End of Heisei, 31 Years of Anime – A Brief Retrospective

As of the posting of this article: According to the Gregorian calendar, the year is 2019.

Now, the majority of the world’s countries adhere to this form of date keeping for both schedule planning and day to day life. Japan is – mostly – no different.

Should you decide to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun, while there, you may see the year written as either 2019 or 平成31. Examples of the latter can be seen on official government documents such as drivers’ licenses and tax forms. Naturally, Japan is not claiming it is the year 31. Instead, the designation marks the 31st year of the Heisei era.

In Japan, an era encompasses the reign of a given Japanese Emperor. Accordingly, 平成31, or Heisei 31, is the 31st year of Emperor Akihito’s tenure atop the Chrysanthemum Throne. A tenure which began following the death of Emperor Hirohito on January 8, 1989; also known as January 8, Heisei 1.

Having said that, you, dear reader, may be wondering:

Odyssey, what does this have to do with anime?

We find ourselves at a unique point in history. For the first time in over two centuries, as well as the only time since the implementation of the modern Japanese constitution, the current Emperor will step down from his position. The date of his abdication: April 30, 2019.

Thus, May 1, 2019, will mark the start of Crown Prince Naruhito’s reign as Emperor Naruhito and the beginning of the new 令和 (Reiwa) era.

The reason why we are discussing this transition here on Anime Hajime is to give a little retrospective over the last three decades of anime.

Please remember, the Heisei era began during a time where floppy discs, VHS tapes, landlines, and basic cable were cutting edge technology. Now at Heisei’s close, we live in a world where your top-of-the-line smartphone (a device inconceivable thirty-one years ago) will become outdated in just a few months.

And in that span of thirty years, anime has only become more accessible and more varied.

In fact, I would argue that anime as we know it – the good, the bad, and the ugly side of it all – was a direct product of the Heisei era. Therefore, here on the eve of Reiwa, let’s take a quick look back and remember some of the milestones that brought us to today.

In Heisei 1 (1989), the modern anime landscape began with the airing of shows like Ranma ½. Granted, I have yet to watch Ranma ½, but a series that was my childhood also saw its premiere episode this year. What Reiwa will bring is anyone’s guess. But I highly doubt it will have a start like Heisei’s.

Perhaps you have heard of a little anime called:

Dragon Ball Z


Jumping ahead to Heisei 4 (1992), there were the premiers of series such as Yu Yu Hakusho and Crayon Shin-chan (the latter of which is STILL going strong today).

But perhaps most notably of all, Heisei 4 introduced us to a lazy, middle-school crybaby named Usagi Tsukino as she began her journey to become the one and only Sailor Moon.


In Heisei 7 (1995), there were a ton of game changers. For example, we saw the release of the film Ghost in the Shell.

However, if we are talking about true influencers, then we must look towards the mecha genre. For you see, Heisei 7 was the year which gave us Neon Genesis Evangelion.


My fellow 90s Americans need to recall the importance of Heisei 9 (1997). This was when a quaint little film known as Princess Mononoke indicated to Western viewers that this Studio Ghibli thing might be pretty good.

Yet, if you were a kid in the States at this time, then you most likely heard about this one programming block which started airing on Cartoon Network called Toonami. Although it was still a few years away from showcasing the English dubbings of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, it would be wrong if we don’t at least acknowledge what is maybe the thing that made anime far more accessible in the West.

And due to things really picking up at this point, we need to really start rattling shows off:

Heisei 10 (1998) – Cowboy Bebop

Heisei 11 (1999) – One Piece

Heisei 12 (2000) – FLCL and Inuyasha

Heisei 13 (2001) – Azumanga Daioh and Spirited Away (the only anime film thus far to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture)

Heisei 14 (2002) – Naruto

Heisei 15 (2003) – Fullmetal Alchemist

Heisei 16 (2004) – Samurai Champloo, Elfen Lied, and Bleach

Heisei 17 (2005) – Basilisk

Heisei 18 (2006) – This was a big one so:

  • Fate/stay Night
  • Ergo Proxy
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • Ouran High School Host Club
  • Gintama
  • Black Lagoon
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
  • Welcome to the NHK
  • Death Note
  • Code Geass

Heisei 19 (2007) – Naruto Shippuuden and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Heisei 20 (2008) – Soul Eater, Toradora, and Black Butler

Heisei 21 (2009) – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, K-On, Bakemonogatari, and Fairy Tail

Now, it would appear we are getting close to the point – assuming we haven’t already crossed it – where it is difficult to determine which series are medium-definers since these following shows are relatively recent. Thus, here are some of the highlights from Heisei 22 (2010) to Heisei 30 (2018):

  • Durarara (Heisei 22)
  • Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Nichijou, Ano Hana, Sword Art Online, and Mirai Nikki (Heisei 23)
  • Another and Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai (Heisei 24)
  • Love Live, Attack on Titan, and Kill la Kill (Heisei 25)
  • Noragami and Tokyo Ghoul (Heisei 26)
  • Assassination Classroom, Gakkou Gurashi, and One Punch Man (Heisei 27)
  • My Hero Academia and Kimi no Na wa (Heisei 28)
  • Little Witch Academia, Made in Abyss, and Land of the Lustrous (Heisei 29)
  • Violet Evergarden (Heisei 30)

In Conclusion

There are literally hundreds of other series I didn’t even mention. Heisei was truly a time of great change – and if I dare say – growth for anime as a medium.

For many of us, this has been the only anime era we have ever known. So, we are, by definition, on the precipice of a whole new world.

I, for one, cannot wait to see what Reiwa has for us.

Simply looking back one year, it is hard to imagine how far we have come. But looking back on the legacy of thirty? It’s a little surreal. Yes, there have been lows. However, hopefully, we can all agree, when anime hits a high, it really hits hard.

For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and let’s welcome this new era together. I will see you next time.

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