Let’s admit it: we all love a good war anime. It’s probably because of the action scenes loaded with drama that happens in this kind of genre. Most of the time main characters are just trying to survive in the circumstances they live in. As spectators, we enjoy watching them struggle to maintain their family, set their goals, and sometimes find love in this kind of scenario. That is why today, I’ll give you a spoilerness summary about some of the best war anime shows until now.
10. Attack on Titan (2013)
You’ve probably heard of this one, and if you haven’t and you’re new to the anime world, this one is a safe choice to start.
The plot seems easy to follow at first. We have Eren, the main character, whose life is kind of boring. We also have these gigantic humanoid monsters called titans that can go from 3 to 15 meters tall. They can’t speak nor have consciousness, and they only represent a real threat just for one little fact: titans like to eat humans. As a result of this, almost everyone in this world has already died. All humanity left is confined to three immense 50 meters walls, which assure their survival by separating them from all the titans in the outside world.
At least until one day, a 60 meters titan creates a breach in one of the walls. By this, all the titans come inside and start to kill people.
This starting point creates a new war with titans and humans, where the humans try to survive and bring hope to all the humans left at the same time.
It’s one of the most bizarre anime about war, primarily due to all of the gruesome deaths and the uncertainty that literally anyone can die.
9. The Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
When you think about war films, almost everyone immediately imagines the action parts. Military uniform, heavy weapons, and the main character ready to fight. Nevertheless, The Grave of the Fireflies leaves this aside and tells us the effects of war by the eyes of the more unprivileged ones.
The movie starts with the 9-year-old Seita, alone in a train station about to die from hunger. From this, it goes all the way back to seven months earlier, showing us what Seita had to go through along with his little 5-year-old sister, Setsuko. In short, it’s the story of two brothers struggling to survive in the mid II World War in Kōbe, Japan.
Through the movie, the spectator witnesses the cruelty of the human being. But it also allows the spectator to see the strength and tenacity of people when it comes to moving forward regardless of the circumstances.
This movie is considered one of the best war anime movies and one of the saddest animated movies ever made. For this reason, the Grave of the Fireflies has well-earned its place on this list.
8. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (2013)
Also called Demon King and Hero, this anime takes a more fantasy approach, delighting us with the classic human vs. demons war.
These two worlds are facing each other in a bitter war that has lasted several years. On the human’s side, there’s a Hero. He is someone with exceptional power destined to end the conflict. Because of his impatience, he decides to abandon the armies of humanity and even his own companions to claim the head of the Demon King alone and put a definitive end to the dispute. He gets a surprise when he finds that the Demon King is actually a sweet and beautiful young woman who has been waiting for him with an incredible proposal. She wants them to work together to end the conflict definitely and without having winners or losers.
Even though at first it seems like a cliché and repetitive story, it’s impressive how the first chapter tries to detach itself from that category. It also has some creative writing choices. For example, the characters have no proper names, so the main character is called “Hero” and so on. It’s an entertaining anime I’m sure you won’t want to miss.
Read Also: Best Adventure Anime
7. Aldnoah.Zero (2014)
Mecha anime is a genre with everything that involves a pilot managing a giant robot. These robots are usually used for fighting, so it’s clear why this kind of genre would have its own war anime. So… Aldnoah.Zero goes like this:
In 1972, humans land on the Moon. There, they find an alien portal called hypergate, which allows them to travel to Mars. Part of humanity colonizes Mars, where they discover modern technology, become independent, and create a new society called Vers.
Vers technology quickly surpasses the ones on Earth. Even so, Mars lacks resources, which leads its inhabitants to declare war on the Earth. During this invasion, the hypergate collapses, destroying the Moon, annihilating the Martian forces, and causing natural disasters on Earth. Immediately, part of the Earth is uninhabitable. After all of this disaster, martians and humans decide to call a truce, at least for now.
The anime begins 15 years after this, in 1999, where a new war it’s starting as a result of these past events.
6. Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha (2007)
Ten years before the series begins, a supernatural phenomenon appears in Tokyo and South America. Now, these territories are an area of almost impossible access and exploration. These phenomena and the resulting zones are known as “Heaven’s Gate” and “Hell’s Gate.” One of the impressive consequences generated by these gates: some people now have random new abilities.
According to their abilities, people affected by Hell’s Gate or Heaven’s Gate are classified as “Dolls,” “Contractors,” or “Moratoriums.” Dolls and Contractors lack empathy, sociability, or even conscientiousness. The Moratoriums have no control over their abilities, and they display them due to emotional stress.
This story revolves around Hei, a contractor who works for a mysterious organization called The Syndicate. He goes to Tokyo under the false identity of a Chinese exchange student, Lee Shen Shun. His code is BK201, “The Black Shinigami,” and a unit from that organization accompanies him.
As the plot progresses, new questions arise. Is it possible for peaceful coexistence between humans and contractors? Should humans use the contractors and dolls for their own benefit? Or do the contractors have the right to conquer and rule?
5. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
You have likely heard of this one, at least by name.
The series is set in a fictional universe known as Universal Century in the year 0079. It tells the story of a war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, with the subsequent appearance of the RX-78-2 Gundam combat robot, piloted by the young mechanic Amuro Ray.
As you can see, it’s another mecha anime. Initially, it had low audience ratings in Japan, which led to its cancellation. However, the series became successful a year later, thanks to the introduction of models and buildable plastic figures produced by Bandai.
It started a whole new movement, a phenomenon in Japan, and a new genre called Real Robot. Mobile Suit Gundam is a revolutionary title that went from commercial failure to being an icon in the anime industry.
Aside from the theme of war, the story has other topics such as responsibility, political corruption, and human evolution, each explored at their own pace.
You won’t want to miss this one.
4. Kingdom (2012)
This one is a bit different. First, it happens in the Warring States Period, an era in Chinese history when regional warlords annexed smaller states around them and consolidated their rule.
Xin and Piao are orphans born around this time. Their biggest dream is to become “Great Generals of the Heavens” to stop being slaves.
One day, a minister was passing through the town when he sees Piao. He takes it with him to the royal palace, while Xin remains like a domestic slave in the peasant village.
Months later, Piao returns to their home with fatal injuries. He convinces Xin to leave for another village, but he dies afterward.
Xin does as he’s told, and soon he finds the terrible truth. His friend was identical to the current king of Qin, Ying Zheng. Piao had acted as Ying Zheng’s double to protect him from a revolt organized by the king’s half-brother.
After enduring this, Xin decides to help the half-brother defeat the king and claim the throne of Qin. Successful in this task, Xin officially begins his life as a Qin soldier on the battlefields, but it doesn’t end there. Xin’s principal objective hasn’t changed, and he still wants to become the greatest general in the world.
It is a story about the unification of China. It is an anime with an engaging historical component, a compelling story, and exciting battles.
If you like all of this, Kingdom is the anime for you.
3. Jormungand (2012)
This story follows Koko Hekmatyar, the attractive and young arms dealer and daughter of the magnate Floyd Hekmatyar. She works under what appears to be an international export company (HCLI), but in reality, that’s far from the truth.
Actually, HCLI is one of the more powerful arms dealers companies in the world. They make contracts with other countries’ armies, and they also have worked for a few terrorists.
Since Koko’s work is illegal and extremely dangerous, she has nine bodyguards that take care of her. Ex-soldiers, specialists in war machines, secret agents, and gangsters are some of the few kinds of people who are a part of this. The most recent acquisition to the eccentric group is Jonah, an experienced eleven-year-old soldier who despises arms dealers.
This anime name is a reference to Jörmungandr, a sea serpent in Norse mythology. And about the plot, one of the fascinating things is the ambiguity of the characters. Not everything is black and white, and it’s easy for the spectator to understand the characters’ motives.
Between war conflicts, conspiracies, or professional assassins’ attacks, it’s hard to get bored.
If the whole topic of arms dealers seems appealing, you can give this one a shot.
2. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006)
Ever wanted the power to compel people to do as you wanted? What if this power was used to start a revolution?
This anime is set in an alternate universe where humanity is divided into the Holy Britannian Empire, the European Union, and the Chinese Federation.
The Holy Britannian Empire invaded Japan using giant robots called Knightmare Frames. Therefore, Japan was renamed Area 11 and its inhabitants, the eleventh. A Brittanian prince exiled to Japan at the time, Lelouch, swears to his friend Suzaku that he will destroy Brittania.
Years later, Lelouch is attending high school, even though he usually skips class to gain money while playing chess.
One day, there’s a terrorist attack where some rebels shot down a plane, which falls in front of Lelouch. Apparently, the plane had been hijacked by eleventh terrorists to seize a military secret inside. Lelouch goes inside to investigate, and the members of the Brittanian forces capture him. While Lelouch is trying to escape, we find out that the “military secret” the plane was carrying is a green-haired girl. Unexpectedly, she activates in Lelouch the ability to compel everyone to do as he wants just by making eye contact with them. Using this new ability, Lelouch manages to escape and chooses to lead the terrorists to confront the Brittanian force under the codename “Zero”.
Throughout the story, Lelouch’s main objective is to destroy Brittania and liberate Japan from its chains.
Since the Knightmare Frames are robots, this anime is considered a mecha. Don’t let this discourage you: there are enough twists and turns involved to keep you on the edge of your seat.
It is a very well-done series and one of the great war anime present on this list. If you only have time to watch one anime of all the ones I have mentioned, this is a solid choice.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
This is a classic one. The anime is set in a universe where technology hasn’t advanced as much as in real life. In fact, alchemy is the most exceptional technology creation until now.
Edward and Alphonse Elric live in a small town in a made-up country called Amestris. After their mother dies from a terminal disease, they use their alchemy knowledge to bring her back to life.
Despite knowing about alchemy since they were little kids, the experiment goes terribly wrong, taking Alphonse’s body and Edward’s left leg. Somehow, Edward manages to place Alphonse’s body in armor, but he loses an arm in the process. Later, Edward uses a metal prosthesis for the limbs he lost.
Soon after this, the two brothers start searching for the philosopher’s stone. They believe that the philosopher’s stone will grant them the power and give the required answers to recover what was lost.
FMB, how their fans abbreviate it, it’s actually a re-boot. Fullmetal Alchemist (without the Brotherhood) was the first anime adaptation, and it aired in 2003. Only the first half of it it’s actually loyal to the original manga source. On the other hand, FMB has gained fame partly for being a more loyal version.
The highlight of this anime is the care with which it builds the main and minor characters. The action and adventure are always there, along with the personal and emotional evolution of the characters.
If you are looking for a new anime title to watch and want to play it safe, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a great option.
BONUS: Violet Evergarden (2018)
The anime takes its title name from the main character, Violet. She’s a young girl trained since her childhood to fight. After living four years in what seemed to be an endless war, it finally ends but leaves her fatally wounded and hospitalized. Gilbert, the person who raised her and taught her how to be a soldier, leaves with three final words: “I love you”. Violet doesn’t understand him, and after healing, she sets herself the goal to appreciate the significance of real love.
It’s not as easy as she thinks, and at first, Violet has a hard time coping with the idea of having a life off the battlefield. However, one day she discovers the “Auto-Memory Dolls”, people who work transcribing the thoughts and emotions of others on paper. Trying to reach her new goal, Violet decides to become one of them.
Violet Evergarden it’s more of a post-war anime, and it’s the story of a girl who lived as an unstoppable weapon for a long time. As spectators, we follow Violet in her journey to find her own emotions and overcome the loss of someone close to her. This is one of the best anime about war in the last few years.
Did you pick your favorite? This list is made of some of the best war anime out there. Some of them are full of action, others have some fantasy elements in them, and others just show us the outcomes of war.
Despite the numbers, it’s better to not take them too seriously: this list doesn’t have any particular order. I prefer letting you judge which one you think is the best of them!
If you haven’t watched them, right now you can choose one to watch. I’m sure you will enjoy it.