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The 15 Best Classic Anime to Watch

The Best Classic Anime to Watch
Credit: Kitty Films

We've come a long way from having less than twenty anime releases per year in the 60s. With the overwhelming amount of new titles to enjoy each year, it wouldn't be too weird to seek the comfort of watching older shows sometimes. We've rounded up 15 of the best classic anime to watch on days when you're craving some nostalgia.

Scroll through this list of anime from 2005 and earlier, and pick out your next binge!

  1. His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano)

    Aired: October 1998 to March 1999

    Yukino Miyazawa has it all: beauty, brains, a likable personality, and great athleticism. But beneath all that perfection are major flaws—she's incredibly vain and spoiled, and works unnecessarily hard so she stays the center of attention.

    Soichiro Arima is the one person that Yukino can't seem to surpass. When she finally scores higher than him, she is baffled to find this "rival" congratulating her. This and his subsequent confession of love to her prompt her to question her pretentious ways. Before she could sort this out, however, he comes to find out her prized secret.

    Now armed with the truth about Yukino, Soichiro blackmails her into spending time with him. Apparently, she isn't the only one with skeletons in the closet.

    His and Her Circumstances is a classic romcom anime that goes deeper than the surface of its plot. It's a very good show that doesn't only feed fans with predictable romantic tropes, and instead also brings to light more serious issues like the dangers of dysfunctional family relationships and the effects of living dishonestly. The series also ultimately tackles the importance of genuine self-acceptance.

    The satisfying combination of comedy, morals, and love is what makes His and Her Circumstances such a wonderful pure romance anime.

  2. Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO)

    Aired: June 1999 to September 2000

    The students of the esteemed Holy Forest Academy's Class 3-4 have quite the reputation: a cunning bunch of teacher-hating delinquent high schoolers that no homeroom teacher could ever seem to stand.

    Enter Eikichi Onizuka, an outwardly obnoxious and vulgar ex-leader of a biker gang who's taking the first steps toward his dream of becoming the greatest teacher in Japan (to ultimately get himself a teenage wife when he becomes old). The road that leads to this dream proves to be a treacherous one, as the notorious students naturally do what they do best.

    Here's the kicker: their childish antics don't do much to break the great Onizuka.

    Great Teacher Onizuka is a classic series that's been continually held in high regard. As of this writing, it snuggly sits at the 50th spot of MyAnimeList's Top Anime list. Considering that it's over 20 years old, that ranking isn't bad at all.

    Though the anime is by and large a comedy, it's also been widely praised for its decent attempts at being a commentary on Japan's educational and societal system at least during the time it aired, which greatly affected the youth.

    Even if these happened to be topics you wouldn't particularly be a fan of, Onizuka and the series' deadpan humor are enough to make you want to stay for the whole 43-episode ride.

  3. Urusei Yatsura

    Aired: October 1981 to March 1986

    If Ataru Moroboshi had to be described with just two words, it would have to be lecherous and unlucky. When aliens from the planet Oniboshi invade Earth, Ataru gets randomly selected to be the world's savior. All he has to do is beat Lum, the scantily clad Oni princess, at a game of tag.

    Driven by the promise of marriage that Ataru's girlfriend, Shinobu Miyake, had made, and in a rare opportunity to put his lecherous nature to good use, Ataru wins the Earth's salvation... by yanking away the surprisingly modest Lum's top.

    Great, humankind is saved. But being the unlucky man that he is, Ataru quickly gets into a goofy misunderstanding that involves Shinobu, Lum, and marriage.

    Urusei Yatsura is hailed by many as the series that came to define romcom anime as we know it today. True enough, anybody would find the pretty, popular girl falling for the average, seriously flawed boy premise all too familiar. It's a romantic anime trope that works till today. Rumiko Takahashi's Urusei Yatsura just might have been the first to employ it, and its reputation as one of the anime GOATs is proof of its success.

  4. Tactics

    Aired: October 2004 to March 2005

    Bullied and excluded as a child due to his gift of being able to see supernatural creatures, Ichinomiya Kantarou found unlikely friends in demons. While working as a folklorist and yokai buster, he is also on a journey to find the legendary ogre-eating Tengu who is said to be the strongest demon ever.

    When Kantarou unwittingly releases the legendary demon one day, he turns out to be quite different from what Kantarou had imagined the demon would be.

    Tactics is a 25-episode-long series that boasts of an effective blend of Japanese mythology and original plotlines. Though not a very popular anime during its run and even today, Tactics actually has a lot of plusses that could captivate both novice and veteran anime watchers.

    The series makes use of a refreshing juxtaposition of straight seriousness with sensible comedy. Going into it without any expectation, viewers would likely get caught off guard by the sudden hilarity.

    Other things that earned Tactics a spot in this list are its art style, likable characters, and, my personal favorite, its opening sequence—it was way ahead of its time. Over the stunning art and animation plays MIKI's "Secret World," which is so good you'll find yourself coming back to listen to it every now and then. Without a doubt, I'd say it's one of the best anime opening songs to this day.

    Tactics is far from being the best anime there is, but it definitely deserves more attention and appreciation than it is given today. I didn't think much of it when I first saw it, but after fifteen years I could confirm that it's made such a huge impact in my life as an anime fan. Surely that should count for something?

  5. UFO Baby (Daa! Daa! Daa!)

    Aired: March 2000 to February 2002

    Eighth-grader Miyu Kozuki's parents have been hired by NASA. Her parents arrange for her to stay at the temple where longtime family friend and monk Mr. Saionji lives. Not long after Miyu starts living there, Mr. Saionji flies to India, leaving her alone with his son, Kanata, who happens to be her classmate.

    The situation definitely isn't ideal, but it gets a lot more complicated when a UFO crashes in their house. Now the two must work around their dislike for each other in order to take care of Ruu, the alien baby, with the help of its alien babysitting pet, Wannya. It doesn't help that Ruu has decided to call the two middle-schoolers 'Mama' and 'Papa'.

    Before rescuers from the aliens' original planet could come, Miyu and Kanata slowly develop strong but pure feelings for each other.

    UFO Baby is quite an underrated series. While the progression of two people hating each others' guts and slowly falling for each other is considered classic and a bit overused, it is beautifully executed in the anime. The necessary addition of light alien lore makes all the difference.

    Miyu and Kanata are not your typical overly flawless characters. In fact, their likable averageness balances out the chaotic predicament they're in. The speed at which their feelings make a 180-degree turn is quite natural, making for a satisfying conclusion to the love story we know all too well.

    All in all, UFO Baby is a series that I'd strongly urge anyone to watch as it's filled with happy, funny, and heartwarming moments that will keep viewers smiling out of pure enjoyment.

    Related: 15 Must-See Sci-fi and Fantasy Anime Shows

  6. Sailor Moon

    Aired: March 1992 to February 1997

    Usagi Tsukino is immature, clumsy, and likes to slack off. No harm in that, because these traits aren't particularly unheard of for a normal 14-year-old girl. But when she gets told that she's the reincarnation of a legendary warrior, she must do away with these characteristics that might get in the way of her duties as a sudden superheroine (even though all she wants is to be a normal, video-playing, powerless young girl).

    Fortunately for Usagi, she has a kind and caring nature that proves to be exactly what she needs to lead the Sailor Scouts, a band of fellow female warrior reincarnations fighting evil in modern-day Japan. Together, Usagi and her friends unselfishly work to keep the peace in their country.

    This list wouldn't be half as complete without the legendary Sailor Moon, a lighthearted anime about love and friendship between magical girls who must deal with bad guys as they navigate through normal teenage woes. Set in 90s Japan, it's a series that broke through societal barriers during its original run and continues to influence young people even to this day.

    There's so much to love about Sailor Moon, like its very relatable characters and messages of friendship and empowerment. If you're wondering why the series continues to receive so much love from fans despite being over 25 years old, check out this list of reasons why Sailor Moon is so popular.

  7. Slam Dunk

    Aired: October 1993 to March 1996

    Sakuragi Hanamichi has had it with illusions of a blossoming high school romance. After being rejected by fifty girls, there is no way he'd set foot outside of his gloom. That is, until he meets Haruko Akagi, a pretty and sweet schoolmate who one day asks if he's into basketball because of his height. Having fallen for her almost instantly, Sakuragi becomes eager to prove he does love basketball, hoping this would get him to become close with Haruko.

    The truth is that Sakuragi hates basketball, calling it a game for losers after losing the last girl he courted to a basketball player. But he's more than willing to learn the game if it means having a chance at Haruko's affection. His hopes are completely crushed though, as he soon learns that she is, in fact, in love with Kaede Rukawa, another talented basketball player.

    Still, Sakuragi decides to join the school's basketball team, and ends up being rivals with Rukawa even as they're teammates. This rivalry proves to be a huge advantage for the two students' growth, both as sportsmen and as human beings.

    Slam Dunk remains to be a highly celebrated sports anime. The effects of its success is observable even to this day, and is echoed in the effective application of the dynamic that Sakuragi and Rukawa have in newer sports series, like in Haikyuu!!'s Hinata and Kageyama and Ace of Diamond's Sawamura and Furuya.

    While a good number of sports anime have arguably surpassed Slam Dunk since its release, it's undeniably set a standard that cements its status as one of the greatest anime to have ever been made.

    Related: 10 Best Sports Anime To Watch of All Time

  8. Neon Genesis Evangelion

    Aired: October 1995 to March 1996

    The world has barely recovered from the Second Impact, a terrible event from fifteen years before, and yet it now has to face a new and more dangerous threat. Murderous celestial beings called "Angels" are slowly taking over the world and not even the most advanced military tactics and mechanism can stop them. Humanity's chance at salvation depends on "Evangelions," humanoid robots capable of facing the Angels head on.

    Caught in this catastrophic situation is the severely depressed Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old who had lost his mother at a young age. His father, though very much alive, has abandoned him as a child too. This father, Gendou Ikari, happens to lead NERV, a secretive organization that operates the Evangelions. Despite his inner battles, Shinji has to pilot Evangelion Unit-01, a new robot that only he could operate, to save the world—even as he struggles to save himself.

    Neon Genesis Evangelion is an immensely important work, almost blatantly reflecting its creator, Hideaki Anno's own depression. While the subject of whether the show in itself is depressing remains to be widely debated, there's no question that it unapologetically graces its viewers with uncomfortable topics of isolation and its dangers, even if the mere act of self-removal is done as a means to protect oneself. This message is not at all lost in a post-apocalyptic setting filled with mecha and celestial beings.

    Despite controversies like it being not so favored by parents, it's pretty hard to dismiss NGE as it's indisputably a masterful telling of a story that's riddled with all sorts of very real issues beneath all the robot-fighting and frightening violence. Maybe it's just not for kids at all.

    Related: What is the Best Watch Order for Neon Genesis Evangelion?

  9. Cowboy Bebop

    Aired: April 1998 to June 1998

    It's 2071 and humanity has finally found a way around the cosmic barriers to expand across the solar system. Unfortunately, so has crime. The cool Spike Spiegel and his cyborg partner, Jet Black, are bounty hunters (called cowboys in this world) who hunt down intergalactic criminals for a living. They are later joined by Faye Valentine, a sultry con artist; Radical Edward, an androgynous teenage tech hacker; and Ein, a Corgi that was genetically modified to be able to hold large amounts of data.

    Aboard their spaceship, Bebop, the mismatched group fares through space to take down extraterrestrial criminals and make ends meet. As they go on this stellar journey, they must also navigate through looming threats from their past.

    Cowboy Bebop has become such a huge name in pop culture over the years. Owing to its heavily Western elements, the anime fared a lot better in the US as compared to Japan, where its first run was heavily censored due to violent content (we have the issues surrounding Neon Genesis Evangelion to thank for this).

    While definitely not perfect, with some criticizing the show for its "style-over-substance" tendencies, Cowboy Bebop's popularity is not at all unfounded. Its art, characters, and basic premise are definitely deserving of the strong adoration fans continue to give it, and a huge part of it lies in its brilliant soundtrack.

    It's important to note that many of the comments made by critics are about the show's episodic structure that's more typical of slice-of-life titles than of shows of Cowboy Bebop's genre. While that makes the series a hit-or-miss, there's no denying that all things considered, Cowboy Bebop is a worthy fan favorite.

  10. Yu Yu Hakusho (Ghost Files/Ghost Fighter)

    Aired: October 1992 to January 1995

    When violent delinquent Yuusuke Urameshi uncharacteristically saves a young boy from being hit by a car by putting himself in its way, it baffles spirit realm authorities so much that they decide it isn't his time just yet.

    Yuusuke receives an offer for him to regain his life from Koenma, soon to be ruler of the spirit realm. All he has to do is complete a series of tasks that involves destroying evil on Earth.

    Guided by a death god and with the help of an ex-rival and two other demons, Yuusuke proceeds to build up the skills needed to vanquish humankind's wicked enemies.

    Yu Yu Hakusho is a highly successful series, with the anime winning awards such as second Best Anime of the Year at the 1993 Animage Anime Grand Prix and Best Anime of the Year of the same awarding body's 1994 and 1995 editions.

    The anime is full of shounen elements still used today, but Yu Yu Hakusho holds the reputation of having used them correctly. Its action scenes are absolutely riveting, and its comedic components work really well as a contrast to the well-written action script.

    Yu Yu Hakusho is a rightful shounen anime royalty, and newer fans of the genre would do well to start watching it.

  11. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku (Samurai X)

    Aired: January 1996 to September 1998

    Kenshin Himura is cheery travelling swordsman who has made it his life's purpose to protect the weak. During one of his travels, he helps Kaoru Kamiya, a dojo owner who's being terrorized by a man claiming to be Battousai, a legendary assassin known to be a merciless killer but has not been heard of in the last ten years.

    But Kenshin knows that whoever this person is, he is an impostor because the real Battousai has long shed off his murderous ways. He also knows because he happens to be the real Battousai.

    As Kenshin continues to act on his people-protecting mission and gets repeatedly pushed to the edge to fulfill it, he finds that it may not be all that simple to bury his violent past.

    Rurouni Kenshin is yet another successful anime that older anime fans still fondly look back to. It's a series that awakened the samurai dream in lots of young boys and girls the world over.

    The series is absolutely well-done and is an enjoyable watch the whole way, but if I'd have to say what my favorite parts are, it's whenever the titular character's old fighter self attempts to break through. Sorry, Kenshin, I know it's against your morals, but it's just so chilling whenever it happens!

    Related: 10 Best Shonen Anime for Beginners

  12. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

    Aired: October 2004 to March 2005

    Yukio Tanaka, nicknamed Koyuki from childhood to prevent confusion, is living an aimless life. One day, he saves a strange dog from being attacked by bullies and subsequently meets its owner, Ryuusuke "Ray" Minami.

    When the two meet again some time later, Ray invites Koyuki to his old band's meeting place. He turns out to be a guitar player with mad skills and is a former member of a popular rock band. Upon seeing Ray's playing, Koyuki starts to get drawn into the enticing world of rock culture, and the two proceed to form a band along with three other members. The band is named Beck, after the strange dog that Koyuki had saved eariler.

    With his newfound friends, Koyuki might just finally find something he could live for.

    Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is an amazing anime, to say the least. The plot in itself is simply a musical variation of the tattered finding-a-purpose-and-pursuing-it trope, but its charming and very likeable characters are what makes the series so good. The other factor that makes Beck so awesome is its animation, which is quite good for its time, albeit inconsistent at times.

    Much like Koyuki, all it took for me to get hooked was a single episode, and re-watching it today still gives me the same fuzzy feelings I got when I first watched it.

    The romance in Beck is existent but quite minimal. If you're a fan of heavy romance stuff, we got you covered with this list of swoon-worthy romance anime on Netflix!

  13. Yu-Gi-Oh! (Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters)

    Aired: April 2000 to September 2004

    Yuugi Mutou is constantly bullied because of his small stature and quiet demeanor. Sure, he has friends who support him, but he can't keep turning to them for his problems.

    The answer to Yuugi's dilemma comes from an unlikely place: a treasured puzzle game that he believes will grant him his wish if he solves it. When he does, however, he instead awakens the soul of the "King of Games," who then comes to reside in Yuugi's body. This new persona is called Yami Yuugi.

    Now, whenever Yuugi suffers any form of injustice, Yami comes out and subjects the offender to a Shadow Game, where the loser has to suffer the consequences of the darkness within their own souls.

    Yu-Gi-Oh! is one anime that will never be forgotten. At the height of its popularity, anime merch was everywhere, including materials to the exact game that the characters played. Yu-Gi-Oh! card decks were played and traded, and the movement became bigger than the anime creators ever expected. Today, many of these cards are kept safely as collector items, mostly by kid fans who grew up and stopped playing. This extension of the anime to the real world is similar to that of Beyblade, Crush Gear, Pokémon, and Bakugan Battle Brawlers, to name a few.

    There have been sequels to the show, but nothing can beat the sense of belonging and passion that the original Yu-Gi-Oh! gave its viewers.

    Not much cry-worthy moments happen in the whole series, unless you're an old fan who gets hit by a wave of nostalgia (I'm not admitting anything). If you're looking for something to hurt your soul, here's some heartbreaking anime to ugly-cry to.

  14. Dragon Ball Z

    Aired: April 1989 to January 1996

    In this sequel to the original Dragon Ball, we follow the exploits of an adult Goku as he fights to protect everyone he loves from the threats of violent Saiyan Warriors, alien villains, and magical creatures.

    Throughout the course of the whole series, the characters age, the relationships evolve, and the story ultimately shifts in focus from Goku to that of his son Gohan.

    Dragon Ball Z, considered by many to be a more enjoyable series than its already entertaining predecessor, is no doubt one of the most iconic anime to ever grace the world. In fact, it doesn't need much introduction as even a quick flash of some of its characters is enough to gain a reaction from anime buffs.

    Many fans question why this legendary series isn't part of the Big Three (One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach) when it's been in the shounen sphere a lot earlier than these titles. The answer is precisely that: Dragon Ball came into the picture way before fans came up with the Big Three label. It doesn't even need any such designation since it carries the crown of being the greatest anime ever.

    It might be too early to tell for sure, but Dragon Ball, and by extension, DBZ, is an anime series that will never get lost in people's memories because it's one that will forever be referenced for the huge influence it's had on the industry.

    Related: What Are Dragon Balls?

  15. Love Hina

    Aired: April 2000 to September 2000

    When he was young, Keitaro Urashima promised a girl that they would enter Tokyo University together. As he isn't particularly bright, he ends up ranking 27th from the bottom and his big dreams of getting into the university and reuniting with the girl he shared a promised with are crushed.

    Feeling dejected, Keitaro decides to stay at the nearby hotel that his grandmother owns. What he doesn't know is that the hotel has been turned into a girls' dormitory. One thing leads to another and he is suddenly the dorm's manager, living with a bunch of five quirky girls. Could the promise girl be one of them?

    Love Hina is considered by many to be the face of harem anime. It also makes use of the geek-gets-girl archetype, since the painfully average Keitaro doesn't really have much going for him but somehow gets a few of the girls to fall in love with him. The question is which of them he actually gets.

    The series, which mixes elements of romance, slapstick humor, and some drama, is truly an enjoyable watch. Though romance spans the whole series, Love Hina isn't an anime that only the female demographic will enjoy, as it also features quite a few waifus with varied personalities, making it easy for viewers to take a pick.

    Related: 12 Best Anime Waifus of All Time

These classic titles will be remembered in history as some of the most influential anime that, in one way or another, have shaped today's anime landscape.

If you're wondering where you can stream these and other anime, read through our guide on where to watch anime legally.

For more articles like this, take a look at our Anime page.