The 10 Best Classic Anime Series You Should Stream Right Now

Bob Mackey

Anime fans are truly living in a golden age of accessibility. While anime enthusiasts of the past had no choice but to rely on expensive physical media or bootlegs of questionable quality, these days, an overwhelming amount of anime can be accessed immediately thanks to the power of streaming. But with so much anime at your fingertips, how can you possibly know which oldies are worth your time by reading their blurbs alone? Sure, we’re all familiar with classics like Cowboy Bebop, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball, but if you’ve wanted to dig a little deeper into anime’s past, check out the following selections currently available on streaming networks.

Lupin the Third Part II

A shot from Lupin the Third Part II's Opening.

Though this late-’70s production might not look as flashy as the series you’re used to watching, Lupin the Third remains one of the most influential properties in the world of anime. And while you can watch all four Lupin TV series on streaming networks—and probably should—this second series definitely hits a sweet spot in terms of comedy and action.

But really, what makes Lupin the Third so fun to watch can be found in each episode’s self-contained approach, which wraps up a heist pulled off by the band of thieves in just 25 minutes. There’s no long, drawn-out story arcs, making every episode completely satisfying by the end. Plus, it’s impossible to not to fall in love with the endearingly sleazy Lupin characters doing crimes in the sexy, swinging ’70s. If you don’t have the theme’s awesome disco beat trapped in your brain after a single viewing, you may be broken inside.

Watch it on: Crunchyroll


A shot from the opening of Slayers.

Anime has spawned plenty of fantasy series, but Slayers definitely sticks out as one of the best. And with good reason: it features Lina Inverse, one of the more memorable fantasy heroines of all time. She’s quick-tempered, greedy, and impulsive, but also a competent hero with a heart of gold. Slayers mainly plays out as a comedy series, but doesn’t let this element get in the way of telling a story with high stakes.

Ultimately, though, it’s the surly Lina’s interplay with her traveling companions that makes Slayers so memorable. From the brain-dead-yet-heroic Gourry to the chipper, self-righteous Amelia to the stern, self-serious Zelgadis, Slayers wins over viewers by dropping these characters into dangerous or outlandish situations and having them play off of each other. And if you enjoy this first season, you’ll definitely want to track down the next three—unfortunately, 2008’s Slayers Excellent is the only other one that’s currently streamable.

Watch it on: Hulu, Funimation

Detective Conan/Case Closed

A shot from the opening of Detective Conan.

Adult Swim actually gave Detective Conan a shot by airing it dubbed as Case Closed, but it wasn’t the best fit for their late night schedule. For the most part, it’s a kids’ series that’s a little too dark and violent to sit next to traditional American kids’ programming. (The first episode features someone being decapitated on a roller coaster with a grappling hook, for crying out loud.) But now that so many episodes are available on streaming, it’s incredibly easy to sit back digest these compact episode-length mysteries.

While some of the cases might come off as a bit contrived, the lengths this series goes through to explain some of its more “impossible” crimes can be entertaining in and of themselves. And while the series’ premise of a teen detective being transformed into a child may seem like a needless complication, this twist only adds to the entertainingly baffling nature of Detective Conan. Just don’t expect this to be resolved anytime soon, since the series has been running for 20 years without Conan having a single growth spurt.

Watch it on: Crunchyroll (episodes 754-current), Funimation (episodes 1-130), Netflix (episodes 748-799)

Fist of the North Star

A shot from Fist of the North Star's opening.

If you’re looking for the most cartoonishly macho anime series ever created, you’ve found it in Fist of the North Star. In fact, the brooding, screaming hero Kenshiro is essentially the first One Punch Man. Most of his encounters with opponents follow the same formula: they underestimate his strength, he attacks once, then seconds later, they literally explode. That’s right: Kenshiro punches people so hard, they explode. If that sounds a little over-the-top to you, that’s essentially the only mode Fist of the North Star operates in. Exaggerated, comically gory violence paired with high-stakes melodrama actually makes for a pretty good mix. And if you’re a fan of Mad Max, you’ll find a lot to love here.

Watch it on: Hulu, Crunchyroll

Champion Joe 2

A shot from the opening of Tomorrow's Joe 2.

The second adaptation of a highly influential boxing manga, Champion Joe 2 plays out like a mix of Rocky and Punch-Out—if you couldn’t tell from its faux-video-game opening. And thankfully, you don’t need to watch the (unfortunately not available on streaming) first series to know what’s going on. This sequel series picks up after protagonist Joe Yubuki accidentally kills his rival in the ring, and finds himself in the gutter once again. What follows is a wild, 47-episode ride that finds Joe working to regain his former status and deal with the guilt that haunts him. If you’re new to the world of sports anime, the combination of brutal fights plus a classic character study will help ease you into this great subgenre.

Watch it on: Crunchyroll


A shot from the opening of Trigun.

One of the bigger hits of the late ’90s American anime scene, Trigun takes the form of a sci-fi western with an enigmatic hero. And while it features a great setting, protagonist Vash the Stampede really makes this series. He’s a human weapon who refuses to kill, and uses a goofy, affable persona to cover up his inner torment. There’s a loose, overarching plot, but Trigun mostly exists to pit Vash against a series of creative enemies he needs to use equally creative strategies to dispatch. Though the animation quality can be wildly uneven throughout, Trigun stands as a fun and memorable 26-episode series with some surprisingly emotional moments.

Watch it on: Hulu, Funimation

Ranma 1/2

A shot from the opening of Ranma 1/2.

Manga artist Rumiko Takahashi has basically had all of her worked turned into highly successful anime adaptations, and Ranma 1/2 is no exception. This high-concept martial arts comedy uses body transformations as its main gimmick, as the titular lead transforms from a boy to a girl whenever he’s splashed with cold water. Of course, you can only imagine the comedy that can come out of that premise alone, but the transformations don’t stop there. From pigs to cats to pandas, nearly every member of Ranma 1/2’s cast has some sort of second form which leads to plenty of anime antics. Though the budget takes a noticeable dip in the second season, Ranma 1/2’s stellar first season should be considered a must-watch by any anime fan.

Watch it on: Hulu

Tenchi Muyo! OVA Series

A shot from the Tenchi Muyo OVA opening.

Many anime series can claim to be influential, but few have created entire genres. Though there are bound to be some previous examples, Tenchi Muyo! essentially invented the “harem” anime genre, in which one clueless nerd finds himself surrounded by attractive women (usually one for each fetish) vying for his attention. This type of story would go on to be much more sleazy, but Tenchi Muyo! never strays too far into that territory and instead places an emphasis on comedy. Other Tenchi series exist, but this OVA series stands as the best place to start. Not only does it look the best due to its status as an OVA—meaning each episode was originally released individually at a high cost—it also wraps up in a clean seven episodes, meaning you won’t have to invest too much time to reach the end.

Watch it on: Funimation

Rurouni Kenshin

A shot from Rurouni Kenshin's opening.

Rurouni Kenshin feels a bit like a samurai version of Trigun—even if it did predate that series. In any case, it features the same basic plot: a wandering hero with a tortured past hides behind a facade of goofiness to mask his inner pain. And, like Vash the Stampede, Himura Kenshin doesn’t kill, and instead uses the dull side of his blade to knock out opponents. Though its multi-episode arcs can drag on a bit too long, Kenshin makes for a great period piece that takes some obvious creative liberties with Meiji-era Japan. But even if it takes a while to cut to the chase, this series makes the most of its duels with some very inventive battles.

Watch it on: Hulu, Netflix, Crunchyroll

GTO: The Animation

A shot from the opening of Great Teacher Onizuka.

Eikichi Onizuka is the last person you’d expect to be a teacher: he’s a chain-smoking dirtbag who’d rather chug a beer than crack open a book. Yet his heart of gold and strong moral code make him a redeemable character, even if he became a teacher primarily to pick up girls. Most of the fun in Great Teacher Onizuka comes from watching Eikichi tangle with the stuffy Japanese school system using his street smarts. And, of course, since he’d much rather teach his students life lessons than school lessons, some of the best moments of this series come from the outlandish situations he puts his students through to empower them. By the end, you’ll wonder how such a lazy sleazeball could possibly be so lovable.

Watch it on: Crunchyroll

Sherlock Hound

A shot from Sherlock Hound's opening.

Now here’s a series with an interesting background. Before forming Studio Ghibli—which makes the best full-length Japanese animated features—director Hayao Miyazaki worked on this animal adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories. While this premise alone might not sound like the most compelling one out there, Sherlock Hound amounts to one of the most well-animated productions ever aired on television. Though it doesn’t hit the same heights as future Ghibli productions would, you can definitely witness the roots of Miyazaki’s future movies throughout Sherlock Hound. Even if you don’t have time to fit its 26 episodes into your life, check out the first six at the very least—those are the ones Miyazaki worked on personally.

Watch it on: Crunchyroll

Bob Mackey
Bob Mackey is Games Editor at Fandom. Since joining the games press in 2007, he's written for sites like 1UP, Joystiq, The A.V. Club, Gamasutra, USgamer, and many others. He also hosts the weekly podcasts Retronauts and Talking Simpsons. Follow him on Twitter @bobservo.
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