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Alternate meaning: MEChA, a Chicano organization.

Mecha are fictitious robotic machines usually in the form of an exoskeletal armor. Mecha are usually humanoid, though animal shaped, dinosaur shaped, and so forth are not uncommon. The term was popularized by Japanese animation (anime) and is less frequently used in other genres. There are exceptions--Mecha is also a word used in the film 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence' to describe 'mechanicals' (being robots), as opposed to 'orga' for 'organics' (non-robots).

Table of contents
1 Giant Mecha
2 Powered Armor
3 Robots and Cyborgs

Giant Mecha

This is a genre of anime, also called “giant robot”, in which the mecha and their pilots are the central characters, often with the mecha being of greater importance than its pilot. Mecha in these shows are usually twenty feet tall at the smallest, outfitted with a wide variety of weapons, and quite frequently have tie-ins with toy manufacturers. The Gundam franchise is an excellent example of a giant mecha anime with toy tie-ins--Gundam toys and model kits (produced by Japanese toymaker Bandai) are ubiquitous in Japan. Robotech, Gunbuster, and Giant Robo are examples of older giant mecha type shows. Patlabor features giant mecha in a police focused story.

Usually the pilot in giant mecha anime is a teenager, sometimes younger. Neon Genesis Evangelion is an example of giant mecha anime involving teenage pilots.

Go Nagai's Mazinger Z (broadcast in 1973) is perhaps the earliest example of a piloted robot in animation. It is possible to go back further to the 1960's, however to the broadcast of Tetsujin 28-Go, although the young protagonist rode atop the giant robot rather than inside.

Transforming Mecha

A sub-genre of giant mecha, transforming mecha involves mecha which change their shape (see: Robotech) and often merge to form even bigger mecha (see: Voltron). Most transforming mecha shows are directed at a younger audience.

Go Nagai is often credited with inventing this genre in 1974 with the television series Getta Robo.

Powered Armor

Unlike giant mecha, powered armor is usually not much larger than a human. In fact, it is more accurately described as a suit with mechanical and electronic mechanisms designed to augment the wearer's abilities. These typically included an exoskeleton for physical augmentation, internal life support for hostile environments, weapons systems and transportation mechanisms that would allow the wearer to fly for example.

The definitive example of this is the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man who is an industrialist who fights evil and protects his company with special armour suits of his own design. The American author Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers also involves this type of mecha.

Anime and Manga often feature powered armor. Masamune Shirow uses powered armor in most of his stories. Bubblegum Crisis, probably the definitive Japanese "mechanized armor" series, features vigilante/mercenary women making use of powered armor.

Robots and Cyborgs

Mecha is also used to refer to robots, though this is somewhat uncommon. The boomers from Bubblegum Crisis can be considered to be mecha.
Cyborgs are rarely classified as mecha.