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Best Anime Movies Of All Time (Top 50 Essentials)

Best Anime Movies Of All Time (Top 50 Essentials)

In recent years, anime has become quite popular in American culture and across the world. For those who are unfamiliar, anime is a style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children. Anime is typically characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes. While most anime lovers have a queue of specific TV series that they watch, there are also several anime movies that have been influential throughout the decade for shaping the genre. 

Anime has existed for several generations, with some of the most landmark anime for today’s generation originating in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Full feature anime movies have acted both as extensions of these beloved series, as well as stand alone masterpieces that vividly display the evolution of the art form, both historically and futuristically.

We have decided to create a list of our top 50 best anime movies that we believe will help anyone curious about anime learn more about the staple films, as well as to provide a queue for avid anime lovers to watch whenever they decide to take a break from their dedicated series (as if your queue isn’t already long enough!)

Here are the best anime movies for you to add to your queue, in no definitive order:

 

A Silent Voice (2016)

Director: Naoko Yamada

If you ask a random personal to create a list of the best anime movies, there is no doubt that A Silent Voice  will be on the list. This film is a tear-jerker. When a grade school student with impaired hearing is bullied relentlessly, she transfers to another school. Years later, one of her former tormentors sets out to make amends.

Ninja Scroll (1993)

Director:  Yoshiaki Kawajiri

In this anime movie, a highly skilled ninja named Jubei is coerced into slaying his own warrior clan. After  killing his fellow swordsmen, he becomes a roving hired assassin. While traveling, he must face off against an organization of demonic ninjas known as the Devils of Kimon, who are plotting to take over Japan’s government. The Devils will stop at nothing and have the power to dominate entire villages. Now, only Jubei and a shogun spy named Dakuan can stop them.

Your Name (2016)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Another favorite that will probably be on any best anime movie lists in Your Name. The anime film, Your Name tells the story of Taki, a high school boy in Tokyo and Mitsuha, a high school girl in a rural town, who one day inexplicably begin to swap bodies. The teenagers share a profound connection upon discovering they are swapping bodies. But things become even more complicated when the boy and girl decide to meet in person.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

This list of best anime movies will contain several of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. One of the most beloved of many Studio Ghibli buffs is My Neighbor Totoro. The animation film follows schoolgirl Satsuke and her younger sister, Mei, as they settle into an old country house with their father and wait for their mother to recover from an illness in an area hospital. As the sisters explore their new home, they encounter and befriend playful spirits in their house and the nearby forest, most notably the massive cuddly creature known as Totoro.

Akira (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo 

This is the OG anime movie that you’ve probably seen in a lot of vaporwave style graphics. If you are a fan of motorcycle and leather jacket aesthetic mixed with dystopian political conspiracy, look no further that Akira. In 1988 the Japanese government drops an atomic bomb on Tokyo after ESP experiments on children go awry. In 2019, 31 years after the nuking of the city, Kaneda, a bike gang leader, tries to save his friend Tetsuo from a secret government project. He battles anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader until Tetsuo’s supernatural powers suddenly manifest. A final battle is fought in Tokyo Olympiad exposing the experiment’s secrets.

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Before Scar-Jo’s live action version, there was the original Ghost In The Shell animated film. The film is set in 2029 Japan, and follows Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg public-security agent, who hunts a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. The narrative incorporates philosophical themes that focus on self-identity in a technologically advanced world. Cyborg federal agent Maj. Motoko Kusanagi trails “The Puppet Master”, who illegally hacks into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Her pursuit of a man who can modify the identity of strangers leaves Motoko questioning her own identity and what life might be like if she had more human traits. 

Spirited Away (2001)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Other than My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away is probably one of the most referenced and recognized Studio Ghibli films. 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble upon an amusement park that seems abandoned. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets a boy named Haku, who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents. Most people, depending on the generation, would say that this one of Miyazaki’s best anime movies and is favorited by many.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Director: Isao Takahata

A devastating meditation on the human cost of war, this animated tale follows Seita, a teenager charged with the care of his younger sister, Setsuko, after an American firebombing during World War II separates the two children from their parents. Their tale of survival is as heartbreaking as it is true to life. The siblings rely completely on each other and struggle against all odds to stay together and stay alive.

Paprika (2006)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Dr. Atsuko Chiba works as a scientist by day and, under the code name “Paprika,” is a dream detective at night. Atsuko and her colleagues are working on a device called the DC Mini, which is intended to help psychiatric patients, but in the wrong hands it could destroy people’s minds. When a prototype is stolen, Atsuko/Paprika springs into action to recover it before damage is done.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Sophie has an uneventful life at her late father’s hat shop, but all that changes when she befriends wizard Howl, who lives in a magical flying castle. However, the evil Witch of Waste takes issue with their budding relationship and casts a spell on young Sophie, which ages her prematurely. Now Howl must use all his magical talents to battle the jealous hag and return Sophie to her former youth and beauty.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

Director: Shinichirō Watanabe

Cocky Spike Spiegel and the crew of his spaceship, Bebop, an intrepid band of bounty hunters, land on Mars in the year 2071 chasing an enormous cash reward. The four-person team, also including looming cyborg Jet Black, fearless Faye Valentine and tech expert Edward, are in search of ex-military officer Vincent. The former hero has become a biological terrorist with an arsenal of devastating nano-bots that he’ll let loose on Alba City on the night before Halloween if his demands aren’t met.

Mirai (2018)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Although this movie came out in very recent years, we still believe that it belongs on our list of best anime movies. A young boy named Kun feels forgotten by his family when his little sister Mirai arrives. Running away from home, Kun stumbles upon a magical garden that serves as a time-travelling gateway where he encounters his mother as a little girl and has a series of adventures with his baby sister, who is all grown up, opening a new perspective on his world.

Inuyasha the Movie: Affections Touching Across Time (2001)

Director: Toshiya Shinohara

If you are a fan of Inuyasha, you probably agree that this is one of the best anime movies in the series at least. Inuyasha’s father defeated a powerful Mongol moth yokai named Hyōga 200 years ago. Now a Shikon Jewel fragment has freed Menōmaru, Hyōga’s son. He seeks revenge for his father’s destruction and to free the power of his father sealed away with him. Menōmaru resurrects his minions Ruri and Hari to plot against Inuyasha.

Barefoot Gen (1983)

Director: Mori Masaki

Hands down one of the best anime movies to capture a true moment in history. With no advance warning, on the morning of August 6th, 1945, an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by artist Keiji Nakazawa, Barefoot Gen is an animated drama about a family’s struggle to survive in Japan during the waning days of World War II. The family’s patriarch has run afoul of the local government due to his opposition to the war. The government begins to deprive the family of life’s little luxuries, and its necessities. The hardships they suffer through are put into perspective by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by Allied forces. The family’s six-year-old son, Gen, who has lived with the reality of the war nearly his entire life, provides the center of this animated drama.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Definitely in the top 10 best anime movies under the Studio Ghibi umbrella. In the 14th century, the harmony that humans, animals and gods have enjoyed begins to crumble. The protagonist, young Ashitaka – infected by an animal attack, seeks a cure from the deer-like god Shishigami. In his travels, he sees humans ravaging the earth, bringing down the wrath of wolf god Moro and his human companion Princess Mononoke. His attempts to broker peace between her and the humans brings only conflict.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world’s ecosystem, the few surviving humans live in scattered semi-hospitable environments within what has become a “toxic jungle.” Young Nausicaä lives in the arid Valley of the Wind and can communicate with the massive insects that populate the dangerous jungle. Under the guidance of the pensive veteran warrior, Lord Yupa, Nausicaä works to bring peace back to the ravaged planet.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Middle-aged alcoholic Gin (Darren Pleavin), teenage runaway Miyuki (Candice Moore) and former drag queen Hana (Myrta Dangelo) are a trio of homeless people surviving as a makeshift family on the streets of Tokyo. While rummaging in the trash for food on Christmas Eve, they stumble upon an abandoned newborn baby in a trash bin. With only a handful of clues to the baby’s identity, the three misfits search the streets of Tokyo for help in returning the baby to its parents.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

In this anime feature, 13-year-old Kiki moves to a seaside town with her talking cat, Jiji, to spend a year alone, in accordance with her village’s tradition for witches in training. After learning to control her broomstick, Kiki sets up a flying courier service and soon becomes a fixture in the community. But when the insecure young witch begins questioning herself and loses her magic abilities, she must overcome her self-doubt to get her powers back.

Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: The Conqueror of Shamballa (2005)

Director: Seiji Mizushima

Two brothers trapped in different worlds struggle to unlock the secrets that will bring them back together in this feature-length entry into the Full Metal Alchemist saga. The year is 1923, and the burgeoning Nazi party is slowly gaining a foothold in German politics. It’s been two long years since Edward Elric’s bold sacrifice found him thrust into the unfamiliar Earth realm, and as he continues to research rocketry in Munich alongside fellow researcher Alphons Heiderich — a scientist who strangely resembles Ed’s long-lost brother Al — the slow progress leaves the discouraged Ed wondering if he’ll ever see his brother again.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

This is one of the best anime movies for vampire lovers. In the year 12,090, vampires are the rulers of the night, something to which Vampire Hunter D is helping to put an end. After the daughter of a rich man is kidnapped by vampire Meier Link, Vampire Hunter D is hired for ten million dollars to find the girl and bring her back to safety.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)

Directors: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki

The End of Evangelion is the second film in the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, and the last anime release for the series until the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy. The film is an alternate ending to the TV series, taking place after episode 24. It follows Shinji and Auska trying to prevent the occurance of Third Impact. Shinji still haunted in the death of Karou Nageisa is pressured in piloting Evangelion Unit-01; where Shinji is in the process of deciding whether or not humanity should continue to exist. 

Redline (2009)

Director: Takeshi Koike

A daredevil driver is determined to compete in Redline, the most popular race in the galaxy. The race only occurs every five years, but in order to participate he must overcome the mafia, the government and even love.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (1988)

Director:  Yoshiyuki Tomino

This full-length feature film concludes the story that ran through the Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ series and depicts the final battle between Char Aznable and Amuro Ray. U.C. 0093 – Char Aznable, the infamous “Red Comet” of the One Year War, has come out of hiding to lead the Neo-Zeon Army and wage war against the Earth Federation. Only his greatest rival, Gundam pilot Amuro Ray, can stop him from dropping the Axis asteroid on Earth and causing a major global catastrophe.

The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

When 17-year-old Makoto Konno gains the ability to, quite literally, “leap” backwards through time, she immediately sets about improving her grades and preventing personal mishaps. However, she soon realises that changing the past isn’t as simple as it seems, and eventually, will have to rely on her new powers to shape the future of her and her friends.

Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (1998)

Director: Yasunao Aoki

This anime film is so special because it was the ultimate finale to the Gundam Wing television series. After Colony 196 – One year has passed since the war between Earth and its colonies ended. Heero, Duo, Trowa and Quatre bid farewell to their Gundams and jettison them to the sun. Relena Darlian is now the deputy minister of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation. But as the Gundam pilots are adjusting to the peace on Earth, Relena is kidnapped and a new threat appears, led by Marimeia Khushrenada – daughter of the late dictator Treize Khushrenada and heir to the Barton Foundation. To make matters more complicated, Gundam Nataku pilot Wufei has sided with this faction. The Gundam pilots must recover their mobile suits and once again engage in battle before Marimeia’s forces succeed on their bid for global domination.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

This film would fall into the genre of science fiction or war drama. Set over several years in an alternate history where the Soviet Union occupies half of Japan, the film follows two childhood friends who grow apart after one of their friends disappears; as international tension rises and a mysterious tower built by the Union starts replacing matter around it with matter from other universes, they cross paths once again and realize their missing friend might be the key to save the world.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Arrietty, a tiny teenager, lives with her parents in the recesses of a suburban home, unbeknown to the homeowner and housekeeper. Like others of her kind, Arrietty remains hidden from her human hosts, but occasionally ventures forth from beneath the floorboards to borrow sugar cubes and other supplies. A secret friendship forms when 12-year-old Shawn meets Arrietty, but their relationship could spell danger for Arrietty’s family.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Director: Yoshifumi Kondō

Based on the manga with the same title, this animated film follows Shizuku, an inquisitive young girl and a voracious reader, who longs to be a writer when she grows up. One day she notices that all of her library books have previously been taken out by one Seiji Amasawa. Amid chasing after a large cat, befriending an eccentric antiques dealer and writing her first novel, Shizuku aims to find this mysterious boy who may well be her soul mate.

Wolf Children (2012)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

The story follows a young mother who is left to raise two half-human half-wolf children, Ame and Yuki, after their werewolf father dies.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Director:  Isao Takahata

A tiny nymph found inside a bamboo stalk grows into a beautiful and desirable young woman, who orders her suitors to prove their love by completing a series of near-impossible tasks. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her, but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.

Millennium Actress (2001)

Director: Satoshi Kon

In this animated movie, filmmaker Genya Tachibana begins work on a documentary about famed Japanese actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. Now well into old age, Chiyoko has become reclusive and shy about any publicity, but she eventually warms up to Tachibana and starts to relate her life story. As the decades pass, Chiyoko is transformed from a teen with big dreams into a full-blown celebrity, while her cinematic characters span various eras, from ancient Japan to the distant future.

Roujin-Z (1991)

Director: Seiji Mizushima

This is one of the best anime movies in the comedy thriller genres. An elderly invalid is volunteered for a bizarre science experiment. He is given a robotic bed linked directly to his brainwaves, allowing instant gratification. This seems like a wonderful deal, until this seemingly harmless bed goes out of control and transforms into an unstoppable robot.

The Cat Returns (2002)

Director: Hiroyuki Morita

High school student Haru (Chizuru Ikewaki) rescues a cat that was about to be run over by a truck and discovers the cat is actually a prince named Lune. Out of gratitude, Lune’s father, the Cat King, asks her to marry Lune. Haru is brought to the Cat Kingdom, where she starts to develop feline features. When she is prevented from leaving, the Baron (Yoshihiko Hakamada) and Toto, two statues that have magically been given life, provide assistance in gaining her freedom.

When Marnie Was There (2014)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

A young girl is sent to the country for health reasons, where she meets an unlikely friend in the form of Marnie, a young girl with flowing blonde hair. As the friendship unravels Marnie has closer ties to the protagonist than we might expect.

See Also

Venus Wars (1989)

Director: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

In this Japanese animation, two thriving colonies, Ishtar and Aphrodia, exist on the planet Venus in the year 2089. War breaks out, and Ishtar invades Aphrodia, sweeping its residents — including motorcycle rider Hiro (Ben Fairman) and his teammates, who regularly race for audiences — into the chaos of the conflict. The Ishtar military wants to use the motorcycle team as a fighting force, but Hiro and his comrade Miranda (Jocelyn Cunningham) want peace. Hiro, however, is pulled into conflict.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Told in three interconnected segments, we follow a young man named Takaki through his life as cruel winters, cold technology, and finally, adult obligations and responsibility converge to test the delicate petals of love.

Perfect Blue

Director: Satoshi Kon

If you like a could mystery thriller, this is one of the best anime movies to add to your list. Perfect Blue is the story of retired pop singer turned actress, Mima, as her sense of reality starts to shake as she is stalked by an obsessed fan while being haunted from reflections of her past. 

Colorful (2010)

Director: Keiichi Hara

A soul wakes up in the body of suicide victim Makoto and must find a way to fit into his existence. The soul must unravel two mysteries — the secret of the great sin it committed in its previous life and why Makoto committed suicide.

Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan (1993)

Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Depending on how much of a DBZ fan you are, you might consider this and the recent restoration to the one of the best anime movies of all time. This Dragon Ball series film introduces the super-villain Broly into the franchise. When a spaceship touches down during a picnic, the saiyan Paragus tries to persuade Vegeta to rule the new planet Vegeta. There, Vegeta enlists Paragus’s powerful son, Broly, to help him investigate a series of interplanetary attacks.

Miss Hokusai (2015)

Director: Keiichi Hara

Hailed as a feminist anime, this anime film is one of the few anime movies centered around the life of a woman. A daughter is constantly overshadowed by her famous father, but she is determined to make her own mark in the world. As all of Edo flocks to see the work of the revered painter Hokusai, his daughter O-Ei toils diligently inside his studio.  sold under the name of her father- are coveted by upper crust Lords and journeyman print makers alike. Shy and reserved in public, in the studio O-Ei is as brash and uninhibited as her father, smoking a pipe while sketching drawings that would make contemporary Japanese ladies blush. But despite this fiercely independent spirit, O-Ei struggles under the domineering influence of her father and is ridiculed for lacking the life experience that she is attempting to portray in her art. 

Battle Angel/Gunnm (1993)

Director: Hiroshi Fukutomi

This movie takes place in a distant future, and is the story of a the young cyborg Gally, who is found on a scrapheap by the Cyberdoctor Daisuke Ido, who rebilds her and becomes her surrogate father. Gally has no memory of her past, but soon displays remarkable fighting skills. She starts working as a bounty hunter and meets a young boy Yugo, who has the impossible dream of going to Zalem. A giant satelite floating above the city. Not realising that Yugo’s dream can only end in missery Gally sets out to help him.

The Animatrix (2003)

Director: Several

The Animatrix is a collection of several animated short films, detailing the backstory of the “Matrix” universe, and the original war between man and machines which led to the creation of the Matrix.

A Letter to Momo (2011)

Director: Hiroyuki Okiura

Momo is recovering from her father’s death and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island, when she discovers a message from her father that causes strange events to occur.

Steamboy (2004)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

England of the 1860s receives a technological remake in this animated adventure. Ray is a brilliant young inventor who follows in the footsteps of his father, Eddie, and his grandfather, Lloyd Steam. After his grandfather sends him a mysterious mechanical ball that contains revolutionary power, Ray finds his world turning upside down. It seems a lot of people want that power, and not all of them have good intentions.

Porco Rosso (1992)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

In Italy in the 1930s, sky pirates in biplanes terrorize wealthy cruise ships as they sail the Adriatic Sea. The only pilot brave enough to stop the scourge is the mysterious Porco Rosso, a former World War I flying ace who was somehow turned into a pig during the war. As he prepares to battle the pirate crew’s American ace, Porco Rosso enlists the help of spunky girl mechanic Fio Piccolo and his longtime friend Madame Gina.

Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012)

Director: Takayuki Hirao

Kaori, Erika and Aki are celebrating their graduation when an infestation of walking fish forces them to re-evaluate their circumstances.

Summer Wars (2009)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

The story centers on high school student Kenji Koiso, a young math genius solves a complex equation and inadvertently puts a virtual world’s artificial intelligence in a position to destroy Earth.. At the beginning of summer vacation, he is asked by Natsuki, one of the most popular girls in his school, to help in celebrating her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. Although Kenji does not know the details of the plan, he agrees and goes with Natsuki to her grandmother’s estate in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture. Much to Kenji’s surprise, he is introduced at the Shinohara family house as Natsuki’s fiancé.

Sword of the Stranger (2007)

Director:  Masahiro Andô

A swordsman becomes caught up in a struggle between morality, righteousness and devotion after he agrees to take a raggedy boy and his dog to a Buddhist temple.

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Director: Michael Arias

The story takes place in the fictional city of Takaramachi (Treasure Town) and centers on a pair of orphaned street kids – the tough, canny Kuro (Black) and the childish, innocent Shiro (White), together known as the Cats – as they deal with yakuza attempting to take over Treasure Town.

The Boy and The Beast (2015)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Kyuta slips into an alternate universe where he is raised by the bear-man, Kumatetsu. Kyuta is eventually thrust into an adventure that spans both worlds.

 

Honorable mentions for best anime movies

A few newer anime movies that are also worth checking out are Weathering You and the two My Hero Academia films.

 

Which anime films do you think are the best anime movies of all time?

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