20 best sci-fi TV shows that aren’t Star Trek

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16. Cowboy Bebop

There are a lot of high-quality anime series that deserve a spot on this list. Consider the highly dramatic and complex Neon Genesis Evangelion or the noir Ghost in the Shell series (just avoid the live action film). But, for my money, there’s one that is the most accessible and even, dare I say it, fun: Cowboy Bebop.

Now, the irreverent tone of Cowboy Bebop doesn’t mean that it can’t have some serious moments, too. That’s part of the appeal of a show. It can gracefully move between the goofiness of its characters and their roving lifestyle, to the serious considerations of things like mortality and the afterlife. Also, with 26 episodes and a single movie, it’s far easier for newbies to digest than other anime epics.

Cowboy Bebop follows a loosely-affiliated group of spacefaring bounty hunters living in 2071. Fifty years earlier, a technological accident left the Earth nearly uninhabitable, leaving the remaining humans to colonize most of the solar system. More recently, the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP) has set up a sort of contract system, where bounty hunters can bring in crooks for monetary reward.

The series follows Spike Spiegel, a former hitman, and his partner Jet Black, a former ISSP officer. They often cross paths with Faye Valentine, a con artist with a serious case of amnesia. Eventually, they also sort-of-adopt Edward Wong, a young girl with serious hacking skills. Ed brings along Ein, a genetically engineered corgi with human-level intelligence.

Given all of the characters’ dark and sometimes mysterious pasts, they are bound to encounter some serious drama. Spike’s criminal and romantic connections come back to haunt him on multiple occasions, even forming the majority of the film’s plot. It’s done with great plotting and wonderful characterization, even for one-off and incidental characters. All told, this is widely considered to be one of the best sci-fi anime series of all time. You’ll see why when you watch.