Top 10 Classic Anime [1980-2000]
The 80s and 90s were a huge point for anime and much of the series that inspired modern anime came out within this time period. Thanks to Mushi Production and Tatsunoko, TV anime was in full spring and ready to pounce into the mainstream with new series aimed at older audiences. It wasn’t about making a new superhero for kids to buy toys of, it was about creating experiences that even adults could get invested into.
So here are my Top 10 Classic Anime within the 80s and 90s and hopefully you’ll be familiar with some of them.
- Episodes: 82
- Aired: April 1997 - January 1999
It’s the series that propelled us into the 21st century! When your mum thinks of anime, she most likely thinks of Pokemon, recalling the adventures of Pikachu, the other one and that one that looks like a butterfly. Whilst it wasn’t nearly the first of its kind, Pokemon did an exceptional job of introducing a brand new world and sticking to its sensibilities. It wasn’t even close to a straight up adaptation, yet it managed to develop into something really fun all the way through.
As something that rose to fame as a kids show, it is massively influential as adults around the world recall the adventures of Ash Ketchum and the gang as they travel across the Pokemon World making friends and solving crimes committed by the evil, yet comical Team Rocket. It’s the series that booted up the new millennium and has continued up until this very day with Pokemon XYZ.
- Episodes: 1 (Movie)
- Aired: July 1988
Akira has been labelled a masterpiece by many critics and whilst I may not particularly agree with that, it certainly is a spectacle to watch. After an explosion destroys Tokyo and brings on World War 3, Akira starts in the aftermath in the new Neo-Tokyo. However, the power that destroyed Tokyo is not lost as Kaneda’s best friend, Tetsuo is discovered to have it. The film continues with Kaneda as he attempts to prevent Tetsuo from unleashing this power and essentially, to get his friend back.
It’s a fairly simple story when you ignore the larger science fiction context as it really is about a persisting friendship despite the grotesque creature that Tetsuo ends up becoming. There’s so many studies to be written (and many that already have been) about Akira’s thematic brilliance and it’s the sort of film that you can learn more from in each and every rewatch. And that’s something that I strongly recommend you do.
8. Sailor Moon
- Episodes: 200
- Aired: March 1992 - February 1997
I mentioned that Pokemon was hugely influential on modern day young adults but that isn’t the only one, by far. Sailor Moon is one of the biggest success stories when it came to a magical series being shown globally. Airing on Fox Kids, Cartoon Network and a whole variety of other channels worldwide, kids would wake up early in the morning just to join in on the latest adventures of the Sailor Soldiers.
Sailor Moon is regarded so highly today that it was among the three series that Toei decided to reboot, alongside Digimon Adventure and Dragon Ball Z. Whilst Sailor Moon Crystal is regarded unfavourably amongst fans, it serves as a reminder of how much the series really was loved. And don’t worry, there’s still time to love it all over again. Despite it being 20 years old, Sailor Moon holds up surprisingly well today.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 1997 - March 1998
Are you having a bad day? Well, you can rest assured that it’s not nearly as bad as the day Guts would be having right now. Berserk is a dark fantasy in every definition of the word as this series adapts the famous “Golden Age Arc” that describes the rise and fall of Guts and the horrors of The Eclipse. As a manga with a huge cult audience, fans have been crying out for a full adaptation for years now. However, whilst we may not have that, we have the next best thing with this series.
It may just be the setup, but every moment of Berserk is as special as the last as we explore who this character really is and what fuelled the revenge to come. But more than anything, it’s a story about Griffith and his insane insatiable ambition to become great. It’s fantastic writing through and through with little room for fluff as every small detail leads to this astonishing climax that shocked the world of fantasy anime as a whole.
6. Project A-ko
- Episodes: 1 (Movie)
- Aired: June 1986
Project A-ko is weird to say the very very least. It’s stupid. It’s dumb. And it’s also absolutely fantastic. Give it to a modern anime fan and the jokes may just fly past you, but if you’re reading this, then it may just be the thing for you. As a parody film, it includes references to mecha, sci-fi and action anime of the 70s and 80s and doesn’t let go of them for a single second, assimilating it into the core narrative rather than including them as brief easter eggs.
During an alien invasion, “average” high schooler A-ko must work together with B-ko to save C-ko from the evil D. If there’s one thing I can say about the plot here, it’s that they’re pretty easy-going with the naming conventions. Honestly Project A-ko is a must-watch comedy film that can only really be understood by actually watching it. Well, ‘understood’ is probably a bit of an overstatement.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 1996 - July 1999
The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise is the vanguard of the mecha genre, bringing these robot battles into a political science fiction context, often investigating ideas of independence and ambition. 08th MS Team is special, though as it takes place during Universal Century 0079, concurrent to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. It’s not about the big battle that decides the fate of the Earth Federation, but rather one of the many smaller battles at the time. And this time, it’s with guerilla warfare.
0079 is an awesome year to produce new Gundam entries in and recently Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt has been announced to also take place during this year. This is because, as the original series showed, there was so much going on in this all-out war and Earth is covered in Zeon troops fighting for their beliefs. But much like other Gundam series, the lines between friend and enemy are blurred once again. You don’t need to have seen other Gundam series to see this one, as it’s plot is fairly self-contained.
4. Outlaw Star
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 1998 - June 1998
The late 90s was a great time for science fiction westerns. With Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Outlaw Star all airing around the same time, it was heaven for anime fans with some of the decade’s most acclaimed works all available. Outlaw Star follows Gene Starwind and his steadily growing group as they go from working as bodyguards to saving lives as they’re caught up in something far bigger than they imagined.
There’s something incredibly fun about Outlaw Star. Whilst it adopts a fairly simple structure, it’s the characters that really propel it into something special. It’s lovable in so many ways and it’s something that many older anime fans keep close to their hearts as a particularly special series that captures the same desires as Star Wars once did.
3. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
- Episodes: 39
- Aired: April 1990 - April 1991
As someone who’s not a huge fan of Evangelion, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is the series that I consider to be Hideaki Anno’s best. Within an alternate version of 1889, Nadia and Jean must protect the blue gem that Nadia possesses from those that would use its power for evil. And as an adventure series, it offers so much as they travel around, discovering mysteries and protecting the world from the evil Neo-Atlantean forces.
It’s not nearly as well known as it should be. Nadia is the hidden gem (If you’ll excuse the pun) of Hideaki Anno’s that is often forgotten when speaking about his library. There’s so few adventure series that put a focus on naval exploration and it offers a truly engrossing experience throughout every moment. It’s phenomenal in so many ways and you need to watch it, especially if you’re an adventure fan.
2. Princess Mononoke
- Episodes: 1 (Movie)
- Aired: July 1997
I had to include a Ghibli film, didn’t I? Princess Mononoke is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best as it shows a conflict from two sides where the only evil is ignorance. Ashitaka, a villager cursed by a demon travels to Irontown, an industrial fortress fuelled by the forests that surround it. Led by a woman who genuinely cares about her villagers, she is not a bad person, despite her place as one of the antagonists.
Despite it being at face value a film about deforestation, it delivers these simple ideas in an absolutely charming way, tapping into Japanese folk culture and showing both sides of the conflict in a fair and equal light, not going so far as to demonise either of the figureheads involved in this. And of course, it’s Ghibli so you can expect an incredible amount of charm and some phenomenal animation. Honestly, you should’ve seen this already and if not, for shame.
1. Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 - April 1999
What else did you expect to see here? Cowboy Bebop defines the 90s single-handedly. An episodic space western that leaps into a confident stride partway through to deliver us the very definition of “cool”. By offering a smaller focused narrative in each episode, it allows us to build on who our protagonist, Spike Spiegal really is and what can really happen in this dystopian sci-fi world. In a way, Cowboy Bebop isn’t just one show as some of these smaller stories feel like short films within themselves and have a value that is entirely separate from what we might find among most TV anime.
Cowboy Bebop isn’t groundbreaking, but it doesn’t stop it from being absolutely excellent. As more characters are brought into the fray, new dynamics play out and character direction completely changes within these stories. Each of them, with their own motives and desires sets out on their travel, hunting for criminals with bounties on their heads, which almost always leads into something far more. It’s been regarded as the best anime of all time by many outlets and honestly, I find it hard to argue with that claim.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back into the past with these classic anime. Every year, the medium evolves with new styles and trends and looking back like this gives us the opportunity to see what anime once was and how far we’ve come in so many aspects. Let me know what classic shows you enjoy looking back on in the comments section below.