It’s been over 20 years since “See you, Space Cowboy” made waves throughout the anime industry. And at this point, you’d be hard pressed to find an anime fan who hasn’t, in fact, seen that Space Cowboy. We’re blasting off with Cowboy Bebop, taking a deep dive into the worlds, stars, characters and space opera genre as a whole.
Space’s Wild West
Cowboy Bebop isn’t the only space opera to capture audiences, but there’s no denying the clout it holds over the anime world. What makes this title so amazing—so endearing—is that it speaks to viewers of all sorts, including those who aren’t familiar with anime. The range of Bebop fans is incredibly diverse, comparable even to other big-name anime that’s become popular in the west. And is it really any surprise when you look at Bebop as a whole? The captivating cast of characters, the expansive world, and the animation that stands the test of time—they’re all part of the formula for an engaging space opera.
The recipe is simple: A rag-tag crew looking to make a buck, each with their own story to tell. And yet, Bebop takes this basic storyline and makes it so much more! From Spike’s tragic past to Faye’s forgotten memories (and let’s not forget the mystery behind the loveable corgi, Ein!), everything in the series engrosses you, even beyond the main cast of characters. The director, Shinichiro Watanabe, managed to not only give us a loveable cast, but he created side characters that were just as easy to form attachments to.
Bebop has also made quite the impression on pop culture as a whole. Not only does the series contain its own references (Star Trek, Lupin the Third, Queen, etc.), but a lot of today’s media contains references to Bebop. Did you know that director Rian Johnson has admitted to being influenced by Cowboy Bebop in his 2005 film, Brick? Or that in the Nickelodeon hit series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the character Jet was strongly influenced by Spike (as well as Mugen from Watanabe’s other classic success, Samurai Champloo) both in looks and fighting style? And lastly, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between Firefly and Bebop! If you look closely, you can find hints of Bebop almost anywhere in modern pop culture.
Bebop certainly wasn’t the first—nor the last—space opera anime to take a simple concept and become something more. If you love Cowboy Bebop, you can’t pass up on these other equally fascinating and appealing series. And if you do, you’re going to carry that weight.
Galactic Leyline or Bust!
In the days of Cartoon Network’s Toonami, one series managed to stand beside Cowboy Bebop and shine just as bright. Outlaw Star has a similar storyline to Bebop—a rag-tag crew looking to make a buck, each with their own story to tell—but it manages to set itself apart while maintaining similar elements that make these kinds of titles so good.
Gene Starwind is a jack-of-all-trades responsible for odd jobs and bounty hunting with his partner, Jim Hawking. Stuck on a rundown planet, he’s going nowhere fast. But when a bodyguard job goes sideways, he finds himself the proud owner of the Outlaw Star and on an adventure to find the mysterious Galactic Leyline. Facing pirates and dangers galore, can he survive the journey through space?
If you’re looking for high action, a colorful cast of characters, and the journey of a lifetime, Outlaw Star is the perfect show for you. Pack your bags, we’re going on a space treasure hunt!
We’re switching it up from bounty hunting to being hunted in this next space opera, Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199. As opposed to Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star, this anime focuses less on a singular main character, and instead pits deep interpersonal relationships among the crew against intergalactic survival.
Earth is on the verge of complete annihilation. Threatened by an intergalactic superpower known as Gamilas, humankind’s last hope for survival depends upon the generous assistance of another alien civilization—Iscandar. The Space Battleship Yamato has only one year to seek out this planet and recover a device that could revitalize Earth.
A reboot of the classic 1979 anime Star Blazers, Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199’s beautiful animation, Star Trek vibes, and intriguing storyline are sure to keep you captivated throughout the crew’s entire year-long journey.
Bound by Fate. Bonded by War.
This next space opera from 1999 delves into the political and romantic side of things—Crest of the Stars and its sequel Banner of the Stars. Two characters from completely different walks of life work together to find their places in the universe. From season to season, the relationships between the main characters evolve alongside an ever-intensifying conflict.
A massive, highly advanced alien civilization called the Abh Empire invades the human-inhabited planet of Martine. Outclassed, outgunned, and in an effort to avoid bloodshed, the standing president willingly surrenders the world in exchange for a place among the Abh aristocracy. Seven years later, his son meets a spirited Abh princess who will guide him through an impending intergalactic war.
If you’re wanting a series chock-full of political intrigue, military strategy, and wonderfully paced romantic tension, Crest of the Stars is the sci-fi epic for you!
Take to the Stars
Much like space, the anime in the space opera category are vast and ever expanding, so these suggestions are just the beginning! If you’re itching to take to the stars and discover new planets and adventure, this is the perfect place to start.