Shining disco balls, billowing bell bottoms, hippies, and The Beatles. The 70s gave us a lot that was simultaneously questionable and legendary (John Travolta’s dancing alone…), and the anime of the era was no exception. There are some truly bizarre creations to come out of the decade – can we say Chargeman Ken? – but some 70s anime have become timeless classics.
Here are our top picks for the best anime from the 70s.
Looking for something a little more recent? Check out our favorite anime from the noughties.
8. Ann of Green Gables
Well before Anne With An E hit Netflix, the red-headed renegade that is Anne Shirly was starring in a Nippon Animation’s World Masterpiece Theater series adapting Lucy Maud Montgomery’s iconic book. Airing in 1979, the tale follows a young orphan who is accidentally adopted by a brother and sister struggling to run their farm. They intended to adopt a boy to help them out around the farmstead, but instead got Anne, a precocious troublemaker with a huge heart.
A beautiful and nostalgic series that has aged with surprising grace.
7. Mobile Suit Gundam
While the hype surrounding Mobile Suit Gundam is somewhat out of control these days, it was – in fairness – a great anime. The original version aired in 1979 and proved to be a highly influential force in the world of mecha storytelling.
Yes, it’s full of giant robots, and we’re all a bit sick of giant robots nowadays, but it’s a gem (and a pioneer) in an extremely overcrowded genre. It was a shining example of how the examination of war and political manipulation can be both beautiful and elegant.
The fact it was packed with space fights is also a huge plus point in its favor.
6. Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe)
Everybody loves an underdog, even in anime. Kicking off the decade Ashita no Joe, (or Tomorrow’s Joe as it’s known in English) was an uncomplicated but highly entertaining show. The series ran from 1970 to 1971, with 79 episodes. The tale followed Joe Yabuki, a lovable derelict lacking any prospects until he learns to box and becomes a superstar.
It’s like Rocky, but animated.
Based on the Manga series by Go Nagai, Devilman is a gritty, apocalyptic fantasy with a good dose of horror. It follows hero Akira who absorbs the powers of Amon, a powerful demon, and uses them to battle inhuman creatures masquerading as people. Go Nagai was an influential voice in manga throughout the decade and used Devilman as an allegory for the perils of war.
Throughout the series, Akira struggles with the burden of a responsibility he never wanted, which is slowly robbing him of his humanity. It’s surprisingly dark and violent, filled with suspense, and remarkably poignant even today.
4. Galaxy Express 999
With the moon landing still fresh in peoples’ minds, it’s hardly surprising the 70s were a decade for space opera. Galaxy Express 999 was one of numerous sci-fi anime to come out, yet stands out as one of the best. It also helped shape the development of the genre, with many that followed emulating its themes and ideas.
Written by Hiroyasu Yamaura, Keisuke Fujikawa, and Yoshiaki Yoshida, and directed by Nobutaka Nishizawa, the series ran from 1978 to 1981, with two films continuing the franchise.
In a futuristic society, humans have discovered a way to transfer their memories into robotic bodies in order to achieve immortality. The practice is highly elitist, due to the expense involved. Show protagonist Tetsuro and his mother struggle to work their way to the Galaxy Express 999 (pronounced ‘three nines’, it’s the fastest ship on the ‘Galaxy Railway’) in the hopes of attaining enough wealth to get robot bodies.
When his mother dies en route, Tetsuro struggles on, only to succumb to cold and exhaustion. He prepares for death but instead awakens in the robot body he’d wanted. Paid for by a mysterious benefactor who looks suspiciously like his mother, Tetsuro is offered an all-access pass to the 999 if he becomes his savior’s companion.
3. Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Today the notion of a space pirate is almost cliched. Not that we’re ever going to get sick of it, but it’s been done so frequently that we’ve forgotten there was a time when such a genre mashup was decidedly radical.
Space Pirate Captain Harlock is one of the reasons the notion became so popular. Written by Haruya Yamazaki and Shozo Uehara, and directed by Rintaro, the series ran from 1978 to 1979, comprising forty-two episodes.
The year is 2977 and Earth has created a vast civilization that’s colonized space. But the planet’s star-dwellers are often dejected and downtrodden, succumbing to a malady – known as ennui – as a result of their constant subjugation by alien invaders. A surly, brooding outcast, Captain Harlock is a delicious anti-hero careening through space, doing away with Earth’s adversaries and refusing to succumb to the despair that’s sweeping the human race.
2. Space Battleship Yamoto
The show that spawned a thousand space anime, Space Battleship Yamoto ran from 1974 to 1975 and in the course of 26 episodes created the framework for high-stakes space adventures, anime-style.
Written by Yoshinobu Nishizaki, and directed by manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, the legacy of this show is so great that not only did several spin-offs, sequels, and remakes follow, the most recent (Yamoto 2205) was only released in 2021, while another instalment (Be Forever Yamato: REBEL 3199) is currently in production.
While the animation style is somewhat basic, the show had great thematic depth. Humanity is facing war and destruction (aren’t we always?) as a result of an interstellar conflict. Earth is severely damaged by radiation following an attack from a race of invaders, the Gamilas. A message calling for help is sent into space, and a response is received.
Now, protagonist Susumu Kodai (voiced by Derek Wildstar in the English dub) heads into the great unknown with his crew aboard the space warship Yamoto, tasked with retrieving a device from a distant planet that they’re assured will save the world.
1. The Rose of Versailles
Based on the manga series by Riyoko Ikeda, and directed by Tadao Nagahama and Osamu Dezaki, The Rose of Versailles ran across 40 episodes from 1979 to 1980. While historical anime has become increasingly popular in recent years they were almost unheard of in the 70s. It’s packed with the beauty and intrigue of the French Revolution, offering a political drama coupled with a ‘slice of life’ approach and shining with shōjo sensibilities and aesthetics.
Following a fifteen-year-old Marie Antoinette and her friend Oscar, a French heiress raised as a male, we see the development of a gorgeous relationship and all of its repercussions. Oscar is a seminal character, and an early example of what would become a common trope in manga and anime: a woman is cast in the role of a man and, while struggling under the burden, ultimately surpasses everyone’s expectations and does a better job than her male counterparts.
Blending French history with Japanese culture to superb success, this is a stunning show from start to finish and quite definitely the best anime of the 70s.
Craving some anime but not sure where to watch it? Check out our top picks for streaming anime online.
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