Whether you’re from Southeast Asia or North America, you’re most likely aware that animes date back to the early 1900s. Fast forward 90 years later, titles like Sailor Moon and Cowboy Bebop managed to pass through the competitive industry. If anything, 90s anime are gems to be treasured and rewatched all over again.
Of course, 21st-century titles like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures and My Hero Academia lived up to expectations. Although the market is dumped by new unfamiliar series a day, it’s the best time to be alive. So, how about looking at our 18 best 90s anime picks for September? And make sure to visit your streaming service afterward!
Note: Some manga and anime spoilers ahead. No rankings are also made, as every anime in this list is equally outstanding.
1. Detective Conan
Detective Conan may not be in the “big three”, but for the majority of Southeast Asian viewers, it’s a classic. This 90s anime is one of the longest-running series, boasting 1000 episodes—props to the mangaka Aoyama Gosho for creating this masterpiece.
Detective Conan is the main protagonist of the series. He initially goes by the name of Shinichi Kudo, helping the Japanese police close case after case. But one day, a member of the Black Organization (the bad guys) drugged him with the APTX 4869. It’s a one-way trip to death, but the young detective finds himself in a child’s body instead.
While it sounds unfortunate, Shinichi still has his S+ problem-solving skills. In the process, though, he adapted the pseudonym Conan Edogawa. As for his circumstance, the writer is yet to reveal. Since the Black Organization has the poison, they must have the cure, too (theoretically).
Detective Conan is less exciting than Baki (if you love action, fighting, and a lot of blood getting spilled altogether). But we recommend watching this 90s anime as you’ll learn a lot, especially in making sound decisions.
Pokemon is a 90s anime that has shown massive success and impact on the world. For example, Pokemon GO made people touch grass (and on top of that, perhaps take cardio exercise to the next level). Don’t forget the game itself. Catching creatures with unique powers? We’re in!
Achievements-aside, if you have yet to watch Pokemon (or only heard of it), now’s the best time to do so. The anime centers around Ash Ketchum (Satoshi) with a grand dream of becoming a Pokemon Monster. For context, he has to win every league tournament, be updated with the lore, and catch as many Pokemons as possible.
Ash Ketchum is well-known for his bond with Pikachu, albeit a rough start. Sometime later, Satoshi crossed roads with Kasumi (Misty) and Takeshi (Brock) – water and rock-type Pokemon trainers, respectively. Their journey isn’t easy and full of hurdles. It’s more than just a linear goal, as they have to deal with the likings of Team Rocket.
3. Princess Mononoke
Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke is one the best 90s masterpieces we’re including in this list. To clarify, it’s a two-hour-long film. Still, the story and character writing are both wonderful.
Princess Mononoke revolves around the life of Prince Ashitaka in 14th-century Japan.
One day, the Emishi village is raided by a boar-like demon threatening bloodshed and destruction. Prince Ashitaka responded and risked his life to protect the tribe. Upon victory, the young protagonist received arguably a blessing and a curse. Prince Ashitaka shall win every battle with his superhuman strength at the expense of his life draining away slowly.
Upon consulting with fellow tribe members, Prince Ashitaka sets foot in Tatara and requests a cure from the deer god (Shishigami). The western area is currently facing a conflict between San (Princess Mononoke Hime) and Lady Eboshi. The former aims to preserve the forest and help the spirits residing within, while the latter is pro-deforestation. Prince Ashitaka steps in to help.
This film is already enough in itself, albeit demanding more episodes, as the world of Princess Mononoke is vast. It’s a classic theme you’ll find in most 90s entertainment, featuring themes of environmentalism and Shinto.
4. Sailor Moon
Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon is more than just girls in cute Japanese uniforms. That may be the case from the surface, but it’s inclined towards the “we have to protect the galaxy” niche.
Usagi Tsukino – the main protagonist of this 90s anime – starts her adventure upon stumbling across Luna. The talking feline gave Usagi a brooch, granting her the powers of the Sailor Moon. Note that there are also Sailor Guardians present that Usagi will meet throughout the journey.
We’re leaving out other points here (even though you should know it by reading). However, we believe Sailor Moon is best watched without a single spoiler, as you’ll be shocked by several plot twists! If there’s a shojo anime queen, Naoko and this work of hers should take the crown!
5. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion – one of the best 90s anime that aged like a fine wine. If you love pain or want to add more mental health problems, this series has you covered! No, there’s no kidding aside. Neon Genesis Evangelion has a highly depressing story.
The anime takes place in a futuristic Tokyo city, where Angels with varying powers wreaked havoc. Shinji Ikari is the main protagonist, tasked to neutralize Angels’ threats. Humanity’s best weapon at that time was the Evangelions or EVAs – a biomechanical humanoid mecha.
Unlike some 90s animes in this list, you can expect more plot twists and discoveries in Neon Genesis. One instance is that EVAs aren’t merely mindless machines but have human souls inside them. While those souls are necessary to make the Evangelions operational, it’s a pretty disturbing fact.
Berserk is the work of the late Kentaro Miura. Although his latest work was released in September 2021, some fans speculate it’ll be the last, with no solid ending.
Berserk revolves around Guts – a member of the Band of the Hawks. Before joining the group, he was alone in his journey, eventually losing to the Hawks’ founder and leader, Griffith. The group has encountered countless hurdles but managed to conquer them with each passing time. However, expect twists and turns as you dive deeper into the story.
Although Berserk is a seinen anime, it can compete against various shonen titles, even to this day. We recommend watching the 1997 series with 25 episodes. But if you want a more detailed experience, the manga is your go-to place.
7. Cowboy Bebop
Excluding Cowboy Bebop in the best 90s animes list would be a crime. The title has been mentioned all over the internet, but there are many reasons why. One of them is excellent character writing. Be it Spike, Jet, or Ein, you’ll learn about their backstories we’re sure you can relate to.
It’s also worth mentioning that Cowboy Bebop takes place in 2071 when humans started colonizing other planets. The reason for this isn’t too far-fetched from this article’s writing, as Global Warming and other causes will come to bite us back.
Spike Spiegel – the series’ protagonist – comes into play when contacted for help by the Inter Solar System Police. The organization is a government-acknowledged peace-keeping organization with an extensive jurisdiction. Since cops can’t watch every sector, Spiegel is hired.
Spiegel is originally partnered with Jet Black – both are bounty hunters. With each episode passing, the Cowboys grew in numbers.
Although Cowboy Bebop has just 26 episodes, we consider it one of the best ones that stood the test of time.
8. One Piece
One Piece is a Shonen anime that started airing in 1999. Eiichiro Oda – the creator – is yet to conclude the fate of Luffy and the Strawhat Pirates in their voyage to obtain the treasure.
The protagonist takes on a unique name of Monkey D. Luffy. After Gol D. Roger’s death at the hands of the government, he joined many aspiring pirates to cash out the One Piece. However, it isn’t easy, considering many skilled and highly experienced competitors have the same goal.
One Piece’s plot is a bit confusing at this point, as it has over 1,000 episodes now. But one thing to remember is the unending plot twists, creative character writing, and comical reliefs.
The concept of card-based battle may not be exclusive to the Yu-Gi-Oh! series, but it’s definitely one of the best in the 90s. You must anticipate multiple storylines here, including the fleshless deuteragonist living inside the protagonist’s body.
The series’ lore starts with Yugi Muto – a young boy who solved an ancient Egyptian artifact called the Millenium Puzzle. By doing so, the King of Games merged with Yugi, taking by the alter ego of Yami Yugi. The latter has a lot of deep history, and the main protagonist accompanies him to unearth every secret.
Yugi Muto encounters several duels throughout the series. It’s inevitable to lose, but once in a life-threatening situation, the alter ego rises to protect the whole crew. For example, cheating or losing opponents will suffer high-stake consequences like death. Of course, Yami Yugi isn’t the only one in the modern-day realm.
10. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
In the 90s anime industry, there’s no shortage of sci-fi genres, including Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Unfortunately, Japan isn’t fond of the series, but it still gained popularity in America – as if robots and guns aren’t unheard of in the region.
Kidding aside, we understand why it’s been a great show in the 90s and even still at this age. Note that Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is in the series’ After-Colony timeline, so expect many rebel elements here.
To recap, this world achieved a civilization where space colonies already exist. However, Treize Khushrenada manipulated the United Earth Sphere Alliance to be ruthless, hence the rise of rebels. One of them – Heero Yuy – is the main protagonist, accompanied by other members to free colonies using smuggled Mobile Suits made from Gundanium alloy.
In the heat of things, Heero’s mecha is shot down in the heart of enemy territory, forcing him to blend in. Now, he has more things to deal with besides defeating the corrupt government.
11. Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter’s main storyline is simple. A father has a son, goes back to hunting, then his son becomes aware. Instead of developing resentment toward his dad, who left for milk, he follows in his footsteps in the hopes of meeting him again.
So, what exactly is the deal with hunters? You get to do almost anything. This ranges from legally entering restricted zones to capturing rare creatures, treasures, and even humans. That’s what Gon Freecss and his friends are into, although others have goals beyond our comprehension.
No worries about spoilers. We’ve only given you what to expect while you watch this 90s anime. If you have an existential crisis like this list’s author and always question the point of something, hopefully, we’re helpful.
12. Great Teacher Onizuka
If a 22-year-old delinquent can commit crimes, he also shall be excellent at teaching. It’s an uncommon case, but enter Onizuka Eikichi – the main character of this 90s anime.
Not all readers will appreciate Great Teacher Onizuka (considering his ulterior motives), but give it a try. Come back to us once you’ve finished all the episodes, and let us know how it goes. It’s a pretty old anime, and you might not like the humor, so proceed at your discretion.
13. Dragon Ball Z
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z is the continuation of the first installment of the titular series. As Goku reaches adulthood, new friends and foes come along, with unexpected storyline twists.
We can’t emphasize enough that DBZ is one of the best 90s anime on this list. Not to mention, it belongs to the “Big Four” titles, alongside Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. Regardless, we’re crowning Dragon Ball Z as the king of Shonen anime.
A new threat has arrived in this installment, announcing their plans to take over Goku’s world. Unbeknownst to him, his half-brother, Raditz, is working with the bad guys. Later on, it’s revealed that Goku is meant to obliterate the planet’s inhabitants for the Saiyans – his race – to move in.
Bloodshed -aside, Dragon Ball Z has some fair share of wholesome moments. For example, two former villains have good character development. Even better, they joined forces to defeat the final boss of the series.
This 90s anime isn’t what you’d expect. Despite having the “I need to be stronger and defend people” cliche from the get-go, Yasuhiro Nightow had other plans.
Trigun is a story of Vash the Stampede on a fictional planet of No Man’s Land. Vash – the main character – is a renowned gunslinger on the constant run from bounty hunters.
Serial murders, theft, and destruction of properties are what Vash is facing – at least in the eyes of the July City Military Police. Imagine putting 60 billion double dollars on your head!
If you’re looking for a unique anime perspective, we recommend Trigun. There’s also a 2023 reboot you can watch by the title Trigun Stampede.
Digimon sounds like a weird sibling of the Pokemon and Tamagotchi, but hear us out. This title has to be one of many watch-worthy 90s anime because of the character writing and main storyline.
Like most anime, Digimon takes the approach of the “I see evil, I go kill”. But this one has a twist – seven kids are transported inside the Digital World, and you have friendly (and not-so-friendly) talking creatures everywhere!
16. The Magnificent Zorro
Sukehiro Tomita’s Kaiketsu Zorro is among the few straightforward 90s anime to watch. The story revolves around Don Diego Vega, who returns to his home soil that a tyrant now rules. That’s when he has to dress up as Zorro and fight the ruler.
17. Slam Dunk
Notice how most animes and mangas reaching the top ranks have fantasy elements? That’s because the sports genre isn’t as fascinating as series like Dragon Ball and Naruto. However you put it, Slam Dunk begs to differ, and there are good reasons why.
Slam Dunk centers around an aspiring basketball player named Sakuragi who wants to bring home an attractive girl. But kidding aside, imagine Takehiko Inoue (the mangaka) plays the main character and levels up his stats. That aspect in this 90s anime is the selling point as to why Slam Dunk is popular and has withstood the test of time.
18. Rurouni Kenshin
If Sakuragi’s basketball journey is about going from zero to hero, Himura Kenshin is slightly different. Kenshin is a legendary swordsman feared by many in the opposition. However, he decided to get out of the glory game and help people in need instead of refusing to murder.
Himura Kenshin’s journey starts upon encountering a troubled lady in the martial arts dojo and what journey awaits beyond.