The 2010s were not a big decade for the mecha genre in anime. While the genre's international influence was demonstrated by blockbusters like Pacific Rim, there were not many high profile mecha anime coming out compared to prior decades. When sorting out the best recent mecha anime, inevitably one needs to wade through some major disappointments in order to find the gems. Even relatively popular series like Darling in the FranXX ultimately failed to live up to expectations. So which mecha anime didn't disappoint in the 2010s?
Fafner in the Azure
Humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction thanks to the invading alien force known as the Festum. Humanity's last hopes are the Fafner, giant mechs designed to combat the Festum. However, when circumstances unravel, their hopes are dependent on untrained, young pilots. Fafner started in 2004 but continued into the 2010s with full force. The film Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth hit theaters in 2010. 2015 saw the release of Fafner in the Azure: Exodus, followed by The Beyond films beginning in 2019.
What makes Fafner worthwhile viewing is its intricate worldbuilding. Much like Gundam, it introduces a complicated sci-fi universe that changes from entry to entry in ways that feel significant. The characters are fully realized and three-dimensional. Granted, the art style can be a little dated and it's aimed at a fairly limited audience of hardcore mecha fans. However, once you become invested in the story, you're in it for the long haul.
On paper, nothing marks Majestic Prince apart from, say, the first half of Gunbuster or Eureka Seven. Humanity has colonized space. In order to cultivate people better suited for the cosmic frontier, the world military creates a project designed to create and train genetically modified children. However, when traveling into space, humanity ends up pissing off the Wulgaru, aliens with the power to erase humanity from the map. A quintet of children known as Team Rabbits is given a series of advanced mecha known as Advanced High Standard Multipurpose Battle Device to combat the aliens, saving the world in the process.
What Majestic Prince does best is set up characters that ultimately feel like real people put in this situation. While it might start off as generic, viewers will ultimately feel a great deal of empathy toward Team Rabbits and get invested in the series as it goes forward.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn
Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn is one of the better Gundam series in recent memory. It might be a little intimidating for newcomers due to its in-depth connections to other Universal Century series, but while it feeds into the continuity of the greater Gundam Universe, Unicorn tells its own story about the horrors of war on its own terms. The seven-episode OVA is a treat for Gundam fans and was extended and re-edited into the TV series Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn RE:0096.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans centers on a group of child soldiers rebelling against their adult supervisors after being put through hellish work conditions for profit. While the series contains all the sci-fi politics fans have come to expect from Gundam, it really hammers down the point that, for all the horrors of war, the young and vulnerable are the ones who confront its most destructive, cruel effects. As a self-contained alternate universe Gundam, newcomers can jump on without knowing the history of the Universal Century.
Aldnoah.Zero is a unique series, plotted by Gen Urobachi of Fate/Zero and Madoka fame. It presents an alternate history where alien technology was discovered during the Apollo 17 moon landing. This results in colonists gaining the tech necessary to colonize Mars, leading to a war that culminates in the shattering of the moon. Cut to an alternate 2014, and war brews yet again. In many ways, this bears a lot of similarities with the original Gundam, centering on young pilots fighting a war pitted between two independent civilizations. However, the alternate history angle, along with some stunning visuals, really sets Aldnoah.Zero apart.
The 2019 film Promare took the anime community by storm. Though robots aren't the primary focus, it still fits squarely in the mecha genre. Co-produced by animation studios Trigger and XFLAG, Promare centers on a firefighter, Galo, living in a world where pyrokinetic abilities have led to spontaneous combustion becoming a primary cause of death. Galo needs to work together with Lio, the leader of the Mad Burnish terrorist cell, in order to save all life on Earth. Promare is one of the wildest anime ever from Hiroyuki Imaishi, director of the mecha classic Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo
Fans of Evangelion have been waiting for the follow-up to this film for almost an entire decade. Released back in 2012, Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo is the most distinct chapter of the Rebuild of Evangelion saga, taking a drastic departure from what many fans expected. Following the events of the prior film, Shinji Ikari awakens over a decade later to find the entire world has been blown apart, directly due to his own actions. In this alien world where everyone either blames Shinji for mass-death or doesn't know how to properly communicate with him, Shinji is forced to unite with his father. He finds solace in the enigmatic Kaworu Nagisa, the only person to show him empathy in this cold, dead world.
Evangelion: 3.0 is a controversial film, for sure. It makes several changes that some fans loved and others did not -- but it's still Evangelion. The core relationship between Shinji and Kaworu is one of the most compelling narratives in anime this decade, culminating in the type of heart-break and emotional devastation Evangelion fans live for.