10 Best Anime of the 1980s

Best Anime in 1980s

The 80’s and 90’s were a time when many anime were aired that turned you into an otaku. In the 1980s, the early years of such an era of anime prosperity, there are many works that are fascinating even today! It goes without saying that these anime have influenced today’s anime series and movies. The mood of the 80’s, including the noise and gloom, is also very appealing.

In Japan, the birthplace of anime, the classic macha anime series Gundam began airing, Tokyo DisneyLand opened, the smash-hit Nintendo’s Family Computer was released and the Japanese era name changed from Showa to Heisei. If you look at the 1980s from a global perspective, there are a number of shocking and significant historical events such as Iran-Iraq War, Plaza Accord, the Chernobyl disaster, Black Monday, the fall of the Berlin Wall and so on.

The anime of the 1980s is probably nostalgic for people in their 40s and 50s today. For those who watched those anime in real time back then and for those who want to revisit them now, I’d like to introduce 10 best anime of the 1980s selecting the best of the best from that legendary series to that classic movie!

Please also check out the list of the best anime from the next decade that I’ve compiled.


Beyond the 1980s, when anime was favored by a small group of otaku and became popular with many people, the 1990s saw a […]

Best Anime in 1990s

1. Dr. Slump & Arale-chan

Dr. Slump & Arale-chan
Dr. Slump & Arale-chan ©鳥山明/集英社・東映アニメーション

Dr. Slump & Arale-chan (Dr.スランプ アラレちゃん) is one of the series that started an era of manga and anime in the 1980s. Serialized on Weekly Shonen Jump from 1980 to 1984, its original manga series titled Dr. Slump is an early masterpiece of Akira Toriyama, who is world famous for Dragon Ball. The sci-fi comedy manga was adapted into Dr. Slump & Arale-chan, the first anime consisting of 243 episodes in 1981-1986, and Doctor Slump, the second series composed of 74 episodes in 1997-1999.

The first animated series in the 1980s was a huge hit, and its popularity extended to women and kids. It depicts the crazy daily life of Arale Norimaki, a girlish humanoid robot created by Senbei Norimaki, an inventor and self-proclaimed scientific genius living in Penguin Village. The story centers around Arale, who is powerful enough to destroy police cars and motorcycles with her body, and depicts her slapstick daily life with villagers, aliens, and others.

As a small child, I used to admire Arare-chan’s mischievous behavior. The collaboration between Arare-chan and Dragon Ball’s Goku is also interesting, and a kind of prototype of Dragon Ball is seen here.

Aired: 1981-1986

Episodes: 243

Studio: Toei Animation

2. Mobile Suit Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam © 創通・サンライズ

The 1980s can be regarded as the period when the famous Gundam series took the world by storm, which is now known as one of the pioneers and masterpieces of mecha anime. The long-lived mecha anime series that still continues to this day began with its first title Mobile Suit Gundam (機動戦士ガンダム) in 1979-1980. Directed by a legendary anime director Yoshiyuki Tomino, it was made as the third original anime by Nippon Sunrise, following Invincible Super Man Zambot 3 (1977-1978) and Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3 (1978-1979). The series continued in the 1980s with Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (機動戦士Ζガンダム) and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (機動戦士ガンダムΖΖ).

Mobile Suit Gundam is set in the year 0079 of the Universal Century timeline, where space colonization has been underway for over half a century. The Principality of Zeon, which includes Lieutenant Char Aznable, also known as the Red Comet, declares war against the Earth Federation in an attempt to gain independence. Amuro Ray, the son of Tem Ray, a technician and developer of Mobile Suits for the Federation, inadvertently finds himself piloting the new Gundam Mobile Suit in the midst of the chaos of war. Amuro becomes the pilot of the Gundam through a series of events and gradually adapts to his role as a soldier, fighting alongside the Federation against the Zeon forces.

If you think you can’t watch an old mecha anime like Gundam, I urge you to watch Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, which started in 2022.

Aired: 1979-1980 (Mobile Suit Gundam)/1985 (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam)/1986 (Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ)

Episodes: 43 (Mobile Suit Gundam)/50 (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam)/47 (Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ)

Studio: Nippon Sunrise

3. Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star ©武論尊・原哲夫/コアミックス・東映アニメーション 1987

When it comes to classic martial arts action anime, many fans probably think of Fist of the North Star (北斗の拳). There are two main parts of the Fist of the North Star television anime series: Fist of the North Star and Fist of the North Star 2, which are consisting of 109 episodes in 1984-1987 and 43 episodes in 1987-1988. They are adapted from Buronson’s manga series published from 1983 to 1988.

Fist of the North Star is set in 199X, a world devastated by a total nuclear war caused by the Third World War. The legendary story revolves around various characters, including Kenshiro, who wields the legendary assassination technique “Hokuto Shinken,” as they engage in fateful battles using various martial arts.

Comprised of four parts, the first anime series of Fist of the North Star depicts the story up to the conclusion of the conflict with Raoh. On the other hand, Fist of the North Star 2 mainly covers the events in the Celestial Emperor arc and the Land of Asura arc, concluding with the resolution of the conflict between Kenshiro and Kaioh, Raoh’s biological brother.

Aired: 1984-1987 (Fist of the North Star)/1987-1988 (Fist of the North Star 2)

Episodes: 109 (Fist of the North Star)/43 (Fist of the North Star 2)

Studio: Toei Animation

4. Dragon Ball

Dragon Ball
Dragon Ball ©バードスタジオ/集英社・東映アニメーション

Dragon Ball (ドラゴンボール) is the first part of the legendary action adventure series Dragon Ball, which was followed by the second part Dragon Ball Z, the most popular of the franchise. Based on Akira Toriyama’s original manga series, which established the golden age of Weekly Shonen Jump while being serialized from 1984 to 1995, Dragon Ball was made into the anime series by Toei Animation. It was broadcast on TV from 1986 to 1989.

Dragon Ball covers Goku’s boyhood story from Son Goku Saga to Piccolo Saga while Dragon Ball Z restarts from Saiyan Saga, which centers on him after he becomes an adult. Son Goku, a boy with a tail, sets out on a journey to find the Dragon Balls, which, when collected, will grant him one wish of any kind. On his journey, he meets Krillin, Yamcha, Tien Shinhan, Piccolo, and others as rivals, who eventually become his reassuring friends. The early story focuses on the World Martial Arts Tournament, in which they participate aiming to become the strongest fighters.

Aired: 1986-1989 (Dragon Ball)/1989-1997 (Dragon Ball Z)

Episodes: 153 (Dragon Ball)/291 (Dragon Ball Z)

Studio: Toei Animation

Although Dragon Ball Z is by far more famous, Dragon Ball, the first series depicting Goku’s boyhood, is also full of charm.

5. City Hunter

City Hunter
City Hunter © 北条司/コアミックス・読売テレビ・サンライズ

One of the popular manga and anime series from the 1980s, City Hunter (シティーハンター) was originally created by Tsukasa Hojo and serialized on Weekly Shonen Jump. The anime adaptation debuted in 1987, spanning four installments that aired from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. In addition to the TV series, a number of anime movies have been released, such as City Hunter: The Movie – Shinjuku Private Eyes in 2019. The franchise continues with City Hunter The Movie: Angel Dust, set for release in 2023.

City Hunter is an anime that combines elements of action, comedy, and drama. Set in Shinjuku, Tokyo during the late 1980s, the story follows the young protagonist Ryo Saeba as he takes on various requests from clients to track down criminals and solve cases. As a Sweeper who takes on jobs such as assassination, bodyguarding, and detective work, the anime showcases the hard-boiled comedic adventures of the City Hunter.

Aired: 1987-1988 (City Hunter)/1988-1989 (City Hunter 2)/1989-1990 (City Hunter 3)/1991 (City Hunter ’91)

Episodes: 51 (City Hunter)/63(City Hunter 2)/13(City Hunter 3)/13(City Hunter ’91)

Studio: Sunrise

6. Akira

Akira ©1988マッシュルーム/アキラ製作委員会

Born in the 1980s, Akira is one of the greatest masterpieces in Japanese animation history. Released in 1988, the anime film has garnered worldwide acclaim ever since. Based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk manga, the animated movie was directed by Otomo himself. As the film was created before the manga’s completion in 1990, it features its own unique climax, separate from the original source material.

Akira focuses on themes of power, corruption, and the human struggle to maintain control over advanced technology. The story is set in Neo-Tokyo, a new city built after the destruction of Tokyo in 2019. The protagonist, Kaneda, is the leader of a motorcycle gang. His friend Tetsuo becomes involved with a mysterious boy named Akira, who possesses a mysterious power, and develops psychic abilities. As the plot unfolds, they become entangled in a massive conspiracy.

Released: 1988

Runtime: 124 min

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira is a masterpiece that should be chosen not only for the 1980s, but throughout the history of the world, and should be seen at least once if you have never seen it before.

7. Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies © 野坂昭如/新潮社,1988

Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓) is one of the many masterpieces among Studio Ghibli’s early works. Directed by Isao Takahata, who is as renowned as Hayao Miyazaki within the studio, the film is based on the 1967 novel of the same name written by Akiyuki Nosaka. Released alongside Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies is a realistic animated movie that deals with the events of World War II, showcasing a different side of Studio Ghibli’s storytelling.

Set during the final stages of the Pacific War, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko lose their mother and home in the Kobe air raid in Hyogo Prefecture. They find refuge in a relative’s house, but as they feel uncomfortable there, Seita decides to leave with Setsuko and begin living in a nearby air raid shelter. However, their food supply becomes increasingly scarce, leading to malnutrition and weakness. The film realistically depicts wartime issues such as starvation and war orphans, as well as post-war problems.

Released: 1988

Runtime: 88 min

Director: Isao Takahata

8. My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro © 1988 Studio Ghibli

Renowned for its captivating charm and timeless appeal, My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ) stands as a signature work from Studio Ghibli and esteemed director Hayao Miyazaki. Released in 1988 alongside Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, this enchanting animated film was crafted as an original story, without any pre-existing source material. The movie’s delightful narrative and endearing characters have captured the hearts of audiences spanning multiple generations.

Set in early 1950s Japan, this fantasy tale casts a spotlight on the Kusakabe family, including 12-year-old Satsuki and her 4-year-old sister Mei, who move to the countryside. The story unfolds as the girls interact with the mysterious creature Totoro, who is said to only appear to children. As the family worries about their hospitalized mother, the film showcases the idyllic rural landscapes of old Japan and the people who reside there.

Released: 1988

Runtime: 86 min

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

9. Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky © 1986 Studio Ghibli

Drawing from a fictional story conceived by director Hayao Miyazaki during his elementary school years, Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ) is regarded by many fans as one of the best Studio Ghibli films. As the first movie produced by Studio Ghibli, established in 1985, it followed Miyazaki’s earlier work, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The name “Laputa” originates from the flying island kingdom of Laputa, featured in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Pazu, a 12-year-old boy working as an apprentice mechanic in a mine, is a bright, energetic young man with a strong sense of justice and an abundance of initiative. One day, he meets a 12-year-old girl named Sheeta. She is an orphan, pursued by air pirates and a government special agency who covet her ancestral treasure, a pendant containing a levitation crystal. As the mystery surrounding the stone unfolds, the two embark on a grand adventure.

Released: 1986

Runtime: 124 min

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

10. Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service © 1989 角野栄子・Studio Ghibli・N

Released in 1989, Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便) is a long-beloved Studio Ghibli anime movie, cherished by fans of all ages and genders. As a feature-length film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it is the first to adapt someone else’s work. The original story is a children’s literature series written by Eiko Kadono, which was serialized from 1982 to 1983.

Kiki, a 13-year-old girl who inherits witch’s blood, lives in a peaceful countryside town. To become a fully-fledged witch, she embarks on a journey to spend a year of training in another town. Accompanied by her black cat Jiji, Kiki decides to settle in the beautiful seaside town of Koriko, where she faces challenges and grows as a person. The focus of the story is more on the coming-of-age aspect of a young girl leaving her rural home to use her talents and become independent in the city, rather than the fantasy elements of magic. The subtle emotional movements of the young girl entering puberty are also depicted in great detail.

Released: 1989

Runtime: 102 min

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

3 Author’s Exceptional Recommendations: in the Best Anime in 1980s

  1. Dr. Slump & Arale-chan
  2. Akira
  3. My Neighbor Totoro

For those who like modern anime series and movies but have watched very little of the old anime, these three titles are strongly recommended. In Dr. Slump & Arale-chan, you can see the archetype of powerful action and comedy seen in Dragon Ball. If you watch Akira, you will see why it has been looked on as the best authentic Japanese animation by lots of anime freaks worldwide for a long time. Totoro is a masterpiece that has not faded away even when seen today, and its appeal lies in the fact that it can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Here are the list of the best anime series and movies in other decades!


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