Top 15 Best Romance Anime From The 1990s

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Every year (and arguably every season), anime brings a new slate of romance titles – usually with comedy, harem, and school elements.

Still, it sometimes feels nice to go back to older anime projects.

You learn to appreciate what was once the regular style of art and animation, and you become acquainted with its own brand of tropes, humor, and storytelling.

With that in mind, this ranking catalogs my picks for the best ‘90s romance anime series & films, serving as a glimpse into the best love stories in anime from right before the new millennium.


15. Oh! My Goddess

Oh! My Goddess anime screenshot

How would you react if your attempt at ordering food ended up with a wifely goddess being transported right in front of you?

That’s exactly what happens to Keiichi Morisato at the start of the story, turning his ordinary college life upside down.

Then again, his situation is hard to complain about:

He gets to live with not only the wifely Belldandy but also two of her similarly lovely and divine sisters, Skuld and Urd.

Despite Keiichi’s S-tier harem, Oh! My Goddess allocates most of its time showing the sweet chemistry between him and the deity he (jokingly) wished to stay by his side forever. It’s a wise decision given this OVA’s five-episode runtime, which is much shorter than the newer TV series.


14. The Vision of Escaflowne

The Vision of Escaflowne anime screenshot

In this original fantasy project from Sunrise, 15-year-old Hitomi Kanzaki slowly realizes that her hobby of reading tarot cards might hold grave importance.

To people and entire kingdoms, it may just spell life or death.

Thanks to her esoteric interests, a mysterious guy manages to slay a ferocious dragon. But before Hitomi could grasp what she witnessed, the two are thrown into the world of Gaea.

There, she learns that he’s Van Fanel, a prince who can pilot the titular mecha-dragon hybrid.

Does she immediately turn from an ordinary teen to a royal princess? No.

Emperor Dornkirk’s army soon attacks Fanel’s kingdom, prompting them to flee for their lives.

Eventually, they meet a mighty ally in the form of Allen Schezar, who amusingly looks so much like the guy Hitomi has a crush on in school.

Boasting high-quality designs, art, and music (composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi), Tenkuu no Escaflowne is an exciting and beautifully realized adventure with a strong love triangle — and that’s only with 26 episodes instead of the initially planned 39-episode run.


13. Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin anime screenshot

Kenshin Himura wields the Sakabato, a masterfully forged katana with a peculiar reversed blade.

It’s far from deadly, but it allows him to keep his promise not to kill anymore and to only use his widely feared sword skills to protect others.

Years after his bloody career, he chances upon dojo owner Kaoru Kamiya in Tokyo.

And sometimes, all you need is one person to believe in your capacity to be a better person.

Is this a chance to live in peace and perhaps find love (once again)?

Or will sociopolitical movements and familiar faces force him to defy his principles?

In 94 episodes, Rurouni Kenshin gives a heaping of climactic moments, iconic OSTs, and a nuanced look into politics, violence, redemption, and Japanese history. Also, the Trust and Betrayal prequel OVA is a perfect contrast with its serious tone, graphic violence, and heartbreaking love story.

Even with the tarnished reputation of creator Nobuhiro Watsuki, the anime itself will forever be one of the best in history.


12. Martian Successor Nadesico

Martian Successor Nadesico anime screenshot

The orphan Akito Tenkawa was born during a period when Mars was rife with delicious food sources, which explains his proficiency and passion for cooking.

However, his planet gets destroyed — and suddenly finds himself on Earth.

Now he has so many questions about Mars, his parents, and his predicament. His puzzlement eases a little when he spots Yuriko Misumaru. She’s the current captain of the titular battleship, but she’s also Akito’s childhood friend (who’s madly in love with him).

Akito believes that Yuriko can shed some light on his life, so he joins her crew as a cook. Sooner than later, he also becomes one of the pilots and has his heart torn between the wacky Yuriko and officer Megumi Reinard.

Unceasingly hilarious, detailed, and cleverly written, Martian Successor Nadesico is an amazing space and mecha parody that stands the test of time.


11. Mysterious Play

Mysterious Play anime screenshot

Released in Spring 1995, Mysterious Play is one of the early ‘isekai’ hits way before isekai came to be how we know it today.

This anime offers a sprawling fantasy reverse harem that begins when Miaka Yuuki and Yui Hongo get transported to the world of the book they were reading.

Tamahome saves them before they’re taken in as slaves, but Yui is dragged back into the real world.

Emperor Hotohori then finds Miaka and Tamahome. He’s convinced that she’s destined to help summon the wish-granting god Suzaku. Miaka sees this as the only way to be with Yui once again, so she agrees to become the priestess.

With distinctly charming men such as Tamahome, Hotohori, Tasuki, and Nuriko all around her, Miaka’s adventures are about to be filled with thrills and conundrums both on and out of the battlefield.


10. Nadia: Secret of Blue Water

Nadia: Secret of Blue Water anime screenshot

Would you believe me if I said that this is primarily inspired by Jules Verne’s 19th-century classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?

Fushigi no Umi no Nadia stars two 14-year-old orphans. Nadia la Arwall has unknown origins, despises violence, and is scared of putting her trust in others.

In contrast, Jean Roque Lartigue exhibits a gentle and cheerful demeanor — and he loves machines and science.

Despite their differences, the two share the goal of upending Gargoyle’s wicked ways. And as they spend time together in their thrilling globetrotting, Nadia and Jean can learn a thing or two from one another.

With exceptional worldbuilding, an adorable main couple, and a truly remarkable cast, Nadia: Secret of Blue Water garnered the Anime Grand Prix Award in 1991 (the year of its release).

Just another day from Gainax and Hideaki Anno, am I right?


9. Mizuiro Jidai

Mizuiro Jidai anime screenshot

Otherwise known as Aqua Age, this series from Nippon Animation is a colorful look back at adolescence.

Yuuko Kawai is an adorable but shy middle-schooler. She compensates for her less-than-ideal grades with her knack for music and writing.

Her best friend Takako Takahata is not afraid to say what she thinks and genuinely values their bond. And completing the main trio is the witty, athletic, and once-bespectacled Hiroshi Naganumo.

As they enter another school year, they must come to terms with their newfound emotions. Both Yuuko and Takako see Hiroshi have romantic feelings for their guy friend — and Hiroshi’s been infatuated with one of them for a very long time.

Mizuiro Jidai is one of the most underrated shoujo and romance titles of the 1990s. More than just love, it also captures the colorful daily lives of youth. I hope that both the adaptation and the manga (by Yuu Yabuuchi) gain renewed interest someday.


8. Mysterious Thief Saint Tail

Mysterious Thief Saint Tail anime screenshot

Meimi Haneoka isn’t the go-to friend for solving computations.

On the other hand, she excels in sports and physical activities, which is perfect for her secret identity: Saint Tail.

What does Saint Tail do?

Simply put, she steals only items that were stolen from innocent people in the first place — then returns all of them back to their rightful owners.

Helping her find new possessions to recover is Seira Mimori, her friend who aspires to be a nun.

Everything should go smoothly, but her classmate Daiki Asuka is intent on capturing the thief that has long evaded his detective dad.

Kaitou Saint Tail isn’t an ordinary school rom-com anime nor a serious detective series like Psycho-Pass.

Instead, it uses its cat-and-mouse antics to illustrate the blossoming romance between the kindhearted thief and her fated junior investigator — and I couldn’t ask for more.


7. Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday anime screenshot

Omoide Poroporo premiered over 30 years ago.

Still, it has yet to lose its magnificence as a feat of animation and quietly powerful storytelling.

Set in 1982, the acclaimed film follows Taeko Okajima as she goes to the countryside. Refreshingly away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, she begins to fondly think back to her younger years.

Taeko is now nearing her 30s and faces the pressure of everyday adult responsibilities (and finally being married).

The question is if she has grown up to be the woman her childhood self always dreamed of.

Shifting from past to present, the anime goes through memories of school, first love, and adolescence to offer both Taeko and the viewers a chance to reflect and better appreciate the persons who made them who they are today.

The late Isao Takahata handled both directing and screenwriting roles for Only Yesterday. Hayao Miyazaki might be the key figure general viewers associate Ghibli with, but this film proves that the studio is more than just one name.


6. Neighborhood Stories

Neighborhood Stories anime screenshot

Mikako Kouda and Tsutomu Yamaguchi have been dear friends since they were kids, especially because they live close to one another.

However, their platonic feelings shift to something more intimate as they become teenagers.

The relationship between Mikako and Tsutomu is enough of a reason to catch this. Then again, the best part about Gokinjo Monogatari is the larger social circle to which they belong.

From Risa Kanzaki to the motor-riding Yuusuke Tashiro and the effortlessly sexy Mariko Nakasu, they’re all amazingly written and designed. Despite their personal troubles, misunderstandings, and frictions in the game of love, these teens genuinely appreciate and support one another.

Spanning 50 episodes, Neighborhood Stories is a triumph of character-driven storytelling bolstered by a soundtrack and art style that fit the fashionable and artistic passions of the cast.


5. Hana Yori Dango

Hana Yori Dango anime screenshot

Due to their poor socioeconomic status, Tsukushi Makino’s parents want nothing more than for their only child to succeed.

By enrolling her at the ultra-prestigious Eitoku University, they (hilariously) hope that she can get married to a well-off guy.

Well, Tsukushi does eventually meet not just one, but four of the wealthiest and most popular guys at school.

The bad news is that they’re from the feared group F4 — and the leader Tsukasa Domyouji isn’t happy to see her at all.

With rampant elitism, bullying, and arrogance awaiting her at school, can she make it to graduation or will she drop out? Are the other guys in F4 as awful as Tsukasa? If so, why does Rui Hanazawa exude a gentler and appealing aura?

To say that Tsukushi is one tough cookie would be an understatement.

In this classic reverse harem from Toei Animation, the F4 will soon learn that they have bitten off more than they can chew.


4. Macross Plus

Macross Plus anime screenshot

A Macross anime can’t really call itself one if it doesn’t involve singing, mecha fights, and love triangles.

Here you’ll meet three childhood friends from the planet of Eden: Myung Fang Long, Isamu Alva Dyson, and Guld Goa Bowman.

Since they were kids, Isamu and Guld have been passionate about piloting aircraft and have been in love with Myung.

However, a certain incident severed their bonds and left Guld alone for a long time in Eden.

Now, Myung is headed to Eden to manage an AI idol’s debut concert. Likewise, Isamu and Guld have met once again — this time as mecha pilots competing for UN Spacy’s Project Super Nova.

The trio could hold the key to unearthing the truth behind a looming disaster, but they must first settle their differences and be honest with one another.

If you have the time for at least one installment of this 40-year-old franchise, let it be Macross Plus. The OVA and the slightly longer film version showcase the brilliance of legends such as Shinichiro Watanabe, Shouji Kawamori, Yoko Kanno, and Keiko Nobumoto.


3. Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart anime screenshot

Residing in Tama New Town in Tokyo, Shizuku Tsukishima has always had a passion for literature.

In fact, the 14-year-old is interested in writing and loves to borrow books from the library. One day, she realizes that another individual often asks for the same titles.

This other bookworm is Seiji Amasawa, who Shizuku meets and befriends after following a strange cat and going to an antique store.

Eventually she learns that he yearns to be a violin maker someday. Shizuku admires his choice to pursue this goal no matter what, but it also bothers her. They’re both young and full of hobbies — yet she lacks a similar career path and plans for her future.

As a tale of wholesome love and self-discovery, Whisper of the Heart pulls out all the stops in the art, animation, and music department.

The nuanced character acting elevates the story being told and the dialogues (and monologues) never feel like fillers.

Prior to the release of Mimi wo Sumaseba, Studio Ghibli only relied on co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata to direct their feature films. Handing over the job to the late Yoshifumi Kondo was a slight risk, but it definitely paid off in spades.


2. Kodomo no Omocha

Kodomo no Omocha anime screenshot

At only 11 years old, Sana Kurata has already achieved showbiz fame for being the main performer in a kid’s TV series (also called Kodomo no Omocha).

She has an amazing mom and her manager Rei Sagami is fine with being called her pimp.

Life has been peaceful — until her classmate Akito Hayama begins to wreak havoc. He leads a group of guys to bully the girls and stop students and teachers from enjoying a conducive learning environment.

Sana will not tolerate their chaotic ways. Yet as she unravels Akito’s life, she discovers his troubled past and family situation.

Apart from its surprisingly mature approach to serious issues, it has impeccable drama, comedic timing, and character development.

From a hectic rivalry anime, the 102-episode Kodomo no Omocha turns into a remarkable coming-of-age series.


1. Marmalade Boy

Marmalade Boy anime screenshot

In this anime from Spring 1994, high schoolers Miki Koishikawa and Yuu Matsuura end up living in one big house despite not being related by blood.


As ridiculous as it sounds, their parents decided to marry each other’s ex-partners.

Miki’s initially reluctant about the ordeal but changes her tune when she sees Yuu, her new step-brother (and the titular marmalade boy).

The two MCs fall in love despite their odd family situation, yet there seems to be an endless number of romantic rivals like Ginta Suou, Arimi Suzuki, and Michael Grant. Others such as Satoshi Miwa and Meiko Akizuki are entangled in their own web of love.

Yes, the premise and the sheer number of characters in Marmalade Boy feel outrageous. But it all works.

Even if you disregard the great soundtrack and visuals, this essential shoujo series beats the competition with its long but sweet and rewarding journey.

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R. Romero

Millennial introvert on the lookout for slice-of-life anime, world cinema, and European music. Follow on Twitter @notspencer08