The 15 Best Classic Old-School Anime Series, Ranked

These classic anime series are still great, even if they're a bit dated by modern standards. They're proof that old doesn't mean bad.
The 15 Best Classic Old-School Anime Series, Ranked

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Tons of new anime are released every year, but the world of modern anime is vastly different from the classic anime series that pioneered the genre—and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Animation techniques have improved over the decades. We have better art, stronger characters, more imaginative worlds, and we're moving away from overused anime tropes of the past.

But newer isn't always better! There are plenty of old-school animes that are just as good today as they were when they first debuted, even if they feel dated in some ways.

Here are my picks for the best classic old-school anime series that may be old but are still gold. Even if you're an avid anime fan, you may have missed some of these!

15. Rurouni Kenshin

Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance

Originally aired 1996 to 1998

94 episodes (3 seasons)

8.29 on MAL

Rurouni Kenshin takes place during Japan's Meiji period, a tumultuous time when Japan underwent a series of reformations. The story itself is fictional, but it's loosely based on the life of Kawakami Gensai, a skilled samurai during this time.

In the anime, you'll learn about Hitokiri Battousai, a ruthless assassin that vanished during the Japanese Revolution.

However, Battousai hasn't disappeared—he's decided to change his ways and go by a completely different name: Kenshin Himura. He promises to never kill anyone again, but how long will this last?

14. Serial Experiments Lain

Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Supernatural

Originally aired 1998

13 episodes (1 season)

8.09 on MAL

Want an anime that will confuse and intrigue you? I urge you to check out Serial Experiments Lain. This cerebral anime series won't bore you—it'll make you think.

Serial Experiments Lain tells the story of Lain Iwakura, a young girl who starts using the Wired, our equivalent of the internet.

Lain becomes interested in the Wire after finding out that her classmates have been receiving messages from a dead student, Chisa. Out of curiosity, Lain decides to chat with Chisa, who says that she now lives inside the Wire.

This anime only has 13 episodes but they're dense, so make sure to pay close attention to each one!

13. Sailor Moon

Fantasy, Romance

Originally aired 1992 to 1997

200 episodes (5 seasons)

7.73 on MAL

Just about every 90s kid remembers tuning into Sailor Moon. The series revolves around Usagi Tsukino, a girl who thinks she's just a typical middle-schooler.

That's until she comes across Luna, a black cat that can actually talk. When Luna gives her an enchanted brooch, Usagi becomes the heroine, Sailor Moon.

Usagi teams up with other Sailor Guardians: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus. Together, they must use their magical abilities to defend the Earth from The Dark Kingdom.

12. Flame of Recca

Action, Adventure

Originally aired 1997 to 1998

42 episodes (1 season)

7.34 on MAL

From the Japanese manga of the same name, which is written and illustrated by Nobuyuki Ainza, Flame of Recca centers on a high school teen Recca and his friends, as well as Yanagi Sakoshita, a girl who has the ability to heal wounds and injuries.

As the story goes on, his friends come across mysterious yet powerful items called madōgu (or "mystical weapons" in the English version).

The series features a tournament and a death battle organized by the main antagonist, who wants Yanagi's powers to gain immortality.

One interesting thing about this anime series is the timeline, where Recca discovers his true identity and a twisted family line as the narrative progresses. There's also the mystical weapons and Recca's flame dragons, with their own name and special moves.

Don't blame yourself if you get hooked on this old-school anime series, along with its flame dragons and weapon names!

11. Tenjho Tenge

Action, Comedy, Ecchi, School

Originally aired 2004

24 episodes (1 season)

6.88 on MAL

Tenjho Tenge (sometimes Tenjo Tenge) is a 24-episode anime series with a heavy dose of high school rumbles and violence. The anime is based on a manga written and illustrated by Ito Ōgure (under the name Oh! Great), who's known for his not-for-kids works and tastes.

The story involves Souichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara, who intend to rule over a school using violence but not know that the Toudou Academy is a school that's founded upon and teaches different fighting styles.

As the storyline develops, they meet a couple of beautiful but deadly allies who teach them more about fights. Soon enough, the characters discover that they're caught in a feud that's older than they thought.

10. Cowboy Bebop

Action, Sci-Fi

Originally aired 1998 to 1999

26 episodes (1 season)

8.75 on MAL

Not only does Cowboy Bebop have one of the most legendary anime theme songs, but it's also an icon of the 90s. The show follows Spike Spiegel, a space bounty hunter living in 2071.

During this time, earth has become inhabitable, so humans have turned to exploring the vast solar system. The Solar System Police enlists the help of "Cowboys," or bounty hunters, to help fight crime.

The laidback Spike is accompanied by his lively friend, Jet Black, aboard the spaceship Bebop. As the two go after bounties, they get themselves involved in strange adventures and add more members to their motley crew.

9. Cardcaptor Sakura

Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Romance, School

Originally aired 1998 to 2000

70 episodes (3 seasons)

8.16 on MAL

Remember Cardcaptor Sakura? It's one of the cuter anime series with even cuter characters, centering on the protagonist of Sakura, a young girl who accidentally awakens and scatters the Clow Cards. She's given the duty to capture and seal them again.

Guided by Cerberus, nicknamed Kero, they team up to capture the cards that were altered and return them to their original form. It's a simple premise, but fitting for this old-school anime.

Cardcaptor Sakura is based on a manga written and illustrated by Clamp, an all-female group of manga artists. The anime features sad flashbacks, fun fights, love triangles (at a very young age), and even some same-sex relationships.

Fun fact: Around the time it aired, the character Sakura became the primary guide for teaching teens how to draw anime art!

8. The Big O

Action, Mecha, Mystery, Sci-Fi

Originally aired 1999 to 2003

26 episodes (2 seasons)

7.53 on MAL

The Big O is an underrated 90s anime that you should definitely watch if you haven't yet, even if you normally don't like mecha.

It's set in the futuristic Paradigm City, forty years after a strange incident. This incident resulted in mass memory loss for the city's entire population.

The expert investigator, Roger Smith, works with his android friend R. Dorothy Wayneright in an attempt to uncover the mysteries of the past. And sometimes, Roger needs the help of the Big O, his own giant mech.

7. Slam Dunk

School, Sports

Originally aired 1993 to 1996

101 episodes (1 season)

8.54 on MAL

Before we got Kuroko's Basketball in the late 2000s, we had Slam Dunk the anime series. It's the story of a teenage student named Hanamichi Sakuragi and his journey to becoming a basketball player.

Tagging himself as the Shohoku team's secret weapon (Coach Anzai only calls him that to stop his tantrums), he manages to help the team while learning from his experiences and embracing teamwork.

The Slam Dunk anime series features romance, sports action, and a hefty dose of comedy. It was based on the manga of the same name, which was written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue (who was himself a big fan of basketball).

6. Trigun

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Originally aired 1998

26 episodes (1 season)

8.22 on MAL

A man known as Vash the Stampede has a bounty on his head worth an exuberant amount of cash.

Everywhere he goes, he brings destruction, mostly because of the reckless bounty hunters chasing after him. In fact, he's never actually killed anyone, despite carrying a revolver.

Two insurance agents, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, try to keep track of Vash's whereabouts as he makes his way across the planet Gunsmoke. Soon, the group finds themselves stalked by dangerous assassins.

5. Yu Yu Hakusho

Action, Fantasy

Originally aired 1992 to 1994

112 episodes (4 seasons)

8.46 on MAL

Don't overlook Yu Yu Hakusho! This show has one of the most interesting storylines.

The anime tells the tale of Yusuke Urameshi, a troubled boy that goes out of his way to save a kid from getting struck by a car. In turn, Yusuke ends up taking the hit and dying from his injuries.

Yusuke doesn't die for good. Instead, Yusuke goes through a series of tests to determine his integrity. Once he proves himself, he gets resurrected and tasked with solving supernatural mysteries.

4. Magic Knight Rayearth

Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Mecha

Originally aired 1994 to 1995

49 episodes (2 seasons)

7.47 on MAL

Magic Knight Rayearth is an anime series that mixes fantasy magic with robotic mecha. It takes place in a parallel world where three girls—who are the chosen ones—are magically taken.

This anime series features three mecha Rune Gods: Rayearth (piloted by Hikaru Shidou), Selece (piloted by Umi Ryuuzaki), and Windam (piloted by Fuu Houoji). The narrative is filled with romance, action, fights, and mysteries right up to the end.

This old-school anime is based on the manga of the same name, which was written and illustrated by Clamp, the same all-female group who worked on the Cardcaptor Sakura manga.

3. Outlaw Star

Action, Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Originally aired 1998

26 episodes (1 season)

7.84 on MAL

Outlaw Star is your classic space western anime series, and it's still one of the best space anime series of all time.

Gene Starwind, the red-haired protagonist, spends his time picking up work anywhere he can find it. However, when gets a job as a bodyguard, things don't go as planned.

Gene ends up aboard one of the fastest spaceships: Outlaw Star. Gene and his oddly mature 11-year-old friend, Jim Hawking, must find the Galactic Leyline while dodging perils and space pirates.

2. Inuyasha

Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Isekai, Romance

Originally aired 2000 to 2010

193 episodes (7 seasons)

7.86 on MAL

Inuyasha, based on the manga written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi, is one of the most iconic anime series of all time.

The story begins with Kagome Higurashi, who's magically transported to a distant past timeline of her modern world. There, she meets the half-dog demon Inuyasha, who helps her gather the Shikon jewel's pieces after it was shattered and scattered across Japan.

Over the course of their quest, they encounter allies who help them with their goals and villains who seek the jewel fragments for their own nefarious purposes.

And just like many other old-school anime series, Inuyasha features plenty of romance and action!

1. Dragon Ball Z

Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy

Originally aired 1989 to 1996

291 episodes (9 seasons)

8.16 on MAL

Although Dragon Ball Z debuted in 1989, the series didn't end until the mid-90s, giving it plenty of time to make an unforgettable mark on that decade. This wildly popular anime follows the exciting story that comes after the original Dragon Ball series.

Dragon Ball Z is worth the hype that it's been getting for decades. It follows Goku and his friends, as they engage in grueling battles against extraterrestrial opponents.

The anime has some of the most epic fight scenes in all of anime, along with a ton of unique villains and characters.