In addition to the ever-expanding Netflix anime library and a recent crop of live-action remakes, anime is becoming increasingly popular with fans around the world as the medium develops.
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There are a wide range of genres and styles that go under the umbrella term “anime,” which spans a wide range of titles. Using Japan’s rich folklore and feudal ancestry as inspiration has been a common theme in works like as Ninja scroll and Spirited Away, which were both popular in the West at the time of their release in the 1980s. Akira and Ghost in the Shell, two of the most popular anime series of all time, are both notable examples of anime’s interest in the future and human-technology fusion. For its depiction and discussion of Japan’s military history, both traditional and nuclear, the medium has been widely acclaimed.
As a starting point, we’ve compiled a list of the top anime films for your viewing pleasure.
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1. Spirited Away (2001)
There can be no doubt that Spirited Away is a cross-over hit, captivating viewers across the country and introducing them to the work of Studio Ghibli. Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, and her parents stumble across a gleaming paranormal bathhouse populated by a bizarre assortment of mythical creatures and spirits. Ghibli’s trademark thematic richness, originality, and visual splendor all combine to create a unique coming-of-age story. Animation fans will agree that it’s one of the best films of the new millennium as well.
2. Akira (1988)
Akira, like Ninja Scroll and Ghost In The Shell, is a seminal work in the medium for its epic story, beautiful visuals, and moody score. Akira features two teenage motorbike gang members, Shtaro Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima, who have no place in the post-nuclear apocalyptic world of Neo-Tokyo. Tetsuo’s enormous telekinetic powers, which capture the notice of Colonel Shikishima and his government-backed secret organization, cause their Clockwork Orange-style disdain for life to come to an abrupt end. Even if the films in the Akira franchise diverge significantly from the fantastic manga that inspired them, they all share a common cyberpunk theme.
3. Ninja Scroll (1993)
When it comes to anime, Ninja SCroll was a gateway drug for many of its younger followers. A hyper-violent action-adventure classic and a pioneer of mature-audience animation, it was released in the UK in 1995 and again in its uncensored form in 2004. Mercenary swordsman Kibagami Jubei in medieval Edo-era Japan is reluctantly sent to stop Shogun Of The Dark in this film. It’s up to Kagero, a gorgeous but poisonous ninja, and Dakuan, a cruel spymaster, to take on the Eight Devils of Kimon, a group of elite ninjas with extraordinary talents.
4. Ghost In The Shell (1997)
No surprise Ghost In The Shell has become so legendary, not just in anime but in sci-fi in general, with its philosophically charged cyberpunk script, iconic visuals, and ideas that have been freely plagiarized by Hollywood ever since. In New Port City, 2029, augmented police officer Major Motoko Kusanagi is on the trail of the Puppet Master, a ghost-hacking terrorist who has been taking over the minds of powerful and valuable individuals. The Ghost in the Shell universe has grown over the years, but the original remains the best incarnation of the franchise.
5. Perfect Blue (1999)
Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon’s psychological thriller, is an outstanding and unnerving investigation of celebrity, obsession, and truth. In her position as the on-stage Lolita, Mima Kirigoe of the cutesy pop trio “CHAM!” is a natural. Some of her fans aren’t happy with her decision to leave the band and seek a career in acting, discarding her pop-idol reputation. The audience begins to question the sanity of the up-and-coming actress as she begins to question the reality of her life. This is a creepy and engrossing film.
6. Your Name (2016)
To say that Your Name is the highest grossing anime film of all time would be an understatement. The film is simply beautiful, and it manages to combine romance and comedy with characters that are endearing in a way that’s impossible to resist. When Taki and Mitsuha, two high school students from Tokyo and a small rural hamlet, begin to occupy one other’s lives, they must deal with the problems that arise from literally having to assume the identity of someone else. However, viewing is the greatest way to appreciate the complexity of the situation. The Radwimps soundtrack makes it a luxurious and emotional treat, and fans should check out Weathering With You, director Makoto Shinkai’s spiritual follow-up.
7. Weathering With You (2019)
At sixteen, runaway Hodaka lives on the streets of Tokyo during the rainiest summer of his life. This fantastical tale about people who have the power to influence the weather covers social themes as well as personal issues, all the while remaining a light read. Take a look at Empire’s review
8. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie reunites fans with the bounty hunters of the starship Bebop, including Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Ed, and Ein, a corgi dog. a terrible infection is unleashed in the capital city of Mars in the year 2071 by an unknown perpetrator. In order to capture the chemical terrorist, the group spread out across the country. Bebop fans will be pleased to know that the story is full of mega-corporation machinations, swashbuckling action, and heartfelt moments. While the movie takes place between the 22nd and 23rd episodes of the series, it can be enjoyed by newcomers to the sci-fi and jazzy noir genres.
9. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke, another Miyazaki classic, is darker than the typical Studio Ghibli material. Ashitaka, a prince enslaved by a fatal curse, is the focus of this historical fantasy. With no solution in sight, he flees to the forest where he finds himself embroiled in a battle between the forest’s gods and a resourceful human mining settlement. More complicated than the traditional good-bad binary, the film’s overriding themes of environmentalism and mortality are obvious. Epic fantasy fiction at its most beautiful and inventive.
10. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
One of the best anime holiday movies ever made, Tokyo Godfathers is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It’s Christmas Eve, and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue follows three homeless people who locate an abandoned baby in the middle of the night. It is Christmas Day in Tokyo, and the trio decides to reunite the infant with its mother by walking the streets and meeting people who gradually expose the child’s sad and dark heritage.
11. Vampire Hunter D (1985)
Vampire Hunter D, an anime classic from 1985, is set in a gloomy fantasy world following a nuclear apocalypse. Doris Lang is bitten by an ancient aristocratic vampire in a planet ruled by supernatural beings. D, an enigmatic hunter and part-vampire, is hired to stop her from becoming a vampire. There is a lot of bloodshed, bizarre personalities, and supernatural showdowns in what follows. Even if it isn’t intellectually stimulating, it is a ton of riotously good times.
12. Paprika (2006)
It’s a science fiction thriller that investigates what happens when technology infiltrates the most private parts of the human mind, treading familiar ground in a new way. In Satoshi Kon’s final film, a technology that allows psychologists to enter a patient’s dreams is the focus of the story. In the event that it is taken by an unidentified individual, the therapeutic goal is undermined and dream-based mind control is put into action, resulting in a leakage of the subconscious into the awareness. Doctor Atsuko Chiba assumes the persona ‘Paprika’ in order to track down the burglar in the dream realm.
13. Roujin Z (1991)
To put it simply, Roujin Z is an odd concoction of political commentary, sentimentalism, and technological ruminations. Hiroyuki Kitakubo, an animator on Akira, directed the picture, which takes place in a future Japan where the government has constructed a robotic hospital bed. The first patient, an 81-year-old man named Kiyuro Takazawa, appears to be doing well until the bed begins transmitting the elderly man’s thoughts. An attempt is made by his nurse to liberate him from the experiment, which causes his bed’s actual form to emerge and flee into Tokyo’s streets. Humorous yet sardonic, this book is a great addition to any library.
14. Grave Of The Fireflies (1988)
As shown in the studio’s Grave Of The Fireflies, the story of two siblings, Seita and Satsuko, who are separated from their parents during an American firebombing strike on Kobe in late 1945 is a heartbreaking one, directed by Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takhata. Their aunt’s increasingly tumultuous conditions prompted the siblings to go and make their own place in the world. Desperation and anguish follow, as a nation grapples to transcend its past tragedy and its sense of collective guilt. It is a life of extreme effort and desperation. It’s a far cry from the likes of Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, but it’s still a significant Ghibli film.
15. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)
A kingdom and a republic are on the verge of conflict as they vie for technological superiority. Political leaders perceive the advancement of technology as a threat, but many others regard it as a constructive force, paving the way for human exploration of space. The story gets much more interesting when you throw in some personal turmoil and religious conflicts. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was once a box-office dud, but it has now been hailed as one of the most important anime works of all time (even in light of its particularly eighties approach to gender politics). It was also the first time both Bandai and Gainax, two of the most important anime firms, had appeared in an animated feature film.
16. The Animatrix (2003)
The Animatrix is an outlier among the films we’ve reviewed so far. This is a collection of nine short stories directed by nine prominent anime directors, the brainchild of the Wachowskis. While drawing on their own individual backgrounds and experiences, the directors have combined their talents to produce a series of stories that expand on events that occurred before and adjacent to the primary Matrix films. To the Matrix canon, The Animatrix is a welcome and genre-bending addition.
17. Metropolis (2001)
Even though it has some similarities, the manga adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis is not an anime remix. Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) wrote and directed the film, which is a retro-futuristic narrative of the human soul and retro-futurism. It’s not just Kenichi and his uncle’s search for the truth about a mystery girl named Tima that makes Metropolis the true star of the show, but a slew of intertwined story threads. With the bourgeoisie humans above and the working-class robots below, Metropolis’ architecture is vast, massive, elaborate, sprawling, and contains a not-so-subtle class critique. In terms of design, it’s up there with the best ever seen in anime.
18. Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
Tekkonkinkreet is a one-of-a-kind release because of the worldwide collaboration between Japan’s Studio 4C and American filmmaker Michael Arrias (who previously produced The Animatrix). Treasure Town, where street urchins Black and White struggle against the yakuza danger that is turning their pan-Asian city into a beat-down slum, is the setting for this manga adaptation. At the same time, Arrias and Studio 4C never fail to deliver punchy storytelling and stunning visuals in a classic story of good vs evil.
19. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Robots are an integral part of anime, as they combine high-tech wonder with a hefty dose of over-the-top excitement. There are instances when they can also serve as a setting for some amazing political drama, narrative chops and Biblical references, as in 1989’s Patlabor: The Movie. The dreams of Tokyo in a fictional 1999 are bound to Labors, gigantic mechs used for construction and defense. There is a real danger of disaster if pilots lose command of their aircraft and the nameless maker is scrutinized. After watching this, you’ll want to see the darker, just-as-good sequel straight away.
20. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
My Neighbor Totoro, which was released alongside Grave of the Fireflies, is one of Studio Ghibli’s most innocent and tranquil films. What little plot there is revolves around Satsuki and Mei, two young sisters who live in the distant countryside in order to be closer to their ill mother, and find themselves attracted into the world of forest spirits. Miyazaki’s most recognizable characters, including the enormous spirit Totoro (who serves as Ghibli’s emblem), make an appearance in this animated feature. A joy to behold.
21. Redline (2009)
Track down cult-favorite anime racer Redline if you’re looking for genuine anime craftsmanship. Redline is a futuristic elimination race with only one rule: win. All of the action is highly stylized and backed up by a fantastic soundtrack. Redline, like Cowboy Bebop, has a future universe that feels expansive and alive, putting it ahead of other racing films.
22. The Wind Rises (2013)
Check out these lesser-known Ghibli films if you’d like to get off the beaten road a bit. Make your final film viewing experience memorable with Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, a touching and mature drama that encompasses all three of Miyazaki’s primary interests: flying, war, and the purity of dreams. Jiro Horikoshi has had a lifelong aim of creating aircraft since he was a child, and his drive and intellect have helped him achieve his goal of being a well-known engineer. It’s not easy for Jiro to find a middle ground between producing a beautiful flying aircraft that will be used for murder and destruction, the Mitsubishi A5M “Zero” fighter plane. For a more mature audience, Ghibli’s semi-biopic The Wind Rises is a thought-provoking film.
23. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a tribute to the force of free will and the spontaneity of life, not merely a beautiful film. When Makoto Konno, a 17-year-old girl, discovers she has the power to travel back in time, she does what any self-respecting adolescent would do: she goes about improving her grades, putting an end to humiliating incidents, and generally making her life better. Nevertheless, when Makoto realizes that her time-leaps are harming the lives of others, she switches course, aiming to make good use of her few remaining time-leaps.
24. Summer Wars (2009)
An adorable coming-of-age story about a guy who pretends to be the girlfriend of the girl who likes him follows The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. She was on a family vacation. There’s also a rogue military AI that’s spreading havoc. When it happens, we’re not happy about it. It’s clever and fantastic.