Today, we will be covering the top 80s anime movies that everyone should watch.
As of 2023, anime has become a worldwide phenomenon equal to Hollywood blockbusters. But to achieve such popularity and success, it required a lot of hard work over a long time. Anime dates back to 1917, when the first-ever animated film, named The Dull Sword, was released.
From then on, various animes started to gain appreciation and were well-received nationally. Then came the 80s and 90s era, during which a huge number of releases, including anime series and movies, achieved worldwide success.
Now, let’s kick off our list of the 29 best anime from the 80s that truly defines the essence of Japanese culture. Here we go!”
29. They Were Eleven
They Were Eleven, produced by Studio Magic Bus and aired in 1986, is a shoujo romance anime movie from the 80s that I highly recommend. The story revolves around Tada, a young man with high aspirations of entering the prestigious Cosmo Academy. This academy accepts applicants once every three years, boasting an acceptance rate of less than 1%.
After successfully passing all prior exams, the final challenge awaits: surviving 53 days aboard a derelict spaceship with only 9 other aspiring cadets as companions. However, there’s an unexpected twist—their ship welcomes an eleventh member! Will this diverse crew manage to work together and pass the test? Or will internal strife and potential sabotage lead to their downfall?
28. Toward the Terra
Toward The Terra is a worth watching anime film from 1980 by Toei Animation. The story is set in a future where humanity, having witnessed the devastation they wrought on Earth, left the planet behind. To ensure efficiency and avoid repeating past mistakes, people are now artificially grown in laboratories and undergo mental reprogramming at the age of fourteen to ensure they conform to society’s norms.
The entire system is overseen by a central computer known as Universal Control, which ruthlessly eliminates anyone who deviates from the established order. Among these individuals is Jomy Marcus Shin, a young man harboring a secret—he possesses telepathic powers, marking him as a Mu, a perceived threat to their meticulously controlled way of life.
Windaria is one of those iconic movies that turned a lot of viewers into anime fans during the 80s. It was a unique animated work, characterized by its dark theme and deep sadness. This anime film, produced by Kaname Production in 1986, is set in a land brimming with enchantment and secrets, where two rival kingdoms, Isa, a picturesque water-rich city, and Paro, an industrialized wasteland, stand on the brink of conflict. “Windaria” weaves a poignant tale of two pairs of lovers. The first pair, Marin and Izu, are young farmers deeply in love, while the second pair, Ahanas and Jill, are royalty hailing from the feuding kingdoms. As the impending war draws near, these star-crossed lovers will grapple with the true depths of tragedy in their quest for survival.
26. Lily C.A.T.
Lily C.A.T., produced by Studio Pierrot, is a horror outer space anime movie released in 1989. Set in the distant future, where a group of individuals, all employees of the Syncam Corporation, embarks on an epic space voyage. This journey is not for the faint of heart, spanning a staggering two decades. However, advanced deep sleep capsules ensure that the travelers age merely a single year during this odyssey.
As the voyage reaches its culmination and the crew awakens, they are greeted with a bone-chilling revelation: a fragmentary transmission from headquarters discloses that two individuals among them are not employees as presumed but dangerous criminals. The situation takes a sinister turn as members of the group begin to meet untimely deaths, one after another, and the bodies inexplicably vanish without a trace.
Now, these survivors must race against the relentless ticking of the clock. Their mission: to unmask the impostors concealed within their midst, decipher the enigma behind these mysterious deaths, and, above all, fight tenaciously for their survival, no matter the cost.
25. Phoenix 2772
In a distant future, the process of human birth has evolved. Instead of being born naturally, humans are now cultivated in laboratory test tubes and nurtured by robotic companions until they reach adolescence. From the moment of their birth, each individual’s role in society is determined by their genetics and inherent skills. Whether destined to live as a noble or serve as a humble pilot, their path is preordained.
However, one young man named Godo is determined to break free from this predetermined fate. His journey for independence will take him on an interstellar odyssey that extends far beyond the boundaries of Earth itself. At the heart of his quest lies the enigmatic phoenix, the sole living creature with the power to rejuvenate the dying Earth.
Phoenix 2772, animated by Tezuka Productions and originally aired in 1980, is a good mix of action, drama, and romance that holds a special place among anime classics—a must-watch for all fans.
24. The Dagger of Kamui
As a fan of ninja-themed anime, I just checked out The Dagger of Kamui. To my surprise, this 80s release wowed me, as it turned out as one of the best ninja anime movies that you shouldn’t miss.
The story revolves around a young boy named Jiro, who experiences the horrifying murder of his mother and sister within his own home. Wrongly accused of this heinous crime, Jiro is forced to flee his village and crosses paths with a priest named Tenkai. Tenkai entrusts Jiro with the task of eliminating a renegade ninja named Tarouza.
However, Jiro’s life takes an unexpected turn as he undergoes rigorous training, transforming into a skilled assassin. In time, Jiro uncovers the truth about his origins, revealing that he is an orphan and that Tarouza was, in fact, his biological father. Tarouza had abandoned his mission under Tenkai’s command when he fell in love with an Ainu woman.
As the young ninja sink deeper into the mystery, he learns that the Shogunate intends to retrieve Captain Kidd’s lost treasure to once again isolate Japan from the world. Armed with the hidden clues left behind by Tarouza, Jiro, alongside a female ninja named Oyuki and a slave named Sam, embarks on a journey spanning Russia and America in search of this treasure. Their goal is not just the riches but also the chance for Jiro to exact revenge against Tenkai.
23. Crusher Joe
The 1983 anime movie Crusher Joe, was produced by Sunrise, and spanning genres of science fiction and action. The story follows a group of skilled mercenaries called the Crushers. These versatile professionals can handle anything from demolishing structures to terraforming entire planets. However, their expertise is put to the test when an unexpected mishap during a warp journey leaves them without their valuable cargo.
As a consequence, the Crushers find themselves in a precarious situation, with their licenses revoked and their reputation tarnished. To clear their names and regain their standing, they must embark on a mission to uncover the culprits responsible for their predicament. Therefore, these wrongdoers have sought refuge on the treacherous pirate-infested world of Lagol. Now, Joe and his team must race against time to unveil the truth before it becomes a deadly threat to them.
Tezuka Osamu, the genius mangaka behind popular works like Astro Boy and Buddha, brings us this masterpiece anime movie from the 80s called Nextworld. This story revolves around an astronomer who makes a startling revelation: a menacing black cloud is steadily approaching Earth, posing a grave threat to all life. However, his dire warning falls on deaf ears as world governments remain preoccupied with relentless warfare.
In the midst of this chaos, a group including the young detective Kenichi, the budding Rock Holmes, and Shunsaku Ban (also known as Mustachio), stumbles upon the Fumoon. These are a race of diminutive, telekinetic beings who have evolved in the Australian region. They possess their own unique strategy for confronting the impending apocalypse.
21. Swan Lake
Produced by Toei Animation, Swan Lake is an 1981 anime movie with genres of drama, fantasy, and romance. The story kicks off as Prince Siegfried, guided by an inexplicable urge, encounters a magnificent swan adorned with a regal crown. This enigmatic encounter sets in motion a tale of enchantment and destiny.
The swan is no ordinary bird; it is the princess Odette, ensnared in a malevolent wizard’s curse. By day, she is condemned to a life as a swan, only to regain her human form at night. The sinister wizard, Rothbart, harbors intentions of keeping Odette for himself and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal.
The key to breaking the curse lies in the genuine love of a man who can wholeheartedly devote himself to Odette.
20. Space Adventure Cobra
Well, Space Adventure Cobra is an 80s classic, and what makes it truly special is its unique art style that breaks away from traditional anime norms. Aired in 1982, and produced by TMS Entertainment, this anime movie is based on the manga of the same name.
The story followsCobra, a renowned space pirate, is reluctantly recruited by the bounty hunter Jane to rescue her sister from the enigmatic being known as Crystal Boy. Little do they know that this mission will thrust them into a convoluted struggle for the destiny of a wandering and mysterious planet.
19. Robot Carnival
Robot Carnival, a fantasy anime movie released in 1989, brings together the genius minds of nine Japanese animators. Each of them was tasked with creating a short segment centered around the theme of “Robots,” resulting in a collection of nine independent but interconnected stories.
The unification in these tales is the dynamic relationship between humans and robots, exploring the consequences of breathing life into artificial beings in different and imaginative ways. From the epic opening by Atsuko Fukushima and Katsuhiro Otomo to the catching conclusion, this anthology offers a fantasy tale through the intricacies of human-robot interaction, as pictured by some of Japan’s most awesome animators.
18. Arcadia Of My Youth
Arcadia of My Youth is a really good 2-hour and 10-minute 80s anime movie. It falls into the categories of science fiction and space. The story revolves around Captain Harlock, a famous space pirate.
The story is set in a future where Earth is oppressed by the enigmatic Illumidas, an alien race. Captain Harlock, commanding the spaceship Arcadia, emerges as a symbol of resistance against these invaders. This movie explores themes like freedom, rebellion, and the unyielding human spirit.
While Captain Harlock confronts the Illumidas and their human allies, he also reflects on his past and the decisions that led him to embrace a life of piracy.
17. Demon City
“Demon City Shinjuku,” an action horror demon anime film from Madhouse released in 1988. The story highlights that Years ago, a malevolent chasm tore through Tokyo, transforming Shinjuku into a wretched haven for demons. During that dark period, a valiant warrior confronted their leader but suffered defeat.
Now, as the sinister forces resurface, their sights are set on the only individual capable of restoring peace to this war-torn world. It falls upon a young boy to accomplish what his father could not—to vanquish the malevolence lurking within Demon City Shinjuku. For fans of 80s anime, this movie is an absolute must-see, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
16. Neo Tokyo
Neo-Tokyo, also known as Manie-Manie Monogatari” features a trio of good sci-fi stories based on the works of Taku Mayumura. Directed by Rintarou, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Katsuhiro Otomo, these stories, namely “Labyrinth Labyrinthos,” “The Running Man,” and “Order To Stop Construction,” depicting various themes ranging from surreal clowns to malfunctioning robots.
With its unique collaboration between Project Team Argos and MADHOUSE, this 1987 film stands out for its stunning aesthetics, including vibrant colors, top notch animation, character designs, and the timeless charm of 80s-90s anime movies. The film’s art style really goes well with the story, creating a unique watching experience.
In 1989, Gainax Studio, famous for animating Sci-Fi and cyborg-themed animes, produced “Appleseed.” In a post-third-world-war world, the General Management Control Office established the city of Olympus, an oasis of order in a chaotic world. However, this haven is not immune to threats.
When terrorists disrupt this otherwise pristine society, SWAT officers Deunan and Briareos are thrust into action after losing their comrades during a hostage crisis. Determined to capture the lone escaped terrorist, they unwittingly become entangled in a conspiracy that threatens the very existence of Olympus itself.
14. Project A-Ko
Project A-Ko,” which premiered in 1986, is an action comedy anime film that follows the dynamic trio of A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko. A-ko brings the brawn, B-ko provides the brains, and C-ko is, well, just C-ko.
While they could make a fantastic team together, A-ko and B-ko are locked in fierce competition for C-ko’s friendship. To add to the confusion, there’s an army of extraterrestrial forces hot on C-ko’s trail.
This is an anime movie that features exceptional animation quality, mixing action and parody seamlessly. It’s a delightful homage to the 80s era, complete with a synth-heavy ost and various playful jabs at older anime tropes.
13. Wicked City
Wicked City is a standout anime movie from the 1980s, despite its intense scenes and controversial content. It features top notch animation and well-developed characters, making it a recommended watch for all fans. In this horror anime film, produced by Madhouse in 1987, the story is set in a future where the human world coexists with a realm inhabited by demons and dark magic. For centuries, an uneasy peace treaty has maintained the balance between these two worlds, but it’s on the brink of expiration, necessitating negotiations for a new one.
Amidst this critical backdrop, the narrative revolves around two agents: a skilled human agent and a captivating assassin from the demon world. Their mission is to safeguard the one man capable of sealing the new treaty, all while facing relentless renegades from the dark world who are determined to disrupt the peace at any cost.
12. Wings of Honneamise
In this 80s anime film, Shiro Lhadatt initially dreamed of becoming a jet pilot for the Kingdom of Honneamise’s Air Force, but due to his inadequate grades, he reluctantly joins the Space Force, a relatively unknown and underdeveloped unit. His sense of bitterness and disillusionment grows until he encounters a young woman spreading religious teachings on the city streets. This chance meeting ignites a newfound passion within him, prompting Shiro to volunteer as the pilot for the unit’s inaugural space warship.
As he embarks on this journey to the uncharted frontier of space, Shiro faces numerous challenges and obstacles. The realization of launching the first space warship is a monumental task in itself, but Shiro’s determination is met with resistance from those who oppose the Space Force’s success. Now, he must confront the intricate and far-reaching consequences of his personal decision.
Produced by Gainax Studio in 1986, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is a great sci-fi military anime movie you really must-watch for its unique take on politics and humans conquering nature .
11. Barefoot Gen
In 1983, Madhouse studio produced Barefoot Gen, an unforgettable anime movie from the 80s. This sad drama is set in 1945, during the waning days of the Japanese war effort. In Hiroshima, the Nakaoka family grapples with poverty and persecution as they strive to survive. Six-year-old Gen, left in charge of his family due to his father’s ceaseless work, remains unwaveringly optimistic amidst the hardships.
However, the course of their lives takes a devastating turn on August 6th when the atomic bomb known as Little Boy is unleashed upon the city. As Gen confronts the horrors of this event, his youthful innocence and unyielding spirit ignite a newfound sense of hope in those around him.”
10. Patlabor The Movie
Patlabor The Movie is an 1989 anime film that unfolds against a backdrop of chaos in Tokyo, as an alarming number of construction laborers suddenly go berserk, causing havoc. Amid this turmoil, Japan is undertaking the ambitious Babylon Project to reclaim land beneath Tokyo Bay, but the project’s lead architect’s recent suicide casts a grim shadow.
With worldwide devastation looming and doubts surrounding the reliability of their Labors, the Metropolitan Police’s Division 2 embarks on an investigation into these malfunctions. This mecha and robots anime movie by Studio DEEN, is full of of intrigue, detective work, tactics, and strategy, as well as epic action scenes with impressive animation—a good work considering its 80s origin.
9. Angel’s Egg
Studio Deen produced Angel’s Egg, a 1985 anime film set in a dark and desolate city. Within this city, a young girl embarks on a quest, harboring a mysterious giant egg concealed beneath her dress. On the city’s unforgiving streets, she crosses paths with a lone warrior who grapples with forgotten memories and a lost purpose.
Together, they journey aimlessly, their trust in one another hanging by a thread amid the eerie cityscape’s silence. Yet, this fantasy movie and through its 71 min run will answer the questions: Who is this enigmatic girl? Who is the forgotten warrior? And what secrets does the cryptic egg hold within?”
8. Fist Of The North Star
First seen in 1986, Fist of the North Star is an action anime film by Toei Animation. If you are into stories featuring overpowered main characters, this one is a must-watch. Just like many iconic anime movies from the 80s, ‘Fist of the North Star’ is set in a post-apocalyptic future.
In this bleak world, marauding gangs of ruthless thugs scavenge the remnants of civilization, pillaging for vital resources like food and water across the desolate wasteland that Earth has become. Amidst this chaos, the flicker of hope for humanity’s future rests in the hands of a young girl possessing remarkable abilities and the only man strong enough to shield her and bring justice to the wicked—Ken, famous as the Fist of the North Star!”
7. Vampire Hunter D
If you into vampire tales, then Vampire Hunter D, crafted by Ashi Productions in 1985, is a good choice. Set in a distant future, the story takes place in a world dominated by demons and vampire lords. Doris, a young and vulnerable girl, finds herself in the crosshairs of the powerful vampire lord, Count Magnus Lee, who desires her as his own.
Having fallen victim to the Count’s bite, Doris seeks salvation and turns to D, an elite vampire hunter renowned for his prowess. Recognizing the urgency of her plight, D embarks on a perilous quest to vanquish Count Magnus Lee and his malevolent demon cohorts, all in a bid to rescue the tormented girl.
6. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
One of the best 80s anime movies is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” a must-watch drama-fantasy film by studio Top Craft that precisely aired 1984. It is set in a world recovering from an apocalyptic event known as the Seven Days of Fire, triggered by the Giant Warriors. A thousand years later, humanity lives in constant dread of the encroaching Toxic Jungle. This perilous forest is teeming with venomous flora and monstrous, oversized insects, where even the air itself is lethal.
Amidst this precarious existence, Nausicaä stands as a beacon of compassion and wisdom. She is the beloved princess of the tranquil Valley of the Wind, a small pocket of civilization untouched by the spreading forest. However, tranquility is shattered when a colossal airship, housing one of the Giant Warriors, crashes into their valley.
Soon after, soldiers from the mighty Tolmekian nation invade the Valley of the Wind with the intent of recovering and reactivating the warrior. Nausicaä, driven by her unwavering belief in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between humanity and the giant insects, embarks on a quest to prevent the impending war that threatens her people. She is determined to safeguard the Toxic Jungle from the Tolmekians, who seek to raze it to the ground.”
5. Grave of the Fireflies
Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies, a touching drama anime movie from 1988 set against the backdrop of World War II, the story revolves around Seita and his younger sister, Setsuko. Their father is away serving in the Navy, leaving the siblings to navigate life as best they can.
Tragedy strikes when their city falls victim to a devastating firebomb raid, resulting in their mother’s fatal injuries. With their world shattered, Seita and Setsuko are sent to live with a relative, subjected to the cruel treatment of an aunt who makes it abundantly clear that they are an unwelcome burden.
Faced with unbearable circumstances, Seita and Setsuko make a daring decision to seek refuge in an abandoned bomb shelter. Alone and with no one to rely on, they grapple with the harsh realities of daily survival. As food grows scarcer, and the community’s willingness to share dwindles, the siblings find themselves in an increasingly dire situation.
The film takes a heartbreaking turn when Setsuko falls ill, compelling Seita to confront the fragility of life itself…”
4. Laputa Castle in the Sky
It seems that some of the greatest anime movies of the 80s are all hailing from Ghibli which is one of the best japanese studios, and Laputa Castle in the Sky is no exception. This 1986 adventure fantasy film highlights Legends that have long spoken of Laputa, a mystical floating island in the sky rumored to harbor unimaginable treasures.
Sheeta, an orphaned girl, finds herself in grave danger due to her possession of a rare Levistone necklace, believed to hold the key to Laputa’s location. In a fateful encounter, she crosses paths with Pazu, a young miner’s apprentice who is also an orphan. Together, they embark on a daring escape from relentless pursuers.
Their friendship, however, is put to the test as they strive to safeguard the secret of Laputa’s whereabouts. What is the enigmatic legacy that Sheeta carries, and what hidden agendas drive her relentless adversaries in their relentless pursuit of Laputa’s mysteries?”
Aired in 1988, Akira by TMS Entertainment is a great cyberpunk anime movie that not only was a great film of the 80s but it is still one of the best of all time. Set in the aftermath of a catastrophic event caused by the enigmatic entity ‘Akira,’ Neo Tokyo finds itself plunged into a maelstrom of social and economic chaos.
Amidst this deteriorating cityscape, Kaneda, a fiery and fearless young man, and Tetsuo, his introverted friend, navigate their way as members of a biker gang. Their days are filled with high-speed chases, rivalries, and a perpetual game of cat and mouse with the police. However, their lives take a surreal turn when Tetsuo collides with a peculiar boy during a frenzied bike pursuit, leading to his abduction by the military.
Upon his eventual return, Tetsuo is no longer the timid boy he once was. A sinister military experiment has transformed him into something beyond human comprehension. As the military authorities relentlessly pursue their prized specimen, Tetsuo grows weary of being a pawn in their game and resolves to assert his newfound power over all, including his friend Kaneda.
2. Kiki’s Delivery Service
In 1989, Studio Ghibli graced produced another masterpiece called Kiki’s Delivery Service, which tells the story of a young witch named Kiki, who, upon turning thirteen, goes on a traditional journey to complete her witch training. Accompanied by her trusty cat, Jiji, and wielding her mother’s broomstick, Kiki sets off into the unknown.
Her journey leads her to a coastal town, but the warm welcome she had envisioned turns out to be a cold reality. With no place to call home and her magical talents still in development, Kiki’s self-doubt begins to creep in. However, a chance encounter changes her fortune when she returns a lost pacifier to Osono, a kind-hearted shop owner who offers her a place to stay.
Inspired by this act of generosity, Kiki decides to start her own delivery service. With newfound friends and allies, she embarks on a remarkable journey of self-discovery, resilience, and the determination to thrive on her own terms.”
1. My Neighbor Totoro
Released in 1988, the Ghibli classic ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is among the best anime films of all time that everyone should watch. It’s a story that revolves around Satsuki, her younger sister Mei, and their father, who embark on a new chapter of their lives in a quaint rural home.
One fateful day, while exploring their lush garden, young Mei stumbles upon a curious creature and decides to chase after it. Her pursuit takes her deep into the verdant surroundings, where she makes an unexpected discovery—a massive, slumbering forest spirit named Totoro.
As the sisters befriend this gentle giant, their world transforms into a realm of enchantment. They frolic with mischievous soot spirits, encounter the enigmatic Catbus, take flight through the skies, and even wield the power to make trees flourish. However, when Mei vanishes without a trace, it’s up to Satsuki to seek the help of their newfound friends in the hopes of reuniting with her beloved sister.