With the media landscape so dramatically altered in the age of streaming wars, Millenials and Gen X-ers, often feeling disappointed and left behind by these changes, often lament days gone by. That sadness sometimes becomes bitterness and even aggression not just toward the purveyors of media but the new generation of watchers. “Anime these days sucks” turns into “This generation doesn’t know what good anime is.”
But we old folks sometimes don’t realize how much better this generation actually is at critiquing media than we were at their age. And so we miss an opportunity. How about we, instead, offer some wisdom to young people in our “old” age? Even with dozens of new series available through legal streams every single season, I suspect that many viewers would still be interested in trying anime of days gone by. They just might not know where to start. The same could be said of older fans, too, who are relatively new to the anime landscape.
To help, my pal, model and actress Trisha Finch, and I are digging into our catalog of “oldies but goodies” as we to turn to you, younger anime fans, with old school recommendations! Here are nine anime series some from our youth (hello, 90s!) to get you started. We encourage you to get a small a taste of years gone by trying them out!*
And then join us live! Trisha and I will be hopping on Instagram on Thursday, September 28th at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET to talk about our recs and get yours, too! Follow BtT on Instagram (and follow Trisha, too!) and then join when the “live” button appears on Instagram at the appointed time!
But first, without further ado, he are our nine 90’s anime recommendations for young and new fans!
Magic Knight Rayearth, 1994
You can’t run too far into anime’s recent past without bumping repeatedly into CLAMP, the all-female team of manga artists and storytellers that created classics like Cardcaptor Sakura. But that wasn’t the first CLAMPS classic; others preceded it, including Magic Knight Rayearth, a darker show (you’ll see a pattern of this in our recs) that mixes elements of mecha and fantasy in a story of three middle school girls who are isekai’d into a magical world. Trisha explains that the girls are able to “transcend the metaphor of friendship” as they use newfound powers to pilot giant robots. A reminder that isekai adventures, mecha piloting, and hero journeys are for girls, too!
Cowboy Bebop, 1998
This classic series about “space cowboys” chasing bounties and running from their pasts might catch you as dated with all its pop culture references. But that’s precisely a huge part of the reason why the series holds up so well—Cowboy Bebop is a wonderland of references from media throughout the 20th century (Woody Allen! Alien! Bruce Lee!), playing with a shared history of entertainment. But more than that, it remains an almost perfect blending of cool writing, awesome directing, amazing music, and other great elements into a smart, funny, action-packed series full of iconic moments and beloved characters. Skip the Netflix live-action remake, which was a pale imitation, and stick with original anime instead. Bang!
Read more about Cowboy Bebop:
- Easter Week, Spike Spiegel, and the Loneliness of Running from the Past
- Do You Love Me Enough to Let Me Go?
- Rescuing Faye Valentine
- Review: Cowboy Bebop (Netflix, 2021)
- Untangled: What Religion Does Cowboy Bebop Convey?
Fushigi Yuugi, 1995
One of anime’s most beloved series is the fantasy romance, Fushigi Yuugi, which is based on the mythical Four Guardians of China. Another isekai tale, it follows best friends Miaka and Yui as they’re spirited away to a magical world, though their journeys are not always magical; they sometimes travail painful and dark roads leading to bitterness and heartache. That depth speaks to Trisha, who enjoys the complicated elements of this series and notes that both the world-building and romance are interesting and “the character development is amazing.” I must say, romance of the time really hit at a different level!
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Serial Experiments Lain, 1998
How about something creepy, cool, and prescient? Serial Experiments Lain wraps elements of cyberpunk, techno-horror, and coming-of-age into character designer Yoshitoshi ABe’s’s signature style to create a series that’s every bit as unreal and compelling now as it was then. The series begins with quiet middle schooler Lain Iwakura receiving a message on her computer from a girl who just recently committed suicide. Creepy! Mystery upon mystery builds and she investigates the death, her family, and her own identity. We did an episodic look at the show to celebrate its 20th anniversary—you can follow along with that as you watch, and be sure to also check out our interview with Jasmine Rodgers, the lead singer of the iconic opening song, “Duvet.”
Streaming on Funimation
Hunter x Hunter, 1999
Yes, the 2011 Madhouse adaptation is off-the-charts great, a rare example of a reboot gone right. But there’s something quite special about the original Hunter x Hunter, which debuted in 1999. While many shonen series have fallen into a vast wasteland of generic adventures through the past two decades, HxH has managed to grow in stature. Ask anyone in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties: This is one of the very best shonen anime ever made. Trisha feels that the journeys in this series toward growth and heroism are particularly outstanding, which is perhaps why it remains so beloved. Add to that the depth of plot and characterization, and you’ve got something really special here.
Not currently available for streaming*
Another series that’s received a reboot (are you seeing a pattern here?), the original Trigun differs enough from Trigun Stampede that the two really are wholly different experiences. Only the original, though, is in the category of “must-watch.” Following Vash the Stampede, a man wanted for obliterating an entire city, Trigun mixes slapstick comedy with non-stop action (one particular scene that influenced “bullet time” in The Matrix), an emphasis and meditation on the nature of peace, and gut-wrenching drama as well. The cast, including the antagonists, is perfect, though the gun-toting priest Wolfwood and the main character himself stand out as among anime’s most beloved. The series is still funny, the action still exciting, and the music still hot—Trigun is more than worth watching today, some 25 years after it premiered.
Read more about Trigun:
- Between the Panels: Salvation According to Trigun
- Nothing Like God: Redeeming Nicholas D. Wolfwood
- The Invisible God in…Trigun
- Fruits of the Spirit: The Kindness of Vash the Stampede
- Wolfwood and Vash: A Contrast in Faith
Saber Marionette J, 1996
You really can’t talk about 90s anime without mentioning harem series, which were in their heyday during that decade and into the 00’s. Although that’s become an ugly prhase (blame Rent-a-Girlfriend), there were plenty of fantastic, fun series that employed this plot element, with one of the best being Saber Marionette J and its sequel series. While many of today’s harem series take place in a typical modern, high school or college setting, Saber Marionette J, as with a few others, was a sci-fi show. The “marionettes” are androids in a male-populated world, where fish peddler Otaru discovers one named Lime. Hijinks and romance ensue, but the series also includes allusions and references galore, as well as commentary about labor and privilege. Much like its setting, this series was ahead of its time.
Not currently available for streaming*
Outlaw Star, 1996
While Cartoon Network still airs some anime on its late-night Toonami block, old-school fans remember a much longer, anime-centric, after-school block that featured series that became beloved by western anime fans, including this series about space pirates chasing metaphysical artifacts. Full of big heroic moments, substantial action scenes, and flawed heroes who were nonetheless easy to root for (plus a bonus scene that was
stolen imitated by Joss Whedon), it was precisely the type of series that our generation desired and that still gets the blood flowing today, right from its famous opening theme. It also helped feed Toonami’s great anime music videos, including this classic one:
Virtua Fighter, 1995
To get a true glimpse into the 90s landscape, you need to look at series based on video games, particularly fighting ones like Street Fighter or my favorite, the Fatal Fury movie. Trisha suggests trying Virtua Fighter, based on Sega’s games of the same name. As a fitness fanatic, she loves the martial arts in this series, but also finds the characters to be so much fun, including the brother/sister duo of Jacky and Sarah Bryant. The latter’s kidnapping and the attempt to rescue her is central to the plot, though storytelling isn’t what this and similar series are about; they’re adrenaline-pumping shows that will have you rooting super hard for the heroes and jumping up and down during the fight sequences. Get ready for some heart-pumping fun!
Streaming on Amazon
These are just nine recommendations, but we should offer at least twice that many! In fact, Trisha and I will offer more as we chat about these and others live on Thursday, September 28th at 10am PT / 1pm ET. Follow us on Instagram (and Trisha, too); then join when the “live” button appears on Instagram at the start time. We hope to see many of you there!
And please let us know if you try any of these series! We’d love to hear your feedback on these recommendations. While many of them are now about 30 years old, we really do think you’ll find them magical once you get used to the aesthetics of the time.
*We give streaming platforms when available. Though not all our currently available on a service, older anime are being picked up all the time, so keep looking for these and others!