Most anime fans would rather watch something new than look for something good, especially if it’s hidden in the thousands of shows and movies that have come out in the past few decades.
So it’s understandable.
Since Mazinger Z (1972) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), anime has changed a lot. This is because computer animation has become more and more advanced.
Modern viewers are also written for in newer anime. They’re easy to understand, and you don’t have to think about how different our culture is from theirs.
Still, there are some great old anime that every fan of the genre should watch.
And these great classics from before the year 2000 have passed the test of time, which is the hardest test of all.
- 29. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)
- 28. Slayers (1995)
- 27. The Rose of Versailles (1979)
- 26. Martian Successor Nadesico (1996)
- 25. Lupin the Third (Part I) (1971)
- 24. Princess Mononoke (1999)
- 23. Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982)
- 22. The Vision of Escaflowne (1996)
- 21. Initial D (1998)
- 20. Ashita no Joe (1970)
- 19. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- 18. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
- 17. Perfect Blue (1997)
- 16. Spirited Away (2001)
- 15. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
- 14. Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988)
- 13. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
- 12. Dragon Ball (1986)
- 11. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
- 10. Trigun (1998)
- 9. Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X) (1996)
- 8. Yu Yu Hakusho (1992)
- 7. Berserk (1997)
- 6. Outlaw Star – 1998
- 5. Fist of The North Star – 1984
- 4. Robotech – 1985
- 3. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
- 2. Urusei Yatsura – 1981
- 1. Slam Dunk (1994)
29. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)
The Earth Federation is still very tense seven years after the One Year War.
They are trying to kill every last Zeon person, even if they are just innocent people.
In the middle of the chaos, a group of fighters led by Quattro Bajeena (also known as Char Aznable when he wears sunglasses) rises to protect the weak and fight against this government’s fascist policies.
MS Zeta Gundam stands out not only because it has one of the coolest versions of Gundam’s best character, but also because of how realistic it is.
People learn to kill because of war. And it’s easy to get used to.
28. Slayers (1995)
Some shows, like Seinfeld or Scrubs, are just meant to make you feel good. And that may be what we get here in the form of an anime.
In Slayers, a badass rogue mage named Lina Inverse and her group of adventurers go on a fantasy trip right out of a drunk Dungeons & Dragons game.
Even though the show sometimes takes itself seriously, it’s only to keep the main story going.
The best parts of Slayers are the funny slapstick and the likeable characters.
27. The Rose of Versailles (1979)
Anime is a popular way for people from the West to learn about Japanese history through art.
It’s just old school anime for us!
Watch The Rose of Versailles if you want to know what these shows are really about.
It tells the story of Marie Antoinette, yes, that Marie Antoinette, and Oscar Francois de Jarjayes, the leader of her Royal Guard, from the time they arrive in Versailles until the last Queen of France dies too soon.
The show is full of drama, romance, love tension, and even some comedy that will make you forget that this story ends with a guillotine.
26. Martian Successor Nadesico (1996)
In this series, “Martian Successor: Nadesico,” there are big robot fights and funny moments.
It takes the best parts of classics like Macross and Gundam and adds cute anime girls and other more current elements to them.
Well, it was cool for the 1990s.
In the second part, it gets a bit more serious, so it’s hard to tell if Nadesico is a harem anime, a comedy, or a drama.
But one thing is for sure: the show is a lot of fun.
25. Lupin the Third (Part I) (1971)
The adventures of Arsène Lupin can be seen as an anime version of Scooby-Doo for older kids.
It’s not so much about mysteries as it is about how fun and colorful the characters are.
Both of these shows keep getting better from season to season, adapting to the times and staying interesting.
But the fast-paced visual story-telling is what makes Lupin the Third stand out to me.
When you add that to the top-notch animation in the show, you have a truly unique experience.
24. Princess Mononoke (1999)
Ashitaka, the prince of the Emshi, has spent his whole life with his people. But when a curse starts to grow in his arm, he has to leave his home to find a fix.
Princess Mononoke is like many other Ghibli movies in that it shows the contrast between old and new, nature and society. However, this story is also about the conflict between the individual and the group.
Lady Eboshi, the main bad guy, is not much of a bad guy.
She’s just too far away on one side of this core ideological problem, which happens a lot in real life.
23. Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982)
Macross was a very important anime because it had both exciting battles between robots and a very emotional, human story.
This well-rounded approach to the mecha genre brought in new fans and made the experience better for people who already liked big robots.
It made it possible for anime like Martian Successor Nadesico and Gundam Wing to come out.
But what makes Macross so interesting is that its personalities are so real.
We can see how war affects each of them in a real way, which makes us care more about how each fight turns out.
22. The Vision of Escaflowne (1996)
The Vision of Escaflowne is one of the most unique Mecha anime because it takes place in a fantasy world and has strange giant robots that look like armored heroes from the Middle Ages.
Sunrise used their experience animating Gundam fights to make this show, which is a masterful mix of epic battles between giant robots and Shoujo romance.
Escaflowne is a great show to watch if you like well-written characters, strong female leads, and cool robots.
And since it was made in the 1990s, it seems to have kept its quality over time.
21. Initial D (1998)
Takumi Fujiwara is just another student with a part-time job who is minding his own business—until he gets behind the wheel of his Toyota AE86.
This crazy guy learned how to drive fast and spin on the mountain roads of Japan by taking his father’s tofu orders almost every day for years.
If you’ve ever played Need for Speed: Carbon, you’ll know what to expect from this anime.
It has some of the most exciting one-on-one races and crazy sliding moves you can think of, and it’s a lot of fun even if high-octane entertainment isn’t your thing.
20. Ashita no Joe (1970)
Most stories about “coming of age” are about high school graduates and other people with bright futures.
Ashita no Joe is not the same.
The show is about a young homeless man named Joe Yabuki who gets interested in fighting while he is in jail.
After he gets out of prison, he puts everything he has into becoming a professional boxer, even though he has no formal schooling and no money.
He slowly gets better and better until he is a world-class boxer.
Still, the show shows the sport in a way that is pretty true to life. It also talks about the risks and health problems that come with living there.
It’s a game for people like Joe who have nothing to lose and a lot to win.
19. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
If you’ve been to a shop that sells anime stuff, you’ve seen Totoro.
At this point, this big, cute forest spirit is the face of Studio Ghibli and a kind of anime ambassador.
All of this is because of the great movie My Neighbor Totoro.
Set in rural Japan after World War II, the movie is about two local girls who make friends with several friendly forest spirits, including Totoro, the name of the main character.
It’s not only a beautiful movie for kids, but it’s also a great way to learn about anime in general and the works of Ghibli in particular.
It also sends a green message that makes us think again about how we treat nature.
18. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
If you liked the movie The Matrix, you can’t miss the anime that inspired it or had a lot in common with it.
In Ghost in the Shell, the main character is Motoko Kusanagi, a public safety agent with a cyborg body that can be changed.
Through her, the show looks at what it would be like to live in a world where there is no difference between humans and robots.
The best thing about this series is how it tells stories visually instead of just through pretentious conversation.
17. Perfect Blue (1997)
Satoshi Kon is, along with Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most important people in the anime business.
It seems like everything he makes is a gem, and Perfect Blue is no different.
In this movie, a stalker who doesn’t like that Mima Kirigoe is no longer an idol and wants to be an actor bothers her.
Idols have to deal with fans who are rude all the time. But this one will go a step further and make Mima feel like she might go crazy.
This psycho-thriller, like Kon’s other works like Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, blurs the lines between dream and the everyday life of modern Japan.
16. Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away is a movie that almost everyone my age has seen at least once.
In fact, until Demon Slayer: Infinite Train beat it in 2020, it was the highest-grossing Japanese anime movie since 2001.
Spirited Away shows how our bad relationship with nature affects us through beautiful animation and a story.
Chihiro is able to make up for what her materialistic parents did wrong only after she is forced to work for nature spirits and clean Yubaba’s Bath House and its customers, including the famous No-Face.
Do you recognize it?
15. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
When I was a youngster, anime fans who were older than me would always talk about how great Cowboy Bebop was some still do.
After watching the show again as an adult, I understood why my older friends liked it so much.
This dark and gritty show is about a group of mismatched people who are trying to move forward while dealing with their bad fate.
Every action has a result, and the past always finds a way to catch up with you.
The animation is, of course, great and smooth.
The characters and settings have a charming old-fashioned look that you won’t find in most new shows.
14. Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988)
The show Legend of the Galactic Heroes needs to be redone.
This anime space opera has one of the best stories ever told in this type of media.
And really, the writing is great, the characters are great, and the music is great, but the art from the 1980s hasn’t held up that well.
Still, this anime could be a low-quality Flash animation and it would still be worth watching.
It’s like reading a good book, in a way.
It sticks with you long after the last show, and it might make you think about some things again.
It’s an anime about the harsh realities of life, the price of war, and the tumultuous bonds people make when they’re going through hard times.
13. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Before deciding to watch Nausicaä, which is based on a manga by Hayao Miyazaki, I watched the majority of Ghibli’s most well-known films.
Like the majority of Miyazaki’s works, it addresses issues like environmentalism and war.
It not only demonstrates how a war could destroy everything we know, but it also serves as a reminder that even then, we would probably rise from the ashes to engage in stick-and-stone combat.
Both Nausicaä and the primary antagonist Kushana are fantastic characters that Miyazaki presents as strong and in charge, which at the time of the film broke with gender norms and continues to do so today.
12. Dragon Ball (1986)
As Goku’s hair grows wilder, DBZ is filled with exciting battles and cosmic-level threats for him to dispatch.
However, the original Dragon Ball anime is pure genius.
This 30-plus year-old anime gradually creates a fantastical world where children who transform into enormous apes coexist with cutting-edge tools you can fit inside a tiny capsule.
Now that I think about it, the premise sounds pretty ridiculous when written out.
But really, this Old School Anime is vibrant and new in every way. And that still holds true today, just as it did in the 1980s.
11. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
I’ve seen a tonne of incredible mecha anime with complex plots, including Gundam and Code Geass.
And yet, when it comes to fusing stylish giant robots with an introspective narrative, nothing compares to Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Deeply relatable are Shinji’s troubles with relationships with women, friendships, family, and his personal trauma.
This is a result of Anno researching the psychoanalytical writings of Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung when creating the series.
At some point, we must all board the robot.
Life requires us to confront obstacles that appear greater than ourselves.
And occasionally you have to defend yourself against the real monsters by donning a beast’s hide.
10. Trigun (1998)
Trigun is about the famous gunman Vash the Stampede, who has a price on his head and has to fight off bounty hunters who are after him.
Outside of battle, Vash seems happy and peaceful, like Kenshin from Samurai X.
He can’t even remember what terrible things he did to get the reward on his head. But when the shooting starts, you see that this man is really a bloodthirsty warrior.
The show is great because of the people who travel with Vash, like the gunner priest Nicholas D. Wolfwood and the insurance agent Meryl Stryfe. The story and major character are also interesting.
9. Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X) (1996)
Kenshin Himura is a happy-go-lucky wanderer who helps the normal Japanese person right away when they are wronged.
But his past as Hitokiri Battosai, the Sword-drawing Manslayer, keeps coming back to bite him.
This amazing show takes place eleven years into the Meiji Era, when Japan was going through a lot of changes and letting go of its isolationist past to make way for an economic future.
In a similar way, Kenshin must slowly let go of everything that still ties him to his past as a killer in order to turn the page and become a protector of the people and just a good person.
8. Yu Yu Hakusho (1992)
Would you become a ghost detective in exchange for being resurrected?
Yusuke Urameshi is in this position because he was hit by a car.
The son of the master of the Afterlife sees his fighting spirit and street smarts and the rest is history.
As the show goes on, there are less and less mysteries, and instead there are full-on fighting contests like you’d see in DBZ.
Even though the theme changes so drastically, it still manages to keep most people interested.
7. Berserk (1997)
Berserk isn’t for everybody.
It’s not that it’s not good—it’s great.
But some people might find Berserk too violent because of how cruel some of the characters are and how violent the world is in general.
You think the ending of Attack on Titan is sad?
The main character of Berserk was born from a dead body, turned into a child soldier, and abused by his fellow soldiers.
Before he turned 10, he had to kill his disloyal father figure.
It looks like someone turned A Feast for Crows from A Song of Ice and Fire into anime.
6. Outlaw Star – 1998
Outlaw Star is a space opera | Space Western set in the fictional “Towards Stars Era” universe.
Gene Starwind and his partner Jim Hawking run a small business on the backwater planet of Centinel 3.
But all that changes the day that Hilda hires them for a bodyguard job. Now, thrust into a mystery they don’t fully understand, they’re on the run from the cops, the pirates, an angry alien, and a mysterious assassin.
But they’ve got one thing going in their favor – they have the galaxy’s most advanced ship, the Outlaw Star.
First off I’d say, right away, Outlaw Star does a fantastic job of painting a beautiful world of good vs. evil and those inbetween, the outlaws. The characters are all solid, but I particularly love that the main character is so… human.
He’s morally complex (and sexually deviant). I find something about his character so… believable, if not relatable. I hate it when characters, main ones in particular, are so pristine or so caught up in idyllic optimism that they just come across as naively romantic.
5. Fist of The North Star – 1984
In the post-nuclear apocalyptic future in 199X, the human race has regressed. Weak villagers are reduced to slavery, while genetically enhanced giants rule the world.
Gunpowder seems only a distant memory, and the martial arts is the only weapon a man can count on.Two schools face one another in the battle for dominion: Hokuto Shinken and Nanto Seiken.
The series begins when the Hokuto successor, Kenshiro, travels the desert to confront Shin, a member of the Nanto Roku Seiken, their six ruling stars, who has taken his fiancee Yulia.
When I first started Hokuto no Ken, I did not know a thing about Fist of the North Star. I had heard the name before, and I knew it was a popular franchise with bloody exploding heads. When I started watching the series, it looked so incredibly 80s.
In fact, the Shin arc made me stop watching it for a while. The endless mooks in poorly drawn 80s style really turned me off. A few weeks later, I decided to try it again. I am so absolutely glad I did. Hokuto no Ken is a post-apocolyptic epic, and I don’t use that term lightly.
4. Robotech – 1985
Made in America from three unrelated Old School Anime. The first part tells of humanity’s first contact that ends in a war.
Rick Hunter is a pilot who gets dragged along with the SDF-1 and joins with them to stop the invaders.
Lyn Minmei is a singer who Rick rescues and falls for. Together they try to save the Earth and end the war without fighting, but with love.
The second part deals with children of the first, the rebuilding complete; we send the SDF-3 to attack the masters.
While it travels out in hyperspace to their worlds, the masters crawl into our solar system.
The Earth must fight a devesting second war for a secret prize. Someone else wants the prize, the Invid. The third part gives us a world controlled by the Invid.
The SDF-3 sends a probing force that is destroyed upon exiting hyperspace. A single survivor remains, a man taught to fight, with the will to free Earth.
He forms a resistance with the goal of destroying the Invid hive at Reflux Point, aka New York.
3. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
The first Mobile Suit Gundam stood out because of two important things:
One, it showed the world Kenji Odawara’s unique robot design, which was so much better than anything that had come before.
On the other hand, it told a war story that was rough and real.
Gundam doesn’t avoid talking about the effects of war and how many people die because of it, even though it spends most of its time following the adventures of legendary war heroes like Amuro Ray and Char Aznable.
2. Urusei Yatsura – 1981
Urusei Yatsura is the story of the unluckiest and most lecherous young man alive, Ataru Moroboshi.
When aliens decide to invade Earth, Ataru is randomly selected to defend his planet by playing a game of the aliens national sport, tag. Should he win, the world shall be saved.
However, Ataru is motivated for far less noble reasons, as the one he plays against is revealed to be the curvaceous alien princess, Lum.
The game goes for 10 days, and on the last day, Ataru, motivated by his girlfriend assuring him marriage (and consequently, a marriage night one can assume) should he win, finally catches Lum.
However, with his victory he gives a cry of joy for his coming marriage, which is misinterpreted by Lum to be a marriage proposal. She promptly agrees, beginning the two’s “marriage” together.
1. Slam Dunk (1994)
Slam Dunk is based on the comic that has sold the most copies in history.
It tells the story of a young criminal named Hanamichi Sakuragi who slowly changes his ways and becomes focused on becoming a basketball player.
Hanamichi’s story is very familiar to many young guys who are having trouble.
At first, our main character joins the basketball team to impress a girl. But he soon realizes that what he really needs isn’t a girlfriend, but a love he can put all of himself into.
This is a great standard anime, but it’s also one of the best basketball animes out there.