When it comes to animation I’m sure you’re familiar with the top players such as Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and even new comers such as Illumination Studios. All these studios create high quality and emotionally touching films. However, there is one studio you may not be too familiar with that outshines all of them in terms of artistic imagery and visual storytelling. Hayao Miyazaki founded the Japanese-rooted Studio Ghibli back in June 1985. Since then, each of his films served a moral purpose. They include a lesson that fans of all ages can understand and appreciate. Paired with legendary artistry, their love and attention to detail place Ghibli’s movies at the top of animated cinematic history.
Today we’ll cover the best of 22 animated films released by Studio Ghibli, ranked from good to better to best. These films hold a special place in my heart. Some of them got me through bad breakups, family issues, and college. I’ve cried through some and laughed through others. I will never forget how these films moved me, how someone cared enough to create something to help those watching to navigate life’s many hurdles. Although not everyone will feel the same, one thing is for certain: Studio Ghibli movies are beautiful to watch.
22. Tales From Earthsea
Japanese Title: ゲド戦記
Aired: Jul 29, 2006
Inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy novels, Tales from Earthsea is about a watery world of mages and dragons. Yet they are given a refreshing adaptation by the younger Miyazaki. One of my favorite things about this movie is the stunning set pieces used throughout the film. It’s visually stunning, full of breathtaking animation and truly worth watching.
Synopsis: Something bizarre has come over the land. The kingdom is deteriorating. People are beginning to act strange… What’s even more strange is that people are beginning to see dragons, which shouldn’t enter the world of humans. Due to all these bizarre events, Ged, a wandering wizard, is investigating the cause. During his journey, he meets Prince Lebannen, a young distraught teenage boy. While Lebannen may look like a shy young teen, he has a severe dark side, which grants him strength, hatred, ruthlessness and has no mercy, especially when it comes to protecting Tehanu. For the witch Kumo this is a perfect opportunity. He can use the boy’s “fears” against the very one who would help him, Ged.
21. Ocean Waves
Aired: May 5, 1993
Ocean Waves conflicted me for several reasons. Not that it’s a bad film but the movie lacks direction for me. A majority of the story features flashbacks and at times transitions to present day. This film relies strongly on nostalgia and uses its flashbacks to help viewers connect with its characters. Although I found it very hard to understand these characters, the animation is still just as good as any Studio Ghibli film. I fear casual viewers won’t find this movie good enough to want to watch twice. Once again, this isn’t a bad movie by any means. But it’s not a great movie either.
Synopsis: Ocean Waves is a high school love story set in Kochi, Japan. Morisaki Taku and Matsuno Yutaka are best friends when a girl from Tokyo named Muto Rikako transfers to their school. Excluding herself from group activities, she’s eventually labeled a snob. Matsuno has a crush on Rikako, so it’s no surprise that he gets a little jealous when Morisaki and Rikako start spending more time together. The rumors around school get worse, but Morisaki still insists there is nothing between him and Rikako.
20. When Marnie Was There
Japanese Title: 思い出のマーニー
Aired: Jul 19, 2014
When Marnie Was There presents a beautiful mystery and a beautiful friendship. It may quite possibly be one of the most heart-wrenching films I’ve ever seen in my life. This is the latest movie to come out of the beloved studio and does an exceptional job telling a coming-of-age story of a young girl. It’s mature in its approach and explores some of the deepest, darkest emotions a kid can go through. I think all parents should allow their kids to see this film because the message it delivers is so vital. As with all Studio Ghibli films, the animation is second to none. The story is so well put together and the ending will leave you emotional and speechless. My only gripe with this film is how puzzling the story can get at times, though it eventually all comes together in the end.
Synopsis: Suffering from frequent asthma attacks, young Anna Sasaki is quiet, unsociable, and isolated from her peers, causing her foster parent endless worry. Upon recommendation by the doctor, Anna is sent to the countryside, in hope that the cleaner air and more relaxing lifestyle will improve her health and help clear her mind. Engaging in her passion for sketching, Anna spends her summer days living with her aunt and uncle in a small town near the sea.
One day while wandering outside, Anna discovers an abandoned mansion known as the Marsh House. However, she soon finds that the residence isn’t as vacant as it appears to be, running into a mysterious girl named Marnie. Marnie’s bubbly demeanor slowly begins to draw Anna out of her shell as she returns night after night to meet with her new friend. But it seems there is more to the strange girl than meets the eye—as her time in the town nears its end, Anna begins to discover the truth behind the walls of the Marsh House.
Omoide no Marnie tells the touching story of a young girl’s journey through self-discovery and friendship, and the summer that she will remember for the rest of her life.
19. The Secret World of Arrietty
Aired: Jul 17, 2010
Studio Ghibli gives us their adaptation of “The Borrowers”. This was a longtime goal for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. When Studio Ghibli finally undertook it, they put Hiromasa Yonebayashi in the directors chair. A teenage boy visits his mother’s childhood home and finds tiny people living under the floorboards. What I love most about this movie is the change in perspective we receive and how everyday things for us can pose as real threats for Arrietty and her family.
Synopsis: The world can be a very scary place when you’re small. For Arrietty, though, the only real fear in life is in missing out on a big adventure. 14-year-old Arrietty and her parents live in the small spaces of a human garden. They are what some might call “borrowers”; they take items from the human world to eke out a living amidst the shadows.
Their existence goes mostly undiscovered until the arrival of 12-year-old Shou. When Shou begins to notice small things going missing, he becomes suspicious. He soon meets Arrietty and strikes up a friendship that neither of them could have seen coming. However, this is a friendship fraught with danger due to the obvious risk of Arrietty and her family’s discovery, something that could send the borrowers right into the hands of those that would do them harm. In Karigurashi no Arrietty, Studio Ghibli presents audiences with a beautiful look at the human world… from a much smaller perspective.
18. From Up on Poppy Hill
Japanese Title: コクリコ坂から
Aired: Jul 16, 2011
Hayao Miyazaki and his son Goro Miyazaki collaborated on this film and while it isn’t my favorite Studio Ghibli film per say. It does feature my second favorite soundtrack of any Studio Ghibli film. Second only to Spirited Away. The film is bouncy and energetic and the music that goes along with it is jazzy, upbeat and full of life. With this being the first collaboration between father and son you have to appreciate this film for its beautiful animation, lovable characters and awesome soundtrack. Although this film focuses on reality, Miyazaki proves his reality centric films are just as endearing as his fantasy-based ones.
Synopsis: Atop a hill overlooking a seaside port sits a boarding house named Coquelicot Manor. Since the building is run by her family, Umi Matsuzaki carries out many of the duties involved in managing the small establishment, such as preparing meals for her fellow boarders. When she isn’t at home, she is a student at the local high school—one that is currently dealing with a small crisis.
In anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games, a beloved old clubhouse is set to be demolished to make way for a modern building. As a result, a large part of the student body has banded together, working tirelessly to prevent this from happening. Umi finds herself helping the newspaper club to spread information about this cause where she befriends Shun Kazama, whom she gradually begins to fall in love with. But Shun is an orphan who doesn’t know much about his origins, and when the two begin searching for clues to the boy’s past, they discover that they may have a lot more in common than either of them could have thought.
17. Whisper Of The Heart
Japanese Title: 耳をすませば
Aired: Jul 15, 1995
Whisper of the heart is a deeply personal story about creativity and the ups and downs of teenage love with a few dream sequences for added fun. This film is one of the first films to be directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. It’s a gorgeous and it showed the promise of Yoshifumi Kondō who sadly passed away shortly after the film’s completion. The movies dream sequences also inspired a spinoff film in 2002’s The Cat Returns.
Synopsis: Shizuku Tsukishima is a free-spirited and cheerful 14-year-old girl who is currently enjoying her summer vacation. She loves spending her free time at the local library where she notices that the books she reads are often checked out by a boy named Seiji Amasawa.
One day while riding the local train, Shizuku notices a strange cat sitting near her. Why would an ordinary cat ride a train? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can also seriously harm a young girl. Shizuku decides to follow the mysterious cat to see where it goes, and soon stumbles upon an antique shop run by a violin maker named Nishi, the grandfather of the mystery boy who shares her taste in literature. Seiji and Shizuku soon become friends and while Seiji is sure of his dreams and how to follow them, Shizuku is still unsure of her own talents. However, when she sees a strange cat statuette, “The Baron,” in the shop, it seems as if that statuette whispers something to her, tugging at her heart and giving her the inspiration she so desperately needed. One voice pushes Shizuku further than she could have ever imagined, changing her life forever.
16. Grave Of The Fireflies
Japanese Title: 火垂るの墓
Aired: Apr 16, 1988
Set during the tail end of World War II, Grave Of The Fireflies follows siblings Seita and Setsuko as they try to survive a war-torn Japan. Many consider this film to be one of the most heartbreaking anime of all time. The film is a harsh realistic look at youth struggling to get by in the darkest of times. It will definitely bring a tear to your eye, as the film stays consistent to its tone but the animation no less has earned it considerable praise. Much like Whisper of the Heart, Grave Of The Fireflies proved that Studio Ghibli could not only turn out great fantasy but also heart-tugging tragedy and truth at the same time.
Synopsis: As World War II reaches its conclusion in 1945, Japan faces widespread destruction in the form of American bombings, devastating city after city. Hotaru no Haka, also known as Grave of the Fireflies, is the story of Seita and his sister Setsuko, two Japanese children whose lives are ravaged by the brutal war. They have lost their mother, their father, their home, and the prospect of a bright future—all tragic consequences of the war.
Now orphaned and homeless, Seita and Setsuko have no choice but to drift across the countryside, beset by starvation and disease. Met with the apathy of adults along the way, they find that desperate circumstances can turn even the kindest of people cruel yet their youthful hope shines brightly in the face of unrelenting hardship, preventing the siblings from swiftly succumbing to an inevitable fate.
15. The Cat Returns
Japanese Title: 猫の恩返し
Aired: Jul 20, 2002
Hiroyuki Morita’s spinoff from Studio Ghibli’s 1995 film Whisper Of The Heart just might be the best non-Miyazaki, non-Takahata Ghibli feature. The movie takes place in the nocturnal kingdom of hipster felines, in a story that echoes of “Alice in Wonderland” and the novels of Haruki Murakami. There’s not much character development in this film but much isn’t needed to make this film enjoyable. Furthermore, I wasn’t sold on the relationship between the Baron and Haru as the relationship seemed forced. What saves this film is just how cool and suave the Baron is. He just radiates coolness and toughness and his character single-handedly makes up for some of the films shortcomings.
Synopsis: Haru Yoshioka is your ordinary high school girl who has trouble making decisions for herself. One day, she spots a strange cat crossing the road with a small present… and a truck headed straight for it! Haru doesn’t even stop to think before jumping in front of the truck and getting them both to safety.
This one selfless act initiates a chain of events that sends Haru on an epic adventure. The cat she saved turns out to be no ordinary feline, but Lune, Prince of the Cats. In honor of her bravery and for saving his life, he offers to marry her. Haru mutters a reply which is taken to be a “yes,” and for better or for worse, her fate is sealed.
Alongside her cat companions Muta and the Baron, she’s aided from above by a raven named Toto, and must travel to the cat world in order to rectify this misunderstanding. Her journey is tougher than it seems: If she cannot escape from the claws of the King of the Cats and find her true self, she will be turned into a cat forever. Haru may start off as an everyday girl, but after her descent into the world of cats, she returns a different beast entirely.
14. The Wind Rises
Japanese Title: 風立ちぬ
Aired: Jul 20, 2013
I love this film for everything it stands for. Jirou Horikoshi has a dream of flying and making airplanes. What I feel is so important about this film is how imperative it is for us to hold on to our dreams and live everyday doing our best to turn those dreams into reality. That is the artistic standpoint of this character. When he looks at things he sees how they can be included in the making and designing of an aircraft. That is why this film perfectly captures the awe and wonderment of a child and then the later vision of an adult trying to maintain this dream he’s had his entire life. In addition, there’s a romance in this film I thought was beautifully handled, extremely sweet and very realistic especially for its time period.
Synopsis: Mr. Miyazaki’s last movie so far is also his most straightforward and probably his least involving, though its images of life in 1930s and ’40s Japan and of early aviation are beautiful and interesting in their own right. (And there’s a terrifically kinetic earthquake.) Based on the life of an airplane designer whose pure love of flight resulted in deadly fighter planes for the Japanese air force, it continues the fascination with soaring motion that Mr. Miyazaki has indulged in several films beginning with “Nausicaa.”
Before the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, before the great war that tore Japan asunder, Jirou Horikoshi lived in a world of dreams – dreams of flight, and dreams of making the world a better place.
Kaze Tachinu is the story of the man who created the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, the most famous airplane in Japanese history. From his childhood in Fujioka, Jirou dreamed of designing flying machines like his hero, Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Battista Caproni. Through disaster, romance, war and loss, Jirou continues to chase that dream – learning along the way that once released into the world, dreams can take on a very different shape.
13. Only Yesterday
Japanese Title: おもひでぽろぽろ
Aired: Jul 20, 1991
Taeko Okajima’s recollection of her days in grade-school gives viewers a feeling of familiarity and intimacy with the protagonist on par with any live action production. One unique animation style you’ll notice is in almost every scene involving an extended flashback on the part of Taeko as an adult recalling her days in grade-school. The edges of the frame in any given shot are indefinite, inexact, eventually fading into a white background evocative of an unpainted canvas which is something I’ve never seen before. In cinematic graphic form, Only Yesterday is truly Japanese in its identity. What I enjoyed most is how relatable the characters in this film were and in typical Studio Ghibli fashion you eventually fall in love with them.
Synopsis: Omoide Poroporo is the story of Taeko Okajima, a twenty-something woman currently working as an office lady for a large company in Tokyo. She decides to a take a break from her life in the big city, and takes a trip out to the countryside to visit her brother-in-law.
During her time there, she will have a completely different experience, becoming intimately familiar with the hard work of a farmer while spending time with friendly villagers and family members. This atmosphere will bring back nostalgic memories. She will begin to remember once more her life as a child: puppy love, the awkward stages of adolescence, and the challenges of dealing with boys and math class.
The time spent away from the everyday grind will make Taeko question the path she has chosen.
Japanese Title: 崖の上のポニョ
Aired: Jul 19, 2008
This film is pretty much Mr. Miyazaki’s take on “The Little Mermaid.” Its phosphorescent underwater scenes and Hokusai-like waves are as lovely as anything he’s done. The animation is glorious! Seriously, the animation is truly jaw-dropping and in my opinion is without question the most vibrant and energetic animation I’ve seen from the studio thus far. It’s constantly in motion especially during the storm scenes. The story, though, is less intense and more sentimental than his best work. What made this film standout for me was the theatrical score, it’s so damn epic. It complements the animation in every way making this film a must watch.
Synopsis: A lonely little boy named Sousuke lives with his mother by the sea, flashing messages across the water to his father’s boat. One day, amid the detritus brought in with the tide, he stumbles upon a little goldfish. Delighted by this strange new friend, he takes her home and names her Ponyo. Sousuke comes to learn, however, that Ponyo is no ordinary fish. A visit from a strange man brings with it fantastical happenings that lead Sousuke and Ponyo on an enlightening adventure.
In Gake no Ue no Ponyo, magic and reality clash around Ponyo and Sousuke, testing their resolve. Despite the trials they face, Ponyo and Sousuke form a strong friendship. They meet many interesting characters, and learn just as many lessons from them.
11. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Japanese Title: 風の谷のナウシカ
Aired: Mar 11, 1984
So this one is somewhat of a cheat because this film released just prior to the founding of Studio Ghibli but it still showcases the studios high quality animation style and signature characters. Featuring themes of environmentalism and empowering young girls to save the day. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is loved by fans of all ages despite being released before Studio Ghibli’s inception. It’s still regarded as one of their films, as such the film has been released on Blu-Ray and DVD under the studio’s banner. It makes sense as the studio most likely would’ve never existed if not for this film.
Synopsis: A millennium has passed since the catastrophic nuclear war named the “Seven Days of Fire,” which destroyed nearly all life on Earth. Humanity now lives in a constant struggle against the treacherous jungle that has evolved in response to the destruction caused by mankind. Filled with poisonous spores and enormous insects, the jungle spreads rapidly across the Earth and threatens to swallow the remnants of the human race.
Away from the jungle exists a peaceful farming kingdom known as the “Valley of the Wind,” whose placement by the sea frees it from the spread of the jungle’s deadly toxins. The Valley’s charismatic young princess, Nausicaä, finds her tranquil kingdom disturbed when an airship from the kingdom of Tolmekia crashes violently in the Valley. After Nausicaä and the citizens of the Valley find a sinister pulsating object in the wreckage, the Valley is suddenly invaded by the Tolmekian military, who intend to revive a dangerous weapon from the Seven Days of Fire. Now Nausicaä must fight to stop the Tolmekians from plunging the Earth into a cataclysm which humanity could never survive, while also protecting the Valley from the encroaching forces of the toxic jungle.
10. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Japanese Title: かぐや姫の物語
Aired: Nov 23, 2013
One of the first things you’ll notice about this film is how unbelievably gorgeous the animation is. It boasts an impressive art direction by utilizing the ink washing style. It’s clear that this is some of the best animation that Studio Ghibli has put out to date. It was nominated for Best Animated feature but unfortunately it didn’t win.
Synopsis: Deep in the countryside, a man named Okina works as a bamboo cutter in a forest, chopping away at the hollow plants day after day. One day, he discovers a small baby inside a glowing shoot. He immediately takes her home, convinced that she is a princess sent to Earth as a divine blessing from heaven. Okina and his wife Ouna take it upon themselves to raise the infant as their own, watching over her as she quickly grows into an energetic young girl. Given the name Kaguya, she fits right in with the village she has come to call home, going on adventures with the other children and enjoying what youth has to offer.
But when Okina finds a large fortune of gold and treasure in the forest, Kaguya’s life is completely changed. Believing this to be yet another gift from heaven, he takes it upon himself to turn his daughter into a real princess using the wealth he has just obtained, relocating the family to a mansion in the capital. As she leaves her friends behind to enter into an unwanted life of royalty, Kaguya’s origins and purpose slowly come to light.
9. Pom Poko
Japanese Title: 平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ
Aired: Jun 13, 1994
Isao Takahata does an amazing job with this film while slightly stepping away from the traditional Studio Ghibli animation style. This film serves a unique purpose of helping viewers understand that although we are somewhat an advanced, we need to focus on what happens to our wildlife as we continue to develop as the human race. Takahata mixes several animation styles in this film, similar to what you’d see when watching My Neighbors the Yamadas and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya with a mix of the animation style found in Grave Of The Fireflies. Love it or hate it, I think this films purpose makes it one of Studio Ghibli’s most important films.
Synopsis: Faced with the destruction of their habitat due to the growth of Tokyo, a group of tanuki try to defend their homes. They decide to use their transforming talents to try to hold back the new development. Two of them, especially skilled at transforming, are sent to Shikoku to enlist the help of three sages. Meanwhile, the rest of them do their best to disrupt the construction site, at first causing accidents, and then actually haunting the site. However, the humans are very persistent, and soon the tanuki are forced to use more and more extreme measures to save their home.
This is where it all began. The story of Pazu and Sheeta quest to find the fabled flying castle Laputa. Castle in the sky is the first official release from Studio Ghibli and many of the creative teams core elements are on full display. A deeply imaginative world, endearing main characters and excitement and danger at every turn. Plus it has Hayao Miyazaki in the directors seat. This was the film that set the course for Studio Ghibli’s resume for the next 30 years and it still holds up to the modern anime of today. Many call this a perfect adventure film and you can’t really argue with that statement.
Synopsis: In a world filled with planes and airships, Sheeta is a young girl who has been kidnapped by government agents who seek her mysterious crystal amulet. While trapped aboard an airship, she finds herself without hope—that is, until the ship is raided by pirates. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, Sheeta manages to flee from her captors. Upon her escape, she meets Pazu, a boy who dreams of reaching the fabled flying castle, Laputa. The two decide to embark on a journey together to discover this castle in the sky. However, they soon find the government agents back on their trail, as they too are trying to reach Laputa for their own greedy purposes.
Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa follows the soaring adventures of Sheeta and Pazu, all while they learn how dreams and dire circumstances can bring two people closer together.
7. Porco Rosso
Japanese Title: 紅の豚
Aired: Jul 18, 1992
I don’t have much to say about this film. This movie personifies what I love most about Studio Ghibli films. How they can make almost anything fun and interesting to watch. I never thought I could sit through an entire movie about a man-pig who happens to be an ace WWI fighter pilot for the Italian Air Force but sure enough Studio Ghibli did that for me. Porco is rich with character development and is a refreshing transition from the usual female lead roles we typically see in Studio Ghibli films. I really liked Porco and I also love the humor behind the “when pigs fly” concept because this is legitimately a movie about pigs flying.
Synopsis: Porco Rosso is a veteran WWI fighter pilot turned bounty hunter, who has been transformed into an anthropomorphic pig through a rare curse. He was once known as Marco Pagot while still in his human form, but took up a new alias which suits his current image better, “Red Pig.”
At the beginning of Kurenai no Buta, Porco is reunited with his long-time friend Gina at a hotel, and unexpectedly falls in love with her. Despite his strange form, Gina shows him all the affection that she can muster. But Porco has a love rival to deal with. An American ace fighter named Curtis is also after Gina’s heart, and although she rejects his proposals, he is not about to let her go so easily. During his return flight to Milan, Curtis sneaks up behind Porco’s plane and shoots him down. The plane is completely destroyed and Porco is proclaimed dead, but due to a stroke of luck, he barely managed to survive the crash, unbeknownst to others.
Porco must now continue his journey back by train, and suddenly discovers that there has been a warrant issued for his arrest in Italy. Not only does he need to find Gina, but he must also get his revenge and also deal with the oncoming war that threatens the whole of Europe.
6. My Neighbors the Yamadas
Japanese Title: ホーホケキョ となりの山田くん
Aired: Jul 17, 1999
This film really surprised me. It has its own unique feel and design language. The animation is simple yet beautiful. There are moments that are bursting with vitality and detail that make this film just as good as any of the films that came before it or after it. My Neighbors the Yamadas is a slice of life and doesn’t focus on just one story but instead tells multiple stories. It feels like a series of shorts that were bundled together to make one large story which is hard to do. I enjoyed this film from start to finish and I think fans of Studio Ghibli will enjoy it as well.
Synopsis: Join in the adventures of the quirky Yamada family—from the hilarious to the touching brilliantly presented in a unique, visually striking comic strip style. Takashi Yamada and his wacky wife Matsuko, who has no talent for housework, navigate their way through the ups and downs of work, marriage and family life with a sharp-tongued grandmother who lives with them, a teenage son who wishes he had cooler parents, and a pesky daughter whose loud voice is unusual for someone so small. Even the family dog has issues!
5. My Neighbor Totoro
Japanese Title: となりのトトロ
Aired: Apr 16, 1988
The same lovable monster known as Totoro has been Studio Ghibli’s mascot since the film debuted in 1988. Although the film doesn’t have much conflict, it’s really not needed to make this story great. Fans will enjoy the adorable bond between the siblings and the crazy adventures they get into with Totoro and his friends. This makes My Neighbor Totoro a film for all ages, plus it has a cat bus and who doesn’t love a cat bus.
Synopsis: In 1950s Japan, Tatsuo Kusakabe relocates himself and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, to the countryside to be closer to their mother, who is hospitalized due to long-term illness. As the girls grow acquainted with rural life, Mei encounters a small, bunny-like creature in the yard one day. Chasing it into the forest, she finds “Totoro”—a giant, mystical forest spirit whom she soon befriends. Before long, Satsuki too meets Totoro, and the two girls suddenly find their lives filled with magical adventures in nature and fantastical creatures of the woods.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Japanese Title: 魔女の宅急便
Aired: Jul 29, 1989
My sister introduced me to this film, it’s actually the first Studio Ghibli film I ever watched. Kiki is an instantly likable character with a drive and optimism that makes her a true role model for girls of all ages. The film also boast a good amount of humor, particularly from Kiki’s adorable sidekick Gigi. Furthermore the film features some awesome action scenes once Kiki kicks her broom into high-gear. Seeing Kiki overcome all obstacles personal or external is what makes this film so special.
Synopsis: Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training, must spend a year living on her own in a distant town in order to become a full-fledged witch. Leaving her family and friends, Kiki undertakes this tradition when she flies out into the open world atop her broomstick with her black cat Jiji.
As she settles down in the coastal town of Koriko, Kiki struggles to adapt and ends up wandering the streets with no place to stay—until she encounters Osono, who offers Kiki boarding in exchange for making deliveries for her small bakery. Before long, Kiki decides to open her own courier service by broomstick, beginning her journey to independence. In attempting to find her place among the townsfolk, Kiki brings with her exciting new experiences and comes to understand the true meaning of responsibility.
3. Princess Mononoke
Japanese Title: もののけ姫
Aired: Jul 12, 1997
Majestic, powerful, exciting and gorgeous. These are just a few of the words that come to mind when talking about Princess Mononoke. With stellar animation quality, a story of grandiose scale and strongly developed characters, it’s no wonder many consider this to be one of the greatest anime films of all time. The film is also noteworthy for being one of the studios more violent films. There’s a hefty amount of blood in this anime, so be careful if you plan on watching this with younger viewers.
Synopsis: When an Emishi village is attacked by a fierce demon boar, the young prince Ashitaka puts his life at stake to defend his tribe. With its dying breath, the beast curses the prince’s arm, granting him demonic powers while gradually siphoning his life away. Instructed by the village elders to travel westward for a cure, Ashitaka arrives at Tatara, the Iron Town, where he finds himself embroiled in a fierce conflict: Lady Eboshi of Tatara, promoting constant deforestation, stands against Princess San and the sacred spirits of the forest, who are furious at the destruction brought by the humans. As the opposing forces of nature and mankind begin to clash in a desperate struggle for survival, Ashitaka attempts to seek harmony between the two, all the while battling the latent demon inside of him. Princess Mononoke is a tale depicting the connection of technology and nature, while showing the path to harmony that could be achieved by mutual acceptance.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle
Japanese Title: ハウルの動く城
Aired: Nov 20, 2004
Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Studio Ghibli’s followup to their hit Spirited Away, Howl’s moving castle boasts some of the best quality animation the studio has to offer. Featuring themes of confidence building and innocent love. Howl’s Moving Castle was so great it even was nominated for Best Animated feature after its release. This film holds a special place in my heart as it helped me get over a bad breakup in college. It never gets old to me and the characters are timeless.
Synopsis: That jumbled piece of architecture, that cacophony of hissing steam and creaking joints, with smoke billowing from it as it moves on its own… That castle is home to the magnificent wizard Howl, infamous for both his magical prowess and for being a womanizer—or so the rumor goes in Sophie Hatter’s small town. Sophie, as the plain daughter of a hatmaker, does not expect much from her future and is content with working hard in the shop.
However, Sophie’s simple life takes a turn for the exciting when she is ensnared in a disturbing situation, and the mysterious wizard appears to rescue her. Unfortunately, this encounter, brief as it may be, spurs the vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste—in a fit of jealousy caused by a past discord with Howl—to put a curse on the maiden, turning her into an old woman.
In an endeavor to return to normal, Sophie must accompany Howl and a myriad of eccentric companions—ranging from a powerful fire demon to a hopping scarecrow—in his living castle, on a dangerous adventure as a raging war tears their kingdom apart.
1. Spirited Away
Japanese Title: 千と千尋の神隠し
Aired: Jul 20, 2001
This Miyazaki masterpiece is one of legend in the world of animation. Spirited away is a triumph of animation. There are so many creatures and workings parts to this world that every single frame is something of beauty. Spirited Away’s beautiful storytelling made it an accessible film even to those not familiar with the anime genre and went on to be the only anime film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Not even Akira could pull that off but like I said, this film is legendary.
Synopsis: Stubborn, spoiled, and naïve, 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino is less than pleased when she and her parents discover an abandoned amusement park on the way to their new house. Cautiously venturing inside, she realizes that there is more to this place than meets the eye, as strange things begin to happen once dusk falls. Ghostly apparitions and food that turns her parents into pigs are just the start—Chihiro has unwittingly crossed over into the spirit world. Now trapped, she must summon the courage to live and work amongst spirits, with the help of the enigmatic Haku and the cast of unique characters she meets along the way.
Vivid and intriguing, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi tells the story of Chihiro’s journey through an unfamiliar world as she strives to save her parents and return home.
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