No matter what era of anime you watch, they all offer a catchy theme song that features a famous Japanese singer or band (of the time) or features some of the voice talents from the anime itself. But it’s not just the content of the song we’re covering, but also share some of the imageries of the themes that relate to the song and anime. The era we are focusing on for this list is the 1990’s, the home to many legendary anime tunes. So what are some of the top opening themes from that era? Read our list to find out!
10. Tenchi Muyo! From Tenchi Muyo! (Tenchi Universe TV)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2, 1995 – Sept 24, 1995
If any song defines 90’s dance music in relation to anime, it certainly has to be the opening theme song to the Tenchi Muyo TV series by the duo known as Sonia. It has very strong instrumentals and a beat that will have you up and dancing. If anything, it certainly defines a good percentage of how J-Pop was in the 90’s with female singers having deeper voices as opposed to the higher pitch artists of today. The mature and bombastic sounding voices of Sonia perfectly compliments the seductive nature of the lyrics, and in turn, perfectly relate to the temptations that Tenchi faces throughout the franchise.
To further emphasize its era, it even has a rap solo in English! Speaking of English, Sonia even released the song in that language for you to check out. The clips in the opening provide viewers that Tenchi Universe is full of comedic shenanigans, temptations of sexy ladies, along with its mix of having Sci-Fi and largely taking place at a temple in the countryside.
9. Just Communication from Shin Kidou Senki Gundam Wing (Mobile Suit Gundam Wing)
- Episodes: 49
- Aired: Apr 7, 1995 – Mar 29, 1996
Much of Gundam Wing’s soundtrack is provided by a J-Pop duo, Two-Mix. One of the most notable songs they contributed to the soundtrack was the first opening theme, Just Communication. What also makes this a milestone is that in the English dub release on Toonami, it was still kept as an insert song in a couple of episodes as opposed to removing it for television broadcast. The opening hook uses a heavy use of synthesized chords to emphasize that it’s a Sci-Fi anime. The lyrics are more of a romantic nature and perfectly reflect the hidden feelings between Heero and Relena.
The song knows when to be soft and when to be intense. The soft parts of the song emphasize on calm images showing the solidarity of the cast, while the chorus excellently showcases the action, and the beats go excellently well to how the animation pans between shots in the hook between the mech and control panel. The opening theme song excellently gives viewers who the pilots and what their Gundams are, as well as the supporting cast and the rivalry between Heero and Zechs.
What also makes this particular opening distinct is that it uses explosive sound effects when it exhibits the action sequences. Through this opening alone, you’re going to get an excellent preview of what Gundam Wing is about. It perfectly shows that these pilots are fighting in a desperate world, but they all have hope for a brighter future.
8. We Are from One Piece
- Episodes: 835 (as of May 6, 2018)
- Aired: Oct 20, 1999 – Present (as of May 2018)
Though One Piece is still in its prime and presently still broadcasting new episodes upon the uploading of this list, it actually debuted towards the end of the nineties. When it premiered during that time, its opening song was We Are. Its hook allows enough time to set the atmosphere for its mysterious nature and for the narrator to provide viewers the foundation of its plot. As the opening narration finishes, the brass instruments in the hook progressively gets intense to transition to its uplifting lyrics of going out and making your dreams come true.
The singer, Hiroshi Kitadani of the JAM project, has an excellent control of his voice as he captures the passion of what this series is about - friendship and adventure. Like Just Communication from Gundam Wing, many of the action sequences use sound effects, most notably when the pirates are sailing. Like many openings on this list, it does a great job of showcasing who the characters are and what they can do.
While many hardcore fans were upset that the 4Kids dub removed it in favor to a rap song that equates to the quality of mumble rap, the Funimation release provides an English cover sung by Vic Mignogna, who you may know as the English voice of Ed from Fullmetal Alchemist and masterfully adapts it.
7. Yuzurenai Negai from Magic Knight Rayearth
- Episodes: 20
- Aired: Oct 17, 1994 – Mar 13, 1995
Yuzurenai Negai, or Unyielding Wish, is probably one of the most inspiring and uplifting songs a person could ever hear and perfectly goes with the anime’s message of never giving up and overcoming all obstacles. The hook is rather serene and peaceful but after that, it gets pumped up on adrenaline and just makes you want to scream girl power as you listen and watch clips of the Magic Knights kicking ass. The lyrics are straight to the point and the powerful voice of Naomi Tamura will make you believe that you can accomplish anything. If any song can be a motivational speech, it is certainly this one.
The clips perfectly introduce viewers to not just the heroes, but as well as the supporting cast and their foes. It also showcases their individual personalities, abilities, and their dynamic as a team. While some of the poses and panning in the intro are typical by today’s standards and for younger viewers, for its time, it was something awesome. While it was also adapted in English for the dub of the Saturn game and the dub of the anime, many fans agree the cover for the Saturn version is far superior and a better representation of the spirit of the original Japanese version.
6. Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku from Dragon Ball GT
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: Feb 7, 1996 – Nov 19, 1997
Everyone knows that Dragon Ball GT has been a strong source of controversy the past twenty years but nobody can argue that its opening theme, Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku, is probably one of the best songs in the franchise and of the 1990’s. While it debuted as an ending theme song to one of the Dragon Ball movies, it is best remembered as the GT opening theme. The song is excellently composed with an excellent drumbeat, guitar control, a romantic melody, and lyrics.
While Dragon Ball is not necessarily a romance anime as the lyrics indicate, it’s not exactly the first time Dragon Ball has used romantic songs such as Romantic Ageru Yo from the first series. But what makes this a great theme song in addition to its composition is that it captures a feeling of going back to one’s youth, which is what incidentally happens to Goku in GT. The clips show Goku, Pan, and Trunks going on an adventure, having fun, and beating up their foes.
For those that don’t understand Japanese, the presentation of the song has a sense of intensity in wanting to do your best. While it is about trying to impress someone you love, it can also be about doing your best and having the people you care about with you to the end, which is ultimately what Dragon Ball is all about.
5. Tank! from Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 3, 1998 – Apr 24, 1999
If there is one quality that Cowboy Bebop is iconic for, it is without a doubt its high-octane jazz soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno. And Tank!, its opening theme song performed by the Seat-belts, is the ultimate gateway into giving viewers what the series is all about, mystery and excitement. The song and the imagery homages to 1970’s films, but also shows it has a sci-fi spin to it. The theme song doesn’t try to be too futuristic, and its retro presentation does an effective job of being appealing to audiences of various generations and genres.
While the song doesn’t have any lyrics, its hook is accompanied by a monologue that sounds like the leader of the band getting everyone ready for its performance, but many viewers can interpret it in context to the series that the crew of the Bebop is out to cause some trouble. Whether it is true or not, the song perfectly represents the quirkiness and excitement that Cowboy Bebop has to offer. While it is set in the future, everyone’s still got the blues and just connects with the cool factor of this series.
4. Hohoemi no Bakudan from Yuu Yuu Hakusho (Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files)
- Episodes: 112
- Aired: Oct 10, 1992 – Jan 7, 1995
Another iconic 1990’s series that was number 2 to Dragon Ball Z was Yuu Yuu Hakusho. Throughout its run, Hohoemi no Bakudan, or Smile Bomb in English, was the opening song. Like Cowboy Bebop, the opening instruments are jazzy and have an intense and enticing feel. While the opening verses are calm, after it enters the chorus, it just goes all out. The lyrics excellently tell the story of how Yusuke and his friends grow because they have each other’s backs. The official English version also does an excellent job of adapting the original lyrics with the original melody so you can enjoy both versions for how they were intended.
Throughout the series, the opening clips do change on three occasions to suit the story of its episodes but much of the animation portrayed is now considered cliché by today’s standards. If you look on YouTube for a video of every anime opening ever, Yuu Yuu Hakusho falls into that. It mostly uses a lot of characters running from the side, panning from below (as characters run), panning from above (as characters run), close-ups of characters doing their special moves, and the ending is the entire cast coming together for a group shot (and just a lot of running and close-ups). But once viewers put into context that Yuu Yuu Hakusho was doing it before most other animes were, it is rather forgivable and still does its job of giving viewers an appropriate preview of the series.
3. Kimi ga Suki Da To Sakebitai from Slam Dunk
- Episodes: 101
- Aired: Oct 16, 1993 – Mar 23, 1996
For many non-Japanese people that watched basketball throughout the 90’s, the song that you probably associate the sport with is Sirius by the Alan Parsons Project. For the Japanese, it would certainly have to be Kimi Ga Suki Da to Sakebitai by Baad. Thanks to how Slam Dunk impacted basketball in Japan, many high school Japanese ball games tend to feature this theme song to get the audience excited during opening ceremonies. The opening chords emphasize an excellent progression to get your attention and provide an appropriate sense of energy in context to the sport.
That energy carries over with the lyrics along with the guitar playing and drum beats. For you older viewers, watching the intro just makes you feel like a teenager again. For teenage fans, it certainly resonates what you may be feeling right now. You want to enjoy your life and find your way to impress someone you like. It fits excellently well with the series since Sakuragi, the main character, joins the basketball team so he can impress a girl. In addition to the players dunking and drilling their moves, the opening excellently shows what a nice day in Shounan, a beach area south of Tokyo and Yokohama is really like and makes you want to visit.
2. Moonlight Densetsu from Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon)
- Episodes: 200
- Aired: Mar 7, 1992 – Feb 8, 1997
Nobody can imagine the original Sailor Moon anime series without its iconic theme song, Moonlight Densetsu. While DALI, a short-lived J-Pop duo, originally performed it in the first two seasons, later versions were performed by the original voice cast from Sailor Moon S under the group name Moon Lips. It has a very captivating melody and a very powerful delivery. The original Japanese version perfectly manages to tell the story of Usagi and Mamoru’s fated reunion and despite the obstacles getting there, they will always have their love. Much of the imagery in the first season largely takes influence from late-19th century and early-20th-century paintings to give it a more romantic feel and provide an allusion to the atmosphere of the Silver Millennium.
In addition to its original Japanese version, many international releases managed to adapt the song to their own respective languages such as in Cantonese, Korean, Spanish, and English. While the English adaptation isn’t a literal translation of the original Japanese, it manages to maintain the original melody, still offers its own distinct take, give viewers what the show is about and who the Sailor Moon character is. Even after more than 25 years, fans around the world still identify Sailor Moon with this song to the point that figure skating silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva did a routine to the song at a competition in Tokyo.
1. Cruel Angel Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 4, 1995 – Mar 27, 1996
Undeniably, our number one pick is Cruel Angel Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you ever go to a company karaoke party in Japan, you are likely to hear someone sing this song (along with Moonlight Densetsu). Say what you want about Evangelion but no one can overlook how great this song is. Though the actual series soundtrack tends to be more orchestral, Hideaki Anno initially wanted a classic song for the opening. But because producers thought it would mislead viewers, an energetic 90’s JPop approach was taken instead.
Neko Oikawa, the song’s lyrics writer, actually wrote the song in two hours after hearing a synopsis of the series and watching random clips of the first two episodes. She was told to write the song in a way to capture the philosophical nature of the series. In addition to its catchy melody and bombastic brass instruments, the lyrics perfectly tell Shinji’s personal journey to not be hesitant with his destiny set in front of him. The song is distinctively energizing and its use of action clips just pumps you up with excitement.
In addition to the standard version sung by Yoko Takahashi, there is a version sung by the voice actresses of Rei, Asuka, and Misato. And if you ever find yourself driving on the Ashinoko Skyline in Hakone, just south of Yokohama and near where Tokyo-3 is situated in the series, the theme song will play over the speakers if you drive at a specific speed.
Last, we would like to make some honorable mentions to Nanka Shiawase from Flame of Recca, Egao ni Aitai from Marmalade Boy, Driver’s High from GTO, Itooshii Hito no Tame ni from Fushigi Yuugi, and Get Along from Slayers. Some of the songs featured are soft, others are bombastic, and a good majority is romantic and uplifting. In many ways, the opening theme serves as a double advertisement to the anime and to the original artist. For many, watching a certain opening theme can make a fan of a certain band like Baad, or a composer such as Yoko Kanno showing how much emphasis Japanese animated shows put in their opening theme songs compared to other nations’ animation industries. So what are some of your favorite theme songs from the 1990’s? Leave your thoughts in the comments.