When the easy availability of home video technology started to make the rounds in Japan in the early ’80s, it coincided with a boom in what the anime industry calls “OVAs” (original video animations), which were direct-to-video anime releases designed specifically for viewing in Japan’s burgeoning home video market. OVAs typically spanned only a couple of episodes, each released individually, and could therefore bypass the content and budget limitations of T.V. anime.
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This lead to the OVAs of the era becoming the home of the seedy, exploitative, and outrageously violent. There are some of the best offerings of the medium here, as well as some goofy action schlock. Don’t take that to be a bad thing, though — although some of these ’80s and ’90s romps weren’t always made in the best taste, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t awesome.
10 Record Of Lodoss War
Lodoss War is the fantasy anime to rule them all, loaded with enough swords, wizardry, and heroics to satisfy even the most ardent of Tolkien fans. A party of heroes sets out to defeat an ancient evil that threatens the future of the realm, and the subsequent events of the anime play out like a D&D player’s dream campaign.
There aren’t many anime out there that present the classic ideal of a fantasy setting with as much polish as Lodoss War does, which has earned it a spot in the classic OVA hall of fame.
9 Devilman: The Birth
New fans might be familiar with Devilman from the Netflix anime helmed by Masaaki Yuasa — Devilman Crybaby. There are other adaptations of the classic manga though, with one of the more popular being the 1987 OVA Devilman: The Birth. Those familiar with Devilman will likely know what to expect here, a copious amount of blood, guts, and demons.
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Ordinary high school student Akira Fudou has his quiet life brutally disrupted when he gains the hellish powers of the demon Amon, which he then uses to become the fearsome Devilman to battle all sorts of infernal beings. It’s a good introduction to the Devilman mythos, and features some appropriately gruesome animation.
8 Dominion Tank Police
Masamune Shirow, mangaka master of Japanese cyberpunk, presumably rolled out of bed with the only thought on his mind being “cops in tanks”. That seems to be all that inspired Dominion, the manga that would serve as the source material for the 1988 OVA series Dominion Tank Police.
The premise of this series is rather self-explanatory — in the future cops enforce the law by driving around in highly mobile tanks, hence the name “tank police”. What follows is a bombastic action comedy as viewers follow rookie cop Leona Ozaki as she earns her stripes as a fledgling tank cop.
7 Giant Robo: The Animation
Giant Robo is something of an odd concoction: it mixes an engrossing retro-future aesthetic with martial arts action reminiscent of classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and then tops it all with a generous amount of mecha fighting. Fortunately, it all works, making Giant Robo an exhilarating and imaginative story even for those without an affinity for robot anime.
This funky setup and tone lends the show a unique retro charm, which is captured perfectly by the character designs and writing. There’s also some really impressive action animation here, both when it comes to mecha and wuxia battles.
6 Armitage III
In the year 2046, two cops are transferred to Mars to investigate the murder of a singing android. Naturally, the crime goes deeper than it first appears, and the two quickly begin to unravel a conspiracy that threatens not only them, but the future of Mars. Before they get to all of that though, they’ll have to learn to overcome their personal differences and work together.
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Combining slick ’90s cyberpunk with a cool mystery and a classic buddy cop setup, Armitage III is regarded as a classic for good reason among fans who were brought up on the late-night anime offerings of the mid-’90s.
5 Battle Angel Alita
Known the world over as one of the classics of anime science fiction, Battle Angel Alita is a post-apocalyptic story about an android girl of fearsome power who’s recovered from a scrapyard to battle the forces of evil. Alita’s setting is immediately engrossing; everything has a grimy, slapped-together feel to it, which is essential in selling the atmosphere of the show.
Couple that with some awesome cyber-enhanced action sequences and memorable characters, and it’s easy to see why Alita became such a classic. It might feel somewhat brief on account of how much of the source material it actually adapts, but it still does an excellent job of capturing the essence of the Alita story.
4 Violence Jack
Jack, that is “Violence” Jack, is the most appropriately named protagonist in the history of anime. He’s called Violence Jack because he’s only interested in violence, specifically violence carried out against the scum of the post-apocalyptic future.
After Hell Earthquake devastates humanity, the Earth becomes a lawless place where the strong prey upon the weak. Luckily there’s Jack, an enormous beast of a man who travels the wastes knifing bad guys in the face. Be assured that Violence Jack lives up to its name; there’s a copious amount of blood spilled along the way in this pulpy action ride.
3 M.D. Geist
Geist is the titular protagonist of M.D. Geist, and one of the fiercest soldiers of this futuristic story. So dangerous, in fact, that he was placed in cryogenic storage in a space satellite. That satellite explodes for reasons, unleashing Geist upon a new conflict. Don’t go around thinking this guy is a “medical doctor” either: the M.D. stands for “most dangerous”, as in the most dangerous soldier.
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Those looking for logic, coherence, or any form of introspection turn away now: M.D. Geist throws all that out the window from the very first time that Geist uses a grappling hook to fly up to a moving aircraft and shoot the pilot in the face with a rocket launcher. This is unadulterated ’80s action schlock at its very best.
2 Cyber City Oedo 808
In the far future of what was once Tokyo, three hardened cybercriminals in cyber prison are offered a deal: help take down the most dangerous criminals of the future in exchange for time off of their hefty sentences for each job they complete. It won’t be easy, though, and should they default on their duties they can be assured a swift demise via the explosive collars strapped to their necks.
Attitude? Check. Violence? Check. Outrageous future tech and awesome costumes? Absolutely. Cyber City Oedo has everything anyone could possibly want from this sort of show. It’s one of those experiences that gives the viewer exactly what they would expect from watching the bad guys of the future take down the even badder guys of the future.
1 Bubblegum Crisis
Another cyberpunk classic, Bubblegum Crisis sees a squad of all-female power armor wielders battling to keep the streets of MegaTokyo safe from biomechanical beasts called Boomers. Featuring explosive action, spectacular ’80s hair and music, and some awesome cyber Tokyo imagery, Bubblegum Crisis all but embodies the sci-fi zeitgeist of the ’80s and ’90s.
Bubblegum Crisis is an uncomplicated action romp with great music, animation, and character designs, which is really everything one wants to see when checking out an OVA of this era. It immediately transfers the viewer back to the days of big hair, awesome sunglasses, and excessive drum reverb in every soundtrack.
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About The Author
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Adam Beach is a recent university graduate based out of Austin, Texas who has spent the pandemic playing far too many video games and watching entirely too much anime. Now writing for ScreenRant, he has the opportunity to translate those experiences into his own content. In the past he has been a Model UN instructor, intern for the Government of Rwanda, and full-time student, all of which involved producing a wide range of written material. He also enjoys movies, philosophy, and Mongolian throat singing.
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