What is now Nippon Animation is descended from Zuiyo Eizo (Zuiyo Enterprises), an animation studio that produced several popular series in the early and mid-1970s, including 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps, an adaptation of Johanna Spyri's popular children's book Heidi. The Heidi anime was enormously popular in Japan (and later in Europe, and the feature-length edit of the TV series saw a U.S. VHS release in 1985). Zuiyo Eizo soon found itself in financial trouble because of the high production costs of a series (presumably Maya the Bee) it was attempting to sell to the European market.
In 1975, Zuiyo Eizo was split into two entities: Zuiyo (not Zuiyo Eizo), which absorbed the debt and the rights to the Heidi anime, and Nippon Animation, which was essentially Zuiyo Eizo's production staff (including Miyazaki and Takahata). Officially, Nippon Animation Co., Ltd. was established in June 1975 by company president Koichi Motohashi. The newly rechristened Nippon Animation found success right away with Maya the Bee and A Dog of Flanders (both of which began as Zuiyo Eizo productions), which became the first entry in the World Masterpiece Theater series to be produced under the Nippon Animation name. Hayao Miyazaki left Nippon Animation in 1979 in the middle of the production of Anne of Green Gables to make the Lupin III feature The Castle of Cagliostro.
In addition to the World Masterpiece Theater series, Nippon Animation has also produced many other series based on Western works of literature, as well as original works and adaptations of Japanese manga. Many of these are included in the list of the studio's works below.
Of the studio's productions not based on Western literature, the most popular is undoubtedly Chibi Maruko-chan (1990), based on the popular manga by Momoko Sakura. At its peak, this slice-of-life anime about an unusually intelligent elementary-school-aged girl and her family and friends managed an audience rating of nearly 40%, making it one of the highest-rated anime series ever (and the highest-rated anime program in Japanese history at the time).