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11 best 90s anime and how to watch them – Destructoid



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Remember the ’90s? It’s already been 50 years — provided you’re reading this in 2040, that is. Jokes aside, one of the best things to break into the American mainstream in the ’90s was anime, and it wasn’t just because the markets demanded so.

The ’90s saw the birth and growth of some of the greatest and most influential anime in existence, so let’s look at some of the best outings of that glorious time.

Asuka in NGE
Image by Netflix

Neon Genesis Evangelion

If you were a kid watching anime in the ’90s, it’s likely that Neon Genesis Evangelion taught you the valuable lesson that anime, too, can introduce you to messed up-stuff you didn’t expect to see in cartoon form. Even that’s reductive, though, as Evangelion is so much more than just characters and viewers screaming into the void

Its dark imagery and themes are at the core of what makes Gainax’s series special. Evangelion began its life as an answer to the popular mecha series of its time, in which there was always a super-powerful robot perfectly equipped to defeat all the enemies of humankind. Even when these mechas work well, there’s always a toll, physical or psychological, to the literal children piloting them. Give this one a try if you want to have a lot of “mecha” action fun and are ready to deal with the consequences.

Watch on: Netflix

Lain in the Serial Experiments Lain intro
Image via Steam

Serial Experiments Lain

You might not know this series, but you’re very likely to have already seen the face of Lain, its protagonist, somewhere on the Internet. That’s a very interesting testament to the staying power of this ’90s anime about, among many other things, the random disconnect that some feared could engulf society with the predicted massification of Internet use. Lain was meant to serve as an inquisitive and thought provoking sci-fi tale, and it totally works as just that, but it’s also one hell of a cautionary tale, if that’s what you want it to be.

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime

Cowboy Bebop

American anime fans who don’t care for American cartoons because “anime is made from the heart, whereas Transformers, He-Man and the like got shows because Hasbro and Mattel wanted to sell you toys” can’t say that about Cowboy Bebop. The legendary genre-mixing and bridge building anime got greenlit as a ploy to sell — you won’t guess it — spaceship toys, and it somehow still ended up as one of the best anime ever.

Even though it’s over 20 years old now, the animation, the characters, the overall heart of the show and, obviously, the soundtrack, make Cowboy Bebop one of the most memorable experiences you can get out of all media.

Watch on: Hulu, Crunchyroll

Takumi in Initial D
Image via Amazon Prime

Initial D

Whether or not it’s the actual inspiration, watching Initial D for the first time nowadays might bring you to the realization that you’re watching One Punch Man with cars. Yes, while I expected something along the lines of the anime version of Fast And Furious — another series it might have greatly inspired — I ended up getting a hilarious multi-series story about a young driver so good that his main challenge in life is his failure to care about racing as much as all the drift sickos around him. The 3D-animated cars look a bit jarring at first, and the soundtrack is an acquired taste, but this classic never fails to bring in the laughter and the most thrilling racing moments ever put to the small or big screens.

Watch on: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Netflix

Tsukino Usagi in Sailor moon
Image via Amazon Prime

Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon provided the perfect anime starting point for a bunch of ’90s kids. It follows the monster-of-the week structure you see in so many American tv shows, but then becomes so much more. It’s a comedy at heart, one that follows a legendary klutz who leads a great cast of characters, but, unlike the Pokémon series, Sailor Moon knows when to grow out of its original formula when the plot gets more serious towards the end of each season.

Watch on: Hulu, Amazon Prime

Pikachu in Pokémon
Image via Netflix


Can you even remember the world before Pokémon? I can, and, even though I’m not the biggest Pokémon fan, I must admit that it simply was a less fun place. Pokémon started its one-two-punch quest for global domination with the Game Boy video games, but its anime companion also played a huge role into making Pokémon the juggernaut that it seemingly will never stop being. The plot of each episode is simple and formulaic enough that you could probably get a random generator to make them, but the characters and the cuteness make Ash’s quest to become the greatest trainer in the world one of the most endearing series of all time.

Watch on: Netflix (season 1), Amazon Prime, YouTube

The DBZ cast
Image via Toei

Dragon Ball Z

Even though DBZ began in ‘89, it had most of its run in the ’90s, and it’s one of the first anime people talk about in conversation about ’90s anime, so I doubt anyone will be bothered that I’m putting it here.

If there’s a neverending debate surrounding who’d win in a fight between Goku and Superman, that’s because Goku is the strongest fictional hero from Japan, yes, but also because he’s its most popular. There’s no comparison when it comes to a positive role model for men in anime (though there are far better parents out there!), nor a more influential shonen. Watch it for the legacy value, yes, but also because it remains an absolute blast to watch. Any person of my age can attest to that as we’re all cursed to not be able to spend a whole month without re-watching some banger DBZ clips online.

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime

The cast of Berserk
Image via Prime


Many series rule all the way to the end, only to culminate in the most lackluster manner imaginable. The original Berserk anime doesn’t even have an actual ending, and its still one of the greatest anime of all time. This is one of the darkest and most well-realized anime ideations of European fantasy, and a known influence in the Souls series. Consider giving it a go so long as you’re ok with some considerably disturbing imagery and themes.

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime

One Piece
Image via Toei Animation

One Piece

One Piece only began airing in 1999, so it didn’t really earn its juggernaut status in the ’90s. Still, it’s clearly the anime that learned more right lessons from Dragon Ball Z, and the one that has been passing them on to so many other anime that came after.

If you’re looking for a long-running shonen about pirates that will bring to you the biggest and coolest cast of characters and some of the most memorable moments in anime of the past three decades (and counting), then this is the one piece missing in your life for you.

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Hulu

Digimon Adventure
Image via Crunchyroll

Digimon Adventure

The original Digimon anime exists because of the success of Pokémon, but, like many of the greats, it’s less of a ripoff and more of response. Whereas Pokémon went no further than just showing the daily life of a boy in a quest, Digimon kicked the formula into high gear by throwing a bunch of kids into a cool but incredibly dangerous world. No more waking up to hopefully capture a new Pokémon and earn a new gym badge.

These kids weren’t having fun trying to capturing Digimon — they were the ones captured by the world of Digimon, and the only possible quest here was finding a way to escape it. The cast is great, the monster design is edgier and arguably cooler than that of Pokémon and the fights were just much more brutal. Digimon is darker, scarier, and, thus not just a great alternative to Pokémon, but an all-timer on its own right.

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Hulu

the main cast from Yu Yu Hakusho
Image via Crunchyroll

Yu Yu Hakusho

I haven’t seen Yu Yu Hakusho, but editor Eric Van Allen warned me that the gods of old Anime might take offense from me not putting it on this list, so you can find his words on it below:

Yu Yu Hakusho is a classic, yet still somehow underrated compared to the other giants of shonen storytelling. Yusuke Urameshi’s journey into the afterlife, becoming an Underworld Detective immersed in cases surrounding demons and ghosts in our world, holds up surprisingly well to this day. The art and animation is fantastic, and each battle is a joy to watch, especially in the excellent Dark Tournament arc. Sure, Goku has the Kamehameha, but Yusuke’s Spirit Gun is its own kind of iconic. Anyone looking to understand how ’90s anime turned a generation of Toonami watchers into anime aficionados should spend some time watching Yu Yu Hakusho.

– Eric Van Allen, known Toonami watcher

Watch on: Crunchyroll, Hulu

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