The 90s was an amazing time for anime, and as someone who grew up during that time, I have a soft spot for this time. These series were more than just entertaining; they were part of the rhythm of our weekends with Saturday morning cartoons and beyond. But the ’90s wasn’t just a time of popular kids’ anime series, like Pokemon, or shonen, like One Piece or Dragon Ball Z, it was chocked-full of mature, avant-garde series that were innovative and highly influential in the anime industry and beyond with series like Serial Experiments Lain and Neon Genesis Evangelion to name a few.
There are a lot of 90s anime to dive into, from intense action sagas to slice-of-life stories that still resonate today. Nostalgia definitely plays a part in their appeal, but it’s so much more than that. Many of these shows were groundbreaking and have remained relevant, holding their own against newer titles, even to this day. These series are absolute classics, but they have also withstood the test of time.
For those who grew up in the 90s and are revisiting your childhood, or even if you are discovering them now, here are the best 90s anime that are worth revisiting or diving into for the first time.
Since its release in 1999, One Piece has become a staple. It’s exciting joining Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates on their journey and Eiichiro Oda built a world where dreams, friendship, and adventure intertwine. The true beauty of One Piece, though, is that it’s not just about an epic quest for treasure; it also highlights the memories and bonds we form along the way.
Each episode transports you into Eiichiro Oda’s brilliantly imagined world. You’ll navigate every island, confront every challenge, and celebrate every victory right alongside Luffy and his crew. To say One Piece is a defining 90s anime is an understatement; it’s a chronicle of adventures and an epic saga that is still going strong to this day. On top of all that, it is one of the most influential Shonen series to ever be released.
It’s currently one of the best anime you can watch on Crunchyroll if you’d like to check it out.
Initial D (First Stage and Second Stage)
Initial D‘s First and Second Stages were released in the 90s and they are some of the most unforgettable seasons of anime I’ve watched. As far as racing anime go, none have done it quite as well as Initial D. The story follows Takumi Fujiwara, who unknowingly hones his racing prowess while making tofu deliveries on Mt. Akina in his dad’s AE86. His skills attract the attention of prominent racing teams, like the Akagi RedSuns.
Initial D‘s unique charm wasn’t just in its thrilling racing scenes but the Eurobeat music that defined them. When Takumi executed a drift the beat drops matched perfectly, which only added to the experience. Of course, the races are intense, but it was the series’ blend of character dynamics, rivalries, and that distinct Eurobeat rhythm that cemented Initial D‘s place as one of the very best anime of the 90s and beyond.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
No best 90s anime list is complete without one of the most influential sci-fi anime of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion. To me, Neon Genesis Evangelion is more than just another anime title. Its unique animation and unforgettable scenes set it apart and it is an iconic series.
While the manga adaptation is impressive in its own right, the 1995 anime is where the story truly begins, even if the manga made its debut first due to production delays. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows NERV’s pilots and their confrontations with the mysterious and otherworldly Angels. But what really draws me in isn’t just the action; it’s how Evangelion dives deep into its characters’ psyches and lives, touching on themes of self and collective identity.
Whenever I think of Neon Genesis Evangelion, it’s the series’ profound exploration of human psychology that makes it stand out. It’s not just a mecha anime; it’s a deep reflection on the human experience and what it means to be alive. If you enjoy Neon Genesis Evangelion, be sure to check out the film Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion, which was released in the 90s as well.
When talking about standout 90s anime, Slam Dunk undoubtedly tops the list. Takehiko Inoue, known also for Vagabond and Real, created this series that became one of the best sports anime of all time. I was drawn into this series not just by the on-court action and intense games but also by its genuine moments of laughter and relatable characters. I felt each triumph and setback as if they were my own, and this is one of the most important things an anime can do.
For me, the real charm of Slam Dunk is how it highlights every player’s journey, not just the star’s. Watching the Shohoku High team, it felt like witnessing a group of friends growing together, driven by their shared passion for basketball. But it’s Takehiko Inoue’s genuine love for the game that makes the series resonate so deeply and the anime did an amazing job at encapsulating this.
Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is an exploration of teenager Lain Iwakura’s journey into the mysterious digital world called the Wired. As she dives deeper, the boundaries between reality and the virtual realm blur, leading her to question her memories, identity, and even her very existence. This series stands out because of its avant-garde approach to sci-fi and its unique aesthetic.
Serial Experiments Lain will take you on quite the trip with its mind-bending and complex psychological themes. It was released in 1998, but the topics it explores are still just as relevant and relatable today as they were then, and it is one of the most cutting-edge series of our time. No other anime will make you feel, or give you the same experience, that this series can. Apart from being one of the best 90s anime, Serial Experiments Lain firmly holds its place as one of the all-time greats in anime.
Perfect Blue, directed by the legendary Satoshi Kon, who also gifted us masterpieces like Paprika and Paranoia Agent, is a standout psychological thriller. Recognized as one of the best 90s anime and best horror anime, the story delves into Mima’s tumultuous shift from a pop icon to an actress, a decision that unsettles many of her admirers. As she embarks on her new journey, the lines between reality and delusion blur, with her past haunting her every move and her associates being mysteriously murdered.
The layers of suspense in Perfect Blue make it an absolute must-watch, and it’s unrivaled in its intensity. The terror isn’t just psychological either; it’s visceral and intense, making Perfect Blue not just one of the best horror movies of all time, but also an unforgettable experience. It’s extremely graphic, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but if this doesn’t bother you, it’s one of the most unforgettable anime movies you’ll ever watch.
I don’t often label something as a “masterpiece,” but Perfect Blue truly deserves such acclaim. For those seeking a profound, chilling, and intellectually stimulating film, check out Perfect Blue.
Studio Ghibli has been a prominent force since the late 80s, releasing many timeless classics over the years, but the 90s saw some amazing releases from them, including Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, Ocean Waves, Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. I love all of these films for completely different reasons, but if I had to recommend only one of their films from the 90s, it would be Princess Mononoke.
Princess Mononoke is one of the very best movies by Studio Ghibli, showcasing its uncanny ability to continuously craft immersive and compelling tales. Being that it is one of the most action-rich Ghibli films, it follows young warrior Ashitaka’s quest to cure a deadly curse. On his journey, he’s caught between the ambitions of Iron Town, helmed by Lady Eboshi, and the enigmatic wolf-raised Princess Mononoke, who zealously protects the mystical forest.
If you are looking to watch the film, the Steelbook edition released by GKIDS is my go-to. Its deep metallic red design is eye-catching, and it comes with bonus material, including storyboards, behind-the-scenes peeks, a booklet filled with creator insights, and more.
Cowboy Bebop is a sci-fi classic with noir and Western vibes. At its core, it’s about the Bebop crew: Spike Spiegel with his complicated past, Jet Black the former officer, Faye Valentine the criminal-turned-hunter, the hacker genius Ed, and the super-smart corgi, Ein. Their adventures and backgrounds are what make this series stand out, and it’s their stories that make this series shine.
While the anime is fun and full of action, it doesn’t shy away from heavier themes. Each character grapples with a past that keeps catching up with them, which adds a lot of depth to the story. And then there’s its jazzy soundtrack, which further sets the mood and atmosphere and immerses you in this futuristic yet nostalgic world. Cowboy Bebop is often described as a Space Western, and while this is very much true, it’s so much more than that.
Growing up with Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, it’s always held a treasured spot in my heart. For many, including myself, it’s the best manga out there. The 1997 Berserk anime, a standout 90s anime, doesn’t fully capture the manga’s depth, but it’s still well worth the watch. It’s a dark fantasy, rich in horror vibes, set in a brutal world that doesn’t hold anything back.
Berserk‘s world is ruthlessly captivating. You can’t help but feel for Guts, a relentless warrior with a kind heart, as he navigates life with the Band of the Hawk and its enigmatic leader, Griffith. Every twist and turn feels personal, pulling on your heartstrings and keeping you on the edge of your seat. I’ve always said the manga is the ultimate Berserk experience, but the 1997 anime adaptation is one that every anime lover should experience at least once.
When it comes to sci-fi 90s classics, one of the most renowned and loved is Trigun. Trigun was adapted into an anime in 1998 with animation by Madhouse, who later went on to animate titles like One Punch Man, Death Note, and Death Parade to name a few. The anime is still loved to this day, and for good reason. Despite its age, the battles are well animated and they did an incredible job at bringing the world and characters of Trigun to life.
Set on the desert planet Gunsmoke, the story follows Vash the Stampede, a figure so formidable that his reputation precedes him, and he carries a hefty bounty of sixty billion double dollars. The fusion of its Wild West ambiance with futuristic elements sets Trigun apart. Combining relentless action with humor, it remains one of the most exciting sci-fi adventures I’ve ever experienced.
GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka)
GTO is a 90s anime that has left a lasting impression on me. And it’s not just because of its comedic charm and hilarious characters and moments; there’s a strong message behind all that laughter that makes it withstand the test of time.
Eikichi Onizuka, the heart and main character of the series, is an enigma. From his hilarious escapades and facial expressions to his unconventional ways, he brings a sense of unpredictability and excitement to every episode. A former gangster turned teacher, Onizuka’s rough edges are evident, but his fierce dedication to his students is inspiring. He’s not afraid to break all the rules to reach his students, who are wild delinquents that are hard to teach let alone please. But he connects with them on a deeper level and eventually, he gets through to them one by one.
To me, GTO is a masterclass in storytelling. It’s a reminder that simplicity when paired with genuine heart, is as impactful as the most intricate of stories. It’s an anime that will make you laugh out loud, but it has a lot of depth to it as well.
Dragon Ball Z
During the 90s, Dragon Ball Z was one of the shows you didn’t want to miss. When it would come on, you’d find yourself glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting Goku’s next move. Despite it being a nostalgic series, Dragon Ball Z and its influence is undeniable and it is still going strong with new episodes and movies airing even to this day. Akira Toriyama’s genius didn’t merely lie in crafting stellar fight sequences but in weaving a series rich with camaraderie, tenacity, and the spirit of overcoming adversity.
While 1986’s Dragon Ball gave us a look into Goku’s adventures as a boy, Dragon Ball Z saw him evolve, confronting bigger threats and personal hurdles in adulthood. The thrill of the battles and the transformations is palpable, especially in the anime, but it is the heart and soul of the story and its characters that resonate most. Decades later, it’s still one of the most influential shonen to ever release.
Ghost in the Shell
When I think of cyberpunk anime, The Ghost in the Shell from 1995 always stands out, right alongside other classics like Akira and Alita. It’s a timeless classic that’s just as amazing today as it was when it was first released in the 90s.
Ghost in the Shell follows Major Motoko Kusanagi and her elite Section 9 team as they hunt down terrorists and cybercriminals, most notably the elusive ‘Puppeteer’. Beyond having adrenaline-filled action scenes, it delves deep into complex and thought-provoking themes surrounding politics, artificial intelligence, and cyber-crime to name a few. The animation by Production I.G is amazing for the time as well. This becomes even more evident when you watch the 4K Ultra HD release of the series, which you can shop now via the Best Buy exclusive steelbook or the standard release.
The 90s produced some anime gems that remain influential today. Whether you are taking a trip down memory lane or are looking for new anime to get into, these 90s anime series are amongst the very best you can check out.