15 best 90s anime movies and TV shows that have become iconic
Thanks to shows like South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, animated films and TV shows are no longer a preserve for children. For years, grownups have enjoyed the vibrant colors, fantastic themes and exceptional storylines that this genre offers. Therefore, we take a trip down memory lane to review some of the best 90s anime movies and TV shows that still hold up today.
Over the years, the quality of anime shows has improved greatly. However, there is something about old school anime that new shows cannot beat. This review has the genre’s most outstanding productions of the 90s.
The best 90s anime ranked
Are you looking for a 90s anime list that will help you pick what to watch? Below is a comprehensive compilation of the best 90s anime movies and TV shows.
15. Only Yesterday (1991)
This film is about a 27-year-old office worker who travels by train to the countryside while reminiscing about her childhood in Tokyo. Upon her arrival train station, she is surprised to find out that Toshio, whom she barely knows, is the one who came to pick her up.
The trip dredges up forgotten memories. Taeko wonders if she has been true to the dreams of her childhood self. She begins to realize that Toshio has helped her along the way.
Finally, Taeko faces her own true self, how she views the world and the people around her. She chooses to stay in the countryside instead of returning to Tokyo. She and Toshio begin a relationship, putting an end to her single status. This movie has a high 90s anime aesthetic appeal due to its storyline and visuals.
14. Slam Dunk (1993)
Slam Dunk follows Hanamichi Sakuragi, a delinquent and the leader of a gang. In his first year at Shohoku High School, he meets Haruko Akagi, the girl of his dreams, and is overjoyed when she is not repulsed or scared of him like all the other girls he has asked out.
In the hopes of impressing and getting closer to Haruko, he joins the local basketball team. Despite his extreme immaturity and fiery temper, Sakuragi proves to be a natural athlete and soon realizes that he loves the sport. He is joined by three other players who are also struggling to fit into society.
While watching this show, viewers are taken through a journey of camaraderie and team effort. The four misfits struggle to fulfill team captain Takenori Akagi's dream of winning the national championship. Together, they gain publicity and the once little-known Shohoku basketball team becomes an all-star contender in Japan.
13. Trigun (1998)
Rumors say that Vash the Stampede is a merciless villain who lays waste to all those that oppose him and flattens entire cities for fun, garnering him the title "The Humanoid Typhoon." He leaves a trail of death and destruction wherever he goes, and anyone can count themselves dead if they make eye contact with him.
Viewers of Trigun soon discover that he is actually a softie who is obsessed with doughnuts. He is trailed by two insurance agents, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who attempt to minimize his impact on the public. In the end, his morality and principles are tested.
12. Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)
This series tells the story of Utena Tenjou, a teenage orphan girl. Utena once met a prince who gave her a signet ring. Since then, she expressed her desire to be a prince through her strong-willed personality and tomboyish manner of dressing.
While searching for the prince, she enrolls at the Ohtori Academy and is drawn into a series of sword duels. She fights to win the hand of Anthy Himemiya, a mysterious girl known as the "Rose Bride" who has the power to revolutionize the world.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has received widespread critical acclaim and is regarded by critics as highly influential work in the shōjo genre. The series was so successful that it inspired a light novel series, a video game, and multiple stage musicals.
11. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
This romantic 90's anime aesthetic film is based on a one-volume manga, Mimi wo Sumaseba by Aoi Hiiragi. Whisper of the Heart tells a love story between two teenagers. Fate leads them both to a library where their personalities clash over their similar taste in books.
As 14-year-old Shizuku Tsukishima looks through the checkout cards in her library books, she discovers that they all have been checked out by Seiji Amasawa. Over the next few days, Shizuku encounters a young man, later revealed to be Seiji, who often annoys her.
Annoyance eventually turns into love and the romantic ending of this movie is one you will love. The two ride Seiji's bike to a lookout and watch the sunrise over the city, where Seiji professes his love for Shizuku. He proposes to marry her in the future and she happily accepts.
10. Yu Yu Hakusho (1992)
Yu Yu Hakusho is yet another 1990s anime that was adapted from Japanese manga with a similar title. It follows the life of Yuusuke Urameshi, a 14-year-old delinquent. While trying to save a child’s life, he gets hit by a car and dies.
The authorities in the spirit realm do not let him pass on, instead, he is offered an opportunity to go back to Earth by completing several tasks. One of these tasks is to eliminate evil on Earth with the help of Botan, the death god.
To help him on his venture, Yuusuke works with Kazuma Kuwabara, and two demons, Hiei and Kurama, who have criminal pasts. Together, they train and battle against enemies who threaten humanity.
9. Berserk (1997)
Berserk is an adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. It tells the story of a young mercenary known as Guts who was born from the corpse of his mother. With no other means of survival, he heads to the battlefield to make a living.
Berserk is one of the most action-filled 90s anime shows you can watch. Each day, Guts puts his life on the line in order to make enough to get by. He travels from one bloody confrontation to the next.
One day, he has a confrontation with a formidable group of mercenaries called the Band of Hawk. Their leader, White Hawk, takes a shine to him and recruits him. Guts soon makes his way up the group’s ranks to become the head of tactical offense.
However, while the band's quest for recognition continues, Guts slowly realizes that the world is not as black-and-white as he once assumed. Throughout this dark tale, viewers watch as he evolves and finds his own path while satisfying his leader’s lust for power.
8. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
This series focuses on Lain Iwakura, an adolescent girl living in suburban Japan with her middle-class family. It takes viewers through the intrigues surrounding her introduction to The Wired, a global communications network that is similar to the internet.
Lain is awkward, introverted, and socially isolated from most of her school peers. However, her life is changed by a series of bizarre incidents that start to take place after she learns that girls from her school have received an e-mail from a dead student, Chisa Yomoda.
She pulls out her old computer in order to check for the same message. Lain finds an email from Chisa telling her that she is not dead. She says that she has merely gotten rid of her physical body and flesh and is alive deep within The Wired where she has found the almighty God.
From this point, Lain is caught up in a series of cryptic and surreal events that see her delving deeper into the mystery of the network. Serial Experiments Lain is one of the best 90s anime that explores themes of consciousness, perception, and the nature of reality.
7. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Ghost in the Shell has a futuristic setting in the year 2029. The events unfold in a fictional city of Niihama otherwise known as New Port City. In the film, technology is so advanced that cyborgs are common and human beings can connect their brains to the internet.
The members of Section 9, an elite police division dealing with counter-terrorism and combating cyber-crime, are trailing the Puppet Master. Led by Major Motoko Kasunagi, they are out to stop this cybercriminal who hacks into cyborgs, steals information and uses it to commit other crimes.
This film is part of a Japanese cyberpunk science fiction media franchise based on the seinen manga series of the same name. It was released again in 2008 as Ghost in the Shell 2.0 with new audio and updated 3D computer graphics in certain scenes.
6. Perfect Blue (1997)
Mima Kirigoe, a pop-idol from the J pop group "CHAM!", decides to leave the group to become an actress. Some of her fans are upset by her change in career. One of them, a scary man going by the name Me-Mania, stalks her, sends her offensive fax and even sets up a website called Mima’s Room.
Meanwhile, in her new acting career, she is given the lead role of an exotic dancer. At the risk of ruining her reputation, she accepts the role. In the process, she becomes so traumatized that she is unable to distinguish the fantasy from reality.
One day, Me-Mania tries to assault her; she kills him and runs to her manager for help. She soon discovers that her manager was behind the dubious website and offensive fax.
She incapacitates him and escapes. Eventually, she moves on from this tragedy and grows from the experience.
In typical 90s anime style, this movie portrays the obsessive nature of showbiz. It addresses a number of pertinent issues in society while keeping the mood light and informative.
5. The Irresponsible Captain Taylor (1993)
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is an old school anime series based on a novel series titled The Most Irresponsible Man in Space. In distant high tech future, a clueless and careless Justy Tylor is looking for an easy life. He stumbles into the Space Force and signs up for a job.
His entrance exam ends with him making his computer tester to malfunction and explode. Luckily for him, Earth is in a space-war with an alien enemy called the Raalgon Empire so the Force is not picky about whom it hires.
Tylor is assigned to the Benefits and Pension department where he helps to resolve a terrorist hostage situation. As a reward, Tylor is given command of a destroyer.
Whether it is by sheer luck or strategic genius, he becomes unbeatable in the war against Raalgon. Throughout the series, none of the characters can make sense of Tylor’s success considering his casual approach to life.
4. Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso is the story of a 1930s fighter pilot who also happens to be a pig. While working as a bounty hunter, Porco enrages a group of seaplane pirates and an arrogant American pilot. Together with the Italian police, they hunt him down.
Porco reluctantly enlists the help of Fio, a young Italian girl with a genius for designing aircraft. Meanwhile, his friend Gina who has had a crush on him for years rebuffs the advances of the arrogant American pilot. She insists that she will wait for Porco, no matter how long it takes.
With a target on his back, the flying pig decides to deal with his enemies directly. He successfully gets rid of them, marries Gina and makes amends with Curtis. This is a feel-good classic anime that is worth watching if you love happy endings.
3. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Cowboy Bebop is set in 2071, almost fifty years after an accident in which a hyperspace gateway leaves the earth uninhabitable. At this time, humanity has colonized most of the rocky planets and moons of the Solar System.
Because of the rising crime rate, the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP) contracts bounty hunters, also referred to as "Cowboys", to chase criminals and bring them in alive in return for a reward. The series revolves around the lives of bounty hunters working from the spaceship Bebop.
Spike Spiegel, an exiled former hitman of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate, and Jet Black, a former ISSP officer, are part of the original Bebop crew. They are later joined by Faye Valentine, a con artist with amnesia; Edward Wong, a skilled hacker; and Ein, an intelligent Welsh Corgi.
Over the course of the series, the team gets involved in disastrous mishaps that leave them broke. They also encounter people and events from their past. Spike’s rivalry with an ambitious criminal gives this 90’s anime several memorable scenes and a climactic final battle.
2. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990)
Set in 1889, the series centers on Nadia, a 14-year-old girl of unknown origin and Jean, a young, friendly French inventor. Early in the story, the two protagonists are chased by Grandis Granva, Sanson, and Hanson, a group of jewel thieves who pursue Nadia for the blue jeweled pendant she possesses.
After being rescued by Captain Nemo and his submarine, the jewel thieves and the young protagonists join forces and participate in the struggle against the Neo-Atlantean forces, who seek to dominate the world.
This series is an adventure tale at heart with more than one 90’s anime aesthetic; it also touches on dark topics like colonialism and the cost of war. Although Studio Gainax lost a ton of money during the production of this series, the final product was very impressive.
1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke is set in the late Muromachi period of Japan. It has a lot of fantasy elements because the writers took a creative license to history. It is top of the list of 1990s anime due to its intricate plot.
The story follows the young Emishi prince Ashitaka's involvement in a struggle between the gods of a forest and the humans who consume its resources. The term "Mononoke" is not a name, but a Japanese word for a spirit or monster: supernatural, shape-shifting beings.
The film was released in Japan on July 12, 1997, and in the United States on October 29, 1999. It was a critical and commercial blockbuster, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan of 1997, and it also held Japan's box office record for domestic films until 2001's Spirited Away, another Miyazaki film.
It was dubbed into English and distributed in North America by Miramax. Despite a poor box office performance there, it sold well on DVD and video. This greatly increased Studio Ghibli's popularity and influence outside Japan.
If you have been wondering, "Where can I watch 90s anime?" There are many streaming services you can sign up for. Netflix is one of the most popular and easily accessible services to use.
Watching 90s anime is the best way to appreciate classic movies and TV shows. If you are spoilt for choice, we suggest watching each of the productions on this list. All of them are unique and guarantee a new outlook on many societal issues.