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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

By Time Out contributors and Joshua Rothkopf

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.

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Best anime movies of all time

Best Studio Ghibli films: Spirited Away

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: My Neighbor Totoro

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.

Akira (1988)

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: Grave of the Fireflies

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: Princess Mononoke

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.

Best animated movies: Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Movies Animation

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: Kiki's Delivery Service

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: Porco Rosso

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.

Best Studio Ghibli films: Pom Poko

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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