Mecha is a hard genre to get into for some. So many of the biggest names in the genre, from Gundam to Mazinger Z to Macross, are franchises that span decades, which can be overwhelming for new fans. Getting into such franchises can be intimidating; while many of them do contain more approachable stand-alone works (Gundam's alternate universes are self-contained), approaching the mainline continuities require both a heavy investment of time and a taste for older animation styles.
If you want to get into mecha, but aren't sure about jumping into any massive sprawling sagas, which shows are good for newcomers? The following anime are a primer for newcomers to the mecha genre. They feature some of the best and most extreme perspectives on the collective genre, offering you a taste of the world of giant robots.
Full Metal Panic
Full Metal Panic used to be one of the big mainstream anime recommended to fans entering the fandom in the early 2000s. Sousuke is part of a covert military organization, sent on his mission: protect high-school girl Chidori by infiltrating her high school. He responds to every situation as though it is a military operation, resulting in bombastic, over-the-top scenarios. Full Metal Panic is a high school comedy with mecha elements grounded in realistic military mechs...sometimes. It also comes with adorable mascots. Full Metal Panic has multiple sequels, so, should you enjoy the first series, there's plenty more to enjoy.
10,000 years after humanity ascended to the stars, Renton is a teenager living a boring life, dreaming of running away and being a lifter -- a person who can surf the skies. Then, a mecha and its pilot, Eureka, fall into his lap. This sets Renton on a path to join the renegade organization that's surprisingly mundane and grounded in reality. Eureka Seven's world is an unorthodox one with twists and turns that should appeal to any sci-fi fan. It's a great entryway to mecha anime.
Hideaki Anno is well-known for Evangelion, but before that, he released the OVA Gunbuster. Gunbuster is a great example of a short realistic mecha series. The first half of Gunbuster centers around a group of pilots training to combat an alien threat that may or may not be universal antibodies to keep life from spreading. The second half of the anime is a moving tale of time dilation and self-sacrifice in the face of humanity. The sequel, Diebuster, is far more over-the-top than the original, but both are worth watching.
Mamoru Oshii's vision of a near-future Japan where mechs are used for labor is one of the great sci-fi anime. The series follows the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, centered around the interplay of humans and Labors -- giant mecha designed for service jobs. The series consists of several different officers and Labors, sprawling in different timelines. Of course, the most iconic entries in the Patlabor franchise are the movies, which consist of a series of superb films directed by Mamoru Oshii, the same director who would later direct Ghost in the Shell.
Martian Successor Nadesico
In a future where mankind has reached the stars, alien invaders are attacking humanity. Akira just wants to be a cook aboard a starship, but tons of women on-board the Nadesico all want Akira for themselves. Oh, and he's forced to pilot a giant robot to fight lizard aliens. This cuts into the time Akira can spend cooking or watching anime. Not all mecha shows have to be serious. Martian Successor Nadesico is both a comedy series and an epic space opera.
The Big O
One of the most stylistic mecha anime ever created, The Big O was canceled prematurely in Japan, but its popularity in America led to a second season. What starts off as essentially "Batman with a giant robot" gets progressively weirder and harder to describe, especially by its ending. However, on pure style and coolness alone, The Big O is a cult classic for good reason.
Visions of Escaflowne
The Visions of Escaflowne is a fantasy mecha series. This high fantasy adventure focuses on a runner transported to the enigmatic world of Escaflowne, where kingdoms are at war, dragons become the basis of massive mecha suits, and Isaac Newton is evil. On paper, this ethereal fantasy series might seem akin to modern isekai, but few anime ever capture the strange sense of epic scale present in Escaflowne. This anime tries to appeal to every type of anime fan and somehow succeeds.
Super Robot anime does not get more bombastic and over-the-top than Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The series follows a boy named Simon who has yet to realize his destiny. Over the course of the series, he leads a revolution of underground humanity, eventually leading to a battle that scales space and time itself. Gurren Lagann is a series that pushes the limits of imagination, featuring some of the most epic battles and transformations in all of anime.
Code Geass focuses on Lelouch, a prince granted the power of the Geass, which can compel anyone who stares into it to obey the commands of its wielder. Lelouch sets out to bring revolution to a world dominated by tyranny, only to find himself entangled in a complex story of mecha and magic. The mind games are similar to Death Note, but with mecha action. While the second season is a downgrade from the first season, it all comes together for a great ending.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is commonly regarded as one of the greatest anime ever made. The story of Shinji Ikari as he confronts the threat of the Angels and his own existential isolation is one that transcends the mecha genre. It has brilliant character writing, unbelievable imagination and one of the greatest opening themes ever created. If you enjoy mecha anime or even just anime in general, you need to watch Evangelion sooner or later.