While anime as a medium is often hard to categorically summarize or define, the shows and films that have made anime what it is in the 21st century are easily identifiable. Beyond just mere popularity and rabid otaku adoration, the anime on this list have birthed entire genres, sub-genres, tropes, and character archetypes. They have facilitated technical innovations, created lasting cultural legacies, significantly advanced or redefined the medium, and spread the gospel of anime to generations of fans around the world.
Before all the top '80s and '90s anime came shows like Astro Boy and Sally the Witch, which played historically important roles in shaping the anime art style and creating the "magical girl" genre. Action-packed shows like Dragon Ball and deep, thought-provoking films like Akira paved the way for some of the best anime series that all fans recognize. Check out this list of TV shows and movies that historically advanced and revolutionized anime into the mainstream media it has become since the turn of the century.
- Photo: Gainax
Daicon III and its sequel Daicon IV are two 8mm, short opening films that were created for the Nihon SF Taikai (Japanese sci-fi) conventions in 1981 and 1983 respectively. For the unfamiliar, their place in anime history may seem like an oddity compared to the more professionally-made titles on this list.
However, Daicon's place is justified by the critical appreciation of fans for the surprisingly high-quality of both works, which was unusual considering the amateur status of their animators. Secondly, those amateur animators (which included Neon Genesis Evangelion writer/director, Hideaki Anno) would go on to form the influential animation studio, Gainax. Thirdly, Daicon solidified the foundation for otaku culture, introducing a Playboy-like bunny girl that made fans go wild.
- Category: Short Film
- Photo: Group TAC/OLM
Also known as Star Blazers, Cosmoship Yamato, and Space Cruiser Yamato, this epic and psychedelic space adventure was the creation of highly-respected manga artist and animator, Leiji Matsumoto. Along with the hugely popular series Space Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999, which took place in the same universe as Yamamoto, Matsumoto almost single-handedly popularized the "space opera" genre in anime. Not only that, but Yamamoto was the first anime series to be broadcast in its intended episode order when translated for English-language audiences because of its unique over-arching plot.
Matsumoto's work would also later become known to an entirely new audience through his animated music videos for French electro-pioneers, Daft Punk.
- Category: Anime
- Photo: Nippon Sunrise
Otherwise known as Mobile Soldier Gundam, this iconic series that first aired in 1979 in Japan spawned an entire franchise that became nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Its other big claim to fame is birthing the "real robot" subgenre of mecha anime - smaller, militarized relatives of their "humongous" ancestors.
Despite initially being a financial flop, Gundam was able to take off at lightning speed because of Bandai's agreement to make toy models of the suits. Sales blew through the roof and the franchise started grinding out spin-offs from the original series that haven't ceased production right up until 2017. Gundam spawned shows, films, video games, manga, OVAs, toys, and even theme park rides - all eagerly lapped up by fans, old and new.
- Category: TV Program
- Photo: Toei Animation
It may have started out as parody of Ultraman, but the wrestling-themed Kinnikuman went on to seriously define the "shounen" (for "boys") genre. Based on the manga of the same name, the show was originally broadcasted in 1983 and is better known to English-speaking fans as Ultimate Muscle. Its contemporary, Fist of the North Star, is often credited as being the originator of the over-the-top fighting that the genre is synonymous with.
However, Kinnikuman not only predates First of the North Star, but it arguably had more of a lasting impact with a balance of comedy and action. Its influences can be seen in shounen favorites like Dragon Ball, Bleach, and One Piece.
- Category: TV Series