Anime exploded into global consciousness in the 90s, carving out a niche for itself in pop culture that has only grown since.
This remarkable decade, known for its vibrantly colored landscapes, intricate storylines, and multifaceted characters, brought us some of the most beloved and influential series that have shaped the anime industry.
Whether you’re a long-time otaku, a casual viewer, or someone simply looking for a dash of nostalgia, journeying back into the realm of 90s anime promises to be an exciting ride.
From tales of captivating magical girls and epic mecha battles to heartrending dramas and laugh-out-loud comedies, these cherished classics are more than just a throwback. They’re a testament to the magic of the 90s that continues to inspire and enthrall fans worldwide.
Best 90s Anime
This section embarks on an odyssey through the best 90s anime that defined a generation. We’ll revisit those iconic shows that left an indelible mark, showcasing not only the best in storytelling and animation of the era but also the rich tapestry of emotions they’ve woven over the years.
1. Ghost in the Shell (series + movies)
Regarding cyberpunk in anime, few titles rival the influence and complexity of “Ghost in the Shell”. Set in a future where technology permeates every aspect of life, this 90s masterpiece intricately blends philosophical musings with high-octane action. At its core is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically enhanced officer of Section 9, tackling cybercrime in an ever-evolving digital landscape.
The narrative explores the enigmatic concept of the ‘ghost’ – the soul or consciousness – housed within a ‘shell’ – the body or mechanical casing. This gives the series an intellectual depth rarely seen. Its groundbreaking animation, ethereal soundtrack, and cutting-edge themes have shaped anime, and popular culture, making “Ghost in the Shell” an unforgettable watch.
2. Whisper of the Heart (movie)
A gentle, coming-of-age tale, “Whisper of the Heart” captures the everyday magic of adolescence. The story follows Shizuku, a bookish middle-schooler whose chance encounter with an antique cat statuette leads her to the charming and driven Seiji. This Studio Ghibli gem eschews fantastical elements, instead honing in on personal growth, dreams, and the pangs of first love.
The poignant narrative, beautifully captured by Hayao Miyazaki’s screenplay and Yoshifumi Kondō’s direction, comes to life against the backdrop of suburban Tokyo. The hand-drawn animation creates an intimate, dreamy atmosphere, making “Whisper of the Heart” a heartwarming tribute to youth and aspiration.
3. Princess Mononoke (movie)
“Princess Mononoke” is a groundbreaking epic that embodies the best of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful storytelling. The narrative centers around Ashitaka, a prince cursed by a rampaging demon, and San, a fierce girl raised by wolves, caught in a bitter struggle between nature and industrialization.
As the battle intensifies, so does the film’s exploration of humanity’s impact on nature. Known for its breathtaking animation, compelling characters, and an impactful narrative that neither demonizes nor glorifies any side, “Princess Mononoke” offers a powerful environmental message that resonates deeply even today.
4. Slam Dunk (series + movie)
Few anime have captured the thrilling spirit and emotional intensity of sports like “Slam Dunk”. This classic series chronicles the journey of Hanamichi Sakuragi, a high school delinquent turned basketball player. From his beginnings as an inexperienced player driven by a crush on a girl, Sakuragi evolves into a dedicated and formidable athlete.
Known for its realistic portrayal of basketball, intricate character development, and humorous yet touching narrative, “Slam Dunk” beautifully captures sports’ passion, competition, and camaraderie. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, the dramatic tension and infectious spirit of “Slam Dunk” will surely draw you in.
5. Neon Genesis Evangelion (series + movies)
Unleashing a cultural tidal wave upon its release, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is a groundbreaking mecha anime that reshaped the genre. The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and follows Shinji Ikari, a teenager compelled to pilot a giant bio-machine, Evangelion, in a desperate battle against enigmatic beings called Angels.
Beyond the spectacle of high-stakes mecha battles, the narrative dives deep into the psyches of its characters, exploring their fears, desires, and insecurities. Its unique blend of complex character arcs, religious symbolism, and existential philosophy, layered with emotional intensity, makes “Neon Genesis Evangelion” a landmark in anime history, challenging and rewarding viewers equally.
6. One Piece (series)
“One Piece” is a swashbuckling adventure set in a world of endless oceans and exotic islands. Our protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, embarks on an epic quest to find the legendary treasure, One Piece, and become the King of Pirates. With a rubber body, a heart full of dreams, and a quirky yet loyal crew, Luffy’s journey is one of boundless excitement, humor, and camaraderie.
Eiichiro Oda’s grand saga, marked by its distinctive art style, vibrant world-building, and a cast of charmingly eccentric characters, has left an indelible mark on the anime landscape. Whether it’s intense battles, heartrending backstories, or moments of sheer hilarity, “One Piece” delivers a truly immersive experience that continues to captivate fans worldwide.
7. City Hunter ’91 (series)
“City Hunter ’91” is the final television installment in the beloved “City Hunter” franchise. Private detective Ryo Saeba returns in this series, handling the dangerous and sometimes absurd situations of Tokyo’s underground with his signature mix of suave, comedic flair, and formidable combat skills.
The series continues to balance action-packed scenarios with humor, romance, and the intriguing dynamics between Ryo and his partner Kaori. What sets “City Hunter ’91” apart is its unique blend of 80s aesthetics and 90s sensibilities, making it a nostalgic treat for franchise fans and a must-watch for any fan of action-comedy anime.
8. Cowboy Bebop (series)
“Cowboy Bebop” is an iconic space western that effortlessly blends genres to create a truly unique narrative. It follows the adventures of bounty hunter Spike Spiegel and his ragtag crew aboard the spaceship Bebop as they traverse the galaxy searching for the next payday. The series is renowned for its stylish visuals, complex characters, and episodic storytelling, each installment revealing glimpses into the crew’s pasts and personalities.
Its jazzy soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, noir-infused atmosphere, and philosophical undertones weave a rich tapestry that transcends its genre boundaries. From its adrenaline-pumping action to its moments of introspective quiet, “Cowboy Bebop” is a 90s anime staple that continues to resonate with fans for its timeless themes and charismatic charm.
9. Detective Conan (series + movies)
“Detective Conan”, also known as “Case Closed”, is a gripping mystery series that captures the thrill of detective work in vibrant, bite-sized episodes. It centers on the prodigious high school detective Shinichi Kudo who transforms into a child after being poisoned by criminals. Now as Conan Edogawa, he continues to solve various crimes while working to regain his original body.
Known for its cleverly crafted mysteries, lovable characters, and ongoing narrative thread, “Detective Conan” remains one of the most enduring series in anime history. It excels in creating an atmosphere of suspense while also maintaining a sense of humor and heart, making it a must-see for mystery aficionados.
10. Dragon Ball Z (series + movies)
As a sequel to the original “Dragon Ball” and a cornerstone of the shonen genre, “Dragon Ball Z” introduced new levels of intensity and scale to Goku’s adventures. From the arrival of the Saiyans to the battle against Majin Buu, the series weaves a saga of epic battles, powerful transformations, and deep friendships.
Its fast-paced battles, driven by a combination of physical prowess and inner spirit, set the standard for many action anime that followed. Despite its focus on action, the series also devotes time to developing its characters and exploring their relationships, providing emotional weight to the high-stakes battles. “Dragon Ball Z” is more than just an anime; it’s an essential part of pop culture that continues to inspire and entertain.
11. Serial Experiments Lain (series)
“Serial Experiments Lain” is a mind-bending, cyberpunk series that deeply explores identity, reality, and communication themes in the digital age. Lain Iwakura, a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl, becomes entwined with the “Wired”, a virtual world that begins to bleed into her reality. The series delves into the complexities and paradoxes of the online space, pushing the boundaries of storytelling through its layered narrative and atmospheric animation.
While it can be cryptic and introspective, its themes are more relevant today than ever. “Serial Experiments Lain” is a thought-provoking journey into the digital abyss that continues to fascinate and mystify viewers, making it a standout masterpiece of 90s anime.
12. The Vision of Escaflowne (series)
“The Vision of Escaflowne” is a genre-blending adventure that takes the audience from ordinary high school life to a mystical world of war and destiny. The protagonist, Hitomi Kanzaki, is whisked away to the planet Gaea, where destiny and divination carry as much weight as swords and mechs.
The series offers a unique blend of fantasy, mecha, romance, and adventure with beautifully detailed animation and an epic score that adds to its grandeur. With its rich narrative tapestry, “The Vision of Escaflowne” remains a beloved classic that weaves a compelling tale of fate, love, and self-discovery.
13. Sailor Moon (series)
“Sailor Moon” is a seminal magical girl anime that defines the genre for a generation of viewers. Following the story of Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary girl granted the power to become Sailor Moon, the series is a vibrant combination of action, romance, and friendship. With her fellow Sailor Soldiers, she defends Earth against various cosmic threats.
“Sailor Moon” is lauded for its strong female characters, iconic transformation sequences, and emotional storytelling that doesn’t shy away from darker themes. Its balance of magical battles, teenage drama, and enduring friendships has solidified “Sailor Moon” as a cultural phenomenon, setting the stage for many magical girl anime to come.
14. Patlabor (movies)
The “Patlabor” movie series, directed by the acclaimed Mamoru Oshii, brings a unique approach to the mecha genre. Instead of focusing on war and epic battles, it delves into the practical applications and challenges of using giant robots, known as “Labors”, in an alternate version of Tokyo.
The franchise explores diverse themes such as technology’s impact on society, labor disputes, and political intrigue, offering a more grounded perspective on the genre. Oshii’s skilled direction, compelling characters, thoughtful narrative, and realistic mecha design make “Patlabor” a notable entry in the annals of 90s anime.
15. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (series)
“Mobile Suit Gundam Wing” is an iconic installment in the sprawling “Gundam” franchise, bringing the series to new heights of popularity in the West. The series centers on five teenage pilots, each wielding a powerful Gundam suit, who are sent to Earth to fight against its oppressive government.
With its compelling characters, intricate political narratives, and spectacular mecha battles, “Gundam Wing” is a standout series in the “Gundam” saga. Its exploration of war, peace, and the human condition and its memorable cast and dramatic storytelling make it an essential watch for any mecha or anime fan.
16. You’re Under Arrest (series)
“You’re Under Arrest” is a delightful mix of comedy, action, and slice-of-life, set within the seemingly mundane confines of a traffic police department. It follows the adventures of Natsumi Tsujimoto and Miyuki Kobayakawa, two policewomen with distinctly different personalities navigating their duties and personal lives.
With its comedic moments balanced with touching portrayals of camaraderie and community, the series brings an endearing charm to the daily life of traffic cops. The detailed animation, delightful character dynamics, and an intriguing blend of everyday life and police work make “You’re Under Arrest” a classic 90s anime that offers a uniquely captivating viewing experience.
17. Slayers (series)
“Slayers” is a fantasy adventure brimming with magic, monsters, and comedy. The series follows the travels of the fiery sorceress Lina Inverse and her band of companions, whose exploits often lead to chaotic, hilarious, and dangerous situations. Known for its humorous take on fantasy tropes, the series is a lively mix of comedy, action, and occasional drama.
The memorable characters, witty dialogue, and imaginative world-building create a delightful romp through a classic fantasy setting. “Slayers” remains a beloved series for its unique blend of humor and fantasy adventure, making it a must-watch for any anime fan.
18. Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (series + movie)
Produced by the acclaimed Gainax studio and directed by Hideaki Anno, “Nadia: Secret of Blue Water” is a riveting adventure inspired by Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. It follows Nadia, a circus acrobat and inventor Jean as they are pursued by mysterious forces desiring Nadia’s blue pendant.
With its mix of historical and science fiction elements, the series is known for its captivating narrative, diverse cast of characters, and exploration of themes like love, friendship, and humanity. Its combination of imaginative storytelling, rich animation, and dynamic character relationships makes “Nadia: Secret of Blue Water” an unforgettable journey.
19. Petshop of Horrors (series)
“Petshop of Horrors” is a chilling, episodic anthology that revolves around a mysterious pet shop in Chinatown and its enigmatic owner, Count D. Each episode delves into a different tale, where individuals purchase exotic pets, accompanied by a set of strict rules. When the rules are broken, the results are often grim.
This series stands out for its eerie atmosphere, compelling narratives, and subtle critique of human behavior embedded in each tale. Its unique blend of horror, fantasy, and mystery creates an immersive, unsettling viewing experience, making “Petshop of Horrors” a standout in the 90s anime scene.
20. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (movie + series)
“JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” is a powerhouse of 90s anime, renowned for its unique art style, eccentric characters, and unforgettable storylines. It chronicles the multigenerational saga of the Joestar family, whose members possess a star-shaped birthmark and are destined to combat supernatural foes. The series is lauded for its distinct narrative arcs, each featuring a different family member as the protagonist.
Its blend of action, humor, and dramatic storytelling, accompanied by the use of striking poses and stylized dialogue, creates an anime experience that is nothing short of bizarre. If you’re looking for an anime that seamlessly mixes action, comedy, horror, and a sprinkle of the absurd, “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” is a series that will keep you entertained from start to finish.
21. Speed Racer X (series)
“Speed Racer X”, known in Japan as “Mach Go Go Go”, is a revival of the classic “Speed Racer” series that keeps the heart-racing action and charm of the original while infusing it with a fresh, modern feel. This thrilling series follows Speed Racer, a young race car driver, and his high-speed adventures in his supercharged car, the Mach 5.
Each episode brings a new challenge, from dangerous races to combat an array of villains, all while dealing with personal dramas. With its vibrant animation, complex characters, and pulse-pounding racing sequences, “Speed Racer X” is a standout racing anime from the 90s that continues entertaining viewers with its high-octane narrative.
22. Sea of the Ticonderoga (series)
Unraveling the mysteries of the deep sea, “Sea of the Ticonderoga” takes viewers on a captivating voyage. It follows a diverse crew aboard the exploratory submarine Ticonderoga, delving into the uncharted depths of the ocean, revealing a world of extraordinary creatures and hidden dangers.
The series combines real-world marine science with fantastical elements, resulting in a unique blend of education and entertainment. The anime’s captivating storytelling, beautiful underwater visuals, and intriguing characters create a fascinating deep-sea world that has left a lasting impact on viewers.
23. Run Melos! (movie)
Based on a classic Japanese short story, “Run Melos!” is a powerful exploration of friendship, honor, and sacrifice. It follows the protagonist Melos, a young shepherd who is fighting against time to save his friend’s life.
Despite its short duration, this animated film masterfully conveys intense emotion and the true meaning of loyalty and friendship through beautiful animation and a compelling narrative. “Run Melos!” leaves a lasting impact, proving that great stories can indeed come in small packages.
24. H2 (series)
“H2” is a sports drama that combines the thrill of baseball with the intricacies of teenage life. The anime follows Hiro, a former pitcher turned outfielder due to his arm injury, as he navigates high school life and love while aiming for the Koshien, the national high school baseball championship.
The series skillfully balances its sports sequences with moments of humor, drama, and character development, making it a great sports anime and a compelling coming-of-age story. With its realistic portrayal of baseball and engaging characters, “H2” hits a home run as one of the most memorable sports anime of the 90s.
25. Ranma ½ (series)
“Ranma ½” is a classic blend of martial arts action, romantic comedy, and supernatural elements. The story revolves around Ranma Saotome, a martial artist who transforms into a girl when splashed with cold water, thanks to a curse he acquired during a training journey.
Its mix of action-packed martial arts sequences, humorous love triangles, and quirky characters make for a unique viewing experience. “Ranma ½” stands as one of the classics of 90s anime, notable for its distinctive comedic style, memorable characters, and its genre-blending storytelling that continues to charm viewers decades after its release.
Through this nostalgic journey, we’ve revisited some of the most impactful 90s anime that shaped the genre as we know it today.
From action-packed sagas like “Dragon Ball Z” and “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing,” thought-provoking narratives such as “Serial Experiments Lain,” to humorous and heart-warming tales in “Ranma ½” and “You’re Under Arrest,” the richness and diversity of 90s anime is undeniable.
Each series or movie has its unique charm and storytelling prowess that continues to resonate with fans, reaffirming that the 90s truly was a golden age for anime. As we reflect, we’re reminded of the timeless magic these anime hold, captivating audiences for decades.