10 Best Drama Anime 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

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

The Murder Case of Hana & Alice is a charming and whimsical anime film that tells the story of two teenage girls who team up to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a classmate. The film is beautifully animated in a rotoscoped style giving it a unique and dreamlike quality. Hana and Alice, who is new to the town, decide to team up to solve the case. 

Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, and part slice-of-life make for a refreshing and unpredictable viewing experience as the film commits itself to each. The cast makes the story funny and heartwarming with their well-timed quips and well-written dialogue. This is a truly unique and enjoyable animated film about a beautiful friendship budding most unexpectedly.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Anne Suzuki, Haru Kuroki, Kaku Tomohiro, Midoriko Kimura, Ranran Suzuki, Ryo Katsuji, Sei Hiraizumi, Shoko Aida, Tae Kimura, Tomohiro Kaku, Yu Aoi

Director: Shunji Iwai

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

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

Based on the 13-episode series of the same name, Violet Evergarden tells the story of Violet, a scribe commissioned to write letters at a time when telephones and computers had yet to exist. Shell-shocked from her time in the war, Violet is exceptionally stoic, except when she remembers Gilbert, her military superior and sometime lover. His parting words were "I love you," and through her letters, Violet has been examining the meaning of the phrase since then. 

Fans of the series will have no trouble following the events of the film, but if you're going in cold without any prior exposure to the franchise, it might take a while for you to adjust to its world. More an amalgamation of multiple cultures than a reflection of just one, the imaginary Leidenschaftlich is filled with Japanese-speaking citizens, in modern-day-influenced clothes, with architecture and vistas that could fit right in 1800s Western Europe. Against this backdrop, Violet attempts to restart her life as a writer. Living often doesn't feel easy, especially when PTSD comes in the form of shocks and painful flashbacks, but loving, as she finds out, might be even harder. A tale of self-forgiveness and forging on, despite all odds, Violet Evergarden is a moving ode to life and love at a time of war. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aya Endo, Aya Saito, Ayako Kawasumi, Daichi Endo, Daisuke Namikawa, Emi Shinohara, Haruka Tomatsu, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hisako Kyoda, Jouji Nakata, Kanako Sakuragi, Kaori Mizuhashi, Koki Uchiyama, Kozue Harashima, Mayuno Yasokawa, Megumi Matsumoto, Minori Chihara, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Mugihito, Rie Hikisaka, Rina Sato, Rina Satou, Sumire Morohoshi, Takehito Koyasu, Yasuhiro Mamiya, Yui Ishikawa, Yuuki Sanpei

Director: Taichi Ishidate

There is a great deal of disbelief to suspend with this film, arguably the weakest of Japanese animation director Makoto Shinkai’s oeuvre. It follows Hodaka, a broke high school student in Tokyo looking for a job. The story kicks off when he meets Hina, a cheerful girl who lives with her younger brother and has the power to control the weather.

Again, as with all of Shinkai’s work, it’s remarkably beautiful. Rainfall, skies, and cityscapes are eye candy here, probably more than in any piece of animation ever. But this has every high school romance trope elevated to an extreme level, like Shinkai’s best known film Your Name but on steroids—a teenage boy and cute girl fit together like pieces of a puzzle, a grand adventure starts, forces beyond their control threaten to separate them, and the standard anime couple seemingly never see each other again, until they dramatically meet years later.

For the sake of an against-all-odds romance, Weathering with You downplays its insane plot devices. It glosses over runaway kids wielding firearms, an underage girl almost going into sex work, and a climate disaster potentially displacing millions of people—all for a love story.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aoi Yuki, Ayane Sakura, Chieko Baisho, Hidekatsu Shibata, Kana Hanazawa, Kana Ichinose, Kanon Tani, Kotaro Daigo, Masako Nozawa, Mone Kamishiraishi, Nana Mori, Ryo Narita, Ryohei Kimura, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sakura Kiryu, Sei Hiraizumi, Shinjirou Gouda, Shun Oguri, Sumi Shimamoto, Tsubasa Honda, Yuki Kaji, Yuki Ominami

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG-13