It’s easy to overlook the profound impact that anime has had on the film industry. From sci-fi phenomena to action-heavy blockbusters, this Japanese form of animation has changed the meaning of entertainment in the decades since its inception roughly 100 years ago. For those looking into film studies or those who just want to watch something worthwhile, the following is a list of anime movies that will leave an indelible mark on you for years to come.
Best Anime Movies: A Silent Voice
A Silent Voice depicts the story of a troubled teenage who must come to terms with his past in order to move on and lead a more fulfilling life. He attempts to reconnect with the deaf girl he bullied in elementary school, going so far as to learn sign language to communicate with her. A tumultuous story unfolds that will pull at your heartstrings more than once because of how brutally relatable it could be. It ultimately reminds viewers that human beings are complex beings capable of change and how very few of us truly are evil.
Best Anime Movies: Your Name
Your Name was an international sensation that earned the attention of critics across the world for good reason. A boy and a girl are mysteriously linked to one another after a comet begins entering the Earth’s atmosphere. They slowly take on each other’s lives, helping one another achieve his and her own personal goals without ever meeting in real life. These swapping episodes come to an abrupt halt one day, and a far more dramatic purpose for each protagonist arises. While not very relatable, Your Name‘s romantic elements will make you wish that a sequel was in the works by now.
Best Anime Movies: Wolf Children
Perhaps the greatest anime movie released within the past 10 years, Wolf Children‘s premise is very silly on the surface. A hard-working student studying in a university one day notices a mysterious stranger walk into her classroom. She developers an interest for the silent man, gradually opening up and developing a relationship with him. The two fall in love, only for the woman to discover that the man is actually a shape-shifting werewolf.
Regardless, she decides to accept him for who he is, and they have a boy and girl together. When tragedy strikes one day, this new family must work together to figure out how to move forward. This incredible story of loss and perseverance demands to seen by everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re into anime.
Best Anime Movies: Spirited Away
Spirited Away is a masterpiece that tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who must venture through the spirit world in order to rescue her parents from being pigs forever. Legendary Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki manages to evoke so many themes over the course of the film while simultaneously delivering on a coherent plot that needs to experienced multiple times in order to fully understand. Regarded as one of the best animated films of all time, Spirited Away has something in store for everyone who views it, no matter their age.
Best Anime Movies: Akira
Akira is an iconic anime film that dares to come to terms with the ramifications of war and the impact of nuclear technology. It is, in many ways, reflective of Japan’s own fears following its participation in World War II. In Akira, a futuristic version of Tokyo is endangered when a secret military project turns a member of a biker gang into a serial killer. If you’re uninterested in the parallels the film makes to the real world, its entrancing visual style will most assuredly make an impression on you.
Best Anime Movies: Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies also explores the theme of war, though admittedly makes its impact using a less stylistic but more grounded approach. Appealing to the viewer’s emotion, it tells the tale of two brothers who must try their best to survive in a world torn apart by conflict. Perhaps one of the saddest anime movies ever made, Grave of the Fireflies will stay with you long after the credits roll as your humanity struggles to accept the belligerent nature within us all.
Best Anime Movies: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind laid the foundation for Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial career, going on to have a presence in nearly every movie the man made thereafter. Heavily focusing on environmental themes and humanity’s relationship with the world around it, Nausicaa presents audiences with a simple message through a powerful female protagonist, the likes of which must do what she can to prevent a disastrous war from happening after her home is attacked by raiders. Though some aspects may feel dated, the film’s narrative and strong symbolism ring as true today as did back when Nausicaa first came out in 1984.
Best Anime Movies: My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro captures the innocent essence of childhood and somehow distills that down to a film. It’s immensely charming in how accurately it portrays what being a kid is all about, complete with obnoxious yelling, unreasonable demands, and whimsical imagination. It’s nearly impossible to leave your first viewing of My Neighbor Totoro without a smile on your face as you recall your own childhood memories and the adventures you used have with your own imaginary friends.
Best Anime Movies: Princess Mononoke
Sticking close to Miyazaki’s signature themes regarding the environment and human exploitation, Princess Mononoke ambitiously melds spectacular visual flair with an inspired story that, in some ways, eschews audience expectations in favor of each character’s true desires.
Like with many films on this list, Mononoke appeals to an inexplicable aspect of our being as a sprawling fantasy epic set in Muromachi period Japan unfolds on screen. The brutality of the film only further highlights the points it tries to make without ever allowing it to feel self-indulgent or preachy. The result is something that’s visceral and real—a feat considering that this is an animated medium.
Best Anime Movies: Ghost in the Shell
The 1995 adaptation of Ghost of the Shell captures the thrill of the acclaimed manga series without sacrificing any of its modern symbolism. Set in a futuristic cyberpunk world riddled with crime, a policewoman is tasked with hunting down a criminal known as The Puppet Master. Along the way, she struggles to come to terms with the emotions budding inside her. Ghost in the Shell is surprisingly profound in that it dares to question who we are as human beings in a society inundated with technology and fake personas.
While some may take more joy in marathoning entire anime series, each film on this list deserves its own dedicated viewing, if only to witness how their presence effected the medium in posterity. Arguably, anime wouldn’t be treated with the respect its garnered today without the introduction of these films. At the very least, every anime fan should give them a watch as a means of saying thank you.