15 Best Studio Ghibli Movies to Watch
List of the Best Studio Ghibli Anime Movies of All Time
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 Studio 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.
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)
-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? (2023)
There are more movies including short films that are available only at Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.
15. The Secret World of Arrietty
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 (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 (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.
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 (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 (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
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 (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.
7. From Up on Poppy Hill
From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から), released in 2011, is the latest Ghibli movie of the films in this article. It is a little different from the other four movies since it is directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Hayao Miyazaki. Few people say From Up on Poppy Hill as the best Ghibli movie, but I don’t think Goro shows a worse outcome than his father.
In this movie, the good old atmosphere in Japan in 1963 which is one year before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is well described. The main characters are high school students Umi and Shun, and it is so “Ghiblish” to show innocent boy and girl love. In this case, a little complicated relationship between Umi and Shun.
I’d like to introduce a behind-the-scenes story in this movie. This is about Goro’s stubbornness: he did never accept his father’s suggestion that it is better to draw weak sunlight in the Umi’s room at the scene she wakes up. Hayao Miyazaki draws in that way like Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service. However, Goro did not show any sunlight in the room. Other than that, there are lots of hidden messages to his father Hayao from him.
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便) has been also long loved by both domestic and international people since it was released in Japan in 1989 which is the next year when My Neighbor Totoro showed on the screen.
The main character is a 13 years old girl Kiki, who is an unmatured witch, and she leaves home for her independence with her pet black cat Jiji. Ghibli fans have been impressed with the story in which Kiki faces many problems and overcomes them while her job is a dreamy witch. Some people identify with her, and others get encouraged by the struggling girl.
The scenery of the water capital in this movie are also so beautifully drawn. It seems to be based on countries in northern Europe. Kiki’s Delivery Service is recommended to watch especially for Ghibli beginners.
5. Porco Rosso
As far as I’m concerned, Porco Rosso (紅の豚), released in 1992, is one of the best Studio Ghibli movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This Ghibli movie is set in the beautifully blue Adriatic Sea in the time of the Great Depression after the First World War.
The main character, whose name is Porco Rosso (which means “Red Pig” in Italian), is a pig who is originally a human being, but he is not just a pig. He flies on the seaplane as a bounty hunter and fights with air pirates and an American ace named Donald Curtis.
In addition to the air combats, the relationships between Porco Rosso and the heroines Giza and Fio Piccolo are also the highlights of the film. Porco Rosso is one of the most coolest movies in the world, and I like these phrases: “A pig who doesn’t fly is just an ordinary pig” and “This… this is what Cool is”.
4. Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ) is the first Ghibli anime movie that Hayao Miyazaki directed as a member of Studio Ghibli in 1986. The fantasy adventure movie was based on nothing existing, which means it is the completely original Studio Ghibli movie. Many Studio Ghibli fans look on it as the best Ghibli movie of all time.
Castle in the Sky centers on the two main characters: a young boy named Pazu and a young girl named Sheeta. She is pursued by the air pirates and government agency, whose target is her crystal pendant. Her adventure with Pazu begins to run away from them.
3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
The classic Ghibli title Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ) is famous for the first full-length Studio Ghibli anime movie (exactly it’s made by the Studio Ghibli’s predecessor animation studio Topcraft). It was originally made by Hayao Miyazaki as a manga with 7 volumes between 1982 and 1994, and its anime movie adaption was released in 1984 including a part of the whole story from the manga (until the middle of vol.2).
The setting of the story is the world where 1000 years pass after the Seven Days of Fire, the terrible war. Poisonous forests are created by the war, which are hazardous to humans. The main character Nausicaä exerts herself to ensure coexistence with both humans and nature including the toxic forests.
2. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ), which was showed at the theater in 1988, is one of the most popular Ghibli movies in Japan and oversea, which is loved by everyone from children to adults. I have watched My Neighbor Totoro for tens and more since I was a child.
The main characters sister Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside, and meet the mysterious creature Totoro in the forest. They are what only children can see.
Here is a little interesting story of My Neighbor Totoro. The director Hayao Miyazaki did not intend to make Satsuki come into the movie at the first place (the main character was supposed to be just Mei). However, He added Satsuki to the adventurous story to make the movie longer. Why? My Neighbor Totoro was aired together with another movie Grave of the Fireflies directed by Isao Takahata at the theater. And, Isao Takahata’s completed work was much longer than planned, so Hayao Miyazaki lengthened the story as competition with him.
1. Spirited Away
Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し) is the best movie in the entire Ghibli oeuvre as it is ranked at the top of 30 Best Anime Movies of All Time. This fantasy film is highest-grossing in Japan generating about $300,000,000, until its record was broken by the 2020 smash-hit Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train.
A 10-year-old girl named Chihiro entered a fantasy world where she lost her name and it was changed to “Sen”. However, she tries hard to keep her identity in the strange world. Spirited Away moves our hearts for the only 10 years old Chihiro’s working hard at the bathhouse.
What is the most attractive thing in Spirited Away is various unique characters including a kind boy Haku (who is a god of a river actually), the witch and the owner of the bathhouse Yubaba and her twin sister Zeniba. Especially, Kaonashi (No-Face) is a really interesting character, and who on earth do you think he/she is? Essence of lush or greed? Just pure guy?
There are some places for Ghibli fans to enjoy in Japan such as Ghibli Museum in Tokyo and Ghibli Park in Aichi.
Ghibli Museum in Tokyo
If you are a fan of Ghibli, it is definitely recommended to visit Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. It requires to book a ticket in advance to admit. Don’t miss the chance to experience the Ghibli world if you come to Japan.
Ghibli Park has been one of the hottest tourist attractions for Studio Ghibli lovers since it was opened in Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park in Aichi Prefecture in November, 2022. There some areas showing buildings and stores that remind you of the worlds of Ghibli films.
▽For anime fans all over the world, here is the list of 30 best anime of all time!▽
▽30 Best Anime Movies of All Time▽
For more info about Japan, you might also like these articles below.