The ’80s was a time when anime was hard to find or even considered mainstream. Fortunately, some anime found success outside of Japan, and although the animation wasn’t as sharp as it is today, many of these shows and movies are way better than what’s airing now. Here are five old-school ’80s anime shows and movies that are better than anything on right now.
No other ‘80s anime has had quite an impact like Akira. The movie takes place after World War 3 in the fictional city of Neo-Tokyo which is rife with economic problems, anti-government terrorism, and gang violence.
One day, Tetsuo Shima gets into an accident with an esper, who is trying to escape from a government research facility. This encounter awakens latent psychic powers within Tetsuo. As a result, government agents capture him for government experiments. Now, an anti-government group along with Tetsuo’s best friend, Shotaro Kaneda, must rescue Tetsuo before his newfound abilities destroy Neo-Tokyo.
Akira‘s creators pack the film with so much detail, large and small, that it feels like Neo-Tokyo is a real city. The visuals and landscape are one of the movie’s most magnificent visions of a genuinely dystopian city. Also, the film does a great job of developing its characters. The citizens and agents are not inherently good or evil, they’re just trying to make it through life in a city that is about to implode.
Although a lot of anime are products of their time, Akira holds up as a movie that still feels modern and original. This anime is a true classic and will be remembered for decades to come.
The ‘80s classic anime, City Hunter, is one of those shows that have become an example of the winning combination of comedy, action, and drama. Set in Tokyo, Ryo Saeba aka the City Hunter is a detective who sweeps the streets clean. Along with his assistant, Kaori Makimura, they solve dangerous cases, which has earned them quite the reputation. But, when Saeba isn’t solving crimes, he’s putting on the charms with the ladies. Thankfully, Makimura along with her trusty mallet are right beside Saeba to keep him in check.
In each episode, the series’ main lead, Ryo Saeba displays both his mental and physical strength when it comes to solving cases and fighting criminals. But, the anime also has its comedic side thanks in part to Saeba’s lewd behavior and the subsequent lashing that he gets from Makimura.
Sometime in the near future, humanity starts to venture into the vastness of outer space and soon discover a race of insectoid aliens known as “Space Monsters.” But, it isn’t a friendly encounter as these aliens’ only goal is to eradicate humankind from existence. In response, the government develops giant fighting robots, piloted by youths from around the world.
One such navigator is Noriko Takaya, who enters the pilot training school despite her lack of skills. There, she meets Kazumi Amano, an experienced upperclassman who is nothing like Takaya. Now the two of them must work together to face the sacrifice that every space pilot must endure: the loss of friends, family, and their own lives.
Gunbuster offers a neat package of an emotional rollercoaster ride of being a mecha pilot. Throughout the six episodes, we watch these young pilots giving up everything to protect the Earth from the aliens. The OVA anime is a vivid emotional ride thanks to the creativity and visuals of studio Gainax and its director Hideaki Anno.
The series is an example of Japanese animation that, even after many decades, is still the standard of what a mecha anime should be. Gunbuster’s reputation, style, and quality are something that many anime series airing now are not able to achieve.
Maison Ikkoku is a classic ‘80s anime TV show based on the romance manga of the same name by Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½ and InuYasha). The series follows the tenants of the rundown apartment complex, Maison Ikkoku. The occupants range from a college ronin named Yūsaku Godai to a secretive businessman to nosy neighbors.
Into this fracas comes the recently widowed Kyōko Otonashi as the new live-in manager. Godai believes that he’s met “the one,” but who would date someone like him? Even so, there’s competition coming from the wealthy and well-educated Shun Mitaka. Will Otonashi choose the ronin Godai? The wealthy Mitaka? Or does she still long for her dead husband?
Maison Ikkoku cast is a de facto family that actively reacts to their surroundings. Throughout the 96-episodes, viewers actually get to see what happens to the supporting cast and the issues that they go through. Each character has an identity, a life, and they suffer the consequence of their actions.
Although the series’ visuals are a bit dated, Maison Ikkoku accurately captures a snapshot of how life was like back then. The anime realistically represents the period’s time, the dreams, and passions better than anything on right now.
In the near future, a giant earthquake destroys the bustling city of Tokyo. Thanks, in part, to the recent advancement of Boomer synthetic life form technology, a new city Mega-Tokyo is built in its place. But GENOM, the corporation behind the Boomers, seem to be brewing a plan to take over the world. Fortunately for the citizens of Tokyo, there’s the Knight Sabers, an all-female group of mercenaries who wear hardsuits to fight rogue Boomers and GENOM.
For a series that is more than three decades old, Bubblegum Crisis is one of the best female-led cyberpunk anime there is. And although the animation may not be up to par to today’s standards, there’s an alluring feeling to hand-drawn visuals that much of the more recent anime misses.
On top of having amazing and beautiful illustrations, the series embraces its tropes, crazy hairstyles, music, and dialogue to such a degree that it’s more nostalgic than a cheesy joke. Besides, the action in Bubblegum Crisis never stops. This is a full-blown mecha series that never slows down with its constant battles, transformation, high-speed chases, and absolutely no filler.