Animation often doesn’t age well over time. That said, some of the best 80s anime movies don’t have this issue, as they still look and hold up well decades later. This includes the actual visuals of the Japanese animated film and the writing department.
In no particular order, these best 80s anime movies showcase the finest the decade offers. This decade included some of the most phenomenal anime films of all time, especially from Studio Ghibli, including genres like fantasy, sci-fi, historical, and more.
1. Akira (1988)
Few anime movies have the same claim to fame and success as this one. The dystopian cyberpunk feature film laid the groundwork for many similar futuristic movies and works. Its action and sharp visuals pave the way for an unforgettable story about psychic powers and corrupt governments. It remains a must-watch for anime fans.
2. Space Adventure Cobra (1982)
This feature film adaptation of the 1978 manga of the same name follows Cobra, a man in the future who erases his face and history to hide from the enemies tailing him. It has the right mix of high-octane fights and sequences alongside the quieter, more reflective moments.
3. Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984)
This intriguing film adaptation of the already existing anime TV series takes the storyline from the show and condenses it into a two-hour movie. This ensures it has none of the filler from the show and all of the most critical moments surrounding the mech fights, catchy 80s pop music, and a classic love triangle between the main characters.
4. Angel’s Egg (1985)
Many fans know fabled anime creator Mamoru Oshii for his creation of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, but this 71-minute anime film shows his more creative and moodier side. The distinct lack of dialogue lets the often unnerving animation speak for itself. It leaves room for interpretation, making it one of the most unique 80s anime movies.
5. Demon City Shinjuku (1988)
This anime film features disturbing and gory imagery as two heroes go on a quest to stop an evil man from opening a portal to let demons destroy Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan. It has a sleek art style, which gives its action sequences a thrilling atmosphere.
6. Arcadia of My Youth (1982)
The classic anime character Captain Harlock receives his origin story in this underrated anime movie. It showcases the hero pilot throughout the earliest points of his career, starting in World War I and even leading into the events of World War II. It adds an emotional depth to the expected action-packed moments.
7. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
The film adaptation of this classic mech anime series has a surprising, almost murder mystery-like approach. It starts with the sudden death of a robot creator, which spirals into thousands of corrupt bots terrorizing Tokyo. It features mech robot fights alongside an intricate and surprising tale among 80s anime movies.
8. Robot Carnival (1987)
This film avoids the usual format of other 80s anime movies and opts for an anthology-style experience. Viewers check out nine different shorts in the span of 91 minutes, including tales about a Frankenstein-like robot, alien invasions, and even a rom-com. This gives a short and sweet mix of emotions for the viewers.
9. Appleseed (1988)
This movie marks a massive departure from the manga source material on which it bases itself. It follows a group of terrorists who wish nothing more than to stop a supercomputer that runs their dystopian cyberpunk city and causes chaos and the law enforcement tasked with stopping them. This leads to a stylish cat-and-mouse chase with impressive special effects.
10. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
This classic Studio Ghibli film stands as one of the most successful 80s anime movies for a good reason. Its quiet and moving tale about two sisters and their interactions with a magical creature in the nearby forest captures the magic of Hayao Miyazaki so well. It comments on war and suffering without the heaviness of some of Studio Ghibli’s other movies.
11. Vampire Hunter D (1985)
The 80s anime movies loved the post-apocalyptic far future of Earth, and this one matches that description well. It tells the story of a half-vampire named D who hunts down supernatural creatures for a living to bring them to extinction. Its violent action and fight sequences provide a gory thrill, unlike most other movies at the time.
12. Barefoot Gen (1983)
This pseudo-biography follows a young boy named Gen who survives the World War II nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. The harsh moments and scenes present the horrors of atomic warfare, brought to life by the actual real-life experiences of its creator and real bombing survivor, Keiji Nakazawa.
13. Neo Tokyo (1987)
This anthology film tells three separate stories in just under an hour, centering around the futuristic version of Tokyo, Japan. The variety of stories lets it mix together genres like fantasy, magic, robots, and racing all together within the same movie for a fascinating viewing experience.
14. Doraemon: Nobita’s Little Star Wars (1985)
Doraemon remains one of the longest-running TV series (animated or not) of all time. One of the first feature films based on the classic family anime follows the main characters of the show and their own hilarious parody of the original Star Wars trilogy. It showcases a lighter, more family-friendly satirical approach to George Lucas’ films long before others like Family Guy would attempt it.
15. Ashita no Joe (1980)
The story of the fictional Japanese boxer Joe has one of its most famous adaptations in this 1980 film. It gives some serious underdog vibes about a guy who rises from his orphan upbringing to train under a stern mentor who helps Joe with his dream of defeating his boxing rival.
16. Castle in the Sky (1986)
This Studio Ghibli film falls under the radar compared to some of the other 80s anime movies. It follows a couple of young orphans on the run from both the government and pirates who want a mysterious necklace they have for themselves. It blends fantastical animation well with its intense storyline.
17. Project A-Ko (1986)
This story follows a magical sailor suit-wearing high school girl who fights crime and bad guys long before Sailor Moon’s creation. It offers a fascinating and stunning blend of mech action, sci-fi elements, and magical girl action scenes.
18. Arion (1986)
This bizarre but original take on the gods of Olympus follows a man named Arion, whose lover gets captured by Apollo. He sets out on a journey alongside a memorable cast of characters, such as a dragon, to stop Zeus and the other gods from keeping his lover.
19. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Hayao Miyazaki first came into the anime with this breakthrough film, which didn’t come from Studio Ghibli, but inspired all of the company’s future projects. Long after an apocalypse envelops the world with a toxic jungle, a young princess sets out to bridge the gap between her people and a mysterious jungle.
20. Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy (1980)
This movie acts as a direct sequel to the tale of the 00 Cyborgs and their attempts to stop the Black Ghosts. It seems like the 00 Cyborgs and their leader, Dr. Gilmore, finally have the peace they wanted all along, but it doesn’t last long before a new threat arrives on the horizon. It provides existing fans with a follow-up story with plenty of action and high stakes.
21. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
This Studio Ghibli film shows off the magic and quality of the animation company more than almost any other story in the studio’s history. It provides the coming-of-age tale of Kiki, a young witch who discovers her magical powers. It has such wondrous set pieces and moments, which feel lighthearted and whimsical, unlike many 80s anime movies.
22. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Fans should prepare with tissues if they watch this Studio Ghibli movie. It holds nothing back in its horrifying and heartbreaking tale of two siblings surviving in the aftermath of the World War II nuclear bombs in Japan. Its depressing imagery, story, and poignant messaging feel more necessary and impactful than any other Studio Ghibli movie.