15 Best Studio Ghibli Movies to Watch

Studio Ghibli: the world’s best anime movie studio

Ghibli movies are one of the most popular and famous things in Japan.

Japanese pop culture like Japanese animation (anime) has been getting more popular in the world, and one of the most famous and top-rated anime is Studio Ghibli’s movies. Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation film studio founded in 1985 is led by the renown anime director Hayao Miyazaki.

Today, let me talk about 15 best Ghibli movies of all time. If you are a big fan of the Ghibli films, you may have watched the excellent Ghibli works for tens or even hundreds times as well as me. What is your best Ghibli movie ever? You can enjoy these 15 Ghibli movies even though you haven’t watched any Studio Ghibli films before.

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Studio Ghibli Movies in Chronological Order

-Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
-Castle in the Sky (1986)
-Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
-My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
-Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
-Only Yesterday (1991)
-Porco Rosso (1992)
-Ocean Waves (1993)
-Pom Poko (1994)
-Whisper of the Heart (1995)
-Princess Mononoke (1997)
-My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
-Spirited Away (2001)
-The Cat Returns (2002)
-Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
-Tales from Earthsea (2006)
-Ponyo (2008)
-The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
-From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
-The Wind Rises (2013)
-The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
-When Marnie Was There (2014)
-The Red Turtle (2016)
-Earwig and the Witch (2020)
-How Do You Live? (TBA)

There are more movies including short films that are available only at Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.

15 Best Studio Ghibli Movies

15. The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty
The Secret World of Arrietty © 2010 Studio Ghibli・NDHDMTW

The Secret World of Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ), which is also known as just Arrietty, was released in 2010. The fantasy Ghibli movie is based on the original novel The Borrowers written by Mary Norton in 1952 and was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (his first directed anime movie).

It depicts both the world of humans and the one of tiny people who live the walls and floors of humans’ houses. A 14-year-old girl Arrietty and her parents live in secret. One day, however, she is found by a 12 years old human boy named Sho.

14. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya © 2013 畑事務所・Studio Ghibli・NDHDMTK

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語), which was released in 2013, is the final movie directed by Isao Takahata who died at the age 82 in 2018. The drama movie is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which is the Japanese classic folklore written around the 9th-10th century.

The story focuses on Princess Kaguya who is discovered in a stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter. The film represents how the little girl grows up in the old Japanese society in addition to unique Japanese customs and cultures.

13. Pom Poko

Pom Poko
Pom Poko © 1994 畑事務所・Studio Ghibli・NH

Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ) is the classic Studio Ghibli movie that was produced by Isao Takahata from scratch and released in 1994. It is the only totally original movie in Studio Ghibli except the films directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Pom Poko centers on tanuki, which is sometimes depicted as a fictional raccoon dog in Japanese folklores. The setting is the edge of Tokyo in the 1960s under the city development. The forest, which is also the tanuki’s habitat, is destroyed due to the deforestation, and they decide to stand against human beings.

12. Ponyo

Ponyo
Ponyo © 2008 Studio Ghibli・NDHDMT

Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ), which is a.k.a. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, was released in 2008. The fantasy movie is one of the most popular Studio Ghibli movies among family, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

The main character is a goldfish named Ponyo that wishes to become a human and leaves the ocean. Another main character Sosuke, who is a 5-year-old boy, meets and saves Ponyo. Ponyo’s father try to pull her back from the ground to the ocean influencing the human’s world with the magic, but she runs away with Sosuke.

11. Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies © 野坂昭如/新潮社,1988

Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓) was released in 1988 when My Neighbor Totoro was released on the same time. The historical film was adapted from the original novel by Studio Ghibli. The novel was written by Akiyuki Nosaka in 1967 with the theme of the author’s real experience during World War II. Its anime movie adaption was one of the masterpieces of the renowned Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata.

The story is set in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, in September 1945 just after World War II. Grave of the Fireflies mainly follows a 14-year-old boy Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko who lose their family and suffer from starvation and malnutrition. It focuses on realism by Isao Takahata while many Ghibli movies are categorized as a fantasy genre.

10. The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises © 2013 Studio Ghibli・NDHDMTK

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) is the drama Studio Ghibli movie released in 2013, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was inspired by the biography of the aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi who existed until 1982 and the Tatsuo Hori’s novel The Wind Has Risen published from 1936 to 1938.

The story begins in Tokyo around the Great Kanto earthquake that happened in 1923. The Wind Rises follows the main character Jiro who works as a fighter aircraft designer and the heroine Naoko. An aircraft is one of the themes that Hayao Miyazaki is the most interested in, and the flying scenes are beautifully depicted in the anime movie.

9. Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke © 1997 Studio Ghibli・ND

There was the blockbuster movie released in 1997 generating about $200,000,000 and 14,200,000 audiences, which was the highest-grossing film at that time: Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫). Princess Mononoke is one of the most famous Ghibli movies all over the world of all time.

The setting of the historical fantasy themed anime is the late Muromachi period (1336–1573) in Japan. There are two main themes in the movie, personally: harmonious coexistence of nature and humans, and life.

The main character Ashitaka, who is the last prince of the declining Emishi tribe, meets the princess Mononoke named San who lives in the forest with wolves. San dislikes human being who destroy the nature for their profits. However, Ashitaka insists that they can live with each other in their own worlds. The world of Princess Mononoke is inspired by Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture.

8. Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart © 1995 柊あおい/集英社・Studio Ghibli・NH

Whisper of the Heart (耳をすませば), released in 1995 based on the manga written by Aoi Hiiragi, is one of the most popular Ghibli films especially in Japan. It was directed by not Hayao Miyazaki but Yoshifumi Kondo who played an important role as the animation director of the other Ghibli work Grave of the Fireflies.

The romantic anime describes the pure love of teenagers focusing on two main characters: Shizuku Tsukishima and Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku discovers a mysterious antique shop named Chikyuya owned by Shiro Nishi by chance, and then she becomes better acquainted with Jiro’s grandson Seiji Amasawa. She tries to doing her utmost for completing a novel, and Seiji working toward to be a violin maker on the other hand.

They encourage each other to make their dreams happen and he promises to marry her when he becomes a full-fledged violin maker. It’s also getting popular to travel in Seiseki-sakuragaoka in Tokyo, which inspired the towns the characters lived on Whisper of the Heart.