Manga is a medium that boasts a long and rich history of stellar sci-fi for readers of all ages. From Osamu Tezuka’s beloved Astro Boy to the pop culture-defining Akira, some of the best sci-fi ever written can be found in the world of manga.
Essential Science Fiction Manga
If you are a manga fan interested in reading more sci-fi manga, or you’re a sci-fi fan who wants to see what manga has to offer, right here is the best sci-fi manga to check out.
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
It is impossible to overstate the impact of Akira, not only on the landscape of manga and anime, but on pop culture as a whole — within and beyond Japan’s borders. Akira is one of the best sci-fi manga of all time, though it is often overshadowed by its anime film adaptation (which is of course also one of the best anime of all time).
What’s interesting about that, however, is that both were created by Katsuhiro Otomo. This genius wrote and drew the original manga before adapting it to screen and directing it. There is, frankly, nobody in the world of anime and manga with a diversity of talent and vision like that of Katsuhiro Otomo.
Akira is a defining work of the cyberpunk subgenre of sci-fi manga, comics, film, and TV. We begin in 2019, following the rebuilding of Tokyo after the city was wiped out in the 1980s during the third world war.
Neo-Tokyo is a gritty, dangerous place of corruption and gang warfare. Our protagonists are Kaneda and Tetsuo, members of one of these gangs: the Capsules. Following a clash with a rival gang, the two are swept up into a world of experimentation, government conspiracy, ESP-wielding test subjects, and world-threatening power.
There is too much to say about Akira that could fit here. This is one of the most talked-about sci-fi manga and anime in history; dissected and discussed a million times over. It is something that must be experienced and enjoyed again and again; each new read or watch revealing new layers of thematic and political depth. A revolutionary work of fiction, Akira is one of the best (if not the very best) sci-fi manga of all time.
Knights of Sidonia by Tsutomu Nihei
A thousand years ago, our solar system was destroyed by an unknowable alien race we call the Gauna. Now, a ship called Sidonia carries the remnants of the human population across the reaches of space, defending itself against the attacking Gauna with large weaponized mechs.
These mechs, known as Gardes, are piloted by trained humans who keep the Gauna at bay as the Sidonia continues its journey. Our protagonist is Nagate Tanikaze, a young man raised underground by his grandfather. Every day, Tanikaze trains for mecha combat in VR pods, until his grandfather passes away.
In search of food, Tanikaze is arrested, trained, and quickly recruited to pilot a mech against the attacking Gauna. His journey from isolated boy who can’t photosynthesise like other people to Garde pilot is quick, wasting no time in getting us to the meat of the story.
Not being able to photosynthesise, and therefore needing to eat a lot, is one thing that makes Tanikaze an outlier, but early on he also meets Izana Shinatoze, a non-binary character who is able to reproduce with men, women, and even asexually. Knights of Sidonia is a dynamic and beautifully drawn sci-fi manga that combines the enigmatic and frightening mysteries of deep space with the excitement of mecha manga.
The design of the terrorising and chilling Gauna is excellent, subtly evoking the concepts made famous by H.P. Lovecraft. Nihei’s design chops are also seen in the mechs, environments, fashion, engineering, and even the void of space.
The spaces within Sidonia, however, are designed after the Japan we’re familiar with: homes with tatami, soba restaurants, and izakaya. There’s a tangible weight to the details of Nihei’s designs that really immerses you in this world; it adds dimension to the story and lore that is incredibly satisfying.
This is a sci-fi manga that really demonstrates what the medium can do for the genre, and it also proves why Tsutomu Nihei is such a legend of sci-fi manga.
Read More: The Best Sci-Fi Books Ever Written
Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei
Blame! (pronounced like “blam” in Japanese — ブラム) is another epic sci-fi manga by the legendary Tsutomu Nihei. While in many different ways, this sci-fi manga is very different to, and slightly more famous than Knights of Sidonia, it is written and drawn with a similar approach.
Nihei excels at environmental storytelling, letting his environments, layouts, and character designs speak for him. This can be seen in Knights of Sidonia and even more so in Blame! Nihei is aware of the power that the visual medium of manga has, and uses it to its utmost potential when telling a science fiction narrative.
In that way, Blame! is reminiscent of other legendary manga like Berserk and the lesser-known Witch Hat Atelier. As for its story, Blame! is set in an unfathomably large metallic superstructure that sits within our solar system, and is known only as The City.
This technological labyrinth is traversed by protagonist Killy, who is seeking a way to stop the endless expansion of The City and the eradication of humanity at the hands of a robot horde. Humans, some genetically altered and others not, live in tribes across the city which live under threat of the Safeguard robots.
Killy hopes to access The City’s control network and is on a quest to find the key to that network. It’s an epic quest across a hauntingly large place full of deadly dangers and roadblocks. Big sci-fi ideas are brought to life through vividly detailed art. A sci-fi manga masterpiece.
Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro
Before it was adapted to the screen in a flashy, fun, and ludicrously expensive Hollywood film, Battle Angel Alita was an iconic 90s sci-fi manga. One of the defining cyberpunk stories of an era where cyberpunk was everywhere (thank you, Akira), Battle Angel Alita remains beloved among manga readers.
In a post-apocalyptic future, the world has been rebuilt; cybernetic enhancements and robotics are now the norm. Our protagonist is the titular Alita, a cyborg who was found discarded on a trash heap with her memories lost. The man who finds her — a doctor of cybernetics — restores Alita, after which she finds that the one thing she remembers is how to fight.
This revelation leads Alita to put her skills to use as a bounty hunter, and this sends her off on a journey through her own past, to rediscover her origins and what they mean for the wider world.
Battle Angel Alita is a 90s manga, inside and out, especially in its exaggerated aesthetics, with a narrative and character roster lightly drizzled with camp and flair. This is a legendary sci-fi manga, as fun and timeless as it is impactful.
Planetes by Makoto Yukimura
Mangaka Makoto Yukimura is arguably best known for his epic historical manga Vinland Saga, a Viking saga of staggering size and scope. Vinland Saga is an enormous undertaking that really showcases the dedication of its creator and the power of the medium of manga to tell a story so grand as that one.
But Yukimura’s first foray into the artform was with the celebrated sci-fi manga Planetes (プラネテス). While the term “hard sci-fi” might not quite fit this manga, it is certainly a more grounded sci-fi story than a space opera or space fantasy narrative.
Our protagonists work for the Technora Corporation as part of its clean-up division. Their job is to prevent damage to satellites and space stations from debris. They’re a team whose work is patronised and ignored by other divisions; the position reminiscent of that of Kaiju No. 8’s Kafka.
But the development of human relationships, both between individuals as well as the bigger relationship between humanity and the unknown, is reminiscent of the stories of modern sci-fi author Becky Chambers.
This is a sci-fi manga that explores big themes and questions on a smaller, and more intimate scale; something wonderfully unique within the genre of sci-fi manga. It’s incredibly refreshing to read a sci-fi narrative set in space that doesn’t involve war and interplanetary politics, but instead focuses on small-scale interactions and intimate character relationships.
Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto
There’s an argument to be made that kaiju are at the centre of Japanese pop culture, especially if you consider 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) to be the beginning of Japan’s domination of global pop culture. Kaiju are in the blood of Japanese pop culture, and to see a new spin on them in one of the best sci-fi manga around is an absolute thrill.
Naoya Matsumoto’s Kaiju No. 8 is set in a world where kaiju run amok in Japan’s cities, rampaging and killing. Taking them down one by one is the Kaiju Defense Force: a military group armed with state-of-the-art weapons and armour.
Our protagonist, a washed-out 32-year-old man named Kafka, is not a member of the Kaiju Defense Force. Instead, he works as a cleaner whose job is to deal with the corpses of defeated kaiju by disposing of them, bit by bit. Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that Kafka’s childhood friend, Mina Ashiro, is one of the Defense Force’s most deadly and accomplished kaiju killers.
During this sci-fi manga’s very first chapter, however, Kafka — along with newbie cleaner Reno Ichikawa — narrowly escapes being devoured by a kaiju, winds up in hospital, and there becomes host to a big kaiju bug that forces itself down Kafka’s throat. Before it does so, the kaiju speaks. “I found you” is all it says.
Swallowing the kaiju bug causes Kafka to transform his body into that of a kaiju. He maintains his human consciousness and his ability to communicate, but the average person flees in terror. Inspired by his new friend Ichikawa’s tenacity, as well as his own success at protecting a child from a kaiju using his bare kaiju fists, Kafka decides to try one more time for the Defense Force.
Together, Kafka and Ichikawa take the gruelling and dangerous exams and, all the while, Kafka must hide his new kaiju form and the two must measure themselves against far more competent Defense Force applicants. Kaiju No. 8 is easily one of the best sci-fi manga thanks, in part, to its comedy timing, Matsumoto’s crisp and clean artistry and composition, and its imagination when it comes to monster, weapon, and armour design.
Kafka himself also does a lot of the heavy lifting. He’s a sweet and charming protagonist. Older than most (if not all) shonen protagonists, Kafka is a breath of fresh air.
SHWD by Sono.N
SHWD (short for Special Hazardous Waste Disposal and pronounced like “should”) is a science fiction yuri manga set in a world infested by wandering bioweapons. All we know about these dynamis to begin with is that they are remnants of a previous war, and now they show up at random and wreak havoc by emitting an electromagnetic pulse that turns civilians mad with confusion and rage.
The titular SHWD is a private military company founded in the US, and its operatives work to put dangerous dynamis down when they appear. Our protagonist, Koga, is a butch young woman who has thought of nothing but joining SHWD since she encountered a dynamis as a child. Now, she is being trained by the experienced and stoic Sawada, on whom Koga gradually develops a crush.
The sci-fi and yuri elements of this manga grow and develop gradually as Koga gets closer to her superior, and as she learns more about her responsibilities at SHWD. Focus is placed on their relationship, but not at the expense of moments of combat, excitement, and drama.
The Promised Neverland by Posuka Demizu & Kaiu Shirai
The Promised Neverland is a shonen manga that bucks convention by blending the genres of sci-fi, dystopia, horror, mystery, and even more besides. Set (at first) in an idyllic country manor called Grace Field House, the series follows a group of orphans who have all grown up under the watchful eye of Isabella, their “Mother”.
Our protagonists are the three eldest orphans, twelve-year-olds Emma, Norman, and Ray. This sci-fi manga’s very first chapter reveals the truth of Grace Field House: that the world outside is run by monstrous demons and that their home is a farm for raising humans as cattle. Thus begins a desperate escape attempt consisting of tactical mind games against Isabella.
The reason why The Promised Neverland is so important is that it shifts from genre to genre as the story progresses, beginning as horror and shifting into sci-fi as it goes.
The Promised Neverland elevates the genre of shonen manga to new heights entirely. It explores outside the box that the shonen genre has placed itself in. Its plot and setting feel reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. At least, at the beginning.
But The Promised Neverland grows and evolves like no other manga out there. This is also another series with an anime adaptation. But, as I’ve already mentioned in greater detail here, the manga is far better thanks, in part, to Demizu’s superior eye for capturing horror in a single shot.
Gantz by Hiroya Oku
Gantz (or, if you prefer, GANTZ) is one of the most famous and celebrated sci-fi manga of all time, and for good reason. This seinen manga ran for a whopping thirteen years and, after its completion, spans thirty-seven volumes of sci-fi grandeur.
Gantz also remains mangaka Hiroya Oku’s best work, and is a bleak piece of action sci-fi celebrated by the manga community. Our protagonists are Kei and Masaru, two high school students who die in a train accident and are posthumously recruited to hunt and kill aliens.
Though “recruited” might not be the right word, as the titular Gantz tells them, and the other recruits, that their lives have been forfeited to him post-death. The missions that Kei, Masaru, and the others are sent on provide them with points, and the whole situation is set up like a game.
When those points reach 100, the participant can choose to spend them in different ways, one of which being to revive a lost participant if they die during a mission. Gantz is a manga reminiscent of many other sci-fi properties across anime, literature, and cinema, but it also manages to stand out on its own and carve out a lasting legacy in the world of sci-fi manga.
20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
20th Century Boys is a legendary sci-fi manga series, talked about in the same breath as manga and anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Arguably, however, 20th Century Boys also shares some DNA with the works of Haruki Murakami, with its sprinklings of surrealism, love of cults, and frequent pop-culture references.
Just like Murakami, Naoki Urasawa loves to reference other works of literature and the rock music of his youth. The story follows Kenji, who in the 90s is managing his own convenience store and has just heard about the suicide of a childhood friend.
That suicide was linked to a mysterious and dangerous cult that shares a lot of similarities to a collection of “prophecies” that Kenji and his friends cooked up in the hideout as children. Where the story goes from here, especially as the cult is concerned, is enormous. The way the narrative grows from the intimate to the global is truly staggering.
Pluto by Naoki Urasawa
After taking over the world of manga with the groundbreaking 20th Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa brought us the sci-fi manga Pluto. Fascinatingly, Pluto is a kind of murder-mystery reimagining of an arc of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy.
Tezuka was arguably the most influential force in manga history, thanks to works like Dororo, Kimba the White Lion (hello The Lion King), and the aforementioned Astro Boy. Sci-fi cinema fans with a love for Bladerunner and even the film adaptation of I-Robot are going to want to check this sci-fi manga out.
Our protagonist, Gesicht, is a detective working for Europol, and he is currently investigating a string of deaths — both human and robot. And all signs point to a robot being the culprit.
Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
Ten years after an earthquake sinks most of Tokyo into the sea, a survivor of that earthquake with no memory of the event is living an ordinary life in Nagano. However, that all changes when Ganta’s entire class is butchered by a blood-soaked stranger who leaves Ganta alive and takes him to a prison/theme park: the titular Deadman Wonderland.
At Deadman Wonderland, Ganta is forced to engage in various dangerous activities and lethal “games” that reward him with an antidote to the poison which is being constantly pumped into his bloodstream. Deadman Wonderland is a sci-fi manga perfect for fans of Black Mirror. It’s not as thematically and philosophically dense as some other sci-fi stories, but it is a frantic and frenetic good time.
Orange by Ichigo Takano
Orange is rather unconventional, as the best sci-fi manga go, in that it is perhaps more of a slice-of-life manga and a literary examination of human relationships and mental health. But claiming that sci-fi as a genre should lack human connection and literary themes is, obviously, asinine.
What makes this one of the best sci-fi manga is its unique approach to the time travel trope, which is used as a tool to explore the idea of correcting our mistakes and righting our wrongs. Orange is told through the eyes of its main protagonist, Naho, a second year high school student who befriends a transfer student from Tokyo named Kakeru.
Before we meet Kakeru, the day begins with Naho receiving a letter from someone who claims to be her from ten years in the future. This time-travelling letter includes instructions on how to save Kakeru, something that the Naho of the future failed to do, and has had to live with that regret.
And so it is up to the young Naho to fix her future self’s mistakes, with the help of her friends. Orange is a heart-rending sci-fi manga with a focus on the importance and power of a found family, and what our friends can do for us, how they can save us.
Made in Abyss by Akihito Tsukushi
This richly detailed and imaginatively realised sci-fi manga begins in a town at the edge of an enormous gaping hole that leads down into the centre of the world: the titular abyss. Many residents of this town are adventurers who explore the depths of the abyss, and our young protagonist Riko is one of them.
Riko lost her mother, a renowned explorer, to the abyss, and now she wishes to follow in her mother’s footsteps. While exploring the first level of the abyss, Riko meets a robot boy who must surely have been created within the abyss itself, and it’s Reg’s unique abilities that help Riko conquer the abyss at such a young age.
As a robot, Reg has abilities that would make him a fun platformer video game protagonist. He can extend his arms like Inspector Gadget, shoot powerful lasers, and more. The design of the abyss itself is incredible, and the real star of one of the best sci-fi manga.
Reminiscent of the writings of sci-fi godfather Jules Verne, this is a story that explores and relishes in the unknown, just like much of history’s best sci-fi does. The mangaka takes great pleasure in carving out a lusciously realised world of incredible flora and fauna, harkening back to the adventuring pulp sci-fi of decades past.
The mysteries in the deepest depths of the abyss keep you glued to the page, as does the safety of these young adventurers. Their relationship and the things they see latch you to this sci-fi manga’s story and refuse to let you go.
Space Brothers by Chūya Koyama
Chūya Koyama’s beloved modern sci-fi manga, which currently spans more than forty collected volumes, is a charmingly fresh approach to the world of sci-fi storytelling. Similar to the dynamic seen in the above Kaiju No. 8, this manga follows two protagonists: one who managed to achieve his dreams, and one who hasn’t. Yet.
The protagonists here, however, are brothers who, as children, witnessed what they believed to be an alien spacecraft. This ignited in them a dream of heading out into space. One brother manages this dream, becoming a fully-fledged astronaut, and the other has so far been unsuccessful, but this is all about to change.
Space Brothers is a very intimate and warming seinen manga that takes its own approach to the genre, as well as to tone and pacing that really allows it to stand on its own.