Animated Space Adventures
Space has long been a theme in animated series and features, and many of these stories have endured from as far back as the 1960s! A medium well-suited to the exploration of alien worlds and peoples, animation lets a science fiction story take center stage without the clunkiness of poorly done CGI, set design, or unconvincing alien makeup. The immersive quality of these animated space adventures has earned them a permanent spot in our own favorite cartoons because of their bold ideas and beautiful imagery. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most famous and influential animated space adventure series that are still being talked about today, and some relatively new ones that may become new classics.
The Jetsons (1962-63)
“Meet George Jetson…!” The catchy theme song of The Jetsons plagued my young ears for many untold years, and it’s no surprise it is such an ear-worm since it came out of an era of catchy advertising jingles and a golden era of animated prime-time series. Though the show itself never rocked my world, it was definitely the first of its kind: an animated show about the future and living in outer space. Watching reruns as a kid I always loved the futuristic style and the idea of flitting around in a flying car, only having to work two hours a week, and having a robot maid. Living in Orbit City in the 21st century seemed like a fun vision of the future, and while the show’s original run only lasted for 24 episodes, a two-season revival in the mid-eighties and countless reruns have kept this early cartoon in the popular psyche for 60 years and running!
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-74)
Over the years, many live-action TV series got their own cartoon adaptations (Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days, and The Dukes of Hazzard to name a few), but none were quite as successful at truly conveying the spirit of the source material like Star Trek: The Animated Series. Viewed by many as Captain Kirk’s lost fourth year of the five-year mission of the crew of the Enterprise, its 30-minute episodes aired for two years on NBC before ultimately being canceled. The appeal of the show was not only the return of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (among other actors from the original series) las voice actors, but in the ability for the show writers to portray things that weren’t possible in a live-action show, like three-armed crew members, or interesting, new alien worlds.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-current)
Another show from that vintage, albeit from all the way across the Pacific in Japan, was Mobile Suit Gundam, a super-intense anime that had interesting characters, a great plot, cool mechas, and space battles on an epic scale. Taking cues from predecessor, Gatchaman, it’s no secret that the Japanese loved large fighting robots, bringing this genre to the forefront of manga and anime–and it remains immensely popular to this day. As the pioneers of the real robot subgenre of mecha anime, Gundam excelled in its realistic depiction of these giant human-controlled suits by having them malfunction, or run out of ammo or energy, as well as utilizing actual science in their inception (such as Lagrange points or the O’Neill space cylinder). The action centers on the epic battles of five fighters in their Gundam suits in a war between Earth and its colonies, and every new series puts another piece of the puzzle in place with a new cast of characters and a different time.
Macross (The Super Dimension Fortress Macross) (1982-83)
One of the most well-beloved series in anime, Macross seamlessly combines outer space and J-pop–indeed, the music is integral to every title in the series because of its power over villains. In a fictionalized history of Earth, the series takes place roughly ten years after an alien spaceship is discovered on the island of South Ataria in 1999. After studying the ship and its technology, it’s reconstructed and put to use as a colony vessel, and other forms of technology from the ship are used to create the ‘veritech’ fighter mechas, as well as ‘space fold’ drive. Every story arc in the series features the love story of a hot shot space pilot and a budding pop star, who together save the world.
Cowboy Bepop (1998-99)
If following the adventures of a group of intergalactic bounty hunters in the 21st century sounds exciting to you, then you should check out Cowboy Bepop. It’s a beautiful animated space adventure, with impressively conceived action sequences, like space battles and martial arts fighting scenes, set to a soundtrack of American music, including jazz, heavy metal, and rock. Most episodes found the crew of the spaceship Bebop hunting down criminals, with the clever use of flashbacks to give the whole series a well-defined, overarching plot. Taking inspiration from spaghetti westerns, 70s cop shows, and film noir, the show expertly synthesized cowboy slang, chase scenes, and femme fatales to create a fresh and unique story that remains popular 20 years after its release.
Spanning seven seasons over 14 years and two television networks, Futurama was an instant classic, earning a cult following that not many animated series have been able to attain. The series follows the adventures of Phillip J. Fry, a slacker who was inadvertently cryogenically frozen in the 21st century only to be revived a thousand years later in 31st century New New York. He finds work at an intergalactic delivery company, Planet Express, under mysterious Professor Farnsworth, and many space hijinks ensue. The misadventures of the Planet Express crew, dimwitted Fry, one-eyed Leela, crustacean Zoidberg, and robot Bender, to name a few, were a fun romp on a potential future earth, chock full of 20th and 21st century pop culture references (Richard Nixon’s preserved head, anyone?). Like Fry once famously said, it’s “like a party in my mouth and everyone’s throwing up.”
Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005)
Zipping even further along the timeline of animated space adventures, and somehow also going back in time to a galaxy far, far away, brings us to the critically acclaimed 2003 animated Stars Wars: The Clone Wars. Though this series is arguably no longer canon, there are many people who insist that it’s still some of the most stellar (pun intended) storytelling in the Star Wars universe (and we agree!). In an effort to delve into the specifics of the titular Clone Wars, the Emmy Award-winning series fleshed out crucial characters, amped up the action, finessed the visual style, and played homage to the best parts of the Star Wars universe, all in just 25 short-form episodes. Star Wars fans finally got to see what really went on during the most famous conflict in Star Wars history! Not to be confused with its 2008 CGI successor (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), the cult following of this short-lived series is what earned its spot on our list.
Final Space (2018-current)
As a new entrant into the animated space adventure universe (another pun!), we’re all super optimistic that Final Space will be just as popular as the other shows that paved its way. The action follows the inept astronaut, Gary Goodspeed, and his renegade alien friend, Mooncake, as they make their way through space trying to solve the mystery of “Final Space” and fighting the evil telekinetic Lord Commander. Mooncake is hands-down our favorite character on the show (sorry, Gary), as his blend of cunning and cute darkness makes for a supremely satisfying character. We can’t wait to see where the show goes after it’s first season.
What animated space adventures did we miss, and why do you think they’re the best? Sound off in the comments below!