#1. Spirited Away
© Studio Ghibli
Spirited Away is a Japanese anime film from 2001 written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The movie is about a girl named Chihiro Ogiono, a gloomy 10 year old girl who is moving with her family to a new town. On the way, the family enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs, Chihiro has to learn how to take care of herself and she takes a job at a bathhouse. She has to find a way to escape the spirit world and return to the human world. With a budget of 19 million dollars the production began in 2000. While making the movie, Miyazaki realized the movie was going to be over three hours long, so some parts had to be cut out. The film was released in June 2001 and it became the most successful film in Japanese history. The movie made 289 dollars worldwide and receive excellent reviews. In 2016, the film was voted #4 best film of the 21st century, 177 film critics from around the world were judging.
#2. Your Name
Photo Credit: kiminona.com
Your Name or Kimi no Na wa is an animated youth science fiction fantasy film from 2016. It was written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, with animation by CoMix Wave Films and distributed by Toho. The film is based off the novel written by Shinkai and Radwimps composed the music for the film. The film premiered at the Anime Expo 2016 convention in Los Angeles in July 2016 and premiered in Japan in August 2016. The movie starts with Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu, Taki lives in the city and Mitsuha lives in the country side. One day they realize they have switched bodies, but they don’t know who the other person is. The two communicate through paper notes and text messages. They get used to switching bodies and help each other out but later an accident happens and things change.
#3. Summer Wars
Photo Credit: s-wars.jp
Summer Wars is an animated science fiction film from 2009. It was directed by Mamoru Hosoda, animated by Madhouse, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film is about a timid boy named Kenji Koiso, he is taken to Ueda by another students to celebrate a birthday. However he is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world by a sadistic artificial intelligence program named Love Machine. Kenji must repair the damage done and stop the computer program before it causes anymore damage. Hosoda and writer Satokp Okudera created a story about a social network and a stranger’s connection with a family. The real-life city of Ueda was chosen because a part of the territory was once controlled by the Sanada clan and it is close to Hosoda’s birthplace in Toyama. Summer Wars premiered in Japan in August 2009. It grossed over $1 million US dollars in the opening weekend. The film was well-reviewed by critics and the general audience. It won several awards such as the 2010 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival’s Animation Division Grand Prize, the Anaheim International Film Festival’s Audience Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for the 2009 Golden Leopard award at the Locarno International Film Festival.
Photo Credit: bandaivisual.co.jp
Akira is an animated science fiction film from 1988 directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film is based on Otomo’s manga, though it focuses on the first half of the story. The film is about a dystonian version of Tokyo set in 2019. The film focuses on teenage biker Tetsuo Shima, he has mystic powers and the leader of his bike gang Shotaro Kaneda. The character designs and settings were adapted from the manga, but the plot differs. The movie is considered a cult film and one of the greatest animated and science fiction movies of all times.
#5. Ghost in the Shell
© Production I.G
Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction animated movie from 1995. It was written by Kazunori Ito, directed by Mamoru Oshii, and animated by Production I.G. The film is about public security agents chasing after a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. Motoko Kusanagi and her team tack and find the suspect, but they are lured into a trap set by the Puppet Master. The music was composed by Kenji Kawai and he included an ancient Japanese language in a wedding song. It was included in an important scene leading up to the climax. The movie is considered one of the greatest anime movies of all times, critics praised the CG animation. In 2004, Oshii directed Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, it was made as a separate work, not as a sequel. A live action Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell is scheduled for 2017.
©2006 MADHOUSE/Sony Pictures Entertainment(Japan) Inc.
Paprika is a Japanese anime movie from 2006. This science fiction movie was co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon. The film is based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1993 novel with the same name. The story is about a research psychologist who uses a device that permits therapist to help patients by entering their dreams. This was Kon’s fourth and final film before his death in 2010. Paprika received positive reviews from film critics. The film won the Best Feature Length Theatrical Anime Award at the sixth-annual Tokyo Anime Awards during the 2007 Tokyo International Anime Fair.
#7. My Neighbor Totoro
© Studio Ghibli
My Neighbor Totoro is a Japanese anime film from 1988, this fantasy film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film focuses on Satsuki, Mei, and their father, it shows how they deal with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. In 1988 the film won three words, the Mainichi Film Award, the Kinema Junpo Award, and the Blue Ribbon Awards. The movie was once dubbed by Fox video but their version expired and it was re-released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2006. The Disney version was the first to have both Japanese and English audio. The movie and the character Totoro became a cultural icon.
#8. Garden of Words
Photo Credit: kotonohanoniwa.jp
The Garden of Words is an animated drama film from 2013. The film was directed, written, and edited by Makoto Shinkai. Many of the scenes are set in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Takao Akizuki is a 15 year old boy wanting to become a shoe makers and Yukari Yukino is a mysterious 27 year old women. The two only meet at Shinjuku Gyoen on rainy days. The age difference and personalities show how awkward people mature and grow. The movie premiered at the Gold Coast Film Festival in Australia in April 2013 and released in Japan in May 2013. The film has an usual release because it was digitally released on iTunes on the same day as the theatrical release in Japan. It ranked very high on the iTunes store and was selected as the Year’s Best Animation in iTunes’ Best of 2013. It won the 2013 Kobe Theatrical Film Award, multiple awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film award.
#9. Grave of the Fireflies
© Studio Ghibli
Grave of the Fireflies is a Japanese anime film from 1988 written and directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli. This movie is commonly described as an anti-war film, but the director has denied this interpretation. It is based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story “Grave of the Fireflies” by Akiyuki Nosaka. The movie is set in Kobe, Japan and the film tells the story of two siblings Seita and Setsuko. They are desperately trying to survive during the final months of World War II. In 2005 and 2008 there was two live-action remakes based off the book.
#10. Howl’s Moving Castle
© Studio Ghibli
Howl’s Moving Caste is a Japanese animated film from 2004, this fantasy film was scripted and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones. The film was produced by Toshio Suzuki, animated by Studio Ghibli, and distributed by Toho. The film is set in a fictional kingdom where both magic and technology from the 19th century are prevalent, with the backdrop of war with another kingdom. The main character is a young girl named Sophie, she is turned into an old women by a witch and later she encounters a wizard named Howl. Sophie gets caught up in Howl’s lifestyle while trying to break her curse. This movie was influenced by Miyazaki’s opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 so the movie has anti-war themes. Miyazaki commented that he was deeply upset about the Iraq war, and that is why he felt the movie received poor reviews in the United States. There are also themes of age positivity and feminist views. In 2013 Miyazaki said this film was his favorite, saying that he wanted to make a film that gave a message about living life. The movie and the book are significantly different. The book focuses on challenging class and gender norms. The movie focuses on love, personal loyalty, and the destructive effects of war.
#11. Princess Mononoke
© Studio Ghibli
Princess Mononoke is a Japanese anime movie from 1997. This epic historical fantasy anime film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film was animated by Studio Ghibli and produced by Toshio Suzuki. Princess Mononoke is set in the late Muromachi period (approximately 1336 to 1573) of Japan with fantasy elements. The film is about the young warrior Emishi Ashitaka’s involvement in a struggle between forest gods and the human wanting to control the resources. The term “mononoke” is not a name, but it means spirit or monster. This film has a darker and more violent setting than other Studio Ghibli films. The film was released in Japan in July 1997 an in the United States in October 1999. It was the highest grossing film in 1997 and the highest grossing film of all time until Titanic was released. It was dubbed in North America by Miramax and despite the poor box office performance, the popularity of Studio Ghibli increased.
#12. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Photo Credit: kadokawa.co.jp
The Girl Who Leapt Throght Time is a Japanese movie from 2006. This animated science fiction romance film was produced by Madhouse. It was directed by Mamoru Hosoda and written by Satoko Okudera. The film is somewhat connected to the 1967 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. The story is very similar and the story is about a young girl who travels through time, the movie and book have different characters. The film was released in July 2006, the review were positive and the film won a number of awards. Kadokawa Pictures U.S. released a dubbed English version, then Bandai Entertainment re-released it in 2008, and again in 2016 Funimation released it.
#13. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
© Studio Ghibli
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a Japanese movie from 1984, is based on a manga from 1982. This science fantasy adventure film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Topcraft animated, Isao Takahata produced the film for Tokuma Shoten and Hakuhodo. The musical score was composed by Joe Hisaishi. This film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world far into the future, the story is about Nausicaa the young princess of the Valley of the Wind. She gets involved with the Tolmekia kingdom, the kingdom is trying to use an ancient to eradicate a jungle of mutant giant insects. She attempts to try and stop the Tolmekians from killing the creatures. The film was released in Japan in March 1984. This film was created before Studio Ghibli was founded, it is said that this film was the beginning of the studio. This film is ranked as one of the best animated films of all time for the story, themes, characters, and the animation.
#14. 5 Centimeters Per Second
© Makoto Shinkai/CoMix Wave
5 Centimeters Per Second is a Japanese anime movie from 2007. The romantic drama film was written and directed by Makato Shinkai. The first part of the film was released on Yahoo! Japan as a streaming video to Yahoo! Premium members. In March 2007, the full film was featured at Cinema Rise in Shibuya, Tokyo. The film is comprised of three segments, “Cherry Blossom”, “Cosmonaut”, and 5 Centimeters Per Second”. The story is set in Japan starting in the 1990s up until present say. The main character is a boy named Takaki Tono. The first act takes place in a time where cell phones and emails were uncommon. Takaki meets a girl named Akari and they become very close in elementary school. Akari moves to Tochigi prefecture due to her parent’s job and the two stay in contact by writing letters. Over the years they lose contact but one day they meet up again. The director Makoto Shinkai, commented that unlike his past works this movie doesn’t have any science fiction elements. This is a very realistic movie about time, space, people, and love.
#15. Tokyo Godfathers
©2003 Satoshi Kon_Mad House/Tokyo Godfathers Committee.
Tokyo Godfathers is a Japanese film from 2003, this comedy drama was directed by Satoshi Kon, and it is loosely based on Peter B. Kyne’s novel “Three Godfathers”. The story is about an alcoholic named Gin, a dependent runaway girl Miyuki, and a trans women and a former drag queen Hana. These three find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. They set out to find the baby’s parents while facing large obstacle along the way. This is a movie about coincidences and how bonds are formed. In 2003 Tokyo Godfathers received an Excellence Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival, it also won Best Animation Film at the 58th Mainichi Film Awards.
#16. Wolf Children
Photo Credit: ookamikodomo.jp
Wolf Children is an animated fantasy film from 20102 directed and co-written by Mamoru Hosoda. Studio Chizu was created by Hosoda to create the film, the film premiered in Paris in June 2012 and was released in Japan in July 2012. Funimation received licensing and was released in the United States in November 2013. Hana falls in love while in college and her lover is a werewolf, they have two children and they are half wolf. Part way through, the father is killed while hunting for food. The children, Yuki and Ame are a handful and Hana tries to hid the fact that they are part wolf. She moves the family to the country side and they live a somewhat peaceful life.
#17. Castle in the Sky
© Studio Ghibli
Castle in the Sky is an animated movie from 1986, the adventure film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was the first film produced and released by Studio Ghibli. It won the Animage Anime Grand Prix in 1986. The film takes place in a world where people built flying cities. A catastrophe happens to destroy all of the beautiful creations and humans must live on the ground again. Despite the collapse, people are still passionate about flying and exploring the skies with aircraft. A girl names Sheeta is abducted by a government agent Muska. When they are attacked by pirates, Sheeta tries to escape. Sheeta falls out, but is saved by magic and she is found b a boy names Pazu. Sheeta and Pazu learn that Sheeta’s amulet is linked to a legendary castle in the flying city. The two set out to discover the flying castle before the evil people do.
Photo Credit: steamboy.net
Steamboy is an animated steampunk action film from 2004. The film was directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, his second major project after Akira. Steamboy was one of the most expensive movies to animate to this day, it was in production for ten years, and used more than 180,000 drawings and 440 CG cuts. The film is about Ray who is a young inventor in Victorian England. His life completely changes when he gets a package form the United States sent by his grandfather, Lloyd Steam. The package contains something called a steam ball, it is a powerful device that can dry any machine that requires steam, with a nearly limitless amount of energy. Ray is instructed to not let the Steam Ball fall into the wrong hands and it is a chase between good and evil people trying to capture the Steam Ball.
#19. Kiki’s Delivery Service
© Studio Ghibli
Kiki’s Delivery Service is an animated fantasy film from 1989. It was produced by Studio Ghibli, written, produced, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is an adaption from the 1985 novel by Eiko Kadono. The film is about a young witch named Kiki, she moves to a new town and uses her flying ability to earn a living. Miyazaki said that he wanted to show the different between Independence and reliance in teenage Japanese girls. The film was released in July 1989 in Japan and it won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize. One of the major themes in this movie is Kiki transforming into an adult, she has her parents support but faces hardships along the way. Most of the time witchcraft is used to fulfill people’s dreams but she can not use her power when in distress.
#20. The Sky Crawlers
Photo Credit: sky.crawlers.jp
The Sky Crawlers is an animated film from 2008. This film is an adaption of Hiroshi Mori’s novel. The film is centered around an alternate timeline, somehow the world has seemingly achieved peace. Instead of wars, leaders has peaceful conversations. Yuuichi Kannami is a recent transfer and is contracted to be a fighter pilot. When he spends more time on base, things become mysterious.