Ah, the nineties. For anime fans, it was a time of picking up overpriced VHS tapes of the few series that had made their way stateside, whether subtitled or dubbed. A time before Toonami ever existed and exposure to anime on American airwaves was either rare or non-existent. For most of us, 90s anime fandom is something passed down by oral tradition from "OldType" anime fans. But we do have the relics of that era—the actual anime released during that time period—to examine. Prepare to be transported to faraway lands as we discuss ten of the best fantasy anime of the 1990s!
10 Those Who Hunt Elves
Those Who Hunt Elves is a series with the kind of premise one could only hear in anime. An over the top slapstick comedy, it sees a trio of humans arrive in a fantasy world thanks to the machinations of an elven sorceress. They’re about to be sent home when one of them messes up the casting of the return spell, causing the fragments of the spell to explode and wind up as tattoos on elves all over the continent. They spend the series traveling around in their Type 74 tank, tracking down those elves and stripping them to get their spell fragments so they can finally return home.
9 El Hazard: The Magnificent World
Makoto Mizuhara, Katsuhiko Jinnai, and Nanami Jinnai are three high school students who, along with their teacher Masamichi Fujisawa, find themselves transported to El Hazard, a planet where humans are at war with a tribe of insects known as the Bugroms. That summary makes for a very familiar sounding story thanks to all the isekai these days, but, in all fairness, it sounded much less familiar when it was first told almost 25 years ago. El-Hazard was fairly popular when it was first created, seeing multiple spin-offs and sequels for the next five years and even receiving its own pen and paper RPG in the early 2000s.
8 Vision of Escaflowne
For 90s kids who grew up watching FOX Kids, there’s a good chance they recognize this series. Though heavily edited, it aired in 2000 for a few weeks before being canceled for low ratings, but that’s more of FOX misunderstanding its audience than an indictment on series quality.
Escaflowne follows Hitomi, a young woman who is transported to the world of Gaea and gets wrapped up in the world’s conflicts against the Zaibach Empire. These battles also somehow involve a giant robot, because there’s no way series creator Shoji Kawamori (creator of Macross) was ever going to make a new series without one.
7 Hunter X Hunter
It’s true that, if you want the more manga accurate version of this series, you should definitely ride with the 2011 version of the show. Yet, the original version is still one of the better fantasy anime to come out of the 1990s, using Yoshihiro Togashi’s brilliant manga to give fans the story of Gon Freeces, a young man who wants to become a Hunter like his father Ging, in the hopes of uncovering why it was so great Ging would leave his own family. The massive changes in color palette and art design, as well as the clear 90’s influence on the animation alone, make it worth a watch even for fans who’ve already finished the 2011 series.
As much as Berserk fans wish the more recent adaptation had been good, a single glimpse at that awful computer animation and everyone knows that ain’t it, chief. For now, they’ll have to settle for the 1997 adaptation of the series, as it does a fairly decent job of adapting the story of Guts and his former friend and leader of the Band of Hawk, Griffith.
Most of the series on this list are light-hearted fare, some even tending towards comedy… but Berserk is here because it appeals to the teenage kid in all of us, still in love with the darkest aspects of fantasy, executed by a genius creative mind.
5 Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
Krylancelo Finrandi was the most powerful young sorcerer of the legendary Tower of Fang. But, after an accident involving his foster sister Azalie, he left the school in hopes of restoring her to normal and takes on the name Orphen. (This happens partially because he left the school, but mostly because who wants to call a character Krylancelo for a whole series?)
Orphen was fairly popular for its time, being one of the earlier light novels to gain popularity as an anime, even receiving several video games and manga spin-offs. It’s also receiving a new series soon to celebrate the series’ 25th anniversary.
4 Magic Knight Rayearth
Though they’d done a few series beforehand, the reign of CLAMP begins here. Magic Knight Rayearth sees a group of eighth-grade girls transported from Tokyo Tower to the world of Cephiro. There, they’re forced to battle to bring about the safe return of the Pillar, a being whose prayers for the well being of Cephiro keep the planet itself safe.
Magic Knight Rayearth happens when you combine Sailor Moon with Gundam—the girls can transform into armored knights and even pilot giant robots. It’s as if they shoved the series with as many awesome things as possible to get everyone to watch. It worked and helped to kickstart the CLAMP empire.
3 Sorcerer Hunters
Sorcerer Hunters is one of the better, albeit lesser-known, fantasy series. Set on the Spooner Continent, it deals with the existence of an elite group of Sorcerers; individuals with the ability to use magic. Some sorcerers exploit their powers and those around them for riches and carnal pleasure, creating an underclass consisting of normal humans, turning them into slaves and sacrifices for dark rituals.
However, humans have one hope: the Sorcerer Hunters. They're an organization of skilled fighters who track down any sorcerer who gets out of hand. The series follows the tale of their misadventures, parodying as many fantasy tropes as possible along the way.
2 Record of the Lodoss War
For a good portion of the 90s and the early 2000s, anime fans saw Record of the Lodoss War as anime’s version of Lord of the Rings. It’s a comparison that sells both series short, as there aren’t many parallels between them. In Lodoss, a young man named Parn sets out to discover what happened to his father, a dishonored knight, and winds up in several adventures trying to discover the truth.
Honestly, Ryo Mizuno’s fantasy classic has much more in common with Dungeons and Dragons… mostly because Mizuno took a replay of an actual Dungeons and Dragons game and used it as the basis for this story, eventually creating his own Pen and Paper RPG off it known as Sword World.
Easily the most well-known fantasy anime, Slayers set the bar for what was expected of fantasy anime during the 1990s. It managed to balance both comedy and drama, as it told the story of the incredibly powerful magician Lina Inverse, a young woman with poor self-control and a love of money and treasure.
These two things naturally combine to cause a number of the incredible mishaps that the world around her has to deal with, as she’s easily capable of obliterating everything around her when she gets into trouble. Slayers was so absurdly successful it was seeing sequels into the late 2000s, and just recently they announced the return of its novel series.