The Must-See Anime Series From the Past 4 Decades

Anime has evolved since the 1950s, when the popular series “Astro Boy” first aired on Japanese television and then made it to the U.S. Anime shows are now animeavailable at any time on streaming websites, so you can watch how anime has evolved throughout the years. Whether you’re new to anime or you’ve missed out on most series from the past decades, you can make time for the best shows from each of the past four decades.

“Ranma 1/2” (1980s)

When 16-year-old martial artist Ranma Saotome gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a red-haired young girl. When his father gets a cold water drench, he becomes a panda. It takes warm water to turn them back again. Until then, they cause a lot of confusion, especially with the Tendos, with whom they live at the start of “Ranma 1/2.” Since Ranma’s father and the Tendo father were martial artists who trained under the same master in their youth, they decide that Ranma should marry one of Tendo’s daughters to unite their martial arts schools. Akane Tendo, the girl chosen to be Ranma’s fiancée, is appalled.

“Ranma 1/2″ aired in the late 1980s and is among the first anime to revolve around crazy, out-of-this-world situational hijinks. The humor holds up decades later. Martial artists fight in over-the-top battles, men love Akane, women love Ranma and men love Ranma-as-a-girl.

“Cowboy Bebop” (1990s)

The 1998 series “Cowboy Bebop” is about a crew of space bounty hunters traveling across the galaxy in a sci-fi future, taking down criminals on the run. Spike Spiegel, a former member of a mafia syndicate, leads a crew consisting of Jet Black, the ship engineer, Faye Valentine, a gambling addict new to the bounty-hunting lifestyle, and Ed, a little girl who lacks social decorum but is a hacker genius. Many episodes of the series feature humor, but it’s the gritty drama featured prominently at the end of the series that’s the real draw.

The animation stands up well. The backgrounds are a mix of futuristic technology and more familiar present-day settings. The overall look is fairly beaten-down. The music, composed by one of Japan’s most famous composers, Yoko Kanno, is reminiscent of the jazz era. It’s an attraction in and of itself.

“Full Metal Alchemist” (2000s)

Set in a fantasy world where magic is real but only people who study the craft and have talent can master it, “Full Metal Alchemist” examines the consequences of using magic for dark purposes. It follows teenager Edward Elric, a government-sanctioned alchemist with a metal arm and leg who travels the country with his younger brother, Alphonse, searching for clues about the philosopher’s stone. According to legend, the stone enhances alchemy spells. Alphonse is a giant walking set of armor who’s intimidating to look at, even if he’s the gentler sibling compared to brash Edward. How the brothers came to be how they are is part of the driving force behind the series.

“Full Metal Alchemist” was so popular as a manga that the first anime, which aired from 2003 to 2004, made up its own ending because the manga hadn’t finished yet. When the manga was near completion, the studio reanimated the series. “Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood” aired from 2009 to 2010. Both series are equally worth watching and different enough to stand on their own.

“Attack on Titan” (2010s)

Set in a medieval world surrounded by giant walls, “Attack on Titan” is about teenaged Eren Yeager who joins the military to fight Titans, giants who eat people. Spurred to action when a Titan breaks down the wall after a hundred years of peace, Eren and his best friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert watch in horror as their loved ones die. They grow up determined to fight the Titans. Each proves their skill in the military. Armin’s a strategist, Mikasa’s a skilled fighter and Eren is hiding a secret that could turn the tide in the war.

Of course, the “best” series from each decade will differ depending on who you ask, but the most popular ones are almost universally beloved by anime fans. Join in on the debate by discovering your new favorite series today.

“Attack on Titan” photo credit: Danny Choo / Foter / CC BY-SA

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