Ah, the 80s. The decade before anime hit its peak during the latter half of the 90s.
Despite being the calm before the storm, the age that saw the death of disco also saw the rise of space pirates and demons from other dimensions. I say that because the amount of entries on this list that follows that premise is ludicrous.
Despite the lack of, let’s say artistic credibility, that a lot of 80s anime studios had before Ghibli changed the game mid-decade, there are a handful of series that should still be on your watch list. Some of these are films, but all of them are great.
- Best 80s Anime
- 26. Daicon
- 25. The Mysterious Cities of Gold
- 24. Magical Princess Minky Momo
- 23. Angel’s Egg
- 22. Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac
- 21. Captain Tsubasa
- 20. Wicked City
- 19. Maison Ikkoku
- 18. Ranma ½
- 17. Vampire Hunter D
- 16. Urusei Yatsura
- 15. Crusher Joe
- 14. Macross
- 13. Arcadia of my Youth
- 12. Dirty Pair
- 11. Golgo 13: The Professional
- 10. Kiki’s Delivery Service
- 9. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
- 8. Castle in the Sky
- 7. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- 6. Fist of the North Star
- 5. Dragon Ball
- 4. Legend of Galactic Heroes
- 3. Grave of the Fireflies
- 2. My Neighbor Totoro
- 1. Akira
Best 80s Anime
Daicon is a little niche series that has flown under the radar since its release. It’s got a very typical 80s premise (there’s demons, a girl that has to fight them, and space stuff). It doesn’t get any more 80s than that.
I’m only ranking it at 26 because it’s far from being the best piece of Eastern art to come out of that decade, but it’s worth a watch if you’re bored and there’s nothing else on.
25. The Mysterious Cities of Gold
Most anime series are set in Japan, naturally. You rarely see places like America and Europe, and seeing one of the world’s smaller cultures is like finding a needle in a haystack. The Mysterious Cities of Gold is that needle.
The cast is diverse given the show’s historical nature, so you’re going to be exploring a completely new world with a cast of characters that are all well written and likable.
The show isn’t going to give you an existential crisis or anything, but it’s lighthearted and fun.
24. Magical Princess Minky Momo
Speaking of lighthearted and fun, Magical Princess Minky Momo remains one of the best Kid’s anime to this day.
It’s a cutesy magical girl show and was one of the early innovators of the genre. If you’re more of a dark and grueling anime fan, you’re not going to be a fan of this.
23. Angel’s Egg
This is more of an art piece and less of an anime. It’s very much an understatement to say that you’re unanimously going to enjoy this 80s gem. It’s like marmite; you’re either going to love it or hate it.
It’s full of motifs and symbolism centered around the theme of religion. If you like diving deep into classic works, then great. If you’re more of a “shut up and shut your brain off” fan, then give this one a miss.
22. Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac
The 80s were a weird time for anime. It was the decade before what I consider to be the golden age, and a lot of different genres were still coming into their own. There wasn’t much in the way of dark and bloody series like we do know, but Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac might be one of the early releases that we have to thank for the tonal shift.
It’s a war between the Greek gods and Athena with her knights. It’s not great looking, I’ll be honest, but the mythology adaptation and setting makes for a really intriguing time capsule if nothing else.
21. Captain Tsubasa
This anime was largely responsible for introducing Japan to the international sport of football, or soccer, for you U.S. readers.
If an anime can actively help a culture to adopt a pastime that isn’t its own, then it deserves a place in history regardless of anything else.
Content-wise, it’s one of the early pioneers of the sports anime genre. It hasn’t got the dramatic flair and style that the new stuff has, but it’s solid and down to earth with a relatable underdog story and a massive runtime.
20. Wicked City
In the 80s, demons and space were very popular. That was before my time, so don’t ask me why.
One prime example of the former being in style is Wicked City. It’s an 18+ for more reasons than one, so don’t let Jack and Jill watch it before bedtime.
It’s got bloody, intimacy, and carnage, although not too much of a plot to speak of. If you are a fan of senseless violence in your anime (let’s be honest, who isn’t?), then you’re probably going to enjoy this.
19. Maison Ikkoku
I’m going to be real with you; I hate sitcoms. Friends, the Office, the Big Bang Theory, you name it. There’s just something about the formula that I loathe. The only show in that style that I’ve enjoyed is Brooklyn 99, and that hardly counts as a sitcom.
So if I’m saying a sitcom-style anime is good, you know I’m telling the truth, and that’s exactly what I’m saying for Mason Ikkoku.
It’s quirky, small, and charming, not too dissimilar to a lot of the slice of life series you’ve probably seen recently.
You’re not going to be writing an essay on it, but it is a super enjoyable and lighthearted watch for when the real world just becomes too much.
18. Ranma ½
I really don’t know how to feel about this one. On the one hand, it’s got a concept that’s so 80s that I can’t help but love it. On the other hand, it’s stupid and ridiculous.
Our martial arts-wielding protagonist gets cursed after he and his father fall into a river.
What is that curse, you might ask? Anytime he comes into contact with cold water, he transforms into a girl and can only turn back into a boy after touching hot water.
I don’t know who or how anyone came up with this idea, but it’s either inspired or totally nonsensical.
17. Vampire Hunter D
This isn’t a series, and it’s also not the only time a movie is going to appear on this list. Though, the fact remains that the 80s were much better for anime movies than episodical series (thanks to the input from a certain Studio Ghibli).
That aforementioned studio did not make vampire Hunter D, but it is still a film that delivers adequately on everything it promises.
It’s like Hellsing, but not as stylish. It’s just as fun, though. Put it this way; it’s still better than Twilight (although I really liked Breaking Dawn part 2).
16. Urusei Yatsura
More nonsensical 80s goodness. You’ve got a borderline yandere alien with electrical powers and a perverted teenage boy with the hots for anything with a pulse.
It’s a perfect recipe for disaster, and a disaster it is – in a good way. As in, go and watch it.
15. Crusher Joe
I’m willing to bet that even if you’re an 80s anime super-fan, you’ve never seen this one. It’s so under the radar that I only recently found out about it myself, but thank god that I did.
It’s right up my street, which is to say full of guns, mercenaries, and space pirates. Think Jormungand or Black Lagoon but on LSD and, well, made in the 80s.
If you’re tired of space, then too bad because Macross is another one. The people in the 80s were convinced that we would have colonized the stars by now. Musk might get us there yet, but for now, we have to wait.
Most speculative space fiction is nasty if not downright depressing, but Macross takes a different approach to the genre.
Things aren’t as bad as you might be used to, which is an upbeat and fresh take on a trope that had run its course after it peaked with Evangelion.
13. Arcadia of my Youth
Arcadia of my Youth was doing the MCU before it was even owned by Disney. It’s a film that served as the central hub for more adaptations of Leiji Matsumoto’s work. Other names that you might be familiar with, most notably Galaxy Express 999, are also a part of this universe.
The film is more space pirates, I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s far superior to a lot of entries in the same genre, hence why I’ve ranked it so high on the list.
If you do plan to watch it, make a point of seeking out the rest of the entries in the Leijiverse, as well.
12. Dirty Pair
Dirty Pair is a pseudo-cop shop, and it’s honestly surprising that there aren’t more considering the time period.
Saying “cop” in reference to our two protagonists might be a bit of a stretch. It’s not so much good-cop bad-cop as it is a chaotic mess without any clearly defined roles. If Fairy Tail had no magic, the similarities between the two would be uncanny.
It’s fun and random, which is all you really need to know in order to enjoy it.
11. Golgo 13: The Professional
This is another film, and most of the entries from here on out will follow that theme. However, don’t let that turn you off Golgo 13: The Professional. It’s a cinematic entry into a manga series that is still running to this day.
It’s Eastern James Bond if Bond went rogue and became a hitman. The fact that it’s still running issues today speaks volumes about the quality of everything that this series, and this film, was to offer.
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service
The majority of the top 10 is going to be dominated by Ghibli, but what kind of person would I be if it wasn’t?
Kiki’s Delivery Service is what I consider one of the weaker 80s Ghibli productions, but it’s still far superior to 99% of the anime films that have ever been released. It’s heartwarming, stylized, and full of personality.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a synopsis: A young witch in training named Kiki moves to a town with her cat. There, she uses her broom to start up her own courier service.
It leaves you feeling fuzzy inside and sends a positive entrepreneurial message to kids! What’s not to love?
9. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
The top 10 is super tight in terms of rankings, so that’s why Mobile Suit Gundam is only number nine. On another list, it could have easily taken the first place prize.
It might be the second installment in the franchise, but it’s the spiritual original as far as I, and many other fans, are concerned. That’s not to say the original is bad because it’s far from it. Zeta just surpasses it in every way.
If you’ve never seen Gundam, then not only am I shocked but also envious. Go and load this up right now. It’s full of action, politics, and a surprising amount of realism that is often lacking in Mecha anime.
It’s one of the most revered series of all time for a reason.
8. Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky is the first film that Ghibli ever produced, and that is something special.
I’m not telling you anything about the plot because that would be a complete disservice to you. Just know that the film was so powerful that it continues to influence Japanese culture and art to this day.
It’s where the Ghibli legend began, and do I really need to say anything more than that?
7. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Fun fact, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind isn’t actually a Ghibli film. Miyazaki created it, sure, but it was released prior to the formation of Studio Ghibli.
It’s still considered to be one, though; whereas Castle in the Sky was the point of origin for Ghibli, this was the piece that cemented Miyazaki as a legend. It wasn’t his first major success by any stretch of the imagination, but it was something that surpassed what was being done at the time.
It’s set in a barren post-apocalyptic world where we follow a young princess struggle with a rival kingdom hellbent on eradication.
If you’re a Ghibli or a Miyazaki fan, you need to watch this film, even if it’s just out of respect for the legacy that it helped craft.
6. Fist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star isn’t just known for the eternal meme that it spawned; it’s actually one of the Shounen genre’s early pioneers. It’s overpowered before overpowered became cool.
This isn’t some political commentary masterpiece, but it’s about as fun as an anime can get. So turn your brain off, turn this show on, and let yourself enjoy something for one.
5. Dragon Ball
Keep in mind that I’m talking about the OG here, not Dragon Ball Z, so don’t think that you’ve already seen it because there’s a good chance that you haven’t.
There isn’t much more to say, to be honest. It’s Dragon Ball. You know what it is, and you already know if you want to watch it or not.
4. Legend of Galactic Heroes
Yes, a space show has managed to not only make the top ten but the top five as well. Given that shows of this nature were a dime a dozen in the 80s, the fact that I’m holding Legend of Galactic Heroes so highly should tell you something, or maybe you don’t value my opinion after my Dragon Ball confession, and I honestly wouldn’t blame you.
This show walked so that both Code Geass and Game of Thrones could walk. It’s a cacophony of carnage set in a political and galactic landscape, all to the tune of classical.
3. Grave of the Fireflies
Christ, Grave of the Fireflies is a far cry away from everything else that this decade produced. Space pirates? Demons? World-ending catastrophe? Nah, who needs all that when you have World War II and starvation.
This film is not fun, but it is a masterpiece.
2. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is an animation so good that it gets taught in film schools all over the world, and I should know because I studied it myself in Ireland.
To save you from the academic spiel that I’ve already written on the film, let me tell you that My Neighbor Totoro is going to fill you with that childish wonder that you lost so long ago. It’s a once-in-a-generation film that manages to connect across languages, borders, or lifestyles. In that regard, it’s one of the best pieces of art, in general, to come out of the 1980s.
If I was totally objective, My Neighbor Totoro would have topped this list, but I absolutely love speculative dystopian and cyberpunk, and Akira laid the groundwork for that genre for the next several decades.
I’m not even going to talk about the soundtrack, which is still one of the greatest of all time, but the plot of the film has influenced every single piece of cyberpunk media that has come after it. Even the recent Cyberpunk 2077 drew from the film, although that isn’t indicative of any seal of approval.
If you like cyberpunk and haven’t seen Akira, then there’s a massive hole in your expertise. If you’re not a fan of the genre, watch it and see if you change your mind.