Who doesn’t love a post-apocalyptic world? Seemingly no one. It is a pervasive genre, even winding its way into anime. We, as in humanity, seem to have a bit of an obsession with our own demise. Perhaps because we fear it so much, but mostly because in a world that is dying, so, too, die the rules which bind us.
I know. It’s deep, right?
Regardless, storytellers in anime love a post-apocalyptic setting because it allows them to explore the human psyche when stressed in a world that is terrifying, obsessive, or too advanced for its own good.
20. Chrome Shelled Regios
Mostly, Chrome Shelled Regios is an anime that gets way too caught up in giving everything very stupid “anime” names, like how the monsters are called Filth Monsters and those who fight them are called Heavens-Blade wielders or how every character looks like their name was picked by throwing Scrabble tiles. Yet, if you can look past stupid names, Chrome Shelled Regios creates a pretty intriguing dead world where humans live in domed cities and are trying to reclaim their land. It is a shame that they don’t focus more it.
19. Blue Gender
Although older, Blue Gender perfectly captures the bleakness of existence that should be present in the post-apocalyptic setting. However, while the thoroughly ravaged Earth is explored, as is Second Earth, the space station where humanity retreated after the giant bugs attacked and pushed humans off the planet, the setting of Blue Gender shines only a fraction as much as its characterization.
If not for its fully fleshed out characters, Blue Gender would be just another story about how one man saved humanity.
18. Humanity Has Declined
It is not often you find a cheery, upbeat anime that also features a post-apocalyptic setting. The two don’t really seem to mix well, you know? Yet, Humanity Has Declined manages it pretty well. In this world, humanity is running short of supplies so, in their need, they turn to the help of whimsical fairies that are able to make what they need. The fact that they managed to create such an upbeat anime that also features a vaguely bleak dying world is actually really quite praise-worthy.
While the manga is considered a masterpiece by its cult following, sadly the anime for Blame didn’t really live up to its potential. While it manages to be dark and foreboding, some may argue that its experimental visual techniques ultimately got in the way rather than help to tell the story. However, this short series was ultimately supposed to pair with the manga and not stand alone, so there is that.
Regardless, the major charm of the manga was exploring the multi-leveled city where its inhabitants are so boxed in that they can’t tell up from down. Combined with an art style that is best described as “scratchy,” the world of Blame was hopeless like no other.
16. Wolf’s Rain
Wolf’s Rain is a rare breed, mostly because it is it is about wolves that shape-shift into human. However, it also has a post-apocalyptic setting made all the more depressing by the main character who isn’t exactly a ray of sunshine. Throughout the show, you get to see a fair bit of the world that actually doesn’t look too different from our own. However, from the point of view of the wolves, it truly is a post-apocalyptic place where their way of life is over.
15. No. 6
In No. 6 you have a world that features both a utopia and a post-apocalyptic wasteland that are ultimately brought together through the two main characters, an elite resident of the utopia city and a fugitive fleeing the wasteland. Essentially you get to see the inevitable dark side of the utopia after events transpire and the elite resident loses his status.
14. Desert Punk
Desert Punk takes place in a futuristic Japan that has turned completely into a desert. Of course, it is more likely most of Japan will be swallowed up by rising seas before it becomes a desert, but this is the setting that we are left with in Desert Punk. This particular series follow a bounty hunter as he goes about his business catching bad guys and chasing skirt. While it tends to focus on comedy much of the time, it is fascinating to see the kind of people that carved out a life in desert Japan.
Tokyo is a city that attracts great disaster like Godzilla attracts other Kaiju. In Coppelion, you see Tokyo go through yet another meltdown, this time, a nuclear one! Throughout the series you follow three, surprisingly radiation-free cute girls that wander around ravaged Tokyo looking for survivors. There are a few things that could be better in Coppelion, but that post-nuclear scenery is not one of them. It is top-notch.
12. Battle Angel Alita
Although only covering a fraction of the majesty that is its source material, Battle Angel Alita combines interesting and intricately designed characters into a fascinating background. In the world of this anime series, a fraction of the people live in luxury above the squalor down below, with the story centered around an android that was found below in the city dump and fixed up by a mechanic. The world is devastated, but through scrapped technology it is made livable.
11. Now and Then, Here and There
Nothing says the world has gone to shit like child militia! That is just one of the many ways that Now and Then, Here and There shows off how the world of the post-apocalypse can be such a terrible place. This anime takes place in a world where war is not only a near constant event, but the world has turned into a desert and precious water is hard to come by. For the main character, it is a struggle, especially since he is also familiar with a world that has not yet been so devastated.
10. Ergo Proxy
Throughout Ergo Proxy and main character Re-L’s investigation, you see a fair bit of the anime series ravaged world. From the inside of the domed cities to the ruined exterior beyond, much is shown off in Ergo Proxy, but little is explained. While how the world got destroyed is barely touched on, the philosophical concepts explored in the plot can give you a pretty good answer.
9. Attack on Titan
A major part of what made Attack on Titan so popular was its world. I mean who couldn’t get behind a world where giant, naked, genital-free humanoids are trying to eat the rest of humanity that has holed up behind a wall? It is a terrifying and original concept as well as one that is well executed. The upcoming second season also promises a little more explanation on how the world got the way it is as well.
8. Seraph of the End
Not unlike Attack on Titan, Seraph of the End presents another interesting world. However, instead of giant cannibals, Seraph of the End uses a monster that is a little more played out – vampires. In this series, all adults over a certain age died from a virus. Afterwards, when the world is only comprised of children, the vampires rise and promise to take care of them in exchange for blood. Naturally, as the children grow and realize their independence, it doesn’t go down so well.
The story in Trigun actually isn’t truly a post-apocalyptic world. In this series, humanity left the Earth that it ruined and actually ended up on another planet. So while everything may look ruined and rather run down, it is actually just the slow colonization process of a new process.
6. From the New World
Wouldn’t it be great to have some sort of super power? That is what From the New World is about. A small portion of humanity one day developed the ability to move objects with their mind. Naturally, a few irresponsible people were in that mix and decided to use their new powers for less than reputable means. The rest of humanity, feeling threatened, then began the rumblings of war with this new spot of evolution. Yet, even though the telekinetic people created their own society, when they start to advance their powers, the world may be rent asunder once again.
5. Toppa Tengen Gurren Lagann
While Toppa Tengen Gurren Lagann tends to focus on other things, like giant robots fighting, there is no denying that the world it is set in is in a bad way. Most normal humans live in underground villages where it is safe from the beastmen that roam the surface. It is a shame that the anime didn’t go into more how the world got the way it was rather than the characters trying to fix it.
4. Neon Genesis Evangelion
You apparently can’t have giant mechs without a world in deep peril and many, many buildings to destroy. Apparently the future Tokyo in Neon Genesis Evangelion never runs out of buildings to smash or angst to explore. Still, even if Tokyo is constantly being trashed, a world with giant mechs is still a wonderful one.
3. Fist of the North Star
Ah, the original post-apocalypse anime. Fist of the North Star is like Mad Max, but with more exploding headings and Bruce Lee-esque screaming. Fist of the North Star is a long and slightly repetitive series, but it is one that shows you a lot of its world. Not only do you get to see gangs of interesting, terrible people as well as those versed in a variety of martial arts, but it is all set in an utter wasteland. It really is like the Mad Max of Japan.
2. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
There are few anime worlds more interesting than Gargantia. First you are introduced to a universe where humanity is exiled to space and lives in a constant state of war with a particular species of alien life. The only reprieve for soldiers is the dangling carrot of a utopia where they go to relax and breed. However, when the main character is flung out into space, he lands on a planet that is all water and where humans live like Kevin Costner in Waterworld on fleets of boats that take the place of land. On top of that, due to the civilization that came before, there is like another world under the water, too.
It is like a science fiction sightseeing tour.
Finally, taking the number one spot on this list is Akira. It is a classic and if you ask the older set of anime fans, likely one of the films that introduced them into the genre in the first place. Not only that, but in the 1980s, there was a big boom in action and post-apocalyptic movies. For anime, Akira was one of the first to embrace the setting. It set science fiction genre on fire and has influences that can still be seen today in anime.
As for the setting itself, Akira is unsettling with its opening scene featuring a dramatic nuclear explosion in Tokyo. Afterward, the rest of the film is set in the city that is still rebuilding, but is not the same. Now overrun by biker gangs and accented by a secretive, corrupt government. It is a hard place to live, and what really unnerves is that it is not a completely impossible place to imagine.