 70’s but they were strictly “Monster of the Week” type stuff whereas Gundam was telling a more serious story and may have been a bit too complex for the target audience.

    Gundam actually ushered in a new era of Giant Robot shows in the 80’s that took on a more militaristic theme which is what lead to shows like Macross aka Robotech getting made. Voltron actually failed in Japan due to this change of preference. It’s a pretty mediocre show anyway so I don’t even understand why it’s so beloved.

  • Clearly, the masses have spoken. Take a few hours and check out Super DImensional Space Fortress Macross. As far as who to leave off, well SilverHawks has no place on this list, for several reasons.

  • Yay for Cowboy Bebop being number one! I once wrote about Cowboy Bebop in my film noir class. I’d also say that Outlaw Star was a fantastic animation show in space. GENE STARWIND! What an awesome name!

  • “Like, being a passionate nerd is great and all, but that whole nerd-outrage-that-somebody-hasn’t-seen-something is no more socially acceptable than it ever was.”
    This. You can’t get mad that something wasn’t on a list because the author hasn’t seen it. One author’s list isn’t the end all, be all “THESE ARE THE ABSOLUTE BEST SPACE CARTOONS OF ALL TIME DEBATE CLOSED.”

    Also, Bucky O’hare!!!

  • “Are you just stubborn or trying to be a hipster? To take the information that many people would take the time to tell you that a show is good and decide that is a reason to not watch it is absurd. Since they are on a site that you are writing for there is clearly shared interests. Odds are, based on your other choices that you would liek the cartoon. But if you wanna be a douche, good on you. BTW I’d vote for Spaceketeers aka Starzinger.”

    I’m pretty sure he’s responding to the segment of posters (perhaps a vocal minority) who are being dongs about it. It might make people think twice about what kind of sponsorship they’re providing for shows they like.

    Like, being a passionate nerd is great and all, but that whole nerd-outrage-that-somebody-hasn’t-seen-something is no more socially acceptable than it ever was.

  • “My likelihood of watching Robotech decreases with each additional comment about it.”

    @Kyle: WAAH! :-?

    Even though the Macross episodes are the EPITOME of ‘Space Opera’, I wouldn’t recommend watching the Robotech version because the script and dubbing are “Speed Racer” atrocious. And I’m sure it would be too much to ask to get you to watch the original Japanese version and force you to read subtitles for 30+ episodes.

    Besides that, ‘your’ list is pretty respectable.

    Not to suggest any as replacements for ones in the list, but ideas if you want to explore them, I submit the following:

    Space Pirate Captain Harlock
    Galaxy Express 999
    Space Battleship Yamato 2199
    Macross Plus
    Crusher Joe OVAs
    Thunderbirds 2086

    All of which are Japanese anime, but I always liked them better than the other crap cartoons I was force-fed as a kid.

  • Have you seen or heard of “Legend of Galactic Heroes” ? I think its as good as any of your choices and I say that having first seen it as an adult. The space battles are epic and grand empires clash and fall. Real space opera.

  • Battle of the Planets is a misnomer. They never go into space. It has nothing to do with space. And there is no space travel nor aliens. It is a fantastic anime series but it does not belong on your list.

    Cowboy Bebop and Star Blazers are the best.

    Nice list.

  • Are you just stubborn or trying to be a hipster? To take the information that many people would take the time to tell you that a show is good and decide that is a reason to not watch it is absurd. Since they are on a site that you are writing for there is clearly shared interests. Odds are, based on your other choices that you would liek the cartoon. But if you wanna be a douche, good on you. BTW I’d vote for Spaceketeers aka Starzinger.

  • I used to watch back to back episodes of Battle of the Planets everyday after school, from 4:00 – 5:00 in the early 80s. It was the first cartoon I had ever seen to portray death.