The 1990s saw the release of several classic anime OVAs and shows. At the time, it was very difficult or expensive to watch these shows due to limited availability outside of Japan. This is why movies were more popular stateside in this era.
Fortunately, we can now enjoy 90s anime shows through a host of online streaming services thanks to modern technology. So if you are feeling nostalgic or want to visit the best of what 90s Japanese animation has to offer, take a look below, and you’ll be sure to find an OVA or tv series that piques your interest.
Also, be sure to check out our list of the best 90s anime movies when you’re done.
Without further ado…
- The Best Classic Anime TV Shows and OVAs of the 1990s
- 1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- 2. Cowboy Bebop
- 3. Great Teacher Onizuka
- 4. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- 5. Slam Dunk
- 6. Berserk
- 7. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files
- 8. Romeo’s Blue Skies
- 9. Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X)
- 10. Serial Experiments Lain
- 11. Initial D First Stage
- 12. Trigun
- 13. Revolutionary Girl Utena
- 14. Case Closed (Detective Conan)
- 15. Cardcaptor Sakura
- 16. Dragonball Z
- 17. Sailor Moon
- 18. Golden Boy
- 19. The File of Young Kindaichi
- 20. Thunder Jet: Raiders of the Galaxy Empire
- 21. Remi, Nobody’s Girl
- 22. Outlaw Star
- 23. Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki
- 24. Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
- 25. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor
- 26. King of Braves GaoGaiGar
- 27. Slayers
- 28. Brother, Dear Brother
- 29. Master Keaton
- 30. Be-Bop High School
- 31. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
- 32. My Daddy Long Legs
- 33. Fushigi Yugi (Mysterious Play)
- 34. Blue Submarine No. 6
- 35. Record of Lodoss War
- 36. The Vision of Escaflowne
- 37. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
- 38. Blue Seed
- 39. Now and Then, Here and There
- 40. Martian Successor Nadesico
- 41. El Hazard: The Magnificent World
- 42. Magic Night Rayearth
- 43. Battle Angel
- 44. Oh My Goddess!
- 45. Ranma 1/2
The Best Classic Anime TV Shows and OVAs of the 1990s
1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
A 150-year war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance has reached a stalemate in the distant future. As the war drags on, each side sees the rise of a new mastermind, and the complexities of war are visited in this epic space opera.
This 90s anime show is a good fit for Sci-fi fans who like Star Wars.
2. Cowboy Bebop
Bounty hunter Spike Spiegel and his partner Jet Black make a living chasing down criminals aboard the spaceship, Bebop. Along the way, they make new friends and face off against the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the most popular cyberpunk shows from the 90s, and the anime is a grand sci-fi western adventure.
3. Great Teacher Onizuka
The ex-biker gang leader, Eikichi Onizuka, dreams of becoming the greatest high school teacher in Japan. Despite his rough edges, Eikichi puts himself at great risk to help his students through life’s challenges.
If you like funny anime with a sitcom vibe, then GTO is a great pick.
4. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Humans created the Evangelions to combat Angels, giant monsters who foretell the ruin of humankind. The Evangelions are giant bio-machines piloted by 14-year-olds Rei Ayanami, Asuka Langley, and Shinji Ikari.
As far as 90s anime shows are concerned, NGE is perhaps one of the most influential anime of this era.
5. Slam Dunk
Hanamichi Sakuragi joins the high school basketball team after his crush, Haruko Akagi, unwittingly recruits the notorious troublemaker. Through basketball, Hanamichi learns the value of friendship and hard work in the quintessential sports anime of the 90s!
Recently, it has been announced that a new Slam Dunk movie is in the works!
The young mercenary, Guts, joins the Band of the Hawk and quickly endears himself to its charismatic leader, Griffith. Together with unit commander Casca, they quickly make a name for themselves within the kingdom of Midland.
Things take an unfortunate turn as Griffith is judged a traitor, and the band receives a death sentence.
If you’re up for a violent and unnerving experience, Berserk may be the horror anime show for you!
7. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files
Juvenile delinquent, Yuusuke Urameshi, sacrifices himself to save a young boy from a moving car. The spirit realm is so taken back by his actions they offer him the opportunity to earn back his life by working as a spirit detective under the direction of Botan, a spirit guide.
He becomes friends with Kazuma Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama through his work to battle the evil forces that threaten humanity.
Yu Yu Hakusho was created by Yoshihiro Togashi, who you may recognize as the mind behind Hunter x Hunter. So this is a solid 90s anime show pick!
8. Romeo’s Blue Skies
Due to a deliberate series of unfortunate events, Romeo sells himself to a notorious child trafficker to help pay for his father’s medical bills. Romeo is sent to Milan to work as a chimney sweep and suffers abuse from his masters and a street gang.
Romeo eventually reunites with an old friend, and they form an alliance of chimney sweeps called the “Black Brothers” to fight the gang and support each other in times of need.
If you’re into sad tales that highlight the dark sides of society, then you may want to start with this classic from the World Masterpiece Theater showcase of family-friendly anime.
9. Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X)
Legendary assassin, Hitokiri Battousai, takes on the name Kenshin Himura and vows never to kill again. He then meets Kaoru Kamiya and helps defend her dojo against a threatening imposter who claims to be Battousai.
Kenshin faces off against enemies new and old as he defends the weak and saves those in need.
Rurouni Kenshin, or Samurai X, is another one of the more popular samurai anime shows from the 90s due to the airing on Toonami.
10. Serial Experiments Lain
An introverted fourteen-year-old, Lain Iwakura, receives a disturbing email from a classmate who recently committed suicide. Opening the email pulls Lain into the virtual world of “The Wired.”
Lain encounters the surreal and bizarre as her life is turned upside down by strange men with ulterior motives.
For a mind-bending and warped viewing experience, look no further!
11. Initial D First Stage
Infamous street racers, the Akagi Red Suns, set their sights on becoming the fastest crew in the region.
While racing down a mountain pass outside of Akina, one of their aces is shockingly overtaken by an old Toyota AE86. Little do they know that the mysterious driver is the son of a local tofu shop owner who honed his remarkable driving technique while making deliveries.
This is the obvious choice for fans of racing anime looking for that 90s vibe.
Despite being a nonviolent and soft-hearted amnesiac, Vash the Stampede carries the misfortune of a 60 billion dollar bounty on his head. This leaves a wake of destruction everywhere he goes as aggressive bounty hunters use extreme measures to bring him down.
Insurance agents Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson follow Vash around to minimize the damage; however, they all find themselves in hot water when a group of legendary assassins vows to bring about their end.
This is another 90s anime show that gets the nostalgia badge due to airing on Adult Swim in the early to mid 2000s.
13. Revolutionary Girl Utena
While mourning the loss of her parents, Utena Tenjou was given a rose crested ring by a traveling prince along with a promise that he would one day meet her again. Inspired by the prince’s actions, Utena vowed that one day she would become a prince herself.
Years later, Utena attends the Ootori Academy and wins the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya, in a duel against a student council member. Afterward, Utena discovers that she must defend her standing as the Rose Bride’s fiancée and use her power to revolutionize the world.
Utena is technically a magical girl anime, but it has a different spin with an avant-garde art style.
14. Case Closed (Detective Conan)
After witnessing a crime, high school detective prodigy Shinichi Kudou is doused with an experimental drug and left to die. Rather than expiring, Shinichi wakes up with the body of a 7-year-old with his teenage mind preserved.
After deciding to conceal his real identity, he takes on the alias of Conan Edogawa and covertly solves crimes while investigating a possible cure for his condition.
Detective Conan continues to air to this day and is a good pick for fans of detective anime.
15. Cardcaptor Sakura
After discovering a mysterious book containing a set of cards, Sakura Kinomoto unwittingly scatters them throughout the world. Consequently, this awakens the Beast of the Seal, Cerberus, and he informs Sakura that she has unleashed a great danger on the planet.
As the “Cardcaptor,” Sakura sets out on a magical adventure with her best friend to recapture the cards before calamity strikes.
Cardcaptor Sakura is second only to Sailor Moon when it comes to 90s magical girl anime.
16. Dragonball Z
Five years after the end of Dragon Ball, Goku is now a young father and discovers that he descended from an alien race known as the Saiyans.
Goku becomes stronger, meets new friends, and discovers hidden powers as he faces off against the likes of Raditz, Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu.
Dragon Ball Z was a gateway anime show due to airing on Toonami in the late 90s. Show creator Akira Toriyama has also done character design for many popular video games including Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and Blue Dragon.
17. Sailor Moon
Usagi Tsukino rescues a cat with a crescent moon on its head which unlocks her destiny as the planetary guardian, Sailor Moon.
Using a magical transformation brooch, Sailor Moon battles evil villains to save the planet while tracking down a lost princess and the other sailor guardians.
This is the classic that popularized magical girl anime!
18. Golden Boy
While shifting from one part-time job to another, Kintarou Ooe encounters beautiful women who initially dismiss him as a clumsy simpleton.
Throughout each episode, Kintarou demonstrates his clever nature and good intentions while ultimately winning the women’s affections before taking off to the next part-time job.
Golden Boy is crude and vulgar at times, but it is one of the funniest OVAs you’ll find.
19. The File of Young Kindaichi
Hajime Kindaichi is the grandson of one of Japan’s greatest detectives and happens to also be a very talented sleuth despite his young age.
Along with his friend Miyuki Nanase and Inspector Isamu Kenmochi, Hajime travels to remote regions and investigates mysterious crimes that are seemingly unsolvable.
If you like pseudo-supernatural mysteries, this might be the 90s anime show for you!
20. Thunder Jet: Raiders of the Galaxy Empire
Young space samurai Rai Ryuga plays his part in a battle between two would-be rulers of the Milky Way Galaxy. As Rai climbs the army ranks, he vows to become Emporer himself to bring peace to the galaxy.
This show is admittedly pretty tough to find, but this is another space sci-fi opera you can’t miss.
21. Remi, Nobody’s Girl
Remi is cheerful and kind with a talent for singing. One day, her father returns from a long absence to inform her that she was found as an abandoned child and sells her to an evil slave trader.
Remi is saved when a traveling entertainer tricks the slave trader and takes her into his troupe. From there, Remi begins an adventure of tragedy and self-discovery.
This is another sad tale that shows that life isn’t always fair.
22. Outlaw Star
Gene Starwind dreams of piloting his own ship to the stars; however, he and his partner James Hawking are stuck working odd jobs on the planet Sentinel III. That all changes when they take a job from the treasure-hunting outlaw, “Hot Ice” Hilda.
After the job takes an unexpected turn, Gene and James find themselves in possession of the Outlaw Star and embark on a space adventure.
Yet another 90s anime show featured on Toonami. Outlaw Star was overshadowed by Cowboy Bebop, but it stands as one of the better anime space adventures.
23. Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki
Tenchi Masaki removes a sword within a forbidden cave that sealed away a demon for 700 years and unwittingly freed the notorious space pirate, Ryoko Hakubi.
After an angry Ryoko attacks Tenchi, he defends himself with the sword and awakens a secret power. Upon seeing this, Ryoko decides to move in with Tenchi, and soon after, more girls from outer space join them.
Tenchi Muyo is probably the most popular harem OVA and show from the 90s.
24. Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
The dissident faction, Big Fire, seeks world domination by capturing the Shizuma Drive, a groundbreaking renewable energy source.
The International Police Organization intends to prevent this catastrophe by dispatching a team of specialized fighters, including Daisaku Kusama, the master of Giant Robo.
If giant robots are your forte, then this is the sure pick!
25. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor
Justy Ueki Tylor is a man of little ambition who seeks an easy job with the United Planets Space Force. Unfortunately, he finds himself promoted to the command of the decrepit destroyer, Soyokaze, after successfully stumbling his way through a hostage rescue.
Tylor continues to bumble his way through dangerous situations while his crew ponders whether he is a genius or an idiot.
If you’re looking for a comedic space romp, this pick is for you!
26. King of Braves GaoGaiGar
This late 90s anime follows the secret agency, Gutsy Geoid Guard, and their powerful giant robot, GaoGaiGar, as they battle to defend Tokyo against giant alien monsters.
King of Braves GaoGaiGar is part of the Brave (Yuusha) series and is one of the best giant robot shows from the 90s.
Lina Inverse is a wandering sorceress who spends her days traveling the world and stealing from bandits. One day she meets master swordsman Gourry Gabriev, who needlessly defends her from an ambush and insists on accompanying her to Atlas City.
During their travels, they are pursued by mysterious men seeking a magical item in Lina’s possession and soon find themselves mixed up in a battle for the world’s fate.
It was hard to visit a Suncoast in the 90s and 2000s without seeing copies of Slayers on the shelf. This show is a classic fantasy adventure!
28. Brother, Dear Brother
Nanako Misonoo has just entered the prestigious all-girls Seiran Academy and is chosen as the newest inductee into an elite sorority despite her modest background. Unfortunately, her life becomes increasingly difficult as jealous classmates bully her.
The harsh realities of school life are documented in letters that Nanako writes to a former teacher, whom she affectionately calls her big brother.
Dear Brother is a classic yuri anime from the 90s.
29. Master Keaton
Decorated veteran of the British Army, Taichi Keaton, makes his living as an insurance investigator for Lloyd’s of London. His work takes him on worldwide adventures where he uses unconventional methods to unravel insurance fraud.
Despite his exceptional talent for insurance investigation, Keaton longs to continue his archaeological research of an ancient European civilization.
If you’re into action adventures with a detective vibe, then this is a good show to pick up.
30. Be-Bop High School
Teenage delinquents Hiroshi and Toru don’t take disrespect from anyone and settle disagreements with fights. When not starting fights, they spend their time trying to impress any girls who catch their eye.
Be-Bop High School was a popular manga that ran for 20 years and spawned many live-action movies, OVAs, and a video game.
31. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
As thieves attempt to steal her blue jewel, Nadia and her friend Jean are rescued by Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus. Afterward, the thieves join Nadia, Nemo, and Jean to face a looming global threat.
The new allies attempt to thwart the evil Gargoyle and his Neo-Atlantean forces in their bid for world dominance while traveling the world and unraveling the secrets of Nadia’s past.
Nadia has a magical steam-punk vibe which makes for a fun watch as Nadia unravels her origins.
32. My Daddy Long Legs
New York orphan, Judy Abbot, receives an opportunity to study at a prestigious high school from a mysterious benefactor whom she affectionately refers to as “Daddy Long Legs.”
The only request made by her benefactor is that Judy write him once a month to detail her experiences in the school. Over the following years, Judy makes new friends, falls in love, and gains newfound confidence.
The comparisons to Little Orphan Annie are pretty obvious, but don’t let that dissuade you from watching!
33. Fushigi Yugi (Mysterious Play)
This classic isekai from the mid-1990s follows modern junior high students Miaka Yuuki and Yui Hongo as a mysterious book transports them to an ancient Chinese world.
Upon arrival, the girls are set upon by scary bandits. And after being rescued by a mysterious warrior, Yui is transported back to the real world while Miaka becomes the Priestess of Suzaku.
As Miaka seeks out celestial warriors who will summon a god granting three wishes, Yui can only witness her story through the mysterious book.
This is one of a handful of Isekai shows from the 90s.
34. Blue Submarine No. 6
Once a renowned scientist, Zorndyke went rogue, flooded the planet, and set an army of animal-human hybrids on the remaining survivors.
Blue Submarine Number 6 and its crew wage war against Zorndyke and his minions in a bid to save humankind.
This epic OVA came at the tail end of the 90s and was based on a manga that dates back to the 60s. Character design was by Range Murata, who also did the design on Last Exile.
35. Record of Lodoss War
The medieval kingdoms of Lodoss have been at war for thousands of years. While a time of peace finally approaches, an ancient witch awakens and threatens to throw the land back into chaos.
If you’re into alternate world fantasy adventures like Lord of the Rings, this 90s anime OVA may be right up your alley.
36. The Vision of Escaflowne
15-year-old schoolgirl Hitomi Kanzaki’s world is turned upside down when a mysterious young boy appears during track practice with a vicious dragon. The young boy is saved thanks to a premonition by Hitomi and slays the dragon.
Afterward, a beam of light transports Hitomi and the boy to the mysterious land of Gaea, where they join forces and find new allies for fighting off the evil Zaibach empire.
This is perhaps the most popular isekai from the 90s and shouldn’t be missed!
37. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
In a future where humankind has colonized space, the United Earth Sphere Alliance uses its military to oppress the earth’s colonies. In response, five rebel scientists each create a mobile suit sent to earth to be piloted by a teenage boy.
Together, the Gundam pilots attack the Organization of the Zodiac to weaken the alliance and achieve freedom for the colonies.
Gundam Wing is a cultural phenomenon and is perhaps the most popular mecha anime ever.
38. Blue Seed
Momiji Fujimiya discovers that she is the descendant of an ancient bloodline that has the power to fight off demonic plant creatures threatening to destroy her world.
Together with the Terrestrial Administration Center and Mamoru Kusanagi, Momiji fights supernatural forces that seek humanity’s undoing.
It wouldn’t be the 90s if there weren’t demons to battle!
39. Now and Then, Here and There
Ordinary boy Shuuzou “Shuu” Matsutani is transported to a desert world after attempting to save a blue-haired girl who he just met.
In this new world, Shuu faces a harsh reality where he is tortured, abused, and forced to join an army of child soldiers under the rule of a maniacal and ruthless dictator.
This 90s anime show falls in the realm of anime with messed-up storylines. The show is downright disturbing at times and is one of the more shocking isekai you’ll watch.
40. Martian Successor Nadesico
In the year 2196, Earth is at war with the alien Jovian Lizards. Aboard the ND-001 Nadesico, Akito Tenkawa works as a cook but is sometimes called upon as a backup mecha pilot due to his nanite implants.
As the ND-001 makes its way to retake Mars, Akito has his hands full with a quirky crew of capable savants and experts.
Another fast-paced comedic space adventure that’s big on the laughs.
41. El Hazard: The Magnificent World
Due to political discourse within the student council, Makoto Mizuhara finds himself chased by a rival seeking to silence him. Unexpectedly, time stops around Makoto, and he comes across an ancient relic.
A woman appears from within the relic and transports Makoto and his classmates to the ancient world of El Hazard. Here they find themselves pulled into a conflict between humans and insect humanoids.
A magnificent adventure/isekai OVA with top-notch visual art.
42. Magic Night Rayearth
During a school field trip to Tokyo, Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji are suddenly swept away to an unknown world by a giant flying fish after being summoned by Princess Emeraude.
The three girls become Magic Knights and take off on an adventure to bring peace to the land of Cephiro.
Another magic girl anime that is also an isekai set in a medieval magical fantasy land.
43. Battle Angel
Cyberphysician Daisuke Ido rebuilds a female cyborg he found in a trash heap and names her Gally. Without a memory of who she is, Gally adjusts to her new life and makes new friends.
Gally finds that she has an exceptional fighting ability during a scuffle, which soon draws unwanted attention.
This classic OVA was recently adapted into a Hollywood movie.
44. Oh My Goddess!
College student Keiichi Morisato wants to order food but accidentally dials the Goddess helpline instead. After Belldandy suddenly appears to grant him a single wish, Keiichi unwittingly wishes that she remain with him forever, believing the situation to be a joke.
Belldandy and Keiichi move into a Buddhist temple together, where her sisters join them, and they set off on a series of adventures.
This 90s anime show is for those who are looking for a magical and romantic adventure.
45. Ranma 1/2
After a fateful trip to China, martial arts prodigy Ranma Saotome falls into a cursed hot spring. The curse’s effect is that he now transforms into a girl anytime he is splashed with cold water.
Further complicating matters, Ranma is engaged to the daughter of a dojo master who hates men. Between his curse, fiancé, and a steady stream of challengers, Ranma has his hands full while trying to maintain a normal life.
The last 90s anime on this list is a mixed bag and is better watched with no expectations.
If you feel like we got it wrong or missed your favorite 90s anime show, please let us hear about it below! And be sure to sign up for our email list while you’re at it 🙂