The Best Old-School Classic Anime Openings, Ranked

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We all love a fun anime opening, don’t we? I know I do.

Heck, there are anime I’d happily watch the opening of, and then skip the entire episode – like some sort of bizarro-world Netflix option.

Between catchy tunes and sweeping, best-of-what’s-to-come visuals, a good opening sequence can really make or break an anime.

And to find some of the best, you have to cast your gaze backwards a little.

For this ranking we’re kicking it old school and celebrating some of the very best anime titles and themes from the Before Times – i.e., the pre-2000s.

There’s going to be a mix of both Japanese and English OPs here, since there are plenty of anime that have a stronger opening in one region or the other!

 

15. Speed Racer (English Opening, 1967)

Speed Racer (English Opening, 1967) Screenshot

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Taken out of context, the line “He’s a demon and he’s going to be chasing after someone” doesn’t immediately lead you to think about a folk-pop opening to a show about wacky car racing.

It gives me some seriously creepy vibes, I won’t lie.

But the sheer kitsch glee I get from the Speed Racer opening (the English version specifically) is practically unmatched, despite its slightly weird lyrics.

It’s such a time capsule of a specific period that’s so immediately recognizable.

Plus that shot of that other driver flying through the air, somehow parallel to the cliff he drove off, followed by a huge explosion… that’s nothing short of absolute and unintentional hilarity.

Only enhanced by the music, of course.

 

14. Galaxy Express 999 (Japanese Opening, 1971)

Galaxy Express 999 (Japanese Opening, 1971) Screenshot

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There’s something so serene about the opening to this anime – which could have been a tad weirder itself.

The opening, I mean – the anime is plenty weird all by itself.

In the distant future, androids pilot a series of trains around the universe.

I don’t think I really need to say more than that about the show, honestly.

But I guarantee that after three seconds of the opening starting, you will not be expecting the train to just fly up into space – whether you knew the premise or not!

The opening theme is a wonderfully composed affair, deep baritones crooning over a children’s choir of all things.

It’s tremendously 70s through and through. And matching this up with the visuals makes for a groovy (if a little unexpected) opening sequence.

 

13. Cardcaptors (English Opening, 1998)

Cardcaptors (English Opening, 1998) Screenshot

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Look, we all know that the English dub of Cardcaptor Sakura was less than ideal – even optimistically speaking.

But the opening sequence, and more importantly, the theme?

Now that was some good stuff.

The chanting of the various card types, along with the… let’s say bold choice of musical style, all stands out.

Even the outrageously rubbish CGI has a special place in my heart because of how much I loved this opening as a kid – and even now.

So, while deserved criticism can be flung at the actual show from now until the end of time, at least wait for about a minute and twenty seconds until the opening has finished, okay?

Because this intro is basically the best thing about the English dub.

 

12. Fist of the North Star (Japanese Opening, 1984)

Fist Of The North Star (Japanese Opening, 1984) Screenshot

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Stand aside every Hollywood film in the last five years, because Fist of the North Star’s opening just oozes genuine ‘80s cool factor.

Some of the visuals might seem a little standard now that we’ve had the benefit of seeing 40 years more of stuff that came afterwards.

But this OP inspired the look in a lot of similar anime that would come afterwards.

And it’s all tied up with a freeze frame of Ken launching a hundred-foot high dragon kick at a huge monster, just to put a cherry on the top of the most radical sundae you’ve ever experienced.

Hype doesn’t begin to cover it!

 

11. One Piece (Japanese Opening, 1999)

One Piece (Japanese Opening, 1999) Screenshot

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This insanely long-running anime series started with a feeling it would hold onto for decades:

With an opening sequence that was chock full of fun, piratey goodness. Just like the show itself!

And a special mention goes to the show’s first theme “We Are!”

It’s an earworm of a track that just won’t quit going ‘round your head, no matter how many times you’ve heard it over the years.

This opening was actually remade as a special treat to celebrate the 1000th episode of One Piece to air – and it’s just the right mix of updated but still offering that nostalgic joy.

Check it out if you haven’t already!

 

10. Sailor Moon (Japanese Opening, 1992)

Sailor Moon (Japanese Opening, 1992) Screenshot

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I bet I’d need more than a few hands to count just how many people were utterly captivated by the Sailor Moon opening sequence back in the day – both the Western or the Japanese version.

One thing I hadn’t remembered about the Japanese version though, before it snaps into a stylish and striking rhythm, is just how spooky sounding the theme is at the beginning.

It gives me serious Halloween vibes.

And then all of a sudden we’re thrown headfirst into the colorful world of Sailor Moon.

Then the masks arrive, and everything gets creepy again; just when I’d started to relax!

 

9. Lupin III (Japanese Opening, 1977)

Lupin Iii (Japanese Opening, 1977) Screenshot

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Man, this opening has lots of that 70s cool, doesn’t it?

It’s another one of those OPs that acts like a capture point for a very specific era in time.

With a Starsky and Hutch-esque music track, flashes of the adventures of a master thief all over the world, and Lupin… uh, leaping through a window and out of his clothes to jump into bed with a woman?

Alright, maybe this one isn’t exactly as good a representation as I thought.

Barring that scene though, the whole thing does work instead as a perfect representation of what Lupin III had to offer.

And it’s presented in such a stylish way that it’s almost impossible not to love it.

 

8. Urusei Yatsura (Japanese Opening, 1982)

Urusei Yatsura (Japanese Opening, 1982) Screenshot

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In terms of zany energy, it’s difficult to think of many opening that compare with the classic harem anime Urusei Yatsura.

It’s got a little bit of everything: madcap music, two Charlie Brown style running and dancing sequences, plus a little bit of fan service too.

What’s not to love?

The anime itself got a remake in 2022, which was great news to the ears of many anime fans.

But I bet the new opening ain’t half as much fun as the original!

 

7. Digimon (English Opening, 1999)

Digimon (English Opening, 1999) Screenshot

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Digimon only just sneaks through our pre-2000 limit, but I couldn’t in good conscience skip it!

This was basically a cornerstone of my own childhood, and I would imagine that’s the same of many others reading this.

Yes, it’s another potentially slightly biased entry that I loved from when I was growing up; the unmistakable electronic elements in both song and visuals making this opening a stone-cold classic.

…alright, so maybe the visuals aren’t exactly up to scratch.

Maybe I only included this for the jamming song, and that one part in the intro where MetalGreymon fires missiles out of his chest in a strangely suggestive manner.

You can try to tell me I was wrong to do so, but you know it makes sense!

 

6. Outlaw Star (Japanese Opening, 1998)

Outlaw Star (Japanese Opening, 1998) Screenshot

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Robots! Space! Guns! Ninjas!

Outlaw Star doesn’t stop to breathe for a moment in its title sequence – and it’s all the better for it, no doubt.

Backed up by a fantastic opening song, Outlaw Star merged grim visuals with high-tempo beats to create a really interesting set of titles that reflected the show perfectly.

Where Outlaw Star differed from a lot of anime at the time was that it used the same theme song for both the Japanese and Western releases, untranslated.

This would go on to inspire many other anime series to do the same.

New viewers of the show in the USA or England must have been very confused at first, though.

 

5. Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac (Japanese Opening, 1986)

Saint Seiya: Knights Of The Zodiac (Japanese Opening, 1986) Screenshot

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As quite possibly one of the most bonkers entries on the list, the title sequence for Saint Seiya is one of my all-time favorites – mostly for that very reason of just being off the wall.

If you hadn’t heard of Saint Seiya, you’re in luck – because the title tells you everything you need to know.

There’s a mecha-Pegasus, guitars that can literally only be described as “screeching”, and more magical armored men than you could shake a hundred sticks at.

What, you need more?

What could you possibly need more for?

Just watch this intro a thousand times until you feel yourself becoming cooler as a result, and then report back to me when you feel it. That’s an order!

 

4. Pokémon (English Opening, 1997)

Pokémon (English Opening, 1997) Screenshot

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Frankly I could have written nothing for this entry and you’d all know exactly why it’s this high up.

There’s little more that can be said about the iconic intro after all these years.

Pokémon is the show we all rushed home from school for to watch, opening and all.

It not only introduced a generation to anime and making animals fight for sport, but it also taught us that a great anime theme song could become a cultural touchstone.

Plus, that Tentacruel attacks a skyscraper. That scene was amazing in its heyday.

 

3. Serial Experiments Lain (Japanese Opening, 1998)

Serial Experiments Lain (Japanese Opening, 1998) Screenshot

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With all sorts of strange goings on, Serial Experiments Lain could be a very unusual watch at times.

Gripping, yes, but utterly mad at the same time.

The certified mind-messing anime had a downright chilling opening to accompany it.

And if you’ve seen the anime, you know this intro couldn’t be a more perfect match.

Check out the couple smooching in the intro sequence as well. That’s some no holds barred face mashing right there; it looks like they’re trying to fight each other off rather than have a good time!

 

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japanese Opening, 1995)

Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japanese Opening, 1995) Screenshot

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I hope most of us can agree that this OP is a classic in its own right.

The opening to Neon Genesis Evangelion has probably been referenced outside of anime media more times than it’s been on the air itself.

Being one of the greatest gundam shows ever made, it’s fitting that the title reaches those levels of greatness, too.

“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”, the title track, is ostensibly one of the most well-known pieces of anime music – ever.

Thankfully, the title sequence doesn’t show us the lead’s reluctance to pilot a giant mech and fight bad guys for a living.

It’s always been one of the more implausible plot features I’ve ever seen in an anime, because who in their right mind wouldn’t want to do that?

 

1. Cowboy Bebop (Japanese Opening, 1998)

Cowboy Bebop (Japanese Opening, 1998) Screenshot

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Okay – 3, 2, 1, let’s jam.

As the undisputed king of cool, Cowboy Bebop’s opening is nothing short of a cult masterpiece.

I mean, it’s practically recognizable from a hundred paces at this point in time.

Influenced heavily by the Saul Bass spy shows of the 1960s, this intro crams more action and intrigue into black and white silhouettes than a shadow puppet theatre where a grisly murder happens.

And the music, oh the music.

We’re spoiled by this one – and it’s an indulgence I could partake in over and over again without ever getting bored.

There’s no better choice for #1 on this list than Cowboy Bebop – arguably offering the best OP from any classic anime, and quite possibly one of the best anime openings of all time.

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