Best anime of the '90s: 'Yu Yu Hakusho,' 'Sailor Moon,' 'Cowboy Bebop,' 'Berserk,' 'Ghost in the Shell'

The Best Anime of the ’90s

*You are accosted on the street by a man with frosted tips riding a skateboard*

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Welcome back to the ’90s, loser! The golden age of grunge, gory movies, and good old fashioned American bullying! It also had some pretty sweet cartoons. See, most shoobies only remember the American cartoons like Batman and stuff. And those were cool or whatever, but the real cool kids remember all the dope anime that came out in the ’90s!

Before 1990, anime was totally for nerds. Yeah, it was big in the ’80s in Japan or whatever, but most people in America just didn’t get it. But then the Gen X decade rolled around and our minds were collectively blown by the explosion of good anime. It shredded harder than Tony Hawk, bro! Shredded harder than John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers! Shredded harder than all the paper shredders we had to use because most of us didn’t have computers on which to store our sensitive documents!

So let’s rank the best of the best. The most tubular of the tubular. Da bombest of da bomb. The greatest anime of the ’90s. Whoa!

10. Berserk

'Berserk'
(OLM Inc.)

Dude, Berserk had everything that a ’90s edgelord could ever ask for. Anybody who was a fan of ’90s comics like Punisher or Frank Miller’s Batman got down with this series! It’s about a young mercenary dude named Guts who lives in a seriously eff’d up medieval world. He makes a living killing on the battlefield, but he’s picked up by a charismatic mercenary commander named Griffith who has dreams of greatness. Eventually Guts realizes that Griffith’s dreams won’t come without blood and sacrifice. Human sacrifice. Gnarly!

9. Trigun

Vash the Stampede in 'Trigun'
(Crunchyroll)

Trigun is set on a distant desert planet known as Gunsmoke, and is about a totally rad outlaw named Vash the Stampede. Vash is a wanted gunslinger with a 60 billion double-dollar bounty on his head, but the thing is, the guy just wants to live a life full of love and peace! This dude is iconic for his perfect spiky ’90s hair alone, but pair that with the fact that he’s an outlaw who fights other outlaws to protect the innocent, and you’ve got an all killer, no filler show, my man!

8. Yu Yu Hakusho

koto making an announcement in the arena
(Pierrot)

This anime is like … the original isekai anime. But in Yu Yu Hakusho, the protagonist dies not by a random-ass encounter with a truck, but by sacrificing his life to save a child! What a guy! As a reward, he’s given a second chance at life as a wiggedy-wiggedy spirit detective! So now he’s gotta solve ghost mysteries and fight demons who are trying to take over the human world! Way better than working retail at Billabong or whatever.

7. Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin and friends
(Studio Gallop)

This is the story … ALL ABOUT HOW MY LIFE GOT FLIPPED, TURNED UPSIDE DOWN—Hahaha, nah I’m just joshin’ you, dude. This anime is about a kid named Rurouni Kenshin, a former assassin turned wandering ronin who is looking for redemption for his gnarly past. He’s gotta fight plenty of samurai dudes in order to protect all the babes! Well, one babe. Himura Kaoru, his lady love. Honorable, bro. Seriously honorable.

6. Ghost in the Shell

Motoko with a gun in 'Ghost in the Shell'
(Production IG)

Dude, this anime is what they call “seminal.” That means it’s so iconic that people actually compare it to “semen” because it birthed so many other works! Seriously! I’m not making this up! Ghost in the Shell is a masterpiece about a cyborg named Motoko Kusanagi who works for a cyberterrorist-fighting government agency called Section 9. She has to investigate a dude named Puppet Master who’s been totally hacking into mainframes and doing all sorts of egghead computer stuff I don’t understand! This movie has action, philosophy, and one of the dopest protagonists of any anime ever.

5. Pokémon

Ash, Brock, Misty, and Pikachu from 'Pokémon'
(The Pokémon Company)

C’mon dude, we alllllll had a GameBoy and we allllllll wanted to catch ’em allllll. And then this dude Ash Ketchum came along and did it! This series needs no introduction. It’s Pokémon! One of the most groundbreaking, money-making ideas since Coca-Cola! It’s about a dude who wants to catch little monster animals and make ’em fight! Kinda eff’d up when you think about it. But we were all complicit, so we all share the guilt.

4. Dragon Ball Z

Goku from 'Dragon Ball Z'
(Toei Animation)

This series is RADICAL. It’s just about dudes SCREAMING at each other and getting STRONGER. Without Dragon Ball Z, there would be no Naruto. No One Piece. No Bleach. This anime wrote the book (or manga, lololol) on how to build an iconic shonen protagonist! Goku is a space alien who lands on planet Earth and now fights to protect it from other aliens. You don’t need any more explanation than that! It’s seriously not that deep, dude!

3. Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars with heart eyes in 'Sailor Moon'
(Viz Media)

For all the losers who thought anime was a “boys only” thing, this series made them eat their words! Sailor Moon is the most important shoujo magical girl anime of all time! It practically birthed the genre, man! It’s about a happy-go-lucky high school girl who is chosen to join a group of intergalactic defenders of the universe. AND it was one of the first-ever anime to tackle gender roles and same sex relationships. Groundbreaking!

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Asuka fights the Mass produced Evangelions in Neon Genesis Evangelion
(Gainax)

If I was ranking these anime by theme songs alone, Neon Genesis Evangelion would be number one. “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” is a major smash. And the series is just as good! It’s about a little dude named Shinji who is coerced by his scientist father to pilot a giant biomechanical mech suit in order to fight extradimensional alien beings known as “angels” who are trying to destroy the planet! Fair warning: this series gets trippy. But it’s so totally worht it. Just make sure you watch The End of Evangelion after because the series’ original ending is a little trash. There I said it.

1. Cowboy Bebop

Spike from the anime Cowboy Bebop
(Sunrise)

Cowboy Bebop elevated anime from “weird cartoon” status to “high art” status overnight! This show was the coolest thing since grunge. It’s about a chilled-out space bounty hunter named Spike Spiegel who travels the solar system hunting criminals to make a living. It’s got a clutch score, top notch animation, a killer story, and maybe the best voice acting cast ever assembled for an English dub. You can’t miss this anime, dude. It is the raddest of the rad.

(featured image: Pierrot / Toei Animation / Sunrise / Liden Films / Production IG)


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Author
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.