"It'll be fabulous, believe me, Jerry. It's Grapes Of Wrath in outer space! Oh, it's got heart, it's got laser battles, it's got a timely message of interstellar poverty—!"Space Opera refers to works set in a spacefaring civilization, usually, though not always, set in the future, specifically the far future. Technology is ubiquitous and secondary to the story. Space opera has an epic character to it: the universe is big, there are usually many sprawling civilizations and empires, there are political conflicts and intrigue. The action will range part of a solar system, at least, and possibly a whole galaxy or more than one. It frequently takes place in a Standard Sci Fi Setting. It has a romantic element which distinguishes it from most Hard Science Fiction: big love stories, epic space battles, oversized heroes and villains, awe-inspiring scenery, and insanely gorgeous men and women. Historically, it is a development of the Planetary Romance that looks beyond the exotic locations that were imagined for the local solar system in early science fiction (which the hard light of science revealed to be barren and lifeless) out into an infinite universe of imagined exotic locations. Planetary Romance was more or less Heroic Fantasy In Space. While works such as John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs were pure Planetary Romance, Buck Rogers and its imitators had essentially codified the Space Opera concept in the popular imagination by the late 1930s, though the earliest strips took place on an After the End future Earth. (Flash Gordon, at least in the classic Alex Raymond era remained resolutely Planetary Romance, tied to the planet Mongo.) Expect to see a dashing hero cavorting around in a Cool Starship, Green Skinned Space Babes, Crystal Spires and Togas civilizations full of Space Elves, Wave Motion Guns capable of dealing an Earth-Shattering Kaboom on a daily basis, and an evil Galactic Empire with a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet, including an entire universe full of beat-up mechanical objects capable of being resurrected with Percussive Maintenance. Note that this is quite different from the original definition of space opera, which was originally derogatory term, following "horse opera" (Western cheap westerns) and "Soap Opera" (so named because soap operas began as hour-long ads for soap), which requires no explatnion. The phrase was coined in 1941 by Wilson Tucker to describe what he called "the hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn space-ship yarn". (It's said that before 1975 or so, the only author who ever intentionally set out to write a space opera was Jack Vance, who wrote a novel, Space Opera, literally about an opera company in space.) Via semantic drift, well-regarded works such as the Lensman series, are today held up as prime examples of Space Opera. As more authors and writers came to embrace the style, the term came to lose many of its negative connotations. Assisting that process were writers who regarded all tales of action and adventure in space as bad, and so tried to pejoratively label it all "space opera"; they succeeded with the label, but not with keeping it pejorative. Star Wars is inarguably the most famous modern example of space opera. (Indeed, The Empire Strikes Back may have shifted "space opera" from insult to a more neutral genre descriptor, due to the involvement of veteran sf writer Leigh Brackett.) In Star Wars, technology is either magic (the Force) or jazzier versions of today's gadgets (blaster rifles, hovercars, space ships). Any Star Wars character (evil emperor, farmboy, princess) would feel at home in a thick fantasy love, in part because editor-publisher Lester del Rey derived the "epic fantasy" template partly from Star Wars and partly from The Lord of the Rings, though also because these works borrow from the same source of Jungian imagery. The genre is useful for long story and character arcs but also expensive to film, unless rendered you in animated form, like countless anime series. While Hard Science Fiction defines itself, in part in opposition to space opera (and vica versa), in recent years, however, there has been a trend towards incorporating hard science fiction elements into space opera, as in Starship Operators, the 2000s Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and especially Alistair Reynolds' Revelation Space. In fact, "New Space Opera" has gained some currency as a term referring to works that combine fast-paced adventure plots with some degree of hard SF rigor. See also Space Western, Two-Fisted Tales, Pulp Magazine, and Wagon Train to the Stars. In many ways, this is the science fiction equivalent of High Fantasy. Note that while many more famous space operas go to the "ideal" side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, more recent ones are harder and more cynical: Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly being most prominent in Live-Action TV.
— Lorne, Angel ("Life of the Party")
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Anime and Manga
- The classic works of Leiji Matsumoto.
- Angel Links
- Cowboy Bebop
- Crest of the Stars
- Crusher Joe The first written by Haruka Takachio immediately after seeing Star Wars.
- Dragon Ball gradually worked its way into this, starting with Dragon Ball Z. Though the series initially concentrated on Earth-based stories, the Saiyan Saga was where things began to exhibit a more galactic scope.
- The Five Star Stories
- Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo IN SPACE! (Quite different from the Alfred Bester novel The Stars My Destination, which does the same way, though not in a Space Opera way.)
- Ginga Sengoku Gunyuuden Rai
- Glass Fleet
- The Gundam franchise, notable for its (usual) lack of aliens and plausible space colonies.
- Heroic Age
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor, albeit Played for Laughs.
- Legend of Galactic Heroes, a large scale space opera set in the century old clash between an Empire and a Republic.
- Lyrical Nanoha
- Outlaw Star
- Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
- Soukou no Strain
- Space Adventure Cobra
- Space Battleship Yamato, the first space opera anime and among the first space operas to use large scale battles between fleets of spacecraft. Among the first space operas to involve the legend Leiji Matsumoto.
- Starship Operators, notable for its extreme realism, one of the hardest space operas out there.
- Stellvia of the Universe
- Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki has many Space Opera elements despite taking place mostly on Earth, while spinoff Tenchi Muyo! GXP and the second half of Tenchi Universe are clear-cut examples.
- Toward the Terra
- Trigun (more so in the manga).
- Tytania, the closest thing to an anime Dune and written by the same author as Legend of Galactic Heroes though it is an independent story.
- Voltron (the vehicle one) / Dairugger XV
- Buck Rogers and its imitator Flash Gordon are the Trope Codifiers, though the former began as an After the End story and only moved into space and the latter originally stayed on the planet Mongo, where Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkoff have gotten stranded. (The story takes place in the present day.). However, the popular image and later iterations of the strip have Flash Gordon adventuring in space. Star Wars began after Lucas failed to obtain the rights to Flash. King Features, realizing their mistake, made the Flash Gordon film after the wild success of Star Wars.
- Marvel Comics turned the cosmic part of their Shared Universe into one giant Space Opera, since 2006. Starting with X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire and Annihilation, we got one epic story after another — Annihilation Conquest, War of Kings, The Thanos Imperative and adventures of many cosmic-themed heroes, like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy between them.
- Alexandro Jodorowsky's Metabarons Universe, particularly The Metabarons.
- Green Lantern has a foot firmly placed in Space Opera, especially in Crisis Crossover comics like Sinestro Corps War where Sinestro himself set the war up so he wins either way.
- X-Men ventures here occasionally, in the The Dark Phoenix Saga, for instance.
- Paperinik New Adventures goes into Space Opera territory sometimes, such as for the Xadhoom Trilogy.
- Star Wars is perhaps the most famous modern example (as noted in the main description), with its grand and fantastical tale of heroic rebels fighting against the evil Empire set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
- Captain EO, a Disney Theme Parks 3-D movie, is less than 20 minutes long but clearly takes place in this genre: A dashing hero with a crew of misfit alien creatures is sent on a mission to transform a grim, H.R. Giger-esque planet. There's a skirmish with the evil Supreme Commander's fleet of starships, and later the heroes are taken captive by her forces — but they use The Power of Rock to turn into it a land of Crystal Spires and Togas and its people (including the ruler) into happy, Day-Glo dancers.
- The Lensman series by E. E. “Doc” Smith is generally given as the defining example, along with its predecessor and spiritual twin the Skylark Series.
- John Carter of Mars and other Planetary Romance novels contain elements of Space Opera, making it an Unbuilt Trope.
- Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, an extremely influential series inspired in part by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and which in turn partly inspired Star Wars.
- The Culture books by Iain M. Banks, although again it does have a society changed by technology - in particular near-perfect medicine and a lack of the need for money due to massive technological advances.
- Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap Cycle is this, as it's Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung cycle IN SPACE!. Newer editions of the first volume have a cool author's note explaining how the dramatic elements (and thus, tropes) of Opera work in a sci-fi setting.
- Parodied and lampshaded in Jack Vance's Space Opera, which is a space opera about - yes - a touring Opera company.
- Many of Vance's works - such as The Demon Princes- are more straightforward examples.
- John Maddox Roberts' Space Angel has larger-than-life characters, epic space battles, exotic worlds, and an alien species that inhabits the cores of galaxies. Not a planet in the core of a galaxy, mind you - the whole core.
- Edmond Hamilton: Has big love stories, epic space battles, oversized heroes and villains, awe-inspiring places, gorgeous women, and they usually rule the universe - or at least a star kingdom to boot.
- Theirs Not To Reason Why is firmly in Space Opera territory, with Psychic Powers, Energy Beings, multiple types of Faster Than Light, etc.
- BALADA by Solea Razvan, the first book's tagline is: When the universe is at war, which side are you on?; nuff said.
- Adam Christopher's The Burning Dark uses a Space Opera setting for what is basically a haunted
housespace station story, Throwing in Eldritch Abominations in towards the end for flavor
- Space Pirate Captain Mac Taggart, a humorous Funny Animal take on the genre, with the title character, the Epic Hero, a female sword-wielding raccoon. Part of the larger KGC Universe.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek, perhaps the most famous example in television, with its grand tales of interstellar exploration, romance, intrigue, and war. Though there is (some) serious consideration of how technology and science would change society (not surprising, given that creator Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned using the setting to address social issues that could not have been dealt with in a normal drama back in the 60s). Coincidentally, there was in fact a Star Trek Opera performed on stage in New York.
- The Stargate Verse is a borderline example. Technically the center-of-operations is on a single planet (Earth in Stargate SG-1, the Atlantis base in Stargate Atlantis), but with the instant wormholes provided by the Stargate, the bases function like a spaceship or space station in a standard Space Opera, as far as most story purposes go. Both series also have the Big Universe, Big Empires, Big Heroes, and Big Villains elements in spades, and it gets bigger yet once Earth has a space fleet. However, many individual episodes, especially in early seasons, feel more like Planetary Romance. Stargate Universe, the second spin-off, is probably closer to a traditional Space Opera.
- The Amory Wars, a metafictional Space Opera comprised of five Concept Albums by Coheed and Cambria.
- Ayreon is one of the most prolific examples of this and Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly Progressive Rock in one package. The most prominent examples include... pretty much everything. The notable exception is The Human Equation album, up until the very end.
- BattleTech: the backstory and novels put the Soap back in Space Opera.
- Warhammer 40,000 is overloaded Up to Eleven with adventure, battles, intrigue, and fantasy (including Space Elves, Orks, and even Gods), all in a setting where mankind possesses a galaxy-spanning empire with planet-spanning cities and a population in the trillions. However it's also overloaded with about as much cynicism, grimness, and darkness as you can get (hence the common description "grimdark").
- Traveller was the first RPG set in the Space Opera genre, and set the standard for those that followed. It's in the harder end of Space Opera and a lot of work went into the Backstory including fairly realistic science and social science. Traveller is flexible enough that a wide variety of flavors of Space Opera can be played, since the setting is one designed for the telling of stories.
- The forgotten board game Imperium was used as a source for some of the Traveller universe. In it, a young and expansionist republic on earth, conquers a Vestigial Empire in space. There are a number of other Space Opera board wargames, but this one is notable for historical reasons.
- Rifts has the Three Galaxies setting, a Space Opera with the same blend of magic, technology, and plain weirdness as the main setting. As may be expected, it's way way down on the hardness scale, but it has pretty much all the elements of the Standard Sci Fi Setting.
- Rocket Age only covers our solar system but the epic themes and intrigues of space opera are definitely there. Just replace The Empire with actual Nazis.
- The Halo series is a blend of this and more conventional Military Science-Fiction, with the games mostly set on the exotic and ancient artificial worlds created by the Forerunners, whose own technological feats border on the outright fantastical. Additionally, the franchise as a whole has shown plenty of the intrigue, mystery, and adventure to be had in a multi-species setting spanning the Orion Arm and beyond, filled with Lost Technology and complete with a galaxy-threatening Eldritch Abomination.
- Bungie's next IP Destiny is a more direct example, set in a distant, fantastical future where intrepid Guardians wielding the power of "The Traveler" seek to reclaim humanity's lost empire from "The Darkness". The creators themselves described the setting as "mythic science fiction" and a "mix of science fiction and fantasy", with the game being something of a throwback to the idealistic High Fantasy roots of the genre.
- The Mass Effect series could be seen as putting the Opera back into Space Operas, with lavish and often dreamy environments, exotic cultures, and tales of great personal tragedy. At the same time, it ranks suprisingly high on the Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness, is quite serious in tone, and takes place in the relatively near future (2180s to be precise). Like many other newer Space Operas, it also has Lovecraft Lite elements thanks to the series' main antagonists, the Reapers.
- Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic can be seen as a spiritual predecessor to Mass Effect: you play as a Badass Crew of a Cool Starship sent to a remote star system to deal with enigmatic space raiders who keep attacking civilian freighters. Along the way, you may get into space dogfights, explore strange planets in an all-terrain vehicle, and blast away enemies on-foot with lasers and other futuristic guns.
- The Metroid series, although this slides more towards After the End Planetary Romance in the context of individual games. Played straight with Metroid Prime: Hunters and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, as they are the only games in the franchise that internally take place on multiple planets, and the latter shows a bigger interaction with the Galactic Federation.
- Advent Rising: You play as the Sole Survivor of a human world that has been destroyed by aliens. Another alien race takes pity on him and helps him develop his latent psychic potential to basically become a demigod and take the fight back to those other aliens who destroyed his homerworld, getting involved in epic space battles all throughout.
- Ratchet & Clank, a space opera with a hefty dose of Looney Tunes thrown in.
- The Star Ocean series, when you aren't exploring underdeveloped planets.
- GTA Anderius a.k.a Alien City. A very wacky total conversion of San Andreas, although only available in Russian.
- Crisis of the Confederation, a Game Mod based on Crusader Kings II, retains the original game's focus on dramatic character actions and interactions and transplants it to an outer-space setting.
- The Wing Commander franchise, which was conceived by its creator Chris Roberts as being "World War II in space". It also has elements of Top Gun as well (with main character Christopher Blair's [canon] callsigh "Maverick" being a direct shout out).
- Chris Roberts' current project, the MMO game Star Citizen is also an example. Furthermore, it has been conceived as a persistent online universe that's constantly evolving. In addition, there's also its single player campaign "Squadron 42", described as a Spiritual Successor to the above mentioned Wing Commander franchise.
- Nat One Productions has the Denazra story-line, where the protagonists are members of an interstellar Marshall service tasked with catching intergalactic political refugees and criminals. Then the titular machines show up...
- SPARK Of Tyranny is a Space Opera with an Anti-Hero Captain and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, struggling against the behind the scenes machinations of the Kilon Federation, which has created a Vichy Earth.