11 Must-Read Classic Mangas Written Before the 21st Century

Old-school manga has a charm that you can’t find in today’s manga. Every manga fan needs to read these classics!

We often recommend media and products we like. If you buy anything through links on our site, we may earn a commission.

The popular manga of today aren’t the only ones worth reading.

If you haven’t read any manga from the 50s to the 90s, you’re definitely missing out. Manga created before the 21st century have a distinct and diverse art style that differs depending on the decade and the artist.

Don’t limit yourself to reading the newest manga. Take a trip back in time, and check out these must-read classic manga series.

comiXology Unlimited offers unlimited reading access to a massive library of digital comics, manga, and graphic novels. Try it out for FREE for 30 days!

1. Phoenix

Osamu Tezuka, one of the most legendary manga artists, created the Phoenix series in 1967. This old-school manga is way ahead of its time.

Phoenix: Dawn follows Queen Himiko and her quest to find eternal youth. While each volume has a different story, they all have an overarching theme that examines human existence, with the immortal Phoenix at the center of the story.

2. Banana Fish

Banana Fish takes place in New York City during the 80s. In the crime-infested city, the young gang leader, Ash Lynx, receives a mysterious drug from a dying man.

Not only is the drug the answer to finding the “Banana Fish,” but it also becomes the source of conflict. Ash gets wrapped up in the life of a Vietnam war veteran and an innocent photographer, while also dealing with the drug-hungry mafia.

3. The Drifting Classroom

After having a spat with his mother, middle school student Sho Takamatsu thinks he’s just going to have a normal day at school. Judging by the title of this manga, you can already guess that his day is anything but.

When Sho arrives at school, a sudden earthquake occurs, transporting the entire classroom to another dimension. Sho and his classmates must learn to survive in the strange, dark wasteland they now call home.

4. Astro Boy

You probably recognize Astro Boy, the popular manga series and movie created by the one-and-only Osamu Tezuka. The humanlike android, Astro Boy, is the brainchild of Umatara Tenma, and originally meant to serve as a model of his dead son.

Once Dr. Tenma comes to the realization that Astro truly can’t replace his late son, he sells Astro to the robot circus. There, Astro learns to hone his true powers.

5. Ranma 1/2

Need some comic relief? Read Ranma 1/2, a comedic shonen manga that tells the story of Ranma Saotome’s complicated life. The young martial artist forever changes when he stumbles upon cursed springs when training with his dad.

Ranma ends up with a condition that transforms him into a girl whenever cold water touches him. His dad is afflicted with the same hex, only he turns into a panda.

6. Cyborg 009

In Cyborg 009, nine unwanted people from around the world get kidnapped by Black Ghost, a secretive organization that aims to start a global war.

Although Black Ghost successfully turns these humans into cyborgs, the organization’s plan backfires. Cyborg 009, also known as Shimamura Joe, teams up with the other humans-turned-cyborg to escape the Black Ghost’s clutches.

7. Fist of the North Star

In Fist of the North Star, you’ll meet Kenshiro, a fighter trained in the lethal martial art of Hokuto Shinken.

He uses a special technique to attack his opponents from the inside out—his attacks penetrate the weakest points of human bodies, resulting in violent deaths.

As Kenshiro traverses the post-apocalyptic world, he seeks to eradicate the land of criminals and gangs.

8. Urusei Yatsura

This quirky manga centers around the alien princess, Lum, who arrives on Earth with the intention of becoming the planet’s new ruler.

The only one who can stop the invasion is the unfortunate Ataru Moroboshi—he must touch Lum’s horns in order to halt the takeover, but Lum’s ability to fly makes this game of tag even harder.

9. Dr. Slump

You might recognize the name Akira Toriyama. After this manga artist created Dr. Slump, he went on to create the Dragon Ball series.

Dr. Slump is the hilarious tale of Arale Norimaki, an android girl living in Penguin Village. While her inventor tries to make her the most perfect android, she turns out to have some flaws, one including extreme naivety.

10. Lone Wolf and Cub

If you want a fantastic historical manga, Lone Wolf & Cub should be your next read. It takes place in feudal Japan, and follows Ogami Itto, the shogun’s former executioner who’s wrongfully accused of treason by the Yagyu clan.

After the clan murders his wife, Itto takes his child and hopes to get revenge on his enemies.

11. Golgo 13

Gogol 13 was created in 1968, and it’s still in production—this makes it the longest-running manga series in history.

The series revolves around Duke Togo, a ruthless assassin who also goes by the name of Gogol 13. Typical citizens and government officials know they can count on Gogol 13 to get the job done.

Go Further With Your Manga

comiXology Unlimited offers unlimited reading access to a massive library of digital comics, manga, and graphic novels. Try it out for FREE for 30 days!

Reading old manga can give you the chance to view the world with a lens from the past. This refreshing take on society will have you addicted to the classics!

If you’re looking for more manga to add to your reading list, we’ve got recommendations for you:

Japanese Anime & Manga Genres

We all know what fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and thriller mean. But anime and manga go beyond that, and there are all kinds of Japanese genre names that might perplex you.

Maybe you already understand what shonen and shoujo are all about. But what about isekai? What exactly does slice of life entail? What’s the difference between ecchi and hentai? We’ve broken it down for you!

Understanding the Japanese genre names can be helpful when you want to find more anime to watch and manga to read. Download the printable PDF below and pin it on your wall so you always have a handy reference at hand:

Similar & Trending

How to Start Your Manga Collection: A Step-by-Step Guide

10 Legendary Manga Artists and Their Most Famous Works

The 8 Best Science Fiction Manga for Sci-Fi Geeks

The 7 Best Manga Series on comiXology Unlimited Worth Reading

How to Legally Read Manga for Free Online: 6 Great Sites

7 Excellent Manga Series That Deserve Anime Adaptations