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Best Studio Ghibli films: Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky

The 15 best anime movies of all time

Maybe you’ve heard about Spirited Away, but there’s so much more to the best anime movies from Japan’s finest artists

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Written by
Time Out contributors
&
Joshua Rothkopf
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Animation comes in all shapes and sizes, from classic Disney fantasies to modern Pixar movies and weird products of the independent fringe. But Japan's best anime movies have arguably advanced the form the most, making sophisticated storytelling and strong female characters a must. Academy Awards? Not the benchmark here. The best anime movies are about pure transportation into other worlds. Here are the top 15 anime movies, ranked.

Best anime movies of all time

Spirited Away (2001)
  • Movies
  • Animation

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland shot through with revealing economic anxieties, Hayao Miyazaki’s smash hit—the most commercially successful movie (animated or otherwise) in Japanese history—is dense enough to fuel a dozen dissertations. Thankfully, it’s also a blast: warm, witty and wild.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
  • Movies
  • Animation
Released in the U.S. in 1993, this instant animation classic about two sisters and their adventures with a goofy-looking forest spirit is the most kid-friendly Studio Ghibli film, as well as one of the most beautiful.
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Akira (1988)
  • Movies
  • Animation
Considered one of anime’s masterpieces by the genre’s fans, this apocalyptic vision looks a lot like Speed Racer, but don't hold that against it. The movie is undeniably attention-grabbing, both for its visuals and its ideas.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
  • Movies
  • Animation
One of the best-known Ghibli films, this somber drama examines the aftermath of WWII, following the plight of two orphaned kids seeking their family and a meal.
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Princess Mononoke (1997)
  • Movies
  • Animation

Weird, fantastical creatures abound in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated worlds, and whenever this film’s intrepid hero is battling a wild boar or trekking through a whimsical forest, it’s impossible to be anything but agog.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
  • Movies

Three homeless people find an abandoned baby wanted by yakuza, and vow to protect her by any means necessary. Satoshi Kon’s tribute to John Ford’s 3 Godfathers was a departure from his usual psychedelic kitchen-sink aesthetic, and is easily his most accessible film.

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Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
  • Movies
  • Animation

Possibly the best-known anime feature apart from Spirited Away, this charming comedy about a teenager who leaves home to try her luck as a witch was Japan’s highest-grossing film of 1989.

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Porco Rosso (1992)
  • Movies
  • Animation

A decorated WWI pilot finds his head transformed into that of a pig in this truly bizarre cartoon. You’ve gotta hand it to the Japanese—they don’t just make the same damn film over and over.

Pom Poko (1994)
  • Movies
  • Animation
It’s raccoons against humans—actually, raccoons disguised as humans against humans—in this wacky battle for the forests outside Tokyo. Jeez, not another metamorphosing-raccoon flick, for crissakes!

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