In most parts of the world (especially outside Japan), animated movies are generally associated with children and are made on child friendly topics. However, the Japanese anime world is something different. It regularly challenges our notions of what animated movies can be and regales us with movies made on a variety of topics. They are proof of the scope of animation and do much more than presenting a bunch of colourful stories set in harmless, danger-free worlds. If you watch anime and want to watch more, or you want to get started with anime, this list of the 20 best anime movies of all time is just for you. Without further ado, let’s get started.
The Best Anime Movies Of All Time
It is thanks to works like “Akira” that Japanese cartoons were able to gain a foothold in our western latitudes. In terms of content, the film takes its viewers into a dystopian future setting. The fictional streets of Tokyo are terrorized by rival motorcycle gangs. After the protagonist Tetsuo is involved in an accident, numerous statesmen suddenly appear and take the unsuspecting title hero to a mysterious military hospital. Tetsuo manages to escape, but the protagonist soon realizes that he has extraordinary abilities.
“Akira” became an absolute box-office hit, especially in its Japanese homeland, and at the time even pushed “Return of the Jedi” from first place in the cinema charts. The animation of locations and characters should also set new standards. In addition to the gripping storyline, which is presented in the best science fiction manner, the action-packed sequences are still completely convincing.
Grave of The Fireflies (1988)
“Grave Of The Fireflies” from 1988 sets its plot in the final phase of the Second World War. During this time, Japanese cities are regularly hit by devastating bombing raids, killing countless residents. However, the makers of the work did not decide to tell a heroic soldier’s story within this setting but instead put the teenager Seita and his little sister Setsuko in the spotlight. The orphaned siblings are desperately trying to survive in the ruins of their hometown of Kobe.
Rarely has an animated work managed to get under your skin as much as “Grave Of The Fireflies”. The serious topic is conveyed relentlessly, and the horrors of war are also touching in animated form. The work, which is based on the 1967 short story The Grave of the Fireflies, manages to create a deep sense of tightness in the viewer’s chest without resorting to over-the-top imagery. Despite being animated, Grave Of The Fireflies has regularly been listed as one of the best war films in history and an incredibly important work of Japanese animation.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Where excellently designed anime meets purest cyberpunk action, that’s “Ghost in the Shell”. The pearl from 1995 starts in 2029. In this future setting, humanity is equipped with the technical skills to replace individual body parts with mechanical counterparts at will. But the consciousness of people can also be digitized in the form of so-called shells. The title heroine, Major, has also been transformed into a cyborg and is now employed in a special unit, where she puts a stop to the most dangerous criminals on the planet. During her work, however, the protagonist has to realize that she has become the victim of a far-reaching government conspiracy.
“Ghost in the Shell” boasts an extraordinary depth and does not shy away from philosophical questions. What is the meaning of the existence of the individual in a thoroughly virtual environment? The excellent strip from the studio “Production IG” approaches this question with impressive images, complex characters and unpredictable twists.
Spirited Away (2001)
Anime films produced under the auspices of the renowned studio Ghibli are generally regarded as the best in their field. “Chihiro’s Journey into the Magic Land” also confirms the legacy of its predecessors and takes its viewers into a fairytale world.
The eponymous protagonist, a ten-year-old girl, gets lost in a mysterious forest with her parents. A short time later, the ancestors of our heroine are transformed into pigs, while the main character finds himself in a legendary bathhouse, which serves as a place of relaxation for the most diverse deities. Under the bondage of the witch Yubaba, it is now up to Chihiro to escape from her fantastical odyssey.
During this journey, we get to see the most bizarre characters, bizarre locations and mystical figures. In addition, the visually excellently worked out work scores with its very own magic, which is created by a lot of heart, a captivating suspense curve and a harmonious pinch of humor. For many years, Spirited Away was the highest-grossing anime film of all time. The Oscar-winning flick has secured a permanent place in the hearts of countless fans since its release in 2001.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Hasn’t every one of us ever wished to transcend the laws of space and time? Go back in time and put things back in order, that’s about it. What we take for granted in the real world becomes a breathtaking reality for schoolgirl Makoto Konno in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. While the titular heroine initially enjoys using her newfound ability to improve her school grades or solve personal problems, she soon realizes that the laws of time play by their own rules.
Accordingly, the 2006 strip is full of wisdom that can easily be transferred to the real life of the viewer. But the humorous component is not neglected in the concoction of the studio “Madhouse”, which ultimately makes the entertaining 100 minutes of film fly by.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
The battle between man and nature does not stop in the world of anime either. In the 1997 masterpiece “Princess Mononoke” we follow the young warrior Ashitaka, who goes in search of the legendary deer god. On his way, the brave fighter meets the eponymous princess. From now on, the duo tries to unite the power-hungry Eboshi and her entourage. In fact, the tyrannical mistress strives to eradicate the iron resources found in the forest areas in order to expand her sphere of influence with the weapons that are subsequently produced.
The sometimes very dark film knows how to score not only with its high show value but also with its depth of content. The well-known man-versus-nature theme is treated impressively without drifting into dull black and white paintings.
Your name. – Yesterday, Today and Forever (2016)
As you will quickly find out, there are a lot of classics from the anime world on today’s list. If you like, the film “Your Name”, which was released in 2016, is a bit out of the ordinary. However, the strip proves to us that modern works need not fear comparison with their well-known predecessors. The production of the studio “CoMix Wave Films” tells us the story of the protagonist duo Taki and Mitsuha. One night they both dream of leading the life of the other person – even though they don’t know each other at all. As if by magic, the two titular characters actually switch bodies and begin to develop a deep affection for one another.
“Your Name” tells his coming-of-age story with a touching touch. The multiple award-winning work is the highest-grossing anime film in history, grossing over $358 million.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A good neighborly relationship is important. All the more so when said neighbors are legendary ghosts. Little girls Satsuki and Mei move with their father to a rural region, where they soon enjoy the company of the legendary forest spirit Totoro and many other fantastic creatures. The highlight: only children can perceive the presence of supernatural beings.
“My Neighbor Totoro” is one of the absolute classics of the genre and is partly responsible for the fact that “Ghibli” was able to achieve its undisputed status to this day. The emotionally told story also grabs adults. A must for young and old!
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
While many anime draw their roots, at least in part, from Japanese mythology, “Howl’s Moving Castle” draws on the children’s book “Sophie in the Wizard’s Castle” by the English author Diana Wynne Jones. In terms of content, we follow the young milliner Sophie. The protagonist falls in love with the magician Hauro, but shortly thereafter is transformed into a wrinkled old woman by a jealous witch. As Sophie wanders the country in desperation, she meets a mysterious scarecrow, who explains to the heroine the way to a legendary castle floating through the air. Hauro is said to be there again, who at the same time embodies the last hope of the enchanted girl.
“The Howl’s Moving Castle” fascinates with its stunning charm, an extremely high visual value and a lovingly told story, the staging of which leaves no fan’s eyes dry.
Summer Wars (2009)
Does anyone here say “Ready Player One”? Exactly, that masterpiece in which the characters trudge through a virtual world in the form of self-created avatars. Anyone who likes themes of this kind will love “Summer Wars”. In this case, the fictitious digital world bears the name OZ. When OZ accidentally falls victim to a hack, it’s not just the digital world that’s in danger.
The production of the studio “Madhouse” released in 2009 scores with bizarre locations and wacky characters, who don’t seem over-excited. The critical examination of the progressive digitization of our society is naturally one of the main points of the film and also stimulates reflection on the couch at home.
Ame & Yuki – The Wolf Children (2012)
Stories in which children are raised by wolves are not uncommon in and of themselves. Just think of “The Jungle Book”, for example, or the legend of the Roman city founders Romulus and Remus. However, the fact that the treated persons are actually descendants of the furry four-legged friends does not happen very often. However, the eponymous characters Ame and Yuki are actually descended from a wolf creature, which is why they regularly transform into the images of Isegrim. In order to hide the true nature of her children from those around them and at the same time teach them the rules of nature, mother Ookami moves to the country with her charges.
The anime resembles a modern fairy tale narrative. The work deals with the meticulous interplay of love, courage and bravery. A small masterpiece that has rightly been awarded several prizes.
When Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Inception” flickered across cinema screens in 2010, fans and critics were equally enthusiastic. The highly complex setting, in which the protagonists were able to immerse themselves in the dreams of other people and change them, made waves afterwards. What many forget, however, is the fact that there were already a few concoctions that dealt with the same subject long before “Inception”. An animated prime example of this is the film “Paprika”, which was released in 2006. Therapist Kosaku Tokita has developed a groundbreaking device that allows the protagonists to intervene in their patients’ dreams. Shady characters soon set their sights on the revolutionary invention.
“Paprika” is convincing with an intelligent storyline, which presents us with the dark sides of the human subconscious.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Success, Wealth, Fame. These are the buzzwords that many teenage girls’ dreams are made of. In order to make a commercial breakthrough, the singer Mima Kirigoe decides to leave her traditional girl group and to start as an actress from now on. Here, however, the eponymous heroine finds herself in a shady illusory world that doesn’t really fit the delicate character of the main character.
“Perfect Blue” shows us that successful anime films do not necessarily need a crazy, supernatural or futuristic setting to convince. The adaptation of a comprehensible life story on the animation screen comes along with a deep touch and many twists.
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
The life of the Yamada family is somewhere between perfectly normal everyday life and downright madness. Papa Takashi and Mama Matsuko regularly get at each other’s hair because of the TV program every evening, grandmother Shige has the right to say for every situation, no matter how funny, and little Nonoko is only too happy to evade the watchful eyes of her adult family members.
“My Neighbors the Yamadas” is a sitcom among anime films and is perfect for easy-going evenings in front of the television.
Arrietty – The Wondrous World of Borrowers (2010)
Have you ever heard of the fabulous creatures called Borger? These are small creatures, about 10 centimeters tall, who prefer to live under the floorboards of large houses. In order to make their everyday life as comfortable as possible, the little men “borrow” various items from the homeowners, often misusing them. When the eponymous borrower Arrietty meets the human boy Shō, two opposing worlds begin to merge.
“Arrietty” pleases with its leisurely narrative pace, which offers both plot and characters a generous stage to fully unfold. It is precisely those multi-layered portrayed characters that make “Arrietty” a unique anime film.
Ponyo – The Great Adventure by the Sea (2008)
With “Ponyo” we find another gem from the “Ghibli” studios on our list. Published in 2008, the work tells us the fairytale story of the goldfish girl Ponyo. When the daughter of a powerful sea magician sets out on her own exploration of the ocean, ominous fate takes its course.
Within its staging, the concoction is more aimed at a younger clientele. Despite this, the young at heart among you will enjoy the enchanting presentation along with its wonderful pictures.
Memories of Marnie (2014)
While the aforementioned “Ponyo” was still aimed at a younger audience, “Memories of Marnie” strikes a more moody note. The orphan girl Anna is at the center of the story. The protagonist not only has to struggle with a severe asthma disease in her life, but also does not have a single friend. While vacationing in the country, Anna stumbles upon a mysterious house inhabited by the mysterious Marnie. The two girls become friends and, for the first time in her life, Anna feels something like fun. However, after there is suddenly no trace of Marnie, Anna discovers a breathtaking secret. The so far last feature film by “Ghibli” pleases with its aesthetic staging and its moving story.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Although “Whisper of the Heart” was released in Japan in 1995, it took some time for the English version to be released. The focus of the plot is the teenager Shizuku Tsukishima, who, to the chagrin of her parents, is more interested in books and stories than homework. When Shizuku then also flirts with her classmate Seiji, the young people’s emotional chaos is perfect. An atmospheric film that leaves plenty of room for the feelings of its characters.
The Boy and the Beast (2015)
Within the story, we follow the orphan boy Ren, who is stranded in the land of beasts due to a chain of unplanned events. There, Ren meets the mighty warrior Kumatetsu, who from then on declares the boy to be his student. When the protagonist develops feelings for the girl Kaede in “real” life, he is literally torn between two worlds. A gripping story about love, self-discovery, and the turmoil of growing up.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
In order to complete her witch powers, the teenage Kiki leaves her ancestral home to prove her magical skills in a completely foreign city. Together with her faithful cat Jiji, the young magician finds herself in a deserted village by the sea. Here Kiki founded a small bakery on his own initiative, and Kiki delivers the baked goods himself.
We witness how the shy protagonist ultimately becomes a self-confident witch. However, the encounters with the most diverse characters are also accompanied by serious personal crises, giving “Kiki’s Little Delivery Service” an amazingly profound flair.