Each decade of anime has its own legacy, so let’s take a look at some of the most influential Japanese animation from the 1990s. Did we leave out your favorite anime from the 90s? Sound off in the comments!
Dragon Ball Z
You can’t have a list of big anime from the 90s without Dragonball Z. Although technically beginning in the late 80s, Dragon Ball Z took the 90s by storm, most notably for American audiences through the highly popular cartoon block “Toonami,” which aired on Cartoon Network. The over the top fights and large cast of characters were many Americans’ introduction to the genre and continues to be a staple in the history of anime.
Sailor Moon was ahead of its time. Emerging during a period rife with shows geared towards young and teenage boys, Sailor Moon was one of the first true anime for girls that actually focused on action. Although there had been strong female roles in anime before, Sailor Moon was one of the first with an all-female main cast, something to note when looking at shows such as Dragonball Z and Ronin Warriors.
Record of Lodoss War
Before the success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, finding quality Fantasy entertainment was difficult, but Ryo Mizuno’s Record of Lodoss War scratched that itch for many anime fans in the 90s. This show featured all of the Fantasy staples: heroic warriors, enchanting elves, and evil goblins. The show did not often deviate from its genre conventions, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t fun and exciting. The legacy of this show can still be seen in other Fantasy anime series such as Rune Soldier and The Seven Deadly Sins, ensuring its place on this list. Also, it has the largest dragons I have ever seen in anything ever, so it’s got that going for it as well.
No anime list would be complete without a film from the anime wizard himself, Hayao Miyazaki. Princess Mononoke follows the story of a young prince looking for a cure to a curse from a demon. Following similar tropes from other Miyazaki’s films, Princess Mononoke deals with the environment and humanity’s impact upon nature. As always, the Miyazaki produces top tier animation, which is accompanied by an English dub that was adapted by Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, known for his Sandman comic series. If you’re watching any anime films from the 90s, Princess Mononoke should be at the top of your list.
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is one of those films that are a mandatory viewing for any anime aficionados, alongside other famous movies such as Akira and Spirited Away. This film is famous for taking the Cyberpunk genre form the page to the animated screen and has spawned a transmedial franchise that continues today. It is safe to say that without the popularity of Ghost in the Shell, we may not have films like The Matrix, or games like Metal Gear Solid, at least not in the way they are today.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
What is an anime list without giant robots? Neon Genesis Evangelion took the 90s anime scene for a ride and still remains one of the most popular mecha shows to date. Evangelion follows a plot similar to most mecha anime (a teenage boy saves the world from aliens/evil federation), though it departs from conventions in order to ask some tough questions, especially concerning the effects that violence can have on these child soldiers. Neon Genesis Evangelion isn’t all about giant robots fighting, but that’s exactly why it remains a classic today.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
If you really want to revisit the 90s in its purest form, watch Mobile Fighter G Gundam. This show began a new Gundam timeline and decided to deviate from the realistic storytelling of the Mobile Suit Gundam series in favor of pure, over the top action that felt like the Saiyans from Dragon Ball Z had suddenly developed Gundams. Without going into too much detail, G Gundam has a satisfying story, a soundtrack with guitar solos straight from the 80s, and just the right amount of cheese to qualify this show as the ultimate 90s guilty pleasure.
This list would not be complete without Cowboy Bebop, a show deemed by many as a masterpiece. Cowboy Bebop was a breath of fresh air compared to its contemporaries, as it felt more like a crime drama from the noir cinema than simply an action anime. With a diverse soundtrack, darker subject material, and a plot that will leave you aching for just one more episode, Cowboy Bebop revolutionized anime and helped bring it into the mainstream, as it was a “gateway show” for many new to the genre. Needless to say, the state of anime would not be what it is today without Spike and the gang. See You Space Cowboys…