13 Best Anime Features Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Studio Ghibli has brought us moving, remarkable animated films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke. One of Studio Ghibli’s most overlooked movies is Yoshifumi Kondou’s Whisper of the Heart, which finds magic in the ordinary every day. Shizuku is a young girl with great aspirations to become a writer—the only thing stopping her is herself. When she comes across a curious antique shop, she befriends a mysterious boy and his grandfather, who are just the push she needs to look inward and discover her own artistic capabilities.

If you have ever wanted to create something bigger and better than yourself—a story, a song, a poem, a painting, a work of art—then Whisper of the Heart will excite you, will call to you, will remind you to answer your heart’s calling.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Issey Takahashi, Kazuo Takahashi, Keiju Kobayashi, Maiko Kayama, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Minami Takayama, Mitsuaki Ogawa, Naohisa Inoue, Shigeru Muroi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Shiro Kishibe, Takashi Tachibana, Toshio Suzuki, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshifumi Kondo, Yoshimi Nakajima

Director: Yoshifumi Kondô, Yoshifumi Kondou

Rating: G

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a chilling psychological thriller and a fantastic next step for those looking to explore anime’s dark side. Kon animates with Hitchcockian flair and is so successful at memorable compositions that Darren Aronofsky even lifted a scene from this into Requiem for a Dream. 

Mima is a pop idol who abandons her singing career to become an actress. Shaken by a series of murders, and a stalker who knows her every move, she begins to lose her grip on reality. The rest is a riveting ride into Mima’s unraveling psyche in the vein of Mulholland Drive or Black Swan. This 1996 film not only anticipates the reality busting thrillers of the early aughts but also presages the way our identities are splintered across the internet.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akio Suyama, Emi Motoi, Emi Shinohara, Emiko Furukawa, Hideyuki Hori, Jin Yamanoi, Junko Iwao, Kaori Minami, Kishō Taniyama, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Kōichi Tōchika, Masaaki Okura, Masashi Ebara, Megumi Tano, Osamu Hosoi, Rica Matsumoto, Shiho Niiyama, Shin-ichiro Miki, Shin'ichirō Miki, Shinpachi Tsuji, Soichiro Hoshi, Takashi Nagasako, Teiya Ichiryusai, Tōru Furusawa, Yoku Shioya, Yosuke Akimoto, Yousuke Akimoto

Director: Kou Matsuo, Satoshi Kon

Rating: R

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Rating: Not Rated

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Rating: PG-13

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito, Masahiro Itou, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Michie Terada, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Minowa, Yuuki Masuda

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig. 

Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Bunshi Katsura, Bunshi Katsura Vi, Hiroko Seki, Mahito Tsujimura, Minoru Yada, Osamu Saka, Reizō Nomoto, Sanshi Katsura, Shûichirô Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yoko Soumi, Yu Shimaka

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

5 Centimeters per Second is a quiet, beautiful anime about the life of a boy called Takaki, told in three acts over the span of seventeen years. The movie explores the experience and thrill of having a first love, as well as being someone else’s. In depicting how delicate it is to hold special feelings towards another, director Makoto Shinkai also perfectly captures how cruel the passing of time can be for someone in love. While the early stage of the movie maintains a dreamy mood, as the stories develop we become thrust back into reality, where it is not quite possible to own that which we want the most. All things considered, 5 Centimeters per Second is a story about cherishing others, accepting reality, and letting people go.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Akira Nakagawa, Ayaka Onoue, Hiroshi Shimozaki, Keiko Izeki, Kenji Mizuhashi, Masami Iwasaki, Mika Sakenobe, Rika Nakamura, Rion Kako, Risa Mizuno, Ryo Naito, Ryou Naitou, Satomi Hanamura, Suguru Inoue, Yoshiko Iseki, Yoshimi Kondou, Yuka Terasaki, Yuka Terazaki, Yuko Nakamura

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: TV-PG

One of Studio Ghibli’s overlooked gems, My Neighbors the Yamadas is a charming anthology film about a modern-day Japanese family. The film sets itself apart from other Ghibli films through its unique doodle-like watercolor animation and its short piano themes. While the vignettes may just depict regular family conflicts, the scenes still feel compelling due to the Yamadas’ imagination of the metaphors that they use. Exaggerating the metaphors keeps the audience breathless in certain strategic moments - most notably in the wedding day speech of the mother of the bride. While not as fantastical as Ghibli’s other offerings, the completely digital My Neighbors the Yamadas finds humor in and celebrates the mundane.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Akiko Yano, Chôchô Miyako, Hayato Isohata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno, Tamao Nakamura, Toru Masuoka, Yukiji Asaoka

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

While more known for their fantastical children’s stories, Studio Ghibli occasionally serves a down-to-earth, domestic film set in the real world. One of them is From Up On Poppy Hill. On the surface is a story of two student activists who fall in love while fighting to keep their high school club’s Latin Quarter from demolition. Of course, with this in mind, the most surprising event in the film is the incest scare. However, this seemingly random plot point feels important in the sense that everything is resolved once they've fully understood the past. And because of the 1960s post-Korean War Tokyo setting, the film is nostalgic yet dares to question whether or not Japan has fully processed and acknowledged their losses in a war that isn't theirs.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Aoi Teshima, Goro Miyazaki, Haruka Shiraishi, Jun Fubuki, Jun'ichi Okada, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita, Masami Nagasawa, Nao Ōmori, Rumi Hiiragi, Shunsuke Kazama, Takashi Naito, Teruyuki Kagawa, Tsubasa Kobayashi, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Rating: PG

Part fantasy, part road trip, and part coming-of-age, Suzume is a rich and fast-paced tale with no dull moments in between. The energy is relentless and the animation, as expected, is dazzling, so even though there are occasional plot holes and melodramatic reaches, you’d be hard-pressed not to forgive them. Suzume still wins you over. Of course, the fantastical aspects are what make Shinkai’s films his, but Suzume works best when it zeroes in on humans and their complicated feelings toward each other. The confrontation between Suzume and her aunt, where Suzume accuses her of suffocation and the aunt, in turn, laments the life she could’ve had if she wasn’t charged with caring for her dead sister’s daughter, is just as shattering as any scene involving slaying monsters or battling gods. I only wish there were more tender moments like this, but Suzume is just as endearing and entrancing all the same.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aimi, Akihiro Tajima, Arisa Maesako, Ayumi Tsuji, Eri Fukatsu, Genta Nakamura, Hinano Harumi, Hokuto Matsumura, Kaito Ogawa, Kana Hanazawa, Katsumi Fukuhara, Kotone Hanase, Kyo Yaoya, Matsumoto Hakuō II, Nanoka Hara, Ryoko Nagata, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sairi Ito, Saori Seto, Shinjirou Gouda, Shota Sometani, Takuya Yokota, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoji Ueda, Yoshino Aoyama, Yuki Sorami, Yuri Kimura, Yuu Ayase

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG

This 1994 animated gem from Studio Ghibli is one of their many environmentally-conscious works. In a world of shape-shifting animals and environmental conservation, Pom Poko beautifully combines folklore, humor, and social commentary to tell a tale of raccoons fighting to save their forest home from human encroachment. The animation is stunning, showcasing Ghibli's signature attention to detail and vibrant visuals. But it's the heartfelt story and lovable characters that really steal the show. Although it is slow-paced, Pom Poko is a thought-provoking and entertaining film that will make you laugh, cry, and appreciate the wonders of nature. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Akira Fukuzawa, Akira Kamiya, Beichou Katsura, Bunshi Katsura, Gannosuke Ashiya, Kobuhei Hayashiya, Kokondei Shinchou, Kosan Yanagiya, Makoto Nonomura, Megumi Hayashibara, Nijiko Kiyokawa, Norihei Miki, Osamu Kato, Shigeru Izumiya, Shincho Kokontei, Shozo Hayashiya, Takehiro Murata, Yorie Yamashita, Yumi Ichihara, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

Prior to being defined by that fateful bombing in 1945, Hiroshima was like any other city outside of Tokyo; small but full, quiet but busy, and in the midst of a slow-but-sure journey to modernization. We experience the rich and intimate details of this life through the kind-hearted Suzu, who herself is stuck between the throes of old and new. She is an ambitious artist but also a dedicated wife; a war-wearied survivor and a hopeful cheerleader. 

Set before, during, and after the Second World War, the film starts off charmingly mundane at first, but it quickly gives way to inevitable grief in the second half. One stark tragedy follows another as it becomes increasingly clear how much we lose our humanity in war.

In This Corner of the World is the rare film outside of the Hayao Miyazaki canon that captures the latter's heart for detail while still being graciously its own.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Asuka Ohgame, Barbara Goodson, Christine Marie Cabanos, Daishi Kajita, Daisuke Ono, Hisako Kyoda, Kei Tomoe, Kenta Miyake, Kira Buckland, Kohei Kiyasu, Kosuke Sakaki, Manami Sugihira, Manami Tanaka, Mayumi Shintani, Megumi Han, Miki Hase, Minori Omi, Nanase Iwai, Natsuki Inaba, Non, Nozomu Sasaki, Rena Nōnen, Rio Kawakami, Risa Sakurana, Shigeru Ushiyama, Sunao Katabuchi, Tengai Shibuya III, Tomoko Shiota, Tsubasa Miyoshi, Tsuyoshi Koyama, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yukitomo Tochino, Yuuki Hirose

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Rating: PG-13

A splendid animated movie by the legendary animator and director Satoshi Kon. A team of scientists and psychologists have created a device allowing them to enter someone else's dreams. Even if the usage of this device is not allowed outside of her facility, Doctor Atsuko Chiba is using it to cure patients from depression. Things start to get complicated when a stolen device is being used by someone to implement confusing dreams in various victims, causing them to mentally break down.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Akiko Kawase, Akio Otsuka, Anri Katsu, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Eiji Miyashita, Hideyuki Tanaka, Katsunori Kobayashi, Katsunosuke Hori, Koichi Yamadera, Kouichi Yamadera, Kozo Mito, Megumi Hayashibara, Mitsuo Iwata, Rikako Aikawa, Satomi Koorogi, Satomi Korogi, Satoshi Kon, Seiko Ueda, Shinichiro Ohta, Shinya Fukumatsu, Tohru Emori, Tôru Emori, Toru Furuya, Yasutaka Tsutsui

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: R