Anime has become one of the most popular genres in movies. Whether you’re looking for comedy, action, romance, or whatever anime genre, there is an anime film out there waiting to be watched!
With this new decade coming up, it’s time we compiled a list of what people think are the best ever made so far, but keep checking back as more come out! Keep in mind; this list does not include spin-offs, promotional movies or adaptations of popular anime series like Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale; The Last: Naruto the Movie; or the never-aging Ash Ketchum; or Tamako Market from Kyoto Animation. This anime movie list contains stand-alone films such as anime movie adaptation of manga series, books, light novels and original stories. That way, you don’t need to binge on the series to enjoy any of the Japanese anime movies below.
Content Navigation (TL:DR)
- 1. Spirited Away
- 2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
- 3. 5 Centimeters per Second
- 4. Your Name
- 5. Weathering with You
- 6. Her Blue Sky
- 7. Penguin Highway
- 8. The Anthem of the Heart
- 9. Summer Wars
- 10. A Silent Voice
- 11. Akira
- 12. Princess Mononoke
- 13. My Neighbor Totoro
- 14. Paprika
- 16. Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind
- 17. Ghost in the Shell
- 18. Wolf Children
- 19. In this Corner of the World
- 20. Howl’s Moving Castle
- 21. Perfect Blue
- 22. Millennium Actress
- 23. Metropolis
- 24. Grave of the Fireflies
- 25. Kiki’s Delivery Service
- 26. Barefoot Gen
1. Spirited Away
A very popular anime from Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away is a remarkable movie. From Studio Ghibli’s Hisaki Furukawa, Makiko Futaki, with the music of Joe Hisaishi, it tells the story of 10-year old girl Chihiro. In this mystical world, her parents are transformed into pigs due to an evil witch’s curse, and she works hard in order to help them transform back from their pig form. She loses her name but becomes Sen by working at a bathhouse under the rule of Yubaba (Witch). There are many interesting characters such as Haku, who assists with meeting Zeniba, Yababa and kaonashi, which means ‘No Face’. It has been said Spirited Away is different depending on the anime fans’ perspective.
2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
In 2006, one of the Japanese animation leaders, Mamoru Hosoda, released his masterpiece titled The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This fantasy anime film was based on a novel written by Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1967, but it tells another story from this book.
The setting of the anime is 20 years after a world created in the novel. There are three main characters who attend high school at The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: Makoto, Kosuke and Chiaki. They live an ordinary life with adolescent interests such as love, study and career choice throughout this film. One day, Makoto notices she becomes able to transport herself back into time.
Today, time travel and time leap are usual plot devices, but when this film was released, it was new and unique, and the film partly helped in the popularity of time travel in anime.
3. 5 Centimeters per Second
For fans of the new leader of the anime industry Mokoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters per Second is a must-watch. It’s looked on as his best work in his early career with three short parts: Cherry Blossom, Cosmonaut, and 5 Centimeters per Second, released 2007.
The protagonist of this Japanese anime, Takaki’s first love with the heroine Akari in elementary school, is depicted at first. The author then moves on to show how his life progressed after that point until they eventually grew up and met again as adults. There are no supernatural powers or action-packed scenes, yet it still manages to deliver a moving climax despite all its simplicity!
4. Your Name
Your Name is a revolutionary and awe-inspiring animated film created by Makoto Shinkai in 2016. The heartwarming story was aired on the big screen in over 120 countries between 2016 to 2018, achieving major success at home and abroad.
The story of Your Name is told with two main characters, Taki and Mitsuha. They live in Tokyo and Takayama, respectively but have never met until one day when their bodies are involuntarily switched together. The real-life locations of these places seemed to be what encouraged the fans who watched the movie to explore them for themselves; Makoto Shinkai’s beautiful animation representations encourage people from all around Japan (or even outside!) that they can travel too!
5. Weathering with You
Weathering with You is a new anime movie by director Makoto Shinkai. It’s one of the most popular films in 2019, and it was shown to theatres all over the world from 2020 onward, including 140 countries. The two main characters are young kids who explore an unlikely friendship as they try to survive growing up together during difficult times – I highly recommend this film!
Hina, a young girl who survives on her own in Tokyo without her parents; Her good luck power has helped many people with their weddings and festivals by changing the weather for them after meeting Hodaka, a boy running away from home to Tokyo due to family problems. With this series of events comes themes such as unusual meteorological phenomena and child-rearing, among others that make up Weathering with You!
6. Her Blue Sky
Her Blue Sky, the new animated film released in 2019, is directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, who was also responsible for The Anthem of the Heart and Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. These films take place at Chichibu City and Saitama City- familiar settings to fans of these two movies which both follow a young girl named Aoi as she searches through life with her sister Akane after their parents die. Aoi’s fate becomes entwined with Akane’s ex-boyfriend, but the version from 13 years ago.
7. Penguin Highway
Studio Colorido made Penguin Highway in 2018, based on the sci-fi novel written by Tomihiko Morimi. The story focuses on the extraordinary daily life of a four-year-old boy named Aoyama and a mysterious woman he calls “Lady”. One day, penguins emerge suddenly in their town, so they go to investigate what is happening, only for them both to get lost inside this newfound world! A never-ending world of mystery and adventure.
8. The Anthem of the Heart
In 2015, The Anthem of the Heart was produced by the staff who had worked on the popular anime series Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. With their shocking past (the experience of parental divorce), a young girl named Jun Naruse gets less able to speak but is now able to sing beautifully for her school festival performance as one of its heroes.
9. Summer Wars
Summer Wars is one of the Mamoru Hosoda anime movies that have attracted an enormous audience, released in 2009. A high schooler Kenji and his Senpai named Natsuki, who is a year ahead of him, visit her family home. There are two worlds this story takes place- traditional Japanese culture with rural rich nature as well as problems in virtual reality world OZ.
10. A Silent Voice
Kyoto Animation’s A Silent Voice is an anime movie adaption of the 7-volume manga published in 2013-2014. The moving anime has sensitive social themes such as teens bullying, suicide, disabilities and parental divorce. This one focuses on two main characters: a deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya who struggles with bullies at school while her hearing brother tries to make amends for what happened years ago; meanwhile, Shoya Ishida reflects back on the childhood actions that lead him down this path.
Check Out: The Best Anime Studio Of All Time
The world-renowned Akira was originally made as a manga written by Katsuhiro Otomo, and its anime movie adaptation was released in 1988. The manga artist had yet to complete the manga series at the time of production of this story, so it is based on three volumes that were published before completion with a different climax than what we read in the manga.
The setting is Neo Tokyo in 2019, where WWIII has destroyed the city. The two main characters are Shotaro Kaneda and his childhood friend Tetsuo Shima. When a motorcycle accident gives Tetsuo supernatural powers, he becomes involved with some Bosozoku biker gangs who want to get revenge on their enemies at any cost – even if it means risking everyone’s lives!
12. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is a 1997 Japanese animated film that was released in the number one spot at the domestic box office and has been revered worldwide as one of Japan’s top films. Director Hayao Miyazaki spent two decades building up this plot to make it into an anime movie, with his dedication paying off when he won international acclaim for Princess Mononoke.
The prince Ashitaka and the young woman San are not like other humans; they were raised by wolves in a forest. The two main characters have to find a way for both nature and humanity to coexist during their time period of 1336-1573.
13. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is one of the best Studio Ghibli movies in existence. The fantasy anime, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was released at theatres worldwide as a part of the double feature with Grave of Fireflies, also known to be another great story from Isao Takahata (another leader who worked for Studio Ghibli).
The setting of My Neighbor Totoro is a rural village in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. An elementary schooler named Satsuki moves there with her young sister Mei and their father Tatsuo to help care for the family’s mother, who stays at the hospital nearby. One day they meet three mystifying creatures called totoros that have magical powers!
“Paprika,” the final film made by Satoshi Kon before his untimely death in 2010, is a hypnotic and psychedelic animation revolving around a psychotherapist who enters her patients’ dreams to help them. A device that allows this woman access into people’s minds has been stolen – how will she find out what happened? This psychological thriller anime came from Madhouse studios in 2006.
2006 was a great year for anime fans. Four things on this list, including Tekkonkinkreet, were released from 2006-2009 and includes Michael Arias’ American production of the film, which follows two brothers fighting against an evil yakuza boss in Treasure Town where they live among alleyways and wood shacks. The art style and pacing were received very well, thanks to his success with The Animatrix, no doubt!
16. Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese animator and director who released his 2nd full-length film, Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind, in 1984. It was originally published as manga from 1982 but made into an anime movie just three years later by Studio Ghibli’s predecessor studio Topcraft. Precisely, it is known as one of their earliest films to date for its unique animation style, which led to what we now know as “Studio Ghibli.”
After the disastrous war, industrial civilization is destroyed, and everyone scattered to different corners of a huge world. The protagonist Nausicaä poses herself as one of the most knowledgeable people in this age when she seeks knowledge so that both humans and nature can coexist harmoniously again without fear of wars or even natural disasters.
17. Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is based on a manga by Masamune Shiro. The first animated film, Ghost in the Shell released in 1995 and started the whole franchise and popular anime series all anime fans know and love.
Mamoru Oshii’s sci-fi masterpiece Ghost in the Shell is an intensely thrilling movie that takes place far into a future where technology has been taken to new heights. The film follows Public Security Section 9, including Major Motoko Kusanagi, as they work together to prevent crimes and maintain order across Japan.
Check Out: Best 90’s Anime You Should Watch Today
18. Wolf Children
It is a beautiful anime film that explores the question of what it means to be human. The main character Hana meets a man in the university who can transform into wolf form. They have two kids Yuki and Ame, both with their own supernatural abilities, including transforming into wolves themselves at will, but they are conflicted as to whether or not they should live life as humans or wolves.
19. In this Corner of the World
In this Corner of the World is one of the most grossing anime movies all over the world in 2016. Based on manga serialized during 2007-2009, it’s about Hiroshima and the atomic bomb that Suzu experiences as a little girl during WWII before she gets married at age 17 to her childhood friend Seiya after the war ends. Another version was released in 2019 with new scenes for another 40 mins added called In This (and Other) Corners of The Worlds while still focusing on what happened when they were just children but now adults too!
20. Howl’s Moving Castle
The story of Howl’s Moving Castle, one of the top-grossing anime movies in Japan, is based on a novel written by Diana Wynne Jones. It follows Sophie, who has been turned into an old woman through her encounter with the witch’s curse and enters into adventure trying to break this spell while meeting new characters such as magical creatures along the way.
21. Perfect Blue
The story of Perfect Blue follows retired pop star Mima Kirigoe is anything but ordinary. Proving that anime isn’t all space, disaster-futurism and explosions, Perfect Blue tells a human tale as well as one with some supernatural elements. Part of this is because the original source material for the movie was written to be live-action, though when financiers pulled out before production could start, it was reconceived an animation where she falls victim to a deep invasion of privacy.
Haunted by stalkers, ghosts of her past and a seemingly endless onslaught of confusing humiliations, the Japanese animation acts as an intense indictment against celebrity while allowing for the mesmerizing visual pace to question every aspect that you are presented with.
22. Millennium Actress
On the brink of a new millennium, Ginei Studios is set to be demolished. Ex-employee and filmmaker Genya Tachibana decides to honour this occasion with a commemorative documentary about the company’s star actress: Chiyoko Fujiwara, an elusive sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema. After finally being given permission by her management for an interview on camera, avid fan Genya drags cynical cameraman Kyouji Ida along, only too happy that he had been able to put his lifelong idol back into light once more after all these years – ready for yet another generation of audiences who will hopefully come across her story one day soon! A cinematic masterpiece of Japanese anime movies!
The beautiful anime Metropolis of the future is a wonderfully realized blind interpretation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction classic. You can’t escape that this 2001 movie comes from Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga novel, which was inspired by images he saw in magazines as a child and never had the opportunity to see how it ended up being adapted into animation or live-action cinema.
Tima, a robot designed to rule the city, goes missing and is found wandering the slum-like streets at the bottom of towering skyscrapers by Kenichi. The two strikes up an intimate friendship, but as their bond tightens, Tima’s programming comes into question when she falls in love with her first human friend.
Incredible advances in animation make some of these large sweeping cityscape sequences absolutely jaw-dropping – it’ll be hard not to want more after witnessing what Ôtomo has created here!
24. Grave of the Fireflies
In 1988, Grave of the Fireflies played as a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro upon its initial theatrical release. After watching this harrowing World War II tale directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s counterpart Isao Takahata about two siblings during wartime, it was comforting to watch another Ghibli classic in Totoro that followed them through their childhoods and adventures together.
25. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Another from Studio Ghibli, released in 1989, follows Kiki, a 13-year-old witch in training who spends the year living on her own. She leaves family and friends to fly out into the open world atop her broomstick with only Jiji by his side. Kiki struggles at first adjusting but then finds Osono, who offers KIKI boarding in exchange for deliveries she must make for a small bakery. Before long, Kiki decides to open her own courier service by broomstick and heads out on a journey of independence. Along the way, she meets many new people with exciting opportunities for both herself and others alike in an attempt to find her place among the townsfolk. Kiki’s delivery service is filled with warmth and tenderness and seen by most anime fans as one of the best coming of age Japanese anime movies.
26. Barefoot Gen
Grave of the Fireflies owes a huge debt to this anime film released five years earlier. Barefoot Gen tells the story of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb disaster through the eyes of its six-year-old who tries his best to retain some shred of childhood in a war-torn country fraught with symbolism and tragedy. Laced with everything from reflection on innocence lost or hope for peace, Barefoot Gen is an important animated narrative that showcases how powerful animation can be when telling stories too heartbreaking for any other medium.
We’re excited to share our list of best anime films so far. There’s a lot more on the way, and this list may change as new releases come out. But for now, we hope you enjoy these movies that have captured our hearts! Did your favorite make it onto our list? Let us know in the comments below what film you think deserves the top spot. And don’t forget to leave some feedback – and ENJOY!