Best 80s anime list — top 15 movies and series

The 80s was a time when the anime industry was booming and some of the 80s anime are too good to skip.

Anime had started widely being produced and watched in the 1960s. The first-ever anime production company, Toei Animation and Mushi Production was set up in 1958. They produced the first colored anime featured film, “The Tale of the White Serpent” the same year. Anime kept on progressing more and in the 80s there were some anime produced which remain unforgettable. Hence, we created a top list of 80s anime, so you do not miss out on these old but gold anime.

It is exciting to watch 80s anime because they show how the rom-com, shounen, slice-of-life, and pretty much all genres evolved. Many will be surprised to find out how famous anime nowadays have a similar plot to the ones from the 80s. Maybe you’ll end up having a new classic favorite anime after watching this list.

The 80s anime recommendations are one of the many we have among our top lists. Such as a list of best romance anime for you to watch. We have even selected the top black hair anime girls which are simply too beautiful to not look at.

Now finally, let’s dig into the past masterpieces of the anime industry.

1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Credit: K-Factory / Kitty Film Mitaka Studio

Starting this list with one of the best-rated and most famous 80s anime, the only Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Elite anime fans regard this as one of the best anime shows ever made. More than three decades have passed since its released and this anime is still rated on MAL as the 5th best anime. This anime would be best enjoyed by Star Wars and Game of Throne fans. It has a ton of characters introduced and the plot is very exciting.

The plot is set in the far future. Galactic war is happening between the democratic Free Planets Alliance and the monarchical Galactic Empire. The new generation leaders are Admiral Yang Wen-li, a reserved historian, and Reinhard von Lohengram, a military genius. Each of them has their past and life struggles which develop them to have opposite ideologies. As their ideologies clash in between of war they must question the cause behind their battles.

2. Akira

Credit: Tokyo Movie Shinsha

Akira is an all-time classic cyberpunk anime. It was released in 1988 but is still remembered by people as a great action anime. Although it was made in 1988, the animation of Akira remains to be very good because it was the most expensive anime made at that time. Its animation is hand-drawn and the soundtrack during the anime just adds essence to it. Most importantly, the anime focuses on a variety of social issues which later on inspired the creation of many anime.

The plot is set in 1988 Japan where a boy with psychic powers causes destruction in Tokyo which leads to World War III. He is then taken into custody and hidden. Years later in 2019 stands a restored Tokyo filled with gang violence against the government. In this city, the main character Shoutarou Kaneda leads a group called “the Capsules” which rides on heavy motorcycles and engages in conflict with the group called “the Clowns”. During a battle, Tetsuo Shima the best friend of Shoutarou has an accident with an Esper. After this mysterious encounter, Tetsuo also begins to develop psychic powers. While the government tries to find and quarantine him to prevent destruction from happing once again. 

3. Dragon Ball

Credit: Toei Animation

Dragon Ball is one of the most influential anime ever made. It set the standard of shounen anime and inspired the creation of many for years to come. It was also the first anime that made anime popular in the west. Dragon Ball developed a huge franchise and has a fanbase worldwide. It can be said that it is among the most famous anime from the 80s.

The anime follows the story of a young boy named Son Goku. He meets a girl named Bulma who’s on a quest to find seven magical orbs called Dragon Balls. She believes that when all these seven Dragon Balls are collected then they can grant any wish. Son Goku tells her he has a Dragon Ball which he will only give to him if she allows him to join her on the journey to find the Dragon Ball. There are also many other people after the Dragon Balls. From then onwards, the anime follows their journey of collecting the Dragon Balls and the challenges and rivals they meet during it.

4. My Neighbor Totoro

Credit: Studio Ghibli

The first 80s movie from the legendary Studio Ghibli is My Neighbour Totoro. This movie is way ahead of its time in terms of arts and animation. The music is beautiful, and it is overall a very wholesome animated movie. This one movie led to this anime having a huge franchise. It is very famous in the west too and is available on Netflix. It is a feel-good movie that remains one of the best-animated creations of the 80s.

The anime is set in Japan where Tatsuo Kusakabe moves to the countryside with his daughters Satsuki and Mei because their mother is in a nearby hospital. The girls begin to explore the countryside where Mei one day finds a small, cute bunny. She chases it and finds herself in a magical forest and sees a mystical creature called “Totoro” which is a huge and furry forest spirit. Satsuki soon meets him too and they become friends with him. The anime follows the story of the girls’ adventures and discoveries with the magical creatures in the forest.

5. Gunbuster

Credit: Gainax

Gunbuster is an OVA animated series of only 6 episodes. It is a brilliantly executed mecha anime that has the themes of space and military. It is directed by Hideaki Anno, the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion so if you loved that mecha anime then you will surely enjoy watching this one. The animation of Gunbuster is incredible but what sets itself apart from other anime is its character. Each character has a unique personality and each one goes through a lot of character development.

The anime is set in 2023 where humanity faces a threat from “Space Monsters”. To defend themselves, humanity developed huge fighting robots piloted by chosen youngsters. The protagonist is Noriko Takaya who joins the training academy although she is not a very talented pilot. The anime follows the journey of Noriko and other characters, and they train and fight the enemies while also battling their inner emotions.

6. Fist of the North Star

Credit: Toei Animation

Maybe you haven’t heard of this 80s anime before, but you’ve seen it in a lot of memes. The most famous one is “you are already dead”. But this anime is more than just meme material. It is a huge hit from the 80s. Fist of the North Star is a martial arts-based anime with a lot of blood and violence. But its storyline is great which gives the message of defending the ones you care about no matter how much the odds are against you.

The anime is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the protagonist Kenshirou is on a quest to find his Shin, his rival who kidnapped Yuria, his fiancé. The anime follows Kenshirou’s journey in the anime as he struggles to save Yuria while also defending helpless people from bloodthirsty ravagers. However, he attracts the attention of bigger enemies through his exploits which brings him more trouble than he had expected.

7. Ranma ½

Credit: Studio Deen

Ranma ½ is the first 80s comedy anime to make it to the list. This hilarious, slice of life anime proves how creative people were back in the 80s. It has such a funny concept and the character’s adaptability makes it even funnier. Although the plot sounds absurd at first it’s much more enjoyable once you start watching it.

The anime follows the story of a martial arts prodigy named Ranma Saotome. He is training in China where his life turns upside down when he and his father accidentally fall into a cursed spring. Now he has a curse on him which causes him to become a woman when he touches cold water and only hot water can turn him back to a man. Things become more worrisome when Ranma finds out about his arranged marriage with Akane. The anime is hilarious as Ranma struggles with his curse, fights strong opponents, all when his engagement is so nearby.

8. Grave of the Fireflies

Credit: Studio Ghibli

Grave of the Fireflies is one of the best, most heartbreaking, and realistic animated movies ever made. No matter how many years pass, Grave of the Fireflies will remain an unforgettable film. Since it is a Ghibli Studio film, the movie has a powerful story that is animated in the best way possible.

The is set in Japan in the year 1945 when World War II is near its end and bombings are happening in different cities. It follows the story of two siblings Seita and his sister Setsuko who are trying to survive in this brutal phase of destruction. They have no money and there is a lack of food and medical services. The movie shows their day-to-day struggles of meeting their ends and trying to get food.

9. Vampire Hunter D

Credit: Production Reed

Vampire Hunter D was among the first few anime films introduced in the United States. It is fun to watch because it has vampires, superpowers, and technology. It is a dark fantasy sci-fi film which follows the story of a vampire hunter named “D”. The plot is set 10,000 years ahead of where D, who happens to be one of the best vampire hunters is hired by a young girl named Doris Lang. She wants D’s protection from Count Lee, a powerful landlord.

The vampire hunter D then takes the responsibility of destroying the Count so he can put an end to his ruthlessness. The anime follows D’s journey of fighting against the Count and protecting the ones being harmed by him. The 1985 movie of Vampire Hunter D was the first adaptation of Kikuchi Hideyuki’s series of novels. It was followed by many more animated adaptations afterward.

10. Captain Tsubasa

Credit: Tsuchida Productions

Captain Tsubasa is the first sports anime on this list and this list wouldn’t have been complete without it because it is one of the most hit anime from the 80s. Soccer was not particularly famous in Japan but after the launch of Captain Tsubasa, the sports started to become popular because fans were inspired to play it after watching the anime. That is how big this anime impacted Japan.

The anime follows the story of an elementary student named Oozora Tsubasa who has an obsession with soccer and has the dream of leading Japan into winning the Fifa World Cup. Tsubasa relocates with his mother to Nankatsu city which is known for having the best elementary soccer team. However, after joining the soccer club, Tsubasa sees the competition he has and realizes that his journey to becoming a great soccer player and achieving his dream will not be so easy.

11. Angel’s Egg

Credit: Studio Deen

Angel’s Egg is the most unique anime on this list. This anime is not for everyone and takes some time to get used to it, although it is an animated film of only 71 minutes. Angel’s Egg’s story is hard to explain because one must interpret it in their own way and understand. This movie would have you wondering days after watching it that “what was it about anyway?”.

The main theme of this anime is religion and many symbols are coming along the story. It would be best appreciated by those who like arts and think of things differently. The anime follows the story of a girl living in an abandoned city. She is trying to find food and protecting a strange egg which she always keeps close to herself. Although the movie was criticized by critics, the creator Mamoru Oshii regards it as one of the best works of his career.

12. Maison Ikkoku

Credit: Studio Deen

Maison Ikkoku is one of the best slice of life and romcom anime ever made. It has influenced tons of slice-of-life anime even to date. The anime became so popular that it went on to run for 96 episodes and there is a lot of character development throughout the series. The anime has a total of six characters and each of them has a unique personality.

The anime is set in Clock Hilltown and it shows the love story between Yuusaku and Kyoko, the new manager of his boarding house. Each tenant of the house is eccentric and keeps the place very noisy and lively. Kyoko recently became a widow, but Yuusaku manages to find his way to her heart and the tenants make sure their love blooms. Each character in this show is different but they keep the show lighthearted and hilarious.

13. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Credit: Nippon Sunrise

There had to be an installment of the billion-dollar Gundam franchise in this list. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a prequel to the first installment. The story takes place seven years later and it is filled with action, drama, and some betrayal as well.

This anime shows what happens after the long one-year war between Zeon and the Earth Federation. The Earth Federation goes on to develop a militant group called Titans for tracking and eradicating the left Zero forces. However, the Titans instead turn out to be the worst as their actions lead to the formation of the Anti-Earth Union Group (AEUG). A 17-year-old kid, Kamille Bidan is then introduced who is affected by this conflict as the AEUG attack his village.

14. Wicked City

Credit: Video Art / Madhouse

Another horror anime series from the 80s is Wicked City. This anime isn’t for everyone because there is violence and some disturbing imagery. It would make you vow celibacy and have fear of women. There are many frightening scenes in this so this would be best enjoyed by horror genre fans. It would also give you a taste of what the best horror anime looked like in the 80s.

The anime is set at the end of the 20th century where there is a human world and a demon world. For centuries a pact has been held between the two worlds to maintain peace and the time to renew it has come. However, a military faction is against the pact and is doing everything to prevent its renewal. It is now up to the Black Guard force to make sure the peace is maintained by the successful renewal of the pact.

15. City Hunter

Credit: Sunrise

City Hunter was an extremely popular series in the 80s. It continues to have fans who are absolutely in love with the series. The series became so popular that it had more seasons coming afterward and many movies.

“City Hunter” is a mercenary group that takes any job no matter the difficulty level. The main member of the group is Ryou Saeba who works alongside Kaori Makimura. Together, they solve dangerous cases and come head-on against villains. City Hunter is an anime full of action, but it also has many funny moments which keep the lightheartedness in the anime.

This brings the list of best 80s anime to an end. If you’re looking to read more anime-based articles, then take a look at our best cats in anime list or check out this list of gorgeous blond anime girls.