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20 Best Anime Movies Of 1980s That Are A Must Watch For All!

Best 80s anime films

We live in a world today where technological advancements in every field is vivid, and the anime industry is not left behind in any way as day by day we see beautifully drawn masterpieces animated into life which brings us a myriad of emotions.

Although this art form has flourished beyond imagination, what about the classic anime movies which were made decades ago? It is a mistake to think lightly of them as not only were they ahead of their time in terms of presentation, the stories told by the classics still hold weight to the current society.

The late 20th century, especially the 1980s to 1990s was a gold mine for absolutely exhilarating anime movies in every genre.

From Akira and it’s legacy to the evolution of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, the history of animation has always been rich.

Best 80s anime films

Top 20 Anime Movies of 1980s:

In this list, we are going to rank the best 80s anime movies that were released with an intention to spread awareness to the current generation and to induce nostalgia in the older generation, so readers of all age groups can go through this list.

20. Appleseed

Appleseed

Runtime: 70 mins
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama
Studio: Gainax
Release Date: April 21, 1988

We start off the list of best 80s anime with Appleseed, a cyberpunk genre anime film set in the distant future. The genre of cyberpunk was very common at the time and Appleseed does an honest job of portraying said theme. Although it departs from the manga, the shared setting and characters carry the film.

The plot itself is based on the fictional setting of World War III and its aftermath, where alongside Humans, robots and Bioroids reside together in a self proclaimed Utopian society but what others call Utopia might be something that someone else describes as Dystopia.

The main character sets out on his journey to avenge his wife who committed suicide due to the shortcomings of the society and starts a rebellion. One of the things that makes Appleseed stand out is the depiction of moral ambiguity, which is portrayed better than the 2004 anime version.

Even though humans and robots live together, the ideology of the humans considering the world to be a cage was in conflict with the robots who were tasked with protecting the world. This film does justice to the idea of post apocalypse but tighten your seatbelts for more action oriented films.

19. The Dagger of Kamui

The Dagger of Kamui

Runtime: 132 mins
Director: Rintaro (Shigeyuki Hayashi)
Studio: Madhouse, Project Team Argos
Release Date: March 9, 1985

Unlike Appleseed, The Dagger of Kamui is a an adventure/drama anime film set in the recent past. It was released in 1985 and it is a story about a young boy Jiro who steps ups and trains to become a master assassin after having been falsely accused of murdering his mother and sister.

The story then follows his journey on his way to exact revenge on the one who was actually responsible – someone he knows very well.

But what makes The Dagger of Kamui stand out more is the journey that Jiro takes. It is not just set entirely in Japan but also explores other countries such as Russia and The United States of America, where Jiro finds himself destined to go to.

The beautiful and accurate depiction of the variety of cultures present inside and outside of Japan is taken care well of and the emotional journey of Jiro displayed in the beautiful art style with unique background tracks makes this one of the best anime films from 1980s.

18. Space Adventure Cobra

Space Adventure Cobra, an anime movie from 1980s

Runtime: 99 mins
Director: Osamu Dezaki
Studio: TMS Entertainment (formerly known as Tokyo Movie Shinsha)
Release Date: July 3, 1982

Set in the outer space, Space Adventure Cobra is a Sci-Fi action adventure 80s anime film that enthralls the viewer with its plot and presentation.

The story revolves around Cobra, a notorious space pirate who is hired to rescue the sister of Jane, a bounty hunter from a mysterious being called Crystal Boy and is drawn into the complex struggle over the fate of a planet. This is the first film in the list to capture outer space in a fascinating way.

With an extremely thrilling setting, the world is full of space stations and space pirate guilds with the main villain Crystal Boy being like a Joker to Cobra who needs more than might to defeat him.

The story also provides a complicated side to romance as Cobra his different love interests provide more weight to overarching themes of the story. Although it might sound a bit too much, it is an exhilarating experience nonetheless.

17. Project A-ko

Project A-ko, an 80s anime film

Runtime: 84 mins
Director: Katsuhiko Nishijima
Studio: A.P.P.P, Soeishinsha
Release Date: June 21, 1986

Taking up the next spot in our list is another sci-fi anime movie, Project A-ko, which released in 1986. It is now fairly evident that people used to love the sci-fi genre at the time and this is another example of how such movies can be done right with a minor twist.

This 80s anime movie is about a fictional metropolis called Graviton City, a futuristic Utopian society which was destroyed sixteen years ago and rebuilt but here’s the fun part – all of this does not concern Eiko Magami, the supergirl who only cares about two things: her best friend and arriving school on time.

As for the title, the word A-ko is derived from her name Eiko, which basically represents the pronunciation of her name.

But this does not end here as there is someone else who wants to befriend Magami’s best friend and replace her which leads to the both of them to fight, but there is much more than there is mentioned here.

This film captures comedy and mecha warfare in a lovable fashion as mystery starts to creep in!

16. Wicked City

Wicked City, and 80s anime movie

Runtime: 82 mins
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Studio: Video Art, Madhouse
Release Date: April 25, 1987

Youjuu Toshi, otherwise know as Wicked City, is an 80s anime movies with action adventure and horror elements. The story talks about the two worlds co-existing; the familiar world Earth and a parallel dimension known as the “Black World” which only a few people know about, where supernatural hybrids reside.

Both the worlds exist in peace due to a peace treaty that has been active for centuries and is protected by an organization known as the Black Guard.

Although this time it is a bit different. There is a military faction that wants to prevent the resigning of the treaty in any way possible and it is the job of the main character Renzaburo Taki and his partner to ensure the success of the treaty.

This film does a great job in depicting horror elements using the creatures from the Black World and also portrays mild nudity on the horizon but overall this thriller of a movie is a great watch for someone who enjoys suspense to their fullest!

Kawajiri’s movies follow a unique theme, and if you are fan of the old-school anime narratives, then you should definitely not miss out on this one.

15. Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival

Runtime: 91 mins
Director: Hidetoshi Oomori and 8 other directors
Studio: A.P.P.P
Release Date: July 21, 1987

Robot Carnival is a unique take on films as it is not just one film but 9 short films that depict the idea of interaction between humans and robots, focusing on consequences of creating life with one’s own hands.

Each of the nine films features different people giving life to robots and the way the story progresses with their interactions and ambitions.

The films have a completely completely different setting and different point of views. While one story can make you laugh, one can make you cry or there is one that will put you into deep thought. All of this is also represented in the first and the last depiction, as the actual Robot Carnival that takes place in a desert wreaks havoc in a village while performing and they themselves are crushed in a dune in the desert.

This shows what happens when robots go out of hand to induce a deep thought into viewers and scores full points in uniqueness.

14. Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D best 80s anime movies

Runtime: 80 mins
Director: Toyoo Ashida
Studio: Ashi Productions, Epic/Sony Records, CBS/Sony Group Inc., Movic
Release Date: December 21, 1985

Coming back to the Cybperpunk Genre, we have Vampire Hunter D. The story is set 10,000 years in the future, where the world has changed drastically; monsters roam the earth freely, and humanity, although being armed with high-tech weaponry and riding robotic horses, live a lowly existence better suited to centuries before.

Vampires are also present in the story as the main character is bitten by the Vampire lord and she seeks out help from D, one of the best Vampire Hunters in the world.

The action scenes are animated well despite having released in 1985 and the film is extremely heavy on gore, depicting brutal scenes of murder and vampire slaying. The Vampire Hunter D is an enigmatic and extremely powerful character as he barely struggles to kill vampires.

The Vampire Lord or Count Magnus Lee is portrayed wonderfully as a villain and displays pure evil. Another twist to the cyberpunk genre but this time with blood sucking Vampires!

One must not think low of the different and innovative ideas that people used to come up with that constituted the 80s anime movies.

13. Barefoot Gen 2

Barefoot Gen 2, anime film from 1980s which is a sequel.

Runtime: 85 mins
Director: Toshiro Hirata
Studio: Madhouse, Gen Production
Release Date: June 14, 1986

Based on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the sequel of the original Barefoot Gen, Barefoot Gen 2 is a masterclass depiction of a real life incident.

The sequel takes place three years after the bombing of Hiroshima, Gen Nakaoka, his adopted brother Ryuta and his mother Kimie now scavenge for food and scrap metal to rebuild Japan after the deadly World War II.

As Gen’s mother falls ill due to radiation sickness, the stakes are still high.

One of the best depictions and movies of all time, Barefoot Gen is masterpiece of its own. The disheartening yet realistic portrayal of the Japanese people hunting and scavenging for resources while the world continues to fight is surreal as we see death and orphans in every corner of the land.

This film is reminder to all that the one who suffer the most in war are the people whose homes are destroyed and those who leave behind loved ones. This is also regarded as one of the best 80s anime movies.

12. Macross: Do You Remember Love?

Macross: Do You Remember Love?

Runtime: 115 mins
Director: Noboru Ishiguro, Shoji Kawamori
Studio: Artland, Tatsunoko, Topcraft
Release Date: July 21, 1984

Next up we have a romantic action adventure anime movie of the 80s era. Macross: Do You Remember Love? is set in the Macross universe where humans reside far away from Earth and are in a constant struggle of fighting the Zentradi and Meltrandi, who are giant alien races that threatens the human race.

The Macross is a fighter jet that transforms into a mecha while fighting aliens and it is piloted by the main character Hikaru Ichijou.

Hikaru and the city idol Minmay Lynn fall in love with each other as Hikaru strives to fight and destroy the ones who threaten their lives and Minmay puts her soul into her music which may be key in finding peace.

The journey of their love life and the struggles of both the lovers plays a huge role into the movie and is the main highlight of the story.

11. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

Runtime: 119 mins
Director: Hiroyuki Yamaga
Studio: Gainax, Bandai Visual
Release Date: March 14, 1987

Yet another Sci-Fi action adventure, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise depicts a futuristic society trying to fulfil their ambitions despite reaching the peak of technological advancements.

The main character Shiro is a cadet of the Royal Space Force (RSF) who sets out in a journey to become the first man in space and alongside Riquinni, a pious woman enthusiastic about the wonders of outer space.

As the two start developing a bond, the government started to notice the actions of the RSF who had a different plan altogether for the squad. The political drama and space adventure depicted alongside Shiro’s growth from an unmotivated individual to a driven person lights up the mood.

Riquinni’s role as a constant companion and romantic partner is essential for the Shiro as he takes down the obstacles in front of him. This is definitely one of the best 80s anime movies about space adventure and drama. This film also was named the winner of the 1988 Seiun Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

10. Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky

Runtime: 124 mins
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: August 2, 1986

In 1985, the world of anime films changed forever as Studio Ghibli was founded by Hayao Miyazaki and company and took the world by storm. Castle in the Sky is the first installment developed by the famed studio as they bought in a fresh air of life into animation.

Sheeta and Pazu’s soaring experiences are followed in the film as they learn how aspirations and severe circumstances may bring two people closer together. Sheeta gets kidnapped by government agents and is trapped in an airship, where she meets Pazu who dreams of reaching the fabled flying city, Laputa.

They decide to go on a journey together to find this castle in the sky. They soon discover the government operatives on their tail, since they, too, are eager to reach Laputa for their own selfish reasons.

This movie is one of the most iconic 80s anime movies and a timeless classic as it portrays the beauty of bonding between two strangers in harsh times as they come together to achieve their hopeful dream!

9. Neo Tokyo

Neo Tokyo

Runtime: 50 mins
Director: Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Katsuhiro Otomo
Studio: Madhouse, Project Team Argos
Release Date: September 25, 1987

Neo Tokyo is a short film anthology directed by notable directors Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Katsuhiro Otomo. It consists of Labyrinth Labyrinthos, Running Man and The Order to Stop Construction. Each short film takes a unique setting and plot in a -you guessed it- a cyberpunk sci-fi setting.

Judging from its runtime, Neo Tokyo might not seem to be long enough to leave a lasting impact, however, not only is it one of the best 80s anime movies to come out, it was also chosen to be one of the top 100 anime movies of all time, taking the number 10 spot.

All the three short films are not really connected to each other but the world building is evident from the films. Neo-Tokyo is in fact the fictional city where the story of Akira takes place.

It is difficult to mention the plot without a lot of context but each of the film portrays deep imagery and psychological traits with a heavy lean on the depiction of pain and misery in the metropolitan city. It’s an anime movie that is worth watching rather than looking up for a summary before trying it out. It clearly encapsulates and defines the cyberpunk and dystopian themes that ruled the anime scenario of 1980s and is a must watch!

8. Angel’s Egg

Angel's Egg

Runtime: 71 mins
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Studio: Studio Deen
Release Date: December 22, 1985

Angel’s Egg’s surrealist universe is lonely and devoid of the rush of regular everyday life. Instead, the universe is filled with eerie occurrences such as flying spheres populated with goddess statues, massive army tanks that appear to move unattended, legions of fisherman chasing after the shadows of nonexistent fish, and dungeons only ornamented with glass vessels of water.

In the middle of all of this, a young girl has decided to take care of an egg at all costs.

She meets a mysterious man who is intrigued by who she is and what her egg holds. They decide to accompany each together across the lost and broken terrain, debating the nature of faith, the purpose of the world, and the origins of their lives.

The movie beautifully encapsulates the meaning of life, its values and one’s purpose in the world leaving a deep impact after finishing. Easily one of the greatest 80s anime movies, it deserves all of the praise it gets and is respected even now. I mean, Mamoru Oshii helmed the movie. Almost every work of his is legendary!!

Angel’s Egg also features in our list of saddest anime movies. Do check out the list below!

7. Patlabor: The Movie

Patlabor: The Movie

Runtime: 98 mins
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Studio: Studio Deen, I.G. Tatsunoko
Release Date: July 15, 1989

Coming back to the beloved Mecha genre, Patlabor is set in a futuristic world where mechs roam around like humans and the military is armed with the help of these dangerous robots. And yet another movie directed by Oshii!!

As these mechas are being used for various tasks like labor purposes, a huge figure responsible for the construction of a massive project commits suicide. Captain Kiichi Gotou is tasked with the investigation of this case and alongside his crew of talented mech operators, they are supposed to maintain order.

But this is not the end as a hacked AI program affects all the robots and as they go haywire, they need to stop this chaos before everything goes to shambles.

Despite having a very common setting, this film portrays very well animated mechas and strong mech design with a focus on suspense as to the one responsible for the hacking.

Although not containing too many flashy fights, the moral values shown by the characters is commendable making it one of the must watch 80s anime movies. A sequel was released later in 90s which continued the greatness of the series.

6. Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service

Runtime: 103 mins
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: July 29, 1989

As Studio Ghibli started to flourish, they started releasing more and more films and what was most important was that they had a completely different take from the usual mech and cyberpunk genre. Their taste catered to all and they were becoming successful.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is another example of Ghibli’s production standards. Kiki’s dream of becoming a fully fledged witch requires extreme hardship as she lives alone, flying with her broomstick and black cat Jiji.

As they settle in a far away town, she meets Osono who offers Kiki to deliver her bakery orders in exchange for boarding as to which she agrees.

As with all other Ghibli movies, this is one of the most iconic 80s anime movies as it portrays the sense of responsibility and the efforts of maintaining good relationships.

As Kiki meets new people and experiences new things, she starts becoming wiser and more humble making her growth very enjoyable to watch!

5. Barefoot Gen

Barefoot Gen

Runtime: 85 mins
Director: Mori Masaki
Studio: Madhouse, Gen Production
Release Date: July 21, 1983

The prequel to Barefoot Gen 2 which took the 13th spot on our list, Barefoot Gen, is what started it all. As the sequel took the shoes of Gen in the post apocalyptic era of World War II, this movie focuses on when the war was on full heat as Gen and his family hope for it to end.

However, no one was ready for what was about to happen, as The United States decides to bomb Hiroshima.

Winning the Oufuji Noburou Award at the Mainichi Film Awards in 1983, Barefoot Gen is an emotional masterclass where stakes are even higher.

What’s more important and special about the Barefoot Gen series is that it is the author Nakazawa Keiji’s autobiographical account on the take as he himself is a survivor of the disastrous bombing. Someone who has seen everything with their own eyes need not be doubted on their ability to portray. Although not a story one can watch to enjoy or relax, it does end on a hopeful note.

4. My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro

Runtime: 86 mins
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: April 16, 1988

Another installment of the Ghibli collection, My Neighbor Totoro takes the 4th spot as we almost reach the end of the list. When Tatsuo Kusakabe moves to a rural area due to their mother’s sickness, his daughters’ lives change as they meet Totoro, a magical forest spirit and a forest full of magical creatures and fantastical adventures.

It is one of the most famous and most watched 80s anime movies of all time and also winner of multiple awards such as the Ofuji Noburo award of 1988 and special award in the 31st Blue Ribbon Awards.

A masterclass depiction of the beauty of childhood, it is a magical experience of adventure and joy accompanied by beautiful soundtrack and art direction, which is where Studio Ghibli outshines everyone.

In the 80 anime film era, where every second film was a cyberpunk mech movie with extreme action, movies like My Neighbor Totoro is calm yet magically engaging film. But it is now time to enter the top three.

3. Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

Runtime: 89 mins
Director: Isao Takahata
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: April 16, 1988

Grave of the Fireflies is not only one of the forefront names of the 80s anime movies era, it is also one of the greatest anime films and also one of the best and most realistic depictions of war. A critically acclaimed movie, it is also set during the time of World War II like Barefoot Gen.

Two siblings who have lost everything – from their home to their entire family make their way to find peace as they are continuously ravaged by the effects of war. They must survive if they want to see a future and it is quite evident as to the true nature of man is not that of a kind demeanor always.

The true nature of man, as mentioned before is the main idea behind the film. The distress and depression caused by war and the results of this act of fighting renders so many hopes and dreams useless as death becomes a common sight everywhere.

Also a movie with countless awards like Japan Catholic Film Award in 1988 and the Special Award in the 31st Blue Ribbon Awards in 1989, the realism of the movie makes it an eye opener released in the era of 80s anime movies.

2. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Runtime: 117 mins
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Topcraft
Release Date: March 11, 1984

Based on the manga of the same title written by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki himself, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind animated by Topcraft was a massive success in the industry of 80s anime movies.

Only after the success of this title, Hayao Miyazaki along with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli. The setting of this movie is based on a timeline far in the future where Humanity now lives in a constant struggle with enormous insects and poisonous plants.

Despite the deadly environment, a kingdom far from the toxin-affected area known as the “Valley of the Wind” exists which lives peacefully.

The charismatic princess Nausicaä however finds the tranquil of the kingdom disturbed as the kingdom of Tolmekia threatens to disrupt the peace by activating dangerous weapons of the past. Now the princess must put a stop to the Tolmekian’s plans and also protect her kingdom from the toxin affected jungle.

This movie is a wonderful depiction of bravery of and ambition of protecting your loved ones and the world alongside the beautiful portrayal of a fictional future and a unique environment.

This movie won the 1984 Ofuji Noburo Award and the Best Film Award at the Fantafestival in 1985.

1. Akira

Akira

Runtime: 124 mins
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Release Date: July 16, 1988

Well, well, well, we have finally reached the top spot in our list of best anime movies of 1980s, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Akira perched comfortably over here.

It is the best anime movie to come out in the 1980s and there is no doubt about the lasting impact it has had over the years, even up to the present.

Akira is set in a alternate universe where the World War III takes place in 1988 due to a young boy with psychic powers who causes an explosion in the middle of Tokyo.

He is captured and never heard of, until after three decades in 2019 when he breaks out and gets acquainted to Shoutarou Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima.

With the Kaneda leading the biker gang “Capsules”, his best friend Shima starts developing psychic powers after unfortunate events due to which he becomes a target of the government, which does not want history to repeat itself at any cost.

Akira is masterpiece of animation and has a very distinct artistic approach. It is said to have a combination of 327 hues of color shades so as to depict the beautiful and colorful world of Akira; that too always at night time.

Apart from that, the intense plot with tons of efforts in every single frame of the movie easily tops it in the list of the best 80s anime movies that one must watch!

Conclusion

The era of the 80s anime movies was a gold mine of entertainment and masterful animation as different directors and studios competed in making the best films.

Maybe not all of the films have necessarily aged well in terms of production quality, the intense plot with a mandatory feeling of high stakes must always be respected and talked about.

One can watch most of the above mentioned movies in streaming platforms such as Netflix but in end, it is firm request to everyone to watch them all so that we can respect our predecessors and keep them in our hearts as we go further!

Do you think we missed any other famous 80s anime movies? What else do you think can take a spot in the list? Do let us know in comments down below.

2 Comments
    • We disagree, all of these movies are iconic in their own way. But not everyone might agree with what we suggest and that’s understandable. Feel free to drop your favorite anime movies from 1980s just in case!

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