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The BEST Old School Anime Art Styles From 12+ Different Shows

Certain anime follow certain types of art styles. I inspired these points when I wrote an article about it in June 2018.

That covered multiple anime art styles, but let’s talk about old-school anime art styles instead.

The type that was common in these timelines:

  • 1970s.
  • 1980s.
  • 1990s.

This era was unique compared to some of the bubble-gum and more cutesy designs seen today that lack the same level of detail, focus, depth, or realism more than anything else.

Here’s a list of shows that fit the bill.

 

1. Bubblegum Crisis

bubblegum crisis 1987 | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Bubblegum Crisis was released in the 1980s. This anime series had the art style typical of that era, though not quite.

It stood out with its visuals, characters, not to mention their unique personalities as women, and the nature of the series in the sci-fi, action-orientated world the plot is a part of.

It still has that feel to this day that many crave from old-school anime.

 

2. Mobile Suit Gundam

mobile suit gundam 1979 | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Released from 1979 to 1980, Mobile Suit Gundam is unique for too many reasons.

One being how old it is, two being how different the art style is compared to let’s say, 1990s series, and three being its influence on the mecha genre, the anime industry, and so much more.

It’s about as classic as it can get when talking about old school anime styles or school anime as a whole.

It’s one of the best examples there is from that time (and popular).

 

3. The Slayers

slayers anime 1995 | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Released in the 1990s with the anime series and adapted from a top-selling light novel, The Slayers is about Lina Inverse, a travelling sorcerer who cares mostly about money.

She treasure hunts, and is a bit of a businesswoman, but is fierce, can be aggressive, and is dangerously strong even by 2023 power scaling standards.

More importantly, the art of Lina Inverse from the 1990s slots right in with similar shows like DBZ and others that had similar vibes and characteristics.

As an anime series many haven’t watched today or may have forgotten about, and having one of the best art styles of that time, this old school series HAS to be mentioned out of obligation.

Just like Gundam but for different reasons.

 

4. Fist Of The North Star

fist of the north star 1984 1988 | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

The famous meme involving the words, “NANI?” comes directly from this legendary anime series, which is also one of the top-selling series of all time in the anime and manga space.

Kenshiro is a legendary anime character many remember and will never forget. While the art style can seem dated in this series, there is a lot to appreciate about it still.

That’s why it’s on this list.

 

5. Urusei Yatsura (original)

YouTube video

The original Urusei Yatsura series from the early 1980s is unique by design. For a parody series, it was also unique for its time.

I mean, how many anime series were parodies, comedies, with romance and aliens that looked good and felt good watching it in the 1980s?

It’s no wonder this series got a reboot in 2023 which was successful and it’s how I got into the series in the first place.

The 2023 version has a gorgeous art style for new-era anime, and the old-school one was one of the best for its time as well.

 

6. Magic Knight Rayearth

Magic Knight Rayearth art 1990s | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Magic Knight Rayearth, released in the 1990s, is like the alternative version to Sailor Moon. But don’t get it twisted, this series did well in its own right and is nothing like Sailor Moon in nature.

It was responsible for kicking off the Isekai era when the term wasn’t even used, spoken, known, and during a time when nobody cared for it on a mass scale.

3 girls are at Tokyo Tower and are suddenly pulled into the world of Cephiro, which is falling apart. And all 3 are asked to become magic knights to help save the world of Cephiro.

This selfish request morphs into an anime that has its own identity, good characters, and of course, old-school art styles that are hard to dislike.

 

7. Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon original | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Sailor Moon is a classic. Nuff said. And it seems to fit so many types of female characters (and women).

  • You have Usagi, the main female character who has blonde hair (and is stereotypically airheaded).
  • You have Rei, Sailor Mars, who has black hair. She’s fierce.
  • There is Ami, Sailor Mercury, with blue hair and is smart.
  • Sailor Jupiter has a tough demeanour and look.
  • Sailor Venus (also blonde hair) is similar but not the same as Usagi.

Aesthetically, Sailor Moon looked good, and can still be appreciated in a lot of aspects so many years down the line for its art style.

 

8. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion mecha | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Neon Genesis Evangelion stood out, stands out, and feels different to all the other anime released during its time. And the female characters in particular are still unique.

Asuka being one of the obvious ones.

The Mecha robots, the Mecha uniforms and outfits, the old-school surroundings and designs – NGE deserves a spot on this list.

 

9. Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop 1990s | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Released in the later 1990s, Cowboy Bebop’s art style, aesthetics, and designs feel a little fresher and a lot more realistic than other anime of its time.

But it still has that old-school feel to it that feels transitional with a 1990s-2000s vibe.

Travelling through space, the cosmos, being in different environments, action scenes involving guns, and romantic vibes with strong realism – aesthetically it’s one of the best in the old-school anime art department.

 

10. Yu Yu Hakusho

Yu Yu Hakusho old school | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Yu Yu Hakusho, the same anime that Bleach was first accused of being too similar to before it was published. This anime also has concepts like spirits, characters who can see spirits, and so on.

Except it’s the OG when it comes to Shounen anime.

The clothing, aesthetics, art styles, eyes, shading, and more has the 1990s vibe people still love to this day (in 2023 at least).

 

11. Dragon Ball S1

Dragon Ball S1 | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

The first Dragon Ball franchise was definitely unique compared to others in 1986. And that later evolved to DBZ in 1989.

Both anime to this day with their new series and seasons have kept the same art style mostly, with some extra touches and more colour as far as the new DBS goes.

But during the old school era, there weren’t many like Dragon Ball, making its art style “unique” but not to an extreme.

 

12. Gunsmith Cats

Gunsmith Cats old school art | https://animemotivation.com/old-school-anime-art-styles/

Gunsmith Cats is last on this list. The anime is unknown to so many people that it’s sickening. But for those who do know, it’s a classic series that only had 3 episodes for the anime (not the manga).

Rally Vincent, probably the inspiration for so many “badass” women in newer anime series, and Minnie May Hopkins, probably the inspiration for so many cute anime girls who are short.

Rally is a gunshop owner, loves guns and is from Chicago, USA. Minnie lives with Rally and used to be a prostitute back in the day, and knows how to make specialized bombs.

This short, mature anime series still looks good and could benefit from a reboot.