The Boy and The Heron, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is an instant classic with themes of death, escapism, grief, and change.
Suzume, directed by Makoto Shinkai, is a coming-of-age journey with a relatively easy-to-digest story and a visually stunning country setting.
Sand Land, based on a manga by Akira Toriyama, is a visually engaging adventure set in a wasteland where humans and demons coexist.
2023 was an eventful year for anime movies that has gone by pretty quickly. Before we fully wrap things up, it’s necessary to share some of the best flicks we’ve seen in the past 12 months. There’s a lot of variety here, so it’s best to approach this collection with an open mind and prepare to explore new fantastical worlds, emotionally gripping stories, and, of course, some action-packed adventure along the way!
An instant classic from Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and The Heron follows a simple story structure of a young protagonist on an honourable quest. A typical Studio Ghibli experience. Underneath, though, there are layers that deal with some gripping themes like death, escapism, grief, and change.
Watching the young protagonist, Mahito Maki, deal with the loss of his mother and a new life with his aunt, there’s a natural support for him to see some better days. However, the presence of a strange Heron and some fantasy horror elements throw him into a whole new dynamic. One that seemingly promises the return of his mother if he’s able to accomplish his noble goals. It’s an interesting tale that will have you on the edge of your seat, and it’s also sure to provide some lessons for your younger ones if you want to watch it as a family movie. Plus, its one of the best anime movies of 2023.
With a highly acclaimed director like Makoto Shinkai, there are some high expectations from the anime movie industry each year. In his latest anime film, Shinkai presents a gorgeous country setting filled with lush gardens and an eye for the small details.
Suzume is a coming-of-age journey that kind of feels like a glass onion compared to a lot of other works from Shinkai. It doesn’t overly rely on mysterious metaphors, and the story is relatively easy to digest. Following an orphaned girl living with her aunt, she comes upon a chance encounter with a stranger that leads her to an alternate dimension. Due to some reasons explained in the plot, Suzume and the stranger must stop a mysterious cat from the alternate dimension from destroying the world. A fun premise that acts as the first layer of a beautiful world that is crafted in a way that eventually hits you with an emotionally fulfilling third act.
8. Sand Land
Based on a manga from over 20 years ago, Sand Land is a story that presents the true genius of Akira Toriyama as a mangaka. This anime movie takes place in a completely different universe from the ones we are familiar with in Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump. Instead, the setting is a wasteland where humans and demons are the main races.
The story follows Beelzebub, a young demon boy, along with Rao, an older human sheriff. The main plot revolves around a search for a water source that could help both humans and demons. Unfortunately, though, the human king wants to keep the water for himself alone and tries to stop the heroes by any means necessary. Sand Land has a simple plot, but it’s a visual feast with some engaging characters and a fun adventure to follow, easily making it one of the best anime movies of 2023.
Have you ever imagined living in a world where nobody ages, the seasons remain the same, and your neighbourhood is cut off from the rest of society? Alice and Therese’s Illusory Factory presents that premise here, but it’s also clear that there are a lot of drawbacks to this type of lifestyle, especially when there’s a mysterious explosion at a steelworks factory preceding these events.
The main character here is Masamune, a regular schoolboy who hangs out with his friends and practices his drawing skills every day. Everything changes after the explosion, and Masamune discovers a chance encounter with one of his classmates, Mutsumi, who sneaks him into the factory. Here, he finds a mysterious feral girl, and they begin to uncover the strange effect of the explosion.
6. Sailor Moon Cosmos
Released sometime in July 2023 for US audiences, Sailor Moon Cosmos is an anime movie that explores a mysterious character in the Sailor Moon universe. One that has troubled many fans for years because of the similarities between her and Sailor Moon.
The film focuses on Sailor Cosmos, a character that was not included in the original anime. Now, she has the chance to shine on the big screen, and some of the mystery surrounding her is finally peeled back. There’s a lot to unpack in the two-part film, and if you’re a casual Sailor Moon fan or one who has read the manga, you’ll be impressed with the visuals and stellar direction presented in this film. It is truly a big deal for fans who have spent years waiting for something like this. The visuals are stunning, the transformations are breathtaking, and the story is amazing. The first part and the sequel are worth watching back to back for the best experience.
5. Black Clover: Sword of the Wizard King
With the world of Black Clover ramping up the action in recent years, it’s time to take a look at a film that focuses on an enigmatic figure from its past. Conrad Leto, a former Wizard King who took the evil route, is the main villain here. After being sealed away for rebelling against the country, he has broken free and resurrected three Wizard Kings from the past, and he plans to use their help to burn the kingdom down.
Naturally, it’s up to Asta and friends to save the day. In terms of power scaling, this movie offers an opportunity to see just how much Asta has grown since his last appearance. For a boy with no magic, Asta is able to stand toe-to-toe with Leto in a decisive manner. A truly impressive showing for the young Wizard.
The animation quality here is nothing to scoff at. It’s well-directed and paced brilliantly.
4. Psycho-Pass: Providence
Psycho-Pass: Providence is an anime movie that calls back to the original Psycho-Pass series’ mysterious atmosphere. Providence is a way for original fans to finally get some answers on mysterious events that took place between the Sinners of the System movies and Season 3.
In this film, we explore Akane Tsunemori’s mission to stop a plot to dissolve Japan’s judiciary system in exchange for the Sibyl System. The film delves into a conspiracy after a scientist who openly criticized the Sybil System is murdered. There’s a lot of depth on an emotional level here, and it is still as captivating as the original series, even after all this time.
3. Rascal Does Not Dream of a Sister Venturing Out
This film is a new direction for Hajime Kamoshida’s iconic light novel series. Following the story of Kaede Azusagawa, a girl who struggles with online bullying and amnesia, she attempts to rebuild her life with help from her friends and brother.
The movie focuses on Kaede’s struggles as she attempts to fit in, especially after dealing with childhood trauma and feelings of inferiority following her memory loss of two years. Instead of using supernatural elements to support the plot, this entry in the Rascal franchise focuses solely on Kaede’s journey to recovery.
There’s a sense of unworthiness that she experiences, and the story does a great job of portraying that struggle. By the end, these intense emotions will feel worth it as the story brilliantly presents a message of self-discovery.
2. Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: The First Kiss Never Ends
Picking up after the events of Ultra Romantic, this movie focuses on the Kaguya and Shirogane’s relationship blossoming. Focusing on Kaguya specifically, the film highlights some of her struggles with desiring a normal relationship while being aware of her own traits that might stop that from happening. It also explores some of the much-needed development that she has been inching towards in terms of vulnerability in her relationship.
A more dramatic showing for this series; there’s enough to digest with the main character along with other side characters. Chika does not have a huge role in this one, but at least we get to see some interesting dynamics in Ishigami’s love triangle.
From a visual perspective, it looks similar to the regular series. However, there are some breathtaking shots here that feel like a whole new perspective of the characters. It’s impressive how well-directed it is. It’s an anime movie with deep exploration and an easy watch for any established fans of the show in 2023.
Adapted from the manga by Nao Iwamoto, this film is a fantasy romance that follows two kingdoms seeking to mend their relations by sending animals to each other instead of the traditional marriage system.
The story here is already intriguing, but what really makes it work is the character-focused structure it presents. The main characters are interesting to watch, and the overall narrative uses a thousand-year-old backstory to explain the current conflict.
While it’s not perfect, the film does a great job of establishing the stakes in this conflict, and the climax is satisfactory enough to conclude it as a great film to watch. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re bored and looking for something different.
Born in Venezuela – and still living there – Tito Pernalete loves all things geeky and sci-fi. He studied Social Communications in college: an odd career choice for a confessed introvert. Though he has experience as a director of photography for some short films, Tito has been a writer for most of his adult life, with a particular interest in movies/TV and tech in general. When he's not playing Elden Ring or binge-watching a horror movie marathon, you can find him planning his dream trip to Japan. His favourite film is RoboCop, but he also has a soft spot for cheesy 80s horror flicks and anything made by Wes Anderson.