While the 1990s was a golden era for anime, the 80s also had its fair share of influential contributions to the genre. Looking back, without these, many of the shows we grew up with would not exist today. Respect your elders, kids.
Here’s one you don’t hear about enough, back in 1988 Sunrise debuted Ronin Warriors, which followed the adventures of five elite heroes that must stop Talpa, lord of the underworld, from taking over the realm of the living. Although the show may lack depth, it was perfect for kids looking for an action packed show. Plus, just watch that opening, it’s the most 80s thing ever.
Alongside the RX-78-2 and Optimus Prime, Voltron is one of the most popular mechs in animated history. Edited (mainly) from an anime called Beast King GoLion, Voltron became a huge hit in the US in the 80s because of its action-centered plot and corresponding line of toys. It does not matter if you watched the show or not, the Voltron mech is iconic. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Voltron face off against the original Megazord?
Fist of the North Star
In a future where nuclear war ravaged the globe, those left must be tough in order to survive the wasteland. Enter Kenshiro, master of a deadly martial art known as Hokuto Shinken, who travels the wasteland saving the day and violently decimating his foes. Fist of the North Star is bloody and brutal, exactly what we’ve come to expect from our favorite 80s action flicks like Mad Max and Conan the Barbarian.
Space Adventure Cobra
When someone mentions space western anime, often Cowboy Bebop and Trigun are thrown around, but these two aren’t the original of this subgenre. Space Adventure Cobra chronicles the life of Johnson, a former space adventurer named Cobra, who has had his memory wiped and his face altered. After experiencing a dream simulation that triggers his memories of his previous life, Cobra must abandon his moniker of Johnson and escape the clutches of the Pirate Guild. Space Adventure Cobra is essentially the granddad to a lot of the anime we grew up with, and the gunslinging is strong in its bloodline. If you’re a fan of Bebop, Trigun, or even Space Dandy, you owe it to yourself to check out this gem.
My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus Spirited Away wouldn’t come along until over a decade later, but that doesn’t mean that the master of animation wasn’t already making classics. My Neighbor Totoro features many fantasy elements, such as forest spirits and a cat bus (yes a cat bus), which is engaging for both children and adults alike. Not only did this film come to define many childhoods, it also put Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli on the career trajectory that has made him a worldwide success.
There are few franchises that can stand alongside the Dragon Ball series and this is where it all started. The original show follows the adventures of a young Son Goku before he learns of his alien past and introduces much of the cast that later make up Dragon Ball Z. Dragon Ball is packed with humor and outlandish fight sequences, having a significantly lighter tone than its sequel, but ultimately serves as the proper introduction to the world of the Dragon Balls.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
I know, I know, another Studio Ghibli film, but I can’t help it that Miyazaki decided to create some of the best works in animation history all in one decade. Considered by many to be the beginning of Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a beautiful and adventurous film set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world filled with toxic forests and giant bugs. Nausicaa focuses heavily on environmentalism, a theme present in many of Miyazaki’s later films. Without the initial success of the film, Studio Ghibli may not have become the animation titan that it is today, meaning we would not have films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Akira is arguably the most influential anime film from the 1980s, if not all of anime history. The movie was a huge success upon release, even making its way to the states, as well as having several airings on American television. The story follows the rivalry of Tetsuo, a teen who suddenly develops psychic powers that threaten to rip apart Neo-Tokyo, and his best friend Kaneda, who must stop Tetsuo’s destruction. For many viewers, Akira was their introduction to anime, and is still regarded as a science fiction classic. Akira is full of fast paced action and masterful animation that has yet to be matched. If you haven’t, go give this one a watch.