Presenting a compilation of the finest sad anime movies, ideally suited for those venturing into the realm of anime for the first time or seeking a poignant catharsis. These cinematic gems promise to evoke a flood of emotions and leave you in a contemplative state.
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It is no secret at this point that anime perfectly captures the raw intensity of human emotions. That is why it is the perfect genre to invest in when you want a good cry. And while some excellent live-action films fit the bill, the anime genre has something for everyone. The anime industry is ever-growing as Japanese animation takes on new heights, especially with the immense traction it now receives in Western countries. This does raise the question of what makes anime better than your typical Western television shows and films. Furthermore, why should you be giving this particular genre a chance?
As most anime fans would agree, there is something magical about Japanese and Asian media, particularly the anime genre. Unfortunately, the overall consensus for a non-anime watcher is to assume that this genre is for children solely because it is animated. However, this is not the case. While there are anime movies and series aimed at children specifically (for example, Pokémon), many films and series from this genre are also aimed at an array of age groups, ranging from prepubescent teens to adults.
Likewise, these series/films cover various serious topics and dark themes, such as mental health conditions, disabilities, bullying, death, war, grief, and sexual assault. But, sometimes, there isn’t the time to watch a 12 or 24-episode-long anime series. The following list of sad anime movies will detail some great films to watch if you are in the mood for a heartbreaking story or if you would like to see an animated movie with adult/dark themes (or want to see what all the hype is about).
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12. In This Corner Of The World (2016) / Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (2016)
This sad anime movie is based on the manga written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kono. The film follows the story of eighteen-year-old Suzu, who has to begin a new life as a bride to Shusako Hojo, a civil official. The story takes place in Hiroshima and then Kure during World War II. It follows a classic slice-of-life formula but becomes gradually weighed down by sad moments as the film progresses. Suzu has to make do with whatever resources she can come by to feed herself and her family as supplies lessen. Finally, however, life becomes too challenging, and she must battle to find the will to live.
The film offers a heartbreaking but unique glimpse into a world history chapter. It beautifully portrays the struggles and aftermath of war outside the battlefield. Not only that, but the movie also offers beautiful animation that accurately details the landscapes and architecture of the time. Furthermore, they praised the film for its ability to portray the struggles of everyday life for a family living in times of war. This film will stay with its viewers long after the credits roll.
11. Colourful (2010)
This award-winning film follows the story of a nameless soul who has just arrived at the train station to death and receives the news that he was gifted a second chance at life. As expected, the soul does not see this as a gift but enters the world of the living regardless. The soul must inhabit the body of a young boy, Makoto Kobayashi, who has just taken his own life. The goal is for the nameless soul to discover the great sin he has committed in his previous life and atone for it while also trying to figure out why the person whose body he is inhabiting ended his own life.
As the soul enters Kobayashi’s body, he struggles to find any connection and sense of self. He dislikes the new reality he has stepped into and quickly realizes just how bad Kobayashi’s life previously was. Introduced to multiple people in Kobayashi’s life (most of whom he dislikes or finds annoying), the soul eventually begins to understand what it means to enjoy being alive. The film offers a deep dive into societal issues within Japan. It deals with heavy subject matter such as bullying, underage prostitution, suicide, and finding one’s identity and sense of self.
The movie won the Mainichi Film Award for Animation, the audience prize and a special award at Annecy, and got nominated for the Japanese Academy Award for Animation.
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10. Weathering With You (2019) / Tenki no Ko (2019)
This is the perfect movie to watch on a rainy day, as the film takes place during the rainy season in Japan. It follows the story of Hodaka Morishima, a high school boy who runs away from home to escape his toxic family and start a new life. Finally, he reaches Tokyo and befriends an orphaned young girl who can control the weather. This is a tale of an unlikely friendship that eventually blooms into a romantic drama with fantasy elements thrown into the mix. It is a must-watch if you are a fan of Makoto Shinkai’s work in Your Name, and it offers beautiful visuals in its high-quality animation.
Although it does not compare to Your Name, it is still worth a watch. The story is easy to follow in a way that allows viewers to get wrapped up in the narrative and immersed in the world Makoto created. It is a sad romance anime movie that deals with star-crossed lovers while exploring the folktale of Weather Maidens. Besides the beautiful animation, the soundtrack sets the mood for the entire film.
9. The Garden Of Words (2013) / Kotonoha no Niwa (2013)
The Garden of Words is another fantastic film by Makoto Shinkai that explores the concept of solitude and loneliness in a modern setting. Makoto describes this as a love story for people who feel lonely or incomplete in their social standings. It follows the story of 15-year-old Takao Akizuki who decides to forego his morning lessons to spend time in a garden. Here, he meets Yukari Yukino, a mysterious older woman who shares his feelings of isolation and alienation.
It is a beautifully animated film with a 50-minute runtime that explores the taboo relationship between a teacher and a student. Makoto succeeded in telling a powerful story that takes a deeper look at Japanese society and the vast distance between the younger and older generations. With little dialogue and subtle hints at the blooming romance, Makoto again presents fans with a masterpiece that will have audiences in tears by the film’s end. It is rare to find a movie that is easily comparable to reality, and this one does just that.
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8. Your Name (2016) / Kimi no Na Wa (2016)
Yet another film by Makoto Shinkai (probably not the last one for this list), Your Name, took the world by storm back in 2016 when it was first released. The film won multiple awards with its critically acclaimed score, soundtrack, and beautiful animation. The film broke box office records and grossed over $380 million worldwide before eventually becoming the third highest-grossing anime film of all time. Your Name was the title of the light novel written and published by Makoto a month before the film’s release, which doubled as the film’s inspiration.
At first glance, the film follows your typical Freaky Friday plot in which the protagonists switch bodies. However, as can be expected from Makoto at this point, it is more complex. It is a romance anime that follows the story of Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, two teenagers who inexplicably begin swapping bodies at random. This sets the tone for a fun and humorous dive into each other’s lives until the reality sets in that tragedy is just around the corner and meeting each other is not as simple as catching a train to Tokyo.
7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) / Toki wa Kakeru Shōjo (2006)
This is another award-winning film that shows viewers that all actions have their consequences. Written by Satoko Okudera, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, and produced by Madhouse, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a science fiction romance film adapted from the original novel of the same name that was released in 1967 by Yasutaka Tsutsui. In the book, the main character’s aunt from the film is the protagonist making this movie a loose adaption/sequel.
The film captures genuine fear and grief through the experiences of Makoto Konno, a teenage girl who does not know what she wants to do with her life after high school. She discovers she can time travel and recklessly uses these powers to return to the past and ‘fix’ all her problems. As expected, with an ability like this comes great responsibility and consequences she must learn the hard way. The film takes a tragic turn when Makoto discovers that there is only a limited number of jumps she can make and that her reckless choices are beginning to catch up to her and affect the people she holds most dear.
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6. 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007) / Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru (2007)
Once more, Makoto Shinkai offers fans a unique take on what it means to grow apart. This kind of anime story perfectly captures the concept of meeting the right person at the wrong time. This anime movie follows the sad story of two individuals, Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara, who start as close childhood friends. Eventually, the two are separated because of family, and even though they attempt to remain in contact, the rift continues to grow into their adulthood. The film is an emotional rollercoaster that accurately depicts the empty and heart-wrenching feeling of losing someone close to you to distance.
This romance film offers beautiful visuals and a score to match. It can easily be considered one of the saddest anime movies of all time due to the melancholy atmosphere and the realization that there won’t be a happy ending for the protagonists. At the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2007, the film received the Best Animated Feature Film award and overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and audience members alike. This is an underrated film compared to Your Name and has an even more significant emotional impact on the viewer for a long time after the credits roll.
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5. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (2018) / Kimi no Suizō o Tabetai (2018)
This is a depressing but fantastic film based on the light novel of the same name by author Yoru Sumino. Directed by Shin’ichirô Ushijima, the film deals with dark themes such as grief, death and terminal illness. The film tells the tale of a high school student who accidentally picks up the dairy of one of his classmates. Through this diary, he discovers that Sakura Yamauchi, a popular girl in his class, has pancreatic cancer and only has a few years to live. While keeping it a secret, the pair use this information to bond and become close friends.
By the end of the story, viewers are left with mixed feelings of melancholy and joy as the character development pays off for the protagonists. And although the film did not receive any awards, it was widely acclaimed by critics and fans alike, who praised the beautiful animation and skillful writing. Grossing over $6 million worldwide, the film is an absolute must-see hence its placement so high up on this list.
4. A Silent Voice (2016) / Koe no Katachi (2016)
Directed by Naoko Yamada and written by Reiko Yoshida, A Silent Voice is a heartbreaking coming-of-age drama that deals with disabilities, bullying, social anxiety and suicide. The story follows that of Shōya Ishida, a high school student with intense social anxiety that leaves him unable to look at people. He has earned his status as a social outcast for relentlessly bullying the new transfer student in elementary school, Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl. As time progresses, he becomes a loner who no one wants to befriend. Finally, Shōya decides he wants to make amends with Shōko to compensate for the times he bullied her. This leads both characters on a journey of healing, self-discovery, and what it means to have true friends and emotional connections.
Not only did this sad anime movie receive wide critical acclaim and praise, but it also grossed over $31 million worldwide. The heavy themes covered in the film, beautiful animation, interesting stylistic choices, and impressive voice acting led to the Best Anime Feature Film award for 2016 at the Japanese Movie Critics Awards. This film is worth the almost 2-hour runtime and will stay with its audience for a long time.
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3. To the Forest of Firefly Lights (2011) / Hotarubi no Mori e (2011)
This 2011 film, directed by Takahiro Omori, is 45 minutes of build-up to absolute heartbreak. Sometimes called The Forest of Fireflies, the story begins with a six-year-old Hotaru who gets lost in the forest while at her grandpa’s house for summer vacation. The forest is said to be inhabited by spirits, and this is where she meets Gin, a strange boy in a mask. He helps her find her way out of the forest, where she quickly learns that human beings can not touch Gin, or he will cease to exist. This is the start of their friendship, with Hotaru returning each summer to spend time with her best friend.
This sad anime movie details the struggles of being unable to touch each other while still trying to help emotionally. It also looks at themes of growing up, loneliness, longing, the concept of being held back, and the inability to move on that comes along with it. The film is praised for its beautiful animation, storytelling, and atmosphere. The only criticism received by the film was the short run time, which arguably, adds to the story rather than takes away from it.
2. Wolf Children (2012) / Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (2012)
Directed and co-written by Mamoru Hosoda, the sad anime movie follows Hana as a single mother who must keep the identity of her children a secret. She meets and falls in love with a young man as a college student. Soon, she discovers he is a werewolf and the last shifter of his kind left alive. This information does not deter Hana, and she decides to start a family with him. She gives birth to two wolf children: a daughter Yuki, and a son Ame. But tragedy strikes out of nowhere when her husband gets killed on a hunting trip for food. She is left with the two children in a large city, and the risk of their identity being exposed grows every day. Hana decides to move to the countryside to find a new life wherein she can keep her children safe and happy.
The film won various awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, the 2012 Mainichi Film Award for Best Animation Film, and the 2013 Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) Animation of the Year award. The film also received high praise for its storytelling, animation, and beautiful handling of the darker themes included (e.g. grief, loss, single parenting, othering in society, etc.).
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1. Grave of Fireflies (1988) / Hotaru no Haka (1988)
As one of the most critically acclaimed war films of all time and animated by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, it should not be surprising that this is number one on our list of sad anime movies. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, the film follows the story of newly orphaned and homeless siblings, Seita and his sister Setsuko. The story occurs as World War II ends in 1945 after the destruction caused by the American bombings. After losing their parents and home to the spoils of war, they must travel across the ravished country, looking for food and trying not to succumb to diseases.
This is a heartbreaking but accurate portrayal of the ramifications of war and its massive impact on human nature. The children encounter many people along the way that portray just how cruel humans can be if the circumstances are bad enough. This is a period film worth watching, as the siblings’ optimism keeps the movie from being too heartbreaking to finish.
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We can’t forget some honourable mentions which didn’t quite make it to the list, specifically because they are series and not movies:
If you are looking for some tear-jerking anime series, consider checking out Clannad (2007), the story of a lonely girl left behind by her friends, who finds a friend in the main protagonist, Tomoya Okazaki. There is also the notorious Your Lie In April (2014), which I’m sure you would have heard of, telling the story of a boy who plays the piano (Arima Kousei) and a girl who plays the violin (Kaori Miyazono). There is also Violet Evergarden and Violet Evergarden: The Movie about a girl that was used as a tool of war trying to learn to live a normal life. Plastic Memories (2015) tells the story of an AI and a human who work together to hunt down rogue androids. Angel Beats! (2010) tells the story of a group of teens fighting against death itself in the afterlife. Last on the list of honourable mentions is Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2017), a story of a girl who loses all her friends and a place to call home because of the believed properties of her blood.
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What is your favourite tear-jerking / sad anime movie for when you need a good cry?