Ah, the good old 80s and 90s, oh how I missed thee. There were a lot of innovations, revolutions, and inspirations that, back then, we were too young to notice or even care about. Mecha anime golden age has peaked, the birth of direct to video anime called OVAs, and the creation of shows and movies that inspired anime even to this day. And at the same time, these were the times when Japan revived the US video game industry and turned it into an entity which rivals that of the movie industry.
Despite our lack of awareness of the world at large, we kids felt the impact anime did to our lives and for better or worse, anime changed or even defined our childhood. With this said, this top 10 isn’t about anime that revolutionized the entertainment and animation industry, but rather the list is about anime we grew up with, the anime that made us into fans, the anime that eventually inspired some of us to become professionals, and the new pillars that will keep anime going forever.
Uh, did I just start the article on a very serious and nostalgic note? *ahem*I rarely rewind the tapes of the anime I rented.*ahem*
10. Choujikuu Yousai Macross (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross)
- Episodes: 36
- Aired: October 1982-June 1986
Are we alone? The question was finally answered in 1999 when an alien spacecraft crashes on South Atalia Island. Ten years later, mankind acquired new technology for space travel, reconstructed the crashed ship and christened it as, SDF-1 Macross. On her maiden voyage, however, an alien race of giants called the Zentradi, make their appearance and the war for mankind’s survival began.
The 80s was arguably the golden age of modern mecha anime with Gundam and Macross leading the pack. Macross offered a unique feeling compared to their rival. The Gundam series relied heavily on military drama, fighting their fellow man and watching the struggle of a young boy that got dragged into war. The Macross series is more on fighting alien invaders, the music and romance. In fact, the love triangle and music is the defining feature of Macross, even the recent Macross Frontier had great music and a love triangle. I highly recommend you watch the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? It’s deviated a bit from the original, but the movie is worth seeing.
09. The Slayers
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1995-September 1995
We follow the story of Lina Inverse and her partner Gourry Gabriev as they travel the land for fame, fortune, food and kicking monster butt. But it’s not your typical fantasy journey because Lina is one hot-tempered, yet, lovable young woman with, uh, height issues.
The Slayers is an instant favorite among fans for its lovable cast of characters, their interactions, the adventure, and the laughs. Lina Inverse is a short-tempered, and funnily enough, also a short-for-her-age sorceress with highly destructive capabilities, and loves money and food. She has no qualms in blowing things up and she does this often that bad guys and monsters (mostly) fear her, and she’s often seen as evil by the townsfolk. Obviously she’s not evil, but for the love of everything that is sacred, don’t ever tell her she has small breasts. Oh and Lina the Slayer from DOTA 2 or the original DotA, was heavily inspired by Lina Inverse. Heck, they even used her spell names.
I’ll tell you, this anime is a riot to watch. If you’ve been tired of watching fantasy shows that take itself so seriously, Slayers is a breath of fresh air with genuine slapstick humor that sometimes pokes fun at the fantasy genre. Each episode is usually about Lina and her companion-love-interest, Gourry Gabriev, and the crew while they do some odd activities or fight powerful enemies. Things get intense, very serious now and then, but the anime drops in a gag to lighten things up. Most of the time you’ll end the episode laughing your butt off at how absurd the story was. Watching the anime solely for these band of misfits is very worth it.
- Episodes: 276
- Aired: April 1997-November 2002
If you’re familiar with Pokemon as a kid, then you definitely grew up in the 90s. “Gotta catch ‘em all!” is probably one of the most recognizable phrase in anime, as Pokemon was a big hit series in the 90s, all thanks to the smash hit Pokemon games for Nintendo’s Gameboy. Sato... I mean, Ash Ketchum is a young man on a journey to become the Pokemon Master with his first Pokemon, Pickachu. On his journey he meets fellow trainers, Brock and Misty, and the team travels to many regions to catch rare pokemon, battle against other trainers and defeat the infamous Team Rocket. Yeah, I know I’m not using the real names of the characters, but hey, Ash, Brock and Misty were the names we’ve grown familiar with.
The story in the anime is, well, unfortunately, wasn’t spectacular. Each episode is the trio going to a town, doing some Pokemon things, Team Rocket swoops in and tries to cause mayhem, that’s it. But the kids didn’t mind the repetition because, well, we were all happy we got to see our favorite pokemon in animated form, it was fun memorizing each pokemon and nagging to our parents to buy another pack of cards or buy the next Pokemon game. In fact, the trading cards were so popular, schools banned them due to their trading/gambling tendencies among kids. And also theft, because one kid has that one rare card another kid wa…. these jelly donuts are delicious!
07. Fushigi Yuugi (Mysterious Play)
- Episodes: 52
- Aired: April 1995-March 1996
Do you want to know what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Fushigi Yuugi? The god awful English voice of Chichiri. I beg of you, don’t watch the anime in English dub.
You follow the story of two best friends Yuuki Miaka and Hongo Yui are transported from Japan’s National Library into the world of a mysterious book set in ancient China, "The Universe of The Four Gods." There Miaka was destined to become the priestess of Suzaku, and must find all of her celestial warriors to help her summon Suzaku for three wishes.
Yui was teleported to rival nation Seiryuu and unfortunately, Yui was treated as kindly as Miyaka was. Yui was manipulated by the people of Seiryuu to become priestess of Seiryuu. With both girls in nations striving for power, the former best friends will battle each other not only for the wishes, but also for love.
There were only a handful of romance-centric anime and Fushigi Yuugi was the most popular one out there. Fushigi Yuugi has an interesting, yet sometimes convoluted story with lots of beautifully drawn characters. The tone of the anime is on the serious side, but Miaka always drops in a joke to lighten things up.
The girls in my class wouldn’t stop yelping at how handsome Tamahome and/or Hotohori is and sometimes they argue who among the celestial warriors is best of Miaka. If you ask me, Tasuki is the best guy for Miaka. Don’t argue with me, you know I’m right.
06. Shin Kidou Senki Gundam Wing (Mobile Suit Gundam Wing)
- Episodes: 49
- Aired: April 1995-March 1996
It is the year After Colony 195, and war of the Space Colonies and Earth has begun. In order to have an edge on the war, the colonies have sent 5 highly trained soldiers to Earth with their new type of mobile suits called Gundams. With their arrival the tide of the war changes, but things aren’t always what they seem. Trust, betrayal and honor, war can end in any way.
The Gundam series was very hard to follow, especially for fans who were into the anime during the 90s because the original Gundam has a long line of TV series, OVAs and movies since the 70s. Japan did create 3 Gundam shows with alternate timelines, namely G Gundam, Gundam Wing and Gundam X, to start a new continuity for new fans to easily follow. Out of the 3, the most popular was Gundam Wing, mainly because the main story closely resembled the original, and told a more serious story. Or maybe it was popular because the show is filled with tons of hunky boys the girls drooled over. Looking at the main cast Heero Yuy, Trowa Barton, Maxwell Duo, Wufei Chang, and Quatre Raberba Winner... Yeah, it’s the hunky boys.
Gundam Wing didn’t fare well in Japan, but it was a big success for the rest of the world. Gundam Wing, aside from the aforementioned hunky boys, was, at a time, told a modern war epic involving Earth and the space colonies. It also brought Gundam designs to the modern age with a more streamlined look and with greater acrobatics compared to the original’s grounded mechs. A lot of kids never knew of Gundam, so after Gundam Wing got popular, fans sought more and a lot of them eventually went back and watched the original that started it all. When you think of mechs, Gundam is the first thing that will come to your mind, right?
05. Yuu Yuu Hakusho (Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files)
- Episodes: 112
- Aired: October 1992-January 1995
At the age of 14, Urameshi Yusuke is a delinquent in every sense of the word. He skips school, gets into trouble with everyone, gets into fights...the list goes on. However, people around him didn’t know that he’s a righteous person at heart. One day, Yusuke did the unexpected: He sacrificed himself to save a child from a traffic accident. However, Yusuke’s spirit still roamed the Earth and eventually he meets Koenma, and Yusuke’s life changed forever.
Yuu Yuu Hakusho is a fighting anime that tells the story of Urameshi Yusuke, as he protects humanity from evil ghosts that dare to cross over to the land of the living. Unlike most fighting anime, YYH’s theme is the occult and paranormal, and this unique setting makes the anime stand out among the rest.
You watch Yusuke grow from a hot-blooded youth to be one of humankind’s defender as he battles powerful beings with strong backstories and goals that doesn’t involve destroying the Earth because they’re just evil. The battles are well-thought out as well: Fights often involve outsmarting your opponent by exploiting weaknesses and using tactics — Something Dragon Ball Z seriously lacked.
04. Ranma ½
- Episodes: 161
- Aired: April 1989-September 1992
Saotome Ranma and his father Genma went on a training journey in mainland China to sharpen their skills in martial arts. Things went horribly wrong when they both fell into the cursed springs — they then take the physical forms of whatever or whoever drowned there. Ranma fell into a spring where a girl once perished, so when he comes into contact with cold water, he turns into a girl. Genma, his father, was less fortunate — he turns into a panda.
Ranma and Genma went back to Japan and take residence with Genma’s training partner and head of the Tendo school of anything-goes martial arts, Tendo Soun. Due to a lot of happenings since their arrival, Ranma is now engaged with Tendo’s youngest daughter Tendo Akane.
Ranma ½ is mostly a love comedy anime involving a ton of lovable characters ranging from the tsundere Akane to the duck-nerd-glasses-guy Mousse. There are a good amount of fight scenes involving Ranma fending off suitors and rivals. It has a good balance of romance, comedy and action that the show can be picked up by anyone with varying interests. If you ask me, this is one of the show’s strengths and a reason why it was so popular and loved.
Ranma ½ was one of the very first manga to be adapted to English, so naturally it’s the first manga anime fans in the US first read. And aside from other anime that aired in the 90s, Ranma ½ is one of the first anime who got an English dub adaptation and aired on selected TV stations.
03. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon)
- Episodes: 46
- Aired: March 1992-February 1993
Tsukino Usagi is a 14 year-old blonde girl who is the typical ditzy, crybaby type who isn’t particularly smart… Talk about the dumb blonde stereotype… Anyways… Usagi’s life turned upside down one fateful evening when she encountered a talking cat named Luna. The cat granted Usagi the power to transform into Sailor Moon, a warrior who is to save the world from doom.
Sailor Moon was popular with good reason too, because Sailor Moon was aired around the world with the manga and anime adapted into various languages. Its beautiful art, characters and story captured the hearts of many girls and it’s arguably the most prolific and popular anime in the world… and of all time.
Man, Sailor Moon was everywhere. There are Sailor Moon ads on the billboards, girls buying trinkets and I even saw them spend their lunch break talking about the anime and reading the manga. Personally I wasn’t into Sailor Moon because I found it too girly for my taste. Eventually, I gave it a go (forever ashamed knowing my parents saw me watching an anime aimed at girls), and it was definitely a fun monster-of-the-week type of experience. But… sometimes I wonder why monsters had to stand around and wait for the Sailor Soldiers to finish transforming… Maybe they’re watching the transformation sequences with partial nudity. Huh, that must be the reason.
02. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995-March 1996
In the far future of 2015 (not anymore), the world is on the brink of destruction upon the arrival of these unknown beings called Angels. To counter this threat and humanity’s last line of defense, the United Nations founded Nerv, a special agency tasked to defeat the Angels with their giant robots called Evangelions.
Being drafted to Nerv, Shinji Ikari is one of the very few selected people capable in piloting these massive mechs. Together with Asuka Langley Souryuu and Rei Ayanami, the three must battle these Angels who grow stronger at every incarnation.
NGE was highly controversial at the time with its graphic violence, nudity, sexual themes, and a convoluted plot involving Angels. Regardless, NGE was very bold in pushing storytelling and character development to new heights and standards. Majority kids I knew watched NGE as a stepping stone from anime with simple stories to anime with darker and mature tones. It’s sorta like kids grew up with Nintendo and moved on to Sony’s Playstation, because so-called mature games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII were there.
01. Dragon Ball
- Episodes: 153
- Aired: February 1986-1989
The story begins with Bulma in search of the legendary Dragon Balls. Legend has it if one were able to collect all seven dragon balls, they can grant the current bearer any wish. On her quest to search for these elusive artifact, she met a young martial artist named Son Goku, a child that is cut off to the rest of the world. The two eventually teamed up going on a memorable journey to find the rest of the dragon balls, and at the same time an opportunity for Goku to become stronger and stronger.
What makes Dragon Ball number 1 on the list is we grew up together with Goku. Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z alone, spanned a decade, and we saw Goku, a young martial artist grow up to become one of the most recognizable and memorable characters of all time. We watched him grow, training hard, facing adversaries, and overcoming overwhelming odds. Not only is he a skilled fighter, he’s also likeable and approachable. He’s ever humble, kind, friendly to everybody, and a role model.
To a lot of kids in the 90s, Dragon Ball was their first gateway to anime. Dragon Ball was one of the very few shows that made anime into a global phenomenon. You could argue Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, or even Akira, were the first to popularize anime in the West, but they were restricted to cinema and home video. Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon and Ranma ½, just to name a few, aired on local TV around the world and it captured many hearts. More fans than Akira could.
Looking back, very few anime that made it outside Japan, and some of the more obscure or direct-to-video anime, were hard to find. Either you religiously check the newspaper for TV schedules or set your VCR to record the episodes while you were away, or waited patiently for the reruns; or you go to your favorite video rental store and pray no one rented that specific VHS volume of Vision of Escaflowne; or snail mail a friend in Japan to send you a copy, and pray the VHS cassette tapes you got are compatible with your VCR at home.
Anime today are very easy to get all thanks to the Internet. You just sit back on your computer and watch anime online or while on the go, you can watch an anime episode on your phone at any time. And with the power of the internet, we rarely talk about anime with our friends because you watched the no subtitled version while they’re still waiting for the subtitled version to come out. Forums exists for discussions, true, but gone is that nice feeling of sitting back and talk about anime with your friends in your living room.
I grew up in the 90s and each anime I watched were special. Some were good, while some were bad, but they felt like they were specially handpicked for us to watch and enjoy. They’re like the ambassadors from Japan — some were flamboyant and some were silent and reserved, but they all represent the life-changing, and world-changing entertainment entity called anime.