Top 10 OVA Anime Shows of All Time

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Dan N. Scarborough

Dan N. Scarborough

Last updated:  2023-10-26 09:14:13

Original video animation (OVA) is a formative series quite typical of Japanese animation. Instead of airing on TV, OVA movies and TV shows were published on various media, mostly VCR. That format was usually reserved for anime shows and movies too violent or explicit for Japanese television. For this top ten list, we picked stand-alone stories only. That means prequels and side stories to a bigger story won't be counted. Hence, this eliminates some really good OVA, such as Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal. 

10. "Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket" 

War is Hell, especially if you're a child

"War in the Pocket" was made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Gundam franchise. This short OVA takes place days before the end of the One Year War between the Earth Federation and the Zeon Republic. An elite Zeon unit arrives in a neutral space colony with orders to destroy a new Gundam mobile suit. 

The main character is 11 years old Al Izuruma, who has always seen war as a game, so he enthusiastically helps the troops from Zeon. However, as the plot unfolds, Al learns the harsh realities of war, and his life changes forever. This Gundam OVA is just six episodes long, but it is one of the most hard-hitting stories in the franchise.

9. "Record of Lodoss War" 

The Japanese answer to the Lord of the Rings

This OVA has a unique origin story. A group of Japanese people made their own system for role-playing games, called the Sword World. The first adventure in this system was recorded, and it was the basis for making this anime. The main character is a farm boy named Parn, who dreams of becoming a knight. 

Eventually, he joins a group of diverse companions to explore and save the continent of Lodoss. From today's viewpoint, this plot sounds generic, but remember that those were the 1990s and that it was one of the first western-like fantasy anime. Indeed, you will not find the usual anime weirdness in this OVA, but rather the anime version of The Lord of the Rings.

8. "Space Battleship Yamato 2199" 

The remake of the legendary anime from the 70s

The Legendary Japanese ship from World War II, Yamato, was the central figure in Leiji Matsumoto's legendary TV show from 1974. Some 40 years after the original, "Space Battleship Yamato" was remade. The main plotline remains the same: the legendary battleship and its crew must recover experimental weapons from the planet Iscandar. 

"Space Battleship Yamato 2199" aired first in cinemas as a compilation of six movies before coming to digital media. The new "Yamato" has an improved and modernized animation. However, the original design of the characters, as well as tone and atmosphere, remained intact. For now, this modern "Space Battleship Yamato" has two sequels, and it enjoys levels of popularity comparable to when it first appeared in the 70s.

7. "Gunbuster" 

The directorial debut of the Evangelion author

This anime is one of the initial works of the studio Gainax, which will later become famous for the revolutionary anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. "Gunbuster" takes place in the Space Training Academy for girls. The main character is Noriko Takaya, a high schooler who wants to become the best pilot in the school, following in her war hero father's footsteps. 

"Gunbuster" is the first anime that presented the unusual visual style of Gainax. The audience was exposed to flash animation, brilliant but weird visuals, and eccentric storytelling. This anime has everything an average anime viewer would want; there were aliens, giant robots, and pretty girls in questionable outfits. Additionally, "Gunbuster" was the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno. 

6. "Detroit Metal City"

Heavy metal, horror, and comedy at once

The main character of "Detroit Metal City" is Soichi Negishi, a fine and polite country boy who arrives in Tokyo with the ambition to become a pop singer. However, his ambition doesn't go as planned, and the only job in the music industry he could take is a frontman for the infamous "Detroit Metal City." DMC is an ultra-dark metal group glorifying violence, bestiality, and satanism. 

What comes next is the horrific story about poor Soichi trying to balance his real polite persona and the horrifying monster he's acting as on the stage. This OVA was made as a low-budget independent project, becoming one of the most favorite anime comedies. If you crave something that will test your tolerance to politically incorrect content, this one's for you. 

5. "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin" 

The prequel of Gundam uncovers the antagonist's past

This is another Gundam OVA, this time set in the past, before the great war between Earth and Zeon. The main character is Casval Rem Deikun, a prominent politician's son fighting for the rights of people who don't live on Earth. After his father's assassination, Casval and his sister Sayla's lives change for good. 

If Gundam is Japanese "Star Wars," The Origin OVA is the prequel trilogy. Therefore, we witness the transformation of a young, innocent boy into a ruthless, scary antagonist. Furthermore, we also see how the war between Earth and Zeon started and the events that led to the beginning of the first "Gundam." This OVA is the finest the Gundam franchise has to offer. 

4. "Golden Boy" 

One of the best anime comedies of all time

This anime is one of the strangest ever made but also very beloved, and has a memorable opening. Our main character is Kintaro Oe, a university dropout who wanders around Japan looking for manual jobs. Every episode, he meets a beautiful woman, falls for her, and then makes a complete fool of himself. However, thanks to his intelligence, courage, and madness, Kintaro prevails and wins the sympathy of the women. 

Kintaro's character makes him a fan favorite because he is so relatable to the target audience, older teenage and younger adult guys. He is clumsy, perverted, and imprudent, but beneath that unsightly exterior beats a heart of gold. This is a hilarious comedy and one of the most explicit anime shows ever made, stacked to the rafters with obscenity and hilarity.

3. "Hellsing Ultimate"

Vampire hunters fight Nazi zombies; how cool is that?

The original Hellsing OVA arrived in 2003 before Hirano Kouta finished his manga. The first Hellsing anime excelled with style and cool factor despite being unfinished. Three years later, Hellsing OVA started, trying to make up for it. 

The main characters are Integra, the granddaughter of Abraham Hellsing, and Alucard, a mysterious vampire hunter with horrific powers. Two of them lead the Hellsing Organization in a fight against Nazi zombies. What comes next is a mixture of frantic action, horror, comedy, and bizarreness. This OVA even has an abridged version, which at moments surpasses the original. 


One of the best coming of age stories in anime

FLCL is one of the weirdest works made by Gainax, which says a lot. This anime was made as an antidote to the Evangelion series to raise the animators' spirit after grueling and depressing work. The main character is a boy called Noata, who lives in a boring town next to a factory. His life suddenly becomes a hot mess after a Vespa-riding, guitar-wielding girl barges into it. 

FLCL is one of the craziest OVAs in terms of action. Consequently, all six episodes are frantic and outlandishly awesome. Our main character is the central point of the alien robot war in a small town. Except for fantastic action, FLCL is one of the best Coming of Age stories ever told in anime. Additionally, it has one of the best anime soundtracks, thanks to a J-rock band, The Pillows.

1. The Legend of the Galactic Heroes 

The best anime of all time, and one of the best anything ever

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the longest-running OVA from 1987 to 1996. It is also the best anime of all time and among the best works of fiction overall. This story is about the galactic war spanning four centuries between the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire. Each side has its own hero, which serves as a protagonist. 

The Alliance has Yang Wen Li, a brilliant historian turned military officer, and on the other side is Reinhard von Lohengramm, a young noble with the ambition of conquering the galaxy. The clash between these two brilliant minds is the center point of this huge story. This anime might sound intimidating, but it is well worth your time.

Original video animation format usually means the content is too explicit to be shown on Japanese television. During the 90s, OVA movies and series pushed the boundaries of animation in terms of violence and sexual content. However, amid all that obscenity, some true gems could be found. Therefore, these top ten OVA anime shows contain some of the best works in the medium. 

What's your favorite anime OVA? Which OVAs would you add to this top ten list?

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