If you’re a fan of anime today, there is a good chance you first got into the craze back in the 1990s. The medium has been a popular one in Japan for decades but U.S. audiences only gravitated to anime en mass relatively recently.
Fans were dragged into the Japan wave after shows like Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and even Mobile Suit Gundam made their way overseas.
Anime has become a persistent corner of niche entertainment in the U.S, but its popularity continues to rise. All of the children who gravitated towards anime in the 1990s have since grown up and continued to sample anime series over these years. Longtime fans have also roped in a new generation of anime lovers to the fandom, but many try to convert newcomers by showing them old-school 90s anime even today.
Here at ComicBook, we are taking the time to look back through the best anime of the 1990s for nostalgia’s sake. Sure, these show’s may not have the cleanest animation, but their storylines were fierce enough to spawn millions of diehard fans. Spike Spiegel and Son Goku weren’t the only anime stars to built themselves a loyal fandom, and ComicBook is ready to salute those series which have managed to prove the test of time.
Created in 1994, Rurouni Kenshin had its manga published under Weekly Shonen Jump before the historical title got an anime adaptation. The beloved series was overseen by Studios Gallop and Deen over 95 episodes, and it remains a classic to this day. The anime follows a young man named Himura Kenshin during Japan’s early Meiji era. The samurai once worked as a for-hire assassin but has since rescinded the livelihood to become a pacifist. Kenshin leaves the war behind to settle down with new friends after meeting a young woman named Kamiya Kaoru at a dogo. However, when the man learns about an ex-comrade’s plans to take over Japan, Kenshin is drawn back into a world of assassin in order to prevent the coup.
If you like dark fantasy, then Berserk is an anime right up your Medieval alley. First published in 1989, Kentaro Mirua’s iconic story was made into a very popular anime in October 1997. The series itself follows several warriors as they live and die in one hellish universe. The protagonist Guts is a mercenary who enjoys the trill of war, and he comes to join the mercenary group ‘Band of the Hawk’ after failing to defeat its leader Griffith. While the series is known for its aggressive depiction of war and bloodshed, Berserk also explores themes of camaraderie and good versus evil. Just, make sure you don’t watch the episode’s first few episodes with a full stomach. You are bound to get a bit queasy.
Technically speaking, Dragon Ball Z had its premiere back in 1989, but the iconic show came to define anime in the 1990s thanks to its popularity. Even casual audiences will be familiar with Akira Toriyama’s action-packed series thanks to its creation of Super Saiyans and Dragon Balls. The lengthy shonen series ran until 1996 and collected 291 episode as it went. The anime itself acts as a sequel to Dragon Ball and explores Son Goku’s life as an adulthood. Leaving behind the original anime’s mysticism, Dragon Ball Z made a name for itself with its involved fight sequences and warrior roster. Today, anime fans have come to recognize Dragon Ball Z as one of the medium’s most influential titles, and it will remain a classic until the end of time.
Plenty of memorable shonen titles made their anime debut during the 1990s, and Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the most enduring to date. The supernatural series was adapted into an anime by Studio Pierrot in 1992, and the show ran for 112 episode before wrapping in 1994. The groundbreaking series bravely introduced fans to a not-so-lovable protagonist when it first began. Yusuke Urameshi was little more than a hot-headed delinquent when Yu Yu Hakusho began, but the series follows the boy as he gains perspective about his actions. The boy winds up dying after he saves a boy from being hit by a car. When Yusuke enters the afterlife, no one is sure whether he belongs in hell or heaven. As such, the boy is given a chance to return to his body to redeem his soul and become a paranormal ‘Underworld Detective.’
Cowboy Bebop isn’t just one of the best anime titles from the 1990s; Critics consider it to be one of the best shows from the decade period. The sci-fi western show is one which breaks genre boundaries, and the classic continues to stun fans with its subtle philosophic musings. The series, which was created by Shinichiro Watanabe, follows a former syndicate member named Spike Speigel after he leaves his life of organized crime behind. Having become a bounty hunter, Spike captains the spacecraft Bebop along with his ragtag crew as they do odd jobs. But, when Spike’s former syndicate comes back to haunt him and his friends, the protagonists laid-back attitude is threatened by the somber reminder.