BACKGROUND: Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is expected to provide fast and comfortable recovery, plus an early return to normal daily activities. This study was carried out to compare the characteristics of recovery after VATS in patients anesthetized with isoflurane, enflurane or propofol. METHODS: Sixty patients undergoing VATS were allocated randomly to receive propofol-N2O, isoflurane-N2O or enflurane-N2O anesthesia. The time between the end of anesthesia and extubation were compared. The orientation, cooperation and degree of sedation in Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) were recorded 5, 10, 30 and 60 min after anesthesia. Recovery was also evaluated by the P-deletion test (PDT) and Digit Symbol Substitution test (DSST) 30, 60 and 120 min after anesthesia for the comparison of the recovery of cognitive and psychomotor function. RESULTS: Early recovery was significantly (P < 0.05) faster in the propofol group (orientation, cooperation and degree of sedation in 10 min) when compared to the isoflurane and enflurane groups, but there was no significant difference in the other parameters of recovery. CONCLUSIONS: The authors concluded that although propofol was associated with faster emergence from anesthesia than enflurane and isoflurane after VATS, recovery of cognitive and psychomotor function were similar in the three anesthetic groups.