Top 5 pirate and space pirate anime for fans of Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Firefly

Poster for Space Pirate Captain Harlock 2014 anime movie.
Poster for Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2014) movie. Pic credit:

Fans of the fantasy swashbuckler film series Pirates of the Caribbean and the space western drama TV series Firefly have been waiting too long for a sequel. Luckily, if you’re a fan of pirates and space pirates there a several amazing anime that not only feature pirates sailing across the ocean, but also have pirates in outer space sailing across a sea of stars in their technologically-advanced spaceships, some of which have grappler arms that can be used in epic battles like you’ve never seen before!

Pirates of the Caribbean is best known for the eccentric pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, its fantasy elements, action, adventure and star-crossed romance between Will and Elizabeth.

Firefly followed the renegade crew of the Serenity – a “Firefly class” spaceship and is most remembered for the charismatic Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the chemistry he shared with the courtesan Inara, who was a member of his crew.

The animes that make up my Top 5 list are the ones that have the most memorable, charismatic or eccentric pirate captains, plenty of action and adventure, and even some star-crossed romance. Get ready to see pirate captains wearing eye patches, long leather trench coats, wielding pistols (some that are either technologically or magically advanced) or scimitars, and wearing very large hats (in some cases a straw one).

5. Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Screenshot from Harlock: Space Pirate.
Screenshot from Harlock: Space Pirate. Pic credit:

Captain Harlock (also known as “Captain Herlock” in the English release of Endless Odyssey and other Japanese works) is the protagonist of the Space Pirate Captain Harlock manga series created by Leiji Matsumoto in 1977.

A space pirate with an individualist philosophy of life, Harlock embodies the archetypical “romantic hero”.  In the manga, anime and movie Harlock fights against totalitarian regimes regardless of whether or not they are Earth-born or alien. He doesn’t fight for sake of others, but for his own beliefs. His noble, stoic personality is contradictory with his rebellious nature.

Harlock wears the number 42 on his jacket to show his crew that he doesn’t fear death. In Japanese culture the number 42 when pronounced as “four two” sounds like “shini” which means “death/dying” in Japanese.

In 1978 an anime TV series adaptation Space Pirate Captain Harlock was released and grew popular enough to spawn other series and films. The best Captain Harlock adaptation of all time is the 2013 film. Harlock: Space Pirate (or Space Pirate Captain Harlock in Japan) is a 2013 Japanese 3D CG anime sci-fi film directed by Shinji Aramaki. Harlock: Space Pirate is the most expensive Japanese anime film of all time and had a production budget of 3 billion yen (approximately 30 million USD)!

As the universe’s resources become scarce five hundred billion colonists decide to return to Earth. Unfortunately, a war breaks out over Earth’s remaining resources called The Homecoming War. The Gaia Sanction, an authoritarian government, decides to declare Earth a sacred planet forbidden to humanity. Harlock is the commander of a fleet of ships powered by alien technology and charged with the responsibility of protecting Earth from colonists. However, when a treaty allows diplomatic elite to immigrate Harlock feels betrayed and turns on Gaia.

Harlock decides to encase Earth in a protective force field using his ship’s dark matter, but things go awry and the Earth becomes uninhabitable. Afterwards, Harlock and his ship the Arcadia are changed forever. Harlock has a plan to atone for his sins against the Earth and plunders space ships for one hundred years, having gained immortality. In order to maintain their power Gaia Sanction places a hologram over the Earth so it looks “normal”. One of Harlock’s plans includes stealing 100 warheads from the Gaia Sanction so they can “start over”.

The movie centers on Yama, who is sent by his older brother Admiral Isora to infiltrate Harlock’s crew and assassinate the legendary pirate captain. Due to an accident in their youth that Yama feels guilty about, his brother Isora was paralyzed and their mutual childhood friend Nami fell into a coma. Even though Harlock is aware of Yama’s intentions he allows him to join the crew anyway and reveals that their plan is to explode the warheads in strategic places throughout the universe to disrupt the timeline and alter history in order to save the Earth and return it to its original state. Will Yama believe in Harlock or will he assassinate the pirate captain? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!

Captain Harlock is one of the most iconic and memorable pirate captains of all time with his brooding personality, black bird perched on his shoulder, signature long, black leather trench coat with the number 42 on it, eye patch, and rapier strapped to his side. If there’s anything we’re sure about when it comes to Captain Harlock it’s that he’s got style.

4. Queen Emeraldas/Pirate Queen Emeraldas

Screenshot from the OVA Queen Emeraldas.
Screenshot from the OVA. Pic credit: OLM Studio.

Before we had a handsome pirate captain and now we have a gorgeous female captain. Emeraldas is known for wearing red, has long blonde hair and blue eyes. The scar running across her face doesn’t detract from her beauty.

Queen Emeraldas is a manga written and illustrated by Leiji Matsumoto and the four-episode anime OVA adaptation is a must-watch for any Captain Harlock fan!

The story centers on Emeraldas – a strong, mysterious and beautiful privateer, and takes place five years after the events of the final Galaxy Expression 999 movie. Queen Emeraldas anime reveals what happens to Emeraldas and Captain Harlock makes a brief cameo appearance. OLM, Inc. has licensed the first two episodes for American distribution, while MAC has licensed the final two episodes in Japan. 

The story centers on a young boy named Hiroshi Umino, who sneaks aboard a freighter in order to leave Earth in search of adventure. Unfortunately, on their way to a desert planet space pirates attack them. Just when the situation is looking grim, a powerful spaceship bearing the insignia of a Skull and Crossbones suddenly appears and saves them from the Afressian ship that strangely bears the same insignia.

Hiroshi encounters another stowaway – an old man, and befriends him. Hiroshi confides to the man that he wanted to go to the desert planet to get stronger, which is why soon after they land Hiroshi decides to get a job in a bar with the roughest reputation on the planet in order to prove himself. The planet’s world is a parody of the Wild Wild West complete with gun-wielding ruffians, and saloons that have the occasional bar fight.

Captain Eldomain, who was responsible for the attack on the freighter, decides to land his ship on the planet in order to find who attacked him. He doesn’t have to look very hard when Emeraldas appears in front of him and demands that he remove the insignia from his ship, claiming that only two ships have the right to bear it. Emeraldas is forced to fight Eldomain and later Queen Baraluda of Arfess and gets her hands on a pistol called the Cosmo Dragoon, which she presents to Hiroshi.

The adventure continues with Hiroshi and the old man traveling to a planet whose inhabitants have been forced out due to a murderous cyborg. Hiroshi and Emeraldas end up teaming up with the son of the man the cyborg killed and his sister in order to defeat the cyborg.

3. Outlaw Star

Screenshot from the anime series Outlaw Star featuring Hilda and Gene.
Screenshot of Hilda and Gene from the anime series Outlaw Star. Pic credit: Sunrise

Outlaw Star is a Japanese sci-fi fantasy anime TV series produced by Sunrise and seinen manga series written and illustrated by Takehiko Ito. In early 1998 a 26-episode anime adaptation by Sunrise and directed by Mitsuru Hongo aired on TV Tokyo. In early 2001, Bandai Entertainment released an English version, which aired on the North American Cartoon Network Toonami block and later on the Adult Swim block in early 2002.

The story begins with Gene Starwind and his buddy Jim Hawking running an odd jobs business on a backwater planet called Centinel 3. Their lives are turned upside down, however, when a woman named Hilda hires them for a seemingly harmless job as her bodyguard. Unfortunately, Hilda stole a bio android named Melfina that different pirate groups and the space forces are both after.

It is later revealed that Hilda is in fact an outlaw and wears an eye patch, which gives her a very “pirate look”. Her nickname is “Hot Ice Hilda” and is a very memorable character due to her tough-as-nails personality.

Gene is thrust into the middle of a mystery he doesn’t fully understand with people trying to kidnap Melfina left and right. Gene is forced to leave Centinel 3 in a stolen ship called the Outlaw Star.

It turns out that Melfina acts as the navigation system for the ship. Gene makes a promise to Melfina to find out the truth of her origins and they decide to go in search of a legendary outer space treasure trove called the “Galactic Leyline”. While on the run from the pirates and space forces they pick up some unlikely allies in the form of an assassin and a cat-girl alien.

The spaceships in Outlaw Star are incredibly unique due to the fact that they have “grappler arms”. These arms can be used during combat against other ships in various creative ways. Pirates and outlaws, who survive these dangerous space battles, are awarded the name “Grapplers”.

Screenshot from the anime Outlaw Star featuring grappler ship battle between the ship Outlaw Star and El Dorado.
Screenshot of a grappler fight between the ship Outlaw Star and El Dorado. Pic credit: Sunrise

In 1999 a spin-off TV anime series titled Angel Links produced by Sunrise aired in Japan. This is another must-watch for fans of space pirates, especially female space pirates. The story is set in the Outlaw Star universe and a few characters from Outlaw Star make cameo appearances.

Screenshot from the official Angel Links trailer featuring the main characters.
Screenshot from official Angel Links trailer. Pic credit: Sunrise and Bandai Visual

2. Fena: Pirate Princess

Key visual for Fena: Pirate Princess featuring Fena and the Samurai Seven.
Key visual for Fena: Pirate Princess featuring Fena and the Samurai Seven. Pic credit: Crunchyroll

Fena: Pirate Princess is a historical fantasy Japanese anime television series produced by Production I.G. Crunchyroll and Adult Swim co-produced the series that first premiered from August to October 2021 on both networks ahead of its broadcast in Japan that aired from October to December 2021.

Fena: Pirate Princess is a must-watch for those longing to see pirates on ships that are sailing across the sea and battling the British navy. The story is set in a fantastic alternate history version of the 18th Century and centers on Fena Houtman, a young orphan girl with mysterious origins. Ten years ago, pirates attacked Fena’s father’s ship; she was set adrift, and landed on the island of Shangri-La.

Due to Fena’s otherworldly beauty and unique silvery-white hair when she turns 18 her captors want to sell her off to become a man’s plaything. Fena rebels against this destiny and decides to plan her escape from the island. It’s during her attempt at escape that her past comes knocking in the form of former allies and people from her past that want to protect her.

One man in particular seems strangely familiar to Fena, but she can’t quite remember how she knows Yukimura. It is later discovered that Yukimura is the one who helped save Fena’s life ten years earlier.

Fena ends up joining a band of pirates that Yukimura belongs to, and sets sail to find a place called “Eden”. Apparently, Fena is the only person who possesses enough knowledge to enable her and her crew to reach the mystical destination.

Unfortunately, Fena and her crew aren’t the only ones trying to reach Eden/El Dorado. Abel Bluefield – a lord, who is a member of the British Royal Navy, seeks Fena because he knows she is the key to finding Eden and he was in love with Fena’s mother Helena. Abel forms an alliance with a band of female pirates called Rumble Rose that is led by a fiery, red-headed woman named O’Malley in order to pursue the Samurai Seven – the group of samurai who travel with Fena.

In the beginning of the series when Fena first joins the crew she struggles with finding her place among the others, but by the end of the series she’s gained their respect to the point where she has become their true “captain”.

Will Fena: Pirate Princess be getting a second season? You can read about that here: Fena: Pirate Princss Season 2 release date: Kaizoku Oujo Season 2 Predictions.

1. One Piece

Key visual for One Piece featuring Luffy and his crew.
The Straw Hat pirates. Pic credit: Mia/

Shiver me timbers, if you haven’t heard of One Piece you’ve probably been living under a rock, and you must start your journey to “One Piece” immediately! One Piece is a nautical, fantasy Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda that contains great storytelling, a unique art style, in-depth characterization, humor, and most importantly – pirates.

In 1999 a festival film produced by Production I.G. and anime series adaptation produced by Toei Animation was released. Since then Toei Animation has released fourteen animated feature films, one OVA, and thirteen television specials for the One Piece media franchise. In 2004, 4Kids Entertainment licensed the anime series’ English version for release in North America. In 2007 Funimation licensed the anime series.

The story focuses on a young boy, who accidentally gained the properties of rubber when he ate a Devil Fruit. As a child Luffy admired a powerful pirate named Red-Haired Shanks and decided that he would eventually leave the island where he grew up in order to become a pirate, too.

As a teenager, Luffy decides to leave the East Blue Sea and set out to find a mythical treasure that supposedly belonged to the deceased King of the Pirates Gol D. Roger. Whoever finds “One Piece” will become the next King of the Pirates!

Luffy decides he needs a crew of at least 10 followers and sets his sights on a pirate hunter and swordsman named Roronoa Zoro first. After he saves Zoro’s life he manages to convince the stoic man to join the Straw Hat Pirates and they head off in search of One Piece. They have various adventures along the Grand Line and pick up new crewmates: Nami – a money-obsessed thief and skilled navigator, Ussop – a sniper and compulsive liar, Sanji – a girl crazy yet chivalrous chef, Tony Tony Chopper – a shape-shifting reindeer doctor, Nico Robin – an archaeologist and former Baroque Works assassin, Franky – a cyborg shipwright, Brook – a skeleton musician and swordsman, Jimbei – a fish-man helmsman, and rumor has it that Yamato will join the crew next!

The anime is extremely action-packed as Luffy and his crew frequently engage in battles with notorious pirate crews of the East Blue. The ship they started out in was called the Going Merry, but once that ship was damaged beyond repair Franky built the Straw Hats a new ship named the Thousand Sunny.

Pirates aren’t the only things the Straw Hats have to worry about. Also on their tail are bounty hunters, criminal organizations, revolutionaries, secret agents, soldiers of the corrupt World Government and marines, but the Straw Hats won’t let these obstacles stand in the way of their dreams.

Captain Monkey D. Luffy has won the hearts of millions of anime fans due to his kind heart, the way he protects his “nakama” comrades, and the way he never gives up when it comes to defeating his latest foe. With his signature straw hat and penchant for wearing red, Luffy has a very iconic look.

Honorable mentions include:

  • Angel Links (an Outlaw Star spin-off)
  • Elemental Gelade (sky pirates)
  • Mars Daybreak (mecha sci-fi)
  • Coytote Ragtime Show (space pirates)
  • Ellica (adventure, fantasy)
  • Sol Bianca (space pirates)
  • Black Lagoon (modern pirates)

Ahoy, me hearties! Do you agree with my Top 5 pirate and space pirate list? Let me know in the comments below and let me know if you think there’s an anime that should be on this list.

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