26 Shows That Defined The Anime Explosion of the ’80s

Sometimes, it can be intimidating checking out anime from the past

K-On! © Kyoto Animation

To make it easy, here are the anime that we feel defined the ’80s and are must-sees

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl! © Madhouse / Kitty Films

1. Akira

It’s tough to pick an anime that defines a decade, but you can’t deny Akira‘s influence. One of the first “adult” anime to be hit worldwide, and has gone on to influence sci-fi shows to this day.

© TMS Entertainment 

2. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Can you believe that this movie is 31 years old? Studio Ghibli’s first, and perhaps finest, still looks amazing to this day.

© Studio Ghibli

3. My Neighbor Totoro

Iconic is the only word that can describe this movie.

© Studio Ghibli

4. Grave of the Fireflies

The opening act of a double feature, which included My Neighbor Totoro. We know Ghibli for their family friendly fare, but Grave of the Fireflies shows that they can create quality mature movies.

© Studio Ghibli

5. Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Love space operas and politics? No series across any medium can top Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Just makes sure you have time to dedicate to the 110 episodes series, plus movies and side series.

© Madhouse / Artland / Magic Bus

6. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

One of the most iconic and mimicked mecha at the time. Zeta still ranks high in polls among Japanese fans.

© Sunrise

7. Castle in the Sky

Who doesn’t love a sweet fantasy movie? Everyone! In fact, the most tweets sent out in a second was the “balse” line during a Japanese airing of the movie.

© Studio Ghibli

8. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Great songs, cool characters, and awesome action sequences. Not many shows can top the original Macross, well maybe except Macross Frontier.

© Studio Nue / Tatsunoko / Artland

9. Hokuto no Ken

The series inspired generations of boys to scream ATATATA while punching as fast as possible. The bloody violence has led to the fan term “manime.”

© Toei Animation

10. Patlabor

Law & Order meets giant robots. Patlabor was one of the biggest franchises in Japan from the late ’80s until the early ’90s.

© Studio Deen

11. Dragon Ball

The original Dragon Ball never took off in the U.S. compared to Japan, but Toriyama’s characters, sense of adventure, and humor were the focus instead of action.

© Toei Animation

12. Urusei Yatsura

One of the early successes of an ecchi series. Rumiko’s series laid the groundwork for future ecchi shows, but harems, moe, and comedies as well.

© Studio Pierrot / Studio Deen

13. Ranma ½

Genderbending? Action? Comedy? Ecchi? Yep, Ranma ½ is a must watch.

© Studio Deen

14. Kiki’s Delivery Service

I promise this is the last Ghibli movie on the list, only because it’s their last movie from the ’80s.

© Studio Ghibli

15. Saint Seiya

Put on your mystical cloth and defend Athena! Not only was the series a massive, worldwide hit, it’s also been credited for opening up Shonen Jump to female readers with large amounts of ship teasing.

16. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

Loved by critics, but shunned by Japanese viewers at the time, The Wings of Honnêamise is credited to be one of the first hits of the first wave of anime to the U.S.

© Gainax / Bandai Visual

17. Dirty Pair

Dirty Pair may look like a pair of “plot” heavy heroines, but there is a really good story too.

© Sunrise

18. Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl!

Virtually unknown outside of Japan, the series managed to get more views than Ranma 1/2 during it’s 4 year run, which was no small feat.

© Madhouse / Kitty Films

19. Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Mechs, cute girls, and over-the-top action makes this a must watch for modern fans.

© Gainax / Studio Fantasia

20. Captain Tsubasa

Football, or soccer, is one of the most loved sports around the world. It should be no surprise that Captain Tsubasa was a worldwide hit, and is still popular today.

© Tsuchida Production

21. Barefoot Gen

A somber tale about a child surviving the events of the bombing of Hiroshima.

© Madhouse / Gen Productions

22. Bubblegum Crisis

From the music to the story and character designs, nothing is more “’80s” than Bubblegum Crisis. The only reason the series ranks low is because it was canceled due to a contract dispute between animation studios.

© AIC / Artmic / Youmex

23. Glass Mask

If you love shojo, or great drama in general, Glass Mask ranks up with the best. The ’80s version is great, but fans might want to check out the 2005 remake for more story.

© Eiken

24. Space Adventure Cobra

Spaghetti Western x Space x Samurai story. No, this isn’t Cowboy Bebop or Trigun, this is their father.

© TMS Entertainment


25. Touch

If you love comedy, romance, baseball, or just want to watch one of biggest ’80s series in Japan, check out Touch. The award winning series still holds up today.

26. Violence Jack

Remembered fondly by gore hounds, the series was notorious for causing international cenorship problems.

© Soei Shinsha

What anime do you think defined the ’80s?

Akira © TMS Entertainment

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