Best Anime From The 1990s: Our Top 30 Picks (Series & Movies)This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
“Back in my day anime was way better!”
Well let’s put that statement to the test as we look back at the best anime series & movies that came out during the 90s.
Whether you were alive back then or not, I think we can all agree that the 90s anime aesthetic is just plain comfy. There’s a lot to like here!
30. Key the Metal Idol
Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is, unfortunately, normal.
But when you have to question whether you’re human in general, it can only get worse.
That’s the fate of our protagonist, Key. She has to go on a grand Pinocchio adventure of making 30,000 friends in order to become fully human. Don’t question the number just roll with it.
Along the way we get some stern criticism and an allegoric look at what it means to be an idol in Japan. The show can get very weird, and really screws you up in the head from time to time.
But that’s the charm of the show and what makes it so recognizable.
29. Blue Submarine No. 6
In Blackfish 2: the Aquarian Avengers, the world has largely been submerged under water and is being attacked by fish-human mutants.
So our “I’m too old for this” protagonist dusts off his old snorkel and joins the crew of Blue submarine no. 6 to defeat the scientist behind all of this.
I think the show aged well. It’s only a 4-episode OVA but manages to set up its world pretty well. Plus it makes fish girl waifus a thing.
The CGI makes you want to cry, but at least it has that 90s nostalgia feeling to it. And if nothing else, it’s quite a different show to what you’ll find streamed today.
So if you feel like having a palate cleanser and have a few hours to spare, give it a look.
28. Fushigi Yuugi
Sing it with me now: oh it’s a 90s isekai, oh yes it’s a 90s isekai.
So two girls get sucked into a book and have to find all the celestial warriors to summon Shenron, I mean Suzaku, in order to gain three wishes.
But all of that is secondary, really. As this is primarily a shoujo anime. Therefore you’ll definitely feel the love tonight as constant sparks fly between these characters.
In addition, the main couple’s love gets tested at every twist and turn, how romantic.
Later on some complications happen that crank up the difficulty here, but honestly through and through the show is about love. So if you’re looking for a good old fashioned romance this show has you covered, all with that lovely 90s vibe.
27. Master Keaton
Watching Master Keaton doesn’t feel like you’re watching a single story. It’s more like watching a compilation of dozens of narratives with Keaton as one of the few constants.
The man himself is very intelligent and has an extremely diverse skillset, making him useful in most situations.
Be it about archeology, insurance, or a survival type scenario, Keaton has you covered.
There’s also a fair bit of romance, as Keaton is lowkey a dreamer/romantic as well as plenty of humor. Especially whenever Keaton’s dad is around.
Overall it’s an extremely feel-good show that can teach you a thing or two along the way.
26. Martian Successor Nadesico
Of all the mecha shows mentioned in this list, Nadesico is probably the most light-hearted one, kind of.
The show almost feels like a slice of life/harem show that just happens to deal with giant robots on the side.
It both pokes fun at, but also embraces, a lot of tropes from its time, akin to Gurren Lagenn for example. And it even has a mecha show inside of the mecha show. How mecha meta.
However, it’s not all fun and games. This anime is very detailed and has plenty of heavy subject matter too.
And oh boy, it does not hold back when reminding us of how many people die in a war. And yes, it still is one of the lighter shows. The 90s were a sad & brooding time okay?
25. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor
If you’re longing for a “genius protagonist” type show then I would highly recommend The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.
It centers around Tylor and his climb through the ranks in the midst of a space war.
The man is brilliant. Rick and Morty fan levels of genius, but he’ss also very laid back and zany.
The man is such a masterful tactician that he leads one ship against a fleet and comes out unscathed.
He also must have a way with women, as he both seduced a spy and made her turn to his side as well as gain some… um favors. From a princess!
He is honestly putting the standards for men too high and I can’t appreciate that.
But the show itself? Yeah, I can appreciate that.
24. Serial Experiments Lain
This show is best described in two ways: experimental, and being way ahead of its time.
It came out in 1998 and yet eerily predicted the importance of technology and how it would affect society.
It’s beyond trippy with lots of symbolism, a killer soundtrack, and some nightmare fuel thrown in here and there.
It almost feels like a shounen where instead of the protagonist becoming stronger as the show goes on, they become more aware and depressed.
If you’re into computers and want to see what the presumed future of technology was back in the 90s, check out Serial Experiments Lain.
Or if you’re fascinated with the human mind and how it can be affected by its surroundings I definitely recommend this show.
Now if you want to call out Digimon for being a Pokémon rip off, just think of every isekai you’ve ever seen.
Now that we got that out of the way let’s talk about the show.
I personally really liked the anime as a whole. The Digimon looked really cool, the evolutions were hype as all hell, and the cast was surprisingly diverse and complex.
I especially admire the fact that it handled some mature subject matters like death and divorce, so it actually has a factor of rewatchability for its now older audience.
While the anime does closely follow some of the game series, I would argue it also stands alone. You can love the Digimon anime without needing to pick up any of the games.
22. Dragon Quest: Dai’s Great Adventure
I feel like with Dragon Quest, a lot of attention falls to the games while the anime is revisited mostly out of nostalgia.
And admittedly, I think the anime itself is one of the weaker entries on this list.
But it has left behind a 90s legacy nevertheless. It’s a pretty generic, but also a pretty good shounen with some interesting powers and lots of good fights.
I also wanted to bring it up as it’s getting a 2020 adaptation and I think the odds are high of it getting the Hunter x Hunter treatment and dropping the fluff material, as well as polishing up the animation.
Also, if you pick Dai in Jump force I dislike you as a person.
21. Hell Teacher Nube
If you’re looking for some of that good 90s spooky horror then I suggest you watch the hell out of Hell Teacher Nube.
It’s about a teacher who’s also an exorcist. And also has a demonic hand. Wild I know.
The show is basically a monster of the week type deal where all kinds of spirits plague the teacher and his class.
I wouldn’t call it gory, but it definitely has that old-school edge to it. As a lot of the monsters are just unsettling and exorcisms just seem like murder with extra steps.
Nevertheless, it’s engaging as all (teacher) hell and it’s a perfect choice for Halloween.
20. The Magnificent Zorro
Zorro is such a well-known character even beyond anime that I don’t think I have to introduce him at length.
This anime ran from 1996 to 1997 and gave us all the sword whipping, justice fulfilling, identity-hiding goodness we’ve come to expect from the franchise.
For the better part of the show, the tone is actually really light with tons of comedic relief in each episode. Only to get way more serious by the ending.
And trust me, it’s a good ending.
So if you want a classic vigilante-type show and more Z cuts that one can count, feel free to revisit The Magnificent Zorro.
19. Initial D
I think it’s time to get Fast, Furious, and (sexually) Frustrated.
Initial D is all about street racing and the subculture that comes along with it.
It almost feels like a modern sports anime/shounen in the sense that every episode holds a new race, with each one holding a lot of suspense and a big payout.
There’s a background romantic plot, but definitely don’t get into the show looking for a romantic drama. It’s all about the cars and how to use them as efficiently as possible to claim the Drift King title.
You even come out of the show learning a lot about cars, which is not something you see everyday. So definitely give it a shot, just be warned of chunky CGI.
Time for some “swing batter batter” in this fantastic baseball anime.
Airing in 1995, H2 follows two boys with the forehand strength of a 40 year old virgin as they try to build their baseball team from the ground-up.
The rest of the team is comparatively terrible. So all of the stakes are on our two protagonists, meaning that whenever they’re off-screen, not a lot is going to happen.
When they’re at the plate though, oof, be prepared for that strike 3 hype.
The show also has a lot of romance intertwined with the story but if you want any closure on that end I suggest picking up the manga. Both are great for hardcore baseball fans, but also great in general.
Slayers is to Dungeons and Dragons what Sword Art Online is to MMORPGs: a pure hearted fantasy that you can immerse yourself into. Slayers is especially realistic as the characters are really human. Yes even the half demon feller.
This is because they’re not on some moral pedestal striving to defeat the God king. Very often they kind of just mess around, get drunk, and fight each other (drunk or not). Just like actual DnD players.
The show has some really good slapstick humor as well. There’s a few stand-out fight scenes where a bit more time was dedicated to the animation of the spells too.
I don’t think it’s the very best fantasy ever, but man it’s a real treat to just turn your brain off and watch.
16. Berserk (1997)
Whatever praise I give in this part only refers to the series that came out in 1997.
Its CGI clunkfest brothers still have a ways to go.
So we’re on the original Berserk. One of the undisputed kings of the manga world that somehow managed to only get one solid adaptation.
But this 25 episode arc was surely a treat, as you can finally see the grueling world Guts has to live through in motion.
The action is pretty solid, the art style holds up well, but let’s face facts. It’s only a taste of what the manga gives you, as the vast world of Berserk could never be squished into 25 episodes.
15. Hunter x Hunter (1999)
Besides the fact that the newer installment of the show has two more arcs, I think it’s very telling of one’s taste which adaptation they prefer.
The 1999 Hunter x Hunter does very little to hide its less-than-optimistic world view. And it has a gloomy sense to it, while the 2011 version is a bit more colorful and polished.
I really liked the 1999 version because it felt more raw. And in my opinion, it even suited some of the characters better, like Kurapika.
Now if only if we could have a Chimera ant arc by Nippon Animations I could die a peaceful death.
14. Yu Yu Hakusho
Since I’ve already mentioned Hunter x Hunter I feel like it’s important to also talk about its predecessor, Yu Yu Hakusho.
This is one of the best battle shounen to ever come out. The animation is just wild, the fights high paced, and the cast (especially the protagonist) is all very distinct and sympathetic in a way.
The black tournament arc especially blows a lot of later shows out of the water. It feels like it’s a non-stop onslaught of flashy and intricate fights that never overstay their welcome.
The story is also very detailed and captivating, but for me personally the first 66 episodes and the fights they presented remain the selling points & the crown of Yu Yu Hakusho.
13. Dragon Ball Z
Okay technically this started airing in 1989. But come on, the 90s were full of kamehamehas and screaming at the top of your lungs.
The show is overall just iconic. I mean, the mere fact that 30 years later it’s still getting adaptations and a dedicated audience says a lot.
And out of all the iterations, I personally like Dragon Ball Z the most. It had higher stakes than Dragon Ball, but also didn’t go all Nietzsche on me with constant battles against literal gods.
It was the birthplace of a lot of memes and some terrific abridged series which is why I think it’s so relevant to this day. By far one of the best 90s animes to check out (if you haven’t already).
12. Rurouni Kenshin
This is the ultimate story of redemption, as well as being (in my opinion) one of the best samurai shows to date.
It follows Kenshin as he tries to redeem himself after being a full-blown killing machine during the Bakumatsu era.
He now has a vow never to kill again. Which really gets tested here and there. But he decides to help anyone he can.
And that’s all you really need to know to get into it. This is not mind boggling, but it does everything perfectly.
Especially when it stays true to the manga.
The cast is likeable, the soundtrack is very good, and the show is just an OG in the anime world.
11. Shin Chan
Shin Chan has the weirdest demographic, and yet somehow makes it work.
At face value it’s a kid’s show, full of butt jokes, bright colors, and tame subject matter.
On the other hand, that last part was a lie because this show makes so many sexual innuendoes I’m amazed they got away with a PG rating.
The show is just so goofy I have a hard time even pinpointing its source of comedy. Everything is just a bit silly in Shin Chan I guess.
And a real testament to its quality is the fact that it started airing in 1992 and it still has not ended. Seriously.
10. Detective Conan
When done right, detective shows are some of the best sources of entertainment.
And in my opinion Detective Conan is such a show.
It’s about a high school know-it-all detective Shinichi Kudou who, through some good old fashioned experimental drugs, gets stuck inside of a 7 year old’s body.
He takes this as a chance to form his new identity of Conan and starts solving any case he can get his little now prepubescent hands on.
The show is absolutely massive. Like just go to MAL, search up Detective Conan and see how many side stories it has.
Yeah, if you want a few week’s worth of pure detective anime content, you’ll know where to start.
9. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
There are approximately as many Gundam series as there are stars in the universe.
This is because throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the mecha genre was all the rage. But among them I especially like the 1995 post-colony series Gundam Wing.
Although the animation feels a bit outdated (no duh) the show holds up extremely well even today.
I especially like the absence of a true “bad guy”, but rather interesting characters with differing views, like Zechs.
If you want a trip down memory lane to see one of many big metal boys duking it out, I strongly recommend this one.
8. Sailor Moon
Aside from being the biggest name in shoujo, Sailor Moon was also the biggest gateway show during the 90s.
Millions of people outside of the anime community still vaguely know what the show is about, and have at least seen its influence on other magic girl shows.
Even while watching it today, almost 30 years after its initial airing in 1992, it still holds pretty well.
The nostalgia points are very high here & the characters can carry the story just as well as they did back then.
It might not be all that special in regards to action scenes. But I doubt that was ever a reason for getting into the show.
7. Neon Genesis Evangelion
This was supposed to be another mech show, why is Shinji crying… but why am I crying, what is the point of life?
This is basically how the show left me feeling afterwards. Although the action scenes were amazing, they fell into the background of my mind as I pondered why every character is mentally broken and whether the writers were okay.
And heavy themes aren’t unheard of in mecha type shows. Gurren Lagann personally comes to mind, but rarely does it go as deep as Evangelion does.
Although a contemporary like Gundam Wing also had its share of good writing, I am a masochist, which is why I placed this bad boy slightly higher.
The goliath himself has stepped up to the plate.
It’s a fact that you already know about Pokémon. For heaven’s sake it was even used to support going to the polls, that’s just how popular it is.
The franchise has seen many adaptations, movies, games, and toys throughout the years. With some of the later Pokémon looking like common objects with googly eyes stuck to their forehead.
For this reason, I think it’s good to revisit the original anime that started it all.
The one that started a damn near religion, and to this day can make the whole room sing just by uttering “I want to be the very best”.
Why oh why was I allowed to watch this as a child?
Akira is the movie that best showcases why some people gravitate towards anime, as opposed to classic cartoons or live-action television shows.
No amount of actors or CGI can ever replicate the gory, gloomy, punky world of Akira.
It came out in 1988 but I still want to include it, as it had such an influence on the 90s. And also because the movie is just so damn good.
It’s mind boggling to think how much time this show took to animate. It seems like every little piece of the world was drawn with so much attention and detail.
If you have a strong stomach and want to see one of the best animated movies to date, I highly recommend you this a watch.
4. Princess Mononoke
Studio Ghibli was, and still is, a monster in the anime world. For decades they’ve been pumping out classic after classic.
But Princess Mononoke is arguably the best out of the bunch, because it turns out Miyazaki can truly do it all & brought us some jaw-dropping action scenes with this movie.
Every time you see the boar demon, just think about the fact that it was hand drawn.
Besides the amazing action we also get a very comprehensive and detailed world that’s easy to let yourself become immersed into. Not to mention a killer soundtrack.
Also this is how you create a badass and dependable female character, pay attention Disney.
3. Slam Dunk
As far as sports anime goes, this 1993 series was a true classic and did something a lot of sports-themed shows fail to do these days: appeal to a huge audience that isn’t into sports.
This is because the protagonist, Sakuragi, is such a well written character.
He wasn’t born dribbling a ball and doesn’t pull a Kuroko no Basket sharingan during a match.
He gets into the sport to pick up a girl. And to look cool while dunking the hoop.
But then he realizes there’s all this other stuff to basketball, like knowing the rules, the technique, and training your butt off. So we get to see him grow from zero to hero. Arguably one of the best basketball-themed animes you could check out, and certainly one of the best sports-themed series from the entire 90s.
2. GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka
Take Koro sensei, cut off the tentacles, crank up the perviness and add some muscle. Boom, you have Onizuka.
An ex-biker turned school teacher in his pursuit of high school girls.
But soon he comes to his senses and pulls a “how do I reach these kids” which is where the real show begins.
It’s an absolutely hilarious show with over-the-top humor and plenty of visual gags.
It also carries quite a few inspiring and important messages, as the show deals with topics such as bullying and suicide. Man I want to be in his class.
1. Cowboy Bebop
I’ve used the word “classic” a few times throughout this list. But Cowboy Bebop is probably the most worthy of that title.
Hailed by many to be the best show to have ever come out of the genre, and also being musically blessed by Yoko Kanno, you can see why it’s remained popular to this day.
Cowboy Bebop is set in a futuristic world where there’s a strong tone of action around every corner. And the animation holds up extremely well.
But the best part of the show is by far the character writing.
Fleshing out the cast and giving them realistic (and sometimes devastating) backstories just makes the show feel as close to real life as it could get.