The anime community has vastly grown over the years. Starting as extremely popular Japanese animation, the anime genre includes anime and manga that have also made their way over to the west. Now that the art form has made its way, its popularity has grown more over the years to include manga, anime series, and animated movies for all types of people and genres.
Anime movies are known to comprise sophisticated plotlines and complex characters while touching on societal issues that have plagued our world. Unlike the standard movie experience, anime movies do not hold back on tackling certain realities of life that remain untouched by all other visual media. Bearing that in mind, various anime movies have been produced over the years that stand out from the rest and are definitely worth watching. Let this be your first and only warning that a ton of these are Studio Ghibli films and 100% earned their spot on this list.
Therefore, here is a list of the best 25 anime moves of all time, based explicitly on IMDb scores.
25. A Letter to Momo (7.2)
A Letter to Momo is a tale about a young girl who travels to the island of Shio, where she wants to live amongst its people. However, while learning their ways and customs, Momo discovers that weird things are happening on and around the island. To find out what is happening and the source of the strange events, Momo banded together with three imps with very distinct personalities, Iwa, Kawa and Mame. Although the anime has an intense amount of mystery, it also has a surprisingly excellent comedic element that adds to the intrigue.
24. From Up on Poppy Hill (7.4)
This anime movie tells the touching story of students trying their hardest to save their school clubhouse from being demolished before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The movie’s main characters are Umi and Shun, who are really strong characters that drive the tale of friendship in this touching film. Trying so hard to keep their clubhouse standing, the characters strengthen their friendship in the process.
23. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (7.6)
This anime movie is based on the Vampire Hunter D series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi. Like the novels it is based on, the film is set in a future where vampires are hunted down by a half-human, half-vampire hybrid that goes by the name of D. It has the perfect mix of Western stories, the inspiration of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula, and drama. During the film, D is tasked with finding the daughter of a wealthy man who a vampire has abducted.
22. The Secret World of Arrietty (7.6)
Based on the 1952 children’s fantasy novel The Borrowers, this anime film is about a family of 4-inch-tall people living in a family home known as the Clock family. The tiny family borrow everyday household items from the big family to furnish their tiny home. During a nighttime expedition, the Clock family’s daughter, Arrietty, is discovered by a young boy, Shō. Despite the warnings that exposing their existence would put them in danger, Arrietty and Shō decide to pursue a friendship. What unfolds is an engaging movie showing the heartfelt journey of friendship and the themes of existence and life. What is particularly beautiful about this movie is how the animators magically captured the essence of everyday life.
21. When Marnie Was There (7.7)
Unsurprisingly a Studio Ghibli movie, this story will tug on your heartstrings. Known for being a family drama film, it shares the beautiful and close friendship between the main characters, Anna and Marnie. Anna meets the mysterious girl with blonde-haired, Marnie, while staying with her foster parents in Hokkaido. Surprisingly filled with secrets, the two grow to trust each other and what follows is a touching tale of friendship and mystery.
20. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (7.7)
This is the story of a teenage Mokoto who can travel through time. Unaware of the consequences that time travel has, she slowly realizes the effect that her actions have had on the lives of others in the past while she abuses her power to fix mundane and frivolous problems that happen in her life. Without intending to, the movie is a fantastic lesson on life, our choices, and how some things can’t be changed or taken back once we have done them.
19. Tokyo Godfathers (7.8)
This touching script was co-written by the writers of Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain, and it shows. The story is about three lovable homeless people on Christmas Eve after discovering an abandoned newborn baby and trying their best to find their parents. They go on a determined quest to find baby Kiyoko’s mother. One of the comments on the film is the best description of the meaning behind the film, o “There’s a strong sense of karma here with “what goes around comes around.” Doing nice things, and you most likely will be rewarded. However, turning your back or refusing to help someone in need may come back to haunt you when you are stuck with no one to turn to. But, hey, maybe it’s never too late to learn a lesson, no matter how much it hurts.”
18. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (7.8)
This anime film was based on the neo-noir sci-fi series of the same name and was the director’s love letter to the series. The crew from the series, Edward, Ein, Faye Valentine, Jet Black, and Spike, are following the trail of a terrorist who plans to eradicate the population of a Mars colony with a deadly virus. Made to respect the movie, the film retained all the beauty and the original’s signature great animation style and was made to continue the story.
17. Kiki’s Delivery Service (7.8)
Yet another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, Kiki’s Delivery Service, tells the story of the titular character Kiki, a young witch. She must strike out independently and run a courier service in a new town. She tries to fit in and feels like she belongs with the people of her new town but struggles with loneliness, finding her identity and even depression. As with all Studio Ghibli films that explore deep meanings and feelings, this movie examines the inner workings and emotions of growing up and feeling like you don’t belong. A powerful quote from the film shows the depression that the young main character was feeling, “I think something’s wrong with me. I make friends, then suddenly, I can’t bear to be with any of them. Seems like that other me, the cheerful and honest one, went away sometimes.”
16. Whisper of the Heart (7.9)
You were already warned that you would be seeing a ton of Studio Ghibli on this list because they are arguably the creators of some of the best anime films of all time. This is no exception. Whisper of the Heart tells the tale of two people, Shizuku and Seiji. Shizuku is a young girl who loves reading books, and Seiji is her love interest. Touching on more ‘mundane’ themes, this film is more about the stunning environment and the story of these two people. It is a touching and heartwarming love story for people wanting a little break from the thrillers and mystical themes of the rest of the films on this list.
15. Ghost in the Shell (7.9)
The Ghost in the Shell manga series has been quite prominent since its debut in 1989 and was written by Masamune Shirow. The series has a great anime fan following, almost to the point of having an entire cult dedicated to the franchise, and for a good reason. It was undoubtedly ahead of its time and produced one of the best anime movies of all time. While countless crime sci-fi anime have been released in recent years, none come close to what the Ghost in the Shell offers in terms of its story and visuals.
The premise revolves around a futuristic world and cyborg police officers named Motoko Kusanagi and Batou. Set in New Port City in the mid-twenty-first century, the two must hunt down a mysterious hacker that goes by the name “The Puppet Master”. It is a great movie that has influenced the cyberpunk genre and well-known movie franchises like The Matrix since its creation.
14. Akira (8.0)
Set in the post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk future of the year 2019 in Neo-Tokyo, Akira tells the tale of a world that has been destroyed during the events of World War III. Tetsuo Shima, a member of the Bosozoku biker Gang, was in a bike accident that gave him supernatural powers. Unfortunately, not all people deal with power well, and he turns into a bit of a psychopath, drawing the attention of a secret organization backed by the government.
Released back in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo and his unrivalled storytelling skills are portrayed in Akira. The whole experience transcends a majority of sci-fi films, if not all. Ranging from the extremely complex yet relatable characters to its fictional portrayal of the future, Akira has got it all.
Moreover, the plot is set in 2019’s Tokyo, following the post-apocalyptic era caused by WWIII.
Whether you have a knack for the sci-fi genre or not, Akira is hands down a must-watch anime title and definitely one of the best anime movies of all time.
13. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (8.0)
This animated film tells the story of a young girl found in a bamboo stalk and raised by those who saw her. Princess Kaguya grows up to be an alluring, captivating, and lively presence, loved by all who encounter her. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is so good it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
12. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (8.0)
Yet another movie that originated as a TV series, this dark, philosophical movie shows the characters from the series in an alternative ending. Shinji Ikari and his fellow mecha EVA pilot must fight the mysterious life forms known as ‘Angels’ in a strong thematic conclusion. “Never before has a movie put me through so many emotions. Anger, joy, fear, depression, and hope, all flowed through me as the epic film unfolded before me. I was left emotionally wrung out the first time I watched it, and my view of life has been changed forever because of it.” The movie summons exciting thoughts on the future of humanity.
11. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (8.0)
Yes, yes, yet another Studio Ghibli title. The next one is as well. This one is based on the manga of the same name and written by the director himself, Hayao Miyazaki. This film is a chilling warning about how our industrial expansions affect the world, with themes of nature and conservation and a beautiful expression of environments and the world.
10. Castle in the Sky (8.0)
This Studio Ghibli title tells the story of Sheeta and Pazu, two children on an epic adventure, searching for the airborne island of legends called Laputa. The journey is challenging as they encounter airship pirates on the hunt for Sheeta and her mysterious amulet. Find out why they are searching for her and how special she is.
9. Perfect Blue (8.0)
It isn’t every day you come across a debut film that somehow reaches stardom, becoming a masterpiece. Perfect Blue is one such anime film by Satoshi Kon, based mainly on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel.
The thrilling narrative is known for touching on taboo topics such as harassment, fanaticism, terror, and Satoshi Kon’s fantastic ability to integrate them. The Perfect Blue depicts how deep and dynamic anime cinema can indeed be.
Throughout the movie, the protagonist, a former pop idol named Mima Kirogoe, is faced with countless problems, allowing the viewers to live through the same ruthless story as she is stalked by an obsessive fan that seems to be a ghost from her past. All in all, Perfect Blue is an absolute masterpiece of paranoia and dreamy visuals.
8. My Neighbor Totoro (8.1)
Possibly one of the most beautifully animated Japanese films, My Neighbor Totoro is another excellent title worth watching and is, of course, another by Studio Ghibli.
The story follows two young sisters named Satsuki and Mei, who have moved to a rural village to be closer to their ill mother, who is staying at the hospital close by. While in the rural town, they meet a host of cuddly forest spirits and are ultimately drawn into their world.
Studio Ghibli also made Totoro the team’s mascot, becoming one of the most popular characters throughout Japan, representing the themes of friendship, family, and love.
7. Wolf Children (8.1)
This one is a little unconventional but still a good movie. Hana suddenly finds herself as a single mother to her two children after her lover dies trying to get food for their family. Now, she must raise her half-wolf, half-human hybrid children while protecting their secret abilities from the rest of the world. The movie paints a loving portrait of a single parent doing her best to provide for her children, all while dealing with the aftermath of the loss of the person she loves.
6. A Silent Voice (8.1)
This one is a little heavy. Based on the manga by Yoshitoki Ōima and starts with a young boy named Shōya standing on a bridge about to commit suicide. As a whole, the movie shows his life leading up to that moment, how he was a bully to a deaf student at his school named Shōko Nishimiya and was alienated from the rest of his classmates because of his actions. Having been the victim of bullying himself, the story has a strong anti-bullying message and intense emotional depth as he tries to redeem himself with the deaf girl he has been bullying.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (8.2)
If it needs to be clarified by now, Studio Ghibli movies are in a league of their own. The striking and beautiful animation, especially in Howl’s Moving Castle, made it one of the studio’s best movies. But setting aside the visuals, the movie does not hold back on its plot, achieving a perfect balance of both aspects.
The tale was based on the novel by the same name, authored by the British Diana Wynne Jones, and follows the protagonist looking to break a curse she finds herself under that transformed her into a 90-year-old woman. This leads our protagonist to seek help from the most reputable magician in the world.
The powerful narrative, backed by an unbelievable soundtrack, makes Howl’s Moving Castle one of the best, most popular and influential Japanese anime movies.
4. Princess Mononoke (8.4)
There are always those movies deemed perfect by critics and audiences alike. And for a film to portray a well-written story with superior visuals is more challenging than it may seem. Princess Mononoke is one such movie that everyone must watch, regardless of their interest in anime.
The title was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli.
Princess Mononoke primarily sets out to achieve a balance of traditions and modernity while also depicting the differences and a confrontation between humans and nature. However, the beauty of the movie truly lies in the significance of each character and the profundity shown by each individual. The film is a heavy-hitter and tackles some serious issues about conservation and environmental concerns, and it takes an uncharacteristically dark stance compared to most Studio Ghibli movies.
3. Your Name (8.4)
Your Name currently holds the title of being the world’s highest-grossing anime film of all time. After its release in 2016, the anime movie displaced Spirited Away after roughly 15 years of being the former most-grossing movie.
The story for Your Name mainly touches on Japanese traditions, gender identity, and drama, followed by humorous and comedic instances.
The film is a beautiful medium for communicating the beauty of love from a fantastical yet somewhat realistic perspective. In a word? The movie is breathtaking, a blend of drama and fantasy, and has a touch of romance. “…you’ll have realized this is not the cute little switcheroo comedy you thought you were watching at the beginning. It’s deeper, more resonant, in some ways a meditation on fate.”
The movie was aired across the globe, having audiences of different cultures and races experience joy and sorrow simultaneously — like how relationships and life are.
Another captivating movie by Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies, is just something else.
Based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the plot surrounds the brutal truth about war and how action-packed flicks do not portray its heartbreaking nature. The movie featured trying to survive the aftermath of World War II and two brothers trying to survive the chaos and destruction caused by and inflicted on us, humans. Having survived the firebombing in Kobe and the loss of their mother, the two must desperately struggle to stay in a country torn apart by war, food shortages, and death at every corner.
Director Isao Takahata achieved perfection in the movie, presenting the viewers with the cruelty war brings. Therefore, it deserves a place on any list of the best anime movies.
1. Spirited Away (8.6)
Releasing back in 2001, Spirited Away is already considered a classic in the anime community and is possibly the best anime movie of all time. The film excels in every aspect, including the soundtrack, visuals, character development, and narration.
Spirited Away is the only anime film awarded an Oscar for Best Animated Film. Hayao Miyazaki did a splendid job of bringing the movie to life, allowing the audience to experience Chihiro’s adventures at her new residence, trying to rescue her parents from an evil witch who had turned her parents into pigs and stolen her name. How will she return to the real world? The tale is surreal yet magical and has become a cult classic that has earned its place at the top of this list.