Best 1980s Anime: Our Top 25 Picks Of Movies & TV SeriesThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
In the past couple years anime has just been booming, with new hit shows coming in left and right.
It almost seems like everything can be considered an anime these days.
But what about the shows that came out of a stricter era? Especially the good old 1980s, you know with traditional animation and all those weird dance moves?
That’s right, today we’re looking at the best anime series, movies, and OVAs that came out during the 80s! Prepare yourself for a lot of Ghibli.
25. Vampire Hunter D
I’m kicking us off with this movie.
Honestly it has its faults, but it also has a certain appeal and a legacy.
It’s not as atmospheric or meticulously drawn as some of the other shows on here.
But it is one thing for sure: fun to watch.
You get some vampires, you get some modern looking technology, you get some 19th century technology. Why? Who cares?
You throw them all in a pot, add some nudity, some superpowers, some fighting and voila you have yourself a Vampire Hunter D.
It had to walk so that Castlevania could run!
24. Urusei Yatsura
Urusei Yatsura is the story of an alien girl, Lum, who comes to Earth and falls in love with a boy.
The boy’s name is Ataru and he’s honestly treading such a thin line with life. Why?
Lum has the power of electricity and is incredibly jealous.
Ataru has the wandering eyes of an anime old man sensei.
So you can see where a lot of the conflict and the comedy comes from. It’s an episodic series and I wouldn’t really recommend binging it all at once, but rather putting it on here and there just to see whether Ataru is still alive.
23. Dirty Pair
It wouldn’t be true to the 80s if we didn’t have at least one cop show.
Well in this world they’re called Trouble Consultants, and seem to help with everything.
But there’s one pair of “officers” that are notorious for being unorthodox and just breaking more stuff than they fix. Can you guess who our protagonists are?
A pair of gals, a strong Vi and Caitlyn vibe for you League players, who are also called the Dirty Pair.
Will they just mess up your house, hit on some dudes, or repeatedly hit some dudes in the mouth? Who knows!
Besides sounding like something a nice guy would say to Christianity, Macross is a show all about technology, mechs, space, guns… and there’s actually more to it!
The thing that sets Macross apart is that its world isn’t entirely just gloomy.
Sure, humanity isn’t in the best spot ever. But that doesn’t stop love from flourishing.
The ship, Macross, even has a believable ecosystem, as a lot of screen time is given to just ordinary civilians living on the ship and how they adapted to their new life.
So Gundam might have bigger guns, but Macross might just edge it out by atmosphere.
21. Angel’s Egg
This show is probably the most peculiar one on here.
Let’s just say that:
- It is not for everyone, and
- it requires some chewing over
I can’t say what the show is about as it’s an art piece, left to be interpreted however you like.
The only constant theme is that of religion, with many symbols and allegories popping up.
There’s very little dialogue so it really does just feel like a performance piece.
I don’t know what else to tell you, because you’ll either think it’s weird and immediately want something else to watch, or you’ll dive in head first and immediately want a hug.
20. Wicked City
Oh boy, where to even start with this one.
In short, it will make you fear women and vow celibacy. Why?
Because in Wicked City, aside from the normal boring humans, we also get demons.
The two sides form a deal not to mess with each other’s mojo until. Of course, that all goes to hell and now everyone wants to murder everyone.
But the most frightening characters are by far the female ones, especially during umm intimate moments.
The movie is so graphic, bizarre, and oddly horny that all plot is kind of thrown through the window and you just watch a grotesque spectacle of blood and nudity.
19. Crusher Joe
In case you’ve watched almost all of the shows on this list, Crusher Joe should serve as a good under-the-radar type of 80s show.
It’s a very simple movie conceptually: you get these mercenary guys called the Crushers and they’re given an important job.
Space pirates mess with them and now they have to get everything back on track.
Where the show does shine, especially considering how old it is, is how well the animation and music quality hold up to this day.
The characters are also more interesting and fun than you might think at first glance.
18. Captain Tsubasa
Now this show was so big in the 80s that it actually had real world consequences.
It’s quite an interesting story, but while it was airing football/soccer wasn’t that big in Japan yet. And it still managed to find success.
Tsubasa would later on even inspire people to give the sport a try, not just from Japan either.
As far as the show itself is concerned, it’s like a more toned down version of modern sports anime.
You get the underdog story, you get the occasional super kick, but most of the time it’s just soccer with a lot of emotional build up behind it.
And the 80s version of this anime ran for over 120 episodes so there’s a plenty here to keep you busy.
17. Maison Ikkoku
It’s your classic sitcom set up: a big house, a lot of people living in different parts of said house, and not one of them is dull or arguably sane.
It has that slice of life aesthetic and considering it ran for 96 episodes, you can bet your bottom dollar that you grow with these characters.
I mean, there are six main characters in total, as well as a very diverse cast that all bring something new to the table.
Yuusaku Godai, the classic perverted boy with a good heart and a terrible GPA is probably my favorite of the main cast. For reasons I do not wish to disclose.
Kyoko is pretty bomb as well, but if her dog ever starts talking she is done for.
16. Magical Princess Minky Momo
I’d feel bad if this list was predominantly R-rated or giant robots, so here’s some more magical girl goodness.
Minky Momo was among the first in the magical girl genre. And it is everything you expect it to be.
There’s a land of dreams in this universe that has started drifting from Earth, so Momo has to pay us a visit and just make sure everyone’s having a good old time.
She does everything at some point, being a nurse, a police officer, fire fighter, you name it.
And if you’re into urban legends I highly recommend you look into the background of this show, it gets a bit spooky.
15. The Mysterious Cities of Gold
Now this is the type of show one needs to survive in 202X and beyond.
It actually has a diverse cast and is not set in Japan. So you almost feel like you’re traveling.
The protagonists are all extremely likable so you feel like you have friends. And if you aren’t very well versed in history, the exploration of the new world will sound like a grand adventure that will take your mind off our current affairs.
This show is considered one of the hidden gems of the 80s, as its story is immaculate, the soundtrack an absolute bop, and the enjoyment factor extremely high.
14. Attacker You!
This is not me calling you dear reader an assailant. It is a volleyball show, I know people tend to mix those two up.
But yeah, Attacker You! is a sports anime from the mid-80s and carries that all known formula:
Protagonist is bad at a sport but feels an emotional drive to keep trying, and wouldn’t you know it they slowly improve; I will be Hokage, type of deal.
The art style is definitely a bit on the “uf” side. But if you can get past that and feel like getting a gym membership you will rarely use, I would give the show a chance.
So a girl gets a visit from guys from outer space and has to deliver water to them, but then fights demons along the way.
If that sequence of events doesn’t pique your interest at least a little, I will be surprised.
And then you see a snippet of the show and see a bunny girl flying by using her sword as like a broom/skateboard. Honestly I’m sold on this one. Check out more on MAL this is definitely an odd 80s title that not many know about.
12. Ranma ½
Now this is one of those shows that just proves how wild people in the 80s were, as far as concepts go.
It’s like we take our protagonist, Ranma, and make him adept at martial arts, okay.
Then he and his father fall into a river and Ranma ends up cursed, sure.
But the curse is that whenever Ranma is in contact with cold water, he turns into a girl and can only revert after touching hot water.
How is that not one of the best concepts for a slice of life comedy you have ever heard?
11. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
This is the second installment of the Gundam franchise, and is often said by many fans to have surpassed its predecessor.
Its story takes place seven years after its prequel and is very quick to throw us into the action.
The main consensus I’ve found about this show, and why it’s regarded as amazing, is its lack of a central antagonist, so it feels a bit more realistic.
And the inclusion of some political wars, so it’s not just aliens go pew pew but we get some drama and betrayal as well.
10. Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac
Don’t let the word “saint” in the title deceive you.
There’s a lot of death and blood in this show.
And they’re Gods, not really the good guys here.
They kind of just want to get rid of us.
So it’s the task of Athena and her zodiac knights to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The gods are from Greek mythology so fully expect Medusa and cooler Aquaman to show up at some point.
The action is really good, even though the art style might seem janky. So if you want some of that shounen-esque blood boiling action, give it a watch.
It’s amazing to see how well this show has aged.
Because everything was drawn by hand, the cyber-punk world of Akira is just as amazing now as it was decades ago.
I personally just love the unadulterated gore and violence that happen throughout the show. It never seems forced, but rather like a grim view of reality.
The soundtrack is top notch, with an incredibly menacing atmosphere during certain tense scenes.
And then other times you are just left in complete silence, which is somehow even more menacing.
Sure the source material is much longer than what could fit in a two hour movie.
But I think it does it properly and is definitely worth watching multiple times.
8. Grave of the Fireflies
This is one of those 80s anime movies that shows that you don’t need any supernatural elements to tell an amazing story.
Why fear a demon when you can fear starvation?
The movie depicts Japan during the World War II era and how two children just try to live day to day.
That’s all the plot this film needed, as something as miniscule as going to a doctor or stealing some crops just hit a bit different when it feels like real life.
It’s also a studio Ghibli film so you can rest easy knowing that the animation and soundtrack aren’t lacking in the slightest.
7. My Neighbor Totoro
Amongst the many sad and brutal shows I have listed here, it’s good to lighten up the mood a bit.
Although My Neighbor Totoro is far from void of any sad emotions, its overall feeling of childhood wonder and optimism just cheer you up.
The world of the movie is so vibrant and soothing, and the mystical creatures that appear all make me want to buy (or DIY) a plushie.
I mean just look at Totoro and Nekobasu. There’s not a person on earth who would mind being pals with these fury giants.
6. Fist of the North Star
During a time when shounen was still at its overpowered infancy, Fist of the North Star stepped up to the plate and gave us all of the head explosions a man could want.
If you’ve seen modern shounen then you already get the general gist; strong man with mysterious past that gets revealed bit by bit goes around, kicks ass, bestows some plot bending miracles, and has us all screaming his name.
It might seem like a stale formula now but trust me: Kenshirou’s “wahaa”s as he does an intense acupuncture on his enemy never gets old.
5. Castle in the Sky
Holy mother of an opening sequence.
It’s simple to see why Ghibli is such a titan today just by looking at the first few minutes of this movie.
In a steam-punk, fairy tale-like rendition of the story of Icarus, we see an entire Industrial Revolution take place in mere minutes.
This then sets up the world in which we find our protagonists, as well as hinting at the overall tone and end-point of the story.
The sense of adventure and childlike curiosity typical of Ghibli is at full force here as well, as we see two children, Pazu and Sheeta, look for the legendary flying city Laputa while the government is hot on their heels.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service
As far as coming of age stories go, Kiki’s Delivery Service is definitely top tier.
It has that all-so nostalgic plot line of a little girl going to the big city with big hopes and dreams.
Being a witch, she doesn’t really fit in, as the town is very Muggle-based.
But that just gives an underdog twist to it all.
The story is really touching and the mid-50s aesthetic of the town easily draws you in.
The concept of witchcraft somehow fits the story perfectly, and even leaves some room for speculation about the intended message.
3. Dragon Ball
Watching Dragon Ball is honestly just a blast from the past at this point.
As the show has seen many later installments and movies, like Goku in space, Angry green dude, “How not to raise your child” and Angry green dude II: The Electric Boogaloo.
So watching the original series where Goku is just a kid with his friendly little flying cloud, and Krilin still fears death, it’s refreshing you know?
It’s also exempt from the power cliffing and over the top battles so it is a lot easier on the eyes and the soul. If you’re a DBZ fan but never watched the original 80s version, absolutely give this a try.
2. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise
I can’t explain why, but this show feels like the prequel to Treasure Planet.
It’s based in an alternative timeline of Earth where a person has yet to be sent into space.
There’s a space program, but let’s just say it is far from NASA.
A slight warning, as this show may look innocent enough on the surface. I wouldn’t really recommend playing it in front of the whipper snappers.
It’s nothing too bad, but there is one certain scene they can do without.
Political tension is also a plot device in the story, so unless little Bobby has mastered The Art of War, maybe put on some old school Cartoon Network and watch this in the other room.
1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
If you’ve got an anime elitist friend, then this show has undoubtedly been shoved down your throat as the best show ever.
And although I have experienced it and wasn’t happy about it, they kind of have a point.
It’s the 5th best rated anime of all time on MAL. Like damn. How did it get so big?
Well, you take some Star Wars and then you mesh it with some Game of Thrones, add classical music to taste and voila.
You get a show with dozens of characters, all of whom you get to know in a plot that you don’t see coming. And you slowly realize that plot armor hasn’t been invented yet.