It’s hard to think of a more quintessentially Japanese contribution to animation and science fiction than the giant robot. For the millions of kids that grew up outside Japan in the 80s and 90s, shows like Voltron, Robotech, and later Gundam Wing were an introduction to a whole new style of cartoon. Sure, they dealt with a lot of the same themes as Transformers, but underneath there was some darker, more serious storytelling going on. What you might not realize is that if you follow the giant robot timeline back, a lot of the elements that we associate with the genre can be traced to a single comic — Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z. By the time the series debuted in 1972, readers had already been dazzled by incredible robots like the remote-controlled Gigantor (Tetsujin 28) and especially the sentient Astroboy (Tetsu-Wan Atom). But those robots’ strength was always just out of the reader’s grasp. Mazinger Z was the first series to put a teenaged protagonist inside the cockpit of a giant robot, and Toei’s 1973 animated series became a huge hit domestically, both in terms of ratings and in merchandising revenue. Right now, the Osamu Tezuka Memorial Museum in Hyogo, Japan is hosting an exhibit of Nagai’s work, and it shows both how different Mazinger Z was from anything that came before it, and how much it impacted everything that's come since.