Well, we have already covered an article about the best 90s anime to watch. Now, I think it’s time to have an overall list of the best classic anime shows in Japan. Oh yeah, anime has come a long way since its early beginnings in the early 20th century. From “Astro Boy” in 1963 to “Chainsaw Man” in 2022, this world has evolved and expanded, reaching millions of fans all over the world.
But among all the new and exciting shows that have come out in recent years, there’s nothing quite like the classics. Because these memorable series defined the anime world for decades and continue to be just as beloved today as they were when they first aired.
In this article, I want to transport you back in time and revisit some of the best classic anime series of all time. These are the shows that we all grew up with, the ones that got us into anime in the first place, and the ones that we still love to watch today.
So, without further ado, let’s start our journey through this compiled list of my top 33 classic anime series of all time that everyone should check out!
In 1997, Pokémon took the world by surprise as it hit the screen and captured the hearts of millions of fans. The anime follows the journey of Satoshi, a young boy who dreams of becoming a Pokémon Master. On the arrival of his 10th birthday, Satoshi sets out on an epic adventure, accompanied by his loyal partner Pikachu, a rebellious Electric-type Pokémon. Along with friends Kasumi, a Water-type trainer, and Takeshi, a Rock-type trainer, they explore beautiful regions, capturing and training an array of peculiar creatures, known as Pokémon, and battling other trainers. Their journey is not without its challenges, as they must also face the villainous Team Rocket, who seek to steal powerful Pokémon through nefarious means. Satoshi must earn the eight Pokémon Gym Badges to challenge the Pokémon League and eventually claim the title of Pokémon Master.
32. Astro Boy
Astro Boy, the pioneer of anime series that first graced the screens in 1963, has been winning the hearts of fans for decades and continues to be a timeless classic that has shaped the world of animation. This black and white anime series is set in 2003, after losing his son Tobio in a tragic car accident, Professor Tenma becomes consumed with grief and pours himself into his latest project: creating a robot boy, Atom, programmed for unyielding goodness. However, realizing that this substitute for Tobio can never age, Tenma sells Atom to the cruel ringmaster of a robot circus, Ham Egg. But Atom’s fate takes a turn for the better when he meets the compassionate Professor Ochanomizu, who not only adopts him but inspires Atom to become a defender of justice and eventually builds him a robot sibling, Uran.
31. Princess Tutu
Princess Tutu is a good 2002 anime set in a world where magic and mythical creatures exist, the charming and delicate Ahiru stands out as a peculiar character. Despite her clumsiness, she possesses an inner magic that sets her apart from the rest. The truth is, Ahiru is not just an ordinary girl, but a transformed duck, gifted with the power to turn into Princess Tutu. Guided by the mysterious Drosselmeyer, she sets out on a quest to collect the shattered pieces of the prince’s heart, shattered long ago to contain an evil raven.
As Princess Tutu, she dances her way through the town, easing the hearts of those troubled and lifting their spirits. With each dance, she brings the people closer to their happily ever after. The journey, however, is not an easy one, as fate has a mind of its own, and the heroes must fight to change their destiny.
30. Ranma ½
First on the list is Ranma ½, a classic martial arts comedy anime series that premiered in 1989. The story follows the misadventures of Ranma Saotome, a teenage martial artist who turns into a girl whenever he’s splashed with cold water. The series is full of hijinks, misunderstandings, and romantic entanglements as Ranma tries to find a cure for his curse and deal with his various rivals and suitors. This is among the first animes I have ever watched and it’s still one of my favorites. The humor is wacky and slapstick, but it’s also clever and well-timed. The characters are all memorable and likable, and the romance and action are both well-done. Plus, the English dub is one of the best ever, with some of the most iconic voice actors out there.
Slayers can be considered one of the best classic fantasy anime that features a female lead. The series aired back in 1995, it is produced by studio E&G films, and has 26 episodes. Spanning genres of adventure, fantasy, and comedy, Slayers follows the epic journey of the powerful sorceress Lina Inverse and her companions as they battle against powerful enemies and uncover ancient mysteries. The show is really cool and is known for its strong magical characters, smart dialogue, and epic fighting scenes.
28. Tenshi Muyo!
Tenshi Muyo is a good classic anime series that aired back in 1995. The story follows Tenchi Masaki, a 17-year-old boy, who discovers an ancient sword that has been passed down in his family for generations. When he removes the blade, he inadvertently releases a demon, who turns out to be a space pirate named Ryouko Hakubi. As Tenchi uses the sword’s power to defend himself, Ryouko takes an interest in him and ends up staying with him. More alien women, each with their own unique personalities, gradually come into Tenchi’s life and he learns more about his heritage, newfound powers, and the dangers looming in the galaxy. The show is full of humor, action, and romance, and is sure to delight fans of fantasy and sci-fi.
This coming-of-age anime, although it’s a classic, it still features a unique visual style and its blend of comedy, action, and drama. The storyNaota Nandaba, a seemingly average sixth grader living in a city where nothing extraordinary ever happens. That is until his older brother Tasuku leaves town to play baseball in America and Naota is left to take care of everything Tasuku left behind, including his ex-girlfriend Mamimi Samejima who can’t seem to let go of Naota. But everything changes when a pink-haired, Vespa-riding, bass guitar-wielding woman named Haruko Haruhara enters Naota’s life. After a chance encounter with Haruko, Naota finds himself with a giant horn on his head and dragged into an epic battle for supremacy that not only affects Earth but possibly the entire universe.
26. Revolutionary Girl Utena
This iconic classic anime cannot be forgotten! Revolutionary Girl Utena tells the story of Utena Tenjou, who was left reeling from the tragic loss of her parents. But a chance encounter with a kind prince, who gave her a ring with a rose emblem, left a lasting impression on her. Years later, as a student at Ootori Academy, Utena is drawn to the scent of roses and discovers Anthy Himemiya, a girl being fought over by the Student Council. When a misunderstanding leads to Utena being pulled into the world of Duelists, she decides to use her newfound princely powers to save Anthy from her cruel fate as the “Rose Bride” and prove her own capabilities as a true prince.
25. The Vision of Escaflowne
This epic fantasy anime tells the story of Hitomi Kanzaki, a young girl with a passion for tarot cards and prophecy. One night, a boy named Van Fanel and a fierce dragon appear before her. Thanks to a premonition, Van defeats the dragon, but a light pillar envelops them both, transporting Hitomi to the world of Gaea. There, she finds out that Van is a prince from the Kingdom of Fanelia, which is under attack by the empire of Zaibach. Van attempts to defend his kingdom with his family’s ancient mecha, Escaflowne, but it’s destroyed and they are forced to flee. Along the way, they meet Allen Schezar, a knight who looks similar to Hitomi’s crush from Earth. Together, they fight against Zaibach’s efforts to revive an ancient power. The Vision of Escaflowne is a 1996 anime tv show popular for its beautiful animation, amazing setting, and powerful themes of sacrifice and love.
24. Fist of The North Star
Fist of the North Star is one of the best classic anime that marked the 80s. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Kenshirou, a skilled warrior, sets out on a journey to track down his rival Shin, who has kidnapped his beloved fiancée Yuria. Along the way, he uses his deadly fighting form, Hokuto Shinken, to defend the helpless from raiders. As his reputation grows, he becomes embroiled in conflicts with warlords and rival martial artists. Despite facing overwhelming odds, Kenshirou continues to fight for what he cares about most, ultimately becoming the savior of a violent and irradiated world.
23. Sailor Moon
Coming in, we have Sailor Moon, the popular magical girl anime series that aired in 1992. The story follows Usagi Tsukino, a clumsy and crybaby schoolgirl who discovers she is the reincarnation of the warrior Sailor Moon. Along with her fellow Sailor Scouts, Usagi fights to protect the Earth from the evil forces of the Dark Kingdom. This is a revolutionary anime series for its time, and it’s still just as beloved today, as it broke new space for female-led anime and introduced the concept of the magical girl genre to the world.
22. Outlaw Star
Outlaw Star is a pretty good nostalgic space western series that aired in 1998. The story follows Gene Starwind, a young man with a dream of piloting his own spaceship, who is stuck working odd jobs on the planet Sentinel III with his partner James Hawking. However, their lives take a sudden turn when they are hired by Rachel Sweet, a treasure-hunting outlaw, to protect a mysterious girl named Melfina. This leads them on a journey through the galaxy aboard the advanced ship Outlaw Star, where they encounter a variety of challenges such as dangerous bounty hunters, space pirates, and powerful mages, as they uncover the secrets surrounding Melfina. With an action-packed adventure at every turn, Gene and his crew navigate the unknown depths of space in search of answers.
21. Initial D
Initial D is a classic anime series that has entertained fans with its high-stakes street car racing action. The story follows Takumi Fujiwara, a seemingly average guy from a tofu shop, who leads a mundane life delivering tofu every morning. However, he soon finds himself at the center of the street racing world when a rival team, the Akagi Red Suns, comes to challenge the local mountain pass. Led by the Takahashi brothers, the Red Suns plan to conquer every racing course in Kanto, but their plans are quickly thrown off when one of their aces is overtaken by an unknown driver. Little did they know, the driver behind the wheel of the old Toyota AE86 was none other than Takumi himself, hiding a talent for racing honed from his daily deliveries up the mountain. With the racing community now on high alert, Takumi must navigate the competitive world of street racing and prove that he’s got what it takes to be the best.
Now, we have Inuyasha, the memorable feudal fantasy anime series that aired in 2000. The classic show follows Kagome Higurashi is transported to feudal Japan after being pulled into a well by a demon on her 15th birthday. There, she learns she carries the Shikon Jewel, a powerful object sought after by demons. She meets Inuyasha, a half-demon who initially dislikes her due to her resemblance to a shrine maiden he hates. After realizing the danger they are both in, they set aside their differences and work together to retrieve the shattered pieces of the Shikon Jewel. Along the way, they face many challenges and face off against dangerous creatures in their quest to protect the powerful artifact. As the series progresses, the romance between Inuyasha and Kagome develops into one of the most iconic and beloved in anime history.
19. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Well, although Legend of Galactic Heroes is more than 30 years old, it is still one of the most iconic anime series in history. The story takes place in a world of interstellar politics, the long-standing balance between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance is disrupted by the emergence of two young leaders: Reinhard von Lohengramm, the ambitious military prodigy, and Yang Wenli, the historian who stands for democracy. As Reinhard rises through the ranks of the Empire, he enlists the help of his childhood friend, Siegfried Kircheis, to overthrow the decaying Goldenbaum Dynasty and rescue his sister. On the other side of the galaxy, Yang remains steadfast in his commitment to democratic ideals and works to convince his pupil, Julian Mintz, that autocracy is not the answer. Amid the brutal reality of war, these two strategic geniuses are forced to question their motives and ideals, as they navigate the consequences of their actions and beliefs.
18. Slam Dunk
Slam Dunk is a retro classic anime that captures the struggles and triumphs of a young man on his journey to finding his passion in life. Hanamichi Sakuragi starts off as a delinquent, but as he joins the school’s basketball team, he discovers a newfound love for the sport. This anime not only tells a relatable and coming-of-age story, but it also showcases the thrill and excitement of basketball in a way that makes it a must-watch for any fan of the sport. It’s not just a great classic anime, it’s also one of the best basketball animes out there. It’s a story that will not only entertain but also inspire you to pursue your dreams.
17. Great Teacher Onizuka
GTO: The Great Teacher Onizuka is a classic school anime series that continues to captivate audiences to this day. The story follows 22-year-old Eikichi Onizuka, a former biker gang leader who dreams of becoming the greatest high school teacher in all of Japan. Despite his perverted, greedy, and lazy personality, Onizuka is more than meets the eye and is determined to prove himself as a teacher. When he becomes the homeroom teacher of the notoriously difficult Class 3-4 at the prestigious Holy Forest Academy, Onizuka faces many challenges, but with his unconventional and unpredictable methods, he is able to connect with and support his students. Despite the years that have passed since the anime first aired in 1999, its impact remains timeless, making it a must-watch for fans looking for an entertaining story about the power of teaching.
16. Mobile Suit Gundam
The iconic anime series Mobile Suit Gundam first premiered in 1979, and since then has remained so famous for generations. The story depicts that amidst the raging conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, a young crew aboard a state-of-the-art spaceship must navigate the war-torn battlefields. Their greatest weapon in this treacherous journey is the formidable Gundam, a towering humanoid robot piloted by a talented teenage warrior. With the fate of the war resting on their shoulders, this inexperienced crew must band together and utilize the power of the Gundam to secure their survival and emerge victorious.
15. Hajime No Ippo
Hajime no Ippo was a hit sports anime that graced our screens in the year 2000. Highlighting the world of boxing, the series follows the story of Ippo Makunouchi, a teenage boy who is forced to help his mother run their family fishing boat rental business. With his father absent, Ippo’s life is a hard one, as he is constantly subjected to bullying and beatings from his classmates. Enter Mamoru Takamura, a rising star in the world of boxing who comes to Ippo’s rescue one day and takes him to the Kamogawa Boxing Gym. There, Ippo’s raw power and impressive punches, honed from years of physically demanding work on the family business, catch the attention of Takamura and the other boxers at the gym.
Under the guidance of Genji Kamogawa, the gym owner and a former boxer himself, Ippo begins his journey in the world of professional boxing. He faces off against a series of tough opponents, each one more challenging than the last. Through victory and defeat, Ippo trains harder and harder, determined to reach greatness. With his unbreakable spirit and powerful punches, this kind young man is set to take on the world of boxing and make a name for himself.
14. Yu Yu Hakusho
Rewritten: Yu Yu Hakusho is a timeless classic anime created by the same creator as Hunter X Hunter. The show, which first aired on Toonami in 1992, follows the journey of Yuusuke Urameshi, a 14-year-old delinquent who transforms into a Spirit Detective after sacrificing himself to save a child. He is given the opportunity to regain his life by the authorities of the spirit realm, led by Koenma. With the guidance of death god Botan and the support of his allies, including ex-rival Kazuma, Hiei, and Kurama, Yuusuke trains and battles against evil forces that threaten humanity’s existence.
13. Rurouni Kenshin
If you’re an older anime fan, you may have already seen Rurouni Kenshin and recognize its worth. For younger anime fans who may not be as familiar with it, I strongly recommend giving it a watch. Rurouni Kenshin is a classic samurai anime set in the final years of the Bakumatsu era in Japan. The story revolves around a legendary assassin, Hitokiri Battousai, who is feared for his unmatched killing skills. However, Battousai has since disappeared and changed his identity to Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman with a cheerful demeanor and a strong will to protect the weak. When he meets Kaoru Kamiya, he helps her fight off an impostor claiming to be Battousai and begins to live at her kendo dojo. As Kenshin’s past begins to catch up with him, the former assassin must navigate through a series of challenges to uphold his new ideals and protect those in need.
12. One Piece
One Piece is a classic anime that is still airing and has captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide, since its first run in 1999. Produced by Toei Animation, the series has become one of the most successful and beloved anime series of all time. The story follows a young pirate named Monkey D. Luffy, who sets out on an epic adventure to find the legendary treasure known as One Piece. This treasure was once sought after by the Pirate King, Gol D. Roger, and his death sparked a new era of pirates seeking the treasure and the title of the Pirate King.
Luffy, a 17-year-old boy with a heart full of adventure, sets out on a journey with his crew, traveling across the Grand Line, experiencing reckless adventures, discovering hidden secrets and facing strong foes. Unlike the typical image of a ruthless pirate, Luffy’s motivations are pure and filled with wonder, as he sets out to find the ultimate treasure and fulfill his dream of becoming a pirate king.
Naruto, the beloved ninja anime series that first aired in 2002, has left a lasting impact on the culture of the shonen genre. Over the years, it has undergone significant changes, but it remains a cornerstone of the anime world. The story of Naruto begins with the devastating attack on the Hidden Leaf Village by the Nine-Tailed Fox, known as the Kyuubi. In an effort to save the village, the Fourth Hokage sacrifices his life to seal the beast inside the newborn Naruto Uzumaki.
Despite facing rejection and discrimination due to the Kyuubi within him, Naruto remains optimistic and determined. He’s a lively and impulsive ninja who wants nothing more than to prove his worth and become the Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village. Along the way, he meets a diverse group of friends and foes, each with their own motivations and desires, and the journey to his goal becomes an epic tale of friendship, determination, and bravery.
10. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion, the timeless mecha anime that aired in 1995, is a tale of a world threatened by monstrous creatures called “Angels” and the only hope for salvation lies with the mysterious organization, NERV. Led by the distant Gendou Ikari, NERV uses giant humanoid robots, called “Evangelions,” to battle the Angels. Shinji Ikari, Gendou’s 14-year-old son, returns to Tokyo-3 after being abandoned by his father and begins to unravel the truth behind his father’s motives. With the help of the kind-hearted NERV officer, Misato Katsuragi, Shinji is forced into action as the pilot of the Evangelion Unit-01. Despite the mental toll it takes, Shinji fights to protect Tokyo-3 and uncover the dark secrets of NERV and his own father’s past.
9. Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiment Lain is a cyberpunk masterpiece and a classic anime that is unmatched in its ability to take you on a mind-bending journey through complex psychological and philosophical themes that will stick with you long after the experience. It’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever watched. This psychological thriller anime tells the story of Lain Iwakura, a shy and introverted 14-year-old girl who gets caught up in a mysterious world of technology. She is one of many students from her school to receive an eerie email from her late classmate Chisa Yomoda. Despite being technologically challenged, the email leads her into the Wired, a virtual world resembling the internet. As Lain navigates the new world, she encounters bizarre mysteries and strange men known as the Men in Black who seem to know more about her than she knows herself. The lines between reality and the virtual world become blurred as she experiences surreal events and grapples with the meaning of identity, consciousness, and perception.
Monster, a 2004 anime classic, tells the story of Dr. Kenzou Tenma, a talented neurosurgeon on the fast track to success. However, his world is turned upside down when a choice he makes between two patients has far-reaching consequences. Initially, he switches patients to save a famous performer instead of a poor immigrant worker, causing him to struggle with his conscience and ultimately lose his social standing. Years later, Dr. Tenma is faced with a similar dilemma and chooses to operate on a young boy, Johan Liebert, instead of the town’s mayor. This decision leads to serious consequences and causes Dr. Tenma to fall from grace. But, when the hospital director and two other doctors die mysteriously, Dr. Tenma’s position is restored and he becomes the hospital director. Nine years after saving a criminal’s life, Dr. Tenma is forced to confront the monster he operated on and sets out on a journey to make amends for the damage caused by the one he saved.
Trigun is a classic anime that follows the story of Vash the Stampede, a legendary shooter with a huge bounty on his head. Despite his reputation as a ruthless villain, Vash is actually a peaceful and lighthearted person who avoids violence. He is accompanied by a cast of interesting characters, including the gunner priest Nicholas D. Wolfwood and the insurance agent Meryl Stryfe, as they navigate through the dangerous wasteland of the planet Gunsmoke. The series delves into themes of morality, redemption, and action-packed battles, making it a must-watch for fans of cool characters and dystopian settings.
6. Hunter X Hunter
The original “Hunter x Hunter” anime from 1999 is a true gem, despite being overshadowed by its more recent adaptations. This version of the show has a unique charm and character design, thanks to its gritty art style and dark atmosphere. The story is all about Hunters, an elite group of individuals who specialize in a wide range of skills, from treasure hunting to cooking. With access to exclusive resources and information, they are able to chase their passions and dreams. However, the road to becoming a hunter is treacherous and difficult, as one must pass a brutal and highly selective exam.
Enter Gon Freecss, a young boy on a quest to find his missing father. Along the way, he meets three other aspirants who have set their sights on becoming hunters: Kurapika, seeking revenge; Leorio, a doctor-to-be; and Killua, a mischievous child of the same age as Gon. For them, the Hunter Exam is just the beginning of their adventures, and with each trial they face, they grow stronger and more determined to achieve their dreams.
5. Fullmetal Alchemist
Oh, here is Fullmetal Alchemist, I can’t believe it has been 20 years since it first aired in 2003. Fullmetal Alchemist is a popular fantasy action anime series that follows Edward Elric, a prodigiously talented alchemist, who has suffered immense loss at a young age. When he and his brother Alphonse attempted to bring their mother back from the dead through human transmutation, they lost both their mother and Alphonse’s physical form, with Edward losing two of his limbs in the process. In an effort to keep his brother close, Edward uses his alchemy skills to attach Alphonse’s soul to a suit of armor.
One year later, Edward, now known as the Fullmetal Alchemist, sets out on a quest with Alphonse to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Rumored to greatly enhance an alchemist’s abilities, the stone would allow Edward to restore their bodies to their former state and overcome the law of equivalent exchange. But as they delve deeper into their search, they soon realize that the stone holds secrets far beyond their imagination, leading them into the heart of a darker, more dangerous battle. It’s a classic show that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a well-written and emotionally powerful anime series.
4. Dragon Ball
Dragon Ball, the most popular classic anime series, remains one of the most influential works in shaping our personalities to this day. First aired in 1986, the series follows the adventures of Gokuu Son and Bulma as they set out to collect the seven Dragon Balls. During their journey, they encounter a diverse group of characters, such as the cunning Master Roshi and the enthusiastic Kuririn, who help Gokuu improve his martial arts skills.
As they journey through a world filled with danger, they find themselves facing off against powerful villains who seek to use the Dragon Balls for their own sinister purposes. But with each victory and each new ally, Gokuu and his friends grow stronger, learning valuable lessons about friendship, determination, and the true meaning of strength. In this epic adventure, the characters are woven together by their shared desire to protect the Dragon Balls and the people they love. Through their travels and battles, they form unbreakable bonds, facing each challenge with courage and heart, always ready for whatever lies ahead.
Berserk is a dark classic anime of 1997, that tells the story of Guts, a skilled warrior who was raised as a mercenary. He quickly rises through the ranks, becoming a trusted member of a band of soldiers known as the Band of the Hawk. However, things take a dark turn when their leader, the charismatic Griffith, begins to become increasingly ruthless and power-hungry. Guts become disillusioned with Griffith’s ambition and leave the group, but he soon discovers that Griffith’s hunger for power has led him to make a dark pact that results in a tragedy beyond anything Guts could have imagined. This old school anime series follows Guts as he sets out on a journey of revenge, while also struggling with the trauma of his past and the harsh realities of the brutal world he lives in. It is a story of violence, power, and the human condition.
2. Death Note
The highly acclaimed psychological thriller anime series, Death Note is one of the most successful anime shows of all time. Light Yagami, a high school student, comes across a mysterious notebook that gives him the power to take lives by simply writing down the names of his targets. As he embarks on a journey to create a perfect world without crime, he finds himself hunted by a brilliant detective named “L.” In 2006, Death Note was one of the most talked about anime series when it first aired, and even today it continues to surprise new fans. All that is due to the top-notch animation style, the memorable music, and the soundtracks, as well as an epic story of an epic journey that delves into our inner morals and the consequences of our actions.
1. Cowboy Bebop
With its futuristic setting and breathtaking animation, Cowboy Bebop has rightfully earned its place among the top classic anime series in history. Set in the year 2071, where humanity has spread across the galaxy, with settlements resembling those on Earth. However, these new societies are plagued by crime, including murder, drug use, and theft. In this world, intergalactic outlaws are hunted by an ever-growing number of bounty hunters. Enter Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, two of these bounty hunters who travel the galaxy in pursuit of their next target. Despite Spike’s seemingly carefree and aloof demeanor, he is weighed down by the burden of his violent past. Meanwhile, Jet grapples with his own troubled memories as he takes care of Spike and the Bebop, their ship. Along for the ride is Faye Valentine, a gorgeous con artist, the quirky child Edward, and Ein, a bioengineered Welsh Corgi. As they work together to catch a diverse cast of criminals, the Bebop crew’s lives are thrown into chaos by a threat from Spike’s past. Spike must now choose between his newfound family and his thirst for revenge as his rival’s sinister plan begins to unfold.
In conclusion, these are just a few of the many classic anime series that has stood the test of time. From thought-provoking sci-fi to heartwarming fantasy, these tv shows have something to offer every type of anime fan. I hope this list has given you a glimpse into the world of classic anime and that it inspires you to watch some of these amazing series for yourself. Whether you’re a new fan or a seasoned veteran, these anime are sure to capture your heart and imagination.