Just like the 80s, there is a myriad of beautiful anime movies present in the 1990s, as this decade spelled the domination of big names like Studio Ghibli who continued to put out bangers and also director Mamoru Oshii who was responsible for hits like Ghost in the Shell and the sequel to Patlabor.
Some of the best anime movies of all time are present in this generation, like Perfect Blue, Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke to name a few. But despite all of this, there are so many movies released in the 90s that it is quite easy to miss out on many titles which have been labelled as ‘underrated’.
Many hide in the shadows of their contemporaries where as many do no stand out at first glance. Some of them may not have received good enough marketing due to budget constraints!
Underrated 90s anime movies:
There are many anime movies that were released in the 90s which may not have gained immense success or outreach but are pieces of art on their own. These movies deserve a chance as who knows, some of them might become your new favorites!
And you don’t have to keep on searching everywhere on the internet to find these movies as we are going to provide you with just that. So ready your horses and let’s find the diamonds hidden in the coal mine.
10. Kaze no Na wa Amnesia
Runtime: 80 mins
Director: Kazuo Yamazaki
Release Date: December 20, 1990
Starting off the list we have Kaze no Na wa Amneisa or simply A Wind Named Amnesia. This film is based on a post apocalyptic setting where a strange gust of wind has erased the basic memories and sensibility of humans, turning them into mindless creatures.
The main character Wataru is a victim of the same predicament but his destiny was different after he meets someone who was not affected at all. As he relearns his etiquettes, more and more opens up.
This was an experimental take on the idea of post apocalyptic setting which was very common in the late 20th century, as suggested by the Avant Garde labelling.
It is also deep and thought provoking, as it shows the fight of humanity against severe odds. This film received praise only after its initial release and has been stated as “one of the best movies you have never heard of” by Raphael See of THEM Anime Reviews making it one of the more underrated 90s anime movies.
9. Coo of The Far Seas
Runtime: 116 mins
Director: Tetsuo Imazawa
Studio: Toei Animation
Release Date: December 19, 1993
Next up on the list of underrated 90s anime movies, we have Tetsuo Imazawa’s Coo of the Far Seas, which takes place in a tropical setting of the Fiji Archipelago. Obata lives here with his father who is an expert in oceanographic biology.
After a storm hits the region, Obata finds a baby dinosaur stranded on an island. It was a baby Plesiosaur which Obata decides to adopt and names it Coo. As he embraces the new responsibility of taking care of Coo, distress was not far behind as Coo becomes an interest of the French Government due to its breed.
This movie is beautifully animated for its time and portrays great colors and art flow. It was released in time when even blockbuster hits like Jurassic Park and Free Willy, both of which it seemed to be very inspired from.
This underrated gem beautifully captures sea and underwater life with an emotional connection between them and humans.
8. Chocchan Monogatari
Runtime: 75 mins
Director: Hiroko Tokita
Studio: Triangle Staff
Release Date: March 20, 1996
We have seen a multitude of anime movies set during the time of war like Grave of the Fireflies and Barefoot Gen which have received immense success and notability, but there have also been many that were not talked about that much and Chocchan Monogatari is one of them.
Based at the time of World War 2, Chocchan lives with a positive attitude with her husband violinist with three children but things do not go her way when the war breaks out and her husband has to leave for the front.
This movie is based on the autobiography of Essayist Cho Kuroyanagi, the mother of famous Japanese actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and displays wealth of emotions and feelings at the time of war.
The way Chocchan decides to cope with everything going on is the essence of the story making it a must watch 90s anime movie which is criminally underrated!
7. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind
Runtime: 78 mins
Director: Hisayuki Toriumi
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Release Date: March 21, 1990
Now we have a historical drama in the list, Like the Clouds, Like the Wind. Based in the 17th century Chinese period, this 90s anime movie depicts the story of Ginga who aims to become the emperor’s highest ranking wife or simply, a Seihi.
She does not get affected by the ones surrounding her and her energetic attitude makes her meet new people who help her become the ideal wife of an emperor!
On the lighter tone of genres, the story portrays family drama decently and also plays out well in the confident female lead trope. A shame that such a film could not hold up with other movies in the same time.
6. Hashire Melos!
Runtime: 110 mins
Director: Masaaki Osumi
Studio: Visual 80
Release Date: July 25, 1992
Hashire Melos! is based on the novel of the same name written by the renowned Osamu Dazai. Set in 360 BC Greece, this is a story of a young man Melos who is falsely accused by the king of Syracuse while he was on his way to get a ritual sword for his sister’s wedding.
More follows as the mad king does not seem to trust the words of the seemingly innocent man.
It was first released in 1981 by Toei animation. The remake was released in 1992 which presented a different take than before. It featured better art style and character design than before and presented professional levels of sound and audio quality. Unfortunately the movie was never released in DVD format.
The main theme of the story focuses on trust and what happens if one does not trust as we Melos’ is stuck in this loop of madness due to king’s fear of the unknown and how some people he meets for the first time decide to help Melos just so he could reach his destination.
5. Junkers Come Here
Runtime: 100 mins
Director: Junichi Sato
Studio: Bandai Visual, Triangle Staff
Release Date: March 18, 1995
Coming up at the fifth spot, we have the award winning Junkers Come Here directed by Junichi Sato himself, considered as the master of Slice of Life. Despite his fame, this title remains to be of the most underrated anime movies of the 90s.
You see, in the era of 80s and 90s Mecha and Space Adventure anime got all the love and the other genres were often overlooked and this movie got the same treatment.
The plot is based on Hiromi Nozawa, a young girl who owns a pet Schnauzer named Junkers (pronounced as Yoo-nkers) who can talk like a human! It doesn’t end here as Junkers has a special ability to grant three and only three wishes and Hiromi needs to decide on what to ask for. But she does not have free will as problems creep into her seemingly ideal life.
Despite its obscurity, it won the award for Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards in 1995 and as suggested by the synopsis, this movie did a good job at portraying family drama and mending poor relationships making it worth the watch.
4. Kenji no Haru
Runtime: 56 mins
Director: Shoji Kawamori
Studio: Group TAC
Release Date: December 14, 1996
Out of all the movies in the list, this one is probably the most unique as Kenji no Haru is a biographical tribute to the famous Japanese novelist Kenji Miyazawa where all of his characters are depicted as cats that takes place in the fictional world of Ihatov.
The movie is based on Kenji Miyazawa through many stages of his life, focusing on his relationships with his sister, father, pupils, and local farmers. Even if he has the option to take up his father’s job in business, he wants to find a deeper meaning in life and find its answers.
By showing his life as a visual poetry, the film provides us an excellent sense of Miyazawa’s work and worldview. The deeper meaning of life as mentioned before is something Kenji looks which can make any watcher learn something by watching the movie, although it can be difficult to find the movie on major streaming platforms.
But in the end, it is a fitting tribute to Kenji Miyazawa.
3. Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki
Runtime: 47 mins
Director: Hiroshi Harada
Studio: Mippei Eigeki Kiryukan
Release Date: May 2, 1992
Coming into the top 3, we have a dark one here. Directed and produced all alone by Hiroshi Harada, Midori is a psychological horror drama based on Suehiro Maruo’s manga of the same name. This infact is a common trope of the Camellia Girl (Shoujo Tsubaki) genre which presented a young girl who sells Camellias on the street who in turns gets sold/forced to perform in a revue show.
In this film, Midori is tricked into joining a street performing trope where she goes through the worst imaginable fate you can imagine. She is forced to do labor work and used as a pleasure tool by the performers against her will. Although her life seems to begin to change at a certain point, there is more to what meets the eye.
We would definitely advice you before watching it due to its extreme themes and it is quite obvious as to why this movie would not have gained too much attention but this from a literary standpoint, the artstyle and animation portraying horror which is all done by Hiroshi Harada himself and depicting deep psychological aspects of the downfall of the protagonist makes it one of the most underrated 90s anime films with a deeper meaning.
2. Ocean Waves
Runtime: 72 mins
Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: May 5, 1993
Too lighten up the mood, we have an underrated gem that was directed by Studio Ghibli themselves known as Ocean Waves which is a school life romantic drama. The story follows the life of Taku Morisaki, his friend Yutaka Matsuno and Rikako Muto, a beautiful girl transferred from Tokyo into the city of Kouchi.
Even though Rikako is a gifted student both academically and athletically, her seemingly harsh attitude makes her unapproachable. The story gets more complicated as Taku learns about Rikako’s past and a love triangle gets formed between Taku, Rikako and Matsuno. Now Taku has to to figure out how to balance his friendship with the intrusion of a girl into their lives.
A major reason this anime film went unnoticed in the 90s is the fact that Studio Ghibli was known more famously on making movies about the younger generation under the guidance of Hayao Miyazaki but this is the first Ghibli film that was directed by someone else other than Miyazaki or Isao Takahata.
This poignant story about adolescence and strained friendship might start off as slow and boring but that’s basically the point to give it a realistic approach of the melancholy of their teenage life. In all, it is a movie you must not miss!
1. Only Yesterday
Runtime: 118 mins
Director: Isao Takahata
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: July 20, 1991
Now that we are at the top, calling this particular film underrated is a bit strange as we have Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday, directed by Isao Takahata himself . The story revolves around Taeko Okajima, an independent woman living in Tokyo who decides to visit her family in the country side to help with the harvest which would also act as a break from the urban lifestyle.
As she movie progresses, she compares her lifestyle with the ones when she was a child, reliving past memories. Many flashbacks are shown as she forms new bonds with her family and friends while developing a passion for farming and harvesting again.
The film is nostalgic and bittersweet, following Taeko’s struggle as an adult woman coming to grips with her childhood goals in comparison to the person she is today.
Actually being a very successful film in the 90s, it was the highest grossing Japanese film of 1991 and receiving a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite its success, this movie is relatively overshadowed by the same Studio’s films in the decade like Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, there is no doubt that this is the best underrated anime movie from the 1990s.
Bonus: She and Her Cat
That might have been a long list to go through even if there are only ten movies mentioned but for those of you who have actually read up to this point – there is still another 90s anime film we would love to recommend, i.e. She and Her Cat.
This movie can be watched directly after you are done reading this list as it will only take you a mere 5 minutes to complete it! We hope there is no need to talk about the plot as it is a pretty short film but all there is to say is that – it is excellent and to the point. Do check it out!
How many of the movies have you watched? If you have even watched 3 or 4 out of these then massive respect for you as your taste is of a wide range. It is time for us to watch them and show our love to these underrated anime movies which might not have garnered much love in its time!