Anime has a long and complex history in America that has come in waves. Cartoon Network’s Toonami kickstarted an anime wave in 1998 when they added Dragon Ball Z to a revamped lineup. Between Cartoon Network/ Adult Swim and Kids WB Warner Bros. Television owns a large share, as well as VIZ Media, in popularizing the product. With the anime craze starting in the 90s it seems fair to start a top five of openings from there. I will be going off of Japanese release dates instead of when it was introduced to western audiences to allow for consistency of release. The language will be in both English and Japanese, depending on which opening we went with.
Dragon Ball Z – “Rock the Dragon”
Dragon Ball Z as mentioned started the anime trend in America that we are still experiencing today. When kids tuned into the show for the first time many had no idea what to expect. Seeing full-on fighting along with an energizing song made this a favorite of many at the time and it still holds up today.
While this song is iconic the reason I’m hesitant to put this song any higher due to the lyrics. It’s repetitive, which isn’t a bad thing, as it is easy for kids to sing along with it also faces some backlash. What amplifies this opening is the guitar shredding in the background which is impressive for a regular song let alone an anime opening. This song had so many kids simulating the Kamehameha blast and went on to inspire many to train in martial arts.
Outlaw Star – “Through The Night”
Outlaw Star is a criminally underrated show that was dwarfed by other shows of the time. Only lasting 26 episodes it had a brief runtime though it was always exciting to see what Gene Starwind and Jim Hawking were up to. Not all anime series needs to be drawn out as long as they stick to the core story and race to the finish line which Outlaw Star shows so well. This series is much like Cowboy Bebop with more emphasis on space, so if you like Watanabe’s series you should give this a chance.
As one of the few animes in the 90s to keep their original Japanese openings introduction the West to Japanese Rock “Through The Night” is iconic. The upbeat and melodic structure of the Japanese words suited this show well as it refers to not giving up core traits to get what you want.
One Piece – “We Are”
One Piece is honestly more of a 2000s+ anime rather than the 90s but it came out in October 1999 so it’s on the list. One Piece is one of the most popular animes in Japan though it does not cast as wide appeal in America. This is probably due to the butchering of the anime by one of the worst production studios around, 4Kids.
“We Are” entices kids to follow Luffy on the high seas and search for their dreams and encourages friendship. The upbeat song is kind of whimsical as it entices the audiences without having to go with a monster truck rally style of excitement. As most know 4Kids decided to switch out this masterpiece by Hiroshi Kitadani for the trainwreck that is the “One Piece Rap”. In fairness that was one of my favorite themes when the show was first aired in America but it has not aged so well when you take the nostalgia filter away.
Cowboy Bebop – “Tank!”
Cowboy Bebop is a classic anime that has every aspect of the show to a high standard. Plot. Check. Animation. Check. Theme. Double Check. Putting a defined label on the show is difficult as it combines multiple genres though I suppose it plays like a Western set in space. Proving that a great theme song does not need lyrics, barring the countdown in the beginning, Cowboy Bebob laid down some smooth Jazz. Seatbelts were jamming hard on their instruments and the theme song contains many riffs including the sax ending.
Pokemon – “Pokémon Theme”
The epitome of 90s anime has to be Pokemon. While Dragon Ball sparked the trend of anime Pokemon cashed in hard. At the turn of the century, there was no escaping the games, trading cards, anime, and other merchandise. I do not believe there has ever been an anime brand that had a popularity spike as intense as Pokemon. The theme song only enhanced the popularity as kids would come home straight to school to follow Ash, Misty, and Brock on their adventure. The theme was an earworm having lyrics about important life lessons making the song a classic.
This is one of the few cases where the original Japanese opening is worse than the English dub. However, worse is subjective as the “Mezase Pokémon Masutā” theme is more popular in Japan though in the West and Oceania they “want to be the very best like no one ever was.”
Honorable mentions: “Cruel Angel Thesis” – Neon Genesis Evangelion, “Just Communication” – Gundam Wing
Let us know your thoughts what anime theme song would you put on the list! What did we miss? Sound off down below!