Anime explores certain stories that would be impossible anywhere else, and it’s the medium’s willingness to experiment with genre and take risks that’s helped anime endure and evolve for so long. Anime has embraced different fads throughout different decades, some of which are products of their time and others that have become entrenched in the medium’s DNA.
The 1980s is a popular decade that many people fondly look back on with nostalgia. The ’80s were a groundbreaking period for anime, but that doesn’t mean that every series from the decade has become an evergreen classic. However, some ’80s anime don’t only hold up — they have actively gotten better over time.
Directed by Hideaki Anno and produced by Gainax, 1988’s Gunbuster feels like a trial run for what this team would later accomplish in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Gunbuster pits giant mecha robots against deadly alien insects, but the six-episode OVA series digs into the strenuous training process that Noriko endures in order to defend her planet.
Gunbuster has plenty of flashy action spectacles, but there’s just as much focus on what Noriko loses by pledging her existence to this combative cause. A sequel, Diebuster, was released in 2004 to celebrate Gainax’s 20th anniversary, but it’s achieved less of an evergreen status as its 1980s predecessor.
9 Captain Tsubasa
128 Episodes, 4 Films
Sports anime remain incredibly popular, and when it comes to soccer series, it’s hard to top Captain Tsubasa. There have been five separate Captain Tsubasa series over the years, as well as close to two dozen video games.
However, it’s the 1983 original series that ran the longest at 128 episodes and had the best reception of the lot. Many sports anime lean into incredulous twists or special skills, but Tsubasa Oozora’s only special power is his undying passion for soccer. The lengthy anime chronicles Tsubasa’s highs and lows as he comes of age on the soccer field.
8 Saint Seiya: Knights Of The Zodiac
Seven Saint Seiya anime have been produced, as well as a handful of cinematic offerings. Still, few have the depth and staying power as the original Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, which aired 114 episodes from 1986 to 1989. Three major story sagas are covered across the original Saint Seiya, where five magical girls don sacred armor that they use to protect the Earth and the reincarnation of the Greek goddess Athena from sinister forces.
The subsequent Saint Seiya series can’t land on the right pacing, and none of this cosmic chaos feels big enough. The original Saint Seiya is still a triumph of magical girl and mecha hybrid storytelling.
7 Dr. Slump
Akira Toriyama has earned a legendary status in the manga and anime community due to Dragon Ball, but Dr. Slump is Toriyama’s wild gag series that predates Dragon Ball. Penguin Village is such a fun world, and girl robot Arale Norimaki is an underrated shonen lead.
Dr. Slump was remade in the 1990s, but the 1980s original is uncompromised and features an impressive sum of 243 episodes. There hasn’t been new Dr. Slump anime content in years, but Arale’s ability to take over an episode of Dragon Ball Super and Tubi’s recent acquisition of the property is proof of Dr. Slump‘s lasting legacy.
6 Fist Of The North Star
There are certain anime that just fully embody the 1980s, such as the case with Fist of the North Star. Kenshiro’s burly physique and thick-lined design paint a picture of the type of rough customer that’s rare in modern anime due to a preference for sleeker designs.
Fist of the North Star combines martial arts chaos with long-standing revenge, all of which is cast against a post-apocalyptic wasteland. ThisMad Max-like aesthetic is Fist of the North Star‘s real strength, and a modern reboot hasn’t happened because there’s no need to improve upon the original’s ’80s look and feel.
5 Sherlock Hound
26 Episodes, 2 Movies
Sherlock Hound is a delightful twist on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective and 19th-century steampunk technology in general that gives these mystery and adventure archetypes a substantial anime makeover. Sherlock Hound and his canine companion, Watson, solve a series of crimes that still hold up and don’t feel like they’re products of their time.
Sherlock Hound is a passionate love letter to Doyle’s works rather than just a silly show about a dog detective. The secret ingredient to Sherlock Hound‘s enduring success is that it’s an early effort from Hayao Miyazaki, who knows how to perfectly mix together fantasy and reality.
4 Urusei Yatsura
209 Episodes, 6 Movies
Rumiko Takahashi is a master of infusing unconventional romances into shonen series. In Urusei Yatsura, eternal slacker Ataru Moroboshi becomes betrothed to an electrifying extraterrestrial named Lum, who begins to slowly take over his life. Urusei Yatsura has endless fun with the wild alien characters that follow Lum’s arrival, and its playful tone has become more of a rarity in shonen series.
A second anime adaptation of Urusei Yatsura started airing in 2022, which has satisfied fans of the original, but it’s still lacking some of Takahashi’s madcap energy. In contrast to the 2022 remake, 1981’s Urusei Yatsura holds up even better, and audiences continue to discover it every day.
3 City Hunter
City Hunter is an anime institution that’s produced nearly 150 episodes and seven feature films across its various iterations. Many of the City Hunter series directly segue into the next, and City Hunter, City Hunter 2, and City Hunter 3 all seamlessly continue throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
The original 1987 series is the longest at 51 episodes. However, it also does the best job at establishing a baseline for its detective cases as well as understanding and humanizing Ryo Saeba, the unscrupulous leader of the “City Hunter” team.
2 Crusher Joe
2 OVAs, 1 Movie
Crusher Joe embraces many space anime staples as it follows an elite team of Crushers — rough individuals who built a reputation through the destruction of asteroids but now take on any manner of odd jobs as long as they don’t conflict with the Crusher Council’s honorable values. Crusher Joe started as a movie that features collaborative designs from Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, and Rumiko Takahashi, which results in a unique universe.
Crusher Joe was followed with two televised OVAs in 1989 that continued Joe’s courageous adventures. The simplicity and heartfelt sentiments that Crusher Joe preaches make an even greater impact several decades later in a time when cynicism can reign supreme.
1 Bubblegum Crisis
Bubblegum Crisis oozes 1980s with its rough-and-tumble female mercenary heroines, the Knight Sabers. While not quite mecha, the Knight Sabers all wear powerful robotic exoskeleton suits that help them fight crime, corruption, and cyborgs.
Bubblegum Crisis‘ depiction of a gritty police force that struggles to protect a divided nation continues to ring true. 1998’s Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 is a 26-episode remake of the eight-episode OVA that many view as an improvement. However, the original still has its share of defenders, and it accomplishes just as much in a fraction of the time.
NEXT: 10 80s Anime That Are Better Than They Have Any Right To Be
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