Known for death-defying stunts and climactic moments where the power of friendship saves the day, anime has played an important role in Filipino pop culture. Whether you caught the Filipino dubs on ABS-CBN or GMA, or stayed up late to watch the back-to-back episodes on Animax or Hero, anime was most likely an inescapable part of your household. For some fans, it might have even planted the desire to learn Japanese or study in Japan someday.
From the ’90s to the early 2000s, we’re looking back on the iconic anime series that aired in the Philippines and turned so many Filipinos into die-hard fans. Get ready to hop on the nostalgia train: we give you the anime series that are still being talked about decades later.
Also read: Why Do Filipinos Love Japan So Much? Here Are 15 Reasons
16 Popular anime series that aired in the Philippines from the ’90s to early 2000s
Created by Rumiko Takahashi, Inuyasha is an extremely popular anime that follows 15-year old Kagome as she gets transported to a feudal fantasy world. There, she meets Inuyasha, a half-dog youkai or demon. With lovable side characters like the monk Miroku and the demon slayer Sango in their travelling party, Kagome and Inuyasha journey to find the shards of the Shikon Jewel — a powerful wish-fulfilling jewel — before it falls into the wrong hands.
Because our minds were very young and online forums were rabbit holes of thirst, this anime launched plenty of debates online about Inuyasha and Sesshomaru for reasons we won’t get into in this article. (#TeamInuyasha all the way.) But my goodness, that killer soundtrack with BoA, Ayumi Hamasaki, and Do As Infinity? It still hits.
2. Ranma 1/2
One of the prominent anime series that aired on AXN in the Philippines is Ranma ½. It revolves around a will-they-won’t-they relationship between Akane Tendo, a martial artist, and Ranma Saotome, a man who turns into a woman when he is splashed with cold water. This playful anime features a wide cast of characters with eccentric personalities, frequently clashing with each other throughout the series.
3. Yu Yu Hakusho
How about a classic ’90s-era anime to add to your re-watch list? Focusing on fight scenes and stand-offs, Yu Yu Hakusho (or more memorably, Ghost Fighter) follows a hot-headed teenager named Yusuke Urameshi. When Yusuke dies saving a child’s life, he becomes the Spirit Detective and investigates cases involving demons, spirits, and supernatural threats. Yusuke is accompanied by his friends Kuwabara, Hiei, Kurama, and other characters joining him in martial arts tournaments.
It also has one of the funniest instances of the Filipino dub transforming Japanese names into funny American-ised versions of their former glory. Yusuke is Eugene, Kuwabara is Alfred, Hiei is Vincent — he does NOT look like a Vincent — and Kurama, basically the anime equivalent of Legolas, is Dennis.
4. Flame of Recca
Not to be confused with the anime series above, Flame of Recca is an anime about a man named Recca Hanabishi, who has the power to create flames with his right hand. Over the course of 42 episodes, he fights in a tournament against various villains to save Yanagi Sakoshita, a girl he is smitten with and who has healing powers. Plot aside, it’s impossible not to feel anything but adrenaline once you hear “Nanka Shiawase,” Flame of Recca’s opening song.
If Flame of Recca invites comparisons to Yu Yu Hakusho, it could be because of the similar tournament format of the episodes and the Tagalog-ised alter egos that felt like a far cry from their Japanese names. Remember when Tokiya Mikagami was called Dylan?
5. Slam Dunk
Slam Dunk tells the story of Hanamichi Sakuragi, a tall and easily angered delinquent who embodies the “jerk with a heart of gold” trope to a T. He joins the Shōhoku High School basketball team to impress a girl he likes, but soon discovers that he can play basketball quite well. As the series goes on, Sakuragi develops a genuine passion for and dedication to the sport, in spite of the setbacks in his way.
Considered one of the essential sports anime series to watch, Slam Dunk inspired an entire generation of basketball players in the Philippines to take up basketball. And with a live-action movie adaptation on the way, this anime isn’t tapping out anytime soon.
6. Dragon Ball
Featuring some of the epic fight scenes in anime history, Dragon Ball Z revolves around the adventures of Son Goku, who was raised as a human on Earth but later discovers that he is a Saiyan — an endangered race of extraterrestrials and one of the strongest in the universe. From childhood to early adulthood, the anime follows Goku’s journey as he trains in martial arts and searches for the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls.
Based on the manga written by Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball is famed for its showdowns in which Goku is frequently outmatched by a much stronger opponent, only to come out more powerful on the other side.
7. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Before there was Gundam Seed or Gundam Seed Destiny, there was Gundam Wing. Serving as many anime fans’ introduction to the mecha genre after Voltes V, the 1995 anime series is set in a distant future where mankind has built colonies in space. However, a group known as the United Earth Sphere Alliance has seized control over the colonies and is oppressing them through military force.
Gundam Wing centres on five young soldiers who are sent to fight in the war against the Alliance: Heero Yuy, Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton, Quatre Raberba Winner, and Chang Wufei. As they pilot advanced mobile suits called Gundams, their mission is to defeat the Alliance and free the colonies from its iron rule.
8. Rurouni Kenshin
Another influential series for Filipino anime fans is Rurouni Kenshin, otherwise known as Samurai X. Based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, it centres the former assassin Himura Kenshin — known to his enemies as Hitokiri Battousai — as he settles into the quiet life of a nomadic samurai. Wandering across Japan with a reverse-edged sword, Kenshin swears to protect and defend those in need. This, he feels, is his redemption for the lives he killed during the Meiji Restoration.
Aside from thrilling showdowns between different swordsmen, Rurouni Kenshin is also famous for its epic soundtrack. As I write this, I’m blasting L’Arc-en-Ciel’s The Fourth Avenue Café, because why not? With energetic songs like Sobakasu and Heart of Sword, this anime never gets old or less enjoyable to watch as time passes. See: the success of the Japanese live-action movies.
Also read: 10 Best Samurai Movies of All Time & Their Notable Filming Locations
9. Sailor Moon
No anime does a magical transformation sequence quite like Sailor Moon. Created by Naoko Takeuchi, this iconic anime is about a schoolgirl named Usagi Tsukino who transforms into Sailor Moon. She leads the Sailor Guardians as they fight for justice against evil.
Praised for its ability to appeal to a wide audience, Sailor Moon is cherished for its exciting storylines and its emphasis on relationships, especially the romance between Usagi and Mamoru or Tuxedo Mask. For many fans, it was their introduction to fantasy shoujo anime that caters to young women. Before fans were choosing between Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you were either a Sailor Jupiter or a Sailor Mars, and so on.
10. Fushigi Yuugi
If you were an anime fan back in the early aughts, then you probably remember watching or hearing about Fushigi Yuugi when it aired on GMA in 2000.
Set primarily in an ancient Chinese city, the anime series follows middle schooler Miaka Yugi and her best friend Yui Hongo, who are transported into the world of an ancient book titled “The Universe of the Four Gods.”
There, Miaka learns that she is the priestess of the country of Konan. She is tasked to gather together seven holy warriors known as the Seven Guardians of Suzaku in order to save Konan from a devastating war.
11. Cardcaptor Sakura
I still remember rushing home after school to catch episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura, then sighing with relief when I would be just in time to hear the bubbly opening song. One of the biggest fantasy anime series, the 70-episode anime follows Sakura Kinomoto, as she doubles as an ordinary elementary schoolgirl and in secret, a magical guardian collecting the tarot-like Clow Cards.
There’s a nagging feeling at the back of my head that tells me this anime probably hasn’t aged that well. (Something about a teacher-student relationship and vaguely incestuous undertones in an anime about a schoolgirl.) But I dare not rewatch the series to look for that, so as far as rose-coloured glasses go, at least we’ll always have the haze of our memories?
Pokémon needs no introduction, but what the heck. Who doesn’t love it? Formative for many Filipinos’ childhood and sense of play, the anime first aired in Japan in 1997 with the original title of Pocket Monsters. It centres Ash Ketchum (yes, we know his real name is Satoshi), a young boy who travels far and wide with his best friend Pikachu, as they collect new Pokémon and meet other trainers along the way.
Ever since the first anime series of the franchise, this worldwide phenomenon has spawned countless movies, video games, card games, train rides, and even tourist attractions all over the world.
If there was ever a similar-sounding anime that could give Pokemon a run for its money in terms of popularity, it’s Digimon. The anime takes place in a parallel universe populated by talking creatures called Digimon (a shortened form of “digital monsters”), who can choose and pair up with human partners in a trainer-trainee relationship. Digimon are also able to evolve into more powerful forms, thanks to the Digivices that their human allies use.
After the original Digimon series aired in 1999, the franchise has spawned multiple sequels expanding the lore with different characters — from the somber Digimon Tamers to the light-hearted Digimon Frontier. But its premise stays largely the same: a group of young children bonding and working with their Digimon partners to save the world. Courage and responsibility are common themes in the Digimon franchise, as are the power of friendship and the cost of growing up.
You can thank Yu-Gi-Oh! for teaching young kids that rather than pass out from card game-induced stress, they go to the Shadow Realm instead.
Adapted from the manga by Kazuki Takahashi, the 224-episode anime series focuses on Yugi Mutou, who assembles the Millennium Puzzle and awakens the 3,000-year-old spirit of an ancient Pharaoh inside it. This spirit happens to excel at playing card games. (Just go with it.) With the help of this spirit, Yugi competes against various duelists throughout the anime — all while being stalked by his very intense rival, Seto Kaiba.
When this anime began airing in the Philippines, the trading card game instantly became a sensation. Just like in the series, it’s more fun when someone is being extra while shouting out their moves or laying down a card on face down mode.
How can we not mention this beloved cat without ears? Created by Fujiko Fujio (the pen name of the writing team of Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko), the family-friendly anime known as Doraemon ran for a staggering 1,787 episodes from 1979 to 2005.
The popular anime series involves a robotic cat named Doraemon, who travels back in time from the future to help a boy named Nobita Nobi with his day-to-day life. Inspiring several movies and colourful merchandise worldwide, Doraemon is an anime series that is difficult to forget.
16. Princess Sarah
For better or worse, Princess Sarah has proven to have real lasting power among Filipino anime fans, solely due to funny memes on the internet.
Inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name, Princess Sarah (or Sarah, Ang Munting Prinsesa, as those who watched the dub might remember) follows a wealthy girl named Sarah who attends an elite boarding school in London. After her father is presumed dead, she finds herself a penniless orphan and a servant in Miss Minchin’s school, where she develops a fixation for… potatoes?
While actually quite solemn in its premise, the Princess Sarah memes featuring Becky and Lottie will make sure that you will never look at this anime, or patatas, in the same way again.
Also read: A Japan Guide: The Ultimate Must-Visit List for Gamers & Anime Fans!
There you have it, a round-up of some of the iconic anime series that Filipino fans remember watching. Of course, we know this doesn’t come anywhere close to rounding up all the famous titles out there. So, fill us in: What were your favourite anime series growing up? Drop us your top picks on our official Facebook page, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Featured image credit: Fuji TV