What’s the best order to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion? One of the best anime series of all time, Hideaki Anno’s sprawling franchise has ended no less than three times across TV and movies. From the original ’90s sci-fi series, through to an alternative version of the ending in an anime movie, and then Rebuild of Evangelion, there’s a lot more going on here than just mecha fighting Angels.
The basic story remains the same: in the near future Shinji Ikari joins NERV to pilot an EVA, and help defend mankind from invading monsters. EVAs are biomechanical robots piloted through neural links, and only certain young people are able to withstand the mental pressure, or connect to the colourful creations at all.
There’s other pilots, and they all struggle to study and make friends in Tokyo-3, a futuristic version of the city purpose-built after the apocalyptic Second Impact. Trying to save the world and do homework is hard, wouldn’t you know. Thankfully, we’re Evangelion experts, and this is exactly how you should approach the legendary franchise.
What’s the best order to watch Evangelion?
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Death and Rebirth
- The End of Evangelion
- Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone
- Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
- Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo
- Evangelion: 1.0+3.0 Thrice Upon A Time
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 – 1996)
Soon after arriving in Tokyo-3 to see his father, Gendo, Shinji is pressured into piloting EVA-01 against an attacking Angel. The battle scares the hell out of him, but he survives, and somehow, succeeds, becoming NERV’s newest recruit. This is all part of Gendo’s plan, and Shinji joins Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley in fighting the constant barrage against celestial beings.
While in the city, Shinji lives with Misato Katsuragi, the hard-drinking chief operations officer at NERV. Misato’s best friend is NERV head scientist Ritsuko Akagi, and the pair’s friendly jabs humanise the military oragnisation.
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Over its 26 episodes, the show flits between slice-of-life drama, intense action, and psychological surrealism. Towards the end, Gendo’s plan for the Human Instrumentality Project starts to take shape, plunging the series into stranger, and stranger territory.
The swift finale got a mixed reception from viewers in the mid-’90s, leading Anno and production company Gainax to remake it into a movie. Essential viewing if you want to get the most out of everything that follows.
Death and Rebirth (1997)
To tee up the new ending, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth was created. The first half, Death, edits together the first 24 episodes of the initial series with some re-done scenes and additional footage. The second half, Rebirth, is where things get interesting, with over 20 minutes of new animation that forms part of End of Evangelion. Not crucial, but worthwhile if you’d like to track differences iteration to iteration.
The End of Evangelion (1997)
Flatly, one of the best movies of all time. Carrying on from episode 24 of the show, we see an all-new ending that goes into greater depth on the Human Instrumentality Project Gendo is so dedicated to, and what it looks like.
In this version, beloved characters die, Gendo’s plan essentially goes haywire, and the Third Impact is started. We learn a little more about the power of the Angels, and the role of the EVAs, and, in a recurring theme, it all comes down to Shinji’s personal choice. It’s a fever dream, but a brilliant one.
Rebuild of Evangelion (2007 – 2021)
In the early 2000s, Anno decided to have yet another go at Evangelion, this time in a series of movies that would do everything from scratch with full creative freedom. Anno is the chief director and writer, with Kazuya Tsurumaki serving as co-director. The resulting quadrilogy, soon available on streaming service Amazon Prime, took sizably longer than planned, and charts a drastically different course through Shinji’s time as an EVA pilot than previously seen.
The first part, Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, rethreads the first couple of episodes of the anime beat-for-beat, with enhanced CG-animation, a new voice-cast, and some added moments to supplement established relationships. There’s nothing massive of substance here, but it is beautiful, and sets the visual tone for what’s to come.
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In Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, Rebuild heavily diverges from the series. Little touches add to Gendo, Rei, Asuka, and Misato’s arcs, and in the back half things take a turn for the absolute worst. Never one to do what’s expected, Anno followed this in Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo by blowing everything up.
We start the third Rebuild movie 14 years into a future where Shinji nearly started the Third Impact. What occurred was still enough to leave the Earth in dire straits, covered in a radioactive red glow, and infested by strange, hybrid Evas.
NERV is still trying to make Human Instrumentality a thing, but WILLE, a splinter group started by Misato, stands in its way. In this timeline, humanity is being backed into a corner, but everyone’s still doing their best to survive and fight. New EVA pilots Mari and Kaworu are introduced.
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Mari is on WILLE’s side, while Kaworu, who we’ve only briefly met in the preceding movies, has been waiting for Shinji so they can co-pilot EVA-13 together. Gendo, who’s now sacrificed just about all his humanity, still holds his office in an overgrown NERV, with the latest clone of Rei. Weird, but not so much that it can’t be followed.
The last movie is 2021’s Evangelion: 1.0+3.0 Thrice Upon A Time. WILLE is gaining ground against NERV, taking back the Paris headquarters for Evangelion parts. Shinji, paralysed from bearing the brunt of nearly causing the entire world’s end, is being dragged along by Asuka and Rei until his old friends Toji Suzuhara and Hikari Horaki find them.
They live in a small village together, where Shinji learns about resistance efforts. Eventually, he’s inspired to rejoin the fray, and help battle NERV for the last time. No spoilers, but it’s a heartfelt ending that’s worth the wait, if only because it’s exactly what Anno wanted for Shinji, and for us.