Beginning in 1973, Star Trek began its foray into the world of animation. Now, exactly 50 years later today, the continuing adventures of Starfleet have firmly affixed themselves within this beloved medium, bringing exciting stories to the fore and introducing an entirely new generation of fans to the wonders of the final frontier. Granted, Star Trek is a world many feel shines best in live-action.
Does this then mean that the animated offerings of the starship Enterprise and its contemporaries are somehow inferior? Not by a long shot! In celebration of Star Trek: The Animated Celebration, what follows now is a look at 10 of the best animated Star Trek episodes to date. While they may be slightly smaller in scope then their live-action counterparts, each has been carefully chosen for its ability to both embrace the confines of animation, while still holding true to the ideals that have defined the Star Trek franchise for the last 57 years.
Did your favorite make the list? Let’s take a look and find out...
10. The Pirates Of Orion
Star Trek: The Animated Series - Season 2, Episode 1
Originally airing on September 7th, 1974, this Season 2 premiere of Star Trek: The Animated Series sees Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise battling Orion pirates who’ve attacked a Federation vessel carrying medicine needed to cure a fatally ill Spock. With some robust writing courtesy of a young Howard Weinstein, the story does a nice job of keeping viewers on their toes as the malicious marauders look for a way to outsmart our heroes without jeopardizing the status of their home planet. Add to this a healthy dose of McCoy/Spock banter, alongside some strong design choices for the primary antagonists, and you’ve got an episode that’s a near perfect blend of Star Trek and early 70’s animation. It’s not particularly deep or profound, but it holds well to the values of its live-action predecessor and is a really fun way to spend 24 minutes.
9. The Slaver Weapon
Star Trek: The Animated Series - Season 1, Episode 14
Hitting the airwaves on December 13, 1973, this episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series hails from science fiction icon Larry Niven and focuses on a group of Kzinti attempting to unlock the secrets of an ancient Slaver weapon. Exploring themes of race superiority, societal roles, and the dangers associated with digging up the past, this episode remains unique in that it actually serves as animated adaption of Niven’s 1967 short story, “The Soft Weapon”. Thus, both the Slavers and cat-like Kzinti are concepts explored within the author’s past body of work.
In addition to thrusting a spotlight on Spock’s leadership capabilities, the episode also marks the only official appearance of the Kzinti in Star Trek canon to date – although, they were mentioned by Riker in the Star Trek: Picard episode “Nepenthe," making them an official part of franchise lore some five decades later.
8. The Stars At Night
Star Trek: Lower Decks - Season 3, Episode 10
Gracing television screens on October 27, 2022, this Season 3 episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks sees the crew of the Cerritos attempting to prove their worth in a mission race against a new class of drone. Tackling themes of corruption and greed, this episode uniquely admits not everyone in Starfleet is squeaky clean, while also lifting a curtain on the downfalls of artificial intelligence.
In addition, we also get some Indiana Jones-style shenanigans, upsetting revelations about Rutherford’s past, Shaxs living out his ultimate fantasy, and a surprise arrival by the cavalry! New is not always better and this episode proves it in a way that only Lower Decks could!
Star Trek: Prodigy - Season 1, Episode 5
While I’ll be the first to admit Star Trek: Prodigy didn’t initially strike the same sort of chord with me as other shows on this list, it was this episode in particular that made me sit up and take notice of just how special the series really was! Released on January 26, 2022, “Kobayashi” is written by Aaron Waltke and features a two-fold story that focuses on both Dal and Gwyn respectively.
Brimming with beautiful animation, humor and strong voice work, this episode fills out some much needed backstory regarding Gwyn’s past, while also taking a rather amusing route that sees Dal attempting (repeatedly!) to beat Starfleet’s famed no-win scenario. It’s a really fun episode overall, one that ticks all the boxes and features a number of surprise cameo appearances and Easter eggs that longtime fans of the franchise are sure to appreciate.
6. No Small Parts
Star Trek: Lower Decks - Season 1, Episode 10
Written by Mike McMahan and airing on October 8, 2020, this episode of Lower Decks crams some great stuff into its 24 minute runtime. Badgey returns and Peanut Hamper makes her debut. There are nods to everything from Star Trek: The Animated Series to Remco’s much-maligned Spock helmet. Rutherford plays hero, Mariner can’t escape the shadow cast by her family name, and Shaxs makes the ultimate sacrifice. Oh, and it’s all topped off by a surprise rescue from Captain Riker and the crew of the Titan! There are Pakleds, fisticuffs a plenty, and even Landru makes an appearance.
Look, full disclosure here, I love Lower Decks – and this episode is not only one of the best from the series overall, but essential viewing for those looking to delve into the very best that the animated side of the final frontier has to offer!
5. Supernova, Part 1
Star Trek: Prodigy - Season 1, Episode 19
An episode that proves just how badly we need a second season of the show, this first chapter of a two-part finale aired on December 22, 2022 and sees the crew of the Protostar facing off against a fleet of Federation ships that will soon find themselves in the cross-hairs of the Living Construct.
Told against the backdrop of a seemingly dire situation, and featuring some of the best ship combat scenes in recent years, it’s a wonderful start to a worthy finale that allows each of the characters to shine while also reminding viewers that friends can accomplish amazing things when they work together. Gwyn’s leadership capabilities remain an episode highlight, while the final exchange with her father is plenty emotional and certain to bring a tear to the eye. Throw in a dash of childlike excitement courtesy of Jankom Pog coupled with an ending that leaves you wanting more and you’ve got one of the strongest Star Trek stories to grace the world of animation to date!
4. Supernova, Part 2
Star Trek: Prodigy - Season 1, Episode 20
Let me begin by saying that if, for some reason, we don’t end up getting a second season of Star Trek: Prodigy, this final episode of its inaugural outing, which originally aired on December 29, 2022, is exactly how you’d want things to end. More than just a group of outsiders, it’s clear to see just how much these characters have grown over the span of 20 episodes and everyone ends up in a good place come the end – although, perhaps not where you’d necessarily expect.
Kevin and Dan Hageman craft a truly satisfying “end” that comes to fans wrapped up in a nice, big bow – complete with a length of ribbon representing some of the plot threads that could still be picked up if the powers that be decide to move forward with a second season. Janeway’s final monologue is top-tier and I have to take my hat off to the fact that this is yet another piece of Star Trek media that succeeded in making us care about an artificial life form in a way I never thought possible. Bottom line, this is a great “conclusion” to a great show.
3. wej Duj
Star Trek: Lower Decks - Season 2, Episode 9
Ever wonder how other species in the galaxy spend their downtime? Then you’ll need to check out this fun episode of Lower Decks which originally aired back on October 7, 2021. While the majority of this episode focuses on Boimler attempting to find himself a Bridge buddy, it also features an expertly crafted three-pronged narrative that not only introduces some classic aliens into the mix, but seamlessly advances the overall plot of Season 2 toward its end. Witnessing the parallels between three different species is amusing to say the least, and it all ends up spearheading toward one of the finest season finales to date! The pacing is perfect, the writing strong. Plus, the scene that rolls during the end credits serves as a rather ingenious reminder as to why we need a show like Lower Decks now more than ever!
2. First First Contact
Star Trek: Lower Decks - Season 2, Episode 10
Proving that Starfleet never backs down from a challenge, this Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks is a big one that sees the Cerritos attempting to save a fellow ship caught in a gravity well. Featuring perfect pacing coupled with moments of tension and genuine emotion, the episode is almost cinematic in scope and demonstrates that even the fleet's goofiest chapter, which aired this episode back on October 14, 2021, is capable of tackling a dramatic plot that holds true to Gene Roddenberry's original vision. Rich with themes of friendship, family, and a major twist ending certain to have you crying out for more, it's not only a gold standard in Star Trek animation, but the living embodiment of Cerritos Strong!
Star Trek: The Animated Series - Season 1, Episode 2
While it may not feature the humor of Lower Decks or the beautiful animation of Prodigy, this classic episode from September 1973 will always remain my top choice for the best animated Star Trek episode of all time. Written by the legendary D.C. Fontana, “Yesteryear” is not only an essential piece of Star Trek animation, but one that would go on to influence the future of franchise canon for 50 years!
An emotionally charged time-travel tale that looks back upon Spock’s childhood, it deals with themes of growing up and loss in a way guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings while once again reminding us that our favorite Vulcan is perhaps far more human than we know. Seriously, if you only watch one animated episode of Star Trek, make it “Yesteryear.” It’s not only a masterpiece in its own right, but an important part of franchise history that proves powerful storytelling is not limited to a single medium.