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Over the past 20-something years, I've been exposed to a lot of anime. My very first anime was The Fable of Green Forest when I was 2 or 3 years old. (I still have some episodes on tape.) Toonami, The SyFy Channel, Showtime, and the local video rental store provided a gateway to a multitude of series and movies that continue to bring me joy. This post features a list of my top 10 favorite retro anime, spanning movies, shows, and OVAs. Given my deep affection for many, this list is subject to change over time.
1. Dragon Ball (1986-1989):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.96/10
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
Growing up in the 90s, like many American children, I encountered Dragon Ball Z before its predecessor, Dragon Ball. A pivotal moment was my sister's purchase of the film Curse of the Blood Rubies, sparking a fascination that led me to the complete series on Toonami in the early 2000s. Surprisingly, I found a deeper connection with Dragon Ball over Dragon Ball Z. The impeccable pacing, character designs, and harmonious music created a captivating synergy. Yet, it was the extraordinary martial arts choreography in the fight scenes that truly distinguished this series for me. Rewatching it in 2020, Dragon Ball's enduring charm remained intact.
Dragon Ball, chronicling Goku's martial arts journey alongside friends like Bulma, Yamcha, and Krillin, encompasses a rich blend of friendship, fantasy, and humor. Competing in tournaments, facing adversaries, and pursuing the mystical Dragon Balls, Goku's adventures epitomize the series' seamless fusion of action and heartfelt moments. This groundbreaking anime explores the bonds forged through martial arts and the extraordinary escapades shared by Goku and his eclectic group of friends, leaving an indelible mark on the world of anime.
You can watch the original Dragon Ball anime on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Dragon Ball DVDs can be purchased here.
2. Tenchi Forever! (1999):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.20/10
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
"Tenchi Forever! The Movie" serves as a poignant conclusion to the Tenchi Universe series, diverging from its usual tone. What sets it apart is the departure from the typical Tenchi humor, swiftly transitioning into a more serious narrative. The film explores the complex dynamics between Ayeka (Jennifer Darling) and Ryoko (Petrea Buchard), the main female characters, as they vie for Tenchi's love. The initial slapstick humor gives way to a heartfelt story when Tenchi (Matt K. Miller) is unexpectedly transported to another world due to their constant bickering.
The storyline takes an intriguing turn as Ayeka and Ryoko, usually at odds, must collaborate to rescue Tenchi. Witnessing these characters out of their comedic element adds depth to their personalities, shedding light on facets of their relationships beyond the usual banter. The film's deviation from the conventional sets the stage for character development, offering a fresh perspective on the familiar cast. "Tenchi Forever!" is a standout entry in the series that has left an impression on my love of anime.
The movie is not available on any streaming sites but there are multiple copies available on eBay.
3. Lupin the Third Part II (1977-1980):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.77/10
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
One of my most amusing retro anime discoveries is the timeless Lupin III Part 2. Amidst the rich Lupin franchise, comprising movies, series, and OVAs, Part 2 stands out as my absolute favorite. For those who tuned into Adult Swim during the early aughts, this eccentric '70s classic might be a familiar delight. Lupin III follows the exploits of Arsene Lupin III, a master thief and the fictional French gentleman thief's grandson. Despite its vintage origins, Pioneer's English dub, especially Tony Oliver's portrayal of Lupin III, injects refreshing humor into the series.
The episodes' engaging charm is heightened by the outrageousness of Lupin III's heists, complemented by an irresistibly catchy and unforgettable theme song. Lupin III and his cohorts—Fujiko, Jigen, and Goemon—find themselves relentlessly pursued by the determined Inspector Zenigata. While subsequent Lupin series have been enjoyable, none can quite compare to Part 2.
Where can you stream Lupin III Part 2? It's available on many sites:
Dub/Sub: Crunchyroll | HiDive | Retro Crush
Sub: Retro Crush | Crackle |
4. Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest (1990):
My AnimeList Rating: 6.58/10
IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
I admit, I did not like Dragon Ball Z when I first saw it on TV. Everyone was just standing around and the sky was green. I was immediately turned off. However, Cartoon Network started airing the first three films. It was then that I became hooked. Although I love all three of them, The World's Strongest is my favorite one. The storyline was fresh, the animation was clean, and best of all, it features the song "Piccolo San Daisuki" (I Love You, Mr. Piccolo). I am also a huge fan of the original Ocean Dub cast and I loved hearing Peter Kelamis as Goku. (That Kaioken is everything!)
Where can you stream Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest?
Dub/Sub: Crunchyroll | AppleTV
You can also purchase the movie here. Ocean Dub |Funimation Dub
5. Sailor Moon (1992-1997):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.73/10
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
No retro anime list is complete without Sailor Moon, the quintessential magical girl anime. Usagi, our unexpectedly endearing hero, embodies relatable charm with her laziness, perpetual hunger, and academic struggles. The diverse Sailor Scouts—the intelligent Ami, the gentle tomboy Makoto, Minako the hopeless romantic, and Rei, notably super serious—add multifaceted depth. This iconic series still resonates with enduring impact, blending action, romance, and friendship since its 90s debut. The scouts navigate studies, romance, and nightly battles, facing formidable adversaries like the menacing Queen Beryl.
My initial encounter with Sailor Moon was actually on the American channel, USA Network. I would watch the show before school with my brother and my niece. The show's influence extended beyond the screen when I found myself yearning for my first piece of anime merch, a pair of Sailor Moon tennis shoes at Kmart. As a grown woman, I still enjoy buying Sailor Moon merchandise, especially anything with Usagi's feline guide, Luna on it. Sailor Moon, for me, isn't just a form of entertainment; it's a significant thread in the tapestry of 90s anime, shaping my views on heroism and friendship, and embodying a cherished slice of my nostalgia.
Where can you stream Sailor Moon?
The DiC dub is not available on streaming but Viz Media's updated dub can be streamed on Hulu. Episodes are also available for purchase on AppleTV, Youtube, Google Play and Amazon Prime.
You can also purchase Sailor Moon on DVD and BluRay.
6. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989):
My AnimeList Rating: 8.22/10
IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
"Kiki's Delivery Service," based on the book by Eiko Kadono, was my inaugural foray into Studio Ghibli and it remains n my top 5 films. As a kid, the Disney Channel incessantly broadcasted this enchanting masterpiece, and you best believe I tuned in each time. Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of Kiki exuded sweetness, while Phil Hartman's voice work for Jiji left an indelible mark. Beyond its magical veneer, this coming-of-age tale resonates with authenticity. Kiki's quest to hone her witchcraft skills is a narrative that resonated with countless children of the 80s and 90s, offering a relatable journey toward self-discovery.
Fortunately, I had the extraordinary experience of seeing "Kiki's Delivery Service" for the first time in theaters last year. The emotional depth of experiencing the film in such an immersive way overwhelmed me, bringing me to tears. The film's charm and universal themes took on a fresh resonance, and I found myself rediscovering the magic that had initially drawn me to Kiki's world in the 90s.
Kiki's Delivery Service can be streamed on the Max platform.
You can also purchase it on Amazon, Youtube, AppleTV, Google Play, and Vudu.
7. Pokémon (1996-present):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.38/10
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Pokémon holds a special place in my heart as one of my all-time favorite 90s anime series. From its debut in 1997, the show introduced me to the captivating adventures of Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, Brock and Misty. The series wasn't just about capturing Pokémon; it was a journey of self-discovery and camaraderie. I found myself rooting for Ash and his friends (and Team Rocket) on every episode; I hoped to become a master trainer too. The infectious infectious theme songs, Burger King toys, and other merchandise brought a sense of pleasure that my other fandoms could not. (the lack of Dragon Ball merch in the US in the 90s was criminal). To add to my hoard, I even crafted a board game featuring whimsically wobbly renditions of Bulbasaur, Charmander, Pikachu, and Squirtle. While the rules of the game have faded from memory, the certainty remains—I reveled in the sheer joy of creating and playing in that delightful, self-fashioned Pokemon-inspired world.
I will be honest; I am not a fan of the mainline games that Pokémon is based on. However, it was the introduction of 1999's Pokémon Stadium for the N64 that marked my love of Pokémon games. I still play Pokémon Go, Pokémon Legends Arceus and other spin-off games like Pokémon Unite. The impact of the franchise is still evident today. In fact, the franchise celebrated 25 years in 2021 with a series of collaborations and music. Pikachu, arguably one of the most recognizable and iconic anime characters, continues to leave its electric charm on the hearts of fans worldwide.
Where can you stream the Pokémon series? Unfortunately, the series is spread across various platforms. They are listed on the official Pokémon website. As for DVDs & BluRays, there is a handful of seasons available on Amazon.
8. The Big O (1999-2003):
My AnimeList Rating: 7.53/10
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
One my favorite anime, Sunrise's "The Big O," hailed as a pinnacle of mecha anime excellence, made its debut in Japan on October 13, 1999, before captivating American audiences with its English-language premiere on April 2, 2001, courtesy of Cartoon Network's revered Toonami programming block. A beacon of retro anime greatness, "The Big O" quickly garnered a devoted international following for its innovative fusion of mecha, noir, and mystery elements, etching its place as an enduring classic among anime enthusiasts.
Set against the mysterious backdrop of Paradigm City, "The Big O" unfolds the narrative of Roger Smith (Steve Blum), a former police officer turned negotiator. The plot takes a riveting turn as Roger discovers the formidable robot, "The Big O," becoming instrumental in unraveling the city's mysteries amid mecha battles and film noir aesthetics.
Roger's life undergoes another upheaval with the introduction of R. Dorothy Wayneight, portrayed by Wendee Lee, whose android persona adds layers of intrigue with nuanced emotion. Although not as popular, Roger and Dorothy remain two of my favorite anime characters. Upon revisiting the series, the enthralling blend of mecha action and detective noir retains its initial captivation, solidifying "The Big O" as an enduring gem in my anime journey.
The Big O Anime is available for purchase on Amazon.
9. FLCL (2000):
My AnimeList Rating: 8.03/10
IMDB Rating: 8.10/10
Diving into the intricacies of "FLCL" (pronounced "Fooly Cooly"), I thoroughly engaged with the series through multiple viewings, delving into the manga and immersing myself in the light novels. Premiering in 2000 and originating from the esteemed animation studio Gainax (known for "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Gurren Lagann"), this coming-of-age anime unfolds the disrupted life of 12-year-old Naota Nandaba, voiced by Barbara Goodson, under the influence of the pink-haired alien Haruko Haruhara, voiced by Kari Wahlgren. The show seamlessly combines sleek animation, golden humor, and The Pillows' slamming soundtrack, with characters like Naota's eccentric father, his distant older brother, and the mysterious Mamimi contributing to fast-paced yet relevant story arcs.
Each episode of FLCL ensures a universal mix of laughter, tears, and humor. This emotional roller coaster combines intense melodrama, cheesy lines, and rock music with fast-paced action, including vespa rides and robot battles. As a coming-of-age story, "FLCL" explores themes of moving forward, accepting change, and embracing the unknown—a unique fusion of sci-fi, comedy, and drama captivating diverse genre enthusiasts. Recognized as one of the best anime from the 2000s, "FLCL" has left an impression on many anime fans.
You can stream FLCL on Hulu and Crunchyroll. You can also purchase the BluRay here.
10. Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996):
My AnimeList Rating: 8.17/10
IMDB Rating: 8.8/10
My love for Dragon Ball Z goes beyond mere fandom; it's a profound appreciation for a masterpiece that has shaped the landscape of retro anime. Crafted by the genius mind of Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z stands as a quintessential work of art. The series intricately follows Goku and his comrades defending Earth against formidable foes, breathing life into iconic characters with Toriyama's storytelling prowess and distinctive art style.
Interestingly, my initial encounter with Dragon Ball Z wasn't favorable. The first episode I watched, a part of the Namek saga, left me annoyed and puzzled by the characters' seemingly aimless actions. However, everything changed when Toonami aired the second Dragon Ball Z film, "The World's Strongest." The captivating animation and astounding soundtrack mesmerized me, making it my favorite Dragon Ball film. After exploring other movies like "Dead Zone" and "The Tree of Might," I decided to give the show another chance, and the rest is history.
Dragon Ball Z holds a special place as one of the best anime series ever created. Its profound impact on the shonen anime genre, with intense battles, character development, and a resonant narrative, is immeasurable. The energy-charged battles and emotional depth of characters have made it an enduring classic—a cultural phenomenon that has shaped the anime landscape, and my admiration for it goes beyond words.
Where can you watch Dragon Ball Z? You can watch the original series on Crunchyroll while Dragon Ball Z Kai can be viewed on Hulu.
You can also buy various versions on Amazon.
While there's a plethora of retro anime that could find a spot on this list, the ten mentioned here hold a special place in my heart. Yet, the world of retro anime is vast, and I'm eager to hear your recommendations. What series do you think deserve a spot? Is there one you'd remove? Share your thoughts below!
Check out my other anime blog posts below!