Top 10 Anime by the Decades

By Julia Paminiano | February 13th, 2024 

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    So, you consider yourself an OG anime fan. But how much do you really know about old anime? How it rose to popularity? How it began? We can trace anime’s history all the way back to the start of the 1960’s. One specific anime that is noted and recognized to be the very first anime is Astro Boy (1963) by Osamu Tezuka, a manga artist, cartoonist, and animator. Its plot follows protagonist Astro Boy, a young boy that is actually an android with human emotions, created by father Umaro after the death of his son.

    It was adapted originally from the manga that was first published in 1952 and was the first popular animated Japanese television series that ignited the start of the world of anime. Even until today, Astro Boy is still in the top rankings of best-selling manga of all-time that have sold over 100 million copies. Tezuka’s work has been extremely influential by providing the foundation for the animation of popular comics we have today.

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    Anime: The Basics

    Old Anime vs. New Anime

    Old anime has improved drastically in terms of quality of animation and production with the new anime we have today, due to new technology and technique. But are they really all that different? Many of the previously popular old anime continue to be relevant due to its high influence on new anime through its art styles, story-telling, and paving the path for anime to become more mainstream overseas. Over the years, the genres and mainstream anime continue to change – from the mecha and retro futuristic 1980’s to the new shonen adventures in the 2000’s. Each generation of anime continues to inspire an even further improved generation.

    Some of the most defining features that differentiate old and new anime is the animation. Most old anime are hand-drawn and animators didn’t have as much help as they do now with technology. With anime today, the majority of them are computer-generated and have begun adding new features like using 3D animation and CGI (computer-generated imagery) instead of just the 2D animation. A second feature that is arguably debatable is the decrease in variety in new anime. With old anime, stories needed to be unique and different– It was a way to gain popularity and how they created the path for the popularity that today’s anime has. Many mainstream anime of today follow similar genres and stories that are influenced from those of old anime. While it can be seen as a positive thing, it can also be seen as negative due to repetitive cliches and stories. 

    Storefront filled with old anime posters

    Genres You Need to Know

    Looking for anime similar to your current favorites? One way to find them is by searching for anime under similar genres or demographics. Some important ones to note are shonen and shojo, which refers to the specific demographic the anime intended to target upon release, but can also be used to refer to as a genre. Although there might be a certain demographic that an anime targets, it is not unusual for people outside of the target audience to get into the show as well. Sailor Moon may as well be the pinnacle of shojo and the magic girl subgenre, but it is not strange for there to be many male fans. This may differ from western culture, where it is looked down upon or seen as strange with an example being a “Bronie”, or male fan of My Little Pony. Most genres that we know of are self-explanatory, but there are some that are specific to Japanese anime and manga. Here’s a cheat sheet you can refer to when reading about the old anime in our top anime lists:


    Shonen: Aimed primarily at a younger male audience (12-18 years)

    • Examples: Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, One Piece

    Shojo: Aimed primarily at a younger female audience (12-18 years)

    • Examples: Sailor Moon, Kimi no Todoke, Fruits Basket

    Seinen: Aimed primarily at a older male audience (18 years and older)

    • Examples: Berserk, Vinland Saga, Monster

    Josei: Aimed primarily at an older female audience (18 years and older)

    • Examples: Chihayafuru, Nana, Usagi Drop


    Mecha: Short for “mechanical” in Japanese, focuses on mechanical innovation such as robots, cyborgs, and androids; though its main focus is usually robots.

    • Examples: Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mazinger Z

    Harem: When a male character is surrounded and loved by many female characters (opposite version of this for women is called “reverse harem”).

    • Examples: Rosario to Vampire, Rent-a-Girlfriend, The Quintessential Quintuplets
    • Reverse harem examples: Ouran High School Host Club, Kamisama Kiss, Yona of the Dawn

    Ecchi: Derives from a slang term in Japanese that refers to playfully sexual actions, often having lewd content.

    • Examples: High School DxD, Food Wars!: Shougeki no Soma, Kill La Kill

    Isekai: Originally meaning “other world” in Japanese; sub-genre of portal fantasy where a character is transported into an alternate universe.

    • Examples: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, Re:Zero, No Game No Life

    Yaoi: Also known as BL or "boys' love", this genre focuses on romance between men (opposite version for this for women is called "yuri", or also known as GL, "girls' love").

    • Examples: Banana Fish, Given, Yuri!!! On Ice
    • Yuri examples: Bloom Into You, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Liz and the Bluebird

    Idol: Focused on the life of female and/or male pop star idols, mostly catering to J-pop and K-pop fans or those interested in the Japanese music industry

    • Examples: Oshi no Ko, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, IDOLiSH7

    Slice of Life: Centered on characters' daily lives and the drama surrounding them, possibly including fantastical aspects (magic, other species, etc.)

    • Examples: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., Nichijou - My Ordinary Life, Horimiya

    Where to Watch Old Anime

    While there are different ways to watch both new and old anime online, the best way to watch them is through approved streaming services. Many popular streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have anime on them, but there are also services that are specifically made for anime such as Crunchyroll and Funimation. Although maybe, you might be a more busy individual and not have time to sit down for a few episodes. Reading manga is always great too, as most anime are based on the original manga. Some of the best apps and sites you can read manga on are Viz Manga, Shonen Jump, and MANGA Plus. These are great choices because they are officially managed by Japanese publishers.

    Top 10 Old Anime of the '80s

    The era of anime in the 1980s was on the rise as anime began to get popular outside of Japan. Genres that were very popular at the time included mecha and sci-fi. In the west, sci-fi was especially popular, with iconic films being released, like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was the era of humankind traveling in space and living in a post-apocalyptic world. Let’s look at some of those classic must-watch old anime and more!

    silhoutte of a robot figure from old anime, Mobile Suit Gundam

    Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)

    Mecha, sci-fi, military

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Yoshiyuki Tomino 
    Release Date: March 2, 1985

    The Gundam franchise has been extremely successful with over 50 different adaptations of animated series, films, and video games, and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is one of them. As the second installment of the franchise, it was a sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) and has been noted as one of the best seasons of the franchise. This series follows teenager Kamille, a member of the Anti-Earth Union Group (AEUG) and the conflict between the AEUG and the Earth Federation. It was also known as one of the first anime to depict war in a more realistic and honest fashion, as well as its mecha designs and animation for the time it was released in. The series was so successful that its merchandise now makes up 90% of the Japanese character plastic-model market.

    Akira (1988)

    Seinen, sci-fi, supernatural

    Type: Movie
    Creator: Katsuhiro Otomo
    Release Date: July 16, 1988

    Perhaps one of the most iconic animated films of all-time, we are starting off with Akira. Akira follows the story of two main characters – Shotaro, bike gang leader and Tetsuo, his best friend who has been taken to take part in the government’s secret military program called “Akira”. The film is set in 2019, following the aftermath of Tokyo during World War III and is in the process of building a stadium for the Olympics (and coincidentally, Tokyo held the Summer Olympics of 2020). Akira had marked a turning point for international recognition of anime and people were most attracted to its color palette. 50 colors were made exclusively for the film because the film takes place during nighttime, a setting that most animators strayed away from due to its increased color requirements. It was adapted from the original manga that was published in 1982 and was further adapted into several video games.

    Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

    Historical, war, drama

    Type: Movie
    Creator: Isao Takahata
    Release Date: April 16, 1988

    One of the earliest films of the Ghibli film legacy is Grave of the Fireflies, which was based on a semi-autobiographical short story in 1967 by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film is known as one of Studio Ghibli’s darkest films, as it takes place during the U.S. bombing of Japan during World War II. The story follows two siblings who are separated from their parents after the bombing and struggle together to survive. It initially turned audiences away due to its dark nature and depiction of war, but Grave of the Fireflies also gave international audiences Japan’s perspective of the bombing and came to become one of the best films about war and its impact.

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    The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982)

    Seinen, mecha, romance

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Noboru Ishiguro
    Release Date: October 3, 1982

    The Super Dimension Fortress Macross is another one of the well-known old anime when it comes to anime of the mecha and sci-fi genres. One distinct feature that makes this anime a bit different from the others was its ability to attract audiences for its romance. While it may have originally been made to be a seinen anime, the introduction of this romance love triangle allowed for a wider audience of not just boys, but also girls. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross is set in the future where mankind is able to travel in space via ships that were recreated from an alien battleship that had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Although, its original owners come looking for it and humanity now has to defend the Earth from these aliens. The series is a part of the larger Macross franchise, similar to Gundam, and also has over 20 series, films, and games, with the most recent release being an animated film released in 2021.

    Urusei Yatsura (1981)

    Shonen, romance, comedy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
    Release Date: October 14, 1981

    Urusei Yatsura was created by one of the most famous female mangakas (manga artists), Rumiko Takahashi, who is known for creating the series Inuyasha (1996) and Fullmetal Alchemist (2001). Although, Urusei Yatsura was her first major series in Weekly Shonen Sunday. In this series, Earth is invaded by an alien race and protagonist Ataru is chosen to play a game of tag against their princess, Lum. If he wins, he saves the planet– to which he does, but after succeeding, Lum thinks Ataru has proposed to her and is attached to him. Princess Lum is an important character that influenced otaku culture and is considered to be one of the very first waifus, even before the term was created. But it wasn’t just the audience that was influenced, but also the animation team. Two famous people who worked on this anime along with Takahashi include Hideki Anno, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) and Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell (1995). With its popularity, Urusei Yatsura was adapted into several animated films and video games.


    Want to know more about the waifu in otaku culture? Head over to our Ultimate Guide to Otaku Culture

    Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

    Adventure, fantasy, post-apocalyptic

    Type: Movie
    Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
    Release Date: March 11, 1984

    Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of famous Studio Ghibli director Miyazaki’s films that was based on his own manga that was published in 1982. Although, this film was created before Studio Ghibli came to be and is not in the studio’s official list of works. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind follows 1,000 years after the devastating “Seven Days of Fire'', where most of Earth is now mostly covered by “The Sea of Destruction”, a toxic jungle of deadly spores and mutated creatures. Princess of the Valley of the Wind, Nauticaä, must defend against a kingdom that plans to eradicate the forests and the creatures that live in it. The story was influenced by Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea (1968) series and became one of the firsts to have a female protagonist in animated films at the time. The only adaptations of the film included three video games 1984, but were so poorly executed and received that Miyazaki no longer allowed further video game adaptations of his films.

    Ashita no Joe 2 (1981)

    Shonen, sports, drama

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Asao Takamori
    Release Date: July 18, 1981

    Another genre that was popularized during the ‘80s era of anime was sports. Ashita no Joe 2 introduced the world of boxing to anime and was first published as a manga in 1968. It follows Ashita no Joe, the first season, released in 1970 and despite the long break in between, the anime was extremely popular and noted by viewers to be better than the first. In Ashita no Joe 2, due to a tragic accident that occurred in the first season (no spoilers!), professional boxer Joe wants to put the past behind him and decides to quit boxing, opting to travel instead. Throughout his journey, he ultimately decides not to give up and must find a way to overcome not just his past, but also himself. One of the reasons this anime was popular was because of how relatable Joe’s character and how well his character development was done. Ashita no Joe 2 has many other adaptations including animated and live-action films, a stage play, radio dramas, and video games.

    City Hunters (1987)

    Shonen, mystery, comedy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Tsukasa Hojo
    Release Date: April 6, 1987

    City Hunters was one of the first anime that influenced a lot of international film and television industries, with live-action adaptations made in South Korea, France, and Hong Kong. It rose in popularity due to the audience's love for the characters and the relationship between the two main leads. Set in Tokyo, private detective Ryo works for the “City Hunter” business and works alongside his partner, Hideyuki. One day, Hideyuki is murdered and his last wish is for Ryo to take care of his younger sister, Kaori. Ryo respects his partner’s wishes and takes Kaori under his wing, who soon becomes his new partner for future missions. Kaori used a special weapon called the “100-ton Hammer”, and someone had created a replica of it that sold for 1.832 million yen (approximately 12.3k USD) in 2007. Its popularity also led to a musical adaptation and a video game.

    Ranma ½ (1989)

    Shonen, comedy, ecchi

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
    Release Date: April 15, 1989

    Ranma ½ was created by Rumiko Takashi, who had previously created Urusei Yatsura (1981) and became her second biggest series. The story follows a martial arts prodigy named Ranma who travels to China to train. During his training, he and his father end up falling into a cursed spring where he is cursed with turning into a girl when hit with cold water– and the only thing that can turn him back is hot water. The original manga series it was based on was published with Viz Media, one of the biggest publishing companies of manga in the U.S., and it was so popular that it allowed them to expand on distribution of other English-translated manga. It was also known for popularizing the romantic-comedy and harem genre, and had been adapted into animated films, video games, and live-action T.V. specials.

    Person holding a manga book translated in English of old anime, Akira

    Top 10 Old Anime of the '90s

    The anime from the ‘90s arguably includes some of the most popular anime of all-time and provided further inspiration for anime and manga that came in the decades after. Many of which include many sequels or reboots that have been released recently or are currently in the works. With ongoing franchises that began in this era like One Piece and Pokemon, the following list includes more classic old anime to look into!

    Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)

    Mecha, psychological, sci-fi

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Hideki Anno
    Release Date: October 4, 1995

    One of the noted psychological and mecha classics is Neon Genesis Evangelion, a story about a student named Shinji who is recruited by his father to pilot a giant biomechanical robot to defend the Earth from the Angels. It was adapted from the manga and due to its popularity, had been adapted into an anime a year later. A reason for its popularity was how it was able to touch on many of the popular anime tropes: giant robots fighting, teenage love, and having fan service. The anime was also able to touch on heavy philosophical ideas that hadn’t been explored much before. It was adapted into animated films, video games, and even pachinko slot machines.

    One Piece (1999)

    Shonen, adventure, comedy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Yoshiyuki Tomino 
    Release Date: March 2, 1985

    Type: Series ⋅ Author: Eiichiro Oda ⋅Release Date: October 20, 1999

    If you’ve never heard of One Piece, have you ever heard of anime? One Piece is a certified classic and is the best-selling manga of all-time with over 532 million copies sold. The anime follows Monkey D. Luffy and his adventures with the Strawhat Pirates as he searches for the ultimate treasure known as the “One Piece” and to become the king of pirates. The series is well-known for its world building and diverse cast, with complex heroines and LGBTQ+ representation. One Piece is also the first manga to hold a dome tour, a theme park event that traveled to different stadiums to showcase One Piece displays, attractions, and performances. The series has plenty of adaptations, such as live-action and animated T.V. series, light novels, animated films, video and trading card games, and even an ice-skating show called “One Piece on Ice”.

    Sailor Moon (1992)

    Shojo, fantasy, romance

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Naoko Takeuchi
    Release Date: March 7, 1992

    One of the tropes popularized during the ‘90s was the magical girl genre and was done so through the release of Sailor Moon. Usagi Tsukino is a normal teenage girl until she saves a magical cat named Luna. The cat grants her magical powers and reveals that she is destined to become “Sailor Moon,” a guardian whose duty is to protect the Earth. The show provided a role model to young girls to look up to and became one of the best-selling shojo mangas of all-time. Takeuchi had also combined both shojo and shonen tropes in order to appeal to a wider audience. Although, while it was empowering for young girls, some episodes had been banned in the U.S. due to its violent and sexually themed content. Sailor Moon continued to be popular and has since been adapted into animated films, musicals, video and tabletop games, theme park attractions (Universal Studios Japan), and also an idol group that was based off of the Sailor Guardians.

    Pokemon (1997)

    Adventure, fantasy, comedy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Satoshi Tajiri
    Release Date: April 1, 1997

    Unlike many other anime, Pokemon did not start off as a manga or novel or short story– it originated from the games Pokemon Red and Green that was released in 1996 on the GameBoy, the first installments of the Pokemon franchise. Because of the game’s popularity, it was adapted into an anime, and then a manga series (which is a reverse of how things are usually made). Pokemon’s story follows Satoshi (or more popularly known in the west as Ash Ketchum) and his journey to earn the title of “Pokemon Master” when he starts off with his first pokemon, Pikachu. Even today, Pokemon continues to be one of the best-selling video game franchises of all-time. The name “Pokemon” is also short for the original name for the cute monsters that you can fit in your pocket, “Pocket Monsters”! The series has also been further adapted into variety shows, animated and live-action films, live-action T.V. series, and light novels.

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    Slam Dunk (1993)

    Shonen, sports, drama

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Takehiko Inoue
    Release Date: October 16, 1993

    Said to be one of the best sports anime of all-time, Slam Dunk is one of the best-selling sports manga of all time. The story follows high school delinquent outcast Hanamichi and his journey with his basketball. He ends up liking a girl who introduces him to his school’s basketball team, and he joins in order to attempt to win her over. He turns out to be a natural athlete and with his teammates, they help make his high school one of the best teams in Japan. It is popular for its depth and detail of story, and how it captioned the passion and artistry of basketball while still being able to keep it realistic. Slam Dunk’s other adaptations include five animated films and seven video games.

    Cowboy Bebop (1998)

    Sci-fi, western, action

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Hajime Yatate
    Release Date: April 3, 1998

    Type: Series ⋅ Author: Hajime Yatate ⋅ Release Date: April 3, 1998

    Cowboy Bebop is another anime classic when it comes to the musical style and lots of cultural inspiration in the story. The anime is centered around a group of bounty hunters who travel in space on their ship called the “Bebop”, where their journey dives into the unresolved issues of the past of their members. It was the first anime to air on Cartoon Network, a famous television channel known for broadcasting animated cartoon shows for kids and teenagers. Cowboy Bebop is also heavily influenced by music, where each title pays tribute to a band or style, such as “Ballad of Fallen Angels”, a song by Aerosmith and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a song by Queen. Its adaptations include an animated film, live-action series, and video games.

    Initial D (1998)

    Seinen, racing, drama

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Shuichi Shigeno
    Release Date: April 18, 1998

    If you’re into JDM (Japanese domestic market) cars or a car otaku, then you’ve most likely already heard of Initial D. It was originally released as a manga in 1995 and is about a high school student Takumi works at a gas station and is a delivery driver who drives every night until 4 AM. He ends up encountering a racer named Keisuke who introduces him to the world of mountain drift racing. The soundtrack brought popularity to the anime with its Italian disco-pop soundtrack, even though racing is a pretty niche genre in anime (since there aren't many racing new or old anime). You can even find many racing car simulation games that are based on the anime in arcades in Japan. Slam Dunk was adapted into animated films, a live-action film, and a musical.


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    Serial Experiments Lain (1999)

    Psychological, mystery, cyberpunk

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Yoshitoshi Abe
    Release Date: July 13, 1999

    Serial Experiments Lain follows a young girl named Lain, a shy junior high school student who slowly uncovers her true nature as she becomes obsessed with an interconnected virtual realm called “The Wired”. It is one of the classics when it comes to psychological anime and was praised for its dark depiction of social isolation and reliance on technology. The story was also influenced by the book Cyberia (1994) by Douglas Rushkoff, about the growing subculture of internet users. It was originally released as a multimedia project that included a manga, anime, and video game.

    Princess Mononoke (1997)

    Fantasy, adventure, action

    Type: Movie
    Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
    Release Date: July 12, 1997

    Princess Mononoke is another Ghibli film created by Miyazaki, previously mentioned as the creator of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, though it was not based on a manga. It focuses on the journey of Ashitaka, a warrior prince who has been stricken by a deadly curse and must find the cure. During his journey, he finds himself in the middle of the conflict between the forest gods and Tatara, and along the way, meets a girl named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. The film was only made up of 10% computer-generated animation, as it required over 80,000 hand-drawn cels (individual images). It was also the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Japan Academy Awards in 1998. While there are no other series or games based off the film, it was adapted into a stage play.

    Berserk (1997)

    Seinen, fantasy, gore

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Kentaro Miura
    Release Date: October 8, 1997

    Another seinen classic anime of the ‘90s is Berserk– wandering mercenary Guts is a warrior who seeks out battles in Midland, and is only driven by his will to survive. He stumbles upon a man named Griffith, the leader of a mercenary group called Band of the Hawk who defeats him. He seeks revenge on him but ends up becoming a member of the group along the way. Berserk is one of the more graphic stories that includes a lot of gore and can often turn casual anime viewers or manga readers away with how dark the story can get. Although, it is still very well-known for its storytelling, character development, and depth of exploration into those dark and mature themes. The fact that it is Dark Horse’s #1 best-selling product of all-time can also show how popular it is abroad. Berserk has been adapted into a novel and three video games.

    Top 10 Old Anime of the '00s

    Lastly, we have the anime of the 2000’s that you may recognize more from. It may not feel like that long ago but there are a lot of notable “old” anime to be found in this era! This list includes many that are still very popular today and provide a good starting point for those who might want to delve further into the world of old anime. The era of the anime from the 2000’s can truly show the development and improvement when it comes to animation and how much more international popularity it has gained. Here is a list that includes some of the best from the “golden age” of anime!

    Bleach (2004)

    Shonen, action, fantasy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Tite Kubo
    Release Date: October 5, 2004

    Bleach is a part of the “Big Three”, a name used to refer to Shonen Jump’s three most popular running series during the mid-2000’s (one of which is previously mentioned One Piece and the other that will later be covered, Naruto). The story follows the adventures of Ichigo, a teenager who obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper from a girl named Rukia, who also happens to be a Soul Reaper. With his new powers, he sets out to save the world from the Hollows, corrupt spirits with supernatural powers that devours the souls of the living and deceased humans. The anime is very popular for its character designs and unique styles– Kubo had designed all of the fashion of the characters, as he was fascinated with fashion growing up. It was later adapted into a live-action film and rock musicals that featured the show’s soundtrack.

    collage of old anime and new anime scenes

    Naruto (2002)

    Shonen, fantasy, adventure

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Masashi Kishimoto
    Release Date: October 3, 2002

    A second member of the “Big Three” is Naruto, with the other pillar being previously mentioned One Piece. The anime was based on the manga that was originally released in 1999 and is centered around a young ninja named Naruto who aims to become the “hokage”, the strongest ninja and leader of his village. Naruto gained international popularity due to its appeal to children and how different it was from regular children cartoons and the idea of ninjas fighting, similarly to how One Piece is to Japan and pirates. It placed the foundation of many anime where it emphasized the philosophy of friendship and not giving up. It had many adaptations that included graphic novels, stage plays, video games, and animated films,

    Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)

    Shonen, fantasy, adventure

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Hiromu Arukawa
    Release Date: April 5, 2009

    Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second anime given to the original manga that was published in 2001, due to the desire to appeal to the dedicated manga fans. It was more popular than the first season, Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) due to how close it was to the manga, better pacing, and how its tone was more lighter and approachable. The story goes into the lives of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric who lose their mother to a terminal illness. They attempt to resurrect her by using alchemy but fail, causing the severance of Edward’s right arm and Alphonse to lose his body. In order to fix this, they search for the sorcerer’s stone in order to get their original bodies back. In order to write extensively about characters going through the pain of war in the manga, Arukawa even interviewed WW2 veterans to learn about their experiences as soldiers. The series has been adapted into live-action and animated films, light novels, and video games.


    Learn more about other forms of Japanese popular culture with the Ultimate Guide to Japanese Popular Culture!

    Death Note (2006)

    Shonen, mystery, psychological

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Tsugumi Ohba
    Release Date: October 4, 2006

    Death Note is a part of the list of most influential anime and manga and was so influential that it had been banned in several countries and was referenced during a murder case in Belgium. It follows the story of how high school student Light Yagami discovers a notebook called “Death Note” that belonged to Ryuk, a shinigami (death god) that allows him to kill anyone whose name is written in the book. The anime was soon banned in China as children began to create their own Death Notes filled with their classmates’ names. At the crime scene of the murder case in Belgium, notes were left by the murderer that had spelled out, “I am Kira”, which is Light’s alias. Death Note kept the audience hooked with its cat-and-mouse chase between Light and L and gained such popularity that it was adapted into light novels, live-action films and series, video games, and a musical.

    Book labeled "Death Note" from old anime of the same name laying on the grass

    Ouran High School Host Club (2006)

    Shojo, reverse harem, comedy

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Bisco Hatori
    Release Date: April 4, 2005

    The first shojo anime on the 2000’s list is Ouran High School Host Club, an anime about Haruhi, a commoner who goes to a school for rich kids on a scholarship. On her first day, she breaks a vase that belongs to the Ouran High School Host Club and must make up for her debt by joining the club. It was and still is one of the most popular shojo anime known not just for its comedy, but also how it challenged gender roles, as Haruhi cross-dressed as a boy throughout high school. Hatori, the mangaka (manga writer), had mentioned that the series was intended to be a parody of otaku culture with its cross-dressing and how the club dresses up in extravagant costumes, and a parody of yaoi (boys’ love) manga. It has been adapted into a live-action series and film, visual novel, and musical.

    Hajime no Ippo (2000)

    Shonen, sports, drama

    Type: Series 
    Creator: George Morikawa
    Release Date: October 3, 2000

    Hajime no Ippo is a boxing anime about the main character, Ippo, and his journey from being a young, bullied child to becoming a professional boxer. In the manga, we can see the influence from Ashita no Joe in terms of its art and characters, as well as the execution of certain scenes. Hajime no Ippo was well-liked for Ippo and the underdog trope that made everyone want to root for him, conveying a message of inspiration through its characters. Similarly to Ashita no Joe, it is one of the most popular deconstructions of boxing in anime and manga. The anime adapted came from the original manga published in 1990 and was later adapted into video games.

    Code Geass (2006)

    Sci-fi, mecha, action

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Ichiro Okouchi
    Release Date: October 5, 2006

    Although the genre was not as popular as before, Code Geass was another mecha anime that came out in the mid-2000’s and as an anime first, before being published as a manga the next year. The anime follows an exiled prince named Lelouch Lamperouge who obtains the “power of absolute obedience” from a lady named C.C. With this power, he becomes the masked leader of the rebellion group, the Black Knights, against the empire superpower, Britannica. The series gained its popularity due to how there was no clear villain and the moral ambiguity with main character Lelouch, similar to Light Yagami of Death Note. While it is an action anime, it was given a shojo style animation and had an unpredictable plot that viewers couldn’t get enough of. It was further adapted into animated films, light novels, video games, and internet radio broadcasts.











    Monster (2004)

    Seinen, psychological, drama

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Naoki Urasawa
    Release Date: April 6, 2004

    Monster is a classic when it comes to psychological thriller anime and an influential piece that won the Grand Prize for the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, a prize awarded to manga artists and their works for using Tezuka’s approach to story-telling. Monster is about Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon who lives in Germany. His life turns to disaster after encountering Johan, one of his former patients who is revealed to be a psychopathic serial killer. The series is still popular and still relevant today because of its exploration of complex moral issues and how it deals with themes such as the nature of good and evil, corrupting influence of power, and consequences of personal choices. The only adaptations of Monster include the original manga published in 1994 and the anime.

    Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007)

    Mecha, adventure, action

    Type: Series 
    Creator: Kazuki Nakashima
    Release Date: April 1, 2007

    Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann focuses on two teenagers, Simon and Kamina, who live in a future where the Spiral King rules Earth and forces humanity to live in subterranean villages. It follows the story of how they escape their way to the surface. It had been initially released as an anime and then the manga came out later that year, and gained popularity for its memorable cast and how it was able to take the cliches of shonen anime and embrace it, appealing to those who watch mainstream anime. Some of these cliches included having an underdog protagonist or the “power of friendship”. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann also includes the tallest mecha, the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the tallest and largest robot in anime history, standing at ten-million light years tall. It was then further adapted into two animated films and three video games.

    Spirited Away (2001)

    Fantasy, adventure, supernatural

    Type: Movie
    Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
    Release Date: July 20, 2001

    A third work of Miyazaki on the top anime lists includes Spirited Away, which was previously the best-selling Japanese film until it was topped by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train (2020). The plot is about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro who visits an abandoned amusement park with her parents that turns out to be a resort for supernatural beings who need to take a break from time spent in the earthly realm. Her parents are turned into pigs and she needs to work there in order to free herself and her parents. With this movie, Miyazaki was able to win his first Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003 and was the inspiration for many Pixar and Disney films. Spirited Away’s only adaptations include a film comic and stage play.

    anime figures with Monkey D. Luffy from old anime, One Piece

    While these lists of old anime by the decades go over the most popular ones, there is still so much more anime to enjoy! Many of them continue to run and paved the way for the great anime we have today. And if you’re further interested in learning Japanese, watching old anime is a great way to improve your Japanese listening skills. Though reading the original manga is always a great way to go as well, especially if you don’t have time to binge watch or prefer to read. Altogether, hopefully you were able to get a better understanding of old anime and why they were so popular and iconic, and perhaps even got inspiration to watch them!

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