Every year, a vast array of new anime are released, but there are plenty of old-school anime that still hold up. Here are five old-school anime that are not only influential and important but also stand the test of time, and they’re worthy of checking out to this day.
1. 'Yu Yu Hakusho'
Yu Yu Hakusho still holds up. The early ’90s anime hails from legendary mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi. Yu Yu Hakusho follows Yusuke Urameshi, a young delinquent who is always getting into fights at school after he is killed while saving a child from being hit by a car. Yusuke then gets a second chance at life, becoming a spirit detective who investigates paranormal cases.
Yu Yu Hakusho is very influential and is propelled by its characters and actions. The odd friend group that forms — Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama — is iconic and laid the groundwork for other iconic groups, like in Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter and in newer sensations like Naruto. You can see the influence of the paranormal action series in popular modern anime like Bleach and Jujutsu Kaisen. Yusuke’s brash, no-nonsense demeanor and willingness to throw hands at a moment’s notice has endeared him to the anime community. New fans are still discovering the series, which will always be in the “greatest battle anime” conversation.
2. 'Sailor Moon'
Sailor Moon is one of the most successful media franchises Japan has ever produced. It is an important and progressive series that features young heroines with distinct personalities who were ahead of their time. The series was created by Naoko Takeuchi, who is married to Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter creator Yoshihiro Togashi. It follows Sailor Moon, a middle school girl named Usagi Tsukino, who can transform into a magical alter ego to combat evil forces threatening Earth. The series chronicles Usagi’s adventures with her team of magical girls and her development into a young adult.
The original version made available in the United States was a hot mess, being a shell of its Japanese version due to heavy censorship and editing. Through fan outcry in North America, the series eventually was given justice, and audiences could finally experience what made the show special. Sailor Moon was a gateway anime for many fans, and since it was so different from the teenage boy-dominated space, it gave many a different way to view anime, leading them to later search out new shows and obsessions. Sailor Moon is still iconic to this day.
3. 'Fist of the North Star'
Fist of the North Star is one of the most influential manga and anime series ever. It was a groundbreaking series introducing the never-before-seen mega-masculine, over-the-top violence that made the series jump off the page and screen. The series also inspired the late Kentaro Miura, author of the legendary dark fantasy manga Berserk.
Fist of the North Star is set in a post-apocalyptic earth after nuclear war (it’s aesthetic is Mad Max-esque) and follows Kenshiro, a martial artist who specializes in hitting his opponent’s vital points (often resulting in very gory, over-the-top deaths). Kenshiro wanders the wasteland, fighting bandits and gangs that are terrorizing innocent people. Fist of the North Star is one of the most influential, successful, and well-regarded anime ever.
4. 'Astro Boy' (1963)
Considered one of the first animes, if not the first ever, Astro Boy is a timeless classic. Astro Boy was so big, almost half of Japan’s population would tune in and watch new episodes. It was one of the first Japanese animated shows to make it to American television. It was and still is a sensation, with new adaptions being made to this day. One of the best anime of 2023, Pluto, is a new take on Astro Boy.
The series is set in 2013, when Dr. Tenma, a scientist, loses his only son, Tobio, in a car crash. In his grief, he creates a highly advanced robot in his late son’s image. Tenma is dismayed because despite the robot being the most advanced in the world, it will always remain a child and not grow. Tobio, now Atom, joins the circus and becomes a savior-like figure for other robots who want to be peaceful, setting off the adventures of the series. Astro Boy is a classic that has spawned several sequels and films, and the original still holds up.
5. 'Mobile Suit Gundam' (1979)
The original Mobile Suit Gundam spawned a franchise that has been active for over 40 years, but it wasn’t an immediate success. It had low ratings for a time, but was boosted by reruns and the sale of models of the giant mechas that have become so iconic. The series holds up as the basis for all the following Gundam series, and it also stands on its own as a compelling anime.
Mobile Suit Gundam follows a war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation. The Earth Federation has developed a new giant robot called the RX-78-2 Gundam, piloted by a teenager named Amuro Ray, who accidentally finds the latest technology when the base he lives on is attacked. The series introduces franchise hallmarks, like the teenage pilot, the masked man, and complicated politics. Mobile Suit Gundam is the granddaddy of the mecha genre and has stood the test of time.