Anime from the 1980s created numerous iconic series that people still find enjoyable today. These standout series include Urusei Yatsura, Gunbuster, City Hunter, Macross, and Tomorrow’s Joe 2.
It’s easy to see why people consider the 1980s the golden era of anime. This period saw the rise of influential studios like Studio Ghibli, Kyoto Animation, J.C. Staff, and Daicon Films (now Gainax), which introduced various genres.
Popular 80s Anime
Currently, there’s a trend of reanimating numerous shows for modern viewers. It’s exciting to journey back to the finest ‘80s anime and speculate which ones might be next for a contemporary revamp. Even today, many of these shows preserve their allure with breathtaking animation and engaging narratives.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)
In 1987, Gainax made their industry debut with Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Directed by the talented 24-year-old Hiroyuki Yamaga, this alternate future tale follows Shiro, who volunteers to become the first astronaut inspired by a chance encounter.
Yamaga’s film, while influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s style, explores grittier territory, setting it apart from Studio Ghibli. Initially, it didn’t have a significant impact due to this divergence.
Over time, Wings of Honnêamise gained recognition as a crucial work, earning “required viewing” status for anime enthusiasts. The visually stunning aerial sequences, vibrant colors in the sky, captivating perspectives, and meticulous craftsmanship garnered praise from The Quietus.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Hayao Miyazaki’s manga series adaptation, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, established Studio Ghibli’s notable status. The film, an environmental cautionary tale inspired by Japan’s Minamata Bay mercury pollution, propelled the creation of the legendary anime studio. It unfolds in a post-apocalyptic world, a thousand years after a devastating event.
Toxic jungles brimming with giant mutated insects now cover vast territories. Nausicaä, the valley’s princess, strives to create peace between humans and the jungle’s inhabitants, despite the Tolmekia kingdom’s ambitious resistance.
At its heart, Nausicaä is an anti-war story, reflecting the world’s destruction caused by human-made bio-weapons and paralleling the Cold War tension.
Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel: Starry-Eyed Surprise ( 1983 )
Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel, stands as a memorable example of the magical girl genre, bringing a fresh spin to 80s anime. The story follows ten-year-old Yuu, who transforms into the teenage pop idol Creamy Mami, capturing the hearts of millions with her enchanting voice.
What made Creamy Mami unique was its innovative plot that combined magical elements with the ups and downs of showbiz, against the backdrop of a coming-of-age narrative. Full of magic, music, and whimsy, Creamy Mami is a delightful slice of 1980s anime nostalgia.
Lupin the Third Part II: The Artful Dodger (1977 – 1980)
The exciting escapades of the world’s greatest thief, Lupin III, came into full color in the 70s, but the charm of this classic series spilled over into the 80s. In the second series, Lupin, along with his partners Jigen, Goemon, and the seductive Fujiko, pull off daring heists, while evading the relentless Inspector Zenigata.
This 80s anime injects a unique blend of comedy, action, and noir into the mix, making it a delightful treasure in the anime world. Lupin the Third Part II is a shining example of a series that truly embodies the fun, excitement, and style of anime from the 80s.
Ranma ½: The Gender-Bender Brouhaha
Ranma ½, another masterpiece by Rumiko Takahashi, is a martial arts rom-com with a twist – a cursed spring that turns our protagonist, Ranma, into a girl whenever he’s splashed with cold water. This hilarious premise led to countless comedic situations and some heartfelt moments, making it an iconic anime from the 1980s.
The quirky, lovable characters, intricate love triangles, and bizarre martial arts challenges made Ranma ½ an unforgettable part of 80s anime history. Its unique blend of action, romance, and comedy has ensured its place as a beloved classic.
Macross: Love Song in the Stars (1982)
A cornerstone of the mecha genre, Macross is an epic space opera that explores the trials and tribulations of war, the power of culture, and the complexities of love. This 80s anime follows the interstellar war between humans and an alien race, the Zentradi, with the space fortress Macross caught in the middle.
What sets Macross apart from its contemporaries is its unique blend of mecha action, romantic drama, and music, which plays a vital role in bridging the gap between cultures. With its dramatic story arcs, engaging characters, and groundbreaking mecha designs, Macross is a quintessential addition to any 1980s anime watchlist.
Dirty Pair: Galactic Glamour Girls (1987 – 1988)
Dirty Pair is a dazzling action-comedy that thrives on the chemistry between its two leading ladies, the Trouble Consultant duo, Kei and Yuri. This best 80s anime blends sci-fi, action, and comedy with a dash of James Bond-like glamour and intrigue.
Despite their codename, the “Dirty Pair” always aims to solve galactic crimes in the most peaceful way possible, although chaos and destruction inevitably follow in their wake. Their banter, wild adventures, and unshakeable friendship are what make this anime a fun, refreshing gem in the realm of 80s anime.
Patlabor: Giants in the Concrete Jungle
If you’re craving a compelling mix of police procedural and giant robots, then Patlabor is the 80s anime for you. It captures the everyday lives of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s Special Vehicles Section 2, a team responsible for handling crimes involving Labors – giant robots used for industrial purposes.
Unlike most mecha anime from the 80s, Patlabor is a slow-burn, focusing more on character development and socio-political issues, all served with a dash of comedy. This unique approach sets Patlabor apart, making it a standout choice for any fan of retro 1980s anime.
Urusei Yatsura: Extraterrestrial Extravaganza
Urusei Yatsura is a rollicking space opera, a playful, genre-bending parody that exemplifies the innovation of 80s anime. Ataru Moroboshi, the unluckiest boy on Earth, accidentally proposes to an alien princess, Lum, leading to a whirlwind of cosmic comedy.
This series is a cornerstone of 80s anime shows, mixing Japanese folklore with science fiction, resulting in an absurdly funny romantic comedy. Its zany humor, imaginative storylines, and charming characters are influential in anime culture.
City Hunter: Trigger-happy Troubleshooter
Infused with action, comedy, and romance, City Hunter is a delightful romp through the seedy underbelly of Tokyo’s crime scene. Ryo Saeba, the protagonist, is a “sweeper” – part detective, part mercenary, with a weakness for pretty women.
This 80s anime offers a heady mix of high-octane action and slapstick humor, with a splash of heartfelt drama. As far as retro 1980s anime goes, City Hunter is a riotous ride, full of hair-raising adventures and charming characters, making it a sure-shot entry on the list of anime from the 80s you should check out.
My Neighbor Totoro: Whispering Winds and Whiskers
No list of best 80s anime is complete without the magic of Studio Ghibli. My Neighbor Totoro, the studio’s iconic film from 1988, is a beautiful, whimsical exploration of childhood innocence and the spirit of nature.
The enchanting tale of sisters Satsuki and Mei, who befriend the lovable forest spirit Totoro, captured hearts worldwide. Its stunning hand-drawn animation, coupled with a heartfelt story, encapsulates Ghibli’s signature touch.
Even within the realms of 1980s anime, Totoro stands in a league of its own, a beacon of the magic that animation can bring to storytelling.
Fist of the North Star: The Shatterer of Skyscrapers
If one show encapsulates the gritty, macho 80s anime style, it’s Fist of the North Star. The narrative follows the stoic and muscular Kenshiro, the successor of an ancient martial art known as Hokuto Shinken, in a post-apocalyptic world.
This series raised the bar for ultra-violence in anime, combining the raw power of martial arts with spectacularly gruesome fatalities. But beneath the surface, it offered profound insights into humanity and survival, making Fist of the North Star a must-watch for any fan of 80s anime shows.
Igano Kabamaru, under the strict tutelage of his grandfather, honed his skills as a ninja while remaining oblivious to life beyond the mountains. Circumstances then propelled him to register at a school in Tokyo, introducing him to a substantial cultural divergence.
He endearingly juggles puppy love, school rivalries, and humorous attempts to fit into unfamiliar surroundings, making Igano Kabamaru a delightful anime that celebrates its amusing absurdity.
The animation style of Igano Kabamaru may seem outmoded, yet it presents its premise and characters in a straightforward manner. Most impressively, the anime skillfully masters the delivery of classic shonen tropes.
Despite being largely unnoticed in the current era, Silver Fang earned substantial popularity in its native Japan, leading to a decade-long sequel in 1999, yet remains relatively unknown internationally.
Although human characters contribute to the storyline, the narrative mainly pivots around a young pup named Gin, who bands together with other dogs to gear up for a daunting showdown with a fearsome bear.
Regrettably, the English version underwent substantial modifications in its VHS release, intending to cater to a younger audience. However, the original version of the series provides a more mature narrative, delving into graphically intense themes and occasional violence.
Bubblegum Crisis: Neon Nights and Knight Sabers
Bubblegum Crisis is 80s anime in its purest form: neon lights, futuristic cityscapes, cybernetic suits, and a soundtrack that screams synth-pop. This cyberpunk OVA is the epitome of 80s anime shows – a perfect cocktail of action, sci-fi, and music.
The Knight Sabers, an all-female mercenary team, fight rogue robots (Boombers) in their power armor, showcasing an ensemble of badass women – a rarity in the male-dominated mecha genre of the time. Bubblegum Crisis is a nostalgic joyride, complete with all the glitz, glam, and gusto of the retro 80s anime era.
Tomorrow’s Joe 2
We can’t overemphasize the impact of Asao Takamori’s Ashita no Joe manga. It weaves an incredible tale of Joe Yabuki’s journey from the slums to the top of the boxing world, a captivating narrative teeming with gripping drama, devastating tragedy, vital life lessons, exalted victories, and agonizing losses.
The profound influence of the manga spurred its conversion into a 79-episode anime in 1970. Nearly ten years later, Joe made an impressive return in a second season that outshines its predecessor in every aspect. Ashita no Joe 2 remains a timeless anime, bridging generations with its universal themes that reverberate far beyond boxing.
Hayao Miyazaki, the esteemed director of numerous Studio Ghibli films, teamed up with the animation studio behind the original Animaniacs series to craft a whimsical spin on Sherlock Holmes stories. This adaptation, steeped in quirky humor, harmoniously intertwines with the cherished mystery-solving elements familiar to fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.
The show captivates both children and adults, demonstrating an appeal that breaks age barriers. To this day, many anime enthusiasts still enjoy this charming series, with its availability for free on YouTube playing a part in its ongoing popularity.
Touch masterfully tells an extraordinary slice-of-life story, highlighting the allure of commonplace themes such as maturing and finding one’s life purpose. The romantic triangle between Tatsuya, Kazuya, and Minami infuses a layer of dramatic tension that strikes a chord with anyone who remembers the intricacies of young love.
A stunning twist midway through the series dramatically reshapes the storyline. Keeping spoilers at bay, we can assure you that Touch, even after three decades, endures as an anime that resists the ravages of time. Its ongoing appeal makes it a captivating viewing experience that continues to charm audiences today.
Gunbuster, a captivating mecha anime, continues to glisten as a gem, even with the passage of time, despite its short span of just six OVA episodes. Impressively, the animation from Gainax outstrips the norms of most ’80s shows, adding to its persistent allure. But it’s the extraordinary ensemble of characters that truly catapults Gunbuster into the realm of classics.
The anime introduces an irresistible cast, each with well-developed personalities, with Noriko Takaya standing out as a loveable protagonist. Gunbuster balances its breathtaking mecha battles with ample time dedicated to the detailed development of its pilots and villains, fostering deep connections for viewers.
The show also regularly unleashes humor, often outdoing even dedicated comedy series in its comedic prowess, making Gunbuster an unforgettable fusion of action, character growth, and hilarity.
Robotech: Love in the Time of Mecha
Robotech is a quintessential 80s anime that introduced Western audiences to the wonder of Japanese animation.
A clever amalgamation of three separate series, Robotech was a soap opera dressed in high-tech robot armor. It did more than feature spectacular mecha battles – it delved deep into the drama of human relationships, love, and loss, set against the backdrop of an alien invasion.
Its complex, intertwining narratives were something rarely seen in Western animation of the time, marking it as a turning point in the acceptance of anime on foreign shores. In essence, Robotech was the flagship of the 80s anime invasion.
Saint Seiya: Knights Of The Zodiac
Dragon Ball, along with Saint Seiya, distinguish themselves as two of the most adored ’80s anime series, capturing hearts not only in Japan but also in Western countries. Saint Seiya, drawing its inspiration from Greek mythology, narrates the adventure of a group of teenagers. They wield extraordinary powers bestowed upon them, letting them protect Athena and confront fearsome deities from the pantheon.
Saint Seiya retains its status as a classic battle shonen series, setting itself apart from other anime of its era with a swift narrative pace. The anime offers impressive animation, straightforward yet engaging storytelling, and a majestic soundtrack, converging into an unforgettable experience and asserting its position as one of the ’80s finest anime masterpieces.
Dragon Ball: The Fantasia of Fistfights
Unraveling the universe of Son Goku and his companions is like opening a treasure trove of childhood memories. Dragon Ball, arguably the best 80s anime, pioneered the shounen genre and influenced an entire generation of animators and manga artists.
Its recipe for success? A unique blend of martial arts, fantasy, humor, and an unforgettable ensemble of characters. Goku’s journey from a naïve boy to a skilled warrior was wild, packed with epic battles and high stakes. This defining 80s anime style established tropes that became essential elements of shounen storytelling.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Mecha Revolution
Before Neon Genesis Evangelion, there was Mobile Suit Gundam, the iconic best 80s anime that kick-started the real robot genre. Debuting in 1979, its influence spilled well into the 80s, shaping the mecha genre like no other. Anime in the 80s took a leap forward with this trailblazer, showcasing the grim realities of war, politics, and the human spirit.
In an era of super robots, Gundam’s military-esque suits were a breath of fresh air. The intense character drama woven into this intricate tapestry of interstellar conflict was unprecedented. Gundam remains a must-watch, setting the gold standard for 80s anime style.
Legend Of The Galactic Heroes
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, primarily broadcasted in the ’90s, started its monumental journey in 1988 and is still acclaimed as the pinnacle of grand space opera in anime. The series doesn’t center around action but flourishes in the complex interplay of its characters and the exploration of profound political and social themes.
As a result, the narrative unravels more leisurely than other sci-fi anime from the 1980s and onwards, which might pose a challenge in the initial episodes.
Akira: The Future Is Now
An epitome of 80s anime, Akira is a cyberpunk symphony set in dystopian Neo-Tokyo, boasting an electrifying plot about youth rebellion and government corruption. This 1988 film redefined anime from the 80s, upscaling the animation industry with its remarkable detail, fluid movements, and vibrant colors.
Its transcendent narrative explores themes of power, identity, and social decay. Akira is more than just a film – it’s a trendsetter, a revolution in anime aesthetics, and a testament to the quality of 80s anime shows. Despite the countless anime that came after, Akira’s imprint on the genre is indelible.