80s & 90s Anime vs. Modern Anime: Why Different?

Here’s why 80s and 90s anime are so different from modern anime:

There are a lot of reasons why the 80s and 90s anime series look so different from modern anime.

For the most part, it boils down to technology as many techniques and tools have seen dramatic advancement over the decades.

Also, art styles tend to evolve over time, and you can see that in anime as well.

So if you want to learn all about why modern anime looks nothing like the 80s and 90s anime, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right into it!

80s and 90s Anime vs Modern Anime: Why Different?

What Is Anime?

Anime tv show on big television in cyberspace room with man on g

Just in case anyone isn’t on the same page, let’s clarify what is meant by anime.

This is a term for Japanese original animation productions.

These are animated shows or movies that are made exclusively in Japan and by Japanese studios.

The medium is globally popular, so you can see anime in many languages and regions around the world, but to technically be an anime, it has to be produced in Japan.

Animated storytelling is an extremely popular medium in Japan, and you’ll probably find a wider variety of animated shows in Japan than in the United States.

That’s arguable, but the point is that anime encompasses a huge diversity of shows and stories.

Even so, anime is known for distinct art styles, and once you have seen it, you can recognize it at a glance.

Is Anime From the 80s and 90s Really That Different from Modern Anime?

retro vintage group of zine anime manga girls

Yes.

Oh, you wanted a full explanation?

Ok. If you compare anime from the 50s to the 80s, you can probably tell the difference.

Shows from the 50s use rather old animation techniques.

It’s not identical to the rubber hose animation you would expect from western cartoons of the same era, but there are some resemblances.

Most of that was gone by 1980.

Despite that, anime from the 50s and 80s look more alike than not.

Yet, if you compare some of the most popular shows releasing in the 2020s, they look starkly different.

The contrast is much more extreme, and the rapid evolution really started in the 2000s. 

So, 80s and 90s anime look a lot alike.

Modern anime is completely different.

Some Prime Examples for Comparison

Really, the best way to answer this question is to look with your own eyes. 

Below, I’m going to list some prominent anime series from each decade, starting in the 80s and ending in the 2020s.

You can look up any of these shows.

Google images will show you what they look like, and if you want to see the animation in action, YouTube is your friend.

For the most part, I’m going to avoid direct links for one simple reason.

They often include spoilers.

Even so, I’ll put a couple of links in to make a few points.

It’s safe to assume that any link contains spoilers, so keep that in mind as you read.

Dragon Ball

This whole list starts with Dragon Ball.

Now, there are sequels to Dragon Ball, and the most recent is Dragon Ball Super.

It definitely is a modern anime.

So, if you really want to see what anime looked like in the 80s, then look for “Dragon Ball” and not any of the sequels.

They all have extra letters or words (like Z, GT, Super, or Kai).

Dragon Ball is a legendary anime.

It will show you exactly what the medium looked like in the 80s, and it will give you a taste of one of the most popular series of all time.

Technically, Dragon Ball Z also started in the 80s, but it ran well into the 90s and is probably a better example of 90s anime than 80s.

Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon is another classic, and because of that, it’s been remade a few times.

Still, you can look up the original Sailor Moon, and it will show you the very essence of 90s anime.

A lot of the style and storytelling will resemble 80s anime, but for the avid watcher, there are a lot of nuances that clearly emerged in the 90s, and Sailor Moon was one of the most prominent shows to see all of those things.

Yu Yu Hakusho

If you have trouble finding the original Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho is also a quintessential 90s anime, and it hasn’t been remade (at least not at the time of this writing).

It has that classic 90s look and feel, and it has one of the most 90s anime soundtracks of all time.

In addition to Yu Yu Hakusho, a few more 90s classics include Rurouni Kenshin, Cowboy Bebop, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Any of them provide a great look into 90s anime.

For those of you who know anime and are wondering about One Piece, I’ll talk about it later.

Code Geass

The title asks about 80s anime, 90s anime, and modern anime, but I really think that excludes the 00s.

There was a whole decade of anime that really served as the transition between the older 80s and 90s style and the modern era.

If you want to see what that looks like, Code Geass might be the best choice.

It has a clear style that didn’t really carry into the modern era.

Despite that, it’s clearly not a 90s anime, and you can see a lot of the animation and storytelling ideas that were prevalent in the 00s.

If you want a few other examples, consider Fullmetal Alchemist (but not Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood as it came out quite a bit later) or Naruto (but not Shippuden for the same reason).

Attack on Titan

With this show, we’re crossing into the 2010s.

Attack on Titan first aired in 2013, and there is a new season in production that hasn’t aired yet.

It’s safe to say that this is a modern anime.

Still, it involves a 10-year run, and if you compare the first season to the last season, you will see some evolution in animation style and technique.

Despite all of that, anime that started in the mid 2010s can reasonably be called modern anime.

Since about 2018 some new trends have emerged (that I’ll discuss a little later), but for the most part, 2015 anime still looks pretty modern when compared to 2020s shows.

It’s also worth noting that the global popularity of anime absolutely exploded in the 2000s and 2010s.

When it comes to good shows to see the styles of the 2010s, there are too many examples to list.

That said, I can throw out a few personal favorites if you want to more animation comparisons: 

  • Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
  • One-Punch Man
  • Mob Psycho
  • KonoSuba

There are plenty of others, but each of those will show you very different animation styles that were honed across the decade.

Demon Slayer

If you want to see the pinnacle of modern anime animation, then Demon Slayer stands ahead of everything else (at least for now).

Technically, it first aired in 2019, so we can round up and call it a 2020s anime.

I’ll talk about some of the techniques in a bit, but Demon Slayer is really pushing the boundaries of what people expect from animation in the genre.

Especially when you watch the Mugen Train or Entertainment District arcs, you’ll see brand new techniques that really don’t compare to anything else in the world of anime.

It’s eye-catching, to say the least.

One Piece

The last specific anime on the list is One Piece, and that’s for one simple reason.

One Piece first aired in the 90s, and it has been released weekly ever since.

It’s still one of the most popular anime series of all time with new episodes dropping every week.

On top of that, there is no scheduled end.

It will likely still be running after every other show on this list is concluded (and plenty of them concluded some time ago).

The point here is that you can see the evolution of anime with this one show.

Compare episode 10 to episode 1010 (yes, there are that many), and it’s practically two different shows.

You can sample visuals from across the eras of One Piece, and the stark changes in animation will be apparent.

Why Are 80s and 90s Anime Different From Modern Anime? (4 Things)

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I just gave you a pretty solid list of anime shows you can watch.

Or, you can look up images or clips for any of them.

That gives you concrete examples of how things look, sound, and feel different over the years.

But, that leaves everything at an intuitive level, and we can do better.

Below, I’ll discuss some of the technical differences between anime shows of the different eras.

In that discussion, I can show you exactly how they differ, and more importantly, I can cover some of the primary reasons why anime looks so different today as compared to a few decades ago.

#1 Animation Techniques

Artist drawing an anime comic book in a studio. Wooden desk, natural light. Creativity and inspiration concept.

The most obvious changes come in the form of animation and animation techniques.

In the 80s, everything was drawn by hand.

Computer animation really started developing in the 90s, but in that decade, computer animation was trying to emulate comfortable looks while making processes more efficient.

Because of that, 80s and 90s anime look a lot alike, even if the animation techniques were changing in the 90s.

By the time you get to the modern era, you see advanced CGI mixed with traditional anime drawings.

It creates for incredibly dynamic sequences, and the Demon Slayer arcs I mentioned previously perfectly highlight how this can work.

This clip contains massive spoilers, but it also shows you exactly what I’m talking about.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG1Wl4OGfxA

Even outside of CGI, animation techniques and technologies have not stopped evolving.

Outside of anime, you can plainly see that cartoons today don’t look the same as cartoons from the 80s or 90s.

The reasons are the same.

People figure out new ways to do things, and it can lead to sharper, prettier, better images and animations.

#2 Storytelling

excited woman with white headphones and tablet PC study online

The thing is, animation isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years.

Modern anime have a different feel to them that has nothing to do with aesthetics.

The storytelling itself is a bit different.

Don’t get me wrong, modern anime still feels like anime.

A lot of the tropes and ideas are still rooted in the same stuff, but modern storytelling in anime has some clear distinctions.

The most notable is probably pacing.

As anime became more global, it received more feedback, and as a result, it took on some international influences.

The most obvious probably stems from western (specifically Hollywood) philosophies on pacing.

Modern anime doesn’t always move faster; sometimes the pacing is quite slow.

But, more attention is paid to pacing, and in many cases, it enhances the feel of the story.

By that same token, the use of music in anime has changed dramatically over the decade.

Modern anime really does compete with some of the best productions around the world.

Older anime soundtracks and scores were certainly well written, but they lacked the depth and variety that you can find today.

Some of those changes come down to money—anime brings in tons more revenue than it used to—but a lot of it has to do with the industry evolving over time.

#3 Definition

Woman with remote control changing channels while watching TV at

In this case, I’m talking about visual clarity, not words.

Modern anime has sharper lines, clearer images, and higher frame rates (leading to smoother, more detailed animation).

A lot of this has to do with improved technology and techniques, but there’s another angle we can look at that really sheds light on what happened.

High definition broadcasting wasn’t really a thing until the 2000s.

Experimental broadcasts happened before 2000, but it was still uncommon.

So, 80s and 90s anime were not made in high definition because it didn’t exist (there were early ideas of high definition, but they differ from what we see today).

In the 00s, some anime started to break into high definition.

It wasn’t standard, but you could see it at times.

By the 2010s, high definition was standard, and you could expect to see anime shows in sharper clarity than ever before.

The standardization of high definition broadcasting really forced anime studios to change some aspects of how they draw.

The techniques of the 80s and 90s worked great on grainy CRT TVs, but they look extremely fuzzy and hard to follow on modern high-definition displays.

The technology improvements forced changes, and those changes ended up quite stylistic.

If all of your lines have to be thinner and sharper, it’s going to impact every aspect of your drawing.

#4 Color

Lofi Girl studying at her desk. Rain ourside, beautiful chill, a

The last major difference in anime can be seen in the colors.

Color techniques have also improved over the years, and they will continue to do so. 

A big part of this came from the switch to digital broadcasting.

Digital images can contain so much more color information that this really opened up doors for anime studios.

Every time a major revolution happens in terms of colors within anime productions, you see it everywhere.

If you compare an 80s anime to Demon Slayer (or any other modern anime), the color contrasts will be undeniable.

Modern anime has more colors, brighter colors, deeper colors, and a much more complex application of colors in the style choices.

I’ll spare you a long rant on color theory.

Suffice it to say that modern anime studios have way more options when it comes to coloring their product, and they take full advantage of all of them.